Wednesday, June 5, 2019

JOHN COUGAR MELLENCAMP: Hoosier Hysteria [1982]

Text by Cary Baker / FFanzeen, 1982
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2019
Images from the Internet

This interview was published in FFanzeen, issue #9, dated 1982, by then-Chicago-based writer, Cary Baker.

When this was first printed, he was just John Cougar, and Jack and Diane were still in his future. While I’ve never been a Mellenhead, and always considered him a depressive Springsteen wanna-be (to me, both are overrated, but see below), I respect the work he’s done, considering he rose from the ranks of the MainMan label splitting record sides with the likes of Cindy Bullens, to the small Hoosier label Gulcher, and then onto an international stage. – Robert Barry Francos, 2019
* * *

We catch up with John Cougar in the environment we’re told he feels most at home – among hundreds of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. We browse through a Harley dealer, located on the fringes of a massive car dealership row that could be one of thousands of such stretches between Van Nuys and Norfolk. But John has selected his dream toy: a black beauty listing for $7,000 to add to his present menagerie of bikes.

“I’m gonna get me one of these and put new jammer parts on it, and paint over that emblem. You know it’s a Harley – you don’t have to advertise it.”

From the street we hear a deafening VAROOM!

“Hear that?” he asks. “That’s a Harley. I don’t even have to look. It ain’t like a Suzuki, which goes RRINGG. That’s not thrilling. It’s like, if you had the chance to see Gene Vincent or Bobby Rydell, who would you go see?”

John Cougar takes his ride as seriously as his rock. And with his unequivocal small-town veneer – a rube’s voice that presumes him sooner a native of Raleigh then Seymour, Indiana – we don’t doubt the rough and tumble nature of his songs come from real-life experience. In that sense, he’s a true rock populist, a neo-Buddy Holly whose side of the Mason-Dixon Line is at first uncertain. But Cougar, who speaks with an emphatic drawl and in often too-emphatic language, will be the first to point out he’s no different than any other self-respecting Harley rider. His self-image appears to be one of a sated Hoosier, the one-in-a-million who clicked.

“I’m no songwriter,” he says. “When you say writer, you’re assuming you’ve got something to say. What did “I Need a Lover Who Won’t Drive Me Crazy” say? It didn’t say shit. Now Tennessee Williams was a writer. Let’s give credit where credit is due.

“I string some words together. Kids and people my age might like it, but what I’m really doing is communicating. There’s nothing wrong with communicating, but it’s a whole different thing from writing.

“I write about very insignificant parts of life. I ain’t got nothing to say that you don’t already know. I may refresh your memory; but some of these cats are heavy fuckin’ writers and I don’t want that responsibility on my shoulders.”

We mention Dylan, Lennon and McCartney, and Cougar is reticent to acknowledge their place in rock’s annals, save for some early Dylan perhaps. He stops to consider our suggestion that after five years of Fabianism, Meet the Beatles was easily on par with A Streetcar Named Desire.

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” he acknowledges, “but I mean, ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’? If somebody wrote that song now, we’d probably never hear it!”

John Cougar, nee John Mellencamp, is a youthful 30. His styled, not-exactly-punkish black hair reveals sprigs of silver. The eyes are oceanic blue and intense. The perennial 5:00 shadow is in full-bloom at 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon. Within two minutes of sitting down with him at McDonald’s across the street from the bike dealer, there’s no mistaking him for an urbanite. Even a few years of ripening in Europe and the dubious tutelage of David Bowie’s ex-manager haven’t changed his headstrong outlook.

John Cougar, you might recall, started out as a hype. He’d straggled into Tony DeFries’ MainMan Productions around 1975, “where everyone looked like Bowie.” DeFries was about to lose his paramount client and it wouldn’t have hurt to prove he could do it again. Enter the then-23-year-old Mellencamp of Seymour, and soon there was an album on MCA that displayed little more integrity than More of the Monkees.

“I had a year’s unemployment coming, right?” he shrugs. So why not use it to become a star? MainMan even staged a “Johnny Cougar Day” one nippy October afternoon in Seymour, Indiana [2 hours west of Cincinnati, OH – RBF, 2019], and wondered why half of Soho didn’t turn out.

But Johnny Cougar, MainMan and the MCA deal weren't terribly long-lived. Not exactly crushed, Mellencamp headed for London where he spent two years. Eventually, he teamed with producer John Punter, a Roxy Music alumnus, and cut “I Need a Lover Who Won’t Drive Me Crazy.” The song caught fire, so he returned to these shores, inked with the Riva division of PolyGram and cut an album around his hit. He also shed his pristine “next-Bowie” image, adding that, “what you’re seeing now is the way I’ve been from the start.” What then? “I got lazy.” But by that time, the real starmaker machinery was in motion and “I Need” was safe in bed with AOR.

The next Riva album may not have panned out to be the smash its predecessor was, but well-espoused the philosophy of John Cougar. It’s title: Nothing Maters and What If It Did?

“I’ve learned it’s not really important that everyone likes John Cougar. People’s opinions aren’t that important, not even mine. The good news, though, is that the music’s still gotta be good for people to buy it.”

We cite Christopher Cross as an example to the contrary.

“I don’t like him either and if I hear that ‘Arthur’ record again, I’m gonna puke. But there are 35-year-old women out there and I’m not gonna be the one to tell ‘em they’re crazy for liking Christopher Cross ‘cause they ain’t.”

