, 1997

Interview With Paul Carnell

by Adam Reeve

One day recently I took a trip into deepest, darkest Essex to visit Paul Carnell hard at work on Catch, the new single. The place that can rightfully be called “The Center of Creation” is in fact a barn in the middle of a campsite. It is the first studio I’ve been in that has the danger of chickens walking in and pecking your cables! After a fairly alcoholic Sunday lunch, we retired to the studio for a chat… Armed with a list of questions from mailing list members, I started up the tape recorder, and this is what came out…

How did Sunscreem come about?

Hmmm… I should have an answer off pat for that; it’s such a common question.

Gets asked a lot, I guess…

Well, it really depends who you ask. Lucia and I started it, really; I guess because we were inspired by the DIY mentality of dance music, you could do things how you liked. The dance scene since the late 80’s has been a mix and match – you could do anything really. We’d all been in bands before but never really got into it, or had real success.

What actually inspired it was when we all got arrested one day… when the private member’s bill got passed one day in 1990, banning rave parties. There was this big party organized at the end of the A12 in Essex, and we all went to it and after a while it was raided by the police – it was really stupid because all it was, was three or four hundred people in this aircraft hangar waiting for something to happen. Just having a few beers, dancing around a bit. And there were like 500 police on weekend overtime, 10 helicopters, dogs, horses, the lot. It was like a revolution was happening – so over the top. So we thought we’d definitely form a band then, try and do something about it.

So we’ve got the Tories to thank for something then?

Yes, we wouldn’t have bothered otherwise!

Where did the name Sunscreem come from?

That’s easy, very boring. It came off a DX7, actually. There’s a patch called Sunscreem on a collection of 1000 sounds called “Monster ROM” or something, which we nicked off Vince Clark. I can’t remember if he knew or not, I think he did. We used the sound on Walk On (*1), and in the live set right at the end of the last song. It’s a bit of a vicious sound; if you hit it right it really explodes, but other times it’s really mellow. We wanted something that explained this; we’re all about paradoxes so we came up with Sunscreem.

If you weren’t in Sunscreem, where do you think you’d be now?

Well, probably still here. Sort of where I am now, probably doing much the same thing, actually. We’d still be making music…

How old are you and how long do you think Sunscreem will be around for?

Good question, I’m 35. Not what the record company thinks… It’s quite funny, actually; we always used to lie about how old we were, just out of course. And so the record company didn’t know it was a lie, and one day we got this phone call, it sounded really suspicious, from the Washington Gazette. I’d never heard of it and we had to do a telephone interview. And the questions he asked sounded so not like a journalist… I decided he was definitely the CIA. He asked all sorts of personal questions which I lied about, and he came to ‘how old are you’, and I instinctively lied, and there was this sharp intake of breath, so he obviously knew it was a lie. I’ve never seen the interview and I’ve never heard of the newspaper…

What are the influences for your music, and who in your opinion should we be listening to?

Well, it’s a really corny thing to say I know, but quite frankly we have loads of influences, too many to mention. There aren’t many artists that really blow us away, and the ones that do are the obvious ones, like Prince, as a musician you can’t help but be blown away by his music. There’s a lot of good stuff around at the moment actually…

How are you on Oasis?

Well… someone once said to us “Paul, the only credibility is to sell.” But at the end of the day, all of us have a bit of time for their attitude. That’s what everyone buys into. If there’s anyone out there who truly buys into them for their music then I feel a bit sorry for them, because, really, it’s shite. And if another person says to me that they’re great song writers then I think I’ll throw up. They’re really good at borrowing stuff from other people, like the Beatles. I mean, I bet they’re a great laugh, but the music does nothing for me.

It’s a bit difficult for me to comment, coming from dance music, where the song isn’t so important and where the party matters, it’s a bit like how I used to bristle when people caned dance music. Best of luck to them…

Who should we be listening to… Hmmm… I always get stuck on this one….I thought the last Radiohead album was great, I like the Prodigy stuff. Let’s have a look in the CD player to see what’s there. Apollo 440, that’s good – oh, the rest is all Sunscreem.

When we listen to dance music it tends to be tapes, I mean take Underworld – I think they’re bloody excellent. But we find it quite hard to listen to, because if Lucia wasn’t a girl, that’s the kind of music we’d have been making. So it can be really frustrating listening to, say, Underworld. Particularly, as they’ve had an enormous amount of success. But as everyone expects her to sing, like a girl, then it’s difficult. So a lot of music like ours, that you might like, we don’t actually listen to because it’s a bit close to home.

What was Jean- Michel Jarre’s opinion of the Chronologie remixes?

Well, he thought they were really good, so that’s easy. The trouble with that was there were so many mixes, ours got kind of lost.

