John McKeown Interview
Shortly after deciding to do this website, we got hold of The Yummy Fur's frontman, John McKeown, and had a wee chat with him about the band's music, history, and ideals. Below is a rough transcript of the relevant bits of the conversation.
What were your formative musical experiences?
Well, experiences is.. em.. I did about three bands before the Yummy Fur. When I was at school I did a band that was totally like New Order and Joy Division and things like that. It was funny actually cos the very first thing I did was more like what we ended up doing, more electronic, maybe about 1984 or something And then by the end of school we were doing like Jesus and Mary Chain, and all that kind of thing - Velvet Underground
And we had like a proper band about 1989called the Subliminal Girls. This was me and this guy Graeme Garden, who ended up in a band Lugworm and this guy Kev Hutchison, who's an artist, and this was really like proto-Yummy Fur. I'll tell you what it sounded a lot like.. it was like, have you heard of that band.. The Rapture? They're quite a good band, about just now from America. A bit like that, like Gang of Four, The Minutemen, all those kinda post punk kind of bands.
So, were you getting gigs about this time?
Uh huh, We played for about two years, we split up in about 1991 or something. It was just a noisy junkie sort of thing.
What happened was I started in the early nineties I started getting much more into pop, and just not so bothered about experimental noise.. have you ever heard that song "New Puritan" by the Fall? "the experimental is now the conventional and the conventional is the experimental"? That's EXACTLY how I felt at the time, Sonic Youth and Nirvana was all-pervasive, everyone's doing full on noise and weird sorta stuff and we were just like FUCK THAT!!! I am sick of this. So I got together with my friend Jamie, me and him were just like right, we don't know what music we want to make, we know we want it to be catchy, but we know everything we don't want to do, so we had a sort of unwritten list of things. It wasn't a case of like "no song should be over a minute"; it was a case of "No song should outstay its welcome." It's like.. don't stretch anything out, it's like, verse, choruses, wee instrumental bits, whatever, but just Get them over with, make the point, few bars that's the end of that. And that turned into like forty-second songs. And we wanted no distortion whatsoever on the music, it was purely clean guitar sounds. And just a three-piece, just no clutter nothing like that. That was about the same time we were getting into The Fire Engines and that kind of thing as well, but we were just as influenced by, like The Supremes were a really big influence and the Beach Boys. Yeah really - on the first single. The Supremes and the Beach Boys are huge influence, but not in a way that maybe you would hear. Obviously it doesn't sound anything like the Supremes, but I'm telling you, The Supremes were a big influence. If you listen to Holland Dozier Holland's construction of songs, the way bass lines descend and little things, tunes come under. That was a really really big thing for us.
If you've got a tune you can do anything, anything at all. I think the proof of that is - look at stuff like two-step music; there's a tune you can hum it, but listen to the music, and it's like totally left of the dial. The beats and stuff and the sounds and bass-lines that just go Gomp! Do! Gomp! Do! Tch Tch Tch - all that sort of stuff.
If you've got a tune, people will accept that, that'll get to number one on the charts. But if you listen to it, it's way more leftfield than independent music.
Like Pram and Stereolab, they had tunes.
Stereolab were definitely onto something there, cos you get loads of bands that were listening to Can and Neu! And all that, but all they're listening to is the drums and mad keyboard sounds and stuff like that and just doing nothing with it and Stereolab were one of the only ones that realised "You gotta have a tune", it's like, Neu! can play ate-minute song because the one tune they're playing is a really good wee tune, so you do what you like, you play for an hour with a tune if it's a good one, but you could play for three years without a tune and nobodies listening and anybody who's listening is fooling themselves, I think. The melody had to be the heart of it. You had to have loads of melodies. The thing that happened with us is, it's also a tired way of thinking that people were just like, that's not tuneful, it's just shouting music. Well, who said that the melody had to be vocal? There are loads of melodies in the guitar. The vocals were just like a rhythmic thing, another rhythm but also information, but people tend to hear backing track and singing, and if the singing isn't some catchy melody they're like "oh, that's tuneless" well that's not true at all, it's bullshit.
So that's the formative influences. There were millions of different influences as we went along. Apart from being right into The Fire Engines and The Minutemen, it was totally pop music... that's what kept it going
I was going to ask about the Guitar sound as well - it's not distorted, but it's really pushing it, and it's really sort of lean and wiry-sounding and it made me think of Captain Beefheart, that was the same sort of sound there, kind of pushing and overdriven.
That's so true. "Trout Mask Replica" is like that - it sounds like a really clean sound but the way he's playing it and the way its recorded, the room sound is giving it a wee bit of edge, distorting it a little bit, but it's not distorting the guitar sound. The way we thought of it was.. I was sick of so many bands that were like playing the wee quiet bit, and it was like "Here we go!" and everybody jumping on the distortion pedal and it gets really big, which I've got nothing against, but at the time every fucking person in the land was doing that, and so our idea was, right, no effects pedals at all, and if you wanna write a bit that's noisy you've got to write it technically so its noisy and you've got to play it like it's noisy so that you really push into the guitar and go for it and at that level you can be quite distorted, but it's not just a button. We were quite puritan at the time. We were really pure about the music; cannot do this, cannot do that it was like some kind of communist regime. It's good but it's also good if you break them eventually; we broke every single rule that we had by the end of the band. Anything we had left that we hadn't actually broken deliberately was, like let's do twenty-minute songs, that kind of thing.
The name, was that a reference to the comic Yummy Fur? Were you a fan?
Yeah, I liked it but I preferred Eightball at the time. Yummy Fur was good, butt was like one-dimensional, but the one dimension he was working in he was great. It was just basically about him, the guy that wrote it - him and his sexual fantasies and stuff. It was a bistort of cheaply done, a bit sort of get out. But what it was, was that roundabout the time of my first band The Subliminal Girls, my sister started a band called Snagglepuss and this was the band that eventually became Lung Leg and she'd cut out the title of the comic Yummy Fur, because she liked that comic swell, she had it on her bass. So she had this, every single day. Every gig Went to I would see this Yummy Fur thing, so when we were. looking for a name it was just something that went through my head all the time. Also, it has sexual connotations, and also it's really cuddly sounding, and that to me was what we were trying to do musically, stuff that was quite gritty and earthy and also pretty melodic thing, And also at that time all the bands were all called things like Pram, Blur. So we wanted togged back to like "The Fall", that kind of thing, and that's where that came from.
When was the first gig?
We started January1992.first gig was July the 13th 1992. It was at a place called the Apollo which I think might have become the 13th Note, but it was a place down near Buchanan Street bus station that's not there anymore. It was us, and Snagglepuss and it was also the first gig of Lugworm and it was also the first gig of Jamie's other band, Mondo Coyote.
What was the whole Glasgow indie scene like at the time?
At that time it was split totally into two camps. On one side you had The Pastels lot, so you had like The Pastels, The BMX Bandits, The Boy Hairdressers and all that. Teenage Fanclub. Loads of ballad-merchant sort of bands, some of them were quite good, the Pastels were good, but we didn't like that so much, and then the other thing you had was really angular bands which was like us, Mondo Coyote, bands like Dawson were kicking about, The Stretchheads and Dervish and Badgewearer. These were sort of like...if anything kept them together it was that they were all into Beefheart, post-punk. Pop Group, Gang of Four. That was it - that was the Glasgow scene, those kinds of bands, ballads and post punk, spiky Fire Engines music.
How did the following grow?
