a short site about The Divine Comedy

Regeneration - An Interview With The Divine Comedy at the Solidays Festival

"The Divine Comedy...... didn't they do that woodshed song?"

Yes, these were the words spoken to me by an employee at Tower Records when I eagerly purchased my copy of Regeneration, the latest and greatest album from The Divine Comedy. The young lad behind the counter has probably never taken the time to listen to the Divine Comedy's fabulous back catalogue that includes such stellar gems as 1994's Promenade and 1997's A Short Album About Love. If one were purely judging the band on the merits of it's quirky singles, it would be easy to dismiss it as a jokey one-hit-wonder, but I suspect that this slack-jawed teenager is unaware of the transformation that has occurred in the Divine Comedy camp. Tired of being associated with comical turns-of-phrase and tailored suits, Neil Hannon and his band have decided to strip down to the bare essentials. The masks have come off of the musicians and the music.

The Divine Comedy began as a proper band, but when the other members left, singer/ songwriter Neil Hannon was left to go it alone. He re-invented himself as a late 20th century roué and leaned heavily on the influence of Scott Walker and Noel Coward. His first three albums, Liberation, Promenade, and Casanova elegantly blend sexuality, spirituality, and social commentary, and 1998's Fin de Siecle revels mischievously in its own decadence. So it seems fitting that the next album, Regeneration, should be an about-face. Regeneration marks a step toward respectability. The album's grace and beauty are found in its simplicity rather than it's flamboyance. The sounds are layered and subtle, and the lyrics are poignant and direct. Regeneration looks unmercifully into the heart of humanity as seen through Hannon's sadder, wiser eyes. First single, "Love What You Do" serves as a proactive statement of intent by plainly elucidating the desire to enjoy life. "Note to Self" reads like the diary of a mad man who's trying to convince himself he's sane, and "Bad Ambassador" echoes the pain of feeling inadequate in a potential lover's eyes. "Perfect Lovesong" is a bright and breezy affair, while the title track frantically searches for light within the darkest recesses of humanity.

Hannon is still the creative guru of The Divine Comedy, but now, The Divine Comedy is a proper band rather than a one-man show. The seven-man line-up consists of Hannon on vocals and guitar, percussionist Rob Farrer, drummer Miggy Barradas, bassist Bryan Mills, guitarist Ivor Talbot, and multi-instrumentalists Joby Talbot and Stuart 'Pinkie' Bates.

The be-suited image and the tongue-in-cheek innuendo have fallen into the annals of the past, so I sat down with Neil Hannon and Ivor Talbot at the Solidays Festival in Paris to discuss their present and their future.

What's the significance of the album's title, Regeneration?

Neil: The regenerati.... The regeneratative....... The regen........ Bollocks! I'm too tired. The regeneration is more to do with just finding a new approach to making music, just trying to sort of find a way of making music that we're not bored with, you know? You keep yourself busy; you keep changing the rules of the game so that you come up with something different each time.

Ivor, you and the other band members have made a more substantial contribution to Regeneration; do you plan to write songs for future Divine Comedy albums?

Ivor: We always sort of have contributed. We play our own instruments the only way we can play them. We write our own parts to fit what Neil writes, but I'm not sure if the music I write would mix with the stuff Neil writes, it depends if the styles would mix, but, yeah, we'd give it a go.

Do you think that all the media fuss over your new look has caused the music on Regeneration to be marginalized somewhat?

Neil: (long pause) No, I think it's sort of blurred people's perception of who we are. Probably it's confused the public a little bit, but that's okay. Confusion is good. It's creative. The whole point of the way we look is that it's not about changing the image, it's about losing the image and replacing it with the music. How we look is neither here nor there, it's unimportant.

Do you think the decision to lose the image has changed your fanbase?

Ivor: I think it's changed dramatically. It's changed a lot all over the place. In Germany, France, Britain.....

Neil: Holland...

Ivor: Belgium...

Neil: Switzerland...

Ivor: Spain...

Neil: Italy...

Ivor: Portugal...

Neil: Swaziland...

