Wednesday, August 30, 2017




     It isn’t that hard to figure out what makes Liverpool-based singer/songwriter Ian McNabb one of our generation’s finest artists. He’s been releasing music for 35 years and his quality control has never dipped below ‘mesmerizing.’ He’s followed his own path, never allowing trends, modern technology or public apathy to steer him off course. His songwriting is timeless - influenced by the greats (Neil Young, Marc Bolan, The Beatles) yet he remains an entirely unique tunesmith. His musical palette runs the gamut from gentle folk to foot-stomping rock and he manages to add in bits and bobs of Country, Pop, R&B, Punk, Psych and whatever else tickles his fancy. And finally, there’s really no way to truly pigeonhole the man. And that, my friends, is the sign of a true artist.

     While some may not recognize his name, McNabb has built up a devoted following over the years. He once fronted THE ICICLE WORKS, one of the finest and most diverse bands of the '80s.  Every IW album was different yet they all had that unmistakable voice front and center.  There’s no denying that their 1983 UK hit “Love Is A Wonderful Colour” and U.S. radio smash “Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)” are completely different beasts to “Understanding Jane” released just five years later. This was a band that ignored formula and followed their instincts. Well, Ian’s instincts for the most part since he wrote all of the songs. After the band split, Ian went solo and has continued to defy the odds and release a string of jaw-dropping albums that have stood the test of time. The Mercury Prize-nominated HEAD LIKE A ROCK (1994) and the poptastic IAN McNABB (2001) are just two highlights from a back catalog that any Rock music fan should own.  Earlier this year, he released the magnificent STAR SMILE STRONG album (read my review here) and has just issued the instrumental version of that album as well. And any day now, he is issuing the audio version of his 2008 autobiography MERSEYBEAST: A MUSICAL MEMOIR on a limited-edition flash drive – that’s 10 hours of pure, unadulterated McNabb! In a world full of moderately-talented fame seekers, Ian McNabb is the real deal.

     Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to send off a batch of questions to Ian, who kindly took time out of his busy schedule to answer. Read on and learn about his latest album, STAR SMILE STRONG, and the inner workings of the man who should be king…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: STAR SMILE STRONG was released earlier this year, followed by the brand new ‘instrumental’ version of the album.  How are you feeling about the reaction you’ve had to it?
IAN McNABB: Everybody seems to be enjoying it. I put an awful lot of effort into this one. Not with the songwriting but with the performances and the production. It took nearly six months and I spent all the money and left myself with nothing to live on! I think the music is so beautifully played and recorded I wanted to put an instrumental version out so people could hear all the details better.

SPAZ: In a sense, STAR SMILE STRONG sounds like the culmination of your solo career thus far. What inspired this batch of songs?
IAN: I think this album is a good representation of what I do, it features nearly all of my styles (Pop, Rock, Country, weirdness). It's certainly a good one to play to someone who's never heard my work. The songs just came about as they usually do, I had a few ideas then I wrote some more then I recorded them. There's no plan or common theme. I accumulate titles then when I need songs I sit down and start realizing them.

SPAZ: The songs on SSS run the gamut from wistful to reckless. While the harder edged songs have a tough veneer, there’s always a bit of tenderness at their core.  Do you find it easy to be so honest in your music or do you have to pull back on occasion?  
IAN: I'm always honest in my songs. Sometimes too much but I still put them out. I don't mind people knowing what's going on in my mind. A lot of songwriters who are in relationships will hide stuff for fear they'll upset their partners. I'm not in a relationship with anything but the music so I have more room to move than most other artists. I'm fearless. As you point out though there is always a soft center. I'm a pussycat under this supposedly hard-assed veneer.

SPAZ: As a songwriter, do you prefer to write from experience or do you often write more from an observational point of view?
IAN: Once again, there are no rules. I'll write from a personal experience POV but I'll also write as a novelist, an observer, inventing situations and landscapes and dropping myself into them. I love doing that the most actually. It's like casting yourself in a movie.

SPAZ: You’ve been operating as an independent artist for many years. Do you appreciate the artistic freedom you have? You’re doing some of your best work now although you don’t have the financial backing of a major label anymore…
IAN: I've always done what I wanted and have paid the price for it. Even when I was on major labels every album that came out was how I wanted it (except for domestic releases in the USA where every album got bastardized - it drove me INSANE). I've been self-releasing now since 2007's HOW WE LIVE. I usually get the fans to pre-order and that pays for everything including recording, mastering, artwork and manufacture. The second Icicle Works album killed our career stone dead in the U.S.A. (it was never released there) but it's a fucking great record and I'd rather that than big sales with something I don't like. I always said to the record companies "Look drop me, I don't give a fuck. I only care about the music, I was broke before and I'll be broke again." That used to throw them a bit. I agree I'm doing some of my best work but that's no surprise to me, it's all I think about.

