Simon Eugene AKA Comfort was and is the masterful creative force behind the brilliant Out Of My Hair, a London based psychedelic pop rock combo from the mid nineties, mining adventurous melodic musical riches from similar fertile fields as Straw, Dererro, XTC and Octopus. They put out a handful of fantastic, should have so been hits, singles like In The Groove Again and Mister Jones and a tremendously fine album, Drop The Roof.
Creatively Comfort had it all, a beautiful honey drenched voice, genius song craft, a psychedelic mind and a remarkable and magnetic onstage charisma that was impossible to ignore. Unfortunately what he also had was a dull-brained major label in tow which all too typically hadn’t got a clue what it was doing most of the time and clumsily dropped the golden ball at every opportunity.
By the end he was left at the best kept secret end of things, adored by the true music lovers who knew his stuff and cherished every precious note. But relatively unknown outside of that fervent cult following. But now, finally, a proper release of the mostly unreleased second, (and just as great), album heralds his return. Followed soon after by a new single that shows his considerable talents undiminished and raring to go. Definitely in the groove again…time for a word….
What are your earliest memories of first getting into music?
"Well one was my dad bringing home the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar, the film. There is an overture, the opening track, all atmospheres and very 70s sounding electric guitars. Actually the new album by Michael Kiwanuka has this kind of sound, single string fuzz guitars and heavy spring reverbs.
I was supposed to be asleep, but I could hear him playing it and I was just so excited, so taken by it. I have never stopped loving that album. Its so funny that it is like an Andrew Lloyd Webber album...and Tim Rice and yet it is up there as one of the best things ever."
Which music artists first made you sit up and take notice?
"The Beatles and Wings, especially Band on the Run, Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd, Blondie, Marvin Gaye, Joan Armatrading (early memories of Love and Affection), Kate Bush. Then discovering Syd Barrett and the Velvet Underground was just like…the meaning of it all.
I played a piano quite young and had music lessons at school but, being old old school, the teacher would hit your hand hard with a ruler every time you made a mistake. So this clearly didn't encourage me to carry on. I did the self-taught route and became anti learning anything. The guitar came later, because I was left handed and didn't realise. Well of course I realised, because I wrote left handed, but my Granddad had a couple of guitars and I couldn't understand why it was so hard to play.
Then one day I found out I could string it the other way and I was off. But it was later, at around thirteen. I think I wrote a song about unemployment when I was twelve! Then nothing until maybe fifteen or so and then it just came pouring out."
What was the first song you wrote where you knew you had something?
"I wrote a song about my other granddad who was dying. It was called Old Man. It was just so deep and so sad...I think its still pretty moving now. So I believe around then. I tried to play guitar in a couple of bands, but I was really bad back then. Really enthusiastic but really bad. So I'd turn up all happy and full of excitement to rehearsals only to find I'd been kicked out.
So I went solo and Out Of My Hair came out of that because it was always a solo project that I built a band around later. I didn't have a clue how to break into the music business. I got a place at University, but dropped out because I wanted to be a musician.
But I was just hanging around North London getting really stoned as you do, on the dole, having occasional acid flashbacks and just sitting in my room writing song after song. Loads of songs about how I didn't know what to do, I thought I had fucked my whole life up by the time I was twenty one. There's a song on Drop the Roof...Wendy. That was all about that.
Basically I was at this guy's house in Finsbury Park who I bought my hash off and we were both sitting there stoned, probably not even talking to each other. Then his mum rang up and told him there was this free music biz course on a boat on the Thames and he should go do it. So I went with him. We did a week there and at the end, I played one of my songs and everyone turned round and looked at me like...wow.
That’s how I found my first manager, he was on the course too. He said lets get some gigs. I had some friends that I knew from hanging out at a hippy commune in Scotland, including Barny, the first Out Of My Hair drummer. So I called him up and we'd play and try out different friends until we reached some kind of good sounding line-up."
"We played about five gigs and RCA approached me in the Amersham Arms in New Cross and showed some interest. Then I put out the Valley Sound cassette. That 4 track tape, I love it. From there it all kind of came together and ended up with a record deal.
The album recording process was very challenging for me because in the 90s, the recording technology didn’t lend itself to the sounds I wanted to make. We know now how to make everything crunchy and retro, but back then everything was SSL desks and drums kits with 15 mics. Things were quite bright and thin sounding and this caused me tremendous angst and sleepless nights! I couldn’t get the sounds I wanted and I ended up getting some of my own gear and trying to learn how to do it on my own.
