conversation with Warren Cann
Ultravox, gyrating through years of style and lineup
changes created some of the most memorable music in the
late 1970's and 1980's, and has come to define New Wave in
every sense of the word. For those of us who are
fans of this band, no introduction is necessary. As
for others, this band leads the lineup as one of the most
influential artists to the early adapters of the
Electronic genre to come out of that era. Ultravox
existed at a time when music had a soul, a heart, and was
life itself. Those times are gone, but not the
memories of how it felt to hear "Vienna"
or "New Europeans" for the first time and
how "The Voice" carried you to another place, a
better place. Warren Cann has generously responded
to the EGN interview via email and provides some very
detailed accounts on how he came to be in Ultravox and how
the band evolved and created the music loved by so many of
us, today. Thank you, Warren for bringing these
writings to the Electrogarden Network.
How did you become a member of
Ultravox? What are some details that aren't so well known?
I was looking for a band who had that indefinable special
something. It was a great time in London… the days of Bowie, T-Rex, The Sweet, Gary Glitter. But, for all of the great bands, there were easily a thousand bad ones. I saw quite a few of them!
One of the venues I used to go to a lot was a rock pub near my flat in Fulham called, "The Greyhound." A lot of bands were trading on gimmicks in their effort to be noticed; there was one lot who dressed in medieval monk robes (think "In The Name of The Rose"), there was another who looked like refugees from "Pirates of
Penzance," complete with stripey socks and parrot-on-shoulder. Of course, every once in awhile there would be a great band, one who had the substance to go somewhere.
There was one group, and I honestly can't remember their name, who particularly impressed me. I walked up to the mixing desk asking if anyone was the band's manager. This one guy said, "Yeah, I'm their manager." I asked to have a quick chat with him and bought him a drink.
I told him I thought the band was happening, but that their drummer was only average, whereas I was great. I said that, if they were truly serious about making progress, they owed it to themselves to make a change and offered my services. What a cheek, eh? Well, I was desperate to get my teeth into something. I'd been farting around for months (seemed like forever) trying to find a band. At that point, I wasn't above making a bold move.
He was rather taken aback but, to his credit (and I say "to his credit" because, were it me, I'd have probably said "Fuck off!"), he said, "Uh… I admire your style. But we're happy with the way things are right now. Best of luck to you."
Really wish I could remember their name.
I'd been pouring over the "Musicians Wanted" adverts in "Melody Maker" and had encountered my fair share of nutters and no-hopers. "Yes, my brother's girlfriend's aunt knows a guy who sometimes works for the chap who fixes Marc Bolan's guitars… so, he's going to help us form a band!"
I had previously joined my first London band but it only lasted for a few months before I left. It was called "Thumper" or
"Magill," not sure which. Huw Lloyd-Langton (from
"Hawkwind," later of "Widowmaker"), was the guitarist. Rob Rawlins (later of Ian Hunter's "Overnight Angels") played bass.
We never did any gigs. We just seemed to rehearse forever, endlessly rearranging the same five or six songs. I remember my attitude was, "Rather than completely tear apart and rewrite this perfectly good song, why don't we just write a whole new one? Then maybe we'll have enough songs to do a gig!" Perplexed and a wee bit fed-up, I left after being pressured one-too-many times by their manager to sign a long-term contract with them.
My further experiences with the "Wanted" adverts continued. On one occasion, I answered an advert for "Sparks." Thinking I might have a bit of an edge as I was, at the time, probably one of the few people in the U.K. who'd heard of them, I went along and met Russell and Ron
We chatted over cigarettes and coffee. To my great exasperation, they weren't very interested in discussing any of my musical exploits or interests whatsoever. It seemed all they wanted to talk about were good restaurants! Next…!
In retrospect, I may have been too earnest for my own good. I wasn't in the mood for wacky - that would come later!