Cougar’s populist image becomes intensified or deflated, depending on how one views populism, when Cougar insists his songs are written for him alone.

“I don’t write songs for the people. They’re for me. I don’t really think about them being hits. I could be a hit by selling cocaine. You and me could be rich and famous much quicker and with more leisure than this job!”

What, we query, would happen if Riva Records one day decided, “Sorry, John-boy, you’re too personal and esoteric for today’s marketplace?”

“I couldn’t leave the record company now,” he says. “I already tried and they said, ‘That will cost you $5-1/2 million’.”

But what happens – God forbid – when obsolesces does rear its ugly head and John’s washed up? [Note: He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, the Americana Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010, the ASCAP Founders Award in 2016, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018, among many others – RBF, 2019.]

“Oh, I’ve got job security,” he chimes. “When I get tired of makin’ records, I have another job I can do. I know this business inside and out.”

He points to the PolyGram promotion rep.

“I know what he should be doing. I know what his boss should be doing, and when they’re screwed up. I met this Atlanta guy who’s the man if you wanna get on the radio – and let’s face it, you’re nowhere if you’re not on the radio. If I’d met this guy five years ago, I’d’ve quit the business.”

He does a mocking imitation of a radio programming mogul.

“’You mess with him and your records won’t be on the radio.’ But I’m at a point where I mess with him and get away with it.”

John Cougar, his “old lady” and the “the kids” presently reside in Bloomington, Indiana, “The Gulch” – quieter then New York or London, but “not as embarrassing as living in Seymour.” A college city with a music scene that now and again dents the national consciousness, Cougar claims the locals know him and accept him as a burgher.

“”They see me so much there that they say, ‘Oh, there’s that guy who makes records.’ They all know I live there so it’s not any big deal,” he says.

A typical off-the-road day for John Cougar might begin with “a few business phone calls to check in. then I might smoke some cigarettes, sit around for a bit, talk to the old lady, play with the kids and ride my Harley to the lake and back.”

Cougar probably loves his Harley as much as he does music or the aforesaid old lady [second wife Victoria Granucci at the time, but he’s been married more times since, and linked to a few others, including Meg Ryan – RBF, 2019].

“I ain’t one of these guys carryin’ guns, rapin’ women and shit like that. There are some who ride to heaven – or to hell, whichever they choose – and back. For me, it’s just a hobby outside music.”

We ask what kind of music he does listen to at home, only to elicit a rather surprising response.

“I’m into Paul Rodgers [lead singer for Bad Company and Free – CB, 1982]. I went into a record store to buy a Free tape last week; I’ve had the record for 15 years. I told the guy at the counter, “It tested out; telephone response has been great over the last ten years, so I’m buying it.” Another jab at radio.

Cougar is hardly considered villainous to New Wavers, but he personally deplores trendiness – a category, which by his standards, includes Bruce Springsteen, a singer with whom he’s been exhaustively compared. “He does have a little integrity left,” he shrugs. “I wonder how long that’ll last [try getting a Springsteen on Broadway ticket in 2018, ‘nuff said – RBF, 2019].

“But I make a point out of not being hip. I’m not into Bow Wow Wow. But don’t get me wrong – that’s only my opinion. If the kids are into it, great for the kids. If the song is good, I could care if they have mohawks. I had one once when I was a freshman in high school as an initiation. And I cut it all off the next day. Mohawks ain’t new to me – I had one for one day in 1967!”

His comment is silenced by the thunderclap of a bike pulling into the dealer’s parking lot.

“You know,” he says, “All the guys who ride Harleys even look alike. It’s a little like punk rock…”

Cougar obviously hasn’t seen the customer – squat, brawny, balding, faded denim jacket, chains, like a Hell’s Angel 12 years after Altamont.

Savoring the $7,000 bike he’s decided he’ll eventually own, Cougar gives a sheepish grin.

“Well, maybe we don’t all look alike.”

Sunday, May 5, 2019

MAD ORPHANS / LOVELIES: Music with Style [1988]

Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen, 1988
Introduction/live photo © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2019
Other images from the Internet

This interview with Cynthia Sley was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #15, dated 1988. It was conducted and written by FFanzeen Manager Editor, Julia Masi.
The Mad Orphans quickly morphed into the Lovelies, and recorded an album titled Mad Orphan in 1988. I had the opportunity to hang out with then-married Cynthia Sley (of the Bush Tetras) and Ivan Julian (previously in the Voidoids) during a taping of cable access show Videowave around the time of this interview. They are talented Art Rock musicians who deserve more recognition than they have received. Cynthia, meanwhile, has been back in a revitalized version of the Bush Tetras and Ivan continues to write a produce his and others’ music at his recording studio, NY HED. – Robert Barry Francos, 2019
Ivan and Cynthia, Videowave (pic by RBF)
“You can have so much fun with images,” sighs Cynthia Sley, as she sips champagne and bananas, and recalls the night she and her band, the Mad Orphans, played a gig dressed as priests.

It was during a period where New York City clubs were experiencing such rapid personnel changes that that whoever hired a band to play was long gone by the night of the gig, and his predecessor would go out of his way to swindle the band. “I thought it would be really great if we dressed like priests, as a real intimidating force coming in. We did really well and a lot of people came. So, I felt like I blessed the gig,” she quips.

