The Wire/Colin Newman Interview: This conversation was conducted 5/5/06 via transatlantic phone call to England.
BY FRED MILLS
Ed. note: In 2006 when Wire’s label Pink Flag reissued the first three Wire albums in America, additionally releasing the 5-CD box set Wire: 1977 – 1979 containing three original albums plus a pair of previously unreleased live discs: Live at the Roxy, London – April 1st & 2nd 1977 and Live at CBGB Theatre, New York – July 18, 1978, I had the pleasure of talking to Colin Newman for Harp magazine (for whom I was managing editor and also author of the publication’s “Indelibles” column, which discussed key and classic albums). On the previous page you can read a new version of that feature along with comments on the new album Silver/Lead and the band’s recent DRILL Los Angeles festival marking the band’s 40th anniversary. Below, read the entire, unfiltered, previously unpublished interview with Newman.
FRED MILLS: You seem to do the lion’s share of interview duties…
COLIN NEWMAN: Wire is a difficult beast, and the internal relationships are not great. I tend to do that simply because some people would see an interview in a completely different light, whereas I take the view that it’s the connection between the art and the public, and it’s quite an important thing to be able to explain something, to understand, to make connections. It’s not just pure commerce, you know? There’s a role for explaining art, although some people are less interested in that. You know? [laughs]
For me it’s all about communication, and I think that’s something I discovered. When I was younger I didn’t really “get” interviews; I didn’t get the point of all that. I mean, I knew it was important to be on the cover of the NME, but I didn’t really know how you got there or anything about that. So over the years I found I have more and more in common with the journalists I was talking to because I was interested in some of the things they were interested in. I mean, I’m a fan of music! I like to analyze how things fit together – what has led to what, and just what’s noticed and what’s unnoticed, and to take a journalistic attitude towards the medium. Certainly journalists find that attractive because I can kind of talk the same language, so to speak. And Wire is certainly not a we’re-all-down-the-bar kind of band, you know? There are different attitudes towards how you do that thing.
I’ll give you a brief anecdote to illustrate how my awareness of Wire evolved. Back when Pink Flag came out I was working in a record chain’s distribution warehouse, and since this is 1977-78, there were a lot of, shall we say, old-school employees with more of a redneck/classic rock mentality. So we got a box of LP promos for Pink Flag and a couple of us who were already into punk and new music grabbed copies for ourselves. One afternoon I and a friend put Pink Flag on the warehouse stereo. The looks of revulsion and horror and anger on some of the faces of those workers was priceless! It was thrilling and I knew we were onto something. At any rate, the residual point here that I came to realize many years later is that, regardless of what the general public’s reaction to Wire may have been compared to those like myself who were in the know, Wire still had a leg up on a lot of other bands of the era because you did have that Capitol Records distribution in the States and you did have the chain warehouses getting those records into the stores. So, in theory, there was a far greater awareness of Wire than a lot of the others. People could choose to ignore you, but you were still there in the stores.
Yes, that was a huge point. In fact, this is one of the things which is kind of strange because there’s a kind of shorthand for a lot of Americans for Pink Flag. A lot of American journalists thought it was a punk album. Well, from a British point of view it certainly was not a punk album and it was never regarded as a punk album. Punk was something that happened a year before – the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned. Wire were something else, and you knew it was something different. Whereas America didn’t get most of that stuff. They got the Sex Pistols, the Clash. But then the rest was all on import only. So obviously that made a huge difference.
So Pink Flag had national distribution in America and that’s what I think really made a big difference in the American story of Wire. The American story and the British story of Wire are two very different things. Because what happened was, the first album got out there, in ’77 and ’78, and it kind of seeped into many areas, being in national distribution. But by the time we got to play there in ’78, certainly the effect had not been that great. We weren’t immediately lauded as the best thing since sliced bread.
In fact the first reviews were pretty rubbish in America! I have testament to all that. The two most famous journalists who reviewed Pink Flag thought it was rubbish. Lester Bangs who wrote an incomprehensible review, and basically you got the general information that the LP wasn’t much good. And the other guy was Greil Marcus, which is interesting, because this guy who rubbished Pink Flag in Rolling Stone put the Githead album in his Top 3 for last year!
