When John Wesley Harding first hit the scene in 1988 with his debut album, a live performance entitled It Happened One Night, his a-man-and-his-guitar presentation grabbed the folk fans, but the catchy hooks of his songs kept the attention of the pop fans. Soon enough, Sire Records came calling, and it wasn’t long before he’d released his studio debut: Here Comes the Groom, which arrived in ’89. Wes – as he’s more colloquially known – became a road warrior in short order, finding himself packaged with the Mighty Lemon Drops and the Ocean Blue, and if his music didn’t necessarily mesh to perfection with the other artists, he nonetheless found his fanbase growing. Many of the critics weren’t quite as enthusiastic, enjoying every possible opportunity to (inaccurately) write him off as an Elvis Costello wannabe, but, really, who cares about the critics? What matters is that sales of Here Comes the Groom were sufficient to result in a second album, The Name Above the Title…which, as it was released on Feb. 19, 1991, is precisely the album that brings us here today.
Given that Wes has not only continued to release some damned fine recordings over the past two decades but, indeed, has also begun to carve out a career for himself as an author under his proper name, Wesley Stace (his latest novel, Charles Jessod, Considered As A Murderer, hit the paperback shelves on Feb. 1, 2011), we couldn’t be happier than Wes was willing to step into the wayback machine and answer questions revolving solely around an album that’s celebrating the 20-year anniversary of its release.
Popdose: In many ways, The Name Above the Title is very much Here Comes the Groom, Pt. 2 — you’re still playing with the Good Liars, you’re being produced by Andy Paley — but it also definitely bears the sound of an artist who’s looking to expand his sonic palate, if you will. Was that a conscious effort, or was it a natural evolution?
John Wesley Harding: This may be the most disappointing interview of all time, because, first of all, I never listen to the records — any of them — apart from when I’ve just made them, at which point I listen to them obsessively for about three months. So I haven’t heard The Name Above the Title for a long while. Nor would I like to. (Laughs) Also what might be disappointing is…I think it may technically be my most successful record, though it could be Why We Fight. I’m not sure. Actually, it could be The Confessions of St. Ace, funnily enough. But, anyway, I think there was a basic huge error made with The Name Above the Title that, if it hadn’t been made, my career could’ve been very different.
When we made Here Comes the Groom, when I think back to it, it has a real charm of newness to it. I couldn’t really sing very properly, and I get somewhat lost in the production of it, but in kind of a good way. And it’s a very exciting band, and it sounds like everybody’s thrilled to be there. The next record, The Name Above the Title, is…I mean, really, it’s the same record, but with horns. (Laughs) Well, with more horns, anyway. I guess there were horns on a couple of things on the first record. But that’s kind of how I think of it, and I really think it’s a function of Sire…who were always great to me, by the way, and I wouldn’t say anything bad about them nor would want to. But I do think there was a kind of idea of, ”Well, no one knew the critics were going to like that first one, eh? So let’s just make it again…and as soon as possible!” When I look back, that would’ve been a much better time for me to go and concentrate on making an album a bit more like Why We Fight was. I think that would’ve been a more successful second move, despite the fact that it was probably my best selling-album and, uh, definitely had my most successful chart song, I was just told… (Laughs) …in ”The Person You Are.” In the big story of my career, I think it’s probably an album where, in spite of those positives, it might’ve been better if I’d moved away from the ”band” kind of thing and toward a little more of the modern production that was just starting up then. One had a chance around then to perhaps do something a little more acoustic-y, and I think that’s probably what I should’ve done, on reflection, and I’ve thought that for ages.
Having said that, I’m sure there’s pleasures on the album, but…well, for example, when I hear that version of ”Save a Little Room for Me,” it just sounds very bombastic from how that tune should sound, and ”Long Dead Gone” is another one where it’s a really great production but totally the wrong song. ”Long Dead Gone” was written for one guy to play solo on acoustic guitar, with Emmylou Harris singing along with him… (Laughs) …but, somehow, that’s what came out. That’s why, when I really think of the things that I really like on the album, they’re things like ”The Movie of Your Life,” because that was a real attempt to actually do something really quite ambitious…which may have been beyond me, but it certainly wasn’t beyond the people I was playing with. Or the producer. Or the engineer. So when I think of that album…I mean, I don’t think too many people are picking ”The Movie of Your Life” as the greatest songs I’ve ever written, but on the other hand, when I think of that album, that’s a better achievement on that record than some of the other stuff. I also have to say that, as a piece of power pop, ”The Person You Are” sounds good to me.
