Ian Broudie has done incredibly well for himself. As a producer, he’s manned the boards for Echo & the Bunnymen, Specials singer (and frequent Broudie songwriting partner) Terry Hall, Alison Moyet, The Coral, Dodgy, Icicle Works, The Primitives, and dozens of other notable artists. As the sole driving force behind The Lightning Seeds, Broudie has racked up 13 hits in the UK, including the football anthem “Three Lions,” which has topped the UK charts three times. Yes, three.
At the same time, Broudie deserves much, much more name recognition. The Lightning Seeds’ catalog is a master class in pop songcraft, and their upcoming album See You in the Stars (set for release October 14), the band’s first in 13 years, picks up right where they left off (well, sort of, but more on that later) and, forgive the first person, nearly drove me to tears on first listen. Goddamn, it’s good to have a new Lightning Seeds album. Goodness knows we’ve earned it.
Throughout our Zoom chat, Broudie was exactly as advertised. He was friendly, thoughtful, and brutally honest about his career. He also confirmed a suspicion we’d had about the band’s previous album, 2009’s Four Winds: it’s not really a Lightning Seeds album.
But first, a little talk about touring.
I lived in bigger cities, but I don’t recall the Lightning Seeds ever coming to Boston or Chicago, and I’m thinking, they had to have come at some point, right?
We didn’t do a lot of touring in the States.
I was in Boston when Sense came out, and you had a lot of support with the modern rock station there at the time (WFNX, R.I.P.), and then I lived in Chicago for 10 years, but I don’t remember you ever coming there.
You’re correct. When I started, it was strange. I’d produced a few things, [but] I felt like a songwriter, and I was being pulled into the wrong career. So I was writing some tunes at home and there was a guy, a bit of a ‘60s leftover guy with a big cigar. I was producing a band called The Pale Fountains years ago, and he said to me, “You’re obviously a talent. If you finish any of your songs, send them to me, I’d love to hear them.” All the bands in Liverpool (Broudie’s hometown) were being signed, so I sent him my songs, and he heard “Pure.” “I’m sitting in my garden, I’ve got a glass of white wine, I’ve got your song ‘Pure’ on, I love it, let’s put it out!”
I said, “We’ll have to get a record deal.” He said, “Ah, I’ll just have 500 made, and I’ll hire someone to take it to the radio,” which he did. And it was like a magical event that changed my life, really. And “Pure,” it just got added and added and added [to radio playlists], and then went out across the world, and gave me my career, to be fair. But sorry, the point I was making was I didn’t have a band, so all of a sudden I had this happening, and Sense was coming out [in the US] and I had no band, so I didn’t actually play live until the third album [Jollification]. And that never got released in the States, so I just never came.
My understanding is there were 10 years between the time that Four Winds came out, and the time you started this song cycle. Is that right?
Well, I don’t know about the song cycle. It’s longer than that between albums. Four Winds was a strange situation. I stopped the Lightning Seeds after Tilt. I did a solo record called Tales Told in , and then I wasn’t sure what was going to do. I had some songs that I thought were probably going to be done in a very simple way, and I felt like I still wasn’t writing Lightning Seeds songs. They were a little bit sad, they didn’t have a bittersweet thing, they didn’t have the energy and positivity of the Lightning Seeds thing.
And then Universal said, “We’d like to put these out.” So I did, and then they said it’s going to be a Lightning Seeds album, and I said, “I don’t think these are Lightning Seeds songs,” and they said, “Try and make them [sound like Lightning Seeds songs].” There are bits that I’m proud of, but it ended up betwixt in between. I don’t count it in my head as a Lightning Seeds album; It should have been called something else, maybe a solo album. That stopped me doing anything for a long time, because I felt like, until I write some songs that feel like, when I play a gig, they will sit alongside “Sense” and “The Life of Riley” and “Lucky You,” I don’t want to do it.
And I’ve been through a lot of personal traumas – you know, life, like everyone [Note: his brother committed suicide in2006, and the new album’s title track is about a friend who passed away] — but then about three years ago, I wrote a couple of tunes and I thought, “These sound like Lightning Seeds tunes,” and, although they are a bit blue, they felt like Lightning Seeds songs. I went to Liverpool and recorded with a friend of mine who I produced and was now a producer. And he was like, “Come and do it, you should be putting records out.” So we finished off a song together, and we recorded it and that song’s called…have you got the album?
I received a stream of it, yes.
That was a song called “Great to Be Alive.” That was really the first song [written for the album], and I finished it and I thought, this sounds halfway to being Lightning Seeds and the solo [material], but it’s definitely a step forward. So that gave me a bit of confidence, and I moved on from there. That was about three years ago, so I’d say that was the start of me making the album, but I didn’t really start doing it in earnest until about six months ago.
The friend you’re referring to: that would be James Skelly [lead singer of The Coral], correct?
