More Sand in the Hourglass
by Stephen Slaybaugh

Hooking up in South London in 1973 when Glenn Tilbrook answered a flyer Chris Difford had hung in a shop window, Difford and Tilbrook formed a songwriting partnership that not only churned out a string of great singles throughout the late '70s and ’80s and into the ’90s, but that often earned comparisons to the likes of Lennon and McCartney. Though Squeeze was often lumped in with the new wave of their contemporaries, their pop hooks and classic instrumentation indeed bore a greater resemblance to their luminaries of yore.

For all their success, though, the band has functioned in stops and spurts. Difford and Tilbrook benched Squeeze in 1982 while they continued on together under their surnames, only to resuscitate the band in ’85. They again put Squeeze to bed in 1999 for what seemed like for good, but they regrouped again a few years ago, bringing back bassist John Bentley who hadn’t played with the band since 1982. This year they released Spot the Difference, an album of 14 of the group’s biggest hits re-recorded. The band has been out on tour in North America since the beginning of July, but I caught up with Difford on a day off in Canada.

You guys have been on this side of the pond for awhile.

Chris Difford: Yeah, five weeks in total, I guess. We’re on our last week, then back to the UK for another tour.

It seems like British bands don’t spend that much time here in one spell anymore and that a long tour like you’re doing is an old-fashioned way of doing things.

CD: It is an old-fashioned way of doing things. That’s because we’re an old-fashioned band.

Do you think it’s more effective?

CD: It’s cost-effective apparently when you play longer tours and lump everything together and hope for the best. Whether it actually works out better economically I don’t know. We’ll find out when we get home. But that’s what we’ve always done and always will do I suppose.

Do you think younger bands don’t have the endurance to do a long tour?

CD: Well, they don’t have the history that we have with Squeeze so it’s difficult to do long tours like this when they don’t have the finances. When we first came over to tour in 1977/78, we struggled, but we were here for two months and played constantly and in some horrible places and did whatever we could to get our name around. I don’t know if bands are as quite as enthusiastic about that idea these days as they used to be.

You’ve done dates with both Cheap Trick and the English Beat. I don’t think you would have necessarily played with either of those bands back in the day, but especially Cheap Trick. Do you feel like everything from the ’80s gets lumped together these days?

CD: Yeah, and sometimes it’s healthy and sometimes it isn’t. I was surprised by Cheap Trick—they’re not my cup of tea, really—but the audience seemed to enjoy having both of us on the same bill. And for the audience, if they spent some money on the show, then they might as well see two bands that they enjoy seeing.

Even back in the day, it seemed like what you were doing was fairly divergent from what was popular, while you also continued to subsequently do things that were different from what you had done before. Has it been important to you to be unique from your peers and from your previous work?

CD: I think it’s just naturally the way we’ve grown. We never planned to be different in any way—we just are. We’re just an individual English band. We’ve done 40 or 50 American tours, and it never ceases to amaze me that people still come to see our shows and enjoy them. We’ve gotten a younger audience as we’ve gotten older, which is kind of curious.

Even listening to, say, “Cool for Cats” and “Pulling Muscles (From the Shell),” those songs are fairly distinct from one another. Was it just a matter of the instruments at hand or do you feel like there was a different mindset to the band when making those songs?

CD: We were very much younger and didn’t have much knowledge of recording. I think there’s a lot to be said for that sort of naivety, going into a studio to record and not having much sense of what’s going on around you. I don’t particularly like going into the studio very much, but when I do, I try to experiment and have fun. Often over time, you tend to loose that and it can become a bit like a job, and I don’t think recording should be like a job. It should come from inspiration and be something that happens naturally.

Why re-record old songs instead of a batch of new ones?

CD: We are going to record a new album, but it will be next year. It keeps getting pushed back because we have other things to do. At the moment, we are re-establishing our career by taking our legacy, if you will, and recreating it so it sounds in tune with us now. Doing this record was something we felt was important because it meant we’d own the copyright. We don’t own the copyright to the originals, and we never will see the copyright, so we thought it was a good idea to re-record them.

