-Grant McLennan story by Andrew Khedoori

from Drum Media, 29th November 1994.

"This was a wonderful experience, an absolute dream, actually," says Grant McLennan on the making of his latest album, "Heartbreaker[sic] Star".
"Heartbreaker[sic] Star" sprawls out over twenty-four songs. McLennan really went for it this time, and that's a score he wastes no words on: "I did. I overreached myself and achieved good things." "I had a lot of songs," he goes on later to say, "and I knew that the things that I wanted to write about would be best served with a cycle of songs. I wanted to cover a lot of characters' lives. I think it's more interesting, more of an adventure and bolder."

The record melds together with an interwoven narrative of sorts, constantly crossreferencing between particular songs and characters. The connections made by various linking devices has already earned "Heartbreaker[sic] Star" comparisons to the Robert Altman film "Short Cuts" - a film based on a number of Raymond Carver stories - in some parts of Europe. "I don't mind the word concept," says McLennan, "but it certainly doesn't have a beginning, middle and end. Basically a lot of the characters appear on other songs and some of the people in some songs know some of the other people. It's a record of change and taking a few journeys."

Memphis or Nashville were two places McLennan had long wished to record, however it was a man by the name of John Keane who finally brought him to Athens, Georgia to work on "Heartbreaker[sic] Star". Home of course to R.E.M., that band's guitarist Peter Buck had recommended Keane and his studio to McLennan. The idea appealed to McLennan - R.E.M., Indigo Girls, Nanci Griffiths and Uncle Tupelo had all recorded there with Keane, and after contacting Keane himself, McLennan quickly clicked on to his way of thinking. "He just really dug the idea of me turning up by myself and playing with local people." The Athens musicians offered a different, more freewheeling attitude to recording than McLennan had ever been used to. He declares "Heartbreaker[sic] Star" the easiest record he's ever made. "They (the players) gave me a good time and showed me how to make a great martini. What they mainly did was that they were completely in sync with the songs. They hadn't even heard the songs and I'd just start to show them the songs and they'd fall in behind. We'd have a couple of runs through and then John would roll the tape. We'd go and listen to it and it would invariably sound magnificent. It was just a breeze."

McLennan has always had a talent for understated pop songs and here he's merged it naturally with a country music sensibility, something he's been eager to do for some time. "It's emotion," he says of the appeal of country. "When it's done well, it's just the most bare, naked songs of longing and happiness.
They're very natural, very true and blue collar. It's got a great sense of mystery to it and it's unflinchingly sentimental sometimes as well. That's the good stuff, mind you." And of finding his own way into it? "Pretty effortless, actually," he responds matter-of-factly. "I've always liked country music and listened to a lot of it. I just happened to have a few country things and it made sense in the context of the record and where I did it to put that on."

Many of the songs are duets featuring a singer McLennan has always admired, Syd Straw. The pairing came about by chance. "I'd written a lot of the songs with another vocalist in mind. John Keane said that Syd Straw was in town and wanted to meet me. She came down to the studio and I asked to try a song right out of the blue and she said 'sure'. Before we knew it, she'd joined the project for a few days and ended up singing on half the record."

Three albums down the line of his solo career, McLennan says he no longer allows himself to become awkward with his songwriting. He knows where his strengths lie and is content to pass over any sort of experimenting. "I think I'm more comfortable with it in that I've learnt what's really cool now with what I do. I don't spend so much time now developing things which aren't so good. Hopefully I've just got better. I like to please myself." However, having exhausted the last of his songwriting output with "Heartbreaker[sic] Star", he may find himself pushing into other, less familiar areas once again. "I really wanted to record everything and leave myself with nothing," he declares. "This is the first time in my life that I've finished a record I didn't have any songs left over. That's a very liberating experience because it means you've got to come up with something."