Category Archives: Interview

JAKE SHILLINGFORD (MY LIFE STORY)

MY LIFE STORY RELEASED THREE SUCCESSFUL ALBUMS AND SIX TOP FORTY SINGLES DURING THE 1990S. COMBINING PLAYFUL AND EVOCATIVE LYRICS WITH MEMORABLE MELODIES, THE BAND WAS A FLAMBOYANT ORCHESTRAL VEHICLE FOR FRONTMAN JAKE SHILLINGFORD’S SHARP SONGWRITING. AFTER A GAP OF ALMOST TWO DECADES (DURING WHICH SHILLINGFORD WORKED IN FILM MUSIC AND AS A SONGWRITING LECTURER) MY LIFE STORY HAVE RETURNED. NEW SINGLE BROKEN AND NEW ALBUM WORLD CITIZEN EXPAND THE BAND’S HORIZONS, AND IN THIS NEW INTERVIEW WITH THE MOUTH MAGAZINE, SHILLINGFORD DISCUSSES HOW IT FEELS TO BE BACK…

 

HOW ARE YOU DOING, JAKE?
Yeah I’m really good – we’re just loading in now for tonight’s gig. It’s actually at Epic Studios – a TV studio that doubles as a venue – and it’s where they recorded all the Anglia TV shows. So “… from Norwich… it’s the quiz of the week”, ha ha…

SALE OF THE CENTURY!
Yeah. And then they have all sorts of other stuff, like martial arts and cage fighting. There’s lights all in the ceiling here, so there’s not just lights over the stage. The lights go across the whole of the venue. It looks really quite space-age. It’s pretty interesting. A new experience. And it’s nice to be here in Norwich, ‘cos it’s a really lovely place. It’s such a great mixture of a place in terms of its history. And obviously SALE OF THE CENTURY, yeah…

MAYBE NICHOLAS PARSONS WILL DROP BY FOR THE GIG. IS HE STILL ON THE GO? HE MUST BE NEARLY A HUNDRED NOW, IF HE IS…
I think he is, actually! He does JUST A MINUTE on Radio 4, doesn’t he? He’s still around! I think he’s holding on… I think he’s definitely closing in on the big one, as well. Yeah, I could be presenting him with his telegram from the Queen tonight, ha ha…

I WANT TO ASK YOU ABOUT WORLD CITIZEN, WHICH IS THE FIRST MY LIFE STORY ALBUM IN ALMOST TWENTY YEARS… SO YOU’VE BEEN TAKING YOUR TIME… THAT’S A LOT OF FINE TUNING, HA HA…
Well if you’re going to do something you may as well do it right, ha ha…

… SO I GUESS THE QUESTION IS WHY NOW? 
Well, I think the first thing to say is that there’s a new person in my life. I have a new partner and she has brought a big change in my life. She has been instrumental in, you know, bringing out the best in me. She just said to me “you need to be doing music and getting out there”… I mean, in all honesty it’s not like I’ve actually given up music or anything. But no My Life Story for a long time. Myself and my guitarist Nick Evans write a lot of music for television and we do the occasional film as well. We wrote our first movie score last year, it was for an American schlock horror film called BLOODFEST… Nick and I have actually been writing music for the last seven or eight years under the name CHOPPERSAURUS. We have a small recording studio in Brighton, where I live. For a lot of people that know My Life Story, it won’t come as a surprise because I’ve always been fascinated with orchestral music, just putting it in that sort of pop domain. I always thought that as I grew older moving into film composition would be a very natural progression for me. So it’s not like I’ve sort of disappeared and become a grave-digger for ten years. I’ve been busy. We compose a lot – but I suppose what’s been quite interesting is that I’ve got so used to composing for other people’s vision…

WORKING ON MUSIC FOR SOMEONE ELSE’S VISION HAS OCCUPIED A LOT OF YOUR MUSICAL HEADSPACE, THEN, SO DID YOU FIND THAT WHEN YOU THOUGHT AGAIN ABOUT MY LIFE STORY IT WAS DIFFICULT TO GET BACK INTO? 
My approach to songwriting had kind of changed quite a lot while I was writing for other people’s briefs, yeah… Trying to get into the head of somebody else, who was looking for some music to embellish their visual imagery… It’s different, very different. That became quite an enjoyable process, though. But after a while I think I just felt that I wanted to do something that was a bit more personal. I wanted to write to my own brief. So, really, that’s why it’s been so long…

