EUGENE REYNOLDS & JIM BRADY: THE REZILLOS – THE THEN AND NOW
The Rezillos are back touring the UK after three years, now with a new single, ‘Out Of This World’, available as a digital download, CD and 7″ vinyl. The new track, written and produced by old and new members of the comic sci-fi art punk group, encapsulates the past and present of one of the best loved bands in the cosmos. I caught up with The Rezillos’ one and only frontman Eugene Reynolds and guitarist Jim Brady ahead of the band’s first gig in London for three years.
How’s the tour been going and what’s the reception been like so far?
Eugene: It’s interesting because the first show we did was sold out three months in advance, which is great, and they said that they could have sold three nights. And what is especially good about the reception is that people have now started to buy our new record so they know a new song at last, ’cause we haven’t put records out since the year zod.
Jim: There’s been new songs in the set, but they’ve not been released; they’ve just been added to the live set, so it gives people more to latch onto it when they know it’s a record or when they’ve heard it on the radio or whatever.
Eugene: For example, on the first night when we played the single, lots of people already knew the words! They were singing along with the words! [Laughs]
Jim: Yeah! You get that a lot with the older, classic tracks but it’s really funny when it’s a new song.
The track’s really new isn’t it – it’s been out since the beginning of this month?
Jim: Yeah, yep.
Eugene: Well actually it would have been earlier this month, but the record pressing factory burnt down [laughs].
Jim: We had some ‘Rezillious’ luck! [laughs].
You had a download, a CD and a 7″ this time – which was lucky because the factory burnt down [Jim laughs] –as opposed to ‘No 1 Boy’, which was just a download. Why did you want to go for more outputs?
Eugene: We just wanted to give as many different opportunities to get to the music. And the thing is, with downloads, I’m sorry but for us it seems like a little bit of an event and not a full event. And we’re still stuck in that groove where if you have a hard product in your hand, it’s tangible. If you go to someone and say, “Hey! Listen to my new download,” people say, “We’re not really interested.” Having said that, I was told that the download we did for Universal was one of their best downloads of our types of bands.
Jim: ‘No 1 Boy’.
Eugene: Yeah, ‘No 1 Boy’. But it still didn’t feel the same as people buying the [physical] record. And even though people maybe haven’t even got the record player, they want the 7″ vinyl.
Jim: Since we put out ‘No 1 Boy’, everytime we do a gig people say, “Have you not got ‘No 1 Boy’ on vinyl? Have you not got ‘No 1 Boy’ on CD?” People have been asking for it. I agree with Eugene: it does feel like less of an event, but also, you don’t get a courier delivering a box of downloads, and there’s few things more exciting than getting a big cardboard box, scratching it open and it’s full of your record.
What actually happened with the Czech factory when you said it was burnt down?
Eugene: Yeah, we rigged that so the record would come out a week later [laughs]. [Jim was] at the factory. I said, “Jim stop playing with matches!”
Jim: I was fiddling with the electricity again [laughs].
Eugene: I don’t know, it was just went on fire – someone ended up in hospital and someone had smoke inhalation, but it was in the Czech [Republic] so I couldn’t tell you what their names were [laughs].
Jim: I could, but I can’t pronounce them! [Laughs] The thing was that our time for the vinyl was really tight and especially at this time of year, and there’s very few places still making vinyl – Czech [Republic] has somehow captured the market because they kept doing it when everyone else stopped. They used to have a really old plant that did it; now they’ve got a really fancy plant ’cause they kept all the business. So we were really up against it and we just got this email from the agency that was passing the stuff backwards and forwards that just said, “Sorry there was a fire at the plant,” and said “Rezillos, category number – destroyed,” with a link to the news video clip of the factory on fire [laughs].
You didn’t have stuff burnt in that London riot did you?
Jim: No no, the Sony place? Nah we had nothing to do with that.
Eugene: Here comes the difference between a Rezillos record and that Sony place that burnt down. It sounds weird, but we’re not putting our record in the shops. Because there’s no point in competing with things like X Factor. The people who want our record will buy it from our website or at our shows. And that’s where we sell them. We’ve already sold a pile of them and it flies in the face of putting stuff out in shops.
With the new single, ‘Out Of This World’, can you tell me about how you got together to record that. It’s been at least two years since your last single. What was going through your minds about meeting audience demands as opposed to what you wanted to do? Was there pressure there?
Eugene: The thing with meeting audience demand is that – I would put it this way –we give them what they want, but not what they expect. So they’re getting something new. If they’re coming to a gig, what they really want is to hear the old stuff. So you have to play the old stuff, but as a living group, you have to come up with new songs. And some people say, “Oh no, they’re doing new material.” Well I’m sorry to say in the case of The Rezillos the new material is every bit as good as the old material, so the fans don’t mind. The fans want new material; they want new stuff to learn. But as far as creatively approaching it from how we came about with that song, that was actually written by me and Jo Callis in 1986, a couple of years after he stopped playing with The Human League.
Jim: I didn’t even know that!
Eugene: And he made a video for it, [Jim] you’ve never seen that have you?
Jim: Nooo I have not seen that!
Eugene: It’s just me and Jo doing it…
Jim: Oh my god! I’m frightened now…
Eugene: Half The Human League and half The Rezillos.
Jim: Oh my god! [Laughs]
Eugene: Except we’re dressed up in glam rock gear.
Some scary hybrid or something?
Eugene: It is a weird hybrid. And then we reintroduced it to The Rezillos set when The Rezillos reformed. But the interesting thing again about this record is it still has some previous members who’ve done some guitar parts on it when Jim was originally producing it. After producing it, Jim then joined the band when Jo left. So on the record you’ll see there’s two lots of guitar players and two lots of bass players, just because…
Jim: …it was recorded at that point where there was a change [in the lineup]. So it was half done when people left, and then the new people came in and they added to it – we kept bits of each.
So it encompasses the old Rezillos and the new Rezillos?
Jim: Absolutely! And it totally works for it. There’s nothing clashing about it or anything.
It’s a really good single. Have most people been downloading it at the moment or have you sold quite a few vinyls/CDs?
Jim: We’ve been really tight about the security on the digital download. We didn’t put it out pre-release to any radio stations. They only got it a few days before the release date as a promo copy. There was a preview [on Facebook] that was just a section of it and it was the old rough mix that wasn’t really finished. But with your initial question, there was no great masterplan behind it, unless [Eugene] never told me? Approaching the writing and the production of the song, it wasn’t like we have to make it like this or like that.
Eugene: There’s no massive gap between any hard product and The Rezillos apart from ‘No 1 Boy’ the download. We did ‘No 1 Boy’ as a download because people see it as, “Download’s the way to go.” And it isn’t the way to go. Even if you sell a lot of downloads, it doesn’t mean anything to me to do a download – it means nothing.
Jim: I think people just don’t value something that you can just click and listen [to]. And I don’t mean that as a criticism, that’s just the nature of the medium and how you respond to it, whereas when you get a physical artefact, it’s quite exciting.
You can keep it forever – it won’t get deleted!
Jim: Yeah, it’s exciting. When it’s a solid object, we’re actually inside each of those records –we’ve developed a special beam [Eugene laughs] that shrinks us to microscopic size and then replicates us .
Eugene: But the point is, to have a record is like replication of the creative output.
Jim: Exactly. Physical replication.
Eugene: We’ve come out of this from an artistic point of view, outside all the realms of, “Here’s a song that I’m singing on.” It’s something that we wrote, something that we had concept [for] and [we] want to recapture that aspect by having more than the download out. Now we’re not gonna sell 200,000, 300,000 copies like we’d done back in the 1970s, but when people came to me and said, “Oh download’s the way –that’s the way you’ve got to go,” I personally don’t like it when people tell me how we’re going to run our band and it’s much more sanctified doing it this way. And actually it’s going back to the same way as ‘I Can’t Stand My Baby’, except there’s no record shops out there [Jim laughs]. We stamped every single one of those 15,000 records by hand and every one of [the new single copies] we’ve done, we stamped them, we stuck the stickers on and it feels very cohesive. And if we sell a few thousand – great! That’s much better than selling a couple of thousand downloads. Or however many – I’m told by local record shops that really big bands are lucky if they sell 500 singles. We’re gonna sell thousands. And that’s cool.
Jim: It’s got the best sleeve I’ve seen in decades.
Who designed that?
Eugene: My concept.
Jim: Eugene sent me the original full picture. And everything in this band is discussed and argued over, and he sent me this and I just went, “YES!” [Laughs]
Have you got any plans to release any further material or a new album?
Eugene: Yes there will be an album, but we’re gonna do it the other way round. We believe that there is an appetite for singles, so we’ll release a series of four to six singles, and then it’ll be available as an album. But we may record some of [those singles] just as The Rezillos did back in the day [with] different recorded versions.
Jim: Re-recorded versions from scratch.
Eugene: So everybody will have some, because they’ll be some depth to it. ‘Cause sometimes even when you make a single and you have to play it, someone says, “Why didn’t we just do that bit just there…
Jim: …slightly different?”
Eugene: And you do it in the next song. Like a TOTP [performance] on a single is different – it doesn’t have the riff and everything.
Jim: The song evolves as it gets played live.
So you’re recording some new songs already?
Eugene: Yes, there’s three more songs already recorded; they’ll just get mixed, produced and they may get changed a little bit. We’ll put them out and then, as Eugene says, after they’ve been gigged they might get changed again.
Have you got any working titles for the new songs?
Jim: There’s a couple in the set now – ‘You’re So Deep’ is pretty high up the hitlist list for getting recorded. It’s a song about ‘You’re So Deep’ – it’s called ‘You’re So Deep’ and it’s about being deep. It’s actually not [they laugh]. It’s quite the opposite. It’s a slightly sarcastic title.
Eugene: We’ve got another one called ‘Yesterday’s Tormentor’.
Jim: It’ll be in the live set – it always goes down really well and people have asked for that. People on the Facebook group [say], “Is ‘Yesterday’s Tormentor’ coming out?” We get asked by fans for the new songs.
Are the new tracks some of the old stuff that you’ve written in the past or is it all completely new?
Eugene: ‘Yesterday’s Tormentor’ was written in 1996. There will be a mixture and – I know I touched on this before when I said it’s been such a long time – it’s actually taken a while to synthesise where we are happy with putting records out. And now we are. Whereas before…There’s no point in rushing it because we’re not gonna gain anything by waiting any less or any more. We just do it when it’s right and we’ve got to that point where it’s right now. And that’s the feedback I get from people who say, “You’ve pitched it in exactly the right place, musically and visually. And as they say, “A good idea today is a good idea tomorrow.”
Jim: Yes, I agree. It’s like a curry. “A curry today is a good curry tomorrow.”
Eugene: Yeah, but you’ve kept some of your curry in a box ’til today from last night.
Jim: I know, it’s over there. I’m gonna have it later [laughs].
The Rezillos’ new single, ‘Out Of This World’, is available now on 7″ vinyl, CD and as a digital download.
Photo (main) © Richard Battye. All other photos (except archive) © E. Gabriel Edvy/Blackswitch Labs.
© Ayisha Khan.
STEVE IGNORANT – CRASS: THE LAST SUPPER
Steve Ignorant, co-founder and vocalist of former anarcho-pacifist band, Crass, returned to Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, UK to perform live Crass songs for the last time ever on the final date of ‘The Last Supper’ tour. With him were Penny Rimbaud and Eve Libertine, original members of the band, who shared a stage with Steve for the first time in little under 30 years. I spoke to Steve backstage before his last Crass-related show on earth about the closing of such an emotional chapter in music history.
