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DailyBoom Your Old School Music Authority

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Exclusive Interview: Nick Van Eede of 'Cutting Crew' Embraces the Future While Reimagining His Past on 'Ransomed Healed Restored Forgiven'


ICYMI

I think that one of the coolest things about music is how it affords each and every one of us the ability to travel through time. You know what I mean, that twenty-second song intro that just for a flash of a moment makes you feel like it really is 1987 all over again. Some songs just stay with you, forever imprinted in your mind, following you through life like comfortable old friends, and no amount of passing time changes your love for them. Nick Van Eede, the co-founder, singer and songwriter of Cutting Crew, has created exactly that kind of gift for millions of people worldwide via "(I Just) Died In Your Arms", a song that shot to number one in 1987 and continues to pop up in pop culture to this day.

I think that most people believe that once you "make it" in the music industry you're sort of set for life if you handle your money properly. The actual truth is that the music business is at best, a harsh place to try and exist. You could be at the top of the charts and playing sold-out shows now and in six months you're back to waiting tables or washing dishes. The only solid guarantee is that every star eventually falls from the sky and then it takes talent, timing, and unshakable determination to get back up again. 

In his thirty-five years since starting Cutting Crew, Nick has experienced the highs of sold-out tours, as well as the unimaginable loss of Kevin MacMichael, the secret ingredient (and brilliant guitarist) that helped to balance the band. Despite the losses, a storyteller can never stay quiet for too long and over the last decade or so he has rebuilt the band with a new Cutting Crew co-conspirator, guitarist Gareth Moulton, who has truly honored the past while leaving his own imprint on the music.

The band was steadily gigging until Covid-19 brought the touring industry to a screeching halt, making this the perfect time for that new release that had already been planned. Ransomed Healed Restored Forgiven puts an incredible symphonic twist on a catalog of already beloved songs. It was a risky move but one that Nick completely embraced. We spoke recently about these reimagined classics and Nick was happy to really dig into the details of how this album came to life.


Nick Van Eede on embracing the idea of a symphonic album:

"It was a wonderful thing! Fifty years ago when my granddad would hear me playing guitar in the lounge he would say, 'your songs seem to work well, if only they had an orchestra' and then many years ago when we first got a publishing deal there was always mention of an orchestra. Over the years, I have performed 3 or 4 of the songs maybe 25 times with an orchestra.  Cutting Crew songs aren't better than anyone else's' and they're no worse than anyone elses', but I do kind of write those big melodies, and the layering of our arrangements just begged for it. I've joked about how I've been waiting for the call to do this and then there really was a call out of the blue from a record label to do it (laughing). Then came the million-dollar question of do you do this with songs that are so precious to millions of people and risk making it not as good. I finally decided to jump and so we jumped off the cliff together!!

It was time-consuming and meticulous work. I wish I could sexy it up and tell you that I flew all over the world to make this album but it didn't happen that way (laughing). You know how everyone is doing things now since the world has changed because of this virus?  People are recording remotely or doing concerts from their house, well this was done pre-Covid but really under the same rules because of how scattered we all are. The string arranger was in Manchester, my guitarist is in the middle of England, I'm in the south of England, the orchestra was in Prague, the engineer was in Slovenia and lastly our drummer, he was in Russia. It was quite a task and there were moments in time when we just said, 'f--k it this is just impossible'- like while trying to tell a Russian drummer that the high hat isn't quite right (laughing), those were the tricky bits. The beautiful thing was working with the string arranger, Pete Whitfield, I must say that it was a pleasure and gift for me.

It's not a perfect science because especially the rocking songs like "Any Color", have some great string parts but you can't really layer too much. I grew up playing classical guitar and if you came to my house now I wouldn't be playing rock music, I'd be playing you classical music because I know my composers and I'm pretty deep into them  I love it and sometimes I'm humbled by it you know, I listen to Mahler's "Adagio" and think, well that's it, there's no point in writing another note (laughing). When Pete, our string arrangerwould send me huge manuscripts of notes I'd thank him and remind him that I'm not very good at reading music (laughing), then ask him to send the audio along as well. Only then I would get involved, which he liked. He told me so many acts in the past have hired him and they'd get what they get, so he was happy that I wanted to be involved."



