Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

Death Before Silence: Ed Harcourt’s Favourite Albums

Singer, songwriter, pianist and all-round bon viveur Ed Harcourt talks to Wyndham Wallace about his favourite records

Photograph courtesy of Steve Gullick

“I actually have ‘Death Before Silence’ tattooed on my arm,” Ed Harcourt laughs, and after ninety minutes of talking about his Baker’s Dozen it comes as little surprise. Garrulous almost to a fault, the London born son of a military officer is – despite the fact he’s been up since 6am and it’s now mid-evening – full of an infectious, excitable energy that provokes him to pepper his conversation with anecdotes and unexpected recollections. “Last time we met I was holed up in a hotel in Dundee rapping about pygmies,” he reminds me. “Halcyon days, man. Everything’s gone to shit now!”

So indefatigable is he that, despite having only just released his sixth album – Back Into The Woods, a sparse, piano-focussed collection recorded at Abbey Road Studios in just six hours – he’s already spilling the beans about the one that’ll follow.

“I’ve been making it for three years,” he confides. “I went a bit mad. I had to have a break from it. That’s why I wrote Back Into The Woods as a reaction: stripped down, confessional songs, whereas the songs that I was doing for this record are much more aloof and detached and cold. It’s going to be a very definite shift in sound, and I kind of need to do that. There’s only so many melancholic piano albums you can make!”

Twelve years after his Mercury Music Prize-nominated debut, Here Be Monsters, this eloquent, often outspoken Englishman has lost none of the passion that first inspired him, though his profile since has never quite matched that of his early days on Heavenly Records. He denies that his latest collection’s closing track, ‘The Man That Time Forgot’, refers to the state of his career – he parted ways with EMI Records And Publishing, as well as his management, six years ago – but concedes that: “There has been a slight broken record syndrome when people have talked about me: ‘Why did you fall by the wayside as an artist?’ I don’t really understand what they’re talking about, because I’ve always just kept on doing what I’m doing. I started off being very, very hyped, and I had a lot of money thrown at me, and I think it was too much too soon. But I think one of the things I realised in retrospect is that I’m a bit too indie for mainstream, and I’m probably too mainstream for indie.”

Quite apart from releasing Back Into The Woods, and of course working on the new album he’s promising – which is due to be produced by Flood and looks set to feature guests including Van Dyke Parks and Angelo Badalamenti; “It’s mainly going to be a namedropping record, really!”, he says – Harcourt currently spends time collaborating with other writers to keep himself busy. These have included Blue Note artist Kristina Train and BBC Sounds Of 2012 nominee Ren Harvieu.

“I just needed a break from doing my own stuff,” he elaborates. “I decided to get into the whole co-writing thing. I’ve got my studio, which is on Beethoven Street, unbelievably – although I’m more of a Mozart fan – and I’m above Paul Epworth, who does Adele and Florence and all those people, which is amazing, but can also be quite difficult because he’s at the Oscars and the Golden Globes and I’m completely broke! I’ve been working with a lot of female singers, everyone from Lissy to Paloma Faith to Josephine, and I started working with two guys from LA who wrote with Ne-Yo and Usher. I just thought, ‘Fuck it, I really want to try it.’”

He pours himself a glass of red wine and laughs before continuing. “I’m waiting for that big pop hit that will fund my industrial instrumental album. I’m going to make an album called Chopping Wood [which will be] just the sound of me chopping wood in a forest. In order to get the microphones and the right software and recording equipment to do that I need to write a pop hit. I’m 35-years-old and I don’t really care about being a music snob and being indier than thou anymore.”

This is something that’s clearly reflected in the wide range of music he’s picked for his Baker’s Dozen, and narrowing down the field apparently required a great deal of energy. Even as he discusses his final selection, he agonises over whether perhaps he should have chosen other records instead.

“It was really, really difficult, obviously,” he sighs. “They’re snippets of time for me. They remind me of certain moments in the last 15, 20 years, I guess. There’s a few that I left out. It was really hard. I think they’re records that I just always keep coming back to. They have a hold over me that I can’t really deny or escape from.”

To browse through Ed’s 13 favourite albums click on the photo below

First Record

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