Wire continues to challenge with new music
Mind Hive - Wire (Pinkflag)
10.20 - Wire (Pinkflag)
First to the Rolling Rock ratings: "Mind Hive" gets a mighty seven bottles, and "10.20", six out of a possible five each... That's because I'm being stingy. Both these new Wire albums are series of pieces you simply play over and over. Then return to.
The only comparison I'll make today is that "Mind Hive" reminds me of Hugo Race's recent "Starbirth" - both seem compelled to take a long, personal view of where we are and, with mesmeric power and grace, both give us a view refracted from the apparently oblivious mainstream. We're in a state of flux, with numbed and shaved antennae.
Wire have been called, erroneously, a pop band (although the devices they often use have been picked up by assorted lesser Britpop outfits). Every song is an adventure - you never really quite know where you're going to be taken. Wire are a band to listen to; their songs sometimes grasp you immediately, sometimes they take a while. The more you listen, the more the codes get inside you, like a tempting DNA graft.
The songs are complete, not scribbled sketches, not clumsy half-pastiched love whimpers. There's a seriously hypnotic aspect to Wire, a pulsing glistening sheen where beauty is interlocked in a dance of ugly, still-glistening brutality. Sometimes the nastiness is clearer, blunter than at other times. Sometimes it's carefully hidden.
Seeing Wire live is an experience I'll always treasure - as for those folks who live in cities which Wire play fairly regularly: you're a pack of swine, and you have no idea how lucky you are.
A quick aside or two: first, ever since their first LP (look it up, I'm not doing all the work today) Wire have presented striking yet somewhat enigmatic LP covers - I won't spoil the fun by giving examples, but they effectively represent the band's sense of humour and inversely, their broader thinking. "Mind Hive" is the only one I've instantly comprehended: think of a triptych, with the front cover as the title, "Mind Hive". The rear cover is a close-up of quite old push-down keyboard keys ('L' is missing); the inner is a side-shot of the keys, with a row of holes with a numeral above each; and the third inner shot is of a honeycomb.
The first two shots are of an Enigma machine, one of which was spirited out of Poland (by Poles) shortly before the beginning of the Second World War and brought to the UK, where it became the basis of the decrypting magic which lead to Alan Turing's decoding 'bombes', and the birth of today's computer. Link that with the honeycomb ...
However, I don't want to spend a lot of time discussing every nuance and every detail in these two LPs - by now you should either be skipping to the next article or reading forward with saliva filling your mouth. Overall, "Mind Hive" is an urgent, cohesive, current vision of where we were before the stupidvirus and its universally bungled prevention plans drove a dump truck through our determination to remain civilised (comparisons between 1938 and 2018 and onwards remain quite valid ... right now, we seem to be almost holding our breaths in either expectation or denial). Historians will not be kind to us today; school teachers in decades will come will explain to know-it-all kids - and they will, frankly, fucking piss themselves laughing.
Wire in Brooklyn. Mattias Coral photo.
Who knew that the Keystone Kops would come to life a hundred years on?
Mind, a note of caution - some of this interpretation is me, not necessarily Wire, and Wire's way is always involves seduction, possibly poison, or a choice of weapons, and an (increasingly empathic) acknowledgement of our vulnerabilities. Some reviewers have commented that 'Hung' is the track which "Mind Hive" revolves around; I disagree, but I can see "Hung" being some huge bludgeoning, racketing behemoth live.
"10.20" is no less cohesive an LP, but it has a feel more reminiscent, perhaps, of their (under-rated and unreissued) Mute LPs. I find "10.20" to be more seductive, less blunt ... yet writhing with muted (pun alert) rage.
Wire have rediscovered (not, I now suspect, reinvented) themselves on several occasions ... over the last few decades they've had something of a resurgence of popularity in Europe, Canada and the USA. Seems like the world isn't quite as full of sovrinn citisens and Karens as we'd feared; Wire keep selling out their gigs.
