Monthly Archives: April 2015

John B. Moore: Andy Gill of Gang Of Four

GO4-Photo Credit Leo Cackett

Though down to only one original member, the legendary UK post-punk band remains as complex and powerful as ever. “We are a vibrant, dynamic, evolving project,” declares guitarist Andy Gill.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

The wildly influential post-punk band Gang of Four have been written off before. They first called it quits in the ‘80s and again in the late ‘90s. But when vocalist and co-founder Jon King decided to leave the band recently, it seemed like the final chapter. The group was beginning work on the follow up to 2011’s Content at the time.

But Andy Gill, guitarist/vocalist and King’s partner since day one, simply saw the departure as an opportunity to reinvent the band’s sound. Soldiering on, he called in a handful of musicians to help take turns on the mic, including Alison Mosshart from The Kills, Robbie Furze from The Big Pink, Gail Ann Dorsey and Herbert Gronemeyer. Japanese guitarist Hotei put his mark on a song as well.

The result can be heard on the new What Happens Next (Metropolis), a complex and powerful entry to Gang of Four’s already storied musical canon. Gill, preparing for the band’s U.S. tour, spoke recently about the record, opening Gang of Four up to others and the group’s future.

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BLURT: This is your first record without Jon on vocals. Did you consider singing all of these songs yourself or auditioning full-time singers as a replacement?

GILL: Well I always sing on a number of songs on any Gang of Four album and one of the favorite Gang of Four formats is where there is a back-and-forth between different voices; so there are different voices, sometimes a narrator who have a dialogue or one comments on what the other is saying. But at no point did think I would do all the singing.

I had wanted to do a record for some time that involved collaborations but that didn’t fly with Jon King, so with this record it seem natural to do the collaboration thing. And yes, it did cross my mind that I might have to do a bunch of auditions for the main singing role.

As I worked on the early songs on this record, I wanted someone who would come and sing them, initially I thought as demos, and I asked my manager for ideas. Gaoler [John Sterry] just popped down to the studio one day, I had never met him, to give me a hand singing my vocals in a better way – for quite a long time he was a session singer for me. As I got to know him better, I liked him more and more, and I really liked his voice and it seemed to be a natural thought to maybe try doing a gig with him. We did a little semi-secret gig in London at the Lexington and it went very well; we’ve now been all over the world with him.

It was a pretty novel idea to use an array of different voices – and it worked out very well. How difficult was it to find the right people and lineup everyone’s schedules?

I’m glad you feel it worked out well. The process of working with the other individuals seem to happen very simply; the process was quite intuitive for me. It was not thought out. I had done a little bit of work with the Kills in the studio and Alison (Mosshart) just sprang to mind when I was thinking about someone to sing “Broken Talk.” She was very happy to come down to the studio and sing a couple of the songs.

I loved that song “Dominoes” that the Big Pink did a few years back. I got in touch with Robbie Furze and asked him if he wanted to sing on this track I was working on and he came down to the studio a few times and sang this wonderfully hard edged, “geometric” vocal

Gail Ann Dorsey is a very old friend and she of course has been in different Gang of Four lineups over the years as a bass player. She is a fantastic musician and a great, great singer. The song she sings on, “First World Citizen,” was simply crying out for her voice.

Herbert’s [Gronemeyer] a friend – I’ve known him at least 20 years – Anton Corbijn introduced us back then. I was talking to Herbert about the new record, I guess 18 months ago, and he wondered if I would like him to sing something on it. The particular thing that he does that I really love are the rather ‘angst’ melancholy ballads. I knew I had to write a song which could incorporate that particular aspect of his character so, more than any other track, it really had to be tailor-made and I can tell you it was difficult. I had to work at that and I went down a lot of blind alleys until I came up with the music of the dying rays. It was quite an extraordinary experience hearing him sing it as I had heard it in my head – only, better than I had heard it in my head.

Tomoyasu Hotei is Japan’s biggest rock guitarist; he spends quite a bit of time going round Japanese stadiums. Anyway, he’s always been a big fan of my guitar playing and we got to know each other. Eventually, we decided to write something together. The opening riff of “Dead Souls” is pure Hotei.

