Written by: Dave Cantrell
Perhaps appropriately in terms of syntax, Stereo Embers ‘sat down’ on Memorial Day via Skype with both Graham Lewis and Colin Newman in separate interviews to discuss the making of, the meaning of, and the legacy of 154, Wire’s remarkable – and remarkably enduring – album this year celebrating its 35th anniversary. The intention was to ask both musicians the same set of questions in hopes of getting a sort of stereo response but in each case the discussion wandered happily off course. Following yesterday’s talk with Graham, we finish today with Colin, who spoke with us from his studio where he’s working on new Githead material for release later this year. Interviews have been edited for clarity. [feature photo by Keith Ainsworth]
SE: Obviously the leap in expansiveness between Pink Flag and Chairs Missing was quite remarkable and in fact was commented on by just about everyone I knew back then. Can you talk about how you/the band approached the recording of 154?
CN: You kind of have to start at the beginning. Because Wire sort of happened really fast..there was a fifth member who..it was his band in fact..who we kind of sacked from it, and that was in either early ’77 or late ’76, and since we were playing mainly his material we had to go and get a set together. So, in a couple of months, we put together a set which is what ended up on the Live At The Roxy album, and that’s somewhere between half and two-thirds of Pink Flag. So for us [at that point] it was all a case of easy come easy go, really. There was some songs, we did them on a record then moved on. Not like a regular band, y’know, where, before they record their first album, they will have played quite a lot of gigs, possibly over two or three years before they get to put their first record out. That’s as true now as it was then but it was certainly extremely true then. So there’s always the problem of the second album. Everything’s been building toward that one release, of their set, basically, they’re putting their live set on a record then releasing it. Then they’ve gotta come up with something else. That wasn’t really the case with Wire. It just happened to be..what we had. I mean there were songs like “I Feel Mysterious Today,” I came into the sessions for Pink Flag with that, and Mike Thorne said ‘You have to put it on the next album, it’s too different.’ I think I said ‘Different to what?’ (laughter). The other thing was sort of that thing ‘pop time.’ Pop time goes twenty-seven billion times faster than normal time. So, y’know, six months in pop time is about seventy-six years in normal time. So, for us, an awful lot of time had gone by, enough to evolve a bunch of material then chuck half of it out, then we had what turned out to be Chairs Missing. I think Pink Flag was recorded in September ’77, Chairs Missing was recorded in May, ’78, so we’re talking about eight months. We didn’t have much else to do, really. We’d play gigs, I wrote a lot of songs, once I got into the thing of it, like ‘OK, we need songs’ and then they’d come out when they came out. So I think with 154 it was approached like “Here’s the next step.” Obviously we were aware that Chairs Missing was a big step on from Pink Flag. I don’t think Pink Flag was anyone in Wire’s favorite 70’s record. I think Chairs Missing is probably the favorite one, but a lot of people like 154. So, going in to 154, it was in a way problematic, because there was too much expectation around it, both within the band and also from Mike, who had his orders from EMI that he had to produce singles. His first suggestion when he first came into the session was ‘Let’s only do singles.’ That kind of went down like a lead balloon with the band, really.
SE: And yet you ended up with an album which was eventually viewed as having almost too many singles. To me almost every track could be a single…umm, almost.
CN: Well, I think that’s stretching it a bit.
SE: A bit.
CN: There are a fair few songs on there that are definitely not singles. But yeah..par for the single..in some ways a ‘single’ means nothing now. I mean, what’s a single? Probably “Happy” by Pharrell Williams is a single. It’s like one track that gets everywhere. That mainly isn’t the case with music now. People have tracks, they have albums, people sell their albums on the road. The relevance of singles, I mean, who knows what’s in the pop charts. Nobody’s paying attention to that apart from people who work in the industry. I mean, I have no idea.
SE: No, I don’t either.