Those were really all that happened in about the two years between O3 and When, weren’t they?

Yes, well, there had been so much happening. I mean, we were signed within 6 gigs, which was pretty unusual. I mean, I think we needed a holiday after all that, it got all out of hand. So we just got our breath back…

What are your personal favourite tracks?

From Change Or Die, Be Of Good Heart, because I think that sums it all up; For Maddened Prophets, because we’ll never write anything as good as that again, and most people will never get it. I think one of my favourites is still the Band of Gypsies mix of Love U More. Because whenever I hear it, I think of a club I was in with thousands of people; and that track was played, and everyone had their hands in the air, and there were even girls there weeping with joy, and I was just thinking “Bloody hell, that’s us!” Still gives me goosepimples, that track…

Do you ever get pissed off with performing the classics?

No, I don’t actually – I still get the buzz. That’s the thing about us: we’re so fussy about the tracks. There’s nothing in any track we don’t totally like.

What can you tell us about the new album?

Well, it’s a lot more vocal…

…than what, NDT?

That wouldn’t be hard! No, with Change Or Die, it can get a bit heavy at times. A lot of people, in the same way that some films only some people can get, a lot of people just don’t get it. It was a bit hard to follow at times… So to cut a long story short the next album will be easier to follow – more discrete 3 minute songs. I guess more populist…

When are we likely to see the next tour, and is there any possibility of a small friends / family gig in the near future?

The next tour won’t be until the autumn, and yes it is quite likely we might do something small in London before then.

Do you have any plans to play in the US?

Yes, we’re going out to New York in June. We’re playing at the Crane (?) nightclub. It will just be a small PA, probably only the three of us and a DAT. It’s an excuse to go to New York anyway…

Is there any truth in the rumor that the guy in charge of music on EastEnders is in fact related to you?

Well no, but if anyone finds out who he is, we’ll buy him a drink!

Who is Aldo Soldani (see credits on Change or Die)?

Good question. He’s actually credited on O3 as Ciao, that’s the name he went by then. He formed the group with us, but he didn’t actually play anything. He was the brains of the operations really; he was into the early acid house scene. He used to run clubs in Essex, one called “The Ciao.” He also did the lights for us for a few years, he was very involved. Unfortunately, in 1994 he had a car accident and was killed, and I guess that’s part of the reason for the long break as well.

What do Sunscreem think of the Internet, and of course your representation on it?

Well it’s great, and our representation… even better! [laugh]

What is the last line in When? There has been a “heated discussion” about this one!

Err… “trust in love to save”… no, it’s “any god knows,” yeah that’s right.

No one would believe me! It sounds to me as if it’s been filtered, possibly to remove the ess?

You’re right actually, it does sound different. But no, it’s definitely “any god knows.”

From the horse’s mouth then?


Where did Idaho get its name from?

That’s an interesting question…

And why the Marilyn obsession?

The name actually came from… if you play the chords from the chorus. It’s in 6/4 time, which is quite hard to follow actually. When I was just busking it out on the piano, a word that seemed to fit was I-Da-Ho… So, that’s how it got the title.

The other reason, actually, was when I was in Idaho, clomping up a hill, I was actually humming those chords, so it seemed quite appropriate. And as for the Marilyn thing, it’s really a state of our culture. I think it’s explained best in that newsletter from a while ago…

Tell me about Pyramids.

Err… well, there’s something special about pyramids. It’s due to dimensions really. Like the fish analogy. If you get a fish in a pond, if it rains they don’t know of it as rain, just something hitting the surface. And if one of the fish gets hooked out, it goes back to the others and says “like guys, you would not believe what just happened to me!” and they say like “yeah, right.”

So the fish is abducted by aliens?

Yeah! I’m not for the aliens thing though, so if there are any UFO watchers out there I’ll disappoint you. The interesting thing about pyramids is how they break the duality of things, that everything in the world is black or white, right or wrong. Pyramids defy that instantly, you know straight away you get 3 popping up. We’re fascinated by anything that goes beyond the normal, we’re fascinated by paradoxes. I think the pyramids signify that. Everyone’s got this thing about how it was built, not why. Why is far more interesting!

It’s accepted it was quite difficult!

Exactly! So, why do it?? The reason might just be to freak people out for the next 4000 years, of course; talk about leaving your mark!

So the same might happen in a thousand years when someone digs out an old Stock Aitken Waterman record, and they just think “Why?”

Yes… Why would they want to make this record? Forget how, WHY??? So really, it’s about asking the wrong questions… which sums up the world really.

Well, thank you very much for that.

No thank you, it’s been fun. Hope it makes sense, maybe with a little editing…

Well not too much. 😉

Thanks again to Paul for sparing his time, I hope this is as interesting to read as it was to make.

©1997 Screeming