December 7, 2015 Interview – Nick Van Eede of Cutting Crew
Come together over three decades ago, English Rock band Cutting Crew made a big splash from the start with their debut record Broadcast in 1986. While of course the mainstream widely recognize the band for their chart-topping hit singles “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” and “I’ve Been in Love Before,” like many musicians, the roots of Cutting Crew run much deeper. Considered part of the New Wave genre which dominated airwaves in the ’80s, Cutting Crew is a band which derive influence from a variety of genres ranging from Classic Rock, to Blues, to Jazz, and more.
Now a decade after their 2005 studio record Grinning Souls, Cutting Crew are back with a brand new record entitled Add To Favourites. A reflection of lead singer/songwriter Nick Van Eede’s journey through music, the record is a surprising and compelling listen at the same time. Recently we caught up with Van Eede for a closer look at the success of Cutting Crew, his experience working in the music industry, the new record, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Cutting Crew was established over three decades ago. In that time you have attained a series of chart-topping singles and built a really strong name within the music world. First, tell us, what has this incredible journey been like for yourself?
Nick Van Eede – I am sure, in many of your interviews, you have people that they knocked around the industry for many years. We finally made it big when I was about 27 years old. You think you are prepared, and you never are. It just hits you like a brick around the head. It was something that went so quickly, so fast and out of control almost, with the big single, and then, really, I just looked after it. I have enjoyed the ride, I have tried to keep my voice, waistline, and friends, and it has been a good time. I do not really remember having any bad times at all.
CrypticRock.com – That is very positive that you have fond memories of it all. As you mentioned, that debut record, 1986’s Broadcast, really took off and had two huge singles on it. It seems like many artists sort of detach themselves from their singles. Sometimes they do not understand the success they have had, or sometimes they embrace those singles. How do you embrace the singles you have had success with?
Nick Van Eede – Good question. Of course, what happens is, if you are The Rolling Stones and you have thirty-two hits or U2 with twenty hits, it is different with Cutting Crew; we really had only two massive hits. One, a worldwide huge hit. They become like a passport that opens doors, or they can also be seen as sort of an albatross. It is constantly what people want to talk about and be reminded of.
In the early days, to be honest, we were very keen to shrug that off, but not for very long. When you realize that you are getting flown to do a gig in Mexico or two weeks in the Caribbean to do shows because of “(I Just) Died in Your Arms,” there is not much arguing there. I remember about two or three years of it being a bit of a bugbear. Now we have brand new versions of those songs, which are arranged, hopefully impeccably, for live shows that really do embrace and love those old songs.
CrypticRock.com – Of course, in order to keep things fresh, you want to progress in time. You were considered part of that New Wave scene early on, and you have really morphed stylistically from record to record through the years. What has inspired your creative direction through the years with Cutting Crew?
Nick Van Eede – When we first had the success, the sound just sort of happened. It was myself and Kevin MacMichael, who sadly died a few years ago now. My melodies and his guitar playing and my love of the old genesis of Pink Floyd Hammond organ together, that was the original sound. Then when you get a bit of success, you get a tiny bit more power. The second album, The Scattering (1989), evolved into a much broader kind of soundscapes, since then I had a lot of fun. I’ve always said Cutting Crew is about, and I don’t mean this is any big headed way, but it is about me standing in the middle singing songs with my voice. I have been able to use all kind of musicians over the years, that kind of gives me the freedom to carve all kinds of sounds and directions.
CrypticRock.com – It shows you as an artist of diversity to be able to try different sounds and go in different directions. It is refreshing as a listener to hear that as well.
Nick Van Eede – It is refreshing, but not always successful. If you asked a guy from North Dakota, and you asked a girl from Melbourne, Australia who is Cutting Crew, they would think of that ’80s, shall we say the big power ballad. I hate that expression, power ballad, but that is what they think. I remember it was at fourth album, Grinning Souls, after Kevin died, I was a very angry man. It was me with four young Canadian boys in their twenties, really knocked them out pretty hard. It sold so badly, but it brought good reviews (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Music is a reflection of the things that you are going through at the time and what you are feeling. Speaking of different sounds and directions, you are back with a new Cutting Crew record, the first official Cutting Crew record in over a decade. What was the writing and recording process behind Add to Favorites?
Nick Van Eede – This is my favorite album I have ever recorded, absolutely no pressure, it is not funded. I waited until I got a good batch of tunes, but the process which I am sure your readers will have heard of before. Sometimes it is easy to dress it up and make it sound like this is the way we did it.
