Withered Hand decodes lyrics from ‘New Gods’ and beyond


To celebrate the release of his highly-anticipated sophomore album New Gods, Decoda recently caught up with Scottish troubadour Withered Hand to discuss lyrics past and present.

New Gods - the successor to Withered Hand’s debut album Good News – is very much a continuation of Willson’s emotional voyage, touching on everything from his disdain for the burgeoning hipster scene, a love for 90s alternative music, or in the case of opener Horseshoe, the universal fear of losing somebody close to you.

Okay, Horseshoe is a song about the fear of losing connections in this life and loved ones.

I think, in the lyrics, it’s not really clear who I’m addressing but I suspect that it’s really myself that I’m speaking to because it’s something I think about quite a lot.

As for the actual motif of the Horseshoe, to anyone whose grown up watching silent movies and early comedies and Chaplin and Keaton, they’ll know that there’s a very famous scene where a boxer puts a metal horseshoe into his glove and then uses this device to knockout the much bigger opponent.

Sometimes it feels like there are people in your life who can become like this horseshoe in your glove.
It’s, kind of, a strange metaphor but, for me, it works. So that’s, kind of, how the song works.

Okay. So, the song Black Tambourine, in a way, is a tribute to the band Black Tambourine. But, in the wider meaning of the words, are questioning the emphasis we put on scenes - like belonging to cliques and especially music.

So, there’s a, kind of, dual purpose to this song. One is a tribute to a kind of era of song writing that I love and grew up with and the other meaning is, kind of, gently addressing this kind of hipster mentality that is very…that I find very suspect.

That’s what Black Tambourine is about.

Yeah, Heart Heart is a combination of emotions in the same song. It is joyous; it’s a joyous song. At the same time it’s tempered with the knowledge of the kind of bittersweet feeling you have when you realise that everything is passing.

So, that’s the correct analysis. It’s a slightly bittersweet song because knowledge is the passing and the passing of things and the narcissistic aspect of love. That’s really all it is. It’s a very simple song.

Cornflake is the first song I wrote and sang in front of people. I still sometimes play it. It is…I guess it could be summed up as my opening statement as a songwriter because it still feels like I hit it once and it came out, like, correct… most certain.

I’m really talking about temptation and self-love, I think, because more people often wonder what is the meaning of “John Harvey Kellogg doesn’t want me for a sunbeam.”

Well, partly, it’s a reference to The Vaselines - and then, subsequently, Nirvana who covered The Vaselines’s song - which is an interpretation of an old Christian song, I think, called… an innocent lyric 8"Jesus didn’t want me for a sunbeam"* - and so part of it is that.

The other - my subversion of that lyric - is to insert the name John Harvey Kellogg who was a very puritan campaigner for abstinence from drink and impure thoughts and his great legacy was involved with the development of the Kellogg’s cereals, some of which were considered to be helpful for suppressing the libido or suppressing unwanted desires; desires as in physical desires.

So, that is, kind of, me making a rather hand fisted joke about desire I guess. I think that song is addressed, really, partly, to my partner. Which I do think a lot of my songwriting is partly a letter to somebody.

Religious Songs is a song which reflects on my upbringing as a fundamentalist Christian. To me it seems like gently humorous. I did use to feel very concerned about the world and very aware of the, kind of, the state that things were in - which was not…perfect, I guess.

I was aware that as things were viewed, at the time, when I was growing up, that we were in the very last days of this, kind of, system which I still often think about - although I’m not actually practising. I wouldn’t say I was a religious person, really, now.

But it does inform the way I look at things and, well, I hope it’s wrong. I hope the doctrine is not correct because I see too many things, you know… I try to look for the hope in this system and really this is just a dressing that younger self, I guess… you know it’s, kind of, like a self-mockery, maybe slightly.

But it’s - I don’t know - just packing things away and closing the lid on them and you end up with a song maybe.

Okay, so, No Cigarettes it isn’t, so much, a song about addiction as a song about authenticity.

I do have experience of addiction and the people close to me and the destruction that it can often wreak on people’s lives. But what I feel about No Cigarettes is that it was really, the crux of this song, is about trying to live an authentic life which seems, to me, a very universal concern.

So, I am comfortable with revealing some of these more personal content in songs because I think that it’s sometimes through this kind of material that makes people feel like they are not on their own because we can all… in the hope that someone will draw solace from these words in the way that I’ve drawn solace from other words in songs and in literature and so on.

The crux of this song is really about disassembling, about pretending to be something which you aren’t - which, particularly as a teenager, you’re constantly grappling with this stuff. I remember thinking to myself I couldn’t, even at my lowest ebb, I would struggle to become an alcoholic; I don’t have the commitment to it.

There’s been times when I’ve wanted people to think, “oh, man, you’re…Dan’s really hitting it real hard…” but I wouldn’t really have been able to. I don’t have the constitution, you know? So, it’s maybe slightly a different meaning than people would jump to the conclusion of.
But it’s really about authenticity. That’s all.

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