Hardwired…To Survive: In Conversation with Metallica

metallica-hardwired

Death, addiction, law suits… Through all the trials and tribulations, Metallica have somehow survived over 35 years on hard rock’s relentless road. The youthful fire which scorched a blazing path through the metal scene back in the early 1980’s still burns brightly despite all four members now being in their fifties. Here JAMES HETFIELD and LARS ULRICH talk about how Metallica evolved from wild-eyed thrash punks to one of the biggest bands on the planet.

You celebrated your sixth number one album in November when your latest record, Hardwired…to Self-Destruct, topped the charts around the world. After all your success, do you still get a kick from that happening?

James: Oh man…for sure! But you know, it’s bizarre, and very surprising, yes. The older we get, the more special getting a number one album is going to get. After 35 years, that this can still happen, it’s great. It’s the oxygen we need, being in a band and playing music, so we get to live a little longer!

Lars: Even now when we put out a record, you never know what to expect. These are changing times in music so having a number one record in all these wonderful countries is an amazing thing. Obviously, we’d prefer to release records that people like rather than not but having number one records is not why we get out of bed in the morning. We want to make music for people to enjoy and if it’s successful then that’s a bonus. But you know what, the fact that Metallica can still release records that matter to people is a great thing, that hard music still matters to people is a great thing. I feel like rock groups are becoming a minority these days. There are fewer and fewer bands that a doing well on a global scale so being one of them is a privilege. It’s a good time to be in Metallica.

Hardwired… was the first album to be released on your own Blackened Recordings label. How different was this experience compared to others?

metallica-hardwired-album-artJames: It wasn’t that different at all. We went about this with the same process as we have every single time. I would say, that as it was on our own label – which is just our own label in the US, we’re still on Universal in the rest of the world – we were able to take our time, to start writing without deadlines, no one saying ‘ hey, we need it by this time.’ That was maybe the only thing which was unusual from previous albums.

Lars: The main difference was not in the recording of it but what happened on the day immediately after we were finished because we now have to do 90% of the work ourselves whereas 10 or 20 years ago, other people and other companies did most of the work. We have a much bigger infrastructure now and all these people who, for better or worse, answer to the band members rather than a CEO so we have a different post-recording set up.

Part of that set-up is being responsible for your own master recordings, which now belong to you. How did that come about?

Lars: Back in the early 90s, Cliff, one of our managers, was talking about this amazing place of total independence and creative freedom which would come from owning your own master recordings. It would offer us a total disassociation from the music business. When that was explained to us, it obviously made a lot of sense. So when we entered into contract negotiations, that was always the primary modus operandi, to eventually own our back catalogue. Any disassociation and dynamic which releases you is a great thing because you are truly free to do what you want.

James: Elektra were a good fit for us but we always wanted to own our own masters at some point – and why wouldn’t you? It’s really great to own them because they’re ours after all! A lot of bands from the 70s and 80s did not see that as an option or even care about it. We’re fortunate to have had some pretty savvy business management.

That shows a lot of foresight, to look ahead and to plan stages of your career way in the future. Did you have some idea at the time that the music industry was going to change so dramatically?

James: Hell no! We had no clue. I don’t think anyone did. At the time, the labels were like banks; you loaned them your music and they gave you money so you could tour or do whatever you wanted with it. They paid you up front, that’s pretty much how it was. We knew it would be great to own our masters but we had no idea what was going to happen with the industry.

Do you have any plans to delve back in and re-release material?

jamesJames: We’re definitely going remaster the back catalogue. We’ve always been very instrumental in the sonics, how our music sounds. That’s very important to us. Obviously there are some records that sound better than others. The soundtrack to the film Through the Never sounded great and Hardwired… also sounds fantastic. We’re very happy with (Hardwired… producer)Greg Fidelman and his sonics. So he’s going through the back catalogue and he’ll remaster them. Along with the re-releasing, we’ll try and make them all very special packages. But these days, what do you do? What hasn’t been done by someone else? There are special editions with this and that… I guess we’re on a pretty nostalgic trip these days with the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, the Master of Puppets book, revisiting the old records. So these remasters will come out with a lot of cool stuff, nostalgic pictures and stories we’ll dig up.

When looking back at your back catalogue, do you have any favourites or regrets? Any records where you now think, ‘what the hell were we thinking?’

James: There are things I would like to change on some of the records but it gives them so much character and such uniqueness that you can’t change them. I find it a little frustrating when bands re-record classic albums with pretty much the same songs and everything, and then have it replacing the original. It kinda erases that piece of history. These records are a product of a certain time in life, in the career of the band; they’re snapshots of history and they’re part of our story. Okay, so And Justice for All could use a little more low end and St. Anger could use a little less tin snare drum but those things are what make those records part of our history. So, no regrets.

Metallica started out in another age, when vinyl was god. You now have your own vinyl printing plant in Germany. Will you be joining the campaign to restore the format to its former glories?

James: Just because we grew up with and love vinyl, it doesn’t mean it’s the only and best format for us. We’re champions of getting music out any way and any how. Like Lars said, there are still fans who want to buy our music on record so we’ll cater for that but we’re excited by the challenges the digital world sets us and we like to be challenged. Saying that, I do love vinyl. It’s an experience, an event. It’s very tangible. You hold the record, take it from the sleeve, place the needle on the groove. About six months ago I was in Los Angeles visiting some old high school buddies and we just sat around, listening to vinyl…stuff like Kansas. Just the act of flicking through the boxes, smelling the cardboard, reading the sleeve notes, and listening to that warm sound. It’s a very immersive experience.

So, you’re essentially your own bosses now. Would you say it’s been a natural progression, to evolve from crazy kids with guitars to rock stars-slash-businessmen?

larsLars: I’d like to think that we’re still crazy adults, still trying to figure it all out. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a businessman but obviously when you have an organisation and bunch of people who work for you, there’s a point where you at least have to act mature. I think we do our best and I think we have a pretty decent balance in terms of how those two sides of us play out. I think it’s possible to wear those two hats but not necessarily at the same time. We have a trusted group of people who we’ve worked with for a long time who advise us on how we connect the dots, which is an invaluable thing to have. I’m 52 now, but I still feel like that crazy kid, trying to work out what’s going on at times so to have a trusted team behind us, having our own set up and being fiercely independent like Metallica is, that’s really a cool thing which we’re very proud of.

James: Lars is the more business-savvy guy and I’ve been extremely fortunate to have been partnered with him in this thing for 35 years. He followed Motorhead around, he followed Diamondhead around, learning from them and other bands; how they did things, why they made the decisions they made, why is one manager better than another. He is just very inquisitive when it comes to the business side of things. To have someone with that drive and quest for knowledge, that’s been invaluable. Me? I just…didn’t want a job! I wanted to play music, create and have my therapy and career wrapped into one! So it’s good to learn from others and apply that to your own life and path but you know, deep down, we’re still rebels, we’re still risk takers, we like being challenged by life and being faced with the question ‘what do we do next with this gift we have?’ Planning and preparation is only part of it. Guts, soul and fire are also invaluable weapons.

I find it hard to imagine Metallica sitting around in glass-walled offices shouting into phones with ties askew like in some HBO corporate drama…

James: There are no ties, man, and we’re very rarely in an office. As for shouting into phones, we pay people to do that. I think the bigger picture is about who’s in control, who’s running the ship and who’s just having a good time being in the band. It might be fairly obvious but Lars and I have been the two guys who put this band together; we formed this thing from day one and have had this vision. We’ve been in the driving seat but Kurt and Rob are always ready to go with us wherever this ride takes us, they’re always willing, always up for the challenge, and we’re all excited about where we’re heading.