The second wave of reviews that came through for Pink Flag were more positive. Kind of another generation of reviewers going, “It doesn’t all quite add up…” But the gut reaction of Americans was not very positive towards Wire.
There were punk fanzines that clued into it, and I had one myself a bit later and we loved Wire. I talked to Mike Watt from the Minutemen not long ago and he told me about what a huge impact Wire had on him. He read about it in a fanzine so he went out and grabbed it. So the record did find its way into certain hands.
I think it did. It was that other thing. The reason it was not loved in the beginning is because there’s something quite “other” about it. It doesn’t conform to any of the rules of rock ‘n’ roll as they were at the time. America could understand the Ramones; the Ramones had done that thing of simplifying, but it was a joyous thing. Whereas the Wire approach wasn’t so sympathetic. I personally don’t like rock ‘n’ roll, you see. There you’ve got the core of it. I have a big problem with rock ‘n’ roll as a kind of medium. I always just think of some fat blokes taking the stage going [in lunkhead voice], “Rawk en rawlll….” It’s like, no, no, no – it’s something else. It’s all about art.
In Mojo you were quoted referring to Wire as “contextless.” And rock ‘n’ roll is all about context.
It is all about context. And because of that I really think you could just say that Wire is “differently contexted.” [laughs] Because it always is about context. There’s also a v very British attitude there. We played CBGBs in 1978, and people were coming up to us – this girl came up to me and said, “My 16 year old kid brother can play better than you can.” And I said, “Yeah? Well, I’m standing on stage and he isn’t.” She didn’t really have much to say to that. But there were some people who loved it. Some people were insulted because there was no obvious musicianship on display. There was ensemble playing because the band had always been able to play together, but it wasn’t about virtuosity and it never has been.
It seems like a lot of people tried to characterize it as a lot of short songs and that’s clearly not the case. To this day a lot of people seem to misunderstand Pink Flag.
I think Wire continues to be misunderstood in many ways. A lot of people who imagine Wire did three albums in the ‘70s and then the noble thing to do was to not go on until later – that’s completely wrong, the circumstances were entirely different. If you’ve read that Mojo piece you’ll know a lot more about the truth.
Regarding the shortness, some of them were long and some were short – there just happened to be a lot on one record! From my point of view, that came about in the transition from the five piece to the four piece Wire. When we had to get rid of George Gill and had to come up with new material, one of the things was that I was very much reacting to what George had been about, which was traditional rock ‘n’ roll, solos and all that kind of stuff. We’d already got to the point where we were playing all George’s material, but without the solos, so they were a lot shorter without the solos. Then it became obvious that was a good style to write in. You didn’t need to have any more. Because you’ve got the singer writing the tunes it became about the music being enough to carry what needed to be said in the vocal and not much more. And then there were also other pieces counter to that where it was a bit more of an extended story – say, in “Reuters” or something like that, where there is a bit more of a narrative.
Do you remember your first gig as a four-piece?
Yes, that was the one at the Roxy. April the first, 1977.
What went through your mind when you were listening to those tapes for the box set?
Well, I did quite a lot of work on them, actually because there had to be a good deal of post-production that went into it. They were not geniusly recorded, so I had to up some of the tonal qualities and all that stuff. So I went through them quite a lot, and they are hilarious! Absolutely hilarious. You understand something about Wire by listening to that Roxy thing that you can’t understand by listening to Pink Flag. Because Pink Flag sounds deadly serious. Whereas [on the live tapes] you hear the same band, in the same way, in the same style, doing “Glad All Over.” Which is like, “Now hang on, this is not deadpan humor, but this isn’t quite as serious as we thought it was….” I think it’s a very good key to understanding why Wire always said there was a lot of humor in it and why a lot of people didn’t understand that there was humor in it. Because it was extremely deadpan and all done with a very straight face.
The absolute moment is at the point during the second night when Graham tells a heckler to arse off. [laughs] It’s just hilarious.