There was a lot of movie-ness going on with the album. You had another Frank Capra-inspired title, it opened with a track called ”Movie Theme,” then there was ”The Movie of Your Life.” And if we’re getting really obscure, I’ve still got my copy of Collected Stories 1990 — 1991, where you divided up your lyrics using the titles of Alan Rudolph films for chapter names.
(Laughs) I’d forgotten that! Yeah, I used to love Alan Rudolph a lot. I don’t even know if he makes films anymore! (Writer’s note: Not since 2002’s ”The Secret Life of Dentists.”) ”Movie Theme” wasn’t anything separate at all. It was just the strings on the bridge of ”The Movie of Your Life.” I liked them, and I thought it’d be kind of fun to use them elsewhere on the album, and then they ended up beginning the album.
I have to say that when I think back to the great pleasure of making that album — apart from just putting the tracks down with the band, which is always a great feeling when you’re working with great musicians — there were odd things like the track that I did with Ronee Blakley, which was kind of cut live. I really liked that. I thought it was beautiful. And then there was the track that was on the cassette only, which…I don’t know why it was on the cassette only, but it was me and Victoria Williams doing a song I’d written. And then Howe Gelb came in, and we did some songs together that never appeared on anything. Steve Wynn came in, and we cut the song called ”Warning Parental Advisory,” which was on a few things. And I have to say that those are the kind of bits that I kind of remember. It seemed to me that when I was making that album, what it was hard to do was, you’d get the band locked in and everything sounded good, like it should sound, and then I’d be, like, ”Where’s the acoustic guitar go on this track?” Well, unless you’re going to play it like a metronome, it’s not on there. (Laughs) I think my next albums, Why We Fight and particularly (John Wesley Harding’s) New Deal, were an attempt to put acoustic guitar, which is what I play, at the front of records.
I’d wondered whether or not the decision to shift producers on Why We Fight from Andy Paley to Steve Berlin was an attempt to go a bit folkier.
Absolutely. It totally was, although I wouldn’t necessarily say ”folkier.” I liked the idea of a smaller amount of musicians, and playing as much live as possible, with me leading the band. That was the important thing, because…well, I suppose I felt that — particularly on The Name Above the Title, if not so much on Here Comes the Groom — there was a certain amount of me-ness that got lost in it all. I mean, there was certainly never any bad vibes between me and Andy, and I remember him being incredibly kind in coming down to the studio when we were doing Why We Fight to sing backing vocals on ”Come Gather Round.” I think if you’ve made a couple of albums with the same producer and neither of them has gone to #1 or sold a billion copies, it’s probably worth just making a change, you know? (Laughs) I’d love to make an album with Andy Paley now. I think he’s fantastic. Now I have a whole lot of different songs, I have a whole different attitude, and I know my way around a recording studio now, whereas I barely did then.
Speaking of Andy, I know that ”The Facts of Life” is a co-write between you and him, and unless I’ve missed one along the way, it appears to be the only one you two ever did.
Yeah, and we barely even wrote that one together. (Laughs) I think what happened was…you know, I don’t even think it’s on the English release of the album! I can’t remember why that happened, but I think somebody said, ”Oh, let’s have a more classic rock and roll track on the album,” which was probably the last thing I actually wanted, when I think about it. But I remember that when the album was reviewed in…The L.A. Times, maybe…? One of the bigger reviews that it got, anyway, and somebody said, ”If only the care that’s been spent on Bridegroom Blues’ and The Facts of Life’ had been on the whole record.” And I’m, like, ”Jesus, and those are the ones that were thrown together!” (Laughs) Andy’s a great producer, and his calling card has ”Phil Spector” and ”Brian Wilson” in small letters on it, cause that’s his vibe. I just cut a track in Portland for my new album that Andy would love, and I can’t wait to play it for him. It’ll be the last song on the album, and it’s called ”The World in Song,” and it is a massive, massive Phil Spector-ish arrangement. And it’s exactly the kind of thing that he would like. But at that time, now that I listen back to that album, I hear myself kind of trying to sing over the band more than anything else.
