California dreaming - a tale of two cities with Neutrals' Allan McNaughton
Concept albums are traditionally the preserve of 1970s prog rockers singing of knights and dragons – certainly not a punk rock-inspired tale set between Scotland and California.
That is however what ex-pat Allan McNaughton has come up when writing his latest release for San Francisco band Neutrals. Though he protests his innocence.
“I didn’t realise I was doing it,” he says. “We recorded 18 songs, and realised there were lyrical threads through different songs, and these songs need to go together, as it’s really a story – even if it wasn’t intended that way.”
12 of those tunes became ‘Kebab Disco’ – even the title a nod to the nightlife in any Scottish town.
“It’s not autobiographical, but it draws on personal experiences – a snapshot of my life in the early 1990s.
“A big part of my Saturday night was getting a fake ID and going to the Art School on a Saturday night – that was the place where you’d see people you knew, hear good music.”
The album starts with ‘I Could Do That’ – detailing “the wistfulness of the character wishing he’d gone to art school, or paradoxically thinking he was better than theperson who did go.”
Meanwhile, ‘24 Pictures’ depicts “Kelvingrove Park on the first day of a hot Scottish summer – taps aff, dogging school or leaving work early, shirtsleeves, eating 99s off the van.” Nostalgic indeed.
McNaughton’s tale then continues on side 2 (it is aptly a very retro vinyl release) – where the singer has moved to the USA to record ‘Hate The Summer Of Love’ with like-minded new bandmates. “It’s no secret San Francisco is losing a lot of its charm, as the small businesses and dive bars make way to corporate chains.”
The Lanarkshire-born frontman’s previous Californian band Giant Haystacks recorded two well-received albums, but Scottish music fans may know him better from that Art School period, where he played with Glue – whose members included Stef Sinclair who would end up in post rock trio El Hombre Trajeado, as well as artist Sandy Carson, who would follow a similar route in moving to the US, before a transatlantic collaborative project with electronic combo Iglomat.
And there was another well-kent face in that family tree – McNaughton’s successor in Glue being RM Hubbert, who would eventually win the Scottish Album of the Year award in 2013.“It’s nice to see Hubby doing so well for himself after being under my shadow the whole time,” he laughs.
Aside from the obvious musical references in the new record, the album has a heavy Scottish favour thanks to the singer’s still strong accent.
“It works in my favour – a lot of people are fans of Scots bands from the ‘80s, so my accent lends that a bit of authenticity.”
There’s a Billy Connolly quote about a Scottish boomerang – it doesn’t come home, it just sings about coming back. “I’m not usually one for nostalgia but maybe the current world we live in seemed too depressing to write about, so I subconsciously looked to the past.”
McNaughton’s wife is American – the two originally met at King Tut’s with Glue on the same bill as the American act she was tour managing. Would either of them contemplate moving ‘home’ to Scotland?
“We live in the most expensive part of the world, so we do wonder what we might do when we retire – we talk about stuff like the NHS… but then again there might not be an NHS either by then…”
Sadly, no Scottish dates are planned, the launch tour alongside labelmates Seablite, who also have a new album out, and who are of a similar vintage. “It’s not very Spinal Tap I’m afraid – all quite grown up, not too much debauchery, cups of tea on the rider!
“Playing in a band is like golf – you buy expensive equipment, get together with friends once a week and very occasionally you go away and play somewhere else.”
But perhaps with the least rock’n’ roll clothing imaginable?
“Tartan plus fours... you’ve given me a photoshoot idea...”
‘Kebab Disco’ is out now – more at www.facebook.com/neutralsnotswiss.