Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Stephen Street

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a musician on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: legendary record producer Stephen Street

Which 1990s track that you produced did Miley Cyrus cover last year at LA venue Whisky A Go Go?

The Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’?”


“I didn’t hear it, but I heard a rumour she’d covered it. The Cranberries’ first album was initially ignored by critics and the public and it wasn’t until they went to America and made ‘Linger’ a hit, that it took off for them. So when we were doing the second album – which contains ‘Zombie’ – it felt like vindication. We didn’t worry that it was a hard-rocking track and they were known for softer indie stuff. It was a bit of fun where they wanted to let rip after a year of being on the road, so it was a bonus surprise when it proved such a hit.”

After frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan died in 2018, you worked on The Cranberries’ posthumous album, ‘In The End’ released a year later…

“I feel very close to them. I started working with them when they were so young. I felt protective of them and like an older brother .It was a real shock when Dolores died and when Noel [Hogan] guitarist asked me to finish the album they’d been demoing, I wanted it done right. It stands up well and most people realised we’d done it with love, affection and care and not as a money-making exercise.”

What’s was so special about the Japanese CD edition of Blur’s 1994 album ‘Parklife’?

“Did it have a dog racing ticket inside? (Laughs) I have no idea!”

WRONG. It barked when you opened it and the greyhound’s eyes lit up when you pressed them.

“Really?! That’s something I’ve learned!”

Including ‘Parklife’, you produced five Blur albums. Any standout memories? 

“It was a magical long-term relationship. I’m most proud of what we did on their fifth self-titled ‘Blur’ album, where we went in a new direction. Listening back to Damon Albarn’s vocals on ‘Beetlebum’ for the first time, I had tears in my eyes, thinking: ‘This is special’.

Any surreal moments? On ‘The Great Escape’, former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone appeared on the track ‘Ernold Same’…

“It was my idea to get him in because I’m not a huge fan of his. We needed somebody with a really nasal, boring voice doing the commentary and I suggested him. He came in thinking he was the bee’s knees and we were fans – we weren’t at all! (Laughs) I couldn’t stand him and my preconceptions were confirmed when he insulted the pastel jumper I was wearing that day! But his voice suited the song.”

What did you think of the Blur/Oasis rivalry at the time?

“Initially I thought it was fun and friendly competition, but it got too personal and soured. The first Oasis album was incredible and it spurred us on to do better.”

Who is credited as singing backing vocals on The Smiths album ‘The Queen Is Dead’?

“Um – Ann Coates?”


“Which is Morrissey’s vocal put through a harmoniser.” (Laughs)

The pseudonym is a pun on the Manchester area Ancoats. You engineered The Smiths’ ‘Meat is Murder’ and ‘The Queen Is Dead’, before taking over as producer for their final record ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’, where there are stories that while Moz was in bed tucked up with a Sylvia Plath, Johnny Marr and the rest of the musicians would be covering Spinal Tap songs…

“That only happened during one session! (Laughs) Johnny was a night-owl so sometimes we’d work late. There was no messing around in the studio, but that was the one night we let our hair down – Andy [Rourke] knew all the basslines to Spinal Tap songs and would play them at the drop of a hat.”

You produced Morrissey’s 1988 debut solo record ‘Viva Hate’, then fell out over a royalty dispute. When did you last speak to him?

“I wrote to him 10 years ago and he was surprised to hear from me. When they first received my letter, his management asked: ‘Is this a legal letter and should we get our solicitors involved?’ (Laughs) But it was just a friendly letter asking how he was. We met in [London hotel] Claridge’s and I got involved in the reissue of ‘Viva Hate’. But he had it remastered again and took off the song ‘The Ordinary Boys’. When I disagreed with what he’d done, I was incommunicado again. There’s been the occasional little email, but I’ve not heard from him properly since.”

Would you produce another of his records if he asked?

“Yeah, I think so. It’s well-documented that he’s said some dubious things in recent years, but because of our long-term past relationship – The Smiths gave me my first big break – I feel a certain loyalty to him so if he asked, I would be interested.”


According to music mogul Alan McGee’s Creation Stories memoir, you quit producing which band’s debut album after they barricaded themselves in a studio cottage with mattresses and threatened to pour boiling water over anyone who dared enter?

“Oooh – that’s a tall story! But I’ve got a feeling it could be Primal Scream?”


(Laughs) “It wasn’t as bad as that! Though I’ve blanked a lot of it from my mind! It was just one of those sessions that didn’t quite work. There was a lot of arguing within the band. Being in the middle of that as a producer was hard to deal with and I was still young and learning my trade. The band weren’t fully ready and Bobby [Gillespie] wasn’t the strongest of singers at the time either. There was so much negativity flying around that we called it a day. But they proved in the end they could do it – I remember hearing ‘Velocity Girl’ [in 1986] and I couldn’t work out where it came from, because nothing we were doing even came close to it.”

You produced Kaiser Chiefs’ 2005 debut ‘Employment’. Who did frontman Ricky Wilson  famously joke to NME that year that he’d wank off for success?

“Bloody hell! No idea! Arctic Monkeys?”

WRONG. He avowed he’d “wank off a tramp for success”.