You mentioned Ronee Blakley a few minutes ago. She says to say ”hello” to you, by the way. I contacted her to get her recollections on working with you.
Oh, that’s great! Well, you know, I had her singing on the album, and I had Elizabeth Barraclough as well. I got my absolute favorite singers to sing on that record, and, you know, it wasn’t a ”kid in a candy store” thing, but it was just so wonderful that you could ring up people and say, ”Hey, why don’t we do this, that, or the other?” And they’d come in and do it. So I just picked people that I loved and had all their records, like Ronee and Elizabeth, and it was wonderful.
Ronee Blakley’s recollections:
Andy Paley was an old friend of mine from the early 70′ in Cambridge, where he was a drummer. That’s how I met Wes – through Andy, at Andy’s house in Hollywood – and we hit it off right away. I was honored to be invited to play on his record and I think it came off well. He certainly favored me in the mix! It’s such a touching song. It influenced me and Wes inspired me, to write a song of mine called ‘Into the Wind and Beyond,’ in which I mention in the final verse:
“You know that poem your mother found
Written by a soldier in World War I
An anonymous mother’s son
Where in the world has he gone
Into the wind and beyond
Where have all the poets gone
Into the wind and beyond”
Can you see the connection?
Wes is a gifted musician and writer, a soulful fellow, a gentleman and a scholar! He also recorded me playing and singing my song ‘I Need a New Sun Rising Every Morning’ that day, just for himself to have, and gave me a copy. Very sweet. It was a good day, to be working with my new friend, a serious talent, and my old friend.
Elizabeth Barraclough’s recollections:
You know what? I really don’t even have much of a recollection of that session! (Laughs) It was awhile ago! I didn’t even recall that we had done (“Backing Out”). I remember doing a live gig with him, getting up and singing “Covered Up in Aces,” one of my songs, with him at McCabe’s, out there in L.A. But I thought we had recorded that song. I just have a bad memory. I’m sorry! But I do remember that Wes called me spontaneously, from out of the blue, and was just very nice and wanted to get together. And that’s when I met Andy Paley and got to know him and his girlfriend…wife?…who was very nice. I remember that call very well, how nice he was. Now that I think about it, we went out to eat at Imperial Gardens, which was next to the Chateau Marmont. I also remember that he had a vintage cowboy jacket that I was quite enamored of. (Laughs) I still remember what color it was: kind of a charcoal brown/gray with a beige pattern sewn onto it. It was a very nice jacket! And I do remember us going over the studio and just kind of playing around, and…I’m trying to think, but I believe the show at McCabe’s was probably around that time. It couldn’t have been much later, because I left L.A. not too long after that. I wish I could be more helpful…but I can totally see Wes at that point and time in my mind’s eye, and I know how much fun we had. Please give him my best!
We now return you to Wes’s remarks, right where we left off.
The Name Above The Title is a funny collection of songs, in a way, because… (Sighs) Oh, God, I’ll get the CD off the shelf and have a look at it.
And I totally know where it is, too. (Laughs) ”Fifty Fifty Split,” that’s a song that predated my first album, one that I have an astonishing afro-groove version of, produced by Steve Nieve, that I now can’t find. And no one can find. ”The People’s Drug,” that’s definitely a post-Here Comes The Groom song. ”The Movie of Your Life,” definitely, too. ”I Can Tell (When You’re Telling Lies),” definitely. ”Bridegroom Blues” I first recorded about 1986. ”Save a Little Room for Me” is off It Happened One Night, so that one had been around, and as I say, I do not consider that (version on The Name Above the Title) the definitive version of ”Save a Little Room for Me” at all. It’s the definitive version of some song. I just don’t think the song is ”Save a Little Room for Me.” (Laughs)
And, then, I love ”Anonymous 1916,” as I said, because of Ronee. But ”The Person You Are” is probably the best song on there, I’d say, the best marriage of purpose and lyric and melody. Many’s the time I’ve tried to recreate that live, with that big sound, and it just doesn’t quite work. Every time I’ve had to revamp it in some way. But, finally, we’ve found a kind of happy medium with that one. And ”Driving in the Rain,” I have to say I remember that song very fondly. It had the right kind of band-like feel, somehow, for me. It just hit the right spot. And, as I say, ”The Movie of Your Life,” that’s again one I’m quite fond of. And then we ended up with the Tommy James cover (”Crystal Blue Persuasion”)! You know, during the first album, Andy Paley got me into that Tommy James album, Crimson and Clover, which has the astonishing long version of ”Crimson and Clover” on it that you can finally get on CD. That is amazing. And ”Crystal Blue Persuasion” is on that album, isn’t it?
