This interview was done by phone on May 26th, 2008. Rob Dickinson was putting out an expanded version of Fresh Wine For The Horses, focusing on servicing the album more ambitiously in North America.
Mike: What time is it down there for you?
Rob: It’s 10:15 in the morning. Bloody early for me. [Laughs]
Mike: I got the bio for the re-release of Fresh Wine, and I was wondering what you’re personally calling that? Like the director’s cut! Is that what it is to you? Because it’s been around for a while.
Rob: That’s not a bad way of putting it. It also makes me sound very important. For me, this is—I think it’s a rare opportunity for something to come out and be as an artist —for me when a record comes out. You actually see it in the stores, and you watch people listening to it; you spot all its faults. Like any other record, I think Fresh Wine, I saw definite areas of improvement on its first time around. Of course, this whole process has allowed me to indulge myself and make some alterations to the record. So, in all honesty, I think the record is presented right now in the best possible way, and I believe it is precisely how I wanted it. And despite the fact that even the first time around, the record had a long gestation period, I think having one extra opportunity to fiddle with it has massively improved it. We’ve re-sequenced it, we’ve done some editing, we’ve re-mastered the record, and we’ve added a brand new song to the record as well, which I’m very proud of. And that, along with the Catherine Wheel bonus disk with the six Catherine Wheel songs on it, I think it makes it a pretty attractive package, as packages go.
Mike: Nice. You re-ordered some of the songs on the album?
Rob: Yeah, we’ve done this reasonably comprehensive re-sequence on the record. Although the front of the record is similar, the middle and the end of the record. Some of the details, segues, and more detailed aspects of the record have changed quite a lot—and definitely for the better. I think the record is a little bit more concise a little bit more focused as a result.
Mike: I don’t have a problem with Fresh Wine in its original form. I imported a copy, and I’ve been playing it for a while and think it’s great.
Rob: Fantastic, thank you.
Mike: I’ve heard the new track on MySpace, but I’m looking forward to hearing what you’ve done with the six older turns from Catherine Wheel.
Rob: Excellent. They came out really well. A guy called Greg Collins whose a friend of mine and who’s a big Catherine Wheel fan which is very useful because when I sat down in the studio to embark on recording, I was a little bit, having the songs being so well known to me and having recorded them at least once before it was a little bit daunting to know where to start in presenting them in a more stripped-down way, but Greg very much took the helm in the studio and turned them into something which is a little bit more than acoustic versions of the songs. I think we’re very proud that they’re rather inventive revisitings of these songs. I hope people dig them.
Mike: I think it’s a nice idea. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with any of the original source material, so it’s nice to get a chance to revisit them and make it interesting for yourself. The press release that I got also made it sound like Bob Ezrin had a hand in re-releasing Fresh Wine.
Rob: He had a huge hand in it. Bob’s a great friend of mine, and I don’t know whether you know he helped us produce Adam and Eve, one of the Catherine Wheel albums, and was always in the background as a kind of mentor for me in a way. I mean, Bob is just such a spectacular human being and so generous with his time over the years for us and me in particular. He saw that the record was not going in the right direction on Sanctuary Records when the record was initially put out, and this was for various reasons that are far too boring to get into. I mean, the record stumbled at the record company and didn’t have the chance to get in front of as many people as maybe it could have done. So Bob was instrumental in sending the record to a guy called Randy Lennox, the boss of Universal Canada, and Randy loved the record and fell in love with it. His family fell in love with it, and his kids fell in love with it, and they used it as their soundtrack to one of their vacations. So this is as far away as 2006, and it’s taken us this long to go through the slow grinding gears of the music business to make this happen. Still, Universal picked the record up for worldwide re-release, and sure enough, the record is getting a second crack. So it’s taken a while, but to be honest with you Mike, every aspect of this record has taken bloody ages, from its writing to getting it recorded to going through this process. I was always, for some reason, I was always confident that the record would get a fair crack, and I think that’s all any musician can hope for really, is that your music gets the chance to get in front of people and make them make up their own minds and that’s all I’ve ever wanted for this record. It looks like that’s going to happen now, which is fantastic.
Mike: Nice. Was there a particular process involved in selecting the old Catherine material that you’ve re-recorded?
Rob: No, I mean, there were some obvious choices that the people around me encouraged me to make. I’m obviously doing “Black Metallic” and “Crank,” and some of the better-known songs were considered to be a no-brainer, and I understood that. I was eager to do a song called “The Nude,” which is on an album called Chrome which is a little bit more of an obscure song. We did something called “Show Me Mary,” which was also on Chrome which was Catherine Wheel attempting to be a pop group, and I’ve always had a soft spot for that song. I think it’s a good cross-section of Wheel output. It runs a good gamut of what the band did.