Gang of Four CD

Was it odd to be working on a Gang of Four album without Jon?

Jon can be an absolute genius when it comes to lyrics, but I didn’t feel he had been bringing a whole lot to the records for some time. After Content was released, we had only done a few gigs at the point when Jon signaled it was over for him; he wanted to focus on his advertising career. As I began working on this new record, I felt reinvigorated and seized the opportunity to reimagine Gang of Four from the ground up. To an outsider, the writing process would have looked little different: I’ve always written and produced all the music, with Jon coming in with some of the lyrics, and I always wrote Gang of Four lyrics too, about half of them. But right from the first song I began to interrogate everything I was doing more rigorously and take creative inspiration more widely. What Happens Next is very obviously a Gang of Four record but I found myself approaching it with the energy and daring of a first album

I read somewhere where you also let go of the reins a bit on this one and rather than handling everything yourself – from writing to mixing – you worked with others. What brought about that decision?

I think it makes so much sense to have some kind of producer or co-producer helping with the process, that’s why everybody does it! When I am songwriting in the studio it often just seamlessly morphs into recording the final master, which I think is the main reason that in recent years I’ve not worked with a co-producer; at what point do you bring someone in? This time I did get someone in to have, in a way that kind of role; Joshua Rumble, but it wasn’t till quite late on in the record. I did really want to have somebody else mix it and I think Simon Gogerley did a fantastic job and I’m really pleased I went with that decision to use him

Gang of Four has been cited by many, many musicians over the years as a major influence. What is your reaction when a band calls out your guitar style or songwriting as inspiration?

I’m grateful for the good things that other artists that I respect enormously say about me and the band, it’s kind of them. Gang of Four is a vibrant, dynamic, evolving project, and the band is continuously picking up new and younger audiences. I think it’s partly to do with the bands that have been influenced by Gang of Four in the first place – it was bands in the ‘80s and ‘90s like Red Hot Chili Peppers, R.E.M. and Rage Against the Machine and Kurt Cobain. But then there was a new and younger set of bands like Bloc Party, Futureheads, Franz Ferdinand that were always name checking Gang of Four – and that draws a younger audience towards the band which I’m glad about. Over the last year I’ve been really interested in what St Vincent is getting up to and so I was completely surprised, and delighted, when she recently named me as her favorite guitarist.

Andy Gill by Tom Sheehan

Have you ever been surprised by some of the bands who cite you and Gang of Four as an influence?

No not really. I tend to like, to a greater or lesser extent, the bands that have been influenced to whatever extent by Gang of Four or in particular by me as a guitarist and songwriter. There are plenty of bands that I really don’t like at all and none of those have even the tiniest bit of tasty Gang of Four influence in there

Do you see Gang of Four continuing to make music after this record?

Absolutely. There are one or two collaborations which are in the works now and the next record already has five or six fairly advanced songs done.

Are you working on any other projects?

What has happened with this record and the previous record, Content, is that I get to a point where it becomes obvious that unless I work 100% full on at the record it just won’t get finished. But once that process is over I become a little more open to working with other artists who interest me.

Gill photo by Tom Sheehan; band photo by Leo Cackett. Below: vintage GoF from 1983.

Tim Hinely: 15 Questions For… Trouble In Mind Records

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And… here’s the fourth installment in the BLURT series in which we profile cool independent record labels. What are the criteria for inclusion in the “cool” category? Hey, ’cos we say they are cool, that’s what! We’re making the rules around here, kids. Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment, coming soon, and meanwhile, go HERE for entry #1 (Slumberland Records), HERE for #2 (12XU) and HERE for #3 (Saint Marie).

BY TIM HINELY

As you can see, the Trouble in Mind record label has only been around a little more than five years. I always lumped it in with other garage punk labels of recent day (the first record I picked up on the label was Mikal Cronin’s self-titled debut). I then recently checked the site and was pleasantly surprised to see recent reissues of not only 80’s UK pop band The Dentists but also a reissue of long out of print 1968 masterpiece from Del Shannon, The Further Adventures of Charles Westover. Now I was really curious. I sent label owners Bill and Lisa Roe some questions to find out just what the heck is going on over there in the Trouble in Mind headquarters.

