Interview – The Zutons

The Zutons have just released their critically acclaimed new albumin Australia on a quaint format known as compact disc. To mark theoccasion, Paul Collins caught up with dummer SEAN PAYNE to discuss life as a Liverpudlian musician, good and bad festivals and a certain ginger haired girl called Valerie – you know, like the Wino song.

 

IN many ways, it feels like interviewing Dannii Minogue and opening with “so how’s Kylie?”

Not that it should, of course. For if Liverpool’sthe Zutons have grown weary of answering questions about having their hit single, Valerie, wrestled from their grasp by Mssrs Winehouse and Ronson, then surely it’s trumped by a sense of pride in their ability to pen a cert to be remembered as one of the decade’s seminal hits.

What started as a jaunty ode to singer Dave McCabe’s drink driving friend seamlessly translated into a perky brass band enhanced remake when tackled by the “it” duo earlier in the year. Almost over night it went from festival singalong to X-factor audition, so much so, in fact, the song is now perhaps one year away from joining the likes of Nothing Compares 2U, Tainted Love and It Must Be Love on the “I can’t believe it’s a cover” list.

On the plus side, it’s a success which has won the band further respect as songwriters and helped swell bank balances beyond comprehension – just don’t expect to see it lingering on any of the members’ Ipod play lists as way of a thank you.

“It (the Winehouse/Ronson version) is alright,” sighs drummer, Sean Payne, the proceeding pause suggesting more of an apathy towards the line of questioning rather than any bitterness towards the cover itself.

“At least it’s not a cheesy dance remix or something so it could be a lot worse.

“I still much prefer our version and I think we felt pressure to follow it up right away, we certainly don’t feel any more now.

“It’s a great song and it doesn’t really matter to us that most people will now see it as Amy’s.

“It remains a fans’ favourite and there’s no way we’ll stop playing it live.”

Yet even if they did opt to omit it, running dry on crowd pleasers is not something they will ever have to worry about.

Since bursting on the scene with Who Killed…The Zutons? In 2004, the band’s hook driven sing-along anthems combined with the apoplectic saxophone playing of

Payne’s girlfriend, Abi Harding, made them a mesmeric

live act that thrilled crowds with their fusion of styles, ranging from classic rock, rootsy bluegrass and even storytelling country.

It’s a robust formula that set them aside from many of the Liverpudlian contemporaries they’d previously been lazily paralleled with (the Coral, the Stands etc…) and as they prepare to release their third album, You Can Do Anything, in Australia, Sean feels they’ve finally well and truly established themselves as their own act.

“It did do our heads in a bit,” he admits, “but now we see bands being compared to us and I guess that’s when you know you’ve made it.

“Liverpool will always be our home and even though we didn’t like people using it to define our sound, I guess the more you’re away the more you realise how important it is to you.

“Earlier in the year we played with Paul McCartney there and that was obviously a huge deal for us and I suppose really made us household names in the city.

“We’re now playing our biggest ever headline show there in December. The Royal Court used to be the biggest you could do but that only holds 1500 and now we’re playing the Echo Arena which holds a few thousand more. So yeah, it’s always going to be important to us.” He added: “Also lyrically, we have a lot of songs which are about stories from where we grew up. I don’t want to say who about because you could say some of them are little close to the bone!”

While this is no doubt a reference to new songs such as Freak, which tells tales of male prostitution, and the infidelity influenced Put a Little Aside, the band have lost none of their

quirkiness with their story-telling thanks to the unique wordplay of lyricist McCabe, who seems to sing about even the most serious topics with tongue firmly lodged in cheek throughout You Can Do Anything. Produced by George Drakoulis (Black Crowes) who Payne believes has given

them “a harder and more polished sound”, the band spent three months recording the album in LA and ended a two

year live hiatus by hitting the extensive festival circuit in

the summer. With an array of new anthems to satisfy the masses, it’s proven to be a successful and critically acclaimed return – although Sean admits there is one festival they probably won’t be asked back to in the future. He explains: “We had a bit of a nightmare at T4 on the Beach which just wasn’t our thing at all. “Everything got blown out of proportion and the papers had a field day. It’s really just a promo thing and they expected us to mime which we didn’t want to do. We’d had a few drinks and although we weren’t up for it we just wanted to have a bit of fun and not be bratty about it. People said we stormed off and I threw my drumsticks at somebody in the crowd, which is nonsense. I gave them to someone at the front!

“It’s definitely been our least favourite festival. “To be honest, I think there are too many in the UK now so it’s hard to pick out a favourite. The whole experience has kind of been diluted – I only really enjoy the sunny ones.

“In saying that, we’ve played great shows at Glastonbury and T in the Park is pretty special because the fans up there are always up for it. But just can’t wait for our headline tour, it’s been a long time coming and we’re all buzzing.

“We don’t really have a favourite place to play although I do like some of the smaller, off the beaten track places. We played a great show in Greenock, Scotland, a few years ago and you find with these towns the fans are even more into it because they don’t get acts playing there all that often. That can be a great thrill.”

With regards to Australia, Sean added: “I remember playing Splendour in the Grass a few years ago and being amazed at the amount of Brits in the crowd. Afterwards we sat on the

grass and had one of those moments where you think, bloody hell, our music has got us to the other side of the world.

“Although we have no concrete plans to come back, we would love to and I’m sure if the album gets a good reception then we will be.

“Ultimately, it’s up to the fans. If they want us there, then I’m sure it can be arranged.”

Just don’t ask them to mime. Or “cover” Amy Winehouse.