I was able to ask the band's lyric-writer and all-round noisy chap, Graham Lewis, a few questions. While Colin Newman is usually the spokesperson for Wire, but as Graham writes much of the lyrics these days, and as he also rarely seems to get interviewed (and probably likes it that way), I thought I'd approach him and ask a few questions.
Those of you with sensitive dispositions, this article contains (1.) Discussion of loud, brutal, room-clearing rock, and (2.) what is frankly the most perverse on-tour behaviour I've ever heard of.
Also, I've been nosing about Swedish slang, so I've slipped some of that in, too ...
RB: Somewhat horrified, Graham, to learn that you and (partner) Liv both had Covid19. We saw Andy Gill here late last year; it was awful that he got so sick and then died. It's just beyond control.
GL: When I flew to Chicago at the beginning of March for pre-tour prep (our American agent and front of house operator are based there, it’s become like our US ‘home’ city), I felt like one of those hurricane chasers in the Mid West … alert to what was a real and approaching danger! Wire were Stateside for only a few days before the SXSW Festival was cancelled, so the background of the tour was set: one of intelligence gathering, high alert and fucking brilliant: 'this could be the last time’ shows - the last of our two shows at Williamsburg Music Hall in Brooklyn turned out to be the last anyone played in NYC!
Graham Lewis. Liv Lewis Elvander photo.
We had to cut and run when our Boston show was pulled on Friday 13th and so, facing an imminent lockdown with our next (sold out) dates across the border in Canada, we turned the truck around and were fortunate to book flights out of JFK that night. The crew, transport and hire gear drove cross-country back to base in Chicago. Incidentally, the crew and I arrived at our respective homes (me in Uppsala, Sweden) at the same but different times!
After two weeks on the road and a 29 hour journey home, I was well knackered … so it was a while before I was able to make a speculative diagnosis of my increasing exhaustion … I'd brought the virus home; my wife, Liv was next and we proceeded to ‘have it together’ for 3-4 weeks. Sharing the delirium! Films were devoured, food wasn’t smelt or tasted and a large number of paintings were produced. RIP Andy Gill.
RB: You're one of the few bass players I've seen who uses pedals (qualification: not just has a bunch of pedals but doesn't use them) - when and how did you start using them? What was the attraction?
GL: I’ll answer the question back to front. The attraction is either blindingly obvious or not! If you ‘GET’ noise, that thing which enters your body and refuses to leave, mine from amusement arcade/ fun fair sound systems and the earth-shaking turbo-charged take-off trajectory of Lightning Fighter Jets, my father was in the RAF. Mike Thorne, who was to produce the first three Wire albums introduced me to the MXR flanger he’d brought back from NYC in 1977. I wouldn’t give it back to him. IT WAS MINE! IT WAS ME! I had found the basis for my own distinctive instrumental voice, confidence grew! When we went into Advision studio to record Pink Flag, Paul Hardiman our engineer (a Reading Mod) was intrigued by my FX use and inquired if I was aware of George Clinton and his group Parliament: I was not! Research (one had to research in those days to discover music) proved to be a revelation! Now I'd got the funk with fun noise ... I’ve never stopped buying pedals, good ones are inspirational. Guilty as charged!"
RB: Wire's current songwriting credits are interesting - Colin gets credited with the song, you get credited with the 'text' - I'm assuming this means that you come up with the lyrics. Has this always been the way within the band? What's changed?
GL: There has been a tendency to use the model you describe, of late, because the method of production we’ve employed, the distance between us and other practical reasons … for better or worse! From the beginnings of the group I’ve largely handled the text writing but both Bruce and Colin have done and continue to write themselves. I write tunes too.
RB: From my perspective, you have a mysterious, enigmatic way with your language, and while on the one hand we can point to a song and say - it's about the octopus that predicts the footy - but the lyric always points to bigger or broader concepts. Reading the lyrics alone I feel a little like I'm being invited to crack a code - is that a strategy or how it's just developed?