Cynthia is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, who initially came to New York to be a fashion designer. She did work in fashion for a while. But while out in New York clubs with musicians she knew from her hometown, she was persuaded to join the band the Bush Tetras [see FFanzeen article about the Bush Tetras HERE – RBF, 2019]. They became successful very quickly and Cynthia suddenly found herself with a new career as a singer.

The way she sees it, music and fashion are closely related and often influence each other. “It’s easier to see in a place like London. You can tell by the magazines. All the magazines are being taken over by fashion. I live in the East Village [which is] like the heart of it. I see Yuppies dressing like real hipsters by night. Totally decked out! There are all these people walking around with the right clothes. They [the clothes] look great but they [the people] look so uncomfortable in their clothes. I try to figure out why they’ve got on what they’ve got on. It’s really weird. I notice it all the time.”

And she experiments with fashion all the time.

Cynthia spends hours conjuring up outrageous outfits for herself and the band to wear onstage. She admits that she tries to coordinate their outfits to the atmosphere of the club that they’re playing in, but it’s obvious that other influences, perhaps even National Geographic, work their way into her costumes. There have been nights when she has wrapped at least 20 things around her head, including a flashlight, to make a turban. “I gradually take things off and I go absolutely out of my mind. At the end of the gig when we do this Led Zeppelin song, ‘Communication Breakdown,’ I completely bug out. I start out really controlled, then I gradually freak out. If I wear something that I think is really outrageous, then it spurs me on to be really out of my mind.

“I think that’s how you have fun. I think that’s how most people do it. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they’re all dispassionate about it. If you’re gonna go up there and do it, you might as well go all the way. It’s like having sex.”

Musically, as well as visually, the band likes to pull out all the stops. Ivan Julian writes all of the music. Cynthia frequently contributes lyrics for new songs. The Mad Orphans’ repertoire also includes some of the songs Ivan has written with previous bands, including Shriekback and the Lovelies.

Their songs, such as “Men so Brave,” “You Don’t Know,” and “Overflow,” lean toward illustrative lyrics loaded with personal politics. They show a vibrant curiosity and sympathetic flair for people trying to find their niche or express their individuality. Musically, Cynthia sees them as “rock, but funk rock.” But most of their fans would probably prefer to simply label them a good live band.

One of the band’s primary goals is to be able to write songs comfortably for a long period of time. “It’s great when you start a band and you write these songs. But, you want to get it to a point beyond that, where you keep writing because you have this chemistry that you’re building. It’s hard to find. That’s what we’ve been working on, keeping the chemistry going.

“But you have to wait for something to happen. You have to keep yourself alive until then. I’m pretty practical. I know what it takes to get a record deal. At least Ivan and I have some kind of reputation.”

Sometimes Cynthia waxes nostalgic about the old days when she was growing up in Ohio, studying art, mostly on scholarships, and going to see bands. “I would see a band every week. My old bass player [in the Bush Tetras, Laura Kennedy; d. 2011 – RBF, 2019] and I used to go out every Thursday night, or whatever it was, to see a band. And they were great bands.”

She recalls seeing David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust tour, the Dead Boys, the Waitresses and Pere Ubu. “I realize now that there was this huge scene there. But we were the only ones who danced. We would get dressed up – really ridiculous – put the streak in our hair or something. It was really hard to be a punk there. The music was always really great.”

Her early days in New York were also happy ones until the old club scene fizzled out. “I used to think it was gradual. Everything kind of turned towards money, especially in New York. I think it’s really money-oriented now, where it used to be experimental. But, in a way, that’s good in itself: experimental music will become lucrative now because people will really want it soon. There are so many drum machines and so much of this certain thing that’s happening. I listen to the radio very day, and most of the Top 40 all sounds the same. But there are some good things coming out. It’s a gradual change. I don’t know… things go like that… in waves.

“Like in the ‘70s, it’s really wild. There are a lot of really great things out there. I think it’s gonna be a really big turnaround over the next couple of years, where fashion won’t really have as much influence on music. Things will get more experimental. They have to. It’s more passionate.”

She sees music going further into the dance scene and hopes that the Mad Orphans “get a little wilder. I think having Ivan play guitar makes it pretty wild. It gives a difference to it. I’ve never really played with someone like him. I’ve played with great guitar players but there’s something that seems more commercial about his playing, to me.”

And, of course, with Cynthia’s artistic background, the band looks forward to working in video. “There’s so much to do with it. It’s a great thing. I want to make a low budget, really wild video, like The Mr. Bill Show. I like things that are really off the wall.”

Presently, however, the band has one pressing thing on their minds: “All we have to do is make a record.” Well, Cynthia, your fans hope you do it soon.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Review: k.d. lang: Ingénue Redux, Live from the Majestic Theatre

Text © Richard Gary / FFanzeen, 2019
Images from the Internet

k.d. lang: Ingénue Redux, Live from the Majestic Theatre
Directed by Daniel E. Catullo III
City Drive Group / Landmarks Live / MVD Video
103 minutes / 2019

I had seen k.d. lang perform live once, at Radio City Music Hall probably at least 20 years ago now. Her voice was as pure then as it was when she first released her infamous Ingénue album that made her a worldwide superstar. Now it’s trendy to go back and do your breakthrough LP from start to finish before an audience. The Stooges and the Heartbreakers (what’s left of both those bands with new recruits) did the same thing. But lang’s voice is still smooth as buttah, and perfectly in tone; her voice seems ageless.