It is, yes.
The band Morcheeba also cut a completely awesome version of it a few years later, I remember.
Since ”Crystal Blue Persuasion” appears right at the tail end of The Name Above the Title, I remember wondering if it was your decision to cover it or if the label had said, ”Hey, if nothing else, maybe we can pull a hit single out of this thing with a cover song.”
Well, I mean, I was the one who blew their minds with ”Like a Prayer.” (Laughs) Nobody knew that I was going to do that, and everybody thought it was kind of a stupid idea! But my manager said, ”No, it’s a really nice version of it! You’ll like it!” So I cut it, and everybody thought it was great! So I was never one who was pushed into anything I didn’t want to do, though being quite honest, I will say… (Hesitates) What do I mean to say? It’s not because I have such firm ideas about anything, but because I’m a very friendly person. (Laughs) I’m a very sociable person. I like to do things that everybody considers fun. I always have! I like the feeling to be good, you know what I mean? So, no, nobody would’ve talked me into that. That’s never happened on anything, ever. Yet I can see somebody suggesting it and me saying, ”That is a great idea!” And I also loved the idea of having a last song on the album that introduced everybody. I thought that was kind of cool. Don’t I introduce the band at the beginning? Or is it the end?
It’s at the end.
Yeah! And there’s also that very nice picture of me and the Attractions inside. Kenny Craddock is dead now, which is very sad. I found all those arrangements he did after this, for Why We Fight, which didn’t really end up getting produced like he had intended because Steve Berlin cut it a lot more live than that, but then I released those on the Garden of Eden EP a couple of years ago. After he died, his wife sent me the multi-tracks of that, with him doing the vocals, and I replaced his vocals with my vocals…and the arrangements are just sensational. That guy was a genius. You know, he does all the keyboard playing on that album.
In many senses, I would say that the best thing that came out of the Name Above the Title sessions, as it were, may have been the Roky Erickson song (”If You Have Ghosts”).
I was wondering if that was part of the same sessions.
Well, technically, no, because…we recorded it in the same studio — in Eden, in London — because how those albums worked were that we’d do all the backing tracks in London, where the band lived, basically, and then fly back to America to put the overdubs on everything. And cut a few more songs, like ”Bridegroom Blues” and ”I Can Tell (When You’re Telling Lies).” Both of those were cut in America. Not to mention, of course, the Ronee Blakley song. So, in fact, it was a separate sessions, but it felt linked to me. (Hesitates) But now I can’t really remember when that album came out. It could be that it was actually Here Comes the Groom when we recorded ”If You Have Ghosts.” But either way, when I think of that band, I think of that song as the best thing we recorded.
By the way, I just checked, and Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye came out in 1990.
So there you go. In fact, I’m completely wrong: it was a late Here Comes the Groom session rather than an early Name Above the Title. (Laughs) But, you know, a lot of this is hindsight. I was just racing forward at the speed of light, enjoying myself thoroughly and hoping that extremely good things would come out of it.
On a related note, I wanted to ask you about how you introduced The Name Above the Title in the liner notes: ”It’s better than the last one and not quite as good as the next one.”
