Without a new album to promote, Damon Gough, a.k.a. Badly Drawn Boy, is making the rounds in the U.S. without the obligatory constraints that come with touring, like set lists that tilt toward the most recent album and an itinerary that bounces from one major market to the next.
"I wanted this tour to be more relaxed," Gough says. "It's kind of just coming back to say hello because it's been a year since I played out here. I'm playing a lot of places I've never played before, which is quite nice: Albany, Brooklyn, Rochester."
And while he isn't plugging a release, Gough is using the opportunity to road-test some material that will appear on his fourth album, due in the spring. Gough has been working on the album on and off since the release of Have You Fed the Fish? last year. After working with producer Tom Rothrock (Beck, Elliott Smith) on his first three records, Gough chose to hunker down for the fourth with his friend and partner in the Twisted Nerve label Andy Votel. They are recording in Manchester, England, this time, not Los Angeles.
"The time just felt right to stay near home," Gough says. "I just woke up one morning and thought we needed a break. Not that we weren't getting on. Just that we had made three in a row, and I can always make a record with Tom. It fascinates me, how the choice of location has an effect on the ultimate sound of the record. If I had worked in Los Angeles again, I would've made a different record. And it may have been the best record ever, but I think this one is probably my best record yet, as long as I get the order right."
More than half of the record is mixed, and Gough and Votel are now in the process of finding that right order. The tour might also have some influence on the album's final song selection. Initially planned as a solo acoustic jaunt, Gough ended up bringing the album's bassist and drummer along, though they only make sporadic appearances on stage. "I wanted them for company as much as anything," he says, "and then just have some fun and play the music. I do most of the show solo, but then I'm bringing the guys on when we feel like playing one of the new songs. It's a strange thing, some songs are really exciting immediately, others are a battle to get right. But it's exciting to be airing them on the road, when they're not even out of the studio yet."
Among the new cuts being considered for the new album is "Another Devil's Eyes," which -- like other Badly Drawn Boy songs ("Something to Talk About," "Magic in the Air") -- features a bit of Bacharachian melodic influence. "It started out wanting to sound like mariachi trumpets," he says. "But I didn't like it in that world, so I re-dressed it and played it on piano. I like a bit of cheese, and Burt's not afraid to be a little gratuitous with melody. That's kind of where I live in my head with music -- I'm a sucker for melody."
And while Gough describes that song as one of the more elaborate ones, he thinks the overall album will be a bit quieter than his previous efforts. "I really wanted this album to be the most minimal I've made," he says. "It's still got my hallmarks, but it's definitely not as grand as Fish. I feel different, I feel more mature, and I think it sounds like a more mature record."