Text by Joan McNulty, intro by Robert Barry Francos
Article & interview © 1982; RBF intro © 2010 by FFanzeen
Images from the Internet
The following interview with British producer Martin Rushent was originally published in FFanzeen magazine, issue #9, in 1982. It was conducted and written by Joan McNulty.
It’s a well known secret that Joan was the American girlfriend of Pete Shelley, the Buzzcocks’ British lead singer, around the time she wrote this. She also ran the Pete Shelley post-Buzzcocks’ fanzine, Harmony in My Head.
Martin Rushent is a well-known producer of many British artists of the period, such as the Buzzcocks, Human League, Hazel O’Connor, the Stranglers and Fleetwood Mac. There’s a whole lot more info about the still-working studio artist on Wikipedia, so go look it up, as he is still going strong.
A few years after this interview, Pete and Steve Diggle reformed the Buzzcocks, and have been touring on and off since, including being interviewed in a hotel room for the cable access show, Videowave, for which I was the cameraperson (see the video at the end of this interview). – RBF, 2010
On a recent trip to New York City, I had an opportunity to interview the infamous Martin Rushent. Martin has produced countless bands (Human League, Altered Images, Yachts…) over the years, as well as being the Buzzcock’s primary producer. At present, he is working incredibly hard with launching Pete Shelley’s solo career, as well as his newly formed Genetic Records label. I found him to be honest, genuinely nice, and most of all, enthusiastic. I have no doubts that he’ll achieve all he sets out to do. Having long been my “idol,” I felt it time to get some personal remarks from him.
FFanzeen: How did you get into the field of producing?
Martin Rushent: Around 10 or 11 years old, I got my first record player. I used to listen to a lot of records; Buddy Holly – and I noticed that some records had an exciting edge to them, some sounded better than others. I think after that I began to pick up on names; Spector and the like. By 12 or so, I was in a school band and learning to work equipment… and I started to find it more interesting than actually performing. The result was my working toward becoming a producer in the end. Now, after all this time, I find myself drifting into a more artistic vein.
FF: Were you partial to a particular type of music? It seems that most of the bands you produce come across sounding similar.
Martin: No, not really. My work is based on broad field experience and techniques. I find that people are more important than the music. It’s hard to explain, but people tend to gravitate toward me and I then decide to work with them. Hard work and dedication to a project are of utmost importance to me.
FF: How did you meet your co-worker, Alan Winstanley, and begin work on your studio and the entire Genetic operation?
Martin: I first met Alan back in 1976, and started working with him. He was an engineer at the time. In fact, one of the first projects we worked on together was the Buzzcock’s “Orgasm Addict” single. Alan has since started producing bands as well [Tenpole Tudor and others – JMN], bringing his talent up to the forefront. Even back then we had dreams of building our own studio the way we wanted it. In fact, the entire Genetic operation/label was all preplanned from the beginning. The artist(s) and the label as well as producer… all working together as a unit, similar to the Motown operation of years past, because I had admired it and it was effective as well. Basically an everyone-does-everything type of deal.
FF: What or who had an influence on your production style?
Martin: Actually, no one person or thing in particular; more like a bit of each of my personal experiences grouped together. I want the artist to feel like an individual, although the high production starts that a Spector had, and the caring, is in as well.
FF: How did you first become involved with Buzzcocks? How did it continue?
Martin: Back at the time when Buzzcocks were first beginning, there weren’t any producers who would touch “New Wave” – or whatever you’d like to label it – music. After hearing some of the band’s music, I realized that I didn’t want to refine their sound; I wanted to capture the real excitement of it. Unfortunately, many of the big name producers who cashed in on it all later, made the sound too slick. I guess I started producing it to defend it from being done by the wrong person. After I had done a few and people seemed to enjoy it, the band included, they’d ask, and I’d do the work.
FF: Was it raw potential you saw as well?
Martin: Yes, especially in the songwriting ability. We released “Orgasm Addict” basically because of public cult demand. “What Do I Get,” which did quite well in England, was the one I thought would break them. “Fiction Romance” has always been my favorite, though.
FF: After the breakup, how did you get involved with (just) Pete Shelley?
Martin: That’s a bit complicated. It all started after A Different Kind of Tension was finished. It was a problem for many reasons. The band had a lot of restrictions; musically, it was very limiting. The sound was so well defined. It was down so pat everyone was afraid to do something different, but I knew Pete was tired of it and wanted to branch out. I felt I was becoming redundant as a producer and although I was inspired by certain parts of the material, I didn’t really want to produce Buzzcocks again. All the subtlety in the songs had become lose.
FF: But after some time had passed, you did produce Part 3 of the singles series, “What Do You Know.” Why?
Martin: I did it as a favor to Pete, basically. He phoned me up and asked if I would. I loved the song, but there was something missing. When Peter came down to do the demos for the fourth Buzzcock album [including “Homosapien” – JMN], we were so pleased with the results, that was where the temptation for leaving began. We both knew they wouldn’t sound the same after the band did them.
FF: What end result did the two of you come to? Both of you seemed to have dabbled into electronics in the past. Was there some connection?
Martin: Actually, we saw no reason to change from the demo, period. It was a finished product. Finally, Pete had an opportunity to do it his way. I guess you could say it stemmed from both our interests in electronics, as well as available technology.
FF: With all the bands you’ve produced and all the work you have piled up, how did you come to spend a lot of time on Pete?
Martin: I think it all stems from doing Part 3 out of my love for Pete. It was actually done by the two of us in the studio. It was the forerunner of our relationship; it made quite a difference.
FF: How do you juggle the workload along with all the work involved managing Pete?
Martin: I have all the success I want. I love being involved with Pete. I am, however, looking for management; someone to join and share the work, that special third person. I mean, Pete doesn’t expect someone to look after every little thing. He feels better because he has a stronger say in everything. Maybe that was the problem with the Buzzcocks. I know there’s no simple answer. There was frustration, Pete’s depressions… Pete needed the last say in things although he felt awkward in a power position. He’s basically not a loud-mouthed leader. It’s the same problem as America tends to have in the White House. Carter and Ford were nice guys… but people find it hard to consider them power figures. They cannot lead people. And also I’ve seen, in many cases, when the drummer and bass player do not contribute, material-wise, they tend to want more of a say in the arrangement of things, maybe out of insecurity. It was pulling Pete apart.
FF: What are your future plans for Pete, career-wise?
Martin: I want Pete to become a huge star and retain his artistic credibility. Pete wouldn’t have it any other way. I want his work out in the open so many people can appreciate it.
FF: Any additional comments?
Martin: We’ve got many exciting plans for the new year, including live shows, videos, and whatever else comes along and catches our fancy, and which we find is interesting. We’re going to do it right this time. The future is very, very bright.