To Hell with Good Intentions: An Interview with Andrew Falkous
By Corey Beasley | 18 February 2015
People—and the Glow counts itself among the crowd, let it be shouted from the rooftops—love Andrew Falkous. That’s not to say that everyone knows who Falkous is, or that everyone who does know who Falkous is loves him—just that those of us who do hold him in our hearts allow him special access to a private residence in an upper ventricle, replete with golden bathroom fixtures and a complimentary subscription to Showtime. As the frontman for the peerless Mclusky, Future of the Left, and now Christian Fitness, Falkous has developed one of the most iconic, singular discographies in modern rock music, his peerless wit matched only by his talent with a wrecking ball riff. Falco battled vertigo and an ear infection to speak with Corey about his new one-man band, how to keep a certain British rock band from causing us more aural harm, writing fiction, shitty venues and even shittier major music publications, and more. Falco’s cats make several guest appearances.
CMG: I wanted to start by talking about the Christian Fitness record, which I like very much. I’m curious—when you were writing for the record, did you know beforehand the songs would be for this project? Or were you writing as you normally would, and it just ended up as a solo endeavor?
AF: Well, all the writing for Mclusky and Future of the Left, even if it’s led by me, which it usually is, always just happens within the confines of a rehearsal room. Nothing’s ever prepared—certainly not by me—or taken in. Lyrics will be written retrospectively. Everything happens in that space. That’s not an ideology of a policy, it’s simply how things have worked the best. For a band where volume is such an integral part of the dynamic and the way that the songs work, it’s sort of crucial, really. I wasted my time in my mid-20s writing songs at home and bringing them into Mclusky rehearsals. Especially…say at home, if you’ve got an acoustic guitar—they’re not always used for evil, just 80% of the time. It’s a naturally percussive instrument, and it doesn’t necessarily translate to playing electric guitar, certainly not for the kind of music I make. Maybe for something of a more folky nature—all these folk-punk bands, they can write songs in the bathroom and translate them directly to the stage, and still have enough room for the singer to play an additional spare tom.
CMG: Standing up.
AF: Yeah, because there’s not enough bands doing that! I’m glad you think that, as well.
CMG: So, that makes sense. You’re writing in a live environment.
AF: In effect, yes. Whereas for the Christian Fitness stuff, we were on tour last year in Australia, and I love going to Australia, but describing it as a tour when there are four shows is somewhat of an exaggeration—but we go there regularly to play a few shows that are some of the most fun and fantastic. But I was facing another year of doing office temp jobs at the same time as trying to hold a band together, and I thought, “Why don’t I just annoy the cats by making a space where they play and writing some songs?” And I happened to lose my job in March—weirdly enough, I’ve made as much money doing this as I would have had doing that temporary job, which I hesitate to call “shit,” because even though the money was terrible, some of the people were very nice. There is something to be said in any life, but particularly in the life of rock’n’roll, to step outside it and deal with people to whom rock’n’roll is almost entirely inconsequential.
CMG: It’s something that just sort of floats over them.
AF: Yeah, they consume it in the way they consume a nice cake, or an apple, or a news story about Russell Brand.
CMG: Which is pretty rock’n’roll, though, isn’t it.
AF: Oh, isn’t it?
CMG: Was it refreshing, then, to make the record in that space? It gives you leeway to just be tyrannical, right, and just do whatever you want?
AF: Well, I think my bandmates would say I’m fairly tyrannical anyway, but this gave me a chance to be tyrannical and only piss myself off. So yeah, it was a lot of fun, just a little bit different. As anyone who’s listened to the recordings over the years knows, I’m a bit of a fruity bastard in that I like to double vocals, and I love my creepy little harmonies, and it’s just given me a chance to play around. A lot of music, as with any creative art, is about enjoying the process, or rather remembering to enjoy the process. I think so much of being in a young band is the ambition of the idea that songs are vehicles that take you places—if I write this song, I will go on tour, I will meet these women of loose virtue, I will play the Reading Festival, I will have a Twitter interaction with Billy Corgan.
You know, that’s understandable in the young. Those things are exciting—even the latter one! Maybe especially the latter one. But anybody of any conscience comes back to the music in the first place.
