Music interview: Mark E Nevin on '˜Dolly Said No to Elvis' and working with Morrissey
Your new EP Dolly Said No To Elvis, is out now. What attracted you to the true story of Elvis and Dolly Parton as a theme?
I heard this story a while ago and was inspired by Dolly’s confidence and self-esteem in saying no to Elvis. What integrity it took to turn down what would have been a surefire truck load of money and huge prestige. Her attitude was, ‘hey, it’s my song, sing it or don’t sing it, but if you want some songwriting royalties write your own’. The celebrity culture of our time has meant that the song and songwriter have been devalued, it is partly why it so rare to hear really great songs these days.
Your latest album My Unfashionable Opinion, features a track called Forgotify that seems to put into question the ease at which people can access and dispose of music and artists. Is that a fair assessment?
While I agree that what you say is true, it isn’t what the song is about. Forgotify is a real website that randomly selects songs on Spotify that have never had a single play. I thought that was funny and quite exciting, the idea that this software could select the most obscure and forgotten music and bring it ‘out of the vault’ to be heard again. Imagine all those songs, the love and work that went into creating them, sitting there gathering digital dust and rotting away until the Forgotify bot kicks in and brings them back to the world!
Morrissey’s Kill Uncle was quite a divisive album at the time, owing to the different musical direction. How aware were you at the time of the change and was it a conscious decision between both parties?
Every creative collaboration has a unique chemical reaction and neither party can know what that alchemy will be until after the event. I barely spoke to Morrissey until we were in the studio making the record, and then only minimally, he was extremely shy and not someone that I found it easy to have a conversation with. From my position, I didn’t want to try and ‘be The Smiths’, Johnny Marr had already done that superbly, what would be the point? In a way it was a no win situation, whatever I did was going to annoy some people. That said, many people love that album, I remember the Melody Maker review saying that is made a Smith’s re-union irrelevant, which was the highest praise anyone could have given it at the time.
Sticking with Morrissey for a moment, he has had his share of label troubles. Is it becoming harder for established acts to retain label support due to the ease of uploading songs on social platforms by unsigned acts for free?
The internet has destroyed the music business as it was back in the day. It costs a lot of money to make an album and then people stream them for virtually nothing, there is practically no financial reward for the artists or record companies. I don’t know where it will lead for established or upcoming artists, I just think my self lucky that I am not starting out now.
You’ve spoken quite candidly about your dislike for crowd funding as a revenue stream. Is it not now an inevitable route or are labels beginning to see monetary gain in taking risks on artists again?
I am not against crowd funding, just never fancied it myself. I think there is a shift of some kind, I know BMG, who publish me, have some positive ideas about connecting up an artists new output with their back catalogue.
David Bowie has in the past been cited as one of your inspirations. Which song would you cover if any and what is your opinion of cover versions generally?
I really love Bowie’s first album and have done his song ‘Little Bombardier’ at shows now and again. Cover versions are great when they come from the artists love of the song and are not merely a calculated attempt to cash in on a decent song when you can’t come up with one yourself. Bowie covering ‘I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday’ was a complete thrill for me.
Vinyl has been making a steady resurgence for the last decade with many bands jumping back on board. Are there any Fairground Attraction re-issues or studio vault recordings you are planning on releasing?
Cherry Red released a double extended CD of First of a Million Kisses last year with a whole CD full of live tracks and demos, it was a catharsis for me to have everything we ever did out there and felt like a final closer on the band. I released my last two albums on vinyl, I do love a proper record.
You will be touring in the coming months, and return to Leeds to play a show in Otley. Are smaller grassroots venues in jeopardy, and what can be done to save them?
So I hear. It comes down to people going out and buying tickets, if they don’t, these venues will close and it will be a part of a bygone era. The trouble is, settling into your sofa with a deluxe box set on your TV is so easy, but then, when you make the effort to get out and see good live music it is the best thing ever. I recommend The Courthouse on March 16!
After this tour and promotion of the EP and album, what is next on the horizon?
I already have a whole set of new songs that I want to record, I seem to be writing more than ever these days, it is as though I have to do as much as possible while I still can. I feel very free creatively and am enjoying music more than ever.
Mark E Nevin plays at Otley Courthouse on March 16 and Selby Town Hall on March 17. www.marknevin.com