As Ricky Gervais prepares for the last David Brent & Foregone Conclusion show of 2016 this evening in Brighton, we ask him why it's right to bring Brent back now; and how it really feels to turn a semi-successful tampon rep into a genuine rock god.
“I do try and stress that this is an artist album, but the artist is fictional. That’s important. If they think it’s me trying to be a rock star living vicariously through Brent, it’s odd,” opens Gervais, putting his feet up on his office desk. No cuban heels this time, sadly.
We’re talking about Life on the Road, of course, the epic David Brent comeback project (album, movie, and songbook combo) which has, even in Gervais’ humble opinion, spiralled wildly out of control and into the ‘fucking hell’ popularity bracket.
“It’s mental to think [Brent’s band] Foregone Conclusion are actually one of the biggest bands in Britain at the moment,” Gervais smiles. “And the thing is, they’re all written as ‘real songs’, as if it wasn’t a fictional character. Although they’re tongue in cheek, it’s still important they were done well; melody and song structure was very important. I didn’t want the joke to be that it wasn’t good, just that he wasn’t relevant. So they’re not comedy songs like Monty Python, and you’re not laughing at the song, per se, you’re laughing at the back story.”
Brent’s back story speaks for itself, of course, though it isn’t a million miles away from Gervais’, either: Gervais worked in an office for 10 years, he too was an aspiring pop star, and he even managed the band Suede for a brief time. So music has always been in the blood, then?
“Oh, definitely. But that was very fast. I was at college, in a duo, and we were signed over as quickly as we started; that’s the picture they find on chat shows: me at 20 with eyeliner! But after that, and before Suede, I then tried again with rock bands; there was another few years of me trying to get that second bite of the cherry, which never happened.
“The biggest mistake I ever made is that I wanted to be a rock star, and I should have wanted to be a musician; and when I came to be a comedian, I brought that with me. I love the creative process, and I am probably a much better writer or comedian than I ever was a musician, because it was life experience. As a pop star, you’ve only got a couple of years to learn everything, but the life expectancy of a director is 80 years old, so in theory, you should get better.”
We start to chat about Life on the Road the album, and how I myself end up playing it on repeat in the motor, and know all the words already. That’s bonkers, isn’t it?
“[laughs] Okay, but if you take Freelove Freeway, there’s nothing funny about it; it’s a rock and roll song about picking up chicks. But when you realise it’s written by a 55 year old tampon rep who’s never been to America, you get the parody almost of one of these guys that thinks they can go on The X Factor, or con an A&R man,” Gervais says. “They don’t realise it’s the whole package in pop music; people want to wear you as a badge. You could have two equally great records, but who’s singing it is important to people, so you use all your skills as a real songwriter or musician to enable the project. That was very important, that we did everything like it was real.”