GL: The one about the Octopus is Colin’s, you’ll have to ask him about its universal themes! From the start Bruce and I agreed that the 'words' should be as important as the 'noise'. If they weren’t, they shouldn’t be there. I was naturally attracted to the notion that one could in theory (at least), write about any subject. Bruce and I are fans of word games, anagrams and crosswords. So as they say, all’s fair in love and war … I employ whatever strategy, process to refresh and stimulate 'the voice in my head' wot writes de text. The codes are not present to obfuscate, necessarily! They can produce undreamt of orders … "EELS SANG LINO "and "ZEGK HOQP" spring to mind.
[RB explains, 'EELS SANG LINO' and 'ZEGK HOQP' were Wire songs which originally appeared on the "Document and Eyewitness" LP in 1980; reworked as "Eels Sang", and 'Re-invent Your Second Wheel', they appeared on Wire's "Change Becomes Us" LP in 2012. Here's a link to the lyrics (good luck!) the lyrics to "ZEGK HOQP" remain enigmatic.]
RB: How did you develop this approach?
GL: Playing. We had ambitions to make metaphors and re charge cliches, make up our own words, enjoy and play with language. Keep writing … all the time, document, take notes of overheard conversation, signs seen, witty quotes … carry a notebook use it religiously.
Graham and pet Affenpinscher (ape terrier) Iggy. Liv Lewis Elvander photo.
RB: Is there a typical way that songs develop in the rehearsal room?
GL: The most common way would be for Colin to present a song, for which I’d previously provided a text, by singing it accompanied by his own strumming. This method has produced spectacular successes: by the time Colin got to the the first chorus of "Practice Makes Perfect" the whole band had joined in and were playing the parts which (with refinement) became the recorded song. Other times more discussion might be necessary but generally after sharing chord information and the setting of what is considered to be the correct tempo, we just play, learn and absorb … talking is talking, music is doing.
RB: Speaking of which, how have you rehearsed lately? You're in Sweden, the others are in the UK (aren't they?). Isn't Sweden - UK a bit of a commute?
GL: Last time we rehearsed was in Chicago, at the beginning of March. Given the present travelling restrictions and the incompetent management of the virus in the UK, it might as well be a million miles away. In previous times, I’d hop on a Norwegian Airways flight from Arlanda (35 mins by taxi from home) and fly to Gatwick (2.5 hours) and then take the train down to Brighton where Wire usually rehearses. Shout out: Brighton Electric is Brilliant!
RB: Wire have always struck me as a band which don't use their band to work out their frustrations - you know, posing and shredding before going home to the wife, 2.4 kids and the suburban house - but a band whose frustrations seem to condense within the band's songs. Which seems like there's a volatility within each song, rather like the lid of a pot with a complex dinner bubbling away beneath.
GL: A fundamental tool in Wire’s (any group’s) armoury is tension on/ tension off … this we’ve had in spades from the beginning, it’s thrilling … see '12XU'. We are not a 'brothers or mates' band, or one with a singer with ego support staff. To utilise your metaphors, to judge where the point comes before it boils over is uber superb! See: "Two People In A Room"." [RB notes: most readers will be familiar with '12XU' (on the face of it, Wire's most 'punk' song) 'Two People in a Room' is from Wire's 1979 LP, '154' - the remastered LP is available here.]
RB: Just how volatile a mixture of personalities is this band? I mean, the band nearly imploded in 1980, and again it seems in the early '90s; but after you all had distance from each other, with you, Bruce and Colin developing other projects, the band seemed able to continue...
GL: We are four individuals who chanced upon each other. None of us, and this now includes Matthew Simms, are gang-joiners; in fact we all dislike that attitude. We share enough common principles to be able to generate enough trust to try to make contemporary art/music. All of the members are both stubborn (resolute?) and open to change (when it is necessary). By the end of 1979 it was obvious as the nose on your face that Bruce, Colin and I had ambitions to create MORE music/ noise than could be channeled through the vehicle we had Wire.
