Date: Mon, 21 Oct 1996 17:57:58 -0400
Here's the transcription of the interview I did with David Gedge, September 8 of this year, the day after TWP's show in NYC for CMJ. Some of this will appear in Jack Rabid's Big Takeover, but I figured the people on the list would want to read the whole thing. I'm sure there are tons of spelling errors and typos, so sorry for that, but Enjoy.
The Wedding Present 09/08/96
BP: The first thing I want to know is what happened with Island?
DG: Well I suppose the main thing is they got taken over by Polygram, so there were lots of personnel changes. Basically, the whole staff disappeared. Including the guy who signed us. I'd ring them up and say, "Can I speak to so-and-so," and they'd go "who?" "This is David Gedge." "David George? What group are you with?" And then she said "Oh he's gone. He was fired last week." Also we signed to the American label, not the British label, so trying to get a hold of them with the time difference made things difficult as well.
BP: It didn't seem like it got much of a push over here. Did you do videos?
DG: We did one for "Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah." It was an odd situation. I think the problem was --we used to be on RCA, which is also very corporate--the bloke who signed us there was actually quite powerful, he became the head of A&R. So basically got what we wanted, I suppose.
BP: I guess so, seeing how your first release for them was that Ukrainians EP.
DG: Yeah that threw them off a bit. I think they were expecting this hit album and they got a mini-LP of Ukrainian folk music. That put a few people off. But it was okay, but on Island, we didn't have the same weight. So now we're on cooking vinyl, which to be honest, it is a lot better to have that kind of intimacy. Actually it's not that small. It's Britain's biggest genuinely independent label.
BP: Now that GO! is gone.
DG: Yeah, and now that Creation is owned by Sony and all that stuff. So it's actually quite big, but whenever I phone them up, whoever answers the phone, I know who it is--which is a really nice feeling. It's like friendly communication, instead of dealing with a corporate business. It's really good.
BP: They just signed Billy Bragg.
DG: When we left Island, there were about four or five labels who were interested in us. And to be honest, Cooking Vinyl were at the bottom of the list initially--they were into a lot of world music and folk. But when we met them, they seemed genuinely interested, and they made us a good offer, so we signed with them. Since then they've expanded. They now have Pere Ubu, Billy Bragg, and this Asian rapper, so it's quite varied.
BP: So do you pretty much get to do what you want?
DG: Yeah, well we always do. Anyone who knows about The Wedding Present understands that that's the way we work. So they know that going in when they sign us. It's all very well doing that, but if it doesn't fit in with the way a record label is set up, you start having problems. But with Cooking Vinyl, they're independent anyway, so it's pretty easy. But they do suggest things. It's funny actually, the artist for the sleeve is a guy we've worked with a few times now Marcus Ginns. He's quite expensive, actually. And when it came time for this LP, the asked if we would use the Cooking Vinyl artist, and we said no, we'd rather use this artist. I think he did a really great job with it. It's actually my favorite sleeve of ours ever.
BP: It's so sparse, what is it exactly?
DG: Yeah, it's very minimalist. I think it's a photograph of some tubing. He's very conceptual. He had this idea about wanting it to be very silvery, black and white. So he sent over loads of these weird photographs. I think this one sort of stood out because with the album title being kind of science-fictiony, it had a spacey feel to it.
BP: I thought maybe it was a photo of Saturn from Voyager or something.
DG: Yeah it does look like that. So we used him, but I'd hate to see there faces when they get his bill. I think he's quite pricey.
BP: The Wedding Present has been pretty prolific lately.
DG: Yeah we have. It's purposely so, because we did Mini, that we didn't want to sort of leave it for a whole nother year before we released something new, and if you don't get you record out by September it can get lost in the rush of new releases.
BP: Tell me about Cenzo Townsend, the producer on Saturnalia.
DG: He's an engineer. We met him when we did some work with Ian Broadie of the Lightning Seeds, he always does the engineering for them. And Ian did some of the Hit Parade singles --Come Play With Me, Silver Shorts and California. It was different for us, because it was a very powerful sound, but yet had a sparkly pop sheen to it. So we decided to produce this one ourselves, but we gave him co-producer credit, because he wasn't just the engineer, he also suggested things. It's an interesting LP, because we've had two line-up changes since we started writing the songs. So three of the songs have guitar parts written by Paul (Dorrington who played on Hit Parade and Watusi) and some were written by Darren, and then our new guitarist Simon. And then some parts were written by me. So you've got these rock songs, almost Seamonstery, and then these pop songs--"Jet Girl" is out-and-out pop. I think Simon is from a weirder musical background, really. 'Cause Darren was very straightforward, very simple. Good tunes, but simple chords, I suppose, where Simon is a bit odder.