I don't know. There was a big group of people all about, like the bands plus all their friends. It those days you could play gigs in a wee tiny venue and people would come but I remember we kicked about for about a year or something, then I remember we played in London sometime, it was our first ever gig in London, played in Camden, and the place was packed, and there was normal reason why it was packed, it wasn't even like we were playing with bands that were well known - a lot of London people seemed to jump on it. It spread, and from that point we always seemed to get reasonable crowds... not huge crowds, but enough to play the gig, not two men and a dog or anything like that. It's just what I was saying, if you're any good people will find out about it. Word of mouth.
Was it fanzines too?
Fanzines were a big thing, yeah. I probably know exactly why it happened. The same year in 92, 93, riot grrrl really kicked off in a big way, and us and Lung Leg were friends with all of those bands, we ended up playing with Huggy Bear and all those sorts of bands, so Riot Grrl did that, and fanzine culture, fanzine interviews
But you're playing with a lot of bands with women in them, Riot Grrl bands, yet you had this sort of, and The Male Nurse had it worse, kind of a male, frustrated sexuality, So when you're singing songs called "All Women are Robots" were they...
I think they could get into that a wee bit.
I think us, The Male Nurse and The Country Teasers. In Glasgow after a few years, the only bands I liked were us and Lung Leg and we ended up playing one time with the Country Teasers and then I got a Male Nurse tape off somebody and it was just like, no way, like fucking hell, there's people on the same wavelength in a different city, (we just thought there was nothing in Edinburgh). That totally kicked things off on both parts. This was 94, 95 or something like that, but that made me feel a bit more like there are other people into this stuff. But I think the whole Riot Grrl thing, they could get into it, they could get into the idea it wasn't whining virgins singing about that lassie that they saw at school, but guys singing about sex in a reasonably adult way and not being PC about it. Obviously the Country Teasers were a lot worse for that than us... or a lot better. I think a lot of those Riot Grrl bands could appreciate that. I think they could see that these people are intelligent, that if you talk to them these guys aren't like horrible sexist beer slobs, and yet they're writing this stuff so I think they must have latched onto that.
The first album's the most sex-obsessed, things like "Theme from UltraBra" and "Films"
Yeah, Films - it's got nothing to do with films, it should be called Girls. Aye, exactly. Night Club was the big one for that, we started talking about sex a lot more specifically.
What about "Father Ubu" was that more childish?
That's just us fucking about with syntax and words. It sorta means stuff, but I can't remember, cos I wrote it ten years ago!
Why the Niteclub motif, and what is a 'death club'?
They're the same thing. At the time of that, I was totally switched off from nightclub culture. I was fed up with it. I used to go to the art school every week ten years ago. The mid-nineties were predominantly gigs, that was my night out, and night clubs just seemed like the most hellish situation on the world, which is like the opposite now for me, but I think with that, it was attractive, because it was so alienating, and that's what a death club is; it's just like a night club, it's like; 'how can I be in a situation like this where you're pounded by music and only a consumer?' I mean you're a consumer at a gig, but you're making a choice to go and see it, to interact with it in away, but going to a club at the time seemed to me like being trapped in an elevator in the fucking circus - y'know, horrible... so that's where that came from. It was tied into this whole sexual thing, where you'd go to meet girls and guys and stuff and the idea of meeting girls but not wanting to go to nightclubs.
It's the most difficult situation to meet women though, it's pitch black, it's too loud. You can't have a conversation
It's like SO WHERE ARE YE FROM?..fantastic.. WHAT ARE YOU DOING AT UNI?
About '95, 96 all people we knew went upstairs at the Garage, everyone in Paisley liked the Stone Roses, so that's where you went to listen the "I am the Resurrection" again... trying to chat up women. I tried to get into the Stone Roses, but...
I liked the Happy Mondays at the start, but I never liked the Stone Roses cos I hated The Byrds, they sounded like The Byrds to me, I like them a bit more now, I can appreciate it for what it is now, but at the time I just thought 'fuck off, this is just like trad A Bb G type chorus music'.
What I never understood was all the lads liked The Stone Roses, but The Happy Mondays were the real lads, they were sexist, they drank, they swore...
Also they were more innovative. - with Can, really hard funk. Tony Wilson - I remember seeing an interview with him where he said the difference between other Manchester bands and those on Factory was that the Stone Roses were really big, but they didn't change music at all, but Joy Division and New Order and the Happy Mondays actually changed music. I mean, The Stone Roses did change music, but all they did was pave the way for Oasis, whereas Happy Mondays paved the way for dance culture, the big thing in the past decade.
It's just interesting, how 'Death Club' recurs all through your work.
It's weird, 'cos in the end we were making music that could be played in clubs
We were wondering, you had all these songs objectifying women, how Clare Gorman fitted in, 'cos I heard a story about the filming of the "Shoot The Ridiculant" video?
There's a finished version?
Yeah we've all got copies!
You've got to bring it round! What happened was, me and Alex Huntley, we were both on this dole course thing doing video, and we thought obviously let's do videos for bands, and we went in and did it, and then just sort of lost interest, and just as we were about to do the finished edit, we just left the dole course and I've only got a minute of it.
I remember doing an edit of it that starts with a white screen, drums start, the keyboard pops up, the actual music comes in. Claire pops up against the keyboard. and then there's wee bits of me singing, and then there's wee bits cut in from Jean-Luc Godard movies, a guy with a gun, and then see on the cover of Stereo Girls? The woman with the scissors? There's a bit with that going across the screen wide-angled and then a few wee bits and then it just ended.
It's not like that all, the finished version, it's all band footage, it's like "Kids In America" or Toni Basil. But there is a version of it. It never came out then?
Maybe it's been used, but we were notorious underachievers so it's like one of those things where you're into doing something, but finishing it's a total chore. I used to do that with songs. When we first started, we were so detailed with the songs, and every single note was worked out, by the time we got to Male Shadow, it wasn't that the songwriting was going out the window, but the detail was starting to disappear. On Sexy World, there's load of stuff that isn't finished.
The guy who edited the video said that you were all being kind of laddish, but then Claire walked in and there was a total change, and you all had to be on your best behaviour.
That was cos Clare had just joined the band about two minutes before that. To be honest, it wasn't so much that Clare was a girl, but she was very young at the time. I don't know what age she was at the time - eighteen or nineteen? So it was like being around a young girl basically. Once Clare had been in the band for a couple of months it was alright. Clare is sound.
She did one of the very first Yummy Fur interviews actually. When she was about fourteen she did an interview, and then I didn't see her again for about four years, and then one day I was walking to my flat and bumped into Clare, and at that very moment Mark had said he was gonna leave the band, I said "we need a keyboard player, wanna play?" She said "yeah". She's classically trained.
On the Plastic Cowboy sleeve, it says "An Arty band"; As someone with artistic inclinations, how did you find Glasgow to play?
Well, it depends, cos we hung about with loads of artists anyway, and still do. That was irrelevant to us. Our attitude to it was always like "we're artists" in the truest sense of the word, not like"I'm an artiste" but any artist that's good is doing it purely for reasons that are like.. in a bubble, practically.. your own ideas - you're still influenced by things, but you're not doing it cos this is hip, or 'I'll go down that road and make money', to us it was like art - an art form. It was us trying to create, not a new art form or something, but you know like the way you get cubism, fauvism, or abstract expressionism or something? You create your own rules what you're not allowed to do, what you are allowed to do, and that's what we were trying to do with thirty second songs; create a tiny little art form, just a silly little side-line thing from other music and explore that for ages. It was definitely making a point, we weren't just like a sort of band, a Travis sort of thing - definitely making a point about that. It was arty, coming from people who were not just like "I wanna be in rock band", and you think, "why are you making music like that then" if it's all about the music, strumming a few chords and singing about your bird.