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When did the label form/ what was your original inspiration?

Bill: My wife Lisa & I (both pictured above) formed the label in the Fall of 2009. Lisa was pregnant with our daughter, Ronnie & our band (CoCoComa) was on “hiatus” at the time (due to the pregnancy & our OG keyboardist/bassist Mike Fitzpatrick moving to NY State). I had always wanted to have a label & (as cheesy as it sounds) it seemed like a great way to – if we couldn’t be IN a band – keep music in our lives… we had originally planned to have the White Wires’ “Pretty Girl” single (TIM002) be the first release, but instead we started with what would be the last 7-inch by our band. We figured our name recognition could sell enough to make that money back & more in order to finance the White Wires record & it just snowballed from there.

 

Who designed your logo? Do you only have one?

I have designed almost everything for the label myself. There have been three different logos: the OG “peacock” logo (designed by me), a very short-lived “slime” logo designed by Johnny Sampson (only used on the Woollen Kits album I believe), & the current “bubble” one (designed by me). I was dissatisfied w/the original peacock logo & had struggled with it for a long time – I wanted something ‘iconic’ a la the Brain logo or Vertigo Records or something… the ‘bubble’ logo finally came about around the beginning of 2013 & we’ve used it ever since. Not sure if it’s reached “iconic” status yet. I’ll get back to you…

What was your first release?

Our first release was (mine & Lisa’s band) CoCoComa’s “Ask, Don’t Tell” b/w The Anchor” single. We sold around 700 copies I think? Recorded & mixed by our pal Kenny Rasmussen at his loft. We did 4 songs that day – those two for the single , a cover of “Messenger” by The Wipers (released on our first Record Store Day covers 7-inch back in 2010) & an as-yet unreleased song.

 

Were there any label(s) that inspired you to want to release records?

Stax, Motown, Brain, Vertigo, Sky, SST, Touch & Go, AmRep, Flying Nun, Crypt. I guess I was enamored by the (what i perceived as) “community” these labels fostered & still strive to do the same with our label. When we started the label I had mounds of (probably) really stupid & obvious questions that a few people were nice enough to humor me with answers to like Larry from in The Red, Eric & Zac from Goner, Gerard of 12XU, Bryan from Douchemaster, & Kevin from Dusty Medical Records. Thanks for not making fun of me to my face, guys.

 

If there is one band, current or present, you could release a record by who would it be?

Oh man, that’s a hard one. I mean if time & space are out of the question? I dunno – Love? (Our son’s name is Arthur Lee, so we’re huge fans). As far as present day, I have to say we’ve been lucky enough to have worked with many of my favorite current bands, so wish granted as far as that’s concerned!

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What has been your best seller to date?

Probably Jacco Gardner’s “Cabinet of Curiosities” (above), I’d guess? Followed closely by Mikal Cronin’s self-titled debut (below) The first pressing of Fuzz’s debut single sold out in about 5 hours & we’ve repressed it a couple of times. We’ve been pretty lucky…

TIM031.MikalCronin_s-t.1600x1600

 

Are you a recording/touring musician yourself, and if so, do you use your label as an outlet for getting your stuff out to the public?

Only just the one time… and we learned our lesson & broke up soon after that. Ha! We’re better off as advocates & cheerleaders for other bands.

 

Does your label use and/or have a presence on any of the social media sites?

Oh yes – we have both a Facebook & Twitter account as well as a (sorely underused) Instagram account. I think they are pretty valuable tools if used for good (but they rarely are). Facebook has been a good way to communicate with other bands & fans of the label on an immediate level. Sort of how MySpace used to be. That won’t last too much longer I’d guess, & for now we’ll just keep ignoring people’s Buzzfeed quiz results.

 

Is the Chicago music community supportive of the label?

