When Joe McAlinden was a teenager, he and his friend Norman Blake would sit in their bedrooms obsessing over records. “We wanted to be Orange Juice,” he laughs. “Coming from Glasgow, it was all about the Postcard thingâ€¦”
Thirty-odd years later, Postcard Records might be gone, but Norman has achieved a legendary status of his own with Teenage Fanclub while Joe has – under the name Linden – just made an album of glorious sun-kissed guitar anthems with his “total hero,” Orange Juice main man Edwyn Collins.
Bleached Highlights – produced by Collins and Seb Lewsley and released on AED, Collins’s label with former Rough Trade A&R James Endeacott – is studded with blissfully immediate pop songs, from “Brown Bird Singing” with its chiming guitars and soaring vocals, to the fuzzy ’60s grooves of “Something Wonderful.” It marks Joe’s return to music after a 10-year hiatus. Prior to that, he was frontman for the ’90s Creation-signed band Superstar, whose string of brilliant indie-pop singles saw them perpetually on the brink of living up to their name.
Mark Sutherland spoke with McAlinden about falling in love with music again and working with his idol.
Your old band Superstar broke up in 2000. What have you been doing for a decade?
My dad died and I just shut the door. I wasn’t really aware that I was doing it, but I not only stopped playing music, I stopped listening to it. In one room of the house was all the studio stuff and in the sitting room all the hi-fi and records, but you’d never hear a note of music.
What brought you back to music?
In September 2009, Edwyn was doing a show in Glasgow with Teenage Fanclub as his backing band. It was a phenomenal night, I met Edwyn and we got on really well. Afterward, we went back to Norman’s flat and listened to You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever [Orange Juice's debut album] about 10 times on the trot. We were like wee kids again. I came back home thinking, “I’ve really missed all thisâ€¦”
A song like “If I Had Wings” from Bleached Highlights is really uplifting; you could almost imagine it featuring on The X Factor.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I can hear [other] people singing it. Bring it on! The last time I wrote a song that quickly it was a song called “Superstar,” which was covered by Rod Stewart and all that kind of nonsense. The album’s actually a really “up”-sounding record. I know why it’s upbeat, because I think if I had to really delve into how losing my dad affected me, the record would be a total dirge. I wanted to make a beautiful piece of music. My life’s changed massively in the past few years; I moved to the middle of nowhere in Argyll (western Scotland) with my studio and my dog and now I’ve got a wife and family up here. So the record’s like a balance between losing my dad and what I have now. But I don’t want people to think of the record as a downer, because it’s not.
What did Edwyn Collins bring to the creative process?
He’s very instinctive. I came down to his studio in London with a bunch of songs and a bass guitar. I hadn’t even decided who was going to play on the record. The first day Edwyn said, “Oh, we’ve got Paul Cook [Sex Pistols drummer] coming in to play drums.” I was like, “Ok, the Paul Cook?” First day, Paul Cook’s sitting behind the drums, Edwyn’s shouting through from the control room and I was like, “This is fucking mental.” If I’d made a bad record in that environment, I should have been shot!
How did it compare to being in Superstar?
I had great times with Superstar, but at the end I didn’t like the band environment, I felt I was compromising myself too much. This time, it was just me who decided whether something was good or shit and, if it was shit, Edwyn would tell me! Once, Edwyn said, “What are we going to do next?” I said, “How about this song?” “No, I don’t like it. Why don’t you go home and write another one?” I was bruised for 10 minutes and then thought, every decision he’s made has been the right one, so that’s obviously right too. So I went back up the road and wrote “Bleached Highlights.” I would’ve told him all the Orange Juice tracks I didn’t like muchâ€¦but actually I don’t think there are any!