Justin Currie, singer, songwriter and bass player with Del Amitri, chats with Kevin Cooper about his views on streaming platforms, playing his first gig after lock down, the release of their latest album Fatal Mistakes and their forthcoming tour of the UK

Justin Currie is a Scottish singer and songwriter, and is the founding member of the alternative rock band, Del Amitri. As well as being the chief songwriter he is also their lead vocalist and often plays bass for them.

Between 1985 and 2002 Del Amitri released six studio albums of which five reached the top ten in the UK charts.

Del Amitri grew out of Currie’s Jordanhill College School band and included guitarists James Scobbie and Donald Bentley and drummer Paul Tyagi. Scobbie and Bentley, who left the band to go to university, was replaced by Iain Harvie and Bryan Tolland after Currie placed an advert in a music shop for band members. From then on only Currie and Harvie have remained the constant members of the band.

In 2002 the band went on a hiatus but in 2013 were back together for a tour and a new album, Into The Mirror was released. They were back on tour in 2018 with the promise of yet another new album. That album was completed the night before the UK went into the Covid pandemic lockdown. Fatal Mistakes was released in May 2021 and a tour in support of it in September 2021 was also announced.

In addition to his work with Del Amitri, Currie is also a solo artist. Between 2007 and 2017 he has released four studio albums.

Whilst busy promoting Del Amitri’s latest album, Currie took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Justin, good morning, how are you?

Hi Kevin, I’m good thanks. How are you?

I’m very well thank you and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not at all, it’s my pleasure to once again be speaking to you.

And just how is life treating you?

Fine, I guess. It’s been very pleasing for us to be able to get three gigs out of the way. We recently did three gigs at the Edinburgh Festival so for us to have actually done something that was in the diary that actually happened really was a massive relief.

How did it go? How did you feel actually stepping out onto the stage after such a long period of time?

In all honesty, I felt like I did many years ago now when we played our very first gig. It was really odd. I would have to say that it was a case of blind panic more than anything. It was really odd simply because you are not match fit. We were pretty well rehearsed and all that kind of stuff; we could play the songs, but we hadn’t prepared for that adrenaline surge at all. We were all just so completely rusty. It really was very odd, but I have to say that the audience were totally understanding of that fact. When we went onstage the first night I just said, “look, this is really fucking weird” so the first night’s audience were most probably the best and we really did go out of our way to let them know that for us, the gig really was going to be a bit of a struggle.

For me, it was nice to get that pre-gig buzz once again. That was a nice thing because there is nothing else that you can really replace that with. The only way that you can get that feeling is by playing a gig and pacing around in the dressing room. It was terrifying and was a bit like stepping out into the unknown. It had been so long since any of us had been on a stage. Even between tours, most of us would be on a stage somewhere, doing a gig in a pub or somewhere, which just keeps your hand in. It just stops you getting completely seized up. So, yes, the whole thing was terrifying. I wouldn’t say that we were immensely relieved even after the first night; I would say that it took us at least three nights for us to learn to relax a little. So, on the last night we were almost there. For me, personally, if we go out on the road, it will take me about ten gigs to actually start to feel comfortable, so I was actually nowhere near yet.

Despite that, do you still get that buzz from touring?

(Laughter) don’t get me wrong, I love touring. I love touring and I love being away from home. I especially love being somewhere different every day. I absolutely love it. I actually found it very frustrating going to Edinburgh three nights on a row for the Edinburgh Festival (laughter). As I said earlier, I just like being in a different place every day, looking at different people and different shops. I find that really stimulating. I love it. The only caveat is if you get a cold while you are on the road then it all becomes a complete drag. If you get any illness on the road, it is a complete drag. Of course, we are now in a situation with Covid where any kind of illness is going to bring everything to a grinding halt. That is another thing that we have to consider.

I asked Fish the same question and he has a conspiracy theory that whilst he is out on tour, his local Asda move everything around so that he cannot find anything when he gets home.

(Hysterical laughter) I couldn’t possibly comment on that (laughter).

We really must speak about the latest album; Fatal Mistakes and I have to tell you that I have been playing it now for the past couple of weeks and I think that it is great.

That’s great Kevin, thanks for saying that. It is always nice to hear that someone likes what it is that you are doing, so thank you.

Are you happy with it?

Yes, I am, I really am. I don’t think that we would ever release anything that we were not one hundred percent happy with. Having said that, I have not listened to it for a while now but the last time that I listened to it, I really did enjoy it. We are enjoying rehearsing the songs and we are really looking forward to playing them live.

I must ask, where does the title come from? Does it refer to one particular fatal mistake?