This was recorded at the grand Majestic Theater in San Antonio, Texas. It’s one of those beautiful old showcases with a huge stage, and there is lang in bare feet and her trademark pants suit over a white shirt. This was recorded in 2017, which is the 25th Anniversary of the album, having been released in 1992 (for those who don’t want to do the math).

The broad curtains open and lang starts right in with “Save Me.” No need for introductions, we all know why we are here. She begins with the trappings of country, relying on the bridge of the steel pedal because that’s her roots, but lang manages to transcend that sound with lyrics that are full of emotion.

She does not merely present the songs, she emotes them, continuing to give them life. This is why she is such a strong performer more than a quarter of a century on in her fame. With no idle banter between songs, she slides into the jazzier “Mind of Love.” This song, as is most on the album, is full of longing and desire that touched a nerve, no matter what the gender.

Next up is arguably one of her biggest hits that still get airplay all this time later, “Miss Chatelaine.” With a Quebec French rhythm thanks to an accordion, our big boned girl shows a more playful side by dancing across the stage to the rhythm. The first view we get of the audience is them giving a standing ovation for the song, and I would say her onstage performance, as well. It’s also the first time she addresses the audience as she catches her breath. She describes Ingénue as a “meditative record on romance.”

This makes sense with the slow ballad of “Wash Me Clean,” as desire coils ever tighter until it nearly explodes. Rather than loosening up the reins, our Albertan cowgirl of the Prairies tightens her grip even stronger with “So It Shall Be,” bringing back the steel pedal for emphasis. With some Latin jazz tones, she keeps the pressure up with “Still Thrives This Love,” adding an element of what I can only describe as “pebble” lighting across the wide stage.

“Reason of Hollow Soul” brings it back to a slow ballad, comparing love to a dying tree and its living descendants. It leads into a beautiful piano soliloquy that bridges the song with “Outside Myself,” and gives lang a chance to rest her voice. “OM” is more of a throwback torch song with a hint of different styles flowing through it, but without the group of musicians, I could imagine someone singing it laying on a piano. She just as smoothly slides into the lovely “Tears of Lover’s Recall,” which branches into to another instrumental extravaganza with a piano focus.

It’s not a huge ensemble, but we do get to see them showing their individual chops, including the bass, piano, two guitars, drums, a pair of background vocalists, and of course that steel pedal. Often lang interacts with the musicians directly. The lighting is almost part of the show as well, focusing often on primary colors red, yellow and especially blue. It certainly adds to the mood of the songs and is well chosen.

Of course the key part of the concert ends (pre-encore) with possibly her biggest hit, “Constant Cravings,” which I still often hear over supermarket and store PA systems. I don’t know what else to add about this song whose chorus has been an ear worm to so many, but it is such a schmaltzy sound (meant as a compliment). The bridge is given a nice rocked out sound, which actually works quite well.

As the end of the program proper, lang introduces the band with some obviously pre-written bander about each member. Most of it is pretty amusing, although it does go on a bit long.

As a first encore (though she never leaves the stage), lang also dives into “Honey and Smoke,” which has a mild ‘60s pop feel to it, probably due to the influences of her co-writers, including Nekko Case. For “I Dream of Spring,” being from Alberta, it’s not hard to imagine what is the thought behind the song (which is actually written by her bassist). It is noteworthy that this is the first and only time that lang picks up an instrument herself – an acoustic guitar – and plays along with the band.

She finishes off the set with covers by three Canadian songwriters, by moving to Joni Mitchell’s amazing “Help Me.” It’s truly hard to do justice to this song, which seems to be such a good fit for Mitchell’s staccato yodel, but lang emotes so well to it. With Neil Young’s “Helpless,” she does more of a job by remaking it in her own smooth style; Young is great, but no one would call his music smooth.

For the last of the trio, of course there’s Leonard Cohen’s monster, “Hallelujah,” which she also had a hit with, and rightfully so. I’d go as far as to say that other than Cohen, hers is the definitive version; this song has been covered by so many people so that’s saying a lot.

When lang and the band return to an obvious loud round of applause, she does the uplifting “Sing It Loud,” and the sleepy, schmaltzy (again, a compliment) and romantic “Sleeping Alone.”

The HD is quite amazing. Crystal clear images, especially near the end where the camera is behind lang and faces the standing audience. You can practically see the nostril hairs on someone in the back row. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but what you can see quite clearly is the blue glows of the cell phones as audience members record the show.

The one extra (other than stereo choice and chapters) is a 30-minute interview with lang by James Reed. He asks her some wonderfully insightful questions about her relationship to the music after all these years, what it’s like to perform them, why the Majestic Theater, and especially about her sexuality. This album was released about the time of her coming out, and I certainly remember the “is she?” / “isn’t she?” topic was big around the time this was originally released, thanks in part of a picture of her sensually being shaved by supermodel Cindy Crawford.

Anyway, this is a glorious show on many levels, be it musically, visually, and topically.

Song List from Ingénue:
Save Me
Mind of Love
Miss Chatelaine
Wash Me Clean
So It Shall Be
Still Thrives This Love
Reason of Hollow Soul
Outside Myself
Tears of Lover’s Recall
Constant Craving
Encore 1:
Honey and Smoke
I Dream of Spring
Help Me
Encore 2:
Sing it Loud
Sleeping Alone


Friday, April 5, 2019

ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN: Musical Echo-Echo-Echo [1981]

Text by David G. / FFanzeen, 1981
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2019
Images from the Internet
There are no ads on this page, so no compensation is made for image use

This interview was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #8, dated 1981. It was written by David G.

