Boy, Badly Drawn
Badly Drawn Boy
Singer, songwriter, guitarist, keyboardist
Badly Drawn Boy, given name Damon Gough, never anticipated all of the excitement surrounding his debut album, let alone winning Great Britain’s prestigious Mercury Music Prize. The award—set up in 1992 to be roughly analogous to the Booker Prize for fiction—annually honors a deserving album based on artistic qualities alone, regardless of popularity. Like many young artists, Gough, whose music is sparse, atmospheric, and melodic folk-rock with a lo-fi quality and a feeling of essential optimism, pondered over what to make of the critics’ comments. Following the 2000 release of The Hour of Bewilderbeast, Gough earned rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic, drawing comparisons to everyone from rock-funk star Beck and legendary folk singer Nick Drake to eighteenth-century poet William Blake.
At one of his shows in New York City during his first American tour, according to New York Times reviewer Jon Pareles, Gough admitted to feeling a little “embarrassed” about winning the Mercury Prize. As he told Magnet contributor A.D. Amorosi about all of the media attention: “It’s difficult to see or feel all that’s being said from this angle. My job is to play these gigs, write and meet the people I’m set to…. I don’t think an artist—or a person at the middle of this type of storm—should take it at all seriously. All I have to do is my part of the equation. Besides, I’ve always been willing to challenge or ride whatever hype came my way.”
Gough was born on October 2, 1970, in the small English town of Dunstable, but grew up in a close-knit family in nearby Bolton, a suburb located 20 miles north of Manchester. Gough first became interested in music at the age of ten when he discovered the Police, and in high school, he frequently listened to the Smiths. In the 1980s, Gough also became obsessed with Bruce Springsteen, collecting bootleg recordings and reading every article he could find about the American rock star. Springsteen, he says, was the person who inspired him to pursue a career in music, though Gough’s own songs only faintly resemble those of his self-professed idol. What Gough—who would later amass a catalog of more than 1, 000 compositions— seems to have borrowed from Springsteen is the musician’s passion for his craft. Besides Springsteen, Gough lists Frank Zappa, Carole King, Simon and Garfunkel, Guided By Voices, and Sebadoh as his primary influences.
Still, Gough initiated his musical education relatively late in life. In Bolton, where his parents ran a printing factory, he never took private lessons or joined a teen garage band, though he did eventually teach himself how to play guitar and keyboards and joined several local groups after high school. He also attended Leeds College of Music for a brief period. According to Gough, he only learned a few chords and failed miserably as a music student. Returning home, Gough took a job in his parents’ factory and started writing songs. “It was a decent job because I was working with my parents,” Gough said to Boston Globe writer Joan Anderman. “But for years I woke up every day wanting to do music and wondering why I didn’t know how to do it. You know, if you’re a carpenter you can buy wood. But this was some out-of-the-stratosphere job that seemed unattainable.” Even today, despite his accomplishments, Gough remains uncertain about his song-writing abilities.
Hoping to move closer to the music world, Gough— who at the time did not believe performing was in his future—moved on to a job at a recording studio to learn to become an engineer. At the studio, where he worked for about a year, Gough failed to move up in rank, and his progressions were minimal. Nevertheless, he valued the job because it enabled him to experiment with his own recording techniques during off hours. Subsequently, in 1990, Gough decided to pursue his song-writing in earnest, holding out for several years before a significant opportunity came along. Contrary to the popular perception, Gough was not exactly an overnight sensation. “One thing about growing up in a stable home is that it may leave you a little naive,” he said to Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times. “You just kinda think things will work out in time. You’re in no rush. If your parents break up at an early age, you might have more drive to get out into the world a bit more. In my case, I took my time. I just kind of felt things would turn out well for me … someday.”
In 1996, after moving to Manchester from Bolton, Gough met Andy Votel, a designer and deejay.
Born Damon Gough on October 2, 1970, in Dunstable, England; children: a daughter, born 2001. Education: Attended Leeds College of Music.
Moved to Manchester, England, and met Andy Votel, with whom he founded the Twisted Nerve label, 1996; signed with XL Records, 1998; released The Hour of Bewilderbeast, 2000.
Awards: Technics Mercury Music Prize, 2000.
Addresses: Record company —Beggars Banquet, 580 Broadway, New York City, NY 10012, phone: (212) 343-7010, fax: (212) 343-7030, e-mail: beggars ©beggars, com, website: http://www.beggars.com. Website —Badly Drawn Boy Official Website: http://www.badlydrawnboy.co.uk.