WAS THERE EVER A TEMPTATION TO WRITE TO SOME SORT OF MY LIFE STORY FORMULA?
When I first started thinking about it and wanting to write again, I almost thought “okay, what is My Life Story” and that I should write to the brief that is My Life Story. Then I realised that that would be a really bad route to go… I didn’t really want to to make My Life Story’s new album something that quite obviously would have been released straight after the others, in the late ’90s. I wanted to progress the My Life Story idea and make something that was developed and relevant and contemporary. Once I’d made that decision that took a lot of pressure off.

… SO ‘MOVING IT ON’ WAS QUITE A RELIEF FOR YOU?
Yeah, it was! After that it all started to flow quite easily. I love orchestration and I love baroque music and I love a good turn of phrase and I love the English language. I always have done… So all of those things are always going to be in there – and that’s why it still sounds like it’s a My Life Story record. But I didn’t feel that I had to pretend to be anybody else or pretend to be a version of myself from back in my thirties. I think the other big difference was that I deliberately wrote the lyrics in a very very short period of time, unlike previous My Life Story albums where the lyrics were written over quite a long period of time. So I wrote the lyrics for the whole of this new album pretty much just in April and May of this year. It’s interesting how many repeat words are on the album and how much sort of current vernacular is in the album.

IT DOES SOUND LIKE IT’S A 2019 ALBUM…
Yeah, I wanted it to sound, lyrically at least, like it came out in 2019. I think I’ve gone some way towards achieving that. I mention the word ‘truth’ a hell of a lot in the lyrics. It’s almost almost slightly embarrassing that it’s mentioned so often – but, of course, we’re surrounded by some very heavy propaganda in our world at the moment, and there are some very dark and dystopian antics by the Conservative Party in the General Election. It really is deeply disturbing, actually. This whole world of filth and fake news.

AS YOU SAY, THE WORD ‘TRUTH’ IS MENTIONED QUITE A LOT – AND OBVIOUSLY AT A PERSONAL LEVEL IT FEELS LIKE YOU’RE BEING STRAIGHT WITH YOURSELF AND STRIVING TO BE THE BEST THAT YOU CAN BE… THERE’S SOMETHING REALLY NOBLE ABOUT THE RECORD BECAUSE OF THAT…
Thank you for saying so. I guess that because my personal situation has changed, a lot of the record is about what is true – because there are a lot of people that live a life of not being true to themselves. They may be in the wrong relationship, or they just might cover up the cracks and put on a brave face… I think sometimes making big decisions in your life to make sure that you’re a happy person is the hardest thing you can do. Just settling for what you’ve got might seem like the best thing to do, and even quite a humble thing to do – but sometimes striving for peace of mind and striving towards being the best person you can be is a very very important thing to do. It’s a difficult thing because you know you’ll probably upset some people along the way, but yeah… It’s hard to make big changes in your life, especially as you get older, but I think there’s been enough time that it’s able to come out for me to be a bit more analytical with myself.

THERE ARE A LOT OF REFERENCES TO NATURE, TOO…
Yeah, on the album there’s a hell of a lot of references to nature – like, the changing of the seasons and so on. That’s a lyrical trick that’s been used over many decades –  centuries even. Metaphors in nature… But the changing of the seasons and the sunlight in the roses and the rising of the sun… and everything… A lot of those images I find really really powerful. I think going back to nature is another thing people do when they’re confused about what is true and what is not…

YEAH… I HAVE THIS IDEA THAT WHEN PEOPLE ARE GRIEVING I THINK IT’S PROBABLY GOOD TO POINT THEM IN THE DIRECTION OF GARDENING, BECAUSE THEY’LL ENCOUNTER THE CYCLE OF LIFE SO VIVIDLY… IT JUST ROLLS ON.
Yeah. You’re right. In a garden, everything you see is clearly living and dying every second. You realise that’s the same as in your own life… and you kind of think “ah, so that’s the deal”… Whether it’s brutal or whether it’s kind, the fact is that nature never ever stops. It just carries on – and that never changes… But nature is cyclical and so there’s a sort of regeneration. I love that. I live near the coast, in Brighton, and I see a lot of it all. When I was living in central London I wasn’t seeing any of it. I think I’m being exposed to nature a lot more now and that really is a big comfort to me. You just can’t dress it up, so I think that they were the sort of things that were underpinning WORLD CITIZEN. I’m really pleased that people haven’t taken offence and thought “oh, this is a political album”. It clearly isn’t. It’s just about people and life and the media and how we’re reacting to that.