Finally I thought, "This is it… I'm not going to bother with these anymore, it's a waste of bloody time. But I will just send this one last reply off into the void and see what happens." Then I thought, "Might as well make it a good one." And I did. I wrote something completely preposterous along the lines of, "Look no more, boys. Your troubles are over - I'm here!" I posted it and then pretty much forgot all about it.
Until a week or three later when I got a phone call from some chap named Dennis Leigh. He came round to my Finsbury Park flat with an acoustic and played me a few of his songs. I liked the songs and liked his lyrical style. I was intrigued.
I subsequently went along one afternoon to a room at the Royal College of Art to meet the band, such as it was. I was introduced to Chris Allen (bass) and Steve Shears (guitar). I set my kit up and we messed around for awhile.
While it may just be my take on the encounter, I think what impressed them was my suggestion of not just aimlessly jamming, but to take one of their songs and spend our time working it up. I'd had a lot of experience in my previous bands with structure and arranging, I couldn't help but draw upon that.
My initial impressions of the band weren't too favourable. Dennis was no great vocalist but he made up for it with an excellent sense of melody and his lyrics. Chris was a good bassist and I was enjoying playing with him. Steve was undeniably the worst guitarist I'd ever played with (my apologies, Steve…) I figured, "What the hell… might as well. I haven't played my kit for ages (can't play drums in a tiny flat!) and this'll at least stop me from getting rusty until something better comes along."
When we started packing the gear up, I stood to one side with Dennis and quietly told him, "Yeah. Ok. I'll give it a go." He replied, "Alright, but, you know… I'd like to talk it over with the chaps first."
Oops! In my focus, I'd sort of overlooked that. "Er… yeah… right… of course."
As we know, I got the gig. It was 1974.
It only took one or two rehearsals before it began to dawn on me, "Hmmm… I really think there might be something here…" And that was the beginning of the band. We did our first gig in
Chorley, Lancashire, a few months later. Some weeks after that, we did our first London gig; the Marquee in Wardour Street.
Ultravox worked with some prestigious producers: Brian
Eno, Steve Lillywhite, Connie Plank, George Martin. Can you compare the experience of working with Brian Eno and Steve
I lived in a pretty beat-up place in North London, just around the corner from the Friern Barnet Mental Hospital. We didn't have a front door; the landlord had kicked it in one day in his quest to retrieve rent from one of my
flatmates. Occasionally, some of the patients would stroll in during one of their
walkies. We were an assorted bunch but I was pretty much the hard-core muso of the house. Except for the time I shared with a nutter named Keith Levine.
He was a guitarist and had heard some of our rehearsal tapes. He kept pestering me to join the band, "C'mon! I'm a much better guitarist than your guy!" I'd say, "Listen, Keith… all you ever listen to is all that fucking widdly-widdly jazz-rock Frank
Zappa/Todd Rundgren "Utopia" crap… Forget It!" (By the way, for those who actually care about such things, I liked "The
Nazz," just nothing after.)
Keith went on to join a band. Months later, I was walking down Islington one night on my way to a gig at the "Screen on The Green." Just up from the cinema, I saw Keith and a few guys I recognized lurking about in a chip shop doorway." I said hello but was totally blanked as I walked by. "Oh… it's like that. Ok…" Keith had joined the Clash as second guitarist.
But what a gig that night. The bill was: "The Sex Pistols," "The Clash," and "The
Anyway, there was a chap who had the room next to me and one night I came home from band rehearsal to find a note from him on my door. It read something like, "I've met a chap with access to a studio. Want to meet him?"
I didn't have to think that over for more than, oh… say, a second, before deciding, "Yes."
Bear in mind, this was late 1975 or early 1976. Studios were, for the most part, the entirely monopolistic realm of big-money record companies. No digital
portastudios! The other only people with access to studios were rock star aristocracy who'd spent fortunes kitting out their place with a multi-track machine / desk combo which, I should remind you again, was the only option of the day for "home" recording. The price tag of a Studer 24-track recorder alone would - today - fund an entire personal studio/writing suite. Maybe the whole house.
