Michael Weston King is best known as one half of the duo, My Darling Clementine. He's also just released a new solo record entitled 'The Struggle'. As My Darling Clementine come to the end of their lastest U.K. tour and prepare to head off to Europe for a run of shows, Michael sat down with Folk and Tumble to talk about the new record.
FT: ‘The Struggle’ is your second solo album in 10 years. What made you decide this was the right time to release a record outside of your regular work with My Darling Clementine?
MWK: We were not ready to make a new MDC album, we didn’t have the songs, plus we were still kind of in limbo after the release of the ‘Country Darkness’ album and not having been able to tour that record. We didn’t really want to put out another until we had taken that on the road
On top of that, all the songs I had been writing of late, I felt were better suited to one voice. They were not duets. They were very personal songs, many about my own deep feelings, no one else’s, so it was logical to me that one singular voice suited them better. The whole album is very intimate.
FT: The album opener ‘Weight of The World’ immediately struck me. Was that a deliberate comment on voter disillusionment brought about by Donald Trump, and dangers caused by the election of ‘populists’?
MWK: I was appalled by so much of what he did, and what he still does, but that day, when he had the streets cleared so he could walk to St Johns Church for a photo-op really struck a chord with me. It was abhorrent. I don’t know why that more than so many other things he did , but it just got to me. Especially clearing the streets in such a violent way, of peaceful protesters, and for what? I wanted to write about it but didn’t feel comfortable using “my voice”, a white English guy, so I adopted the character of a black cop who is convinced by his fellow workers to vote for Trump and then gets to see him for what he really is in the wake of the death of George Floyd. The final twist is when the cop ends up being detailed to chaperone him on the day he makes his walk to the church.
FT: Trump aside, another un-welcome seismic shift in politics came about with Brexit. Has that made touring Europe more difficult?
MWK: For sure. It has made many things more difficult for so many people. I can’t see one benefit from this fucking ridiculous decision. I will be angry about it as long as we remain outside the E.U. But yes, myself and many other fellow musicians, who spend a good part of our time touring Europe, suddenly have more hurdles to get over and face the anxiety of custom checks on merchandise, interrogation at borders as to why we are there. Going to Europe used to be as easy as going to Ireland but now, there are extra layers of unnecessary stress. That said, we (My Darling Clementine) are going there later this month and looking forward to being back in Germany, Holland and Switzerland .
FT: I get the impression you tackle some difficult subjects on the record. I’m thinking about the songs ‘Another Dying Day’, ‘Sugar’, and Valerie’s Coming Home in particular. Tell me about how they came about.
MWK: People might think that the title of ‘Another Dying Day’ is about Covid but it’s actually quite an old song. I used to have a neighbour who was a very keen gardener and his garden was always immaculate. He was quite a happy and chipper kind of guy, always waving and saying hello over the fence while I sat among the weeds being miserable. So, the song is about the contradiction between his life and mine really and also, on a more serious note, on trying to avoid that situation where you just cancel the day, go to the pub the minute it opens and stay there all day. Too many men do that, and I’ve felt like that on some occasions, so the song’s about not falling into that trap but being more constructive with your time.
I was at a songwriters’ retreat in Lafayette, Louisiana a couple of years back and I wrote ‘Sugar’ with an old pal of mine, Peter. Case. It was Peter’s idea to write a song about “sugar”. Of course it is not as simple as that. You can see some of themes in a wonderful video which was directed by the Glaswegian film maker David M. Dalglish. He had made some videos for Steve Wynn and also The Long Ryders which I really liked t so I approached him to do something for me and he came up with this quite psychedelic, almost Yellow Submarine like animation. Very fitting.
‘Valerie’s Coming Home’, maybe you are aware that Lou had written a beautiful song called ‘Ashes, Flowers and Dust’ (on the second MDC album), about the death of both her dad and my mum several years ago. Shortly before the pandemic, we lost Lou’s mum and during those first few months without her, and while we were not going anywhere or doing very much she was naturally on all our minds. There was time to reflect , which brought back a lot of memories and the song just tumbled out. It’s about her last few days in a care home and fortunately, we were still able to visit before all the restrictions came in. There’s a line in it about a person called Frank being told to close a window he’s opened which might seem a bit out of the blue. But, even although I’d known Valerie for 23 years, she always called me Frank. We were visiting and the room was really warm so I opened a window and she told me off for letting the heat out
FT: Another song that caught my attention is ‘Me & Frank’. It paints a vivid picture as the story unfolds. What was your inspiration behind it?
MWK: ‘Me & Frank’ is about an old school friend of mine who was called Anthony. I changed the name to Frank, sounded better in the song. Style wise it kind of a ‘Nebraska’ era Springsteen type of song, or a John Prine story telling song. When we were teenagers in Southport Anthony always had these money-making schemes and one of them was bagging up grass seed that we’d collect from the beach then sell door to door for the middle class folks of Southport to improve their lawns
This is recounted in the first verse. The song then went off into different tangents, some of which are true, some are made up. Anthony (Frank) didn’t run off in his mothers car or steal my money but he did go on to run a very successful landscape gardening company and counts one Dave Gilmore as a client!
FT: After almost two years of lockdowns and no live music how does it feel to be back out on the road again with My Darling Clementine and are you planning any solo shows to promote ‘The Struggle’?
MWK: It feels fabulous. Touring is my life blood. We have been very busy since February with tours in the UK, Europe, the East coast and mid west of the US, and as I mentioned, we are back off to Germany, Holland and Switzerland later in May. I have missed it so much. I am not a home body, I can’t sit still, I love travelling. It is where the best songs come from. It is the perfect distraction too. I get too morose being at home, or staying in one place. I have missed meeting old friends and making new ones. I have spent the past 30 years as a touring musician and it’s the constant change of scenery that keeps me going. I desperately needed it back. Regards solo shows, yes, played 3 so far, where I played the whole of the album in its entirety, and in order. These were quite intense but rewarding. There are more coming up. The next one is on Wednesday June 29th at Birmingham Kitchen Garden Cafe
Currently just one-off shows more than intense touring, as I am still busy with My Darling Clementine but more to come for sure, in the UK, Germany, Greece, and a tour of Spain in November. Details at michaelwestonking.com
As the recently ‘un-retired’ Robert Earl Keen said “The road goes on forever and the party never ends” I have got a lot to catch up on.
FT: Thanks for your time and stay safe.