The Mission (UK): The 13th Floor Interview

As published at: http://www.13thfloor.co.nz/?p=74047

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The Mission (UK) return to New Zealand for just the second time in their 30+ year career with shows in Wellington and Auckland in November. With a new album due out on Friday, The 13th Floor’s Tim Gruar spoke to Mission frontman Wayne Hussey about the past, present and future of the band.

Back when I was a student DJ my heroes all wore black.  Sisters of Mercy and The Mission were big names.  Their music was cinematic, imposing and above all absorbing.

Borne out of ‘creative differences’ and arrogance The Mission was formed by guitarist and front-man Wayne Hussey and bassist Craig Adams in 1986, originally The Sisterhood, having jumped ship from The Sisters of Mercy, soon adding drummer Mick Brown (Red Lorry Yellow Lorry) and guitarist Simon Hinkler (Artery and Pulp).  Over 30 + years The Mission’s catalogue stretches to nine main albums  They were a band with a distinctive presence with Hussey’s jangling guitar sound and desperate vocals and Hinkler’s bombastic bass lines instantly recognisable.

During the latter half of the 80s, songs like Tower Of Strength, Deliverance and their remake of Neil Young’s Like A Hurricane were almost always on every party playlist.  And despite disappearing from the mainstream the band has continued in various forms producing over 9 albums to date (God’s Own Medicine, Children, Carved in Sand, Masque, Neverland, Blue, Aura, God is a Bullet and The Brightest Light).

Usually I’d write up my interview into more concise form but my Skype session with Wayne today proved to be such a rewarding experience, and Wayne was so generous, that I felt it would work better to produce it verbatim.  Here it is:

Hussey: Hi, Tim.  How are you?

Tim: I’m good.  Are you in Brazil?  San Paulo.  That’s where you’re based now isn’t it?

Hussey: I’m in the UK, right now, at my parent’s place.  It’s in Bristol.  We have a tour starting in a couple of weeks.  Yeah, Yeah.  Staying with mum and dad, like the old days.  (laughs)

Tim: It’s good that they are still going strong.

Hussey: Yeah, yeah (laughs) Indeed.  I live out in the Brazilian countryside.  They bought the plot of land next to us.  They had a house built for them, had it for about 10 years, and just sold it.  The bureaucracy in Brazil is pretty horrendous.  I had to smuggle a big bag of cash out of Brazil on a plane and into England for them.

Tim: It sounds like a drug deal or something.

Hussey: Yeah, it does.  No lie.  It was certainly interesting.

Tim: You said you live out in the countryside now.  Quite different from where we’d expect an English Goth Rock God to live.  No cold, damp apartments with bats in the belfry.

Hussey: (Laughs)  No.  We have an apartment in San Paulo because my wife’s work keeps us in the city most of the time and then we have a house out in the country, a non-working farm, that’s the way they describe it.  No roads, but idyllic, above a little village.  But there’s a price to pay.  The internet is terrible.  And the power goes out quite frequently whenever there’s a thunderstorm in the summer but it’s a great place to go and hide when I want to.  I’m mainly there because my wife is Brazilian.  When we first met I was living in California, overly enamoured with Americans.   I like to tour there but living there was a totally different thing.  My first wife was American, for my sins.  Should have known better, really (laughs).

Tim: Gets you out of ‘Gloomy England’ I guess?

Hussey: I haven’t lived here (the UK) for 20 years.  I get to come back 2 or 3 times a year so it’s not like I get homesick.  But every time I come back I’m more resolute about never living here, to be honest.

Tim: You must be looking around at BREXIT and thinking this is just like Thatcherism all over again?  Can you cast your mind back to the early 80’s when the airwaves were clogged with syrupy synth bands peddling optimism at a time when there were miners strikes, mill closures, the Hillsborough incident?  Goth rock (or ‘alternative’ as we called it here) was a complete reaction to all that…..

Hussey: I think most music movements are a relation to what’s around you and what’s gone before.  I was discussing this with (producer of The Mission’s last two albums) Tim Palmer.  He’s got a daughter who is really into One Direction.  He was saying ‘It’s not like it was in our day.  There’s no ‘teeth’ now, no fight in this band.”  But I said ‘of course it’s not like our day.  Every generation wants to avoid, shun what went before.  And every generation has to fight through the dross.  We had Wham! and Bros to content with.  One Direction has no opinion on Donald Trump or the Syrian crisis.  Bros wouldn’t have given a toss about Reagan or Gorbachov.

