Mike Scott on Love Affairs, Disco, and The Waterboys’ Groovy New Album
In July, I caught up with musician Mike Scott in the basement of an ivy-covered Georgian townhome in Dublin to talk about The Waterboys’ new double album, Out Of All This Blue. We meet in his studio under giant light-up letters that spell “W-O-W” and proceed to chat about everything from Donna Summer and Anderson Paak to God and guitar cases. Sitting at a wooden table strewn with kid stickers, Venetian masks and a thick coffee table book of Dennis Hopper photographs, it’s easy to see how Scott produced nearly two dozen vignettes of modern family life here: This room is a foundry for soulful love songs and frenetic pop melodies inspired by his children, plus a “Nashville, Tennessee” hoe-down, a disco “Monument” to narcissism, and a day-glo, kiss-and-tell soundswirl called “Didn’t We Walk On Water.”
At once lighthearted and cutting, Out Of All This Blue is a 23-track sonic collage – a midlife portrait of a songwriter who can’t stop churning out thought-provoking stanzas, even when he’s dabbling with crazy drum loops and pushing out psychedelic instrumentals with his fuzz-fiddlin’ right-hand Waterboy, Steve Wickham.
There’s so much stuff to cover, I don’t know where to start. Scott tells me about awakening to the music of The Beatles when he was eight years old in 1967 and living through the 1980s Raggle Taggle and “Big Music” eras, when The Waterboys’ patchwork of Scotch-Irish-Anglo players molded traditional roots into a global groove. Around the time The Waterboys released the album Fisherman’s Blues in 1988, record stores classified the band in the Celtic and World Music section. In contrast, decades from now Out Of All This Blue might represent the genre-bending specimens of 2017.
“If the Answer Is Yeah,” “If I Was Your Boyfriend,” and “New York, I Love You” reflect the whims and struggles of a globetrotting analog musician thrust into the cut-and-paste speed of love in the digital age, including wronged hearts, pheromonic symphonies, epiphanies on Mott Street, mischief in the Rippongi Hills, and the lingering scents of Santa Fe and Memphis. It’s one of those albums you can literally taste. I think about the Waits-y poetry of “The Girl in the Window Chair;” Scott says he’s a lyricist. I ask about influences like Chic and Earth Wind and Fire and the bold headlines of his artist wife, Megumi Igarashi; Scott says their “courtship in Tokyo” plays out in “every funky rhythm” on the new album, thanks to horn sections and visions of Marvin Gaye and Sylvester. I mention God and how people of faith revere The Waterboys’ catalog for its questioning and optimism; Scott says he prefers the term “spiritual” to “religious” and has had only “discrete periods of life” when those things were important to him, perhaps not including this very second.
As we spoke in Scott’s studio, I kept thinking about what happened the night before: On July 22, I experienced 80,000 people singing The Waterboys’ 1985 hit, “The Whole of the Moon” at the top of their lungs inside Dublin’s Croke Park Stadium. Scott wasn’t there, but a recording of his band’s song, which serves as the intro music for U2’s current Joshua Tree 30th anniversary tour, blasts through the loudspeakers almost every evening in a stadium somewhere on the planet; it is an unforgettable moment of anticipation and satisfaction. Scott didn’t even realize U2 had used his song until friends began buzzing his phone to describe the camaraderie that ensues when it plays. He might shrug at the following comparison, yet at a time when the world feels so upside down, hearing Scott’s phrase in “The Whole of the Moon” about being “dumbfounded by truth and cutting through lies” only amplifies the insidiousness of his year’s fake news; its suggestion of reaching for the stars in the face of “towers, tenements and wide oceans full of tears,” reminds us of the fruitfulness of hope in our divided societies and in these tumultuous times.
As I listen to Out Of All This Blue today, I’m not looking for a song about saving the world. I just want to give props to Mike Scott for continuing to write prolifically – and about personal subject matter – while other musicians who rose to fame in the 1980s rely so heavily on the heft of their past work. We look to songwriters to try to make sense of our lives, but sometimes it’s enough to hear them try to make sense of their own.
(Photo: Paul Mac Manus)