To be honest, I was totally unmoved by the whole New Psychedelia sound like this band, the Smith, Joy Division, the Teardrop Explodes, etc. as it always seemed so over-processed; in other words, it was everything that drove me to the striped down, bare sounds of punk. However, David G. was (is?) a musician, and he quite fancied the esoterica of bands like this and Snakefinger (who he also interviewed for FFanzeen). That made him a good choice to interview the band. – RBF, 2016

Echo and the Bunnymen are looking for answers, though they’re not sure of the questions. As part of an alleged “Liverpool Revival,” they share, with follow Liverpudlians the Teardrop Explodes, a fascination with Jim Morrison; but whereas Teardrop’s Julian Cope opts for the romantic pop of “Love Street,” Bunnyman Ian “Mac” McCulloch prefers to delve into the ominous ambiguity of “The End.” While the Bunnymen – Les Pattinson on bass, Will Sergeant guitar, and Pete de Freitas [d. 1989, at age 27, in a motorcycle accident – RBF, 2019] on drums – churn out a taught, rhythmic, sometimes brutal, usually hypnotic backdrop, Mac sings about feelings that we all share: anticipation, disappointment, disillusion, triumph. His lyrics, although extremely vague on the surface, always manage to frame real emotions. When he sings, “It appeals because it’s what I feel,” he means it.

The Bunnymen have somewhat of a reputation for being difficult. I found them to be friendly, witty and, although a little bored from a long afternoon of interviews, fairly talkative. Pete seems the most reflective and cautious while Les and Mac don’t hesitate to say what’s on their minds. Will kind of drifted in and out of the conversation. They’ve been called arrogant (especially Mac), and while they do tend to be a little into themselves (especially Mac), it’s in a warm, almost self-depreciatory sort of way. Their charming Liverpool accents tend to help quite a bit.

Due to scheduling problems, I was “given” (record company promo lingo) Les and Will to talk to, with the promise that Mac and Pete would join us after. Things got off to a slow start as I followed several false leads (including an inquiry about the band’s supposed interest in Apocalypse Now!, a film Mac hadn’t even seen). It picked up a little when I hit upon Will’s fascination with Star Trek (his favorite episode is “The Menagerie”). After a lengthy discussion on the subject, I popped my first big question:

FFanzeen: Will, you’ve been playing guitar for two years –
Will Sergeant: Two and a half.

FFanzeen: Tom Verlaine is a big influence, isn’t he?
Will: Probably, yeah. We just seen Tom Verlaine. I’m really choked, ‘cause he’s my big hero. He was just walking down the street.
Les Pattinson: I thought he was, like, really an exclusive person. You never hardly see him; he never comes out.
Will: We’ve been told that he’s really like a hermit type; you know, that he doesn’t come out.

FFanzeen: Besides Verlaine, who else do you listen to?
Will: Just the Velvets, the Doors. Les likes Love.

FFanzeen: And Lou Christie.         
Les: [shocked] How did you find out about that as well? Well, only, like, selected things of Lou Christie –
Will: “Guitar and Bongos.”
Les: Yeah, “Guitar and Bongos.” It was just like a passing thing, something to say, ‘cause nobody’s ever really heard of him.

FFanzeen: All of your influences are integrated pretty well into your music. How does your material come about?
Les: Mac writes all of the lyrics, apart from “Happy Death Men,” which Will wrote. The usual way a song comes up is, we’ll be in rehearsal and we just start jamming, you know, and we come up with a song or a riff and work on that and try and get it to a near enough normal arrangement; and then Mac will go away and see what kind of, uh, you know, song he can kind of come up with. He likes to listen to the music first, and try and get the right, sort of like, vibrations off it, and then he’ll try to put words to it. It’s usually the best way.

FFanzeen: You originally worked as a three piece, with a rhythm box, but no drummer.
Will: Yeah, for a whole year.

FFanzeen: Which records have that line-up on them?
Les: “Pictures on my Wall.” That was the first single we did, on the Zoo, an independent label. And then, just before we got the major record deal [Korova Records / Warner Music Group – RBF, 2019], we got Pete in, who’s the drummer.
Will: We didn’t want to do the album with a drum machine.
Les: It’s pretty limited.
Will: There’s two songs on the new album with drum machine featured.
Les: But also, it was getting kind of, like, hip to have a drum machine then, so we phased it out. A drummer is more dynamic. It really boosted the songs.

FFanzeen: Julian Cope has commented that he thinks that your songs are kind of one-dimensional, rhythmically. Do you think that might have to do with them being developed with a rhythm machine?
Les: I don’t know. I think his songs are like that, actually.
Will: [snidely] I don’t think about them.

FFanzeen: You were originally supposed to make your American debut several months ago. What happened?
Les: We couldn’t get visas.

FFanzeen: Did a lot of bands experience the same problems at that time?
Will: There’s a lot of rumors flying round that there was too many bands going to the States at that time; there was, like, Madness, the Fall and a lot of others, you know, so a little rumor started flying round that they’re not letting any more in.

FFanzeen: Sounds ridiculous.
Will: Just fuck-ups. Just bad organization.
Les: Left to the last minute.

