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INTERVIEW: JUSTIN CURRIE, del Amitri – Feb 2023

| 7 February 2023 | Reply

INTERVIEW: JUSTIN CURRIE, del Amitri – Feb 2023
By Shane Pinnegar

del Amitri [the little ‘d’ is how they prefer it] return to Australia this month for the first time since 1990, when they toured on the back of their breakthrough second album Waking Hours. That album climbed to #8 in the Australian charts, with singles Kiss This Thing Goodbye, Stone Cold Sober and Nothing Ever Happens all hitting the Top 50.

The band released another four albums before taking a hiatus in 2002, selling around six million records all up. Chief songwriter, singer and bassist Justin Currie steered the ship along with guitarist Iain Harvie as other musicians came and went, most notably Andy Alston on keyboards since 1989. Currie’s established a successful solo career since, releasing four albums under his own name, and reunited with Harvie and Alston, as well as former del Amitri guitarist Kris Dollimore and drummer Ashley Soan, in 2013.

It took until 2021 to release another studio record, titled Fatal Mistakes – but don’t be fooled into thinking the title betrays a regretful view of their almost-but-not-quite-huge career. Currie humbly tells SHANE PINNEGAR that he feels very privileged to have the career he’s had and keep doing what he loves rather than having to resort to getting a “real job”.

“Yes, it’s a privilege and an unexpected luxury.

“I mean, really, we’ve just kind of kept the wages being paid by still having songs played on the radio. And that’s just like, you know, that’s not our doing, really – if anything, that’s because the people who worked for A&M [Record label] were so diligent and good at their jobs in the 1990’s.

“So, I’m eternally thankful that I don’t have to work in a restaurant! I mean, I liked working in restaurants when I was young, but I couldn’t do it now.

“Also, what happened in the great internet wars, the Napster Wars, is that all the money and music went out of recorded music and then went into the live arena. So, we were kind of quite fortunate in that we sort of missed out that whole period where music was ostensibly free, and ticket prices were incredibly cheap because they were all subsidised by the Recording Industry.

“By the time we went back on the road, ticket prices were five, six times what they were in the 90’s and we could make a living playing. So yeah – total luck. And I’m forever grateful to the fates that that’s the case.”

Chatting to Currie from his home in Glasgow, it’s easy to see that he’s relaxed and looking forward to heading Down Under for a respite from Scotland’s cold winter, even admitting that he’s “looking forward to packing my shorts.”


One thing he says he won’t be doing is a repeat performance of reliving that 1990 tour – a tour he’s stated in interviews was “one of the highlights of our career.”

“That’s the last time we toured – we did a very brief promo tour in 1992, we were just there for a week. I don’t think… we might have been in Perth, but I only really remember being on the east coast.

“We certainly will not be able to relive any of that,” he chuckles, “because we were in our mid-20s, and we had the energy to do shitloads of promo during the day, do the gigs at night and then go out ‘til four in the morning. And I don’t know how we did it! Well, I do know how we did it – we were young!

“And that tour was just incredibly special. Because we’d had a really busy year, it started when we had a big hit in the UK, and then we kind of got stuck in America. We got stuck on a tour of these sheds and arenas in America supporting an act called Melissa Etheridge, which was a real grind, playing to half empty auditoriums.

“And so, we came right off the back of that, and Australia was just a complete breath of fresh air compared to what we’d been doing for most of that summer. Everybody just seemed so unpretentious. And, you know, I love America, I love touring America: but when you’re only meeting radio guys and promo people, it can start to go a bit Spinal Tap – and Australia, all the Australians we met in 1990, were the complete opposite of that. They were just, like, normal people. So yeah, we’ve extremely fond memories, and we just had a great time, you know?”

After Australia, the band are off to America for two months in June and July. Rather than feeling exhausted by the long stints in hotels and tour buses, Currie says they’re looking forward to the time on the road.

