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Saint Mark

May 2001

Bank Holiday Mondays, usually more mundane than anything else,took on a whole new meaning when I found out I was to meet Mark Roberts, one of the main songwriters from Catatonia, in Cardiff. It was with some trepidation that I went,as my interviewing skills are poor, and he has a reputation for being reticent,but my fears turned out to be unfounded.Mark Roberts [for those not already in his fan club!] is friendly,articulate, and a real gentleman...

Claire: So is it good to be back doing things again?
Mark: We haven't really stopped doing things, just like, playing live, but I know it seems like we've been doing nothing.
Claire: It seems like a long time to us...
Mark: Well, it started off last January, doing a couple of gigs in America, and then we just started writing and stuff.This time last year we hired a cottage in the middle of Wales,in the middle of nowhere, no phones or nothing, and started doing demos for a week,and then we were rehearsing...then in September we started recording the album, which we finished by Christmas. Then it took us a while to learn how to play the new songs.Then because we had a couple of weeks over Christmas, and everyone took the CDRs home,everyone's going 'oh, this could be better...' , you know, analysing it too much, so we ended up fiddling about with things, changing a few things.
Claire: Is it finished now?When's it out?
Mark: 2nd July, the first single 'Stone by Stone' is out, and then I think a couple of weeks later the album is out.
Claire: Have you decided on a name yet?
Mark: Yes, it's called Paper,Scissors, Stone.
Claire: So how was Northampton?
Mark: It was good, really good.It was just about the right-sized venue, it holds about 900 people, and then it's a bit of a shock going to Manchester after,because it's so huge, at the soundcheck I thought, Northampton's not going to prepare us for this!
Claire: That was what was nice about Northampton, it was so low key compared to Manchester.
Mark: Yes, it was cool like that,the exact opposite of Manchester, it just felt more pressured in Manchester, I don't know why...
Claire: You seemed very mature in Manchester, sophisticated...
Mark: Yeah? None of us could sit down for an hour before going on, just couldn't relax,pacing up and down the dressing room thinking 'oh my god'...
Claire: You didn't do Stone by Stone at Northampton?
Mark: No, no, we didn't.Something went wrong...technically...yeah...it wasn't my fault!
Claire: It must have been a while since you've played places that small?
Mark: Well, not really ,no, because when we're abroad we play that kind of venue,all the time we're playing bigger venues here.There's a good atmosphere in small places.. though... I think it was mainly local people there, although it sold out quite quickly.We've played there in the smaller room lots of times, do you know it? It's kind of a weird town.
Claire: Why Northampton? Because you'd played there before?
Mark: No, no, it was just because we needed a venue of a certain size, to practice before Manchester, and it was late notice...
Claire:So are you pleased with the new album?
Mark: Yeah...! Have you heard it? What do you think?
Claire: Are all the 5 or 6 new tracks you played live on the album?
Mark: Yeah...
Claire: What's your favourite?
Mark: It's probably one we didn't play live, one called 'What it is'. It's kind of different to the rest of them, more programmed. It was kind of hard to fit it in on the album,because everything else sounds more organic, but in the end it's just like, down to it sometimes, if you've got a weird sounding song, you've just got to get the right track listing to fit in. If you have too many similar songs near each other it just doesn't work.
Claire: How many tracks?
Mark: There's thirteen on the album. We had to narrow it down, we recorded more but....some of them'll be B sides.
Claire: Immediate Circle is the song people remembered best from the live gigs...
Mark: Yeah , it's a bit more upbeat...
Claire: And Fuel...I love the beginning of that...
Mark: Well, that's totally different on the record.We played it like that live cos there's too many instruments for us to play, so we just sort of pared it down, a kind of accoustic-y version. But it works live....
Claire: The beginning doesn't sound like where the end of the song is going...
Mark: No? That's good then...

Claire: I thought [for what it's worth] that those new tracks fitted into the set much more than the ones from ECAB did when you first introduced them. You didn't play anything from ECAB...was that a conscious decision?
Mark: Yep. We've just kind of blanked it from our history..
Claire: That's what it felt like seeing you live
Mark: I think that what it is, is that, well, most bands tend to diss their last album when they do their next album.
Claire: Did you feel like that about IV then?
Mark: Well...I kind of did,because we'd been playing it so long, and we went into the studio really quickly to do Equally Cursed, just so we had an excuse to the record company to get us off the treadmill.Give us a bit of a break..I think it's...I don't know... we should have spent a bit more time on the writing side of Equally Cursed.To me, some of the songs...it doesn't work as well as an album as International Velvet, so hopefully this one does. I think we've given it to a few people in the glossies, and they seem well into it, so...
Claire: The tracks I've heard just seem a more natural progression ...
Mark: Yeah...
Claire: Like it should have been the third album...
Mark: Yeah... They do seem to be much easier to play and fit in...
Claire: There was a lot going on at the time, do you think you needed the time away?
Mark: Well, ... erm... it was just...
Claire: Or did you enjoy the mad lifestyle?
Mark: That's the thing, you see, when you've been gigging, and that.No matter if you say to yourself before hand 'Right, I'm not going to drink every night on this tour ', or whatever, you always end up having to have a couple for Dutch courage, and then when you come off you have so much adrenalin you end up having a couple more to calm down, unwind...and you end up drinking every night, and it's just not good for anyone. So at least when we're recording, we can just calm down a bit.
Claire: So when you write songs...
Mark: Well, on the first album, when me and Cerys were writing, we were hardly ever sat down in the same rooms, writing songs. Never in the same room at the same time, it was like one of us on the verse, and the other supplying the chorus. Going away with the other one's idea and coming back with the song....but then with International velevet a bit more,and with Equally Cursed, we were writing it, finishing it, and bringing it to rehearsals, and then knocking it about , and changing bits, so that's why they now have the Catatonia songwriting credit.