Ivor: Swaziland, America, Argentina... Before it used to be this thing where people would turn up to watch a bunch of freaks in suits who play all this really pretty music, and now it's people turning up to watch a band.

Do you have a desire to come to America; is it a market you'd like to break into?

Neil: Yes, there are lots of people in America, and they buy lots of records. I think the Americans deserve us.

Why?

Neil: Because they have so much awful music, there (laughs) We've basically been pissed on by the music business in America; nobody wanted to release our records. But now we've finally got a record company and we're hoping to release this album there in the autumn and hopefully tour.

If you come back to the States, will you tour as a full band this time?

Neil: If you give us the money! (laughs) Obviously with the way this album sounds and the way we sound on stage, it's kind of important to have everybody there, but it's all about finances, really.

Ivor: And it takes a while if you go out there as well, unless you're big superstars like... Queen.

Neil: Or U2.

Would you like to be as big as Queen or U2?

Neil: YEAH!!

Ivor: It's not about making money.

Neil: It's about taking it as far as it will go. It would be fun to be that big, just so you could destroy it. You know, build it up to tear it down, but we're just gonna keep plugging away and doing what we have to do.

Ivor: Staying alive I think it's called.

Is there a goal you want to achieve in regards to fame in the music business?

Neil: Fame is an illusion. It's about making the best records you can.

Ivor: It's about making music. Musically, we'd like to achieve something new.

Neil: Yeah, if you really like and believe in the music you make, obviously you want that music to be heard everywhere and for people to get off on it. I've never understood people who write songs and don't want them to be heard by anyone else. It's weird.

When you play the songs on Regeneration now that you've been on tour for a few months, do they still sound fresh?

Neil: I think it's a facet of these songs and this album that they don't become boring really quickly. There's a lot of room to breathe in the music. We can all expand upon the things we're playing. Whereas in the old days, it was quite rigid and structured and there wasn't a lot we could do. So it did become a little boring after a while.

Finally, do you love what you do?

Ivor: Yeah, most definitely.

Neil: I didn't really love it at six o'clock this morning when we had to get on the plane, but generally, yes.

Amusingly enough, I shared interview time with two adorable French girls (who asked Neil such probing questions as "What's your favorite color?" It's green, by the way, at least that's what it was when he was twelve.) After that earth-shattering revelation, Neil and Ivor bid adieu and head over to the stage, but there's a delay because, as one Divine Comedy roadie put it, 'The French PA is a piece of shite.' When they finally emerge, they're forty minutes late, and it appears that Hannon has spent those forty minutes drinking, heavily. In spite of Neil's slightly altered state, and perhaps because of it, the set is amazing. After beginning with a subdued version of "Love What You Do", they bounce their way through an infectiously jolly "Tonight We Fly". Hannon sings his heart out on "Bad Ambassador", and even flubbed lyrics can't dampen the spirit of "Thrillseeker".

Unlike many other indie bands, The Divine Comedy has the ability to play almost any type of song. "Generation Sex" has a swingin' sixties feel, and "Sweden" absolutely rocks in the style Kurt Weil. Joby Talbot and Pinkie Bates juggle recorders, keyboards, and synthesizers, while Rob Farrer plays xylophone, tambourine and guitar. He even bangs a gong, literally. Although the sound quality is awful, the energy and exuberance of the band transcend the technical difficulties. Hannon ditches the guitar in favor of a can of beer, which he promptly spills on himself, during "Perfect Lovesong", and he brandishes a wicked tambourine during "The Pop Singer's Fear of the Pollen Count". Farrer and Mills are all smiles, they're laughing at Neil, not with him, and it's a pleasure to see a band that truly enjoys playing live. The crowd moans its discontent when Neil announces that the next song will be their last, but the blindingly raucous crescendo of Ivor Talbot's guitar on "Regeneration" sets the crowd reeling.

As the final note cascades over the crowd, the seven men that make up the Divine Comedy set down their instruments and wave goodbye. The crowd cheers for more, but alas, the band has already passed into a waiting van in order to return home for some much needed rest. However, the final lyrics of "Regeneration" sum it up best: "It's only just begun."


Destiny Lilly
wake-zine