CMG: I would hope so.
AF: Well, you would think so, but you point this out, especially to a lot of young musicians, and they look at you as if you’re speaking Urdu, you know? The best thing about being in music is not the attendant lifestyle or the flattering reviews, it’s the moment of creation when a song—all these disparate elements that shouldn’t work, or maybe usually work but in a very ordinary way, end up jelling into something extraordinary, and end up being special and magical.
CMG: Maybe that’s the difference between a musician who wouldn’t stop making music once he or she reached peak exposure with that act—it’s not about climbing to headline Coachella, it’s more like, “This is probably how my band’s going to do, and these are the types of venues I’ll probably play for years to come.” And to be content with that means you’re content with making music for the process, right?
AF: Making music for the process, but not aiming anywhere, explicitly. I can’t pretend I wouldn’t like to play to more people, but to deliberately aim your music to the mainstream, or to the cult audience, is misleading yourself. It’s misleading the muse. “The” muse, not Muse, of course. Muse the band must be misled at every opportunity.
CMG: Into a corner. Into a basement.
AF: I don’t mean in any kind of way which would cause them injury, but they must be distracted from making music. “Look at these flashing lights! Oh, there’s a squirrel over there who can speak fourteen languages.” Anything to stop him singing.
CMG: Anything, really.
AF: Anything. No, he seems like a very nice goblin. But when I hear the music, I just think, “Oh. That’s popular.”
CMG: “Oh. That’s doing quite well.”
AF: It’s just…oh, no. I promised myself I’d get through an interview without slagging off a band.
CMG: Don’t do that! Say it ain’t so.
AF: But it’s so cheap! If you did an NME interview, the header would be, “MATT BELLAMY A GOBLIN.” That becomes the whole focus, and it’s just a shame. It’s an aside—partly out of jealousy and partly out of taste.
CMG: I want to talk more about that conflation between the cult audience, as you said, and the mainstream audience. I think these two worlds are becoming somewhat indistinguishable in their methods, but I’ll come back to that—about the Christian Fitness record, first. The record seemed to give you a chance to ratchet up the experimentation with backing vocals and harmonies.
AF: There’s no pressure to recreate it live. When we do a Future of the Left record, there’s the occasional song that we know right off the bat isn’t going to make it live because it’s too complex, and we considered at one stage during the third record but decided we didn’t want to go down the road of using backing tracks—it’s just not in the spirit of the band. There were a few songs on the third record that were resigned to simply being songs on the third record. There was a policy on the last record that we should be able to play everything live, pretty much to 98% efficiency. Whereas with Christian Fitness, at the moment I don’t have that pressure, so I can just be myself times a thousand.
CMG: I think it’s probably the most sonically eclectic record you’ve done, really. What I like most about it is that it further develops this tension that’s usually in your music, where you’re juxtaposing dissonant, almost truly noisy moments with these gummy pop melodies in a way that can be disorienting in a lovely sense.
AF: Well, that’s the thing for me. I mean it is, always, with the odd song—I can think of something like “Clique Application Form” or a couple of Future of the Left songs which are exceptions—but in general, it’s always meant to be pop music. Only, it’s fed through the filter of self-respect. It’s easy to slip into something inane, because that’s what you spend most of your life listening to as you burrow your way through the world. Bands which are successful, and I use the term in a purely commercial sense, it’s because their music is familiar to people, so they don’t have to make much of an effort in order to get on with it. So, yeah, for me it’s a question of making something sound somehow familiar that isn’t at all familiar. It’s what I like to call a “niche singalong,” you know? As in, it’s a singalong, and it’s really joyous, but it’s for so few people that you have to be really determined to sing along at all. It’s a group singalong in a very empty hall.
CMG: I’ve always felt that, with music like this, it’s gutsier for a band to have a pop sensibility, rather than keep this aggro face on all the time. It seems riskier.