Such comedy is frightening: Often the writes up took a "comedy" interpretation to your early stuff. Was there ever any truth in this?
No, no. It's the same as The Fall - there's humour there but it's not like Half Man Half Biscuit or something. It's not just jokes. I never understood why - if you hang about with any band in the world, you sit with them before you go on, and everybody's hanging about making jokes, then they go on stage and it's like 'I'm a creep' and you're thinking, 'you weren't like that five minutes ago!" There was miserabilism and people being really angry, and what I wanted to do was write songs I could go on stage at almost any situation in my life with a wee bit of validity; the lyrics are just like conversation you'd be having anyway, so it's just an extension of that, you're sitting chatting away about some subject in the pub and you're basically singing about the same stuff. It's not a complete black and white thing, I thought that seemed a bit more adult.
St John of the Cross. Can I bring up at this point that really tasteful Sacred Heart picture you've got there? (points to kitsch picture on the wall).
We used to say that was one of the last surviving pictures of Jesus. Yeah St John of the Cross...
That's the most conceptual record?
I think it's the best record. Oh, I think of the year that that came out; we did Supermarket, Plastic Cowboy, Policeman seven-inches, plus that record...if you just think of an album as all the songs you've got in a year then that would've been an album. As it is, I like it that it's just this little three songs a side thing - for a start, it makes the sound quality better.
You took five days to do those songs...quite a while
That was a big part of it, it was done in exactly the same circumstances as "Sexy World" but we were fourteen, fifteen songs on "Sexy World". Okay it was two weeks, but I wish we'd got the same clarity as on "Male Shadow". I dunno, that's the first adult record we made, I'd exhausted all the things I was talking about before, "Night Club" was the culmination of that, then it was like - we have to do something else.
"Male Shadow" was the first record where I sat down and said 'I wanna make a record that I actually want to hear, that I want to put on and know I'll enjoy it'. That was the first time we really tried to do that. Before that, it was like, this is the music we want to play, and theoretically we want to hear, and we did it for so long that we were absolutely sick of it and wanted to do something different. We thought 'What do we want to sit around and listen to?' and that was the kind of music we came up with. It was also the first collaborative record. Apart from mibbe a couple of wee ideas, up until "Male Shadow" I wrote every single note of every single song, all the guitar parts, all the bass-lines, it was total (makes whip noise)'do as I tell you!' There was a rule in the band - if you want to write a song, write a song, and we'll put it to the test and see what it sounds like. If we don't use it, it doesn't mean it's not a good song, it's just it doesn't fit in the very narrow niche that we've sort of created for ourselves. If somebody in the band had come up with, say "Common People" by Pulp - I love that song, but there was no way we were gonna put that on "Night Club". It doesn't mean it's not a good song. The other rule was; if I show somebody in the band a part, they can disregard it, or change it, come up with something completely different, and if it makes the song better, it would be obvious, you could hear it. In general, people didn't fuck about with it too much. With the "Male Shadow" record things had changed quite a bit, people started writing songs, good songs. "Colonel Blimp" - Brian wrote that. And he had a whole set of wee riffs and things and I added parts and we structured it. What's it called, "Canadian Flag" - Mark Gibbons and me wrote that and then just jammed it in rehearsal studios. Everybody's getting input, there's loads of touches, it's not all me. The trouble when you're writing yourself is, all you get back is just the stuff that you wrote and it gets boring, but if everybody's putting bits in, it gets so it's not just you, it feels nicer.
The Fall's like that, same in a way with Captain Beefheart as well where he'd just write piano pieces and hum stuff and the drummer would go and turn that into a song. I'm sure that half the music that ended up on Captain Beefheart records was pretty much written by the drummer, but he never got the credit for it. He's having to turn an eight-note piano chord into y'know, a chord you could play on guitar, or having to split the eight-note piano chord into two chords for two guitarists, and that's just as much work as writing a song, y'know?
I know that with The Fall, the old-school way of doing it was they jammed in a studio, but I think with the "Unutterable" album, a couple of members would put stuff together on Pro-tools, and then they would take that to him, and he'd kind of beat it into shape from there. They started off doing it in a different medium, but it's the same principle; they've put a piece of music together and he'd fiddle with it.
That's sort of how I do music now, you can visualise things a bit quicker.
The thing about computers is that you can get something that's way beyond demo quality straight away, so you don't have to imagine what it's going to sound like; it's gonna sound pretty much like it is, you decide what you're gonna do with it.
I think on the Unutterable album, they've worked the other way 'round. I think they've taken Mark E Smith's lyrics, and cut and pasted it over the music. There's definitely bits where his lines are pasted in.
I think Mark E Smith's just become lazy, hedoesn't care so much anymore, there's loads of stories...
So was there anything specific about St Johnof the Cross?
Well, the first two songs are on the same theme.
It's like Sgt Pepper...the first two songs on the album are about Sgt Pepper and then it's just like 'fuck this' - do the good songs you've got at the moment. We didn't mean it to be like that.
Though, the Canadian Flag has weird significance. We were told, in the "Shoot the Ridiculant" video, you had a backdrop of the Canadian Flag, and you wouldn't say what it meant. Was it anything to do with Prolapse? Their album "The Italian Flag"?
No. The two records came out at the same time. Prolapse were like really really big pals of ours, and like the two records came out roughly the same time, and both bands were just totally shocked. We had no idea. We were both in studios at the same time basically, making these records, and then we come out and say, "You called yours The Italian Flag, we called ours The Canadian Flag, whit's that about?" No, The bottom line is that, Mark, the keyboard player, and his girlfriend Phillipa, who's in Lung Leg, Dick Johnson. I just like the Canadian Flag, it's my favourite flag, they were just in a charity shop one day and got this T-shirt with the Canadian Flag on it and bought it for me, and my girlfriend at the time really liked it. A wee skinny tight T-shirt, and she really liked me wearing it, and the song's partly about that. That song was about - how would you describe it? It's the direct change from "Night Club" to the later stuff, that song. That's why I printed the lyrics [on the sleeve]. What happened was, I used to always stand well back from the subject...
Like Roxy Girls, for instance!
Yeah, looking really objectively at it, and what happened was I got really fed up with that idea, and that song was like, let's go right inside the subject and look at it like a microscope and where things don't work on a kind of lateral level, where it's like subjects A,B,C,D, but it's like let's zoom in on one idea, and the that sparks off something else. . It looks back on itself. And then all the lyrics became like that. I was really into things like John Cassavettes movies, and that's what a John Cassavettes films like; the plot is totally irrelevant it's not anything to do with the movie really but it's all about the scene, the details.
A bit like David Lynch? The non-linear scenes, the details...
That's true I think, but I think that David Lynch is not trying to do anything except make mad ideas for a film, he's not really saying that much: He writes the script, and they film it that's probably what comes out, but in a John Cassavettes film, the script is almost irrelevant and it might have a bit where like, this character might be in love - they go film the scene, and the people who are actually acting it are right inside the characters, and they might decide "Oh, I don't fancy this person, I don't want to fall in love with them" and he's like "Well, that's where we wanna go with I then" and it's much more detailed and looser that's what I was trying to get in the lyrics.. - not trying to say something, or at least not trying to say something before you start writing it, but actually going and to explore the subject and find out what you're trying to say about it, and then you come out of it, you end up with something that's like; you find more what you really think about something by doing that that's what I discovered. I would take, like something like "Roxy Girls": One Idea, I knew what I thought before I wrote it, and just put it out, exactly, as plainly as you could, and if I'd written that song a year later, it wouldn't have been with the same attitude, cos that was me deciding what my attitude was, or thinking what it was, rather than going in and finding out.