When the band played for what turned out to be the last time for a long time in 1980, we had the material for two albums which we’d already auditioned live. Perhaps if there had been more support from EMI and the world had decided to see us, commercial success might have driven us even closer together? That’s a scary thought … Instead we opened the door and wondered [sic] off to explore new pastures and get a change of diet.
RB: When I read 'creative differences' on your Wikipedia page (utterly unreliable but I'm sure the band keep a protective eye on it) ... I find myself wondering. Just how big are everyone's personalities? Is the creative tension pulled that taut?
GL: Wikipedia we have nothing to do with it … personally I've never done anything to even my own … I read them and they suck, full of misleading third hand echoes … all we want is some truth!
RB: And since Wikipedia currently lists your name as "Edward Graham Penelope Lewis", I can only agree. Now, most folks reading this won't be aware of your own solo and other work (like FITTED, which I confess I'm ignorant of), could you tell us about them?
GL: At present... FITTED is an Anglo-American recording project with me, Matthew Simms (Wire, Slows,It Hugs Back), Mike Watt (Minutemen, firehose, The Stooges and many more groups), Bob Lee (The Freeks, Claw Hammer)… Debut album "FIRST FITS". After a three-hour rehearsal when the group met each other for the first time, we composed a 30 min set which we played to a Silver Lake, LA crowd as part of Wire’s 40th anniversary at the DRILL Festival - DRILLLA! We all had a blast, so with that wind behind us we decided to make an album. Mike and Bob sent their drum and bass parts and some vocals and Matt and I basically made the rest of the album, largely at distance. It’s quite sonic … sort of Crazy Heart Beef Hurse [sic again].
UUUU band with me, Matthew Simms, Thighpaulsandra (producer, synthesist, producer, Coil, Julian Cope, Wire), Valentina Magaletti (Tomaga, Vanishing Twin, Raime, The Can Project). Debut double album "UUUU" and 12” UUUU. Electro acoustic improvisation, no prisoners were taken during the making of these recordings. UUUU are in the process of recording UUUU2222 at extended social distance! No body has been touched. [Get UUUU here:
Edvard Graham Lewis' new solo album is almost ready to drop. Eight songs.
HOX with Andreas Karperyd. Two albums - "itness" and "Duke of York."
RB: You actually saw Kilburn and the High Roads?! and early Feelgoods?! 'scuse me while I curse roundly.
GL: I booked Kilburn and The Highroads for my art college, Hornsey, twice! My hall held 250 rammed at the Christmas dance for which I’d engaged The Kilburns there were 400 plus, it was the best Xmas dance since The Kinks in 1864! (Sir Ray Davies is a Hornsey old boy). I fell in love with a friend of the band. Saw them innumerable times and had the honour to be nick-named Freaky by Ian. Their music was unoriginal but the versions of the group was stuffed with original people. I loved hanging with them … fucking funny guys! Their LP was shit. "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick'" Yes, please!
I ‘discovered’ the Feelgoods in the Lord Nelson on Holloway Road. Me and my mate Malcom Heywood from Altringham and only other audience members The Black Raven Teddy Boy Gang (hard bastards from East End docks, Isle of Dogs (?) I think). A night of weed, beer and adrenalin … Malc and I suspected we might get disciplined! We looked like Roxy Music sisters. Feelgood exploded on to a tiny dance floor, talk about social distancing, you could've touched them. They were simply the most exciting band in town. I took 2 pages out of my notebook and wrote out a contract there and then for them to play my place, 60 quid plus petrol from their island and as much beer as they could drink. The concert was unbelievable. I was proud.
RB (between frustrated weeping): What was that scene like at the time - people have built up impossibly mythic expectations and assumptions over the years - but how did it strike you at the time?
GL: The scene was shit. Apart from Roxy, Sweet and Bowie the white world seemed asleep. London still felt post-war it was so gray and poor … made it ideal territory for inventive enthusiasts … punk was inevitable! We was there! Buzzcocks, Pistols, Damned, Clash, Jam saw it … we liked what was coming out of America … we wanted to be us not U.S., with second-hand Americana crap.