The gig tonight is in many ways the end of an era of Crass. What’s the rehearsals been like – a lot of stress, a lot of work, a lot of emotions?
It’s certainly been a lot of emotions. Because we’ve been doing this tour, blimey, since last year, we know the songs backwards and forwards. We’ve swapped the set around a little bit and added a couple of different songs just for tonight. So the actual rehearsing hasn’t been a problem, but the last rehearsal we did, everyone turned up and was a bit quiet. And it was really funny ’cause the closer we got towards the end of the set, we all looked at each other and realised, “Shit! This is the last we’re gonna play these songs one more time.”
What’s it been like doing that as a rehearsal knowing that once you finish rehearsing that last song, that’s it?
It’s just weird. I mean Carol – her voice went, sort of crack[ed], which then started me off. And I was like, “Eurgh!” And afterwards, it was funny because we were sitting in the pub having a beer and it was just like, “Well, that’s that then.” It was just really odd. It’s sad, because we’re not gonna perform together as a band again. We’re not gonna do these songs. And Carol said, “My God – that’s the last time I’ll do ‘Shaved Women’.” And I went, “Yeah, I know.”
Tonight’s setlist – is that compiled of what the fans wanted or what you want to see Crass go out on?
We’ve tried to put in favourites for everybody, but we’ve thrown in a couple of ‘curfers’, if I can put it that way. But the set that we’ve had since we started, it just flows together really well. So we didn’t muck around with it too much. We’ve changed little bits and pieces.
Is tonight a bit different to some of the other shows? It’s going to be a special night. Have you made the setlist reflect that?
Oh yeah. Penny Rimbaud and Eve Libertine are performing tonight.
How have they been getting involved in the rehearsals – have you been meeting them regularly or have they just come?
No today was the first time that I’ve rehearsed with Pen.
In how long?
Bloody hell! Since…well 1984, but we did one thing together.
A few years ago Penny gave his blessing to you to perform Crass material but wanted no part in it. Now he’s actively taking part in the show. What’s changed?
Both him and Eve [said], “Look we’re not doing this for the glory – we’re doing it for you.” I was like, “Oh I really appreciate that.” It’s like a little present for me. So that’s their way of looking at it. I think they’ll do it once and one time only. This really isn’t their scene; they’re not into it.
Are you trying to get the original sound or are you all just doing it to the best of your abilities, because it’s been so many years now? Are you trying to replicate what the fans might expect to hear from the time?
No we’re getting as close as possible but we’ve always, always maintained that this is our take on it. We’re not trying to be a tribute band; we’re not trying to have it exactly the way it is ’cause otherwise, what’s the bloody point? We might as well just be karaoke then. So it’s our little take on it.
I don’t think the fans are necessarily expecting it to be exactly the same – it’s been so many years.
No. I said to Pen that I wanted to do [it] as we started. So we should finish here. So it’s just gonna be me on vocals, Pen on drums doing ‘[Do They] Owe Us A Living?’ – that’s it. So it’s gonna take it right down to the bare bones. Gonna be different [laughs].
And you’ve got the band that you’ve been touring with – are they doing most of the material?
Yeah. Pen’s only doing one song with me and then he’s doing one song with Eve Libertine. So they’re only on for a very short space of time because I didn’t want it to be seen as a Crass reunion or anything like that. It’s just like a little guest appearance; a little extra thing for people.
The whole experience of ‘The Last Supper’ tour – what’s it meant to you? What were you trying to do on the tour?
Just say thank you, really. It’s a way of saying thank you to all those who’ve, over the years, shown support and bought records, and this is what tonight’s about. It’s just I’ve wanted once and for all to say to them, “Look, I know you come up to me and say Crass changed my life and stuff. Crass chadnged my life too. Thanks you lot.” That’s a little tear in me eye.
You said before that it was quite emotional with some of the fans’ reactions; that you had people crying on your shoulder.
Oh there’s gonna be so many people crying here tonight, I’ve even had handkerchiefs made [laughs]. Seriously! I think if I make it through this set without having a little blub meself, that’s gonna be a fucking miracle. It is really emotional: what this tour has shown me doing the Crass songs [is] it ain’t about people going, “Oh you’re fantastic.” It’s like people coming up and saying what Crass meant to them at a certain horrible time of their life and how it helped them through it. Like the guy in America whose dad fucking shot himself in front of him and Crass’ music helped him through that. Fuuuck, what do you say to that?!
With Dial House it was people bringing their own stories and I think Crass is a forum of all those voices – people’s experiences. There was so much emotion coming out from that, it wasn’t just about your performing.
Yeah. I don’t know what it is, [but] for some reason those words and that music – if you can call it that, that sound – has really touched people somewhere really special, more than The Rolling Stones did with their fans. You go to the pub next door and people will just be talking to you about what it really, really means to them. It’s not just like, “Oh I went to this great gig and did this.” It’s more about being bullied at school, or they were the fat kid with pimples who couldn’t fit into a punk gig ’cause they didn’t look right; they weren’t punk enough. And that’s the sort of audience that Crass always had and always built. It was the absolute misfits – they didn’t even fit into a punk thing and they would come to a Crass gig and it was all right.
When you did ‘The Feeding Of The 5000’ in 2007, there were some problems with Penny and some of the other band members that didn’t want the Crass material played again.
Nah it was only Pen and that’s because this is the sort of place that Crass wouldn’t perform and it’s the first time I’ve done it. And he just saw it as a corporate thing.
There was one band member that wasn’t happy with it, other than Penny who obviously came round. Are there still any problems with that at the moment or have they been settled?
No, no. I ain’t gonna be stopped from doing it now am I?! [Laughs] Take me to court! See you in Pentonville! [Laughs]
I wanted to talk about the Crass record label. I spoke to Zounds – Steve Lake was telling me what it was like to be signed as a band to Crass. He said that bands signed to you were termed under ‘the Crass family’ or ‘the Crass bands’ and they were very much associated with you – they’d appear onstage with you and the record artwork was quite similar. And also that things had to be done your way, but you weren’t a record company and didn’t want to be depended on. Can you tell me about what you wanted those bands to do?
What we used to do is like [to] bands that we liked or people that we met, we would say, “Do you want to do a record on Crass?” And they’d go, “Yeah, all right.” But we always said, “Look, you’ve got to have this circle thing because if you’re flicking through records – remember those ’70s things called vinyls? [laughs] – in record shops, we knew as a pure market thing, the minute you see them, “Oh that’s Crass – I’ll buy that just ’cause it’s on Crass.” So it sold their records regardless of what people would buy just to hear it.
Did you find that those bands wouldn’t be able to exist without you?
No, we just wanted to give people the chance to put some records out. Whatever profit was made from one record, we’d put it into the next one. We always had this policy of only one; you can only do one [record]. If you wanted to do something else we had another company called ‘Corpus Christi’, which was you can do what you liked, so the cover didn’t have to be the Crassy thing.
The scene at the time is described as ‘anarcho-pacifist’, but I know from people who played at the time that it wasn’t called that; there wasn’t even a term like that. There were fans that were from other aspects of music like people that might be into something a bit more hippy than punk itself. Who were you trying to associate with?
We were not trying to associate with no one. We were just doing our own thing . We didn’t even know what to call it. And even to this day, can you call Crass punk music? ‘Cause I don’t think it is. I don’t know what the fucking hell you call it. What genre do you put it into? So we weren’t prepared to stand on anybody’s flag but our own. All the time people were trying to slot us into left wing or right wing, or we’re this or we’re that. So to try and combat that we said, “Fuck it. We’re anarchists.” Well anarchists go around being violent and throwing bombs so that’s when we put up the CND symbol, like the peace things show. And out of that group you had this second wave of Crass type bands come along and of course were even more hardline than Crass, and outcrassed Crass, on the raggedy clothes and what have ya. And this ‘myth’ appeared that that’s what Crass were. I still have people come up to me telling me what Crass was about. And I’m like, “Actually, we weren’t about that at all mate!” [laughs]. [Steve imitates them:] “No it was, it was! I’ve got the records…” “Yeah, but I used to be in the fucking band!” [Laughs]
Comparing the bands signed to your label with yourselves, were there the same fans?
Yeah, it was a broad sort of thing. But it was a bleed over where people would go. Even when Crass had stopped, there were bands like DIRT and Flux Of Pink Indians and Zounds still going round, still doing the circuit that we’d kicked off on. And that was to us really nice.
Because there was quite a depth to some of the lyrics with Penny’s work, how did you feel singing about stuff that you might not have had a view on, that you might not have been able to philosophically know about?
To a certain extent I used to trust Pen, but there were a couple of songs that I was like, “I’ve gotta ask him about this one.” There was one that I refused to do – ‘Sheep Farming In The Falklands’. I hated that fucking thing. I didn’t get the joke of it; I didn’t get the humour. I was always really uncomfortable singing it onstage. And then once people got killed in the Falklands, I said I’m not doing that no more. And I refused point blank to do it. ‘Mother Earth’, which is about Myra Hindley and the Moors murders back in the ’60s – I had to question Pen about that because if it’s taken in the wrong light, that song can be seen as almost supportive of what Myra Hindley did. And then he explained to me and I was like, “That’s fine.”
You were doing Crass for the fact that you wanted to have a band in the first place, but also because you were angry inside from your life before you met Penny. Fighting the system and the direct action you took – how much were you into that in the way Penny was into it? How much was that a part of the ethics that you led your life on or was it just about playing music?
Nah, that came afterwards. I was never one for going on protest marches and stuff, but I used to go because I felt I had to; that’s part of the job I took on. And if I’m shouting those lyrics then I’ve gotta go and do that; backing me offer. The last protest I went on was the anti-Iraq invasion – I didn’t wanna go but I thought, “No, fuck it I’ve gotta go.” I knew it would make no bloody point or it was no use whatsoever, [because] it will still happen, but I still went. And I’m glad I did.
The lifestyle at Dial House, how much were you integrated into that?
Totally. I lived there for over fourteen years – I lived there longer than I did at me mum and dad’s house I think…No, I was there for longer! Bloody hell! ’77 to ’90…[adds up]…whatever it was [laughs].
You were quite bewildered by some of the ‘practices’ there, but did you draw a good link between that and what you were trying to sing about?
Dial House, when I went there, was my idea of heaven. Of course I always wanted to live there and draw and live in the countryside. And the fact that we were living there but we were doing this band thing and I was able to do my punk rock scene and that, [was] fucking brilliant.
There was a bit of conflict with the whole pacifism stuff with Penny towards the time the band broke up. He said there was a bit of conflict especially over the Thatchergate stuff, where you were becoming less ‘commentators’ more ‘experts’.
It all got a bit bloody boring. It was like, “Fucking hell,” and it stopped being fun, and that was the main thing for me. And I stopped enjoying it. There were a couple of members who were talking about more direct action and really seriously talking about maybe fucking up the state communications and wire cables under the street or doing something to motorway bridges, and what have you. And I was like, “I don’t wanna get involved with that, no I don’t particularly.”
Did it scare you at all?
No it didn’t ’cause I was like, “Oh fuck it, I’m walking.” This ain’t why I got involved in [Crass] – I’ll leave that to someone else. I don’t wanna be banged up in prison for some stupid thing. And that weren’t for me. So I just went, “No, that’s not my choice. I’ll do it another way.”
Penny was saying in the Crass documentary that he was quite scared about the government over all the KGB stuff, Thatchergate etc. What was your reaction to that initially before they found out it was a hoax compared to afterwards with all the ensuing harassment that you got?