You’ve always been fiercely proud of your independence. How important do you think being independent and remaining true to your own vision is to having a long and successful career?

james-lars-metallica-32824823-508-605James: For us, yes it has been important but for other people? I don’t know. Back in the day, when we were starting out, getting signed by a label was a huge thing. I don’t think that’s such a huge thing now. The fact that you can make your own music in your basement and press it and put it out yourself is wonderful but how far do you get with that? Do you eventually sign up with someone who’s bigger? These are all different business decision you need to make. You need to ask yourself ‘what is it we want to do?’ Do you want to tour the world, stay local? You should do what makes you happy.

Lars: We’ve always felt that we were outsiders, that we never really belonged to anything so even when we became successful, we still felt like successful outsiders. I guess we never really felt the need to play the game. The best thing about our success is that it has afforded us the opportunity to carve our own creative path. I’ll always be incredibly thankful for that. Primarily, independence for us means that we’ve never really taken money from anybody; we’ve never owed anybody anything. Our managers from very early on protected us from being in debt to anyone. As James said, when we started out record companies were like banks. You had to take money to make records, and then repay what it cost to produce that from your profits. And that’s something we’ve never really had to do so we’ve been pretty appreciative of that.

I imagine being flexible and adaptable also helps in maintaining a career. You’ve seen a lot of changes since you started out, especially with the dawn of the Internet age. How has Metallica coped with the shift to a digital world?

Lars: We’ve adapted quite well, thanks for asking! We’re sat here surrounded by technology linking us to the world, and Metallica’s music is available on numerous digital and streaming platforms and formats. I think that’s very cool. But you have to remember that there are places on this beautiful planet where people still buy CDs or vinyl, so for every move you make in the digital world, there are still fans who are still more traditional in the way they buy and listen to your music. Living in San Francisco where we’re surrounded by all the latest technology, you have to remember that there are other places in the world where the more traditional formats are still the way to go.

James: We’ve always been control freaks. As artists we’ve always felt the need to have at least some control over how our art is presented. Whether you’re an artist or a sculpture, looking to place your painting or sculpture in a gallery or museum, you’re going to have a strong opinion on how it’s hung or where it’s placed because that’s part of the artistic vision. We’ve always felt the same way. So when the floodgates opened and music was all over the internet, going for free, it scared us for sure and we didn’t know what to think about that but obviously now, it’s a great and convenient way to get your music so adapting to it is the only way to survive. I think that’s true for anyone in any walk of life. We do our best in the digital world; with Hardwired… we released a song at a time, a video at a time, a video for each song, and that works in this era. We like to surprise people and it’s hard to surprise people these days but the Internet gives us new ways to do this. It’s a new creative challenge.

The topic of free music on the Internet must be a thorny issue for Metallica, given the legal issues you had with peer-to-peer file sharing service Napster at the turn of the millennium. Do you feel that you were unfairly treated or misrepresented during that case?

napsterJames: The way people saw us then was beyond our control. What people think about us, about me, is none of my business. I knew it was the right thing to do, and as I said, it is a great and convenient way of getting music but I wish the record companies had not embraced it as much as they did and I wish it had unfolded in a different way but we couldn’t control that. The way we were portrayed…Well, we were an easy target. Someone who is established and who is concerned about their art is there to be shot at. Other artists came up to us and said that they supported what we were doing and were proud that we were sticking up for them but they would not come out of the shadows to help us. That left a bitter taste.

Lars: It was a street fight and the other guys painted this picture that it was between Metallica and their fans, and Metallica against downloading which it really wasn’t. It wasn’t about downloading, it was about choice. If I want to give away my music for free, whose choice is that? Is it my choice or someone else’s choice? So as it’s my music, I would presume it was my choice. But that choice was taken away from us. That was the real issue but they made it about us versus our fans which was a really smart move because it made us the bad guys. I do think we were misrepresented but we should have seen that coming. It was a strange summer, that’s for sure.

That strange summer included a South Park episode portraying you, Lars, crying by your pool because you could no longer afford to have a gold-plated shark tank bar installed due to people illegally downloading Metallica’s music.

Lars: That has floated across my eyeballs, yes.

And?

Lars: I’m a pretty thick-skinned person and we took a lot of hits that summer, and that was one of them. Everyone had an opinion, and it was a little weird, let’s leave it at that! Sometimes bad press is better than no press, right? Anyway we survived to fight another day.

James: South Park is no stranger to taking the piss out of anybody. I love it. It’s great to laugh at yourself. If anyone thinks of Lars that way, that’s up to them.

So you never fancied having a gold-plated shark tank bar then?

James: We’re pretty practical people. You look at us and we’re not too image conscious. We’ll put our money into a stage set or a good production or something, like making a movie. The money we’ve made from this has been reinvested in the band, for trying and exploring new things. As far as decadence goes, there’s none of that. We’d kick each other’s asses. That doesn’t fit the Metallica mould whatsoever.

The Napster case was just one of many tough times the band has been through. What’s the closest you’ve ever come to splitting up?

moLars: I would say that during period around the Some Kind of Monster documentary where it shows James going away to rehab and taking a year out of Metallica to figure out some things on his own. When he came back from that year away with a new set of tools for engaging and interacting with us, I wasn’t sure for the first six months how that was going to work out because I wasn’t sure I could adhere to those particular ways. It took a couple of years for things to really settle but we found the right balances and by the time the St Anger cycle was over in 2004 it had kinda fallen into a functional dynamic. We’ve had the best ten years together since then, when it all fell back into place around 2005 and 2006, and we really appreciate each other and what we have so it worked out but it was pretty ropey there for a while. We weren’t quite sure what was going to happen. I’m not a big fan of the ‘what if,’ questions because who knows what would have happened if we had split. If you turn left or turn right, things could work out differently. But we’re here, we’re talking to you and Hardwired… is out in the world. Trying to imagine a world where Metallica split ten years or so ago is a waste of energy.

At least by staying together you’ve avoided the tedious line of questioning about reforming. It seems to be the fashionable thing these days for defunct bands to get back together.

Lars: There are lot of bands that reform for a lot of different reasons and since I don’t know the internal dynamics, it’s hard to comment on. There could be someone who says ‘I’m reforming this band for $20 million’ and I’d say ‘good on ya!’ Who the hell am I to say that you shouldn’t do that. I can barely keep my own shit together! The world doesn’t need another person being critical of someone else’s decisions.

The Oasis documentary ‘Supersonic’ has increased the chatter on the Internet about whether Oasis will reform. As a friend of Noel Gallagher and fan of the band, what’s your take on the rumours, Lars?

noelgallagherlarsulrichu2partieshomegcxmq2hrlialLars: There may be a lot of talk on the Internet about Oasis getting back together but I don’t think there’s a lot of talk in Noel Gallagher’s head about that. Just imagine if you were Noel Gallagher and every interviewer asks you about whether Oasis are getting back together. Could you imagine how fucking annoying that must be? That would drive me fucking batshit crazy! I don’t think it’ll happen. From what I see he seems perfectly content doing what he’s doing and I think what he’s doing is great. If he is going to reform Oasis, I’m pretty sure I won’t be the first one he asks for advice.

The scenes of Oasis at Knebworth, playing to 250,000 fans over two days are very impressive but that pales into insignificance when put next to Metallica’s Tushino Airfield show in Moscow in 1991 where an estimated 1.6 million people attended.

