Paul Simonon and Galen Ayers savour songwriting on their sparkling collaborative debut
About five years ago, Paul Simonon was exploring the Mallorcan coastline and came across a remote fishing village. The legendary Clash bassist returned a few months later to spend over a year there, painting and carving and busking in the streets with local musicians. When he eventually headed back home to London, Simonon connected with his friend, singer-songwriter and activist Galen Ayers, who, similarly, had been in Greece, a few waves over, writing. The duo began exchanging and developing ideas. The result is Can We Do Tomorrow Another Day?, their debut album as Galen & Paul, which is out today.
With longtime David Bowie producer Tony Visconti at the helm, and a stacked lineup of backing players including Daman Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz), Simon Tong (The Verve), Sebastian Rochford (Patti Smith, Grace Jones), and Dan Donovan (Big Audio Dynamite), the music feels like dreamy vignettes of European life—breezy, Mediterranean-evoking duets sung in both English and Spanish.
“It's about the human condition, really: emotions, feelings, loss, gain. I guess in some ways, some of the songs could be applied to anywhere, or to any person. It's observations,” Simonon tells the Straight, speaking on Zoom from his home in Paddington, London. A dog named Snoop is curled up in his lap, and Ayers is sitting in a chair to his right.
“There wasn't an agenda that it's going to be ‘this’ sort of a record—I mean, maybe on my part, maybe there was a bit of a loss because of the Brexit situation. I just remember when I was kid, being in Brighton and looking across the English Channel thinking, ‘Wow, France is over there, and Italy and Germany and all these great countries of culture and paintings and museums and food and they speak different.’ It was so exciting. So, that was a romantic feeling that I had as a kid, of Europe's amazing.”
Ayers agrees. She can relate to the collective culture: her father was English pysch-rocker and Soft Machine founder Kevin Ayers, and she grew up in Deià, Mallorca.
“And I think a lot of the songs that we worked on here—in this house and wrote together—it was also environmentally influenced,” she continues. “So, we'd listen to a great record and be like, ‘Let's do something like this!’ It was very much ad hoc. At the same time, as we kept on working together, we realized we had a lot of similar sensibilities of things we wanted to get across for this project in particular.”
French yé-yé, Del Shannon farfisa, holiday guitar, and Spanish pop are among the many references that move through the charming musical landscape, as songs like “No Es Necesario” and “The Lighthouse Waltz” encapsulate the masculine and feminine energies flirting around the heart of the album.
“In hindsight,” Simonon considers, of the slinky sound, “Nancy Sinatra comes to mind.”
Meanwhile, the hazy “It's Another Night'” is, as Ayers describes, a “love letter to London.” The city has historically been the subject of much of Simonon’s work with the Clash—London Calling, of course—but while the 1979 punk masterpiece is fuelled by political themes, “Another Night” centres on scenes from a busy night at the pub around the corner from where he lives. “It's a very vibrant part of London,” he adds. “And so in some ways, it's celebrating that, as well.”
Ayers stayed at Simonon’s home during the writing process. Though much of their method was to remain creatively fluid, they would meticulously go through what they’d done at the end of each day over dinner. A similar approach extended to the collaborative process with their band, musicianship that Ayers calls an “honour.”
“We had some very simple premises, which I think are good premises for any relationship: honesty, openness, and to kind of be allowed to try out things that we hadn't necessarily done in the past in order to hopefully grow as musicians,” she says.
“I think everybody felt they had space to express themselves musically,” Simonon continues, adding that, having those people involved, you don’t really need to do a lot.
“Simon Tong doesn't really play guitar: he plays colour and atmosphere. And Sebastian, I've not worked with before. He's really nice to work with. And Dan Donovan, I've known him a long time. He's played in BAD and he's a good photographer and we DJ a lot together.”
Simonon has collaborated frequently with Albarn—on the Gorillaz’s Plastic Beach, and as part of the supergroup, The Good, the Bad & the Queen, which also featured Tong. On Can We Do Tomorrow Another Day?, Albarn plays melodica on a number of songs.
“Damon is particularly good at melodica. He said to me a few years ago, ‘Paul, nobody ever asks me to guest on their records to play melodica.’ And I said, ‘Okay, I'll keep that in mind,’” Simonon notes, with a grin.
The keyboard reed instrument is prominently featured on “Sea Shanty,” which is one of most significant songs on the album to Simonon.
“I was able to sing about one of my favourite actors, which is Robert Newton,” he says. “And I didn't know, but I became aware that they have an International [Talk Like a] Pirate Day around the world, and he is actually the patron saint. And everyone adopts his West Country accent on Pirate Day.”
For Ayers, “Lonely Town” perhaps holds the most sentimentality, she says, because it was the first Galen & Paul song they shared with the world.
With Ayer’s sha la la la’s and Simonon’s yeah, yeah, yeah’s, it also captures the sweet dynamic between the duo.
“I think we both love a good song, a good story,” Ayers says, looking over at Simonon.
“Yeah,” he adds. “We like the craft of songwriting—“
Ayers smiles. “It's really fun.”
“—in terms of the dynamics between the verse and the chorus.”
“And it gets really exciting, that,” Ayers continues. “If you're lucky, what, you have, like, 23 words in a song? To be able to express anything within that amount, it's like a puzzle. It's like doing a crossword puzzle.”
Simonon nods, smiling back at Ayers. “It is, yeah.”
Can We Do Tomorrow Another Day? is out now.