Printed Noises, 1980
Lyric interpretation, Craig on songwriting, MES on people who travel to see The Fall. Can and PiL get thumbs up.
THE FALL: Information
The Fall are Mark E Smith (vocals, interview), Craig Scanlon (guitar, interview), Marc Riley (guitar, electric piano), Steve Hanley (bass), Mike Leigh (ex-drums), Kay Carroll (management, interview). The Fall have 4 singles and 2 lps out, plus 2 tracks on the Virgin Electric Circus lp. The Fall have a lot to say, so I won't waste space trying to say it for them....
THE FALL: Introduction
You have heard of course of those tiny fish in the rivers of Brazil that attack the unwary swimmer by thousands and with swift little nibbles clean him up in a few minutes, leaving only an immaculate skeleton?'. Well, that's what the organisation is.' Do you want a good clean life? Like everybody else?' You say yes, of course. How can one say no? OK-You'll be cleaned up. Here's a job, a family and organised leisure.' And the little teeth attack the flesh, right down to the bone. But I am unjust.I shouldn't say their organisation. It is ours, after all. It's a question of which will clean up the other.' (Albert Camus, The Fall)
THE FALL: Interview
PN: Why are you in music rather than anything else?
MES: It's like having your own business. I didn't join the band as another career, I mean if I'd have wanted a job, I'd have got a job. This is what people don't differentiate with The Fall. A lot of bands that are going around now are doing jobs, and as far as I'm concerned I'm not doing a job.
PN: What did you think of the music industry before you started?
MES: I thought it was pretty ridiculous, and I thought I'd never touch on it. I thought I'd just have a laugh for a while. As it is, I'm still there, so I'm using that power to still attack it.
PN: Has having records out and doing tours changed your opinion of it?
MES: I've found out a lot about it and a lot of it is very shocking. Actually I thought it was a bigger load of shit than it was, but in a lot of ways I've been shocked as well.....little details like support bands pay to go on tour with big bands, things like that.
PN: Are there any other ways you're unhappy about the music industry?
MES: A lot of bands are continually in debt. One thing I started The Fall out to do in that we would never pay to play. In the early days we used to turn a lot of gigs down from people who'd say "Come and play with us, we really want you to play with us, but we can only give you a tenner...." and things like that.We always turned that sort of thing down, because that sort of thing is stamping out creativity.
KC: It's `cause the musicians accept it as well... .
MES: Yes, that's what I'm saying It's very easy to say it's everybody else's fault, that the record companies are bastard, the agents are bastards. That is the case, but it's their job like, and the musicians go along with it. The new wave sold out a sight quicker than any other fucking wave. In my personal opinion they copped out a lot faster than a lot of people do in a lot of other arts and a lot of other musical waves. There's a lot of bands who, when they're asked to go on television, say yes straight away, when there were a lot of bands say ten years ago who I doubt would have done it.
PN: Have you been asked?
MES: Yes, well we have been on tv, but I wouldn't sell my soul to go on tv, which is what a lot of other bands do. A lot of bands sell their soul to go on John Peel sessions, which is another thing you may not know. You don't get on a John Peel session by being asked most of the time. The Fall are one of the few bands who have been on a John Peel session who have been asked to go on.
PN: How do you think environment affect people? A lot of people think tv has a great effect on people.
MES: There again you can only switch it off, I know it's a cliche but it's true. I lived without tv for a year, it didn't bother me, People need television, people need cars. A lot of the reason people work on an industrial estate is to buy cars and houses and in my estimation they deserve everything they they fucking get. It's self-perpetuating you know, the whole system is self-perpetuating. The more money you get the more money you want.
PN: How do you stay out of it then?
MES: I just keep out of it. You can live by your own rules, that's what I try to do. You've got to pick our own culture, pick your own way of life. If you don't recognize systems they don't (work? Unreadable).
PN: Craig, how do you go about writing songs?
CS: We have this team like Lennon and McCartney, me and Marc Riley. We usually get together and write the music, or maybe Mark's got an idea on his guitar and we build on that, or take away from it.....All the songs on Dragnet have got tunes, but not all of them are intentional. I have a little piece, Marc'll have a little piece, we'll put them together and they'll just fit. It's a big coincidence, all the music fitting together.It wasn't made that way.
PN: Are you happy with the production on the lp?
CS;Yes,everyone's kind of against the sound on the album for some reason, it's because of their conditioning.
KC: You've got people who are new wave musicians, who are saying "break down the system", who get a production manager and spend ú50,000 on a record. It's total hypocrisy. What happened with Dragnet was the band wanted do something, and the guy who produced it liked the band. For people who are getting into it it's great, but it's not meant for the consumer.
