Thirsty Man – An Interview with Guy Bailey
A founding member of The Quireboys and The Peckham Cowboys, guitarist and songwriter Guy Bailey is back with his new band Thirsty… and this time he’s the frontman! Thirsty’s honky-tonk-does-stoner sound is sultry, gritty and rough around the edges in all the right ways. We caught up with Guy Bailey to quiz him on the band and the making of their debut album, also called Thirsty.
You’ve said that this is you’ve wanted to make for years – how was it to record, and was it worth the wait?
The Thirsty album was incredibly easy to make, a complete change from anything I’d done before. Relaxed with no financial pressure or deadlines, no A&R men giving you their opinions, and most importantly, a work schedule that suited our moods and inspiration. The industry has changed, and unlike under the label system, if a certain song wasn’t working for us, we had the luxury of being able to put it aside and return to it when we felt it was right.
When you are working for yourself in your own studio environment all these pressures fade away and you can take the time to focus on what it is that you really want to achieve. I have always had misgivings about handing control of tracks to other people, largely because the end product was never quite right to my ears. Now working with Chris Kimsey there is no problem at all. I really needed to try something new and yes…I have wanted to do this for years!
You’re calling Thirsty a project rather than a band, which suggests an emphasis on freedom and fluidity, rather than a more formal band approach. What is it that made you choose this path?
Thirsty started as a group of close friends getting together socially and playing music. As kids today have an Xbox, so we have guitars, piano and drums. I went to school with Chris Johnstone (Quireboys) and have known Simon Hanson (Squeeze) for 25 years. Chris introduced Irina D into the mix and she mentioned that she wrote. She’s a literature graduate of universities in Moscow and Chicago, so we put a couple of tracks together using her lyrics and it seemed that something gelled.
It was kind of a fun thing initially, but after a while we started putting our ideas down in my studio. After about 6 songs we jokingly started calling it a “project” or “body of work”. Anything we felt like writing we just recorded in situ – there was flux in the process, which we all fed off. We were all secretly thinking “band” at this point, yes.
Whilst this album is no great departure from what Guy Bailey fans might expect, it is still something of a curveball. Did you know, going in, how you wanted this album to sound, or was it quite an open, organic process?
How the album sounded was incredibly important to us. We lived with it for a while, gave it a good hard listen. We had a chat and came up with 4 basic rules for it…. 1) There are no rules; 2) Aim for a Chess / Stax backing track sound; 3) Use the first take wherever possible and, most importantly; 4) See rule 1 – There are no rules!
The process was intriguing and unlike anything I have ever done, especially having only sung backing vocals before, I had to learn to live with the sound of my own voice. But the album had written itself before we knew it. In the strangest of ways it was now out of our hands. It was all very surprising to say the least. I’m very proud of this record.
You’ve worked with producer Chris Kimsey (Rolling Stones / The Cult / Peter Tosh) a few times before, so you must have a good working relationship. Some would say a good producer should coax an artist away from their comfort zone and call them on their bullshit when necessary – is that what Chris does?
Yeah, it has been my good fortune to know Chris both professionally and personally for 25 years, we have a great relationship. I trust his judgement implicitly and no, he’s never coaxed me away from my comfort zone, he allows me to run riot in it! He and I have got on from day one. I’ve always loved his work and he always speaks his mind, which I take on board. More importantly, the rest of Thirsty get on with him like a house on fire.
Mixing the album with him was a real pleasure. There were only two problems, I had to re-sing one line and I asked Chris to EQ a single snare drum hit. Not bad for two weeks in the studio eh?
In terms of songwriting, you collaborated with Russian poet Irina D. Are these tracks adapted from poetry written specifically for the album, or were some already burning holes in your back pocket before you started?
In the beginning, Irina showed me some of her finished poems, which were based around dark real life stories and asked me if they’d work as songs, so we thought we’d try them out. The very first one we did was Donnie to Sonny which is based on the Joe Pistone / FBI story from the film Donnie Brasco. We loved the results, and that set the template for writing the rest of the album. Irina started writing new stuff in the same vein with Thirsty in mind.
God Bless America is the story of JFK’s younger sister Rose Marie who underwent a botched lobotomy at her father’s insistence. Sniper is the story of a famous Russian lady sharpshooter from World War II (actually she was from the Ukraine!).
I have to say, it was a totally new approach for me. Previously, songwriting always started with a guitar riff or chord sequence, with the lyrics added to fit the mood and tempo of the music. For Thirsty, it was the reverse. Every new collaboration needs some sort of catalyst to make it interesting and fun, and making music with a smile on your face is priceless.
Can fans look forward to a Thirsty tour?
We’ll be out by Christmas. After all… we ARE a band!
Thirsty’s self-titled debut is out now, with a second album already in the pipeline.