(Laughs) Yeah, I think that was exactly how I felt! And I think it’s probably right, actually…or, no, I think Here Comes the Groom might overall be a better record. I think it’s a little more… (Hesitates) The reason why the three extra songs on Here Comes the Groom were acoustic-y songs was cause I felt that’s what I wanted to emphasize. Well, that element got a little bit lost during The Name Above the Title. And Why We Fight and New Deal, that was when I really learned to kind of get on with what I was doing, as it were.
I’ll go ahead and start wrapping up, because I know I hit the 15-minute mark about five minutes ago…
(Laughs) That’s okay, that’s okay. I had to go into Philadelphia to do an interview for my book, but as it turns out, everybody in Philadelphia is sick at the moment, so I’m off.
Well, in that case… (Laughs) …you mentioned working with the Attractions, and I know you had to suffer through plenty of critics saying of Here Comes the Groom, ”Oh, he sounds like Elvis Costello, blah blah blah.” Was there ever any temptation to try a different backing band for The Name Above the Title, or did you guys just have a chemistry that you didn’t want to give up?
Well, I think I’m quite bloody-minded about that, because I kind of felt…I mean, obviously, I did give them up after The Name Above the Title, but I don’t think that the Elvis Costello-ish comparisons were the reason for that. I think the reason was that I wanted the acoustic guitar to be the lead instrument, and I just didn’t feel it was in that setting. But we did have a good chemistry, and we really liked working together. I remember one very good bit when we got to the bridge of ”When the Sun Comes Out,” on the previous album, and Bruce Thomas leaned over and said, ”Is that a B-flat minor there?” And I said, ”Yeah.” And he said, ”Why have you got a B-flat minor there? That’s not even in the key!” And Steve Donnelly, the guitarist, yells out, ”’Cause it’s the only chord that he hasn’t fucking used yet!” (Laughs) So there was a certain element of…you know, they were teaching me as I went along, and I came in with these very un-honed songs, and they would help me bang them into shape. I mean, ”The Devil in Me” didn’t go… (Hums the opening riff of the song) …when I went into the studio, but when I came out, it did…and I really liked it! Changes that seismic happened with pretty much everything on those records, and because it was those guys and because it was Andy Paley, how The Name Above the Title ended up… (Hesitates) In a way, it’s a bit sad that I can’t do this interview and just say, ”Yeah, that’s my absolute favorite record,” but I think you’d find very few artists who’d look back that long and say, ”That’s my favorite record.” Very, very few. I mean, you’re almost bound to just kind of go, ”Eh, I think the next one was better.” I’ve gotten better as I’ve gone along. But, I mean, unless you’re really over the hill and you’ve peaked, I think most feel that way.
I was never very worried about the Elvis Costello thing. I mean, I can understand it, but it seemed to me a rather shallow comparison, because my songs and my lyrics…my lyrical outlet was not the same as his at all. But I did understand. I’d listened to a lot of Elvis Costello by that point, and I’d learned a lot of stuff from it, probably for better and for worse. But the odd thing is, and it’s nothing to do with this, but I literally stopped listening to Elvis Costello around the time of Spike. I think that was the last Elvis Costello album I enjoyed elements of. So he wasn’t somebody, really, that was at the top of my consciousness then. Obviously, if somebody said, ”Do you want to make a record with the Attractions,” you’re almost certainly going to say, ”Yes!” And you’re not going to say, ”Golly blimey, I’m a bit worried about the Elvis Costello comparisons…” I mean, I’ve just made an album with what I will call the members of the Decemberists as my backing band, which is the entire Decemberists bar Colin Meloy. I’m not worried for a millisecond that anyone will compare it negatively to Colin Meloy’s songs with the Decemberists because we write songs that are exactly nothing along. So those people are just great musicians, and they’re playing my songs…and it will sound like me playing with a great band who happen to be 4/5 of the Decemberists. Back then, I think I wasn’t in control enough of the thing that I did, because I hadn’t found enough of my own identity to conquer…to overcome, if you will…the situation I was in. And that is probably the most succinctly I’ve ever put it.