AF: Possibly, yeah. It’s very difficult to look at why music doesn’t reach or appeal to more people—ultimately it just does or it doesn’t. But if you were to search for answers, I think maybe the bands I’ve been in maybe fall between camps, you know? I’ve been in bands with people who are scared of a chorus. As in, I’ve written this really noisy song, and here’s the chorus, and they’re looking at me like, that chorus is too poppy. Well, no, that’s the chorus. I mean, okay, any writer or anyone who follows a technique is occasionally going to explicitly take a song in a certain direction, but that for me is the wrong way to go in either direction. If you’re deliberately burying a melody, you’re doing yourself and the song a disservice. The song must come through. There are some bands you listen to—say, the Jesus Lizard—where it would sound ridiculous for a four-part harmony to come in. It’s not the spirit, it’s not the personality, it’s not the character of the band.
But when I see Future of the Left or Mclusky or, to a lesser extent, this record—because it’s been written about less, for understandable reasons—get written about, people say it’s “noise rock.” I really don’t understand that. I really don’t. It’s noisy, yeah, sure. But it’s not noise rock. To me, noise rock is music which uses dynamic and sound and tone to make its point, and rhythm, and it moves around, but it shouldn’t leave you jumping around the room singing to the cats. I know my songs are working if I get to play bass and jump up and down and the cats get to look me like, “What the fuck is this guy doing?”
CMG: “What’s he on?”
AF: “What’s this guy on?” You know what I’m on—it’s chicken sandwiches and Diet Coca-Cola.
CMG: And ear medicine.
AF: Well, it’s olive oil. I’ve spent about half an hour today lying on my side pouring olive oil into my ear.
CMG: That’s the rock’n’roll lifestyle, isn’t it?
AF: Oh, man. Yeah. I told my wife “virgin,” and she said, “EXTRA virgin, motherfucker.” Come on, we’re on a budget.
CMG: The noise rock comment is interesting—I feel like back in the days of Mclusky, which is where I first came to your music, that was one of the first bands that taught me, “Oh, it’s actually fine to be angry, and also smart, and to laugh at that.” And I think I remember you, long ago, doing an interview where you likened your songwriting to standup comedy. And if you didn’t do that interview, then I made it up, and I’m offering you now an opportunity to say that.
AF: I can’t remember that interview. I’ve done so many interviews over the years, I’ve probably claimed to be Ramses III at some point. It’s more than possible.
CMG: Of course people are always writing about your lyrics being quite funny, which they are—do you go into writing music with any attitude toward humor?
AF: No, not really. For me it’s all about—when I say “it’s all about,” there’s no policy—when it turns out, and when it’s successful, is when it just seems to represent the personalities of the people involved. It’s as serious and as silly and as funny and as weird as they are. I’ve written songs, so many songs in the last twenty years—thousands of the little creeps—and sometimes they’re a bit too silly, you know? And sometimes, those long song titles—I don’t sit down with a Long Song Title Generator—but sometimes those long song titles are trying too hard, so they get scrapped. And sometimes when a song is too funny, I’ll play it for a couple of people, and we’ll have a giggle about it, but then it’s gone. It’s good to have songs on a record which are instantly accessible to a listener, but you don’t want a song that’s so instantly accessible that after three or four listens, it becomes of little or no interest.
Similarly, you can write stuff that’s just a little bit anesthetized. I’ll see some incredible band and, like anybody, I think I’m less impressionable than some people I’ve been in bands with, but you see a great band and then it ends up feeding into your writing, you know? I’ve found over the years that if you see something really great or hear something really great, if you see it coming through in the first few months in your own work, it tends to come through in—and let’s call it what it is—a very plagiaristic sort of way. If you allow it to sit with you for a year or two, then you put your spin or your energy on whatever it is you heard. It sounds like common sense, but you talk to a lot of people whose idea of being inspired by something is to sound precisely fucking like it. Which is not being inspired by something, unless the explicit mission statement of that original artist was to spread identical soundalikes throughout the world.
AF: Cloning. Not Dolly the Sheep, but Jello the Vocalist.
CMG: It’s true. Even as someone—and I don’t really write music, but with other writing—I feel like the anxiety of influence is there, and when you read something you love, it takes a while to get out of your system in terms of purely aping it.