RB: Thanks for your patience, Graham, I can imagine you're all quite busy at the moment.
GL: This took a while... Good questions well-put, a hangover helped.
[RB note: Bakfylla/bakis is Swedish for hungover, while Kopparslagare is hungover with a serious headache]
RB: After a cursory glance at Swedish slang, it occurs to me that I should have mentioned that Wire is full of Tjuvitta and Langtan. [RB note: Look it up, freakers!]
GL: Swedish producer Peder Mannerfelt recently produced a new track of mine: Svincool! My daughter Klara Lewis played it to him, do you know her work? 4 albums (Editions Mego) and a 12”." [Go here: http://editionsmego.com/artist/klara-lewis ]
RB: I hope I didn't make your hangover worse (but I should ask, what were you drinking?).
GL: "Sancerre, Amarone and Valpolicella Ripasso."
RB: [thinking, I must try some Amarone] Last stuff first, then, yes, I remember that period of the '70s. It was bloody dull, charts full of drivel (I mean there's fun drivel - Little Richard showed the way - and godawful drivel) and nothing but a future which looked frankly funerary. I started listening to real music at the end of 1975, age 12, when I was obliged to make the company of an odd chap as he was already going to the school my parents had picked for me. 'They'll get on', as parents think.
Weirdly, we did, because Paul had a bloody big collection already, so for the next year I was introduced to everything from the Stooges and the Dolls through Kraftwerk and Annette Peacock. 1976, there was a growing sense of imminence, most of which was coming from USA, which eventually seemed to burst - but certainly not in the way we were expecting. However, as you put it, anything seemed possible.
GL: Paul was a good guide, his choices were mine at the time, apart from Annette Peacock who I was not familiar until the early 1980s when she called me to arrange a meet after she’d heard Dome 2. I add Sly Stone, Al Green and Beefheart... Out of the US ... Jonathan Richman, Patti Smith, Ramones, Television, Pere Ubu, Devo, Contortions ...
RB: I found a very worn copy of "Faust IV: in a $2 bin in about 1978, put it on for about two seconds in the shop and instantly bought it, to the mystified glares of assorted local punks. I just emailed a pic of my own pedals, made by a friend (for maximum effect) which I have yet to master - we moved recently and I'm still sorting things out.
GL: What a lucky dip! Do you know "Outside The Dream Syndicate" by Tony Conrad? I know Joachim Irmler, I’ve played at two of his festivals and had the honour of him playing with Swedish project 27#11 in Malmö. Your friend's pedals look well hard! What do they do? And do they do it to 11? When I first played with Bruce he had a fuzz box housed in a Golden Virginia tin.
RB: Back in 1985, our local govt brought the Grand Prix to our city. As it happens, I was living about half a mile from the track. After hearing the tedious sound of annoying bees, I put on a recently acquired home-recorded tape of Reed's "Metal Machine Music", complete with a few minutes of the run-off grooves, on full, and flipped the tape over and over. All day for several days.
GL: We had a few days off in Melbourne during a "SEND" tour when the F1was in town so I’m familiar with the buzzing bees!
RB: It was quite an experience, I felt quite giddy by the end ... I've always loved the possibilities which can be created with sound - I have difficulty separating noise from music - some may say that noise is sound without human causality but...
GL: "Giddy on the Ciggies" (Sleaford Mods) … my memory fails me as to which French harpsichord plucker said … music was noise shaped by wisdom … a little sober but there you go.
RB: I will say, I should think that regular exposure to English Electric Lightnings would have altered any young boy's DNA (not remotely envious, no not remotely lalalalala) and don't get me started on funfair music ... you've been bloody blessed, dammit. Favourite sound at an airshow? Panavia Tornados streaking past while a pair of F111 drivers cursed and stuck their fingers in their ears.
GL: When my daughters were small we went shopping for paint. They’d decided we should paint our hallway daffodil yellow… when the shop assistant flipped the switch on the paint agitator/mixer... customers dived in all directions and Klara and Mira started dancing, I joined in.
