Band Booking: Edwyn Collins

There was this thing that Blake Butler said a few months ago, about how if you are writing, you are doing it in a period more than twenty years after the death of Donald Barthelme, and that you should probably act accordingly.

I feel the same way about Edwyn Collins; if you’re making music, you’re doing it in the wake of his genius.  Edwyn’s literate, soul-infused ballads from the band Orange Juice, and later in his solo career, have influenced countless bands from Belle & Sebastian to Vampire Weekend.

His latest album, Losing Sleep is slated for a stateside release on March 8th, followed by a string of US gigs in New York and at SXSW.

In the book Rip it Up and Start Again: Post- Punk 1978-1984 (named after one of your songs), Paul Haig of the band Josef K takes a slight jab at you and your fellow Orange Juice for reading books like The Catcher in the Rye while they were reading “darker” books by writers like Kafka and Camus. While I’m sure it was meant in good fun, I’m curious if Catcher influenced you as a songwriter at all?

Paul, hmmm, cheer up!  Maybe there was some rivalry between OJ and Josek K.

The Catcher In The Rye was important to me in my youth. It wasn’t on the school reading lists, certainly not in Scotland. My teacher suggested it when I was 14. She took one look at me when I arrived in Glasgow and said she thought it might suit me. It did. Later, Orange Juice had a pretend label called Holden Caulfield International. It’s everywhere now, correctly, The Catcher In The Rye, but back then, it wasn’t at all. And, by the way, I read Kafka and Camus too.

I was trying to rack my brain of all your songs that I know, and I was wondering if any of them were named after lines in books, or if any of your lyrics contained references to any books?

Salmon Fishing In New York, (I paraphrased Brautigan).  There must be more. I can think of lots of other song references. Hmmm, that’s a game for a long car journey. So many lyrics.

Has literature been influential to your songwriting process?

Oh yes, of course. Back then, I was a show off with lyrics. I read so much and used flowery, clever language, I gloried in it. Now, I have aphasia, my language has been interrupted. So I go for direct, simple lyrics, strong, and to the point.

I always hate to ask this, but could you tell me your five favorite books ever?
The first five I thought of..

A Hero of Our Time, Lermontov

The Catcher In The Rye, JD Salinger

Trout Fishing In America, Richard Brautigan
We, Yevgeny Zamyatin
Hons and Rebels, Jessica Mitford
Have you been reading anything interesting as of late?

I had to learn to read again from scratch. Imagine that. I have help to write this. I read with Grace, getting better all the time. I re-read 1984 recently. And ‘Of Mice and Men.’

The song “Losing Sleep” features another Postcard Records alumni, Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera. I think I’m part of a majority of current fans of “The Sound of Young Scotland” who have this idyllic vision of you and your contemporaries as a very literate, loose knit scene that continues to this day with songwriters like Stuart Murdoch. What are your thoughts on this?

Well, that’s kind of how it was. Steven Daly, the Orange Juice drummer is a NYC resident and a long time writer. We were all smart alecs, trying to out-do each other. It was great fun.

Finally, if you had to pick, who is the best lyric writer of all-time?

Well, Bob Dylan, of course. But there are lots. I also like Rod McKuen and Leonard Cohen. And Neil Young. Canadian theme there. And hundreds of others. I mean, I like The Ramones lyrics. ‘The KKK took my girlfriend away…’