CN: Whereas in the late 70’s everybody knew what was in the pop charts. Everybody knew what was in the top 10, that was just standard knowledge. So, singles kind of mattered but there was also..already we were in an era of way too much pop theory. People thinking they knew what it meant. There was an endless discussion about what ‘pop’ is. That word goes in and out of fashion like a yo-yo. It’s the right thing to do, it’s the wrong thing to do, it’s the right thing to be, it’s the wrong thing to be or whatever. I had no idea what it was in ’79. Actually I’d say by the end of ’79, the early 80’s the trend in British music had very much moved toward pop. And so something like 154 was viewed as being way too experimental. So, y’know, it’s context. There’s some catchy tunes on it, that’s for sure.
SE: With four very strong individuals in the band, three of them writers, I know the tension inherent in that situation began to manifest a bit more clearly during the 154 sessions. Would it be safe to say that the band learned not only how to survive that tension but to thrive on it? And specifically so far as 154 goes, would the end product have been as good without that tension?
CN: I think it would have been better. I don’t think the tension helped at all, it was just mainly horrible. It just became like a war of attrition. People all going off in different directions, that all became much more obvious in the period post-154. Like all bands, you more or less drive yourself off a cliff in the bus. There was a thorough disillusionment [during the making of 154]. The big thing we’d done before 154 was touring with Roxy Music. That was a kind of depressing thing on so many levels. For one because it was the first time we were aware that money that was advanced by EMI to Roxy Music to have us on that tour we were liable to pay back. So we were aware of the fact that it cost us money to be on the tour. Plus their crew didn’t treat us particularly well. Plus, most of the audience hated it, hated us. And, y’know, Roxy Music in 1979 were not a great prospect. It had got to the point of being Bryan Ferry and his backing band. Which is fine enough on one level but the pairing of – when you think of Wire and Roxy Music, if you had Roxy Music in 1972 and Wire in 1979 then that would have been an amazing pairing. But it was a different – they were a previous generation and it was like ‘Well, is that what’s in store for us? Do we have to turn into some other sort of thing?’ We didn’t have anybody around us who could say ‘No, that’s not going to happen if you don’t choose it.’ But we were also – because we were involved in the whole majors system which is a sort of drip feed of advances where you never make any money, you get an advance at the beginning of each album which gives you a bit of money to live on and then there’s no other money coming in, so we were actually quite poor. So the idea of going to an independent label who would give us a different direction and would allow us to be ourselves, didn’t appeal simply because there were no advances on the table. The independent side hadn’t gotten to a point where it had in the 80’s when we went to Mute where we could say ‘We need an advance because we haven’t got any money.’ We had discussions with Factory and it didn’t come to anything because they didn’t understand. They weren’t used to the idea that a band would want an advance. ‘But you’ll make loads more money,’ [they’d say] ‘Well but yeah, we haven’t got any.’ (laughter) I also don’t think there was a deep understanding of the context of anything. I think we understood everything that was in our own context, but didn’t really understand anything in the broader context of music, how things were going, and certainly business. There was no real sense of business within the band at that point. So all that sort of lead to us being, in a way, in a state of high artistic productivity and ambition, but without a real context for it. So, what happened was there was a sea change at EMI. Instead of it sort of being a gentlemens club, where bands were allowed to grow and find their niche, suddenly we were out of sync with them, we weren’t the sort of..Duran Duran which is what they kind of wanted. And I think 154, in spite of the fact it got enormously fantastic reviews – it was the best review of a 70’s record that we had – it was still viewed as being a bit weird and experimental when it got really down to it, and we were just a bunch of ne’er-do-well jazzers, we weren’t going to get anywhere. I think that was probably the view at EMI. So this all sort of added to the general sense of malaise around the band, around the album, and people’s different ideas about what they wanted to do.
SE: It’s interesting you use the word ‘malaise,’ as there’s a strong undercurrent throughout 154 of existential dread, as well as transience both physical and emotional. To what extent do you feel that what was going on in terms of that broader context informed either the writing of the ‘feel’ of the album?