I thought that was really good fun. It was a good laugh. That didn’t bother me too much. Look, it’s just us and we’re fucking around. Listen to it! Jesus Christ…But when I did get scared was [with] ‘How Does It Feel To Be The Mother Of A 1000 Dead?’ We started getting letters of support from the Labour Party in the House of Commons on headed notepaper [saying], “Well done,” and all this sort of thing. And then I thought, “I don’t like this because this is getting too deep into it,” and I felt really uncomfortable. Didn’t like that at all.
Crass has never reformed; it’s never had a reunion like some other bands after its split. It’s never come back like that. Penny gave his blessing and then you did ‘The Feeding…’ in 2007. Could you tell me about what you called the ‘lunatic fringe’, when after the tour you started getting loads of bad reviews or phone calls from people moaning about the way you’d brought the Crass material to life onstage again, and how that might compare to tonight?
There’s still gonna be people moaning. But what shocked me was after ‘[The] Feeding…’, it wasn’t phone calls, it was stuff that went on the internet. All right if I do a crap job tonight, then criticise by all means, I don’t mind that. But when it’s just spite and bullshit and it makes my partner cry, that I don’t forgive. There’s a couple of people who are still…gonna be dealt with. And I mean that. It’s not fair – it really was horrible. And that really shocked me, my god. I realise that, as much as what I do [there’s] people that love it, there’s also gonna be people who really hate it.
You said after tonight’s gig that you might lock yourself in a room, metaphorically, and not pick up the phone…literally, [Steve laughs] concerning any Crass gigs. You spoke before about spoken word. Now you’re putting the Crass stuff away, what are you going to be doing now?
I’m just gonna do a spoken word thing, which I’ll open up to a question and answer session. I know there’s people that still wanna talk about Crass even though this is gone. I mean you’re welcome to come along and see it but don’t expect to hear Crass ’cause I ain’t gonna do it. So it’s gonna be spoken word, plus I’ve got a lot of work to do with the local lifeboat, so I’m gonna be doing that. And just having me own life really. Just got a new pup, the garden needs doing – I couldn’t do it last year so I need to get back [to it] and do some repairs…it’s just messy and stuff. And if I need a bit of pocket money I’ll probably be washing up down the pub kitchen again.
Could you tell me about the themes that you’re covering in the spoken word?
Love, death, sex, fights, fear, freedom, whatever. Just life.
Why do you think Crass is so unrelivable even though it’s so applicable today with everything that’s going on?
Don’t know. It’s really odd because those Crass songs were written at a time on the time, but they’re still relevant today. But if we were to sit down and write those songs tomorrow, then people would be going, “We know it all now.” It’s on the internet. But it just works. It’s gonna work for one last time, innit?
Photos © Kim Ford.
© Ayisha Khan.
JIMMY PURSEY & DAVE PARSONS – SHAM 69: RETURN OF THE HERSHAM BOYS
Sham 69 is the pioneer of street punk in its most unique and genuine form. But a history of band breakups and shifting lineups has always been an obstacle to its progression. Now, however, the original 1977 Hersham boys return to play together again after more than 30 years, fronted by the irreplaceable founder and vocalist Jimmy Pursey. I spoke to Jimmy and guitarist Dave Parsons backstage after their first show together in five years.
How does it feel to be back?
Dave: Great. Fantastic.
Jimmy: It was great to just stand there and do 21 numbers on stage, and survive it.
Dave: It’s great to be having fun again, to be enjoying doing it.
How does it feel to be playing together again?
Dave: Fantastic. When we split up in 1980 we had a five year blake before we got back together. 1986, we had another five year blake and we’re back.
Jimmy: There was a child in between each one; different children from different women over the world. And Dave had the first one and then I had the next five year one, and then Kermit had the one after us.
You had a discussion back in July. Could you talk about the mechanisms of bringing this to stage and the work that’s been involved?
Jimmy: There’s been a lot of work in just rehearsing 21 songs they haven’t played and I haven’t played for 30 odd years. That’s where the work is. Because whatever they might sound [like] in their own individual style, we’re trying to put that style back into something without it being nostalgic and without it being robotic and without it just being played. As you can see tonight, it’s more the thing to see 21 songs played and 21 songs having people singing to every single song you’re doing. What more gratitude can you have from that?
At the discussion did you come to an agreement or was it an immediate decision?
Jimmy: No, because life is step by step now anyways. How can you see that far into the future about anything? And don’t forget we had to come onto the stage and see what people would see about what we were doing; whether they thought we were right doing it. And I think tonight proved that we were right in doing what we did. So we’ll take it from there – it’s as simple as that.
Dave, did you ask Jimmy to get involved in this show?
Dave: I just made contact with him. And we ended up getting together and talked. And it was clear to both us that we wanted to get back together and play again.
Jimmy, you seem to be the same on stage as you were before but there’s still something different – Sham’s been renewed.
Jimmy: The world around makes no difference. I’m 56 years old. So I’m not going to be 18 on stage again am I, in the same atmosphere? That’s the only difference.
Have you been working on playing the songs differently?
Jimmy: Yes. We’ve done ten weeks of it.
Dave: Well no, ten weekends.
Jimmy: Oi Dave!
Dave: I’m sorry [laughs].
With the fans, did you find that it was encouraging what they were saying about Jimmy coming back? It must have been difficult for him coming back so suddenly – what was the reaction you were expecting?
Dave: Yeah, we hadn’t got a clue. It could have gone any way and fortunately it was great to look out and see all those smiling faces out there. It was fantastic.
Jimmy, could you tell me about your musical influences from the start, before Sham 69?
Jimmy: They weren’t much different to [Dave’s]. We liked The Rolling Stones, we liked The Small Faces, we liked Bowie, we liked Velvet Underground. And a mixture; eclectic cultures basically.
You differed a lot to your contemporaries.
Jimmy: Yeah – we’re better.
And in terms of the style of music, you can’t find it in any other band.
Jimmy: No. Our style is 1977 and that’s what we stick to and I think that’s where we went amiss in many ways. I understand that [Tim V] as a musician wanted to better himself as a musician. People do. And me, as a wordsmith, was not finding that any words were any different to what I had written the first time around. And that’s where we got into a bit of a thing with ourselves about what we were doing.
Could you talk about the fans at the time of the late ’70s – you had quite a mixture. You had really rowdy people attending the gigs.
Jimmy: Which ones are you calling fans? Real fans or people who just turned up?
Yeah, I wanted to distinguish – who did you associate with? Who were your fans as opposed to the ones that were invading?
Jimmy: It was as hard then as it is hard now. If someone is taking reference to himself by shaving his head and putting some braces on him and calling himself a skinhead, then you’ve got to take it as another reference. Is he doing that as a fashion statement or a fascist statement? So that’s to work out as well for us at that time. And don’t forget we just removed a uniform which was a school uniform to be non-uniform. So we didn’t like uniforms anyway, whether they were fascist or communist.
Yeah I’ve interviewed Dave before and he was saying of The Pistols, he wasn’t about the fashion side of it whereas they obviously were.
Jimmy: Dave didn’t really know about the fashion side of it anyway [Dave hums in agreement and both laugh].
There was a lot of early violence. I know it’s not necessary to talk about that nows, but why do you think that was happening back then?
Jimmy: It’s not relevant anymore because people are far more intelligent to realise that working class people – whether they’ve been living in Libya or Iraq or London or Columbia – [in response to] any form of “Oh you’re poor, we can help you”, run from that don’t they? So when they work out that those people can’t actually do that for them, that’s when they change.
Was there any tension performing in that atmosphere? Did that contribute to any of your breakups?
Jimmy: We packed up because of the violence at the gigs the first time around. And we packed up the next time around because we couldn’t find our own culture; we couldn’t find our own pathology again. And it’s taken this long to realise that we should have been settled about what we did and not be relentlessly trying to find something better than certain things you’ve already written. You didn’t tour on the scale of some of your contemporaries in the past. Was there always a focus away from commercial success? What was the purpose of Sham?
Dave: The purpose of Sham really was to do something that we wanted to do and not get caught up into the standard nine to five jobs. We were all playing stuff and punk came along at the perfect time to allow us to do something rather than have to join a progressive rock band; to be part of something that was natural to us and wasn’t forced and that’s why it worked. Because it was so natural to us and we had that opening, we were like, “Wow! What a chance” – to be able to step into the situation that existed. We didn’t have a plan. It wasn’t like, “Oh let’s go out and have hit records. Let’s go out and do this and conquer the world.” We were just being teenagers and we wanted to go out to speak to other people who felt the same way as us.
Before you came to this show, did you feel that it was going in a different direction to what Sham was about?
Dave: Yeah, I think so. What I’ve been through for the last five years was a need to play a lot of places that I knew Jimmy didn’t want to play. And he perfectly understands that. But what eventually happened was that it missed the spirit of Sham. It was becoming manipulated for three other people that I was becoming further and further apart [from]. They were just looking at what they were doing as a job and that whole thing wasn’t for me.
Jimmy: I just think wherever we are now, it was to do with what the past was about and that’s what gives us that edge.
Dave, what you’re saying is that they didn’t understand what Sham 69 was about, they were just doing it for the musical opportunity?
Dave: That’s what it turned into. At first I thought they did. I think Tim [V] had his own agenda. There was a lot of heart in there that was right but then there was a lot of it that wasn’t and I think he got further and further [away], which created that ‘us and them’ situation. And especially with Ian [Whitewood], the drummer – I couldn’t believe it – he was making decisions for the band on gigs that we should never have been playing. And we were playing gigs when he was turning up and he was playing at 40%. I think you owe to the fans to at least play at 90% on a long tour, ’cause you do get tired, but you need to organise it so you’re giving at least 90%. If people are buying tickets then they deserve that. And he was putting us through flipping tours, accepting tours where I was looking round and he was barely giving 40% and that’s when I said to him, “You’re doing it just for the money.” But at the same point, if they stick to what they’re doing with their new band I wish them all the best. I’d love for them to take great success from that and that’ll be great.
And some of those members might have been part of Sham slightly longer than some others ones, but you still felt it wasn’t gelling as well?
Dave: It wasn’t no. It had become an ‘us and them’ situation. And for me it was just becoming intolerable. And it really brought home that I missed [Jimmy]. So I could have been happier being back in this situation.
With the other band members is there a lot of a rift between you?
Dave: If they stick with doing whatever they’re doing – I was saying to an old friend of mine, Ricky Goldstein, [who] I’ve known for a long time – I’m totally happy for them and I wish them all the best. But if they continue to encroach on the name ‘Sham 69’ then I have to justify that.
So have you got the rights to the name? It’s not likely they’ll be taking part in anything in the future?
Dave: Yeah we have the rights. Yeah there’s no way. I was the only original member and I formed that band to do what I wanted to do.
Dave, there’s a lot of history there about when you had problems playing live gigs and record companies and promoters being let down. When I spoke to you last year you seemed a bit bitter about it. How have you managed to look past all that stuff?
Dave: Jimmy didn’t want to tour. But because we’re grown up and we’re adults, we all understand each other’s needs. And Jimmy understood that my need was to play places that he didn’t want to play. And the only way I could do it was doing what I did. OK I upset a lot of people but it fulfilled a need that I had to do. For me, the whole thing about punk rock is to do what you want to do and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to tour and Jimmy didn’t want to go to those places. But at the same point, the vehicle that I had wasn’t really the right vehicle. And in the end, all the good things about working with Jimmy, and especially Dave [Tregunna], became more evident. So because we’re older and we’re grown up we can assess those things and come back and there’s no bitterness between us.
Jimmy, I wanted to know what your side of that argument is. What is your opinion about the actions that you chose to take at that time?
Jimmy: I let them go out and destroy themselves. I wasn’t really interested – I didn’t recognise what they did. The actions I chose to take was just to ignore it and sit on it and wait for something to happen, which has happened hasn’t it?
