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Interview with Rick Corcoran of ORGONE BOX

This is an interview with Orgone Box' Rick Corcoran. It's an ongoing conversation between him and myself. New parts will be added over the next few weeks so keep reading. Rick, as some of you will know, IS the artist known as ORGONE BOX. With a little help from his friends perhaps, but the music, the songs & the voice (as well as nearly all the intruments) are his alone. To put this interview into some context, I remind the reader that all who are involved in some way with the ORGONE BOX "CENTAUR" album now (Tim McTighe, Tam Johnstone, Maria Callaghan & Markus Holler) were a very close knit band of musicians and friends in the 1990s that stayed close and made music together in various combinations thereafter.
Q: The Orgone Box album is released this month, with some changes - new tracks and some bits re-recorded and so on. I believe it was originally recorded in 1996 for JVC Records in Japan, how did that deal come about in the first place?

Rick Corcoran / Orgone Box

A: That particular time, the period leading up to recording the orgone box album, is a bit fuzzy for me .. but I do remember that it was 'Find The One' that brought that deal .. I'd not long been out of Orange and had just recorded FTO and 'Ticket' by myself, and financed by me and Maria, and I had this new manager who got the song released by JVC in Japan - as I recall I was kind of 'out of time' in London circles, I don't remember anyone getting it .. but anyway it must have done ok in Japan because they then made the deal for the album. It only paid for the recording and a full wad down the pub so it wasn't like we had money up front to put a band together and work live or I'm sure I would have done that. They did plan a small tour of Japan which I did some rehearsals for with a few guys you and I both know but JVC went bust before anything could happen, which looking back I think is a shame 'cos I would have loved to have gone and played in Japan, but these things happen. After that I went on the road for a year or so, just playing electric guitar in a band, and it was great not being the frontman, 'cos I'd always seen myself as a kind of Ronson/Richards type guy anyway -the idea of being the main songwriter and singer I think came quite gradually for me.

Q: In terms of songwriting as well as performance and arrangements this is quite a sophisticated piece of work, especially considering you basically recorded most of it on your own at home. I recall a demo tape you gave me way before this album was recorded in about 1990, with tracks such as "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE" and others the names of which escape me now, but there was some really good music there too. But in those 6 years your writing changed quite a bit. What memories do you have of that transformation?

Rick: That's quite an involved thing 1990-96, so thanks for the easy starters dude! I do have some very pleasant memories from that time though, at least for most of it. I think most people who are familiar with me know that the Orange experience wasn't one of my favourites, but that tangent isn't where I would focus initially!

The brighter thing of course was meeting you and Tam, and Tim and the whole Richmond / Silent Blue experience (Rick played with the 2nd incarnation of my SILENT BLUE band for about 1 year between 1990 and 1991-Ed.) I really hadn't been living south for that long when that happened - the thing is it was a massive injection of new sounds for me. I don't know if we've ever spoken about this but of course when I was growing up we had a lot of Beatles records in the house and they were my heroes as you know, but when I ran into you guys it would've probably been around a dozen years since I'd listened to the Beatles with any real attention, so, along with the sublime and chance meeting with our own 'Mersey Girl' (little Maria), it was the time we all spent going over those greatest of records that kind of awakened what had been so important to me as a little kid. 

Throw in some Jellyfish, Michael Penn and Enuff'z'Nuff, which were all new to me, and you start to hear old things in a new light. There were many more new influences at the time, that I can't recall without not being lazy, but anyway it was a curve.

