Big Boy Bloater has been around the block. Through the 90s and noughties he was the nearlyman who gained a cult following for his fusion of vintage/modern R&B, fur-ball vocals and black-comedy lyrics about bad strippers and hating your girlfriend.
Now, following a new deal with Dutch heavyweights Mascot Records – and his more rocking label debut Luxury Hobo – the Boy looks set to get bigger.
Is it better to slog your way up rather than be an overnight success?
Yeah. In these days of X Factor, where people are elevated to huge superstars over six weeks, I just don’t think they’ve got the longevity, because you haven’t had all the hard knocks playing pubs and clubs. It teaches you a lot, about the music business and about yourself.
I remember one gig, I didn’t even want to get out of the van, it looked so bad. It was a bikers gig, on their own private land, lots of guns around, very scary. They were tapping on the windows. I eventually did the gig – and they absolutely loved it. We won them over. I can’t see an X Factor star getting out of the limousine for that.
Journalists struggle to categorise your music. How do you see it?
I’m always getting the blues label. I think there’s a bit of blues in there, but there’s a lot of other stuff going on as well. I dunno. Labels: are they that important? I think it’s whether you like a band or not. A lot of the guys that I like, they wouldn’t put themselves in a niche market. I guess it makes it easier for PR people to say: “Oh, I’ve got an acid-jazz-reggae-funk album here.” But if you don’t define anything too much, people have to actually sit down and listen, which is a good thing. For Luxury Hobo I was listening to T. Rex, Mott The Hoople, lots of Nick Lowe, early Elvis Costello. I think you can hear it.
What’s the song Robot Girlfriend about?
This guy makes himself a robot girlfriend. The true definition of the word ‘robot’ is ‘slave’. And that’s basically what she is. She does everything for him, but he treats her so badly. Y’know, when he wants to watch TV he just switches her off. Eventually he leaves her outside in the rain, and she malfunctions and puts her fist through his head.
What about I Love You (But I Can’t Stand Your Friends)?
You know when you first meet someone, and then you’re introduced to their group of friends and you just think: “Oh, what a bunch of pricks”? I thought that would be universally appreciated in song.
You’re a big fan of the fifties guys, like Howlin’ Wolf and Ike Turner. Do you think you’d have actually got on with them?
I’m not sure whether I would have lasted long in Ike Turner’s band. I probably would have been sacked on day one. I don’t think Ike stood for any talking back. So I don’t know if we would get on in a band, necessarily, but I love his playing. It’s what they say about meeting your heroes and all that.
The new album was written after your recovery from depression, wasn’t it?
I suppose it’s a lifelong thing, but it was undiagnosed for years. I just sort of lived with it and put up with it. It really kicked in after the last album [2012’s The World Explained]. And that’s why it’s taken me three years to get round to this one.
The worst time was three years ago. It was as dark as it can get. I was convinced that nothing was good in the world, and that I’d pretty much ruined everything I’d had. I couldn’t really see a way out. I couldn’t really see any point in carrying on. I couldn’t get out of bed for days. By that point I couldn’t deny there was something wrong. So I had to go and see the doctor, there was no getting out of it.
Do you think you used the Big Boy Bloater persona to hide your problems?
It’s a great shield to hide behind. That’s the thing about people with depression: they’re great at carrying on and pretending nothing’s wrong. Having that Big Boy Bloater persona was a great tool to just cover it all up, sweep it all under the carpet, and not have to acknowledge it or deal with it.
How did you pull yourself back from that situation?
My wife Lisa was two thousand per cent behind me, and a very good doctor as well. The first medication really didn’t agree with me; I was getting hot sweats, dizziness, mouth dryness, it was awful. But coming out of that period of depression was a great time. It seemed to be one of those lovely summers where I went out and did lovely things and enjoyed stuff. Once it’s diagnosed and you start to get coping mechanisms it’s a lot easier to live with.
Are you comfortable with people knowing you’ve had depression?
Yeah. It’s still a bit of a taboo subject. But as soon as you say: “I’ve suffered from depression over the past few years…”, it’s amazing how people around you go: “Oh yeah, I did too.” You get talking and you realise you’re not an idiot or a freak or anything. There’s a lot of it about these days.
You’re a regular DJ on TeamRock Radio. What’s been the toughest moment doing that?
We had Robert Cray in for a solo session and interview. I was using a standalone mic with a flash card. But it turned out that something had corrupted on the card, and half of the interview was lost. I thought, ah, this had to happen with Robert Cray – y’know, one of the biggest people we’ve ever had into the studio. Luckily he was playing in the next town to me a few nights later, and we managed to go over the same questions again. He was very gracious.”
Which death hit you hardest: Lemmy’s or Bowie’s ?
Well, if I had to pick one… [long pause] I’d say Bowie. He’s just got such a great, interesting catalogue. And Lemmy is so rock’n’roll. I love a bit of Motörhead. I love them both. And then Glenn Frey as well. I can’t believe it. It’s like they’re all dropping like flies at the moment. It’s starting to get a bit worrying, isn’t it? I saw a post the other day, someone saying: “Quick, find Tom Waits and wrap him up in cotton wool before anything happens…”
You have a reputation as a big drinker. Is that reputation justified?//
Well, it’s all relative. I’m having a dry January, actually. I’m not one of these people who has to have a drink, but when I do I like a fair go of it; I’m not a one-pint kind of guy. It can get messy on the road, when the black sambuca comes out.
We did a photo shoot in London just before Christmas. We ended up going to this metal bar called the Crobar, drinking beers, black sambucas and tequila. That got really messy. I fell over and smashed my knee. It’s still pretty bad at the moment. I can’t even remember getting home.