Billy Bragg brings content to the fore

April 19, 1991|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Usually, the last thing a singer wants to do after finishing a show is give interviews. But Billy Bragg, despite having finished two shows in Northampton, Mass., this April evening, is more than happy to get on the phone and gab.

What makes him so eager? Perhaps it's because Bragg, after weeks of being cooped up in a London recording studio working on his next album, just got back from a camping trip in Arizona.

"It was really good," he says of the vacation. "Otherwise, I would have gone straight out of the studio and onto the road. And I've done too many tours where I was in the studio the last night before the tour.

"I mean, I actually did a tour once where we'd been compiling the master tape, putting the songs in the right order, all night. They dropped me off at 7 a.m., and at 9 -- two hours later -- someone came to take me to the airport to come to America and do a tour. So [the camping trip] was my way of thinking up an excuse to get out here earlier, as long as I was coming across the Atlantic anyway."

Even with reasonable hours in the studio, though, Bragg finds record-making "a bit of a chore. Because I enjoy performing live, and the rapport you have with the live audience.

"And also," he adds, "in the studio you have to sing on key all the time."

Asked if that sort of thing can't be fixed electronically, using some studio gizmo or other, Bragg just laughs.

"I wish," he says. "I think they're one of those mythical things, where you switch 'em on and everybody sounds like Milli Vanilli. But don't you think I'd have been singing in tune all these years if those things existed? Don't you think the record company would have forced me to have one?"

He's teasing, of course, but Bragg's unwillingness to trick up his albums with technology is no joke. "I think there has long been a split between those who do it in the studio and bring technology to the fore, and those of us who do it live and put songwriting and content to the fore."

Which may be why Bragg, despite his punkish elocution and devotion to electric guitar, is frequently referred to as a folk singer. Still, it's a tag that leaves him more than a little uneasy.

"I've always tried to get out of categories," he explains. "I thin the distinction is where people have their roots. I have my roots in a traditional kind of music, but it's a tradition that includes the Clash, that includes the Rolling Stones, and that includes Bob Dylan."

Billy Bragg

When: April 25, 8 p.m.

Where: Shriver Hall, Johns Hopkins University.

Tickets: $18.50.

Call: 481-6000.

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