-- Printed Noises, 1980?
Scritti Politti -- Green, Nial, Tom and Matthew (guitar, bass, drums and telephone-answering respectively) did an interview with someone calling himself Leroy Keene some time ago, and this is his transcription of said interview. Take it away, Leroy....
When did you become a band?
G: It was about a year ago. We did the ('Skank Bloc Bologna') record a few months beforehand, but Nial was living in Leeds and commuting to London until last November, when he moved down properly. He had to buy some equipment, then we started working the set out.
How did you meet up?
T: I came from Brighton and moved up to Leeds where I met Green at art college. At the end of three years we formed the group.
G: I came from South Wales, where I was at school with Nial, and then I went to art college where I met Tom.
M: I was working as a vivisectionist in London where I encountered the rest of the band, and once we had met and talked, I knew we could never part again.
You once had a fifth member, Simon, who played tapes; what happened to him?
G: Simon did sort of join provisionally right at the beginning (listen to '28/8/78'). Now he works with a band called Stepping Talk, who have just brought out their own record on their own label. He lives locally, and sometimes we meet up as a big sort of crowd to discuss issues amongst ourselves. We're involved in a project together, but he doesn't actually know this yet.
How many copies of the 'Skank Bloc...' EP were sold?
G: We sold out at 8,000 and we are now going to repress it for the fourth time
Would you say your music has changed since those early days?
G: Yes it has changed, about the time of the Red Crayola tour of last April. There are two fundamental ways in which I think it has changed, but it would be hard to be descriptive about it...In some sense it's moved to being more commercial: it's simplified in some way. The other thing is that we found it easy to make up songs on the spot on the stage and at rehearsals etc. It's been pruned down a bit, though it's still risky and we never know how it's going to turn out. We're the sort of band who could fall flat on their faces in public, something we don't seem to do very often.
N: We did in fact do the odd improvisation on the last tour, but we hadn't done that many gigs and we were plagued by illness, so we kept them down to a minimum. Now we generally improvise every other number.
How do you write your stuff, for instance the more intricate stuff like 'Humor of Spitalfields'?
G: It took a long time didn't it?
T: I think it did. That's one Simon was originally involved in because we originally used tapes. We had a wormy sort of sound on tape for that one, but we found it worked just as well without it. Our songs usually start from guitar parts which Green works out, and we work things around them. The guitar part might change, depending on what else we do.
G: Often, some songs have their birth pangs months and months beforehand because we're still not quite happy with the way something is going and we may change the drumbeat or something but they eventually get done that way. One interesting fact is that we can write songs very quickly; this is one of the reasons we make stuff up on stage -- because it just happens to work.
Do you have any formal musical training?
G, T: No...
G: I used to play the fiddle at school, and I did O-level music. Nial didn't play the bass until three weeks before we made the record and Tom had only been playing the drums for six months.
So you write most of your songs using a guitar idea?
G: Well...I dunno...
N: A tune...
G: ...A tune or a chord sequence or a melody.
T: But you see when we first used to write songs we used to often start with a drum beat and they were therefore written the other way round, so I don't think there is any set way in which we have to work.
Take a song like 'OPEC-immac', how did you co-ordinate the spoken passages?
G: That was just an idea for the second Peel session. It was a bass line, then there were some drums put to it, then there was an idea for a little fragment of melody. The rest was just improvised vocally. It just dropped in and out between talking and singing and stuff. It was done just like that, except for the sung bit at the end.
How do you do an improvisation?
T: We make it up!
Do you have any rules to guide you, or you decide beforehand whether it's going to be a fast one or a slow one?
G: No, no, no...an individual kicks it off.
N: I do think we keep to the structure that we do as it goes along, and we try to fit some guitar and vocals in, and bass lines if I can remember what I've just played.
G: We just find some patterns and basically try to make songs up on the spot out of them.
T: We also try to keep them short so they don't become rambling and boring.
G: One of the reasons we kept doing them is that we found they became structured very easily, they became songs easily, and they were ideologically in keeping with the ideas we have...To put it crudely, ideas of demystification -- do it quickly, make mistakes, take risks, and sing about anything that's happening. They're an interesting device. They fitted all those bills as, I suppose, we did by just doing it and enjoying it.
