A chat with Eagle-Eye Cherry is as laid back as his vocal delivery, and no less enjoyable. Not that he isn't passionate about what he does; quite the contrary, as we get to grips with song writing and production. Exploding onto the scene in 1997 with monster worldwide hit ‘Save Tonight’, the Swedish singer became an overnight success, something that he was keen to avoid, initially; “I’d seen my sister Neneh having this massive hit with ‘Buffalo Stance’, and I was like; “that’s not for me!”, he confesses as we get acquainted. Talking the track that launched his career, the album that followed it, and new single ‘I Like It’, we caught up with Eagle-Eye. Still having fun; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Eagle-Eye, how are you doing today?
I’m pretty good today. I’m here in Stockholm, Sweden, and basically doing what I’m doing right now; sitting talking to people.
I wanted to rewind a little to your Dublin show in 2019. It was your first Irish date in two decades; what took you so long?!
Well actually, I thought that when I was there, because I really love Dublin. Life is funny like that. I went non-stop with the first three albums; recording, touring, promoting, and that took about seven years, and after seven years, I was like; “I need to take a break. I REALLY need to take a break”. Then that break just got longer than I was planning. I guess I kind of started enjoying ‘normality’ and anonymity, and getting back to some kind of balance of life.
So you took a bit of an extended break?
That’s what happened. So then I toured every now and then, especially in other parts of Europe and South America, but I hadn’t made it to Ireland. So, it was a good time, and it was good to be back there!
You mentioned regaining your anonymity, and the success of ‘Save Tonight’ must have been a whirlwind; what do you remember about writing that song?
I had this plan, and I ended up living in Stockholm, because I’d lived in New York for most of my life. I came back here and I liked the music scene here, and I found this independent label and it felt the right thing for me to start kind of small, because I’d seen my sister Neneh having this massive hit with ‘Buffalo Stance’, and I was like; “that’s not for me!” So I made this album [‘Desireless’, 1997] with a tiny label, and the a&r man never even turned up in the studio! I was trying to figure out what I was doing, and I wasn’t sure what kind of album I was making, and along the way, I stayed at home one Saturday; I should have been out playing football with my friends, but I stayed at home and I wrote ‘Save Tonight’.
How did you feel about it once you'd finished writing it?
I could feel that it was a catchy song. The reason it only has four cords is because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was like, I didn’t even think like you could put in a bridge or something! I’d just started really figuring the acoustic guitar out, and the acoustic guitar was kind of the key to finding my sound. Before that I wasn’t sure, but once I started getting into that instrument, I was like; “ah! This is where it all feels right!” I wrote that song, and thought; “four chords – feels good!”. When we recorded it, we decided to make the last verse a drop down verse, instead of having a middle eight or anything, and the rest is history. The song just said; “here we go; we’re travelling the world, man”
I love the dynamics that the breakdown that you mention brings; it’s such a simple idea.
That was the producer’s idea; to drop out the drums and then have them come back in. It’s funny too, because I play it live so much, and when I listen to the recorded version, I realise; “wow”; it’s kind of my laid back song, where live, it’s become such a party song. It’s an ace up my sleeve that I love having.
'Laid back' is actually also how you’d describe your vocal delivery; it’s the antithesis of that X-Factor, ‘belt it out’ style.
Yeah, I don’t see myself as like a ‘singer’, like you’re saying. I hear a lot of these young stars, and everyone is – in my opinion – almost too good of a singer. There’s so many great singers out there which, you know they’re very impressive. I myself, have often liked people that don’t sing perfectly like Neil Young. To me, it’s that kind of feeling. With ‘Save Tonight’, I didn’t even think that you could put a capo on a guitar. I actually play it a half-step up, live, because the vocal is such a low register on the verses.
You said that you weren’t looking for the success that Neneh had with ‘Buffalo Stance’, and yet, it arrived with ‘Save Tonight’; what was that like?