Mike: Nice. I’m not a musician in any way, shape, or form, so from where I’m sitting, it must have been frustrating to watch Fresh Wine not find its audience because there is some excellent material on it. There’s material as good as what you’ve done with Catherine Wheel, and the songwriting is strong, and I never really understood why the album wasn’t on the racks up here in Canada in particular.
Rob: Well, it wasn’t on the racks because the day the record came out, the record company was really on its knees in a business sense, and the record got no official push. I think it was officially released in Canada, but only in a very, very private way. So no one knew the record was out there, and the same was happening in Europe and the UK, which was even more frustrating for me, obviously being an Englishman and not having the record out in England. But even then, Mike, I’ve got to say it never felt like a fait accompli; I always thought that this was unfinished business even then, and despite the fact that it was, as you say, frustrating. But I knew that with the chaotic state that the music business is in these days, especially regarding record companies, who haven’t really figured out exactly what the hell’s going on. But maybe that chaos would work to my advantage; in many ways, all bets are off in the music business these days. I think new rules are being created every day. And I thought, well there’s a good chance that maybe I can take advantage of some of that indecision and this record needn’t die and perhaps we’ll have a second life, and sure enough it has. I call that faith.
Mike: Yeah, exactly! With the bonus disk that comes with Fresh Wine, are you mentally preparing yourself for the “I Miss Catherine Wheel” postings on your respective online forums?
Rob: Well, I’ve kind of got used to that; they seem to be reasonably reliable those kinds of things. But no, and to respond to that, it’s been nearly ten years since the band kind of parked itself—that was the term we chose to use to describe that point in the band’s life. I don’t think we ever officially broke up. The band just kind of pulled into a rest area and parked and got out [laughs]. So the door has always been open to maybe get back together again and make another record. I’d personally like to make another Catherine Wheel record again. Everyone in the band is still talking to each other. If I can cause a little bit of a splash with my record, I know Brian and Neil from the band are making great music and keeping things interesting. Maybe we can do something again in the future. Still, there was a 10-year period in my life there that was enormously important to me as an artist and as a human being. So whether you can ever go back and if it can ever be as good or not, I don’t know. But I think, I’m speaking absolutely personally, I think the temptation will probably be too great not to release or attempt it at some point.
Mike: Well, I keep my fingers crossed. So I’m officially number 511 in the Rob Dickinson VIP Fan Club. What exactly does all access for life.
Rob: Ah! Dude!
Mike: What exactly does that get a fan, and how can other fans get said VIP access?
Rob: I’ve always been of the notion that I’m ridiculously thankful if anybody bothers to put their hand in their pocket and buy anything that I’ve produced. And I thought, for these people who have actually found us out and sent money to us so we can send them a record or a t-shirt or whatever? I wanted to give them some kind of sense that they were being appreciated and that maybe their appreciation would be worthwhile in the future. So we haven’t actually worked out what we’re going to do, and we’ve stopped doing it just purely because the logistics of it are an absolute nightmare. But we’re going to do something so spectacular that it’ll blow your socks off, but we just haven’t figured it out yet.
Mike: Sweet. I’m going to ask you a car question because in every interview I’ve read with you there’s some kind of a question about your affection for driving sports cars. What is your pie-in-the-sky vehicle to own if money was no object?
Rob: Um [pause]. Two. If I’m allowed two, it would be a choice of two. It would be a Jaguar SKSS which is a fabulous late ’50s Jaguar road car based on the Jaguar D-type racing car of the late ’50s. And the other one would be an Aston Martin DB4 GT, a short-wheel-based version of a car that basically looks like the James Bond Aston Martin but is decidedly cooler. Both of those are million-dollar cars. So everyone has to go out and buy Fresh Wine…
Mike: [Laughs] So you can go and buy your Aston Martin. Do you still keep active in seeking out new music and listening to music as a fan?
Rob: I do. I mean, I was about to say, “I don’t go out of my way to do it so much these days,” but I did go out last night actually and saw a great singer-songwriter called Tina Dico at a club here in Los Angeles. I listen to KCRW a lot, and a show called Morning Sounds Eclectic is always an absorbing listen in the mornings here in Los Angeles, where you’re hearing lots of new stuff. I saw My Morning Jacket on Saturday Night Live this weekend and was blown away, and I started to realize why that band is held so dearly by a lot of people. Yeah, I don’t go out consciously and seek so much stuff, but it’s effortless to hear it by just turning on the radio here in Los Angeles. And it really is inspiring, and all this nonsense about there being no good music around, which I’ve heard endlessly for the last 15 years. It’s always “we’re going through this drought at the moment.” There’s always great music. It’s just a question of whether a) you’re exposed to it or b) you can get off your ass and go and find it. And obviously with the internet these days it brings with it its advantages and disadvantages. There’s fantastic music getting an airing on the internet. Still, there’s also a vast amount of awfulness on the internet as well, it’s a question of having the patience to sift through and find the good stuff, but it’s definitely out there.
