SANTA ANA, Calif. — The much-loved English band Squeeze is on tour in support of its new album, “Spot the Difference,” though in this case new isn’t exactly the right word for the 14 songs it contains.
Instead of new songs from the guitars and pens of songwriters Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, the new release takes 14 fan favorites from past Squeeze albums and recreates them in new versions so faithful to the originals that listeners are challenged to do just what the title suggests: spot the difference.
“It was really inspired by coming to America about four years ago and seeing a TV commercial with one of our songs placed in it — and nobody had asked us if we wanted a song in a Heineken commercial,” explains Difford, when reached by phone before a show in Madison, Wis.
“And we phoned up our publishers and found we didn’t even have the right to ask the question,” he says of discovering what little control he and Tilbrook had over how their work could be used.
So back into the studio they went to reclaim songs such as “Tempted” — the one used by Heineken — “Goodbye Girl,” “Pulling Mussels From A Shell” and “Black Coffee In Bed,” among others.
“We decided we could do a much better deal than the people who currently own the copyright,” Difford says. “If a TV company wants to use ‘Tempted’ or something, we can cut them a much better deal.”
Re-recording the songs was fairly simple, Difford says. Finding the same sounds and technology used for the originals was more difficult.
“It’s been like a forensic scientist, trying to find the right sounds,” he says of the hunt for the same instruments, amps and gear the band had used on albums dating back to the late ‘70s.
“We got some on eBay and Glenn happened to have some of the stuff, because he never throws away anything,” Difford says. “His studio is like an antiques library of instruments.”
While the current tour features songs from Squeeze’s back catalogue, it’s won’t be a replay of their set list from their last U.S. tour in 2007, Difford says. A half dozen or so songs the band hasn’t played in years are featured this time around.
“We’re doing ‘When the Hangover Strikes,’ things like that that we didn’t have the confidence to do before, at least I didn’t,” he says.
And there will be — it is hoped before too long — new Squeeze songs in the future.
“We’re going to talk about getting back together at the end of the year to write new songs,” Difford says. “I imagine after Christmas we will start putting pen to paper for a new album. But there are other projects on the backburner as we speak — we’ve got quite a lot of different things we want to do.”
Among those projects: a 2011 tour to mark the 30th anniversary the band’s acclaimed “East Side Story” album, playing it in full, and trying to jumpstart the long-talked-about idea of turning Squeeze songs into a musical, Difford says.
“It’s something I’d always wanted to do,” he said of the musical, which at one point was in development with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s company where interest in the project eventually stalled. “I believe there is a musical in the songs that we already have, and it’s just about getting together with a writer who can put it together with us.”
Difford also has solo projects in the works.
He’s writing a book on tour this year: “It’s called ‘Letters From a Tour Bus,’ and it’s basically going to be 17 or 18 letters to people that are alive or dead, that I love or people that I’ve never met,” he says. “It’s just a way of telling my story through letters. I’ve written a book, but I’m not happy with it, so I’ve fallen on this way.”
And he’s also got an album of new solo material, “Cashmere If You Can,” eventually out on CD but already coming out in a creative online fashion he calls the Saturday Morning Music Club. For roughly $30 dollars buyers get an app for their computer that each Saturday automatically delivers a new Difford tune and a variety of other material: videos, B sides, Squeeze songs and the like.
“When I was a kid I belonged to a lot of music clubs, like the Beatles and the Monkees, and you used to get monthly magazines and bits and pieces that would keep you fed,” Difford says of the reason behind the release method. “And of course the Internet is so lively these days you only have to sneeze and you’re on it.
“So the idea was to slow the Internet down with chunks each week,” he says, adding that “Spot the Difference,” which is set for release on Aug. 3, will also be made available in similar fashion.
For now, though, the tour, which through Aug. 3 in the United States before heading home to the United Kingdom, is the thing, with the work of traveling to perform both harder and better than it was some 30 years ago when the band started out.
“To be absolutely honest with you it’s more difficult,” Difford says. “Because you’re leaving behind more than you did as a teenager. You’re leaving behind family and friends.”
The technology used on stage, though, is much better — he says he can hear the band play better than ever he could before. And the richness of the songs, beloved by many for their sweet melodies and wry lyrics, seems to have deepened with time, too.
“The songs have matured in a way that I didn’t believe that they would,” Difford says. “Not that I didn’t’ have faith in them. But Glenn and I are older. We’ve got more history. So we’re more focused on how we want the songs to be.”
// Notes from the Road
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