You want to hear something funny? I’ve seen him live. But I haven’t seen you.
They came over, didn’t they?
They were opening for Supergrass at one point.
Yeah, that’s right.
I think you’re being too hard on yourself. They totally sound like Lightning Seeds songs. I was going to ask how long it took for the muscle memory to come back in writing, but based on what I heard, I would say it didn’t take you very long, because these songs sound like they could have come from any point in the band’s history.
Thank you, thank you. That’s very kind to say, I’m very pleased with this album, and I think it has great moments, which is how an artist should feel. But it’s a road back [to getting into a songwriting cycle], and now I feel ring fit, or…that was a real bad attempt at some sort of boxing analogy. I know ring rusty, or whatever the opposite of that is.
Fighting fit, I think.
Fighting fit, that’s it. But I am really pleased with this, it’s something I can really stand behind. And I do think it sounds like a Lightning Seeds album, and it’s just been incredibly elusive for me to get that for a while.
I was curious about the inner monologue that you would have over the years. Were you always thinking, “I’m going to make another Lightning Seeds album,” or were there points where you thought, “You know what, I’m good”?
You know, I was really enjoying being a troubadour, as you might say in a romantic way. But to be honest, I felt like I lost concentration, and stopped caring a little bit about me being an artist. I just was floating down the divisions, as it were. And then I started doing shows again after a long time, and I started to really enjoy playing live, which I had never done back in the day. And my son Riley got involved, and he was playing guitar. We did a few rehearsals, and I was like, “I want you to know what it feels like to play with a great drummer. Let’s get a great drummer.” And then, it just led to all the air getting back into the lungs, in a way, and then I started really enjoying playing. I wasn’t sure I can make another record, but I certainly was enjoying being me again.
When it’s an abstract concept, you think, ‘Should I make another album?’ Hmm. you know. But when you have a few songs and you think, ‘I’m really pleased with the songs, I really want people to hear them,’ it takes on a whole different emotional thing, and you start going, “Right, I like this song, it would be a shame if no one heard this. Let’s do a couple more.” And then. you get the wind back in your sails.
I was getting a good reaction from friends, and you know with your friends, they’re always going to say they like them, but you can tell when they say, “Can you send me a link, can I send it [to a friend]”, and I think gradually my confidence came creeping back. And then I was still dithering around, and Riley came to me and said there’s a real problem with vinyl because, everyone got rid of the ability to make vinyl, the record companies destroyed all the equipment, and now everyone wants vinyl, so you have to book it…I don’t know if it’s the same in the States, but here, you have to book it ages in advance.
So Riley said to me, “We’ve got six songs. You want 10. If you don’t do another four in the next four weeks, we’re going to miss the window for vinyl. It’s not going to come out for a year. I’m just letting you know.”
Yeah, he’s clever. And I just thought, you know what, I’ve got the tunes. I just need to put the work into them. So I thought, I’ll do it the way I did Jollification, I’ll do it on my own in this room I’m sitting in now, actually, in my house. And I’ve got my bits and pieces [of song fragments], and I finished all the lyrics and arranged the last four [songs] and recorded them, and then phoned up an engineer pal of mine who came over for two days. We mixed them and I literally mastered them four days later, and sent it off to vinyl.
So, you did the mastering.
Literally, three days later. And then the day we sent off the mastering and I was done, I got Covid. (Chuckles)
I managed to avoid it the whole time, and then I got it.
Am I mistaken, or are there some Easter eggs contained in some of these tracks? I’ll give you an example. “Emily Smiles,” the layered vocals reminded me of “You Bet Your Life” from Dizzy Heights, and there’s a keyboard riff in “Green Eyes” that I feel like is straight out of “Pure.”
While I was writing I was thinking, “Well, it’s Lightning Seeds, I’ve got the vibe back.” And what you’re trying to do is…everyone is saying to you, “It’s got to be the same, but different. or different, but the same,” and you’re like, “Wow, that’s funny, different but the same, the same but different.” And then I started thinking to myself, and in my head [the album was] my own greatest hits. I started trying to be influenced by myself, so a song like “Sunshine,” I was thinking about how I had a couple of songs in a band called Care, just before the Lightning Seeds, a song called “Flaming Sword.”
I just got my hands on that album.
Okay, okay. I was writing things in a certain way, and the [Echo & the] Bunnymen bits. And I thought, “I’m going to try and make this feel a bit like that,” and then I had the lyrics to “Green Eyes,” and I felt like this is like a postscript for “Pure,” emotionally. So I thought I’d like it to shadow “Pure,” and have the same instrumentation. Maybe not all of [the new songs reference the band’s previous work], but there was a lot of that going on, and I was purposely going with myself at different times [in my life], more than exact songs and what I would have done then. If I was producing The Three O’Clock, I’d have done this, and if I was doing the Bunnymen, I’d have done that. And I tried to, in a way, as you said, it’s good way of putting it, Easter eggs. I’m going to use that. But there’s definitely references all the way through, to me.