CN: I thought the feel was more to do with pushing what we were doing to a logical outcome. In terms of the writing, and obviously I can only speak for myself – Graham had his own concerns around what he was writing about – when we got into the studio, Paul Hardiman, who was the engineer on the first three albums, and Mike Thorne said “Boy, you guys can suddenly play.” We’d done a lot of gigs, we could play. You hear the Rockpalast thing, you could see how we were previewing a lot of what would end up on 154 at that point, and we were good, we could really play in a way that we had sort of got to on Chairs Missing and sort of hadn’t got to on Pink Flag – Pink Flag is not the most dextrous record – and that was where we came at it from. The band was in a really strong place and…this is the fantastically weird thing about Wire – and I don’t think it’s true about Wire anymore – is that the band can be in such a good place artistically and socially in such an appalling place. Things don’t really match up, y’know. So perhaps that’s the underpinning. The underpinning is that there’s quite a lot of creativity going on, but there’s also kind of a big mess. It wasn’t as bad as the Ideal Copy [sessions], but 154 was the second worse of Wire albums in terms of the recording process and the amount of fun we had, whereas Chairs Missing was a lot of fun.
SE: And again that’s kind of reflected in the fabric of each album. Is it simply the inevitable by-product of having three such strong-willed songwriters?
CN: Well, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. (pause) So, basically, when it comes to Pink Flag, those are mostly my songs. Chairs Missing is mainly my songs. 154 I was suddenly told I couldn’t provide as much material. My outlet was going to be that I was going to do my own album. The songs were getting longer, and there was less [room] available on the album, and, y’know, Wire had been my main outlet for writing. And y’know, I don’t know that what got on the 154 was necessarily about merit, as far as I could see. It was more about politics, more about ‘I want my song [on there].” The way it went wasn’t entirely purely process and I kind of got shoved into this alliance with Mike. Y’know, there’s a very straightforward way of making a record. You start with material which the band plays and then you kind of work it up. And then you have another way of working, which is sort of taking things apart and whatever, but if only one person knows what they’re doing and the rest don’t it becomes a kind of situation where the others have to just sit around, and don’t quite understand the logic things are being done under. It’s always difficult [that way].
SE: For all that, though, the record hangs together pretty well.
CN: Umm, yeah. I can understand how people would think it’s a great album, because I think there truly is some stunning material on it. I personally never liked “A Touching Display.” It was alright live, but. I also don’t like particularly like “Once Is Enough” which is actually my song, so. I think “Indirect Enquiries” is one of the oddest Wire pieces [at this point the Skype connection dropped; we returned to the interview after a 30-second hiatus]. The trouble is with me is I can tell you what’s wrong with everything. With my particular critical process I don’t dwell a lot on things. I don’t think ‘Oh yeah that’s fantastic, I’m gonna bask in that for the rest of my life.’ before I finally get on with the next thing. Because that bit in it being bad, it’s annoying so I want to do something that doesn’t have that in it. So that’s kind of the way I think. But, y’know, there are plenty of people who are really good friends, people who I respect, who think 154 is, if not the best record ever made is one of the best records ever made. Though recently, a very good friend of mine who has always had 154 as his favorite record told me that Change Becomes Us is as good. So, I think there’s hope for us.
SE: I’d join in that opinion. I reviewed that for Stereo Embers and ranked it very highly, though that’s always a specious exercise anyway, trying to say that this one is better than that one, especially when it’s just a matter of degree, or rather a question of degree, I guess I should say. But, y’know, we’re not supposed to be talking about that one.
CN: Oh no no no. The only one I want to talk about is the next one. Though that’s way too early to talk about because nobody knows what it is yet, apart from the fact that the material is extremely strong. I just think as a general thing, Red Barked Tree and Change Becomes Us got really great reviews. If we get a third one that’s as well-received as those albums I think we’ll be in a unique position in terms of artists of any longevity. Normally you’re supposed to do your best work when you’re younger and you can just quietly go off and die when you’re older because you’re bound to be rubbish, and I think we’re succeeding at turning that thing on its head. For me, that’s probably the most important agenda. Because, y’know, so many people just take the easy route.