RB: That's beautiful ...! At that gig you played here in Adelaide, my friend Bob Lehrmeyer asked you and the engineer about the gigantic racket you were apparently making during 'Harpooned' - the engineer said, 'actually, that was me' - you'd given him a visual signal, at which point he'd hit a button which hit reverb and repeat on the kickdrum, to signal effect. Bob's a remarkable musician, I'm fortunate to know him. I liked what you said about tension on/ tension off - your live show developed to the logical conclusion of a huge vortex - of course, if every song were like "Harpooned" there wouldn't be as much tension, not enough barbed hooks to drag you along...
GL: Yes, that backwards reverb effect on the kick was a cracking invention of FOH Jerry’s … it caused a terrific swerve, I switched my ’Super Ego’ pedal in on top, punctuated with Moogerfooger Ring Modulator ON/OFF, Fuzz War, EH Bass Micro … Matthew and I often did a call and response arrangement.
RB: A few things struck me in your reply - the first was that you seemed to enjoy relating some of these things, so ... are you going to write a book either about your life or about your adventures?
GL: A book has been suggested but it’s a hell of a commitment to write something honest and entertaining. I’m considering making a book of the paintings I’ve made during the epidemic … working title 'UNPRECEDENTED Paintings'. Attached is an example in a cheap IKEA frame.
RB: I won't touch too much on Covid19 (or, as I think of it, the stupidvirus, because it's made so many people behave so ...) but - if you had the thing, did any of the other members of the band or crew cop it - or isn't that for you to say.
GL: No, I took a hit for the team.
RB: I've always found there to be a rare 'inside-out' aspect to the band - you present your songs, in the package, and we have to (somehow) figure out if it is at face value or not (it never is). "Map Ref" etc... for example, one of your comments is almost a song title: stubborn (resolute?)
GL: I enjoy ambiguity in text, it offers the possibility to listener to make their own interpretation. Ying /Yang Bing/Bong!
RB: Now, I'm fairly sure that you're all still on reasonably good terms with Bruce (although I gather that the initial split with him was not easy).
GL: Yes, I’m on extremely good terms with Bruce. Bruce left Wire. We’ve been friends and colleagues longer out of Wire than in it.
RB: Okay, so here's a really stupid question (the one that all the bloggers will want to ask I'm sure) so... is there any chance you could all - including Matthew - do a project together? Or is that utterly just too difficult? I'm not thinking in terms of one of those 'revivalist' tours - I understand bands that do that, I have no problem with it, but that's not the Wire way - but rather along the lines of someone saying - I have an idea which I think can let us all do this... Utterly beyond the pale? or ... just, no-one's thought of that...
GL: When we made the DOME boxset 1-4 & 5, for Editions Mego with Dave Coppenhall designing, there were offers. However, as Bruce said at the time, ‘It’s perfect!’ Why would you want to fuck it up, it’s so rare to be able to screw the last screw in the box and know there’s nothing left to do, apart from smile! In the period between 1980-1983, we made maybe 10 albums, staged performances and installations (often with Russell Mills - see MZUI recently re-issued in Italy). We probably met at least 5 days a week - that was the commitment the work demanded and which we gladly gave.
(RB notes: DOME is currently available from Editions Mego only as a download. You know what to do.)
At the moment I'm in three projects with Matt, that’s probably enough? Wire, UUUU and FITTED.
Also, you can announce the release (at last) of ELEGIAC by ELEGIAC on a label without name (so far) through All City Records, Dublin, on 30 Jan 2021, an album made in 2007-8 with Ted 'BLURT’ Milton poet, puppeteer, sax squarker and Sam Britton dubber and shaper. I made the musical/ noise backing. All City did a fantastic job last year re-releasing the incredible Michael O’Shea album which DOME Records released in 1982, which Bruce and I produced.