FFanzeen: What were you guys going before Echo?
Les: I was a cook.
Will: And I was building boats; repairing boats, you know.

FFanzeen: At that time, Mac was working with other area musicians, right?
Will: Not working. It was just something to do while he was on the dole. Like, the reason he got kicked out is ‘cause he never turned up half the time. Like, he never used to turn up to us; like, he’s always late for a gig, and, like, we’re sort of stuck with it, you know, but they didn’t stick it and they just kicked him out. That was Teardrop [before Echo, Mac worked with Julian Cope in a band that became the Teardrop Explodes – DG, 1981]. It’s just that he’s constantly late all the time.

FFanzeen: He’s still late?
Will: He’s late now, isn’t he?

FFanzeen: He’s supposedly finishing up another interview.
Will: Yeah, but he probably started that late!
Les: We go around to his house, you know, and pick him up, and you can just add a half hour to an hour to what time he’s supposed to be ready, ‘cause he’s asleep.

FFanzeen: I get the impression that Mac spends a lot of time apart from the band.
Will: Only ‘cause he’s got a girlfriend. He’s always with her, and once he’s with her, he doesn’t say anything; he just stays with her.
Les: When we’re not working, we’re not really together; unless we go out together, you know?

FFanzeen: Why the long delay between the U.S. and English release of Crocodiles [their first LP in 1980 – RBF, 2019]? You must have a new album ready by now.
Les: I think we were just rehearsing it when our first album got released here.
Will: It’s stupid; another cop-up.
Les: Yeah, that’s another band organization thing, ‘cause we’re just in the middle of mixing it when we had to come out here; you now, the time schedule was all wrong.

FFanzeen: So this tour is supposedly to support Crocodiles?
Will: Supposedly, but we’re hardly playing anything off it.

FFanzeen: So you’re doing a lot of new stuff?
Les: Yeah.
Will: I’m sick of Crocodiles.
Les: I think there’s about four songs that we do that’s off the old album, the first LP.

FFanzeen: Will the new album [Heaven Up Here, 1981 – RBF, 2019] have all those atmospheric keyboards and percussion that Crocodiles had?
Les: Well, that was mainly Dave Balfe – Dave Balfe and Bill Drummond – the Chameleons. He kind of, like, adds keyboards to everything he can get his hands on.
Will: Yeah, there would have been a lot more keyboards on that, but we were just arguing all the time, like close to fights and things.
Les: I’m always worried. Like recording things that we don’t do live.
Will: There’s a bit of keyboards on the new album, but we played it ourselves, just little odds and ends; nothing much, just mainly little atmospheric bits, like you said.

FFanzeen: You must be sick of all the Doors references to your music.
Will: Yeah. We’re not sick of the Doors, but we are getting a bit sick of all the references, yeah.
Les: The people who come backstage after we’ve finished live are saying that they don’t see – they can’t see – any references at all; they can’t see anything in it. They just say that it’s just the new thing, you know, we’ve broken away from it.

FFanzeen: What’s the state of Zoo Records?
Les: That’s just management; they manage us…

FFanzeen: There’s still going to be records, aren’t there?
Les: Yeah, there’s odd little things coming out.
Will: There’s a Scott Walker compilation coming out.

FFanzeen: Who’s Scott Walker?
Will: [surprised] Who’s Scott Walker?!
Les: From the Walker Brothers [“The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” – Ed., 1981]  You never heard of them?

FFanzeen: I thought they were a cough drop.
Les: I guess they’re only English.
Will: Well, you know Julian in Teardrop? He’s one of his main influences. He loves Scott Walker and he’s made a compilation up, and they’ve got it licensed and they’re going to put it out on Zoo.
Les: Will’s also going to do a solo album.
Will: On Zoo. It’s only going to be done on a four-track, though.

FFanzeen: How far along are you?
Will: I got, like, one song.

FFanzeen: Recorded or planned?
Will: Recorded, more or less.
Les: I’ve heard some of his ideas and they’re good. He’s got lots of ideas.

FFanzeen: How come you can’t use them within the Echo framework?
Will: Well, I quite like experimental stuff and it doesn’t work in the Bunnymen. I like the Residents and things like that. The newer stuff I don’t like, but like Fingerprince, and all that stuff is good.
Les: I like Not Available.
Will: Not Available, yeah, and Eskimo. Don’t like the Commercial Album very much.
Les: Usually, when we’re waiting to go somewhere – somewhere ridiculous at like 5 o’clock in the morning – we all, like, pile ‘round to Will’s house and put Eskimo on in the dark. With a blanket on.

FFanzeen: One of your press releases says that your album should be played in the dark.
Les: Yeah, a lot of people say the best time to play it is when the sun is going down.

[Mac and Pete finally arrive]

FFanzeen: Mac, can you tell me a little bit about this Liverpool Scene that you’re a part of – or should I say, the leader of?
Ian “Mac” McCulloch: that’s more like it.

FFanzeen: Did it start with Clive Langer and Deaf School?
Mac: That’s where one thing ended, really. It’s like a throwback to something else. That was good-time music; Deaf School was like pure theatre – good times, but like no seriousness in it, and when we started, things became a bit more serious. And Liverpool’s like that now. It’s pathetic. A few years ago the same people would go and watch the Accelerators or something, and like them.