Together, the pair founded their own label called Twisted Nerve, and Gough recorded a couple of EPs. These early efforts, simply titled EP1 and EP2, followed later by EP3, gained the songwriter a cult following and also provoked somewhat of an A&R bidding war among record labels. “I was shocked by the amount of attention that EP [EP 1] and subsequent ones gathered,” Gough recalled, who took his stage name from a cartoon-strip character he remembered from his childhood, to Amorosi. “All I wanted was a document, something I could keep.” Then, in December of 1997, Gough had the good fortune of having his car mistaken for a cab by the Fall’s Mark E. Smith. Smith, apparently not realizing Gough was not a taxi driver, jumped into the car, demanding a ride to his home. The chance meeting led to the Fall recording one of Gough’s songs, “Tumbleweed.” Next, Gough contributed another of his songs, “Nursery Rhyme,” to U.N.K.L.E.’s 1998 album Psyence Fiction on James Lavelle’s Mo’ Wax label.
Prior to that record’s release, Gough had signed to Prodigy’s XL label for a reported six-figure sum. In April of 1999, Gough released a fourth EP, It Came from the Ground, followed by another, Once Around the Block, in August of that year. These releases were accompanied by live performances in Liverpool and London. His sets, known for their amateurish nature, saw Gough sometimes forgetting songs or playing pieces he had not yet completed. Nonetheless, fans saw his shows as brilliantly original and anxiously awaited the arrival of his full-length debut, which was preceded by two more EPs. “My whole idea has been to build up a solid base of support so that there would be a group of people who really knew what my music was all about before the album was ever released,” Gough explained to Hilburn about deciding to hold out a while for his first album.
The Hour of Bewilderbeast, opening with the strings and horns of “The Shining,” finally hit store shelves in Britain in July of 2000, and won the support of both fans and the music press. That month, Pulse! magazine and the London Times both hailed it as the United Kingdom’s debut album of the year, while Britain’s influential Q magazine described it as the “indie rock Pet Sounds” In September of that year, Gough earned validation for the album when he took home the Mercury Music Prize. “The Mercury is the only one people take seriously, because it reflects the art of the album, not how much a thing sold or how much you spent on the pyrotechnics of a video,” he said proudly to Amorosi. “And, fortunately, I won it. It’s not my fault, really.” During the latter months of 2000, Gough brought his live act to the United States for the first time, where he earned the praises of American critics and music fans as well.
Gough, who does not take drugs, says he has learned to follow his thoughts for pleasure and to get through life’s up and downs, and he hopes to express this state of mind with his music. As he told Rolling Stone writer Gavin Edwards when asked what he wants his listeners to do while listening to his music: “Solve a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle.” Gough and girlfriend Claire had a daughter in 2001.
EP 1, Twisted Nerve, 1997.
EP2, Twisted Nerve, 1998.
EP3, Twisted Nerve, 1998.
It Came from the Ground, Twisted Nerve, 1999.
(With Andy Votel) Whirlpool, Twisted Nerve, 1999.
Once Around the Block, Twisted Nerve, 1999.
Another Pearl, Twisted Nerve, 2000.
Pissing In the Wind, Twisted Nerve, 2001.
The Hour of Bewilderbeast, XL/Beggars Banquet, 2000.
Billboard, July 29, 2000; August 5, 2000; September 23, 2000; October 21, 2000; November 25, 2000; December 20, 2000/January 6, 2001.
Boston Globe, November 3, 2000; November 4, 2000.
Los Angeles Times, September 29, 2000; Novembers, 2000.
Magnet, January/February 2001.
Melody Maker, December 20-27, 1997; January 24, 1998; January 31, 1998; October 24, 1998; November 28, 1998; January 9, 1999.
New York Times, November 11, 2000.
Rolling Stone, October 12, 2000; November 9, 2000; February 1, 2001.
Village Voice, November 14, 2000; February 13, 2001.
Washington Post, November 3, 2000; November 29, 2000; December 31, 2000.
BBC Online, http://www.bbc.co.uk (May 27, 2001).
Sonicnet, http://www.sonicnet.com (May 27, 2001).
Twisted Nerve Records, http://www.twistednerve.co.uk (June 25, 2001).
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