Interestingly, Jon Savage, who wrote a review of that show for Sounds and later used it in his book England’s Dreaming, that’s exactly what he had remembered. I talked to him because we’re actually quite good friends and told him I was going to use this from the Roxy, and he knew exactly – “Oh, that bit when Graham tells that heckler to arse off. That was the high spot of the evening!” And I thought, wow, what a memory. And he kind of filled in a lot of details for me exactly what the atmosphere was. Because the Wire tracks used on that Live At the Roxy album was so quiet, a lot of people thought they were recorded in a studio. It has to be pointed out that the reason it’s so quiet between songs is because there wasn’t anybody there! [laughs] On the first night we were the opening band. The opening band on a five-band bill, in a club holding 100 people. That’s pretty lowly. On the second night they’d moved us up because they thought we were quite good. But we weren’t that high – I think we were still before X-Ray Spex, who were newer than we were.
You wouldn’t have imagined anything was happening at that point. It was just, yeah, we’re doing this gig, we’re recording it, we got 50 quid… It all just sort of happened, really. I mean, less than 6 months later we were recording Pink Flag.
And you’ve said, by contrast, the recording of that was very serious, right?
Oh yeah. It had to be taken seriously.
A lot of bands at that time, punks especially, would just go into the studio and try to bash out and reproduce their live sets but with better fidelity and be done with it.
Well, again, Wire, were not a punk band in the people’s perception, and they certainly weren’t a punk band in their own perception. So any attitude that was coming from [punk] we would be of the opposite attitude. Secondly, you have people, at least half of the band, who were really, really serious about the music, and to have a record with your name on it, that’s a serious thing.
“You’re not going to blow this chance…”
You’re not going to blow this chance. You’re gonna do it really properly. And to be honest, the standard of playing was not that high. But the idea we had was, yeah, we should do an album but not a single. And doing an album meant that all the things had to be there. There had to be some concept behind it. There had to be some thought gone into how we were recording it. And so there were a bunch of people with points to prove, including Mike Thorne.
What did he bring to the table?
He had two basic ideas that he came with. One was heavy metal and the other was pop.
Heavy metal was where all the massed guitars came from. You make guitars big by double or triple or quadruple tracking them. The thing was, that style was really derived from super-accurate players who weren’t playing rhythm guitar, whereas that whole science was used in Wire to track not hugely competent people playing rhythm guitar. That sort of Queen guitar sound, of multitracked guitar lines by expert players is just exactly the opposite. But the sound of someone playing the same guitar part, two chords recorded eight times, becomes an enormous wall of sound. And we went, “Yeah, we like that!” That was good.
And then Mike would have all these tapes which he’d labeled “pop production.” He had loads of recordings he’d made and he had all these theories about pop. And at that point there was very little fear that we could be pop and we could be avant-garde at the same time – “Who cares? That’s what we are. That’s what we do.”
Do you have good memories of the Pink Flag sessions?
Um, Pink Flag was pretty hard work. It wasn’t necessarily grueling, but there were a lot of frayed tempers when we were recording the backing tracks because Robert was not very confident, and if he didn’t keep a steady speed then Graham would stop playing, and then they’d have a fight and the sticks would go flying across the room… It was quite fraught.
Chairs Missing was more fun. Because we could play better and found it easier to put the backing tracks down, and also there was more overdubbing. It was the start of overdubbing. I remember doing something like the rhythm guitar solo overdub in “Lowdown” [makes “dang-a-dang-a-dang-a-lank…” sound] and I remember thinking, yeah, I wanna to that, then going into the playing room, and playing on top of it that part. And just thinking, “Wow, that’s amazing, I can just do that! I can add this thing and take this track somewhere else!” And that’s an exciting thing to be able to do. It’s like when you first start to get the whole feeling of overdubbing, adding parts that were not in the original when the band played and taking a track. That was the excitement for me, and obviously a key to how then that developed in the following album, 154.
Did you oversee the remastering with Dennis Blackham? Were you present?
No. Dennis is in Skye. He’s a very good friend and he’s remastered every release on Pink Flag and every CD release on Swim (label). So we’re talking at least every other week. Originally these were going to be just EMI releases and the Pink Flag involvement didn’t come along until later in the story. So he says he’s got this job, this EMI thing, and I said we are in the offing of talking to them about it. And I think he knew very well that this had to be the definitive version, and I think he took it – he’s reported to me already that he’s had some journalistic feedback on his remastering which he’s very, very pleased about.
