Music Q&A:
Chris T-T

The political songwriter is celebrating 20 years of making music and says it's increasingly embarrassing that no one has heard of him still

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What informs your music and songwriting?
I think my songs are more often outward looking than many artists, which is partly why I get labelled a protest singer. It’s never just politics but if you look out at the wider world politics are never far away either. So, looking outwards for source material, rather than starting with my own emotions and personal life (I do a bit of that of course but not so much). I’m most triggered to write by nature, especially animals, current affairs, also literature, travel, occasionally visual art.

How have you evolved as an artist over the years?
On the whole I’ve got better at singing and playing – and slowed down, so my arrangements are more controlled and fully developed. But I’ve also got more “normal”, which I don’t like. Maybe as I got more experienced at the “craft” of song, interesting rough edges got sanded down. Or maybe it’s just moving away from psychedelic pop. Whatever, some moments on my early records were just proper bonkers and I listen back a bit envious that the younger me could make those decisions without caring about the audience, or trying to tidy them up. Although thinking about it, that feels like a problem for all pop music, not specifically me – we all correct errors now in a rather boring way.

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
Well, we’re releasing this double album best-of to mark my 20th anniversary, so that’s made me chill out a bit and take stock of wherever the fuck I’ve got to in two decades. It’s getting increasingly embarrassing, when you’re asked what you do at a party, to explain you’re a pop music artist that the person’s almost certainly not heard of. Apart from that I’ve got more unreleased songs than I’ve ever had, two or three whole albums’ worth, so in June after I finish my best-of concerts, I’ll go through that to see what’s in there. Ironically, given what I was saying earlier about outward looking songwriting, there’s a lot more emo personal stuff in my nearly done songs pile than usual, so I wonder if there’s a specifically personal album to be made. Last time I did that was Love Is Not Rescue in 2010.

What’s on your rider?
Jaffa Cakes, white wine and an avocado. I love quirky, annoying things on riders. I used to ask for specific images to be up in the dressing room (Tony Benn, or a Muppet, or any character from a TV show). Now I like to ask for pre-stamped postcards from the town, which hardly costs anything on the rider budget but tests the level of effort a promoter is willing to put in, like, will they bother putting stamps on? Oh, and recently I asked for bags of the best locally roasted coffee beans – but I said I’d pay the promoter back for this up to £10, so they weren’t feeding my coffee addiction out of their gig budgets. This was a partial success – I think I ended up with six or seven bags but only three were any good.

Tell us your most embarrassing or surreal experience.

My best surreal experiences have been drug/music induced, like I’m resisting ever seeing British Sea Power live again, even though they’re immense and I’m a big fan, because last time I saw them a few years ago in California I was super-high at the gig and it was this completely amazing unreal yet vivid experience. Unrepeatable, basically. I do a ton of embarrassing stuff too. One time springs to mind – I tried to sing a Springsteen cover as guest vocals at a Tom Williams gig but completely blanked on it. Fucked up everything but the first few lines and even messed up the cues for the rest of the band. I’d had most of a bottle of wine and finished my own set, so clearly my brain was like: “Fuck it, you’re done now.” But that Telegraph critic who’s mates with Bono – Neil McCormick? – who doesn’t rate me anyway, was down the front and I hadn’t clocked how it was an “important” night for Tom at the time, so I felt like a utter douche canoe after. Our friend Jacqui has video footage of that somewhere but she knows if it ever went up I’d be beyond gutted!

What song do you wish you’d written?
Loads. I wish my stories would flow like say Jay-Z or early Springsteen. Also I love mainstream pop and hip-hop stuff outside my genres and wish I could achieve that. I truly wish I’d written Dancing On My Own by Robyn, Into My Arms by Nick Cave (and I tried to emulate his genius opening couplet in my song Tunguska and I’d give me a B+ for effort) and Dignity by Deacon Blue.

What’s your worst lyric?
Ha, great question. There’s been some clangers over the years. On The Bear (2013) the song The Music Is Alive With The Sound Of Ills has this fantastically appalling couplet about getting locked in a park, which rhymes “Ribena” with “hyena” (I shit you not). I’m perversely proud of the sheer clunkiness of that song’s lyrics – all the way through it’s almost deliberate, embracing its own stupidity. Maybe.

Chris T-T is touring until 23 May and plays 5 May, All Hallows Church, Leeds and 6 May, Anthony Burgess Centre, Manchester

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Chris T-T

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