Sure – we definitely have our fans locally. We seem to have a more responsive & growing fanbase overseas it seems. We put out many international artists, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Below: TIM recording artist Paperhead

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Have digital sales been significant or nominal?

Well it all depends on the release, really. Some sell well digitally & some sell better as physical LPs. Honestly I’m consistently surprised that anyone will buy a download of an album in this day & age (and THANK YOU to those who do – you’re the best! KEEP IT UP.)

 

Has there actually been a vinyl resurgence the past few years?

Well the short answer is yes. But in the grand scope of who’s buying albums (those that actually BUY albums) I think vinyl is still a small portion of sales overall. WE do well at it, but we’d always love to sell more (ha!). It’s a weird time to be both a record seller (as a label) and a record buyer (as a fan). “Vinyl” never went away for me, so… still surging!

 

What is your personal favorite format to release music?

Vinyl – always & forever. I fell in love with music as a young child & the first LP I bought of my own volition & my own money was Thriller by Michael Jackson in 1982 – I was 8 years old. I guess my dad was probably the one who instilled the importance of music in me? He’d take the time to point out songs on classic rock radio & explain who they were & talk about the time, etc. it definitely made me cherish music & value it as something more than background noise. But I think 7-inches are probably my favorite – I love the immediacy of a great 2-sided banger of a single. When it’s great, it can be really exhilarating & life-affirming.

 

What new(er) labels these days have captured your attention?

In The Red, Goner, Permanent, Faux Discx, RIP Society, Homeless, Ghost Box, Deep Distance, Polytechnic Youth, Death Waltz, Total Punk, Umor Rex, 12XU, Moniker, Magnetic South, Superior Viaduct… lots more…

 

Do you accept unsolicited demos?

Bill: Yes & no – it’s how we discovered quite a few of our artists (The Limiñanas, Night Beats, Paperhead, Ultimate Painting, Holögrama, & 31Ø8 were all unsolicited). We definitely try to listen to anything sent our way, & we tend to know what we like right away. Sadly we can’t put everything out – that’d be pretty expensive. Bands/Artists are welcome to get in touch thru our website, but no guarantees…

TIM082-DelShannon-FurtherAdv_FRONT_COVER

Please tell us the story behind the Del Shannon reissue. How did it come about? [The Further Adventures of Charles Westover was Shannon’s 1968 album, originally released on the Liberty label.]

Well to be honest I can still hardly believe we actually pulled it off. I’ve been working on this one for about 2 years. It’s one of my favorite albums of all time & after listening to it for so long & recommending it to so many people with the caveat “good luck finding one though!” it just became ridiculous that no one had reissued it. I guess we were feeling pretty good after our Dentists reissue (which was easy to arrange, working directly w/the band) & I thought “fuck it – we’ll do it”. It took ages to even find out who even owned the masters anymore & when we did (Universal Music Group), it took even longer to get it in motion. I’m sure we were pretty low on their priority list, but geez. After that it’s pretty unglamorous – lotsa emails back & forth with UMG employees who could give a shit, but it eventually happened & here we are. It’s significantly more expensive than our normal LP releases, but we wanted to do it right, so we had it remastered specifically for vinyl by Jason Ward at Chicago Mastering Service & housed em in beautiful tip-on jackets with restored artwork by Henry Owings of Chunklet (who also does restoration/design for both Numero & Light In The Attic – he rules to the max & I highly recommend him).

All of that’s not cheap, but all total it’s probably 1/6 of what you’d pay for an OG. Plus I think it sounds fantastic – the remaster brings out so much more in the recordings that I hadn’t noticed before without sacrificing the integrity of the original master. All told it was a lot of frustrating work, but worth it in the end when we cracked that first box & I held one in my hands. I got a lil’ teary-eyed. That’s still my favorite thing to do – opening that first box & seeing the finished album for the first time. I’m an ol’ softie.

Below: the label’s latest signing, Dick Diver, recently reviewed HERE at Blurt

DickDiver.by.Mia_Mala_McDonald

 

email: troubleinmindrecs@gmail.com

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