James: Everybody you talk to about that show will give you a different figure of how many attended but I can tell you that there was a fuck of a lot of people! It was crazy. That was a wild afternoon, I can tell you.

Lars: Big shows like that are insane and it never becomes normal playing to such huge crowds. But I love playing stadiums, I love playing festivals, I love playing small theatres… I just love playing live to people. We’re lucky to be able to play the full range of venues and to have that choice is a privilege. The day any of it becomes normal, you have my permission to come and slap me around the head a little bit. I think the older I get, the more my eyes open to see how amazing this all is. You know, it’s 35 years since we started and this amount of people still care and still roll along for the ride.

On the topic of touring, you’ve made it clear that that from now on you won’t be going out for the long-haul but will play for two weeks and then have two weeks off to spend with your families. Does it get easier to juggle family life with the music career as you get older?

James: It does. We’re extremely fortunate to be where we are. To be able to do two weeks on, two weeks off is really great. Not only for our families but for our own sanity, and our own physical, mental and spiritual well-being. We need to do that. We can’t tour like we did in our 20s, that’s for sure. It needs to be age-appropriate touring for us these days. Whatever it takes for us to get on the stage, have fun and be at 110%, that’s what we’ll do.

I bet your families will be happy to see more of you.

dacdff7b9b39dc4832b568a86a08936fJames: You’d have to ask them! I’m totally into embarrassing my kids; wherever, whenever, as much as possible. I’ve got three teenagers now and life’s a little different. I’m very involved in their lives and I love each and every one of them to death and really want their dreams to be realised, and hopefully be part of those dreams. I try not to hover too much, enable them too much, allow them to struggle when they have to struggle. I’m less strict than my wife but we’re a great team; I learn from her, she learns from me. We definitely have different parenting skills but I think the kids benefit from both.

And you’ll get some time to yourself? Maybe do a little skateboarding, James?

It’s been a while since I’ve been on a board, man. We played the House of Vans in London at the end of last year and that was very cool to see those kids doing their thing. Some of the crew had a go but those days are done for me, for sure. I’ve got other passions now. We all need ‘you’ time. You need to get away. There’s still a lone wolf in me who loves solitude, loves going solo whether it’s music, hunting, hiking or camping, whatever – just getting out on my own. Or getting in the garage and tinkering with something, getting really detailed and lost in a project, I love doing that.

How to become a rock star in 2016: Three tips by Lars Ulrich

Find like-minded people like yourselves who are passionate

We’re all very different characters but at the core of it, we’re a band that have been going forward together. James and I are perhaps at the steering wheel with Kirk and Rob sitting in the back but we all get a say in where we’re going. We’ve seen band members come and go but even those who are not with us now have shared the passion of being in Metallica. Passion means you’ll fight about stuff from time to time but you’ll be fighting for the good of the band. Finding people ready to do that, to get in the trenches with you and go the distance, that’s the solid base you need.

Stay true to your own vision and ideals

We’ve made choices and music that have not always been popular with everyone but you know, that’s not really why we make these choices. We’ve done what we’ve done because we’ve believed in every single part of it. If we always made music to a template of what has brought us success in the past, we would sound the same and never progress, and that would be like a kind of creative death. We could just slip the same record into a different sleeve and take the rest of the year off. We welcome challenges and set ourselves challenges to keep things interesting for everyone involved. People will try and tell you to go another way and will sell it as the best thing for the band, but you – the band – should be the only ones making those decisions. Don’t let anybody talk you out of them. Listen to those you trust but stand firm together.

Stay committed

Stay the course. Hang in there. If you’re talented, someone will find you.

This article first appeared in an edited form in The Red Bulletin Magazine.

 

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The Oasis Archive interview: Nick Amies talks about his new Oasis book Where Did It All Go Wrong?

In a departure from the usual features written by myself, I would like to reproduce the interview I did with the Oasis Archive website recently on my book Where Did It All Go Wrong? Oasis and the Millennium Meltdown 1995 – 2000.

Tell me a little about your professional background and what made you become an author.

authorI’ve been a journalist for over 20 years now and in that time I have worked in jobs that have required me to write about pretty much everything; business, football, politics, you name it… It’s the diversity of the job which has kept me interested and motivated. One day I could be writing a piece on architecture for the New York Times, the next interviewing a Hollywood director like Terry Gilliam for the Economist. But music has always been my main passion and I’ve been able to keep that side of journalism going even when I’ve had a full time job on a news desk. It keeps you sane when you’ve been writing about war and suffering all day to be able to get to a gig, spend some time with one of your heroes backstage and then cover their concert. I’ve been lucky enough to interview many of my idols and then to write about their lives and their music…it doesn’t get much better than that for me.

As for the books, I’ve always written stories, ever since I was a little kid and it was always a dream of mine to write a novel. After a friend of mine read a screenplay I was working on, he suggested I expand on the story and write it as a novel instead. That turned out to be my first book, the Madchester road trip novel “Mersey Paradise”. It was a good experience but I felt I could do better. So I started a second book shortly after, the Britpop love story “She’s Electric”, which I’m very proud of. Writing books is now one of the many side projects I have, on top of holding down a full-time job as an editor, maintaining a relationship and being a father.

Do you remember where and when you first heard of the name Oasis? Was it their music, or did their reputation and press precede this?

It was 1994. I was living in Norwich in the East of England and I was at a friend’s place getting high. We were watching the Channel 4 late night programme The Word and Oasis came on – their first TV appearance – playing Supersonic. I was blown away. Later I found out that they had played the intimate Arts Centre venue in the city the week before that, and I’ve been gutted about that ever since. It would have been amazing to catch them at that time, before it all blew up. Supersonic was like nothing I’d ever heard before. I was a massive Stone Roses fan at the time and waiting for them to get their arses into gear had left me looking for something new. I dug Suede and I was a big fan of Ride but Oasis just felt tailor-made for me at that time. It all made sense. And Liam was just spectacular. When you watch that clip again, just remember that he was barely 21 and on national TV for the first time. He fills the screen. He invades your home. After that I was hooked.

The artwork for the book is obviously inspired by the artwork for the “Standing On The Shoulder of Giants” release, and it fits very well with the title and theme of the book! Was that a stock-photo, and how did you go about finding this?

6144jy0t0elI wanted to design my own cover but using any of the official Oasis logos would have been problematic, what with the copyright issues and such. And you can forget about using photos of the band if you’re a self-published author on a shoestring production budget. So it’s a Shutterstock image which I found in their database and it’s the closest I could find to the shot of New York used on the cover of SOTSOG. I know the fans get where I’m coming from with it but a few people have asked why I have the Big Apple on the cover when the band come from Manchester. I hope reading the book will lead these people to the music if they’re not familiar with SOTSOG, which in my opinion is a sorely underrated album.

There is obviously a very strong British identity in the visual artwork for the first three albums and related singles (designed by Microdot). Later albums seem to deliberately move away from this, sporting a new logo and images locations far from Burnage. Do you have a favourite record sleeve, and what was your feeling on the shift in design?

I have to say that the final album, Dig Out Your Soul, is my favourite in terms of artwork. It’s as much of a departure from the traditional Oasis style as the music inside the sleeve is from their original sound. It’s psychedelic and mature – just as the recording itself is.

As for the shift in design from the Microdot sleeves of the 90s, I just accepted it as part of Oasis progressing. Those Brian Cannon designs are iconic and part and parcel of the Britpop legacy Oasis left behind when they moved into the new millennium. The single cover of ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ is perhaps my favourite from that time. Moving away from Microdot, I loved the SOTSOG cover, the first one Simon Halfon did for the band, and the other covers and portraits he did after that really captured the band in that decade out of time, an older version of Oasis removed from the craziness of the years they dominated. Halfon’s style perfectly caught the band as they matured into serious artists and national treasures from the wild upstarts and party animals they were during their heyday.