Are there any plans for Sham 69 after this? Or is that it?
Dave: No, no. The first thing was to get to this point and see whether it was good and I think we’ll take it further. We’ve already got a gig in Italy in February.
Are you guys working on any new material? Where are you taking Sham 69?
Dave: Yeah, we’re writing new stuff and recording demos.
Jimmy: ‘Stockwell’ was the best track and where we’re going to. We’re trying to take punk into a situation where it’s still edgy and it’s still contained, ’cause that was the problem – we didn’t know. I didn’t want them to end up a rock band or a this band or a that band. Of course we went into great difficulty of trying to keep things simple and doing things in a different way.
And there’s the same kind of themes. It’s not politics it’s apolitical – shouting at the system. What is Sham 69 in terms of music?
Jimmy: It’s just an organic mythology that looks after itself, even bringing us back 35 years later to do what we were doing out there [tonight]. What it was supposed to be; how you would want something to be.
The music is a lot better.
Jimmy: Yeah, yeah. It was just stronger; it was much stronger.
Jimmy, with some of your breakups in the past, what challenges did you face about taking Sham in the right direction when you lost certain members or when you lost the bands rights or when you had other problems just generally with putting it together again? How did you get through those times and did you feel ripped off at any point?
Jimmy: Even if I felt ripped off, I think most bands feel the same in their own [way] in what they’ve done; it’s just if you take so much value to being ripped off, you never enjoyed yourself in the first place. The thing is about whatever I’ve done, it’s just the case that if I’ve stayed alive to see what I’ve seen tonight, then that’s the most important thing to me.
Photos © E. Gabriel Edvy/Blackswitch Labs.
© Ayisha Khan.
MARK MOTHERSBAUGH – DEVO: PUNK/NEW WAVE/CULT?
New Wave wonders, Devo, are back after 20 years with their ninth studio album, ‘Something For Everybody’. Aptly named, it’s a powerful punk-infused electronic remix of material chosen by Devo fans themselves and produced by an intriguing selection of artists. An album that holds at its centre “the vapid absurdity of so much contemporary speech” and the subversive antagonisms of some very angry young men. Cracking open a past of Chrissie Hynde and Brian Eno, Distorted’s Ayisha Khan gave Devo co-founder and lead singer, Mark Mothersbaugh, a call whilst he was in London.
Hi Mark. How are you finding London?
Oh it’s great. I love London.
You’re currently preparing for the release of your new album, ‘Something For Everybody’. How does it feel to have a new album out after 20 long years? How come it’s been so long in the making?
After we finished our last record, ‘Smooth Noodle Maps’, it was with a record company called Enigma who had gone bankrupt at the time. And so everything was so depressing to be in that situation. When I got offered to score music for ‘Pee-Wee’s Playhouse’, it just seemed like so much more fun and I could write an album-worth of music in one week, then I could watch it on Saturday morning TV the same week. So it was instant gratification. I got to do that every week. I really got into the idea of scoring for film and TV and it took me that way for a long time. We weren’t really in a rush to do this record. We were intrigued by the disintegration of the record industry, and it made us feel hopeful [laughs]. It made us feel that maybe things could be different to the last time we were making records. We thought there’s a window of opportunity for the record business to change its business plan. That [was] what lured us back in it.
And how did you pick the producers for the album? There were all sorts of rumours flying around like LCD Soundsystem were going to do it but then James Murphy couldn’t fit it in.
There were a lot of people besides James Murphy who we had talked to. We were playing in Japan a year and a half ago in a festival where we were playing between Justice and Fat Boy Slim, and both of those were interested in working with us. At one point, I scored a movie about three years ago and Snoop Dogg was an actor in the film, and we almost did a song together for that movie. So there were a lot of people that we had talked to who had all voiced an interest in working with us. When we started passing out songs, you end up working with who’s available; who’s got time to do it. And in the process we met Greg Kursten and we enjoyed his mixes a lot. We really liked the way that he remixed our tracks; we thought he brought a lot to our table and that’s why he ended up mixing the majority of the songs on the record.
Can you tell me about the tracks on the album? Was there any material that you had initially written that had got scrapped during the duration of this new album production at all?
There are quite a few tracks that didn’t get on the album. We did something that was half serious and half fun, but definitely was a good portion serious and we took it seriously. We let focus groups determine what songs we were going to put on the record. We put together focus groups both on the internet and in different locations where we were performing and let people vote on what songs they liked the best. So these are the 12 songs. Actually out of those, there’s 2 songs that the record company pushed for, and they wanted to have their say in the record. So they squeezed a couple on, but most of the tracks were picked by focus groups and there is a version of the album that is 100% focus groups that will also be available.
So what originally affected your decision to go about using that method of focus groups to produce the new album?
Just ‘cause a lot of things happened at the same time and one thing that became notably different is, when we started on this record, Devo had a different place in the world. First time around, we were very protective about our aesthetic and about who we were. We felt people really didn’t understand; we felt our record company didn’t understand us and we felt like critics didn’t understand what we were talking about. So we were very protective about everything. And this time around we’d ask people if they believed in devolution and just about everybody says, “Yeah.” They understand what we’re talking about now because they’ve seen it happen and everything in the world around us is happening faster than ever. At one time we were ahead of our time. When we were younger we were definitely pioneers. Now we’re more in our time, there’s all sorts of people doing really amazing music; they’re doing all sorts of electronic things and it’s not the same as it used to be. In our first review in ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine, they were saying, “There’s two songs that don’t even have guitar and one that doesn’t have a real drum kit, and you call this rock ‘n’roll?!” And I remember the LA Times feeling like,”‘Why are they showing videos at their concert? What is that about?! If I wanted to see lights and flashers I’d go to a pinball arcade.” It’s like now and then. We were before MTV.
Yeah exactly; I’ve got some questions about that. But first I wanted to ask about the new wave culture in the USA and when you were talking about the place guitars had and how synths took over a lot of the tracks. Can you tell me about the arrival of the synthesiser in the music industry at all?
In the early days, I feel like what we were doing that was different was we were trying to find a sonic vocabulary for our time to match what we saw on TV, what we heard, what we read about in the newspaper and what we saw going on in the world. I was listening to electronic music and thought synthesisers helped bring things more up to date. And I remember one particular synthesiser solo I heard more than anything else, [which] really shocked and inspired me, and that was a song by Roxy Music called ‘Editions of You.’ But in it Brian Eno plays a synth solo where he doesn’t use a keyboard; he’s using a joystick or something. But I was so impressed with the way his solo sounded, it made me want to find my own version of what that sound would be; what the Devo version [would be]. And I knew it meant not playing the keyboard, ‘cause what he played was the most liquid, and interesting [solo]. I think [it’s] maybe the best of all time; it still holds up. Probably the first synth solo that was performed on a pop song without using a keyboard.
Back in the ’80s, why were you becoming more recognised as a live band as opposed to a recorded one?
We played a ton of gigs. We wanted people to hear us.
No, but was this to do with this whole thing about record companies back in the ’80s? What was the situation with recording music using record companies?
Well it was different because record companies had, for decades, come up with a business model that they were very proud of and stuck in because it had been very successful for them. It didn’t really involve a lot of forethought. It was very simple; it was the only game out there. So record companies could put out anything they wanted and sell it. We got lectured when we started talking about wanting to do merchandise lines, or a feature film, or a TV show, or a book. They didn’t care about any of that, they said, “Look, just do one more ‘Whip It’. That’s all you have to do.” And they really didn’t want to hear about marketing ideas.
And you talk about how you predicted MTV five years before it happened. How large were the discrepancies between your expectations and the reality of it when it aired?
It was totally different. When we were first imagining sound and vision, when we first found out about laser discs, we realised art and pop culture was ready to change from a band that just made music to artists who were visually orientated, sonically and visually. And we thought that meant that all of the rock ‘n’ roll bands would die; there would be newer, younger artists, who would be working in both visuals and audio simultaneously. But we were proven wrong by MTV, because what happened instead was that once record companies realised that, [for example] Rod Stewart doesn’t know how to shoot a video – or Lover Boy or Van Halen – they weren’t going to let their big money-makers get left in the dust. So they hired production companies and directors to write a story to go along with these songs. And so the whole MTV idea of music artists hiring a commercial art director to write a story to go along with their song became the model that everyone followed.
If you were starting Devo again from scratch today without all that record company stuff in an age now where there are so many other mediums (YouTube etc), would you do anything different with regards to that?
Of course. I think it’s very interesting to be a young band right now. On one level, if you’re getting into it to get rich, then good luck! If you’re getting into it to be a rock star, good luck! But if you’re getting into music because you’re an artist and you love making music, or you love making visual, sonic art and audio art, now’s a great time. The technology is more powerful than what The Beatles and The Rolling Stones had when they were making their albums. You can have it in your bedroom, on a laptop or just in some gear that you got from the store. You can buy visual recording equipment for your iPhone that is more powerful than Abbey Road was back in the day, and that’s very empowering. And the same for putting the music out. Anyone can put together a website and make their music available without having all the hassle of getting a record company involved.
What other projects are you working on at the moment (TV/film scoring)? I’ve heard about you starring in a guest role in an upcoming 100th episode of Futurama. Can you tell me what you are doing aside Devo and the new album?
I’m an actor on a TV show called ‘Yo Gabba Gabba!’ It’s a kid’s show and I’m the art teacher. Every other episode, I come on and draw a picture and go, “Hmmm, what’s missing?’ And then I draw one last piece of an elephant or a potato on a skateboard and I shrink into the picture, it becomes animated and I’m skateboarding with a potato. I still do films: I have a feature coming out I think in September called ‘Ramona and Beezus’; it’s based on a series of young girls’ books from about 15 years ago, called ‘Ramona The Pest’. I’m always doing film and TV.
Was there anything in the works about a Devo movie at all?
Oh, Devovision; Devo film? We wanna do a feature. The whole reason we signed with Richard Branson back in 1979 was because he promised that he would help us start a film company – he lied. He took our publishing but he didn’t give us the film company. We’ve never done a Devo movie [laughs]; we’ve just done our shorts, but it could happen.
How would you rate your music career against your unbridled success in TV, commercials and films? Were there any pitfalls to your commercial music production career at all?
Of course. I didn’t study music scoring at school – I tried to learn on the job.
Was there quite a big gap with that and what you were doing before with Devo?
Yeah, it was very different. I still feel it’s like branches on the tree because when I was a young man, Devo was my first artistic statement and everything that I’ve been doing since then is mutations on a theme. It all goes back to the same place and starts with Devo back in Akron, Ohio.
Could you tell me about the scene in those early days – I know there was another band that you had, The Wipeouters. I recently interviewed Cheetah Chrome and I was trying to gather an idea about the music scene back then in Ohio.
We just had little bands. Bob Casale was in a band called The Wipeouters; [Bob] Mothersbaugh had a band called The Jitters; Gerry Casale was in a band called 15-60-75. I had a band called Flossy Bobbitt, which was a prog-rock, experimental music band. We all played in bands. I was actually in a band with Chrissie Hynde. Her first band that she was ever in was called Sat. Sun. Mat. It stood for Saturday, Sunday Matinee. And we played one time [laughs] – we played one gig and the band broke up. So we learned our instruments playing in bands. There was no scene; not a good scene. All those bands that I was telling you about didn’t play original music. You couldn’t get hired playing original music – you had to play top 40 and cover tunes.
Are there any foreseeable plans for you coming to do a tour in the UK at all after this album is released? And if you did tour here, what would be the stage-makeup for that, like visual theatrics? Would it be similar to your recent appearance at the Winter Olympics?