The difference is pretty striking from the previously released Enigma Retro reissues.
Those initial CD re-releases were classic ‘80s CD re-releases, just slapped out. The band had no involvement with them at all. And this was a point when no one was talking to EMI anyway. It was just, bung the album out, don’t worry about the remastering, stick a bunch of extra tracks on, whatever fits time-wise and nothing to do with whether it’s from the right period. Not that those extra tracks are bad, but some of them are really the wrong thing in the wrong place. Back then everyone was getting excited about having 70 minutes to work with: “Oh you have to have extra stuff!” Now we’ve gotten a big more postmodern and people have gone back, in a way, to an album-length CD. You don’t need all that extra stuff on there.
And that’s a different thing, a different project. Maybe we’ll be putting all [the extra material] out later. Who knows? A lot of it is about negotiating rights. [laughs] It’s a pretty remarkable thing that our label Pink Flag is releasing these CDs. This is actually the first US domestic release of Chairs Missing in its original format.
Yeah, I remember having to track the LP down on import.
Basically Capitol were not interested. We’d come in ’78 and played 5 or 6 nights at CBGBs, not even a tour of one city, but a tour of one club! Wire was not present in America – that story happened in the ‘80s when that seepage we mentioned really started to happen, when those hardcore bands, whether you’re talking about Mike Watt and the Minutemen, Black Flag, or the guys over in Boston, the DC scene… It was like, “No, no, Wire – THAT’s the band!” My theory is that what was appealing about it was that hardcore was the first native American rejection of rock history. It was like an attempt to say, no, all that “expert” stuff is crap. We just wanna make a noise that’s in your face. In a way that American punk up until then hadn’t embraced.
And Wire had rejected so much as well.
And the Wire record sleeves were pretty iconoclastic for rock album covers too.
I gave the records to a friend who doesn’t know that much about the history of Wire and she remarked that the covers were beautiful. Again, it’s very sort of unpunk. The difference between the cover of Pink Flag and Never Mind The Bollocks is very stark.
And with the other two albums you certainly presented a message that this was a band who felt its visual aesthetic was very important.
I think that has a certain kind of validity. That’s the justification for what some people would say is pulling a fast one – [reissuing] the same album with less tracks. But this is another thing, going back to the original statement. Pink Flag didn’t have “Dot Dash” or “Options R” on it. Those are things that come later, a different mindset. Pink Flag was very specific. As is Chairs Missing. They’re very, very specific records. So what’s there is what fits with them, and I don’t know if people now have the same concept about making an album, but remember we’re talking mid ‘70s, and the “concept” album may have been derided, but it was still very much an idea which was current. And I think in some ways they are concept albums.
In some ways, people think of concept albums along the lines of Tales From Topographic Oceans: big bloated double album productions in gatefold sleeves. So let’s end the concept of concept albums, so to speak. But you can still do it in a brighter way.
Yes, you can do it in a different way. All that prog bloat [sighs] – those bands were just so absurdly successful too!
Did you think, at the time, that Wire was being heard and understood in England at least?
Oh yeah. I mean, there was a point just after Pink Flag came out, and we did a tour supporting The Tubes. A very strange thing to do. They were very good to us, actually. They really supported us as a band playing with them because we were so different from what they did. It was a stark contrast between their kind of baroque over-the-topness and our stark simplicity. Their lighting guy probably set the tone, for a lot of people, of how they saw Wire onstage. He just kept the lighting really, really simple and made us look great on stage. During that period we did a series of Saturdays at a pub called the Red Cow in Hammersmith, just around the corner from the Hammersmith Odeon. A place where loads of bands played. We started off – it held about 200 – the first Saturday with it half full. The second Saturday it was ¾ full, and on the third Saturday it was completely full. And on the fourth Saturday there were as many outsiders as there were on the inside who couldn’t get in. And in that month you could so feel – I remember my friends would be like [dropping volume to awestruck tone of voice] ‘Wow – this is really happening, man!’