Where would "Policeman" fit into that?
It's getting closer, it's in the middle. That was like, sitting down and thinking rather than an opinion, I had an idea. "What would somebody in a job like the police force really think of Indie music?" what would they thinking of this kid of stuff and that was the idea. Getting closer to that sort of thing.
I heard you interviewed on the radio once, by Steve Lamacq, and you were talking about wanting better production on the records. You said, "if you put on an Elastica record, and immediately afterwards put on a Yummy Fur record", and the phrase was "the sound density drops right away" So what were your feeling towards lo-fi, and did you ever associate with that at all?
Lo-Fi...I remember years and years and years and years ago in the late eighties, I used to write to Lou Barlow, who was in Dinosaur at the time, cos I'd met him in London, and we kept up correspondence for a wee bit, and he started doing Sebadoh, a wee off-shoot thing he did in him room with him and his mate, I remember thinking that was lo-fi - sitting with a 4-track writing wee interesting songs. A couple of years later, everybody suddenly seemed to have this thing like it was a movement or something to make your records sound as shit as possible. That seemed to be just like at odds with what that started with; To me, lo-fi was just people using whatever the hell they had to hand to make a record. If you happened to have a 24-track studio in your room, I would think you would use it, see what I mean, rather than going "I'll just record it on a tape recorder" It's like, you use whatever you've got. What I saw from that, were people that were on record labels that had access record any way they liked, would go and record in a toilet. Unless that's what you really like, fair enough, but I don't listen to records like that, I listen to Bowie and stuff so, when we were making like, everything after Night Club was made with the idea that we would make it sound as good as we humanly good with what we had. Not once did we say, "let's make it fucked up" We were trying to make like Low, the David Bowie album and Roxy Music, we wanted it to sound like that, really beautiful, with loads of levels and layers, a big colourful picture of music but we couldn't afford it. We didn't want to make it sound shit - that would be accidental. We were just at the mercy of bad producers and nae cash.
With the singles, did you ever think you could cross over to "Urusei Yatsua-sized" success?
Em...no. None of them, except, when we did Stereo Girls, me and Mark Gibbons worked that out, and we thought "let's make a really good pop single" we wanted it to sound like Blondie or something, but it's the same thing, we were just working in really bad conditions. It was recorded in a studio on the other end of town in the middle of the night, and everybody was totally knackered and fucked and drunk. I was steaming when I did the lyrics - it was badly mixed. It nearly nearly nearly got there. I mean, I could record "Stereo Girls" in the house now and make it sound 50 times better, but I didn't have that opportunity at he time.
You re-did Policeman as "Policemanoid" and you re-did Supermarket as "Hypermarket", and it sounds much denser...
Yeah, there's more detail and that. At the time when I was doing the band, I hated most of the records because I knew what they were meant to sound like. But to be honest now, cos it's over, it's not my ongoing concern, I like the sort of character of those records, I like the fact they're all a bit fucked-up, although they weren't deliberately fucked up. Basically, that's what we, sounded like at the time, and that's fine, so I don't have any problem with that, but I wouldn't want to make music like that again.
"Shoot the Ridiculant" had the video. Was there any other footage of the band?
There's loads of gigs on video, but nothing apart from that. We got filmed once for Austrian TV, but I've never seen it. It was just live in a rehearsal studio, but it was still really good quality cameras and properly edited. That was about '95, or something.
Did you tour Europe quite extensively, or at all?
We went to Europe once, right before, probably really early '94. It was one of those things that just happened where there was a band, Badgewearer, who we kicked about with, they had a tour of Holland booked, and they couldn't go, the guy phoned me up and he was like "Listen, we've got a tour ready to go, I've told the people you'll probably like this band (we played quite similar music at the time), do you want to go?" and we were like, nah, we can't afford to go on tour in Europe, it's too much money, and the next day I was round at Lawrence's house and he got this letter in; he'd had some premium bonds that he never knew about and they came up, and he had a grand, and we were like let's go to Holland. Two days later we were off to Holland. It was mental. We went on tour in a converted ambulance.
Not one of those Ghostbusters style ones?
If only! It was me and Mark Leighton and Lawrence, it was us three, this guy Steve driving, Alex Huntley, who we kicked about with, cos he was in a band called The Blisters who became the Karelia, who were the only band I actually liked in Glasgow, they were brilliant. So he came, my sister came and my girlfriend Maureen. And the night before we went on tour, I had a huge argument with Maureen, and she chucked everything, jumped onto the bed on top of me, then she bit into my little finger on my left hand, she bit so hard it almost came off, and it meant I wasn't going to be able to play guitar. But then she decided to come on tour with me the next day. A poultice was put on my hand every day, and it was just a nightmare to play, so basically it meant I had to get stoned every single night just to get through it. And loads of people were taking these antihistamines and tablets and allsorts mixed in with the drugs and the whole thing just got out of hand.
The other thing was, we'd been told that, bands when they play in Europe, they expect you to play an hour to an hour and a half long set; all our songs were thirty seconds long! We knocked up, like, a few covers; we did "Fiery Jack" by the Fall, I think we did "Eat Y'self Fitter" as well, and we did this total sixties song called "Sugar Shack" and funny 60's pop stuff. We did "Discord" by the Fire Engines as well. We just played EVERY song we could possibly think of that we could play, and so I remember the first night that we played we were all fucked in this big squat venue in Amsterdam, and the setlist was this long, honestly it was about 45 songs long, and you know what the music was like from then it was really fast, by about halfway through the set me and Lawrence were like absolutely wiped out, couldn't play any more, I was like "I'm knackered! How are you?" "I'm fucked" and we were just like - fuck this - scrapped like the rest of the set and for the rest of the tour just played a normal set and everybody seemed sort of happy. One night we played in this place in Arnheim near the German border and everybody was totally fucked and there was this female metal band on before us, and they had all this Strobe-light equipment which they put on when we were playing, and I just remember feeling really stoned, really drunk and feeling really ill on stage and this strobe lights totally going in my face, and there's a dog on the stage. Strobe lighting works when you see so may repetitive images and stuff when you move your eyes, and there was loads of dogs all over the stage and I was like "get me out of here" this is fucking crazy, it's driving me mad!
We had a good laugh and then...the ambulance that we were in, you had to push it to start it, and it's absolutely true what they say about Holland, it's completely flat, and there's never any hills to start the van; ten people had to push it every time you needed to go anywhere, the whole thing was a bit crazy, but it was a good gig. Also, I think the night before we went on tour, if I remember rightly, we were going to play with the Country Teasers and Starstruck in Edinburgh and we were in a car crash and the car got totalled, and we were all totally in shock, and we had to sit up that night to do the sleeve for the first seven-inch and all the separations and all that, all the colours, I remember we sent it off to the record label Slampt and when we got back form the tour they were like "were youse on drugs or something? none of this stuff fits together at all" - we were all in shock, cos of the car crash! That contributed to the tour as well.
In terms of touring, we've toured, not a lot, but we'd do about three tours a year, apart from that one time it was all in Britain. But the tours were always good because, I think if you just play locally you never really discover at all who you are as a band. Get a bunch of songs, get in a van and play across the country. After two nights, you suddenly discover you're a band, that's where it all comes together. We used to go on tour, the first two nights would be shite, the third night you'd HIT on something. The best thing to do if you're going to do a record is, get all the songs you're going to record; take then out on tour; kick them about, and you'll discover what's working and what isn't working. That used to always happen with us we'd go off and some songs it was like "that won't work on record, it's pish live" or "that's really good, let's extend that." Going on tour's just a chance to have a party for a week. Sort of crawl back home, say to everybody "right, I don't want to see any ah youse for the next three weeks" and everybody would be saying that to each other.
