Text by David G. / FFanzeen, 1981
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2019
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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?
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?
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.
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!