dispatches from the pop scene...minus the corn syrup.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Chart Rigger Exclusive: In Conversation With The Feeling's Dan Gillespie-Sells

"I think pop music has to be fearless." - DAN GILLESPIE-SELLS

On the eve of their last American gig on VH1's You Oughta Know tour, The Feeling's shy and handsome frontman, Dan Gillespie-Sells, spent an hour talking with Chart Rigger about the merits of pop. "I think pop music has to be fearless," he explains, "because if you're writing pop music, you will be ridiculed by indie snobs." He even goes on to happily sing the praises of ABBA, Human League and Stock Aitken Waterman. Dan then reveals that he's now in the first real relationship of his romantic life, and swears he hasn't told this to anyone else. "Because no one ever asked directly."

Now would this charming gent lie to J'ason D'luv? Hmmm...let's find out.

J'ASON D'LUV: Hi, Dan! How are you doing?
DAN GILLESPIE-SELLS: Hello, hello! I'm very well, thank you.

I caught you guys at a showcase at The Troubador here in Los Angeles in the fall, months before your album came out here in the States. But even then, you had a large number of people in the audience who knew all the words to the songs.
They're everywhere, it's funny. It seems that no matter what town we go to [in the States], we do have super-fans who seem to know everything. It's never like a bunch of people who kind of like the singles...it's like a bunch of people who seem to know every word to every song. They're quite fanatical. That happens in Japan and places like that, but I didn't think it would happen here so much. Sometimes in some towns there are two or three of them, and then in some places there are 20 or 30 of them, or 40 of them. It just purely depends what place we're in. It is a funny thing. I know what you mean -- it seems to be that some people tend to be really into the band. [Laughs]

Photo by J'ason D'luv, property of Chart Rigger.

In the photo flip book on the VHI site, there's the photo of you and Rich at the Space Needle in Seattle. Did you go up in it?
The guy who ran the center with the sci-fi museum knew who we were, or the label tipped him off. For some reason, he knew who we were and we got free tickets to go on a free tour around the sci-fi museum. It was the rock and roll bit, really, that we were supposed to go and see, but we were more interested in the sci-fi [museum]. There's a music center there...

Yeah, the Jimi Hendrix Museum [Experience Music Project] at Seattle Center, which was actually under construction the one and only time I went up there, so I didn't get to see it.
That's right! They have the sci-fi bit which we were actually more interested in, because we're all proper sci-fi geeks in the band. I'm a big Trekkie and I love Star Wars. Especially really old, really tacky sci-fi -- I love it! So, we went around there. I think there's actually probably a picture of Richard with E.T.

It's funny you say that, because I'm actually in the process of watching every single episode of The X-Files on DVD. I'm up to season three now.
Oh, I love The X-Files! It's just coming around where that's cool again. It's just a really great genre, because there's nothing like it and there is always such brilliant social comment that always gets away with murder because it's about the future or it's about aliens. Sci-fi always works as a wonderful metaphor for things in life, I think.

Let's talk about your album; in particular, the U.S. version. Some fans were irked by the change in cover art for the American release, and also by order of the songs themselves being rearranged. Did you guys have any thoughts on this?
We were told that the European album artwork that we had wasn't going to work over here. I really liked it, but it wasn't exactly what I wanted, anyway. Then we were told, "We'll come up with something else," and the label sent a few things across and they were all really dreadful.


U.K. album cover

We had this photo shoot in London that was very last minute, and there were these shots taken of us, and the label chose a really moody one -- which is a shame, actually, because I think there are some with a slightly less moody edge to them that worked really well. It was kind of like going with a Talking Heads thing, because there were certain albums in the '80s that did that weird cropping that I quite liked. So, I didn't really mind it, but the thing is, I've never been very good at that kind of stuff -- the aesthetic stuff.

U.S. album cover

When I was doing school projects, I could never make the front cover look very good. I always used to think I was getting marked down because my presentation was appalling. And really, when it comes to the album, I've always just thought, I don't know! What I'm good at doing is making music. It's always been about the music, which is why we were never really a big fashionable band in the U.K. We just got by because we got enough radio play for people to hear the music. All of our success has just been around people who are fans of music. There was no buzz. We were never part of a scene. We were never cool and interesting amongst the fashion people or amongst, really, any cool niche. It was just about the music for us. And I think it's difficult for me to judge anything else. Even with our videos -- I like the "Sewn" video. I like its moodiness. I think with film, I'm slightly more getting into it now and learning about it and getting my own taste about it. But even then, some of our videos, I'm just like, Well, I don't know...it's just a video, isn't it? I'm really so focused on the music that I find it hard to concentrate on anything else.

Photo by J'ason D'luv, property of Chart Rigger.

