Firefly - January 15, 1999
Mark Eitzel - Unpublished Firefly Interview
Publication: Firefly Mailing List
Author: Jane Oriel
Date: January 15, 1999
MARK EITZEL - V3 CLUB, NEWPORT, WALES - 15TH JANUARY 1999
It is three years tomorrow since I learnt at short notice that Mark was to be playing a little town near my home in Wales as the support act for The Divine Comedy. I was new to writing at that time but the opportunity to learn a bit more about the man first hand was a pull far too strong to allow anything as trivial as inexperience to stand in my way. So with one other interview under my belt from only two weeks previously, I knew that I must somehow contrive a meeting so consequently, you will find that this is not the most together piece of work that you’ll ever read.
To bring it to pass, I let Matador know that there was a feature in the offing and simultaneously called on a local magazine/fanzine, Fiction, to say that I had an interview with the man in the bag. At this, one of their own Chris Heath, a young but equally ardent AMC fan asked to come along planning to ask specifically about Mark’s back catalogue for an accompanying retrospective. As I’m amongst friends, I’ve decided to leave the results as a transcribed conversation instead wrapping it up in editorial silver foil, so some parts will inevitably work better than others.
The weather that day was seriously torrential, leading fellow ‘fly Matt Harfitt to fear his car would be blown off the Severn Bridge on his way to the gig, and I arrived in drowned rat mode after enduring the joys of public transport. Earlier in the day, I’d travelled home from my grandmother’s funeral the other side of the country, so was doubly disoriented.
The entourage was very late arriving from Paris, delaying everything including the sound check. By now, the bar area was heaving to contain a growing press of bodies, denied access down onto the floor space.
I caught sight of a shabby suited man on stage shielding his eyes from the lights, battered guitar slung to his back as he tiresomely tried to communicate with an impatient sound engineer. Resembling an archetypal French artist complete with soft grey cap and trimmed beard, Eitzel’s gentle vulnerability was just as I had envisioned. I had to fight back an almost overwhelming desire to hold him closely, then make him dinner.
The date of the show, 15th of January 1999, was to be just two weeks before Mark recorded the Superhits CD with the set list making up most of the album. Matt remembers the band coming on stage, with Mark saying "Hi, we’re....." surveying the audience, then "oh... forget it."
- does anyone know if this song has perhaps been re-titled?
[Mark and his band have finished their set and we join him a few minutes later in the dressing room.]
Jane. Welcome to Wales. It's a wet place isn't it?
Mark. It's great. [overly enthusiastic through politeness]
J. Is this to be your first time playing here?
M. Actually, it is.
Chris. How did you enjoy tonight's gig?
M. Well.... [a deep theatrical sigh to emphasise tediousness] We didn't get a sound check and the keyboard blew up in the middle. Um, I'm kinda shy and nervous. I don't like being the opening act.
C. I went to your recent London show in the Twelve Bar Club. You've got loads of exciting new stuff and I recognised a lot of songs from there.
M. I'm only doing new songs. I'm doing no old songs anymore. [pause for effect]
J. Why's that?
M. Well it's a new band and Vudi only joined on condition that we don't play any AMC songs. So it's just to please him, but not for me.
C. Do you think that you've moved on since then?
M. Oh no. I love them all.
J. Do you still listen to your old records?.
C. What are your plans at the moment?
J. What’s her contribution?
M. She plays electric piano, Wurlitzer and she’s incredible. No bass player.
J. Are you recording with this band yet?
M. No [disappointedly].
J. So are you just waiting until you have enough material that you’re happy with?
M. It’s... I only just got the money. I got dropped from Warner Brothers in America and it ended up that they had to buy me off. Basically, they made the mistake of sending me a letter saying that they would record my next album. So I said "Look, you’ve got to pay me."
C. Valuable piece of paper?
M. Yeah, so that’s good. I just got the money so I can do it now so I’m going to.
J. It always seems as though you get trouble from the companies.
M. Oh yeah [resignedly, but with humour].
J. What keeps you going?
M. Um [long pause]. Uh. I dunno... Willpower? Stubborn..... It’s big stubborn. I’m a very stubborn man [posturing pseudo aggression].
