When Scottish duo The Proclaimers take the stage of Great American Music Hall on Oct. 19, expect the vibe to be very different from the last time they played the historic room.
“It was just Craig and I with a guitar,” explained Charlie Reid, Craig Reid’s twin brother and one half of the group. “This time, it’s with a band. It’s a famous venue; it’s a great setting. We’re really looking forward to the show.”
The duo, best known for their early ‘90s hit “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” is touring to promote their 10th studio album, Let’s Hear It for the Dogs. Charlie chatted with RIFF about what it takes to keep a band going for 30 years and what it’s like playing the same song for nearly as long.
RIFF: The band’s been together for upwards of 30 years now. Doing anything for three decades sounds daunting, especially something as demanding as being a musician. What keeps you going?
Charlie Reid: I think it’s just desire, really. Desire to carry on, write new tunes and to perform. I think performance is addictive to a lot of people. It certainly is for us. You still feel you’ve got something to say and you’ve got new songs to write.
Q: I’m listening to tracks off Let’s Hear It for the Dogs, and you guys still have a very distinct sound. How do you feel your music has evolved since you started?
A: I think it’s evolved as our lives have evolved. I think it’s certainly evolution rather than revolution. I think it’s been a process. Some of the subjects are touched on regularly: Spirituality, our belief in God or lack of belief in God, relationships with family members, relationships with women, social commentary. I hope there’s a good degree of humor in what we do as well.
It’s not like the songs are diaries. A lot of them do not have anything to do with us, but we all feel a connection to the subject matter all the time. I think that’s important. That evolves and changes as one becomes older.
Q: You’re touring North America now and you’ve spent a huge chunk of your career on the road. Do you work on new material while you’re out or do you wait to get home to write new songs?
A: It’s more of a home thing. We get ideas on the road. You can get basic melodies or an idea for a subject for a lyric. Unfortunately, we’re not the sort of guys who can walk into the corner of a room at a party and just sit with a guitar and do it. It requires us to concentrate more to get something that we’re happy with. Generally, we’ll go home, we’ll have a couple of weeks off, then we’ll get back into the writing process. For the past 15 or 16 years, it’s been a three-year cycle: You put a record out, you tour for a couple years, then the third year you write and record a new one. That’s what it will be this time as well, hopefully.
Q: You mentioned in one of your YouTube videos that recording Let’s Hear It for the Dogs came together really easily. What factors helped the process this go-around and how does it compare to the albums you’ve done in the past?
A: Some albums are more difficult than others. Some albums are more tailored and more refined than others. We worked with Dave Eringa, who’s really more of a rock guy. We’re not rock, we have all kinds of influences in what we do, but we’re certainly not a rock band. He was very much about setting the band up and playing. It really worked. It’s a fantastic studio in Monmouth, in Wales. I think this is the third or fourth time we’ve been there, but the first time with this producer. I think the whole process was enjoyable. The guys we worked with are mostly our band members and then there were some other guys who were brought in—additional guitars, horns and strings. Mostly what you hear is the band. For us, if it works that way, it’s the preferred way of making a record.
Q: Anyone who’s worked together for 30 years is going to know each other really well. Add on that you two are twins and I have to wonder how intuitive your process is. How well do you know what the other is going to do or say?
A: I think we’re very alike. Not always, but in terms of our musical taste, we’re definitely very alike. We always want the same kind of thing. We know what kind of attitude we want in our music, so those things don’t have to be explained. That doesn’t mean you can’t totally take a song and rebuild it, which we do constantly in the writing process and the recording process. But it does mean you know what will sound good and you feel the other one will feel the same way. Most times it’s like that. There is definitely a lot of intuition and also a lot of family similarity that helps it.
Q: Some bands, when they’ve had a meteoric hit as you have, eventually decide to stop playing it. All these years later, how do you feel about “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)?”
A: I feel 100 percent positive about it. I feel it’s kept us on the road. It allows us to make other records. It brings in royalties that finances new things, such as new records. It’s been nothing but positive. Had we not had the record, I still think we would have had some sort of career, but it would have been at a much lower level. You get asked to go out and do a rugby tournament in Hong Kong or a Grand Prix race in Singapore. That never would have happened had we not had that hit record. For those reasons, we’re delighted that it happened. I certainly understand why bands who’ve had four, five or six massive hits might find that a bit constricting. For us, most people only know us for a couple of songs and it’s primarily for that “500 Miles” song, so we can repeat songs in a set, which is what we do. Although, yes, we always play the “500 Miles” song, we always play “Sunshine on Leith” and “Letter from America” among other things, outside of that we can rotate other things.
Q: It has to feel amazing to have created something that has stood the test of time.
A: It does. We’ve often discussed it, Craig and I. There are bands that are much, much more successful than us who’ve never really had a song that sustained the way “(500 miles)” has. I mean, “(500 Miles)” has kind of grown as the years have gone by. It’s a bigger song now than it ever was, really. We know we’re really, really lucky and I hope we appreciate it.
Q: What can fans expect at the Great American Music Hall show?
A: They can expect most of it will be uptempo. Most of it will be celebratory. We like people to sing along and have a good time. There are a few ballads in every set, but most of it is uptempo. We can’t say exactly what set we’ll play because we’ll pick that on the night, but the better-known songs that people who know the band reasonably well will be played. The rest will be a mixture of older songs and songs off the new record.
Some bands, it’s really good musically, but they’re not dynamic. I think Craig and I with the other guys in the band think it’s positive experience and an enjoyable one, I hope.