Coxon started using his early-’70s Telecaster Deluxe around the time of his power-pop-driven LP Love Travels at Illegal Speeds. But it became his primary Blur guitar for the 2009 reunion—adding a ragged muscularity to the sound of many Blur classics performed on that tour. Photo by Jordi Vidal
Did you follow the script and your instinct in equal measure or was there more specific guidance?
I had scripts and a couple episodes that might include temps [songs chosen by the director to suggest a specific mood and stand in for actual soundtrack music]. So I’d listen to the temps, figure out what it was giving to that scene, and come up with three or four things that were sonically similar. Or I might have a little list of ideas or things required for an episode and I’d do three or four versions of those. But then I’d spend the rest of the day fiddling with stuff that wasn’t in the brief. That’s how “Walkin’ All Day” came about. I just sat there fingerpicking, which is what I like to do when I’m just sitting around. Those kind of songs, those country blues songs, come quite quickly for me. That wasn’t part of any brief. I guess I just saw the kids walking along in my head.
But I like working like that—getting a theme and then flogging it like a dead horse. In this case just walking all day and feeling like you’re on fire because you’re feeling strong emotions. That came out of nowhere and became the song everyone initially reacted to. And I thought, “This is amazing! I can write a song in like 40 minutes, and record it upstairs, and have it work.” I tapped on one of those boxes you sit on and hit with your hands, added some kick drum, some tambourine, and some slide, and it was done. I’m not the best slide player in the world and my guitars aren’t really set up for slide, but it added to that clunky kind of sound, and gave it a sort of London, Muswell Hillbillies kind of feel.
Country blues was far from the only sound you conjured on the soundtrack. “On the Prowl” has an almost Oh Sees feel. “In My Room” made me imagine Ray Davies sitting reluctantly on a Malibu beach—sort of a melancholy English surf ballad.
Yeah, well I’ve definitely done that—sat on a beach in Malibu thinking, “What am I doing here?” [Laughs.] “On the Prowl” and “The Snare” have that swampy kind of feel—it’s a bit of the David Lynch sort of thing. But one of my favorite references for that swampier stuff was Link Wray. When they needed a theme for the detectives, I thought it would be quite fun to have a swampy Link Wray, lilting, 6/8 sort of thing. It’s tricky to make things really sound like something from 1958. But I just used spring reverbs and my old Fender Bass VI—I played a lot of stuff on that riff monster. “In My Room” was definitely some Scott Walker influence. I’m a huge Scott Walker fan. There’s another song that wasn’t actually included on the soundtrack that’s in that vein, which I actually think is the better song. Maybe it’ll come out down the line.
It’s really cool to hear you sing down in that Scott Walker range.
Well, that’s what’s so fun about recording on my own. I didn’t have to be embarrassed. I could be whatever character I wanted to be. I was pitching my voice to do feminine voices.
Then I had to do quite a few punk rock numbers, so I’d just put a quilt over me and get an SM57 and shout. But if I was doing a more Scott Walker-style thing, I would get a bit more classy about it—put up one of my posh microphones and get a nice reverb going. My normal way of singing is a product of me being shy with a producer. But I’m learning to try more stuff out.
Do you enjoy working in solitude? It’s so different from having a band and a producer looming over your shoulder.
I do like it. There’s pressure once you get in a typical studio situation. Time is running out every day and the clock is ticking. With this sort of thing I can work hard at it, but at my leisure. And you can come back to stuff more easily, use every idea, and move through a lot of ideas quickly. Plus, I can go up to the studio 10 minutes after I’ve woken up and before my old habits start popping up. Something totally different than the norm can happen then. As a guitar player—especially when I’m playing in standard tuning—my hand habitually goes certain places. And I hate that. I’ll do anything to avoid that.
Did The Magic Whip, and the role you had in its production, inform your approach to the soundtrack? You’ve done so much solo stuff, but in that case, you were shouldering the burden of guiding a Blur album from raw sessions, pleasing your bandmates, and living up to expectations and the quality of the band’s canon. That’s a lot of responsibility.
It wasn’t a huge responsibility, really. I got Damon’s blessing and just said, “Gimme a go and if it don’t work, we can bin it.” There wasn’t a lot of pressure because no one really knew about it. But it did give me a lot more confidence, especially in my ability to work quickly and that when presented with a monotonous jam session—where the same idea is played over and over again—I could arrange it and write new parts that will fit, or use a new chord that will go around a melody line that already exists, or find a new melody for a chord progression that’s in place. You’re reminded that there’s a lot of ways things can work out.
People that really understand music theory would hear me say this and go “duh!” But to me it’s still a revelation—the atmospheric or emotional change you can get by going to a relative minor or major while still supporting an existing melody. It was also very much about the rests and pauses within a song. The thing about The Magic Whip was that I got to do all my favorite things I love about songwriting. The basic music was already there. I just had to find a way to arrange it and structure it, so it was dynamic and exciting. It worked out well enough that Damon said, “Wow, bloody hell!” and had to resign himself to the fact that he was going to have to sing on it. [Laughs.] But it was nice to play such a big part of that record as a way of making amends with my long-suffering bandmates.
One of the running themes among your Blur bandmates in discussing The Magic Whip is a real sense of wonder and gratitude at your restraint as an arranger and player. Was that a conscious mindset?
Well, I had to put on a producer’s hat and figure out what a song really needed instead of putting stacks of distorted guitars on. That was just not going to work. A lot of the material was quite sensitive. I like space and I like restraint. I’m a bit older now and I do like mellower music. And I’m always interested in different sounds and textures. Things don’t always have to have some awesome impact, either. They can be simple.
Was the solo in “Go Out” a carryover from the Hong Kong sessions? It sure has that sense of hectic claustrophobia you’d associate with the city and that cramped studio you were in.
Yeah, definitely. That was there [from the original Hong Kong sessions]. There were bars and bars of that stinging, horrid, anxiety-inducing guitar. But I think that Hong Kong trip was my last hurrah as a self-centered brat. That attitude seemed to die off a bit after that. That was always my role in Blur, I suppose. I was aware of that change in me. But when people heard The Magic Whip and it wasn’t covered in guitars, they must have been quite shocked. [Laughs.]