Neil Exail, "Waiting For The Fall"

(Toronto zine) ca. Sept, 1994


No one can deny The Fall their due. An aura of reverence has developed around the band's output throughout the years, their return to Toronto after a ten-year absence was a pop culture second coming for many and a chance to exhume the past for many more, young and old.

Twenty minutes before their Opera House appearance the air was moist and charged. Anxious swilling of expensive beer, nervous chatter, furtive glances, sweat and the tingling sensation that something was about to ignite made the pollution-enhanced humidity even more pronounced. When they took the stage shortly before midnight, careering into selections from The Infotainment Scan, Mark E Smith suitably daunting, drunk and dapper, they had always been there. As he stalked the stage, tangling mic cords and knocking over stands, he seemed to be assessing his territory, sizing up potential enemies, taunting them, even if they were simply band instruments and equipment. His words mirrored truth and his thin frame betrayed no fixed age.

"Stop eating so much chocolate. Eat salad instead".

The reel-to-reel he ran from the stage gurgled Mark E. past and present. They closed with 'Strychnine' and came back again. Mark wore his corny brown leather jacket for 'Hit The North'. Did I mention Hanley, Burns and co rocked too?

The Fall's 15-plus years of rant should command everyone's attention. Smith's sniper-accurate oratorical venom has pierced much that is shallow and false around us and betrays a wider knowledge of linguistics and the dynamics of popular culture than he would care to admit. Even parts of 1993's The Infotainment Scan are not without their bite. The present has a habit of catching up with the past. The new record is on Matador via Atlantic via Warner Canada - their first domestic release in two years. In an age of self-improvement seminars and the growing encroachment on personal freedoms, The Fall's gloriously loquacious tales are more telling than ever.

Have you lived in Manchester all your life?

Mark E. Smith: Afraid so, I lived in Scotland for about 18 months. My grandfather was from Glasgow but he was English. My father was actually in the Black Watch. I moved to Edinburgh about four years ago and it was great. I really miss it. It smells better than England.

How has Manchester influenced what you do?

MES: It's a sort of a love-hate relationshlp that I have with that city. For instance, when I lived in Scotland it was almost too nice, know what I mean? I get a lot of work done in Manchester.

Does the political climate in Britain make it a difficult place to be right now?

MES: I think the government is pretty rubbish the moment but I'm not realty really into politics. They seem pretty intent on dismantling England. What the KGB has been trying to do for about 20 years, they've managed in three.

What is it that still excites you about being in The Fall?

MES: I just enjoy it. I get to work a lot of stuff out on stage and through the group.

You also talk about the war against intelligence - can you explain that?

MES: There's a theory that mankind's going backwards. Maybe that is just peculiar to Britain but I think its probably universal. America has always been America. I haven't been here for almost three years so maybe I notice it more in Britain. It seems to have changed a bit - it seems a lot more scummy, it was quite a shock coming back here this time. Take New York, for example. Which has always been quite glamorous for,.... ((lines cut))

MES: A really bad one. Yeah! Great. That really made my day Neil. I hate Spin, I hate it. I had to do a photo session with them and it was fucking ridiculous. It sounds wierd this but it was great. As soon as I get a good review in Spin I'll be worried. I think they are full of fucking shit. Was it really bad? They can't write can they? They can hardly string a sentence together. I might have read it actually I think he got all the songs mixed up.

They were saying you have had your day.

MES: They were saying that in 1986. He wants to hear Prole Art Threat all over again.

Do you think songwriters have a responsibility to display a social conscience?

MES: I think a lot of the problems around today stem from the fact that people don't leg it around the streets. Britain has been influenced by America for so long but they only take the bad things. Now they are in this whole Europe thing and they seem to only want to take the bad things from that too. I think somebody should say something about this. Everyone in Manchester has an alarm in their home now and that was unheard of ten years ago. But you don't notice it if you spend your time driving around in your car with a port a phone.