AF: Yes. I write, myself, and I can sum that up in two words, and those two words are “Kurt Vonnegut.” If you read Kurt Vonnegut, and you don’t immediately want to write like that, then I don’t fucking want to know you, you know? Who wouldn’t want to be silly but tap into the mysteries of the human spirit in this really economical way, and—don’t get me wrong, I know that Kurt was fucking trying—but without sounding like he was trying. So yeah, it takes a while. I read Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle when I was younger and liked them but didn’t really appreciate them. I’ve gone on a Vonnegut spree this year, I think I’ve read just about everything. Even the poor stuff is amazing. It’s the world-class stuff. I know there are other writers out there, and I’ve been reading those as well, but it’s been great for me—the one thing doing this from home has given me is a chance to write, and write, and write. To churn out a thousand words a day. Like with writing songs, that’s the secret: just work hard. And you get better and better and better. Lots of young bands will say, “What’s the secret of writing good songs?” You say, well, first you buy a fucking tuner pedal. That’s first, right from the start. Secondly, if you want to write a really good record of fourteen songs, write a hundred songs.
AF: Yeah. There you are. Done. I guarantee that album will be better than the one you would have written previously. And with writing, just read and write and read and write and read and write. My plan is, in two or three years, I probably will have read and written enough that I might produce something of quality.
CMG: It’s a matter of routinizing yourself, and of forcing your own talent out by way of attrition.
AF: Absolutely. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s not about just finding your voice but finding your discipline. I’ve started on maybe twenty novels this year, and I’ve got two on the go that I’m happy with, and I have a lot of respect even for people who finish bad books. I’ve finished a couple of short stories, but to finish books—like eighty, ninety-thousand words—gets my utmost respect. I haven’t been running a lot recently because I hurt my knee, but I run seventeen or eighteen miles when I go running; assuming my knee can hold up, I want to get to doing marathons. And writing a book is far fucking harder than running for twenty-six miles.
CMG: I have a book I’m trying to find an agent for—
AF: Very nice. What’s it about?
CMG: Oh…it’s about. Well. Oh, god.
AF: No, go on.
CMG: Well, it’s about a suicide epidemic in a corporate office—the protagonist sets himself the task of figuring out what’s happening, and people start disappearing…
AF: A thriller, or sci-fi?
CMG: Yeah, I hope it’s a “literary thriller,” as they would say.
AF: As they would say!
CMG: Maybe it has something to say and can be moderately entertaining. That would be ideal.
AF: Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? As long as you’ve got a story, then you get to say things, as well. Very good luck with that. I hope it goes well. How long did that take you, then?
CMG: Oh, five years or so?
AF: Ah…shit. I have a friend who really likes detective fiction, and I didn’t even know he was writing, and he finished a book this week. It was seventeen years.
CMG: You hate to even hear it, don’t you? Just, oof.
AF: Imagine if somebody said they didn’t like it. You could burn them.
CMG: You’d get to light them on fire.
AF: “Sorry, but I get to burn you now.”
CMG: “You’ve literally broken me apart, on a cellular level.”
AF: Well, best of luck to you with that. I’ve got two stories now, and who can say, but I’m tryin’ me best.
CMG: I was going to say, though, that you’re at a very fecund period in your career. You’ve put out two Future of the Left album in two years, you’ve got this album, and I know you’re writing things that aren’t even set to music—your Talkhouse piece, and you did a great piece for Drowned in Sound, and I assume you’re also working full-time—
AF: No, I haven’t been working since April. That’s what’s given me the time.
CMG: Since you lost the other job.
AF: That’s right. Because frankly, if you look at my CV or resume, since I was in my early 20s, there’s so much time off that I’ve had to go on tour, that there’s no chance of sustaining any kind of career. The fact that you don’t make any money from the band or the music itself isn’t so much of a problem, really. That’s so much of a pleasure that you, over the years, learn to restrict your ambitions in that regard and just feel lucky and happy that you get to do it. It’s more the financial opportunities that it denies you. If you look at my CV, there’s so many absences from jobs, that when you go to an employer, they don’t simply want to know your last few jobs, they want to know what you’ve done with your time. If you say, “I’ve been in a rock’n’roll band touring for two years,” they think, well, I don’t need to tell you what they think. That’s not somebody a financial institution or a social housing department necessarily wants working for them, unless it’s someone they can put in the corner and laugh at.