R-817735-1293478865.jpegHalfon was a good choice to document these years. He’d been a long-time collaborator of Paul Weller’s and started working with the Modfather on art direction as far back as his days in The Jam. As such, through Weller’s friendship with Noel Gallagher, Halfon got to know the Chief, who appreciated his work with Weller and shared his love of The Beatles. But it was through a friend who was hired to shoot the video for ‘Supersonic’ that Halfon and Noel became friends. When it came to choosing an art director for SOTSOG, Noel called Halfon and asked him to do it. He then went on to photograph and design for Oasis throughout the rest of the band’s career.

Why did you decide to focus on Oasis’ career from 1995 till 2000, and not 1994-2000, or up until their very last meltdown (2009)?

The rise of Oasis with their slash-and-burn approach to touring and the momentum which started to grow around the band in the lead up to the release of their debut Definitely Maybe is of course one of the great rock and roll stories – streetwise lads from the wrong side of the tracks making it mega big; it’s one of those classic origin stories. But a lot has been written about that phase, and rightly so. But for me, if you break down the career of the band into narrative sections, the most interesting is the one featured in the book. It starts with the release of Morning Glory, the second album, through the band’s imperial phase which followed when they were untouchable, playing to a quarter of a million people over the Knebworth weekend, and then – when the fame and fortune were at unprecedented levels – they dived headfirst into their third album, Be Here Now, and into a Himalayan-sized mountain of coke. The excess during this period is legendary but there are so many threads running through this story, behind the music and the madness, and that’s what I wanted to write about as much as anything; the press intrusion, the pressures the band were experiencing professionally and personally, the dynamic within the band, the changing musical and social landscape in the UK at the time. These are the things which contributed – along with the massive intake of drugs – to what I call the millennium meltdown. By the end of the 90s, all of this had taken its toll and it was unsurprising that Oasis Mark 1 fell apart before the 21st century began.

Do you ever see yourself writing a sequel to this book focusing on the next chapter of the Oasis history?

I’ve been asked by a few people if I’ll do a follow up and it certainly appeals to the fan side of me to dive back into Oasis history and start digging again but I chose to focus on a particular time period in the band’s career because that had not been done before. Besides, for me – as I’ve said before – the era I cover in the book is the most interesting part of the whole story: Oasis ascending to the summit of British rock before descending to the depths, where – ironically – they were probably at their highest, if you know what I mean. The years between 2000 and the split in 2009 are filled with great music but in terms of incident and precedent, there wasn’t that much to compare to the events that I’ve documented. What would we have? Noel storming off the tour in 2000 after Liam allegedly questioned the legitimacy of his daughter; Liam getting his teeth smashed out in a Munich bar fight in 2002, the divorces, the Spinal Tap procession of drummer’s after Whitey was sacked in 2004? The truth is, up until the split in Paris six years ago, the stories behind the music kinda fizzled out. They made some great tunes during that time but the sensationalism was over.

Did you get to see the band live during the timeframe of the book (1995-2000)?

BHNI saw them headline Glastonbury in 1995 and then on the Be Here Now tour at Wembley Arena in 1997. Both shows were splendidly shambolic for different reasons. At Glastonbury, Liam was more interested in intimidating the crowd, which failed to respond to many of the songs from Morning Glory that no one had ever heard before. At Wembley, they were just back in the UK after the first leg of the BHN world tour and they looked and sounded a bit frazzled. Plus the popularity the band was enjoying by then meant it was like a variety show with all the families and young kids in the stands, especially as it was around Christmas. It wasn’t very Oasis. The danger and menace was absent. But don’t get me wrong – I loved both gigs purely because it was Oasis. I went on to see them another five times in the years leading up to the split and Noel Gallagher nailed it when he said recently that the band got better as the songs got shitter! Late-period Oasis were still a fearsome live act, even if the youthful mayhem had long been left behind by then.

The book is very well researched with a lot of good quotes and references. Did you spend long researching it, and what were your primary sources?

It took about two years in total, although I did nothing on the book during the nine months my partner was pregnant with our daughter. The research itself probably took six months in all. I planned the book out in the themes I wanted to cover and went trawling through the Internet, reading all the interviews I could find, looking for relevant quotes and information which fitted. I contacted a number of people who were close to band but received the same response: there seemed to be an unwritten rule that no-one would speak about their time with Oasis. And the band members themselves rarely talk to authors because they just get too many requests. But there are some exclusive quotes from Noel and Liam in there as I’ve interviewed them both in the past. And former Oasis press officer Johnny Hopkins was especially helpful and actually helped a great deal to fill in a lot of the black holes I had in some of the chapters.

Have you ever met any of the band members, and if you were given the opportunity to ask only one question to Noel, Liam and Bonehead respectively; what would it be?

beadyI’ve interviewed Noel and Liam before; Noel when Oasis were still going and Liam when he was with Beady Eye. I’ve also talked to Gem Archer and Andy Bell a couple of times, both as members of Oasis and of Beady Eye. I never met any of the other original Oasis members.

I guess if I had to ask one question, I’d ask Bonehead if he had ever considered getting a hair transplant during the band’s heyday. I always respected the fact that Oasis didn’t give a fuck about having a bald guy, or a fat bloke, in the band. It wasn’t about that to start with. But I also always wondered if he’d thought about getting his thatch thickened when the fame and fortune flooded in!

Here is a question from a forum member on SupernovaHeights, named joladella: In your acknowledgements, you thank Noel’s manager Ray McCarville for explaining, why he and the other former band members usually decline requests by authors. I’d love to know what that explanation was. I guess you might not be at liberty to say, but “… situation which prevents [them] …” (p. 236) sounds intriguing, what situation? Legal reasons? Or just a complicated way of saying they simply don’t want to?

There’s nothing sinister about that, as far as I know. The former band members get so many requests for their involvement in books that they simply wouldn’t have enough time to contribute to them all. As a result, they politely decline all requests. That’s the message I got from Ray.

It seems that very few (if any) of the members who left Oasis over the years – from Tony McCaroll in 1995, up until the final split in 2009 – actually ended on good terms with Noel Gallagher. Who do you reckon is the most difficult being in a band with; Liam or Noel?

tony-mccarrollHmm…If you were kicked out of Oasis or forced to leave, it’s very unlikely that you’d have an objective view of those who were responsible for that, right? And that person, more often than not, is going to be Noel because he’s the boss. If you leave under a cloud, you’re more than likely gonna hold grudges… So I think you have to look at who’s saying what and why in those situations.

I’ve spent time with both brothers and both were absolute gents during the time I spent talking to them; eloquent, intelligent, thoughtful and above all very funny – not quite the surly thugs which many journalists portray them as. But I’ve never worked with, or for, either one of them. I would say that both of the Gallaghers are very driven people – yes, even Liam – and that they can be very demanding of those working with them in the pursuit of what they want to achieve. Neither suffers fools gladly. If I had to give my unqualified opinion, based only on the reports and anecdotes I have read during my research, I would say that the young Liam circa 1994/95 would have been a nightmare at times due to his erratic and explosive nature. I would also say that Noel circa 1997 would probably have been quite hard to be around too as he struggled with his substance abuse and the pressure of being the driving force behind the massive band Oasis had become. But this has to be put into context. Liam was struggling with fame and all the attention he was getting at the tender age of 21 and Noel was being crushed by the expectation of millions of fans and the media which had built him up into a Godlike genius. It’s likely any one of us would be an arsehole to some people in the same situation!