Do you think you would have come into existence if it hadn't been for punk?
G: We were a punk group to start off with, we were a product of punk rock. The idea wouldn't have entered our heads if it hadn't been for seeing the Anarchy tour, and the early stuff...In the early days, when Tom had just bought his kit and we had an acoustic guitar, we were very sort of punky in the old-fashion way, which was fun.
T: We used to write some really punky lyrics as well.
G: SMASH! DONG! WHADADADADADA! Which is very funny to look back on, but we got tired of it very quickly. A lot of groups have managed to plod on and on for three years now. They must be bored to death with it by now...We got bored with it after three or four months.
What other things have influenced you?
G: Disco was an influence...folk and popular music were generally influences.
How do you see the music progressing over the next few years?
N: It'll depend on what we get interested in...where the work that we're doing at the moment takes us...what we read next...who we talk to.
T: I think that we'll try to keep the music fairly simple.
G: Without being populist.
T: Something that's stuck with us throughout is a revulsion of the very clever side of music, which is something I expect we will continue in the future.
G: What's interesting is that once you are no longer concerned with the overt cleverness of music, you find you become less musicianly. The area of music that has most in common with us is pop music, which is simple and not laboured over, which is quite virulent to jazz, which a lot of people seem to think we listen to. We do seem to be moving into this sort of area. The other direction in which we are moving is away from music altogether, back to speech, back to vocal music and all those sort of things.
Did you plan beforehand the thin texture of your music?
T:???....we chose certain ways to play our instruments, so I suppose you can say it was planned.
G: At the beginning we were a little conscious of being odd, inasmuch as it was strange things that interested us more than conventional stuff. We tended to gravitate more towards listening to anybody who was trying anything new.
What are the main ideas behind the band politically and why are you not more extrovert in your approach let's say to the Gang Of Four?
G: We did start off very much as angry young lefties and the lyrics before we ever did anything (when we were just mucking about) were so viciously revolutionary. I think what has changed was basically our concept of politics. I don't think we saw our politics and the politics of this country, and our involvement in politics as simply as the Gang Of Four see theirs as being. We saw there were an awful lot of problems with committing ourselves to a "revolution" of some kind in a very vague way, so it's far less dogmatic than the Gang Of Four's political stance. That's why it doesn't come across as obviously political...depending on what you call political.
Would we still call ourselves socialists?
N: It depends on what you mean by it.
T: I would.
M: I'm not sure. Maybe...on a good day.
G: Yeah, conditionally, yeah.
Would you say your music is a vehicle for your politics, or is it purely a musical interest?
N: I think it runs as a wish to kick a lot of ideas about and these ideas function on different levels...I mean they're to do with how we appear on stage and the way in which our music is made. They're to do with the way we see things politically, they're to do with our areas of interest and they're to do with the problem we experience. There's a whole nexus or different parts and models of those ideas.
G: A crude and simplistic, but nevertheless very important thing, is the fact that making noise, music, singing and shouting, is something that I think is good for you. I think it's necessary in life as part of an expressivity in the sorting through of problems.
What do you do with your days, as you are on the dole?
T: I think we get up in the afternoon regularly...most of us do, anyway, as we do go to bed very late. Now in between getting up and going to bed we have breakfast. We seem to spend a lot of time discussing records, covers...there seem to be a hell of a lot to do. I really don't know how groups manage it when they go out to work all day.
G: We also talk a lot and think things through, read books, etc. Then offers come for different types of work, different kinds of gigs. Some ideas for material arrive then you do some writing. It all seem very intense to me.
T: The advantage of being on the dole is that if you have got something you want to concentrate on, you've got the time to do it. If you can discipline yourself you can spend a number of days doing something, whereas if you have a job, knowing groups who are working, they're always exhausted after they've finished work and all they want to do is have a drink and relax.
G: Reading is very important to us. It's very important that our ideas don't become complacent and comfortable. It's always good to check other people's argument, just to make sure I'm not being smug.
What sort of music do you listen to, beside your own?
T: Raincoats, Slits, Delta 5 are very interesting and make me feel good.
G: I like listening to the Gang of Four and the Mekons. I like checking them out to see what they are doing.