HAVING SAID THAT, THE ALBUM OBVIOUSLY IS INFLUENCED BY THE POLITICAL AND SOCIAL LANDSCAPE. IT’S BEEN INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT, THIS YEAR, TO KEEP TRACK OF WHAT’S GOING ON. ARE YOU ARE YOU A MAN WHO LIKES TO KEEP ON TOP OF STUFF? ARE YOU A NEWS CHANNEL KIND OF PERSON, I GUESS I’M SAYING, OR IS IT ALL JUST HAPPENING KIND OF PERIPHERALLY FOR YOU?
I do… I do watch… I used to be a bit of a BBC person really, for most of my life – so that would be listening to to Radio 4 in the morning. My father would always have that on, when I was a kid. I was exposed to QUESTION TIME and things like that – but now what I do is I actually quite enjoy looking around to get a balance, because we live in a world of extremes. I wake up in the morning and I will go and have a look at the Telegraph as much as I’ll look at the Independent or whatever else, and I can just see how it’s all playing out. I think we’re lucky in the respect that if you’ve got time you can take all the different strands and process them yourself to get an opinion. But it’s the language that’s used as well that I find interesting. How people speak. It’s quite astonishing how Donald Trump’s inability to be able to speak coherently has become kind of a thing.

I HAVE AN INTERESTING THEORY ABOUT THE WAY DONALD TRUMP SPEAKS. IT’S COMPLETELY DELIBERATE AND BUYS INTO THE IDEA OF REDUCTION – THE SORT OF WHITTLING DOWN OF GENERAL INTELLIGENCE, AND THE LACK OF OFFERING DETAIL FOR GENERAL AWARENESS… BORIS DOES THE SAME… “DUMBING DOWN” IS THE PHRASE THAT IS OFTEN USED – SO IT’S ACTUALLY ABOUT CONTROL ISN’T IT?
Oh yeah, it is. It is. I totally agree with your theory. Trump speaks in Twitter doesn’t he? It’s just sort of half sentences and not thoroughly fact checking anything. He speaks in 140 characters. That’s how he communicates so that’s how he controls. It’s almost the development of our language and our collective psyche is being driven by Trump. I just find it offensive.

IT’S REALLY OPPRESSIVE, ACTUALLY, TO SPEAK THAT WAY. IT SETS A TONE OF BEING UNDER THE COSH, AND MOST PEOPLE DON’T EVEN KNOW THEY’RE BEING MANOEUVRED INTO FEELING THAT WAY…
Yeah – because when you’re telling somebody off, or if you’re angry, your words are shorter like that. And if you’re consoling somebody or you’re trying to explain something, your words tend to be longer and softer. So Trump speaks in short, clipped, barbed and sensationalist words – and without people sussing it, they’re allowing him to have authority over them. If the only word you’re ever going to use is “massive” or “awesome”… That’s the classic Americanism isn’t it? How do you get much bigger than “awesome”? Where do you go after that? You know… you can’t get ruder than “cunt”. So where do you go from that? We’ve kind of have reached the end in a way, in the English language. Unless maybe someone comes up with “awesome cunt”… Ha ha, there we go, we’ve started something…

JUST THE TITLE OF THE ALBUM DOES CLEARLY SUGGEST TO ME WHICH SIDE OF THE CURRENT SOCIO-POLITICAL DIVIDE YOU’RE ON… 
Yeah. Well. This is what I believe about my own feelings, and it’s good to see if people relate to those. It makes me feel better to know that people do, because I don’t feel alone. And the other half of the album was to explore, as a British person, the English language. I’m just constantly fascinated by everything – from what we just said about Donald Trump through to even how Spotify has changed songwriting.

