Friday, 29 April 2011
The Wedding Present
Extracts from the Rhubarb Bomb interview with The Wedding Present main man, David Gedge. There was a whole section looking back through the band's recorded output that was too vast to fit into Issue 2.1, so it is presented here.
Putting aside the official RCA debut (the John Peel sessions) the Bizarro LP was the major label 'rock' release. You revisited the album in its entirety on the last tour. I have to ask, playing 'Take Me!' night after night must be exhausting. How do you do it?
It was just a matter of practicing and building up stamina… like training for a marathon! It was tougher for our drummer, Charlie, than it was for me. When we were rehearsing in Los Angeles he was continually asking for the studio air conditioning to be switched off so that he could experience the equivalent of hot and sweaty concert conditions. I guess that’s what you call dedication to duty!
Can we expect a Seamonsters anniversary tour? (My tongue is only partly in my cheek; it's my favourite of all the WP LPs).
I haven’t made a decision about that, yet, because at the moment we’re concentrating on new songs. But I’m certainly attracted by the idea, yes…
Steve Albini's services were used for recording this. Were you a fan of his work? How did it come about?
Yes, I was… and remain… a huge fan of Albini’s work. I got him to record our last album, “El Rey,” too. I remember John Peel saying: “Albini bestrides the world as a colossus!” Ha! I was particularly inspired by “Surfer Rosa,” which he recorded for The Pixies. That LP had such a great sound… intimate, dramatic, powerful. I just remember speculating about what someone like him could do for The Wedding Present.
Difficult third album syndrome didn't seem to be an issue with Seamonsters. The songs were strong, the 'production' made them sound even stronger. Was the recording process different to before?
Not really. People often ask me what Albini’s secret is… how he manages to get those great sounds… but he’ll be the first to admit that what he does is totally straightforward. He just records musicians playing together with good instruments, through good amplifiers… with appropriately placed microphones in a great sounding room! I’m afraid that sounds quite boring and technical, but that’s how he does it…
Around that time, you covered some quite obscure tunes as b-sides for your singles: versions of Pavement and Jean-Paul Sartre Experience songs. How did you get familiar with these bands? Did you see them at the Duchess of York by any chance? (I actually came and introduced myself to you at the Duchess one night when Bongwater and AC Temple were playing).
We were just obsessive music fans. Still are, in fact… which is why I’m still doing this, I suppose! If you’re that interested in something you’re prepared to put in the effort. Our bass player Keith Gregory returned from a holiday in New York City with Pavement’s first 7” single and that’s how we first heard of them.
On the subject of other folks' music, the B-sides of the Hit Parade singles from 1992 were an eclectic mix of cover versions. If you had the opportunity to release 12 singles in 12 months again, what/who would you cover nowadays?
I’m not going to tell you... in case we decide to do it again, ha! Maybe I’d start with ‘I Have A Dream’ by Abba…
After what seemed like an eternity for WP fans, Watusi appeared on another major label (Island) and another famous name on the credits in Steve Fisk. How was it working with him?
Steve Fisk is, genuinely, one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in the music industry. ‘Watusi’ is an odd album because we wanted to get away from the ‘classic’ Wedding Present sound and see if we could make a dramatic sounding record without using overdrive pedals on our guitars. Steve had a difficult job because that was new territory for us. He was a great help, though, and I went back and recorded ‘Take Fountain’ with him ten years later...
What happened with RCA and how did Island get you? And only for one album!?
Do you remember me telling you about the A&R person who signed us to RCA? Well, he left the company while we were working on ‘The Hit Parade’ and we got dropped shortly after. There’s usually a quick turnover of staff at major labels and when new people join they understandably just want to sign and work with the artistes they like as opposed to being handed a band by their predecessor. And actually, exactly the same thing happened again at Island… only much more quickly!
And then onto the Cooking Vinyl label. One of the bigger contemporary indies at the time, they had quite a roster. Mini sounded like it was a lot of fun to make. It was certainly a lot of fun to listen to.
‘Mini’ is actually one of the Wedding Present records of which I’m most proud and I sort of regret the fact that it’s not a full-length album. Having said that, maintaining the motor car theme over twice as many songs might have been stretching it!
And then after the full-lengther for CV (Saturnalia) you put the band on hiatus and concentrated on the Cinerama project. What were your reasons for doing so? Disenchantment? Spreading of the artistic wings?
It wasn’t disenchantment, no… it was just that after having done The Wedding Present for over ten years I felt like I needed a break. And also… I’ve always loved film scores and the work of people like John Barry and Ennio Morricone but I didn’t think it would be fair or even possible to try and force the other members of The Wedding Present into trying a new ‘filmic’ direction. So, during the ‘break’ I started experimenting on my own… writing with computers instead of people… and I quickly realised that I enjoyed the freedom. So my original plan of taking maybe eight months off became eight years and we ended up releasing three Cinerama studio albums in that period.
The Wedding Present was reactivated in 2004, the first release being the Take Fountain album. With Steve Fisk on production duties again, and a streamlined sound (to these ears at least) that was a hybrid of motorik music filtered through the soundtrackier aspects of Cinerama. Along with the signature Gedge lyrical content of course (the titles I'm From Further North, Always the Quiet One could've come from the George Best period).
Well, the curious thing about ‘Take Fountain’ was that, when we were writing and arranging it, we all thought we were working on the fourth Cinerama LP. But then, as we started making demos and playing the songs live it became more and more obvious that it was sounding more like a collection of Wedding Present songs than Cinerama songs. The final straw was when we were recording a Cinerama session for John Peel and even the engineers at the BBC studios were saying: “David, you’ve come here and you’re calling this Cinerama, but it’s obviously The Wedding Present! Where’s the string quartet, the trumpet player, the flute?!” So, although I eventually decided that ‘Take Fountain’ was going to be The Wedding Present’s follow up to ‘Saturnalia,’ you can obviously hear the strong Cinerama influence on those recordings.
Take Fountain also signalled a return to putting out your records on your own label (Scopitones). A case of needs must and no interference?
I didn’t really have a great experience while we were signed to Cooking Vinyl… we had much more freedom and support while we were on both Island and RCA… and they were major labels. I realised that I could do exactly the same job as Cooking Vinyl were doing... or even a better job... if I had my own label… but in that case I would actually own my recordings and have total control over what I did with them.
More classic WP-style song titles followed on 2008's El Rey - Don't Take Me Home Until I'm Drunk, The Thing I Like Most About Him Is His Girlfriend - along with those seemingly biographical lyrics. Steve Albini's back on board too!
Weirdly, ‘El Rey’ now stands out to me as one of the most poppiest records The Wedding Present have made… a style you wouldn’t necessarily equate with Albini.