On of the best concert experiences I’ve had in recent years was seeing Graham Parker and The Rumour at the South Orange Performing Arts Center in 2013. It wasn’t just the songs and the singing and the playing, great as they were. It was the fact that while I spent a lot of time listening to their albums prior to their 1982 breakup, I had never seen them live, and given that they did not reconvene for nearly three decades, I had given up hope.
But then, miraculously, there was a 2012 reunion album, Three Chords Good, and a cameo in the movie “This Is 40,” and several tours. And now, another album, Mystery Glue, and a tour that brings them to the Newton Theatre in Newton, June 20. Parker also performs solo at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, June 27.
I spoke to Parker, 64, by phone from London — he has homes there and in Woodstock, N.Y. — on May 14, four days before Mystery Glue was released on the UMe (Universal Music Enterprises) label.
Q: Did you write the songs for Mystery Glue with The Rumour in mind, or were they just songs that you had?
A: I did the same as I always do: Just try to write good songs, which is hard enough without having to think about who’s going to play them. But it became evident to me very quickly, after probably writing about half of them, that there was a lot of The Rumour in it. For one thing, there was a swing groove that not many other people deal with, that started off in Howlin’ Wind. “Going There” reminded me of “Silly Thing,” in some ways, and “I’ve Done Bad Things” is almost a “White Honey”/”Heat Treatment” groove. So it became pretty apparent to me that this would work.
I suppose for Three Chords Good, I wrote the songs as I usually do, and I thought about those songs, “This doesn’t sound like The Rumour at all.” And then I just thought, “Well, wait a minute. Why does it matter? They can play these songs.” And they could, of course. But with this album, definitely after writing a few, I thought, “Well, I don’t have to worry about whether The Rumour are gonna be sitting right where they should be sitting.”
Q: I imagine that also, after touring with them, that feeling was very fresh in your mind, and it just would be natural that you would write stuff that would be right for these guys.
A: I think so, yeah. I wasn’t going to come up with an open-tuning acoustic album, I don’t think. I think doing a few tours with The Rumour gets into your blood a bit, and it might well be reflected in the songwriting.
Q: When you first got back together with them, did you think it would be a one-time thing? Are you a little bit surprised that it’s still going on, that you’re still with them for this album and another tour?
A: I think in the back of my mind, after doing Three Chords Good and that first tour in the U.S., I think already the kind of path was set then. I was probably thinking, “Well, it’s got to go to album No. 2.” Since then we’ve done four tours, I think: two in the U.S., and two in England and Europe. I thought it was be a real shame not to get to album No. 2. But it’s always one foot in front of the other, because when we did Three Chords Good, nobody mentioned the word “touring.” Nobody mentioned a record deal or anything. It was just, “Oh, somebody will put it out, I expect.”
It was the usual: I pay for the record myself and I don’t like anyone to know I’m doing a record, apart from the band members and the engineer. I keep it close to the chest. I don’t want any superfluous information coming into this. And I did the same thing with this. Primary Wave put out Three Chords Good. They were probably not going to come along for the ride for the second one. So I basically just went ahead and did a record. Got The Rumour together, flew them all to one place, in London, and did it.
Q: So I guess there’s no use in speculating on whether there might be another album and more tours down the line.
A: Yeah, I wouldn’t think any further than this year, which is a spell of time, isn’t it? We’re doing the U.S.A. in June, the East Coast mostly and then a bit of the Midwest, and then we’re doing the U.K. in October. So that’s all I’ve got up my sleeve at the moment. But to look as far ahead as October … that’s really long-range, as far as I’m concerned.
We’ve always thought that this is a short-lived thing. We’re not 24 anymore. It is what it is. One foot in front of the other is the only way to take it. It’s absurd making any bigger plans.
Q: Within The Rumour, are some of the guys more enthusiastic than others? Did anybody need to be talked into it, or are they all on the same page?
A: Nobody needed talking into it in the first place. Everyone was, “Yeah! Let’s do this.” And the second album, nobody was saying, “Do you think we should do a second one?” Musicians like to get some work and get paid, I suppose. So that’s one good thing. And I think all of them are very, very fond of this band and the people in it. Everyone cares about each other. You know, Martin Belmont said in the documentary (“Don’t Ask me Questions: The Unsung Life of Graham Parker and the Rumour”), “I’ve played with a lot of good people over the years. I don’t think there’s anything as good as GP and The Rumour on a good night.”