SE: Especially if that younger work is considered in some way seminal then yeah, there’s a tendency to rest on those particular laurels, maybe tweak it a bit but not stray too far. But a certain kind of restlessness has always seemed to imbue the Wire spirit.
CN: Yeah, I dunno, I guess at least a good percentage of that is down to me, having described my process. It’s not that I’m terrible or giving everybody a hard time or anything like that. It’s more a case of voting with my feet. And I think that’s also a part of the culture with the band. I think it’s something we’ve developed in a real positive way. There’s just this whole idea of, like, we play live what interests us, we’re not obsessed with either newness nor oldness, it’s just rightness. It’s about, y’know, kind of what works. And you just wonder why everyone isn’t like that.
SE: (laughing): I can’t help but agree.
CN: It doesn’t make any sense. I mean, for god’s sake, you can’t, really seriously..I have had people come up to me after shows and say ‘I’ve just come up from So-And-So to see you and you haven’t played..and here’s my list’ and I say ‘Do you want us to play those songs badly? What do you want us to do? And is your top ten the same as anyone else’s? I doubt it.’ It’s not like we had one hit that everyone wants to hear more than any other song. It just seems weird and illogical. People love something but they want it to turn into a bad version of itself. Just because they paid for the ticket.
SE: It seems there’s some kind of unwritten rule. I mean, what it seems that you’re talking about is tipping over the line from being an artist to an entertainer, and an entertainer by definition has to pander to their audience and the audience wants those ‘hits’ that you speak of, whatever their favorites are, whatever are perceived as the hits. But yeah, it makes eminent sense to me that a band, in order to remain vital, would not follow that route for fairly obvious reasons yet I guess the lure is too strong for other reasons.
CN: Well I don’t know..I mean, to be honest, you wouldn’t find anybody that is more alive [than I am] to what the commercial possibilities are, certainly within Wire and within actually most contexts. I’m well aware of what is commercially right for Wire, and it’s commercially wrong for Wire to go down a path of, y’know, a revival thing. We could have one year of playing lots of big festivals and making a lot of money and then it’s finished. In ten years time that one year would so heavily outweigh what we did in the meantime as to..it would be commercial suicide, actually. To be honest I don’t think most groups have that much vision, so they just go where the obvious money is. It’s kind of depressing but we were supposed to talking about something else. I wasn’t really sure what we were supposed to talking about in this interview, I’ve just been going along with the –
SE: Well, yeah the primary focus is on the 35th anniversary of 154. We’re doing a week-long series at Embers on that album similar to what we did for Entertainment! a couple months ago, which is why we’ve been concentrating mostly on 154 but I was more than happy for it to drift off course a bit. But, getting back to it, and possible final question here, is there one song or moment on 154 that you’d consider epitomizes the gist, the spirit of Wire?
