“A Creak In The Cold” is made up of ten hushed acoustic numbers, mainly finger-picked guitar and voice with occasional and restrained touches of violin, piano or drums. Eatough is not one to hide himself behind a stage name; and his songs possess a similarly direct, take-me-as-you-find-me honesty. This perfectly suits the late-night intimacy of these heart-felt confessionals and vodka-soaked tales of frailty and failure. But this is not to say this is an unremittingly bleak listen.
Sure there are farewells and quitters, aching livers and fragile hearts but there are also declarations and hopes and in ‘Southern State’ a love song shot through with cheery optimism. Even in those songs that dwell in the dregs of a whisky glass or behind the always-closed door, there is grace and beauty in the exquisite delicacy of the arrangements and the touching melodies. It is a record as bitter-sweet as Mark Eitzel yet without the grizzled anguish, as forlorn and intensely personal as Elliott Smith yet never despairingly nihilistic, and it also taps into previous generations of singer-songwriters: in ‘Devil’s Report’ I hear the comfort-blanket smoothness and melodic 70s soft-rock strains of David Gates’ Bread fighting against the lyrical rejection (just me that gets that reference then?).
“Please Listen Carefully” the cover of the lyric booklet states in block capital letters. Damn right.
Image: Jamie Drew
Refreshed from a short post-release holiday, Christopher Eatough shares some reflections on the making of this album and about what’s next.
The album is nearly two years on from your self-released EP but it sounds as though recording it over Christmas 2010 happened swiftly. Has it felt a long or a quick process to make “A Creak In The Cold”?
It's definitely been a long process in the sense that the songs on the album span several years - the oldest, 'Between the Trees', I began to write almost 10 years ago - and it was always my intention to release them to the unsuspecting public as a single body of work. That the actual recording happened so swiftly over just a few months was due to logistics more than anything. I spent about 12 months finding the best way to record them, from working with The Answering Machine in their studio to setting up shop with a four track in my flat. In the end it was an email from Hero and All Round Good Chap David Jones, in which he offered to produce the album, that clinched it, and we started planning the recording in September 2010. Ultimately, it worked out better than I could have hoped, as recording the album in the freezing winter seemed wonderfully apt, and I think comes through on the record to an extent.
Tell us more about who is playing on the record? I suspect these are all friends and close associates rather than hired hands.
Indeed! I was keen to keep it as stripped back as possible, with most of the album just voice and guitar, but it seemed obvious when things started to come together that a little colour and texture wouldn't shatter the intimacy as I'd feared. So then it was just a case of asking some of more talented friends to drop into the studio one night and play a couple of parts which we could incorporate into the finished mix. My main partner in crime on the record is my good friend and violinist Clare Watson, who often plays live alongside me, but there are similar contributions from singer/songwriter Edmund Cottam, Ben Perry (of The Answering Machine fame) and my old bandmate Dan Reader. Getting an active band together, at least for studio work, is something I'm definitely considering for the future, but for the album it made sense to have just the bare bones of the songs.
Seven out of ten songs refer to booze. Is this more a device in your song-writing or does Alcoholics Anonymous beckon?
As much as I would love to claim the record as a concept album about my stage four liver cirrhosis, my penchant for whiskey hasn't quite reached such disastrous levels just yet. I think there's a theme throughout the record of self-destruction, both literal and metaphorical; that tendency to resort to self-pity and self-abuse when faced with hardship is quintessentially human, and as such utterly nonsensical. Alcohol as a lubricant to the wheels of despair is something with which most people are familiar (although I'm not sure if anyone has yet found that the world looks any better staring through the bottom of an empty glass). I should say that the caveat to much of this scrutiny is that, in truth, most of what I write is only semi-conscious and rarely considered. So maybe the references to alcohol say more about my habit of keeping a bottle within easy reach than I'd like to admit.
Some songs are written in the first person, others like ‘There Were No Ghosts’ are third person descriptions. Should anything be read into this?
People can read whatever they like into the songs; they are, after all, just songs. Almost all of them are written about a very specific person or event, but such things become lost within the songs as they grow and grow and I settle into them. By the time the songs have come of age and I'm comfortable that they're finished and ready to be unveiled, the lyrics are a combination of the real and the imagined. Often, the first person is a voice other than my own. ‘There Were No Ghosts’ is slightly at odds to the rest of the album in that it sprang from the novel “Lisey's Story” by Stephen King, which is the only real time I've written anything so direct and impersonal.
How did the tie-up with PYT Records come about? Who approached who?
The record deal was entirely due to the generosity and general goodwill of Dan and Hannah from the label. We'd gotten to know each other through mutual friends and my gigging around town, and they had a habit of waving my flag at any opportunity. Because they're brilliant. I'd been talking about the album for months when Dan approached me with a tentative suggestion of releasing the album on their fledgling label and it seemed like a no-brainer. It worked well for both of us: I think they were keen to distance the label side of things from the indiepop for which their club night and fanzine has become famous, while I obviously got the twin benefits of a professional release and their unerring support in an official capacity. They keep all the money for themselves, obviously, and are making me write a twee-pop album now, but that's just the price you gotta pay.
A Valentine’s Day release was entirely intentional I assume! Are you a romantic or a miserablist? Or is that a false distinction?
Ha. That was Dan's and Hannah's idea, and I had to agree that it was inspired. As for romantic or miserablist, that's certainly a false distinction. All romantics are inherently miserable. Romance is tragedy by its very nature; it's so separate from the reality of things, and bound to disappoint. That said, the endless references to heartbreak and despair which people direct at my music become tiresome. I'd like to think there's more to the album than just music for moping.
What has the experience of making “A Creak In The Cold” taught you? Is it too early to reveal any plans or thoughts about a second album?
Had I the time and resources, I'd be recording a second album right now. My one regret about “A Creak in the Cold” was the piece-meal approach that was necessary to record it. While I don't think the album suffered as a result - perhaps it even enhances it - the fact that most of it was recorded in snatched hours between a million other commitments, when I was exhausted or ill or broke or all three, was worrying. For any sort of follow up, I'd like to focus on recording the whole thing within a very short space of time, perhaps just a week or so, played live with a group of like-minded (and inevitably tolerant) folk. I write constantly, and I'm finding that a lot of stuff I'm coming up with at the minute is all sort of American gothic-tinged. I'd love to do an album based around that; the mid-west, the devil, the darkness. I think people have seen enough of my tearful eyes for now. It's time to start looking outwards.
Whilst Mr Eatough starts to look outwards, I’d strongly suggest you invest in a copy of “A Creak In The Cold” if you haven’t already and drink deep of those tearful eyes.
Christopher Eatough - Shades of Blue by pullyourselftogether
Christopher Eatough A Creak In The Cold [BUY]