I can show you videos of the way we recorded this album and that was a brand new band. Some guys have played it before, a brand new entourage. We set up a little tiny studio in the middle of the countryside in Sussex in England. We never moved the amps or drums or mics from the day they were first set up. The keyboards were always there, the drummer was always there. The sight lines were that I stood on the T of the T-junction where I could count the songs and you never used head phones. You had to ride that horse until you got to the end of the performance. Normally we would get it on a roundabout performance for one take and I never taught them endings. They just happened. It was scintillating, it was a fantastic thing to watch people, knowing that if they fucked up in that last chorus then you had to start again. Our rule was we won’t fix anything, you get that excitement in your performance.
CrypticRock.com – That is great, it sounds like a very organic process that you went through. It was obviously untouched. You redid a song if need to, opposed to studio magic.
Nick Van Eede – Yes, we did, and we were honest to that. I mean, okay, there was one bass guitar on low, you could fix that. That is why if you put the album on and listen to it on headphones, you will always hear Gareth Moulton’s guitar on pan left, Joolz Dunkley’s guitar on pan right, the drums as they were with the same room. There were no fancy reverbs and we had brass for the first time ever. We added brass and female singers. I was having fun, I was making a new cake. I do not care what artists say, you like to read your reviews and get some good reviews. We are getting some, it has been twp month out, so let’s bring them on (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – It is a very enjoyable listen from start to finish, and there is a variety of different genres touched on in there. One can hear some Blues, some Rock-n-Roll, some even Jazz mixed in. It is really cool to hear all these different sounds mixed into the record.
Nick Van Eede – I have been writing now for thirty years. I have got two-hundred songs published with Sony. Publicly, six of them make me money, but I have been writing a long time. I think that is what I do, that is my number 1, Nick Eede is a songwriter. Number 2, he is a singer. Number 3, he has a knack of getting good people around him and hopefully making good albums. Every interview you have done with a songwriter will touch on this, but I tried to change it. That is, you start off writing a song and it is sounding just a little bit like “Lady Madonna” and you will say, “okay, let’s pull back.” What I did was just keep going. It would start sounding a little bit like The Kinks; I am enjoying this. This sounds like a Kinks song, I am going to write the lyrics in a Ray Davies English way. That was the biggest mistake of my life. There is another song on there that is sounding a bit like Van Morrison/Jackson Browne thing going on and I am going to keep going. Foolishly or not, I just let the song be what it wanted to be and the band said, “Okay, we will play it like that.”
CrypticRock.com – Quite honestly, that makes the best music. That honesty and that ability to let things flow naturally.
Nick Van Eede – I think so. I have got important quotes in my life written on my wall in my studio in big handwriting three inches tall which I sometimes look up and read. I think it was Julian Cope from The Teardrop Explodes; I can’t remember the exact quote, but it is something like, “You have to let the song breathe. Don’t kill it too soon or else it will never be what it was meant to be.” That goes back to that thing I was saying earlier. I know a lot of young writers they start writing and they go, “It sounds a bit like something,” and they stop writing. You might be writing the next “Hey Jude,” you do not know it yet. Let it take its course, then at the end, you can say, like I do often now, “It didn’t become anything I wanted it to be,” and actually kill it at birth.
CrypticRock.com – That is a great way to write. You mentioned the lyrics of the record, these lyrics are very moving at times. These are very personal lyrics judging by the lyrical content, was it difficult for you to convey these feeling? There are some very personal topics that you touched on.
Nick Van Eede – I lost my younger brother unexpectedly, and he was my best friend. Completely different from me; he was a hunter, shooter, fisher, a beautiful man. I am all over. The last thing he would want me to do is sit down and write about his passing. So that song, “Looking for Friend,” is a cannon of jaunty, tongue-in-cheek, “I’m looking for a man in the fields, I’m looking for a guitar player, he’s probably been here about 10 years. He’s probably got a beer in his hands.” I was addressing missing dear, dear loved ones, I could never do it as a durdge. I would say I was comfortable enough to touch on things in my personal life; my wife and I not being able to have kids, that gets addressed. This time on this album, I felt very comfortable with the people around me. I had no A &R man say, “Hey Nick, this is just a little too close to the bone.” I am 57 now, I think it is time to get close to the bone.
CrypticRock.com – You do what you think is best for yourself and the music. It worked out and people are going to enjoy this record. Now you are actually doing UK dates correct?
