Formed in the U.K. in the mid-’70s, power-poppers Squeeze have had a topsy-turvy past. The band broke up in 1982, then got back together in 1985, only to break up again in 1999. The current lineup features founding members Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, who reconvened three years ago and recently rerecorded some classics for Spot the Difference, which is due next month. The band revisited tunes like “Tempted” (with Paul Carrick reprising his vocal), “Pulling Mussels From a Shell,” and “Black Coffee in Bed” — great songs with sharp pop hooks. Tilbrook recently talked to us about Squeeze's early days before playing with Cheap Trick at House of Blues on Sunday. —Jeff Niesel
For this tour with Cheap Trick, I understand that you are sharing headlining duties?
It works for both of us. We did a date together last year and it really worked out well. I can only speak for me but I presume we’re all keen to replicate the experience. Albeit coming from different places, there’s a similar sensibility about both bands. “Surrender” is one of my favorite songs. I was on a trip with the Love Hope Strength Foundation to Kilimanjaro last year and Robin Wilson from the Gin Blossoms was there. He sang that song sitting around the fire one night and it was one of the most magical moments of the whole trip for me. Cheap Trick have provided many of those.
You and fellow singer-songwriter Chris Difford have been friends since you were teenagers. Obviously, you have a certain chemistry when it comes to songwriting. Did you guys click instantly once you started writing songs together?
When we met, I think I was 14 or 15, and Chris and I were writing songs separately. We got to a point where we tried writing one song together and in our very English way, we never asked during doing any of this. We just tried it and it worked. We never talked about since then.
But now that you’re older, what’s your impression of why it worked?
I got a very specific idea about it. Chris and I set out quite early on in our relationship almost as soon as we started making records and stopped being good friends. Our writing relationship blossomed. We had the falling out before we were successful. There was no place to go from there, and that enabled us to carry on longer. It wasn’t like we were having fights. We just weren’t friends. We had love and respect for what we did. We are actually getting on better now than since we’ve met. Which is lovely.
You’ve both had solo careers, too. What’s it like for you to write and perform without your other half?
I worked long and hard on my solo stuff and did a lot of touring. I’m pleased and proud to have done that. It’s on a much smaller level than Squeeze. I haven’t had a great deal of commercial success. But as a writer, I feel like I’m still growing. I feel like it’s good stuff and I’m really proud of it. I want Squeeze to be as good as that. We have a fantastic past and a glorious back catalogue. Most of the songs stand up really well. The question of creativity is a different thing. We have a record coming out called Spot the Difference. We have re-recorded 14 of Squeeze’s classics. Some of them sound absolutely the same and others not. It was quite a depressing project for me because it was born of the need to get control the catalogue. If we recorded brilliant versions of those songs, we’d have some control back. The process of doing it was weird. It was like being a forensic scientist. It’s like “ What did we do? How did we do that?” When we were mastering it, I felt really proud. I wanted it to be the best it could possibly be. It draws attention to the fact that we could still do this stuff 30 years after some of the stuff was recorded.
Take me through the various break-ups and reunions. The first Squeeze break-up was in 1982, right? What caused that one?
Really, at that point, bands still made an album every year, which we did. We were touring the whole time, and it was amazing. But we had no time. We were still growing up and it was both brilliant and really hard. There was a bit of time when I stopped enjoying music and got so sick of the whole thing. I was really scared and didn’t ever want to be like that. With better advice and a more solid head, we would have had a rest. It felt too dramatic and too mad, so we split up. I don’t know what would have happened otherwise.
Then you reformed in 1985 and had a 14-year run before breaking up in 1999.
Getting back together again was weird. When I look back on myself, there’s a place in my twenties where I don’t recognize that weird person. The band was bigger than ever, strangely. We had our biggest hit in the States [with “Hourglass”] and nearly got there and started the long slow retreat from that. Artistically, we got better and commercially it got worse and worse. That was a strange period for us. Chris left and I was tremendously resentful of that.
Keyboardist Jools Holland was initially involved, right?
He was back with us for three albums. That was great. In the fact, the last record he did with us, [1989’s] Frank, has his finest piano playing. Really brilliant playing. Of course, he wanted to do his own thing as he always has done. He decided to press the eject button. There’s no animosity.
What brought the band back together in 2007?
Chris and I collaborated on a book in 2004 with this guy Jim Drury, and we were very honest about what had happened between us and why we thought it had happened. It lanced a lot of boils with us. I was very determined and it felt real and proper and true again. Squeeze had been a bit of a compromise at the end and not the best sort of compromise. I had many years of hard solo work, but I was really happy doing that. I didn’t want Squeeze to be a facsimile of a facsimile of a band. I met with [bassist] John Bentley who was great and very gracious and unforgiving about our unceremonious dumping of him in 1985. I had time to reevaluate his contribution before that. We could ask him to get back on board and Chris was key to do it. I said I got these two guys in my band the Fluffers who are the best people for the job. They’re my first choice, and they would do this job really well. The Fluffers improvise a lot of and Squeeze is not that sort of band. We had to put different heads on for this. We could learn the set and do it properly with passion. We wanted to play them like it’s the first time and play them properly. Squeeze now sounds the equal of the best times of Squeeze.
You won’t get to play your solo tune “Beachland Ballroom”?
I thought you were going to ask that. I could see that one coming. Isn’t it unfortunate? That song speaks honestly from my heart.
I was at that Beachland show when you enlisted members of the audience to unload your broken down tour bus.
I remember the line of people across the road. That was fantastic. With Squeeze, we’re back in luxury world. Believe you me, that’s very nice. But I learned something all over again through doing the other side that I never want to lose hold of now.