J. You seem to have a very special relationship with your songs. I read some time ago where you described them as your "little glass animals."
M. Oh [smiling and making me laugh], I was on a Tennessee Williams kick. That’s all.
J. It’s a good description anyway.
M. Oh, it’s kinda embarrassing. It makes me Laura [Wingfield from William’s, The Glass Menagerie].
J. Ah yes. [laughter]
[Mark was soon due on stage to sing "Johnny Mathis' Feet" with The Divine Comedy. A woman enters the dressing room.]
W. It was wonderful but short [offering her hand].
M. Go on. You have to lie. They told me 32 seconds and no more [he meant 32 minutes].
C. 32 seconds? [laughter]
Paddy [DC’s Irish road manager]. You should have just played faster. Wait until you hear Mark’s 18 minute rendition of "Johnny Mathis' Feet". [huge laughter]
J. How did you come to be touring with The Divine Comedy?
M. Um. [pondering] I, um... I’m not getting very many offers so I thought, well they offered so I said "Right."
J. [laughing] If it was that easy, I would have phoned you a long time ago.
M. I want to, but I want to do... You see, I just formed this band and I really want to play out. We’ve been playing out a lot in California. And it’s passed, like good. To bring a band out from America for touring is super expensive. It’s cost three grand on this trip you know, just because I wanted to do it. It’s because, that’s all my money and... I’m such an idiot, I’m an idiot, I’m an idiot [shaking his head and turning away].
C. What was Vudi doing in between AMC and joining you now?
M. He’s in this incredible band called Clovis. And he now plays these incredibly weird songs all about sex. Y’know like, ‘I Knew You Would Come,’ is the newest, the biggest hit until now.
C. Is that still going while you form your new band?
M. Yeah, I’m the guitar roadie for Vudi. They’re recording right now and they’re trying to get someone to put it out. I would put it out if they had money because it’s an amazing record. It’s incredible.
M. Every time I talk to Sean it’s like, I have forty more phone numbers for him ‘cos the whole history of AMC is continuing. It’s just impossible really because I don’t remember half of it. I was too busy. I think Sean’s a sweet guy. I don’t think he’s gonna tell a lie.
J. Were you surprised that someone wanted to write a book about you?
M. Uh, shocked!
J. I’m wondering if he’s going to treat it as purely biographical or whether he’ll try to get inside your head?
M.. No, no, it’s basically biographical. He’s brilliant.
J. Oh that’s great because there are all kinds of cod psychiatrists who want to have a go at you.
M. All the time.
J. Because your work seems to inspire....
M. All the time [saving me from word struggles]. It’s fine, you know. It’s my fault... I have no chin and I write sad songs.
[awkward silence, and the odd cough.]
C. Do you mind if we ask questions about American Music Club?
M. Not at all.
J. Were you surprised that you never sold more records than you did?
M. No, no, I wasn’t. I mean, I’ve worked with Peter Buck and I know why they’re successful. It’s because of the way the dynamics of the band works. You have a guitar player who is absolutely malleable and is completely like, creative, and is clear about what he wants to do. Then the band says "okay." And in contrast, I had Vudi, who is completely un-malleable, and I know... [shrugs] I love this man. He’s my father, you know what I mean? He’s five years older than me and he’s a complete prick, and he’s completely opinionated. And all he wants to do is the opposite of what is pop, always.
J. But he has criticised you for that very same thing!
M. Yeah, it’s so. [conceding, with a smile]. Every time we were on stage, it was always cool, every time we played out. We never did anything that was normal pop. We only did things that were anti- that. We were always very much a democracy and I was the girl of the group who was bombed all the time, you know, which is no denigration [looking to make sure I hadn’t been offended]. It’s just the way girls are treated. I was just ignored every time I had an idea. But of course I always had the final say because I could say "Let’s make it an instrumental, a great instrumental, great!" And they’d say [tediously] "Okay, what do you want?" And I’d say "Well, play a G chord. Now go ‘brroying,’ (which really means ‘vrrang.’ [faux earnestly] ) So essentially, REM are successful because Peter Buck is the most ambitious man I’ve ever met. And whenever I said "You know what? That’s the chorus and that’s the verse," he’d be like, "All right. Great. Let’s make it that way." And I’d be like, "Wow." Whereas with Vudi, he would have perhaps eighteen chords and maybe a time signature that would be eleven over sixteen or something. And every time he had to play one of my songs, if I was playing a C, he’d just have to play an inversion of it right up the neck and I’d be like, [in a whiny voice] "That’s not what I wrote!" And he’s like, [quietly but firm] "It’s a C?", "But I can’t sing to it." [gritted teeth patience] "I think you should try." [lots of laughter]