CN: There were several moments. There were several quite funny moments. The genesis of “I Should Have Known Better” was Graham’s song, that he’d written on the bass, and we had been playing it live, and it was one of the more uninteresting songs in the set, it was a kind of a proto-heavy metal thing that nobody much liked – well obviously Graham liked it – but when we were set to record it I just thought ‘This is dreary, I’m not really interested in this,’ so I started playing the chord sequence in this sort of choppy rhythm bam-bam-bam-bam [then lower] bam-bam-bam-bam and Robert picked up a kind of tick-a-tick tick-a-tick kind of drums and Bruce and me just kind of went to a single note dah-dut, dah-dut kind of thing and Graham was like “What are you doing to my song?” and I just said “We’re making it better. You want it on the record, don’t you?” and we just literally, within the course of five minutes, rearranged it, and it became one of the signature pieces of the album, it became the album opener. And here you are, starting off with a sort of..it was quite a contemporary kind of take on that bam-bam-bam-bam sound with a sort of disco-ish rhythm, you’re coming in en masse with keyboards and the singer is singing “In an act of contrition I lay down by your side.” Y’know, you can’t get much more Wire than that. It’s basically ‘Fuck you,’ y’know, ‘Who are you?’ So, y’know, that has a good kind of [Wire] sense about it. I spoke before about “Indirect Enquiries,” which is completely bonkers piece of music. It was meant to be heavy, it was meant to feel heavy, it was meant to feel quite scary. There’s lots and lots of weird voices which we did vari-speed, singing “You’ve been defaced” which everyone got really fed up with me over. Mike and I spent probably three or four hours doing that but I think it was worth it because it just sounds mad. “The 15th” because its strange and checkered history. Bruce didn’t play on it, which was his way of scuttling it from being a single because he decided he didn’t like it. He didn’t play on “Outdoor Miner” either and it didn’t make any difference on that one, though. EMI wanted it to be a single, and the fact that EMI wanted it to be a single meant that the band decided – apart from me; it was my song and I didn’t know what I felt about it – the band in general said ‘No, we don’t want that as a single.’ And so it stayed just a track on the album until Fischerspooner covered it which started this thing…y’know, “The 15th” is a really good song, and when we were playing shows in 2008, the first time we were playing without Bruce but with Margaret [Fiedler-McGinnis, ex- of Moonshake and Laika – DC] one of the things we had in the audition was ‘You have to teach us a song, a Wire song’ and Margaret said “The 15th” is my favorite Wire song” and nobody could remember how to play it (laughter), and so we kind of learned it together, and played it live, and we hadn’t played it live since the late 70’s – I don’t know how many times we played it, probably not many – and we were playing it at a show in Rome and there was a girl in the front of the audience who just stood there with her mouth open as if to say “What?!? I can’t believe you’re playing that!” and I thought I was going to burst into tears. I just felt so strongly the emotion from her, the disbelief and the sheer joy of hearing that song. And we did play it for about six months and it was actually really good for the psyche of the band. There are a lot of stories that came out of that record, and it’s a pity we’re not on video [I blame the vagaries of the internet – DC] as you could see how much I’m laughing about this stuff. There’s a story to each song, in a way. We still play “Two People In A Room” live, we still play “Map Reference” actually. “Map Reference” was an amazing thing for the development of current Wire because when we were going through the Send period, [which was] very reductive – there wasn’t really a lot to know, all the songs were in the same key and you didn’t have to learn more than two chords, it was very simple to play – and we moved on from there into the sort of post-Red Barked Tree phase and the songs were a bit more complex, and we had to learn a little bit more, and Graham came to rehearsal for the North American tour – we hadn’t rehearsed in a long time – and said “I think we ought to play “Map Reference”” and I said “Are you sure?” “Map Reference” is tricky because it’s a classic Newmanism. The chorus and the verse are the same speed but the chords are played at different speeds. It’s the kind of thing that drives Graham completely mad because his timing is completely different to mine, and it’s fast, you’re fast through all the changes, you can’t get them wrong, you have to be right. So I said “Are you really sure you want to do this?” and he said “Yeah, I really want to do it” and so we played it on that tour and it’s still in the set, which is fantastic. And because of that, that was sort of a big lead-in to how we did Change Becomes Us because we had this song “Adore Your Island” which was a really obscure Wire song that is fiendishly difficult to play, not from the point of view of difficult chords or anything but the timing of it, it goes at two speeds. And I thought ‘OK, if the band would do “Map Reference” then why not challenge the band to do something more difficult? So we put that in the set for the first Royal Festival Hall show in 2011 and that was a kind of moment..there’s no such thing in Wire..nobody thinks we have to come up with something that’s fiendishly difficult to play just to show proof. We would probably come out with some rubbish. But there is a level of absurdity, there is something about the way I do things in songs which is not logical. And it felt to me at that point that really any material – that was good – would be valid. I wouldn’t try and sort of keep things simple just so we don’t fuck them up live or something like that. There are links from 154 to the current psyche. We didn’t play any 154 material in the 80’s. We didn’t play any material from the 70’s in the 80’s. But when we started bringing older material back, 154 material was never high on the list because the presumption was it was going to be too hard to play. When Bruce was still in the band, I mean, Bruce is not brilliant at remembering stuff. We would tend to go for stuff that was more likely to not fail live, because the worst thing you can do live is do bad versions of your own songs. That’s not really what the people pay for.[At this point I was thinking the interview had concluded and thanked Colin for his generosity, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, simply led to another seventeen minutes of discussion. Some ‘post-interview’ interview highlights, starting with:]
CN:….there’s more stuff to come. A Githead album is the next thing. It’s been five years since the last one. That’ll be this year. Then next year is another Wire album, which I must admit I’m quite excited about.