Rick Corcoran & Markus Holler
It was also the first time I had experimented with home recording and portastudios, and that just seemed to blossom over those years. Its hard to overestimate the impact of continous concurring events and experiences over a short period of time. I mean, whatever it is, it's always going to force growth of some kind. If you think about it, in those six years I'd moved to London and met all you guys, each bringing a massive amount of new sounds with them not to mention attitudes, girlfriends boyfriends and all the rest .. we'd had a band together, recording, gigging, falling out, having a laugh, the whole living together thing etc .. then I put the Tambourines together, moved them down to Maria's place on the coast, and then we did the whole band thing again for a year or two, then we broke up..then came Orange and record deals and the whole industry thing, then we broke up and I was left recording solo with Gus Dudgeon with the rest of them trying to force legal action, which is hilarious really .. and which brings us back to '96 and the JVC deal .. its not Hamburg I know, but those days are gone, and anyway I did my own Hamburg before all that on the northern hard rock club scene and in the rugby clubs in the Welsh valleys, not forgetting a bizarre 'lost weekend' in LA .. its strange, cos even though I'd seen a few things I was still quite naive when I met you guys in London ... but you asked about songwriting and what I'm tryin' to describe is the life that went on around me that influenced my songwriting, and I think the sophistication of it, or maturity, grows out of all that naturally .. I could say it was more like my "Love Me Do" to "Sgt Pepper" phase .. or maybe "Revolver", but you get what I'm saying ... the writing and recording process in itself seems to me like a separate thing from its growth.

Q: To throw in a bit of a geeky question at this point (aren't they all?Ed.), but you started recording at ROCKFIELD with Gus Dudgeon in, was it, 1994? This was for a proposed ORANGE album I believe. There has been some speculation on the internet that these tapes exist and so forth. Do they?How much do you think working with Gus might have influenced you?

Maria Callaghan
Rick: I don't remember the year but '94 sounds about right .. before that we'd been in Abbey Road, which was a real dreamtime experience for me. I think we were just doing some demos maybe .. its funny now you ask cos I can remember listening back to the tapes we did there and wondering why I wasn't keen on them, especially 'Last Ride On The Jets' which was a favourite of mine ... then I realised the bass player wasn't playing the bass line I'd written and played on the original, and which the whole song rests on, addressing that kind of thing is never easy if you don't trust each other..

After that we did 'Judy' in that studio where The Clash and Blur recorded, can't remember the name of it - near Fulham Broadway. That was with Dave Eringa before he did that interminable "Dancin in the Moonlight', Toploader was it?
But that was a very good experience, easy to record, although I don't like the Orange version much really, far too frantic for me - I never heard the song that way when I wrote it but you can tend to forget your inner convictions and taste sometimes. (And producers sometimes pressure you too-Ed.)

Rick Corcoran & friends
So it was with Dave that we went into Rockfield to do an album (cool studio). I love Wales, but I remember being bored a lot. The Stone Roses were in there too and I liked to go into the reverb chamber and listen to John Squires play. Ian Brown used to ride a little bicycle around the place - it was like going home with him, he'd just flip ten cigs and we'd hang around and chat like you do on the street when yer a kid, he won't remember of course but I do now that we're discussin' it .. very cool geezer. Dave was ok too, in fact we had some proper laughing fits with Dave, and the main thing I remember about him was his fascination with how intelligent he thought the 'Manics were, who he'd produced an album for.. and also he wore trackies and never stopped fiddling with whatever was down there... therefore I must fish out his version of 'Bestbird' 'cos there was a lot going on in that session and we were all very up - but not a guy you want a sandwich off.

"..You have the right to remain silent.."
When we started with Gus it was in Chipping Norton Studios - very 'middle England' there mate.. I think the band quit after 3 or 4 days there - they just couldn't deliver .. after that me and Gus worked there for maybe a couple of weeks and then moved to Chapel in Lincolnshire, I'm guessing it would have been alot cheaper there... Gus brought a session drummer in, a guy called Dave Mattacks from Fairport Convention, who was good fun to be around, but he kind of played on the back of the beat, which was weird for me to begin with cos I was used to recording my bass to machines, directly on the beat and usually in front of it knowing me....