You could just feel that that thing was really developing, and certainly in London. When we got out to the other areas, in the midlands I don’t think they really took to us, but soon as you got north, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, those places, there was solid support. A Wire gig was an event. You met everyone in the bands; anyone who was in a band would come see us and tell us how much they loved us, whether that was Joy Division, or Cabaret Voltaire, or Prefects. Even people who were not so well known would come. The more cheeky bands were the ones from Liverpool; they would never admit to liking anyone – even themselves!
I remember playing the Russell Club, one of the kind of early incarnations of the Hacienda in Manchester, and you really felt like it was an event, with anyone who was anyone at that gig that night. It was a special feeling. So we definitely felt liked. We played quite a lot in Britain, and touring was not easy in Britain so you definitely felt that we were somebody.
Given the big changes that you instituted in the sound between albums, did you ever have fears about alienating your audience?
No. The short answer! [laughs] I look back now and I think… pffft, we were pretty damn arrogant, you know. We just didn’t give a stuff about what anybody thought. We just felt that it was obvious we had to do something else. And as a music fan, my attitude was I didn’t want to have a band do the same record. And you’ve got to remember, we were in the first serious, postmodern critical era in terms of what rock music was about. We could say, “But what happened to Pink Floyd? Why did they become rubbish? Well, they got rubbish because they just did more of the same, but more weak, adding water to their formulas.” So the idea was of going on to something new. And the key track coming into Chairs Missing was “Practice Makes Perfect.” It sent shivers up our spines. And something that makes you feel that good can’t be bad! So that was it, and that’s still a key track.
The first time I heard “I Am The Fly” I think I levitated…so to speak. It was like someone rubbing a silk ribbon across my exposed spinal column.
In a good way? Can I have some of the drugs you’re on? [laughs] It’s an enormous pisstake, it really is. It’s a blues change with the wrong chords: it starts on an E, and then the next chord it goes to is precisely the wrong one. And then it goes on, and if anyone was a blues fan it’s really an insult to the blues. It’s got this shocking metallic guitar sound that sounds as unorganic as you can possibly have. And it made everybody laugh. It was a funny tune, not intended to be entirely serious, very, very tongue in cheek. “I’m not really the bad boy. I’m quite far from being the bad boy! I’m not one of the rock ‘n’ roll rebels. That’s not my character to be like that.”
I’ve read that you personally are not a big fan of 154 – is that correct? “I Should Have Known Better” is one of the great opening cuts…
Some tracks on 154 I love and others I don’t love at all. But yes, that tune I think is awesome. That was one of the creative high spots of the record. If you ever heard the demo, the way it started out was very heavy metal and I really didn’t like it very much – “This isn’t going to work, it’s not going to make the album. Graham’s going to be really disappointed because everyone’s going to turn around and say, ‘Actually, it’s not really that good…’” Then Robert started doing this kind of reduced disco beat [goes dikka-d-didda-da-dikki-da..] and it suddenly sounded fantastic..
I’ve read that as this point the band was divided into a “pop” and an “anti-pop” camps. You were also having problems with EMI, and I wondered what contributed more to the demise of the band after the release of 154?
It wasn’t really pop versus anti-pop. It was more pop AND anti-pop versus just anti-pop. Half of the band, basically me and Robert, was still interested in retaining a really broad canvas for the band. The other half decided they wanted to do something which was more avant-garde, which couldn’t have worked very well within Wire. Personal relations in Wire have always been very, very difficult too. We’ve never been friends and it’s never been an easy kind of thing. And it kind of came to a head working on 154. It had some very, very horrible moments, whereas Chairs Missing had been joyful and sunny and kind of the joy of a band discovering they could really play and then just taking that and pushing it further in the studio. With 154 the expectation was that it should have all of those elements, but then there was also ambition pushing it in different directions.
Relations with EMI deteriorating then couldn’t have helped either.
Well, Mike arrived at the 154 session with, “We’ve got to make five singles.” That idea got junked pretty fast. But where he was coming from, he’d obviously been meeting with EMI, who was saying, “This band’s not commercial enough.” Wire at that point had no concept of a market. You have to understand, there can be a way to be on a major label and understand nothing about how your music is sold. Because Wire would get advances for every record, they would never sell enough copies to pay off the advance, so the only money you ever saw was the advance at the beginning of the album. So the money you earned, what you saw – and we made no money on the road – had no relationship at all to how successful you were. So there was no culture of understanding, okay, hang on, if you do it this way then perhaps you’re gonna make more money out of it our you’re gonna survive better. On one level, yes, that’s kind of good for an artistic purity, but on another level you have to be aware of the fact that you are working within a commercial medium. This is not state-sponsored or –subsidized art! These are fundamentally pop records released on a label that expects to see its money back.
