Day In The Life: Andy Partridge, guitarist and chief songwriter with XTC, and the founder of Ape House records
'Music is too important to be wallpaper'
Thursday 30 November 2006
What do I do all day? Well I'm not taking tea with Bjork in a hot air balloon or anything. I set the alarm even if I know I'm going to have a hangover, but it's always interrupting a great dream. Years ago, DC Comics had this character called Adam Strange. He had a mundane life, but then he got zapped by a ray and sent off to the planet Rann where he had an alternate life as a superhero. My dreams are a bit like that. Then I wake up and find myself in Swindon.
My bed is a lavish French oak four-poster, a real Cecil B DeMille of a beast. Once you're in it you don't want to get out. When I got together with Erica [Erica Wexler; niece of famed record producer, Jerry Wexler] we decided to splash out. I blew all my song writing royalties on it.
Eventually I drag myself up, and go downstairs to check our postbox, which is an old port crate. Our postman puts our mail in it - apart from a couple of subscription music magazines that he takes great delight in origami-ing through my letterbox.
I turn the answerphone up just in case I've had any abusive messages in the night. Once in a blue moon you'll hear from an obsessed fan that has got hold of your number. Some people in Australia who were having a party sang XTC songs into my machine for about 20 minutes once.
After that I make myself a decaff coffee - my prostate doesn't like the real stuff - and get my morning news from Ceefax. I've been keeping up with the McCartney divorce drama.
Thanks to the volume that XTC used to play at, I have tinnitus. Every morning I sit in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber for an hour and 20 minutes, and that helps. The tinnitus hadn't been too bad, but then this year I was making an improvisational record called Monstrance with the original XTC keyboard-player Barry Andrews, and a drummer called Martin Barker. On the last day of mixing, a recording engineer pressed the wrong button, and I got a snare drum at God knows what wattage in my headphones. I think I actually passed out.
After that I had tinnitus 24 hours a day. Until the oxygen chamber treatment it was driving me insane. You can't think, you can't sleep, and for a while I thought about throwing myself under a steamroller. It's much better now, and I even know the notes that are ringing in my ears. My left ear is a D and my right ear is a C. Bit of a bluesy interval, that.
I'm addicted to mulligatawny soup, so I'll have some of that when I get back. Some days, I work in the Sue Ryder charity shop and sort their books. I'm a complete bookaholic, and it brings out the junior librarian in me. If I'm not doing that, I'll be chasing people on the phone about stuff to do with my record label, Ape.
I set up Ape in 2003. It was partly about having a home for my solo box set, Fuzzy Warbles, and partly about trying to right some of the contractual wrongs that had been done to me over the years. I've made more money selling Warbles on my own than I've made from XTC's entire back catalogue on Virgin. The other artists on Ape get a 50 per cent royalty of any net profit. I'm proud of not screwing the artist, whereas a lot of record companies are quite the opposite.
Ape gets lots of unsolicited demos. I don't relish going through them, because you know that most of it is going to be dog shit. Occasionally, you find a real gem, though: Canadian songwriter Veda Hille, for example, or The Milk & Honey Band, who are from Brighton.
I'm a real packaging whore and love working on the sleeve and track sequencing with the Ape artists. If I hadn't become a musician, I might have been a graphic designer.
The Americans seem to like my stuff, so I've been doing a lot of press with them lately. Because of the time difference, the phone interviews are late afternoon. I can't be shut up easily, so I usually enjoy them. Occasionally they're rotten, so you wriggle out of them by saying you've got a burst water main or something.
I might listen to a bit of music between interviews, but I could never have the constant aural pollution of an iPod. Music is too important to be wallpaper, although sometimes I think it's just a nice sensory thing like chocolate or perfume. It's like if you worked on the perfume counter in Debenhams, though: too much perfume and you get desensitised to it. Most of the time I try to stay tuned to Radio Nothing.
Both Erica and myself love Channel 4 News. We're big Jon Snow fans. I think of him as an ersatz uncle and I think he's Erica's ersatz older lover or something, so we both enjoy his company.
After that I might start working on that nice lyrical idea I've thought of while buying more mulligatawny at the Co-op. I keep a little cassette recorder in the room by the kitchen, and I'll go and strum a few chords and sing into it.
I busted a tendon in my left hand ring finger earlier this year, so that meant no guitar for six months. My studio is in the garden shed, and while I wasn't able to play guitar I got it re-wired and re-jigged. I'm not looking forward to learning the new computer recording gear; it took me about a year to learn the Cubase VST system, and now I've got Cubase SX, and everything is different. When I meet Herr Steinberg [businessman behind Cubase software] I'm going to shake him warmly by the testes.
A nice sideline is writing songs for other people or TV. Someone asked me to write something for Jane Birkin's last album, saying, "She wants it on the theme of coming back to live in England". I wrote something called "I Gave My Suitcase Away", and sent it over to the offices in Paris, but they thought it was too jolly, the miserable fuckers. It ended up on Fuzzy Warbles, and I realised it was actually about my attitude to home life.
Before that, Harry Hill called about some music for a pilot comedy called Extreme Soap. I also did a song called "I Wonder Why The Wonderfalls" for Wonderfalls, the Fox TV drama. The buggers sped it up because it was a second too long. It drove me nuts when I heard it.
After dinner, we go and flop on the stupidly expensive bed for more back scratching. Failing that, I love opening a nice bottle of Châteauneuf du Pape, sitting in my old armchair. I'll write some lyrics or flick through a well-illustrated book. I was a slow reader at school, and I never read a book of my own volition until after I left. Now I can't get enough of them - especially archaic history books. The day ends with Newsnight, and a bowl of Weetabix and a banana. Middle age, eh?
Interview by James McNair
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