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Interview with Stuart Staples – Tindersticks

Interview with Stuart Staples – Tindersticks
by Killian Laher

Tindersticks have been around for nearly 30 years, and after the release of their 13th studio album (excluding soundtracks) Distractions, No More Workhorse caught up with Stuart Staples of Tindersticks from his home in France. 

First, we touched on the lockdown and how it impacted him.  Staples was fairly sanguine about it. ”I’ve been living here for the last 10 years.  Here, we have a very strict lockdown, a curfew at 6pm since October.  Whereas my friends in the UK have been in and out of lockdown.  But like everyone I’m pretty fed up.”

The lockdown meant the cancellation of the tour the band had planned for 2020.  ”Like everybody, we found it difficult.  We had to cancel our tour.  On the other hand, for me, it wasn’t a massive change as I spend a lot of time at home.  It’s worse for young bands, it’s pretty shitty for them.”

What it did mean was it gave the band a chance to record a new album, Distractions.  Although we at No More Workhorse felt it is a serious change after No Treasure But Hope, the Tindersticks frontman has a different take.

“Actually, it was No Treasure But Hope that was the real departure, I’d been working on Les Salauds, Arrhythmia, High Life (soundtracks).  No Treasure But Hope was very much a ‘traditional’ album.

It was just like a recording of us playing live in the studio whereas I was really looking forward to getting back to going into the studio and experimenting.  For this one, back in January 2020, we had the beginnings of (the opening track) Man Alone and (final track) The Bough Bends so it was a case of filling in between.”

Staples did however admit that the album “can’t be divorced from that, it’s certainly reflective of what was going on in the world.  It felt like it took 5 times as long as it should have!  It was very difficult.”

We couldn’t help mentioning the 11-minute opening track, Man Alone as something of a departure.

“I can see why people might think that, but it never set out to be, it just evolved that way.  There’s a sense of mystery about it.  The opening track sets the tone, a bit like For The Beauty (on No Treasure But Hope).”

While Staples maintains there was no design to have three covers on the album, he describes Neil Young as “very much part of my DNA but I wouldn’t necessarily sit at home and listen to Neil Young every night.  We really like how it turned out.  I hope Neil appreciates it if he ever gets to hear it.”

Over the years there have been two eras of Tindersticks, the initial lineup (early 90s to early noughties), and then a more fluid lineup since the band reconvened for 2008’s The Hungry Saw, even featuring David Kitt, an acclaimed artist in his own right.  “Like Dan McKinna, Earl Harvin who we’ve been working with, in recent years, David is a kind of maverick, he brings his own thing to the band.  But we were lucky when we reconvened the band, Neil (Fraser), David (Boulter) and I grew up together but we were able to bring people in and work with different people.”

With this in mind, and the band’s history of collaborations, we speculated if there was anyone Stuart Staples would really like to work with in the future?  “Maybe the Durutti Column guitarist Vini Reilly, who I’ve been listening to since I was 17.“

As well as ongoing soundtrack work with Claire Denis, Tindersticks also have a 30th anniversary looming.  “We definitely can’t ignore that.  We ignored the 25th anniversary but for the 30th we hope to do shows in 2022.  We don’t know if it will be possible but we have to try and make plans.”

We chatted at length about the Tindersticks back catalogue. When asked if there were any particular highlights over the years, Staples answered “It was so exciting recording the first album.  It’s not to do with how it was received but just the process, recording it as a 26-year-old.  Later, The Something Rain was when the second lineup really clicked, after The Hungry Saw and Falling Down a Mountain.  Recording Medicine (on The Something Rain) was very exciting.”

Although in modern times many artists are almost *too* accessible, Staples reckons this is nothing new.  “I think artists who wanted to put it out there have always done that through other means.  I’d like to think that an artist who wants to remain private can continue to do so in the modern age.”  But interestingly he maintains that when you create your own music it can be difficult to listen to other people’s music.

The band has not been based in the UK for many years, all of them are now scattered throughout Europe.  “I’m living here (in France) for 10 years.  Leaving London was formative.  All of the band left London.  In London, there was a support network whereas here you just get up in the morning and you make something, and there’s no safety net.”

Thankfully for fans, Stuart Staples still believes in the album as an ‘art form’.  “You don’t have to make albums, some artists just want to make music, and that’s fine.  Albums are important for some bands yes, and for us, certainly.  The limitations give you something to work to, you’re bound by 23 minutes or so per side.  This one (Distractions) is its own thing.  It stands up, like all our albums, when they’re finished they exist, they’re there forever, I like that.”

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