David Gedge (Interview)
David Gedge of the self-professed, "semi-legendary Wedding Present", has been telling us about the pitfalls of love and attempts at love for over 25 years now, resulting in, as any John Peel fan would know, some of "the best love songs of the rock 'n' roll era". The latest collection, Valentina, is no exception. Gedge, the only original member of the group, has many of the same questions but a more mature perspective. But although the personas he inhabits might be a bit too creepy and introverted for you to approach, Forrest Cardamenis discovered that the man himself is much warmer but just as witty as his characters.
On the earlier albums you did all of the writing, on Valentina you worked with Ramsay. How does your songwriting process change as you work with different people?
To be honest it’s not changed that much really. I mean, it changes slightly every time but then every song’s different. But the general kind of plan is that somebody will come up with a little idea, it’s usually the guitarist or me, but sometimes the bassist. Then I’ll kind of go away with that and write the song around it and then we kind of reconvene as a band and arrange it. And it’s always been like that.
Do you write the lyrics first, or the music?
I used to do them all at the same time but I stopped doing that because sometimes a song will get stunted musically and we’ll kind of abort it, and it takes me a long time to write lyrics; I’m quite meticulous. So if I’ve spent days writing lyrics which never get used, you obviously can’t use the lyrics for another song. I stopped doing that a long time ago so now I wait for the music to be finished. Which kind of makes more sense, this style of songs kind of rely on the music and the lyrics are influenced by it anyway.
Do you see any difference on the songwriting on Valentina or a new direction that you haven’t explored previously?
I think it’s interesting for two reasons. One is this current lineup is kind of rocky-er than some of the previous ones so there is more of an edge to it I think, especially the rhythm section. I think Charlie the drummer and Pepe the bass player like to rock out a bit more, so it’s got that harder edge to it. And then I think a lot of the songs have these weird tangents we go off on. We have these pop songs but then they kind of go off somewhere odd, whether it be strange timing or strange tempo. My whole thing is not that predictable, it doesn’t have a straightforward feel to it, which I quite like.
With an edgier, more rock-driven band, how does that affect the playing of older songs, like those on Seamonsters?
Well I’d love to say that I kind of planned it but I didn’t. By chance we’re doing Seamonsters as well and this lineup is actually perfect for it. In fact, people say it’s a bit strange doing a set where we play new songs for the new album but at the same time doing Seamonsters as well, and it’s a bit weird. And it’s also not; with this lineup it’s actually quite natural because even though they’re different people they can emulate that lineup really well and in fact I think they’re actually up to it in a way, I think we even play it better now than we used to.
So then you’re not worried that playing an older album is taking attention away from Valentina?
I do worry about it. I think as an artist you always want to be looking forward. This is the third album we’re doing this for, after George Best and Bizarro. And at first I was really not into it at all. But actually, speaking from a personal point of view, I can see that it would definitely take something away from the new album, but I really enjoy it. It’s actually quite invigorating to go back and reinvestigate something you did 20 years ago. Reinterpret it. It’s quite an odd thing to do. In a way you kind of forget what you learned in 20 years and put yourself back. And it can be a bit of a challenge actually, especially George Best because I think the band was quite naïve and that time and you have to recreate naivety in a performance, which is a bit odd. Seamonsters is obviously bit more accomplished so it’s not as problematic, but it’s certainly and odd thing to do and I quite like that.
Another contrast between Valentina and Seamonsters: The new album was produced by Andrew Scheps whereas both [previous album] El Rey and Seamonsters were Steve Albini. Is there any major difference between working with them, and did you choose Andrew Scheps because you wanted this album to have a specific sound?
Yeah, I mean it’s nice to work different people and I do go back to Albini every third album or so because he is obviously really good at what he does but I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of using the same person every time, I think you limit yourself. And Andrew Scheps, it’s a surprise I never heard of him, he’s got two Grammys and he’s quite a big name, but he was recommended by one of our live sound engineers so we met him and he was actually quite a big fan of the group. He was in England when we were rehearsing and so we invited him to sit in on the rehearsal, and he just has some really great ideas. Some songs we’d been working on for a few years sometimes and he said, "You know that bass drum pedal in that part there? It’s not quite working with the bass." And we’d say, “You know, you’re right.” It was something we’d gotten used to, but he changed something, maybe, “this chorus is too long.” He just tried some new things and they made sense. He’s a bit of a wizard in the studio, doing stuff I know nothing about. Equalization, and compression, and effects, but he’s got a lot of talent in bringing out the power of a band.