To her, to his daughter, One Direction means as much to her generation as The Beatles meant to our parents or T-Rex meant or Bowie meant to another generation.  There’s a need for each generation to have their own heroes and revolt against the next generation, even their older brothers and sisters.  They need their own heroes.  We can sit here and pontificate how music doesn’t have the same value.  How can an MP3 have the same value as a vinyl LP or single.  There is argument there.  But I think it still means as much, it’s just different.

Tim: Is music is still as vital?  Is it still vital to see bands?

Hussey: With the Internet it’s so instant.  You can get everything you want at your fingertips, you don’t have to import those 12 inch singles and wait 3 months any more.  We never had that when we were kids so we’d have to go out and find that information on our own.  Maybe an interview in Melody Maker or read the credits on the back and with that there’s a mystic that builds up a mystique and I think what’s happened is for kids there is no mystique any more.  So I’ve noticed that bands these days are a lot safer and more conformist.  They look good on YouTube but they don’t have much to say in an interview.  I think we’re waiting for the next Punk Movement in terms of something that will come along and shake up the whole industry.

Tim: Speaking of provocative interviews, I was trolling back through YouTube and came across a segment on BBC with your old band mate (from Sisters of Mercy) Andrew Eldrich and his new band mate Patricia Morrison.  I think he was deliberately trying to be as controversial as possible, and look as cool with his aviator sunglasses and dark black overlord appearance.  They were talking about the split (when Hussey and Craig Adams left  to start up the band that eventually became The Mission).  It just had an air of ‘fake’ drama about it all.

Hussey: Andrew was being as pretentious as possible.  That was in the days when bands had to create their own drama to get to be noticed and what Andrew was very, very good at was self-perpetuating his own myth.

Tim: Do you ever see him anymore?

Hussey: No (sighs). Well, let me ask you this question – do you ever see people you worked with 30 years ago….

Tim: Well, I live in Wellington, small population so…

Hussey: Oh, shut up (laughs). Wise-arse answer!

Tim: But It is interesting how many acts from the mid 80’s have been touring this part of the world of late.  Which raises the question about what’s been happening for The Mission since the mid 1990’s when the band seemed to fade away off the radar.

Hussey: Well, we’re still around.  We’ve made a 9 albums in total and we still tour regularly.  Some of the original band members are with us on this tour – new drummer, though.
When it comes to big exposure we had our moment in the sun for 6- years but like most bands unless you get to that level where you transcend fashion, the fickleness of the music press then you lose momentum.  So we did.  We lost band members, etc.  Our star waned a bit.  But you know this is what we do, so why am I gonna change what I do just because we’re not enjoying the same degree of success as we once did.  It doesn’t mean what we do is any less valuable to us or our fans because there’s not a big label behind us.  It’s a relief, to be honest.  Less pressure.  Now days there’s something of a symbiotic relationship with our audiences – they get some new, some old and some favourites.  We demand from our audiences exactly what they demand from us – participation.

Tim: This new album has a range of well-known artists from your bigtime 80’s era – Another Fall From Grace was produced by yourself and Tim Palmer and features guest backing vocals from Gary Numan, Martin Gore (Depeche Mode), Ville Valo (HIM), Evi Vine and Julianne Regan (All About Eve).  I haven’t heard from Julianne for years.

Hussey: Well we keep in touch.  We made an album of cover versions a few years ago.  Whenever we make a Mission record we get her in.  She’s one of the first people I call.  She doesn’t do much music these days in music. I think it’s criminal that she’s been largely disregarded by people who write the history of popular music in the UK.

Tim: This new album takes you right back to the mid-80s – it picks up from your trade mark bombastic period.

Hussey: Well we’d made a whole range of albums and when I came to thinking of this one Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) had just been in touch and it transpires that he’s a big fan of my guitar playing, particularly on Sisters Of Mercy’s First, Last and Always and The Mission’s God’s Own Medicine. I hadn’t listened to these for over 30 years.  He said I should so I put the CDs on in the car and I must confess I was very pleasantly surprised at how fresh both albums still sounded and I really liked the way I played guitar on both.  The common factor, in terms of my playing, for me was the use of a particular guitar and that informed the sound I wanted to use.  That’s why I got Tim (Palmer) involved.  If you listen to the guitars on First, Last and Always, they shimmer – lovely.  I was like OK, let’s do this.

Tim: And the sound is slightly ‘Middle Eastern’?