And in some ways it’s great if you can have a long view. I think that’s one thing nobody expected, that there would be such a longevity in those records. Certainly EMI didn’t expect that! When we were out the door in 1980 that would be the last they’d have to care about us. Suddenly, 10 years later, it’s still going, and 10 years after that it’s still going! That’s the craziness of it. It’s like every generation finds its own relationship to Wire. And each generation that finds Wire imagines that nobody else knows about it. Which is almost perfect, this whole kind of thing. But at the same time it has kind of emerged that American has been the place where Wire has achieved the most in terms of attention and success, record sales and the rest of it.
You once said something to the effect of, Wire, whenever it’s on the verge of success drives the bus right off the cliff.
That’s not me driving that bus! But yeah, it’s absolutely true. And it’s also absolutely infuriating, the infuriating thing about Wire which makes the internal relationships very different. Some people, I think, may be really nervous about getting too far with this, and I just think that Wire deserves, in this late stage in its life, to get and receive the adulation and the kind of love for real. I don’t have a problem about suddenly getting attention is going to turn into some kind of squidgy, sentimental thing – we’re not going to all of a sudden do “Mull Of Kintyre” or something like that, you know what I mean?
You should see the reviews for 154 at the end of the ‘70s – we were, in Britain, the “best band of our generation.” 154 was “the album Bowie failed to make when he made Lodger.” John Lennon “was listening to 154 not long before he got shot.” Bob Dylan was quoting us. All that. We were seriously accepted. So how you can go from that to being dropped by your label and getting crap reviews for doing a “pretentious” stage show is quite extraordinary as a kind of turnaround. So in hindsight I look at that and go, “No, that was a big mistake.” It’s fine to be reevaluating and thinking and changing direction and doing something else, but there can be too much of that.
Rock ‘n’ roll, there’s too much of that “live fast, die young” kind of rubbish. But it’s just not – it’s an evolved artform now. We’re talking about where someone is going to make their tenth record and it’s gonna be genius, and that’s not necessarily going to happen in any way. It doesn’t conform any more to those James Dean things.
There is a certain thought that, because of Wire’s longevity – “We won!”
Yeah, yeah. “We won the punk rock war.” Whatever. In Britain there is a magazine called Artrocker, and the whole point about that, what he says, is, “Without these guys, we don’t exist.” Artrocker considers themselves more important than they are, but they’re really seriously challenging to be the hip version of the NME. So you’re talking something that really means something in the culture, and a bunch of young bands who say, “That’s our roots – Wire is our roots. Not some other kind of stuff.” And I think, wow, that’s an amazing situation to be in.
I suspect you would have spoken differently back in the ‘80s when Wire refused to play any older material.
I can’t speak for anybody else. But a lot of my attitudes are now shaped by the ‘90s, running a label, seeing how hard it is to break young bands that you know are really good and original. Just knowing a lot more about how the industry works. But at the same time, it was the wrong context – the ‘80s was not about ‘70s rock. That was the whole point. In the mid ‘80s, as far as Britain was concerned – and you have to understand, this is a British band – late ‘70s punk rock was just out, out, out! Nothing more out than that. Whereas in America it was different. It’s interesting that I learned in hindsight about the hardcore thing. I didn’t know anything about it at the time: “Why are these bands playing punk rock?” But the mid ‘80s stuff that came out of Britain, the post-punk of the early ‘80s, sort of came out of disco, just starting with digital, a clean, sound, that was the mid ‘80s sound. Not the sort of dirty punk rock.
What’s interesting is that Wire was, for Americans in the ‘80s, rock, and it was kind of lynchpin for hardcore. By the time you got to the ‘90s, for British bands it was pop.
Right – Elastica and all that.
