Last year, Belfast-based, North Coast musician and singer-songwriter Tony Wright aka VerseChorusVerse took the leap. It’s one that few musicians ever get around to but for some, Wright including, writing about his life seemed to stem from a kind of cosmic duty; as a means to both memorialise and give literary content to a remarkable life lived. Luckily, it seems that Tony Wright, despite everything, is only getting started.
To call Chapter & Verse(ChorusVerse) a page-turner would be doing it a disservice. As anyone who has delved into the author’s music – or caught him live – can attest, he’s every bit the born fabulist. Recounting his journey from PepperBook to VerseChorusVerse via Zombie Safari Park and, most notably, North Coast post-rock trailblazers And So I Watch You From Afar, it’s an engrossing and remarkably earnest chronicle of how ecstasy, dread, ambition, success and self-doubt have overlapped for Wright over the years. Tempering tales of personal tragedy and mental health with his singular knack for focusing on the light at the end of each tunnel, it’s an essential account brimming with pathos, playfulness and passion.
Ahead of another busy year, we speak to Wright about Chapter & Verse(ChorusVerse) and what the near future holds.
Go here to buy Chapter & Verse(ChorusVerse)
Many writers have a Eureka moment and finally decide, “Ok, that’s it. I’m going to write the book.” Was that the case for you with Chapter & Verse(ChorusVerse), or was it more of a gradual thing?
It was, like so many things – and possibly people – borne out of boredom. I just started writing one day as I was very bored. Not a glamorous answer by any stretch, but there you have it. My surroundings on that day were pretty cool though; I was staying at this big ol’ haunted house in Cushendun for a few days and had been ruminating on where I was in life, which can be a dangerous thing for me to do. I was there by myself, as I had been for such a long time as a solo musician, and loneliness had become my partner and muse. Writing was a way of controlling the constantly spinning washing machine my mind was fast turning into.
The first day I wrote nearly ten thousand words, and I thought, “well this is easy”. Turns out that was most definitely not the normal daily word count – but it was clear that I needed to get this tale out of me.
There are untold pitfalls that accompany writing a book for the first time. But I’m curious, what were the more joyous or illuminating parts of writing this book for you?
The very act of writing was in itself a total joy. Once I had got started, time just disappeared as I got lost in it. Sometimes, admittedly, that was a scary place to go as I had to go back to some fairly traumatic episodes in my life, but I was glad to finally face them down once I had confronted them. The bulk of the book takes place in America and there’s a chapter on board a train which I wrote in real time – that part was a lot of fun as I had no idea where I was going; metaphorically speaking of course…my train ticket told me where I was going.
One thing that struck me is how detailed and meticulously woven some of the scenes are (the chapter about performing the Open Mic in New York springs to mind). What was it like dredging your memory for the small print – the scenes and feelings and faces that make up these moments?
Most of the US parts were a breeze as I was constantly making notes. Which is most certainly a good idea as I was getting a cliched Irish welcome everywhere I went and getting drinks bought for me left, right and centre (I don’t drink anymore). So the notes made everything easier, plus the fact I would write extensively for a while in Nashville – making sure that I didn’t lose the immediacy of the journey in the narrative. Wow, that’s the most “author”-like sentence I’ve ever written… didn’t even mean it.
Anyway! Yes, as I mentioned before, dredging was tougher for the bad memories – putting myself back in Vienna for example, where I nearly got kicked to death, and the reactions – or lack of – to that event. The reactions to that event were almost worse than the actual assault.
As you’re so candid about your inner world and life thus far, it stands to reason that many people are going to benefit from reading the book. Was being of service, so to speak, to others that might be feeling similar things a goal?
That’s enormously kind of you to say, thank you. Whilst that was never the primary intention, it did start to occur to me once it was finally out there and other people were reacting with such empathy. In honesty, I was terrified initially. I mean, after I read it back and began editing it, the little naysayer in my head began berating me for such honesty…telling me that I was a fool to be so open and exposed about these things, and conversely that who did I think I was that I thought people might care? The duality of the contradictory imagined shame was intense! But I knew that I couldn’t accurately tell my story without honesty and without opening up. That’s the exact point where the story lay, after all.
The book details your life as a musician, from PepperBook, via ASIWYFA to VerseChorusVerse. If you were able to go back and stand beside yourself on a quiet Sunday night shift in Auntie Annie’s, just as ASIWYFA were starting to take off, which chapter or page do you think would be of greatest use to you in the time since, and why?
Cool question! As an avid sci-fi fan, however, I know the perils of knowing too much about one’s future only too well. I wouldn’t wanna create a paradox. I mean, have you seen Back to the Future 2? The sports Almanac and Biffs alternate reality? Oh, wait… that’s where we live now. However, having said that. Maybe I’d have given my past self a hint about Vienna and signed myself up for self-defence classes. I’d maybe have left a copy of the poem from the start of the book somewhere nearby too – it’s subtly pretentious enough for past me to take notice of it. Well, it better be… I wrote the damn thing after all.
I strongly assumed that the book wasn’t going to be a down-in-the-dumps affair, no matter how much “real life” stuff is contained therein. But I pleasantly surprised to see just how much it brims with wry observations and self-deprecating joie de vivre. Did any other musical biographies inform this M.O, consciously or otherwise?
Again, thank you so much. Musical biographies, not so much. Although I’ve had a few comparisons to Julian Copes book (which I’ve still yet to read) and also Mark Everett of The Eels excellent, “Things the Grandchildren should know” (which I only read after mine had been printed – I’ve since bought 4 copies and given them away to loved ones). The book draws from other “real life” stories but none of them musical – the two main influences (I think) were Hunter S Thompson’s, “Kingdom of Fear” (the opening auto-biographical parts) and from a travelogue, “Jupiters Travels”, by a guy called Ted Simon. That book has influenced me in more aspects of my life than I can list – without that book there would be no ASIWYFA or VerseChorusVerse to begin with – and it has nothing whatsoever to do with music. With a twist of Douglas Adams in there too I suppose – and he used to jam with Dave Gilmour so I suppose therein is the musical connection. Although, I’m not really a big fan of Pink Floyd. Sorry, Dave. Or Roger. Or Syd. Or Mr Wright. Is that all of them?
You’ve spoken about being nervous reading from the book for the first time at Strand Arts Centre last year. Have those nerves mitigated in public readings since? And have you any new plans to do more appearances?
As I’ve grown more comfortable with reading the text aloud, I suppose they have, yes. As the shows developed and I started acting a little more throughout them – taking on characters voice etc – I grew more and more at ease with the new medium I was exploring. The theatre stage is quite different to the club or pub stage – but the motive is the same; to express and to entertain. At the time of writing, there are no more in the diary but that could change tomorrow, or not.
I’ve no doubt whatsoever that you’ve several more books in you. How’s book #2 coming along?
Wonderfully, thanks for asking! I’m working on a few treatments too – but the weirdest one is the most honest one. It’s so honest I don’t think anyone will believe it. Such is life. Weird lives, man. Weird lives.