It would be similar to that but we’re pretty much booked through the summer in the States, so I don’t think we’ll make it here ’til the fall. But that’s already in the planning; we’re already talking to promoters about that.
In your opinion, what was the most socially in-depth album that you put out over the band’s history?
It’s still the first album [that] is the one that [was important]. It was the big statement and it’s like I said: everything after that, we’re talking about the same thing. We’re maybe doing a better job when we get to other albums, but the first one to me is the one that [resonates]. Other band members too – it probably resonates with them quite a bit because that’s [when] we were angry young men making our statement. So I still love that album. I like all the albums, but I like that one the best.
I’ve got a trivia question – where did the energy dome design originate from?
We designed it ourselves, but we were influenced: we saw something like it in a comic book on a space alien and it made us laugh. But it came from studying the Bauhaus movement when we were in school. I love the geometry of Bauhaus. I love the Ballet Mécanique, The Italian Futurists, the Russian Suprematists that believed in man over nature. And the German Bauhaus movement. I think those were early influences. They were at the core of the artistic influences for Devo.
I’m going back again to when you first started out, when you said, “subversion is the only form of change” as opposed to mob mentality. What did you mean by ‘subversion’?
Putting vitamin-enriched lyrics inside dance beats would be an example. Songs on the first, most basic level, they’re a good dance song; a quirky pop song. And then you give them lyrics and if you listen to them or pay attention, there’s something to think about. Devo lyrics and the Devo message [that] is best for the time [was] we were anti-stupidity, pro-information and pro-positive mutation.
And with your other projects, you did Devo 2.0 – that also had a message in it too. Are you trying to get your message through with other mediums?
Yeah to kids. Kids look at Devo 2.0 when they’re young and then they get older they find out about Devo 1.0.
One last question. There was a quote I read from the DJ at the WKH Auditorium…
Mark: Oh no.
Yeah it was in 1975. He said, “This isn’t music. These guys are making fun of music.” Do you feel, looking back on that now, that those words have an ironic ring of truth to them? After all, that was the idea – to ridicule absurdity in order to make sense of a senseless world. Do you find it quite funny that he said that?
Yeah. I think [the fact] that we were getting those people to stop meant that we were doing something right.
Devo’s first album in 20 years, ‘Something For Everybody’, is available now on CD, vinyl and as a digital download on Warner Bros. records.
© Ayisha Khan.
Originally published in Distorted magazine.
CHEETAH CHROME – BATUSIS: THE OLD AND THE NEW
When Sylvain Sylvain and Cheetah Chrome announced the formation of Batusis, the label ‘punk rock super group’ was quickly touted, and with the duo sharing guitar duties and taking turns on lead vocals, the release of their self-titled four track EP quickly found a place in the hearts of fans of the ’70s era punk icons. Earlier this year, the band performed their debut show at SXSW and were victims (as countless others were) of the Icelandic ash cloud, sadly preventing their planned tour of the UK in May. The group are rounded out by bassist Enzo Penizzotto and drummer Thommy Price (rhythm section of Joan Jett’s band). Distorted’s Ayisha Khan recently took up the opportunity to correspond with Cheetah to assess what the band are up to and whether UK fans can expect to see them any time soon.
Hi, how are you guys?
I’m fine. Syl was the last time we spoke.
By now, we all know about the name of the band, but how long did it take for you to come up with it? How many names did you go through before you hit the jackpot? Good result though – Adam West does a mean dance. I was laughing my head off after watching that on YouTube.
We only went through a couple. We hadn’t taken that part too seriously yet. But the others were just as cool and funny – we’re hanging onto them in case we need them!
Was it nice to settle down with an autonomous band project after a mixture of solo work and playing with other bands?
I’m still involved with Rocket [From The Tombs] as well as Batusis – we just put out the new single [‘I Sell Soul/Romeo And Juliet’]. We’re going to be doing some recording in August. We get together so infrequently I don’t see the two interfering with each other. I don’t think of either one as a side project; I have the time to do both and see no reason not to. The two are so different. It’s apples and oranges; no comparison.
Batusis is mean, simple-as rock ‘n’ roll, and still retains a New York Dolls texture to it, albeit with a much thicker shade (‘What You Lack In Brains’ is not far off the wild garage characteristics of The Sonics from the ’60s). Was that an immediate product when you joined forces with Sylvain?
Oh yeah, the whole thing just blew up in our faces when we got in the studio. I was the only one who had played at some point with everybody in the room, and Syl hit it off with Thommy and Enzo right away. There was a very good vibe; a good energy level. The songs and band had their own sound right away, and we’ve been able to keep that with Lez and Sean [Lez Warner and Sean Koos; the Batusis rhythm section for the July 2010 dates]. The songs all hung together well too; different, but with a similar feel to them.
When you recorded the EP, was it just like Sylvain would describe it, as “a live band that got recorded”? What made you opt for an organic compound?
That seemed like the best way to work; to get that energy level. On Syl’s tunes he just yelled the changes to us as we played, and we followed him!
You and Sylvain come from different scenes, yourself from Cleveland. Without spilling vast content from your upcoming autobiography, tell me about the scene you grew up in before you headed to New York as the Dead Boys. What bands were about when you were in Rockets From The Tombs?
The scene in Cleveland was not the scene you hear ballyhooed in books like ‘From The Velvets to The Voidoids’. It was two or three bands practising in their basements and playing three or four gigs a year, usually together, and not when I was in RFTT the first time. There was us, The Electric Eels, Mirrors, and Tin Huey; period.
Would you ever do another reincarnation of Rockets From The Tombs again? That original material was awesome.
More awesome material is on the way, with the same line up as ‘Redux’.
I saw your old band mates in Pere Ubu this year – David Thomas said ’60s Cleveland had the largest population of molluscs in the world outside of China, and the atom bombs China blew off would cause radiation to descend on Cleveland, hence the song ‘Chinese Radiation’. What the heck was that all about?
I would never claim to know more about molluscs than David – the man really knows his shellfish. I’m a neophyte compared to him. I’d take him at his word! The radiation thing is true: there was a bomb test in China in December 1966 where the fallout cloud covered most of the US by the following January, making us all nervous:
Were you disappointed to have not been able to go ahead with the UK tour due to the volcanic ash cloud? Will you be back soon and, if so, when?
The volcanic ash cloud directly affected my life in ways the Chicom fallout cloud never did – it made me have to cancel a fucking tour. But it didn’t make sense to continue to plan and invest in a tour that might be shit-canned at the last minute, costing a lot more. As it turns out, it was good I was home and not in Scotland 5/3 as planned, because Nashville, where I live, got flooded and I’m glad I was with my family. The airspace was also closed the day we would have flown home, so we would have been stuck. We’ll reschedule when it’s a bit more stable.
Did the EP, released early last month, go down a treat with your fans?
From what I can tell, it has; I’ve had positive feedback so far. I’ll be able to tell more when we get on the road in August.
What music are you into right now?
All of the same stuff I was into in 1975.
What’s next now for Batusis? How’s the album going?
We tour in August and October, record in November, and we dodge volcanic ash and crude oil in between…
Batusis’ self-titled 4-track debut EP is available now on vinyl or as a digital download on Smog Veil Records.
Photos (top two) © Sandy Carson.
Photos (bottom two) © Paul Bachmann.
© Ayisha Khan.
Originally published in Distorted magazine.
STEVE LAKE – ZOUNDS: NEW OPPORTUNITIES
Derived from the basement dwellings of the cassette culture that gave birth to Fuck Off! records, Zounds were the epitome of the ‘caught in a trap’ hippy movement which saw itself confronted with the realities of an up-and-coming punk class. Having rubbed shoulders with bands such as Poison Girls and X, they were not to be sniffed at. But after their van broke down outside the house of the legendary anarcho-punk band Crass, their fate was sealed. Propelled into the anarcho sphere, they started producing records and later released their first album, ‘The Curse Of Zounds’, on Rough Trade. Distorted’s Ayisha Khan chatted to lead singer, founder and last remaining original member of the band, Steve Lake, in a rainy alleyway round the back of London’s historical 12 Bar Club.
Hi Steve, how are you?
I’m top of the world!
The band first started out in Reading with loose jamming sessions. At the time, was there ever a conscious band agenda going on? You have said before that you were absorbed by your alienation from the general world but also mainstream.
Yeah, our agenda was really to have a band and not to have a band at the same time. ’Cause we were really keen to be a band but felt that the whole music industry was full of bullshit, and all the people that we knew wanted to be a band were into some kind of star trip or stereotypical idea of what it was like to be in a band. We were quite intimidated by those ideas. So we were into playing but we didn’t really have any foresight about how to go about that.
So you weren’t necessarily going out to be a band but you just wanted to make music?
We just wanted to play and, although there was always this loose idea that we would have a band and do gigs, at the same time we were very cynical about that and the idea that people wanted to be rockstars or popstars. Although secretly we did want to be.
When you started out the band, what were the political influences – police and cold war etc? What was going on at the time that started influencing your music early on?
In terms of the lyrics and music, [there] was this feeling that we were outside of everything and a lot of the things that we wanted to do, which usually involved going out to free festivals. We always used to run into a lot of hassle with the police and the authorities. And then the other thing that influenced me was realising that I’d been trained to be factory fodder for mindless manual labour and I had no opportunities in life other than having a really boring life in a factory.
So when you were younger, when you were growing up – I know you grew up without parental support – how did that affect your own music? Did that affect your decision to become a musician in the first place?
I don’t know if that’s what made me want to become a musician, but the effect that it had on me was to make me feel very insecure, vulnerable and paranoid about things, so once I started writing, those were the things that came out. You can see it in songs like ‘Fear’. I never felt like I had a place in life.
And what kind of key music did you get influenced by when you were younger? Did any of that actually influence your music later on?
I think that everything you hear influences. I remember when I was a little kid and at school in the ’60s, there was The Beatles, The Stones, The Small Faces and The Kinks. And at first that was really influential on me, particularly a band like The Kinks ’cause they were writing about the situation of people in England living in working class areas/lower middle class areas.
And that was slightly controversial for the time. Some of their songs were banned by the BBC.
Yeah that’s right. It was that stuff that a lot of people was into and as time went on, I particularly got into a lot of German bands who were doing weird avant-garde music. Some of them had psychedelic music, particularly bands like The Pink Fairies and bands that had street-level take on their music. So they were groups that would always be playing free in the streets. And I was really inspired by that. That really fed into the whole punk thing; the DIY thing.
I am going to move onto the subject that you get asked about a lot – Crass. I know the story about how you met up with them. What was so interesting about them as people and were you previously naïve to any of the anarcho stuff that was already going on or were you aware?
No, I wasn’t. I met Crass before I heard any of their records and the thing that appealed to me immediately was that they were very nice, friendly, funny and had a similar attitude to us about operating outside the conventional music business. So then a short time later when I saw them and got hold of their records, I was quite surprised that it was so strong and apparently aggressive, ’cause they weren’t like that as people at all. And my first connection with them was just as people who were very like-minded. Most of them were a lot older than us, but they had been through a lot of the same things. So that immediate connection was just with them as people. But the whole term ‘anarcho-punk’, that didn’t exist then, and I don’t think that term even existed when Zounds were gigging the first time. Mainly people referred to it as “the Crass bands” or “the Crass family”.
There was a use of a generic style really typical of anarcho-punk, especially the artwork.
Yeah, although in the beginning, the first few records that are on Crass are all quite different. There’s their record and our record. They had a group called Poison Girls that were playing with them a lot, and their stuff’s like musical songs or German cabaret, and then The Mob was also associated with that. They always played really slow. They never did that fast, thrashy thing. It was all a bit more poetic.