Because there’s nothing worse than the guy in the job who’s all, “Oh, I’m in a band.” Because again, it implies, “I’m better than this. I’m just here for the money.” And so I try not to tell people I’m in a band. If I’m doing a temporary job, you turn up and sit in the corner. Unfortunately, in Cardiff, even though we’re not widely known, there will be somebody who knows of the band that will question me at length about what I’m doing here. I need money! For food!
CMG: I need to eat.
AF: First world economy! Goods and fucking services, what do you think?
CMG: I think about this all the time. How do you keep up the spirit in a world that’s just so actively hostile to any kind of pursuit that’s not purely based on your individual accretion of funds?
AF: I’m very lucky to be supported incredibly well. My wife’s in the band, she’s as addicted to rock’n’roll as I am. She is managing, as of the last few months, a music college. She was offered the job, it’s a relatively well paying job—and when they offered the job to her, which wasn’t a job she sought out, the first question was, “Can I have time off to tour?” And if that wasn’t the case, then she would’ve happily just taken some kind of poorly paid temporary job. Even if, in our case, we don’t even tour but for a month a year usually, but it’s so important to us. It’s everything to us.
People come and go with bands. There are good reasons for bands to split up—maybe people don’t get on, maybe they simply feel as though they’ve run out of ideas, maybe some people just don’t like the lifestyle. I can understand—sometimes it’s tough. You’re always out. You get back from tour and someone says, “Do you want to go out for a beer?” I’ve been going out for a beer compulsively for thirty days. Not to complain! It beats the shit out of an office job. But it’s weird in the way it formalizes it. Bands who split up because they got dropped by their record label? They are fucking pussies. What, you split up just ‘cause you’re not getting paid to do it anymore? You absolute, absolute prick. You do not deserve rock’n’roll. I realize I’m talking in absolutes there, but often there are factors that make making music with people an unhappy experience, but yeah. In our case, it really is everything.
As I say, my mother has supported me emotionally and financially ever since I started doing this. My mother and father were both music teachers at a primary school level, and they both love music, and my mother’s supported me the whole way. It’s not quite ironic, but it’s interesting if you think about the bands I’ve been in, which have been known for being so cynical and nasty, that my mother—who is a very polite woman, and 60 and a schoolteacher, is an integral supporter. Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to survive in that world. That tickles me.
CMG: I’d like to think, though—obviously I’m on the other side of the line here, where I’m writing about a band, I’m not in a band—but I’d still like to think the mechanisms of quote-unquote “independent” or “outsider” music journalism, non-corporate music journalism, would be better, but I feel like they’re pretty shameless in their own money grubbing.
AF: Well, what do you mean? Give me an example.
CMG: Sure, an example would be VICE throwing itself an invite-only birthday party with Lil Wayne and Perfect Pussy right after they’ve closed Death By Audio and Glasslands. And to go back to what you were saying about making a living as a writer—I’m in the same position, of course. But I won’t write for VICE or Noisey, who would pay me, and I think everybody thinks a music writer wants to work for Pitchfork, but I wouldn’t do that, either.
AF: I’m sure not everybody who writes for Pitchfork is, oh, a fucking idiot.
CMG: No, they’re not, of course. Pitchfork publishes some good writing. But I also feel uncomfortable with their business. You know—“do you like this record, and also do you like Heineken?” Why do I need to have an opinion on that?
AF: In the same way that, if you’re a young band it’s a conflict of interest if the person who manages you starts a label and signs you to that label, it’s a conflict of interest if Pitchfork are reviewing bands that they promote. For me, growing up—I grew up with Melody Maker and NME, the weeklies here, and a lot of it’s horseshit, it’s very easy to romanticize the past. The band Suede, who basically came to prominence because two journalists had a bet to see if they could make a band successful. Famously, on the front cover of Melody Maker. They’re not a band for me, it’s sort of irrelevant already if a band like that is good or not, it’s about whether that band can sustain their marketability. But I didn’t trust Melody Maker and NME, and I knew when they misfired, and when they misfired in good faith.
