Blur's Graham Coxon and partner Rose Elinor Dougall on parenthood and new band The Waeve's self-titled debut album | The Sun
WHEN my video call flickers into life, I’m met with a scene of domestic bliss somewhere in North London.
On the left of the screen is Graham Coxon — sonic adventurer, dab hand on the saxophone, oh, and Blur guitarist — looking as happy and healthy as I’ve seen him.
On the right is Rose Elinor Dougall — once a singer in girl band The Pipettes, more recently a solo artist — bouncing their bonny baby daughter on her knee.
Their blossoming relationship also extends to forming a band, The Waeve, and this week sees the release of their self-titled debut album.
It’s a captivating, genre-defying song cycle, which, says Coxon, draws on elements of “folk-rock, art pop, krautrock, prog-rock, jazz, you name it”.
For him right now, the baby and The Waeve’s live dates in March are bigger preoccupations than Blur’s massive reunion party at Wembley Stadium in July.
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“She’ll have to come with us on tour. We’re getting her on the drums,” quips Coxon, gazing fondly at his little one.
Dougall describes their daughter as a “happy happenstance” but adds: “As you can see, we haven’t quite worked out how to do childcare yet.
“We’re sleepless for less exciting reasons than rock ’n’ roll!”
Now I must explain how these two like minds came to pool their considerable talents.
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Rose, 36, well remembers the first time she met Graham, 53, at The Buffalo Bar in Islington, a small music venue which has since closed.
“We had a little chat and I made him buy me a drink,” she says of their brief encounter.
‘Wit and style’
Coxon picks up the thread: “Gosh, it must have been 2003/4. I went to see a bunch of bands, including The Pipettes.”
At the time, he’d left Blur (later to return of course) and was working on his fifth solo album, the acclaimed Happiness In Magazines.
But it wasn’t until December 2020, with the world in the grip of the pandemic, that he ran into Dougall again . . . and this time their stars aligned.
A mutual friend was putting on a socially distanced charity gig at The Jazz Café, Camden, for Beirut in the wake of the horrific warehouse explosion.
Dougall says: “Graham was playing, as was I, so we hung out after the show.
“I think I had a tequila or two and, as I was leaving, I said to him, ‘Oh, we should write a song one day, ha ha!’.
“I didn’t expect anything to come of it but we ended up exchanging emails that Christmas and Graham seemed up for it.”
For the two musicians, the chance to work with each other proved serendipitous.
“We were both feeling pretty despondent about everything, personally and creatively,” admits Dougall.
“Then this opportunity presented itself to combine forces. We didn’t have a game plan but I thought it might inject fresh energy into working again for both of us.
“At the start of 2021, we met up for sessions and, within two or three weeks, we had some expansive and exciting ideas.”
As for Coxon’s take, he gestures towards his partner and says: “At The Jazz Café, I realised that this wasn’t a run-of-the-mill person. She had a lot of wit and style.
“It seemed as good an idea as any to go into a collaboration. Apart from being in a band (by that he means Blur of course), I’d never just sat in a room with someone and tried to come up with stuff.
“But we were lucky. We got on really well and the music started to appear very quickly.”
Dougall likens working with Coxon to “a bit of a trip”, partly because, as a teenager, “Blur were one of my favourites”.
“Graham’s guitar playing has been a constant thing in my life from when I first tuned into music,” she says.
‘Shared sense of relief’
The fruits of their sessions developed into the ten songs on The Waeve’s debut LP.
They were keen to avoid a “cheesy duets album” and see their efforts as a “pure collaboration”, each track built from the ground up by the pair.
Without wishing to denigrate the likes of Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood or Sonny & Cher, Dougall says: “If we’d followed the duets path, we’d have had to fulfil stereotypical gender roles.
“That limits what you can say and how you can exist within the song. We wanted more freedom.”
The opener, Can I Call You, seems a perfect conflation of their skills, beginning with Dougall’s sultry vocals over stately piano before the pace quickens and Coxon embarks on a fluid guitar solo over insistent beats.
Mention of the song brings praise from both sides. “Rose is a really great singer and piano player,” says Coxon. “We had a shared sense of relief that it wasn’t all on one of us.”
Dougall returns the compliment by saying: “I love the way Graham plays guitar with so much grit and balls. That’s really hard to muster up.
“I know it sounds annoying but he’s one of the best and if he’s not going to play the f***ing guitar, then I’m going to feel short-changed.”
Second song Kill Me Again finds them channelling their inner Echo And The Bunnymen. The first thing you notice about it is Coxon’s squalling saxophone, an instrument that looms large across the whole record.
“Well, it was the only thing I was ever taught to play,” he says.