BP: I was going to say that there are chord progressions on this LP that you've never used before. Like the chorus of Venus is very different than I've heard in a Wedding Present song before.
DG: People have said to me that there's some weird stuff on here. Mini was quite accessible, a lot of pop songs. This LP is a bit less straightforward, I think. Some people have said it reminds them of a film soundtrack, with sort of soundscapes or something.
BP: Yeah, maybe like on 50s, when it sort of turns into "Blue Moon" at the end. I can hear that. (Gedge laughs) I think that's cool. You're using a lot of different instruments these days. Am I hearing vibes on some of the songs?
DG: Yeah. Well it started on Watusi. That was much more pop. We had been known as this sort of guitar band, so we thought we'd get away from the guitars a bit on Watusi, and the producer , Steve Fisk, was perfect for accomplishing that. He's a keyboard player, and he all these weird ideas for keyboard sounds. But this LP, possibly as a reaction to that, we've gone back to a bit of a harder sound. It's just nice to try those things, like marimba and vibes. But some of the guitar sounds are quite weird as well. We used a lot of broken pedals--weird 60s tremolos and things.
BP: Now you recorded at the Cocteau Twins' studio. Did you get the urge to throw some delay pedals in to the mix?
DG: Not really, but I do like that kind of thing. It's weird, cause when it was suggested we record there, I was like "Yeah sure, whatever." But when I put the phone down, it hit me that they are one of my favorite groups. Actually, I've got every record they've ever made. Some of the records I have twice--the CD and the vinyl. I've got a lot of Fall LPs, but I've got Everything the Cocteaus have ever put out. So I actually got quite nervous when we went to the studio. I met Robin there at got along with him quite well. Then someone told us that Liz was upstairs in the offices, and Simon and I, we couldn't bring ourselves to go up and meet her. I was just terrified. She's got such a beautiful voice that makes this enthralling, majestic music. Magical. I couldn't handle the idea of seeing the human that produced that, face to face. So I just didn't go up, and I will probably regret it till the end of my life.
It's a really great studio, cause everything is state of the art there. It's very posh and design-oriented. I right outside from there, Ian Broadie has this barge on the river Thames, that is a studio as well.
BP: Why did you re-record "It's A Gas" with Ian Broadie of r the single?
DG: Because we were dissatisfied with the version on Watusi. We thought it was okay, but we thought it could have been a bit more poppy.
BP: I really like the acoustic version on the b-side.
DG: We almost put that version on Watusi. we've done quite a lot of acoustic versions of songs, so it's hard to choose sometimes. We recorded an acoustic version of "Sportscar," on Mini, with Jane on lead vocals and we're gonna put that on the next single. It sounds really great, and her vocals are pretty unexpected. """Sportscar""" is such a dark song anyway, with all the pedals and noise and distortion, it so different to hear it acoustic with a girl singing. It works really well because it's so far away from the original, that it's like a different song.
BP: It seems now, with Jayne in the band, that your lyrics are taking on a more "he said she said" sort of tone.
DG: Well it's always been there, in a way, because it's the way I write. It's conversational. But now, like you said, I've got this kind of other voice. It make more sense, really. People have often said that my lyrics are like a play, anyway.
BP: Or like eavesdropping on a conversation.
DG: Exactly. So it's nice to be able to do that now. It's something I've wanted to do for years, that sort of male/female vocal and harmony kind of thing. I've asked her repeatedly to join the group over the years, but she always said no (laughs) because she was always busy with her other band, the Tse Tse Flys. She didn't think she'd have time for both.
BP: Simon was also in that band too.
DG: Yeah, we're like a supergroup now, or something (laughter).
BP: What's it like bringing in two new members who worked together in another band?
