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Baxter Dury

Interview — Mohamed Sqalli
Photography — Jean-Baptiste Sinniger

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Three years after the success of Happy Soup and his revelation at a later stage to a larger audience, Baxter Dury is back with his sweet and sour melodies, his well-cut suits and, of course, his trademark sepulchral voice.

Hi Baxter. How were your holidays? Were they studious?

I had English holidays. I went camping… But it was a posh camping. That was pretty cool, I had never done that before. And then I went to Cornwall in a massive house of a friend of mine. And finally, I went 4 days in Spain to shoot a video. They were surprisingly long holidays (laughs). 

I ask you this question because, as you’re releasing an album soon, I assumed that you would have spent your summer preparing the release…

Well, it was okay. You know, English people don’t take long holidays like the French do. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong but they definitely take a long time. It’s quite latin, I guess.

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It’s funny because at first sight, the album It’s A Pleasure looks like a very summery album, with these visuals of you getting out of the water, and palm trees and stuff. But when you hear it you discover that it’s an authentic autumn album. You trapped us!

That’s quite unconscious I think. I guess it’s too rich to be called depressing. The music is not intentionally downbeat. It’s maybe a little more than in the previous one. But concerning the imagery, I think it’s nice to have a contrast. 

Happy Soup has been acclaimed both by the critics and the public. Hopefully, It’s a pleasure is going to take the same line. How do you deal with success? Is it something you’ve been obsessed with all these years? 

Well, success is a weird thing. You want your music to be recognized. You also want what you do with passion to be something that turns into a way to pay the rent. So you got a bridge to dress these two topics at the same time: be realistic, don’t isolate yourself with unrealistic expectations but also, be quite delusional because if you’re too realistic, you’ll never do any of that.

Like in Happy Soup, this album is full of a kind of pleasant melancholy. Are you a melancholic person? Do you take any pleasure in it? 

I’m partially melancholic but not unhappily. I sometimes enjoy it when it happens.

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I read in the bio the label sent us that you had a funny story this summer in a castle with your musicians… Can you tell us more about it?

There were a few chaotic moments. I cannot give that much detail because it’s a bit personal with somebody…

In a portrait made by The Telegraph in 2001, Geoff Barrow from Portishead described you as “lazy”. Was it true at the time, and is it true now? 

The core of me is lazy, but I work hard to fight against it. I think I was lazier then, when I used to work with him. Well, he’s a friend of mine, he’s allowed to call me that.

In that same article, the journalist called you « a rich kid with mud on his trainers and weed on the brain ». 13 years later, how would you define the Baxter Dury of 2014?

(Thinking lengthily ) Erm… What am I? I would say I’m a psychedelic papa.

I’ve got one that retakes the same journalistic catchphrase. It would be something like “a hard-working dad with polish on his derbies and a palm tree on the back” . Are you ok on this one?

(Laughs). Yeah, I’m ok with this one.

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In 2005, you said very ironically in an interview for The Guardian « I earn 6p every four years making asthmatic indie music and I don't know who I am ». Can you tell me about the asthmatic indie scene…

I was maybe the only person who was in that scene. I was in the top of the category, but also the only one in it. I think I was referring to albums that I made that were thin in their ideas and maybe their execution. I wasn’t totally in control and less confident at the time. I was kind of forging my way…

Who was the Bob Dylan of it ?

I was, of course.

What are your tricks to find inspiration, except spending excessive amounts of money on luxury studios?

No, that’s the best one, actually. No, really, I think the best trick is to remain still, not be too over-judgmental on myself. Trust in a kind of impulse that you have, it’s always the best. It’s like some New York’s acting score, the method of writing songs I have. It begins with an initial search of emotional energy. I have to try to capture it. Melodically, thematically, it’s always the best, even if it’s often unconsidered.

To you, drugs can’t be of any help in the creative process…

They probably could for some people. And I don’t blame them. I love writing about them, but I’m rubbish at taking them. I’m usually sick quite quickly. I reach quickly a high level of paranoia.

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I recall this quote you said « People on acid haven't actually made a great deal of music, they've usually gone mad and dug holes in Wales or whatever. » I assume the 60’s are not your best decade in music, right ? 

I think some really talented people took drugs just to cope their responsibility for how clever they were.

You began playing this album live, at La Route du Rock for instance. How does the audience react to it ?

I think people had a good reaction. You don’t know really, but I think so: I got a few bras on stage. I got the female vote.

What’s the next move for Baxter Dury? Do you have any specific objective in your musical journey?

I don’t know yet. I haven’t considered that too clearly. I think you have to let this whole process go through, so that when you get bored, you can start thinking about other stuff.

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