J. It must be fun having him back?
M. Oh no, he’s great. But then again, it’s my band. It’s Eitzel’s Superhits International. We’re both friends and we both love... [small diverting cough]. We’ve changed a lot so it’s an experimental art geezer band. And don’t make that the fucking pop quote! Mmm... [eyes narrowed while rubbing chin] ‘An Art Geezer Band!’
C. So of AMC, what is your favourite record?
M. Oh, United Kingdom [followed by an unexplained but thoughtful silence].
C. [cautiously] Why is that?
M. Um... Because of "Kathleen", and because of um... I had more time and because of... [deep breath] It’s because I was able to have my say in how the album was done a lot more than usual [he laughs]. ‘Cos [Tom] Mallon [the producer] was a fucking prick all the time, you know. Like we would walk into the studio and he would have erased all the instruments except for like, the kick-drum and snare. And we were like, "Tom, what did you do.???? It’s so...?" So I’d be like, "Well, I’ll sing like Leonard Cohen and you’re sure gonna hate it," (‘cos he hated Leonard Cohen). I mean, I love Leonard Cohen but...
[being unaware of Firefly (mailing list) or Mission Rock (former band website) at this time, Chris and I were unaware that Kathleen Burns had died a few months earlier.]
C. When you’re speaking of a person like Kathleen, do you always tell the truth about them in their songs, or do you...
M. [abruptly] Always!
C. How do you feel about bearing your soul in this way?
M. [the mood has darkened since the mention of Kathleen] Who gives a shit. I’m garbage. [crosses legs to turn his back slightly]
J. [gently] To the likes of us and people who love your music, we must obviously all be garbage then, because somehow it gets through to us.
M. Well, you "obviously" all have a self esteem issue.
J. [things are getting a little tricky] But I listen and I can’t help but think "Oh shit, that’s me."
M. Yeah? [suddenly childlike and hopeful]
C. [finding the door reopened] It’s like "Blue And Grey Shirt". That’s a little story that can be applied to me, I think.
M. That’s nice [smiling and relaxed again now] It’s like Belle and Sebastian. Their first, second album is all about me. You know, every single song is all about me and that’s why I love them so much. The Boy With The Arab Strap I don’t know yet, but Sun Waltz or Trace is all about me, every - single - song. Terrifying, and they’re just kids.
C. Nothing came from your work with Everything But The Girl?
M. Fuck no!
J. I’m so glad you said that [I laugh].
M. They’re really nice people, but they sure know how to wear their trainers [grinning suavely like an anchorman]. I did a song with them called "When My Plane Finally Goes Down" and actually, it’s really cool. It’s a trip hop sort of thing. But they used a Miles Davis sample and I think that... I, uh... I don’t want to say this, I won’t say this in public.
J. We won’t quote you if you like, and that’s a promise.
[i’ve decided to included the EBTG details because they have since been covered in Wish The World Away, pp.189-190.]
M. Okay. Well, I didn’t give them a song writing credit, I think. ‘Cos they wanted half and I was like "I wrote the song." They changed bits around and I don’t like the arrangement. And then they gave me this attitude about "Mark, when you record this song for your record, you’re not going to use this arrangement, are you?" And so... [he makes faces to pretend it was a really hard decision]. "mmm... No." But don’t print that.
J. That’s an absolute promise.
M. ...because they are very sweet people. I toured with them and they gave me their books and champagne. They’re really nice.
J. I so recognised the "Southend On Sea" of my childhood. When I first heard that song I just broke up.
M. Well, that’s the song that everybody hates but it was a really hard song to write. It’s about breaking up with my lover that I had at the time. We came to England for the big romantic European Trip.