Nick Van Eede – Cutting Crew is an odd thing, and I do not mind this going in print. We are a funny band, we are an anomaly. That is, we have sold millions of records. As a live act, we toured for about four years back in the ’80s and the ’90s, and that was it. It is a huge hole we left, I absolutely understand that to get somebody from South Carolina to come and spend $50 for a ticket, or in my local town to do the same thing, there has to be some kind of continuity there. We have never honored that before for various good reasons, it is tough.
We have been looking for gigs out in America, all we do is get some sporatic gigs. We will get tours with other bands, it seems to be the way to go now. It keeps economics sensible, we have Mexico and Trinidad. I am sure we will be out to The States sometimes next Spring with Wang Chung to do some kind of co-headers. The live side is everything, I cannot wait to strap on my Telecaster and have the girls in the bus to sing “Kept on Lovin You.” I cannot wait. I have not had that chance just yet.
CrypticRock.com – Well it will be exciting, and it will be also exciting to see you back in the United States. It is very difficult now a days for a band to tour, of any elk really. For a new band, or a band which is established, such as yourselves, and like you said, it needs to be a package deal now a days for the economics, because it is so difficult.
Nick Van Eede – It is, we just come back from Australia, I’ll put it on record, if I lose my voice today, it was the best tour I have ever done in my life. It was Go West, Paul Young, Nik Kershaw, and Cutting Crew, and it really was like how I could probably imagine those old ’60s packages. Of course we are all nearly 60 (laughs). It was so much fun. The egos got checked at the airport counter, we were like foolish children just having a great time. Sold out every night. You probably heard 15 or 16 Top 5 international hits in an evening. It is a great way of doing it, I loved every minute of it.
Of course there are times you and I would like to go out and you show me a new band who are playing a whole evening of songs you have never heard before. They are red hot, different, or they’re pushing the envelope, that has its place as well. What we have been able to do, because we are from the ’80s and the past, you have to honor people driven 200 miles to come here a song. They do not want to hear all songs from the new album. What is the scariest thing you can say to a fan, here is one from the new album (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Understood completely. You just mentioned some really personal things in your life. Life has a lot of unexpected surprises, some negative, some positive. Through it all, what have you taken away most importantly about what you have learned personally about everything? In life and musically, one can imagine they cross roads at some point.
Nick Van Eede – I cannot really ever separate the two. I am really good at what I do, but I am really shit at fixing cars. This is what I have done since I was 18 years old, and that is a blessing. When you strip all that down, one of the things that does not work with young bands, popping in the studio for a couple of hours in their early sessions and just see if there is anything I can push them in the right way; it is quite funny because I am coming in as “the expert.” One of my catchphrases is never trust “the expert.” In the music business, there are a lot of experts in the music business, but there is even more that think they are all important to be giving you advice.
In my experience, you know deep down in your heart, in your testicles, you have got a feeling why you have become a musician. Why you wrote that song in that key, it in that tempo, why you wanted to sing a little bit out of tune at that point, because it is your angry moment. Then, some man comes along who knows it all, whose got a job, and you can tell I have mentioned the A & R men a lot. A & R men are not my favorite people because they can waste your life. They can put your life on hold for two years at the flick of a wrist. Do not trust the experts, that will be number 1, number 2, enjoy it. It is a real cliché, but it is easy to realize what a blessing it is to not be working construction at 8 o’clock in the morning in January. Then, of course, I might work five hours straight on the road, and that is hard as well. It is always good to remember what you have got, whether that being life or stage. It is a bit of cliché, but you know what I am getting at.
Nick Van Eede – That is right, and of course you never know what is around the corner, whether it be good or bad. That is always the allure of the music business, or theater, or Hollywood. That dream is still there. The X Factor has kind of fucked it up a bit lately. I am not a big critic of X Factor. I think it has its place, but it has tweaked everything into a different situation. The possibility of a young guy being able to write a song like I did. I sat down one day and I wrote a song called “(I Just) Died in Your Arms.” I put some pretty bad guitars on it, a very bad keyboard intro, and I sang it as best I could, and the whole world changed for me within about eight months. That was the defining moment, I don’t remember sitting down going, “I’m going to write a hit record.” Of course I didn’t, but that is still possible, and that is the beautiful thing about the Rock -n- Roll industry.
CrypticRock.com – You just keep things in perspective and appreciate what you have. That goes for any walk of life, one imagines, whether you are talking about your family, or your career, or whatever it may be.
CrypticRock.com – Right, anything is possible. The industry has changed a lot. The way we receive music, the way we buy music, if anyone does buy it anymore unfortunately, it seems like that has gone away. What I wanted to ask you, it seems as if the sounds of the ’80s, per say, the big drums, the synthesizers, are coming back now. A lot of young bands that are going back to these sounds that were used during the ’80s, it is quite interesting. What is your opinion on the Pop Rock scene in 2015; what do you think of all this?
