Honest In An Abstract Way: Baxter Dury Interviewed

Honest In An Abstract Way: Baxter Dury Interviewed

An invitation to absorb his seductive eloquence...

Baxter Dury is going on a date. And he has asked me to meet him at the Covent Garden Hotel beforehand. The low lighting, the ornate wall paper with a touch of rococo: it all feels like I’ve walked straight into one of the sordid yet compelling vignettes that make up the main body of ‘The Night Chancers’, where romantic dalliances play out at the Hotel Amour in Paris and the listener is led into the glamorous superficiality of the fashion world.

“They’re all my provincial tales,” says Dury, as he sips fancy French wine, wearing one of his well-cut suits. “[I’m] this little provincial guy, being quite honest in an abstract way, singing about all my romantic failures and then suddenly you’ve got Star Wars behind me.”

“That’s a lot more interesting than talking about romantic successes, which can actually be really creepy and isn’t very true, either. You can’t really [discuss] prowess in songs, it’s a different genre of music. I can only really talk about the confusion and the fog.”

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Honesty has always been Dury’s signature style, and it’s the autobiographical nature of his work, which explores the mess and uncertainty of it all, that often endears the listener to him. It is a tendency that reached its logical conclusion on 2017’s ‘Prince Of Tears’, where he dedicated an entire album to chronicling the disintegration of a significant relationship. But on ‘The Night Chancers’, he has traded the romanticism in for something much darker and alluring, using personal experiences to explore modern sexual politics at large.

“There’s a good dissolving of the old sexes,” he says. “And this album is a bit like me venturing into that new world where there is an equal power struggle. There’s this weird promiscuity going on, especially with the young people and I’m a father, you know, I stay home and look after my son, so I’m not like some lunatic going off exploiting any of this stuff but like the dam has broken. And people are willing to say and do… like even in real life as well, and sometimes I’m like, what the fuck?”

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In order to embody the theme sonically, Dury turned to nineties hip-hop, drawing inspiration from some of Biggie Smalls’ greatest hits, and stripping them back to their most basic elements to hone in on the energy. It’s a style choice that interplays seamlessly with the album’s lyrical content, the rumbling bass-lines, caramel strings and loose beats, backgrounding scenes of sexual longing, lust and romantic disenchantment. “I’m so excited to play it next week,” he says with a cheeky grin. “It’s going to be so fun to be this creepy, open shirted guy with a spray tan.”

In keeping with Dury’s penchant for French culture and music, the album understands the nuances of taste; how to create tunes that maintain an aura of elegance despite being fuelled by sleaziness. ‘Samurai’, which is punctuated by a woman’s gasps mimicking the beginnings of female orgasm, is not overblown, but soft and gentle, becoming part of the instrumentation along with the chic piano and organ work.

The lyrics are equally self aware, detailing his past relationships and failed romances with a commitment to realism, never dipping into grotesque caricature. For example, on ‘Sleep People’ when recalling his romantic dalliances in the fashion world, he focuses on the repulsion of its clique-y nature while still conveying its undeniable glamour: the beautiful women with their hard drugs and famous friends.

“It’s the same topic that I’m talking about a lot on this album, the idea of the It girl and how the It girl might have fluttered her eyelashes at me. I’ve kinda dived in there, thinking this is exactly why I should ignore all my old friends, and you end up in this morgue-like fashion world. But what’s more interesting is that these stories aren’t about me blaming them, it’s a song dismissing the idea of that world, but secretly desperately wanting to be in it, and that theme repeats itself. It’s me going like, maybe I do really love her.”

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Navigating relationships with such beguiling women, and reflecting upon his own longing and desire, the album makes for a listen that is heady with sensuality, so much so that lead singles such as ’Carla’s Got A Boyfriend’ and ‘I’m Not Your Dog’, which have already been released at the time of the interview, are changing how Dury’s fans see him and subsequently altering the way in which they interact with him online.

“I checked my account today and one of the messages someone had sent me was a naked picture in a bath, and it wasn’t a bot thing - it was like a genuine person! I was like: wow, that’s quite amazing ! I mean, I was a bit worried for the person and I wouldn’t answer it, but I’ve been getting quite a lot of weird sexualised things, especially in the past few months. I can’t help but think it’s flattering, even though it’s a mental modern disease that I mustn't believe in.”

It’s precisely this ‘mental modern disease’ that Dury has explored in the singles themselves, the idea of social media sites like Instagram enabling a whole new level of romantic obsession, allowing us to follow our crushes’ and lovers’ lives, day in, day out; to see where they are, what they’re doing, and who they’re hanging out with. This can cause people to cross boundaries, whether in the case of Dury’s fans, with their artfully poised nudes, or the characters in Dury’s songs, with their unhealthy tendency to stalk their ex-lovers and their new beaus on Instagram.

“It’s the extreme projection of people’s behaviour,” says Dury when I ask him about the inspiration for ‘Carla..’, “and about how the internet has just flooded everybody with all this stuff, and how we’re all wading through it and dabbling in bits of it and swimming in bits of it. It’s about the management of too much information.”

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“If you can imagine, it’s like a war map and everyone can see these little dots going everywhere, and anyone with a kind of obsessive nature can see [things] that weren’t even invited into a relationship.”

“It talks about that kind of stalker-y thing, and then is also based on me getting with the wrong person and kind of like having an affair, not having an affair but almost and then getting obsessed that she might have a boyfriend, and then slapping myself around the face and being like: pull out of that!”

Some artists are scared to dip into such autobiographical territory, worrying that it will break the veneer of illusion, but Dury understands the power of ‘write what you know’, in that it allows you to navigate your art with an aura of authenticity. When listening to ‘The Night Chancers’, there is an inherent feeling that you are on a journey with Dury, through the extreme ups and downs of his romantic life, which makes for an intimate listening experience.

“Anything artistic, of any kind, photography, theatre… when someone does it really well, there’s always a weight of something real in there, that people connect with without knowing - you know what I mean?” he says. “Which is kind of a cheesy thing to say, but it’s really true.”

“All that hidden pain, sweat, tears - whatever. You associate with it, you smell it, you can feel it. There’s a genuine emotion behind it all. I’m quite emotional, as you can probably tell. I’m not a cunt.”

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Words: Eleanor Philpot
Photography: Rachel Lipsitz

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