by Jacob Wingate-Bishop
Two years ago, Southampton-based musician Daniel Ash released his debut album, Love & Chemicals, under the name Teenage Waitress. Now, he’s mere months away from dropping his anticipated follow-up, Your Cuckoo – scheduled for June 9th release. The lead single off the record, ‘Grey Sky’, is out now on all streaming platforms. It’s a delectable mix of electro-pop from Ash’s debut fused with a more ‘live’ sound, echoing the best of early-2000s, British indie.
Recently, I got the chance to sit down with Dan and delve into why Your Cuckoo was written, what we can expect from the tracklist and what it’s all about.
The name of your new album is Your Cuckoo. Where did that come from?
The same as always, really. I create a lot of lists on my ‘notes’ [app], of things I like the sounds of. And it’s a lyric in the first song, ‘Baby Blue’. It’s one of the first on the album, and I quite liked it for that. I don’t think I ever came up with anything I liked more.
That’s interesting, that you whittled down the choices into a shortlist rather than knowing instinctively you had the right title.
Yeah, lists all the way. For the third album, I’m already thinking ‘Still Catastrophising After All These Years’ [laughs].
What albums or artists inspired you during the recording of this album?
Lots of [The] Magnetic Fields, which would come as no surprise, but periods pre-69 Love Songs. There’s an album called Holiday which I’m obsessed with at the moment. When I was writing, I kind of had lots of that in mind. Paul McCartney’s McCartney II, as well. Just kind of a bloke locked in his barn, sweating in the middle of summer, making all this weird music for himself [laughs]. It’s a mad scientist kind of album. That one is quite key, actually – there’s a bunch of songs on McCartney II where he has a drum machine and plays live drums over the top of it. That happens on a few songs on this album, like ‘Grey Sky’ and stuff. So, we’ve taken influence from albums like that.
It’s not a Teenage Waitress album without something a bit different. Is there a kazoo on Your Cuckoo?
The kazoo returns! It’s very low in the mixing, but it is in one song.
How long did it record to make the album, from conception not final mix?
Probably about two years. But that’s because we wrote too much material. The first thing we did was separate them into piles – pile one was Your Cuckoo. That was the first year, the second was getting pile one into shape.
So, some of the outtakes from Your Cuckoo will make it onto LP3?
Yeah. Fifty-percent of the third one is done. I’d like to not leave it so long, because it took a long time between the first one and this one. Don’t want another Chinese Democracy [laughs].
Were any of the songs on Your Cuckoo originally in the running for your debut, Love & Chemicals?
No. Most of them are fresh. ‘Baby Blue’ is really old, it’s about seven, eight years old. So, my producer Mike, we decided, before Teenage Waitress, to do a musical project together. And that’s the first song we wrote, ‘Baby Blue’. I had this song called ‘Now You’re Around’ and then Mike started messing with it and the arrangement and added all these funky guitars, the whole outro and stuff. And we kept saying ‘we’ve got to do this album; we’ve got to record the song’. Then I did the Teenage Waitress album, and as we were looking at the two piles of songs, the Your Cuckoo pile… we were like, ‘oh shit, ‘Baby Blue’ fits in there really nicely’. So yeah, it naturally went into that.
And what about ‘Too Much of a Good Thing’? I remember you performing that while gigging in promotion of Love & Chemicals?
Yeah. I think maybe that came around as we were in post-production for L&C.
Is there a particular track on Your Cuckoo you love the most, or are really proud of?
I really like ‘Backseat’. That’s probably my favourite, only because we went further down the electronic pop route than usual.
It’s definitely the outlier of the album, similar to the experimental ‘TRAK!TRAK!TRAK!’ from your first album.
Yeah, and things like using autotune as an instrument – which is something that I probably wouldn’t have thought to do by myself, that’s where it’s handy to have a sparring partner. Because if it was a completely solo project, I wouldn’t have the balls or the judgment to know if it works or not.
How do you think people will respond to that track?
Hopefully people will like it. My plan is for that to be a single. Hopefully, it’ll be received well, because that’s an indication of where the next album’s going to be going. The next one is kind of super electronic – like sending Teenage Waitress off to space. So, if people don’t like ‘Backseat’, they’re gonna really struggle with the next one [laughs].
It’ll be interesting to see how you play ‘Backseat’ live.
Yeah, it’s not very ‘bandy’, is it? You can’t imagine it played with a rock band. I don’t know if it’s the kind of thing that needs to be done with a boombox, backing track, when the rest of the band are off having a cigarette.
How frustrating is it to spend two years writing and recording an album, and have to spend another few months waiting for release?
