This Music Made Me

This Music Made Me: The Zutons



As the band responsible for writing Valerie return with a liberating, cathartic new album and Nile Rodgers on production duties, frontman Dave McCabe delves deep for the albums that have influenced him most

The Zutons

The Zutons (Photo: Jonathan Turton)

The Zutons‘ new album The Big Decider, recorded at Abbey Road Studios, is the Liverpool outfit’s first in 16 years. Produced by the legend that is Nile Rodgers and their original producer Ian Broudie, it finds Dave McCabe (guitar, lead vocals), Abi Harding (saxophone, vocals) and Sean Payne (drums, vocals) rekindling friendships against a backdrop of family tragedies and lives lived.

The trio, whose song Valerie became a Mark Ronson-produced signature turn from the late and much lamented Amy Winehouse, reformed in the wake of the pandemic and McCabe’s own spell in rehab. As Payne notes, “We had a genuine feeling of a shared vision. In the past we haven’t really said how we feel, or we’ve taken each other the wrong way. But this album was different. We really didn’t feel good until it was just how we wanted it.” 

Taking time out from concluding the band’s UK tour ahead of the release of The Big Decider, Dave McCabe mined his music memory to revisit the albums that have influenced him most and why – in his own words – for The Zutons’ This Music Made Me

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Beck - Mellow Gold

Beck – Mellow Gold

Beck – Mellow Gold

From the opening track Loser starting out with the slide guitar and hip-hop drums, to Beck himself being the first white rapper that I really loved and appreciated, this album sums up most things I ever wanted to do or be in terms of making music and how you go about it, mixing everything up and not really thinking so much about it as long as it feels good.

Truck Driving Neighbours Downstairs makes me feel uneasy but for some reason I can’t get enough of it, the way his voice sounds like a demon on it was fascinating, it shouldn’t work on this record, but it really does.

The saddest song Steal My Body Home sounds like he’s had an operation and sitting in a hospital bed dozed out sun bass and drum machine is really like nothing else I’ve ever heard, almost like a whale in the ocean singing to ya. 

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Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci - Barafundle

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci – Barafundle

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci – Barafundle

Me mate in college Ronnie passed me this album on cassette and I put it on in my bedroom at my mother’s, I was about 17 years old. I fell asleep and had a dream with the album on one day and the song Better Rooms was on in my dream, it was a wild dream. When I woke up I thought is this the best dream song ever. I rewound the tape and stopped it, pressed play and it was on exactly the start of the song. It was fate and then I fell asleep again with the song and the dream, the harmonies are so simple but so haunting once you hear it you don’t forget it.

I think it was about my third listen, by this point I was still in awe of how Welsh and how far out it was. What a fuckin’ band. Pen Gwag Glass is basically a song about losing your temper, it is to me anyway, I don’t speak Welsh and I’ve never translated it because I’m English and am lazy. The Patio Song was the hit off this album and it just sounds like summertime to me, the violin and the innocence of the tune takes me back. 

I always loved Super Furry Animals and they nearly made the list but I opted for this because as an album it’s incredibly psychedelic and still takes me back to that dream state. The whole record sounds like it was made in an ancient Gaelic The Wicker Man style world, I think it’s the violins and lute style instruments. At the time I remember talking to a friend about it and we both looked at each other and basically agreed that this album was better than the Super Furry Animals albums as an album but this was sacrilege because SFA are just as important and as cool and as good (wince)!!

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Happy Mondays - Pills ‘N’ Thrills And Bellyaches

Happy Mondays – Pills ‘N’ Thrills And Bellyaches

Happy Mondays – Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches 

I first got into this record when I worked in an office furniture factory called DAMS international in 1997. I was 16. It takes me back to that time. The opening Kinky Afro with that synth sound like clouds floating over the industrial estate sets it up.

