Karl Wallinger has been conspicuously absent from the music scene over the past decade -- and with good reason. The former Waterboy and World Party founder suffered a debilitating brain aneurysm in 2001 that left him unable to walk and talk, let alone sing and play any of the many instruments he's mastered.
Yet for the composer of such Britpop hits as "Ship of Fools," "Is It Like Today?," "Put the Message in the Box," "Give It All Away," "Way Down Now" and "She's The One" (a mega-hit for Robbie Williams), it was only a matter of time -- and rehabilitation -- before again taking to the stage. In fact, Wallinger was on stage a mere two months after getting out of the hospital and the experience put him "at ease" that he could still perform.
But Wallinger didn't rush right out with a new band. Instead, he under took a more spiritual rehabilitation in constructing his music studio, Seaview (also the name of his record label), and culling the depths of the World Party archives in compiling a five-CD box set, Arkeology, released earlier this year.
Up on the Sun caught up with Wallinger in Nashville when he was running his band of "young bucks" though the paces in preparation for his first large-scale tour since 2006. In a typically English jovial manner, Wallinger discusses his life-threatening brain aneurysm, the road to recovery, creating the box set, and the surreal experience of seeing his brain in real-time on a monitor in the hospital.
Up on the Sun: Let's start with the now: I read that you have 70 new songs. That's an incredible amount, so how fresh are these?
Karl Wallinger: The 70 songs have been recorded over the last 25 years, so really just three of them are new [laughs]. That cuts it down somewhat. The idea was to do a box set and I really don't like box sets. I don't like making people buy the same albums again, or putting them in a box. I hate the whole idea of it.
I was sitting at home writing in my diary and I thought what a great way of putting out a box set. Put the CDs inside and make it a diary instead of a box. I thought that would be great, and then I thought about going through the archives and taking different versions of songs from albums or songs cut at the same time that never made it onto the albums, and covers as well. It's a whole slurry of songs over 25 years. I put out five albums in 25 years, so I thought I'd celebrate that by putting out the equivalent of five albums now.
It's the diary that interests me more than anything else. I like the idea of a dual use; you can be writing in it as well. I suppose that comes from when I went to Russia in 1988 with Greenpeace and found the coffee was also used to stain fences [laughs].
I put out five albums in 25 years, so I thought I'd celebrate that by putting out the equivalent of five albums now. -- Karl Wallinger
You say you have three songs that are actually recent, and the box set is still relatively fresh so you want people to dig into that, but it's been 12 years since we've had a proper World Party album.
In 2013 we'll have a new album. We've been working on it.
Of these 70 songs, the songs that never made the cut in the past, are you playing this material now, or more of the tried and true hits?
We're playing a couple of the new ones, and we're starting the set with ("When the Rainbow Comes,") with the line "It's Been Such a Long Long Time," with no irony intended. I think it's a great way to start. It's very strange because I don't think there's been many bands that have been away so long and been on this comeback trail sort of thing. It's making it quite enjoyable. You have to maximize the results.
So, in considering your health issues with the aneurysm, did compiling the box set help with the healing process?
In some ways (doing this helped) in more spiritual ways than physically or medically. I put it together in my living room. I had some help from some friends and their kids who have become producers and DJs and such. These young Bobs were very helpful.
I couldn't actually choose the tracks. I gave five and a half days worth of music to Mike Worthington from the label [Seaview] and he took that to New York and returned with four CDs. I went through some other archives and came up with another CD. That's how we got what we have. But I sort of needed that third party to make it possible. After 25 years you get a bit wood for the trees, you know?
Yes. It's a lot of material to go through.
But I am really glad a few of the things on there are out. There were some surprises; things I had completely forgotten about but really liked. And words I really liked that showed me the mood I was in at the time. Was there ever a worry you'd never be able to do this again; write songs and play music?
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Yeah, it worried me. But two months after I got out of the hospital I went straight and did a gig with some people. It was a benefit show I was asked to do, but it was a chance to find out what I could do. It was the first thing I did after recovery. I really put myself at ease that I could still perform.
I sat there a bit stunned for a time, so then I went away for five years after that and put my studio together. I got everything together and in 2005 started coming to America and put this label [Seaview] together. In 2006 I started doing my first gigs again in America. We did quite a lot, more that year I think than we'd ever done [in America]. We played in all kinds of combinations: a three-piece, five-piece, seven-piece. The three-piece was great because we could do all kinds of things in this set-up. It was great to play the songs in a pared-down way. It was great fun. And it was surprising how people really go to hear the songs. In some bands you go to hear the guitar work or the singer, but because of whatever reason our songs it seems are our particular area. The songs have survived really well.
Well, many of the songs are still topical and people can relate to them.
It's very strange the way they have survived in the sense of being topical because there are still the same issues around the inspired me to do them in the first place. It's the same things that were on my mind. We have a whole new "Ship of Fools" going on. I think it's even more so as time has made the issues more critical.
One of the things I like in your songs is that while you are pointing out the problems taking place around us, there's frequently some level of shaded optimism in the song. Did you rely on this optimism in dealing with your own illness?
I think I did actually. I was quite surprised. I always felt I'd be a bit lame; if I had something seriously wrong with me that I'd be terrible in that sort of situation. I kind of came through with flying colors really. I was having this seriously life-threatening situation and I have no degree of knowledge of what was going on. But I didn't have any fear. It was a strange time. And there were a lot of strange things going on, but you kind of forget why it's happening. I had the experience of actually seeing inside my head on screen when I was awake because of a camera was put in an artery in my groin and fed up to my head. And the guy said, "You might feel a little bit of a heat sensation when I take the picture." [Laughs] But that was kind of strange because I was fascinated. I wasn't like "Oh my God." I was captivated. There's a huge survival mechanism that kicks and carries you though a lot.
Knowing that camera's in your brain as you're watching the images sound like a curious surrealism.
It couldn't happen in another situation. It was a quite strange but amazing thing. Some of the time I was under the impression, though it wasn't real, that I was in a stairwell and it was like in a Ken Russell film or something. The stairwell was carpeted and the walls were carpeted and recessed shelves were carpeted. And there were skylights at the top of it and was this sort of roadie there. He never turned his face to me, but he had this sleeveless denim jacket on, which was the main outfit for the roadies in the old days, and he was putting keyboards on the shelves and plugging them in. I was waiting to do something, and suddenly "Bang," my reality changed and I was walking down the corridor in the hospital with drips going into my head and neck and approaching the loo. It was strange because the vision was this other world I was going into, but it was a private thing as well. I think it was from having my brain manhandled during the operations; I don't know what it was. But that was pretty amazing as well.
Sounds like good fodder for new songs.
In some ways... I have one new track called "Reboot My Psycho." It's not about anything as obvious as "I had a brain aneurysm," but just a more impressionistic thing. But I did have my psycho rebooted.
World Party is scheduled to perform Sunday, December 2, at Crescent Ballroom.
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