It's good to go away for a week at a stretch at least. You just find out so much more about what your band actually is. You're playing different venues every night so you see how you adapt to a big venue, a wee one, different bands you play with. and you find out about each other. If you're playing in a band, and you meet up somewhere once a week for practice and the odd gig, you don't really get to know what you're like. But if you're living together, non-stop, you really start to realise what everybody's like. If you see them every day, you can start to realise "I can't stand this person" that's good, because if you ever get signed or something you're gonna be off an doing big tours, and it's good to know early if you're going to be getting on with these people, cos you're gonna be living in a bus with them for the next two years. Not good, find out early.
No offers from America then?
Loads of offers from America, but not enough money. Even just now, like, one of my mates that does Optimo and Mount Florida, he was saying that he always gets e-mails from people who like The Yummy Fur, he says "I can set you up a tour easily", but it's like, have they got money? I can just about survive in my flat, paying my rent, I'm not gonna save up £10,000 to go off and play America.
Yeah, cos even Belle and Sebastian struggle. I heard that when they go to America they have to book a separate seat for their cello, and they don't even get the complimentary food!
No way man!!! I can just see Stuart going up to the pilot and saying "don't you know who I am?" Stuart's like the person I've known longest in Glasgow - since '86 or something. He was always like the least likely to succeed, and least likely to do a band. Stuart tried to form a Kraut-rock band with me and Lawrence once, do this, do that, and it was always" aye, aye Stuart, Another one of Stuart's mad ideas" in fact they used to be, before they did Belle and Sebastian, they were called Le Pastie De la Bourgeoisie. Me and my sister and Jamie, we lived across from Greggs, (bakery) and we spray-painted that. We wanted to do a Jean-Luc Godard meets '68 slogan, but totally empty, really empty, empty statement. But Stuart must've seen it written on the side of Greggs' wall, and took it or whatever, which I thought was quite nice.
So, were all the bands referencing each other in a way?
More so between us, The Country Teasers, Lung Leg, The Male Nurse and The Karelia... more so between those sort of bands than Belle and Sebastian. They were friends. They sort of rose to prominence as we were starting to like get fed up with it and give up. Different timescale really. Glasgow sort of changed at that point, almost overnight actually. Once us and Lung Leg and the Karelia split up, and the Country Teasers and The Male Nurse moved to London, there was just nothing, nobody we wanted to see. All the excitement of that scene happened in the old13th Note, it just wasn't really the same. We played lots of good gigs in the new 13th Note, but it was never the same, it didn't have the same buzz, everybody seemed to be out on their own a wee bit after that.
There's a lot happening in Glasgow, but it's not happening on the gig circuit. If you want to see anything interesting, it's happening electronically. If you go to Optimo, you'll see good bands: If anything that band The Rapture, they played a few weeks back, they're not electronic, but they should be something interesting. To me, it's like, there was the (Glasgow) Art School in the early part of the nineties, and then that all switched to the 13th note, the original one, and from the mid to late nineties that was all that, and then, from about 99 onwards, basically Optimo's the place where you'll meet people who are actually doing stuff... a bit more glamour and excitement. If you wanna see what's going on in Glasgow, I'd go there.
There's also a studio in town called Flourish, this girl called Lucy Mackenzie, who used to be involved in a lot of our band sort of stuff, she's a well known artist now, but she's putting on loads of really interesting stuff in studio, and it's load of, I hate phrases like multimedia, but that's what it is, like a band will pay, and then films, performance art, play music and dance, and those are interesting. It's just playing in pubs, it's just boring I'd rather play somewhere where the environment is interesting and you're excited about being there, makes you do something.
See, the reason I wrote the "Policeman" single was it seemed pretty obvious that the type of people who buy the records and the type of people who'd be listening to it and coming to the gigs, and loads of bands sing about bullshit ideas that everybody agrees with, and I didn't see the point in it. You've got to isolate your audience, and find out and figure out what would be an interesting thing to sing to them. And that's what "Policeman" was like; it's like "right okay, who are they"? A bunch of whining virgin indie kids, so let's sing to them and see if we can confront them a wee bit, and so that's where all that came from. But, if you go playing nightclubs and Art Galleries, you're playing to a much wider spectrum of people, so you can DO a wee bit more you don't have to be so single-minded about it.
It's like; we do this, we go this place, so that's what we write about. It's the same with Pulp, he wrote all those great songs about living in Sheffield and all that, but them, moved to London, and started hanging about with Kate Moss, and he can't go back to writing about housing schemes in Sheffield cos he's done it, y'know? But that's where they come unstuck, because if you sing about supermodels it's bullshit, but what else are you meant to write about, cos that's all you know.
In your stuff, there's a lot of Self referencing, a lot of the same phrases pop up, so I've got a list here: significance of; eyeballs, vacuum cleaners, Myra Hindley, etc
Right, eyeball thing - dunno, I was probably massively influenced by the Residents. An eyeball is something that sticks in my mind. Aye, cos The Residents did a record called "The Commercial album." And that was as big an influence on us as anything. We were like really influenced by that. I loved the purity of that, the Residents were like "let's make 40 songs that are dead-on one minute" and see how you can explore that, narrow everything down so you're only allowing yourself a limited palate, and seeing what you can do with that. Although there's only thirty-odd songs released that were of that type of music, the short tiny three-piece stuff, we did about 70 or 80 of them. And so by about early '95 it was totally explored. It's like Picasso and Braque, Cubism - explode it then abandon it.
But yeah, the Myra Hindley thing was... I always really fancied Myra Hindley, and I didn't feel sorry for her cos, if you go about killing kids, you deserve everything you get, but, Myra Hindley... if Ian Brady had gone about collecting toy trains, she'd have been the biggest toy train collector in the world. But, she got in with a stupid idiot.
Yeah, but what was the Hindley/McCartney axis?
Oh, yeah, what was it? Myra Hindley and Paul McCartney were doing exactly the same thing, but she was working with kids and he was working with music.
Vacuum Cleaners, then?
I just liked the phrase "vacuum cleaner", and Vacuum Cleaner was to do with purifying the music, sort of narrowing it down what you're doing, and also that song reminds me of a Vacuum Cleaner, it sounds like one.
You ever seen the Jeff Koons stuff? Where he put he vacuum cleaners in the cases?
He did an earlier exhibition, and it's all vacuum cleaners pristinely in glass cases with strip lights and things onthem, and he said the thing was, they were hermetically sealed in these boxes; a vacuum cleaner's a thing that gets dirty by the very nature of what it is, he had taken a vacuum cleaner that had never been used and exhibited it like amuseum piece.
The thing with Jeff Koons is, that he managed to have his cake and eat it basically; he did the art he wanted to do, but he was, I think, a marketing executive, or stockbroker, and basically he must've realised how much of a racket the art scene was, and realised that, the amount of money I'm making on the stockbrokers here, I could transfer the same idea to art and basically rip the fucking piss out the art world, but still create art that's totally valid. Having your cake and eating it basically.
This connects, because one of the things he was very interested in was bad taste - the porn and the porcelain animals. There was a Melody Maker quote which said The Yummy Fur were like "if John Waters had directed a pop band" - were you deliberately going for a bad taste aesthetic?
The kitsch thing, the bad taste thing was one of the main things when we started that me and Jamie had agreed was that nobody seemed to be doing what we considered music, that people were doing the most innocuous melodies like bands at that time were doing ning ning ning ning ning ning ning, and we wanted to do things that were like ACTUAL melodies, like dim DO do do do do, ding DO do do do do, things like that, vulgar really silly melodies, yet played really intensely. That's why I like Pulp, cos Pulp fit in a lot of silly melodies. Sparks, things like that. A bit cheesy, a bit obvious.