J. You couldn’t have picked a worse place to break up.
M. But I loved it. I had like [laughing] four, count them [holding up his fingers] Cadbury’s Ninety-Nines, four. [translation: two crumbly chocolate sticks pressed into a cone of soft ice cream] I was like, "Mmmmmm. This is great, this" [acting it out with wide ‘Homer’ eyes] It is so different writing about England because you seem very, sort of obsessed with Americans. I’m obsessed wherever I live.
J. How long were you living in England?
M. I grew up here until I was nineteen and a half.
J. Your father was in the armed forces?
M. Yeah, I was here from twelve until nineteen.
J. Where did you live?
J. Did you find that you became interested in football because in Southampton, they love their football team?
M. I remember when the Saints [Southampton FC’s nickname] won something?
C. It was the FA Cup in 1976.
M. Yes, I was there. There was rioting in the streets. It was incredible. Even I was semi-happy.
C. Well that’s a sideways step because I’m a massive football fan as well as music.
M. Well I’m not, I’m not, I’m not. It’s an opium for the masses. I’d prefer to, actually... [sitting upright for his statement] I prefer to smoke pot than watch football.
C. [quick diversion] Do you really believe that America would be a nicer place if it wasn’t for the people that live in it?
M. No, no. My line is very accurate, it’s very precise. "America would be beautiful if it wasn’t for the people," which is a John Lennon thing. "People who want to be taken for a ride." I’m just obsessed by this whole new Christian Right-wing Fascist thing which is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen because it is the rise of Fascism. Because when America becomes Fascist, watch out.
C. You’ll have to move back to Southampton.
M. England wouldn’t have me because I was offered duel citizenship but my parents said "No!" So...
C. You can come and live in our flat as an illegal immigrant, if you bring us a new song each day.
M. Yeah, I could live there like Anne Frank.
C. How do you feel about The Restless Stranger because import copies are now becoming available?
M. And no-one’s buying them. Yes um, I always hated that record and I still do, but you know, it became this thing where we had to make some money in 1996/97 and this was the only money that we were going to make that year. So part of the deal was that they wanted the whole back catalogue and so that was kind of why. We’ve added some songs which I think help a little bit, and the actual song "Restless Stranger" itself is sort of like... a song that I didn’t want... because it exposes our very poorly hidden love of Joy Division so that’s why I never wanted it put on the original record. But I think it’s a good song so, uh... you know. [he drifts into silence, then] What else? [sitting up with a jump] I don’t care! I don’t want to listen to it, I’ll tell you that. It’s just a document, you know. We had it re-mastered and suddenly you hear all the keyboards and that’s a little embarrassing.
J. What about the Toiling Midgets project? Do you still listen to that?
M. I’ve never listened to it, from the moment I left the studio [getting animatedly into his stride].
J. Did you hate that as well?
M. No I didn’t. I hated them. I didn’t hate that [the recording], I just felt like... I mean... If you heard the original Toiling Midgets albums, two other ones... One of them’s called Sea Of Unrest and that is actually one of the most amazing records you’ll ever hear. It’s a hidden gem. The best description that I read of it was "Six heavy metal kids locked in a closet doing heroin for twenty years." It’s incredible and I’ve got all the out-takes of that session.
C. So why, during AMC, did you decide to work with them?
M. Because I wanted to steal Tim [Mooney] from the band. Essentially, I wanted to bring him into American Music Club. He’s brilliant, and we shared rehearsal space and we were next door. I would listen my ear against the wall [leaning with hand cupped to ear] and go "Fuck, that’s great."
J. So it had nothing to do with AMC limiting you?
M. No. it was just that I’ve always liked them and that was at the point in 1990 when we were on our way out of Frontier. Yeah, Frontier got dropped by RCA and we were without a contract and we owed Frontier $30,000. We didn’t have it so we were trying to get a new contract to pay her [label boss Lisa Fancher] off, so we could continue with Everclear. And then my manager [Leslie Mallon] told me "Mark, I want you to do nothing. I want you to just, you know... You’re in a band, and..." And I said "No. Fuck you!" So that’s when they [Demon] offered me Songs Of Love Live. They said "We’ll give you $1,000 and we’ll make a record of the live show and if you don’t like it, then we won’t put it out." And I thought "Whoa, $1,000? Okay!" And my manager said "Mark, you’re betraying American Music Club!" And I said "Great. Fuck ‘em." She also told me we would never be successful. But she was actually right in the end. She, er... I just hated her.