It is frustrating, but I’ve recently started to think it’s quite a good thing. With the last album – this was just before the production delays – when we sent the masters to the pressing plant, we got the records back in a couple of months. And a couple of months after it was released, I thought, ‘Ah! I should messaged this person,’ or ‘I should have told that person!’ By the time the record’s released, it’s old news. People don’t really wanna write about anything that’s been out for two months.
So, having these six months, it allows an idea to come in April when I’m driving on the motorway or something and I can act on it. I’ve been getting more ideas for it, so it’s actually quite a good thing. I can release singles, and make sure the release date is as big and exposed as it can be.
Any other influences on Your Cuckoo?
The band Grandaddy have been a huge influence. They combine acoustic instruments and technology in a really interesting way. And contrasting those two different kinds of approaches really interests me. That’s quite reflective of some of the music on Your Cuckoo, and the songwriting as well. I’ve always been a big fan of them, but I had my first Grandaddy ‘renaissance’ when I was writing this album, and fell in love with them all over again.
Is Your Cuckoo going to be released digitally and on vinyl, similar to Love & Chemicals?
Yeah, no CD I’m afraid. Sorry, dude!
How much control did you have over the colour of the vinyl? Did you get to choose it?
Yeah, which was really nice. Thankfully Andy [Crofts] who runs the label [Colorama Records] is very open to stuff like that. He just sent me a swab of colours and went, ‘What colour record do you think it is?’ The colour [opaque green] kind of matches the jacket I’m wearing on the sleeve, and I feel it’s more of an ‘organic’ album than Love & Chemicals – which kind of feels like an album that was born on a laptop.
Where did that album cover come from?
Working with a guy called the Seasick Sailor – it was based on a photo from a photoshoot with a photographer called Mark Wilkinson. He took a bunch of them, and I sent them all to this artist – the Seasick Sailor. I was really keen to work with him because he makes great art and there’s a lot of mutual appreciation between the two of us. We both wanted to work together on it, and we just lucked out. The first idea that he sent me, I thought, ‘Yep, this is 100% the guy for the job’. I’m really lucky in that I got to choose how I wanted it to look.
The inner sleeve for L&C was blank. Does this have a printed sleeve?
This one’s got lyrics and stuff, yeah. I think this one works better with lyrics, because there’s some songs where words move along quickly. Because of that, I definitely wanted lyrics printed on this one.
What does Your Cuckoo have that Love & Chemicals doesn’t?
It has a bigger melting pot of musicians and flavours, whereas Love & Chemicals was essentially me and my producer Mike, working together in bedrooms. We did use session drummers, but half of this one was recorded live in a room as a band. It has more of a ‘live’ feel and an organic feel. It’s still got elements of the electronic thing – like with ‘Backseat’ or ‘Grey Sky’ – but we were keen to explore more of that live sound.
Are you planning to gig in promotion of the album?
I think so. I’d really like to go on tour as a full band, but there are certain roadblocks. Mainly the financial situation – if it’s my solo project, I can’t expect people to pay for train tickets and rehearsal rooms. It all gets very expensive. I’d like to do some shows as a full band, but we’ll have to see how much I can afford.
Anything confirmed yet?
I’m hoping to do a bunch of record shop instores for the week it’s out. Honestly, if you’re a record shop reading this: call me – if you want me there, I’m there! I’d love to do a mini tour.
Any other influences popped into your head?
of Montreal. They’re really bloody good. There’s an album – I think it’s called Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer – that’s half-written from the writer’s perspective, and then it kind of lyrically changes into an alter-ego of himself. It’s a really interesting blend of fiction and reality. That’s been influential in a few ways, because this album… although it’s still telling other peoples’ stories, I’ve peppered a few more personal experiences in this one, compared to Love & Chemicals.
Your Cuckoo isn’t a collection of vignettes like your debut?
There’s only one song that’s one hundred percent from my perspective, which is ‘Too Much of a Good Thing’. Everything else is like, other people and other situations, but they might be driving a car that I had when I was growing up, or name checking a particular record or artist that means something to me. There’s little references to things that have happened to me, or personal things scattered throughout. It’s nice to blend that line between fiction and reality.
The lead single, ‘Grey Sky’ is out. Congrats! How would you describe its sound?
To me, ‘Grey Sky’ feels like a really good introduction to the album, and a bridge from Love & Chemicals to Your Cuckoo. It does have live drums, and a bit of a band feel, but also an electronic feel, as well. It could be performed live, unlike something like ‘Front Row’… not ‘Front Row’, sorry, ‘Backseat’. ‘Backseat’ used to be called ‘Front Row’.
How long did it take to write ‘Grey Sky’?
