Interview: John Butler, Diesel Park West


A victim of the labyrinth of London, I come a-tumblin' in to the Columbia Hotel lounge feeling more like a neurotic French poodle than a Scots Terrier, and excusing myself for being chronically stuck in the Tube. Squeezing myself onto the sofa and unscrambling my crossed wires, I greet three patiently waiting members of DIESEL PARK WEST.

To most of you reading this, DIESEL PARK WEST might not loom large in your minds, a name more likely that lurks in the dark recesses of your subconscious. But if there's any justice left in this tin-can town, that could all change with the onset of their second studio album Decency, a more than decent follow-up to their fairly successful but slightly overlooked debut Shakespeare Alabama in '89.

In the interim period between the two records, DPW also released a very credible collection of B-sides entitled Flipped, which rubbishes the notion that an album of B-sides is a veritable waste of time. As a taster to Decency a single Fall To Love has been released and is both elevating and sensual; a timely reminded that the ancient art of lovingly crafted songwriting is not quite dormant.

Furthermore, DIESEL PARK WEST are one of those bands that never seem to be in sync with the prevailing trends. A law unto themselves I suggest.

"Yeah, it's not deliberate. That's just the way it is," shrugs guitarist, lead vocalist and principal songwriter John Butler. "If you want to use a sort of historical precedent, say at the time of the original psychedelic drug wave, y'know, mid to late '60s, the people such as THE BAND (Robbie Robertson et al), were kind of away from that main thing. They weren't overly psychedelic but I feel they were a roots band and they kept it. So I think we feel a little bit like that."

I make the observation that although the band have a big sound, there is a certain intimate quality to their songs.

Butler agrees: "The musicianship within the band is of a high enough quality to lend itself to intimate songs or songs of depth and make them come over on a social level as well. Because you have to have a good song whatever it is. But if you can then embellish it with some great playing, locking into the sound of it, then that's a double bonus."

It soon becomes clear that the other two, guitarist Rick Wilson and drummer Dave Anderson, are content enough to take a back seat and let their articulate focal point be the band's spokesman. Butler himself has a kind of understated charisma and speaks in a dry measured manner, which contrasts considerably with his dramatic and expressive vocal style. So what about his singing, was it something that came naturally to him?

"I can remember always being able to sing but, yeah, it did develop. Because to do vocals it's really down to the projection."

The timbre of the voice, I add.

"Yeah, that's the word. If you can get that, if you can learn how to project helps."

Apart from the strength of the songwriting and Butler's vocals, one of the initial qualities that struck me about Decency was its richness of sound. But, naturally there's a thin dividing line between a record that is lush and one that's over-produced. It was essential that the group got the balance right.

"We were after the kind of cross between the noise that we make on stage with the kind of lushness Laurie gets," explains Rick, referring to producer Laurie Lathan.

Weren't they happy then with the production on Shakespeare...?

"On the first album we didn't really get the richness of sound," says Butler. "Maybe we weren't capable of doing it at that time. It was a good sound really but..."

So how did the characters of the two producers compare?

Butler: "Well we got on great with them both...two quite different personalities. Chris Kimsey [whose credits include the ROLLING STONES] is a more gregarious character...big time, y'know. He's very sort of tuned into Rock n' Roll. Whereas Laurie's more introverted, in actual fact he's out there [gestures to the stratosphere] out there...but he get's the job done."

Another impressive facet of the band that shouldn't be overlooked is Butler's thoughtful, evocative lyrics. Words that give the music an added poignancy and resonance. Take The Boy On Top Of The News, where Butler casts a few wry observations on the demanding music biz: 'Jesus, things getting deep/ So much expected of me/ I've got six more interviews to do today.'

Similar sentiments are expressed on Till The Moon Struck Two: 'Here we are kicking through the mainstream/ making treasure on demand.' He goes on to say, 'But I'll walk backwards through the ghetto with you/ We could both look for the Mojo Man.'

Butler reveals that it's about keeping your musical integrity and not losing sight of your influences, hence the Mojo Man, which equates with Louisiana swamp music, a reference to those roots music connections he talked about earlier. Got all that?

I venture to suggest that a lot of record buyers don't pay too much attention to the words. Butler counters by informing me that this doesn't seem to be the case with their following.

"We seem to hit people quite deeply. The people that are into us seem to be into us very strongly. I think it's because of the depth in the songs; people relate to that."

Does he they are a durable and resilient band?

"Well look at us!" grins Butler, pointing out his shabby leather jacket. "I don't think we started off with the intention of being durable and resilient. We've just acquired this resilience and durability as time's gone on.

"And the reason we took so long [a reference to the time gap between their two albums] is partly because of our musical trip. We've gone with the natural flow of that. We built up a list of probably thirty tracks, and obviously unless you're GUNS N' ROSES, you can't put thirty tracks down on the album. So we had to be selective. It's not been a case of 'right let's get the next album together.' It's been more like an answered thing."

And before I knew it, it was time for DPW to take their leave. Yes, off to visit exotic places and meet interesting people: Wapping to be exact, to check up on the editing for the video of Fall To Love. Now, if that's not a hit, I'll eat my socks.

Mark Liddell
Riff Raff
March 1992
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