J. Newport is quite off the beaten track so how did you end up here, of all places?
M. There was a French date that got cancelled at short notice and this was the only place we could get.
J. We had a bit of trouble getting through to you this week with Matador. It involved a lot of to and fro-ing on the phone.
M. I love them a lot. They’re great, especially Helen, she’s so cool. She’s like "I will never have any of my artists in Melody Maker after the way they treated whoever." And I was like "Right on sister, right on."
C. I rarely ever see press coverage of you now.
M. I’m just, I’m just... My career’s over, you know, so... [waiting for effect]
C. Don’t say that! You’ve got your exciting new band now.
M. Yeah well, I’m excited but I don’t know if anyone else will be.
C. Of course they will. It’s a good start anyway.
M. No, I’m really excited anyway. It’s incredible.
C. Are you planning to use pedal steel on your new record?
M. I’m recording it with Bruce [Kaphan], my next album. He’s got Pro Tools, like all of it, at his house. Yeah, I think there will be but I think... He’s got a sampler so I think we’re going to sample a pedal steel. Bruce is like... I mean... I know this sounds really callous but Bruce costs at least... Bruce works for David Byrne and gets at least $2,000 a week... And I can’t afford him.
C. Will there still be a country influence to your music on this new album?
M. Well, I’m not so into country so much these days. That’s why I need my band. Eitzel’s Superhits International is because of George Jones Superhits.
C. Do you like Gram Parsons?
M. No. I never understood why people liked him.
C. I think he’s just...
M. I know. And you know what? People have told me "Mark, you have to listen to this. It sounds like..." Okay. "It will take you back to your High School," or something like that. I don’t like traditional music that much. I listen to LTJ Bukem and Gastropod. It’s listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd or something. I always thought that Gram Parsons was like The Traveling Wilburys to me. It’s always caustic community.
J. You say Bukem. [hey ‘Flies, remember this was three years ago.] How does Drum ‘n’ Bass go down in America?
M. It’s fucking huge.
Eric Gebow. I know that it’s huge, but it’s become advertisement music.
J. Here too, more is heard in adverts than anywhere else.
M. Yeah, because it’s all about being hypnotised, you know.
E.G. Yeah, those who utilise drum ’n’ bass do so for commercial reasons because it’s cheaper than actually buying a song.
J. Yes, it’s on all the PlayStation games too.
E.G. It’s usually been co-opted.
M. But...people don’t want to hear a song anymore. I think that the whole art of song writing is like a dead art from, like poetry or something.
J. There are still some safe pockets for both.
M. I kinda put it down to the rise of CDs and the rise of music as a hawk store accessory. Music is something that people talk through. You know, with a CD, you listen to about four songs and it’s like... A vinyl album, you listen to all six on the first side then you’re like, "Okay," and you have to get up and flip it over and the second side is always different. You can’t digest sixteen or seventeen songs in a row. You know there’s talk of Neil Young’s putting out a thirty CD set. And It’s like "I’m not buying that!" Much as I love Neil Young, I’ll never listen to thirty CDs ever. Ever.
J. I had a seventy four minute CD to review last week and by the end of it I was climbing the wall. There were some good songs on it but they just became lost within everything else.
M. Yeah, it’s like that Wilco record. They’re great but... I listened to maybe the first CD and half way through I was like, "This is great," and then it was like... Or Jack Logan. What a great song writer, you know. I mean... oh, I dunno [getting enthusiastically flustered].
J. How many new songs do have ready for your new band?
M. We’ve got about... We’ve got a lot of new songs.
E.G. [shouting from the other side of the now rather crowded room] Twenty?
M. Whoa, no. We’re only playing ten (but I have like, ten more) [semi-apologetically].
J. Which of those you played tonight is the one you like the best?
M. "The Man With The Hole In His Foot". It’s the best song I’ve ever written in my life.
J. When the music began, I didn’t know if you were going to take maybe a comic turn and so when the mood changed, I felt "whoa?" I appreciated that.