RB: While I've asked that fanboy question, I might as well ask another - the "Read and Burn"/ "Send" period seemed like a mammoth charging out from an ice bunker - is that wall of guitars likely to reappear or, as I suspect, it's just not raised its head? Was it you who was listening to a lot of grime at the time, or have I got this wrong? With the "Read and Burn"/ "Send" ... it's one thing, I think, to do a few songs for a mile or so, but another to seem to take a screaming right turn across busy traffic and floor it for another thirty miles or more. What on earth possessed you all? Did you all get drunk on the sheer racket? It would have been a heady experience, I would think, to create all that live. What were your emotions after the gigs like?!
GL: This is an excellent question which I don’t think has been asked before! In 2001 Wire came together to play a one-off show in the "Living Legends" series curated by Dave Sefton (now an Adelaidian?) at The Royal Festival Hall.
We survived the retrospective and performed more shows including a US Tour. In NYC David Bowie turned up with our old friend Page Hamilton, admitting that "Chairs Missing" was his favourite; however, I’m sure he borrowed more from "154"... [RB is pissing himself laughing at this] We survived that too, no-one killed each other. We were all adamant that if Wire was to continue it needed a new script. New is what we do.
In 2002 there was a strong resurgence in innovative brutal rock music! Huzzah! Liars, McClusky! Bruce and I were both heavily involved with the Electro acoustic noise scene, me working with the Stockholm crew and KREV, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, Leif Elggren, John Louis Huhta, Benny Nielssen, Andreas Karperyd, Tengen, John Duncan…this cross-fertilised with Touch Records and club DISOBEY in London, Russell Haswell, Aphex, the mighty Finns Pan Sonic, the wonderful noise terrorists of Japan plus Earth and Whitehouse ... I’d encountered The Entombed live, my first life-changing speed metal experience, also Pitbulls and Terriers. Apologies for everyone I haven’t mentioned! During this period there was competition to clear the room as fast as possible .Performances were loud, aggressive, relentless and sometimes shocking! …that’s what we brought to the party.
To avoid criticism along the lines of "tired old men blah blah" we set the tempos of the songs at a minimum of 130 bpm, the album was then composed/ sampled/ constructed a la hip hop/ electronic dance lines. Central to the racket was Bruce’s "John Lee Hooker on steroids" guitar, there was little melody and the texts are slogan-like in a barking delivery … what the fuck are these guys so fucking angry about?
Bruce and Colin constructed the album in London, I came over and did all of my contributions (bass lines, vocals) in a day. When the album was finished the question was could we actually play it without relying on sequencing technology. Robert gamely said he’d have a go and I enrolled myself at the local gym to be modified by a Thai boxing expert who trained speed metal drummers … stamina and strength were to be essential. We played the "SEND" set for two years, it was one sonic piece. It was impossible for audiences to be indifferent!
We slayed audiences and stole other band's crowds at festivals. It was a monstrous thing and ideal for a band who couldn’t rehearse because of geography; ie: there was little to remember but an awful lot of it! I’d come off stage bouncing, I’m sure I shall never be as well-trained again in my life. There were mega shows, The Barbican ‘Flag: Burning’ concert was immense … first half, Wire played the "Pink Flag" album in strict order with stage set designed by Jake and Dinos Chapman, then the second half "SEND" with set by Es Devlin OBE. It was also, in the end, a creative cul de sac! Bruce split."
RB: Right, I'm going to ask one more question and then go mow the lawn, then make up a dinner from leftover lamb.
GL: I’ll steal that…I’m going to make up a dinner from leftover lamb. Oh, and, where I say we 'slayed' audiences above, please change to 'shred' …much more accurate.
RB: You mentioned the 'singer with ego support staff' syndrome - we've all read about (if not encountered) these syndromes; lead guitarist syndrome, singer's girlfriend syndrome, whining indispensable member syndrome and so on. Yet you - and Colin - all seem remarkably feet-on-the-ground and together. More or less normal. Not ... preoccupied with yourselves as 'artists' ... I mean, I know to some extent there's got to be a certain self-consciousness because of the nature of being in the public eye. Hmm. What I'm asking is, how come you lot don't seem to be especially up yourselves? How did you bypass the rock-star cliches (such as insisting on loose tea in a TEAPOT, and CHINA cups, riding huge motorbikes into pubs etc)?
