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Gang Of Four Returns For More
Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Hailing from Leeds, England, Gang of Four have been influencing rock bands since the group’s inception in 1977. Known for addressing social and political issues in their work, the band’s next album promises to let us know What Happens Next.

Due out in February of 2015, What Happens Next is a bit of a departure for Gang of Four, as they were without lead singer Jon King for the project. In his stead, Alison Mosshart from The Kills, Robbie Furze from The Big Pink, and German vocalist Herbert Gronemeyer all made appearances as vocalists, joining guitarist, and founding member, Andy Gill, and the rest of the current Gang of Four lineup, which currently includes Thomas McNiece (bass), John “Gaoler” Sterry (vocals), and Jonny Finnigan (drums).

With the album completed, and Gang of Four gearing up to hit the road for a full North American tour in March of next year, I caught up with Gill to find out what went into making What Happens Next a reality. Gill also discussed when political music isn’t necessarily political, and performing in Berlin before the wall came down.

Adam Bernard: Let’s start by talking about What Happens Next. You worked with some new vocalists for this album. Has collaborating with these artists changed the process, or the music, for you?

Andy Gill: That is a good question, and I think it has, because it feeds back into the process. The one that most fed back, and most changed, was the track with Herbert Gronemeyer. He’s a mega superstar in the German speaking countries of Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, where everybody’s got ten of his albums, but in the last couple years he’s been doing more things in North America and Britain.

He’s a very old friend of mine. When I was talking to him about what I was doing on the album, he said, “Would you be at all interested in having me sing something?” I said, yeah, absolutely.

He has a phenomenal voice, and I think the thing that he does best, when I listen to his work some of the more kind of rock n roll things don’t get me spinning, really, but the more kind of ballad-y, Germanic, angst ridden things that he does are incredible. I think that’s when his voice is at its most expressive.

So I thought, I have this song, he can do that one, and I have this other song, he can do that one, but then I thought no no no, I don’t want to waste this opportunity, I want something which is designed for his voice.

It was hard work, and (the song) “Dying Rays” is the final point. I was going back and forth a lot, and eventually came to that point where I thought this is absolutely perfect for his voice. He came in, and he did it. We’ve done it in English, and we’ve done it in German. He loved it so much he was trying to persuade me to let him have it on his new album, which is going to be coming out even before our album.

Adam Bernard: That process sounds new for you, in terms of saying this guy has a specific voice, I’m gonna write for that specific voice.

Andy Gill: I know, it’s weird, isn’t it? It’s an odd thing, but I think, obviously, that’s the right thing to do. I had songs kicking around that I could have said, “Sing this one,” and that would have been easier, but it wouldn't have been as good. I had to get into his head, and I had to get into what it is that he does best, and create it in that way.

To me it’s kind of a little bit of an accolade that he turned around and said, “Can I put this on my album?” It kind of proved to me that I had gone in the right direction.

Adam Bernard: What was going on in your life that inspired the content of What Happens Next?

Andy Gill: I was just getting on with my boring daily life, really, and just kind of making observations about what I could see around me, which is, I think, the way I always go about Gang of Four songs.

Adam Bernard: I don’t think most people would define your life as boring.

Andy Gill: Alright. Why not?

Adam Bernard: You make music for a living, and you work with a litany of wildly fascinating folks. Is this only boring to you because it’s your everyday life?

Andy Gill: I was kind of exaggerating. It’s not boring. I do feel, genuinely, and I’m not just saying this, I do feel genuinely privileged to be able to get up in the morning, and work on songs, and the music, and the lyrics, and to scratch a living out of it.

Adam Bernard: You’ve always been a politically motivated artist. In what ways do you feel your views have changed since you were the 21 year old young man at the start of your career?

Andy Gill: In many respects I kind of think about things in a very similar way, and ... people often think that because you go off the beaten track with lyrics, and talk about stuff that isn’t in the normal rock n roll lexicon, people think you’re being political. Maybe that’s true. Maybe that’s the definition of politics.

Once you get off the accepted formula for what you’re supposed to be talking about it seems a bit either political, or intellectual, but at no point did Gang of Four prescribe what anybody should ever think. At no point did we say, “This is what you should think,” or, “Let’s all get behind the socialist bandwagon.” At no point did it ever get there, and I think that’s a strength of what we’ve always been about.

It’s not telling anybody what to think, or trying to suggest that people should think something and that it’s wrong to think something else.

I think what we do, and what I do, is about really depicting what you see, and that can often be a radical thing to do, and as it was then, so it is now, I think.

Adam Bernard: So it’s radical, but it’s not, “We’re gonna burn down the buildings” radical.

