Dave McCabe is a Scouse songwriter worthy of appearing in a Liverpool lineage alongside Lennon, McCulloch and Mavers. Having written one of the biggest songs of the millennium so far and having scored three top ten albums, his ear for melody is among one of the finest the city has ever seen (and that’s saying something). Having released his debut solo album as Dave McCabe and the Ramifications back in 2015, he has gone a little quiet in the past year or so, save for a few special appearances: the one-off Zutons reunion show at Mountford Hall in September 2016, and the From Liverpool With Love celebration alongside a whole cast of Liverpool legends as well as Love founder member Johnny Echols. But with an intimate at Pirate Studios coming up, plus the prospect of new music looming, we were lucky enough to catch up with the man himself to chat songwriting, grime and why the British drink too much, amongst other things.
So Dave, what’s new ?
What’s new for me? Well, I’ve stopped doing The Ramifications. I wanted to pick a guitar a start doing something different again so I’ve just been doing that. I’m not sure what shape it’s going to take yet but it just feels nice to have picked up the guitar again and to be doing something good. I’ve been writing with Paul [Duffy] and Ian [Skelly] from The Coral, and me mate Neil.
What can we expect from the new material ? How’s it going to sound ?
We’ve been calling it ‘cosmic and western’. It’s swamp music I suppose: a mix of Lead Belly, Kurt Cobain and Earth Wind & Fire. It’s more the Smooth Radio aspect ha ha… I’m joking, ha! That’s what I’ve been listening to, along with a bit of Seth McDowell – so I suppose it’s less sci-fi and a bit more swamp. Well, that’s what I’m calling it anyway, swamp.
So what caused the change in direction and why the move away from electronica ?
Basically I just missed playing my guitar. It was good to move over to the electronic side but it’s not as good as when you’re playing it live. It was just a bit more complicated – and there’s nothing as exciting as just plugging your guitar in and singing, it’s that simple, y’know? That’s not me slagging the band off – they were all brilliant and I loved the album – but playing it live was never really my favourite thing to do, if you know what I mean? As well as that, I think it scared people, it seemed to freak people out and it was a risky move at the end of the day. Taking risks is good though and I’ll carry on taking risks with the new stuff. That album was really important for me, it got me excited about music again because I kind of lost my love for it for about six years. Even thinking about going back in the studio made me feel sick, but The Ramifications changed that and that’s priceless. Sometimes you just have to go to the extremes to get you back to that middle ground and it’s made me realise that life’s short and you just have to do what you want to do. Being in a massive band and then splitting up really drags you down – and then on top of that I think drinking too much probably didn’t help. You just have to claw your way out of it.
I think a lot of people in this country drink too much though. It’s part of this country really. You only have to look outside at the weather and you’ve only really got two choices: either stay inside and play music or head to the pub. There’s no two ways about it, it’s a bit grim. I’m just being honest, ha ha!
So you’re more down the making music route at the moment ?
Yeah, yeah I just bought a lap string actually so I’ve just been messing about with that. I still play about with the synthesisers but it’s hard work live. I think it’s mainly just singing and playing guitar and I’ve got a lot of songs which I’ve accumulated over the years so I’ve just been focusing on that more than anything else really. I’m focusing more on the performance side of things rather than just sitting the studio and recording. A record could take a little while to gather together, but I think with that last album we spent a bit too much time thinking about it. With this one I just want to go with what’s good and just push it out as quick as possible.
You’re obviously an amazing songwriter who’s written some absolutely huge songs. What’s your songwriting process?
This is the thing, I don’t see why people say that: thanks like, but I don’t see myself as an amazing songwriter. I think you’ve got to write in the third person. You’ve got to write from your point of view, but as someone outside looking at you. I think if you think about it, you can’t always write about yourself walking your dog can you? But even from something like that you can pull a lot of emotion. The key is making boring stuff sound interesting and you’ve got to make life sound interesting and be totally over the top. Sometimes you don’t even need to do that, some of the best songs you play, it just comes out of ya, you don’t even know how you’re doing it.
There shouldn’t be any rules. Verse-chorus-verse-chorus-medley, it all gets a bit boring doesn’t it? I think that’s why you get a lot of hip hop on the radio at the moment and these cockney rappers, there’s no real song there but it’s about as cramming as much information in to three minutes as possible. It’s not really my cup of tea but you can see where they’re coming from and how songwriting is evolving. However, I see myself as keeping it a bit more traditional and trying to tell a story, I suppose.
Sometimes I’m just riding my bike and I get a tune in my head and just have to stop and sing it into my phone. Must look weird but I do that a lot. I like to just sit in darkness and see what comes out of me, so that it’s just me and the swell of the room. I wish there was a way of just being in a totally alien room so you could get that complete unknown feeling down on paper. I’m in that situation now where simplicity is everything and not over complicating things.
Finally, what can we expect from the Pirate Studios gig?
I’m not totally sure of the set-up just yet but it’s definitely going to be a return to the guitar-led stuff. I’m not entirely sure of who’s gonna be playing yet but it’ll be good to get back out there and play live again.
Dave McCabe plays the Pirate Studios Launch in association with This Feeling on Saturday 18th March with support from Hello Operator. To win tickets go to the Pirate Studios website now.