Q+A: Nick Van Eede
Cutting Crew are back with a new album of orchestral reimagining of their work. Steve Harnell talks classical reinventions with their songwriting frontman.
Tell us about Cutting Crew’s new orchestral album and how it took shape…
It started about a year ago. We do a lot of gigs with Wang Chung and Nick [Feldman] told us about his band making an orchestral album [2019’s Orchesography] – then he introduced me to the label, August Day Recordings. Our album’s a very multi-national affair and features The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra as well as The Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra; my guitarist is in Manchester, the string arranger, Pete Whitworth, is in Yorkshire and I’m in Sussex. Pete did the arrangements then we recorded the orchestra first. We had to put the guitars, drums, bass and vocals on afterwards. It was one of the most bizarre albums I’ve ever made in my life – and it sounds bloody marvellous.
(I Just) Died In Your Arms seems ripe for this type of makeover. The original’s intro always did feel rather orchestral…
For many years now people have said our songs – love them or hate them – lend themselves to a kind of thematic, filmic, orchestral treatment. That was always the way I wrote. In the original, we used a synthesiser cello and the Musician’s Union told us, “If you do that, you can’t use a human being in the video”, so we had that little in-joke in it where the cellist has her instrument taken away from her by the roadie.
The new album’s title quotes from the hymn Praise, My Soul, The King Of Heaven. What’s the relevance of that reference?
Well, I’ve been to a lot of funerals recently, goddamn… Also I always loved hymns as a kid and this was one that resonated. Like I have done since I was 20 years old, I have this huge 20ft long piece of wallpaper at home and I write title ideas on it in big block capitals. When I sit at the keyboard and guitar I glance up and see these non sequiturs, that’s always how I start writing a song. When this album was being recorded, I looked up and there it was.
What does the orchestral treatment give your songs?
We didn’t want the arrangements to be sickly sweet or sappy, they had to be edgy. Pete [Whitworth] asked me to give him a reference point of a composer for each track. Some of the new versions give the lyrics different meaning, too.
What’s your relationship like with (I Just) Died In Your Arms? Is it tough when your first song is also your biggest hit?
I’m totally comfortable with it. Some people say, “Is it a bit of an albatross?” but I’m extremely proud of it. She – and I call, the song ‘she’ – has been my passport to the world. The alignment of the stars and timing was crucial, I’m a big believer in those kinda things. We released that song at the perfect point in the 80s. Another two years later and that type of music was dead and buried.
You’ve been a staunch defender of the power ballad in the past. Do you think they get a bad rep?
Of course those big fluffy ballads are an easy target and there are some shockers out there. I’m sure some people think my songs are shockers, too, it’s all personal preference. There are some that set my teeth on edge, to be fair. On the other hand, take I Want To Know What Love Is by Foreigner, for example. The lyrics and Lou Gramm’s voice reaching those heights is just tingly stuff. I never watch the video for it, though. I just want to hear the music. I don’t want to see what some video director with a $250,000 budget tries to make it look like as I’d rather have my own images. That was the whole problem with MTV in those days.
Did that hold you back? Those were key years for MTV after all…
We played ball but we tried to get our sense of humour into videos, like incorporating the motorbike into the end of …Died In Your Arms. After getting a Grammy nomination and selling three million albums, by the time of our second LP, The Scattering, we thought, “We’re not whippersnappers here. It would be nice to have a bit more power in the decision-making process with our videos.” The director David Hogan was a guy we loved from the first album so we got in touch with him for Between A Rock And A Hard Place. With his typical Canadian-Brit sense of humour, our guitarist Kevin MacMichael suggested that it would be great if we could pull the rug out from beneath the video – as the camera pans back all you see is just three people and a dog behind the scenes; the whole thing is a sham. I remember David, who was a real hip kinda guy, thought it was a great concept. Then we flew out to LA to film it. Did it happen? Fuck no! They wouldn’t expose the sham of making videos but that would have been our stance. Of course, we got voted down.
Have you got any new Cutting Crew material on the way?
There were about five or six songs all ready to go before we started this [orchestral] album. They’ve been put on hold for the time being but I’m always writing new material. I’ve really enjoyed teaming up lately with a few different people – mostly unheard ofs – it gives me a nice new slant on songwriting.
Have you got any live plans for 2020?
In the UK, it’s the curse of Cutting Crew in own home country! We sold more albums in Norway than we did in Britain. In the UK, they didn’t want to wait for our first album.
We sold 500,000 singles and then nobody bought the LP because of that. Our pedigree is weird in this country. We’ve just come back from Australia and Japan, we’re also playing in Texas, Lille, Trinidad and Canada. In Britain, it’s just the Rewind show. Cutting Crew live is always the biggest surprise anyone will get. I love being a ‘show stealer’, a bit of a dark horse. People love the way we construct covers and the banter, too – my band calls it ‘Uncle Nick’s Corner’. Take the song Berlin In Winter, for example. That’s the story of how Cutting Crew played in the city two nights after the Berlin Wall fell. We walked onstage and there were just eight people in the room. They were all down on the Wall having a good time. We invited them all onstage, played about six songs then fucked off down to the Wall ourselves!
● Ransomed Healed Restored Forgiven is out now on August Day Recordings. Discover more at cuttingcrew.org.