DG: To be honest, it's quite easy, actually. It's much easier than bringing in somebody completely fresh, because although it's great for us--a new person with new influences and styles, it's very hand in a sort of new kid at school way. You know like three of us have got this bond established already. We've got in-jokes and certain ways of doing things. But with Simon, since he knew Jayne so well, it was really quick and easy assimilating. He's fit in really well. But when Jayne joined, it was really interesting, cause she is the first-ever female Wedding Present member. It's always been a bit of a boys group before. It's not natural, in a way. In real life there have always been males and females, and here's just the group of men, expected to work together. It's very different now. It's just like these stupid little things. Like we have this little rehearsal room, and this bloke comes by every day and gets us a pitcher of coffee or tea. It used to be that when the coffee came, you'd get up and pour yourself a cup. but when Jayne joined, the first day when the bloke came, she said, "Right, who wants coffee?" And she poured the coffee for us.
BP: Did you feel guilty?
DG: A little, and you don't want to be sexist, so the next day you say "Who wants coffee?" But then you think "That's what you should do." It's communications. It's like a social thing. It's a civil thing. It's not just a refreshment. Men don't do that really. Not without prodding, anyway. It was a bit of a revelation, in a way. That's just a more trivial example, but she has changed the way we do things. I think it's great.
BP: Do you feel this is a pretty stable line-up?
DG: Yes. I think this is my favorite line-up so far. Everyone seems to get on really well. And this is one of my favorite records, I suppose, so it seems to be working.
BP: What happened with Darren?
DG: He changed quite a lot, very quickly. Cause before he joined, he was a massive fan. In the early days, in the 80s, he used to follow us around on tour. So when Keith quit, he joined. I think he got disillusioned very quickly, seeing it from the inside. He sort of changed his mind. He quickly lost interest. At first he was the bass player, and when he switched to guitar after Paul left, I don't think ever successfully made the transition. He's not a brilliant guitarist. He has a very simple style--a bit like mine, I suppose--but I think he had some problems fitting in on guitar. But he has his own group as well. They're called Beach Buggy.
BP: When I saw you play the last time--back in March, it didn't seem like he was having the greatest time.
DG: No, he wasn't. It's odd. I've come to think of him being in the group for ages, but in fact he was only there for two LPs...or one and a half LPs, really. From the moment he joined, things went slowly downhill, as far as his interest in the band. A few months after Mini came out, he rang me up and told me he didn't feel very happy, and said that he didn't think he should carry on. So I said I thought he should sort of wrap up this era of the group and finish up this album, and we tried it, but it just got worse and worse. It's a weird job. It's not a job where you go to work and get paid. You've got to be motivated, I think. You've got to want to do it, or it just doesn't work. You can't force yourself to write a song. So he left, and to be honest, it was like a weight being lifted off of us, and for him too probably. So I'm glad he's gone in a way. Straight away, it was like there was this burst of life, and we were off. We had to record it quite quickly. I don't think we could have done it with Darren. I think it would have been a struggle, with the deadline.
BP: What was this about you almost being hit by lightning?
DG: It was a bit like today, really. It was a really hot day, and I did this interview with a French magazine. So this girl came over to the studio and we went up to the roof. It started to rain a little, and she asked, "Do you think we should go inside?" I was just about to say yes, when this massive--it's hard to explain really--but there was this incredible Bang with a brilliant flash. And I thought, "Flippin' Ay! I've nearly just been hit by lightning." So I ran downstairs, thinking I had almost been hit, and the other guys were going, "Yeah, sure. Whatever." And I was quite shaken by it. And then this guy came in and said "I think you'd better call an ambulance, cause there are people outside who were just hit by lightning." So we went outside and about 60 feet from where I was there were all these Italian schoolkids--their entire party had just been zapped by it. Scary, really. From the force I felt, it was shocking. I nearly jumped out of my skin. But for them, in the center of the blast, there was a bloke who had a massive cut down his face, because he had been hurled through the air. And there was a girl who's shoes had been disintegrated. People were asking them if they were all right, and they just couldn't speak. It was funny, kind of, because they were all tourists. Can you imagine the postcards? "Saw Parliament. Saw the Tower Of London. Got hit by lightning." (laughter) But I think they were all okay. I do feel a bit scared now by lightning, and I never used to.
BP: Do you ever get sick of writing relationship songs?
DG: Not at all, really. I probably do it exclusively. I went through a phase where I tried to write about other things--all this heavy, political stuff and science fictiony stuff but I don't know...
