a short site about The Divine Comedy

Divine Comedy simplified

Thomas McKenna talks to The Divine Comedy - about their regeneration. With a new single, new record label, a new image, and a new album, aptly entitled Regeneration, it’s pretty obvious there have been many changes in The Divine Comedy camp.

Their shows in Londonderry and Belfast last weekend confirmed that.

Gone are the suits and the jaunty tunes brimming with elaborate orchestration, replaced with a more downbeat, simplified approach.

“Basically, there was nothing else for it, we had done all that we could in the vein we were in,” explains Neil Hannon, frontman of The Divine Comedy.

“On Fin De Siècle we had gone the whole hog - we had a full choir, total orchestra, anvil playing, opera singers - we had over 100 people on that album.

“It had got a little out of hand, so we thought there was only one thing for it, and that was to see what we could do on our own, and also to get someone in to bring out our hidden depths.”

That someone was Nigel Godrich, the man behind Radioheads Kid A.

“Production had never been an issue on our ’90s output, so it was a big step for us to admit that someone could improve our sound. in the end it was the best decision we’ve ever made”, said Neil.

Bassist Bryan Mills agrees.

“Nigel is a nice bloke, he’s the same age as us but he’s just an over achiever I suppose,” quips Bryan.

“People think he’s a magician or something but he just recorded what we did. We played, he taped it and that was about it. Actually, in many ways it was a really simple record to make.”

Neil said, “A lot of what he was about was making sure we didn’t over complicate it all - just keeping it simple and being the taste police, scrapping off the thick layer of cheese that I tend to dollop on top if I get the opportunity.”

Regeneration was written on an acoustic guitar by Neil, and for the first time, all seven members of the group developed the 11 songs from an early stage.

Said Bryan: “For the first time, everyone was playing everybody else’s instruments, it was a really loose vibe in the beginning.

“Ivor and Neil have played some bass on it, and we’ve got recorders, trombones and everything - all played by ourselves.

“Between us we realised we can play loads of instruments, so we just sort of swapped around and did that. Rob our percussionist even plays the drums on the album!”

Neil is also supportive of the in-house process.

“It was all about using our own capabilities. Nigel knew it always sounds better if you don’t get someone in to play something,” said Neil.

“Even if it’s not technically brilliant, it’s still better if it’s on of the guys who knows what the record is mean’t to be about.

“Admittedly a lot of the material we did at rehearsal before we went into the studio got scrapped, but what we came up with on Regeneration was still us - but maybe just simplified.

“It’s definitely the way to do it, not because I do less work but because it sounds better. In the old days those records were bizarre flights of fantasy - very interesting ones - but they were never going to be universal.

“Every single record we’ve done has been quite different from the previous one, this is a bigger change admittedly, but there is nothing to day that the next record won’t be very different from this one.”

But one thing’s for certain, the hitherto trademark suits won’t be making a comeback.

“It’s not calculated thing, it was natural growing out of needing to wear a suit,” explains Neil. “As far as I was concerned, I was wearing it as a suit of armour, camouflage on stage. Witht hte shades and everything it was ‘don’t look at me, look at my suit!’ I just didn’t feel I needed it any more.”

Following a mini UK tour in February, The Divine Comedy release the new single Love What You Do on Feb 26, followed by the album Regeneration on Parlophone, on March 12.

Thomas McKenna
The Belfast Telegraph 25/01/2001