But people generally say "Keep that for the joke song?"
Aye, yer wee sort of end of the night "Goodnight Ladies" type song. We didn't see any reason why you couldn't play really ridiculously silly standard melodies, but play them as if you're playing for your life, like really intensely, cos everybody seems to still have this idea that if you're playing really intensely, you must have intense really serious parts, which is bollocks, absolute NONSENSE !!!
So vague...who's "She"? Everybody seems to be singing about "She"! It's like 'is she a person? Does she exist? Does she have an address'? That was a really big thing with us, if you were singing about a person; in general they had to exist. I think that people if they put a bit of effort would respect that - maybe you don't know the person I'm singing about but, I'm telling you about them, you must be able to get something from it, rather that telling you about someone who doesn't exist. I can tell you anything I like about them because they don't exist, and that's bullshit. I don't want to sing about a mysterious female. Do you want to fit in the tradition or do you want to break it? That's what I always think... bands like Travis, as far as I can see, they're just trying to sound like the second Band LP, and if I want that, I'll listen to the second Band LP.
When we made music and all our friends made music, we were trying to make music that you couldn't get anywhere else. They don't exist in any other form, you might hear a wee bit of the Fall or the Fire Engines, but even then it doesn't sound like that. No matter what you think of The Yummy or The Country Teasers or The Male Nurse or The Karelia, or Lung Leg, I guarantee you won't get it anywhere else, there's a reason for that, it's good.
With Lung Leg, Male Nurse, family member, ex-girlfriend, and ex-band members, did you ever think, "They're just trying to be like us."
No!!! It was like "Hands across the Ocean" type stuff. We could not believe that there was a band like Country Teasers, and a band like The Male Nurse. The Male Nurse was probably the main reason we went up to a four-piece, because when I originally used to do bands and we weren't that proficient at our instruments, when you add two guitars it was all over the place, and it just made it sound really muddy, but then I remember hearing The Male Nurse and thinking: "There is a way to do two guitars in a band, and have it really clean" that helped us switch over to that And, when we were all kicking about, there was a certain mentality in our group of friends, us and Lung Leg, the Karelia there was a certain kind of humour, and we met up with the Country Teasers and The Male Nurse, that form of humour was intact though totally separate, growing up on their own. All right, youse find the same things funny, and the same things interesting? And immediately we all got together, it was like; I still think the Country Teasers are the greatest band in the world. No-ones touched them, certainly not us, not the Male Nurse. They're fantastic, Ben's never written a bad song in his life. He's never written anything less than an absolutely amazing song. I think they're like the biggest secret in the world. They should be absolutely gigantic. They're the ones that're really doing stuff. I'd say that they should've changed music, but didn't cause not enough people heard them. We started hanging about with them and it was like...sigh of relief, like there's other people who think this stuff, cos our humour was always quite extreme, but theirs is even more extreme, thank God, and they had the balls to sing it as well. Much more extreme than anything I ever wrote, really ultra extreme. I mean the lyrics tackle sexism and racism in a way that nobody had ever tackled before, in a way that could be seen as sexist and racist, but it isn't at all.
How conceptual was Sexy World? The NME review interpreted it as some sci-fi thing.
What, it was a concept album about robots or something? Outer space or something like that?
That was off the planet?
That was all shit.
It was conceptual sound-wise, though?
It was the same as what I was saying before about trying to make a record that sounds like what I would to listen to, that was the premise, it's like 'let's make a record that's taking pop songs, doing something interesting with them, the same as when we started, trying to make it sound like pop songs that I would listen to by other bands'. I don't mean like their songs, but structured with verses, choruses, a lot of detail in the music, but also trying to fuck with it a wee bit. But there was no concept in terms of any overlying thing except trying to make a really good pop record and trying to do something in the tradition of "Low" by Bowie or the first ever Roxy Music LPs, or you know "Here Come The Warm Jets" by Eno, and "Taking Tiger Mountain"? They're probably the closest things to what we were trying to do.
"Here Come The Warm Jets" sounds a lot like Sexy World, it's one of my favourite records ever. It's everything that The Yummy Fur was meant to be like. It's like taking a melody, a little simple melody for each song and seeing how far you can push it, like "Baby's on fire" or "Camel's eye". It's just really simple ideas but seeing if you ca pile on eighteen guitars. You have a really catchy melody on "Baby's on fire" but the middle was sort of like an eight-minute guitar solo where there should be a chorus, come back to it. These were all ideas that, we were like, 'aw, that's great way of approaching pop'. So, the basic concept was like make a really good pop album, or a good rock album - something I would want to listen to, and it's nearly there, we just were a bit rushed for time. There's supposed to be more electronic stuff on it.
All that electronic stuff, was that cos you had Clare on keyboards, or was it the influence of Optimo, or was it just cos you wanted to do an electronic record anyway?
All that started way before Optimo or Clare. Mark Gibbons the keyboard player ...what happened was, I lived down Arlington Street with my girlfriend Maureen, and he moved in across the road, and we were doing Night Club, and Slampt says "right, we're gonna give you five hundred quid" and we were like, well that's gonna get about ten minutes in a recording studio, that's absolutely useless, we're trying to do an album here. So we thought 'why don't we go and buy an eight-track recorder, and then we can install it in his basement, and record to our heart's delight'. Mark, by default, ended up being the producer of the record, cause he knew a wee bit more, but he knew fuck all as well really, we pressed all the wrong buttons and stuff, none of us knew how to record anything, and so what happened was we had a gig in the Bedsit one night, and we said "fancy coming up and playing some keyboards?" Cos he had this big organ (ho fucking ho); he's like "great". We had a half-hour practice, and he ended up staying in the band from that night. And so keyboards started becoming a prominent thing, it was "what can we do with the keyboards?" And then we started thinking about synthesisers. It's funny actually because I had some ideas at that point about making some purely electronic music, that's when" Shoot the Ridiculant" single came, that was about '97. But that exact same year that was the same year that I.G put out "The Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass" which is like the first modern electro record where like people were starting to do elements of electro that was going on in the eighties, but turning it into songs, using analogue synthesisers. And so, we heard this, as well, and we were like 'oh fuck, other people are doing that, that's really interesting' and that's what kicked off Optimo, what they were doing. We slotted right into that, but the Optimo thing is weird because they were almost running parallel with us; they were the opposite of us. Twitch and Johnny had come from the dance scene, and started to realise like, "we like all these sixties records and post-punk records and stuff why don't we throw this into the mix", whereas we were the opposite, we started to find analogue synthesisers really interesting, let's throw them into the mix. We ended up playing at Optimo, The Sub Club, like sort of mixing us live throwing in drum machines and mad sounds, it was quite weird. That's where the whole keyboard thing came - it was just in the atmosphere at the time. It's like, I remember hearing "Girls and Boys" by Blur, and I recall me and Jamie were all living together, me Jamie, Jane and one of my friends, and one of them said; "Have you heard the new Blur single? It's everything we were wanting to try and do with our music!" We all heard it, and we were like: BASTARDS!!! And there was loads of that going on - everybody seemed to be doing the same thing. So it wasn't like anybody was particularly influenced by anything else, it was just "in the air".