Claire: What about the new album?
Mark: Well, it's the same...well, it's not the same, but a lot of the songs are where every one's chucked in. No one ...erm...another person was involved at an earlier stage, rather than one of us coming to practie and saying 'this is a song, how are are we going to play it?'
Claire: That's what I wanted to ask! Does one of you ever turn up and say 'I've written this good song!' and it's all completed, and you just learn it?
Mark: It happens both ways, but not that one of us turns up with a completed song and says 'listen to this!'. It's more often one of us will be strumming away in the corner mumbling something, and someone will say 'what's that?' More like a shy scene...
Claire: Do you feel protective of your own songs?...
Mark: No, not really....
Claire: Or do they become band property?
Mark: Yes, I hope they do. When someone else writes something and I like it, even if they wrote all of it, I become protective of it, because I just think of it as a Catatonia song, and I realise that even if I wrote all of something, the melody, and the lyrics, it wouldn't sound like how it sounds on record, if it wasn't for everyone else's contribution... you get a lot of bands that are like dictatorships... where you've only got one songwriter, and they do absolutely everything, whereas with us I think it'd be boring if it was one. It's easier that there's lots of us contributing.
Claire: Surely better for the band, everyone feeling indispensable?
Mark: Definitely!

Claire: Do you think you'll continue together now?
Mark: Touring?
Claire: No. just generally,there were a lot of rumours after Equally Cursed, and you pulled out of the small UK tour...
Mark: Well, it wasn't so much that, but we'd booked to play a longish European tour, and then a Japanese one, more or less straight after the other, and then, we had 2 days off before the UK tour started.In Japan we only 5 or 6 dates, and we had to pull 2 or 3 because Cerys lost her voice.And we were thinking 'this is crazy, we might as well pull the British tour,' so she could rest her voice, and then we could start recording again..
Claire: Do you think you needed the break?
Mark: DEFINITELY! Or we would have ended up having to pull more and more shows, we would have got pissed off playing the same material, we would have just ground to a halt. It would've looked a lot worse, I think. People were paying to see us, and either we weren't turning up,or giving it 100%. It just wouldn't have worked...
Claire: So is there a tour in the offing?
Mark: Yes, we're trying to get a small theatre tour for July I think, probably just before the album comes out.
Claire: How small?
Mark: About 9 dates?
Claire: The venues?
Mark: Oh, small like the Manchester Apollo, or the one up from Shepherds Bush... the Forum...
Claire: What about festivals?
Mark: We're hoping to get onto the T in the Park bill, in Scotland,or, where was the other one? There's a festival in Guildford? Neither are confirmed yet but...
Claire: Guildford's the one that has some odd line ups...
Mark: We'll be alright then! [laughs]
Claire: Jools Holland, Doctor and the Medics...
Mark: I think Jools is doing it, and James, and Pulp...
Claire: You learned drums first, were you taught to play guitar, or did you pick it up and teach yourself?
Mark: Yes...no... I had a mate who taught me. I was friends with his younger brother, and I used to go round to his house, and heard him play electric guitar, so I just said 'Can I go and have a look?' and taking my guitar there for him to tune it, and he taught me a chord every week, or something like that, and then I learnt the rest from a book, or playing along with records.
Claire: How long did it take?
Mark: Aah, it took me f***ing years! [laughs] It was...if you had lessons it'd probably mean you'd try a bit harder, because the next week when you go back to the guy or woman, they'd expect you to have, you know, made some improvement! I mean when I was doing it....it's just practice,holding the fingers down. What I found was better was to practice the chords, not make a noise, just watch the telly, practicing changing...so many times I've picked up the guitar, and tried to learn it, and thought I'm never going to be able to change chords, and fling it back under the bed for a month or two.But then if you just persevere, you get it in the end,and it's just such a great feeling when you change one chord...
Claire: I watch people playing, and I'm in such awe...
Mark: I think some people are more natural than others...and can just pick it up straightaway...I don't know what it is, it's not easy...

Claire: Do you like all this promoting work?
Mark: Which side?
Claire: Any side... the live side must be good cos you get feedback...
Mark: Yes, I like playing live... I don't really like doing...
Claire: Interviews?
Mark: Yes... no....[laughs!] no,not this, I don't like the sort, where you're in a room, and you have a string of different people coming in, just because it's the same questions a lot of the time.We end up making up different answers to stop yourself getting bored.
Claire: That's what Cerys and Owen said on the last website interview.
Mark: Cerys loves talking!
Claire: If, for the band to become, like, U2 big, you had to move to London, would you do it?
Mark: No, I'd rather stay here.It's not for us, really,to go to London.There's a lot of set up in Cardiff for rehearsing,it's got it's own little media place and stuff, so there's no real need to live in London. A lot of the time it depends where... travelling you know,sometime if you want to go from one part of London to another, it could take an hour, so we just add another hour and go from here... the other thing I don't like about London is that, down here you can go out by yourself, into town, and you're bound to see someone you know, but in London there's a sort of, well, it's lots of little centres.I know there is one centre, but it's not the kind of place you bump into people you know.I think...I'm from a small town in North Wales, where absolutely everybody knows you, so this like a happy medium...
Claire: That's it, thank you very much!
Mark: What, you've finished the questions?
Claire: Unless you can think of anything I've forgotten to ask?
Mark: No, I'm hopeless at that!


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