PN: A lot of your songs are about The Fall and the relationship between yourselves and the music industry...
MES: Yes,it's just what influences come up. Dragnet has, if there's anything wrong with it, a balance towards songs about the band. It's very introspective. That's why there's things like Flat of Angles, Spectre vs Rector. Flat of Angles I like because it's an objective, story song. I only write a song like that once in a while.It's difficult to be objective. A lot of Flat of Angles isn't objective, a lot of Bingo wasn't objective. I go off at different bearings. I get really psychotic in life, bring out loads of songs about the music business but who wants to know? It's a bad thing but I think it should be told. Printhead is like that - a lot of people don't realise about print, and what the papers do. A lot of bands live by the papers, y'now they get stomach upsets in the morning. I went through it for a short while but I think it's very funny. I've met loads of people who were crying their eyes out because they'd jut had a bad review from someone that's just learned to write. In my mind it's just pathetic. They get away with loads of things because they think journalism is a subculture,which it isn't. I've read reviews of our gigs which are just reiterations of what I, or somebody else has said. It's disgusting that people can get L100 a week for doing that. The Fall don't get many bad reviews, we've noticed, because a lot of journalists have sussed we'd know exactly what they were up to. I could tell you so many journalists who've copped out on The Fall, they've just fucking broken. They've come down to do something very good or very bad on us, we've pushed `em to do it, and in the end they couldn't.
KC: All you've got do is write the facts as they are, that's why fanzines were so good, and that's why the music papers ripped off all the best fanzine writers.
PN: What do you think of being identified as the band who are going to take rock into the 80s?
MES: I think that's a good thing, but I don't think it's possible. I think our spirit has existed for 50 years - you always get the 2 per cent who don't take the shit. I can't say I like all rock 'n' roll, I like all reggae. Personally I can see the good bit is about 2 per cent. I look at The Fall a lot in that way as well - like the new wave movement was a good thing, the roots movement was a good thing, but when it flowered there was only 10 per cent of it that was any good in my estimation - obviously other people think differently because they buy other stuff. There's a lot of bands out now that derive a lot from The Fall. It does annoy me in some ways, `cause that's not what it's about at all.
KC: Saying "The Fall into the 80's" is a cop out. It's like saying "Don't worry kids, it's gonna be alright. We can see the future.You've got a band here who are gonna do it for you" - it's all crap. I mean how can you be a band of the future? It's ridiculous.
CS: It's really lazy as well.
MES: Journalists are always wrong anyway - they never gave Iggy Pop any good reviews in the 60's, but you can't read a paper nowadays without reading how Iggy was oppresses in the 60's. Charles Shaar Murray and Nick Kent and all these people who were around then then never wrote about Iggy Pop or anybody else who was in the vanguard of the new wave, but now people like Nick Kent are writing "This guy, who was spat upon by the music papers - i.e. ME", but they don't fucking say that do they? Anne Nightingale's like that as well - they're cowboys. And people put them in positions of authority.. A lot of bad reviews I take as a personal insult - that some jerk who reviews us doesn't understand us.
PN: What sort of bands do you see as having the same sort of spirit as you do? You've been compared to PiL and Joy Division.
MES: I feel a bond with PiL. PiL are doing a lot of what we've always wanted to do. They've got the power as well. PiL's stuff is really good stuff in my estimation - turning it all round, which is about time.That's what I mean about having your own style. Can were a perfect pop/rock 'n' roll band in my estimation. A lot of people don't see Can as rock 'n' roll, or PiL as rock 'n' roll, but I do, because it's music you'd never get on the television. There's something out that your parents would not sit through. They're all cliches I know, but a lot of letters we get from kids say "my mum and dad will not allow this in the room!" You get people saying "That guy cannot sing", "He's horrible" or "Listen to the production". It's not just the older generation I'm on about, it goes all the way fucking down. You have to sit down and get into the primal part of it, and they don't want to do it. It's the old Outsiders theory - the rough eventually gets absorbed into the whole. The Clash are just the Rolling Stones of the 80's, it's as simple as that. Good luck to them, I say. Saying they're doing anything special in wrong. I'm into a lot of oddball stuff that irritates people. I'm into bad sounds, I'm a bit tone deaf. I think where a lot of our strength lies is I don't get into a lot of it anyway.
