Zuton Fever: Dave McCabe on working it out

Sunday’s have changed a bit for Dave McCabe. Straight from a gym session of spinning ‘and a load of weights’, the charismatic musician’s looking fresh, as he settles into a booth at Love & Rockets, Lark Lane, for a chat about The Zutons’ upcoming tour. With rehearsals booked for this evening, and a potentially sweaty […]

Zuton Fever: Dave McCabe on working it out

By Ste Turton

Sunday’s have changed a bit for Dave McCabe. Straight from a gym session of spinning ‘and a load of weights’, the charismatic musician’s looking fresh, as he settles into a booth at Love & Rockets, Lark Lane, for a chat about The Zutons’ upcoming tour. With rehearsals booked for this evening, and a potentially sweaty 90 minutes watching his title-chasing Liverpool this afternoon, it’s not what you’d call a traditional day of rest. Dave’s happy with the loaded schedule.

“The fitness helps your voice, it helps your brain. It’s not like I’m looking dead fucking skinny and great. But I’m seeing a personal trainer twice, sometimes three times a week. Riding me bike into town. It helps, you know, doing bits.”

Besides one fundraising gig three years back for the tragic loss of close friend Kristian Ealey, The Zoots haven’t been on stage together for a decade. Kicking-off ten UK headline gigs this month to celebrate the fifteen-year release of debut LP Who Killed…The Zutons?, McCabe recently made a conscious decision to live a cleaner, more productive life.

“This is me one beer all weekend, I’ve cut right down. The main thing is staying off the ale, getting up early in the morning, doing your warm-ups, all that shit. You’ve got loads to do to keep you distracted once the tour starts, but the hard work’s done in the practice room. You can’t  just go into rehearsal feeling dead weird and hungover.

I’ve been having fits of tears, I don’t know why. They only last about two seconds and I used to put it down to the hangovers. But I’ve realised it’s always about stuff I like. A song I like. It’s never crying because I’m bitter, or angry. It’s always positive. It’s always about beautiful stuff.”

It’s been a hectic and emotional few months all round. Since announcing the reunion before Christmas, the band have been busy behind the closed doors of Elevator Studios, re-discovering their rhythm and timing. Alongside its catchy melodies and hooks, Who Killed…The Zutons? is an album filled with trepidation and uncertainty. Tracks like Zuton Fever and Pressure Point, in particular, grapple with unwanted and inexplicable anxieties. What was going through the frontman’s young mind, when he penned the lyrics?

“I was kinda just growing up. You’re seeing your dream come to life because we’d already been signed and started the album. You take a step back, loads of stuff comes out and you start cleaning your emotional pipes.”

“If you’re in a band you’ve got to be like that. In terms of songs and expressing yourself, you’ve gotta be honest or no one else will connect with it.”

Reconnecting with his bandmates seems to be providing as much enjoyment as re-visiting their back catalogue. At a time when some of Dave’s nearest have been battling ill-health, the comfort of his familiar crew has been a timely blessing.

“Back in the big bed, and I’ve only had one argument with Boyan” (Chowdhury, guitar) he laughs. “It’s been really good, everyone’s been dead nice. It was all about me and Sean (Payne, drums) getting on. We’re the driving force, if you will. Pair of narks, the ones who go home and think about shit.”

With Abi Harding back on sax, it’s only Russell Pritchard missing from the original lineup. The La’s/Cast’s Jay Lewis picks up bass duty, while Neil Bradley’s introduced on keys; adding a different dimension not only to the Zutons’ trademark stuff, but also new material the re-shaped collective are working on.

“There’s about twenty songs that I like, bits of songs. They all need finishing. It feels good, the ones we’ve done. Feels like it’s moved forward with Neil being there. There’s more percussion. Bit less sax, more harmonies. I’ve known Jay and Neil since I was about 17, they’ve got the right personalities.”

It’s been a long time coming, but McCabe seems to have struck a harmony in both his recreational and occupational realms. With an eye on the mounted television showing the Liverpool match, and his fingers stuck into a post-workout recovery batch of chicken wings, he’s as relaxed as a Reds fan can be right now. But as any football fan knows, a one-nil lead can be precarious, especially for an outfit with attacking tendencies. Does he see his controlled streak continuing, during and after the tour?

“We’ve done loads of partying in the past. The main thing for me is laying off, not going crazy for days on end. The best advice for anyone not to drink is to keep busy, replace it with other stuff. Give it a chance to feel better. Get over the boredom and all that.”

The singer’s honesty won’t come as a surprise to those who know him. An open book with a real interest in the human condition; even during his wildest periods, McCabe always had a self awareness and desire to find inner calm.

“I think maybe the main thing with any kind of anxiety is realising something in your head is creating stress. A lot of the problems I’ve had in my life have been stress related. Luckily for me I’ve known it’s stress, or been in a group where someone’s been able to point out to me ‘look, you’re stressed’. Some people go fucking months… years, without knowing that. And it has bad results. I’ve seen mates break-down crying, just over feeling anxious. I don’t find it hard to gab about anxiety or stress any more. I did when I was younger. More and more people are suffering from it. It’s normal to talk.”

Whether it’s been solo shows or with other bands – including Silent K, which he’s still a member – Dave’s never stopped gigging. But the last time the Zutons topped the bill, Barack Obama had just been elected president, Instagram had yet to be created and Michael Jackson was still alive. Does the prospect of going out there, to a potentially different environment and audience, bring with it additional nerves or fears?

“It’s more about the singing really at the moment, hitting the high notes. But you’ve gotta have nerves, the old cliche is true, and I always did. It’s a good thing. If you just go on and you’re not nervous you’re usually knackered and do a shit gig.”

And what about young artists starting out, putting bands together? With the shift to streaming and the ability for musicians to monetise their talent seemingly more difficult than when McCabe signed his first record deal, does he have any advice for newcomers?

“If you don’t know the difference and you really wanna do it, you’ll find a way. Just keep doing it. The main thing is just enjoying it, that’s what I’ve always thought from the off. It’s nice to make a living out of music, but if you don’t enjoy it there’s no point.”

True to his word he declines numerous offers of another drink, instead nursing one Guinness for the duration of the conversation, switching to water after polishing off his grub. On the 60 minute mark with Liverpool still leading, he decides to dart off and watch the rest of the game at home, unnecessarily apologising for wanting to grab an hours kip before band duties.

It’s a wiser McCabe; one that’s learnt from experiences and past disappointments. After a rollercoaster conclusion to the match his team have returned to the top of the league, too. Hopefully where they’ll remain.

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