No, not at all I just wanted something that would generally refer to the band, the audience, the songs, something that would not colour the songs too much. I think that it is a very general title that could refer to any number of things.

I understand that there is some significance to the album in the cover; is that right?

(Laughter) just who the hell have you been speaking to; I’m going to have somebody’s arse for this. Yes, that is absolutely correct; each item on the cover refers to one of the lyrics in each of the songs. However, we didn’t like some of the objects, so we changed them around quite a lot, and I have to be honest with you and say that some of the references are extremely obscure (laughter). It really is quite difficult working out just what’s what (laughter).

You recorded the album over a three-week period. Is that normal for Del Amitri?

Well, the first album that we recorded for Chrysalis took us just three weeks, so it really was kind of going back to those early days. Having said that, when we joined A&M the budgets got bigger, and if I remember correctly, Twisted took us around four months, but it has to be said that we were working on it on and off. In fact, thinking about it now, Change Everything took us quite a while as well. I personally feel that three weeks is about the ideal amount of time to record an album. I feel that you have just enough time in three weeks especially if you have twenty songs. There is just enough time for you to experiment and fanny about.

Whereas, if you have just got a week, you would have to put everything down pretty much as it was in the rehearsal rooms. So, I personally feel that three weeks is just about the ideal amount of time, and we certainly used all of the time. We still had a couple of things to do on our last night, the Saturday night.

The album was all finished and ready to go in March 2020, the day before the country went into lockdown. There must have been a collective sigh of relief?

Well, we were all watching the encroaching virus and we realised in the last week that Boris (Johnson) was most probably going to shut the whole country down in the next couple of days, so we all began to panic, and we got our guitar tech to come down to the studio and get all of the gear out on the Thursday. So, we got all of the heavy lifting done on the Thursday, and we still had a few bits to do, vocals and suchlike, on the Friday and the Saturday. We then ran home on the Sunday and the lockdown started on the Monday. So you could say that the timing was actually perfect. The only thing that we were worried about was that we were all worried that all of our equipment might have got stuck in the studio during lockdown, which really would have been a pain.

And then, at one point we were fantasizing that we might have all got stuck there and we could have started writing and recording another album, which thinking about it, might have been pretty good (laughter). It was weird for us because we are all urban creatures, but we weren’t living in an urban environment. We were in the middle of the Midland countryside, and we weren’t near anywhere. We weren’t near to any town; the nearest being over a two hour walk away from us. It was quite an odd experience seeing stuff on the news, empty shelves, toilet roll shortages and the like, from this idyllic rural perspective, where nothing seemed to have changed very much.

Okay, there were some empty supermarket shelves in the local town, but that was about it. We really did feel as though we were all in a weird TV drama where the end of the world is happening, but it is not happening here, it’s not happening where you are. I don’t think that it is behind us just yet but let’s just hope that the worst is. I feel that it is here to stay, we just have to learn how to live with it.

You completed the album in March 2020; you released it in May 2021. Are you a meddler; did you get frustrated with the length of time that you couldn’t get the album out there?

(Laughter) what can I say. That has happened to us many times before, so you just tend to get on with things. I have to say that it doesn’t really bother me anymore, but in the past, it really did used to drive me mad. Whenever we had finished an album, I was desperate to get it released. However, with Covid, it took quite a while for us to mix the album, which gave us more time to do all of the other stuff. I have realised in the last couple of years that there is so much admin involved in releasing an album. You find yourself basically doing an office job for six weeks, which I find to be a thunderously boring thing. So, it gave us time to spread that out so that was quite good.

Would you agree with a lot of the fans that it is your best work to date?

You know me, I would never say anything like that about anything that we have ever recorded and released. I’m really not in the ideal position to evaluate it. I love what we do, and I sometimes listen to it, usually over a glass of wine, but I couldn’t critically evaluate it at all. On any given day I will think that it is all great or it is all shit (laughter). I’m simply not that person to evaluate that at all.

You were recently quoted as saying that “no one listens to our new songs” when the album went straight into the charts at number two in both Scotland and England. Sure, that must have allayed a few fears?

Yes, it has, but what you have to remember is that the charts are now no longer as significant as they were. Yes, as you rightly say, the album went straight into the charts at number two, but it went straight back out the following week. So, number two is a nice number to have, but it really doesn’t mean that much. You would need to have sold ten times the number of copies we did to get to number two, to actually get to number forty back in the day. So, it really is a bit mystifying to us (laughter). We were looking at the numbers that we had to sell to get to number one and we all looked at each other and said, “is that right, that’s fucking nuts” (laughter).