I was told by my mate that the guy's name was Steve Lillywhite and was duly warned that he looked pretty young, but to not let that put me off; he worked as an engineer at Phonogram Studios at Marble Arch.
Young? When I met him for the first time, Steve looked like he was about twelve! He just had one of those faces.
Steve told me he worked at Phonogram as a junior engineer. One day he'd be doing rock with "Status Quo," the next he'd be miking up didgeridoos for Rolf Harris! He said that he was allowed to take people into the studio on weekends or dead days to record them to help polish his skills.
Duly impressed, I brought this news to the band and we went on to take as much advantage of this wonderful opportunity as we could. We didn't have any money to make demo tapes with, this was a pure gift; entree into a major recording studio.
We spent many sleepless weekends there. We'd go in as early as we could Friday or Saturday, then drag ourselves out just as the cleaners were coming in on Monday morning. We learned a lot about the recording process, it was quite an education. Just as an example, there were no remote tape transports then. We'd take turns
"Tape-opping" in the machine room; you'd make your notes from the machine's counter and sit there waiting for the intercom to say, "Wind back to the first chorus."
Steve was an easy going guy who we clicked with. Later, when I had more experience in such things, I realized he possessed the quintessential "engineer" attitude; always cheerful and upbeat, always ready, always paying attention, always keeping his mouth shut unless asked his opinion. And we asked a lot! Naturally, Steve knew the studio environment a million times better than us, but he never took advantage of that knowledge to push us into doing things "his" way (as many others might do). We climbed onto the learning curve with gusto. It was an enjoyable experience which directly lead to us insisting that we record our first album with him as engineer.
Our demo sessions produced a series of tapes which ultimately got us our first deal with Island Records. We felt his contribution to the experience of making the record merited us giving him a co-producer credit.
We were asked by Island whom we had in mind as "producer." We told them we were going to produce it ourselves, but were interested in collaborating with Brian
Eno. As Roxy were on Island, this wasn't too hard to set up and I'm sure they were eager to have someone there - even if tangentially - to keep an eye on us. For our part, we were keen to work with Eno as our impression of him was that he was a real studio wizard completely au fait with all manner of exotic recording techniques.
We had a fascinating time with him, but it was usually when the tape wasn't running and we were just gabbing about music. We discovered that Eno was far more interested in the process than its result. Not quite what we had in mind. This wasn't anything we couldn't comfortably work around while we were putting music to tape, but it was a different story come time to mix the tracks. We gave him carte blanche to mix some of the tracks and ended up not liking what we heard at all.
We were too embarrassed (let's just say we preferred a more diplomatic approach) to offend him by telling him we weren't about to use any of his mixes. So, we didn't and we didn't. Still, to our surprise (we were still quite green), when the record came out we saw many a press critique which began, "The indelible stamp of Eno is all over this etc. etc."
Even though we had firmly produced the record ourselves, we gave Brian a co-producer credit. The cachet of his name ended up working both to our advantage and disadvantage. It was a start. Live and learn.
As far as the differences between the two, don't forget we were working with both of them on that first record. Steve was the constant, he was there the whole time and did all of the recording/engineering. Eno kind of came and went, though on a regular basis. Steve was very professional and technically adept, Eno was intellectually fascinating but - at least at that point in time - very non-technical. Eno mixed about half of the tracks with Steve assisting, later we remixed everything with just Steve. Rather than that first album, it might have proved very interesting to have done "Lament" with
We did the second album, "Ha! Ha! Ha!" with Steve
Lillywhite. There weren't any producers we wanted to work with except for Chris Thomas who'd done Roxy Music, then the Sex Pistols. but the approaches we made were rebuffed.
Our interest in Kraftwerk and Neu led us to Conny Plank. He'd stopped working with them after their early albums because he thought they gone commercial and sold out. What a guy!
