It's not the second album that's difficult. Melodies, harmonies and words all come embarrassingly easy to a born songwriter like Alex Highton. It's the life that happens in-between the songwriting and the recording that's the hard bit. Don't get this wrong, Alex knows he deserves little pity for leading a wonderful life with his family out there in the "wilds" of Cambridgeshire, it's just that it's taken a rather circuitous route to get him there.
As a kid his time was split between his native Liverpool and Florence, Italy. It was there that his musical education began, as he took in everything from Talking Heads & Penguin Cafe Orchestra to The Band & David Ackles. He lost his twenties to bad decisions and train-wreck relationships and it was only after meeting his future wife that he started to take songwriting seriously. The songs he wrote (part therapy / part love letter his new life) formed the basis of his debut album Woodditton Wives Club, a record replete with tales of rural S&M, mental, emotional and economic collapse, and ultimately salvation through love and family.
The debut received extensive support from BBC6 Music & BBC Introducing (amongst others) and a US tour followed, taking in New York, Austin (SXSW) and LA, with more dates in Germany, Holland & Belgium, as well as slots at Camp Bestival, Wilderness Festival, No Direction Home, Summer Sundae and more.
Having got the observational stuff off his chest, he now turns on himself. These days his ever-evolving craft as a writer approaches Steely Dan levels of effortless complexity and Paddy McAloon-like supersmart nonchalance (witness 'It Falls Together', the bonkers 'Panic', the epic 'Mephisto' or 'Sunlight Burns Your Skin' for sheer unhinged musicality) as well as a newfound taste for sharp-edged lyrical brutality. Highton himself cites Sufjan Steven, Here We Go Magic & Joni Mitchell as big influences on this record.
"This is me trying to work out the point of it all really, to which the answer is I haven't got a clue and nobody has." he says, "That Richard Dawkins advert that they had on the side on the London buses 'There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.' is probably were it's at. I get pissed off with the certainties presented to me by religions and politicians. In fact I did record it with the loose idea that these songs were the thoughts running through someone's head just before they die. It's certainly structured in that way."
What sets Nobody Knows Anything apart from its folky predecessor at the very first listen is the extended cast of players joining Highton in his sometimes almost jazzy, avant-whatever, then sometimes stripped-back arrangements. Next to his long-time cohorts double-bass-player Jonny Bridgwood (Morrissey, Kathryn Williams, The Leisure Society etc.) and drummer Howard Monk (Billy Mahonie, The Clientele etc.), producer David "Bear" Dobson, Laura J Martin, Bonnie Dobson, Jonathan "Tall Tree Six Foot Man" Czerwik, Nancy Wallace (of The Memory Band and The Owl Service), John Howard and Robert Rotifer (of Rotifer) all make appearances, next to "my wife, my kids, the dentist who lives next door and loads of others". "It's still the village life, then, but equipped with a magical wardrobe that opens to a wondrous world of sounds and dreams.
Nov 25th @ Servants Jazz Quarters - a Gare Du Nord night with Papernut Cambridge & Ralegh Long.
Swinton herself is an ex-boarding school pupil.