So much music: the singer-songwriter Liam Hayes. Photograph: Jim Newberry
One of the charms of Palace Music’s 1995 album "Viva Last Blues" is the vague, under-rehearsed piano work of Liam Hayes (AKA Liam Hayes and Plush), a songwriter in his own right who has since gone on to release a series of albums combining the melodic sensibilities of Burt Bacharach with the slinky R&B of Allen Toussaint or Boz Scaggs. I asked him about his latest project, as well as his life in music so far.
Where’s home at the moment?
It’s not Chicago.
Your most recent release is the soundtrack to Roman Coppola’s new movie A Glimpse into the Mind of Charlie Swan III, which stars Charlie Sheen, Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. This isn’t your first film work – you appeared in Stephen Frears’s adaptation of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity in 2000. Is cinema a natural fit for your music?
I love movie music, especially when it sounds good on its own apart from what's happening dramatically. I’ve had my music described as widescreen and it just so happens that I have a flair for the dramatic, so my answer is yes.
How did you get involved in the Charlie Swan project?
Jason Schwartzman introduced Roman to my music and he became a fan. It unfolded from there.
I once read that you were “living an alternative lifestyle with a guru in San Francisco” during the 1990s. Is this true?
It might have been fun had it actually been true. From here, it all seems like a dream or, more accurately, someone’s creative writing project. I think that was in the Melody Maker; it went out of business and so did the 1990s. I don’t remember in what order.
How has your life changed since then?
What I value hasn’t changed.
In 1995, NME chose your debut single (“Three Quarter Blind Eyes/Found a Little Baby”) as its record of the week and said it was “almost implausibly lovely”. Mojo magazine called it “damn near perfect”. Did you expect such a big reaction? And did the attention make following it up any harder?
I didn’t expect any of that. The actual response and subsequent commercial interest presented me with some interesting dilemmas. I'm continually creating and by the time that single came out, I was already on to something else. Rather than trying to "follow it up", I followed my musical as opposed to commercial instincts and recorded More You Becomes You.
Since that first single, you’ve put out three albums and now the film soundtrack – which averages at roughly one release every five years. Is taking your time part of your working process?
No! No, it certainly isn’t. My desire to remain autonomous has meant self-financing my recordings over the years. Doing that is always a long-drawn-out process, because what it doesn’t cost in money it costs in time. As a result, I don’t have a lot of records but what I do have is mine. By the way, in addition to the soundtrack, I have two new soon-to-be-released albums finished, which actually makes it a new album every three years.
Though you’ve worked with people like Tom Tom MMLXXXIV, who did arrangements for Minnie Riperton and Earth, Wind and Fire, your music doesn’t sound old or retrogressive – even when you make direct references to, say, the Bee Gees. What is it that prevents it from becoming an exercise in pastiche?
For me, it’s an ongoing process of discovery – while searching, you bring your past with you, so it’s not a static thing. I don’t deny my influences but I like to take them along with me to where I’m at in the moment. That’s what brings it into the present.
Which bands or musicians do you admire?
Here’s three of many: Tommy James and the Shondells, Klaatu, the Box Tops.
[The albums] Korp Sole Roller and Slirrup, coming to your turntable soon.
"Take a Chance" from Liam Hayes and Plush's 2009 album "Bright Penny":
The soundtrack to "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III" is available now (Night Fever Music, $9.99). The entire album can be streamed here on Rolling Stone.