He was, at least with us, not a producer, per say. But he was such a great engineer, such a
soundscape-painter in love with sonics, that we felt compelled to credit him with co-production.
The language barrier would occasionally crop up, though that was usually our fault; our German wasn't good enough to eloquently translate, "Make it sound like the whole track is swirling down into the plug hole at the end of the bathtub."
He was a very patient and talented man. We were fortunate to work with him.
How was it working with George Martin?
One of the most pleasurable meetings of my life was spending time with George Martin. He was eminently knowledgeable and truly charming, a gentleman I always privately thought of as "Sir George," long before that was made reality by a subsequent honours list.
Our choice of working with George was another example of a great idea - certainly to us - which backfired and was totally misinterpreted by everyone else, or so it seemed.
We wanted to work with George Martin; the man who produced the making of what is considered one of, if not The, greatest albums of all time… Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
But we got slammed for working with "Mr. Mainstream." We'd lost it and had "sold out." Hey! This was the guy whose work on that pioneering record has been assimilated by every band on the planet. Of whom it's been said, "… the man who put on record the band who changed the world."
The press just didn't get it!
When we approached him we were well aware that he'd been working with more, shall we say, conservative acts. We made it clear we weren't wallflowers in the studio… if we needed to bring in fifty washing machines, fill them full of rocks, mic them up, and turn them all to spin-cycle - then we'd do it. We were very up front about it. We were game for anything.
During the recording of "Quartet," I often sat there thinking, "Wow! Pinch me! I'm working with George Martin and Geoff
Emerick, producer and engineer of Sgt. Pepper!!"
It didn't turn out quite as we'd imagined. Perhaps George was tired or perhaps we were suffering from our own misconceptions, but it was a rather sedate experience and not the liberating sonic voyage we were expecting. However, I wouldn't trade that adventure for anything.
By the way, it says "produced by George Martin" because that was in the contract as a condition of working with him. A concession we were happy to make.
What influences shaped the band's sound through the years?
Like most musicians, we were magpies. Whenever we heard something we liked, we'd file it away - it might express itself one way or another at a later date.
In the beginning, it was a mixture of all the great British bands who'd gone before; the Stones, the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks, the
Yardbirds, and the Small Faces. Then stuff like Bowie,
Roxy, Glitter, T-Rex.
Mixed in were a few of the classic American rockers and
popsters; Chuck Berry, The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison etc. etc. Then not much up until The Doors. Then not much again until you get to the Velvet Underground. There was a time when "White Heat White Light" and "Waiting For The Man" played on an endless loop in my head as the soundtrack to my life. Dennis (John
Foxx) liked the New York Dolls but I was never much of a fan (I preferred Johnny Thunders). Even so, it all hinged upon individual songs, rather than the whole deal. As a band, we always tended to find our common ground with the songs, rather than the artists.
At the time, we were very interested in taking the melodic structure and sensibility of pure pop and marrying it with dark and twisted lyrics. That quickly morphed out of that format into longer and more musically dense arrangements. The short compact songs we'd been writing elongated into four and five minute pieces. It was ironic that the soon heralded punk ethic of really short songs dictated we be slammed for our "indulgent" arrangements… we thought, "Been there. Done that. What kept you?"
In your opinion, were there any bands from that era (1977-1984) that did not get the credit they deserved?
Yes. Definitely. In no particular order…
The Heavy Metal Kids
- We supported them on our first London gig (or maybe it was Chris Spedding's "Sharks" and the Kids were the second Marquee show… one or the other). I used to go to the Marquee to see them and thought they were terrific. Maybe not everyone's cup of tea, but great songs and a great show. They went on to make three albums but never achieved the degree of success they deserved.
While never close to them, in later times I became bumping-into-buddies with the singer, Gary Holton. Of course, I spent so much time in London's nightlife that it was hard not to run into people constantly. He ended up badly which was such a terrible shame.