The comparison with the members of the Decemberists is a very good one, because I can see now how there’s no reason to worry about that. At the time in 1991…or 1990, whenever that album was actually made…I didn’t worry about it. But I probably should have done. The reason I didn’t worry about it was because I was just living for the moment too much and having too much of a good time. (Laughs) But there’s also an element of, simply, a lack of self-knowledge about what I was actually doing and how I could bring myself to the front. And, definitely, The Name Above the Title was when I went, ”Oh, that’s great! Well, I’m glad that’s sold a bunch of copies!” I don’t know how many it sold. It was certainly enough for Sire to say, ”Let’s do another one.” But that was the time when I went, ”Right, I’m going to do something different, and it’s going to be more to do with the acoustic guitar, and I want to have a stand-up bass, and I want it to sound much more skiffle-y, and I want it to sound much more like the music that I’m currently listening to.” But I didn’t quite know on the first two albums how to totally stamp them with the thing that was essentially me, and I think, whereas Here Comes the Groom kind of works, I think on The Name Above the Title it only works in patches. And I think those patches, as we’ve talked about, like ”The Movie of Your Life” and ”The Person You Are,” I think they’re as good as I could’ve possibly been, and I thank those people very much for that. But I think there are also bits where probably, because I just didn’t know enough to go, ”No, that’s just not how this song goes,” I rolled with the flow a bit too easily just out of trust. I mean, I really did trust those people, and they were totally helpful to me and saw me get to make records. It’s because of those two or three records, really, that I get to be still making music in the year 2011.
To backtrack, I meant to ask you earlier: was it your idea to have the Waters — Maxine, Oren, and Julia Waters — sing on the album, or was it Andy’s?
Andy’s, for sure. (Laughs) But I knew all about them, and I was very keen to have them on there. And…who else is on that album?
Sid Page and the Morgans Creek String Ensemble are on there.
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I kind of remember that guy. (Laughs) Well, you know, over the albums, there’s kind of a string quartet on every album, and it’s difficult to remember which one’s which necessarily. That’s why, amongst it all, I really liked recording with Ronee. Cause you can see in the credits: ”Piano and vocals, Ronee Blakley. Guitar and vocals, Wes.” That’s beautiful. (Laughs) And I also very much liked the songs like ”The People’s Drug,” where there really isn’t anything else on it. There’s no credit there. It’s, like, ”Performed by the Good Liars, harmonies by Wes.” That reads really well to me.
(Reading from the liner notes) ”The last album took four weeks to make and this one, as they say, took even longer. It made the same fantastic voyage from Chiswick to Los Angeles. The backing tracks were recorded in four days straight…” That’s pretty cool. The backing tracks on my new album were recorded in three days, so I’m 25% more efficient than I used to be. (Laughs) ”Here are some crucial pieces of information, vital to a true enjoyment and understanding of this thing. Design by Tony Hannaford.” He was a great man. And the photographer, Richard Ellis, I don’t remember him very much, but I do remember that he took a good photo. I’ll tell you a really funny thing: if you look at the ”Two Big Thank Yous,” the first is to Steve Martin, my agent, a longtime friend. He’s not my agent anymore, but, still, I E-mailed him just this morning. And Peter Barnes…I still have the same publishing deal. I mean, he and I have just been…well, not negotiating, but discussing what we’re going to do about the next record. That was just yesterday morning. Andy Paley’s bit about how ”no rhythm machines were used,” and how these are real people,” I put that on very much through gritted teeth, I remember, at the time. (Laughs) I didn’t care about rhythm machines and real people terribly much…and I think that’s why it’s written upside down! But it was a time when people who were used to making music one way wanted to make that very clear, and it did seem like a good thing to me to point out, but it also felt probably a little bit luddite to me.
By the way, I look at your picture on the album cover of The Name Above the Title, and I have to ask: do you miss the hair?
I barely had the hair! (Laughs) I had the hair for about one day, and it was that day that they took the picture! My idea was…the honest truth is that my idea was that I wanted each album cover… (Starts to laugh) …this was my idea…to look like other people who were making music at that time. So on the first album, I had it all kind of high and slick, and it was all a bit Morrissey-esque, and that seemed to me to be the dominant thing then. And then a year later, it was all, like, Soup Dragons, Happy Mondays, and stuff like that, so I went with that. But, literally, I have a very… (Starts to laugh again) I’m not sure how much we need to go into this, but I have a very potentially irritable scalp, and…I can’t wear a hat. I never wear a hat. It’s extremely rare to see me in a hat. Unless I’m in disguise.