I remember, 21 years ago, coming down to Cardiff from where I’m from, and reading in Melody Maker a review of an album by a band called God Machine, the album is called Scenes from the Second Storey. The review was perfect—it told me (okay, it was pretty pretentious, telling me about a crumbling Roman amphitheatre while the world is disappearing around you), and I bought the tape. Not a fucking record tape for cunts, by the way, just a fucking tape. And I listened to it on a seven-hour train journey back home, and it was perfect. And not only did I love the record, but I always remember the review led me to it perfectly. I bought the record on trust. And in terms of people’s eternal souls, I would suggest trust could be more important than money. I would think.
CMG: That’s a fair suggestion. More broadly speaking, VICE aside, I wanted to talk about your Talkhouse piece, which I liked quite a bit—this notion of a “DIY” community or a non-corporatized music community, even in a place like Williamsburg, Brooklyn—
AF: Personally, I’d prefer “non-corporate” than “DIY.”
CMG: Sure, it makes more sense. Is wanting that to be a place—is that illusory? I find myself getting mad about a business like VICE moving in, and these independent venues shutting down, but am I just whining about that? Do you feel like it does mark a certain cultural change for Big Money coming into the indie rock world?
AF: Well, the big money’s always been there, but I suppose the big money was performed on different stages before. With money being squeezed over a long time from record sales, and now it’s former record company people who identified where the final bits of record company money are—like Pledge Music, in crowdfunding—they’ve gone there to collect the final scraps. Maybe there’s that aspect. Or maybe, I don’t know, in the sense of some of those companies you mention, maybe it’s a question of just branding to a thorough and quite obnoxious degree. Wanting to have everything covered, you know? I think it’s the individuality and the uniqueness that makes things special. And don’t get me wrong, as I mentioned in that piece, I’ve been to shitty independent venues, which were run by absolute wastes of cells. But they were themselves.
CMG: Exactly. They are just a shitty independent venue, in and of themselves.
AF: In and of themselves. You meet people on bad days, and I think I have less and less as I get older, because I have more respect for what those interactions mean. I don’t just mean between a fan of the band and myself but also a person and a person. I like to think I’ve always been this way. I can’t remember ever just being a dick to someone for no reason. I’m sure somebody’s got a different story. But again, that’s because of our perceptions of reality and individual experience.
But those venues are special for a reason. If it’s futile or not, I don’t know. To sit back and assess the forces against us would be ultimately so depressing as to render us immobile, I suppose.
AF: Yes, catatonic. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to do some small things in order to hold the tide back a little. It’s been really nice—I don’t want to say “to give something back,” as far as I’m aware, largely I haven’t been given anything, but a lot of the experience (and again, I’m touching on some things that I wrote for Drowned in Sound) of being in a band is, by definition, incredibly selfish. When you get the chance to do something nice for people it’s, well, nice. And it’s as simple as that. It’s tough when you’re a band, speaking of Future of the Left now, operating almost entirely at a break-even point. Whenever we do the sums, which is something we have to do in this brave new internet world—there’s a lot of positive things about the fact that music is instantly available to a lot of people, but one of the downsides is I never wanted to be a businessman, and I am one now. And if I wasn’t one, or if my wife weren’t one, then we wouldn’t be able to exist in the form that we do. We do good t-shirts! We pride ourselves on designing them. But, it’s sad that that becomes the commercial driver that allows us to go on tour. As much as we really, passionately believe in the things that we sell people at shows, the fact that it’s the point, the financial driver, is upsetting.
CMG: It’s something like—if I talk about being a bit upset about the money side of music journalism, or any kind of artistic industry, it’s easy for someone else to say, “Oh, so what are you saying? We just shouldn’t make any money? You buy goods all the time. You own a pair of shoes!” But we’re not talking about overthrowing the entire capitalist system here, right?
AF: You’re talking about making a small difference in the area of life in which you operate. I remember there’s a particularly risible form of British MP called Louise Mensch who I touched on a little, in a cartoony way, in the Future of the Left song “Sorry Dad I Was Late for the Riots,” and she said something—basically the point of that song is it’s a Half-Man Half-Biscuit pastiche, a lot of people took it quite literally, which exposes them as a fucking idiot, in the same way that someone who takes “Robocop 4 – Fuck Off Robocop” literally, like, “What’s your problem with action films, buddy!” Yeah, ‘cause I hate all action films, yeah, unbelievable.