Ronny - Just "Ronny." We were friends for years and I never did know her last name, it honestly never occurred to me to ask her. She was an unfathomably gorgeous French woman who'd once been a "Bluebell" dancer in Paris at Le Lido. She gave up modeling to come to London to make it as a singer.
I met her backstage at one of our gigs when Midge, who'd been producing some tracks for her, introduced us. Ronny wasn't a "pop" artist so much as a pop chanteuse, a torch singer. Her voice, while not virtuosic in the conventional sense, was utterly compelling and expressive. She could read a phone book and you'd swoon. She made Sade sound like
Hans Zimmer and I did some gigs for her and she appears briefly on the Helden album, "Spies." Chalk it up to bad luck, bad timing, or the vagaries of the music business, but it just never worked out for her and, after a number of years getting nowhere, she gave up music and moved back to France.
- He was a friend of mine and we messed about on a few things together. He's an extremely gifted writer who should've garnered far more acclaim for his talents. When I did some solo demos for Chrysalis (after being shoved from the band), he graciously suggested I cover one of his songs, "Images of Heaven." As I totally loved the song, I instantly accepted. The record company passed on it and made some comment about it sounding like Iggy Pop. Huh?? I took it as a compliment (silly bastards).
- Zaine was one of the great stars who never was. I loved his voice and his songs. I remember seeing his name in the various papers in the "Gig Guides" and thought it was some kind of cowboy-thing! I can't quite remember who introduced us, but he'd been offered a gig at the Reading Festival and was putting a band together for it. The idea was to do a few gigs first as a warm-up to the festival. That's when I met Hans Zimmer.
I think that Zaine suffered from two great drawbacks which fatally hindered his future. He didn't have professional and trustworthy management, plus he just looked and sounded - according to the climate of the times - too damn much like Bowie. Not true, of course. Let's just say they were kindred spirits. But even that was too much for the style police.
Sons of Valentino
- (Disclaimer: I have a vested interest!) This was a band I was in during the late eighties. It was fronted by two identical twins, Mark and Glen Robertson; just imagine two black-haired Billy Idols. I knew them for months before I could tell them apart, then I couldn't imagine not knowing the difference.
They had come to London from Colchester and found some success doing "robot" dancing in clubs and on telly. This endeavour wasn't taken at all seriously by either of them, they wanted to form a band. So far, they'd found a great guitarist, Tony Lewis, and made a few really rough demos but hadn't gotten much further. As I kept bumping into Mark in half the bars in London, we just started chatting one night. He introduced me to Glen and Tony and we'd go out on the razzle together. I liked their stuff but had no intention of joining their band, I was more interested in playing guitar and keyboards. For better or worse, I'd come to the realisation that I wasn't tired of music, I was tired of playing drums.
They finally wore me down and I agreed to join until they got somewhat established. The material was pure best-of-British rock and was completely against the grain of the times which had eroded back to indy bands shuffling around on stage, staring at their shoes.
They were great writers, better than they knew themselves. The numbers, however, were against the band as it stood: two front-men backed by bass, drums, and guitar, meant five of us. Which is fine. But I was only going to stay if we got another drummer and I shifted to rhythm guitar/keyboards (which the material certainly needed to achieve its full potential), that meant six. One too many for a band. (at least, for my taste) With great reluctance, I decided to leave and pursue my other ambitions. We remained good friends and the band stayed in London for another year or so before relocating to America where they eventually folded under exposure to bad management and too many poor choices.
Later on (out of your timeframe), I liked a New York band called "Cop Shoot Cop." I saw them at the Marquee and was impressed with what they doing. I loved one of their songs called, "$10 Bill." I suggested to someone at their London record company that their first U.K. tour be promoted with a homage to a Harvey Keitel film that was just out… "Yeah, you should bill them as, 'The Bad Lieutenants of Rock & Roll'!" While personally liking the idea, my friend said the label would be horrified.