Mike: What was your overall impression of your recent show with Daniel [Neverending White Lights] at the Danforth Music Hall?
Rob: For me, it was a blast. I mean, on a number of levels, it was great to play in a theatre like that acoustically. The events conspired to introduce me to a keyboard player called Jason Sniderman, who is a bit of a local personality in Toronto because he was responsible for running the big record store that his father set up Sam The Record Man. And as a result of meeting Jason and playing with him for three songs, we’ve become firm friends, and I think he’s going to be playing with me a little bit more in the future. And I got to hang out with Rush in Los Angeles, and Jason is really good friends with Geddy Lee. So me and Geddy bonded, and I spoke to Alex at length, so that was all fantastic. And of course, Catherine Wheel and Rush have a bit of history because Catherine Wheel did an indie rock version of the “The Spirit of Radio” for…
Rob: Absolutely. And those guys remember that, and at the time, they sent us a crate of champagne to congratulate us on our version of their song. So they remembered that fondly so we talked about that. Playing with Daniel was a blast. Never having either met or spoken to Daniel up until the point I actually saw him at the venue, having done a song with him was very interesting. We did the whole music collaboration via e-mail and digitally and never once had a conversation. So that was a very modern way of making music for me, and actually, the first time I got to meet him was at the show, and it was great. We hung out a little bit and had a great time. I got to meet Jimmy Gnecco from Ours, which was also great; I’m a big fan of his. It was a really good evening. I’ve never failed to have fun playing in Toronto.
Mike: Yeah, Catherine Wheel has always done well in Toronto. I’ve always felt it’s a good town to see either yourself or the Catherine Wheel shows.
Rob: Yes, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that Toronto was the very first place we flew into in 1992 I think when the band just had the first opportunity to play in North America, and the first place we came to was Toronto, and that was before we went to the States. And I think it had an excellent karmic result for us.
Mike: Nice. One of my favourite shows with Catherine Wheel was at Lee’s Palace with Slow Dive. I’m still a big Slow Dive fan.
Rob: Yeah, me too. Great band.
Mike: Is there one of the dates for you personally that you feel is your favourite?
Rob: With Catherine Wheel?
Rob: There was, actually. We did a run of four, just a small run of four or five shows with Jeff Buckley in Holland, and that was a spectacular week of music-making. I got to spend quite a lot of time with Jeff and just watched him perform, and those guys, I think, he and his fantastic band got a buzz out of us playing as well, and that was a very memorable time. The first European tour, opening up for the Smashing Pumpkins, was incredible as well. Playing with Belly later on in the ’90s in the US was fantastic. We opened up for INXS, for heaven’s sake, in 1996. I think it was for six weeks, and in its own way, that was a blast, hanging out with true rock stars. Very interesting. Very fascinating. So yeah, we’ve rubbed shoulders with some fascinating people.
Mike: Do you have a personal favourite song from Fresh Wine for the Horses?
Rob: Probably “Oceans,” I think. “Oceans,” I think, is the second song on the record. That was the first song I wrote. I mean, when the band stopped, I certainly had it in the back of my mind that I would potentially make a record. That certainly wasn’t the reason the band stopped, and I thought that was certainly something I could do with my time. And it was only after having written that song, which was written at my parents’ house back in England, that I thought that I had something that was worth putting on a record, and I just kind of set myself a bar if you like, a standard that was worth striving to meet or to exceed. “Oceans” is, in my mind, one of the best songs I’ve written. In many ways, it’s a quiet little song, which builds in a rather groovy way. And yeah, that kind of inspired me to think headlong into trying to make a solo record. So I have a special affection for that one.
Mike: Do you plan on continuing to release material on your website as you did with your Live and Alone CD?
Rob: I think so, yeah. I’m officially a Universal recording artist at the moment, but that will bring with it its advantages and maybe its disadvantages with doing that kind of stuff. But absolutely, I think the power of the interweb is so extraordinary for creative people. It’s a massively opportune thing to have at your disposal, so we’re planning some more stuff in the future.
Mike: I’ll ask one last one. I could likely keep you talking for another hour, but I know you’ve got things to do. Do you plan on touring again, like a redux Fresh Wine tour?
Rob: Yes, we are. We’re putting that together this week. We’ve got a show at the Mod Club lined up on June 18, and we’re playing in London, Ontario, on the 17th. We’re going to do some shows in Buffalo, Boston, and New York, and we’re trying to put some more Canadian shows together; and hopefully, this will be with the band this time, so time to turn the volume up a little bit I think.