SE: I could hear that in your voice when you mentioned it before.
CN: We have more than enough material for an album. We have, I think, nineteen tracks. My theory on how to make a record is to make more material than you need so you can select, or maybe even do more than one release at a time. [The process] went through an amazing time like it always does. Nobody from the band heard any of the material before the sessions apart from the ones we were playing live, and I have said before that I thought that that’s an interesting way to go about it. And that’s not trying to play some stupid parlor trick, it’s all about capturing the moment when the band meets the material. It’s there in Wilson’s book. It’s something special about Wire and it always has been, it goes right back to the 70’s. It’s always been like that, that moment when the song first comes up, whether it’s in rehearsal or whatever. Or, talking about “I Should Have Known Better;” see, that happened in the studio, ten minutes before we recorded it. That’s why it sounds like it does, because it’s got that freshness. And everybody’s like ‘Yeah, this is really good!’ They haven’t had time to get bored with it, or time to forget it and then have to learn it all again and get everything wrong. It’s that immediate reaction to the material, and you’ve got it. And to me, that’s always an exciting thing. So that was what we got on those [recent] sessions. Never more than three or four takes on anything. I mean, obviously there’s a lot of work to do on it but I’m pretty excited about it, it’s just so classically Wire, that kind of moment. I mean, people imagine that we’re all kind of sitting around philosophizing about..stuff (laughs). But I must say it’s more a case of panic and just kind of coming up with stuff in the spur of the moment. In a way…someone will say ‘Well it’s only 10 minutes of writing’ but yeah it might be just 10 minutes of writing but it might be six months of not writing. I had run myself completely out. By the end of the session I couldn’t have written [the music for] another song. I’d written all the things I could think of to write. I’d only be getting into weird shit. I mean, already five or six songs in I was like ‘Oh well I’ve done that and I’ve done that’ and that’s kind of the way it is. In a respect it’s like tricking yourself. But as you probably read that was one of the reasons for doing Change Becomes Us was to kind of put myself back in that place as a writer, where I was in the late 70’s early 80’s where I’d written a lot of songs and being a bit bored with doing all the obvious things. And I’ve certainly succeeded in doing that with this process.
SE: To me, all this points to the most emblematic word that can be attached to Wire and that’s immediacy, which is certainly understandable given what you just said.
CN: That’s a really really interesting point and I’ve never really though of it like that. But yes, I guess that’s what I’m looking for in that process. I think that’s why people like us live, because it is very immediate, a lot of what we do. It’s also sort of unmitigated in some way. It is so totally and utterly what it is. It’s the sound of four people reacting to music. That’s why that method works so well for Wire, rather than someone coming in with a finished thing. It’s also why it’s so hard to work any other way. When you start sitting there saying ‘Well let’s have a lute on this..,’ that’s the kind of thing you need to do on your own, really, it’s not really a band thing. A band thing is ‘Yeah, do four bars like that then you need to change to E’ or something. It’s that kind of immediacy, there’s no doing a lot of discussion about how it’s done. This is same as it was in the 70’s as it is now. There is no difference.