SPAZ: STAR SMILE STRONG sounds earthy, warm and, most importantly, emotional – elements that you seldom find in the Top 40 anymore. Were the basic tracks recorded live in the studio for this album?   Perhaps similar to ECLECTIC WARRIOR AND KRUGERRANDS…?
IAN: We recorded the basic tracks with Mathew Priest, Roy Corkill and myself playing live on the floor with click tracks. I used clicks on this one because I knew I wanted to fuck about with stuff in the mix. ECLECTIC WARRIOR and KRUGERRANDS were done completely live with just the vocals done later. SSS I had no idea what was going to be happening down the line so we just kept the drum tracks from the floor. EW and KRUGERRANDS are rock 'n' roll records. SSS is more sophisticated than that. I think SSS is probably the best album by a British artist this year. I haven't heard anything else as good. I think it's actually the best album by anyone this year. I'm untouchable at the moment. And modest.

SPAZ: Outside of compilations, this is your 13th solo album and you still sound as fresh and invigorating as you did on The Icicle Works’ 1984 debut album. What motivates you to continue to create this wonderful body of work at a time when the majority of people would rather stream an album for free than actually pay for it?
IAN: It's my eighteenth studio album including Icicle Works records. I just love the art form of an album. A bunch of songs that flow into each other and create a mood. I love doing the running order and I'm good at it. I don't care about streaming or downloads although streaming is how I listen to music these days as it's so easy. Sadly, people have lost the ability to listen to music while they're doing nothing else. They're always playing with their phones or online or listening while they're travelling. I still listen to albums in the dark all the way through with my eyes closed and no distractions. More people should do that it's an incredible experience. Music is a mystical force to me not something to soundtrack other activities.

SPAZ: You’ve always had an excess of material for each album, releasing a plethora of b-sides since the early IW days.  Now that singles are no longer important in today’s music buying climate, do you have an abundance of left over material that didn’t make the album? Or did you just focus on recording the tracks that end up on the finished product?
IAN: I usually have too much material for every album, it's always good to know you have enough good stuff to leave a couple of things off. If you're a track short you better start again. Most of the stuff I've had laying around has been released on CD by now. You can find most of it at in high quality download with artwork. I keep adding to it as well so it's always worth checking in.

SPAZ: You always seem to be moving forward musically, never standing still for too long. While personally fulfilling, do you think that this has hurt your career in any way? The critics complain if you change but then they complain if you stay the same… 
IAN: I don't like repeating myself. I'm always thinking about what's next even when I'm concentrating on the now. I don't concern myself with what people think - I just do what I want. As for critics? Nobody writes about me, they never have really. The only time the press showed any interest in my solo career was when I hired Neil Young's band. I don't have any friends in the press. I was never hip to like. The rock mags have their favourites and they write about them year in year out. I'm amazed if I get a review.

SPAZ: You’ve never made the same album twice.  Do you purposely challenge yourself with each new album?
IAN: It's inevitable that some albums remind you of others. SSS feels like the follow up to MERSEYBEAST to me. I don't try to be different every time, it just happens. Sometimes it doesn't! Some of my songs are very similar to each other. That's bound to happen. It's perfectly fine to steal from yourself.

SPAZ: How do you feel about the resurgence of vinyl? And have you considered going back through the Ian McNabb solo back catalog and reissuing any of the titles on LP?
IAN: I'm not bothered about vinyl. It's a loss format and I prefer CD. I like the big artwork that comes with vinyl but my house is full of clutter and I need no more. The snobbery of vinyl puts me off. I know people who've mastered the vinyl of an album from crap nineties CD masters and their fans swear it sounds the best-ever. It's bollocks. It's also a pain to store/transport. CD all the way for me.

SPAZ: What’s next for Ian McNabb?
IAN: Next up will be a new album with Cold Shoulder which we're cutting in January. I've got most of the songs written.

SPAZ: What are you currently spinning on your CD/record players?
IAN: What am I currently listening to? This morning I played the new Queens Of The Stone Age album - which I thought was terrible - and the first two albums Johnny Winter produced for Muddy Waters in the seventies. I don't care for much for modern music and If I spent the rest of my life listening to good stuff produced only up to 1980 there still wouldn't be enough time.

Thanks to Ian McNabb
Special thanks to Pat McNabb and Don Valentine

Available NOW!

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