Pat Black inteviews DA Watson, the author of Cuttin’ Heads.
Booksquawk: It goes without saying that music is the lifeblood of Cuttin’ Heads. What music scenes fed into the idea behind the story?
DA Watson: Well the whole idea for the book has its roots in blues mythology, specifically the legend of Robert Johnson, but a lot of the scenes in the story are directly lifted from my own experiences playing in bands. Rather than a specific genre, I tried to make the story more about the live music scene in general, the scene populated by all those unknown bands you’ve never heard of, what that life is like, and what the musicians who live in that world want to get from it. In terms of genre, other than country. Really I just tried to squeeze in a nod to every kind of music that I have a liking for. In that way, I like to think it has a bit of a punk rock ethos to it!
B: It’s a very west of Scotland book, particularly strong when it comes to Glasgow. How did you find rendering the place in fiction? Did you find yourself having to stay away from cliché?
DW: Not really. Again, it was really a case of write what you know, and the setting of Inverclyde where the band are based is where I grew up and still live, so hopefully what people read is what the place is actually like. I guess the ned character in Ross’s first chapter is something of a cliché, but aren’t they all? Glasgow was just written “as is” with references to venues I’ve attended and played gigs at like the Barrowlands and The 13th Note, so it was really just drawing on memory.
B: There’s one crucial element in books about music which is missing – sound. How did you approach the difficult task of describing the noise Public Alibi makes for readers while still making the story accessible?
DW: That was probably the hardest thing about telling the story. It was tricky to stay away from overusing “muso” terms and jargon, so I had to come up with a bunch of similes that would be relatable to readers that don’t have that background; things like Aldo hitting the second overdrive switch on his footpedal, and the tone of his guitar changing like a sports car going up a gear. I liked how that one sounded. There’s a line later on comparing his gently weeping guitar to Gappa Bale’s violin “shrieking like a gang rape victim.” Probably not so elegant, but I thought it got the message across…
B: No more heroes?
DW: Put it this way, Dudley Do-Right characters do my head in, with their unflinching moral compasses! I much prefer the basically good guy who has a dark side and the potential to be a bit of a dick. I just think flawed characters are so much more interesting, and more importantly, real. I think with that type of character, it might be a little harder to really warm to them, but because they’re not perfect, they’re more relatable, and you end up rooting for them all the more. I do anyway.
B: The devil has all the best tunes, but only in music is there the divine. Discuss.
DW: Oooo, good one. I guess if you believe in heaven and hell, which I personally don’t, then yeah, you’d likely imagine notorious nutbags like Jim Morrison and Bon Scott rocking out in The Pit, but then again, were they really evil? They were no angels but I wouldn’t put them in the same bracket as rapists, murderers and people who don’t indicate on roundabouts. That said, I can’t really see them floating about on fluffy white clouds, gently plucking at harps either. Also, there’s been no love lost between the church and music though history. The tritone, or the Devil’s Interval, two notes which combined are the root of blues and heavy metal, being banned by the church a few centuries back, Madonna being excommunicated for her saucy shenanigans in the video for Like a Prayer, Ray Charles being lambasted for daring to mix gospel and blues, creating what we now call soul music, and the outrage metal bands like Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath caused amongst the cloth. In a non-religious sense though, I would agree that music in its purest instrumental form is divine, as it’s just a combination of tones and rhythms, that can transport you, make you laugh, cry, rage, make your skin prickle and your heart race. Yeah, music can be divine. Apart from manufactured pop bands of course.
B: What’s next for you?
DW: I’ve currently got my fourth novel, a semi-supernatural western, out on submission, and have just started the fifth, which is based on the 17th century witch hunts which took place in my home village of Inverkip. I’m also appearing at Scotland’s first horror, sci-fi and fantasy book festival, the Cymera Festival in Edinburgh in June, and have a couple of poetry night gigs lined up, one at the aforementioned 13th Note in Glasgow.
Many thanks to Dave for his time. Read our review of Cuttin’ Heads here.