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Interview:

GILL v. gill

May, 2019


The following is a transcript of an interview conducted earlier this year by long-time Reglar Wiglar rock correspondent, David Gill with longtime music icon figure Andy Gill. Andy Gill was and is the guitarist for the high influential British post punk band Gang of four. He has also produced albums by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Killing Joke and the Jesus Lizard, to name a few. At the age of 63, Gill shows no signs of slowing down his creative output as he continues to record and tour.

DAVE: Can you tell me where you are?

ANDY: I’m in London at my house and studio.

DAVE: Do you know my name is Gill as well?

ANDY: No I didn’t know that. In India there are millions of people whose last name is Gill, funnily enough. But in the UK it’s kind of a Scottish name. Certainly a northern name if not Scottish.

DAVE: Can you tell me about this new album and tour?

ANDY: The new album is called Happy Now, the single is out right now, it’s called Paper Thin. Let’s see, I started it at the end of 2017 and I finished it, basically last summer. With previous recordings I’ve often thought, well look, I’m a great produce, I’ve produced all these other people, maybe I should produce it myself, but I think I came to the realization that it’s a really good idea to have other people’s input, other people’s opinions, other people’s creative feedback, so when I began in earnest to actually record properly some of the demos I had kicking around, I was determined to work with other co-producers, so I worked with brilliant producers on the record, and for some reason, I’m not quite sure why, I got in the habit of getting up REALLY early, like 5:30 kind of time and I would just get a cup of tea and go down to my studio and start working on lyrics, start working on the songs, and then whoever was co-producing with me would turn up around 10:30, 11 and then we’d do a day’s work so we were really putting the hours in, and I think something I came to realize, which I don’t think I realized before was that like getting a real head of steam, getting some momentum is really helpful creatively.

And that whole idea that you sit around and you tweak this and you do some navel gazing that’s not particularly helpful, and what you need to do is push ahead all the time. That’s really how this record went, so basically by last summer, by June of last year I had seventeen tracks fully finished, mixed, everything, and I liked all of them and I picked, my plan was you know pick ten for this record. I had some other songs that you known were in process but not finished. Some of them I wrote with Jame Err some of them I wrote on my own, and I thought well I’ve got a second album ready to go whenever it feels right, so that feels really good that you can, you know, get ahead of yourself in a way.

DAVE: What about recording today as opposed to in the past? Do you like it better?

ANDY: I like [recording today] better, but having said that, there is something about being in a room and just kicking stuff back and forth even if you have to argue about. There is something about that. And of course the modern process tends to be building step by step. So there’s pros and cons. You know I think from the technology side of things it’s great. I mean it means you can speed things up, slow things down, edit things really quickly, get rid of part B if you think it goes on too long, you know all of that stuff. Of course, back then you kind of figured all that out in rehearsal I guess, and you would argue over it, changes things, and anything else, you know. So there’s pros and cons both ways.


Photo by D.J.Markham

DAVE: What about touring these days? Do you find that to be different than it used to be?

ANDY: Not really.

DAVE: Even as you get on years?

ANDY: Yeah, you know I get off the tour bus, stagger into the venue. (Laughs). When you’re twenty or twenty one and you’re going on tour, it’s quite a big buzz, and then later, 'cause you’ve done it so much maybe it’s a little more routine, but it’s part of the job, it’s what you do and you know we were just in Brazil recently, doing sold out shows in Sao Paolo, it’s great, just meeting these people and talking to them, and they’re so into it. You know the thing about going on tour is, although we’ve been out a very long time the audience, at least half the audience is in their twenties and thirties. It’s not considered to be, people see it as a vibrant new band basically. The audiences that we get, and I would say it was really remarkable in Mexico and Brazil how the demographic was, people were generally quite a bit younger and I think that’s partly because so many bands, so many new-ish bands have referenced Gang of Four, whether it’s Franz Ferdinand or Block Party or whatever it may be.

 

DAVE: How about politically? Does the Trump era influence your art and your music?

ANDY: Yeah, the thing about politics, I think the thing to remember with Gang of Four, it was never a question of espousing a particular party line, and never to be telling people what they should be thinking. It wasn’t like “ok, banging the drum for socialism.” It was never that. It was much more observational and descriptive and letting people, we describe the situation, and the people go, “right, I recognize that.” And it’s a kind of truth telling, and I think in the current world obviously we’re in this situation that we’re in. Some people are going to say we think Trump is doing a really good job and other people are going to say it’s a really bad thing, personally I can’t think of any, going back many many many decades. I can’t think of another American president who had such a kind of extreme right wing agenda, as Trump does. So I mean I think Paul and myself we always tried to steer clear of making songs that are about particular current affair situations, however, when Trump got elected and he installed Ivanka in the White House in her own office, and it was like she’d been appointed as spokeswoman for Trumpism. And she was kind of wheeled out to do interviews and I think the one that caught a lot of people’s attention and especially mine was when someome said, “well you’re complicit with Donald here,” and she came out with that famous line, “I don’t know what it means to be complicit.” You could almost imagine, I mean I’m going a bit too far here, but you could imagine that at the Nuremburg trials after the second world war. So it’s like, she’s got her brand, most of which is apparently made in China which is hilarious and so she comes out with this speech and its like, “Ivanka, thank you, you just wrote this song for me and I’m thinking maybe I should just share some royalties with her, I didn’t need to say much, she said it for me.

 

DAVE: I hear you’re a student of the Franfurt School of Continental Philosophy and I wonder how that influences your music—

ANDY: I wouldn’t call myself a student of it, but I’m very familiar with a number of those people. I suppose you could call them, you know, reinterpreters of Marxism in a more modern type of situation. I think some of those ideas came to play on Gang of Four stuff. I think one of the main ideas, especially in early Gang of Four, is the idea that things are not natural. When someone says the woman should stay at home in the kitchen and maybe give birth to some kids because that’s natural, and the idea is that no, it’s not natural, it’s a human construction, so that was a very important idea and I suppose to a certain extent that comes from the Frankfurt school of thought, and also from Feminism of the '60s and '70s, you know, I remember you know, I remember picking up a pamphlet, 'cause you know Gang of Four started at Leeds University and I remember picking up a pamphlet, a feminist pamphlet called “Why Theory?” which is why I wrote the song called “Why Theory?” And I kind of like took a few phrases out of that pamphlet and it’s sort of like, one of the lines in the song is, “each day seems like a natural fact but what we think changes how we act” and so it was, that’s inspired more by feminism than by post-Marxism.

DAVE: Have you been to America since Trump?

ANDY: I don’t think I have. We did a couple of tours in 2016. My wife’s been there. She’s got family in LA and Chicago, but I don’t think I have.

DAVE: Is that something you’re conscious of as you embark on this tour of America?

ANDY: Well, I’ll tell you one thing I’ve noticed, the whole immigration, getting visas thing which I’ve done so many times over the years, seems to have gotten really difficult.

DAVE: What is it like coming to America in the age of Trump?

ANDY: I don’t believe the American people have changed fundamentally in the last year or so, and the last time I was there, which was just a couple of years ago, they were still a bunch of lovely people. I’m sure when I come back, they’ll still be that lovely bunch of people. I’ve always had a great affection for Americans. We always have to make a distinction between the administrations in countries and the people who live there and want to come and talk to you and to celebrate the music with you and that applies in China, America, Brazil, you know, I’m hoping to have the usual good experience.

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