Kevin Godley has been a vital part of some of the most innovative music of the last six decades. As a quarter of the original lineup of 10CC, he had hits worldwide but jumped ship with his long-time creative partner, Lol Crème, at the height of the bands’ popularity. As a duo, Godley and Creme may have never achieved the level of commercial success of the parent band, but they made seven albums, each one different from the last.
Their first release, 1977’s Consequences, was a triple-disc concept album featured contributions by British satirist Peter Cook and a duet with Sarah Vaughan, as well as showcasing the “Gizmo”: a device, developed in part by Godley, which mechanical bows the strings of a guitar.
Released just as punk was decimating the musical landscape, the album was poorly received but is now seen as a lost classic and was recently reissued in an expanded form.
When he wasn’t a musician, Godley was in on the ground floor of the music video revolution of the early 1980s, creating some of the most memorable pop promos ever to grace any TV screen. At the tender age of 75, Kevin Godley has released his debut solo album, Muscle Memory: an album comprised of Godley’s lyrics and vocals, sung over backing tracks sent to him by nearly 300 eager contributors. The results sound nothing like he has ever done before.
You’ve been making records since 1964. What took you so long to make a solo album?
I never felt the need. All the projects I’ve been involved with have all been very satisfying. For a number of years, I haven’t made any music at all, and access to working with people that I felt comfortable with was limited. I was doing other things; I was moving in different spheres. And then, one of those things that happen in life happened. A couple of people who I never met or had never even heard of sent me two pieces of instrumental music. These two people don’t know each other; it was just coincidental. They asked if I’d be interested in turning them into songs and writing a tune and lyrics to go over the top of what they’ve written. I’ve never done that before, and I thought it would be quite interesting. So, I tried it, and it worked, and those two tracks have ended up on the album.
When did that idea turn into an album project?
I thought it would be interesting if I opened the opportunity up to not just professional musicians but anybody who felt they could make music. I signed up to PledgeMusic, and I ended up getting 286 submissions, which I wasn’t expecting at all. I thought I’d get maybe 20! Lots of them were great, and it was really a matter of wading through that pile of material to find out which tracks I could connect with. Unfortunately, PledgeMusic went under, and I was back to square one, so essentially, I had to start from scratch. Luckily state51 Conspiracy liked the idea and gave me a little bit of money to finish the album properly. Did you find state51 Conspiracy, or did they find you?
It was kismet. I was looking around for different labels, and they were one of the labels that I spoke to. They were very enthusiastic. One thing that made me smile and instantly drew me to them was that they have a book that shows everything they do, including all their lovely artwork. It sums up who they are. I was having a conversation with them, and I asked if I could see the book online. They said, “Absolutely not! It is a book. We will send you the book.” And that was it. They sent something real, something that I could touch and psychologically. That was different from everybody else. They care; it’s not just a record label. They care about what they do, and I’ve built up a nice relationship with them.
Once you’d picked the backing tracks, how did you work on the recordings?
I ended up doing most of the vocal recording at home, so the whole process allowed me to discover techniques that I hadn’t approached before. Previously, I’d been lazy and always relied on other people to take hold of the recording, but I had to knuckle down this time. I ended up getting a microphone interface and recorded the vocals using GarageBand. Essentially, it worked, and I somehow found my way to the 11 tracks that make up Muscle Memory. It was a thoroughly enjoyable but very challenging process.
In amongst all the submissions, did you get anything left field? Speed metal? Country and western?
Yeah: I got everything. I got avant-garde, I got jazz, I got country, I got stuff that you can’t even put a name to! It was great. If this album does OK, I might go back and do another one based on the same material. There was lots of music there that I admired and was really into, but because I had a deadline, I could only do the stuff that came relatively quickly and that I felt comfortable with. I still want to explore a lot of these different musical avenues, but for this project, I went with tunes that allowed me to say what I wanted to say for each particular track. There were lots of very bizarre things.
Were there any famous names on any of the contributions?
The only name you might know would be Gotye. He sent me six pieces of music. He works in a really interesting way. He takes sounds, then manipulates them and turns them into loops. So, what he did was send me a selection of loops that I could structure any way I saw fit. I just chose one of them at random because I had something niggling in my head that I wanted to try, and it went exactly to the place it needed to go to.
Despite the scattershot way you harvested the backing tracks, Muscle Memory has a cohesive feel. Was that by accident or design?
I never expected it to. Throughout the process, I’d do a track, put it to one side, choose another one, finish it, and put it to one side. When it finally came down to doing a running order and mixing and mastering, I thought, “Oh shit: is this going to hang together as an album?” so when it did, I was surprised as you are. What links everything together is that I’m singing all the vocal parts. Maybe that’s what it is. I didn’t want to stop and analyze it.
