Interview with Justin Currie: Going It Alone

Justin CurrieJustin Currie formed the band Del Amitri in 1980 by posting an advertisement in a music store in Glasgow, looking for people who could play. After becoming popular on the local music scene, they were signed to Chrysalis in 1984, and released their debut album the following year.

They were dropped by Chrysalis, and signed with A&M in 1987. The band went through numerous lineup changes, and achieved substantial success in the U.K., though they were somewhat less successful in the U.S. In 1995, Del Amitri had surprise number two hit in the U.S. with their single, “Roll to Me.” They made their last of their six studio albums in 2002, though some confusion exists because they have never officially announced the end of the band.

You’ve probably been asked this question several times today already, but people want to know. Does Del Amitri still exist as a band?

No, not really. There’s no demand for Del Amitri, and if there was, then maybe it might exist. But there’s nobody at the moment for us to go and play to, and certainly not to make a record. We didn’t really break up in that Del Amitri consisted of me and Iain Harvey, the other writer in the band, and we still write together. But whether or not that constitutes Del Amitri is hard to say. If Del Amitri means a two guitar, bass, and drums band from Glasgow, then it certainly doesn’t exist.

In 1986 when you came here with Del Amitri for your first American tour, you paid for it out of your own pockets, with some help from your fans. Now that you’re about to start your first solo tour of America, do you feel similar emotions this time around?

There will never be another tour like the thing that Del Amitri did in 1986, which was a kind of miracle of fan support, and idiocy on our part. It was an amazing experience in that we were directly supported, fed, and clothed by people who got into our fan club in America. They’d written to us in the U.K. Our manager managed to persuade these people to put on gigs for us, and raise money by selling visors and t-shirts over there.

Del Amitri never did another tour like that, probably because we couldn’t have. We would have gone mad, or died. We were literally starving for weeks on end on that tour. When we weren’t in a town where we had a show, or staying at a fan’s house, we didn’t eat. So we didn’t really eat for weeks at a time. But it was an amazing experience, and an amazing way to see America, because we were sleeping outdoors, sleeping by the side of the road basically.

Hopefully that will be different this time, but what are your feelings on the verge of the solo tour this time?

I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t done a tour in the States since 1997. That was the last time that we did a run of shows over there, and I’m playing with a guy who’s an American.

Will you be touring with a band?

No, I’m just playing with one other musician, a guy called Peter Adams who plays keyboards, and some other things like that … accordion.

The sound of Del Amitri began to change after your first album and tour. Can you explain the progression?

We were sort of arty auteurs of a rock band for the first half of the ‘80s. Then I started to write my own songs, which were, for no particular reason, more traditional in the way they were structured. They were more traditionally verse, chorus. They were wrapped around chord sequences, and they were very different from what Del Amitri started out doing, which was a very arty thing. We morphed from being an art band to being a pop band. We didn’t deliberately do it to gain a wider profile, it just happened that the songs I was writing were more commercial, they were more accessible. And I’m not now writing songs that are less commercial. They just happen to be. That’s just the way it goes.

Were you as surprised as I was, and a lot of people were, when the single “Roll to Me” became a big American hit in 1995?

Yeah, we were extremely surprised at the size of the hit it was at radio. That kind of took us aback, although it didn’t have any effect on anything else. We still played to the same size crowds. It didn’t actually sell any albums for us, a. because it was unrepresentative, and b. because it was just a throwaway pop song in lots of ways, that happened to get played on radio. It didn’t have much of an effect on our careers, other than that it made us a lot of money, but it didn’t expand our audience at all, strangely.

I wasn’t surprised that of all the things we released, that was our biggest radio hit in the States, because we always knew that it was a throwaway pop thing. It was extremely melodic, and it had that kind of appeal. I think that’s why we put it on (the album) Twisted, even though it didn’t fit, because we felt that Twisted would have been too dark an album without something like that on it. The only thing at the time that was weird was that it didn’t help us sell any more albums at all. I think that’s kind of common with bands if they have a hit that’s unrepresentative, often it doesn’t have much of an impact on the rest of their career. For example the album, after that, didn’t do anything at radio.