This Club Is For Everybody, Even You – the song, and this film of Swimmer One performing it live in Edinburgh – is the perfect encapsulation of why I was never going to be a pop star, however much I thought I wanted it.
We usually played it towards the end of our set. It was supposed to be the moment where things stepped up a gear and hopefully people started dancing. Sometimes that happened, but honestly, look at what an awkward frontman I am. This is the kind of song that needs a Dave Gahan or a Michael Hutchence to get the crowd going, not someone whose eyes are either firmly closed or staring at their shoes. Laura should have been the singer, really, she looks way cooler in this footage than either me or Hamish. She’s also the only one of us who seems as if she’s actually having fun. Also, those trousers! What was I thinking? I knew we were being filmed that night as well.
The song itself is perhaps another example of my tendency towards self-sabotage. It’s a great tune, especially the final section. But what the hell is it actually about?
The answer is that it’s a bit meta, as they say these days. It is to Swimmer One what Last Action Hero is to Arnold Schwarzenegger. The verses are a series of statements, two at a time, that seem to come from completely different people (‘Now I’ve bought a place in the west end / now I’ve burned your house to the ground.’) followed by a chorus that’s so disconnected from anything that happens before or after that it’s pretty much meaningless: ‘I have waited all of my life.’ (Ok…. for what, though?)
All this was very carefully thought out. It’s a pop song about pop songs, and specifically the lack of control songwriters have over how their lyrics soundtrack other people’s lives, no matter how personal and specific they are (the classic example being Born in the USA, an anti-war song adopted by hawkish patriots). Essentially, This Club is For Everybody, Even You is a Roland Barthes inspired thought experiment, an attempt to write a song that can’t be ‘misinterpreted’ because it contains multiple and contradictory choices of how to listen to and interpret it, from the banal (it’s about dancing) to the extreme (it’s about blowing up a bus). In other words, while I may have to accept that a song is no longer mine once it’s out in the world, anyone wanting to claim this one as their own also needs to accept that it also belongs to people with completely different values and life experiences from them.
I remember thinking this was quite clever at the time, but on reflection the result might well be a song that doesn’t resonate strongly with anyone. Even the title is an obscure joke, the ‘even you’ part cruelly undercutting the club anthem sentiment of the first part.
Looking back, an awful lot of my songs have been critiques of pop music rather than actual pop music. The first Swimmer One single was called We Just Make Music For Ourselves, for heaven’s sake. And the obscure joke behind the second single, Come On, Let’s Go!, was that its apparently 1950s rock and roll style title was actually inspired by 1950s Samuel Beckett. Long before Swimmer One, I was in a student cabaret act called the Bootleg Smokin’ Blues Band (yet another obscure joke – we thought it would be funny to pretend we were a tribute act to the Smokin’ Blues Band, a local covers band we didn’t particularly like). One of our songs, Living Cliché, was a piano ballad consisting of a string of pop lyric clichés (‘I’m just waiting, anticipating, to make you see what you mean to me’ etc) climaxing in a knowingly preposterous electric guitar solo that ended with the sound of the guitar being accidentally dropped on the floor. Around the same time I recorded a song called I Don’t Care About the Environment, purely as an irritated response to pop songs about climate change.
I wonder, sometimes, whether this is the songwriting equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn’s political leadership – continual self-sabotage by someone who doesn’t actually want to achieve what they’re supposedly setting out to achieve (in his case, becoming Prime Minister) because they’re more interested in demonstrating that they’re right about something than in winning people over.
I’ve not written as many songs like this in recent years. If anything I’ve gone the other way. Most of my Seafieldroad songs were sincere declarations of love or regret (classic singer-songwriter tropes, in other words). I’d like to think I’ve found a middle way with the new album. At least four songs are, on some level, about the songwriting process; the difference, I hope, is that I’ve stopped trying to show off how clever I am. Although I still couldn’t resist namedropping Roland Barthes just then. Damn it.