Manchester songstrel Stephen Fretwell is riding high in the popularity stakes these days. His debut album ‘Magpie’ was a surprising success story. Luisa Mateus caught up with Stephen via the wonders of new fangled mobile technology to recap on his success so far whilst getting the skinny on the newly anticipated album ‘Man on the Roof’, out on Monday.
Let’s talk a bit about your early career, before we talk about the new album. You started off your musical career in Manchester, working at the Night/Day and reputedly by printing 200 copies of your debut EP in Oxfam. Do you think that these early years of DIY distribution have impacted on how you do things as an artist signed to a major label?
Yeah maybe, I think so. I don’t really feel any different to how I did then in terms of just trying to get away with doing music. There is a lot more pressure on you to deliver a commercial product so it is different; I try and make it much the same as possible.
In the seven years, since you moved to Manchester, on your myspace you say that this was a very happy time for you and made you feel like you were living in Greenwich Village circa '56, what was your favourite memory from this period?
I live in Chorlton (Southern suburb of Manchester) now, and I’m always banging on to my girlfriend about when I used to live in Oldham Street (in Manchester’s Northern Quarter), it’s a really creative area, with all the bands that were starting out. I recently played in Matt and Phreds, which is a little jazz club near where my old flat was and there’s this great vibe in that area; even though a lot of people who lived there when I did and were producing music, now have jobs and that; there seems to be a new bunch of people living there now; it’s like urban outfitters has sprawled down the street. It’s a bit crazy as it used to be all people with long hair and homeless people but I guess they’ve all moved on. I’m moving into an office down there to create my music as it’s still such a creative place.
You spent some time living in New York after you’d finished touring with the first album, and ended up working alongside Ryan Adams’ and Garbage’s producer Eli Janney; how did you meet him?
Well New York is a cool city- and it’s a bit like Manchester and I went there not really knowing if I wanted to do music anymore. One of my friends was really worried about me being there on my own with no friends, and said that I should meet up with his friend who lives there (music producer- Eli Janney). I thought the last thing I really needed was to meet up with a music producer. But I went for a drink with him, his wife and his kids, he’s really normal and he’s such a lovely guy. Within a month of being in New York I’d written twenty songs. If it hadn’t been for Eli’s encouragement there would not have been a product- commercial or otherwise.
You are rumoured to have made a fan of Almost Famous’ Director Cameron Crowe -how did this come about?
That Cameron Crowe story always gets batted out by whoever does my press biogs as they think it’s really impressive. Cameron rang up and asked if I wanted to hang out. I went and watched a film he’d been doing and he asked me to write a song for his film. It was one of the moments where you think this is weird ‘I’ve seen your films on TV’. He sent me a copy of the Easyrider record, as I collect records and that, it was an original.
Let’s talk about your new album, released on Monday. The Bob Dylan influence is obvious in the majority of your songs, who else would you say has been a huge influence on writing the new album ‘Man On the Roof’?
The thing with influences is that you don’t really know what you’re being influenced by when you write songs. I used to listen to records and think ‘oh you’ve nicked that off this record and he’s ripped of that’ but now I listen more to the radio.
What does the future hold for Stephen Fretwell? What are you most looking forward to on your schedule this year?
I feel like David Brent answering this question! I have no idea long term. At the moment it’s probably getting in trouble with the girlfriend for spending all day on the phone giving interviews and later I'm going to th' dentist ‘cause I’ve hurt my tooth. I hope the new album does alright and I get to tour.
Is touring your favourite thing to do?
My favourite thing is sitting around writing. 1/5 gigs I do, the crowd will be absolutely amazing and it will be really fun, but there are times when you do a shit gig. I used to wonder why people would get up in front of people and make utter twats of themselves but you’re entertaining them I ‘pose.
The only gig appearing on your schedule at present is the 11th Sept at the Luminaire, do you have an impromptu (world?) tour coming up after the release of the album?
I love travelling and getting to see different cultures and going to different places but there is no world tour at the moment; I’ve got a UK tour coming up in October.
Okay Stephen, now we’ve got the important stuff out the way… If you weren’t Stephen Fretwell, who would you be?
That’s a really hard question! T. S Elliot? Maybe Richard Branson so I could be rich and not do anything!
For more information and news on Stephen's tour dates and new album 'Man On The Roof' go to his website: link