Music Features

Graham Lewis (Interview)

Wire, the highly respected post-punk band that helped shape early on the sound and musical direction of late 70s punk rock, began 2011 with a new album, Red Barked Tree.  What followed was an extensive worldwide tour, which helped spawn the band’s new live album, The Black Session — Paris, 10 May 2011.  The album released in the U.S. on February 7th.

“We were invited and fortunately it coincided with the start of a French tour,” explained Graham Lewis, Wire bassist and main lyricist.  “The content of our tour set evolved over the year, we started touring in NZ in mid-Jan 2011. The Black Session represents the group after extensive road work in NZ-OZ, Western Europe and the USA, so we were quite well rehearsed!”

Lewis took the time to answer a series of questions I’d written that I’d wanted to use as a framework for the phone interview we’d originally planned.  Unfortunate circumstances on my end, involving my daughter and a stomach bug, led to a cancelation.  Lewis, though, was nice enough to follow up.  Here is our Q & A:


No Ripcord: So after a very busy year with a new album (Red Barked Tree) and extensive tour, what are Wire’s plans for 2012?  Will writing begin on a new album?  Will you be taking a break?  Any side-projects?

Graham Lewis: We have a recording plan for Wire in 2012. It’s a special project, an album we’ve discussed making over the years. 2012 is the right time to execute it. We will be writing a new album for 2013 release, too.

Wire have been invited to perform this year…in Germany, Moscow… but we will not be touring unlike last year where performing and promoting RBT was the focus.

Personally, I have several recording projects I’ll continue to develop:  An album with Italian film score composer Teho Teardo of co-written compositions based around voice, strings and electronics; the soundtrack for an Art doc film by Swedish artists Bigert and Bergström.  This will be the third film of theirs that OCSID, myself, Carl Michael von Hausswolff and Jean-Louis Huhta have composed.

I had hoped that 27#11, my group with Thomas Öberg would finish and release its debut album… that appears to be unlikely at present, due to illness in the Öberg family.  There are solo (albums) and a spoken word album to finish.  And, an EP collaboration with old friend Ted Milton of Blurt.

NR:  How have you enjoyed the positive critical reception of Red Barked Tree?  Are there any new directions you’d like to explore?

GL: Yes. The positive reception prepared the ground for the tours.  We’d made the album in an ambitious spirit.  New directions develop best out of the organic nature of the Wire working process.  As I said in the answer to your first question, we do have a direction/idea we’re very enthusiastic about recording.

NR: Being a very influential band, does Wire often feel pressure releasing new albums when expectations are consistently high?

GL:  I think we’ve always tried to produce work of a high standard. The pressure is self-applied. The expectation is flattering.

NR: Wire has an enviable reputation in terms of your impact in music, especially with regard to your first three LPs, which are deemed essential listening from a critical and historical perspective.  With that in mind, how do you personally view the band, its evolution and accomplishments?

GL: One of the satisfying aspects of the positive reception of RBT was it being compared favorably with the Monolithic First Three!  In the last 4 years I think we’ve managed to integrate Wire’s historical recorded aspects with a greater success than in the past. The Official Bootleg Series promoted an interesting re-contextualization.  This year’s album recording will certainly provide a challenging historical and contextual proposal!

NR: In 2006, Wire reissued Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154.  With the reintroduction of your first three albums, have you found interest in the band has grown as you’ve released new material? 

GL: The first 3 albums have all continued to sell since their original release. The re-release did of course introduce and promote the group’s work to new generations. That has had a healthy symbiotic relationship for our new work.

NR: Since Wire is so influential your sound has found its way into many post-punk, alternative or latter-day punk rock bands.  Although Wire remain pioneers, do you ever worry about your influence either being overlooked by audiences or badly propagated by newer bands to the point where you yourselves might suffer creatively?

GL: What you propose is a trap one sees reformed groups making, however, we have always pursued a policy of change and contrived to be relevant and contemporary. Emulation is an anathema to us!

NR: After Wire’s first break-up, you and Bruce Gilbert (who left the band in 2004) worked on Dome, which seemed to follow-up Wire’s experimentation and creative ambition with much more sound-oriented noise abstractions.  Do you continue to explore this way musically yourself or collaborate on similar projects?

GL: In short: Yes! Other projects include He Said Omala, HOX, OCSID, Edvard Graham Lewis recordings on TOUCH.

(FYI: Mego Records of Austria released a handsome box set of DOME 1-4 5 before Christmas. Dome have been invited to perform in the USA in the Fall.)

NR: Do you have a favorite Wire album?

GL: Not really.  I favor different ones at different times.  Recently, I like Ideal Copy and The First Letter.

NR: Has the overwhelming presence of digital media and online interaction had any impact on Wire in terms of writing songs and marketing albums? Do you feel the move from physical media to digital downloads is a positive one, or do you feel there is something lost with digital music?  With regard to Pinkflag, which has been releasing Wire albums through mail order and record store distribution since 2002, has the digital revolution been significant?

GL: Wow! This is a whopper of a question.

For Wire, and our label Pinkflag, all distribution aspects are important.  The fact that we are our own record company has forced us into finding and implementing practical and creative solutions to ensure the group’s and its music’s survival.  Digital is not replacing the income we are losing from physical sales.  I love the resurgence in the interest in vinyl albums and their beautiful covers!

NR: Are there any current bands or performers that you’re listening to these days?

GL: Current… as in alive?  Talk Normal, who we toured the UK with.  I’ve been enjoying Scott Walker’s recent albums.  Buried At Sea — Migration, King Tubby and Scratch Perry, Teho Teardo’s Second Film Score Collection, Neu, The Yemen Tihama…

NR: What’s the goal with Wire’s music?

GL: Wire music is Wire’s goal!


Photo credit: Joep Bruijnje