The solo musician talks to Tom Jenkins about his new album, Chroma, over tea and cake in Soho
Sharing a rich, wobbly cheesecake with Eugene McGuinness in a famous Soho patisserie with French accordion music playing in the background, our conversation inevitably turns to the singer’s unexpected popularity across the channel. The French have taken the 28-year-old Londoner and his 2012 album, The Invitation to the Voyage, to their hearts.
“For some reason it’s resonated over there. I don’t know why. French radio stations picked up on it and it was a lovely surprise for me. The ego in me agrees with them,” he quips, “but France is a bonkers plus in a career that otherwise is a bit of a difficult, one-man mission to get people’s attention.”
Going back to the idea of a “one-man mission”, has he ever craved the gang mentality of a band? On the evening we talk he’s due to perform for the first time with a “nervous” new live band and has previously played with his brother Dominic in Eugene McGuinness + the Lizards, releasing one album.
“My brother’s been fantastic: we’ve always helped each other out. But ultimately I can never claim to feel like I’ve been in a big proper band where I’m one of the boys. The nature of how I was signed, it was just me. I’ve got a great band, it’s not like I’m Liza Minnelli or Diana Ross, pissing people off wherever I go, but that communal band thing? I never really got it. I think if I were to be in a band, the band would split up… because I was in it. At least if it’s just me I can’t split myself up,” he laughs.
McGuinness is self-effacing when I ask him what kind of reaction he’s expecting to Chroma: “I’m not expecting any, as in I don’t expect there to be any. I don’t know what else I can do: wear an eye patch? I don’t really care. It won’t have any bearing on what I do next. I’m buzzing.” He sounds like Liam Gallagher, he jokes.
He certainly has the swagger but I can’t imagine sharing a cheesecake with Gallagher Junior.
Photography James Rawlings
Chroma is out now on DominoThis last sentence is typical of Eugene McGuinness: funny and self-deprecating with a strong sense of self-belief. On a sticky June afternoon in London he cracks jokes and struts the pavements with purpose. During our interview he’s more caustic, but frankly hilarious. The only time he bristles is when I mention his time in Miles Kane’s live band. McGuinness is on the verge of releasing an accomplished, taut, single-heavy third album, one that he’s obviously very proud of. Understandably he doesn’t want to talk about another – and he’d freely admit this – more successful musician.
“I put a lot of thought put into my last record. It’s a complete audio omelette of influences – it’s everywhere. The omelette would have Lego in it and bits of metal. I deliberately put zero thought into Chroma”
“That was a couple of years ago now so it feels strange talking about it,” he says with a steely gaze. “I remember being on autopilot with that stuff because my default setting, no matter what I do in life, is song writing. Subsequently it’s become quite difficult being asked about people more famous than myself. It’s a hard one because I didn’t foresee that happening – maybe a bit green of me.”
Not that McGuinness is unsuccessful. Since releasing his eponymous debut in 2008 he’s received vivacious praise for his classic song writing skills and receives as ecstatic a reaction live, with the audience “screaming the words back”, here as he does in Paris, one of his favourite places to play. The new album is called Chroma. Produced by Dan Carey (Hot Chip, MIA, Santigold), it’s a more cohesive offering than The Invitation…
“Chroma sounds like it does because it does come from one place. Essentially, it was written in the same room. The song writing was driven and it happened very quickly. It goes in a few different directions but you can tell it comes from the same place. I put a lot of thought into my last record. It’s a complete audio omelette of influences – it’s everywhere. The omelette would have Lego in it and bits of metal. I deliberately put zero thought into Chroma.”
“I’ve got a great band, it’s not like I’m Liza Minnelli or Diana Ross, pissing people off wherever I go, but that communal band thing? I never really got it”