‘Subvert’ – lyrically was that inspired by any of that stuff ?
No, that was inspired by my own experiences at work. As I said, I just knew that I had this fucking life mapped out for me of doing these really, really crap and unskilled, undemanding, unimaginative jobs. And it’s things that used to happen at work. I know the lyrics are “You can be an agent…for revolution”, but actually it wasn’t that thought out. I worked in factories and the work would get so boring. I was working in this pizza factory once and sometimes we’d turn the heat up on the ovens and set fire to [them] so that they’d have to close the place down for a few hours. So some of it was quite petty.
So that ‘rebel without a cause’ thing but looking for a kind of place to fit in?
I wasn’t really that focussed on things. But I knew that I didn’t want to be in that environment.
I’m going to move on to when you started getting more publicity with gigging. You’ve already mentioned Poison Girls, Crass and The Mob. Did you find that the gigs were, at the time, much more important than doing any recordings or demos?
Well we really wanted [to]. Doing the live thing was the thing. We were really keen to get a record out just before we did the record for Crass. But our thing was just to travel round and play gigs. At first we weren’t really thinking about records.
And Fuck off! records put out stuff on tapes. But you did say that it was better live – the atmosphere and everything.
Yeah, we did put out stuff on tapes: you go round somebody’s house in their basement and record some terrible thing on a little cassette recorder and put it out. But it was the only means of recording the music. So yeah, we were much more into the live thing, absolutely.
And live stuff you did like ‘Here & Now’ free festivals you’ve already spoken a bit about. I wanted to get an idea about what the general scene was like at that time in the ’70s. I’ve talked to some other musicians like Knox Carnochan of The Vibrators. He said that his band was playing in greasy pub joints. Is that what you were doing or was it bigger than that?
No, we were putting on our own gigs when we weren’t playing at free festivals. The scene in London at that time was a lot looser than it is now. [Now] all the venues are tied up with promoters and deals. In the late ’70s in London, there were a lot of community halls or rooms above pubs, places like Windsor Castle over in Harrow, or The Elgin.
With London in particular, do you think that actually changed everything?
Steve: It changed us, ’cause we came to London and suddenly go to one of these places, [like] the Bull and Gate, and say, “We’re gonna put on a gig.” And we were a big community of squatters, punks, hippies and bohemians and there would be enough people. The band would put on the stuff themselves and there was enough of a community into it to get that going.
I think that leads on quite well to my next question, which is about the psychedelic roots and hippy stuff. Did you feel that that was key in your musical traits? Was that recognised by the punk scene or was there prejudice against you being kind of ’60s?
I don’t think a lot of people were aware of that at that time. But we were obviously not one of those ‘rama-mama’ punk bands. And a lot of people appreciated that really.
‘Cause I know there was that grey area where you’ve got people left over from the ’60s; born too late.
Yeah. I’ve been doing gigs over the last couple of weeks – some with Zounds and some solo gigs –and [there’s] all sorts of people there. There have been some people who have followed us from those early days, those pre-Crass days, who would have seen us at gigs when we were doing the free tours and who have stuck with it through that. And then a lot of those people got into the punk thing because of bands like ourselves and The Mob that they knew, encompassed into this ‘Crass family and [other] bands’. So a lot of those people opened up to Crass and Poison Girls and those other bands. It was a two-way thing. But yeah, some people thought we were just stoned, dreary people.
Would that be the same with the media at the time, like New Musical Express (NME)? Didn’t they write a bad review about you; the fourth or fifth gig that you did?
Yeah, I think they did a review of the second gig and wrote us off as being this fucking useless hippy band.
I’m surprised, because at that time they were a lot more open to stuff like that.
We were just pleased people were actually starting to notice us.
I guess all bad publicity is still publicity.
It’s OK – you never really care what the NME say.
Going back to what I was saying before about your choice to self-ostracise yourself from society, was that due to coercion from the police in particular or society’s low tolerance towards the kind of life you were leading? What was it like to be in that youth culture at the time?
It was really fun except when you were out on the streets and you’re being hassled by the police, and we used to get a lot of fucking hassle by the police all the time – I really didn’t like that. And the other thing was just finding places to live so that’s [how] the whole squatting scene had developed, because actually there was no way into the mainstream. It’s like in this song we do:
‘Did he jump or was he pushed? All the world cannot be wrong, It must be me I don’t belong. I never turned my back on society; It’s society that turned its back on me.’
So I felt like they didn’t want, not just me, but all of us that were in that situation, whether it was jobs, housing, the law, and all those things.
Sounds like a really difficult time to have lived in.
Yeah, but it was really great and exciting at the same time. We made our own opportunities and a lot of us were imaginative, creative people. So actually it was a really vibrant time because, as well as [when] you felt under attack, you also were in your communities and thinking of new ways to live and of doing things. It does seem sometimes when you think about it in retrospect, that it was really depressing and everybody was on your case. But actually we did have a lot of fun. It was easier to have fun because there were spaces where we could create things, whereas now I think everything is very corporate; all the opportunities for people are closed down and you [have] really got to fit in.
On fitting in with the music industry itself – I saw Pere Ubu and David Thomas was saying that at the time his music didn’t make sense to other people (but obviously that is irrelevant). But did you get people that were actually saying the same thing to you in that kind of ignorant way?
[Pere Ubu] make sense to me – I love their music. For some reason you’d find yourself in a much straighter venue with people that weren’t into the thing that we were doing. It was like people thought that you were mental, frankly. They thought we were fucking mental [laughs]. No offence to the mental, of which I am probably one [laughs].
On your website, you had the history of Zounds and you spoke about the glam-rock scene that was running parallel, which was more exposed than the underground movement. Media were saying that they were the proto-punkers, because they were the ones that brought punk on, but not necessarily in my opinion. Like New York Dolls I personally think were closer to rock ‘n’ roll. Still is. I’ve been to their gigs! They were trying to be really controversial, but really it was punk and the other stuff that was going on – that you were involved in – which was more controversial.
The stuff we were involved in was a genuine kind of alternative, whereas the New York Dolls – and I love the New York Dolls; I love Johnny Thunders as much as anybody – were hanging out with David Bowie, Lou Reed and Andy Warhol. And they were in New York media.
London was like the glam-rock city – it was called that at the time. I find that interesting when there was other stuff going on.
Yeah, so we would have still felt outside of that [and] those people. Even Iggy and The Stooges – and in those days hardly anybody liked fucking Iggy and The Stooges. And now everybody loves them. At the time, nobody had an Iggy and The Stooges record. But, even those people were in with the arty media set, so it was almost like a sanctioned alternative. I don’t know how much of a real alternative it was because, as I was saying, it was people just trying to make their way in the music business. Maybe we were a bit fucking serious and pompous but, although I say we had a good time, we felt that there was more to it than the pose. It was also about the way you lived and what you did. It wasn’t just like putting on a bit of makeup and hanging out with Andy Warhol.
‘Cause that’s what I felt when I went to see New York Dolls; I did feel like it was Rolling Stones disease, like ‘look at me’, Which I feel other punk musicians have said they were avoiding even though they may not get paid that much at the end of day. It’s a way of life really.
Yeah, I don’t know if it was on a TV programme that somebody said, “The New York Dolls were to The Rolling Stones like The Monkees were to The Beatles.” It’s like a cartoon version and I think that has a bit of truth to it.
Going back to Crass, you said that they were quite popular beyond the anarcho scene, although your association would have benefited even if it was on their terms. What do you mean by “beyond the scene”?
Oh god absolutely, yeah. What I mean by that [is] in commercial terms: a lot of the anarcho bands had a particular agenda, but then a lot of the punks weren’t into the anarcho thing. They just liked the noise they made so they would sell a lot of records to people who just liked noisy punk, whereas I’m not sure that the other bands on the scene did really.
Did you miss your roots in the hippy scene or was that still there at that time? ‘Cause I know you were shoved centre stage with Crass. Did you get alienated by that at all?
Yeah, we were alienated and that led to quite a lot of frustration, ’cause we also wanted to progress musically. The thing about Crass was that they were just into the politics. With ourselves, [we] like all types of music. I really love music; it’s very important to me. And we felt the more gigs we did – I think this led to our breaking up – there’d be a certain type of audience, a certain expectation, and you’d end up doing a certain thing. And we’re playing to all these people who call themselves ‘free and anarchist’, but actually it was a very close-minded, uniform situation. So that was really frustrating.
Did you think there was any hatred between hippies and punks?
Crass were the biggest fucking hippies going [laughs]. But no, look at all that first wave of punk: Johnny Rotten – before he was in The Sex Pistols – was selling acid at The Roundhouse on a Sunday afternoon, which is a big hippy venue. A couple of years later, The Damned are covering Jefferson Aeroplane albums. So it was the same for everybody – everybody was into all that.
It was what influenced them to start with, they didn’t have anything else!
Steve: Yeah it’s like Stalinist revisionism where everybody was like, “Oh no I never liked that. I was always into Iggy, I was always into the New York Dolls.” No you weren’t! I’ve been round your house, I’ve seen the records! [Laughs] You’ve got the fucking Grateful Dead and Emerson, Lake & Palmer; you’ve just been down record and tape exchange and sold them all. Everybody was like that.
What was the attraction of playing abroad, like Holland and Belgium?
Belgium was really good – they really liked us there. I’m a very shallow person, so anybody that likes me, I like them. We were well supported there. We met some really good people: [a] band called X, who we toured with a bit, who were still going [at the time]. Much more politically committed than we ever were ’cause, although the politics were in the music, I’ve never been a political activist. I’ve just been somebody with a lot of opinions, a big mouth and [who’s] into music. So I wouldn’t pretend that I’m somebody that is out at the barricades. But it was really nice over there; people were very supportive in those Benelux countries and in Germany; we always did really well. More people would come to the gigs over there than over here; it really was for us a pretty underground kind of scene.
And when you signed to Rough Trade, was that desperation to earn money?
No, it wasn’t desperation at all, it’s just that we wanted to release another record. Money never came into it because we never had any money and never expected to have any money. As long as we could play and record. We were going to record again for Crass but suddenly they had this thing like, “We’re not going to become like a record company and put out loads of records.We don’t mind doing a record with a band, but we don’t want to get into developing their career.”
Some bands start off getting signed by another band but they try and get their own label at some point.
Well we went down to Rough Trade and said we’d done this record on Crass and somehow we’d try and bring out our own record, and Rough Trade was the place you went who knew how to do that. They were the big independent distributors. And we met Jeff Travis, who ran Rough Trade, and said, “We’re from Zounds.2 And he said, “Oh great, sorry I haven’t come along to see you. Really love the record. What can I do?” [We said,]”We wanna bring out a record.” And he said, “Do you want to do an album for Rough Trade?”
Was it quite a smooth transition? Did you find with mixing songs and stuff changed at all?
Yeah, because when you’re on Crass you do things the way they want to do it and I’ve got no worries with that. Nobody forced us to be on the label. They said, “This is the way we work if you wanna do it?’ And we were happy to do it ’cause we were really keen to get a record out. Once we were on Rough Trade we were nominally producing ourselves. We were put into the studio with an engineer, told him what to do and he didn’t do it, and the record ended up sounding like it sounded [laughs], which we weren’t very happy about – we never liked any of those records.
Did that cause any friction in the band at all? Whenabouts did the problems start with the break up and gradual deterioration of the band?
Er…not at first, but yes as we progressed…it was all really quick. It seemed like it went on for ages but the whole thing [was quick], [because] that phase of the band wasn’t the original phase of the band, ‘cause the people that were recording those records with us, they weren’t in the band originally; I’d got them in. But that’s the lineup people always think of. It wasn’t really a musical thing so much as personal differences, and when we’re all living in the same street, things develop between people.