Bob’s Your Uncle is probably one of the sexiest songs this band ever made and they were pretty sexual a lot of the time. Rowers gives a seductive performance but they get downright dirty on Grandbag’s Funeral, the lyrics are hilarious: “Now that we live together, We’ll both get fucked up.” They somehow manage to sound like they’ve just learnt their instruments, but that’s the key to it really, everything in its own place.  God’s Cop is always good for getting the bus or the train it makes you feel like you’re one step ahead of everyone else onboard.

No one sounds like this band.

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Nirvana - In Utero

Nirvana – In Utero

Nirvana – In Utero

I was 13 years old when this came out, Nirvana were my second love after Guns N’ Roses. I had a ticket to see them and he died and it never happened. I remember it being cancelled first and then weeks later the news came, I was devastated. Still am sometimes when I think of the records they would’ve made it was 30 years ago.

A lot of the lyrics deal with anatomy and being sick and taking medicine to feel better.  Serve The Servants also shows the side of Kurt Cobain that he was feeling past it before he’d even started, but also has humour about it. It’s like a lot of the songs have guitar feedback that hold it all together like a frequency glue, it’s so raw from start to finish like it’s played live.

Radio Friendly Unit Shifter makes me wanna smash things up. Child With Joy: it still makes the hair stand up on my neck, the drums and bass thud like nothing I’ve heard since or before. Very Ape has that riff that carries the whole thing with the octave sound on it. I’ve tried so many times to write a song like that but always failed but still it’s fun getting there to the failure. They take it down on Dumb and All Apologies, but they do it so cool and breezy not like it’s forced in anyway, really like the sleep after a night out. It’s so powerful for a three-piece, nothing comes close really. 

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Funkadelic - Motor City Madness 

Funkadelic – Motor City Madness

Funkadelic – Motor City Madness 

This is a comp I bought around when the band started touring. I bet ya, it sounds like Lee Perry if he was born in the States, like it’s mad in a lab, the hypnotic rhythm’s combined to make up the groove, it doesn’t get boring even after all these years.

Loose Booty is more so it’s got a jaw harp ringing right the way through and one of the best keyboard solos from Bernie Worral. This gets better as you get older for me, and when I was 11 my brother had jaw harps lying around his bedroom. After bashing my teeth for a while I finally learned how to play it, and I’ve been a fan ever since. 

Biological Speculation is beautiful like a country funk classic, I didn’t even know what the song was about until Sean our drummer explained it’s about particles vibrating and the general questions in life. He pulled a face when I told him it’s where the chords for Valerie originated, between that and Shake Your Money by Black Grape. Every song is an education to learn on the guitar and will make you a better player. Just look at me, I should listen to this record more often.

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Pink Floyd - Animals 

Pink Floyd – Animals

Pink Floyd – Animals 

When I was 13 me and some friends went to the park to pick mushrooms. We made mushroom tea and had one of the best afternoons of me life until my mum turned up and said she was taking me home. She didn’t know we were absolutely tripping but that was hilarious. 

Anyway, I get home and decide I’m gonna stay in my bedroom and look at the fluorescent colours of pink and blue and yellow running through the wallpaper. I put Animals by Pink Floyd on and it all seems like one big song. 

I love the way the songs don’t really repeat themselves, every section has been worked on thoroughly. The chords to chords are amazing make you look like you really know what ya doing and the voice effect on sheep gives me tingles still to this day. What an album! 

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Sly And The Family Stone - A Whole New Thing

Sly And The Family Stone – A Whole New Thing

Sly And The Family Stone – A Whole New Thing

Sean our drummer first played me this when I was about 21-22 years old. It grew on me over about a week, I just thought they were a ‘best of’ band, I was wrong. It’s kind of what I imagine if James Brown went psychedelic in ’66-’67. The first song that got me was Trip to Your Heart. It was like all the wrong chords stuck together but made perfect sense. At the time I was loving the off chords, I wrote Zuton Fever first and then Dirty Dance Hall kind of off that but hearing this album made these things more so and I knew we were onto something good. 

