Lexicon -- The Info Source of the 80s.
If you tuned into more adventurous radio back in 1987, you might have heard an amazingly catchy song called "Wonderful Life". You might have even heard the name of the singer, simply Black. But unless you were a really big fan, you probably never heard of the singer again.
A much bigger star in Europe, where "Wonderful Life" and "Sweetest Smile" both went top 5, Black never really caught on Stateside. But the "Wonderful Life" single has had a life of it's own and A&M has kept Black's 1987 debut album (named after the song) in print. Since 1991 (when the company that tracks US record sales, Soundscan, started) it has sold almost 7,000 copies but not enough to keep him on A&M's roster. Blacks third album, Black, which was released in 1991, has sold about 6,000 copies.
Since his last US album, Black, he has kept a low profile, releasing a mail order album (later released to the shops in the UK) called Are We Having Fun Yet?
Obviously more than just one song, Black has had song for song one of the highest quality outputs of any UK songwriter save Elvis Costello. (Check out his Black CD for proof). And he has been busy getting his record company Neo Schwartz into running shape. Look for a single by Wendy Page called "Cool" to be released shortly.
Although pegged as the chronically depressed / pissed type, Black says that he is happier now than he has ever been. He is married and living the good life in the English country side. We had a chance to ask Black a few questions the other day...

Lexicon: It's been a while since the US has heard from you. In the UK you released Are We Having Fun Yet? Tell us a little about that and any plans for a new one?

Black: (I was) tired of the copyrights to the recordings of my songs belonging to liars, cheats and thieves, (so) I put out my own album. It sells, but not enough to cover costs incurred. My Mistake!

Any chance that it'll be released here?

Black: Unless approached by an American label "...Fun Yet" will continue to remain available solely by import / mail order.

So Neo Schwartz (His Label) is a going concern?

Black: Yes.

What are your plans for the label? Any non Black stuff coming out?

Black: A single by Wendy Page called "Cool", produced and co-written by myself, will be released in the UK shortly. Whenever possible I intend to make money from the label releasing music I've done.

So are there any new Black albums coming out? You had mentioned doing a double album at one point.

Black: I will be recording a new LP this year of unspecified length. Release is so far unscheduled.

There seems to be a great deal of difference between the albums A&M put out here versus the UK. Why is that?

Black: Record company pressure + naive, accommodating artist + unsure manager = f*** up!

Any chance that the tracks that were re-mixed, deleted or otherwise fiddled with will be compiled and released by A&M?

Black: Liars, cheats, thieves and fools are not in the habit of discussing pie in the sky with anyone except each other (i.e., I don't know).

You had some early singles on Warner Brothers (UK). Have they shown up on compilations or did you just re-record them on later albums?

Black: WEA (Warners) did collect the tracks together, post "Wonderful Life", to make a "mini LP." It would have been nice to have been sent one...

Is it true that you did a cover of Janet Jackson's "Control?"

Black: "Control" was one of five tracks recorded to test a new band and working method. I figured it would be easier to remain objective if we weren't working on my songs. I was right (amazingly).

Listening casually, it's hard to tell the difference between the two versions of "Wonderful Life." (It was re-recorded for the second album, Comedy.) Why was it re-done?

Black: Have a less than casual listen. The new version is a re-recording (producer pressure stupidly surrendered to). Why? The American market. A&M thought they might give it a try.

Black is by far your best album, yet A&M seems to have dumped it with out any promotional effort. What happened? They keep your first album in print and just put out a best of in the UK, they must not think you total commercial anathema?

Black:You must understand that major record companies always take the path of least resistance. Fine, what I didn't understand is how they can still screw up!

Have you ever heard the album "The Lover Speaks" out on A&M at the same time as "Wonderful Life?" Both have similar sounds. Was it the times or is there some "hidden" connection?

Black: Yes I've heard it and really like half of it. But theirs cost a lot more to make! David (E.D.)Freeman probably shares my admiration for Scott Walker.

How did "Wonderful Life" get re-released in 1994? Was it in a commercial?

Black: "Wonderful Life" has been used many times around the world for commercials. It seemed obvious to re-release. A&M thought otherwise until it was too late. Sold some albums though.

Do you think they were hoping for another "Young At Heart?" (A single by The Bluebells which was used in a Volkswagen commercial and went to #1 in the UK for a zillion weeks 10 years after it was first released).

Black: Of course, so was I.

Have you ever toured the US? Do you have any plans to?

Black:No and no, but I wouldn't object to it.

How did you end up working with Sam Brown on "Fly Up To The Moon," one of your best songs?

Black: We share the same friends, acquaintances and an A&M sojourn. She seemed right, so I asked her. Thanks for the compliment.

Have you worked with other people recently? Do you "guest" on other people's albums often?

Black: I guess if they ask within the usual parameters. If I like it enough to do it for fun, I rarely ask for money. The last occasion remember was for what turned out to be an American only release by the Gang Of Four. More recently I have taken to writing with others such as Boo Hewerdine (ex-Bible) and Gary Clark (ex- Danny Wilson.)

What artists do you listen to today?

Black: I tend to follow things song by song but I am currently most in awe of Joni Mitchell and Jean Sibelius.

Do you ever have trouble with your nome de plume, especially here in the States?

Black: I've only had trouble in the States, that's why I kept it. In Japan they call me Mr. Black.

You have a deserved reputation as a brilliant songwriter. How do you typically write songs? Do you find it easy or hard?

Black: There are no difficult songs, only lousy writers. Sometimes my reputation is undeserved, but thank you for the compliment anyway.

You sound progressively "sadder" with each (US) album. Is this a reflection of what was happening in your life at the time?

Black: In so far as the rest of the world is happening in my life, yes. However I am now very happily married with a young son.

Do you find it hard to be a songwriter in a period when most of the chart hits are retreads of old songs or formula Euro-disco tracks?

Black: Ironically, there has never been a time better suited to a songwriter such as myself (for) making a big impression, if I write good enough songs and my opinion alone is not enough for that. I am sick and tired of hearing / reading about the "death of rock" and falling sales, etc. when so many acts turn out lackluster, lazy and ill thought out records. The purveyors of dance music must be laughing all the way to the bank (where doubtless we will all be subjected to the sound of piped Techno, why let the supermarket shoppers have all the fun?)

Black promises that the new album will be "something special" and feels that it contains some of the best songs he has ever written.

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