Were there other responsibilities at all?
Yeah. In the end, the reason that I stopped was the woman I was going out with got pregnant and I was in this position where [there was] another person I was responsible for and that freaked me out a big deal. Everything has always freaked me out. And I didn’t like the scene, ‘cause as I said we were being forced to play in a certain way and I wasn’t feeling that anymore. I had enough of the scene, I had enough of living in Brown road; people turning up expecting you to find places for them to live; people round your house. I had to get out of it; I had to get out of the whole scene for a while and that’s what I did.
Then you released ‘More Trouble Coming Everyday’ – can you tell me what that song is about?
Well that song, the title is ripped off from a Frank Zappa record.
Yeah, that’s right. It’s an old doo-wop sequence. But mainly it’s about the situation. The first verse is like any teenage situation where you’re living at home and you have all those parental and family responsibilities. And then the second verse refers more to the riots that were going on at the time. The riots were happening in London, Bristol, Birmingham. There’s trouble all the time. I was just going to say a couple of lines from the song but I can’t even remember them at this point in this alleyway.
I really like ‘Knife’ as well – it’s very different, but not in a bad way.
Yeah, and that was one of the last things we did and that was where we were really trying to develop and we had a synthesiser and a trumpet on it. In fact, the guy that did that trumpet started doing bass for us because the band was falling apart. We got this guy in – I think he’s in Ian Brown’s band now – [who] does all the brass and vocal arrangements, and he’s done well for himself. But I’m still in the rain in the alley, you know, doing it for the kids [laughs].
You said at the end of the ‘History Of Zounds’ that Rough Trade was trying to get money for you from licensing for the Italian-only singles collection. Did you feel disappointed at all at that time because you didn’t get a lot of money back from what they thought you’d get money back from? It wasn’t about money I suppose…
Yeah well, you know…Italy – what a great place! But it’s one of those things where [we’re] like “We’re gonna do this compilation. It’s a limited edition of 1000 pressings.” I was talking to a friend of mine in Belgium; he was a record distributor and he’d bought 4000 of them [laughs]. So we were aware that people were making money off what you were doing. But it wasn’t ever a big thing. One of the many immaturities that I have is that I can’t really handle money.
Money and achievement aren’t related necessarily, but do you feel like you haven’t achieved what you wanted – to be more recognised? At that point, what was going through your head?
I don’t know. It’s hard to know what was going through my head. I think I was disappointed when we split up the band and then I realised it’s very difficult to get into a position where you can make records and somebody’s going to pay for them. So that was the frustrating thing; [it] was that, suddenly, I’d put myself out of the game a bit.
When you went solo, what other artists and musicians did you work with? Say in recent years – who’ve you been working with?
Nobody that anyone would have ever heard of, but mainly these guys, Paul [O’Donnell] and Paul [Gilbert], and just people that live around where I live. So for many, many years I was either not playing, not operating at all, or just like any guy that lives in an area and does local gigs.
So why did you decide to include a band on this tour?
Because I’ve always been asked over recent years. I’m always asked to do Zounds, because for many years I couldn’t really feel it and I didn’t feel close to the songs.
It’s not like a reunion or anything like that?
Nah, the other guys will never come back.
Am I allowed to ask what they are up to at all?
Yeah, [Laurence Wood] works in television, which obviously means he is the spawn of the devil and is not allowed round my house anymore. And he’s very hurt by that, but over the years I’ve become a cruel and vicious person. The other guy, Joseph [Porta], had his own band for years, Blyth Power, and they still play. And a couple of years ago, when I had a different lineup of the band, Joseph came along to the gig and sang a couple of songs with us. So my relationship with him is fine. I’ve had a few people over the years in and out of the band, which is fine. The important thing is that I get on with them and that they play well, and make me look better than I really am [laughs].
Is there any music today, modern bands, that you listen to? Any punk music?
Er [laughs], nothing really. I’m aware of modern music ‘cause I’ve had kids and they’ve grown up. My son is into a band called The King Blues – I’ve seen them and I like them; they’re very nice and they’ve got good politics. Beyond that I don’t really listen to a lot of music. I almost only listen to a guy called Billy Childish, who was around from the early days of punk; I go and see his band every month. I listen to a lot of old records.
Do you listen to your own?
I never listen to my own records! My children are banned from listening to them. They’d never play my music in my house or they would not be allowed to live in the house.
One last question: ‘Demystification’ – is that still your favourite song, and if so, why?
It’s my favourite because it expresses the fact that I don’t know anything, I don’t know what’s going on and people are forever trying to bullshit you and pull the wool over your eyes. I just love the sound of it; there’s something about the sound of that record that we never captured on anything else on the album and I’ve never really been able to capture again. It’s a bit of a fluke. But there’s just something really creamy and lovely about that record and so that’s still my favourite.
Photos © Tariel Khadzhyshvil.
© Ayisha Khan.
Originally published in Distorted magazine.
ADAM ANT – THE LAST MOHICAN
Adam Ant is the last punk rocker of his generation. A smouldering icon of masco-sexuality, his multiple top 10 UK chart hits and 3 number 1 singles have given the world the likes of Stand and Deliver, Goody Two Shoes and Prince Charming. But underneath is an angry middle-aged man, once bitten by bipolar disorder and without a record release in 15 years. Now he’s back from the dead with a new album – Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter – a prolithic upcoming tour and yet another intriguing tattoo. Ayisha Khan visited him at his home to learn more about the latest installment of Antmusic.
You’ve been playing some low key gigs in Paris. You haven’t been playing out of the UK for quite some time now – about 16 years isn’t it?
Yeah well I live in Paris part-time so it was just a local pub; a Scottish pub. And I’m part Scottish. So I went down there and [the owner] gave me a Guinness, and we chatted and he said, “Well would you do a gig here?” And I said, “Alright.” So I just turned up with an acoustic and did it. And that was it. It’s always good to practice; I’ve always played guitar. I like to be able to do it for 30 people in a bar without any amplification.
You got back into the studio last year and since then you’ve been working hard on your new album. What progress have you got to on that?
It’s finished. It’s been finished for six months – I did it with Boz Boorer, co-producing with Boz Boorer, and with Chris McCormack of ’3 Colours Red’. [I] co-wrote with them and some are my own. And we produced it in Boz’s front room, which is called ‘House of Boz’ – Boz’s studio – and Chris McCormack’s [studio], ‘House of Noise’. And it’s the first time that I’ve really been able to kick out all the fucking producers, ’cause they took night and day to get the drum sound and fucking wasted my money. And it ended up costing no money because we just did it with a laptop, mic-c, and our ability. And that’s wonderful – it’s a great sound and I love it. And it’s 18 tracks; it will be a vinyl gatefold sleeve, CD, cassette and they’ll be limited editions and old fashioned singles. And I’m not doing downloads.
Yeah you don’t do downloads?
No, no ’cause I don’t want to. But I think it’s making a point. You know I may do later…I don’t make [digital] records. What are the new tracks about? Yeah, well all the songs I do are about things that interest me – stories, or experiences, or conversations that I’ve overheard, or things that annoy me; things that don’t. Certainly, I’ve been away for 15 years, and been sectioned illegally – which I was, and got out. There’s a lot about mental health, which I think is a very serious issue. I went on John Humphrys’ yesterday and sort of tried to explain it, but it’s just ignorance; some people are scared ’cause it’s a taboo. If you’re in the poor house, you’re in the shit; if you’re in the mad house, your family don’t wanna know ya. And we live in a society where a government just want people to sit at home and watch fucking ‘Crossroads’.
Is that what ‘Shrink’ is about too?
Absolutely – you’re fucking right it is! I think psychiatry should be locked up. I think they should see psychiatrists. Why do they get paid for an hour’s work for 50 minutes? So they can get 10 minutes to write out the fucking bill, that’s why. Their philosophy is based on two old Germans and Austrians – Jung and Freud. You can’t talk to your family ’cause they’re ashamed of ya. You can’t talk to your friends ’cause they don’t wanna know ya; ’cause you’re a nut job. So you go and see a ‘neutral zone’; you’re supposed to be going in to express your inner thoughts. If you’ve got a tattoo, you are likely to be a drug addict. [With] Jung and Freud, you’ve got two guys – in an era when seeing a woman’s ankle a guy could jerk himself to death – in a room in the 18-1900s with a beautiful, young, confused, rich middle-class woman, for an hour, with the door locked. Now, I think there’s a high possibility that talking to a woman from that area about, “You’re dreaming about penises aren’t you? Have a look at mine”…I think they can fuck off! I think psychiatry should be fucking banned! Or do it for free, you pricks. I fucking hate it. And ‘Shrink’ is gonna be terrifying!
What else have you brought in and concentrated on in the new album which you felt was an issue that needed to be explained?
There’s a song called ‘Bullshit’ [which is] about the whole internet Steve Jobs family. And that’s what I think it is – bullshit. I don’t want kids buying iPads and all that – [use] the fucking library! I want them to read books; books that they can keep forever or give away. I tell you the next thing Steve Jobs is gonna come up with is a little socket in his laptop to stick his dick in and jerk him off. ‘Cause they’re nerds; it’s the nerd culture (Adam does his nerd impression), “Oh let’s have a table; you can do Star Trek!” What they should do is go and see Richard Branson, all get in that first trip up into space, and fuck off to Mars, where they’ll be a higher intelligence to say, “You’re primitive.” It’s digital sound; analogue is the only way to listen to music – digital is shit; [it’s] so you can cram. It’s all about money – the guy’s a fucking snake-horse salesman! You see him [say], “Hey you can put your family album in it!” No you don’t, Steve! You put it in a fucking album, you prick! Anyway, look at the fucking state of him – who wants to look like that?! What are the styles of music on the album? Your past albums have varied in terms of what you cover. It’s quite simply the next Adam Ant record and I can’t discuss it ’cause that’s for you to make your mind up. I can – I can tell you the titles and what they’re about – but I think really the beauty of rock ‘n’ roll is [that] the audience has that quiet time to listen. And if they wanna listen to it they can do it a 1,000 times; and if they don’t they can put it in whatever. But I make records. This is the first in 15 years: I want it to be as good as I can make it, then I let it go – you gotta let it go. It’s like a kid: you teach it to wear its nappies, you love it, and then one day it gives you lip at 16 – [it] say[s], “Right now fuck off out of it.” With an album, that’s it. It’s literally like the next collection of paintings; people may love it or hate it. But if they buy it they’re gonna know how I put everything I can – my heart, my guts, my soul – into it, and my own money this time ’cause it’s my label. I think style is consistency and I think I’ve always been consistent. Could you describe the overall meaning of the new album? Yeah, it’s kind of a manifesto. It’s stories of events that have happened. It’s about a relationship I was in for a long time that was not particularly nice – in fact shit. And it’s about my feelings about the internet. And it’s my feelings about Liam Gallagher, and that fucking monobrow, fucking crew of monsters and how music went down the shitter. And it’s an angry middle-aged man’s view of the world, put to music. It’s going to be a beautiful record; I’ll do the best I can. If people buy it, they won’t want to take it back, ’cause all my records are worth money.
And you worked with Boz and Chris on that. There was a bit of controversy with Marco Pirroni and Andy Bell – there were some tracks originally written by them. Did you get rid of all the material that they worked on previously?
