a short site about The Divine Comedy

Angelic Upstart

The Divine Comedy return to the live arena in September and have recorded several tracks for a new album 'that's going to be fab', according to the ever-immodest Neil Hannon

While not quite the career destroying disaster that some people made it out to be, 2001 was definitely a testing time for Neil Hannon. His Re:Generation album, stiffing got it off to a bad start; the break-up of The Divine Comedy made it even worse; and, well, we all became seriously worried when he turned into a member of Hawkwind.

"Oh, the hair," he says running a hand through his luxuriant centre-parted locks. "I suppose there is a touch of the '70s prog rocks about it. People think it's a conscious effort to alter my look, but I'm absolutely rubbish at being premeditated. If I was going to reinvent myself, I'd chose a better role model than Lemmy!

"With regards to Re:Generation stiffing - as you so eloquently put it - it was a record that I enjoyed making and which was right for me at the time. While I don't in any way consider it to be sub-standard, I realised afterwards that it's not the way I want to make music. Turning The Divine Comedy into a democracy was my idea, but once we reached that point I discovered I quite like being a dictator."

Having been encouraged to think of themselves as a band in the truest sense of the word, were his Comedy colleagues miffed when they received their P45s?

"Generally they took it very well, which I have to thank them for 'cause it's not a nice thing to sack all your friends," he reflects. "None of it was a reflection on their abilities or lack thereof. It was me wanting to head in a direction that didn't involve that particular set-up. I was going to ditch the name as well as the personnel but then I thought, hang on, The Divine Comedy was me and still is, really."

What did EMI think when their sharp-suited, short-haired new signing got rid of all the things that had attracted them to him in the first place?

"Well, I like to think that part of the reason they gave me a contract is that I write good songs. I want to make music that's challenging and not necessarily flavour of the month while, at the same time, still capable of reaching a wide audience. I want to be pop but with all the wrong instruments! Y'know, keep the drums and bass to a minimum without being acoustic. Hiding one's light under a bushel isn't my thing. I want to sell records but not so badly that I'll keep making the same one over and over again."

Divorce proceedings completed, it was off to the States for a lengthy tour with Ben Folds.

"I thought I was nice, but he really is the loveliest man I've ever met," Hannon coos. "A lot of people have heard his music over the years and gone, 'It sounds like Billy Joel!' but get past that and you realise he's a modern songwriting genius."

Does he regard the boy Folds as something of a kindred spirit?

"Very much so. We talked about how people in our situation - y'know, with talent - have rather been marginalised over the last 10 years. We didn't come up with any solutions but it's nice to know that somebody feels as hard done by as you do! We're both of the opinion that if you keep writing the best songs possible, the rest of the world will eventually recognise your genius."

Has he any idea what the follow-up to Re:Generation is going to sound like?

"Yes, because I went into the studio last week and recorded half of it," he laughs. "There are seven more or less completed backing-tracks which I just have to add my wonderful vocals to. Whereas Re:Generation fell between two stools and gave me a nasty injury, this album will leap effortlessly between them and…this is a really crap analogy, isn't it? Let's just say it's going to be fab!"

Stuart Clark
Hot Press 29/08/2002