About twenty or so years ago my Mum told me that I was not supposed to happen, that I was an accident, then a few years later she changed her story and told me that she’d tricked my Dad into having me. That’s another story…
Ah! What story? Maybe there is one, maybe there isn’t but what has surprised me over the years is that no one has ever really bothered to find out. Maybe it’s so glaringly obvious that no one has really needed to ask? Maybe it’s so dull that there’s nothing to it?
Today we appear in LeftLion magazine, a local free cultural magazine about all things Nottingham. I say ‘we’ but it’s really just me. For years I’ve been asking LeftLion to review something I’ve done or do a quick interview or something and they’ve never been bothered. A friend of mine who is a writer pitched an idea to them about a year ago to write a piece about my MuZiK KluB because he thought it would be interesting for other artists to read a story about how I was surviving as an artist by trying out new ideas. They told him they weren’t interested. Then a London record label gets in contact with them and a request for a photoshoot and an interview comes through immediately. I’m not complaining, I’m glad for the publicity, it’s key to what I do. But why is that? Because that is the way things are done.
When we first signed to Beggars, Craig McNeil, who was the head of foreign press, took me and Chris Davis on a whirlwind tour of major European Cities to speak to the press and we would sit in a room, often in a hotel, and talk to a stream of journalists about the band. Each one had their allotted time and dutifully paid their attention. What struck me on the first day, was that no one was at all interested in the real story behind the band or what it was and I quickly felt like I was just an ambassador for ‘the band’ whatever that was (I was still trying to work it out myself). After each interview I felt like I’d been ever so slightly violated and used. After some interviews I felt completely ineffectual as a person and like I’d been pushed into being a salesmen. After a while it became difficult not to sound like one. For this my friends I was to be grateful.
Craig knew the score, and over a pizza in Paris he explained to me what my ‘job’ here was.
“I get it Craig, let’s get more wine.”
It was a new chapter in my life and one I really hadn’t been expecting. I thought I would be meeting a Lester Bangs every 30 minutes, not just a guy for whom I was the next band on his list and he had to quickly research (read the press release) before feeding the cat and running for the bus.
It was weird though. It’s lonely being an artist. You spend all day with yourself looking around you and looking inside you and all the while you need to find some money to keep going. I can’t remember anyone in the band ever really asking me in depth or scrutinising my lyrics or even commenting on them at all or asking any questions. No manager, no label, no journalist, no one. The only person I can ever remember doing that was the producer John Leckie. He seemed to be interested and once even said to me “stop singing ‘I don’t care’ at the end of that song because you strike me as a person who does care.” It took me aback.
At the moment Craig is making a film about six by seven and I saw a pre-roll of it yesterday and there is a clip of John Leckie talking about the lyrics and how no other band was singing lyrics like that at the time. And that’s just it isn’t it. I did hundreds of interviews around the Closer You Get and as I remember it, very very few people asked me about lyrics and the band’s heart. It’s pretty strange really because writing lyrics is all I was fucking doing, that was my job!!! Stop asking me what it’s like to play Glastonbury! It’s a shit hole with no catering and disgusting toilets. Why does everyone keep saying: “Oh you’re playing Glastonbury this year, that’s going to be amazing isn’t it?”
Straight answer? Not really no, it’s a gig and if it rains it’s a fucking nightmare gig.
What I figured out was that people were only interested and could use the idea of success. For example, they would be interested in the fact that you had done 5 Peel sessions and want to talk about that (oh wow, what was it like doing 5 Peel sessions? Did you meet him?) but they won’t get to the bottom of why the things you were singing about and the music you were making were the very things that got you the Peel Sessions in the first place. As an artist, you only become, when you have success. Joseph Beuys said that to become an artist you have to simply declare to the world that you are one and then find a way to live off it. I’ve done that but to become an artist in the eyes of the world I need to have success, without it, I don’t exist. So now, when I do an interview, it’s linked only to the idea of success rather than the art itself. Nothing is questioned, only aspects of success and those things linked to it and everything is just part of a larger commercial picture.
I’m hoping that this film will try to change that. I know it has to pander to commercial whims but that’s all they are, it’s the future that’s important. I think this film is the single most important thing the band has done since releasing the first album. Back then I would have wished for someone to put their arm around me and say, don’t fuck this up, take your time and get it right, you will only get this shot. I don’t think we did get it right and that’s ultimately why we have all the comments of ‘Why didn’t they get bigger?’
I’ve said it before, art and commerce do not make good bedfellows. Everybody has to survive…except Jesus. There’s your fucking human condition and there’s your dilemma.
Back in the day, when we understood what was going on, me and Chris used to get incredibly stoned before doing interviews so that we could try and complicate our answers with a kind of renegade bravado intellectual semi-nonsense, so we didn’t go mad. What else could you do? It became lonely for both of us. The Closer You Get was a realisation of that frustration and I was beginning to see that I was just an insignificant drop in the ocean that no one really wanted to listen to until I had made it…whatever that meant.
Oh yeah and my life was an accident. The moral of the story is: don’t expect, never assume and do it your way. You’ll probably fail but only in the eyes of others. Having a mortgage never meant that much to me.
By the way, it’s only art and no one is pointing a Kalashnikov at me and about to pull the trigger.