“I think we find it a lot more enjoyable [than in the ‘90s] because we don’t have promo to do during the day. In America in the mid-90s. because we had a big pop hit there that was on the radio – well, it’s still on the bloody radio! – we were doing tons of extracurricular stuff. So, sometimes we’d do morning [radio] shows, we’d do five or six acoustic performances a day before the soundcheck, we’d do things after the soundcheck, we’d have meet and greets with the all the radio people after the shows… and that became incredibly exhausting. And it’s also very hard to do with a beer in your hand!

“So, it just became really knackering. When we came back in 2014, and were touring without a record company, and without any new music, it was just a joy because it was just about the gigs. And also on the last American tour, because we didn’t have promo to do – well, at one point we did the Jimmy Kimmel show and that was it. So, you roll off the bus at half 10 In the morning, go and get breakfast and then just get to explore whatever city you’re in for five or six hours. You can go to an art gallery, go to the cinema, you could go to the park, you know. So that’s really good, because we didn’t really see a lot of these places in the 90’s ‘cos we were just in radio stations constantly.”

Having mentioned Spinal Tap, I wonder if there were any ‘Artie Fufkin’-type Spinal Tap moments he recalls from those 90’s tours.

“LOTS of that, yeah! I mean, the A&M people on the road were really nice. They were like proper human beings, but the problem would be when you’d have all these people your dressing room after the gigs, and there’d be, you know, the radio programmer’s wife’s cousin, who was like a flight instructor, and you just end up speaking to these absolute bullshit artists!

“Like, why the fuck am I speaking to this guy?!?” he laughs.

“So, in those days in America… I’m sure it’s still the same – the whole music industry just runs on meeting people, and you know, you’ve got to be kind of on your best behaviour all the time as well. And it’s kind of not what you signed up for at all, you know, so, yeah, we don’t miss that side of it at all.”

Fatal Mistake was released in 2021, but actually recorded over a three-week period in March 2020, just before the Coronavirus pandemic turned the world upside down.

“Yeah, it was very strange. Kind of, the cordon was closing in as we were doing the last bits of percussion and backing vocals. And then we actually got all the gear out on the Thursday, because we were afraid the gear’s gonna get stuck [in the studio]. Then we scarpered on the Sunday and the [first UK] lockdown started on the Monday – so it was kind of like, ‘get out of dodge!’ It was pretty bonkers. Actually, it was a very, very strange time – as it was for everybody, absolutely.”

Having finished the album, that provided something stable for Currie and his bandmates to focus on as that anxious time and the months of isolation began.

“Yes, it was a relief that we got the thing recorded before – it would have become impossible to record it. Mixing remotely was tricky – kind of mixing by email – it was not easy. It took us four months to mix the thing, it should’ve taken two weeks.

“But yeah, you’re right. It gave us stuff to do, [we could] focus on doing the artwork [etc]. I mean, it was like five months before we could do a photo session, you know!

“So yeah, I kind of enjoyed the first bit of the lockdown. I quite enjoyed being able to walk down the middle of the street in Glasgow with no traffic – that was quite something. But it was a bit frustrating, just on a really selfish level, that the album should have come out in the [UK] autumn of 2020 and it didn’t come out till the spring of 2021. So that was a bit frustrating – but, yeah, there was stuff to do.”

Currie has said in other interviews that he couldn’t write anything of substance during lockdown. It’s a sentiment shared by many artists – all that free time, we thought we’d finish a novel or another album of songs, or paint a masterpiece, when in actual fact the insular fishbowl we were in did not lend itself to creative pursuits as we thought it would.

“Yeah, I did write things. But they were just… they were what any – every – other songwriter in the world would be writing and what every other person in the world is thinking, which is ‘why are we locked up?’, and ‘this is very odd’, you know? So, what I said was that it seems to me that the whole point of writing songs is to write from a personal perspective, but hopefully, find something universal in that. Whereas lockdown was the opposite thing: where the private experience WAS universal, because everybody was experiencing it all over the world, the same thing – they were all leaving the house to exercise once a day, and then we’re going to the bloody shop every five days to buy food.