IT DEFINITELY HAS. GENERALLY, THINGS ARE SO IN YOUR FACE AND OBVIOUS…
Well, I’m a firm believer that had the Beatles released HEY JUDE in 2019 the sort of na-na-na refrain at the end of the song would have been right at the beginning. You don’t get paid anything by Spotify if somebody doesn’t play a full 30 seconds of your song on that digital platform. So I’ve started to notice in the pop domain that the structure of songwriting is changing. It’s front loaded. Any sort of experimental modulation or interesting chords or textures tend to be thrown in at the very end of the song, when they hope that the hardcore listeners are still tuned in. So, yeah, these big seismic changes in the way that people do things and communicate…

I FIND IT SO DIFFICULT WHEN TALKING TO PEOPLE ABOUT JEREMY CORBYN WHEN THEY SAY “I LIKE WHAT HE STANDS FOR BUT I DON’T LIKE HIM, SO I’M NOT VOTING LABOUR”… 
Right… yeah… I sort of stay clear a little bit. Just as we’re getting closer and closer to the election, I’m getting more and more wound up. The day before the election I’ll just cover my whole Facebook red. I’m a socialist and have voted Labour all my life apart from when my step mother became a Green MP… I don’t know why but there’s a lot of people putting stuff in the echo chambers of Twitter and Facebook – a lot of, I suppose, my peers and friends from Britpop bands through to bands in the noughties – and everyone’s piling on… But regardless of what people say about Corbyn and his personality, the bottom line is the code… you know, the principles… And that’s still enough to vote for Labour in my view. If you don’t like him personally, so what? You’re not going to go for a pint with him, are you? Read the bloody manifesto.

I HATE THAT IT’S BECOME A PERSONALITY CONTEST… 
I don’t know if you read this recently, but this just made my blood boil. There was ITV’s leadership debate and it was on just before I’M A CELEBRITY GET ME OUT OF HERE… The difference in ratings figures was staggering…

JUST THINKING ABOUT MY LIFE STORY’S PLACE IN 2019… I THINK SEVERAL BANDS FROM THE ’90s WHO HAVE REFORMED HAVE FOUND THERE IS STILL AN APPETITE FOR THEM. DO YOU THINK THAT’S NOSTALGIA? 
Of course it’s born out of nostalgia – affection for something in the listener’s past – but it’s not necessarily nostalgia in itself… It’s a new thing. I think that a lot of the performance energy of some of these bands is still really good. My Life Story did a lot of these nostalgia shows a while ago, and it’s quite fascinating that because now as a result of that period of time we have our new freshly born baby, the new album. So it’s interesting because it’s almost like you can turn into two bands. As well as what we were back then, it’s also about something new. But I think that the danger if you have something new is to then forget about why you’re even able to be back. You shouldn’t go “well we’re only ever doing our new stuff now, and the ’90s was a bit shit, wasn’t it?”… I can see a little bit of that creeping in sometimes with some of those bands.

PERSONALLY SPEAKING, WHEN A BAND I LIKE TAKES QUITE AN ‘EXTENDED BREAK’, LET’S SAY, I DON’T REALLY FEEL IT’S NOSTALGIA WHICH MAKES ME LIKE IT WHEN THEY COME OUT WITH SOMETHING NEW. I’M INTERESTED IN THEM, OF COURSE, SO THAT’S PART OF THE BATTLE WON, BUT IT’S JUST ‘MORE’ OF WHAT THEY DO, YOU KNOW? IT’S A CONTINUATION, NOT A LITTLE ‘ADD ON’ AT THE END FOR THE SAKE OF CASHING IN ON THE PAST…
I like to think that the people that enjoy our music will enjoy it when we do one of these STAR SHAPED or SHINE shows, ‘cos we go out there all guns blazing and celebrate what was was a great time for many many people. We genuinely do honour that… But I think that you can have both. You should enjoy and celebrate both sides of it – the old and the new. I’ve had numerous people coming up to me going “oh God, I was really holding my breath”… Thankfully they’ve enjoyed the record – and that is obviously the thing that you’re hoping for. The thing that you should always ask yourself is “will I know when to stop?” – and then it’s best just to stop.