I’m thankful for that, and so’s my bank account! Like I said, I wanted to find my bearings before I got into that crazy whirlwind of the music business, which it is. I think a lot of people start and don’t have the privilege of seeing from behind the scenes like I have; they don’t know what happens once a song like ‘Save Tonight’ takes off. It happens so quickly, and before you know, you’re trying to be everywhere at the same time and do everything, and there’s no one within the label, not even your own management that will be like; “oh, maybe we should take a break right here so he can kind of recharge”. No. They just push you, push you, push you; and once it happened, because I knew behind the scenes, I knew that this does not happen every day, so, we’ve got to go for it.
So you got onboard with that opportunity, behind the success of the single?
I had a really good time and went for the ride, and it was an intense ride! But there did come a point where you wake up and you don’t know what city you’re in; you don’t know who you’ve talked to; you’re doing like twenty interviews in a row and you can’t remember what you’ve said to who, and your brain is just going; “wah!”, and then you put the partying on top of that, and it gets pretty challenging.
You followed up ‘Desireless’ with ‘Living in the Present Future’ in 2000, which contains one of your finest songs; ‘Are You Still Having Fun?’
I love that you love that song, and especially live, I love having it. What happened was, it’s funny, I was working with a guitar player I worked with for many years [Klas Åhlund] – he toured with me on all my first tours – and I was working on something else with him in the studio, and I had one of these Dictaphones which we had back then, and I was going through it looking for something to show him that I wanted to do, and this riff turned up that I had just put down on the Dictaphone one day and forgotten about it, and he went; “wait! What was that?!”, and it was exactly that opening riff. And then he went; “that’s pretty good!”, and then I went with it and wrote the song, and it just kind of went on from there. And then we went on to work with Rick Rubin, which was awesome!
So Rick Rubin produced that album?
Yeah, a few months later I’m in New York City with him. He produced about half the album, and one of the tracks was ‘Are You Still Having Fun?’. The other half was the same guy that I did the first album with [Kent (Gillström) Isaacs]. If you listen to it, you’ll hear it, because there’s a lot of compression on that song. You’ll be able to figure out which ones Rick produced and which he didn’t.
There’s a fantastic guitar sound on that song, and it sounds like you’re using a Telecaster.
Well, that was mainly my guitar dudes. I had two guys that I worked with; one from the States - Eric Schermerhorn - and then Mattias [Torrell], who’s here in Stockholm; I’m guessing he, at that time was using a lot of Tele, but I’m not sure what Eric was playing. He was probably playing something else. Basically, we set up the band in the studio. What took time with Rick Rubin was getting the drum sound. It took a whole day for him to get it how he wanted it, and then once we had that done, we’d do a bunch of takes, and then once we found the take that we like; that’s it.
You really embraced harmony vocals on that ‘Are You Still Having Fun?’
Yeah, I did more harmonies in those days. It’s funny, I thought about that recently when I’ve been working on my newer stuff. I’m not as into layering vocals as I was then. I think it’s part of that thing as well of ‘because you can’. You just start figuring this out, and; “oh, man!” You can do this, you can do that, and then it seems like; “let’s put another layer”, and it’s just that kind of excitement of just doing everything that you can, whereas now I’m kind of; “I’ve done that”, and I don’t feel like you always need that much.
You’ve have moved on, and your new single ‘I Like it’ has a new sound; it’s has a bombastic production, but still has your sound underneath it.
It’s a Swedish producer Peter Kvint, who I worked with on my last album [‘Streets of You’, 2018], and we’re basically still doing things the way I like doing it; I like to get the band in and play the track. What I love about this track is, when we made the demo, it was a little bit more of a laid back, Fleetwood Mac vibe on that kind of level, and then I’m looking at the lyrics, and I’m listening to the demo, and I go; “wait a minute; I’m talking about rock and roll here; "BLASTING rock and roll”, and then I was like; “we’ve got to turn up the guitars, we’ve got to get some more guitars in”. So when we actually laid down the tracks for the song, that was our focus, but we’re living in this world where I find a lot a lot of mainstream radio kind of, anti-guitar almost, in some weird way. The band is kind of the spirit, so what you want to do is kind of subliminally put them in there, so what we’ve done is we’re pushing the acoustics on the verses. It’s kind of, quite blasting on the acoustics and then bringing the electrics in a more subliminal way.