M. I would have taken a comic turn if I could have [he laughs].
J. No, all I meant was that you don’t know where it’s heading when you start. It sounds as if it could be "Let me tell you about the man with a hole in his foot" like some kind of story and I’m like "Oh yeah?" in anticipation.
C. Like "Crabwalk".
M. Oh no, no.
J. But when it really kicked in, it had a strong emotional impact because my expectations were thwarted then redirected.
M. [breathing in slowly for dramatic effect] I... am the man with the hole in his foot, you know? Because I’m a coward. It’s like, "there it is, right there; and there; and there;" [lifting his foot and animatedly pointing to different parts]. Ooh beer. [Convenient get-out clause as Paddy brings in a crate]
C. Could you envisage writing anything like "Crabwalk" again?
M. I just wrote one. It’s just called "Calvin Klein Just Called Me".
C. You played that in London at the Twelve Bar Club?
M. Yeah. It’s funny, right? [Chris smiles nodding.] But it’s not, though. It’s really about... [his answer is frustratingly inaudible on my tape as a joke’s just been cracked elsewhere in the room. Any info Ben? Michael? Anyone else?] I read the review of that gig and I was "Oh God!" The review was like "Poor Mark Eitzel," and I was like... you know [looking downcast]. Then it ended by saying "Mark Eitzel is old fashioned and honest!" And I was like [raising voice], "Is it old fashioned to be honest," you know? I mean, I could have sold that place out for five nights. But I didn’t even want to do the two nights. I just wanted to do my new songs, I wanted to see Pat my friend (‘cos I love her), and I wanted to see a couple of my friends in London. It’s an excuse to play London for free.
C. Paid for?
M. I never travel unless I have someone else paying for it [smiling impishly].
C. You said from stage that your set was shorter than you would have liked?
M. Well I was told that I only had thirty two-minutes to play and I was told that... I was warned that this audience would hate me.
C. Who told you that?
M. Everybody. [sympathy vote?] Well they said, you know... Well, Brixton too. Brixton’s going to be tough. [Brixton Academy is in one of London’s less salubrious areas.] I’m just gonna get through it. I mean, touring with Everything But The Girl made me into, like... well... a Vietnam vet’.
C. The place filled up one helluva lot about two songs in. We were right down at the front from the beginning, then we looked around and there were lots of people.
M. The people were alright. They were actually a nice crowd. They applauded at the end; well somebody did. You did probably. [ironic smile. We grinned back shamelessly] I was such an asshole. I didn’t want to smile at all. I thought "Why smile?" I thought "Fuck you!" And I didn’t know a fucker. There’s almost nothing worse than an older person being ingratiating. It’s almost like your dad coming into your bedroom when you’re jerking off. [everyone breaks up at the unexpected turn of phrase]
J. [still laughing] My father... Well, I and my family just spent a couple of days with my sister, and she and I came home at about half-two after a lock-in [an after hours private party in a pub]. Well I’m XX [ages removed as editor’s prerogative. bleh.] and she’s XX and we came in and...
M You’re XX?
J. [feeling horribly in the spotlight] Yes, I’m XX.
M. Fuck you!!!
J. [laughing nervously, taken aback]
M. Because, you look like you’re, fucking, about twenty-eight!
J. Uh, thank you very much?!? [wanting floor to open as everyone looks over]
M. Hey, it’s nothing. [looking down sheepishly after noticing my blush] [everyone is still looking]
J. [deep breath] Uh... Should I continue?
M. Yes. [affirmatively, giving me his complete attention]
J. Well my father comes downstairs in his pyjama feet and tells us [assuming a strict voice] "Don't you think you’d better get off to bed" and...
M. His pyjama feet, his pyjama feet?!? [sitting back abruptly, looking very amused and puzzled]
J. It’s all we could see of him. We looked up and could see just his feet and the beginnings of his pyjamas coming down stairs. Anyway, we were dancing, making like this video, what is it? Fatboy Slim, Praise You, like the video.