Yeah. And this is actually a moment in time that hasn’t passed in Britain. The most well-known Wire track, the most-played Wire track if you go to LastFM and look up Wire, is “Three Girl Rhumba.” It’s now the best-known Wire song. It was used in a few different places. A TV program used the Elastic riff from it. So in the ‘90s, British bands would go, “Oh yeah, Wire are famous rock stars, they don’t care about this…” But with the generation of bands now they’re like, “Oh no, Elastica got that completely wrong. They should have really acknowledged their debt to Wire like we’re doing.” That’s a recent trend now in Britain, in this decade.
So it’s all fascinating. It’s culture, evolving culture.
Wire’s current status: Inactive, I hear. And that Bruce officially gave his notice last year. Is that accurate?
So in terms of activity, all we’re to get for now is archival work?
Right now, yeah. It goes through phases from bad to worse to slightly less bad. Last week was bad. Maybe next week will be better, I dunno! [laughs] There were moments when maybe something could’ve been done but I really don’t know. I can’t really imagine that I can do very much with Wire. I can represent it in interviews and I can help promote the back catalog, but when it comes down to it, I can’t be Wire.
Well, the band has resurfaced several times now, against the odds…
Yeah, but…. [long pause, long exhale of breath] This last version, the version that did Send, was supposed to be the version that was built to last. It didn’t happen. That was a great album and that whole thing should have gone some place. Actually, the timing of these rereleases was supposed to be very much set. It was supposed to be Send, and then the re-releases, and then a new Wire album, and the whole thing was supposed to be like a virtual circle. But it just hasn’t happened. It’s an incredibly sad story. And I don’t want to talk it down. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved – please edit out anything I’ve said that’s not entirely positive about anyone because I’m not into that.
I look at it from a Wire fan’s point of view. The amount of love that Wire gets for what it’s achieved, and what it’s achieved in more than one incarnation, I have to just cry in my boots and say, “Okay, I’ve got another band.” That’s what I’ve got and I can’t be Wire, but I can be in a different band and it can produce music which I value very, very highly, and continue the dialogue in that way.
I think the fans will treat the box set as a huge gift too. Fans will always want the archival stuff.
They will. And there were all these embarrassing production delays. Believe me, I feel the weight of hundreds of Wire fans: “Oh, we want to get the box set! Where is it!?! Why can’t I buy it now?!?” [in mock-wailing voice, then laughing] I feel for those people.
We’re not officially allowed to promote it in Britain, but in America of course, because we’re the American licensee, we can. And the American press has picked up on it. We are just the U.S. licensee – in Britain they are the EMI versions. It’s a subtle game. Pink Flag is the U.S. licensee for the EMI re-release. EMI has it for the rest of the world. We hope to do well in America with those, because if you can imagine we’re not on a very good royalty from EMI. It’s the same product, apart from the fact that unlike the three you have, EMI just slapped those things out. They didn’t take care of finishing the artwork nicely. We actually did some work making sure the artwork looked good before it got printed, so the Pink Flag versions look superior.
And the box set is something else altogether. That’s been completely taken apart and put together again by our star designers. A different level. Every single aspect that could be improved has been improved. And I am proud of it. The re-releases for me personally have been a nightmare. Very hard to do with EMI. Not because they’re a bad, evil mega-corporation. But because they’re a major label and therefore are much more inefficient than indie people. Even just getting the parts so we had something to release became a nightmare that should never have been. Departments don’t talk to each other; you can’t just go to someone and tell them you need something ready by such and such time because it’s their product. We’re not paying them. Just a whole different ballgame.
I don’t want to just be bitching though because the people have been pretty nice and helpful. They get a certain amount of kudos for that and I think the people that work there are mature enough to realize that perhaps it hasn’t done EMI any harm at all having Wire in their back catalog. They’re not stupid – those records didn’t stop selling.
Funny how to this day EMI and Wire butt heads. I like what you said a minute ago about you feeling the weight of hundreds of Wire fans.
Yeah, I probably care more than I should what people think about the band. I know its reputation is high and I know not everybody in the band cares that much about what the fans think. Different attitudes. That’s to do with some people feeling that artists need to be more pure and to not care what other people think, and it’s a point of view. For me I see the fans as people and I don’t devalue them saying, “They’re just fans.”