Pre-computer, this took a while to get my head around, but I ended up coming up with the recording of In the Groove Again. I got the sound! But my record company refused to push it because they said that radio wouldn’t play it. Whereas Radio 1 picked up on it and played it loads, but there was no promotion. This is a long story and the battles that I had with them regarding the nature of sound was pretty much the story of my signed career.
But anyway…we ended up finishing Drop the Roof with Pascal Gabriel and Jim Abbiss, great guys, great producers. It was a mix of self recorded stuff and studio recordings. It worked out well. Hits? We never had one. Only in Japan, where the album sold well, maybe across Europe, I’m not sure.
Yes we supported Bowie, but what should have been a fantastic experience turned into a near disaster because Bowie’s crew said we were out of control and they had to put a security guard on our dressing room. It wasn’t true and we nearly lost our agent because of it. Now I think wow, we supported Bowie. Because he is no longer here. How amazing is that?"
So you then drop the name and the next release goes under the name of Comfort. What was the thinking behind that?
"We recorded what became God Is In The Detail in Spain with producer Chris Kimsey and engineer Chris Potter. Potter went straight from there to recording Urban Hymns. It was six weeks of complete mayhem. We nearly didn't get anything done, it was…another story. I think we changed the name of the project, because we were having so much trouble at RCA. We just wanted to redefine it away from the past associations and because the old band had changed so much it didn't quite feel like how it started out."
So then there’s the International Love Corporation ….I will admit I knew nothing about this at all until recently. What a wonderful sounding album….though you say the live band was a very different animal.
"The ILC band was the best thing that I have been involved in so far. I had a no rehearsal policy and the band members would rotate. We would do gigs with people who had never played with us before and possibly hadn’t even heard the songs. We would just see what happened. I was running clubs in London and a lot of it centred around there. Loads of us lived in this part of Camden, Camden Square.
It was the best time and the band was like I imagined these great American 70s touring bands, like the Grateful Dead or something. It was sensational, lots of different players, great musicians. We did the album with a great friend of mine, Mike Pelanconi, who is known better as Prince Fatty, a dub master and the best engineer I have worked with, bar none."
How does the song writing process work with you?
"To be alone. Mainly. When I hear Kevin Parker from Tame Impala talk about his music making process I feel like I am hearing myself speaking….be alone, let it come, arise. Just play, don't think, words come best at the same time as the song, otherwise the lyric writing is far more of a process than the music. If I get into the swing of being alone, then after a few days it will come pouring out and then you have to make a good judgement of when to stop and actually do something with it.
I’ve written far more songs than I can ever record. At one point in my life I actually made a decision to try and stop writing so much because I didn’t know how to handle it. Like it was some kind of illness. How that relates to what you actually produce as an ‘artist’ is again another story.
But if you write and record and you have nowhere to release it, that can really cut you up inside. I think around the ILC time, with no record company and pre the internet explosion for music…I just went a bit mad. In the end, I had to leave everything and spend a few years…wandering."
What would you say were your biggest influences in the recording process?
"The biggest influences are the sound of things and the moment you hear them. This can be the sound of Lou Reed's rhythm guitar in the Velvet Underground, the first chord of Who Loves the Sun, the opening of Rock n Roll. It’s having an expectation of Prince, back in the day and then hearing Parade. The sound of No Man’s Land on the Madcap Laughs…even now I hear the Barrell by Aldous Harding or Moonshine Freeze by This is the Kit and something inside me just says yes to the sound of the guitar working with the drums. On and on.. the attack of the intro piano on Lovely Rita, the first moment. For me one of the biggest things was to put sounds in recording that you couldn’t hear. That is psychedelic for me, the unheard sound…
And then you stopped… what happened between then and your return last year?
I never stopped but I went away. I wandered; I carried on with the ILC but made it not a band but a way of life and an exploration into life. It led me on the most amazing journeys, more psychedelic than any music possible. I would love to write about it one day.
Now I’m back in this world, well I’ll just release more music again, tour where I can. When I started I had so much expectation- nothing was ever good enough. Last weekend I got played by Mark Radcliffe on Radio 6-the first new song on the radio in like twenty years…it felt like the best feeling on the world.
You can buy the Cream single here. Back Catalogue is available here. You can find out more about Simon and Out Of My Hair here.