M. I caught a new video by... Who’s that terrible punk band?
C. Green Day?
M. Not Green Day.
M. Offspring! It’s great! I saw it in France. It was like, "This is really great," and when I saw it was Offspring, I was like, "Oh shit!" [mock horror] I was so surprised because it’s a great song ["Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)"]. I say the same things and I’m like, (‘Cos I’ve got a friend in San Francisco and he’s the Mr. Rogers of Rap, you know.) and I’m going "You are so white" and he’s like "Yup, bwoy!" [cliched rap hand moves] And I’m like "Uh."
C. Punk was big in your life?
M. Oh, I was a punk rocker. I was a sad punk... I am an old punk rocker now which is why I’m so unpleasant to the audience. [dramatic pause] I shouldn’t be... I don’t like people that much.
J. I got a bit annoyed with some of the girls tonight, I mean, you expect them to chat a bit but I could hear this whiny Welsh voice coming through...
M. Oh, I don’t mind that. I like that.
J. I don’t. I felt like, "Shut up! Respect!"
M. [pseudo haughty face and voice] Why? I thought they were great. I don’t mind that, no. I didn’t mind anything. No, I was just really... I was thrown off by the first song because he (Marc Capelle) was playing notes... My chord changes were like, twice as quick as his chord changes and I was like, "Where are you?" That was all.
J. It’s just that I’ve always been very possessive of you. I know we’ve never met but I always get sort of, protective of your work. [mutually held eye contact]
C. I’m thrilled to see you back here. You could have sat out there and burped for half an hour and... [and i’m thinking "oh shit."]
M. [curtly] I don’t think so.
C. Well, Will Oldham from Palace Brothers did that for a gig once. I don’t know if he got away with it or not.
M. His new name is Bonnie Prince Billy.
C. Yes I know of him. Do you like his stuff?
M. I love him. He’s awesome, yes. What’s the name of that album? There Is No-one That Will Love You?
C. There Is No-one What Will Take Care Of You.
M. That is so great. All the other guys, we were doing a soliloquy on Will Oldham.
C. I’m going to see him play on Saturday with Mogwai in London. Why don’t you stay in London and go and see him?
M. No, I’m playing Saturday and I can’t afford it. I can’t afford your fucking country. Everything’s twice as much like this power adapter. It’s £28 but to me it’s $50.
C. It’s £2.50 for a bottle of beer at this bar downstairs so we made sure we had a drink at the pub next door before we came in.
M. Well, have a beer, have a beer, have a beer [gesturing with the sweep of an arm] Have all you want, please.
J. Thanks, I'll have one.
M. Fuck that. Take two, take three, take four! [bottles are thrown to all and Mark sets about cracking a cap off with a door key.]
J. We have a couple of friends with us, Toby and Tony. It is okay now if they come up now and say hi?
M. I don’t mind at all. I’m not doing anything at all.
J. What did you think of that ‘scene’ that was created between you and the Red House Painters back in around ‘93?
M. I fucking hated it. I fucking hated it, you know. Because I was a huge fan of them and I read this thing in Artcore about ‘fucked up me’ and how I was a class clown, and I was sort of [eyes wide, arms crossed] "Well, thank you!" They used to call me up and say "Why didn’t you come to my show last night?" Like, "Because I was busy!" And once I was in bed with someone and they called me on the phone and he was like "Do you want to talk about lawyers?" I was like "You know baby, you know. I’ll just say hello to them and that will be cool." But since then, I'm just... I’m so tired of that kind of music and I’m tired of being associated with it. These people are just so humourless. It’s like Belle And Sebastian because the song writing is so fucking like, self effacing. It’s so non-ponderous and I find like Low, they are brilliant and they’re brave but they’re just kinda ponderous, you know. Like Smog, it’s like "Okay, [teeth gritted and inpatient sing-song voice] it’s been fifteen minutes and I want a drink at the bar. I want to talk to somebody," and instead you’re like "ohhh." [exaggerated sigh] [someone throws Mark an opener as he’s fighting with the key and bottle, but feigning nonchalance]
C. Have you heard their new record Knock Knock?
J. There’s a great track on it called "River Guard". It’s so simple. He’s just taking prisoners out to swim in a river.
[Our friends Tony and Toby are introduced]
C. Have you heard an English band called Hefner? I think you might like them because they write songs that are sort of comic/tragic.
