Incendiary interview Gravenhurst part 2
IN: On another tack, I heard you like psycho-geography, i.e. Iain Sinclair?
NT: Talking about psycho-geography, indeed admitting that you like psycho-geography is a good way of making you sound like a complete twat. It’s a short-cut to being a twat. A lot of people found out about Iain Sinclair by reading Alan Moore, because Moore was really influenced by him, but him and Peter Ackroyd… (silence) …indeed what is psycho-geography? It’s really difficult to explain it, but is it separated from any other part of writing.
I should say it’s a slightly obsessive idea of the relationship between your emotions, feelings and ideas and your concrete surroundings. It does help if you have a real in-depth knowledge of a place, and its history, somewhere like London is ripe for it in that it has such an expansive, well-mapped, exciting and dangerous history. Will Self has got a column called the Psycho-geographer. I only found this out recently, because his column is in the Independent and I don’t read that paper. It’s become a very hackneyed term now…
IN: It’s an old thing; Hoskin’s Making of the English Landscape, Watkin’s Old Straight Track, Stukeley, Fraser’s the Golden Bough…
NT: A new set of words for an old idea. Understanding who you are. If you are a writer with a broad enough intellectual pallet than you will cover this stuff anyway… I’m sure Iain Sinclair cringes at the word now.
IN: People don’t half nitpick nowadays. How much do people want to tie things down?
NT: There’s so much going on in the world, it’s an absolute head-fuck. To take it back to music… possibly we expect far too much of musicians, or anyone?
IN: Everyone’s an artist…
NT: But, you know, bands tend to feel this. I remember a thing about Brett Anderson in Suede. A lot of journalists bigged him up as the next Morrissey, and he was under pressure to be a mouthpiece for this bi-curious youth that journalists had just discovered, and you know it turned out the guy wasn’t clever enough to play that role. He was under this pressure to live up to some sort of ideal, poor bloke… and he can’t be bothered anymore to rise to journalistic bait.
A lot of people in cultural journalism… you lot expect a lot of musicians, and you always expect them to be as erudite as John Lydon or Morrissey who have answers for everything. And when they’re not they get pilloried. And I know I’ve sat here and slagged off lots of things… no-one in particular, but certainly everything in general… (Laughs)… At the end of the day the musicians didn’t join a band because they have an answer for everything, they did this because they really like playing fucking music.
A lot of their time their lyrics mean nothing because it’s pop music, it’s entertainment
IN: My favourite lyrics are Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire “I wanna love you like a lover should…” brilliant. Not quoting the White Goddess in a lyric...
NT: I bet that would really impress lots of people... You wouldn’t catch me stroking my bloody chin (Laughs)…
I try to temper it by saying my songs aren’t really about anything. Brilliant bands like the Velvet Underground; walk the line between being stupid and being clever. Very primal things, sex, waiting for your drug dealer... S&M, you know, primal urges, taking it to a fucked up extreme. Same with My Bloody Valentine, a brilliant pop band, who just take it to an extreme with noise and I still contain that all MBV songs are about fucking.
IN: I’ve always maintained that Isn’t Anything is just like Revolver but turned up to 11. And it was good pop entertainment.
NT: I know this is not far off ‘cos I talked to Kevin Shields about it. He was, and is, really influenced by the Beatles.
IN: And all this is getting lost amongst the bloody bongos and flutes. I’d rather see Cluster play. They are still rock and roll, even if they are about 70.
NT: It’s the same with Pete Kember, now he’s reformed Spectrum. I went to see them play recently and they were totally on fire; and after the gig he fucking apologised, saying sorry we haven’t really got it together yet, but I said man, that was fucking insane. I never had the pleasure of seeing Spaceman 3, but I’ve got to know Pete Kember since he was playing in Magnetophone. Pete’s a lovely bloke, and he’s producing some young bands, and I hope he’s really rocking their minds. A really great guy called Nat Cramp wrote something recently in the NME, they had a list of the most influential people in music and he put Sonic Boom in there. And I thought, nice one, it’s really good to see someone genuinely interesting getting in there. So Pete’s presently got this really big band in the studio, producing their record, and I thought now, that is a fucking gamble; (laughs). Watching him play, putting Spectrum and Spaceman 3 stuff together on stage -and he’s forty odd now - is more exciting than anything I’ve seen in years. It’s so exciting!
IN: People were more active then, finding things out. That’s why people like Pete Kember have a strong presence still. He’s active. Bands are too passive now. Everything is available at the press of a button.
NT: One thing I have noticed is that the American and Canadian bands I meet have a much stronger work ethic than British bands. British bands think that by just putting a set of songs together playing a few gigs in London and getting A&R interest is enough. American bands have released records off their own backs and touring for five or six years. And they don’t have any vision of it going beyond that; they just keep going ‘cos they really enjoy it. God I sound like a Tory, let’s blame the welfare state (Laughs).
IN: Rock is academic now, there’s no tribalism anymore.
NT: Yeah… There’s no taboos now. For a long time I thought I wasn’t allowed to like Pink Floyd because Johnny Rotten told me I wasn’t allowed to like Pink Floyd, not to mention the very political journalists grandstanding in places like NME & Melody Maker. I found that annoying, being told what I could or couldn’t listen to. But I found it refreshing that that’s changed. I like Shoegazer bands, which as you know were knocked at the time. And finally… ….it’s taken this long for people to write articles about how great Slowdive were and how they made three really great records. And they were just hammered to pieces by journalists for political reasons. On the other hand, now everything’s more or less accepted, it does make for less interesting journalism.
IN: God we’re sounding like a bunch of old buffers. Let’s talk about your music a bit more, Nick. You think your music or message is confrontational or not?
NT: In lyricism you should say as much as you can with as little as possible.
I don’t like to read stuff and automatically know what’s it about. I do like pulling things apart, wondering, for instance whether a lyric should continue a vowel sound over a number of bars… and I am a confrontational fucker it has to be said. I don’t think I’d want to write just for confrontational reasons though. I’d want to look back on my own stuff and think, ‘yeah I have created a good body of work’. The song Saints on Western Lands, I’m really, really pleased I really nailed that one. To be quite honest with you that song is about suicide bombers but the themes are about the idea of religious martyrdom, about seeing yourself in some sort of religious pantheon, about having a destiny laid out for yourself. And ultimately it’s about suicide bombers… and I’m really pleased that you probably wouldn’t know that at first listen. It would still be enjoyable if you didn’t work it out, anyway. The listener can make something personal from it. I’m not stopping them!
To return to part one, click here.
Questions: Richard Foster