SE: What you’re describing, it seems, is a process wherein there’s no set…I mean, record companies back when there were record companies and A&R guys what-have-you that are looking for “What is it? Can we insert this hook into this to make it sound like this other song did so we can have a hit?” with that result often eluding them – and artistic integrity eluding them as well but that’s beside the point – but what you’re describing is a process that doesn’t include that component. What worked before…what works, is using what didn’t work before, if that makes any sense.
CN: It’s true, but it’s not an intellectual process. You might use exactly what you used before but you use it in another way. The context of it is different, the way you feel about it is different. Like there’s this one song which is all major chords, and it’s a really, really, really obvious riff, and, to begin with, nobody got it. And then we started working on it and it sort of transformed and it’s going to be a pop monster. (interviewer laughs) And the reason why, well, “Map Reference” is major chords. If you want to write something that has that kind of appeal, then major chords is the way to go. But I can’t just sit there and write the song with major chords. There has to be a way to trick my head into doing that. So, I dunno..it’s all about that moment, it’s all about that moment, and it’s intuitive, it’s organic, it’s very much a thing of feel and very much like ‘That just felt right.’ And you can kind of feel the newness in it somehow. And that’s what you search for, you search for the newness. And you don’t get there in any sort of intellectual way, as in ‘You’ve got to have that sound in it because that’s the sound that should be in every record.’ That’s just bollocks. It doesn’t have any meaning. Possibly by deduction method as well, you have elements of electronic music and that way of being able to incorporate those elements into the music which gives the chance to have it not just be rock, or pop rock or something like that. I think that’s inherent in the process. It’s the way the basic material comes about. I find it fascinating and I only really work in collaboration now, I don’t really do records on my own. I would be bored, actually. Y’know, I’m sitting right now in our studio and I’m working on a Githead piece, and it’s a collaboration with four people. I never sit here and think ‘Oh yeah, I haven’t got much to do today, I think I’ll make some music on my own.’ Why would I do that? What for? There isn’t any point to it. It sounds much interesting to do stuff by collaboration.
SE: Well that’s where the energy is, right? I mean, you need the unknown factor of others inserting…
CN: Yes! What are they going to bring? How are they going to…it can get to a point where someone doesn’t quite get it and you have to go around a bit to figure out what the best approach is or something like that, but for the most part let’s say for eighty or ninety percent of the time, as regards the process of Wire, Wire is bringing a piece of material to the band and the band…at that point with the material I’m just a member of the band. I just happen to have the prior knowledge. I know where the changes come and all the rest of it, and I’m going to know if somebody’s playing funny notes because it’s not going to go with the voice or something like that….one of the tensions with 154 is the tension between the fact that we had played a lot of that material live and came with a set of expectations as to what it was supposed to be, and the immediacy thing, which is so good with Wire (when it comes to) the discovery of a new piece of music. I think the only one that really happened on was “I Should Have Known Better.” That was played live but not in that form. I think the reason the band liked making Chairs Missing more is because there was more of that discovery. Like the sequencer on “Another Letter” which was, y’know, ‘Wow.’ That was really kind of exciting, so we’d go in a really different direction with the bass. There wasn’t material that we had played that much, so there wasn’t that less expectation, there was more of a sense of fun and adventure around it. But, y’know, by traditional means a band having played the material a lot on the road is supposed to make a good record. It’s interesting; when we were doing the recording for this next album, the three songs that we did know how to play live were knocked off in a couple of hours and even the one that everyone had been so excited about for the last year was, like, [with a shrug in his voice] ‘Oh we’ve got new ones now.’ It’s always the case with Wire. The new is always more interesting than the old, and the old can only become interesting if you make it new.
[feature image by Maya Newman]