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The Waterboys Link
The Waterboys

Mike Scott—The Waterboys
Interviewed by Dan MacIntosh
September, 2001

Music history is littered with abandoned one trick ponies and bands that found brief stylistic niches profitable for the blink of an eye. Shining exceptions to these pitiful examples are artists who have grown and expanded over time, retaining what made them great in the first place while adding welcome new wrinkles to their creative output. One such maturing work in progress is The Waterboys.

Mike Scott is the driving force behind the band, which entered into the music scene at the beginning of the Eighties preaching a musical gospel called "The Big Music." This was a sound characterized by large emotional statements riding on waves of boisterous music. Traveling along this same path with The Waterboys were groups like U2, Simple Minds and Big Country. Although none of these acts intentionally banded together, they shared a penchant for hope-filled lyrics sung over emotive music.

In 1988 Scott moved to Ireland and soon discovered his Scottish musical roots. These influences came to light on the
Fisherman’s Blues album in 1988, and Room To Roam in 1990. During the later half of the Nineties, Scott disbanded The Waterboys to concentrate on solo work, which took on a quieter, folky feel. With each new configuration, Scott explored varying musical interests, with exciting results. Now a full eight years since its last album release, The Waterboys are back. Enthused by some of today’s more adventurous mixtures of electronics and traditional rock, the band has returned with a powerful new blend of sound. The Waterboys are indeed one solid rock lighthouse in our weary contemporary musical landscape.

MM Review: Your new Waterboys album, Rock In The Weary Land, is a really loud rock & roll album in some places. I know you’ve recorded some folk, country and Irish music. Will you always be a rock & roller at heart?

Scott: I always will be. Yes. It always swings back ‘round. It always comes out somehow.

MM Review: I’ll bet you’re excited that the album is finally being released in the United States.

Scott: Yes. It’s about time, too. Yes.

MM Review: How many months old is the album now?

Scott: It came out in Europe and Japan in September 2000. Almost a year ago.

MM Review: Since your music is literate, passionate and personal, does it bother you that the masses now listening to the "Britneys" and the "boy bands" aren’t benefiting from your work?

Scott: No, I don’t think about it at all. I think there’s always a market for that kind of music. It was around when I was starting out, with the Bay City Rollers and later with Spandau Ballet, and Wham! and Duran Duran. It’s always there.

MM Review: So you don’t think of it as competition?

Scott: No. U2 is competition. Beck is competition.

MM Review: I was looking at your web site, and it said you had been listening to Radiohead, and Chemical Brothers, and Flaming Lips, and Beck and artists like that. Are you the kind of person who is constantly seeking out new music? Or do you tend to listen to more of the old stuff?

Scott: I’m always listening to something new, but it’s not always rock & roll, though. I lost interest in contemporary rock for about ten years. Shortly after we made This Is The Sea, I moved to Ireland and I got into country music, and gospel music and Scottish and Irish music. And it took me a long time to go back to listening to rock & roll.

MM Review: Were you turned off by what you heard, or were you just more excited about the new stuff you were listening to?

Scott: A bit of both. I was bored with rock & roll. At least bored with what people were doing with it at the time around 1986. Nothing was driving me.

MM Review: I thought it was interesting that a lot of the artists you’ve been listening to lately are very innovative electronically. I guess I just kind of assumed that you were more of an organic, rootsy person. I was surprised at how fascinated you were by the synthesizer music.

Scott: With a group like The Chemical Brothers, my favorite Chemical Brothers moments are when they’re closest to rock & roll. So your impression of me is pretty accurate.

MM Review: Since Too Close To Heaven will be released soon, would you call the kind of Irish/Scottish music you were making then as a stop on your musical journey, or is that the kind of music you plan to revisit?

Scott: The Too Close To Heaven album is unreleased Fisherman’s Blues music. It’s kind of gospel based. A lot of it is bluesy, countryish. It’s also the kind of music that keeps cropping up in my work, and will continue to do so.

MM Review: Do you think you’ll ever make an album that’s close to the style of Fisherman’s Blues again?

Scott: It’s always possible. Much of that traditional influence was Scottish. A lot of the tunes on that album are Scottish tunes. Like the tune "When Will We Be Married" is actually a Scottish tune.