But Louise Mensch said anybody who was involved in any anti-capitalist protests who bought a coffee at Starbucks should be disqualified from protesting.
CMG: Beyond stupid.
AF: It’s definitely a topical way of taking the piss a little bit, but when that’s the only refreshment that’s available in your area—there’s not a lot of fucking Mom & Pop stores in the center of London near Trafalgar Square, you know? You should be able to choose your environment and the way you interact with your immediate environment, and if everybody did that, then that would spill over into a slower, more gradual cultural change. I will say that, certainly in terms of music journalism, music journalists are complicit in boring music. So many people I’ve spoken to who are music journalists think that, say, SXSW, is a gigantic clusterfuck for bands. They’re not going to say that, because then they won’t be invited there anymore.
CMG: Exactly. There’s no willingness to speak a truth, because you’ll then lose your access or your esteem.
AF: Well, you have to talk about “this great new band, they’ve come from nowhere!” Okay, they’re signed to a Warner subsidiary. They have been for eight months. The fact that you and twenty-eight of your buddies were at the show is not a coincidence. It’s pre-ordained. I’m speaking as somebody that, the last time I played SXSW, all of our shows were packed out, and it was still a massive waste of time and money. If you’re a band who goes over there and nobody knows you, the chances of you being discovered are roughly equitable with the chances of you waking up the next morning on fucking Mars. It’s not going to happen anymore unless you’re sleeping with the Vice President of fucking Doritos.
It’s the same with sports journalists—with soccer, even though it’s clear who’s going to win the title, it’ll be one of two teams, sports journalists have to invest the whole thing with rather more drama than “this team has spent four hundred million pounds, therefore they will almost inevitably win.” That’s the football headline in the beginning of September: “Everybody Go Home, We’ll See You Next Year.” That isn’t going to sell any fucking papers, is it? So, there we are. You can’t trust anybody.
CMG: You’re probably sick of talking about this at this point, but I was just so happy about your rebuttal to Ian Cohen’s review a few years back—I just felt like, here’s someone that’s taking down the polite façade around so much of this business and being honest about the topic at hand, which of course is music. And you weren’t thinking, “Oh, what could writing this mean for my capital as a band with Pitchfork or whoever.”
AF: To be honest with you, and I’ve said this before, that bad review and the reply was the best marketing we ever could’ve had for that record. It really is true. It turns out, though, I think I was far too considered in my reply. I don’t look at Pitchfork very often, but somebody sent me an email linking me to a couple reviews Ian had done of Smashing Pumpkins reissued albums? And I think the lyric in “Robocop” about Billy Corgan, which is only a reference to the fact he looks like Voldemort [the lyric: “at least Harry Potter has a proper story in the sense that the characters crave an ending / If only to release poor Billy Corgan from his role as the titular character’s nemesis”]—that’s it, that’s the beginning of the end of it. That obviously upset him deeply. Mr. Cohen believes that Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995)—and let’s just sit back and think for a second, the album is called Mellon Collie, it’s two separate words, and the INFINITE SADNESS—is a classic album. And I’m sorry, the album I made, and indeed every note I’ve ever shat out of this body is not for him. It’s not for him.
I hope you can get across the fact I’m not particularly angry about that—more lightly amused. I did read the last Pitchfork review, because we release our own records and I want to see what kind of promotion there is, and I can say without fear of contradiction that that is a good review of the album, and it has been editorially significantly marked down as a fuck-you. As a fuck-you. And I will say that, because I know of certain examples—I know that’s happened recently with a show we’ve done in the NME, it was marked down from a ten to an eight, because if it wasn’t, it would overshadow their big review of the issue. I don’t take that personally, don’t get me wrong. That happens to everybody, and you can say that without any doubt. Luckily, it doesn’t really affect my life. It’s the difference between selling six records that week or seven records that week. And I just spent the extra money on cat litter, anyway.
CMG: They deserve it.
AF: You know what? They really do. They are remarkable souls. And neither of them like the Red Hot Chili Peppers.