HOW DID THE PROCESS OF GETTING TO A NEW ALBUM BEGIN?
We were very fortunate to be asked by some some really lovely promoters to go out and play. So we did… There’s been a lot of interest in 1990s music, lately, hasn’t there? I think that from the bands that I liked to watch or listen to from that period, so the ones that I personally rate, I think the songwriting quality was was very very high. I think there were a lot of really great bands and some brilliantly crafted songs. And I think that there’s a good reason for that – that era came on the back of the acid house mood and to a certain degree grunge, and what came around that. Nirvana, particularly. Amazing… But there was also a lot of rubbish in Nirvana’s lyrics. The lyrics are absolutely appalling, really. Kurt Cobain would often leave the lyrics ’til the very last minute, and I think quite often you can tell that that was the case. That approach can work sometimes, obviously – but for me the music is always the vehicle to sell the lyrics, and never the other way round.

BACK IN THE DAY I ALWAYS FELT THAT MY LIFE STORY WERE BOTH PART OF AND ALSO AT ODDS WITH WHAT WAS GOING ON AROUND THEM… IN THE SCENE BUT MAYBE NOT OF THE SCENE… BUT YOU OFTEN DO KIND OF GET LUMPED IN WITH BRITPOP – DOES THAT REALLY MEAN ANYTHING TO YOU..?
Not really. I mean, I honestly don’t mind if people use Britpop to describe us. It doesn’t bother me or anything. It’s funny as the years go by. You know, I’m of an age where I was buying original punk rock records. I was very young, but I was buying original Buzzcocks seven inch singles when they were coming out – and I’ve found that now people use the words ‘punk rock’ to describe bands from 1985 who were definitely not punk rock… I can tell you that bands from 1985 are not why I’m doing what I’m doing! So with Britpop it’s the same sort of thing. People now use the word ‘Britpop’ for any band from the mid-’90s and a lot of those they mention weren’t really what we think of as Britpop. Having said that, though… it’s still ‘British pop music’, so if that’s why you say ‘Britpop’ when you’re describing My Life Story, then I’m happy with that – because British pop music is what we are. Absolutely.

… SO… I ALWAYS FELT MY LIFE STORY EXISTED IN ITS OWN BUBBLE UNIVERSE – IN MUCH THE WAY PULP DID… NOT OBLIVIOUS TO THE OUTSIDE BUT SORT OF DEALING WITH IT IN AN ARCH, HUMOROUS, UNIQUE AND QUITE MAGICAL WAY, I SUPPOSE… DOES THAT MAKE SENSE?
Yes. Yeah. I think so… That’s my fault for bringing the harpsichord into the studio, ha ha… It’s interesting how you described it as a bubble… because you have to remember that My Life Story at its smallest size was around eleven people. At its largest size it went up to around twenty. Double figures – and that’s a band signed to a major label (Parlophone records, EMI). We were touring around the country, and sometimes Europe, as a troop.

TWENTY PEOPLE IS A LOT TO MANAGE… THE LOGISTICS… BLIMEY…
We’ve just been reminiscing, some of us, just chatting about sitting in dressing rooms, and how, my gosh, we pretty much had to take over the whole of the back of a building… We were very much a community and we were all friends. Like a little Channel 4 experiment or something, you know? BIG BROTHER before it’s time, you know? if you fell out with a member of the band there were so many other people involved in My Life Story that it diffused itself really quickly. Much better than, you know, some sort of power trio sitting in the back of a transit absolutely wanting to kill each other.

HAVE YOU ACHIEVED WHAT YOU SET OUT TO ACHIEVE?
Well I certainly wasn’t ever setting out to be grand or anything – I never set out to be a global superstar… And I’m not, ha ha… But I didn’t have narrow ambitions, either. I didn’t set out to create a very sort of niche thing or cool thing. I didn’t set out to do the either of those things. They didn’t, and don’t, appeal to me at all. I’d like to think that a lot of my songwriting does have quite a broad appeal, which is a good thing. But I don’t think you can ever really know in advance what it is that you’ll end up with once you put your work out there. So, I don’t think I ever set out to achieve a specific ‘career’ thing? Getting into music was all about relationships and communication and discussion and feeling a sense of belonging. Certainly My Life Story has given me all of those. It’s given me a community and it’s given me friendships that I think I would’ve been hard pressed to find in any other walk of life. It’s been great.

Buy WORLD CITIZEN here