Hussey: Yeah.  Because I used a 12 string guitar – it has that double octave thing.  Plus, my style of playing and choice of notes, generally.  Anyway, that’s where I started and I wanted to make something that fell between First, Last and Always and God’s Own Medicine.

Tim: For me.  At that time of my life, in the 80’s First, Last and Always was a very vital album – so dark, obscure….

Hussey: Yeah, and Andrew’s formed a million imitators since.  Like a vampire.

im: I noticed the bass on this new album just comes at you like a firestorm…

Hussey: Yeah, it’s Craig.  I try to encourage him to use fuzz boxes again and use that sound again that we’d use.

Tim: Where do the lyrics come from?  You seem pretty happy these days, so where does the darkness of the lyrics come from?

Hussey: The music just comes out that way.  I think to a degree you can contrive it to fit within parameters.  I used a bass machine to contrive the rhythms rather than the drummer – so poor old Mike had to get his head around that as a concept.  Lyrically, it took me a while to get going.  It proved to be difficult but I don’t think you can contrive lyrics, they come as they are.

Tim: You always ask a song writer about the inspiration.  For instance the title song sounds like a reaction to a relationship gone sour but…

Hussey: This album is my least biographical.  Even though many songs are written in the first person.  There are more songs born out of observations of other people.  And I’m a little bit more metaphorical than before.  I wanted to prove to myself that could still be ‘dark’.

Tim: I saw you in an interview at April’s Goth Festival in Whitby.  Is the ‘movement’ still going?

Hussey: Yes.  And in Germany and Europe.  I’m not really subscribing to that lifestyle, or thought of The Mission as a ‘Goth Band’.   I don’t really mind what people call us.  Being called ‘Goth’ is one of the kinder things I’ve been called….

Tim: You’re coming out to New Zealand for the second time  – 26 years on.  Can you remember much of that gig in Auckland?

Hussey: Yeah.  We had to borrow equipment because we’d just come from Mexico and all our equipment had just been impounded by Mexican customs.  We were all playing guitars we’d never played before, using guitar amps we’d never used either.  And because our 4 track tape machine, which we used to run the backing tracks for Butterfly On A Wheel and Tower Of Strength, two of our most popular songs, was also back across the world we had to borrow this little beatbox and a keyboard. I remember trying to program it.  What a disaster!  One of our roadies had to play the keyboards for us.

We also played 5-a-side football against a rugby team.  We were getting hammered, so at half time our tour manger took it upon himself to captain.  He reshuffled the team.  I scored a second half hat trick and we came back and we won 4-2!  But I couldn’t do it now!  I’m 58 now – it would bloody kill me!  I’m more a Subbuteo fan now!

The Mission (UK) will return to New Zealand for the first time since 1990 to perform in Wellington and Auckland with three-quarters of the original line-up – Wayne Hussey, Craig Adams, Simon Hinkler – along with explosive new drummer, Mike Kelly.

Wellington, Bodega – Friday 18 November

Auckland, Powerstation –  Saturday 19 November

The Mission release their new album, Another Fall From Grace on 30th September 2016.

Watch the new video for Tyranny Of Secrets from Another Fall From Grace here:

Teeth & Tongue: The 13th Floor Interview

Originally published at: http://www.13thfloor.co.nz/?p=74343

Like a dog with a bone, Wellington-based writer Tim Gruar calls up Australia to talk with an expat about getting her molars into a more funky palate of soul searching.   

Wellington born/Melbourne based Jess Cornelius expresses great surprise and joy when I tell her that I’m sitting in the Wellington Public Library reading the back cover of St Vincent’s new album – on vinyl!  “Wow.  I never thought that would happen.  Those days should have been gone.  The Library was always a pretty cool place but now they are even cooler!  I’m going to have to visit the next time I’m in town.  Do they still have those green cardboard carriers?” Yes they do, Jess. Although she has family here it’s Melbourne that Jess Cornelius, founder and the main woman behind the moniker Teeth and Tongue, chooses to base herself – at least for now. Although writing in one place has not been important or even possible for her.

Teeth & Tongue’s new album Give Up On Your Health (available now) came about from a series of extreme experiences and many degrees of separation.  For her, like every songwriter there’s always something of a dilemma, she explains: whether to be so vague that the listener has no choice but to reinterpret the song in their own way or to get so specific that the listener can’t help but form opinions and take sides.  This is particularly true of love songs, she says.  “I wanted to distance my self to some degree because many of these songs a extrapolations of breakups and arguments.  But not with people I know.  Well not specifically.”  I ask if what’s she’s created to equate to tiny ‘kitchen sink dramas’ or mini soap operas.  “Yes a good way of putting it.  I wanted to just observe others this time and transpose my feelings onto those scenarios.”

