This dapperly dishevelled Londoner has recently released one of the highlights of his 20-year-plus career, the I Thought I Was Better Than You album and is about to go out touring it. That was Teresa Delfino’s cue to speak to Baxter Dury about his parental connections – and not the one you might think – rap leanings and the positive side of nerves.
Your book suggests that your mother was Welsh – what’s your family connection there?
Baxter Dury: Well, she wasn’t strictly Welsh. She did grow up there – my grandparents were actually from Liverpool, but they ran Newport College Of Art. My stepdad was from Cardiff, so there’s a big connection and I’ve spent a lot of time in Newport, which was quite a tough place then and is still now, I imagine. I liked it a lot, but there’s quite a weird contrast between London and Newport. In some ways Newport is more real, more down to earth.
Getting right to it, it feels like your album is very fitting in following your book. It’s sort of a musical reflection of some of the experiences you discussed in [2021 memoir] Chaise Longue. There’s a lot of vulnerability and introspection with some of that music: what was your process like with your songwriting there?
Baxter Dury: I didn’t really overthink it too much. The new music isn’t too autobiographical, but I extracted some of the details, names, feelings, to make something. I sort of churned it up into the abstract songwriting world which isn’t meant to be burdened with truth.
For me, music is so surreal that it doesn’t really need to end, start, or be too real. It’s seasoned with a few truthful references and that’s really it. It’s meant to be mythology in music. I tried to steal some of the hip-hop devices, but beyond that it’s quite impulsive.
Why did it feel right to explore the experiences that we hear throughout your album, at this particular moment in your career? Why now?
Baxter Dury: It just happened to be that I’d done one thing and that had inspired it. There’s not a great depth to it beyond an inspiration point. Whereas the book – even the book bullshits itself through. I’m not very journalistic, it wasn’t very accurate or on a timeline.
But the songwriting is just a free-for-all, say what you want – a magical interpretation. Every now and then there’s a reference to something that is real, which kind of grounds it. There wasn’t any great cathartic moment in my life – it just made sense.
Talking about some of the themes that ground your music, you can hear nepotism being one of them. Nepotism is really topical in society at the moment. You hear glimmers of that in So Much Money and Leon and Shadow in particular, a sort of like a reasoning with your identity in that abstract way that you described. As a self-proclaimed nepo child, what has that reasoning process been like for you?
Baxter Dury: I’m sort of serving myself up before anyone critiques me. It was pre-empting the nepo baby term – it was just quite apt that it went into it all. I’m quite an open and honest person. I’m thinking, this is quite interesting; how can I validate myself here? What does this mean? Isn’t it quite interesting if you’re connected to somebody?
Throughout my childhood in a very class-divided London, you’re always at odds with either side of any of it. The posh kids think you’re poor and the poor kids think you’re posh. So with the album, I wasn’t trying to say one thing is right or wrong. To talk about it can be dangerous these days because if you talk about it, I mean you can be condemned!
But standing on the many pyramidic sides… obviously, and openly, they should be sensitive about who they are, but if people feel like they’ve been granted too much to arrive somewhere, it all boils down to that doesn’t it? Who is this person? Does he have permission to be recognised as something good? Or is it just bloodline and all that shit?
You’ve said there wasn’t a cathartic moment for you, but reflecting on writing your book and then following that with your album, do you think you’ve learned anything about yourself?
Baxter Dury: Well, writing a book you learn – my god, that’s quite difficult! Fingers up to anyone, including myself, that doubts you. And just completing a new thing is always a good thing. I always forget how my interests fade quite quickly: I complete something, love it, think it’s the best, then I’m bored.
Are you starting to teeter on feeling sick about talking about nepotism?
Baxter Dury: I’d like to make an album now with really facile music that’s not about anything. Really kind of irrelevant stuff that’s just music, dance music.
On I Thought I Was Better Than You, working with Paul White, his hip-hop beats feel very stripped back. What was the main decider in that?
Baxter Dury: Just cos you suddenly don’t have a band, you don’t have to perform everything in a day and please everybody. There’s a lot of creative control when using machines and samples – you can do a lot on your own. I really liked that process for once, sort of de-unionising it all. I’m in a good position where I can do what I want, really – my present style that anchors it is enough for it to always sound connected, so it doesn’t really matter what I do.
You’re inspired by Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar and hip-hop in general – why do you think you connect with it on a certain level?
Baxter Dury: The way we grew up was always about a lot of jazz, funk and Black music was played. I was always more influenced or taught about that. I never really knew about 80s indie music. Bowie and the Beatles – I didn’t even really listen to them until I was in my 20s. We were just more surrounded by Black American music, dad listened to all of that. That really was the foundation to my interests and stayed with me.
You’re about to be on the road again with a near sell-out tour: do you enjoy touring?
Baxter Dury: Aspects of it. Flying I don’t love – I find airports indignant. But then the team that we have, the band, everyone, they’re so nice, and good and brilliant. I love performing with them; we’ve got a really strong bond and interest collectively to make it good.
Do I like being in coaches, sleeping? No. I don’t like eating service food. I will not eat a carcinogenic sausage! I think some people might not care so much, but I cannot eat carcinogenic sausages. So that aspect I find a little bit tough. But I do love performing. Once you’re in the middle of the tour you forget – the home fades, and you think, this is where I belong.
Well, you play such an emphatic character in your live performances. Do you ever get nervous before, or does it all come quite naturally to you?
Baxter Dury: You learn there are good nerves; you need those to pin you back onto the stage. Otherwise, you don’t care so much when you’re not nervous. There’s positive nerves and negative nerves. I think, eventually, anyone that does sports or music or anything like that learns about the positive nerves. You get quite addicted to them.
Baxter Dury, Tramshed, Cardiff, Thursday 12 Oct.
Tickets: £20. Info: here
words TERESA DELFINO