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Now for the Real Badly Drawn Boy

His debut was acclaimed, but Damon Gough says it didn't reflect him the way his new album does.

August 25, 2002|STEVE HOCHMAN

Damon Gough, a.k.a. Badly Drawn Boy, did pretty well with the critics on both sides of the Atlantic with his 2000 debut album, "The Hour of Bewilderbeast." The earthy, homemade-sounding collection won the U.K.'s prestigious Mercury Music Prize and finished 18th in the Village Voice poll of U.S. music journalists.

This year, the Englishman's songs-and-score soundtrack for the movie "About a Boy" also earned him much acclaim.

But the first review of his upcoming album, "Have You Fed the Fish," was harsh.

"I played it for my girlfriend," Gough says. "And she said, 'I'm missing you in it.' That put me out."

Gough admits that there's a leap from the shambling feel of the first album to the more polished approach on this one, which was recorded in Los Angeles with producer Tom Rothrock (Beck, Elliott Smith) and had such touches as strings and horns.

"It's a tough thing," he says. "I'm sure there would be a lot of people who dug 'Bewilderbeast'--my naivete and freshness, and the sequences and links I used because I wasn't confident the songs stood alone," he says. "I was just happy to be recording. I'd never been in studios before."

But at age 32, with changes in his life including the recent birth of his and girlfriend Claire Hewitt's second child, he believes that "Have You Fed the Fish," due Oct. 22, has him all through it.

"In January, writing songs for the record, there was a lot of spontaneous subject matter," he says. "I tended to come out with questions about what this job entails for me--the amount of traveling I do, the time away from home.

" 'Bewilderbeast' was about the search for a relationship or series of relationships that I encompassed into one for the cycle. I've got my security and fan base and everything I wanted, but it's still tough. A lot of that got on the record."

He singles out one line from the new song "How?"

"Talking with people on the street, they expect something of you, to add something to their lives," he says. "I've got a line, 'How can I give you the answers you need, when all I possess is a melody?' "

Not that he's complaining or that the songs convey bitterness. The title track, "Born Again," and "All Possibilities" are as ultimately optimistic as they are self-examining, and the fuller arrangements trade the personably rough edges of "Bewilderbeast" for buoyant exuberance and confidence. A few shorter pieces, including a whimsical "Intro" skit and the instrumentals "Theme" and "Interlude," were added to give a flow along the lines of the debut.

And making the album with Rothrock, who also co-produced the "Boy" soundtrack music, wasn't that different at the core. The songs were written or at least sketched out in a two-night burst that produced two bags full of cassettes and 35 songs-in-progress, 16 of which made the final cut.

"It was really only me that provided the music, and Tom found ways to make it sound the way we wanted to," Gough says.

"It was a case of finding arrangements after we'd jammed the songs down. Tom and me sat in a room and I played different instruments, fishing for sounds, fishing for favorite phrases. Only me and Tom were the judge and jury--me as the No. 1 judge. But it was relaxed, not searching for cool sounds that fit with the culture of the day, but something of the moment, of me."

It's a moment that he believes will be meaningful as his career unfolds further, even if fans (not to mention his girlfriend) have trouble adjusting to it at this point.

"The thing I'm really proud of is tackling the subject matter, particularly as you get to the middle of the record," he says.

"The songs 'You Were Right' and 'How?' not just musically but lyrically capture what I want to say as reconciling my two worlds of normal life and pop life. If we look back in 20 years and it's a record that challenges those things, then it's a success."

ROCKTOBER: It's a good bet David Lee Roth won't be at Sammy Hagar's annual birthday bash Oct. 4 and 5 at his Cabo Wabo club in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. But perhaps the clashes between the two former Van Halen singers on their recent co-billed tour inspired one part of Hagar's event. Starting Thursday, his Cabo Wabo tequila company and the Hard Rock Cafe chain are putting on a national battle of the bands, with the champion being flown to Cabo to serve as Hagar's opening act both nights.

Bands who have never had a recording contract can compete first in weekly regional contests, with the 12 winners heading to a national. That roster will be trimmed by public voting in an Internet poll, but the finals will be judged "American Idol"-style by a panel of music industry figures and celebrities.

Not coincidentally, Hagar has a new album, "Not 4 Sale," which despite its title will be go on sale Oct. 1 on the independent 33rd St. Records.

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