I mean, the very end of the Yummy Fur, we had a choice of either splitting up, we were fed up with it, or completely starting again as The Yummy Fur, but just doing it totally electronically, and then we thought, fuck it, it's coming to the end of the decade - the last gig was December '99. It was like, let's just leave the Yummy Fur as something that happened only in the nineties, don't struggle into the 21st century, just do something different after that. It locks in intake a wee sort of time, you can say, "That was a band of the nineties" rather than...it's like The Velvet Underground - they sort of ran on to about 1971 in various forms. It kind of ruins the appeal of it. It'd be nicer to say; there's that band that did four albums in the late sixties and that would be the end of it rather than, "oh yeah, there's that wee extra bit at the end"
They were exactly the same, they probably started about 62, split up about '69.
After Sexy World was recorded in mid-98; you existed for another eighteen months. Had you written or recorded a lot of new stuff since then?
Nut. Not really. That was another reason why we stopped playing. What happened was, after we did Sexy World, we went off and toured some of these songs, and then slowly over the course of the year, people started leaving, and other people were coming in, and the line-up changed so much, that every single time somebody new came in, cos had all these gigs booked and stuff, all we could do was teach them the simplest songs that we had, and all the subtleties of the songs disappeared. I might have a song that had three verses but each verse, the instrument of whoever had just joined, it'd be different for each verse, but we might have a gig two days from then, so it'd just be like "Right, I'm gonna teach you this one bass-line that fits with the verse, you're not really meant to play it in each verse, but it'll do for just now, just remember it". Then, just before you had a chance to teach them the full song properly, somebody else would leave, and somebody would join, and you had to teach them the same song, and so, what we ended up with for the last year of the band was a set of about ten songs that were only the songs that worked best live, and that required as little sort of subtlety as possible, so that everybody could play 'em with some degree of authority. And, by that point, it was just playing gigs purely for the kick if it, for the fun of it. I'd put so much effort into writing and recording "Sexy World", so much effort went into that and, it just came out, and some people liked it, it disappeared, and that was the end of it. It was just like "Aw, man I can't face writing another album of this stuff", and, apart from the electronic side, if I write another album, it is just gonna be "Sexy World Part II" cos, this is the music I want to play. I don't want to change the style, but why write "Sexy World" part two, I'd said everything I wanted to say, why repeat yourself? So we just ambled along for another year, played gigs sort of sporadically, and got to about, I dunno, Autumn 99, and me and Paul were sitting about, and I was like "are you enjoying this anymore?" I enjoy getting up and playing the songs, but even then, we'd been playing the same songs for a year and a half. And, At that point we'd started doing things like "Shoot The Ridiculant" and making it fifteen, twenty minutes long just for the fun of it on stage, if nothing else it was just getting out of hand, we thought this is silly, fuck it, let's do two last gigs. On in Glasgow and one in London. And that's it. We'll just do the definitive gigs, and end it. That was it. Everybody wanted to do something different.
Me and Paul wanted to go down the side of electronic music, and everybody else was just sort of circulating about, holding up the band. So we did the last gigs, and got on with new music. Me and Paul started doing music for a bit, and then we got my friend Jenny in, and started working with her, and then Paul was doing Pro Forma more so me and Jenny started concentrating on it. Now it's like two bands, Pro Forma, and The Mars Hotel, with Jenny and me.
What about The Girls?
That's me and Alex Huntley, and this girl Sarah. Sarah and this other girl Jenny were both in a band called Eva - Reindeer section stuff Anyway, Sarah, and me and Alex, we just did one gig, we played with Chicks On Speed I think it was, and then just got fed up with it. Some of those songs ended up in the new band. That's what the Girls was, a very short lived electronic band.
The new band is like every single thing that I ever really wanted to do with music, done correctly. I just record on that thing, which is like a wee ten-track digital recorder. On that, I can make music that sounds... production values enough that I can listen to it. The fact is that Jenny and me can sit in here in our own time and make music that we both really really like. It's like what I said about "Sexy World" and "Male Shadow"; making a record that you'd want to listen to, but now even more so, we've got the collaborative effort, and I don't do any singing, and that's fine by me, cos I've got nothing else to say in terms of lyrics. She can articulate stuff that's like 50 times better than anything I would ever sing in the Yummy Fur, she's like a really sharp, sharp lyricist. And for once, the vocal melodies are done in a way that I could never do. She can sing, and do harmonies; she handles all the vocals, all the melodies, all the lyrics. I write the music, then we come together on it, and we just make records that I like, that she likes. I could actually sit and listen to our music and enjoy it, divorced from it all, I don't think "That's our new song," I think "that's a song," y'know, but we're trying to work out a way of doing it live just now.
Do you still go to wee gigs in Glasgow?
No, no way, hang about with people who go to wee gigs? No chance! I went to see Pro-forma last week, who were playing with Erase Errata - you heard them? They're a San Francisco band, my wife Emily; she's totally influenced by post-punk music, Gang of Four, etc. She got this Erase Errata CD, and we sat and listened to it, and she was like "this sounds like The Yummy Fur, this is so much like the Yummy Fur!" We missed the whole gig except for the last song, which was great, then everyone went to Optimo that night and Emily got talking to the girl who played guitar and she was saying she's a huge Yummy Fur fan, that is where that comes from, it's quite funny, but they're definitely continuing that, there's a lot of The Dog Faced Hermans, Essential Logic, The Slits in it as well, but they're definitely an early Yummy Fur sort of thing. I don't mean they're like a Yummy Fur tribute band, but it's the same ideas. I go and see Pro Forma, I go and see Alex Huntley and Paul's band, but I can't think of other bands I'd go and see. I go to big gigs - Nina Simone's playing soon - she's great, saw John Cale - that was good. I want to see Liza Minneli before she dies, but naw, I like to be entertained and it's like four wee spotty white guys in a shite indie band isn't really entertaining. I'd rather go to a club and dance.
What influence do you think you've had, are there any bands influenced by the later stuff?
I don't know, apart from that Erase Errata band, I don't know of any bands specifically influenced by The Yummy Fur. There's been the odd wee thing over the years, but for all I know there could be ten thousand bands influenced, but I don't listen to that music, and I would never be in contact with it. I don't listen to indie music at all, really. So I dunno - you tell me. Most people prefer the earlier stuff. I feel like Woody Allan sometimes. Everyone comes up to him and it's like "I'm a really big fan of your movies - especially the earlier funny stuff!"
Let's play song association!
"Exact Copy Of Hermann Friendly"
It's about bad art installations. The Hermann Friendly person doesn't exist, it's a made up thing in the same way bad art is made up; it's like deliberately talking about someone who doesn't exist, but for a reason. I dunno, it's a silly sort of song. I don't like that song, it sounds too much like the Male Nurse. I was influenced by The Male Nurse when I wrote that song.
"Documentary Of A Kid"
"Documentary Of A Kid" is about the way children perceive stuff in a completely like...they're bombarded by stuff, everything's like arrr...'I like this, that's amazing, that's dead scary', and I was trying to make music like the music from "Psycho". We revived that, we usually joined that onto "Death Club" We did a slowed down intense version of "Documentary Of A Kid" - it would go straight into the beat from the start of "Death Club".
"Pink Pop Girls"
That's about the band, and writing silly music. When we started playing, the first year that we played, I used to make the whole band, the three of us, wear dresses on stage all the time. Because the music sounded so gay anyway, we just thought we'd play that up, but, not doing it in a very tranny, feminine kind way, just like, here's guys, wearing dresses, acting like guys.
Like Glam Rock then?
Very like Glam rock...these builders from Sheffield.
That's like "70s" then? "These homosexuals look like navvies in drag. They need to lose weight - try skag"?
Exactly. And so "Pink Pop Girls" was talking about the presentation of the music, where it seems very gay, but you're actually playing in a really male fashion.