FFanzeen: But is there any kind of a scene? Do various group members hang out with each other and things?
Will: Knife each other.
Les: There were just a lot of bands that started in one place at one time. It’s not bad now, but it was pretty intense at one time, so I suppose people said there was a scene there.
Mac: Well, I mean if the initial bands, like us and Teardrop and Orchestral Manoeuvres, hadn’t of gotten good press then the other bands wouldn’t have bothered forming. It was only, like, because these band like us were getting good reviews that they all thought, “Well, may as well form a band,” because they were always content every weekend to just go out and see Leeds bands and things; but now it’s okay.
Pete de Freitas: Like in the beginning, it strikes me, there was some kind of – I don’t know – we used to hang around with the Teardrops and, I know don’t what it was like before I joined, but even Pete Wylie [another former mate of Mac and Julian Cope, now in Wah! Heat – DG, 1981] didn’t seem like so much of an enemy then.
Mac: We did used to hang out with each other.

FFanzeen: It seems to me that the essence of a “scene” is a sort of “familial” feeling between the bands or artists, or whatever.
Mac: It’s not like we swap instruments and say, “Come and boogie with us tonight,” not like I imagine New York to be.

FFanzeen: It’s not really like that here, except for a few bands.
Mac: It used to be like that, with Patti Smith and all that.

FFanzeen: Well, I keep reading about this feud between you and Julian Cope, the Teardrops, Pete Wylie… I don’t know if you want to talk about it.
Will: [grumbling] No.
Mac: It’s them begin petty. We really like each other.
Pete: It’s like, more than anything, it was just because, as the bands were growing up or something, they began to pull apart – I think musically more than anything – and, as that happened, it sort of happened friendship-wise as well. But now it’s like all pretty friendly, really.
Les: Yeah, you only need to say one bad thing in an interview, you know, one little teaser.

FFanzeen: You all still live in Liverpool. Don’t you run into each other?
Pete: We don’t see a lot of each other because, when we’re there, they’re somewhere else.
Mac: Julian’s usually jet-setting around the world.

FFanzeen: He says the same thing about you.
Mac: What, jet-setting? He’s the one with the money.

FFanzeen: In the article I read, he was making references to the whole “rock star” image, and accusing you of it.
Mac: That’s exactly what he is.
Will: He goes down to the Zanzibar in London.
Mac: He’s just playing up to that pop star role. It’s depressing.
Will: That’s just what he wants to be, I think.
Mac: And he accused me of that?
Will: Let’s go get him!
Mac: That’s just pathetic, and he knows it.

FFanzeen: I think that, realistically, there has to be some element of an attitude if you want to be a musician, or else you’d be a clerk or something. You wouldn’t wear your hair the way you do.
Mac: [stroking a rather flattened quiff] It’s not like it should be.
Will: My hair was longer than this when I was working as a cook. It used to drip in the chips pan.
Les: You weren’t a “Ted” then, were you.

FFanzeen: We’ve already covered the so-called Liverpool Scene. What about the “Psychedelic Revival,” which you’re also supposed to be a part of?
Les: There’s a revival going on?

FFanzeen: Well, bands like the Psychedelic Furs – by virtue of their name alone – Echo, Teardrop, U2, etc., are oft being mentioned in the same sentence as making up a psychedelic revival in England.
Will: Well, that’s what (the magazines) are saying, isn’t it? It’s got nothing to do with us. Just shows you how stupid it is. Just don’t buy them anymore. That’s the best thing to do to them.
Mac: I mean, we’re the only ones who could possibly be, if you see what I mean [not really – DG, 1981].
Pete: I’ve always seen U2 as more like –
Will: – Early ‘70s rock. It’s like – err – bland.
Pete: I think it’s impossible to lump the various bands together and put them under one title, which isn’t even accurate anyway; it’s, like, pretty stupid.
Mac: I hate being labeled with bands, especially U2; you know, early ‘70s (British Prog rock band) Barclay James Harvest or something.

FFanzeen: There are some similarities between you and Teardrop. A friend of mine describes you as being the masculine, and Teardrop the feminine side of the same musical coin.
Les: We’re, uh, the truthful side, if you get into things like that.
Mac: They come over like a bunch of stylish kids. And they’re just a show band. The feminine side? I’ll agree with that.

FFanzeen: Mac, I hear a lot of Iggy Pop, Jim Morrison and Tom Verlaine in your singing –
Mac: Did you ever hear any Ian McCulloch in it?

FFanzeen: Well, yeah.
Mac: [snidely] That’s okay.
Les: It’s just so easy to make comparisons rather than having to think about what it is.
Mac: The Tom Verlaine one’s interesting though. I’d prefer that than, you know, the others.

FFanzeen: There seem to be a few similar themes running through most of your lyrics. Do you write about things that happen to you, or do you just make things up?
Mac: The first album was, like, I’d do observational lyrics; like “Pictures” was about just an observation of a mood and of a potential situation, or something like it, without being specific. It’s just like a mood thing. Like, most of the first album was like that. There are, like, specific things that I’m writing about, but I don’t specify what they are in the lyrics, and I don’t when people ask me to.

FFanzeen: The mood I get from your lyrics is one of simultaneous discovery and disappointment, expectations, the pressure of living, etc.
Mac: Yeah, there is that. But then I’ve cheered up in the last year, and the new album is totally different. I’ll stick lines in there that just sound right. I mean, they don’t necessarily fit in the concept of the whole song, but they’ll fit on the sound level; they’ll just sound right. And, I mean, there’s a lot more free form. Well, it’s not free form – I don’t know – it’s just, it’s not free form at all, I just stick things in that I feel like. On the new album, it’s a lot happier, as well.