That's almost the mindset The Smiths had 20 years ago
, where they made maybe four actual music videos for the boatload of singles they released, and embraced the fact that they were unfashionable in a highly stylistic time, culturally. I say almost, because Morrissey was actually very meticulous about choosing the artwork for their album and, in particular, single sleeves.
Yeah, and it's almost a struggle to be unfashionable now, and that makes it fashionable. It's gone around so many circles now that I find it all incredibly confusing. When all the mainstream record labels, major record labels are pushing what is still called "alternative rock," I can't get my head around it -- how can it be alternative when everyone's doing it, you know? In the U.K., certainly, when we were making the record, there didn't seem to be an alternative to alternative, and that was the irony of it. Everything was indie. Everything was alternative. Everything was super-credible and super-cool, and everything sounded like it was recorded in a shed. When we made [Twelve Stops And Home] in a shed, we wanted it to sound like it was from a studio! [Laughs] They're all in record studios trying to make their albums sound trashy, and I'm like, I don't want it to sound trashy...I want it to sound beautiful! I'm not afraid of that, and to our extent, I felt like our alternative was to make pop music. Because so few bands are doing it, not in the way our heroes did it. You know, our heroes, Squeeze and Talking Heads and a couple of bands doing great pop music up into the '80 were doing it. I love Human League and things like that. But as far as bands playing pop music, there's not that many of them going at the moment.

There are so many rad Human League tracks. I had Dare and Hysteria when I was a kid, but just got around to downloading The Very Best Of a few months ago.
The Human League greatest hits is definitely worth having. It's full of great tracks.

Did you hear this report from Planet Sound, where you guys were the most-played band on U.K. radio in 2006?
We were the most-played act on U.K. radio, which is more impressive than "band," I think. [Both laugh] I'm only joking! But, yeah, I think it's because we had four big singles that were all Top 10s. They were all either #1 or #2 radio play singles. There were five singles off the album and I think the four all fell in 2006, because we started in February and then by the end of the year, November or December, we had the fourth single. There's still huge radio play in the U.K. You know how it filters to commercial radio -- it takes awhile. But that wasn't so much a surprise to me, because we're a radio band. That's why it worked so well. I listened to huge amounts of popular radio when I was growing up, and I wanna make music that sounds good on the radio.


So were you a fan of pure pop growing up, like Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan?
Oh, absolutely! Probably moreso now, actually, because I'm probably starting to kind of look back on that stuff and seeing it for what it is. You know, in the way that when ABBA was out, a lot of people saw it as being something tacky. Now everyone looks back on ABBA and realizes there was so much genius there. And I think that if I look back on some of that Stock, Aitken and Waterman stuff, and also the stuff Madonna was doing in the '90s -- any kind of really innovative pop music, really -- yeah, I'm a real fan of pure pop, completely.

I really think that what worked for all the music you just mentioned is that the simplest chord change, or going up the right octave with the chorus, can make really beautiful pop. And I get the same impression from Twelve Stops And Home, that you five understand the structure of really great pop.
We do, but I also think that it takes a little bit of not worrying about being cool to do that. If you have any fear, then you can't write pop music. I think pop music has to be fearless, because if you're writing pop music you will be ridiculed by indie snobs. But you just have to remember that they're wrong, and you're right! [Both laugh] It's so easy to be avant garde. There's no challenge to it! To be cutting edge, supposedly, is so boring. You can't judge it against anything else. Everyone sounds a bit like Joy Division but they haven't got "Love Will Tear Us Apart Again." They've got the sound and they've got the jeans right, but they haven't got the song. Even Joy Division didn't have that many songs! There's a wonderful challenge in pop music. It's not easy to do and I find it really fulfilling.

As you know, this site is called Chart Rigger. If you could rig the charts so that one of your singles had made it to #1, which would it have been?
I can't choose between the songs. I find it hard. You know why? I feel like a mother who has children and you can't choose between them. [Laughs] Don't make me choose between the children! It's like that. I can't judge them on their own. I mean, I think "Never Be Lonely" [Video] possibly should have been a #1, but only because it kind of straddles the different emotions and different things that I like to have in pop music. It's got a bit of sadness, a bit of angriness, a bit of quirkiness. It's got a nice big outro. It falls in the middle between the "Sewn" side of what we do and the "Love It When You Call" side of what we do that I think are very much, you know, they're quite separated, really. We can do some things that are quite intimate and moody, but we can also do things that are very bouncy and fun and sometimes very epic as opposed to being very intimate. "Never Be Lonely" has got a bit of everything, really.

I agree. God, "Never Be Lonely" was my MySpace jam for 6 months straight! But I have to say, if there could be a sixth single, I wish it would be "Kettle's On." That's probably my favorite album track of yours.
Oh, really? It was a real toss-up with this last single, because "Rosé" was a big favorite of lots of people, and it seemed to be a little different from anything else that we'd released. But a lot of people thought it should be "Strange," and then a lot of people thought "Kettle's On," as well. It was three songs that everyone thought could have been singles. I still get people here in America, particularly, saying "I Want You Now" should have been a single. So my head spins when I think about it.

Well, just look at it as testament to how good all the songs are.
I guess it's a good problem to have, isn't it? It's either a really good or a really bad problem! [Both laugh] Nobody can hear a single or everyone hears lots of singles...I don't know.