So, like the name "The Male Nurse"? The way it suggests that the idea of a Male Nurse is some kind of aberration. Why not just nurse?
The Male Nurse is the best name for a band ever. I don't think you could call a band anything better ever, and I don't think even they would have thought of it in that way. I think they just came up with the name cos they thought, 'that is a fucking good name'. Keith's a very good lyricist; he knows how to write lyrics, his stuff's sharp as fuck.
Playboy Japan 1971?
That's a million...that's a long story. The cover of Sexy World is from an old porno mag, from Japan, called Playboy; it's got nothing to do with Playboy, they probably just stole the name. The picture's from 1971, I was born in1971, so there's that connection. The original picture is much better, it's on it's side, she's supposed to be lying this way, she's got her hand between her legs, it's not that graphic but quite extreme, and I wanted that on the cover but I think Brian wanted to show his Mum his new album, so he shopped and cropped it.
But Playboy Japan Is about five different things...it's all about...what is it...it's "visit Lewis's rock camp" which is a reference to Wyndham Lewis, the writer, who was the biggest influence on the Fall, and he was writing about Notting Hill in the forties after the war, and how the art scene had become really debauched, and full of shit and that phrase was what Glasgow was like in the year I wrote those songs - "Art School, cigarettes and heroin", 97, 98,maybe 99 even. "Felt a tug on my heart strings, with Ronaldo with a limp", which is about the World Cup final in '98.I was sitting watching the World Cup, and on comes Ronaldo, looking like he's pumped full of smack or something, what happened was the ball got kicked to Ronaldo, and Ronaldo fell over, and I was like, "that's so sad, that's like the greatest football players in the world, and they've just been let down". That's what that was, and then...what was the chorus? "She put her hand straight through a window", which is a reference to Lou Reed's Berlin, em "Playboy Japan distorts the angles" is, the cover's at a weird angle. "All my friends are stuck on tin-foil" is, everyone I knew was a smackhead at the time. There's a bit about Deborah Curtis. "turn the dial with your left hand," something about Ralf and Florian, that's about - there's a lyric on Radio Activity, a song on that, Radioland, with that lyric. "Double L on the telephone" - is this too convoluted for you? - is like my girlfriend I went out with before I made the record, it was a really bad split-up for me, I was totally in love with her, her name's Lorna Lithgow - double L, "touching from a distance and Debbie's funny book" which is Deborah Curtis's "Touching From A Distance" cos it's hilarious, the least informed person in the world to write about Joy Division, it'd be like getting my Mum to write a book about the Yummy Fur. And there's something about Kenickie in it. We played with Kenickie in King Tut's then we came out and went down to the 13th Note to go dancing and Paul dropped the camera and all the film spilled out with all these great pictures of us backstage dancing about. Kenickie were all pals, they played their first gigs, and he's fucked all that up.
With the lyrics to the Canadian Flag, every line joins onto the last line, but no two lines are anything to do with each other, but there's a joining. Like with "Playboy Japan", every single song, from "St John of the Cross", right through to "Shoot The Ridiculant", every single song is like what I just described to you. Millions of different stuff. Right, "St John of the Cross", is about St John of the Cross the saint, and about like getting back to the old-style religion where people like walked on water and stuff, and it's more about Teresa Avila, the saint that set up the Carmelite nuns. She said she'd been pierced by an arrow, a burning arrow of love from God, let's get tough, yeah, cos the Carmelite nuns changed all the religion quite heavily in Spain cos they got back to the idea of like minimalism, stripping everything down, cos up to the end of the 16th century, all the religion had come with crushed velvet and incense, and lavish buildings and stuff, which is quite similar to what we did with music. But at the end it starts talking about Michael Portillo.
The English comedy?
At the time Michael Portillo had been kicked out of politics, and there was rumours he was going to end up on TV shows, which he did in the end, doing travel shows, but I always imagined Mickey P was going to wind-up doing a sitcom, the "H-bomb in sit-com" because it just wouldn't work!
Like Terry and June...
If he wasn't being true to himself, if he was being true to himself he'd have been brilliant but I knew he wouldn't. I like Michael Portillo - he makes me laugh.
And also.. on the inside there's the Dali picture of St John of the Cross, and somebody has slashed it, which ties in with something else in the song. The other pictures are taken from really early David Cronenberg films, "Crimes Of The Future" and a film called "Stereo" which I've never seen, which was the influence on the music of "Stereo Girls". Making music influenced by reading about a film, if that makes any sense, and that's how a lot of the music was written.
There's that still from "2001" on the "Stereo Girls" sleeve?
That's the most convoluted thing in the world. I was amazed we got away with that...I said to the girl who put it out, I want to used this still, but you realise that if Stanley Kubrick and his minions find out about this you would get a lawsuit like you would not believe. But, we took a chance and never heard anything. But what it is is, the front cover is from a film called "Daisies", a Czechoslovakian film from 1968 with these two girls, and one of them looked a bit like my girlfriend at the time, and one of them looks like Paul's girlfriend - they're the two girls that sing on "Stereo Girls". It only occurred to me after we'd put it out that the scene in "Daisies" and the scene in "2001" at those exact bits both feature a character leaning over and knocking over a glass, the guy in "2001", although he's become a superbeing, he can't believe he can still make mistakes. And in "Daisies" there's a bit where they trash this room and she knocks a glass over. The A-side has got "Stereo Girls are breaking glass on carpets" which is a reference to "Breaking Glass" on Low, and the B-side is "Always Crashing In The Same Car", the cover of a song from Low, and also that record got banned on the radio for a couple of month, it came out the day after Diana died. Both sides mentioned crashing cars, and there was a wee article in the Melody Maker.
Later referred to with 'Thee French Papparazzi'?
That is a direct reference to that, and something about Gina G in "Showgirls" cause I was a big fan of "Showgirls", one of the most underrated movies ever - nobody understood it - he was trying to make a really facile "Valley of the Dolls" type of film. You could tell he'd chosen really bad actors and a bad script and made this piece of high camp. Everybody thought he'd just failed, but he succeeded, it's a perfectly realised concept. But, Gina Gershwin, for every day on the set used to have to glue rhinestones on her nipples - apparently it was a total nightmare.
What about "Dave and Roger - too scared to purchase Lodger"?
That's when we were living in Blantyre in the Clyde Valley, and "in the time hats were hats", we walking down the street one day, and my girlfriend saw this guy wearing a hat, and she said "that's brilliant", yeah, 'cos that person's wearing a hat in the time when hats were hats, not a fashion accessory, and then it refers to the early eighties, and I really liked Pink Floyd, I was a big fan of Bowie, but I was always too scared to buy "Lodger" cos it didn't have a track listing, and I was always really worried it just some compilation or something!
It's like...every Fall song starts off about something, then half-way through he's suddenly talking about something else, singing about summat totally different and then with the last verse, you suddenly realise there is a connection! That's what all the songs on "Sexy World" and "Male Shadow" are about.
You should read Wyndham Lewis, he's an amazing writer, he influenced the Fall's lyrics more than anything else, pre and post-war he always always always pushed for the other viewpoint. A lot of times he was wrong, a lot of times he was right. Look at, say, "Kicker Conspiracy" - that's so Wyndham Lewis, to look at the causes of football violence, and what's the real problem? And Mark E Smith's point was, a football match is physical, you don't take your family to a football match, you take your family to the pictures. But the real violence in football is being done by the upper level management spending all their money on holidays abroad rather than new nets, and punishing players like George Best who were out performing and entertaining people. George Best doesn't need practice - the guy's a fucking genius.
On this appropriate note the interview drew to an end. 5th October 2002.