It’s not an about-face from last year’s acclaimed Blue Dress On, but Rebecca Pidgeon’s new album Bad Poetry veers decidedly into a harder, edgier sound—though not at all without the atmospheric beauty that has marked all her recordings.
“I wanted it to be more of a hardcore record,” says the British singer-songwriter. “I wanted to let my hair down and be more rock—more nasty in the sound instead of gentle. But I still wanted it to be beautiful.”
To this end, Pidgeon turned over full production duties to her veteran guitarist Tim Young, with whom she co-produced Blue Dress On and co-wrote Bad Poetry’s arresting track “Below Zero.”
“He’s a brilliant musician, and had good ideas,” she says, noting that Young also understood the many references that would eventually make up Bad Poetry—beginning with the title.
“I was influenced on this record by William S. Burroughs,” she says. “I started reading Junkie, and was struck by the beauty of it—the way he writes like a beautiful, immoral criminal. And I was fascinated by that world—which was completely unknown to me, obviously! Then I read The Yage Letters and Naked Lunch—which is kind of rough, poetry-inspired. I worked with David Batteau, with whom I’ve worked for years, and we were both fascinated by the underworld of Burroughs.”
Both the Bad Poetry album title and title track derive from a reference to a famous Life Magazine article about the Beats.
“I think the title track describes the record, as it is about the dark places that people get into,” she notes. The song “Bad Poetry,” she adds, reflects Burroughs’ “overtones of life being out of control and swallowed up by lust and immorality.” Likewise, “Freaks and Hustlers,” which she co-wrote with Batteau, was inspired by The Yage Letters, “which is more like a diary than the ‘cut-up’ writing style that he did later.”
But Pidgeon drew inspiration from other sources as well. A fan of dance, she cites Wim Wenders’ 2011 documentary Pina, about choreographer Pina Bausch, and especially the soundtrack by composer Jun Miyake, whose music influenced “Bad Poetry.” A documentary about Marianne Faithfull led to “Do No More,” and “Love is Cocaine” was fueled by film director Fritz Lang’s German expressionist classic Dr. Mabuse in its depiction of “a desperate kind of addiction to this evil guy and what he does.”
Other musical influences came from the recordings of artists that Pidgeon and her band listened to on the road, namely P.J. Harvey, Neil Young, and the Grateful Dead among others. Tindersticks was influential in relation to her Bad Poetry track “You Blind Me” in particular.
“Their song ‘My Sister’ has a sublime, beautiful backing track, but the story it tells is so macabre, about his sister and all of the dreadful things that happen to her—but with this sublime music going on in the background,” explains Pidgeon. “I guess I was influenced by that, and I wanted to have a lovely, happy, pop, up kind of feel—something fun and with a hysterical lyric.”
On “City of Mysteries,” which stemmed from Pidgeon’s dream about her hometown Los Angeles, Young nodded to Dark Side of the Moon in employing surreal sequencer and slide guitar. “But basically, we went with live performances in the studio as a rock band,” she says.
As for her writing, “I approached things a little differently: Sometimes I’d start with a drum loop, but mostly I wrote on an electric guitar to change the tenor of the record, since I usually write on acoustic guitar.”
And she recorded Bad Poetry more quickly than normal, as well.
“I did it on purpose,” she explains. “I wanted to keep the ball rolling, which is difficult to do in this climate in terms of getting music out. So I had to make it happen, and saw that I had a collection of songs after doing a lot of touring and writing on the road and working together with Tim, David Batteau and the band. We used Husky Hoskulds as engineer at his GroundLift Studios, and we were all very productive and able to work together fast.”
With her core band of Young, bassist Jon Ossman and drummer Danny Frankel—and vocal and instrumental contributions from Batteau—Pidgeon often stayed with the demo vocal tracks.
“There’s an immediacy about performing something just once, live, that has lovely emotion to it, and I wanted this record to be more emotional,” she says.
With Bad Poetry, Rebecca Pidgeon continues the recent focus on the music side of her career, which began in the late 1980s/early ‘90s’ with English indie folk rock/pop band Ruby Blue. She left that group in 1990, to further a solo career and pursue an acting career in the United States.
Her solo recording career commenced in 1994 with the release of her solo debut album The Raven. But in 2012, with her sixth solo effort Slingshot, she realized a creative breakthrough. “I reached a point where I felt I had to take my singing more seriously and really make a 100% commitment to it, instead of saying this is something I do that’s not acting,” Pidgeon, said at the time. “I finally said to myself, ‘I am a singer.’”
Blue Dress On, which followed, took a different tack. “It sounds a bit more live, like a band,” she said, “more electric and rough around the edges.” But she also noted that she is always creating and thinking about the next record, hence, the rapid return to the studio for Bad Poetry.
“I really had so much fun making this record,” she says. “I felt I had the freedom to work on songs that explored a kind of darkness that I hadn’t wrestled with before. Also, I got to rock out on it, and got some great musicians to come and play. Kaveh Rastegar came in and played bass on “Freaks and Hustlers”, and Louis Cole from the band “Knower” played drums on the same track. Eric Heywood, played pedal steel on ‘You Haven’t Lived,’ Larry Goldings, who I’d worked with before on my record “Tough On Crime”, played Hammond B-3 on ‘Do No More,’ and Dave Palmer played the synths on ‘City of Mysteries. All the musicians on this record I hugely admire, and I felt very lucky to be working with them.”
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