interview by Alexander Laurence
Halstead has been cleverly thinking about doing his first
solo record Sleeping on Roads for at least two years.
While in Mojave 3, he started to write some material that
seemed more personal, and couldn't handle the fierce democracy
that is Mojave 3. After a while he had enough songs and
some time to get together with some friends and try something
new. His latest Sleeping on Roads, is a wonderfully
low-key affair featuring Neil's distinctive voice and some
Compared to his six albums with Slowdive and Mojave 3,
Sleeping On Roads sounds like a road album. It is
great music without roots and full of freedom and space.
Neil Halstead has been called "one of Britain's greatest
songwriters"; and he shows us more of what he is about
in a more intimate way.
Sleeping On Roads is about lost love. Halstead got
together with some friends and finally completed the album
this past summer in Airfield Studios, near his home in Cornwall.
Ian McCutcheon from Mojave 3 and Nick Holton of Coley Park
appear on the record. The result a folky mix reminiscent
of Nick Drake and Bert Jansch.
Halstead is still in Mojave 3. He plans on doing another
Mojave 3 record as well as another solo record. I caught
him on tour in Hollywood in early April. While we were in
his hotel room we were able to watch some VH1 "Behind
The Music." Ian was taking a shower while we were doing
the interview. Neil is very quiet and shy so it took much
talking to get him to come out of his shell.
Do you watch this stuff a lot?
NEIL: At home, not
at all. But on tour I watch it. I like "Behind The
Music." The story of success, failure, and a return
to success, makes them really entertaining.
AL: What point are
you at in your career?
NEIL: I started Slowdive
when I was 18 and that was about twelve years ago. We did
three albums with Creation Records. We did a gig and Alan
McGee showed up at a gig and was looking for bands. We sent
him a tape and then he signed us.
AL: When you started
doing Mojave 3 did you send him a tape?
NEIL: No, because we
had been dropped by Creation. So after six months we started
to record. I was known in the music industry by then. We
recorded about six tracks. I went off to Israel. Rachel
called me and told me that a label wanted to put out the
AL: Since you did this
solo record, many people wonder about the state of Mojave
3. Are you going to do any records as a group in the future?
NEIL: We (Mojave 3)
are doing a record right now. We started it in January and
we will finish it over the summer. It should be out in January
2003. Sleeping on Roads is a record I did with a
bunch of friends recorded at home. It was produced by Nick
Holton who was a friend at school. I just wanted to do something
AL: Do you write all
the songs in Mojave 3?
NEIL: I wrote all the
songs on the solo record. On the last Mojave 3 record Ian
and Rachel wrote some songs. I do music with Nick quite
a lot. We just fuck around. We have always done music together.
AL: Do you write music
first or lyrics first?
NEIL: Some of the songs
are four years old. I write songs all the time. Some songs
make it on a Mojave 3 record and some don't. There was not
a big plan behind it. I would go over to Nick's and have
a few beers and then we would record a few tracks. Most
of the songs are written with me just playing acoustic guitar.
If I am in a situation where I need some lyrics, I will
sit down and write something, and go and record it. Once
you get the basic idea of a song down, then you think about
whether you want other things going on.
AL: You have been touring
for a while now?
NEIL: I came to the
USA for two weeks and then I went to Europe for a few weeks.
Now I am doing a month here in the states that will be followed
by a month tour in Europe. I might play a few festivals
in Europe this summer. And I might come back here too. The
shows have been really good. People are generally there
to see you play. They seem like they are really into the
new music. I like touring and I like being in different
AL: Do you get to see
a lot of the cities?
NEIL: No, because you
are traveling and doing soundchecks and interviews during
the day. Whatever free time you have is spent doing laundry.
I just got off the plane. Occasionally you can see some
sites if you have a day off. I have Ian with me on this
tour to drive and to sell T-shirts. He makes sure that we
have some beers to drink. I don't have a set list Sometimes
you are up there on stage and your mind is a blank.
AL: There is one song
on the album called "Driving With Bert" that is
a reference to Bert Jansch. Why did you write about him?
NEIL: The song is not
really about Bert Jansch. The guitar style on the album
is reminiscence of stuff by Bert Jansch. The song is really
about the end of a relationship. The songs speak for themselves.
They are all stories and they are very specific. They are
about sad things or people I have known. Anything is appropriate
material for a song. For me, I tend to focus on relationships.
AL: The song "Seasons"
is about surfing. Do you follow sport?
NEIL: No, I just love
surfing. I am from a place called Cornwall and there is
a lot of surfing there. There has been a big surfing scene
there since the 1960s. There are some long sandy beaches
and some long reefs. The end of the summer is always a good
time to go out.
AL: What else inspires you?
NEIL: People inspire
me. Books and films. I just read a book called Three
To Kings by Magnus Mills. It was about this guy who
lives in a tin house.
AL: Are there any bands
that you have played with that you are also a fan of?
NEIL: Beachwood Sparks,
Sid Hilman, and Turin Brakes. I usually watch all the bands
that I play with. The audiences have been a wide range of
young and old people.
AL: Do you use computers?
NEIL: Yeah. I always
like tape but what you can do with computers and editing
is just amazing. I think it's clever. It has lowered the
cost of making records. It's like film. Anyone can just
go out and make a record now.
AL: What do you think
of the Nick Drake comparisons?
NEIL: I like Nick Drake
but I don't think I am particularly influenced by him on
this record. I think that people just hear an English guy
playing acoustic music. That's the only common thing for
me. I like other artists like Scott Walker and Johnny Cash.
I like some country music. I like Primal Scream and The
Stooges. I went through a phase when I was listening to
a lot of techno. I like a lot of stuff on Warp Records.
It was exciting when Drum & Bass was just starting.
Does your family have an interest in your music?
NEIL: Yeah. They support
that I do something that I like doing. They have come to
shows. They loved it. My parents are retired. They were
not musicians. My father was an electrician and my mum was
a secretary. My sister is a classical musician. I used to
read music. But I was never proficient as a musician. Anyone
can play music. You just play it in your own style. Music
is about feelings and emotion. You can write something beautiful
and you don't have to be a brilliant technical musician
to do that. You just have to have imagination to capture
-- Alexander Laurence