Andy Gill: Precisely. I think sometimes it can be a little presumptuous to suggest that you have the solution to things, but I am very much interested in being part of the debate.

Adam Bernard: It’s interesting you put it that way, because so many artists who engage in those types of conversations have decided they have the answer, and they’re gonna tell us the answer, and if we don’t listen to them we’re idiots.

Andy Gill: Yeah, that’s right, and it’s fatally embarrassing.

Adam Bernard: Speaking of embarrassing, what, if anything, from your musical past, be it a song, a video, a look, makes you cringe?

Andy Gill: I think the look that we went for on the sleeve of Hard, which is the fourth album, I do get a little bit of that shiver when I look at it, which isn’t very often, but now and then it just pops up in front of me.

Given that it was mid 80s it’s relatively restrained, so I’m not too embarrassed given what avenues other people have gone down.

Adam Bernard: But it’s still something you’re not gonna hang on the wall.

Andy Gill: I won’t hang it on the wall, except I just might, just to teach myself a lesson.

Adam Bernard: This industry has a reputation for chewing artists up and spitting them out, and I know Gang of Four has taken some breaks, and you’ve done production work for other artists. Has there ever been a time when you felt beaten down by music?

Andy Gill: Not really. You make your own bed. We go into this stuff with our eyes open.

You can’t predict how people will respond to you, there are people who will want to put you down just because that’s the way it goes, but I don’t think that I have ever felt beaten down by it.

Adam Bernard: You have toured extensively over the past 35+ years, and rock bands have a history of leading exciting lives. With that in mind what would you say is the most trouble you’ve gotten into, or you’ve caused, while performing?

Andy Gill: I used to love Berlin back in the day, when the wall was up. You’re not supposed to say that, and that’s probably the most politically incorrect thing that you could possibly say, but Berlin was quite literally a riot, and it was the most extraordinary place.

Of course, if you lived in Berlin you didn’t have to do your national service in the army, so all the draft dodgers were there.

It was an amazing political hotbed, and if you’d been to Berlin then, it was this incredible sea of paranoia. If you can imagine New York with a fence around it, and people with binoculars staring at you all the time through the fence, it was sort of like that.

So the clubs were pretty mad, and the whole thing was quite mad, and I remember doing a gig there where my guitar tech had knowingly eaten a large pile of hash cookies before the show, and during the show there was a massive violent riot outside, which was to do with the international Marxists, who were tearing up the pavement outside. They were tearing up the paving tiles in the streets, and throwing them through windows, and at the police, and stuff.

They burst into the gig and wanted to make announcements from the stage.

I was having a problem because my guitar was totally out of tune, and my stoned out of his tree guitar tech was just staring at me not knowing what to do, completely hallucinating.

Some of the demonstrators ran onto the stage, so I basically ended up in a fight with the demonstrators while my guitar tech was staring at my guitar trying to figure out how to tune it.

That was just another day, another dollar.

Adam Bernard: Wow! You mentioned it’s not politically correct to say when the wall was up things were interesting, but for someone who creates and performs the music that you do, when there’s some kind of political upheaval it has to just amp everything up a notch. World peace would kind of be boring for some of your crowds.

Andy Gill: Yeah. I’d have to give up and go home.

Adam Bernard: So we can’t have world peace if we want to continue to have Gang of Four?

Andy Gill: I’d be prepared to sacrifice my career for world peace.

Adam Bernard: That’s on the record. You will sacrifice your career for world peace, if that’s ever the strange parameter for why world peace would happen.

Andy Gill: Yeah. If I get a phone call from... who would it be? Maybe Obama, or maybe Putin, somebody will call me up and say, “Andy, if you shut up, we can have world peace. Is that a deal?”

Adam Bernard: Finally, now that the world peace issue is out of the way, give me your musical guilty pleasure, the one thing people would never assume is in your collection.

Andy Gill: Everybody knows I love Chic. I was listening to them at about one o’clock in the morning last night.

Adam Bernard: You can’t go wrong with Nile Rogers.

Andy Gill: Yeah, what a genius, and the much missed Bernard Edwards, but everybody knows I like them, so Van Morrison. Most people would not assume I dig Van Morrison, but I think at his best he has a most extraordinary voice, really fabulous. There’s a song, a really short song, it’s only about two minutes long, called “Linden Arden Stole the Highlights,” which is one of their songs about an Irish guy, and it actually makes my eyes slightly moist by the end of it, which I’m deeply embarrassed about, but there you go.

Adam Bernard: Wow!

Andy Gill: The thing that gets me is it’s so short. It's really quick, but it gets you so quickly. Within seconds you’re in there. It’s so clever. The opening seconds, and you’re right in the story, you’re right there.

Interview originally ran on Arena.com.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 2:00 PM  
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