David Shrigley

Turner Prize nominated artist David Shrigley spills the beans on his new LP...

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 11 Dec 2014
  • min read
‘Best wishes to you, you fucking wanker, to your ugly fucking wife, and to your moron fucking children, who look and smell like rats.’

So goes A Toast, the opening track from Music and Words, Malcolm Middleton and David Shrigley’s first album together. The pair have distilled the anarchic spirit of Chris Morris and Malcolm’s previous outfit, Arab Strap, into a record which blends ambitious musical landscapes with acerbic humour.

David’s previous musical escapades include a spoken-word album Shrigley Forced to Speak With Others in 2006, which was followed by a double-CD of artists, including David Byrne, Islands, and Grizzly Bear, who put David's book Worried Noodles to music. Add into that a 20 plus career as an artist, a Turner Prize nomination and an exceedingly dry wit and you're faced with a more than intriguing proposition with this new collaboration.

We caught up with David ahead of the record's release on 15 December to find out more about his love for music and what the future has in store…

What were the first records you got into?

My musical awakening was circa 1980 when I was 11 or 12. Like a lot of kids my age, I was really into Adam and the Ants. I never got to see him then as I was too young but I did go see him last year. As long as he played the first two albums, it was great. When he played his solo stuff it was rubbish.

What other acts did you like?

I was really into Bauhaus once I realised Adam’s solo career was rubbish. I went to see a lot of bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Smiths. Then more sixties music when I was at art school. The Velvet Underground, Neil Young, that’s music I still listen to now. I’ve got happy memories of dancing to James Brown at art school discos. I’ve always been into live music. My social life for the last 25 years has been based around watching bands.

Did you always want to make your own records?

My awakening as an artist was looking at record sleeves. When I was young, I was really into the Fall’s record cover of Live at the Witch Trials. I never bought the record until much later on but I remember looking at it as a kid and thinking ‘that’s really good that is’. It looks like O Level art but I was really into it. I got really into the Fall in the middle eighties, when all real Fall fans stopped liking them.

I thought I could do record covers, then I started to learn the guitar at art school. I was in bands with varying degrees of competence. Starting bands coincided with my career as an artist taking off so I didn’t really have enough time to do it, particularly as all the people I was in bands with were stoners who never showed up to rehearsals.

How did you meet Malcolm and end up working together?

I went to see him play when he released his first solo record. I was a fan, bought all his albums. I knew Aidan from Arab Strap socially. He told Malcolm I was into his music, he asked me to do a record cover and we became friends. I did some artwork for him and rather than remuneration, I asked him to write a track for a future spoken word record - and that’s what became our album. It took seven years to make, although we obviously weren’t working on it for the entire time. Seven years may seem like quite a long time to be working on something but it does depend on how long you live for. If you live to be 110, it’s not so long.

Did you have an idea behind it?

It was going to be one track, then Malcolm got excited about it, possibly because it was more interesting than what he was contractually obliged to be working on at the time.

He got me more into it in terms of studio time and getting various actors to do vocals. Yeah it took a wee while but it did gain momentum. Malcolm’s got a young son who must be about two now. For some reason, when his son was born it seemed to herald a flurry of activity.

Why do you think you two hit it off creatively?

I’m a visual artist and Malcolm’s an indie rock musician primarily. So we come from two slightly different worlds. But for me, the best collaborations take place when you work with someone who does something you really can’t do. And hopefully likewise, you do something they can’t do either. You have two roles which complement each other.

When you’re working in a band with other musicians, you kind of feel like you’re not in control of the end result. The music was always a soup of ideas which became an idea by a person who didn’t exist. With this project, you can see the personality of both of us in it.

How do you approach each project?

I tend to do certain projects in a scatological way by accident. I only did spoken word as someone asked me to do something, and it blossomed from there. It wasn’t supposed to be a whole album, just one track but Malcolm was so enthusiastic it took on a life of its own. A project is worthwhile to just do and see what happens. I’m not one of those people who is afraid of giving up control of everything. I always think as long it’s not shit, it’ll be all right.

What else has been keeping you busy?

I have just got back from Australia this afternoon so feeling a bit zapped. I did a big exhibition in Melbourne at the National Gallery, it was full of drawings, paintings and animation. It’s been on for a few months, so that’s quite a good thing to have done.

The art world is pretty small so if you have a reputation in Europe and North America, the Australians are quite impressed, particularly if you make the journey. There’s a really good art scene in Australia, although it is a long way for things to travel to reach it so it’s quite a homogenous.

Have you been surprised by your success?

There was a time when I was surprised but after a while you get used to it. You think yeah it is pretty remarkable you can go so far by essentially just making silly drawings. But then I don’t think too hard about it. The privilege is going to the studio every day and have to have a proper job. That has to be the ideal for most creative people.

What’s next for you?

I have a new book out called Weak Messages Create Bad Situations, published by Cannongate. I am doing an exhibition next year, doing one in New Zealand in Auckland and a show in New York for a commercial gallery. It’s always a lot of fun to go to New York and hang out and drink Budweiser, walk along the gridded streets where you always know where you are.


Music and Words is released via Melodic on 15 December.