What Oasis songs mean the most to you?

That’s like being asked to choose which of your children you love the most. It’s a very tough question as I love pretty much everything Oasis ever did. But if I’m to attach meaning and memory to songs as a way of narrowing things down, I’d say – in no particular order – Supersonic, Listen Up, Let’s All Make Believe, and Who Feels Love. And that’s only from the period in the book. I’d be here all day if I did it for the band’s entire career.

Oasis_supersonic_sleeveSupersonic because it’s such a statement of intent and it was the song that brought me to Oasis. When that drum intro starts and that woozy guitar line starts jangling, it’s goosebumps all over, even today. “I wanna be myself, I can’t be no-one else” – as Bonehead says in the book, that’s Oasis barging to the front and saying ‘right, we’ll take charge here…This is how it’s going to be from now on.’ And they were right. After that, all bets were off.

Listen Up contains some of the best lines Noel has ever written and Liam’s delivery of the whole song is pure magic. I came to this song when I was questioning a lot of things and it helped me get my world view sorted out. The lyric “day by day there’s a man in a suit who’s gonna make you pay, for the thoughts that you think and the words they won’t let you say” – that just fired me up.

Let’s All Make Believe is again a song which came to me when I was at a low point. There were a lot of false people around me at the time and I needed to make a change to get out of that situation. Then a true friend did something amazing for me and through his sacrifice, I made a life-changing decision which I have never regretted. I’m here doing what I do, living the life I have because of that and because of that friend. The song really resonates with that period but beyond its meaning to me, it’s just a beautiful song and, in my opinion, one of Liam’s best ever vocals.

Who Feels Love is probably derided by many because it’s a bit cod-psychedelic and it comes from the period of the millennium meltdown I write about where Noel had to start again from scratch in many ways. But for me, it’s a really uplifting piece of music and has such a light atmosphere to it that I love to kinda float along with it – which is something you don’t expect from an Oasis track. And it reminds me of the love of my life, so there’s that too!

What is your take on the ‘Be Here Now’ album? From its initially raving reviews, to its backlash of people returning it to second hand shops; did you opinion on the album also change?

oasis_be_here_now-ad_11078I remember that I bought a knock-off cassette from a night market in Thailand shortly after it was released and the quality was unsurprisingly a bit dodgy so I didn’t really get the full experience until later but I loved the ambition and the sheer weight of the tracks at first. Once I got a CD copy, I really got into it. It really was a soundtrack for that summer for me and my friends. I’ll admit though that I had a period where I skipped a lot of the tracks on Be Here Now. I also admit that I may have been swayed by the criticism it’s got over the years. But I’ve rehabilitated it and I play it quite regularly, although my opinions of certain songs are forever coloured by the negative associations. I love D’You Know What I Mean?, My Big Mouth, It’s Getting’ Better (Man!!) but tend to tolerate rather than celebrate songs like Magic Pie, Fade In-Out, and even All Around the World. There’s a great song in there somewhere but it’s just too long!

If Oasis were set to release a new retrospective release of any format; what would be on top of your wish-list? A Noel Gallagher penned autobiography? A coffee table book of pictures? Noel’s demos from Mustique, or a concert film from the pompous Be Here Now tour? You decide!

There’s a long-mooted Knebworth documentary and concert film floating about somewhere which would be a great historical as well as musical document of those times. I’d love to see that. An autobiography from Noel would also be an essential read, especially if he really went warts-and-all on the dynamic within the band and his relationship with Liam. But this idea which has been talked about, to do a feature film on the band’s story? No way. Who could play the Gallaghers better than themselves? No actor I can think of. It would be like fucking Stars in Their Eyes. “Tonight Matthew, I’m gonna be Liam Gallagher…” However, if someone wanted to pay me to write the screenplay, I’d be on it like a shot.

What’s next for you? Any new projects you’re working on?

I have a whole graphic novel series sitting around in various computer files and parts of my brain which is so massive in its depth and scope that it kinda scares me! There’s so much there. I’m afraid it’ll never see the light of day because it’s really fucking good, to be honest! It would take a really committed artist to bring it all to life and I haven’t found that person yet. I’m still looking. So that project’s just sitting in the shadows, watching me, whispering my name every day…

Other than that, I already have plans to do another non-fiction book, this time on Happy Mondays. I want to work with an old and very good friend of mine on this but we have to wait until his current projects are completed before we can start. Plus I need a bit of a break after Where Did It All Go Wrong? Once the promotion of that has slowed down, I’ll start the research on the Mondays book and we’ll take it from there.

Related content:

I also gave an interview on WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG? to Phonic FM’s Britpop Revival show as part of their great Manchester special in September. It’s worth listening to it all but I come on at the 52′ 30″ mark if that’s all you’re interested in. Click on the image below to go to the show on their Mixcloud page.

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WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG? Available to buy on Amazon and Lulu.com NOW

coverimage_lulu 2After exploding onto the British music scene only two years previously, Oasis played the biggest free-standing gigs the UK had ever seen over two nights at Knebworth Park in the summer of 1996. Playing to a combined crowd of 250,000 people on what would become the defining weekend of the Britpop era, Oasis made good on their many claims that they were destined to be the biggest band on the planet. What happened next is a rollercoaster ride through the wildest excesses of rock ‘n’ roll; from the highs of mega-stardom, mass adoration and tabloid ubiquity, to the lows of drug psychosis, mindless mayhem and a media backlash. WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG? charts Oasis’s journey from the mid-90s euphoria of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? to the turn-of-the-century comedown of Standing on the Shoulder of Giants; from the all-conquering Knebworth shows through the cocaine blizzard of Be Here Now, the madness and chaos of their 1997 world tour and out the other side.

Buy WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG? on Amazon

Aussie Underground Goes Mainstream: Planet Perth is Cool (and there’s nothing we can do)

Tame-Impala-Band-2015The imminent release of Tame Impala’s third album, Currents, has many admirers of the Australian psych-rock outfit’s panoramic soundscapes panting in breathless anticipation, while the expectancy among those who consider each new release to be the dawning of an epochal musical age is bordering on unbridled fervour. Refreshingly though, Kevin Parker – the man behind the music – remains genuinely baffled by this level of adoration despite being the recipient of almost unending acclaim ever since his bedroom project went global with the release of 2010’s Innerspeaker, Tame Impala’s expansively trippy debut. The success of his Grammy-winning sophomore effort, 2012’s Lonerism, only added to Parker’s sense of amused disbelief that a college drop-out from one of Australia’s most remote cities could become so universally lauded for delivering thrillingly unfashionable retro-futurism to the plastic pop masses.

“We don’t dance about, we don’t play music that you can really get down to and some of the songs go on longer than a Pink Floyd epic so it kinda confuses me as to why people actually like it,” Parker says with surprising honesty. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they do but we don’t really fit in with what’s supposed to be popular. I suppose that’s part of the attraction.”

Popularity, fame and fortune were never the reasons Parker and his cohorts and comrades began making music. Ensconced as they were in the shabby confines of the notoriously Avant garde Troy Terrace commune in the Daglish district of Perth before destiny came calling, they revelled in the detachment from reality where their musical experiments brought them. Success was never the goal because no-oneno one from Perth – and even fewer from the Troy Terrace collective of misfits and outsiders – ever expected to make it. As a result, a rich counter-culture developed free of artistic expectations and industry pressure.

