In the early days of the band Viv Strachan sang whilst you were on guitar. As the band’s main songwriter, how did the transition to lead singer come about?
It came about because Viv quit the band quite suddenly. She had never been very comfortable singing live and decided that she didn’t want to do it anymore. When it happened we had two gigs in quick succession so I stepped in. I hadn’t ever sung in public before so I pretty much thought that we’d do these two gigs, everyone would hate it and that would be that for me and the band. As it turned out it went better than we expected, I decided to write a whole new bunch of songs that suited me and my voice as opposed to Viv’s and it really went from there.
John Peel was an early supporter of the group. What was it like playing his sessions? I’m particularly interested in the Christmas special you played.
The Christmas special was our third or fourth Peel session. We had played in Berlin a couple of days before and had bumpy flights both ways. We flew back into Stansted late at night and drove through the snow to a hotel near Peel Acres. The next day we drove through snowy countryside to the house where we met up with John and Sheila, their family and friends, Laura Cantrell and her husband and guitarist. We basically convened in John’s study/studio at one end of the house to the record the sessions, and moved along the hall to the front room to record the Christmas carols. It was an incredibly happy night, warm, friendly and filled with good food and drink. It is hard to describe it beyond that, but it was one of the best nights of my life.
How did David Shrigley come to design the artwork for A Guide for the Daylight Hours?
Elizabeth McLean has designed all of the Ballboy albums and we were putting the artwork together, but didn’t have a central image. I’d spoken to a student from the Edinburgh College of Art about using a photo image of the interior of a train, but she wanted over £1,000 for its use and we couldn’t afford that so I wrote to David to ask about the possibility of putting a wee booklet of his drawings inside the album. I’d had no reply and had just about given up when I got an email to say that we could do it. Elizabeth pressed me to cheekily ask whether we could use an image on the cover too and he very kindly agreed. He was incredibly generous.
In 2008 you composed the soundtrack for the Traverse Theatre Company production of Midsummer (A Play with Songs) by David Greig. Was this something you’d always wanted to do?
It’s not something I had planned. The opportunity came up to collaborate with David and we just took it from there. We developed it in small chunks over time alongside the two actors and the stage designer and then it had its premiere in November of 2008. It was a totally different way of working from being in a band and I’m as proud of it as I am of any of my albums. It has gone onto do great things and is about to return to London for two months through December and January at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn.
You put out an album under the name Money Can’t Buy Music with Maja Mångård last year. How did you come to collaborate with her? What were the ideas behind forming the band?
I wanted to explore home-recording and electronic music, but wanted to stay close to what I knew which was songwriting and spoken word and so I started to learn how to use Pro-tools and Reason at home. The Money Can’t Buy Music Project was an extension of that really. It was a case of testing myself to write, record and mix a project from start to finish and I roped in Maja and a couple of other people to help along the way. I would like to do another one, but between Midsummer, Ballboy and everyday life I don’t know when that may be!
You were recently involved in the running of Edinburgh Popfest 2010. How did you come to be involved?
We just decided, after being lucky enough to play at the London, New York and San Francisco Popfests that we would put on our own version and get people to come enjoy our city and put on some great bands. It went really well and we had a great time and both the bands and the crowds seemed to enjoy themselves. Standout moments for me were seeing the Suburban Kids With Biblical Names again and Bobby Baby’s acoustic set on the Sunday. My one regret is seeing less of the bands than I could have because I had to go help out at three Midsummer performances as our lead actor had lost his voice and couldn’t sing the songs.
You play live sporadically. Do you have any upcoming gigs planned?
We are playing a Christmas show in December with the fabulous Kid Canaveral and then we’ll start to plan next year. We are busy writing the new Ballboy album at the moment so that takes priority.
When can we expect a new Ballboy LP?
Next year, but I can’t say when. For the first time since the first Ballboy album I’m not setting a deadline. I am just enjoying writing the songs and thinking through the broad scope of how the album will sound. I know that sounds a bit like I’m saying wait and see, but, well, wait and see I guess!