Given the title, was it your intention to replicate what you had originally done or did you attempt to improve on the songs at all?

CD: I think we meant to record them to make them sound better, particularly with the vocals, but we tried to manipulate the sound to make it sound authentic as we could. I think we did a pretty good job of it—or Glenn did, anyway, as he did most of the work. He did an amazing job.

At the same time, have you grown to appreciate the songs in different ways?

CD: I don’t know. I’ve always felt affectionate towards the songs, and I don’t feel anymore affectionate toward them than I used to. I still feel they are the golden ones in our history. “Black Coffee in Bed” sounds better than it used to, and “Loving You Tonight” sounds much better than it used to, with Glenn singing it. They’ve gone down particularly well this tour.

Like a lot of people, I was introduced to the band with 45’s and Under. Is there any particular reason you didn’t re-record “Annie Get Your Gun” and “If I Didn’t Love You?”

CD: Not any particular reason that I would know. No, I didn’t even realize it. “Annie Get Your Gun” was recorded in a very particular way, and we probably couldn’t the technology to reinvent that without paying a fortune for it. “If I Didn’t Love You” was on the list, but we didn’t get around to it. There was only so much time that we could dedicate to the album as we had our solo projects going on too.

You had Paul Carrack come back and do the vocals on “Tempted” again. Did he not want to be involved in the reunion tour?

CD: Not this one, but maybe the next is what I hear.

After 10 years was it difficult getting back together? Were there hard feeling to get over?

CD: No, I don’t think so. It’s always fascinating and interesting getting back out on the road and learning about each other’s habits. It’s always different. It’s just a journey and one that we enjoy. As long we give each other space, we’re absolutely cool.

So no awkwardness to get past?

CD: I’m past worrying about awkwardness. Life is too short to be worried about what other people are doing in their lives when I feel confident and happy about what I’m doing. I keep my side of the street clean, then he’ll keep his.

You mentioned that you’re working on a new record. Is it difficult to write together again after 10 years or is it like riding a bike?

CD: We’ll find out. I mean, we don’t actually start till next year so I haven’t got a clue what it’s going to be like. But at this point in time, I’m pretty confident that it will be fine. I’ve got six months to think about the lyrics and what kind of way to go forward, so we’ll see.

Squeeze has taken breaks before. Do you find that it has been necessary?

CD: I think it’s really necessary. We’re not a band that hangs out together when we go home. When we go home, we don’t see each other for months on end. We’re not in each other’s pockets like that, and that’s kind of useful. We just come together to do what we do and we do it very well. I’m blessed with that experience really.

There’s always been a division between you writing the lyrics and Glenn writing the music. Has there ever been an inkling to cross that division?

CD: Glenn writes his own lyrics these days for his solo albums, so I suspect that he’ll write some lyrics on the next album. In a year’s time, I’ll get to tell you what I think about that, but at the moment I don’t know. I’m sure it will be good fun.

I was reading one interview and you were talking about how you have little recollection of when you achieved success. Was it just a matter of those days being a whirlwind that passed you by too quickly?

CD: Life’s like that in general, isn’t it? You look back on things and they went so quick. This tour’s gone so quickly. I’m not very good with time management. I can’t put my finger on it, but I really don’t remember much about earlier tours because they’re too far back in my mental diary. But I still respect those tours and what we achieved that got us to where we are today.

I noticed you’re keeping a tour diary online. Is that an attempt to remember things better this time around?

CD: When I put pen to paper, I can remember things much quicker than when someone is asking questions about the past. So yeah, I like keeping a tour blog. It’s a really useful tool to tap into a part of your psyche. I’ve got to be careful to not get up in the middle of the night and write shit. I’ve got a tendency to do that. Like last night, I didn’t sleep very well and I thought I’d write something on the internet about not sleeping. Anyway, I didn’t.

Is writing songs something you do while on the road?

CD: No, I don’t write while I'm on the road. I keep it simple; there’s enough to do. Breathing’s hard enough.