You'll find seven studio albums by The Waterboys in record stores. But it would be a misnomer to call The Waterboys a "band." Scottish singer and songwriter Mike Scott is The Waterboys. When he feels like it, Mr. Scott also releases records under his own name. But The Waterboys moniker has been dusted off for the first time since 1993 for a new album, "A Rock in a Weary Land" (Razor & Tie).
"I made 'A Rock in the Weary Land' not knowing, when I began, if it was going to be a Mike Scott record or a Waterboys record. To me, it's all Mike Scott music. It's me and my latest musical traveling companions," Scott explains, sitting in a Boston hotel room earlier this year.
But there is a distinct difference to the sound of The Waterboys music: their combinations of guitars, mandolins, trumpets, saxophones, pianos, and fiddles have long been known to fans as "the big music," named after a track by that name on the band's second album, "A Pagan Place" (1984). The new album, though dominated by muscular electric guitar, retains that commitment to a big-canvas sound. It even employs the London Community Gospel choir to put wind into the sails of the album's majestic title track.
"My wife is a bit of a foundation for me," Scott says of the song. "She's my rock in a weary land. Everybody needs a 'rock' person. I'm glad that I've found mine."
Dressed in an elegant velvet jacket that only rock stars seem able to wear with panache, Scott gets excited when he talks about the return of Irish violinist Steve Wickham to the coalition of musicians assembled for a tour and future album releases. Waterboys fans have a deep affinity for Wickham, whose fiddle-playing was the centerpiece of the 1987 masterpiece "Fisherman's Blues" and its popular title track (as heard in the movies "Good Will Hunting" and "Waking Ned Devine").
"We'll be more of a band assembly from here on. But I'm the musical director, so that doesn't change," Scott says of the upcoming 18-date Waterboys tour of America. It's their first tour in 10 years.
These days, the Edinburgh-born songwriter lives in London, to be close to a hub of studios and musicians. "I'm not living there for the scenery or the peace and quiet, that's for sure," he says wryly.
The city's influence is tangible in the new lyrics like the song "Dumbing Down." London, Scott says, is the epicenter of a dumbing down of the culture. "I don't think it is a well place. It needs a lot of healing," he says. One symptom of the problem, he says, is celebrity worship.
"In Britain, there is a culture of self-loathing," Scott says, leaning forward intently in his chair. "And one way of expressing that self-hatred is to turn people, especially people who don't have a great talent, into celebrities and then watch them disintegrate in the public eye. I think there's a feasting of that in England."
The singer says his experience of living in other countries has allowed him to look back at England with new perspective.
"[In America], there is a lot of clarity and optimism, and it's not unfashionable to be positive. There are a lot of very great souls at work in America, and I mean people like Oprah Winfrey. Fortunately, she's on TV every day in Britain," he says emphatically in his soft voice.
Scott is excited by a lot of new bands on the scene, but wishes they, too, weren't so fashionably cynical. "I think some groups have a lot of consciousness in their music - Radiohead springs to mind, or Beck. Marvellous development in the music, but the lyrics kind of leave me cold.
"I have to go back in time or to other types of music to get any spiritual sustenance at the moment - Peter Gabriel records, or maybe some Kate Bush, Bob Dylan, or Van Morrison records," says the singer, whose own lyrics have been influenced by C.S. Lewis and W.B. Yeats.
"I always thought there was more to this music than sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll," Scott says. "It should be more than that, and if it's not, it's failed. I really believe that."
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