MM Review: Have you heard Steve Earle’s version of that song?

Scott: Ah, yeah. I liked it a lot.

MM Review: He includes a lot of those elements in his music, too.

Scott: Yes, he does. And he lived in Ireland, too. He lived in Galway for a while.

MM Review: Did you ever get a chance to meet him?

Scott: I never did.

MM Review: I think you guys would have a lot in common.

Scott: Yeah, it’s coming.

MM Review: There’s a line in "Crown" where it says "I’m gonna play this show/Even if nobody comes." Are you the kind of person, where even if you weren’t a professional musician, you would still create music?

Scott: I can’t imagine creating music without being a professional musician. I can’t imagine it not being my life.

MM Review: Have you ever considered what you might be doing, had you not become a musician?

Scott: I often get asked that, and it’s usually a favorite with interviewers. Well, what would I do? I might be a journalist or a photographer or filmmaker.

MM Review: So you would do something creative?

Scott: Yeah, or be a vagabond.

MM Review: Something that’s restless or creative, then.

Scott: Yes.

MM Review: Have you ever done any straight writing, such as fiction or prose.

Scott: No, but I would like to write. I would like to write books. Maybe that will come one day.

MM Review: What kinds of things do you read these days?

Scott: I read all sorts of things. I went through a phase of reading about the Second World War, about Hitler and the Nazis. I find it fascinating to read a book like the "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," where evil is named very accurately.

MM Review: A song on the album is called "We Are Jonah," which takes its title from the Bible. Do you see the Bible as literature, a historical document or as holy scripture?

Scott: I don’t think about it at all. (laughter) The book really grabbed me. I like the language. I think the language is a storehouse of symbolic, powerful language, which has an affect on most people in our western culture, because we’ve been exposed to it. But I’m not a card carrying Bible reader.

MM Review: I listen to a lot of Christian music, and a lot of my Christian friends listen to your music. There’s so much that is spiritual about what you do that it blesses us, even though we may not agree completely with you theologically.

Scott: My writing has a spiritual basis in my own spiritual experience. I think human spiritual experiences have a common thread, regardless of the culture they rise from.

MM Review: Do you consider yourself a spiritual seeker?

Scott: Yeah.

MM Review: Where do you find satisfaction your spiritual search. Would you say it’s from nature?

Scott: Oh I do love nature. Oh yes. Nature is God’s handiwork. In the song "Crown" it talks about how I tried to live the spiritual way. Sometimes I succeed by my own life, and sometimes I don’t.

MM Review: Do you think maturity has changed the way you look at the subject matter for your songs? When you were younger, you may have been a little more naive, whereas now you’re a little bit more cynical, perhaps?

Scott: I’m not cynical. I don’t have cynical cell in my body, I’m glad to say I have a healthy bullshit detector.

MM Review: Are you highly critical of your work, and can you tell right away when you have written a great song?

Scott: I try not to be judgmental about it and I wouldn’t qualify one of my own songs that I’m writing as great. I would note if it really turned me on, and if I really loved a song. I wouldn’t say, "Oh my God, I’ve written a great song!" But I would say, "Oh my God, I love this song I’ve just written." That would be the context.

MM Review: Do you feel like when a song you love comes along, that it comes from someplace outside of yourself? That this wonderful thing exists, and was given to you as a kind of a gift?

Scott: Sometimes. Yes.

MM Review: I guess other times, songs are really your own self-expression, so they really are from you because they were taken from inside of you, and came out in the form of a song.

Scott: You know, I don’t know. (laughter) I just write them.

MM Review: In the song "We Are Jonah," you name-drop Montgomery Clift. I’m going to sound really dumb here, but what made you think of his name within this context. Was it one of his movies that made you consider him?

Scott: You know, to be quite truthful with you, it was a good rhyme for "shift." I think I had the line "Then the scene did shift" first. I realized that I was going to put characters into the boat, and who would rhyme with shift? Then Montgomery Clift came to my mind, and I thought, "Oh yeah. That would be lovely to have him in the boat." It comes from the rhyme, but if I didn’t think he belonged in the boat, than he wouldn’t have been there!

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