Nick on reimagining Cutting Crew songs after the works of specific composers:

"I have recently worked with quite an acclaimed classical composer in this tiny little village in Sussex where I live. His name is Nigel Crouch and he has always loved "I've Been In Love Before". He insisted that the composer that was the best match was Sibelius and told me to listen to the last movement of Symphony #5. I checked it out and pointed Pete to that and so now on that song you can hear some movements a' la Sibelius.

"The Broadcast" was a risky one to makeover. When the song was first imagined I had this transistor radio and I would never listen to the pop stations. Instead, I'd go right up to the end of the dial on short wave and you'd just get these strange sounds. It would be like propaganda from North Korea or Arabic music and that was my little world at the time. I really wanted to get the feeling of when I was a teen in rural Sussex and so Pete and I both agreed that the style of music was like that of a British composer named Ralph Vaughan Williams. I was at first worried that the song might feel a bit too Broadway but hey, we're reimagining these songs and they're supposed to sound different, right?.

"(I Just) Died In Your Arms", the Reprise, has to be one of the most emotional recordings that I've ever had to do, just me and the orchestra. I think it was done in two takes, just did it and cut the takes together. Those words now as a 62-year-old man mean something completely different to me then when I originally wrote them as a 26-year-old guy. I've lost my father, I've lost my brother, I've lost Kevin my original guitarist and best pal, I have a daughter too- so many things have changed. I've always been good at writing fairly oblique lyrics and something that you can read whatever you want to in it but doing that one as an older guy meant a lot of tears. There were a lot of tissues on the floor (laughing). That song was in the style of Edward Elgar who is probably my favorite British composer. We got his trademark cellos to move around and sound very foreboding yet beautiful at the same time. That will go down as one of the most memorable moments in my entire career.

"Berlin In Winter" is now one of our biggest songs to play live and it stems from a story that you just can't make up. In 1989 when the wall fell, Cutting Crew was on tour and I remember watching the television with Kevin and seeing these amazing images and beautiful human moments. Three days later we were actually playing in Berlin. We had a hit record on their charts and a sold-out tour but only about twenty-five people came to the gig (laughing), quite rightly too. I think we did about six songs and had people onstage with us and then we went down to the wall together and had an incredible time. That has always been one of the abiding memories in my life and this song is an imaginary song about a guy who was sequestered by the Communists to build the wall, lived through all of the atrocities of it and then was there as an old man to see it fall. It's hard to write a story because you have to have a beginning, a middle, and an ending in only three verses, so I'm very proud of that one.

I knew it had to be Russian sounding for this recording,  Pete said  'that's Shostakovitch and I was thinking more Tchaikovsky, something with a haunting, descending cello line and again a quite cold and daunting sound, but definitely a Russian influence.

That time in Berlin, it was a blur and pure joy but no anger. There could have been people coming through from the east, pointing at the policemen or saying 'f--k you' or whatever, but instead it was a beautiful embracing evening. I have a memory of being with a big roadie friend of mine who had a hammer and dinged off a piece of the wall for me and I've still got that here somewhere. It has really stuck with me and I've played in Berlin 20 times at least since then. It's one of my favorite cities in the world. It shows those scars but it has done it very well. It's a special place and they've kept the wall intact in some places so that you can see it. It's just a little wall, not this gigantic thing, but of course, if they tried to cross it back then they would have been shot.

So if I make another million pounds I'd love to buy an apartment there. I'd love to live there as an older guy. Let it be said too that new Germany is a wonderful place. They've never ever tried to sweep it under the carpet, everywhere you go there are memorials to the history of the country. I think I work more there than anywhere else and I love it."