Are The Fall aesthetic terrorists?

MES: I wouldn't go that far, I see it as a monitoring and commenting. Aesthetic terrorists? I don't think there are any aesthetics in rock music at the moment. That in itself is one of the main reasons I keep on. I don't think there is much intelligence going down at all. I distrust intellectuals and pseudo-artists a lot. This is getting a bit intense, isn't it? I was expecting questions like "you've had a lot of line-up changes in the group, haven't you?" or "tell us about the new record".

OK. I give. Let's talk about the new record. Tell me how your involvement with Matador came about. I found that interesting because of Pavement and their obvious indebtedness to your sound.

MES: The whole Pavement thing is new to me. We were in the middle of doing Infotainment so I was really nervous at Xmas last year. We had to go around to all these labels and the English were all sort of hemming and hawing but Matador appeared and were great. They came over to London and met me there, and it turned out that we got an American deal before an British one. It was a change having them come to us because before then America hadn't wanted to know.

The only reason I knew about Pavement was kids stopping me in the street and saying "Listen to this it's an old Fall song". I didn't even know Matador did Pavement until I was signed to them for a few weeks. They seem to do everything, don't they?

The new album sounds like it has some surf-house music in places.

MES: It's something we've been trying to do for a bit. We've never been against machinery. I just always wanted to abuse it. Our keyboard player, Dave, and I are kind of like chalk and cheese to each other. He knows exactly what I want. Some of the underground rave stuff is quite good. Unfortunately it's already gone overground and got lost. It became infested with new-age guys in pill box hats pretty quickly but the underground in parts of England is still impressive and some of it is actually quite like The Fall, it's all these slow bass riffs and drum breaks.

Dub style

MES: Absolutely. And the great thing about Dave is I can say things like that to him and he can understand. Dave would like us to be like 808 State or something but we keep him in check.

Was "Idiot Joy Showland" (from '91's Shiftwork) a swipe at the whole Manchester techno explosion?

MES: Correct. It's really collapsed now, but it was amazing even when it happened because it was over so quickly. You probably saw it yourself when you were here. It's all t-shirts and rubbish. It shocked me because it was over in the space of a month. Factory closed and boom! I was fed up with it long before. That's why I moved to Scotland. I couldn't go out anymore and have fun and that means a lot to me.

What other artists do you feel influence your work?

MES: I try to keep my head clear. I read a lot of history for relaxation and I like Saul Bellow but I don't make lists. The British rock press is like that now. It's nothing but a bunch of lists, you pick up the NME and there's a list of The Top Ten Things Mark E. Smith Has Said or Titles Mark Smith Should Have Invented or Drummers For Yes Over The Last 15 Years. It's just paste up journalism and it's crap.

I haven't read any of those papers in a long time.

MES: I don't blame you, mate. A lot of people think it's the rage but they just make it boring for a everyone else don't they? Obviously I don't get to say this sort of stuff too much over there. These are the reasons they always try to make jokes out of me, I guess. They treat us OK but they want the Prole Art Threat, as well. What made you cover Sister Sledge's Lost in Music?

MES: We've been messing around with it for a while. It's one I've loved since I was a teenager, and I was always fascinated by the chord structure. Plus with all the revival stuff of the last year it really seemed to fit well with the theme of the LP.

"I'm Going To Spain" made me laugh.

MES: It's a funny one isn't it? I didn't write that one but it's so prevalent when you go there. It's full of Germans and Brits saying, "My God. It's so wonderful here. The weather is pleasant and the wine is so cheap". They all look like lobsters.

What does Mark E. do for relaxation?

I just swear at the TV basically. I read and go out for a drink and stuff.

Do you feel appreciated?

What stops me from finishing is that the audience is quite smart now. They are all different ages and they lsiten to what you have to say. People aren't as daft as they get made out to be. A lot of the newer Fall fans respect us because we aren't revivalist old farts. Take someone like Nirvana......

(end is cut)