BP: Hit parade had it's share of science fiction, like the cover of the UFO theme. For the longest time, I didn't know what it was from. So when I moved to New York, the cable system here has the SCI-Fi Channel. And one Sunday, I was flipping channels and I heard the theme. It was going "Ba ba ba ba..." and I was like "I know this..." (David laughs). Then all of a sudden I was like "Oh, the Wedding Present covered this!"
DG: It took us ages to work that out, it's really complicated. I wish I could hear it now, actually. It was weird, but it's a great piece of music.
BP: Have you ever played it live?
DG: Good God, no. It took us long enough to play it in the studio, let alone try it live.
BP: do you do any of your covers live?
DG: We have done occasionally, but to be honest nowadays there are so many Wedding Present songs, it's difficult to pick a set that you like, let alone start throwing covers in. and you never can make people happy. No matter what you play, there's always somebody who comes along and goes "Why didn't you play this or that?" But I like recording covers, because you have a tendency to be a bit more experimental, y'know? You don't mind destroying one of Elton John's songs, but you don't want to destroy your own.
BP: what of your covers do you like the best?
DG: Probably "Falling" or maybe "U.F.O." Looking back, I'm not that happy with the first few on the Hit Parade singles. I mean what we did on the Go-Betweens songs, it was like "so what?" But then there's the theme from Shaft, and it's just so stupid, it's fun. But it's only a b-side. That's where you're supposed to take chances like that.
BP: I heard you contributed to a Fall tribute called Deadbeat Descendants or something.
DG: Yeah, I think that just came out. We gave them Jumper Clown, which was also on the b-side of "It's A Gas" and actually, it's not even a Fall original...
BP: It's by the Creepers, right?
DG: Right. We have, over the years, tried to cover about half a dozen Fall songs, and they've never really worked. A lot of the Fall is based on Mark E. Smith's voice--his mumble Manchester accent. And you can't try and imitate that, you just sound cheesy. So we did that song instead--which is funny, because it's about Mark Smith. Martin Reilly got sacked, so he's calling hi a jumper clown. We got that invitation to do the LP when Keith was in the group, so that tells you how long ago that was. I don't know, that David Bowie song we did as a Hit parade b-side sounds just like the Fall, so in that way we have paid our tribute to them.
BP: "Sucker" was very Fall-like, too. So was "So Long, Baby" but by way of Pavement. That riff sounded a lot like their song "Two States."
DG: We try hard not to sound like other groups, but sometimes what you like comes out in the songs. You can't hide it.
BP: How did you come to write that comic book article for that Rolling Stone book, Alt-Rock-A-Rama?
DG: I'm not sure I know what you're talking about.
BP: There's this new book out by Rolling Stone with a collection of lists and articles by musicians and in it there is one called "David Gedge's Top Ten Favorite Comic Books."
DG: That was for Rolling Stone?
BP: Well, it's in there.
DG: Hmm. You scared me there, because I faxed the writer that list and then I got this offer from a magazine in Liverpool to contribute e to a special issue on comics--'cause people know I'm into comics. So they asked if I could write a article on that. I was a bit short on time, and I found that list and thought, "Well, this'll do," and based my article on that. I thought that list was for some weird little fanzine or something, I didn't know it was going to be used in a Rolling Stone book. Maybe I should go back to that magazine and ask if I can re-write the article. I'm not sure about the copyright laws there.
BP: Have there been times, like last night where the vibe seems really good, that you've thrown in a couple extra songs?
DG: No. Sometimes I'd love to say yes, but I've come to believe, now more than ever, that the optimum length of a concert is 45 minutes, just like the optimum length of a film is an hour and a half and the optimum length of a comics this thick. In some ways I feel that it would be better if the set was even shorter. It's not so bad here, but in Germany, they want out to play for three hours. So you want to say "Go see Bruce Springsteen." Of in the Netherlands of Amsterdam, nobody claps or gets into it until halfway through the set. So by the time the crowd starts to react, the show's over. And they're like (in a funny European accent) "What? It's finished? Already?" Even last night, which I thought was really good, you have some of that. Even if it was my favorite group in the world, I still think I would only want to hear 35 minutes of them.
BP: How hard is it to come up with a set-list?
