Glenn Tilbrook Seeks Beaded Seat Cushion

After 25 years fronting influential power-pop underdog icons Squeeze, Glenn Tilbrook shocked fans by following the final (for now) Squeeze record, 1999’s rather disappointing Domino—recorded under duress during a rocky patch in his often-strained relationship with longtime writing partner Chris Difford—with a stellar and inventive debut solo record, 2002’s The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook. He wrote Incomplete’s follow up, Transatlantic Ping Pong, during the two years he spent touring the U.S. and U.K. as a troubadour for hire, driving himself (and a couple acoustic guitars) from town to town in a dumpy RV. In the process, he reinvented himself as a highly entertaining and personable singer/songwriter—a period that became the subject of a documentary, One for the Road, soon to be released on DVD.

Tilbook’s RV might be a bit less comfortable during his current trip across the states—his first extensive U.S. solo tour to include a full backing band, a trio dubbed The Fluffers. PlaybackSTL caught up with him recently at a hotel in rural England, where he was working up new material and no doubt preparing his bum for the long hours of travel in his trusty RV’s driver’s seat.

There’s a looser vibe to some of Transatlantic Ping Pong’s arrangements, with longer grooves and extended instrumental codas. Was that an intentional step?

I had made a deliberate decision to limit the sessions for [TPP] to two three-day sessions, one in Nashville and one in the U.K. I’d made up my mind that I wasn’t going to repeat what I did for The Incomplete; I wanted to make sure that while I was in the studio I got the takes that I wanted, and then to build on those takes. I mean, the end section to “Untouchable” just happened when we were playing it—and it felt really good and spirited, so I thought, just leave it.

Looking back, what Squeeze song makes you cringe?

Um, yeah. “853-5937,” because I think it’s a song about absolutely nothing, from all points of view. And I feel responsible for it. It was originally my answer-phone jingle—that was my number, a few years previous. I thought it was good enough to turn into a song, and I don’t think I was right.

And what would you consider Squeeze’s finest hour?

My favorite song that Chris [Difford] and I wrote is a song called “Some Fantastic Place.” I think that’s our best song. Albums, I find it a little harder to… Certainly that album, and Play, and East Side Story, and Argy Bargy, I think, are my favorite four Squeeze records.

Are you friendly with Elvis Costello anymore? He’s so collaboration crazy nowadays; I’d love to see you two work together again.

I haven’t really seen Elvis for a while now; I know Chris stays in touch with him. We were friends there for a while, but I was never really enormously at home moving in rock circles at any point. I’ve always preferred my sort of home circles that I’ve had for years and years. And particularly in those days, I felt like I wanted to try and keep my feet on the ground a bit. Which I didn’t always succeed in doing, but…I was trying.

Who would you like to collaborate with now?

I’m going to be collaborating with Fountains of Wayne. [PlaybackSTL injects a spastic “That would be incredible!” here] Yeah, that’ll be great; I’m really keen on doing that. We talked about it when we played a show together in London, where I got up and played with them, and it was really great fun. I think they’re such a great band, and they like what I do, as well, which is lovely. I think we’re definitely going to work together on something—I’ve been in e-mail contact with [FoW’s] Chris Collingwood, and we’re working on something.

In collaborating on a song, is it you two sitting together with a couple guitars, or something more complex than that?

No, it’s email, or fax, or that sort of thing. When I collaborate with people, I rarely sit down in a room with them anyway. I hardly ever did with Chris. I always write better on my own.

Is there any new Squeeze business in the works?

Well, Chris and I have collaborated on a book—I don’t think it’s out in the States yet—about all our time together in Squeeze and our songwriting partnership and sort of a more general overview of our relationship, really; [it’s] quite intriguing, I think. Reading the book, I learned more about how Chris felt about things than I did through the time I was with him. I think the great thing about the book is that both he and I have been very honest about things, and it’s surprised a few people, with what happened, and what we think about it.

Looking back, when you were a kid wanting to be in a band, what turned out to be the biggest misconception about being a successful touring musician?

I don’t know if I had any misconceptions about it. I thought, “What a great thing to do, to get up and play music for people who want to see you.” I never, at any point, thought that wasn’t the case. It’s been almost exactly as much fun as I thought it would be.

What exactly is a Fluffer?

It’s the person that prepares men in the adult film industry to be ready for their onscreen shots. So they’re in a state of readiness. [Laughs] They didn’t choose the name, I chose it for them. ’Cause it made me laugh.

Brian McClelland is Live Music Editor for PlaybackSTL.

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