I cannot make it. Is funny because to me the character in the song is really hip but the girl he’s after just isn’t that arsed about him. He’s been trying so hard to fall in love he’s left with nothing but a friend. Turn You Loose is a burst of energy but played really tight so it’s almost like a cheer leader song but with some real urgency and drama. If This Room Could Talk makes me feel floaty like when I see my fiancée and my son messing from another room (they don’t know I’m watching them). 

Such a talented band and great singers, such range in all they do. This album brings a smile to my face.

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The Doors - The Doors

The Doors – The Doors

The Doors – The Doors

When I was about 12-13 years old I went to a friend’s house and I smoked some weed, it was like the fifth time I’d ever done it. I took a whitey fuckin’ big time and while I was laying down upstairs me two mates were hanging over me and were pulling this face like the Scream mask and making this noise that I can only describe as an inward humming scream. They realised it was the music that was making it worse so they kept rewinding the song and playing it. When I came around I remember the music in the background was The Doors and it was the organ solo to Take It As It Comes. It made everything so much worse and more apparent that I was on drugs and I was being a naughty boy.

BUT when I listened to it again it had the opposite effect and then I put the album from the start Break On Through – that mad rim shot beat at the start so fuckin’ cool  with the guitar riff. Then every song just got better and better. I Looked At You is me fave at the moment, I love the way it stops and starts. This song and a few others are like a really dangerous Beach Boys. Like the other guys who hang round the other end of the beach who ya really wanna hang out with and be in their gang whatever the cost.

The Doors are incredibly talented musicians. All Jim Morrison had to do was just be himself and do what he loved and he wasn’t Elvis in the vocal department but that wasn’t necessary. The band had so many moves and they were a mighty three-piece to have behind you. What a band.

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The Beatles - The White Album

The Beatles – The White Album

The Beatles – White Album

People said to me they could’ve got a great single album out of it but I love the fact it’s really long and you don’t necessarily need to hear it all straight away but that’s exactly what I done anyway. 

I couldn’t believe the jump in sound with the Beatles to Sgt Pepper, so when I heard The White Album I was really blown away, because they’d done it again but this time song for song everything is so different, and it has its own sound, like mini concepts all over it.

From Dear Prudence to Happiness is a Warm Gun then Helter Skelter and Long Long Long, Martha My Dear they cover so much groun, and it sounds like they’re doing whatever it is they feel like doing on the day there and then. It’s kind of like the best bits of four solo albums. The sound of the record varies, but could only be The White Album. 

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James Brown - In The Jungle Groove 

James Brown – In The Jungle Groove

James Brown – In The Jungle Groove 

This album makes you feel like a winner like you’re somebody from the kick off. It’s a New Day does what it says on the tin, if it’s raining it brings the sunshine. Talking Loud and Saying Nothing, Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose also bring an edge to them that make you stand up for yourself and take no shit the world has to offer. 

It sounds like it’s done on the spot, I imagine it was.  The bongo’s and the drums bring a more distinct jungle type of sound to the record, it also has a funky drummer which basically spawned about six different genres of music and will spawn hundreds more. It’s hard to put into words what this record does for one’s soul mood energy whatever it is, but if you’ve never tried it before I highly recommend it. 

They should put this on the international doctors list of medicine: If you’re down it’s gonna bring you up. If you’re confused it’s gonna make things really clear. If you’re about to fight mentally physically and most definitely emotionally this record serves all purposes and cures all ills. 

GOH JAMES AND HIS MANY TALENTED MEN XXX

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• The Zutons’ album The Big Decider is out through Icepop on 26 April 2024. The band tour North America in September. Full tour dates and further information can be found at thezutons.com


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More on The Zutons
The Zutons – The Big Decider
This Music Made Me: The Zutons
The Zutons @ Somerset House, London
The Zutons + Larrikin Love @ Octagon, Sheffield
The Zutons – Tired Of Hanging Around