So, it’s nice that we can say that we had a top five album, but the charts are simply not as significant as they were. The only significant numbers in the charts are those albums that are never out of the charts; Dark Side Of The Moon and Rumours for example, which are still in the album chart after forty fucking years (laughter).

Do you think that the audiences will eventually find their confidence and start going to live gigs?

To be honest with you, prior to Covid, ticket sales for live gigs was looking healthy. The three shows that we did in Edinburgh were all socially distanced, and I have to say that the audiences seemed comfortable. I suppose that they would be simply sitting there with people who they know, being a metre or so from people who they didn’t know; that is just a natural thing. So, I have no idea just how people will feel sitting cheek to jowl in theatres; it’s an unknown phenomenon.

As you know better than most, this could change overnight, but at the moment I have got four go to tracks on the album. The first is the track which I would have thought would have been the single from the album had there still been such beasts, and that is You Can’t Go Back which I feel is fantastic. Secondly, it is Musicians And Beer, thirdly we have Losing The Will To Die and lastly I love Missing Person. I personally feel that those four songs are fantastic.

That’s good, I see that you have chosen four all rather up-tempo songs.

That’s right. I like to pick up-tempo songs otherwise I find myself trying to throw myself under a bus (laughter).

It’s funny you say that because we have had a fair few hecklers on a Friday night in Edinburgh where the crowd have asked us, “can’t you play any fucking cheery songs” to which I usually reply with, “no, sorry, we are not into cheery songs” (laughter).

Do you any idea yet as to which of the new songs will make it onto the set list for the forthcoming tour?

I think that we will be playing You Can’t Go Back and Musicians And Beer on the forthcoming tour. We already know quite a lot of the new songs, simply because we recorded them all live in the studio, and apart from Its Feelings they are all quite easy to play. So, I think that we will just alternate them; so probably not less than four but no more than six. We played quite a few the other night but that was more of an experimental thing.

Do you have a favourite song on the album?

No, not really. I like Otherwise, for personal reasons, and I also like Nation Of Caners but no, I don’t really have a favourite song. I love the way the album is sequenced; Iain (Harvie) did the final sequence and I really love the way it is put together. That really does satisfy me.

I’m of the old school and I believe that if you buy an album then you should listen to it from start to finish. Would you agree with that?

I totally agree, unless the first two songs are rubbish then I probably wouldn’t listen to it at all (laughter). No, I totally agree with you. During the first lockdown I spent quite a few hours every day just listening back to all the stuff that I have got on vinyl, and I actually found it to be really interesting. There was a whole load of things that weren’t nearly as good as I remember them, and a whole bunch of things that I had forgotten about that were much better that I remembered. Some things have really dated badly; in particular, things from the 1990s had dated badly although there was a big hole in the 90s as I had started to buy CDs in the 90s.

Most of my vinyl collection runs from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and then it sort of ran out in the 90s which I actually found a bit odd, and then it stated again in the late zeros. But yes, sitting on a couch listening to sides one and two just idling away the afternoon was actually quite a pleasant way to spend lockdown.

And actually being able to read the sleeve notes without the help of a magnifying glass (laughter).

Exactly (laughter). It was great not having to fiddle around on my bloody mobile phone in order to find a writing credit.

I find it strange whenever I go backwards, as I have singles and albums which I have never played on stereo. I have only ever heard them in mono, and that always puts a different perspective on it.

I know what you mean, but I have to say that I still only listen to the mono versions of the early Beatles albums. Most of the mono versions were recorded far better than the stereo versions. I personally don’t think that there is anything wrong with mono actually. In fact, I have always been very tempted to make a mono record. I must tell you that one of the mixes on Fatal Mistakes was mistakenly delivered in mono; it was mono left side only, so the left side was on both channels. Iain noticed it but the producer and I didn’t notice it; we thought that it sounded great, but I had to come clean and tell them that it was the left side on both channels (laughter). It was pure mono and it sounded fucking fantastic.

What a story, but the kids wouldn’t have a clue what you were talking about.

(Laughter) how right you are. I suppose that if you use headphones all the time then you will most probably get quite a lot out of stereo. However, there are certain things that you can’t do with stereo on headphones. For example, you can’t hardpan vocals on headphones as it just doesn’t make any sense. There is a lot to be said for mono, a hell of a lot.

What are your views on streaming platforms?

