Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
Richard Ashcroft's second solo album, "Human Conditions," is a spiritual work that the former frontman for the Verve says grew out of the fabric of his recent life.
Ashcroft explains, "The main ingredient would be the vulnerability of being a parent, and traveling the world with a first child, and touring the world, and being a solo artist, taking that kind of flack, and coming back and thinking, 'What is my role in my tribe?' If I'm the musicmaker, then I'm not going to throw any more empty nihilism in the world. I must try and construct some music that has a warmth in it, and a certain sense of hope somewhere within it."
"Human Conditions" -? issued Feb. 25 in the U.S. with bonus track "The Miracle," following an international release last October ?- is a searching and heavily orchestrated set, and Ashcroft acknowledges the impact of such questing musical predecessors as Van Morrison. "[Morrison's] 'Astral Weeks' and some of his records have been a huge influence on me," he says. "He wasn't afraid. He let himself go."
For "Human Conditions," Ashcroft reunited with such past collaborators as arranger Wil Malone, keyboardist Chuck Leavell, and ex-Verve drummer Pete Salisbury. But the album also features such guests as Beach Boy Brian Wilson and Mercury Music Prize winner Talvin Singh.
Ashcroft cites Beach Boys recordings and late Beach Boy Dennis Wilson's solo set Pacific Ocean Blue as key influences on his work.
He recalls, "I uttered the words to somebody: 'God, it would be great if Brian Wilson could sing on [the track "Nature Is the Law"].' A few days later, I met somebody who knew his manager at a photo shoot, and they were also putting on a concert for him at the Festival Hall in London. The wheels started turning, and it wasn't long before he was hearing 'Nature Is the Law' and agreeing to it."
Ashcroft knew Singh only casually, but says, "We had a great couple of nights [in the studio], full-on. Someone like that injects a sense of urgency exactly at a time when you need it."
Ashcroft has no immediate plans to tour the U.S. But the musician hopes to bring over a large-scale show that will approximate the expansive sound of "Human Conditions." He says, "I want people to hear a sonic approximation of where I'm heading, rather than the solo troubadour thing."
Excerpted from the April 19, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.
To order a single copy of the issue, visit The Billboard Store.