M. Are they like Gomez?
C. God no! Gomez are dreadful.
M. Oh my God! [Mark gets into the spirit of things.] I saw Gomez in San Francisco and it was the same thing as when Oasis came. Their tour bus was bigger than the club and all anybody could talk about was "They’ve got one-hundred guitars, all lined up in a special fucking guitar road case." And I was like the bitter guy at the juke box, drunk on his ass going like, [mellow] "Yeah, you guys were fabulous. [instant loss of interest] Good Bud’."
C. I recently read a good feature about your albums in an English magazine Hearsay. It was filled with random quotes from you including a quick couple of words cadged at a bar once where you said that Restless Stranger was a bad garage record and that you didn’t record all the tracks together.
M. It is bad though. You’ve heard it, right?
C. No. It’s £18 on import and as I’d heard that you didn’t like it...
M. You’ve got to call Warner Brothers and you’ve got to say "Look, I want to review this album. I want a handout." Because they are such big assholes and you know, they’re just sitting there on their big motherfucking, pattery ass, asses [correcting his grammar :-)] and, and... Just call them and say you’re a magazine, and you want it, and you’ll get it. Right? I mean, nobody else is reviewing this so... Not that I’ll see it.
Tony. I didn’t know it was available.
M. Well don’t get it. It’s like... All it does, it reveals, is American Music Club’s lustful desire to be actually Joy Division. It’s sort of like The Jam trying to be Joy Division. It’s really pathetic.
T. Are there any moments on it all?
M. Only the B sides. There’s three B sides that I like a lot. The rest’s just history.
C. Were they recorded at about the same time?
N. No, actually they weren’t. They were recorded after. I kinda like, cheated. And "Restless Stranger", the song, was written at the same time for the record but we couldn’t include it because it was on vinyl, because of the length, and we had to throw one of the songs out and it was that one.
C. Hmm. [pondering] Throwing out the title track.
T. I loved 60 Watt Silver Lining.
M. I’m really proud of that album.
T. Did Barbra Streisand ever record "Saved"?
M. Oh yeah, my ‘Bacharach’ song. No, but my old lover used to love Streisand so I put that in just to please.
T. I love Mark Isham’s trumpet work on it. I came across him via his work with David Sylvian.
M. Yeah, Secrets Of The Beehive. The keyboard work on that album is great too.
T. Ryuichi Sakamoto.
M. Yeah, he’s great. What other album did he work with him on?
T. Brilliant Trees. About, Caught In A Trap. I read that you’d scrapped that and then it came out.
M. I didn’t scrap it at all, no. I like it a lot.
T. I’m asking because in an interview when West came out, you said that you had finished that and that it had been shelved.
T. And I was really surprised to see that it was out. There’s some really great stuff on it.
M. I like it. You know I’ll never play those songs again as long as I live, but I like it. I will play one, but I won’t play anything else. It’s too hard to sing those songs. I mean I’d rather sing a song like... I mean... The one song that everybody's gonna hate, I love the most. But that’s me. For me that’s like, it’s like, you know. Um... [forcibly calming himself] I need hope in everything I see. Because it’s a really hard feeling, that she’s........ Because. [with anguish] Because my friend Kathleen died last, this year. So that’s like, colouring my whole experience.
T. [a comfort prompt] As in "Kathleen"?
J. She’d been ill?
M. [almost tearful, ironic laugh] Well, she was in rehab. Yeah, but she took her own life. It was very hard for her in there. I feel really bad about it, really... Great interview! [as he leans forward to the tape machine]
J. I think they’re gonna be in after you soon.
M. Fuck ‘em. [he turns tape off.]
After a while, Mark recomposed himself and we talked a little longer before Paddy came in to say that it was time for him to join The Divine Comedy for "Johnny Mathis' Feet". We stood up to leave the dressing room, and Mark let me embrace him, reciprocating warmly. In parting, but with arms still around each other, I said "I think you are wonderful and I always have." He melted, searching my eyes intently for several seconds in a kind of hope that I really meant it, but at the same time, his eyes seemed to shiver as he found it hard to hold my gaze. This moment was one of the most profound and wonderful of my life.