Gilbert O’Sullivan’s music was omnipresent in the 1970’s, riding high in that period with hits like “Alone Again (Naturally),” “Clair,” and “Get Down.” During much of the 80’s, however, he seemed to fade from view.
But throughout his career, he has been busy … paving new musical paths and following his muse, regardless of musical convention. His new album, plainly titled Gilbert O’Sullivan, harkens back to his musical roots, and reminds us again of his distinctive and effervescent pop rock sensibility and songcraft. The album is due for release Aug. 24, and can be pre-ordered right now at this link.
Enjoy a Q&A with Gilbert below.
Rock Cellar: “Dansette, Dreams, and 45’s,” which is on your new album, is a catchy and unique song title. What inspired you for that one?
Gilbert O’Sullivan: Well, I’d characterize the song in a way as a “baby boomer” song. I actually have a picture of a dansette on the wall, by the way. At the same time, the song references current issues and themes, such as mobile phone use and terrorism. It has a great title and a good melody. Many times, song titles lead the direction of the lyrics.
Rock Cellar: “This Riff,” from the new album, sounds like somewhat of a departure from your typical songwriting style. How did that come together, and what sparked the song?
Gilbert O’Sullivan: The song was great fun to play. I wanted it to have more of a rock and roll feel originally, but it wound up being more jazzy. Chas Hodges (from Chas and Dave) and Geraint Watkins played lead piano on the song, and I played rhythm. Actually, it was the last track we recorded.
Rock Cellar: The new album seems to have more Bob Dylan-esque influences. Would that be fair to say?
Gilbert O’Sullivan: There are a few songs on the album with those influences, especially those using the Hammond organ. When I started writing songs, Dylan had a huge influence on my lyrics. He lead us into whole new songwriting areas.
Rock Cellar: On the new album, you address various political and social issues, but in a lighter and non-polemical way. That seems uncommon these days, doesn’t it?
Gilbert O’Sullivan: I comment on key issues in the world, but do it in a subtle way. I never preach. People can get it or not.
Rock Cellar: Do you have plans to tour the US soon?
Gilbert O’Sullivan: I’ve very much wanted to tour the US for some time and I’ve received considerable interest from people there in seeing us play, but it’s been difficult to arrange a tour with a 10-piece band in a way that’s economically viable. We’ve had discussions about touring there with bands like 10CC and the Zombies on a double bill, which would be more viable. We’ll get there.
Rock Cellar: Do you feel you’re still being typecast in terms of your music and image?
Gilbert O’Sullivan: For many years, I wasn’t appreciated by the press in the UK because of my cap and boots look. I dared to look different. It wasn’t a factor in the US, but it was among the ranks of the UK music press. Over the last ten years, that situation has changed, and we’re getting good reviews now from the major UK music publications, such as Mojo.
I’m finally getting the respect I deserve from the press there.
Rock Cellar: You selected Ethan Johns to produce your new album. What special qualities did he bring to the album’s production?
Gilbert O’Sullivan: To begin with, I really liked his custom of recording in analogue. He’s interested in capturing tracks that had a great feel and a few mistakes, and isn’t really interested in the perfect take. His impact was extremely important.
Rock Cellar: How do you feel about cover versions of your songs by Neil Diamond, Diana Krall, and other artists?
Gilbert O’Sullivan: I’m really pleased with their covers of my songs. As an artist, it’s very flattering. I particularly like a version of one of my songs by a Japanese heavy metal band!
Rock Cellar: You’ve been living in Jersey for some time. How has that influenced your music?
Gilbert O’Sullivan: It’s comfortable recording here, and the atmosphere suits me well. I like being at home, and work in a music room 5 days a week on a regular schedule. I love the Brill Building songwriting ethic of working 9-5 every day.
Rock Cellar: Your music seems well suited for the stage. Do you have any plans to write music for theater?
Gilbert O’Sullivan: I’m very influenced by musicals, and always have been, especially where melody is concerned. However, I have no wish to write a musical. I just love the discipline of the 3-minute pop song, which can cover all aspects of life, good or bad.
That said, I did make an album as a soundtrack, complete with overture, based on a concert I did in 1991, using actors to tell the story of the rise and fall and rise of a singer. It was called ‘Every Song Has Its Play.’
Rock Cellar: How has the nature of your songwriting changed as you’ve gotten older?
Gilbert O’Sullivan: I never think about it, I just get on with the job at hand — coming up with a strong melody and then a good lyric. You could argue that writing a song dealing with age and mortality are perhaps not those I would have been writing about 50 years ago.
Rock Cellar: You won a well-known case of copyright infringement against Biz Markie for the unauthorized sampling of “Alone Again.” Are songwriters better protected now from illegal sampling?
Gilbert O’Sullivan: The case did set a precedent for protecting songwriters from illegal sampling and I’m glad about that. But the experience of going to court was miserable.
I was subjected to intense questioning in a New York courtroom, and Biz Markie never appeared in court. I would up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for lawyers on that case.
That’s just not right.
Visit O’Sullivan’s official website for more details about his career and new record.