DG: (Sighs) Oh, it's a nightmare. It really is. Keith used to do it, actually. Which was good, but now that he's left, I've been doing it. I'm probably not the person to be doing, because I don't think I'm very objective about it. We always do a load of new stuff, so that part's all right, but when it comes to picking the old ones. On this tour and on the last one, I've just been picking two off each LP. Actually, there's a Wedding Present fanzine, called Orange Slices, and they have surveys for peoples favorite songs, so we use that too. And John Peel publishes his Festive Fifty, his listener's favorite songs of the year, we use that as well. It's funny, 'cause when we did Watusi, we thought the two most obvious singles were "Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah" and "It's A Gas." And now I think we were completely wrong. If you ask people what there favorite songs were on that record the say "Swimming Pools, Movie Stars," "Gazebo" and "Spangle." I realized I'm not very good at picking singles. In fact, for this LP, and I feel awful saying this because it goes against everything I stood for at one time, I asked Cooking vinyl what they thought should be the singles. (laughs) So they chose "Montreal" and we chose "2, 3 Go."
BP: You mentioned "Spangle." Just what is the instrument used on that?
DG: That was Steve Fisk's idea on that. It's funny. We did an electric version that we were happy with and then Steve rang me up at about four in the morning and said "I've just been working on that song Spangle we did today and I've got a really great idea for it. So I was like "Um, great. Tell me bout it tomorrow when I'm awake." (laughter) So went over to his house and he had this little organ thing that was made by Mattel, the Ken and Barbie people. It's a toy organ that came out in the 60s called an Optigan. It plays these discs, these sort of flexidiscs, but there also like laserdiscs. and you get the choice of Mexican Music or Hawaiian music. So it plays by light off the disc. You hold the chord down and it will play like a Caribbean sort of guitar part. But because it's really old, it was all scratchy and crackly. He just rearranged the whole song for that keyboard. It turned out really well. That's one of those times when you want a producer.
BP: How much of your lyrics are based on your own personal experiences and how much is fictional?
DG: I think a lot of it is made up, really. I think there is a bit of me in every song, and a lot of me in some songs. In the early days, most of it was pretty autobiographical. Some of those lyrics lean towards the embarrassingly autobiographical. But I've expanded on that, where now it's more like "what would I do in that situation." I feel like a fraud, sometimes. I'll overhear a conversation or go see a film and think, "oh, that's a really good situation." I find myself acting out a role in these little plays. It's always been dead easy, to be honest.
BP: You were talking about embarrassing lyrics. Are there times you feel embarrassed to sing some of your lyrics? Like on the new album, the song 50s has the line "when I came, I cried out your name..." Are lines like that difficult for you to sing live?
DG: It used to be, but I think I'm used to it now, really. I think it's all part of the performance, and I've got to do it. The whole point of that song is what that character did, so there's no point in being self-conscious. My feelings kind of become second-place. If I'm going to write it, I should sing it.
BP: Saturnalia has gotten really good reviews in the UK--NME gave it eight out of ten. It seems to be very cyclical with the Wedding Present. You fall in and out of favor.
DG: Well I think with Britpop bringing back guitar music to popularity, we fare better in the press. I feel insulted in some ways because I don't think we've made a bad record. I think we made a series of records that were all a standard. If you've read the review, there was this kind of feeling that the first LPs were good and then we sort of fell off and then we've finally made another great record. That's bollocks, really. I know Watusi was good. I know the Hit Parade singles were good. It's just because they weren't the flavor of the month, and weren't in the style that people were listening to at the time. But that's the way we do it in Britain. That's our style of music journalism. I look at it to ways. From the artist point of view, I hate it. But from the music fan's perspective, it's quite good to have these little scenes where everybody likes this and they don't like this other thing. It means that everything changes really quickly, so you get this speedy process of development. I think that's why all these groups in Britain achieve such fast success. It's funny that. Like Paul Weller is trendy again, and for ten years with the Style Council they were ignored.
BP: Yeah but the Style Council, except for a couple singles, were horrible.
DG: Well I don't know....I guess you're right about that, but now he's trendy again and I can't understand why.
BP: Well, if Noel likes you, you're in. But I guess you're used to the ups and downs.
DG: Yeah. I'm so cynical about it now. I'm sure that Melody Maker will come out and say that Saturnailia is a load of bullocks--because they're competing with the NME. We'll see.