The drum machine that you use on “Permanent Damage,” is that a Roland CR-78?
Funnily enough, it’s three drum machines together.
Ah, OK. It made me smile when I heard it, because while it’s better known for its use in “Heart of Glass,” it immediately made me think of “Dance Away” by Roxy Music.
Right, yeah, yeah. They kind of double speed it on those, don’t they? In the early days when we’re doing the Bunnymen before they had a drummer, we used to have one, I think was a precursor to the CR-78, and it wasn’t made by Roland (Note: he’s right, it was made by Korg). It was called a Mini Pops Junior, and we did a track called “Pictures on My Wall,” and [the drum setting he used] was Rock 1, and I had a great feel for Rock 1, so I put Rock 1 from the Mini Pops, and a CR-78, and I think something else, but I can’t remember exactly which other one. And I got them all going in a bit of a line, really, took bits out of all of them, but yeah, there’s definitely a lot of CR-78 in there.
This is the first time that you’ve paid for the record yourself and then submitted it to the label, correct?
Tell me about that experience. Were there times where you thought, “I would love to have the record company’s money to buy this or that fancy toy,” or was most of the time spent going, “Oh, thank God, I don’t have to use their money anymore, and I can just do this myself”?
It’s not something I’d want to do again. I found it finite, you know, and I spent twice as much as they gave me, making the record, basically. So I did all the things that you’re saying, and got the strings, and just spent more. It’s a certain model that the record companies have, and it doesn’t go with a creative… you can’t really go with the flow of anything. I think in the world today, you can’t really control things. There’s a lot of serendipity, there’s a lot of things [that] just happen, and you always need that anyway. You always need something that you couldn’t have guessed. But you do need the ability to go with those things, and I think this model makes that difficult.
I’ve actually learned quite a bit about you just reading the bio on your website. It casually mentions that you provided free studio time for fledgling artists, including The Divine Comedy, and I would just like to personally thank you for that.
I didn’t know it said that. Does it say that on our website?
Huh, I wonder who wrote that. It wasn’t me, but it’s true.
I also just learned that the band name came from a misheard Prince lyric.
That’s correct, yeah. [Note: The line is ‘Thunder drowns out what the lightning sees,’ from “Raspberry Beret.”]
That makes you the second band I can think of, next to Prefab Sprout, that I love that is named after a misheard lyric.
I didn’t know that [about Prefab Sprout].
Tell me about a happy accident that took place in the studio, something that you didn’t want or intend to happen, but then you heard it and said, “Oh, that’s cool, let’s keep that.”
Well, the whole intro of “Pure,” actually. The whole intro is me trying to get in time for the start of the song, so it’s me getting in time going, (sings) “Dat-da, dat-da,” ready to go, “Dat-dat-da, dat-dat-da.” Originally, we were going to edit that off, but because I never finished the song or mixed it, it stayed on. Because the rough mix became the [final] mix. So that was a happy accident.
This might seem random, but I was wondering if you had seen the documentary about Sparks.
I did see it, the Netflix one. Yeah, yeah.
Were you a fan of theirs?
I probably only knew two songs, “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us,” and I was always a bit confused, I really didn’t know they were American. I always thought they were French, because when we’d do gigs in France, they’d always be on TV in concert, or in Germany, we’d always turn on the TV, Sparks in concert late at night, all the time. So I just assumed they were European, so it was quite interesting because, is there a connection with Giorgio Moroder? Did I see that name [in the film]?
He produced “The Number One Song in Heaven,” and that whole album (No. 1 in Heaven).
OK. I knew there was a connection to him. One of the things that’s great about now is that we can all still do what we love to do. I remember when I was a kid reading a headline in the paper and my dad’s saying, “The Rolling Stones are going to do a gig. They’re all in their thirties! Ridiculous! What are they doing?” [Chuckles] And I was like. “Yeah, that’s crazy, they should stop.” And I think the Internet has made it so that we can all connect up with the things we love, and it isn’t just that narrow spotlight of what happens to be new this week, and I’m very grateful to be living in that moment, and that Sparks documentary, that’s one of the things I thought. This couldn’t happen previously. It would have to be now.
When do you think there will be another Lightning Seeds record? There’s not going to be another delay like this one, right?
No, that would be pushing my luck, I think.[At this point, my wife and son pop up to say hi to Ian]
Hopefully, I’ll end up coming in and doing some gigs nearby. It would be lovely to meet you all in person.
I would love that. If you come to Chicago, I will find a way to get there. Best of luck with the record. It’s so good to hear you again.
Thanks for doing the interview, and thanks for listening to the album.
My pleasure. Take care.