The clue about working in those residential studios is in the name .. you're not just playing music, you're living with other humans, so you have to be careful about working in these places .. I wasn't terribly keen on them .. everybody stops for lunch and dinner, to sit around the table makin feeble conversation, all uptight .. I'm kind of old school I think, or maybe its just different for the artist .. I mean when I'm working on something I dont have a meal timetable for heaven's sake .. I don't even get hungry cos I'm enjoying myself too much, y'know - I buzz too much to wanna break all the vibe up .. so I found those things hard to bear, got no patience for all that malarky .. and what it all must cost - for me a producer should realise and act if that kind of thing is counter-productive..I would now .. but like I said before, if there's trust between the players the residential thing could work quite well .. I mean Tim lives with me and Maria when we're working and I've lived at his .. but we're friends and we trust each other

I loved working with Gus Dudgeon though cos he was old school too, but maybe in a different way to me. He was always elegantly dressed, like a '70s TV star, with subtle scents surrounding him, Peter Wingarde-esque you might say- great sense of humour too, but very human. he pranged his sports car once on the way to the studio, and I recall a hair-raising car journey with him on the A1 down to London one day, so I wasn't surprised when I heard he and his beloved wife had died in a car crash.
The reason I thought of workin with Gus was that Space Oddity is one of my favourite records, but I'm not sure that he, or Dave Eringa had a great deal of influence on my music ... thinking analytically, that would've been because I wasn't fully equipped to work them effectively the buck always has to stop with me in the end.
To be honest the producer I've learned the most from is probably Tim, and Maria too. Because they have an emotional stake in the records they're able to bring out the deeper structures of a song that I might be missing - we connect up the sound, and especially the performance, with the most authentic personality in a song and don't feel happy until we have it, or close enough for rock n roll at least - Tam's like that too, as you will know.
I think Gus was into what I did because there's something in it that's from his time, but he would have had Elton's band to record back then, and 1970's American engineers and all the rest of it,, which is hardly the same as working at close quarters with me, and at the time I was still struggling to find a way of, well ... producing it .

Talking of producers Wreckless Eric was an interesting guy - that was with the 'Tambourines in Island Studios .. I remember him sitting at the controls talking excitedly about the release of compression at the end of some Roy Orbison record - that made my ears prick up .. it's little things like that kind of observation that can turn into big things for me .. I heard some of Eric's own stuff a couple of years ago that I thought was pretty damn good as I recall, so I must go back and investigate that. It's turned out to be quite a creative question this one my friend.

The tapes - I have some cassettes of those tapes - Island, Abbey Road, Rockfield, Chapel,  but I have no idea what's out there - I certainly haven't let any go out and can't think of any reason why I would, but who knows .. I've seen titles of mine mentioned that I've never put out, old songs from early demos, but demos get handed around I guess - doesn't really bother me - people do get attached to versions of songs that aren't necessarily the versions I prefer as truly representative but its not exactly the end of the world is it .. and just on Gus, he played me Aimee Mann's demos of an album of hers - 'Whatever', I think it's called - and the demos were much better than the finished thing in my opinion, so I'm no different - it's that first kick that we become attached to, regardless of what the artist might want to present.

Q: It may surprise your listeners that some of the bands you like - apart
from the Beatles - are ABBA, SPRINGTEEN, BREAD, THE SWEET and tracks like
BEACH BABY (by FIRST CLASS)-amongst other things. I also recall you being
really big on 80s stuff like JOHN WAITE, REO SPPEDWAGON, BOSTON and so on. A
lot of those bands were not trendy at all then, or now!

Rick: The likes are of Abba and The Boss are a separate issue really but with the other kind of acts you mention its not so much the band themselves that I'm into - like most people I only know one Boston song - it's that I love great pop songs, simple as that, and I'm always impressed by anyone who can create that because its a real art, whatever the genre - I mean I'm a rocker but I've always enjoyed Girls Aloud singles, ok - some of them .. but its because they work on the level they're meant to work on, they're always just right, correctly balanced in all departments they're meant to be, including feel .. dont get me wrong the Girls themselves as singers or whatever are close to useless I would suspect,.. but they dont make the singles do they.