Q: Looking back, do you ever thing, “Gee, I should have done this sooner”?
A: No, definitely not. It was exactly the right time to do it. Every other period in time was wrong, and it didn’t occur to me then. I think it’s only right now, all these years after … it’s not something you get often in life, but it is he perfect timing. It means something now. It really does.
The other reason is … the ’90s would have been pointless. The 2000s would have been pointless. I can’t really explain that, but I think back on those eras, and it just doesn’t seem to make sense to me. It makes sense now because there’s such a revival and a respect for so many people who made records in the ’70s. It would have been much more iffy in the ’80s and ’90s. You had all those glam-rock bands, and MTV playing all that rubbish. The hair bands with the plastic trousers and whatever they were, and then, the ’90s, you had to be from Seattle to get a record deal. All of it was a distraction that we didn’t need to deal with. It would have been awful, I think. Now, at this point in time, everyone wants to see these bands out there playing, and making records, because they know this can’t last forever. In the ’80s, it would have been, like,”Ho-hum, they got together. They’re only 40, or something.” Now, we’re 60-something.
Also, musically we’re in the right place for it as well. We don’t have to care about fashion. We don’t have to care about hits. We don’t have to care about sounding like anybody.
Q: I was just thinking of … they just announced that “American Idol” is going to have its final season, next season. I imagine you think that’s a good thing.
A: You know, I’ve never seen the show until recently. I was at a friend’s house and they had it on. It was their ritual to watch “American Idol.” And, you know, it was as I suspected: A lot of melismatic singers. I think Steven Tyler was one of the judges, basically saying everything that came on was really good. And I suppose if you see it as a bit of a lark, and get into the competition, it’s a bit of fun. It’s like … we just had the elections over here (in England). A lot of people were saying it’ll be a coalition. And I was thinking, “I don’t think so. I think the people in England are too scared, and they’re staying with (David) Cameron because they’ve sold the best story, which is, ‘The economy’s getting better, stupid.’ ” And I got a bad feeling Cameron was going to win. But I still enjoyed the coverage, and all that, because it was a competition. So I can understand “American Idol” from that point of view. It’s just not my kind of music, particularly.
Q: Why did “mystery glue” seem like the right phrase for the album title?
A: Well, it comes from a song on the album, “Long Shot,” that’s basically stream of consciousness, playing with words, without any intent to what I’m really singing about. So it was after the fact: I try to find a title that resonates. There wasn’t a song title that was resonating at all for me. And those words kind of popped out at me while I was listening back to the mixes. They just kept coming back. And I thought, “Well, what does it mean?” And then I thought, “Well, I better add a meaning to it. Let’s pretend that it’s, probably, the better name for dark matter.”
And then I got into the thought that it also reminds me of how a band, especially me and The Rumour — and probably loads of other bands — formulate things when they’re rehearsing new material. It sounds awful. And then they’re in the studio and it still sounds awful. And then … I’m the songwriter and the producer, and I’ve got to say, “You’re getting it wrong, guys. You’re not understanding the song.” And then they start to understand what I’m saying. And then suddenly, as if by some mystery glue, the whole thing sticks together. And I say, “That’s crazy! How does that happen? Ten minutes ago it was awful-sounding. Nobody was getting it.”
So it was like a no-brainer: I’ve got it all together with this title. And then it’s a case of, “Let’s do a really psychedelic, silly (album) cover.” It all fit together beautifully.
Q: That’s definitely what I thought of: That there’s this mystery glue that holds bands together, and that’s why a band is greater than the sum of its parts. There’s this mysterious element that just happens when certain people come together. And The Rumour is certainly a great example of that.
A: Yeah, they really are. And the fact is, my career started with that band. And I think they’d probably say, out of all the people they played with — ’cause some of those people preceded me by about five years — I think they would say there were all kinds of good things in the other units they played with, and the people they’ve played with since. But they would probably say there’s nothing like The Rumour at all, and it’s probably the high point of their making music together, in their lives.
So it has to be done: It’s great that we’re doing this. It wasn’t a conscious thing, believe me. It was a whim, really, and it fell together. And we know how good we are. The way they sound on this record is another leap from Three Chords Good, I think. I think it was a bit more free-flowing. We’d done it once, so doing it again, we could let it fly a little more. So, it’s a good record in that sense, for us.
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