Nick Van Eede – Of course you are an American, so you may be hearing quite different from me, but there are bands over here that I hear like that. It is fascinating, you can tell they have hopefully gone and found one of the original keyboards and made it sound like that. What is my thoughts on it? It is kind of predictable, that cycle of life. I did want to say that I think the reason that Cutting Crew are this anomaly, finding it hard to get gigs even, is that we have become more famous than other bands from that era. Even though we did not have as many hits, we were always on the radio. I am absolutely convinced that is because Kevin and I put together a guitar based band; it was all about guitars. Of course there were some synthesizers on there, and horrible reverb (laughs).
I will tell you a story about “(I Just) Died in Your Arms,” I remember Terry Brown, who worked with Rush, producing it and he was my best friend over here in England at the moment. He did Neil Peart’s drum kit. The drums on the song sounded absolutely immaculate. When we mixed it, he was back home in Canada and an engineer take a sample of a snare drum going boom, boom, boom and put it over the top of Terry’s immaculate Ludwig black beauty snare sound. That was the ’80s I think, Terry had come from the ’70s. The ’80s was, it does not matter how good it sounds, we are going to make it sound like a piece of shit, put some reverb on it (laughs). I can remember Terry hearing the mix and going, “What have they done to this?” I told him, “Well, I am really sorry mate, I’ve got my way on just about everything, I couldn’t save your snare sound.
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) wow, that is a pretty funny story. As you said it was part of the ’80s.
Nick Van Eede – I don’t tell this story very often. “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” had hits all over Europe, not a number 1, but Top 10 everywhere. Richard Branson took us out to Virgin US, this was a new label back in 1987. He said, “Nick, look, we are going to have to make it to sound a little bit friendlier for American Radio.” I am going, “Uh huh, yeah. I’m 27 years old, I’ve waiting all my life for a hit and now you are going to start fucking around with it.” He said, “No, we will put you in good hands.” So we decamped to La Brea in Hollywood and Shelly Yakus, the engineer who was in charge with a fantastic, impeccable track record. I sat there four of the most nerve-wracking days of my life. We already had the hit, it is done, it is making people go, “This is one of the best records in 1986,” and now we are screwing.” I think Shelly felt the heat as well. He built this mountain of outboard gear, everyday another piece of equipment would come in. I never saw him for the last few days over the top of the console (laughs). He beefed up the snare, put some different reverbs and things, and a lot more bottom end to it. Of course it went to number 1, so I relaxed in the end. That was a scary moment.
CrypticRock.com – It has to be a scary moment. You have reached what you wanted to reach and then someone wants to mess with it. I had one last question, it is actually pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers all types of music, but we also cover films, particularly Horror and Science Fiction. Are you a fan of either of those genres, and do you have any favorites?
Nick Van Eede – It is not my genre, but I just saw a film on the way to Australia when you are trying to kill twenty-six hours in the airplane. It disturbed me, made me laugh, made me cry, and made me sit with my mouth open for the two hours it was on. It was called A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014). It is a fairly abstract film by a Scandinavian director. It is astonishing, some of the best cinematography, weird and scary. Two guys walking around selling Halloween masks saying, “Here’s a good mask that you might like, it’s a classic, it’s the kind of thing that scares the children.” Then those they are selling to saying, “We don’t want any of those, get out of my shop.” As they walk out of the shop and the Prussian army marches by, coming singing drinking songs. If you got two hours one night, Nick Van Eede says, “You won’t waste your two hours, I promise.”
CrypticRock.com – There are so many good films out there, especially in the Independent genre. I feel like Independent films is the route to go these days. Hollywood just rehashes the same ideas. Everything is overblown, special effects, not saying that is always the case. A lot of times it is always something that is missing, some sort of a soul.
Nick Van Eede – Well said. On that flight, I went for the easy candy, and that was San Andreas (2015), which I thought that was where there was a very beautiful woman, I can’t remember her name. It was just shocking, it was empty effects. Then I thought, “Come on Nick, you got twenty-six hours, let’s kick around.” So I found A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. Then I found a gorgeous French movie with subtitles about a girl with a beautiful voice growing up in a family of deaf people, and the fact that she never gets to use her voice because she does not have to talk. It was French, they have a way, and that is called La Famille Bélier (2014). It is beautiful; touching, gorgeous. It is just capturing life.