Now Beach Baby is one of my all time favourites.. much more so than the likes of the REO (SPEEDWAGON) one for instance, which are fun but .. its like that album Hysteria by Def Leppard, which is a masterpiece crossover of tech pop and pure hard rock really but I'm sure those guys prefer Mott The Hoople, and rightly so.

Beach Baby is a different kind of influence on me entirely, much deeper and more treasured. It's got that '70s 10cc thing going on, its got key changes and timing changes, breakdowns and stuff. I like that kind of thing, especially when its constructed all within 3 or 4 minutes - like I'm Mandy Fly Me, probably one of the best examples of  - I was going to say pop opera - "pop dream sequence" is the best I can come up with. "Silver Star" by The Four Seasons is also a favourite of mine in a similar vein, just for the way it breaks down in the middle section into something thats different in key, tempo, and feel, and yet they make the lyric in that section make sense of the whole song in a way that balances what comes before and afterwards. These are the secrets of pop writing and arranging y'know, its quite thrilling.

I was just wondering if its possible there could be any dream sequence classics that are out there but relatively undiscovered (Yes there are, in my industry - rare records - we make a living out of finding them!-Ed.). Now I've never been the kind of guy who spends a great deal of time digging for gold, so its quite possible there are scores of them.

I've always been more into mainstream music than anything else because it's usually the best. I don't mean all the sentimental supermarket pop and endless wannabe drivel thats been around for an eternity now in many forms - that's torture.

Power Pop on the other hand, so called, I'm not sure I'm that qualified to make any kind of valid comment on it.
If Cheap Trick, Joan Jett, Shonen Knife, Undertones and Johnny Marr are "power pop" then I get it, or got it anyway, and I love it - always will. But let me say things don't get more powerful and pop for me than some of David Bowie's records, or the (Sex) Pistols album.
I know that these days the genre of power pop might have a more cult type status - maybe its always been that way I wouldn't really know cos as you say - its never really been on my radar. When me and Maria and Tim, get together we listen to Julie Andrews, AC/DC, Stylistics, ELO, Elton, Roy Orbison, Scott Walker, Plastic Ono, Floyd and Zep and god knows what else that Timbo brings along .. oh yeah - Eno, Boards of Canada...we listen to great records with a capital G, because that's what we like and what we wanna make. Great natural pop records -  and there's hundreds of them, they don't belong to any particular genre, and anyone who doesn't know Abba records are cool and powerful - please listen to Name Of The Game with me and we'll turn it up loud, its more cool and powerful than anything I've ever done, I know that. (Agreed, Ed.)

I understand totally why some folks might describe what they've heard from me in the past as power pop, or psyche pop is another one isnt it, and thats just fine with me. Hey if it wasn't for the legend that is Bill Forsyth and Minus Zero then I may well not be here talking about this now.
But anyway I dont think either you or Bill would describe Orgone Box as power pop, 'cos you kind of know more than most about what I've been up to over the years. I mean, "Barbican" (<orgone box song) is one of my favourites and that's more gothic melodrama than anything.

That's why Centaur is so important to me now. Its a very different album than the original,  mostly in subtle ways, but those relative subtleties I feel we've combined in a strongly defined way that for me is actually more soft rock than anything else - if we're looking for genres. I'd be surprised if most listeners don't agree with that, positively I hope... you see for me, and I know I can speak for Tim and Maria, anything that rocks just rocks, soft or otherwise.

Centaur is very important to me now not just as an artist, but emotionally, and I think it's self-defining now. There was a disconnect before in many ways, but now I think that collection of songs have caught up -  to the best we could do anyway without re-recording the whole thing, which would have been a disaster! That story is now complete as far as I'm concerned  and it's time to move on. The next full album is going to be much more dream sequence than Centaur, much more Plastic Ono too, harder I think - it wont be soft rock I know that for certain.

Markus Holler c.2014
(for further reading please see this interview from 2000 with Rick by Mick Dillingham:

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