Intro | Writing | Recording | Finishing | The Songs  

That summer I got made redundant from my day job. Clearly, in many ways this is something you dread, and presents lots of financial insecurities. For me, however, it seemed like a one-off opportunity to take some time out, and do some writing. I have always dreamed of being able to survive from the proceeds of music, but have never managed to do so. My manager Nick said recently that I should put that out of my mind once and for all as I have no chance of ever, ever being able to live off my music. Sometimes, he makes Stephen Merchant’s character in “Extras” seem really supportive.

I figured out that I could afford to spend three months not worrying about looking for work. I set myself a date when I would have to begin looking for a job, and then got down to trying to write. I have always wondered whether I could actually fill my days writing. I remember being unemployed when I was younger and finding the days really depressing, unproductive and slow. So I approached this with a determination to structure my days and get something out of it.

I borrowed my girlfriend Bridie’s laptop and decided to learn how to use the music package on it. I have always avoided getting involved with such things, but the technology has plainly moved forward so much now that you can easily make great recordings, with unlimited use of tracks, at home. All I had to purchase was an interface lead which Jim from Spearmint helped me find for about £20. I had already bought Jim’s Pod from him; this is a kidney-shaped amp simulator – you can plug guitars or a microphone into it and manipulate the sound quite well.

After some frustrating messing around, I got the hang of it. I also established a working day of seeing Bridie off to work, a lazy breakfast, a couple of hours work in the morning, a walk to meet Bridie for lunch, a couple of hours work in the afternoon, a walk up to the swimming baths, a couple more hours work at tea-time, and then getting together with Bridie in the evenings – I loved it. In terms of writing, I was initially a bit gloomy, as I felt the weight of having a completely blank page, but once I picked up pace, I enjoyed it more and more. The three months sped by and I wrote most of the album during this period.

The initial idea of writing rocking band songs fell by the wayside – I began writing more personal love songs. Not only was I writing them, but I was demoing them quickly to a far higher standard and quality than my old cassette demos. Some of these demos appear on the finished album.

A solo album

In the autumn I started a day job again, and arranged some rehearsals with Spearmint to start fleshing out the tracks. It was around this time that the idea began to form that it would not actually be a Spearmint album, even though I was clear that I wanted to make it with the band. This was partly because it now felt such a personal batch of songs.

There was something else, however: it was clearly time to try something different with the band. I felt that less people were getting to hear Spearmint albums with each release. In a way, this does not matter – you make albums essentially for yourself, like any other art-form. It does matter though, when it means you are losing money and feeling that you are singing “into a vacuum”. I do not mind people disliking what we do, but I feel sad if people who might like it do not get to hear it. I have never wanted us to be rich or famous. Spearmint have always had very modest ambitions, but it helps to feel you are moving forwards rather than backwards.

Mind you, I understand people not rushing to hear the latest Spearmint album when we have made several already – why would they? Usually listeners are on the lookout for something brand new – not an artist who has been going for a while already. So I am hopeful that the debut album by Shirley Lee might have the chance of a little more exposure than if it was the fifth album proper by Spearmint.

Most likely, it will not fare any better than the last album, and will sell fewer copies again, but at least it is something different. There will be more Spearmint albums to come, and to me this is clearly a solo album anyway, because of the content, even though all the band play on it… in a way it is a Shirley Lee album made by Spearmint.