“One day, I said to Rose, ‘What have we got here in the cupboard?’. And she replied, ‘Yeah, get the saxophone out!’ Then it became part of our sonic landscape.”
Dougall particularly enjoyed arranging the huge swell of strings on Drowning.
“It started in a tiny way on my Casiotone keyboard and then unfurled into this whole big thing,” she says.
“I’d become increasingly interested in string arrangements and so asked my friends, The Elysian Quartet, to contribute. I also love Graham’s ‘Midnight Cowboy’ harmonica on that song.”
The punky blast Someone Up There serves as their reaction to lockdown, an emphatic release of pent-up frustration.
“We were dealing with our feelings in the present,” affirms Coxon. “Both of us felt a bit f***ing let down and angry.
‘Pretty weird stuff’
“It’s good to externalise feelings like that in music, so we got it out of our system.”
Dougall’s uncompromising delivery demonstrates her striking versatility.
Coxon says: “I really like what Rose can do with her voice. I used to watch her live at Rough Trade East with her band and it can really flip and be a little poky at times.
“She’s almost robotic at the beginning of that song and then, in unison, we’re laying down the law against evil.”
A real highlight for me is All Along which harks back to the heyday of folk-rock and begins with Coxon playing the cittern, an ancient instrument similar to the lute.
Of all their songs, this one gives clue to the band’s name. Waeve is a play on the old English for sea, which is “sae”, as well as alluding to “sound waves and waves of emotion”.
“I’ve been destroying my finger ends trying to play like Bert Jansch of Pentangle,” says Coxon. “I also did a John Martyn cover at The Jazz Café, so we quickly realised that stuff was part of this.”
It also chimed with Dougall, who employs her most folky vocals.
“Growing up listening to folk singers like Sandy Denny and Anne Briggs, I was taught how to sing,” she says. “They are cornerstones among the great British female voices.”
Coxon explains the eclectic nature of The Waeve like this: “We’re musicians with very rich reference points. We both love music and love a lot of different types of music.
“We have so much in our arsenal, with instruments and sounds that we have on hand in my little studio.”
When it came to inspiration, both protagonists brought their varying influences into the mix.
Coxon says: “I had to dig deep into some pretty weird stuff such as Nantucket Sleighride by Mountain.” (Theme tune for ITV’s old Sunday political show Weekend World.)
In turn, Dougall brought her musical DNA to bear. “Broadcast and Young Marble Giants are big for me,” she says.
“And I love jazz but Graham’s got a much deeper knowledge of it, so that was a good education for me.”
Coxon again: “Rose reminded me of how much I like Joni Mitchell and I also revisited the Cocteau Twins. People who looked like me when they were 16 or 17 didn’t listen to Cocteau Twins.
“The youth was a lot more segregated in terms of music taste and fashion back then.
“I was heavily into The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks and The Smiths.
“Then I discovered Japan and The Human League, then I got into prog and psychedelic stuff like Pink Floyd, Gong and Van der Graaf Generator.”
Despite all that, there’s something strikingly original about The Waeve’s music.
It feels like the product of a rare alchemy, full of surprising twists nad turns, and I also find it quite romantic in tone.
“It is a romantic record,” agrees Dougall, “That doesn’t mean I like sloppy, slushy, cheesy stuff but we are interested in making music that moves you.”
Coxon sees it like this: “If there was any brief for us both, it was to deal with the present and not take ourselves off into anything majorly depressing from our recent or distant pasts.
“But I can’t think of anything worse than if we’d made some schlocky love letters to one another.
“We were learning about each other through the process of making this album, so it is inevitable that a feeling of this is coming through.”
Next up for The Waeve are intimate, acoustic in-stores to launch the album, followed by the March dates and summer festivals as a five-piece band.
“After that, we really want to write more music,” reveals Dougall. “Graham can’t get rid of me now. This is all part of my evil plan!”
The last words are with Coxon: “We’ve gone from, ‘It might just be one song’, to a life-changing collaboration.
“I can see this going a lot further.”
'Always nice to see the band of brothers'
TALKING to Graham Coxon, I had to mention Blur’s momentous Wembley Stadium shows on July 8 and 9.
He gave me this amusing assessment: “It’s always nice to see the old band of brothers and see where we’re at.
“We’re all collecting injuries, Damon (Albarn) with his pesto making etc. We’ll see if we’ve got enough limbs to play instruments.
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“ Alex (James) can leave his cheese-making, although I don’t think he actually gets into those funny white wellies and a hair net and does it himself you know.
“And we’re bringing those songs out into the light again to see if they’re not in bits. Either the songs are in tatters or we are at this point. I’m sure that it will be great fun!”
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