(Laughs) “That one flummoxed me! The mid-2000s felt like the last hurrah for guitar bands. They were having hit records and it was exciting to be involved with. Downloading helped kill off that scene because kids were going to see The Maccabees and Mystery Jets but weren’t buying their music. Every year people say ‘Guitar bands are back!’, but I don’t see it happening to the same degree we saw then. Hopefully when live music comes back – because it’s the kind of music that benefits from the visceral thrill of seeing a band let rip onstage – people will want to form bands again. There are great guitar bands out there, but record companies aren’t giving them big enough budgets.”

In 2019 you became a full-time member of the indie band Bradford, who formed in 1987. But on which Morrissey single does a cover of Bradford’s ‘Skin Storm’ appear as the B-side?

“Boy oh boy!. That’s after my involvement with him. Is it something from the album ‘Your Arsenal’?”

WRONG. It’s ‘Pregnant for the Last Time’.

“A great record. I’m not doing very well!” (Laughs)

Why did you decide to join Bradford now?

“Because there’s no pressure on us to tour in a transit van and do the things younger bands do. They were on my label back in the late 1980s, and when I heard what they were up to, I wanted to get involved. The main thing was I wanted [their] songs to see the light of day and the easiest way to achieve that was to join the team. I think we’ll remain a studio-based project.”

You produced Peter Doherty’s 2009 solo record ‘Grace/Wastelands’. He now runs The Libertines Albion Rooms B&B in Margate. Which poet is his room named after?

“Oscar Wilde?”

WRONG. It’s Emily Dickinson. You’d worked with Pete since you produced Babyshambles’  2007 album ‘Shotter’s Nation’. Given his reputation, did you have any reservations?

“I wanted to go in blind and not be tainted by anyone’s previous experience. I was aware Babyshambles circles were scary, but I wanted to try it because I was a huge fan of The Libertines. When we made ‘Shotter’s Nation’, it was the middle of the paparazzi madness. Pete was dating Kate Moss, and I worried that would detract from making the album, but we knuckled down. It wasn’t the easiest record to make. Recording with Pete at that time felt like we were hanging on with our fingernails. And the hangers-on you’d sometimes have to deal with in the studio weren’t the nicest people in the world. But Pete’s a fine writer and underneath it all, a sweetheart. ‘Grace/Wastelands’ is also a very underrated record.”


You partly produced New Order’s 2005 album ‘Waiting for the Sirens’ Call’. Apart from New Order themselves, name the other two producers who receive credits.

“John Leckie, and I can’t remember the other one!”

WRONG. You missed out Stuart Price. That was bassist Peter Hook’s final New Order album…

“It was a joyous experience making it, and as far as I could tell he and Barney [New Order frontman Bernard Sumner] were getting on fine, so I was surprised when he left acrimoniously so soon after.”

You’re obviously renowned for producing The Smiths. But which indie single that you produced includes the lyric: “Do you know who I am? I’m like a Morrissey with some strings”?

“’What Took You So Long?’ by The Courteeners ”.


“I first went up to Manchester to see them play and the intensity of the gig was mind-blowing. I thought they were going to be absolutely massive. I’ve kind of been proved right, but it’s felt like a long slog! When they brought out debut album ‘St Jude‘ in 2008, people were a little bit dismissive of it and I could never work out why.”

They arrived at a time when the term landfill indie started being bandied around. What did you make of VICE’s controversial ‘Landfill Indie’ list last year? You’d produced a lot of the records on it…

“That really annoyed me! (Laughs) It’s dismissive, snobbish and people sneering ‘Oh four guys in a band with guitars – they’re just boring’. But throughout time, four guys with guitars have made beautiful sounds. I was slightly put out by that article.

“Sometimes you forget it only takes one or two influential people to say: ‘I don’t like this’ and then everybody jumps onboard. When Blur put out ‘Girls & Boys’ in 1994, it could have only taken one two people to say, ‘This is complete shit – Blur shouldn’t be doing this’, and it could have killed the band off. Fortunately, it was perceived as a bold move.”


What flavour was ‘The Magic Whip’ ice cream Blur launched in 2015 to coincide with their comeback album you produced of the same name?

“Oh God! (Sighs) Vanilla?”

WRONG. But close!  It was dairy vanilla custard with raspberry sauce.

“As a record producer, you never get sent those gimmicky things! That ‘The Magic Whip‘ album nearly didn’t get made. They were stuck in Hong Kong and rather than doing nothing, they jammed in the studio. I started working on the demos with Graham [Coxon], but we weren’t totally sure that Damon would be agreeable to finishing it off. We were working on it with trepidation and were worried about playing it to him. Fortunately, he liked it and we finished it and made what I think is a fine piece of work – especially when you consider it could have been left loitering in the can.”

Do you think they’ll do another album and it is something you’ll be involved with?

“I’d hope they’d make another record, and I’d love to be involved. Damon’s so productive and has so many plates spinning, and COVID has pushed everybody’s projects back a couple of years, so as the possibility gets pushed further and further back, you wonder if it will ever happen. But I hope it does.”

The verdict: 4/10 

“I’ll have to do better next time!”

Bradford’s ‘Bright Hours’, their first studio album in over 30 years, is out now