As a consumer I would have to say that I am for them because the convenience is totally amazing. Professionally, it is incredibly handy to have your whole catalogue at your fingertips, no matter where in the world you are. Back in the day, whenever we went out on the road, we would have to carry around sacks and sacks of cassettes, together with loads of CDs just to ensure that we had enough material with us. So, yes, I would have to say that they are highly convenient. I think that they sound okay; I don’t think that they sound awful, but I feel that sites such as Spotify could do well to up their bit rate. I have always thought that the quality was alright, and I honestly feel that the arguments regarding the royalties paid to artists will eventually sort themselves out.

If you own your own masters, you are running your own record label, and you own your own recordings, then yes, you can make money from streaming platforms. My main concern with streaming is, in the long run, it will prove to be more damaging to the environment, than making bits of plastic, simply because every time that you listen to that Rolling Stones song, you are burning up energy. And let’s face it; the energy must come from somewhere. So, I would like to see someone do an audit on the actual environmental costs on streaming platforms. That would be my main concern. Is it less environmentally damaging for someone to buy a record once, or to use packets of electricity listening to things thousands of times?

It would be interesting to see the figures on that. But yes, it is massively convenient, and I think that the royalty rates will get there eventually. I think that the subscription fees are, at the moment, a little bit low. I personally subscribe to Tidal because the quality is a lot better and that is twice what it costs on Spotify. Most people don’t give a shit about quality, and therefore they are just going to pay the ten pounds to Spotify to have the complete history of recorded music at their fingertips. I think that it probably should be more expensive, but whether the market will pay that, I don’t know. There are good things and bad things about it.

It is an ideal model for new music because every time that a fan listens to a record, they pay for it again and again, so they are paying for it over and over again. Take it from me; the music industry loves that (laughter). The one thing that I feel is a real shame is that it has invalidated the need for a second-hand market. If your brother likes Thin Lizzy, then you will listen to Thin Lizzy on your Spotify account rather that going out and buying a second-hand copy of the record in a second-hand record shop. I like the recycling side of the second-hand market, and obviously streaming gets rid of that. Streaming is most probably completely evil, but I’m not entirely sure (laughter).

You and I last spoke in May 2018 and at that time you said that you didn’t consider Del Amitri to be a going concern. You felt that it was something that you could dip in and out of. Is that still the situation?

Back then, at that point, we weren’t considering making a record, but as soon as you make a record it automatically feels like a going concern; you are doing work outside of the touring schedule, you have got new material and so it becomes a contemporary project because you have got new songs. Whereas, back in the 2010s we did two tours which were four years apart. So yes, that was just an occasional thing, and I would never have called that a going concern whereas now, I would. We are now looking at doing as many things as we can next year including another album so, yes; it exists at this point, yes.

Looking back to 1984 when Del Amitri signed to Chrysalis Records. Would a fifty-six-year-old Justin Currie have any advice for the youngster signing his first professional contract?

(Laughter) probably just to try and enjoy it a bit more and don’t take everything quite so seriously. To be honest with you, we had a pretty horrible experience whilst we were signed to Chrysalis. We were like a lot of young bands who were chewed up and spat out rather viciously by a major label. The annoying thing was that we were completely misunderstood by Chrysalis. That stuff made me righteously angry at the time, so I wouldn’t have any advice to give myself on that point. I would just say try and enjoy yourself a bit more, and remember, it’s not all life and death; its only music (laughter).

Are there currently any thoughts on a solo album and tour?

The short answer to that is no. I am not even thinking about anything like that. All of the stuff that I have recently been writing has been geared towards Del Amitri. The Cooking Vinyl deal is a two-album thing, so I wouldn’t at this moment in time, have any great hunger to make a solo record. So I’m not even thinking about it.

Is there one song in the world that you wish that you had written?

Oh, there are quite a lot really. The question is do I want to be rich or just really pleased with myself (laughter). There are countless songs out there that I wish that I had written. If I had written Like A Rolling Stone, the Bob Dylan track, then I think that I would be fairly happy. Or if I had written Yesterday, or I Am The Walrus, there really are countless things. If you look at the really great songs, and then you look at your own songs, you just have to admit to yourself that you have never written a decent song; you have not even got close (laughter). However, you are not even trying to get close simply because that’s impossible. You cannot write a song better than Like A Rolling Stone or Here, There And Everywhere. They are just timeless fucking songs. The job of song writing is just about writing the best songs that you can and if you start comparing your songs to something that Cole Porter has written, you will just get suicidally depressed because you are so fucking useless (laughter). So, I would definitely never make comparisons. If I woke up one morning and I had written Like A Rolling Stone I would be very chuffed.

On that note Justin let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been enlightening. You take care and I will see you in Nottingham.

It’s my pleasure Kevin. You take care and bye for now.