CS: I used to listen to a lot of music, I've stopped doing it now, since joining The Fall. I can't listen to these bands now because if I listen to these records that are very well produced, I can't relate to it anymore. As far as I'm concerned The Fall is number one. It's not being bigheaded, it's being objective. I think "What are they doing? Nothing. What are they saying? Nothing."
MES: The thing is you cannot contrive spontaneity - this is where experimental bands fall flat on their backs in my estimation.You said do you see yourselves with Joy Division?. We feel offended by being compared to Joy Division, not because we hate Joy Division's guts or anything, but because we recognise ourselves as something different altogether. We know nothing about music but we don't make an ego trip out of it like other bands do. We are a very retrogressive band in a lot of ways. I believe that you can't sit down and say "This record is going to be really weird, nothing else is ever going to sound like this", `cause that's crap. The Pop Group are the greatest example of that. The Pop Group's stuff is good, but they tried so hard to be different, they just fell flat on their faces, and innovators don't do that. When you dissect the Pistols they were a sub-Who heavy metal band. It came out beautiful because it was unconscious. That's why with our stuff, I don't want to make it faultless like, `cause then you've just blown it. On the last tour I could see a lot of things getting synchronised which is something we've got to come to terms with. We could be a really good rock band, I mean The Fall could have been a really good rock band two years ago. If we'd got our shit together we could have been a top 50 band like The Ruts. There's bits where I'm trying to catch the band out, where I'm fighting against the band for them to do something off the wall `cause it's more interesting to me.
MES: Also you get things like Music Scene,which in very personal, in a way it's very self-indulgent, but also it says a lot, because it's so personal. People just take anything from it - it's amazing, the interpretations that Music Scene has had. In fact it is getting across in a weird sort of way. That's what I'm saying, you must never contrive it, a lot of things get across you never thought were getting across. Psycho Mafia is the classic one for that, I mean the interpretations of Psycho Mafia are amazing. A lot of what kids have come up to me and said "This is what I think Psycho Mafia is about", I think "Fucking hell, I never even thought of that one!", and that is just amazing.
PN: Isn't that inviting things that aren't there?
MES: Yes, but who says they aren't there? You're saying I sit down and write things like "This is bad", which is what was wrong with the new wave. That's almost a preaching point of view, that's not music, that's not art to me. You look at pop hits right - if you look at the lyrics down on paper they're crap, if you look at the chords down on paper a moron could play `em, right? But there's something there that gives it........This is what music should be moving back to in a lot of ways. PiL do that - there's a bit on Memories where you get a sort of nostalgic feeling with a surge of anger as well. I mean that is nothing contrived, which is what we're against. When groups start believing their own press they start to flounder - trying to re-create that or create it.
KC: If Mark gave you all the lyrics and told you all the stories, the five of us here would still interpret it differently. There's no way you're going to get a basic interpretation, so what's the point of trying? Why do people have to know why that person is doing that thing? Is it so that that person can get on with living his life? They're frightened of "Oh, it might be that or it might not be that..". That's what human beings are frightened of - they're frightened of being themselves. They want a guide,they want a system to tell them how to behave. Fall music doesn't do that - it just throws it up, and it's whatever you want to see in it.
PN: What about `Taxi for Mr Nelson'? That doesn't suggest anything to me.
MES: You must have been in a pub when someone calls "Taxi for so-and-so"?, well ..
CS: That's all it is.
MES: Jukebox, doesn't it connect? It's a play on words, like The Fall. Well in any case it doesn't matter, `cause it really happened. I'm not going to change it to make it easier for someone to relate to.
CS: Be happy in your ignorance.
PN: But when people hear that, it's a striking line....
MES: Well then, it's scored one point already if it's a striking line.
CS: It's a striking line for you, don't worry how someone else interprets it, it depends on what you think.
KC: What do you want? Do you want someone to write a book., and then write another book to tell you what it's about?
PN: I don't want everything explained, it's just that people might be put off by the fact that they can't approach it, it's too obscure....
MES: Well they must be pretty fucking gone then, mustn't they? You're being an intellectual, treating me like an entertainer, saying "Look boy I understand everything you're trying to say, but look, the proles don't." Well it's about time they fucking did - I'm a prole, right? Nobody told me what to do, and I'm not telling them what to do. People like that aren't worth having around anyway.
PN: You're saying think for yourselves. I could just write "Think for yourselves" for this article.
KC: If you wanted to, yes.
PN: But people aren't going to have anything to think about.
KC: I'm only talking to you, I don't care about other people.
PN: But surely you care about other people enough....
KC: Give a shit? No, where did you get that idea from? You haven't got to go through this for anyone else but yourself.
PN: But surely the whole point of putting out a record in to make contact with people?