So let's talk about you. Are you a single guy?
No, I'm not. I have a boyfriend. This is a fairly recent thing. I started dating someone on New Year's Eve.

Oh, wow!
I've never told anyone before, because no one ever asked directly. This is really pathetic, but it's probably the first proper boyfriend I've really ever had, because I've just totally scuttered around the whole thing for so many years. And I'm 28 years old and I'm, like, talking about my first real boyfriend...but certainly, it's the first relationship that I've been really happy to talk about.

Good for you! Is he someone you met on New Year's Eve or did you know him before?
I met him once before and then I invited him to a TV show that I was filming on New Year's Eve. It's great being in this business because you can invite people to really posh things! It was someone's house on The Thames, and we were playing the New Year on BBC 1. It was 10 million viewers, and I remember getting ready to play just before the strike of midnight, bringing in 2007, but I was much more nervous about the date than I was about the TV show. [Laughs]

See, that's another good problem to have.
It's going really well. He came over to visit me in New York, so that was nice.

I have to ask: have you had the proverbial sit-down lecture by Bono backstage at some event yet?
No I haven't. I've never met Bono. I can't wait!

You always hear of him putting his arm around the newbie frontmen of rock and then giving them his drunken pearls of wisdom.
Is that what he does? I'd love to have that. I feel like I've missed out now. Maybe that's the measure of success, to have the Bono talk. That's pure success. [Both laugh]

Bono and Brandon Flowers

I read that you had met Neil Tennant, and when you told him what an influence the Pet Shop Boys had been on you, he replied, "That's interesting, because you don't sound like us." Did he really say that?
Yeah, but not in so many words. I knew that, and I knew he knew what I was getting at. He was talking about production and I wasn't talking about production. I was talking about songwriting. There's something very pleasing about intelligent lyrics and great pop melodies, and Pet Shop Boys have got all that stuff. And what they're still doing now is always very exciting.

Have you been writing songs for your second album?
Well, there's a connection with the Pet Shop Boys, because I know Trevor Horn did their latest record, and he did my favorite album of theirs, Introspective. I'm a big fan of his, and he's not doing the album with us, but he's doing a track with us. I don't want to commit to a producer for an album, but I do certainly want to do a track with Trevor. We're working with him as soon as we get back to London, just really to experiment and have some fun and see what he comes up with. I do love his production, and I did tell him I want that full-on '80s, no-messing-around, orchestral, over the top...I want the Trevor Horn works! I don't want him to be subtle. I want him to be proper Trevor Horn.

Producer Trevor Horn

Would you be able to say if "Join With Us" will be on the second album?
You never know, but I think it probably will. That's like a single contender, I think, for the next album.

Yeah, you guys played that one here in L.A. in the fall and it sounded great.
It needs a bit of work, because it sounds to me, like if I listen to my demo of it, it sounds too much like the last album. I mean, the song was recorded three years ago on that demo. It sounds a little dated to me. It might change a little bit, but as I say, that song's pretty much going to be on the next record.

You recently did the Marks & Spencer ads that singer Bryan Adams shot for the new men's line. Were you a fan of his growing up?
Yeah, completely. My first school band used to play "Run To You," and I told him that. I'm sure he probably hears that all the time and it makes him feel really old! Which is the one thing you do when you meet your heroes; you make them feel old saying, "I listened to your album when I was six." They must hate it. Maybe one day someone will say that to me. [Laughs]

Maybe that's how Neil Tennant felt.
Yeah! Bryan Adams is an amazing songwriter with great pop records. It was certainly strange having him take my photograph, as well. That's one of the reasons I wanted to do it. I wasn't like, Oh, I'm dying to do an ad campaign. It was more to do with the fact of who it was connected with, and the idea made me chuckle.

I must say, you look very dapper in those photos.
Oh, I'm glad! I'm glad! I was really ill that day so I thought I'd look terrible. I had bronchitis so I was coughing. That was really awkward, because I was trying to have a conversation with Bryan and I was just coughing the whole time, and he was worried about catching it off of me. He was kind of like inching away. It was a slightly awkward situation. I had it for a month and I really felt ill. I was properly gaunt. But maybe that adds to the model-y look. I look kind of gaunt and half-dead. That's what most models look like nowadays, isn't it?

Maybe all but Tyra. One last question....you're wrapping up the VH1 tour in Atlanta on Friday. Are there any plans for The Feeling to come back to the States for shows this summer?
Hopefully. It depends on what comes up. There are a few little tours and things in the pipeline. It just depends. These things are all decided very much at the last minute. I'd love to come back, definitely.

Well thank you so much for your time. I know you've gotta go. It was wonderful to talk to you.
Yeah, thank you very much.

I'll see you next time you're in L.A.
Thanks! Bye!

VH1's You Oughta Know tour ends today, April 20, in Atlanta. Purchase tickets here. The Feeling's Twelve Stops And Home is available now.

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