Did you re-work any of the contributions, or did you go with what you were sent?
Initially, I was sent rough mixes. I just loaded them into GarageBand and worked on them. When I’d done that, I asked for the stems (individual instrumental tracks), so I could make a mix. There were two occasions where I had to make a couple of changes. On “Bang Bang Theory”, when I asked for the stems, they no longer existed, so it was impossible to mix. That was a real shame because between the two of us we made a great song. I had to re-record a backing track from scratch. I re-recorded it all, just with drums, because I’m a drummer. Simple as that. The percussion pushes the lyrics along, and I sang it slightly differently because of that. It was my wife’s idea to move it more towards that direction, and it worked well. There were a couple of other instances of re-structuring the tunes, but everything else was as it came. I worked with what was sent.
You’re dealing with some pretty bleak themes on this record.
“All Bones Are White” was the first track I attacked in terms of turning it into a song. That was in 2017, and it was immediately after what went down in Charlottesville. I was watching the news, and I had that music on in the background. Until then, I hadn’t come up with a way of reaching a lyrical conclusion with that track, but that experience of seeing that on television and hearing the track simultaneously … something just snapped, and the lyrics to that song were my response to what was going on. I’ve never written anything like that before. I suppose my general feeling is that it’s been pretty bleak out there this year, and I think that there’s not a great deal of future left for the human race — I think we’ve fucked it up. I can look at it in a humorous way, or I can look at it in a serious way, but I keep coming back to the same conclusion, so I suppose that affects everything I put out there.
Do you make better art when you’re angry?
From my perspective, yeah. I’m not drawn to happy music. I don’t see the point of it. The only band that ever made happy music that I like is the Beach Boys. If you’re feeling happy and you’re listening to happy music, where do you go? It doesn’t take you anywhere; there’s nothing for you to do, there’s no response required. In any film or any play or any book, the most interesting characters are the darkest characters because you want to know what they’re like and who they are. It’s the same with lyrics. If it’s all “happy happy happy,” you just want to say, “Fuck off! It’s not!” I get more energy from coming at things from this sort of perspective.
You’ve made your video for “Expecting a Message”, which is a total DIY venture. How did making that differ from making Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film” promo, for example?
Hugely! There aren’t any girls in it for a start. There is no film in it either. It was great fun because I began to realize that it’s really in the idea; it’s not down to the technique. Since I’ve realized that, I thought I could get away with anything. I got some stuff and looked at it and had a few ideas of how to do things on camera that normally require special effects, a set, a location, a crane, a Steadicam, a producer — the whole palaver. I even performed in it, which I didn’t think I could do, but I did in my bizarre way. It’s has got quite a lot of interest on YouTube, which is great as I’m a new artist in a way.
Do you think that video making is moving to a more DIY esthetic?
I don’t know; I don’t watch them much. [laughs] I don’t because it’s just not exciting anymore. There are so many videos made by so many people, and a lot of them aren’t particularly exciting. It feels as if people aren’t trying very hard anymore. At the very beginning, it was a new movement, if you can call video making a movement. What was exciting about it was that it hadn’t existed before, at least at that level, so the people making the videos were all trying to come up with something unique and new and trying to top each other artistically. But then everything found its level, commercially. It all started to get a bit more business-like and less creative. Then, towards the end of the 1990s, YouTube came along, and budgets began to shrink. It’s just part of the deal; everybody makes a video. Is it good? Is it great? Is it shit? It doesn’t matter: it’s a video. I don’t watch them anymore, frankly. There are so many other things to point your brain at.
OK, here comes the inevitable 10cc question. It’s obvious that you four gentlemen will never make music together again, but is there any chance that you’ll at least be able to sit in the same room together?
Not unless it’s a boxing ring! [laughs] Seriously, the answer is probably not, and if so, not longer than five minutes. We had a good time we made some good records. It was a short time, but that happens.
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In the world of popular music, superlatives are hurled about like rice at a wedding. If you can walk and chew gum at the same time, it won’t be long before some over-enthusiastic writer dubs you “a renaissance man.” Very few of the people who are on the receiving end of these plaudits actually deserve them.
When talking to Kevin Godley, it’s clear that he is proud of his past, but he is in no hurry to repeat it. Although it has distant echoes of Godley and Creme albums like L and Ismism, Muscle Memory is another new departure. He’s a rarity in popular music: a genuine conceptual artist. And maybe I’m over-enthusiastic, but he’s definitely a renaissance man.