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Interview: Karl Wallinger of World Party

Karl Wallinger of World Party
18 November 2022

Photo courtesy of World Party

After first gaining fame as a member of The Waterboys, musical virtuoso Karl Wallinger struck out on his own in 1985 with World Party, which was essentially a one-man-band before evolving into an ever-revolving lineup with Wallinger as the constant ringleader. With “Ship of Fools” (1987), World Party charted in numerous countries – it was the first of many singles that showed Wallinger’s thoughtful, sometimes acerbic lyrical style, and his unerring knack for crafting intricate but catchy melodies. Under Wallinger’s guidance, the band released five critically acclaimed studio albums, starting with Private Revolution in 1987 and ending with Dumbing Up in 2000. But Wallinger’s life got seriously derailed when, in February 2001, he had a brain aneurysm that resulted in several years of rehabilitation in order for him to re-learn to speak and play instruments. Since recovering, he has toured with World Party, but no further albums have been forthcoming – though, during a recent call from his seaside home in England, Wallinger promises that this long wait will soon be over. In the meantime, he’s been reissuing the band’s previous albums; earlier this month, he put out an expanded version of Egyptology (which was originally released in 1997 and contains the fan favorite “She’s the One,” which went on to become a hit for Robbie Williams). With a nod to the past but his focus firmly fixed on the future, Wallinger – and World Party – are finally back in full swing.

What are your thoughts as you reissue Egyptology?

KARL WALLINGER: I’m just glad to put it out, and I’m glad the songs are sounding a lot better because we put it on a double album. The first time, on the CD, it was very crunched up and the sound on the Side 2 songs were very much crunchy. I think this is a better sounding thing, so that’s good. But as far as the actual tracks go, I’m just happy to be bringing it out again. I mean, there’s so many generations of music lovers that have not even heard of World Party, so having another launch of some kind, a bit of publicity, is a good thing.

What was your songwriting process for that album, specifically?

KARL WALLINGER: It’s the fourth album; it was a known process. In a lot of ways, it was more of the same, with different emotions and different feelings. I think it sounds like it’s not dedicated to a particular time, and people can just take it as it is, for what it is. So I hope people enjoy it.

Has reissuing this one, and your other earlier albums, brought up any particular memories for you?

KARL WALLINGER: It was a good time, that twelve or so years that I did the first lot of work in. It was very informative to me about what music is. It’s good to write songs about stuff that people think about, that I thought about. It’s just a resonance with other people that you get from thinking about things that we’re all thinking about. You put in music, and it becomes a recognizable emotion, and people lock onto that. It’s strange, but amazing. I’ve always thought it should be something to do with healing or finding things out about the world that have truth. It maybe sounds a little idealistic, but it’s what music is about. It’s kind of a pure thing, music. I’m not left or right wing; I don’t even think of in terms of that. I just want people to have what they need to get through living on the planet.

How did you learn to write lyrics like this in the first place?

KARL WALLINGER: I’ve always been into poetry. I don’t think of myself as a poet at all – I write lyrics, and there’s an element of “hackiness” to that, to my mind. But I was always attracted to poetry. As a teenager, I was blown away by [English poet] Wilfred Owen. And I used to set funny bits of Elizabethan poetry to music. That sounds awful now, the whole thought of doing that. But poetry has been an inspiration – apart from studying things like The Aeneid, epic poems – I always found that really tedious. But things like William Butler Yeats. I read a lot of his stuff when I joined The Waterboys years ago. And that was great. I loved Robert Frost and Walt Whitman. I loved Bob Dylan, his thing was very much wordage. And also the John Lennon stuff, I thought was amazing – the surrealist “I Am The Walrus” and all that. And “Norwegian Wood” is a great lyric: really intimate, and achieved this kind of conveyance of this idea so succinctly and entertainingly and stimulatingly. So all those things got rolled into one thing. Lyrics and ideas and just wanting to put it to a catchy tune. I’m in the world and I see what’s happening, and I have a point of view and I reinforce it by making poetry that I set to music. I’m not precious about it. I just do what I think is right for the actual moment.

Your music is distinctive too. How did you arrive at that sound?

KARL WALLINGER: It was a long journey, really. It was about 1985, when I was nearly thirty, when I started singing in my own voice. Before that, I spent a lot of time being other people in my style and rendition. Had a touch of that early ‘80s Gothic rock – you know, just funny things. You thought, “Nah, that’s not it.” I think joining The Waterboys was good for that because I experienced somebody [frontman Mike Scott] who was singing in a voice. I think that was a good experience. And after that, it was, “Okay, I see I am me, and I’m going to write some songs as me, for me.” It was much more plain sailing then. Finding yourself is really important because [when] you lock into that, the better it is.

What’s coming up next for World Party?

KARL WALLINGER: I’m writing at the moment. I moved out of London and have gone down to the south coast [of England] and got a studio together here, and it’s great. It’s always been called Seaview, but now I’ve actually got a few of the sea, instead of the center of London. That was a philosophical sea. This is the actual sea, so quite a nice place to be. So I’m enjoying working, and I’m enthusiastic making a record. We’ll put it out next year.

What can people expect from that album?

KARL WALLINGER: I’ve got twenty-odd years of material, put it that way. What I’m trying to do is make everything the most contemporary version of things, rather than go back and just say, “How can I finish these songs off and put them out?” I want everything to be from around now, so that’s what I’m heading toward. It’s been great. Like I said, we should be putting an album out in the new year, which will be great. I’m really looking forward to it. It’ll be just like rolling the stone away from the front of the cave and coming out again into the sunlight. I’ll be so happy to have an album out.

How do you stay so prolific?

KARL WALLINGER: It’s just fascination with music. You can always do something better. It’s fun. It’s amazing to have playing music as what you do in life, which is something that you love. There’s nothing better than doing that, so you just carry on doing it.

How did you know you should become a musician in the first place?

KARL WALLINGER: Music was my thing, even as a kid, for some reason. Maybe a bang on the head or dropped in the bath or something, I don’t know! For better or worse, that’s what I’ve done my whole life, really. I mean, I was writing songs at nine years old. The piano we had at home was great. I used to go in there and to make up [songs]. I never questioned why I was attracted to it. It was always so obviously the thing to do. Why doesn’t everybody want to do this?

It seems like it has worked out for you, as you’ve had a long career now.

KARL WALLINGER: Yeah, I’ve been very lucky. The songs have got a funny life. It’s not a usual thing, this World Party thing and its story. We never really got attached to a moment in time. More and more, I just believe that songs are where it’s at. In the ‘90s, I used to get told, “You do too many different styles on your records. You should concentrate on one kind of thing.” And I was just like, “Why would I want to do that?” The attraction is the song, and the song can be any kind of song. There’s all kinds of music that I like. And now I really believe that songs are just amazing things because they go off and they have their own life. They get played at weddings and funerals and births and deaths and everything. Happy moments or moments of doubt or moments where it just seems to be the friend you want. It’s a strange thing, the way they have their own life. I love that about them. They’re like kids. They’ve gone off and experienced more of life, probably, than I have. They’ve been in the background when two people are making love, or they’ve been on a car journey to Alaska. All these scenarios where they’ve been experiencing our lives, as well as we are experiencing them. It blows me away. Songs are incredible things. I love them.