No, Marco was not involved in it – he played guitar on one track. I got rid of him. And I don’t work with him; I don’t speak to him. And that’s between him and me. I never wanna see him again. And he’s quite happy getting half of the royalties for the songs that I wrote. I wrote the songs; he was in the room. He had a go in ‘Kings’; I mean we got to ‘Prince Charming’ and he was too fucking tired to work. So let him get on with it. And with Andy Bell? I never met Andy Bell. I don’t like Oasis. I don’t like Liam Gallagher. I shit bigger than Liam Gallagher.
Did you take Andy’s track off the new album?
No, no. That track’s on the album. It’s called ‘Cool Zombie’. It might be a fucking single. I wrote it with Chris. I’ve got nothing to do with Andy Bell; he never wrote shit. Writing ‘boom, boom, boom, ba-boom’ – that’s by me and Chris McCormack. But I did it and let Chris have the courtesy to play it to Andy – he’s probably a very nice chap – [and] he loved it! Then he tells Liam and Liam goes (Adam does his Liam impression), “He’s not fucking putting that on the album”, ’cause I did an interview saying that I thought Liam Gallagher was a card-carrying, monobrow cunt. Which he is. And if I see him in a room, he better fucking duck. So I get a message third-hand from Andy via Chris, “Well it’s gotta fucking come off the album.” No it ain’t – tell Liam to fucking duck. And I’ve been training with Chris Eubank, so when I do hit him…The reason I hate Oasis is ’cause Ian Brown did their fucking act and didn’t get the money. Noel’s a nice fella, and his big brother’s lovely; but Liam – he’s got a problem. He’s got it, not me. I’ve written a song called ‘Gun in Your Pocket’, which is about him and Jonathan Ross and that other fucking idiot, the scarecrow [Russell] Brand, who fucked off Georgie [Baillie]. I tell you, when I’ve finished with [Brand], he’ll be playing shithouse comedy clubs in fucking Everton. Forever. ‘Cause Georgie girl’s made a fucking great record and I co-wrote it, and it’s gonna nail him. I’ve written a song with her that’s gonna last forever, and ever, and ever. And he’s gotta live with that. [Gallagher’s] too ugly to be in the charts; he’s too stupid to be in the charts; he has no talent – his new group are shit! Duran [Duran] have written a good record – fuck me! Oooohhhh! That [Mark] Ronson is a very talented young man – Ooh! They’ve made a great record – they’ve got Burundi in it; they’ve thrown the kitchen sink at it. Good! That’s what I want. That’s not retrospective, that’s now. That’s showing that if you’ve written a fucking hit record that went to number one, you’ve always got the potential to write another. See those two statuettes up there? (Adam points to the awards on his bookcase) One’s a ‘Lifetime Songwriter’ award and the other one’s a ‘Top 7 Single’ award for ‘Stand and Deliver’. They’re the only two fuckers that I had in here ’til them (Adam points to his numerous disk awards on the wall). But those two [statuettes] are the only two I fucking looked at ’cause they’re for songwriting. Now, “Experience is the name we give [to] our mistake in life”, that’s what Oscar Wilde said, and I’m very experienced. I’m just trying to pass [this] on to the new bands sitting in their bedrooms who don’t wanna go on the X Factor, because they think there’s a little bit more in the world. Every year we end up with another Whitney Houston and another fucking Soulboy and it’s getting fucking boring! And they will run out of steam.
What do you think about bands/singers on the X factor?
I’ll tell you what: I love Take That – I think they’re The Beatles of the X Factor generation. That’s why I might join them on stage at Wembley Stadium…soon. ‘ Cause I love ‘em. Robbie recorded ‘Antmusic’ and paid my rent for a year. And I met Jason Orange in Starbucks – lovely fella. So I’m gonna fucking go and sing with ‘em. You know why?! ‘Cause they’re a pop group! And they write fucking good songs. Good! That’s what I like. But I can also go on stage with the fucking Klaxons.
What are you working on with The Klaxons?
I’m going to go meet The Klaxons in the studio; they’re fans of mine. They’ve financed this film, this documentary that Jack Bond is directing, who did a film called ‘Dali in New York’ in 1965. And he’s been filming me for the last six months. And that was purely [The Klaxons] saying that they’d like to meet me, and I’m going to go down and have a little play with them. And they’re good-looking kids and they play good music. They’re trying to do something a bit different. And, erm, they’re good. What’s the artwork on the new album? There’s the front cover; there’s the back cover (Adam points to two paintings on his wall). Mary Jane-Ansell. [She] won the BP [portrait] award and I collect art, as you can see. And I love her work; and there ain’t that many female artists in art; and I’m a collector and I think she’s wonderful. So I’m doing something a bit different. The portrait’s called ‘Girl in a Cocked Hat’; I saw it in a shop window and it’s great. And ’cause the album’s called [‘Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in] Marrying the Gunners Daughter’, she’s the Gunner’s daughter. And the little girl in [the portrait] is called Georgie and she’s a little punk rocker.
What’s the title of the album about?
It’s you coming back from the dead and the kind of terminator theme. Could you expand a bit about what the actual title means? Yeah. Right. Adam Ant’s me. The Blueblack Hussar is the warrior. Let’s say that Napoleon had gone to Moscow and walked back through the snow. And he’s an experienced person now – he’s older, he’s harder, he’s not the same person, and he’s been killed. So he’s like the terminator. His spirit’s still there, but his body is physically different; but he looks good, ’cause he’s got older. But that character’s now gone up in the ranks, and he’s kinda a sort of Napoleonic survivor. And ‘marrying the gunner’s daughter’ is a naval term for getting punished – you’d get put over a cannon and whipped – which I think is a metaphor for being involved with Sony for 30 years, which was financial sodomy. And that’s it. You get to a point when you do a piece of work and it’s finished – I’m already writing the third Adam and The Ants album.
How are you enjoying getting back into the touring experience? You seem to be very natural and you’ve got a real presence on stage; you’re very comfortable in your own flesh. Have you got any plans to do any future tours?
I know you had a recent one to promote the new album… Thank you. Love it. Love it. Well I formed a promotion company called ‘Blueblack Hussar Promotions’ and I put those shows on. And I learned how to put a show on. That was really to get the band together – there’s been personal changes – but I’ve got a great band now. They’re called ‘The Good, The Mad & The Lovely’ possey. And they are great and all good kids. And we’re ready to play anywhere. So I then went into business with Live Nation; they’re the biggest promoters. They offered me the O2 arena ala Spandau, 4 years ago, and I said ‘no’. ‘Cause a) it’s not the kind of think I want to do at this point, and b) I wasn’t ready. So now I’ve sort of gone back to roots; reacquainted myself with stage craft and playing the guitar; getting my spirit and love back, which was there. I mean I had to overcome a 7 year illness, and a 15 year gap. Coming back and delivering the goods, ’cause now there are only 2 ways that any musician can make money – merchandise and live. Everything else has been fucked up: you don’t get paid, and [with] the record companies – and this is a big warning – don’t fucking sign with them ’cause they’ll want a piece of your merchandise and your live work. And your publishing. Fuck them! No! That’s thievery. Don’t sign a fucking deal with ‘em. Keep your publishing. Never give a manager anything. Managers are thieves; they can crawl back under the fucking rocks they came from. No one can manage me – I’ll wear ‘em out. They’re pricks. Never fucking give anybody anything unless they’re gonna do the work, and most of them don’t.
You were talking about stage craft. There have been a few reviews – some good ones, some dubious ones – about your various performances at the end of last year and this year, saying you “stormed off stage” etc. I don’t know if they realise that your live performance is an act rather than who you are. How much of the live performances are yourself, and how much are the Adam Ant image that is projected?
Well that’s a good question. Well those [gigs] were when I thought the audience were taking the piss, ’cause [when] they’re seeing me up that close, they’re like next to nothing. I’m working my bollocks off and they sound like a bunch of fucking Teletubbies. That’s why I spat at them, ’cause if they want punk rock, we used to spit – have that! And the other one was some fucking idiot in the audience [who] started giving me a lot of lip, so I was gonna hit him over the head with the fucking guitar. And that’s punk rock – if you don’t like it, don’t fucking come. ‘Cause I tell you what, I’m the last punk rocker; there’s no one left – they’re all fucking old. What about the ticket costs – there’s been a bit of controversy over that? Good. I’m worth more than that. Fifty quid is just the start mate. You’re paying one hundred and sixty quid to see fucking Michael Bublé. Fuck it! No. I gotta pay the rent!
Your stage presence is interesting, ’cause a lot of musicians just stand up there and play. But with you it’s more the character of Adam Ant; you’re more three dimensional; you’re an entertainer. You’ve got the songs, but also the jokes and it’s fleshed out. Is that something that you want to bring across about yourself now as you did back in the prime of your career?
Well I enjoy it more now, ’cause I know what I’m doing. I say when I wanna play, where I wanna play and how much I wanna play. But then again I’m a 56 year old man; I’m not a 20 year old guy who will just do anything to get on stage. You know getting told to fuck off for 4 years, or 3 years, [and then] turning 50 you get told you’re shit…and then [they’re] calling you a bunch of fascists ’cause you wrote a song called ‘Deutscher Girls’ – they don’t notice I’m a Romany which means I’m a mix race – that’s ignorance. Now [when] you go up against ignorance year in and year out, it’s very hard to grab defeat from the jaws of victory – and they said we did and we fucking didn’t – so it’s good to have something to fight for. When I go on stage it isn’t a character, well it is, but it’s the way I feel. If someone upsets me before I go on stage or on stage, they’d better fucking look out, ’cause they will get it. ‘Cause an audience is there to see and not be seen and hear and not be heard. And if they wanna make a point, you’d better carry a fucking club or you better be a good fucking fighter, ’cause I will knock you spark out. And that’s the end of it. It’s like a boxing ring. When I walk on a stage, my life depends on it, and when I stop feeling that way, I’ll fuck off. ‘Cause I’m not fucking Bono, I’m not a self-righteous sanctimonious cunt, and I’m not interested in people who don’t dress up good. And I’m not interested in people who just wanna see… …you play the hits? Well I play my hits but I’ve got a fucking lot of them. But you don’t have to play what people are calling out. You’re not a jukebox… No. But when you play them, you’ve got to play them in the ilk [that] they are. Like I’ve got a six-piece band; ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ was made by four guys; the second one’s made by five guys; this is made by six guys. In some of the reviews, such as in the newspapers, they were commenting a lot about your health. And I find that now people know about it so much, it’s not really relevant anymore. Yeah, yeah. No [The Independent] was a good review, except for the question mark. But that’s [the writer’s] opinion. You see people are gonna have to get over it. I have.’Cause I’m from the mad school of rock ‘n’ roll. I’m with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. If I’m ill, then my illness is rock ‘n’ roll. I’m fucking stark raving mad when I go on stage. But I’m on stage and they can’t get their head around the fact that on stage is my work, and that isn’t me. Like Liza Minnelli doesn’t get up in the morning and go, “Oooh Cabaret!!” You know they can’t get their head around it. But never mind. They’ll learn.
Finally, this is difficult but could you ‘genre-lise’ your music?
Antmusic. That’s why I called it Antmusic. They call it ‘New Romantic’ – they can fuck off! There’s nothing new about it; there’s nothing romantic about it. New Romantic – here’s a little secret – was made up by a guy called Richard James Burgess or Richard Bogie-Ball Burgess, and they jumped onto it. New Romantic is Spandau and all that lot. All that kind of council flat and art school [stuff]. I never set foot in the fucking Blitz [club] – I would have bombed it. [My music] is a hybrid. It’s a mutant. It’s an experiment in the test tube that went wrong, but came out pretty good. It shouldn’t have worked but it fucking did.
Photos © Imelda Michalczyk.
© Ayisha Khan.
Originally published in Clink music magazine.