How could you not miss that.  It’s writ large all over the album.  Take Are You Satisfied, for example: “My sister’s going through a heavy time. Her husband left her for a landmine. She sleeps at Mum and Dad’s every second night”.  Just one of the relationship vignettes crafted in the mode of Ken Loach through to Jarvis Cocker. Jess is a little reluctant to admit how personal these lyrics are.  “Sure, my previous work, which I mainly made by myself, was more personal.  This time I wanted to expand the palate.  I wanted my themes and subjects to have a wider base.  But, you’ll notice, they are all set to a real funky beat.  I like to offset the drama with music you can groove to.  Is that weird?”

Give Up on Your Health grew out of one rogue song. Turn, Turn, Turn, which was originally recorded as an experimental track with a driving, arpeggiated synth sound, drawing on ’70s electronica. The label liked it so much they wanted a full album to go ‘pop’.  But Jess couldn’t just do that without infusing her own special lyrics into each number.  No drippy, lippy love songs for her.  Instead she prefers to be a aural photographer of life and people.

Her penchant for the observation, she’s neither confirming or denying, comes from a recent obsession with US poet Eileen Myles who operates with a very fluid stream-of-consciousness style.  “There’s no no filter with her.  Like a kid that sees someone who’s a bit different and just blurts it all out.  Kids have not social filters because they say it how it is.  They don’t know they’re offending anyone because the truth is just an observation to them.”

You get some of that on her ‘second-person songs’, like Do Harm which is both an instruction manual and a story in the making:  are instructional in narrative:  “Pain can be a strange relief and you think you want it gone but you don’t really mean it. I see you at the pub and I want to talk, but everything I say would make you hate him more”

“The thing about a song is I can write like I’m really pissed right then, but later I’ve changed my mind.  But it’s already locked down and amplified through your speakers or on your iPod so you only know how I felt then – and on record, I still do.  But it’s not like that really.”

If you google the song Cupcake you’ll get an iPhone film of Jess setting up her studio in a barren room, followed by scenes of a cold, desolate winters cape of ice and snow.  This is Skagaströnd, a remote village, located in northern Iceland.  Jess went there as part of a writing fellowship and to escape a crumbling relationship.  It inspired at least one song, Small Towns: “We’ve got unavoidable contact. There’s always email and phone. I went as far away as I thought I could. You’re dying in the heat, I’m dying in the cold”.

“Don’t think Cup Cakes came from there.  It’s too upbeat.  I had that one all ready so I made a film on my phone and emailed it back for the producers.  Small Towns is a response, yeah.  But not necessarily a break up song.  Your Ghost is the Hardest to Kill definitely is.  Initially sung into a iPhone in a tiny bathroom in a Tokyo apartment, so as not to disturb sleepers, it’s just a little possessed and creepy, especially with a distorted guitar chasing the vocal refrain as the time signature shifts uneasily across your ears.

The rest of the album was written in Melbourne, with Jess bringing the material to the band (Marc Regueiro-McKelvie – guitars; Damian Sullivan – Bass; and James Harvey – Drums). This was a completely different approach, she says, from her previous release, GRIDS (2014), which was a more ambient, digital affair with textures and layers of vocals and choruses.  “I was a little bit influenced by Giorgio Moroder, I think,” she laughs, “kind of like anti-disco.”

“This record is different be cause I’m in a band and the sound is instant.  It’s not programmed and built up in layers from files.  I get to jam and get feedback and I can make a really funky, energetic dance-pop record, but with substance but also a little disturbing.  The lyrics don’t match the vibe.  It offsets you.”

Co-produced by Haima Marriott (Banoffee, Architecture in Helsinki), whose knowledge of vintage synths especially when referencing Giorgio Moroder and Daft Punk, Jess got her wish.

Of course, there’s always a moment when you double blink when making art – when it starts to imitate life.  Jess’ moment came when putting the title track together, sacrificing her own health to achieve her vision.  “I wasn’t spewing or anything but I got really run down and drained.  There’s this ridiculous notion that to achieve success in your career you’re supposed to stay on form And you make all these demands on yourself that only you can see, maybe only in your head.  It does you in sometimes, trying to achieve it but it is worth it when you get there.”