“To be honest, none of us thought anyone outside of Perth was going to hear our music,” says Shiny Joe Ryan, one of the original quartet of Troy Terrace tenants alongside Parker, Nick Allbrook (Pond) and Jay Watson (Tame Impala, Pond, GUM). “We made it for ourselves. It’s amazing that people over the other side of the world have heard and enjoy our music, but if none of that had happened, I have no doubt that we’d still be making music in one form or another and probably together still.”

“Being isolated spatially and culturally – us from the city, Perth from Australia and Australia from the world – arms one with an Atlas-strong sense of identity,” says Nick Allbrook, Pond’s frontmanfront man. “Both actively and passively, originality seems to flourish in Perth’s artistic community. Without the wider community’s acceptance, creative pursuits lack the potential for commodification. There’s no point in preening yourself for success because it’s just not real. It’s a fairy tale, so you may as well just do it in whatever way you like, good or bad, wherever you like.”

Pond_BenHayes_1

Pond have followed fellow Troy Terrace residents Tame Impala into the global spotlight

“It didn’t really matter if you were crap or silly or unbearably offensive, you wouldn’t get much further doing something different anyway,” adds Allbrook. “This helps to preserve a magical purity because it’s executed with love – with necessity. And what’s more, when these artists keep going and practising and advancing – which they must – somehow their crassness coagulates into something brilliantly individual and accomplished.”

It could be argued that because Tame Impala, Pond and, to a lesser degree, the spin-off projects from those bands’ interchangeable personnel have successfully taken that ‘coagulated crassness’ onto the international stage, those artists now developing in their wake back in Perth will be denied the freedom that the Troy Terrace set enjoyed. However, Peter Bibby, a contemporary of Parker, Allbrook et al, who is among the leading acts from the next wave of Perth bands, believes that while the inevitable wave of Tame Impala copyists that swelled after Innerspeaker’s breakthrough initially diluted the creative well, Perth is now benefitting from the exposure enjoyed by its wayward sons.

“Perth seems to have a pretty good reputation for music on a worldwide basis now and the boys, along with Spinning Top Records, have definitely helped with that,” he says, name-checking the label associated with nurturing the city’s underground talent. “They’ve been flying the flag high and proud for a good few years now all over the world and that has helped with myself and a lot of bands being recognised on a much wider basis.”

Clinton Oliver, vocalist and guitarist with garage rock group Gunns – another band on the rise thanks to in part forto the interest in all things Perth – agrees: “It gave everyone huge confidence seeing bands like Tame and Pond succeed,” he says. “They really put this city on the map. I feel like people are paying a lot more attention to bands in Perth now. So yeah it does make you wonder if your chance is coming.”

Whatever the impact these Perth bands have had internationally, back home the laidback attitude that provided them with the environment in which to thrive remains mostly intact, – which gives hope to all those still searching for their own voice in this creative melting pot at the end of the earth.

“Back in Perth, people don’t treat me differently, I’m still just Kevin and no-one attaches any of this bizarre, constructed rock star status to me or any of the other guys,” Parker concludes. “That’s why Perth is a sanctuary. I can go home and be with my friends or disappear into the crowd like I used to. Out in the world, people stop me outside venues and stick cameras in my face and want autographs, and I’m like – whoa, okay dude…I’m just this fucking guitar nerd who makes music in his bedroom… but hey, that’s cool!”

This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of SOMA Magazine

The National’s Bryce Dessner: 10 years of the MusicNow festival

MusicNow-compilationPerhaps all rock stars, at some time, get the urge to bring the artists and the musicians they love together in one place and present them to the public. Some are happy to curate established events and use them as kind of living mixtape of favourites. Others – like Bryce Dessner, the guitarist with the US rock band The National – have a larger, longer-term vision which results in the establishment of a completely new festival. Dessner began satisfying his own personal urge ten years ago this month after holding a series of discussions with Murray Sinclaire, an arts benefactor and businessman in his home town of Cincinnati. Those discussions led to the creation of the MusicNow festival.

“It really just started as a conversation about honouring our hometown and the long tradition of great music that we have in Cincinnati,” Dessner says. “Murray acted as a sounding board to my ideas on bringing a really intimate, arts-driven, homemade feeling festival to the city which would combine Cincinnati’s classical traditions with the amazing indie, punk and rock scene that has existed here for a long time. I wanted it to be the antithesis of the huge commercial rock festivals we have here, like Lollapalooza – which are great but are a certain kind of experience, and for MusicNow to act as a kind of alternative space for artists to really develop new work and new collaborations.”

As MusicNow took shape, Dessner held on to an unshakeable tenet at the core of his vision for the festival: artists would be provided with an environment in which they could collaborate and experiment without the pressure they may get from their own big tours and shows. Over the festival’s decade of life, this tenet has provided the basis for eclectic and exclusive performances from artists such as influential American composer Philip Glass, Grammy Award-winning Tuareg troupe Tinariwen, Big Apple troubadour Sharon Van Etten and Burmese musician Kyaw Kyaw Naing.

“MusicNow has always fostered works in progress and given artists the confidence to take risks,” Dessner says. “By keeping it small, using volunteers, creating a family vibe… We’ve built something of a refuge for creativity here. You can almost see the weight fall off the shoulders of some artists who may be expected to perform a certain way on the commercial circuit but who feel free to present radically different works here or allow work to develop organically in front of a live audience.”

As with any experiment, reactions cannot always be predicted and some audiences attending the early days of the festival got more than they bargained for from artists such as Detroit balladeer Sufjan Stevens who arrived with a certain reputation but immediately used MusicNow’s climate to play with perceptions.

“There was always a risk at the start that the audiences could be confused by some performances, especially as we offered them only the most oblique hints of what might happen when they arrive at the show,” says Dessner. “But this became part of the festival’s identity over time. You may think you know Bon Iver but you may not expect him to workshop and perform a whole new album in front of you as he did in 2010. You may know composers David Lang and Nico Muhly but you probably never expected them to unveil world premieres here alongside works by Krzysztof Pendereck, the Polish master, and Alexander Scriabin. But they did, without fanfare, last year. That potential for unexpected magic is now what draws people to MusicNow.”

“I’ve played a bunch of times myself, both as a collaborator and as a solo artist,” says contemporary classical music composer Muhly. “Each time, I have presented things that were not just new to Cincinnati, but new to me: pieces with the ink still drying or pieces in desperate need of a set of ears other than my own.”

music-bryce-dessnerBryce Dessner has high hopes of more magical moments from this year’s anniversary roll call. Sufjan Stevens returns to the festival for a third time, along with Will Butler from Canadian indie rock band Arcade Fire, Seattle-based solo artist Perfume Genius and Brooklyn alt-country rockers The Lone Bellow. Dessner’s band The National will also perform, collaborating with the full Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to the alternative music talent on show, Dessner has commissioned works from last year’s Pulitzer Prize for Music winner Caroline Shaw and Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason. Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center will also play host to Ragner Kjartansson’s film, ‘A Lot of Sorrow’, documenting The National’s MoMA PS1 performance in which they played their song ‘Sorrow’ for six hours straight in front of a live audience, as part of the festival.

Once this ten-year anniversary has passed, Dessner admits that he may finally take stock of what the festival he created a decade ago has truly achieved before moving ahead with future programmes – although what direction these will take is anyone’s guess.

“I always saw it as a ten-year thing so I’m not sure what happens next,” says Dessner. “I’m open to ideas. What I do know is that we’ll continue to champion cutting edge, progressive programming and hope that people will continue to be inspired by that.”

