Interview with Mike Scott of the Waterboys

Songwriter Mike Scott of the Waterboys has always been of the more literate sort. Poet William Butler Yeats has been a touchstone for him more than a few times throughout the years. There was "The Stolen Child" in 1988 from the Fisherman’s Blues album and "Love and Death" on the album Dream Harder in 1993.

But on his band's latest album, An Appointment with Mr. Yeats in 2011, Scott lets Yeats steal the show. The whole of the album's lyrics come from the famous Irish poet. In doing this, Scott seems to put himself more squarely in the tradition of bards.

Given my hankering for both poetry and music, Scott was one interview I couldn't pass up. The following questions were prepared for Scott in advance of his upcoming New Jersey shows with the Waterboys, who you may remember from their 80s hit, "The Whole of the Moon."

Q: You put Yeats to music in "The Stolen Child" from the Fisherman’s Blues album and of course he is the inspiration behind the latest album. What is your connection to Yeats?

A: My mum, who is a college lecturer, used to talk about him in hushed tones. So I grew up with the idea of Yeats as the great master poet. I read his poetry in my teens and liked it but didn't understand it.  Came back to it in my 20s when I was more ready for him.  As for my connection - well, I like his power, the archetypal authority he assumes when he writes, his understanding of subtler worlds, of human processes.  And I share his interests - love, mythology, the mystic, Ireland, etc.

Q: My column typically features interviews with poets and musicians. To me, poetry and music are real-life miracles that we can take part in, right here and now on earth. But whenever I say that out loud I typically get blank stares. Do you see a connection between poetry and music?

A: I think poetry works with music in two ways: 1) as recitation, sympathetically read over appropriate musical soundtrack.  It's quite an art, getting it right.  And 2) as the setting of poem sung to music as a melody, which is also an art and in most cases requires of the poem that it rhyme and scan like a song lyric.

Q: Are there similarities in the effects that poetry and music have on you?

A:  I experience them in their pure forms quite differently.  Poetry acts on my mind first as a route to emotion and spirit.  Music works on the emotion and spirit first and needn't even engage the mind.

Q: What aspects of a song might make it a more spiritual song?

A: Subject, attitude/intention of writer, experience of writer, honesty of writer.

Q: Your band has been through many incarnations. Your art keeps evolving. Do you have a concept of something that you are reaching for with your art?

A: Nope.  I just follow the music where it leads and explore my current fascinations!  I'm competitive though - I want to be the best of my generation. I know that's a low form of desire, but I have the range of it and it doesn't do me or anyone else any harm. On the contrary, I use it as a spur.

Q: "An Appointment With Mr. Yeats" has been years in the making. It started as a live show, right? Tell me about how the album evolved.

A: It began as a live show containing 20 Yeats poems turned into songs. We presented it at The Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in 2010. Yeats founded that theater in the early 1900s, and it's Ireland's national theater, so it was important to me that we present the work there. It was a success and we subsequently took the show round Ireland and UK. The album came second. I think of it like a Broadway show. You get the show first and later there's a soundtrack album.

Q: Did you feel like you were collaborating with Yeats as you worked on the music?

A: No.  He wasn't in the room with me.  His poems were, and I let them direct me - as in the rhythm of the poem would suggest the rhythm of the song, the color of the poem's scenes suggested musical moods, etc. - but not his personality as such.  I'm in awe of Yeats' talent, his skill, but not his reputation, and I wasn't intimidated in any way.

The Waterboys come to Bergen Performing Arts Center on Sept. 25 and the Mayo Performing Arts Center on Sept. 28.

No comments:

Post a Comment