GL: I trained to be an artist at Hornsey/ Middlesex Uni and have been pursuing my practise ever since. Artists make art. Art is to do. Fail, fail again better! On one American tour Bruce and I decided to clean and sharpen up dressing rooms … that freaked people out.
RB: [muttering to himself: that's utterly perverted] Oh, I will ask one more. I gather you enjoy beer - which is your favourite?
GL: Stout - Guinness; Lager - Czech Budva; IPA - Brew Dog’s Gamma Ray, and new find Hopewell’s Ride or Die (Chicago Brewers).
By the way, this last year "People In A Film", a documentary on Wire is being filmed by Malcom Boyle and Graham Duff.
(Folks, take a look at this teaser, and reach into your wallet.)
Graham, I'll ask only a few more of you - it's time I asked about "Mind Hive", and "10.20". Did they both come about together - they sound quite different in approach - "10.20" seems more enigmatic to some degree, while "Mind Hive" seems wincingly up-to-date.
GL: This is a yes and no question … around 2010 we had 4 songs which had either been transformed through ‘live’ exposure or had been left off an album - I named them 'strays'. These we recorded and released as a 4 track digital bonus with the current album of the time. 10 years later our ‘live’ policy had thrown up another 4, these we recorded during the "Mind Hive" sessions. "10:20" was then intended as a special vinyl album for Record Store Day … like so much else RSD was cancelled, however, we were encouraged to release it by our distributor and band friends … it was received very warmly.
RB: Wire strike me as trying to wield a searchlight through the murk of the everyday with lyrics like...
Are you feeling quite smart?
Are you hiding your tail?
Are you facing extinction?
Are you under full sail?
...are as succinct and critical of our belief that we are the natural pinnacle of evolution. There seems to be a visceral aspect to your perception of humanity, like an animal red in tooth and claw. "Cheeking Tongues", for example. Is this, like a worldview that the whole band share, or is it something which has developed among you over time?
GL: I write it how I see it! I never explain my texts to the band, I guess I might if I was asked … The text on "Mind Hive" reflects the brewing anxiety which seemed to fill the West after the election of Trump and Johnson, the continuing rise of fascism, the deconstruction of the democratic organisations created after WWII … against apocalyptic predictions of mankind’s destruction of the planet. Vaunting arrogance and narcissistic self-delusion. Brexit! All of that was before we hit the ecological jackpot with Covid! When I wrote many of the texts in 2018-9, I feared they’d be considered too grim, unfortunately, this was not the case.
RB: Then there's...
Have you ever been
Washed off the beach?
Have you ever been
Swept out of reach?
Apart from the obvious self-echo, there's a simple eloquence here, of how easy it is to vanish from society, while in full view. The emphasis on human vulnerability is another thread which seems to run through Wire's work.
GL: Hammer nail head … exactly, I know there’s more talk about and sympathy towards the subject of mental ill-health but the resources to promote and expand mental health/ treatment remain too illusive … Societies will pay a high price for the depression which will follow in C19’s wake."
RB: I think "Humming" might be one of the bluntest, most globally aware songs I've heard in years:
GL: Thanks. My original draft of the text had two verses … the third, above, I wrote on request from Colin. First verse - USA, Second - Russia, Third - China. Fairly global!
RB: I'm very tempted to ask a few questions about your painted art, but because I know so little of your work, I think I'd trip over my feet. If you feel like writing a bit about it that would be grand - what you sent, I certainly think you should be exhibiting, if you haven't already.
GL: This year I’ve had approximately 80 worldwide shows cancelled … so I decided to use some of the time the epidemic had freed up to paint. So instead of travelling all year, I’m juggling noise, text and paint. Suits me.
- MInd Hive