“So, I just didn’t think there was any space in there to find something unique to write about, you know, and I’ve heard other people say the same thing. I’ve also heard some people say they loved it, and they got loads of work done. I found that I just kind of froze – I found it really tricky. I generally I tend to write after I’ve been in the pub, you know, talking to a stranger. And the one thing I found very odd about Glasgow during lockdown is that Glasgow’s not a city about buildings and architecture and infrastructure. It’s really just about the people. And it’s quite a villagey sort of town, so when you go out – and if you go out a lot – you meet a lot of different kinds of people. And that that really helps songwriting because you’re meeting people that you wouldn’t normally meet, whereas in lockdown everything’s reduced to your close circle of friends and there’s nowhere new to go. So, I found it very uninspiring.

“You’ve got that low-level anxiety all the time, which I don’t think is particularly helpful creatively. And the focus was on domesticity as well, [and] domesticity is not inspiring!”

Never a truer word said. Especially during lockdown, when your faithful scribe was regularly leaving home to buy booze more often than food!

“Yeah – every three or four days, I was running to the off licence, which is not like me,” Currie agrees. “Normally I would go to the pub twice a week, but I just couldn’t take it, I was running to the off licence to get more wine!”

The very long-awaited Fatal Mistakes album did well for del Amitri, rising to the UK Top 5. A couple of years before recording it Currie was on record as being unsure if people even wanted new music from the band. Did that result answer his question positively?

“Yeah. I think when the news came out that we were making another record, then people seemed genuinely excited about it. In fact, I didn’t want to make a del Amitri record at all – Iain did. It took me like a year or so to make up my mind, and one of the things that persuaded me was just speaking to my friends in the pub.

“I thought all my friends were gonna be like, ‘don’t do that, that’s a bad idea.’ But, to a person, they were very enthusiastic, and thought it was a great idea. So really, it was other people’s enthusiasm for it that kind of got me thinking maybe it was a good idea. And it was a joy for me, I have to say, I’m really glad we did it – though it was slightly tough to write because I’d been making solo records. So, it took me a few months to get my head into that space of writing for those specific musicians and writing in a way where you’re singing from a collective point of view, rather than seeing it from a very personal point of view. But once I got my head around that I found it quite easy and quite fun.”

Having had a few people in and out of the band over the years, is it hard work to make sure that no matter who’s playing in the line-up, it sounds like del Amitri and it’s got that del Amitri vibe to it?

“Well, no, because the players that come in are hired because the kind of noise that they make suits us. And they also know what del Amitri is: It’s melodic, it’s guitar driven, there’s a lot of 60’s influence and a lot of 70’s influence, and it’s got a kind of roots element. I can’t think of any musician that we’ve played with over the years that hasn’t come from that sort of a background in terms of what they listen to and how they play.

“Also, when we made this record, we decided who from which line-up was going to be in this line-up. So we knew who the musicians were when we were writing the songs, that was quite helpful, because we were thinking, oh, Ashley could do something really interesting with this, or Kris could do something really interesting here. So that really helped actually, knowing who it was we were writing for.”

Researching an interview is always a deep dive, and a band’s website is a good place to start. From the eloquent and detailed biography on, a link took me to Currie’s own website, where the self-proclaimed “attention seeking desperado punting inoffensive balladry” has a wealth of travel diaries, photography, a hilarious complaints page where random fans have sent in rants and he responds with short, laugh-out-loud retorts, and much more. It’s enough to spur the question: does he feel a frustrated travel writer-slash-photographer-slash-stand-up comedian sometimes, or want to have a crack at some long-form prose?

“I’ve not looked at [the Complaints page] for six years! Oh, God, no. I’m a terrible prose writer. But writing a tour diary is a brilliant way of killing dead time. I started doing it just to try and get my website up and running – d’you know what, it was partly because of Myspace. I really loved MySpace, because it was just about music – that was the only social media I ever really got involved with. So when MySpace started failing, my website became kind of the only portal through which I could communicate. So I thought I’d better write something, you know, other than just daft wee jokes and things.