It’s created a really great crossover sound.
At the end of the day, I’m really happy with that balance that we’ve found. The energy’s there, though it’s not in your face, and I almost feel like the song would have suffered if we had pushed the guitars too much. I’m really, really pleased with this track. It’s kind of it’s ‘now’, but I’m not abandoning who I am, if you know what I mean.
It’s almost like a club track in places, but strip away the production and underneath, it has those minor chords and isn’t too far removed from your sound.
Yeah, and like I said, this is one of those tracks where, every now and then, you’ll have a track and then you’ll start playing it live, and I’ll be like; “aww, man!”; we’ll play with the arrangement a little bit, and then I’ll start feeling like the live version is always so much better than when we recorded. Whereas this song, I can definitely say I can feel that, to me, to be what I wanted it to be, it’s 100% perfect, exactly the way I wanted the track. And I’m so pleased. It doesn’t always work that way, you know?
Do you think people will be surprised hearing it?
I hope so! I mean, you don’t want to be treading water, and that’s like the balance, especially when you’ve been doing for it as long as I have, and then you’ve been gone, and in a lot of people’s eyes I’ve been gone since the first album. But the fans, and the people that have followed me, I think they’re going to see the through-line and it’s not going to be that big of a change. But it’s like you said; I still think, you’ve got the kind of mellow verse, and you’ve got the chords, and you can still recognise me in it, my style of song writing.
The other thing that happens when you’re touring is you realise – you mentioned ‘You’re Still Having Fun’ – and there’s some tracks that just, having a track like that in your back pocket when you’re playing live is so great. Every now and then I’m like, “oh man!”, and then, I think ‘I Like It’ is that track that I need in my set list, and I can’t wait to get back out there and start playing that track. And on this album there’s a few more.
The single has come out way in advance of the album, which isn’t due to be released until 2022; why is that?
Yeah, well I mean, this stuff was done, man, like a year ago! Because of this pandemic I’ve had to wait, and now I just can’t wait anymore, so I’m releasing this, but I don’t want to drop the album until I can start touring. So I’m figuring, the beginning of next year.
What can fans expect from the album?
I guess I've been looking back to what I was listening to when I first started buying albums, so there’s a lot of Ramones and The Clash and stuff; that’s what I was listening to when I was young. Not that the new stuff necessarily sounds like that, but I think it has that the energy and the balance of pop sensibility of that rocking sound. So there’s a bunch of those tracks, but then I’ve been sitting here with this pandemic making a bunch of other stuff, and some stuff that’s quite different, so I’m going to have to sort through a bunch of stuff. Me and the a&r man have actually been talking about meeting up and having a listen to all the stuff to work out what to do with it.
So the track listing of the album hasn’t been finalised yet?
No. I mean, I have about seven tracks that I know are on the album, and ‘I Like It’ is one of them. So there’s going to be another five to seven songs that are going to have to fight to be on the album.
Have you a title for the album?
I don’t. It’s usually the last thing that I come up with. I said to myself that I’m going to try to come up with a title earlier this time, so we’ll see. But I don’t want to call it ‘I Like It’, because you’re setting yourself up for the reviews; “I DON’T like it!”
Finally, you must have come across ‘Save Tonight’ being played in countless places; where’s the strangest place you’ve heard it?
The weirdest situation was I was at this stag night. My friend was getting married and we were on a cruise liner, and I’m trying to stay low key and anonymous because we’re all on the same boat and I can’t hide, and then the cover band starts playing ‘Save Tonight’, and they don’t know I’m there! I’m just kind of leaning back, trying to disappear, and the guy’s are going; “you’ve got to get up there!”, and they pushed me up onstage, and the reaction of the band was gold! They were just like looking over, and they were playing my song and I’m up on stage. It was quite a night, so that was fun!
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Eagle-Eye Cherry's 'I Like It' is available now. Grab it here.