So I couldn’t even wear my hair like that hardly very long at all. It was like that for a bit, but very, very, very, very not long.
Yeah, you do look a bit like you could’ve been part of the whole Baggy movement.
Yeah, that’s what it was! And the graphics were meant to look like that as well!
To wrap up, I must ask about a specific lyric from the album, from ”Fifty Fifty Split.” Do you still believe that love is only the sum of its parts?
Did I ever believe that? That’s an interesting question. That song’s all about maths. Maths and love. Is love the sum of its parts? A group is the sum of its parts, but if it’s a good group, the gestalt will be better than the individual components of its parts. So if it’s the gestalt, then I suppose it is, isn’t it? Am I right? The gestalt is an extra little bit of icing that is more than the sum of the parts, right? So is love only the sum of its parts? Well, in that song, love is only the sum of its parts because they’re a very awkward couple who are stuck in a kind of mathematical equation which they’re trying to balance and reduce. It was an idea I had while I was on a train heading north supporting the Hothouse Flowers, as I remember. Which was my first tour in England. But whether a good love is only the sum of its parts, no, I would say it is not. (Laughs)
Excellent. Well, look, Wes, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about The Name Above the Title 20 years on.
Oh, it’s not a problem at all! You know, that album was horrendously reissued as a 2-fer (with Here Comes the Groom) by this label Collectibles, and they…well, it would’ve come out entirely without my knowledge, but magically I managed to get hold of the info and kind of waylaid it and had them put a semi-decent cover instead of a horrible one. But I don’t think many people could have bought it, because if they had bought it…initially, they were going to put out Here Comes the Groom without ”Things Snowball,” ”Red Rose and the Briar,” and ”Bastard Son,” and I pointed out that nobody would want to do it with less tracks. (Laughs) And then, if you listen to it, I think I’m right in saying that ”Bridegroom Blues” actually has a digital fuck-up in it. It actually has a bit where it goes, ”EHHH!” Right in the middle of it. Like a digital flaw. So that is probably the worst reissue ever of an album.
I can tell you there weren’t really any outtakes from it, except kind of acoustic-y ones, like the Steve Wynn stuff and the Howe Gelb stuff. There’s a lot of that. But I don’t even think there was one extra song recorded for it at all. (Laughs) Although it’s possible maybe there was one called ”Patron Saint of Losers,” that ended up on a B-side in England. But what has come out recently are a few of the acoustic outtakes. What I used to do was make these demo tapes, and the last two albums I’ve put out myself…have you got these?
Do you mean the Dynablob albums?
No, John Wesley Harding Sings to a Small Guitar. There’s two volumes.
Okay, yes, I’ve heard of them. I don’t have them, but I’m aware of them.
I’ll send them to you. E-mail your address, and I’ll send them to you.
That would be wonderful. But I’ll wait until the interview goes live, so I’ll at least feel as though I’ve earned them.
(Laughs) That’ll be fine. But one of them’s particularly nice because it’s got a massive poster of ever acoustic demo tape I ever made. Literally, every one. And each one’s got 25, 30 songs, generally in alphabetical order, and you can kind of see what songs didn’t and did make it onto the albums.
The Name Above the Title is an album that I have to say that, when I look back, even though I have mixed feelings about it, as you can tell… (Laughs) …it’s an album that, whenever people mention it to me, it’s the one that they really love. And…I don’t really like It Happened One Night very much, to be honest. I massively prefer the reissue with the second disc in it, cause I think the second disc is awesome. It has all the band stuff that should’ve been the first album, really. So I don’t even really like It Happened One Night. And it seems to me that, when people come up and tell me their favorite album, it’s generally The Name Above the Title, so it’s an album that I’m always very gracious about, because there’s nothing worse than when somebody says, ”Great performance,” and you go, ”That was shit!” (Laughs) Nobody wants to hear that! That’s the worst thing you can possibly do, so I’m always very gracious about The Name Above the Title…but it’s kind of nice to have a slightly more in-depth talk about it!