Daniel Wylie is the former frontman of Glasgow’s Cosmic Rough Riders, the band he left in 2002 to pursue a solo career. That solo career produced the critically acclaimed Ramshackle Beauty, and he’s about to release his next offering Postcards. He’s also set up his own record label, Neon Tetra, and it was at a showcase for this label that musicOMH caught up with him for a chat…
It’s a glorious, early summer evening in the East London, where Daniel Wylie is preparing for a night showcasing his new label, Neon Tetra. Wylie himself is playing upstairs in the Sheep Walk pub, taking the unusual position of standing in for one of his own indisposed artists. He seems relaxed about the whole thing, and, sound check negotiated, comes down to the main bar for a drink.
First up – the ‘new’ album, the inverted commas telling the story. “My next new album proper is going to be called The High Cost Of Happiness, which will be out next February. Postcards is a collection of songs I’d written before and around the first album (Ramshackle Beauty) – what I’ve done is take stuff that didn’t fit on that, and won’t on the next. It’s funny when you write songs, you’ve got to stockpile them until the right opportunity comes up.”
Wylie, of course, once fronted the Cosmic Rough Riders, breaking away from the band as their musical paths began to separate. “When I left the band I’d already written five of the songs that appear on Ramshackle Beauty. The band wanted to keep the name, and I didn’t really want to give it up, but on reflection it’s become a bit of an albatross. It’s become easier for me to move on, although when the album came out people were saying I hadn’t progressed at all. That’s because the Cosmics songs were mine anyway, so it stands to reason they’d have something in common. The next album will be really different, though, I’m really excited about it. It’s easily the best album I’ve done; the melodies and the lyrics are the best I’ve ever written. It’s more acoustically based, more influenced by Americana – Gram Parsons, Josh Rouse – even Fleetwood Mac around the time of Rumours.
“On reflection, the Cosmic Rough Riders name has become a bit of an albatross” – Daniel Wylie on the pros of starting afresh…
Wylie is far more animated when talking about this record than Postcards. Even in the course of his short, intimate acoustic set later on, he declines the opportunity to plug the album by playing any of the tracks from it. This night’s about the label: “I’m not playing any gigs, or even doing many promos at the moment, just concentrating on running the record label. It’s grown quickly – we’ve got seven artists already. It came out of me finding these people without record contracts, thinking, “These guys deserve to be heard”. We’ve got a nice American band called Waterschool, and Joe Kennedy also. I’m really excited about it.”
Wylie took two years out before launching his solo career, the curtains opening with a support slot for The Veils at London’s 100 club, covered by musicOMH. “It was terrifying,” recalls the singer, “the first time the band had even played together. It took at least half the set to get settled. Even tonight it’s the first time I’ve sung live for months, it’ll take the voice a while to get going.” Not that you’d notice – Wylie’s acoustic set seems pretty effortless, marred only slightly by persistent talking at the back of the room.
Once again the lyrics are personal, perhaps autobiographical? “Some of them are. Probably the best example is Maybe I’ve Changed, which is about the relationship with my wife when I’ve come back from tour and she’s been at home, and me thinking ‘maybe I’ve changed, or maybe you haven’t’ and then readjusting. It takes time when you’ve been away so much – there was one year with the Cosmics when I was only actually home for 16 days in a whole year, and we did 150 gigs in 18 countries. It was mad.”
“Most of my songs come to me on the toilet” – Writing songs the Daniel Wylie way…
He goes into greater detail about the band’s separation. “I just felt that the way I wanted the music to move wasn’t suited to the musicians I was working with, and I wanted to change that. I have nothing against them as people, just wanted to go in a different direction and The High Cost Of Happiness will show that, although there are hints in Postcards, where songs like The Cello Player have a darker side.”
“The Cello Player was inspired by this place just outside Glasgow. I was travelling down to play a gig and we were going past Greenock, with the sea on the left and loads of council blocks on a hill in the night, all lit up and seedy. I had a picture of a loner up there, who’s secretly into astrology, and when he looks out of his flat he sees just the ocean and the sky. Then the heat in his room causes condensation so he sees all these objects on the window, superimposed on the sky. I guess I have weird visions like that.”
On his approach to song writing, it’s refreshingly old fashioned. “Most of my songs come to me on the toilet, or last thing at night. You’ve got to take the moment, and write them down; otherwise they’re gone in the morning. I still do things the way I always did though, I have to start with the melody.”
Wylie seems contented, and, to an extent, carefree. “My greatest worry is not being able to record all my songs. I’m not in this for the money – I’m suspicious of people who come into it for that. It’s like, if you’re a surgeon, you do it to save people’s lives, not because you want to get paid well or like gutting skin or something. As it is, music fucks with your life, so it’s not the easy option, but it’s something I could never imagine being without.”