Music Interview: Mike Scott – Careful Chemistry, Or An Eye On The Whole Of The Tune

November 16, 2022




The Waterboys are playing shows at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town (25 November) and at Marks Park in Johannesburg (27 November) as part of their first South African tour. The band has been around in one form or another since 1983 with the pivot around which everything revolves being singer and songwriter Mike Scott, a constant in the flux.


The current line-up of The Waterboys is pretty settled, but there have been a great many different musicians – and different types of musicians – associated with the band. Has that ever affected the way you go about writing the songs?

No. I’ve never written for particular musicians that I was playing with. The way the music comes out; it can go any way it wants. But a line-up can inspire me to write. When, for instance, we had David Hood on bass – he was from Muscle Shoals – and Brother Paul Brown, who’s still with me, on keyboards, I really had an appreciation of that American engine driving what we were doing.


Is there such a thing as a perfect line-up?

I don’t know. There were certainly players of the past I wish I had played with, or played with more. Nicky Hopkins [who contributed to material from The Kinks, The Who, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, among many others], for example, was such a great piano player. But it just never occurred to me to hire him, which is a bit sad. You also need to remember that however good a player someone is, there has to be great chemistry. Otherwise it won’t work.


How, with the sort of range of styles you play, do you decide what goes together as an album?

I put on the songs that I think are the best. Sometimes there are themes, like with [2010 release] An Appointment With Mr Yeats, where all the songs were based on the work of the poet WB Yeats, but often there’s nothing like that. I’m actually working on another themed record now, but I can’t say too much about that, because that’s the album after the next album, so there’s still quite a lot of work to do. Usually what happens is that we use about two-thirds of the songs that we record in one of our “catchment periods” – the best from that time. The ones that don’t get used might still turn up as bonus tracks or something. And we don’t need to always be together to work on songs anymore. Brother Paul lives in Nashville [Scott is based in Dublin], but he’s my most regular collaborator. We’re forever sending ideas back and forth, mp3s and Wav files. My 20-year-old self would never even have dreamed of making a record like this, but you can now.