MusicNOW Festival. March 11 – 15, 2015
http://www.musicnowfestival.org

This article first appeared in The Economist.

Back in the Bright Lights: The Return of Interpol

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It is the curse of every band with a highly acclaimed and much loved debut album that each subsequent release will be compared to that first artistic statement. Critics will await new material with a certain morbid fascination, eager to remark on how close to total extinguishment the band’s early creative fire has become while fans will nervously check their calendars in the breathless hope that when the next album drops, their lives will change again. And so it is with Interpol as they prepare to release their fifth album, El Pintor, in September with the glare from 2002’s Turn On The Bright Lights still blinding supporters and detractors alike.

“We’re fiercely proud of the first record and realise that it has a very special place for a lot of our fans in our catalogue but we never judge our other material against that,” says Paul Banks, the band’s frontman. “It’s great that we have a record that’s special to people and it’s understandable that some people don’t come along with us on our journey when they’re so beholden to that. I mean that’s cool, if that’s what you love about the band then keep listening to the first record but we need to get out there and make new stuff.”

Forming in New York City in 1997 with singer Banks sharing guitar duties with founding member Daniel Kessler, augmented on bass by Carlos Dengler and Greg Dundy on drums, Interpol quickly built a reputation as a band that worked hard and played hard, combining a dedication to touring with an equally committed devotion to the Big Apple’s nightlife. By the time debut album Turn On The Bright Lights was primed and ready, the band – now with Sam Fogarino on drums – were already on first name terms with many of post-9/11 New York’s cocaine and couture set and were being heralded as one of the most pivotal outfits to emerge from the city’s vibrant underground music scene along with bands such as The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The release of Turn On The Bright Lights saw Interpol’s career go into warp drive. Originally seen as a less conventional band than The Strokes or The White Stripes which had effortlessly stepped out of the indie clique into the mainstream spotlight, Interpol now had a calling card with such a zeitgeist-defining appeal that it would become acknowledged as one of the most highly regarded and influential albums of the post-millennium rock scene. With its staccato bass, urgent, jittery guitars and unsettling lyrics often delivered in a bone-dry monotone, Interpol’s debut quickly had them labelled as post-punk revivalists, constantly compared to bands like Joy Division.

Now, some 12 years since their break-through, Interpol are ready to deliver El Pintor, an album that, unsurprisingly, has been held up to the high watermark of their debut and has not been found wanting. Many of those who have already heard it have compared it favourably to Turn On The Bright Lights, not only in quality but also in delivery and energy.

interpol1“People who have heard the record are saying this is the best music we’ve made since the first album,” says Banks. “I’m not going to agree or disagree with that because it’s all opinion. We always set out to make the best record we can and hope that people respond to that. El Pintor is definitely a more immediate rock record than the previous one and has a lot more in common with Turn on the Bright Lights than say, Our Love to Admire or Interpol.”

“That’s not to say the new album is a simplification of our sound,” he adds. “It’s just more of a fucking rock onslaught, man. Songs like ‘Ancient Ways’ and ‘All the Rage Back Home,’ they’re still born of Daniel’s experimentalism but with a massive pair strapped on. Just listen to ‘Same Town New Story’ – now that’s a rare bird.”

Fans will be encouraged by the early indications of a more direct and electrified sound. Many feared that energy and drive was a thing of the dim and distant past.

After 2004’s slightly more pop oriented Antics, the second album which avoided the dreaded sophomore slump and gave the fans hope of the band’s ability to potentially deliver another future masterpiece, Interpol finally succumbed to the lure of the majors and left indie label Matador for Capitol Records in late 2006.

The third album, Our Love to Admire, was pitched by Capitol as the record that would turn Interpol into arena headliners. To that end, Our Love to Admire was a far more polished affair but one which, shorn of the rough edges, exposed the band’s limitations for the first time. Despite it becoming the band’s highest-charting and biggest-selling effort, it was given the cold shoulder by many. In response, as if waiting for the chance to knock down what they had helped to build up, the critics instigated the first waves of a backlash.

“I was always really disappointed about what people said about the band at that time, I think they really missed the mark,” says Banks. “I stopped reading all press after I read something bad about the third record so I never read anything about the fourth. I think artists are more thin-skinned than most people think and probably more thin-skinned than most other people full stop. I used to be a lot more sensitive about the criticism than I am now. For me, the press became something we just had to tune out. Because the negative stuff was a little harsh, in my opinion. The ultimate barometer for us is the reaction of the crowd. When the crowds at our shows are bigger and they’re all singing the songs, that’s the critique that matters.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” he adds. “I think music criticism has worth and it has a place but it won’t change what I do as an artist. As long as the fans are satisfied and I’ve expressed myself the way I wanted to through that music then little else matters. It’s all opinion and it’s very unlikely that you’ll see eye-to-eye with everyone. I rarely ever read any reviews because, for the most part, a critic is given the record and expected to churn out an article to a strict deadline – which means they maybe listen to the record once. I said a couple of years ago that our music requires repeated listens for people to really understand it and I stand by that to a certain extent because there’s a lot going on in there that most people won’t get from hearing it once and to dismiss it so quickly is a little insulting.”

tumblr_lkixhhhRm51qcvf0to1_500For their fourth, self-titled album, main composers Kessler and Dengler (right) made the decision to push Interpol away from the radio-friendly accessibility of Our Love to Admire and take the band into what the flamboyant and charismatic bassist termed “sturm und drang” – a stormy symphony more akin to a grand Teutonic opera than a 21st century rock record. Pushing the orchestration to its limits and reducing the guitars in favour of layers of keyboards, the band hoped that the challenges they had set themselves on 2010’s Interpol and the return to Matador prior to the album’s release would push them out of their mid-phase comfort zone and into a return to form.

“For the last album, Daniel came in with some really experimental stuff, a lot of electronics and leftfield orchestration and then Carlos took Daniels stuff and pushed it another five degrees,” says Banks. “Carlos always took the experimentalism that little bit further, going into really sophisticated orchestration. That last album was like fucking math! But that’s not a criticism of Carlos or that approach.”

“I’m really proud of that record but it’s quite out there, it’s not a lightweight album and I think people are still taking their time to get their heads around it,” he adds. “In a way, I feel that the self-titled album is the definitive Interpol record as it’s the most complete and cohesive album that we’ve made. Not because it is a summation of what we’d done before that but because it’s a good representation of where we were at that point and because it was the most evolved.”

Others didn’t see it that way. While the band’s supporters lauded Interpol’s bravery in releasing an art-rock opus at a time when albums needed to contain at least two killer singles to be deemed a success, sections of the press savaged the fourth album, calling it bloated and self-indulgent. The overall feeling of implosion was compounded by Dengler’s decision to quit the band in the wake of the album’s release.

Banks is reluctant to open up too much about Dengler’s departure, citing previous betrayals by the media after confiding in them in the past, but he makes it clear that it was an amicable parting of the ways. “I’m his biggest fan and I think Carlos is a genius but I made a decision very early on in this band that I was willing to put up with a whole lot of crap from people if they were what I considered to be a genius,” he says. “The benefits that come from that level of creativity far outweigh any annoyance which can arise from someone being an asshole. So I will say that I miss Carlos, I miss the energy that he’s taken with him but it was a departure that was more like the ending of a marriage where one person says, ‘it’s not working – I have to leave’ rather than a brother betraying you.”