Nick on the legacy of "(I Just) Died In Your Arms":

"I knew it was special because that was reinforced by anyone that heard the really scratchy first demo. I was 25 then and had been writing quite well for about 7 years, so I had other things to compare it with. The longevity of it absolutely staggers me. Ten years after I thought well that was a good run (laughing), twenty years after it was an even better run. It may be 20 million people's worst song in the world but that doesn't take away from the other 200 million people that really like it. I've always just really embraced the song and it's a number one record that has really outlasted a lot of other number one records. I always refer to the song as 'she' and I say that she's my passport, she's like a lover, she's an accidental dinner conversation, she's my bank manager (laughing), so I'm quite happy to have her in my life.

When it came time to do this album I wanted to do this song near the end because I needed to know how we were going to make this album work first. I felt that touching this song was really risky and somehow it just came together. I don't really smoke but I had about ten cigarettes that day and a lot of Johnnie Walker as well to get the vocal right."

Nick on his writing process:

"Well, this is important, I never, ever sit down and tell myself I'm going to write a song about something in particular, like my daughter's blue hair (laughing). It just doesn't work that way. I do have the ability to write very obliquely though and that leaves my lyrics open to interpretation in a myriad of ways.

It has to hit a very high bar that I set for myself. I won't put anything out there in writing that I view as just a filler song. I'm always proud of my albums and while you don't have to like every song, they've hit my bar and that is always in the back of my mind. At the same time, when you give birth to something you must never share it too soon. Just let it roll and if it starts sounding a little like "Hey Jude", as an example, don't worry, it might not end up sounding anything like "Hey Jude". Don't get scared, it's just not there yet, and don't kill it too soon.

I really have to sit there and find that muse though. I usually write on the keyboards because I love them becauseI don't play them very well, so I have all sorts of happy accidents because I don't know what the f--k I'm doing (laughing). It's also all very phonetic and I've been brave enough to at times just make sounds that kind of hit with the music. Once you're really off and running then the actual lyrics just seem to pour out and you can be done with it even in an hour because you found what has rooted you to the song.

Also, I'll warn you, if during the course of this conversation you say something to me that I absolutely love it'll be written down and transferred to my ten-meter long piece of wallpaper that I sometimes stick up in my studio.  It has my little catchphrases, titles and sayings that I really like and so while creating something I can look up and see all of these possibilities. It's my responsibility as a songwriter to keep track of possibilities."



Nick on striking gold twice with guitarists' Kevin MacMichael and Gareth Moulton:

"When I found Kevin all those years ago it was like a good marriage because everything was easy, no egos when wrote together. He was my editor and very good at taking my straightforward jolly lyrics and making them darker. He would put some negativity in there (laughing) and it's what was needed. When I spoke at his funeral I think I judged the mood right and told that story, adding that if Kevin had his way that song would have been called "(I Just) Lived In Your Arms".  So to find Gareth Moulton after having already found a Kevin was just astonishing. He has to tip his hat to what Kevin did while at the same time being himself and he has done that masterfully. Gareth does all of the sensational guitar playing on the album. He's my best friend and to find somebody like that is so special."

Nick on embracing whatever comes next:

"We have had 22 gigs canceled so far this year, including one in Trinidad, plus Switzerland, Japan, and everything else. There is still a show scheduled for Budapest and one in Tel Aviv but there are no flights. Also, if I go then when I come home I'll have to quarantine for fourteen days, so playing requires real thought. That said, we're very clever humans and so I imagine we'll figure it all out in the end. Things are going to be different and I'm ready to embrace it. I love doing the unplugged things and so maybe Gareth and I will just be dueting for a while and telling the stories behind the songs. When we do the rock shows he always tells me to stop talking (laughing), but I enjoy telling the stories too.

In spite of all of the awful things, there are so many beautiful young people coming through in this world and I'm totally encouraged by them. They'll lead the way towards whatever is next for us all in this crazy world."

Get your own copy of Ransomed Healed Restored Forgiven at Cutting Crew's official site.  Check out their Facebook & Twitter for gig updates and behind-the-scenes fun.