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The Verve

History Repeating

Sep 02, 2008 Fall 2008 - Jenny Lewis Bookmark and Share

The fact that The Verve’s 1997 breakthrough mainstream hit was a song called “Bittersweet Symphony” is apt in almost every way. Not only did the track catapult the little-known and criminally ignored band from Wigan, England into superstardom, it also epitomized their future (or lack thereof) and proved to be a fitting epitaph for a band on the cusp of continually falling apart. Indeed, when “Bittersweet Symphony” became a hit, it already seemed that The Verve’s days were numbered. In typical Verve fashion, the band was living the life of worldwide rock stars—rumors of backstage fights, excessive drug use, guitarist Nick McCabe’s perpetual cycle of leaving then rejoining the group—before they actually became worldwide rock stars. Then came the multiple lawsuits with The Rolling Stones’ management concerning the sample of “The Last Time” used in ‘Bittersweet Symphony,” an 18-month-long tour that began with the collapse of bassist Simon Jones on stage, and McCabe once again exiting the group before finishing the tour.

Since they officially broke up at the height of their popularity in the spring of 1999, the mythology of The Verve has grown by leaps and bounds. The rumors and innuendo have near eclipsed the band’s musical legacy. A decade on, with singer Richard Ashcroft garnering a steady solo career and McCabe content with falling off the face of the Earth, one thing appeared certain: The Verve was done and there was very little chance of a reconciliation, much less a reunion.

Then, shockingly, they did.

“The whole turbulent history of the band has been inflated all out of proportion,” claims a soft-spoken McCabe. “There’s been maybe two incidents of any note in the whole history of the band. I think people got the impression we were at each other’s throats all the time and that’s not really the case at all. I don’t want to ruin the mystique for anybody, but I think I just did. A lot of the things that were misinterpreted as friction were simply misunderstandings between people. Then a third party got involved and decided to inflate that into a mythical status. We’re not Fleetwood Mac though, you know.”

McCabe is reticent to elaborate on the influence and actual name of the “third party” but claims the band’s big break up, not to be confused with an earlier break up after the release of their classic second album, 1995’s A Northern Soul, was simply due to the egoism of youth and being overworked, a sentiment bassist Simon Jones shares.

“I don’t know if it was our egos or idiotic naiveté,” Jones laughs. “We all went to school together when we started the band and we’re all such different people personality-wise than we were when we were 16 or 17. We’re friends and friends have their ups and downs, really. It’s not any surprise. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve learned from our experiences together. We’ve learned that going out on tour for 18 months is not really conducive to keeping a band together.”

Despite public opinion, both Jones and McCabe insist the individual members remained friends after the big break up and, according to McCabe, getting the band back together was always in the cards but the timing had to be right. “There was never any question in my mind about reassembling the band,” elaborates McCabe. “I have a lot of good feelings from being in the band and I’ve put about 20 years of my life into this in total. There is no way I would ever say no to it.”

The wild card in the reunion really was Ashcroft. Having released three solo albums since disbanding The Verve, it seemed the singer was quite comfortable with his current career. Jones and McCabe subsequently began recording intermittently for an unnamed project as late as two years ago, and when Ashcroft found out about it through Verve drummer Pete Salisbury, a reunion was simply a phone call away.

“I think Richard just changed his mind one day,” laughs Jones. “After a series of phone calls and a few conversations about the past which needed to happen, we met up in a studio in London and had a bit of a chat and within an hour we were pressing record on the machines and we were playing music together again. The whole thing came together very quickly.”

In the end this Verve reunion wasn’t as much about smoothing over the past as it was about recognizing an undeniable musical chemistry, with the potential to set the stage for the future. “I’ve never had a chemistry musically like I’ve had with these guys,” says Jones. “They’ve been part of my blood all my life. Even 10 years after, I still live and breathe this band.”

“The actual reforming of the band is more about getting together again as a musical entity,” explains McCabe. “The four of us as a collective of people…there is something specific that only we do together.”

After the initial recording session, later dubbed “The Thaw Session,” the band laid down nearly half the foundation of their new album, Forth, in one week during the summer of 2007. After posting “The Thaw Session” online in October of 2007, the vast majority of the fan reactions were overwhelmingly positive. Where 1997’s Urban Hymns was largely orchestrated and lush, “The Thaw Session” marked a return to The Verve’s massive waves of guitar noise as heard on 1995’s A Northern Soul and their 1993 debut A Storm In Heaven. Since McCabe was largely absent during most of the sessions from Urban Hymns, the band wanted to capture the sonic energy inherent in their pre-Urban Hymns incarnation.

“Making an Urban Hymns 2 was never on the agenda,” says Jones. “Nick was out of the picture for most of Urban Hymns, so it’s not an accurate representation of the four of us. We make records by jamming and what you hear on this album is simply us playing in a room together. What you hear on a song like ‘Sit and Wonder’ is us playing it for the very first time. We go into the studio with no pre-written songs. We jam and then pick out ideas from those jams.”

“I think this is the first record we’ve made that’s a definitive representation of what the band is,” elaborates McCabe. “Every-thing else we’ve made is kind of a compromise really. Those might be more polished examples of us, but the sort of raw, messy, schizophrenic nature of the band has actually been captured for the first time really. I think time has definitely assisted it and allowed us to show that side of ourselves instead of airbrushing it into a polished commodity. As young men we were more afraid of showing that side of ourselves.”

Of course, age also has a lot to do with this particular Verve reunion. Currently in their mid-30s, both Jones and McCabe admit their confidence as musicians has been bolstered by growing up. “During A Northern Soul we were taking a lot of ecstasy and we got into this mindset that we couldn’t record unless we were high,” says Jones. “Looking back I think that was due to a lack of confidence in what we wanted to achieve. Over time we’ve gained that confidence because now it’s like, ‘This is how we do it. Let’s do it with gusto.’ When you’re in your early 20s, you don’t give a fucking shit about any of that stuff.”

“I think my capabilities [as a musician] have outgrown my restrictive self-criticism I was using a lot of the time early on,” says McCabe. “I’ve got a lot of freedom now, and I see things in a clearer light, which means I look at those early records in a clearer way. I don’t think I have something to beat or better. I think we all feel that way. It was something to improve upon. There are certain things on this [new] album where you can hear echoes of what we’ve done previously, but as people we are like all those things.”

As Verve albums go, Forth is definitely the most schizophrenic of the lot, bouncing between ear-bleeding guitar noise (“Noise Epic”), ominous rockers (“Sit and Wonder”), infectious dance rock (“Love Is Noise”), and heartbreaking beauty (“Rather Be”). But crafting a worldwide phenomenon chock full of radio friendly pop songs wasn’t really the impetus of Forth. “I’m not expecting this to sell as many records as Urban Hymns,” says Jones. “I don’t really give a shit about how it will equate in sales to our previous albums. To me it’s much more about finishing the record and thinking, ‘Fucking hell, this is the best record I’ve ever made.’ That’s how we all felt.”

“I am pretty happy with the whole journey, really,” sums up McCabe. “From start to finish. I’m more forgiving now about the early years and more appreciative of what we did as young men. I think it’s quite impressive to achieve what we achieved as such young people. But this one is the one I wish we’d made from day one, really.”


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make 1000 a week online
June 15th 2015

Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this article and also the rest of the site is really good.