Looking back, do you have an opinion on why some bands that formed around that time are still active today and others faded away? Was there some component in the music of the 80's that transcended into the 90's and beyond?
People who are still active today, from whatever musical era they sprang from, are the ones determined enough and/or sheer bloody-minded enough to not pack it in.
There are different schools of thought on this. One is the, "Sure, the sad bastards are still doing it… 'cause they don't know how to do anything else!" Which is indubitably true for some cases, I'm sure.
There was a time when I used to think of various bands or artists (who will remain unmentioned) and I'd think, "Why the hell don't they just call it a day and bugger off!?"
Whereas now, I'll freely admit, I have begrudging respect for most - and out-and-out admiration for many - who have managed to stay the course and stick around. True, the music may not be as vital as their seminal work, but they're still out there and doing it. That counts for a lot.
As hard as it is to achieve success, it's even harder to maintain it.
There's a million reasons why artists or bands "go away." If you don't get burned out from the pressure and workload, you face the potentially fatal distractions of alcohol, drugs, and… well, alcohol and drugs. Most (note, I say "most') musicians aren't shy bashful types - that's why they got into rock bands in the first place!
It's a long list of hazards; managerial knots, legal hassles, record company in-fighting, personality conflicts, domestic strife, creative crisis, and shifting attention spans all take their toll.
I'm aware this is a generality, but it appears that every artist/band seems to have a built-in Roy Batty-like life span, after which it just loses it. It happened to us. Too bad, as I thought we still had another few years of exciting music to make.
Island Records dropped the band in 1978. This prompted changes within the band, including the departure of John Foxx. What made you guys want to keep the band going?
Why wouldn't we want to keep going? We'd worked very hard and had been through so much. We had a great band, the loss of our singer wasn't about to deter us.
It's true that we were well ready to explode long before Island saw fit to drop us.
Personalities were clashing on a regular basis. Just being in the same room was becoming more and more difficult. By the time we were wrapping up our first American tour, tempers were frayed and it only took a spark, at the end of our last gig in San Francisco, to set us off.
When I joined the band I was under the impression it was an egalitarian group. As time went on, I saw that was certainly not the case. It proved in practise to be only a case of being equal when it suited the situation. It placed one in a serious dilemma; how do you resolve a situation where you've put so much work into something, but your only option appears to be to leave?
I did leave once, in fact. Back in 1976, I walked out. After about a week of losing sleep and grinding my teeth, I went back. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, truly. I felt I wasn't about to throw away something I'd put so much effort into just as we were on the very verge of getting a recording contract. So, I swallowed my pride and walked back into the rehearsal studio, set up my kit, and we just continued without anyone really saying anything more about it! Weird.
It seemed as though, prior to Island letting the band go, there was some creative turmoil within the band. Was it simply a question of musical direction?
I wouldn't say it was a case of musical direction. We were all excited about where we were going with the music. "Systems of Romance" had lead to a lot of breakthroughs for us and we were eager to pursue them. It had come down to a matter of who was getting credit and to what degree. John was believing his own press and becoming too megalomaniac to effectively collaborate with.
How did the decision come about regarding Midge Ure's recruitment?
We were in a tough spot. Upon returning from the States, we decided we'd look for a singer and carry on. Then Robin Simon decided to leave the band and stay put in New York. That left us looking for a singer and a guitarist. Until then, we found ourselves moonlighting to keep busy and make ends meet.
Bill did a tour with Gary Numan and was messing about with Rusty Egan (a very fine drummer, usually overlooked in lieu of his many other exploits) John McGeogh, and Barry Adamson in what became Visage. Chris was playing gigs with guitarist James Honeyman-Scott from the Pretenders and lead singer Barry Masters from Eddie & The Hot Rods. I was doing Zaine Griff and the Buggles (blame Hans for that one!) Later, when Midge was in the band, he was relief guitarist on a Thin Lizzy tour. At one point, before we "went public" with our new line-up, we were all in the charts in different bands except our own.
