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Great Albums: Fresh New Life

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Work on the album began almost immediately. ‘Hope, Faith & You’ was a demo which was done in January 1996. I didn’t ever imagine it would end up on the album. I was working with Dave Meegan, whom I loved and trusted from the first minute I met him. He encouraged me to do whatever I wanted. He always left tapes running, and I was always writing something. Working in this way was great, but also had its disadvantages. FRESH NEW LIFE is very diverse in style because I did whatever came into my head. There was never any proper structure to it. I wasn’t experienced enough for that. At that time, I was only really playing acoustic guitar and piano and this accounts for the very mellow sound of the album. I also experimented a little bit with loops and techno stuff on songs like ‘Comfort’ and ‘Freefall’. I wouldn’t do that now, but it was a learning experience.

I met Evan Jenkin and Matt Round through and audition process after placing an advert in Melody Maker. It was only then that the record started to take shape. I reckon Evan is one of the best drummers in the world. I played drums myself a bit on the album, but could not do what he could do. He can do the technical stuff, but chooses rather to play really cool grooves in songs instead of showing off. To this day, I’ve never played with anyone who hits the snare drum harder than he does. Matt could play anything you asked him to and he would give it style and depth. He could also read upside down what my left hand was doing on the piano and I was dead impressed by that! Recording that album through Spring and Summer of ‘96 was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I know the guys would agree. We all had such fond memories of that time. It was a dream coming true. The first sign of pressure from EMI came with the suggestion of a 5-track EP or sampler to introduce ‘Phil Campbell’ onto the market. I didn’t much like the decision because it felt a bit hasty but, as I came to discover, it didn’t matter what I thought. It was promoted through HMV and we did a tour, playing two HMV stores a day in different towns and then playing a gig at night. Basically, ‘my man’ at the company, although in a top position, was still under pressure to become successful. This put me under pressure too. I’m not afraid to say it but I was really stupid back then (I’m still a little slow on the uptake). I wish someone could have grabbed me by the shoulders and shook and said ‘Wake up!’ I had no idea what was going on and was afraid to show it. Everyone in London was so hard and I got into this thing of hiding my feelings because I reckoned that to show any emotion made me weak. I started taking drugs and drinking more. It helped me escape, but it never lasted long. I was chain-smoking cigarettes and not eating properly and was pale and generally unhealthy. I had this big voice beyond my years, but inside I was just a daft boy.

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The album was taking ages, and I couldn’t deal with it. Impatience and frustration were eating away at me. The drugs dredged up all these horrible feelings of guilt and remorse over leaving my friends in Glasgow. I was out of touch with my family and was involved in an intense and tempestuous relationship. I was paranoid all the time and when the main bulk of the recording work was done, I was left with too much time on my hands, and money. Cocaine, weed, ecstasy, acid, speed, booze - anything I could get…I would devour drugs like I wanted to die. It’s a miracle that I didn’t. EMI made an EPK video package for promotional purposes. I hated every minute of it. It was a lonely and humiliating experience. Without my consent, some tracks were stripped down to just piano-vocal or guitar-vocal, to give an ‘organic’ feel, and I was filmed singing them. The band weren’t allowed to come to these things, so I felt like I was on my own. I had stupidly asked my A&R guy’s brother to manage me and I never felt at ease around him. The point is that I couldn’t trust him or anyone else. The good thing that the EPK did achieve was a support tour with Reef. I had played with them a couple of times before at a venue called The Fixx in Glasgow with my old band and I reckon that’s why I got the tour. I couldn’t believe it! It was the best thing that could have happened. Me and the guys thought they were the coolest band on Earth. Every night they would open with Place Your Hands and the crowd would go nuts. It was an education watching them and I learned so much about what it takes to be a great rock band. They also had this electricity on stage that was almost magical. I was attracted to this and wanted it for our group.

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I was sick of being a solo artist. I couldn’t justify it in my head, because so much of what I enjoyed about what I did was dependent on Matt and Evan. We were slightly wary of each other. There was a bit of paranoia due to drugs and a shared sense of bemusement about the pace at which things were going. On the first night of the tour at Exeter University, I declared from the stage that we were called White Buffalo. It was a great gig, as I recall. However, as noble idea as this was, it was completely unrealistic. EMI had spent thousands of pounds promoting me as a solo artist; a kind of male version of Alanis Morissette; which was all very well, but I didn’t want that. The depressing thing was that now I had actually figured out what I did want, there was no chance of it happening. I had absolutely no control over my own career. By Spring ‘97, the album was still not ready.

With hindsight, I can see that there wasn’t a hit single on the album, nor was I willing to play the part of a ‘Star’. So EMI were faced with the dilemma of what to do. Nobody at the company was particularly forthcoming with good creative ideas. I hated everything that they suggested and I didn’t even know what I wanted myself. The company was also going through massive internal restructuring and nobody’s job was safe. They were restyling themselves as a ‘Pop’ label and were getting rid of ‘dead wood’. I hated going to the EMI offices at this stage. I began to feel like I was a liability - that all this money had been spent and there was nothing to show for it. After a couple of months, things changed drastically. Suddenly, the guy who signed me said he was leaving and asked me to go with him.

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