FFanzeen: There seems to be a lot of animal names associated with you. Is there any purpose to them?
Mac: It’s just coincidence. We didn’t realize there were so many animal names and references, but there’s, like, the Chameleons, Zoo, Crocodiles, Bunnymen –
Les: People could think that all one word titles and animal stuff is pretty unusual and think, “How pretentious!”
Mac: Yeah, but I mean, we’re never pretentious. We can’t be; it’s too hard to be pretentious. We are on the film.
Les: Yeah, I mean, when we spoke French together!

FFanzeen: I read about the film (Shine so Hard, directed by John Smith – DG, 1981]. It’s not one of those one song videos, is it?
Pete: It’s got about five or six songs on it; five live tracks. Most of Pride is on it. The live filming stuff’s pretty good. It’s about 30-minutes long and it’s finished, and there’s not really a lot to say about it.
Les: There’s a lead-in to the live stuff that we don’t like at all, you know, pretty embarrassing.

FFanzeen: Are those the specific sequences that are supposed to represent the personality of each one of you?
Les: Yeah, those are the bad bits.

FFanzeen: How much say did the band have in what went into each sequence? Was it one of those “I’m the director and you do what I say” numbers?
Les: Sort of.
Mac: I don’t think the director was thinking, “This is a masterpiece,” or anything. He thought that we probably really liked what was happening. It just didn’t turn out that way. I don’t know, it was one of those things; you make a mistake, and you learn by it.

FFanzeen: Will it be shown, despite your objections?
Mac: They’re just trying to get some distribution crap going, but we really don’t want it to be distributed. Bill Butt [who photographed the cover of Crocodiles – DG, 1981] was meant to be directing it at first; it was his idea. I just feel really trapped. I don’t know what to say when they go on about, “We can get it distributed in Switzerland,” or whatever, and sometimes I just don’t feel like saying, “I don’t want you to, ‘cause I don’t like it,” ‘cause I mean, people worked hard on it.

FFanzeen: Getting back to your songs, is there an interesting story behind “Villiers Terrace”? 
Mac: There is an interesting story behind it. Do ya wanna know?

FFanzeen: Well, I asked.
Mac: It’s about Adolf Hitler.

FFanzeen: Is it?
Les: Yeah.
Will: Or A-dolf, as we prefer to call him.
Mac: Adie; he’s a good friend.

FFanzeen: What made you go and write a song about “Adie”?
Mac: Uh, he seemed like quite an interesting bloke to write a song about; really, I don’t know. What people can you remember in history? I think he’s like the number one, probably, that you’d remember. It isn’t really about him; it’s about people like him, about people who like him. About people who are the type to follow people like him. It’s not a pro-Hitler song.

FFanzeen: A lot of critics have mentioned the drug references in the song, but I never quite saw it that way, although it’s definitely a decadent scenario.
Mac: It sounded like it could have been talking about something sleazy going on, but it’s more like, you know, a decadence thing, whatever that is. It can be drugs and it can be politics. It was an anti-decadence song in a way, but also it pointed out the attraction of it, which I mean, you gotta draw the line I suppose. And that’s what its’ about, I think, in a vague way. It’s up to you to decide whether I’m saying “You’re supposed to draw the line somewhere,” or something.

FFanzeen: Well, is there anything else left that you’d like to talk about? Anything we’ve missed?
Mac: I don’t know what hasn’t been covered, like before I was here. Um, ya discuss Liverpool winning the League Cup on Monday?
Pete: Did they?
Mac: Yeah, 3-1.
Pete: Great!

FFanzeen: What’s that, soccer?
Mac: You don’t know about Liverpool FC? Let’s talk about America. Everybody shakes your hand in America, don’t they? It's like a really good, polite gesture. They don’t do it in England.
Les: I must admit, I go to shake hands first.
Mac: It gets a bit boring, sometimes, doesn’t it? On everything! I don’t know if they’re more reserved in England. I think maybe in England, people are more frightened to come up to you, ‘cause, like me, I’ve got this reputation for being in Echo and the Bunnymen.

FFanzeen: Maybe Americans are just more forward, or they perceive you as celebrities or something.
Will: They didn’t even know our names half the time.
Mac: Yeah, really, people will just come up out of curiosity, which is good when you convert them and, like, they come back after and say, “Ah, it was great. I didn’t know you were able. I’m going to buy your albums tomorrow.”
Les: I had that happen last night. One of the bartenders in the club, he says, “We see all the bands comin’ in and out of here. They all sound the same, but you’re different.”

FFanzeen: How have the American audiences been taking you?
Mac: Good, generally. Last night was a bit weird, but the whole thing was, like, the sound was crap; we weren’t very good. I thought we were crap.

FFanzeen: Tonight will be better, right?
Mac: Yeah, if I can get some kip in. It was, like, the “vibes” weren’t right last night. But that’s okay. Well, it shouldn’t, somethings, like, because we’re playing there three nights, you think, “Oh, the first night was crap, the other two will be,” but they won’t; they’ll be great. You didn’t go last night?

FFanzeen: No, I’m going tonight.
Mac: Okay, well, if I can get some kip in, it should be great!