Rusty suggested to Bill that Midge would be just the guy for us. Bill came to Chris and I with the suggestion and we were open to it. We met Midge and immediately went to the pub. He was very keen to do something substantial and liked what we were into.
Once we'd had a play together it went well, so, we decided to go for it and see what happened.
How did the band react to Midge's abilities as a singer which clearly opened a whole new range of musical possibilities?
Very positively. With no disrespect to John Foxx, Midge was a real singer, as opposed to someone who shouted with attitude. One's voice isn't like playing an instrument where you can practise and practise and gain the motor-skills and vocabulary through repetition. There's only so much you can do with your voice, no matter how much you practise. To be a great singer, you have to be gifted the raw talent to begin with.
I must also add that his guitar playing was a joy to play to. My background had given me many experiences of working with good guitarists, as well as being lucky enough to encounter a few truly great ones. They've never become household names, but they were world-class players. You can file their lack of recognition under "Music Pitfalls: A-Z."
Naturally, my instrumental influences were drummers because that was what I played. Conventional music wisdom dictates that drummers play "to" the bass player. I'm not disputing that, I'm just saying that I always played to the guitarist. My overriding musical influences were guitarists. Freddie King, Peter Green, early Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page. I
Midge was undeniably a great player who hasn't been given enough credit. I do regret us not doing more songs which were guitar based, especially some instrumentals.
How different was the creative process in the studio, comparing the John Foxx era to the Midge Ure era?
In most ways totally different, not so different in others. Far better atmosphere, for the most part. As Midge was an instrumentalist, aside from his singing, he had more in common with us. We just got on with making the music.
How was the experience of working with Zaine Griff?
A blast. Zaine, Hans, and I spent a lot of time together. Not only did we feel we were making some great music, but we were having a great time doing it. Zaine was a lovely guy and a great singer. Were I not otherwise occupied with Ultravox, I would happily have worked with him longer.
Is there any news on a possible release of Helden's Spies album?
Cerise Reed and Rob Harris recently had the only surviving master of "Spies" safely transferred to a digital format. They've been working to obtain some sort of release for it. When there is any news on this front, the Ultravox web site will let you know.
Ultravox has left a legacy of great albums. Do you have a personal favorite? What makes it your favorite?
Again, I tend to be a fan of songs, rather than albums… even on our own stuff. If I
had to name faves, I'd say "Ha! Ha! Ha!" Although "Systems of Romance" had some better songs, I like HHH because of it's attitude. We were five VERY heavy-with-attitude guys when we made that record.
As for the Midge period of the band, I would have to choose "Rage In Eden." It was the hardest record we'd ever made. Rather than use the success of "Vienna" to churn out "Vienna Mk.II," we capitalised upon that success to climb further out on a limb than we'd ever done before. We wanted to conceive and produce a record entirely within the studio. We'd always wanted to do it but, when time is so much money, we'd always go into a new record's sessions well prepared with our material mostly worked out in advance.
For "Rage," we didn't prepare anything. Roughly, we spent about a month doing all the loony things we'd always wanted to do in a studio. Then a month coalescing it all into songs, and then about a month or so trying to wrangle mixes out of it. Nearly drove us mad. Or perhaps that was just spending so much time out at Conny Plank's studio in the German countryside.
We were extremely proud of the finished result. We did decide, however, to not go down that particular avenue again in a hurry. The merits of pure spur-of-the-moment inspiration aside, having at least a framework of material to flesh out once in the actual studio was something we were more comfortable with.
Are you currently working on any projects? Any chance of Ultravox coming together for a project?
No. And I would have to say, while nothing is impossible, I would think it very very unlikely.
What kind of music do you find yourself listening to now?
Film soundtracks and hot-rod rockabilly.
Are there any bands out today that have impressed you?