That was one that was being messed with right until we recorded it, which doesn’t always happen. The good thing about working with my producer, Mike, is he’ll tell me when something’s not right, but he won’t always tell me what it is. He’ll say, ‘Yeah, maybe rewrite that’, then go off and make a pot of coffee, and then come back [laughs]. For this particular song, it was right down to the wire. Quite literally, halfway through recording a verse, he’d be like, ‘okay stop. I think this could be better.’
That’s such a great attitude, letting you explore and figure stuff out for yourself.
Yeah, for sure. He’s an amazing producer. I trust him implicitly as a gatekeeper; he’s only gonna let the good ideas through. And with that song, the bridge – ‘The world turns/ And leaves you behind/ I’ll be there/ Your guiding light’ – I didn’t have anything for that, literally until the day we did it. I was just ‘la-la-la’ing it. And he gave me this amazing bit of advice, that his favourite bridges are often the ones that zoom out and sum up exactly what a song’s trying to say, in two lines.
And then he went out and made one of his famous pots of coffee [laughs]. He was like, ‘zoom out. Off you go.’ I was thinking, right, what is ‘Grey Sky’ about? It’s about the importance of having a friend that gives a shit about what you’re doing creatively.
Wasn’t the original title ‘Hold You Girl’?
It was always a kind of placeholder lyric. From my memory, I was never singing it too loud or with confidence. The fun part of making music is the creative side. There’s absolutely no fun to be had out of chasing something or driving on the motorway for six hours to a gig. And I had that realisation in my twenties, and instead decided to focus on the thing that I enjoyed, which was writing.
That all inspired the song. I know so many amazing creatives who should be doing what they’re doing full-time. They deserve to. But unfortunately, we’re all told, ‘you can do whatever you’re like’ while you’re at school, and it’s not like that. It’s sad. So ‘Grey Sky’ is that kind of call of encouragement to people I know, like ‘keep going, because you’ve got something good. Remember the fun part is the creative thing!’
What themes would you say are explored on Your Cuckoo?
There’s quite a lot of references to characters looking back throughout the album, I think. It wasn’t the intention to write an album that touches on the theme of nostalgia, but I’ve noticed it recently whilst listening to the test pressings Some of it is quite domestic, too – ‘Salutations’, ‘Hold Me in the Afternoon’, ‘Too Much of a Good Thing’.
Which song was the most fun to record?
‘I Like the Way You Fall In Love’, because it’s a bit of a rollercoaster – fast section, slow section, loud section, quiet section. It changes key. That was a fun one to track as a band in the room. ‘Maggie’ was a cool one to record.
Is there a particular lyric on Your Cuckoo that you love?
There is! It’s really lame, it’s a dad joke, but I’m really happy I got a dad joke on there. It’s been a lyric that I’ve had for about five, six years, but I never found a home for it. Like on the first Teenage Waitress album, ‘I’m like a Wilhelm scream/ You’ve heard of me’ – from ‘The Mess You Made Me Make’, that was a stupid line. This one is from ‘I Like the Way You Fall In Love’, ‘A drink and a roll on his memory foam/ That was the last thing I remembered though’. It’s so lame. But I kinda like silly stuff and I’m glad it’s got a home.
So, what’s next? From the sounds of it, LP3 might not be too far off?
Yeah, half of that is already done, and I’m going to London to do even more soon. There’ll definitely be some stand-alone singles which didn’t make this one. Other than that, just keep having fun and keep making music. I’d like the third one to be way more personal than anything else. Your Cuckoo will be a like a bridge to a super personal one. I want an album from just my perspective for a change, because that’s how I used to write.
It’s great that you’ve already got so much down for a third record!
Yeah, I’m really excited. And to be honest, some of my favourite songs that I’ve ever written are all in the second pile that’s yet to come. I’m obviously really proud of Your Cuckoo, and it still feels like such a leap forward from L&C, but it’s nice to know that I’ve got some stuff I’m really happy ready in the bank for the next one.
Lastly, if you could sum up Your Cuckoo in three words, what would they be?
Memory box blues.
Massive thanks to the artist, Dan, for sitting down with us and having a chat about the new album. Your Cuckoo comes out on 9th June 2023, and it’s a perfect slice of synth-inflected indie pop perfection. There are aspects of punk, electronica and, like Ash says, a more ‘live’ sound compared to 2020’s synthy Love & Chemicals.
You can listen to the single, ‘Grey Sky’, from the upcoming album on all streaming services now.
You can pre-order Your Cuckoo on hypnotic opaque green vinyl here: https://cargorecordsdirect.co.uk/collections/preorders/products/teenage-waitress-your-cuckoo
And you can check out Teenage Waitress’ twitter page here: https://twitter.com/TeenageWaitress?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor