If you could invest in rock stars the way you can in stocks, there would have been a flurry of action on Mike Scott in 1985.
As leader of the Waterboys, the singer-songwriter reflected in that year's "This Is the Sea" album much of the stirring, rock-as-inspiration qualities of Bruce Springsteen and U2. The album didn't crack the Top 200 in the United States, but there was the feel of greatness about Scott--and the band's shows at the Roxy were among the hottest tickets in town.
Captivated by the spiritually tinged passion of his music and performance, record executives saw in him the Next Big Deal, and longed for the day when Scott's contract with England's tiny Ensign Records ran out.
Rather than build upon that momentum, the Edinburgh native moved his home base from London to Dublin and, more importantly, shifted from the anthemic rock of "This Is the Sea" to softer Celtic strains played on fiddle, accordion and the like.
The next album, 1988's "Fisherman's Blues," was his most endearing yet, but it was far from the soaring rock 'n' roll people expected, and it didn't propel Scott into the commercial mainstream.
Puzzled observers speculated that Scott--who also stopped doing interviews--had been overwhelmed by all the attention and had deliberately moved in a less commercial direction. The next album, 1990's "Room to Roam," was even less commercial-minded.
None of this, however, shook the faith of the record executives, because a major bidding war erupted when the Ensign contract finally expired in 1991. Geffen Records won and is planning a major promotional push behind the new Waterboys album, due Tuesday.
Titled "Dream Harder," it marks Scott's return to rock 'n' roll--and it should be one of the most closely watched releases of the year. The question: Can Scott, 34, regain the magic of the mid-'80s and finally join the top level of commercial and creative figures? (See review, Page 62.)
On the eve of the album's release, Scott, who now lives with his wife in New York, spoke about his renewed musical energy and the forces that led to Dublin and his Celtic detour:
Question: Was "Fisherman's Blues" a deliberate step away from the expectations?
Answer: No. I was just following the music. . . . It's easy to look back now and see that it might have been the best thing for me . . . stepping back for a while. I am very happy as a person now. I feel very solid in myself. If I had become a big star back in '85 or '86, I don't think it would have made me happy because I wasn't solid in myself. I had very little personal life. I had a lot of insecurities, as young men do. And I was under a lot of pressure from the various people I was working with at the time.
Q: What do you mean?
A: You know the story. It happens to every young artist. There's the pressure to keep doing more of the same and I had no interest in doing more of the same because I feel that with "This Is the Sea," I took that music to its limit and it was time to shift into something new.
But it wasn't like I was smart enough to sit down and figure all this out . . . tell myself, "Well, I'm going to move to Ireland for five years and learn how to be a man and get married, and then come back." I never thought of it like that.
Q: What did lead to the musical changes?
A: The music changed because my life and my band changed. Around the time of the Roxy, Karl Wallinger decided to leave the Waterboys and form his own band, which became World Party. That led to a shift of power in the band. Instead of me and Karl with a bit of Anthony Thistlethwaite the sax player, the focus was me, Anthony and Steve Wickham, the fiddle player who had just joined the group.
I had fallen in love with the fiddle as an instrument and Steve was my best friend, and that led to changes. The music became more acoustic.
Q: What about the changes in your life--the move to Dublin?
A: Around the same time, I moved from my apartment in London and hadn't found a new place. That Christmas, I went back home (to Scotland) to stay with my mum and I had nowhere to go afterward. Steve invited me to visit him in Dublin and I fell in love with the place. I also fell in love with my future wife. I had no interest in going back to my old life. I suddenly got turned on to gospel, country and Cajun music and Irish folk music and I went off in another direction. I just followed my heart.
Q: But isn't there part of you that wanted stardom, that wanted your music to be heard by the largest possible audience?
A: I didn't get into music to become the biggest possible star. I got into it because I wanted to affect people with my music like I got affected by the Beatles or Bob Dylan or Van Morrison and all the others. But sure, I always wanted to be as successful as I possibly could. I didn't mean to be closing anyone out when I went to Ireland. The music was changing, but I thought we were going to keep growing as a band.
Q: Were you disappointed that "Fisherman's Blues" was not a bigger hit?