There may well be, I'm sure - if I had the time and inclination to scour for them. Otherwise, I'd have to say… Nope. Heard it all before. It's more a matter of, "Is their's a good interpretation of_____________? (pick your genre)
In your opinion, what is the state of today's music? What do you see happening in the industry?
The state of today's music is fucked. Music has become more commodity than art. As for "the industry," well, that's self-descriptive… it's become too much of an industry. And its own pure greed has killed it.
The difficulties the big record companies find themselves in presently has all been dealt with by sundry media, so I won't go into that here.
But something does come to mind. Bear with me…
My experience with music print-journalists has been uniformly consistent; ninety-nine percent of them are all lazy wankers who always take the path of least resistance. Plus, they have their "stance" to protect. I don't think I've ever read anyone retract a previous position and say, "Whooo… what was I thinking?! Everything I said before? Forget it! I was wrong!"
One of their fave little bon mots which would occasionally be put to us was the questionette, "Ahh… well… if the Fifties was Rock & Roll and Elvis… the Sixties was the Beatles and the Stones… the seventies was Disco and Punk… and if the eighties is synthesizers and electro-pop… what do you think is next?"
I would always answer, "What makes you think there is a next?" (a guaranteed downer of a reply, universally met with that "Ooohh, bummer…" conversation-killer look)
Indeed. Why should there be a "next" at all?
(Yeah, yeah, I know what's transpired since and, to drag up an old proverb, "99 percent of everything is crap." Some of the nineties was great stuff, but I feel music has been spiraling into a cycle of diminishing returns for years.)
The launching of rock music was a synchronistic synergy of a multitude of events; the arrival of the hardware via electric instruments from Leo Fender, Les Paul, Laurens Hammond, Harold Rhodes… the fuel of the baby boom hitting their teenage stride mixed with the catalysts of radio, television, and movies … plus, the afterburner advent of the drug culture. Kaboom!
Music got a booster drive from the introduction of significant technology; the entrance of multi-track recording, then synthesizers and computers.
But anything that burns so bright and goes so high can't maintain that track forever. (though I would love to stick around to see what people are digging fifty years from now) Times and culture changes.
The Music world is simultaneously expanding and contracting. (no… wait… that's the universe… Ok… whatever) Expanding, in that there are more and more media outlets voracious for music, from local radio stations to the Internet and global satellite broadcast. All that bandwidth has to be filled with something. Except that instead of being blessed with a global plethora of choice, we're just acquiring more ways of getting the same stuff.
There are people in far-flung places in the world who are now going about their usual business of herding yaks or tilling rice paddies, it's just that they're now doing it while wearing headphones. If they don't have a player yet, they want one. The music business is expanding, alright.
But it's contracting because there are fewer acts being signed. The record companies are bleeding money and caught on the horns of a massive consumer/technology shift.
Over the past decade, music has reduced to selling the lowest common denominator to the most amount of people. An everpresent phenomena, to be sure. I'm not, and never have been, against selling a lot of records. Every musician wants their music to be successful, i.e., a lot of people like it and buy it to take home into their lives. But the art of music has been subjugated to one commercial priority above
all else: whatever will sell the most, regardless of merit or content. Hottest acts in the world? We've gone from Led Zeppelin to Britney Spears.
Music was once the air that people breathed, now it's merely a leisure pastime, an alternative amongst a plethora of choices; computer games, snowboarding, take-your-pick…
Before rock music, if you asked a kid what they wanted to be, they'd have replied, "I wanna be a train driver." Skip along a few years and it would've been, "I wanna be a fighter pilot."
Then, for a very long time, if you asked a kid what they wanted to be, they'd have replied, "I wanna be a musician." That escalated into, "I wanna be a Rock Star." You can see where this is headed. Now it's just, "I wanna be famous. For… whatever."
Too bad, huh?
© 2002 ELECTROGARDEN.COM / Warren Cann
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