What is Valentina about to you? Would you say it’s a continuation of previous work?
I think so. It’s fair to say that I’ve settled upon my style, which is an investigation of relationships. I’m just always interested in what people say; I’m not really interested in metaphor or imagery or poetic stuff. It’s very conversational and I just like what people say and why they say it and how they say it, especially in relationships, middling relationships, you know. Certain things go on all the time. And I’ve tried to write songs that are not so much love songs or relationship songs but I’ve never been quite as happy with the results. So yeah, it’s kind of a continuation of what I’ve been doing. But one thing is, as you grow older, your perspective changes, so a look back at older stuff and it’s kind of a teenage angst thing, and obviously I’m writing now from an older point of view. But it is generally the same idea.
Are there any newer bands that you listen to that affect what you write about or the music that you write?
Not really, to be honest. I mean, it probably sounds a bit jaded, but I don’t really hear any new bands these days that are doing anything particularly innovative. The only bands I hear, I think kind of hark back to another band. Whether it’s 60s or 70s punk band or metal band or disco band, so many bands nowadays sound not just a bit like Joy Division, it sounds like they’re trying to emulate Joy Division. You know, in the singing and the keyboards. I find it a bit disappointing, because in the ‘80s for instance, Pixies came along. There was no other band like that, right?
And then 5 years later, everyone sounds like the Pixies.
Yeah, and Sonic Youth, you know nobody sounded like Sonic Youth before Sonic Youth. Or The Velvet Underground, and even old punk bands. All these bands had a unique and original sound. And I don’t hear that anymore. To me the innovation comes from technology. People have loads of great ideas, for an app, or Spotify, or Facebook and Twitter. And I think it feels like innovation in music seems to have ended. In dance music, there is innovation, but I’m not a fan of dance music. So yeah, I’m not particularly inspired by any new bands. Don’t get me wrong, there are bands I like. There’s actually a band from New York, they’re called The Like, it’s an all-girl band. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them?
I’ve heard the name, but I don’t know the music.
They’re really great, great songs, but it just sounds like a ‘60s girl band. I hear it and I say, “it’s great, but if only I hadn’t heard that in ’60s girl bands.” I suppose there’s probably a limitation to what you can do with drums, bass and guitar. It’s a great sound, but where else do you go? But it’s cyclical, people are always influenced by what has come before, but I think the cycle’s ended [laughs].
On a completely different note, are there any differences you notice between U.K gigs and U.S gigs?
We’re bigger in the U.K. We’ve never really been as big here.
In the U.K. there was that string of top 30 hits that tied Elvis’ record.
Exactly. So obviously it’s smaller over here. But in some ways it’s quite nice because it’s nice to play the smaller, more intimate venues. I know the crowds are good over here, they get into it, they have real music venues. In Britain it can be a bit more fashion oriented, it’s a small island so it all moves very quickly. Over here it’s bigger, it’s a bit slower, so bands get more time to develop and I think the audiences can appreciate that. The other thing about America is the fact that it’s so regionalized. The west coast is so different from the south; the south is so different from the east coast. We’ve played quite a big concert in Chicago and played a bar in Salt Lake City because it’s so different from state to state, and that’s quite interesting.
Working as Cinerama vs. The Wedding Present, can you describe the shift in mind-set of going for a different sound?
Oh totally, yeah. Cinerama was me trying to recreate music from films, hence the name. It was more soundtrack-y and pop music and I did it all at home, on my own really, on computers and things. I wrote it like that and then got people to play it. As opposed to The Wedding Present which is obviously a traditional kind of rock and roll band where we get drums, guitar, and bass and play it that way. So it’s a totally different project really.
So what do you think is next? Cinerama or The Wedding Present?
I’d like to do more Cinerama, but I can’t do them both at the same time so I’ve got to really focus on one, and I’m really enjoyed doing The Wedding Present at the moment. Never say never, but Cinerama plays every year anyway in England. I’ve got my own festival that I curate, so we do two concerts every year, Cinerama plays at that. So it’s nice to keep it going a bit in England. But whether we do more than that… I don’t really plan to be honest. One of the benefits of my 'job', if you will, is that there’s no career path, it’s just “sounds like an interesting project, let’s do that” or “let’s go this way.”
Maybe in another 21 years it will be the 'Playing Valentina in its entirety' tour.
[Laughs] Quite possibly, yeah.29 March, 2012 - 18:04 — Forrest Cardamenis