“I don’t find writing prose easy, but I find that easy, because you’re just describing what’s in front of you – you’re just opening the van door and going, ‘oh, there’s a man being sick,’ you know, whatever it is. So, yeah, really brilliant way to kill time. I still quite enjoy doing those. I don’t do them if I don’t feel a sort of calling to do it. I just do it if there’s something in my head that I want to get out, or if I look out the window and see something I want to describe, I’ll do it. But there’s a few gigs I’ve just thought, I’m not going to do that. And often if you’re having a really good time, like if you’re doing a festival and you’re hanging out with a lot of people, then I’m not going to write about that stuff. I don’t want it to be about my private life. I just want it to be about what you can see from the road basically.”

The Human Condition as seen through the eyes of a touring musician, or some such cliched wanky label?

“Yeah, exactly!” Currie grins. “It’s just a sort of diary, you know? I wrote a lot of poetry as a teenager – and then I realised that I wasn’t a very good poet, but I could sort-of write lyrics. I haven’t been tempted [to write any long-form prose]. I mean, I’ve been asked. And I’ve written a few things for newspapers over the years.

“The problem with songwriters whenever they write prose, they just tend to overdo it, you know? I mean, have you tried reading Morrisey’s book?” he laughs. “It’s about economy. You know, it’s not about floweriness. If I look at my tour diary stuff from a couple of years ago, I just… I’d just take most of it out. It’s like, why? Why two adverbs? Why three adjectives? You know, that’s just wanky!

“And the kind of stuff I like to read, it’s not like that: it’s economical, and it really hits you. So no, it’s not something I would be competent at at all.”

Wrapping up, I ask Currie if he and his bandmates felt that it was all going to work out when they first struck the by-now-familiar formula in the early days of del Amitri – when they found their sound, found the voice that John Peel would soon champion, and got their first record deal?

“Well, hmmm… there were two things that were happening. We were an indie band in the early-mid-80’s, with a very niche audience, a very small, niche audience. And we weren’t really making any money. And we had a record deal for a couple of years, and then we had a publishing deal. For a lot of the 80’s we were working full-time, part-time jobs just to pay the rehearsal bills. But then when we started writing quite commercial sounding songs, I think we realised we belonged in the mainstream, we didn’t really belong in that kind of indie ghetto.

“So, then it became a case of how do we do that? How do we get there? And that was quite difficult, because we didn’t know, you know. We knew how to be an indie band. We didn’t know how to be a sort of mainstream rock band.

“We were helped along the way by our managers, and by the record company, and we did some stupid things. But eventually, we found this sort of place to be in the mainstream, which wasn’t cool, and wasn’t to do with style, and was just… we kind of presented ourselves as pub rockers or something. We sort of sold ourselves as just blokes, you know. We weren’t artistes or anything, and we tried to look like we weren’t taking ourselves terribly seriously – of course, we WERE taking ourselves very seriously!

“And the thing that that made everything easy for us was having radio hits, because that meant we got paid, and it meant we could make a living without being famous. We weren’t an MTV band, we were a radio band.

“And that was really fortuitous because it allowed us just to do what we wanted: we could do the kind of gigs we wanted. We didn’t have to dress up and go to poncey award ceremonies, and we didn’t have to talk to the tabloids. So we always kind of had the best of both worlds, really, and that was just because we loved radio and radio loved us. So that was really fortuitous.”

Finally, I suggest that it’s fair to say that del Amitri like a drink. I certainly didn’t expect Currie’s very responsible answer.

“Yeah! Well, I’m too old to party before or after gigs now! The last time I had a drink on the road it was pretty disastrous: I nearly blew a gig in Canada. So I won’t be having a drink ‘til after the last show, sadly – but I’ll make up for it at that point, I’m sure.”

Tour Dates
18 February, 2023 – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
15 February, 2023 – Astor Theatre, Perth
16 February, 2023 – Astor Theatre, Perth
21 February, 2023 – Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane
23 February, 2023 – Palais Theatre, Melbourne
25 February, 2023 – Town Hall, Auckland
26 February, 2023 – Town Hall, Christchurch
28 February, 2023 – Enmore Theatre, Sydney


Category: Interviews

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