Q&A: Chris Difford of Squeeze
Squeeze will consider celebrating the 30th anniversary of their landmark album "East Side Story" by mounting a tour during which the group will playing the album in its entirety on tour.
"I saw Todd Rundgren do 'A Wizard, A True Star' and it was such a genius show. I'm thrilled with the idea," said Chris Difford, the lyricist and guitarist who has led Squeeze with partner Glenn Tilbrook since 1974. "I'm thrilled with the idea of building a set and doing the whole album."
Legendary as it is, the "East Side Story" never cracked the Top 40 in the U.S., nor did its biggest hit single, "Tempted." It did, however, lead to Squeeze becoming one of the most popular live acts to emerge from London's new-wave/punk scene in the 1970s.
Currently, Squeeze is ostensibly touring a greatest-hits album, albeit one that will be released on Aug. 3. Titled "Spot The Difference," the set features all new recordings of the group's 14 best-known songs, among them "Hourglass," "Goodbye Girl" and "Cool for Cats."
We caught up with Difford after the eighth show on the North American tour -- which started earlier this month -- to talk about the band's legacy and how they are working to control it.
SoundSpike: Was there a catalytic moment when you or Glenn decided you needed to re-record your hits?
Chris Difford: It was three or four years ago when we were touring the States. We were in a hotel and a Heineken ad came on the television with one of our songs, but nobody had asked us if it was OK to use. We had no control, no rights to our catalog. We decided to re-record them, which felt good, and we felt we needed to make them as close as possible to the originals so we can take them to TV companies and film companies for licensing.
Considering they were recorded anywhere from 20 to 32 years ago, how tough was it to get it to all sound true to the originals?
Glenn did a magnificent job with the tracks, making them really work. He put the sweat into the job.
That was a period of significant changes in technology and the band changed lineups several times -- Paul Carrack replacing Jools Holland gave the band a much different sound, which was apparent when Jools rejoined the band. How were those factors taken into consideration?
We've been out on the road with this lineup [John Bentley from the early '80s edition on bass, keyboardist Stephen Large and drummer Simon Hanson] for awhile, so we're used to playing these songs. The band has been magnificent about learning the songs [as initially recorded], so it's just falling into place nicely. The right place, right time to do this. The songs that were changed, I feel, changed for the better, like "Black Coffee in Bed." The selection was easy -- we listened to the hits and to our fans. We weren't doing any obscurities.
Does it wind up limiting the image of Squeeze -- that the band was just this collection of 14 songs? How do you expand on that?
Our band is inspired by our back catalog and we can draw upon that. When we're ready, we'll try to create new songs, maybe next year or the year after that. There's a long-term plan to keep Squeeze going, the parameters being that this band does change its members and the music.
At this point, is having new songs important for you and Glenn, or is that strictly a focus of your solo acts?
It's good for the head to write new songs, but only when we feel compelled.
Does it require a different mindset, writing for Squeeze vs. your solo work like "Cashmere If You Can," which you released just before this tour started?
I've written three solo albums in five years, so I do have to walk out of that world into this one. It's like those chambers on 'Star Trek' they go into and their bodies are transported around the universe.
You guys took a break from Squeeze in the '80s, but stayed together as Difford and Tilbrook, then returned to Squeeze up through 1999. You reunited in 2007, and I believe the reunion was welcome because so many people associated Squeeze's music with happy times in their lives. Does any particular period stand out as being more fun than the other?
The time at which I was having the most fun would have been at a performance where I couldn't have identified it. How do you define that word? It keeps changing as you age. First, it's popping balloons, then doing drugs, then having children, then through moments of reflection. Fun now is being onstage, hopefully giving the best performance possible.
Since returning as Squeeze, you have been able to play large theaters and amphitheaters, which a lot of bands have not been able to sustain. You spoke about the different mindset in writing for Squeeze vs. solo work, but what about performing solo?
There are balances to be had in life, and it's interesting being a solo act and then in Squeeze. In New York, I play B.B. King's as a solo and get 250 people. As Squeeze we do 7,000 at Radio City Music Hall. I embrace the balance.
21 - Milwaukee, WI - Pabst Theater
22 - Minneapolis, MN - Zoo Amphitheatre
25 - Denver, CO - Ogden Theater
27 - Las Vegas, NV - Crown Theater
28 - Universal City, CA - Gibson Amphitheatre
30 - Saratoga, CA - Mountain Winery
31 - Napa, CA - Uptown Theatre
1 - San Francisco, cA - Fillmore
3 - Seattle, WA - The Showbox
5 - Toronto, Ontario - Bandshell Park (Beer Festival)
7 - Niagara Falls, NY - Bear's Den @ Seneca Falls Casino
8 - Hamilton, Ontario - Gage Park (Festival of Friends)