CS: No,maybe that's why The Clash release a record, that's why they're trash.
PN: Then why do you make several thousand records instead of just one?
KC: Because we need the money to put out others. `S mad, isn't it?
KC: Me personally, I couldn't fit into any other system than this, because I'm hooked onto it and I dig it, so we make records to stay in the system.
MES: But that's because we've got the attitude that a record should be a mark, a statement, they should be everything, an encapsulation of life, and the only way you're going to get that is if you're totally into it. You're not going to get it by allowing for people - y'know, "Cut this bit out because people won't understand it" or "Leave this bit out because it's too obvious", then you've blown it, you're not thinking about what you're doing, you're thinking about what people will think, which is usually the great detriment of creativity. We notice people buying our album and saying "I like a quarter of it but the rest of it is shit". But that quarter is more than they'll get from anything else. It's better to have an erratic good thing than a mediocre thing that people can relate to on every level.
PN: What would you say was success in terms of the group?
MES: I think I'm already successful, I think I have been for a while, but obviously you've got to push it a bit more - use your success instead of lying back on it. We've got to make it better, I'm not saying there are no mistakes in it. There are compromises in some of the stuff we've done, but only the band can know that. We're not successful record-....[illegible]...we want to get out, though it takes time. Because we're with an independent, we have to wait three months for stuff to come out, which means all our stuff is immediately dated, but it's worth it. A lot of groups, when the record comes out it's the first time they have seen the cover, or it's the first time they've, heard it because they just record it and give it to a producer...
PN: In reviews of The Fall, the word that comes up most is arrogant.Do you agree with the description?
MES: Yeah,being arrogant is just the same as being your own judge, if you know what you are there's no need to worry about it. Arrogance in a very necessary thing, because musicians are still treated as an offshoot of the jester/entertainer thing,which is a bad thing. In some ways it's not progressed since the 30's, y'know "Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen, it's very nice to be here tonight...", and if you look at a lot of new wave bands they do exactly the same thing, "It's very nice to be here tonight. This in our first single, it's called destroy everything...I hate all you bastards, thank you you're really great here.." You know it's still showbiz, it's a waste of time. We've never been consciously arrogant, I can honestly say that. A lot of that comes from playing with bigger bands - we've never gone on thinking we were better than them, we've just known that what we were saying was more heartfelt than what they were saying, and that came across as arrogance.
CS: The press invented it, y'know you're arrogant if you don't say "Hello Oldham" or whatever.
MES: Or if you say "You're a bunch of fucking twats, which is true sometimes, a lot of the audiences we get are a bunch of morons. We've been playing halls on this latest tour where there have been 200 people, and only 50 or 60 of them had heard The Fall before. But those 50 or 60 were calling out all the old numbers, which we didn't want to do, so we came down on our own fans really, which seems arrogant an nasty but it's true that if those people come to see The Fall they've got to take what we give them. Otherwise we're just giving them what they want to believe, and it's a lie. When we played Blackpool, there were only 10 people there who knew who the Fall were, there were about 100 punks and about 300 disco idiots stood at the back. We came on and the 10 kids at the front were sort of going "We're into the Fall and you're not", and that sort of thing, and were saying "Play, this, play that", and we were saying "Fuck off, you've no right to say what we do - You've come to see us, if you don't like us then go home and get your money back. You're supposed to be into The Fall, not "We want Frightened, we want...", you've got to keep pushing it. You always hurt the one you love, it's a shame but you've got to keep pushing it or you just stagnate. Obviously it's gonna go down in the end because when people walk 10,000 miles to see us and we go on and say "We're not going to do that,because we hate doing that", those people will never come again, which is just life.
PN: On what basis should your relationship with an audience be?
KC: We expect nothing from our audience, and in the same vein they, if they are a Fall audience, should not expect anything from us. It's a matter of "I want to go there, I want to hear it, I want to go home", and that's all it should be about. There's too many people in audiences that just want escape, they want people up there to live out their fantasies and you just can't give it `em.
MES: Just because 10 people out of 50 like you, it doesn't mean you've got to be patronizing to those 10.
THE FALL: Judgement `The prosecutor, paused again to wipe the sweat off his face. He then explained his duty was a painful one, but he would do it without flinching. "This man has, I repeat, no place in a community whose basic principles he flouts without compunction. Nor, heartless as he is, has he any claim to mercy......I am following not only the dictates of my conscience and a sacred obligation, but also those of the natural and righteous indignation I feel at the sight of a criminal devoid of the least spark of human feeling. (Albert Camus, The Outsider).