Banks rejects the idea that the return to an edgier, more stripped-down sound on El Pintor was due to the absence of Dengler’s experimental influence. “The fact that El Pintor is more direct is not a reaction to Carlos leaving the band in the way that we thought, ‘okay we’re free of the complicated shit, let’s get back to basics’ because we never go back, we never try to replicate. If Carlos’ departure has influenced anything on this album, it’s the fact that we had to work out what we were going to be like as a band without him and we discovered an exhilaration in that, an excitement from working out how to be a three-piece. So of course we’re a different band now but whereas before we were a molecule with four atoms attached to it, we’re still that molecule but with three atoms now and as a result we’re creating a different energy. There is a different dynamic in the studio, of course, because of that. Three is a good number for debates because unless someone perennially sits on the fence, two are going to have to come down on the same side of the argument at some point and shit gets sorted easier that way.”

images_uploads_album_ole-1069_interpol_-_el_pintor1Interpol as a trio have worked in much the same way as Interpol the quartet would have done in approaching the writing and recording of El Pintor, according to Banks. “Daniel comes in with what he’s been working on, just as before, and we work on that as a band, feeding into that and seeing where we can all take it. Usually what develops is just based on feel. It organically develops from Daniel’s vision. It’s really hard to try and set a specific target in terms of a sound when you’re in such a collaborative band. We start with the raw material of Daniel’s ideas and then listen to each other as it starts to grow. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves and our music so we trust in that spark of creation and let it develop, let it build. It always finds its own way.”

“The writing is already done before we even step into the recording studio so our process is to develop the material and get sharp with it in the rehearsal rooms,” he adds. “We never write in the studio because writing an album when you’re in the studio is fucking expensive. No-one except those bands which have millions behind them can do that because endless studio time requires a massive budget, and when you’re writing on that particular clock, you’re burning through the dollars. A rehearsal room is like a hundredth of the price of a studio so we’ve got all the songs ready before we start running the tapes.”

What is different, of course, is that there are now three members – which meant either someone from within the band had to take over bass duties for the album or a new recruit had to be found and bedded in. The band decided it would be easier to keep responsibility for the four-string in-house. “When Carlos left we had this initial thought of ‘shit, you know, we’re going to have to start auditioning for bass players if we’re going to make this new record,'” says Banks. “It was only because I’d played bass on both my solo records that I felt capable to step up when Daniel suggested it. I don’t think I’d have been keen to do it had I not had the experience before but I really enjoyed it and I play bass on all the album tracks.”

Banks agrees with the notion that El Pintor marks the beginning of the next phase of Interpol but is reluctant to speculate as to where the band may go from here. What he hopes is that Interpol can continue to evolve and confound expectations.

“No-one was wrong when they said that we were post-punk revivalists but it was a simplistic label, a reduction of what we are as artists,” he says. “I’m honoured in a way that people took the time to try and define us but definitions change. What we are now is a rock band. That’s what we are and what we do. We’re happy with that. As we grow, perhaps we can become something undefinable.”

A Q&A based on this interview with Paul Banks appeared in CLASH Magazine

This full-length feature also appeared on PULUCHE.COM

Tales from the Front Row: Sir Alan Parker on his career in film

 

alan_parker_bw__fullTales from Down the Front goes Down to the Front Row for a third time to talk to yet another Hollywood legend. This time, Oscar-winning director and Knight of the Realm Sir Alan Parker

SIR ALAN PARKER began his career in the advertising world of the 1960s, working first as a copywriter and then as a director of commercials. He progressed to feature films from the mid-1970s, directing movies such as “Bugsy Malone”, “Midnight Express”, “Fame” and “The Commitments”. But in 2003, he said “Cut!” for the last time. Speaking to Nick Amies at the Brussels International Film Festival, where he appeared as a special guest, Sir Alan looked back at his time in the director’s chair.

You made your last film, “The Life of David Gale”, 11 years ago. Why did you decide to stop after that?

I discovered that I enjoyed not making films. It started as a break and then I discovered I liked my life as it was. I’ve been making movies since I was 24 and I’m now 70. Some directors will keep going and probably die on set, but I won’t be one of those. Making films is an extremely demanding process; as a director you work 14- or 15-hour days, six days a week for about three months and then another two years finishing the film and promoting it. You need the same enthusiasm and energy from start to finish. It’s a young person’s game, in my opinion. I’d much rather go to the pub these days.

Have you not been tempted to make another film in that time?

I had maybe five projects in mind in the early years after “David Gale”, but as time went by I decided that my life was better without making films. I’ve been pretty lucky though. All the projects I developed have been made into films. I’m not one of these people to have scripts knocking about in a drawer. Some ideas never came to fruition, but those which became solid projects got made.

There was talk of you filming a remake of the Marlene Dietrich movie “The Blue Angel” in the 1980s, with Madonna in the lead role. What happened to that?

Diane Keaton was keen to produce the movie, I was enthusiastic about making it and we had Madonna and De Niro pegged for the lead roles, but it just never came to anything. Everyone just lost interest in it.

You worked with Madonna on “Evita” a few years after that. What was that like?

When you make musical films you either have to work with actors who can sing or singers who can act. Somewhere along the way, you have to compromise, let’s put it like that. Madonna sent me a six-page letter detailing why she thought she would be perfect for the role, which must have worked because I eventually cast her. We had originally wanted Michelle Pfeiffer, but she had two young kids and wouldn’t leave Los Angeles.

Music is central to a number of your films. How would you describe your relationship with music, with regard to your film-making?

Music and images have such a strong connection and music can create such dramatic energy in a film. It is always my taste of music which makes it into the film and I have a wide appreciation of music, as you can see in the contrasts between something like “Evita” and “Pink Floyd The Wall”. There are only a few times where others have influenced my choice of music. Nic Cage was driving me mad on the set of “Birdy” by constantly singing “La Bamba”, so when it came to a scene where we needed him to sing I told him to just go with that stupid song he’d been driving me round the bend with.

“Birdy” is one of a number of your films whose ending is opening to interpretation. Is this a conscious use of the device on your part?

I think it’s always good to make your audience work a little. If people leave the cinema debating the ending of the film, then my goal to provoke is achieved—as long as they’re satisfied with the journey they took to get to the end. In the United States, the rule is to never let the audience leave unsatisfied, whereas in European cinema, they just don’t care. If it makes you think, then that’s good. I like open endings because they make film mysterious. And anyway, most directors don’t actually know how to end a film.

Alan-Parker-Nicolas-Cage-Mathhew-Modine-Birdy

You’re appearing at this year’s Brussels International Film Festival. What’s your opinion of the contemporary film scene in Europe?

It’s becoming harder to see good and interesting European films, especially in London where I live, as the United Kingdom is so dominated by films from the United States. I have a nine-year-old son so I have to sit through a lot of big Hollywood special-effects blockbusters and, to be honest, I sleep through most of them. That’s not to say that there are no intelligent films coming out of the States or Europe, it’s just that special and original films are rare. Films are more about recouping costs and generating revenue these days than pushing artistic boundaries.

Would you say that financial constraints are hindering creativity in the film industry?

There’s never enough money. I’ve been asked this same question about funding for the last 25 years and the answer, sadly, remains the same: without cash, European cinema will die. My belief is that we need to foster new talent to keep film alive and to create new and exciting projects which will bring people into cinemas to watch them. Who wants to see the same old director making the same type of film over and over again? But for this, you need money and it’s very hard—especially in today’s climate—to ask for such large sums when you have priorities such as health, social care and education.

This Q&A originally appeared in The Economist

See other Tales from the Front Row | Film:

Fear & Loathing in Hollywood – Terry Gilliam

“Monsters Don’t Scare Me” – John Landis