Interview: SLUG talks to Mick Allen of The Wolfgang Press
SLUG: Your last record just came out in the U.S. How long has it been out in Europe?
Mick: Nearly a year. Obviously it’s been on import for a year in England. It actually came out in late August.
SLUG: There are a couple of changes on the U.S. release. You’ve added some extra tracks that just came out on European singles. Was that how you intended it to come out at first?
Mick: No. The original release was as it was. We recorded these two new songs in January, this yearThe reason why we put them on was because we realized that there are a lot of people who’ve got the record already, and there are a few of those who are very dedicated 4AD fans or Wolfgang Press fans. We didn’t feel like … now that it’s a domestic release and the cover’s changed, those people feel like they’ve got to get it again. And I just felt really bad that it was exactly the same. So we put three extra tracks on it. That’s really the reason; to make it significantly different rather than just buying the same record twice.
SLUG: How did you decide to name the record Queer? You’ve put a definition on the front cover.
Mick: Just to sort of make it clear exactly why we chose that, in what context we wanted to put that. It’s more that side rather than the connotation like ”queer” is gay. Anyway, now they’ve picked it up as a positive thing. It just seemed that the way we went about making the record… I think how we make records in general just sort of fits in with that tile. Also, as much as anything, I really like the look of the word and how it sounds. Words, sounds, are very important. I like that. So, it’s just a good word and the actual meaning seems to fit in some way too.
SLUG: The sound and the feel of the band has changed a lot since The Burden Of Mules. Is this a natural progression or have you been heading in a certain direction?
Mick: It’s just a … I know that probably all of us have had a common aim of never to repeat ourselves. We dislike that lots of people tend to do that. They just lose it. It becomes stale. It becomes a formula. And we all loathe the idea of it, getting into an identity that is ours and just sharing the same stuff. We’ve always tried to come up with something fresh to excite us as much as anything, not just the people, and keep it all fresh. And I suppose obviously just the way contemporary music has gone, and we’ve been obviously affected by that, I hope. We’ve used it to enhance the way we are, but I still think we’re curious; the way we work, it’s still strange. Obviously we still have our identity, we don’t just get lumped in the likes of the Rides or the Happy Mondays or whatever.
SLUG: You’ve worked with some new people on this record. Leslie Langston played bass for you. How did you hook up with her?
Mick: I don’t know really. Really, because we discussed this amongst ourselves, it was very deliberate in a way, how we wanted to make this album, because, apart from the very first one, the next three or so have basically been us three and a producer. We got people in but more like session people to do percussion things, or backing vocals. But this one, we just wanted to invite people to have a more open house. We had sort of fallen into a trap of what we said earlier, of having a formula for how we worked, so we threw that away. We’d become sort of paranoid about how we made music, not letting anyone in. It was sort of quite frightening at times. Some people just took it and took it too far away from us, and we had to get it back.
SLUG: It seems like you’d still want to have some control. . .
Mick: Absolutely, yes. You still have control, but the beauty of it is that you can say “oh, that’s a real good bit, I would of never thought of that,” and you can keep it and pretend it’s your idea. No…It was a collaboration and Leslie brought a great deal to it. Just her personality, not just her bass playing but her personality. I think it shows on the album and certainly to me it does.
SLUG: I saw her twice with Throwing Muses. She’s great to watch on stage.
Mick: She’s just a great person. I mean, her whole outlook is unique…well, not unique, but it’s sort of fresh to someone from grey, old London. It’s such a dark view.
SLUG: That’s the London view?
Mick: Certainly mine at times.
SLUG: Is London a dark place?
Mick: Well, it can be sort of.. .It can be fairly oppressive and . . .gray at times. That’s how I see it. But I’m sure there are lots of people who think it’s a great place, which, of course, it is at times. 1976 for instance.
SLUG: Do you think the 4AD/Warner deal will bring you more exposure in the States?
Mick: Yeah. We were very frustrated with the last album (Bird Wood Cage) ’cause I thought that was quite an exceptional album as well in some rights. It was domestically released on Rough Trade, but they did an appalling job. I think they had problems.. .well obviously they had problems ’cause they’ve gone down. We were playing around with Nick Cave, and nobody knew we had a record out. To put such an effort into making such a thing, it was really deflating, sort of not getting the attention that it really deserves. I hope and I feel that they (Warner Bros.) are one of the best distributors in America and they’ll do their job, which is only right, which is what you want a company that size to do. You know they have a large amount…loads and loads of groups, but I think 4AD can command respect in certain things from Warners. I think they’re doing an OK job at the moment. I mean it’s a bit early to say. I just hope that people are able, if they want, to get the record. That’s the point. So many people have complained about not being able to buy our records.
SLUG: So is it just the three of you playing tonight?
Mick: No it’s an all live thing, six people, with Ritchie Thomas on drums, Six who plays bass; there’s Rue, who actually worked on the Queer album. Actually Six helped out with one of the new songs, “Angel.” In fact, all three worked on the album.
SLUG: I saw you when you toured with The Bad Seeds. I thought you did a great show, just the three of you.
Mick: Yeah, it’s restrictive though; that’s what we thought about it. I think even then we would have liked to have been a group. A tape does restrict you. You can do a good job but there’s something lacking; hopefully you’ll see that tonight. There’s more depth to it, more dimension to the thing.
SLUG: Does it complicate things, having three extra players?
Mick: It complicates things when the stage is that size. These things, you have to take for what it is really. I mean, it’s a bar and grill and it’s not going to have the greatest sound and there’s people that want to come and see us so… I mean, we played in Poland ages ago with a four channel mixer, and it’s not going to be at all brilliant, but people are just happy ’cause you came, you know. They got the gist of it.
SLUG: So what’s The Wolfgang Press working on in the future?
Mick: All I know is that we’re going back to write. We haven’t written anything. As soon as we sort of get back, we’re going to look into a studio, a very basic studio like we worked in when we worked on Queer. Just very, very basic. We’re going to write, really… try and write as much as we can before…’cause we’re hoping to come back here in September to do our own tour. So, I want to be sort of like getting an album out early next year. We do tend to be a little bit slow. This album, really we finished it in September ‘90, but it didn’t get released ’till August ‘91. It’s been frustrating really. We hoped to get a simultaneous release with the deal in America, but it just didn’t come about.
SLUG: It has to be frustrating to have an album done and wait that long for its release.
Mick: Definitely…I think we’ve coped fairly well. We’re doing it now. I mean no one seems to be complaining. And it’s doing all right. Actually, I’m just looking forward to the next one to see what we come up with.
SLUG: Anyone you’re looking to work with?
Mick: Yeah, I think there’s a couple of possibilities. Like Hal Gray who actually remixed a couple of the singles, or a song you haven’t heard yet. He remixed “Birmingham.” It sounds a bit different. It’s got sort of backing vocals and stuff.
SLUG: Is it going to be a new single?
Mick: Well, there’s talk of it, ’cause Warner’s wanting us to put out another single after “A Girl Like You” and everyone was saying “Birmingham,” so we went in and remixed “Birmingham,” and now they’re saying “we don’t think it should be Birmingham. We think it should be “Mama Told Me Not To Come.”
SLUG: Another remix of “Mama Told Me Not To Come”?
Mick: I don’t know. See, I don’t know. I’ve got mixed feelings about that, but we’ll see. We’ll see what happens. If they’ve got a very good reason for that…
SLUG: How’d you stumble across that song?
Mick: Exactly that. We stumbled across it in a sense. We wanted to do a cover version, and we definitely like that for this album. I don’t know why. We just felt like doing a cover version. We looked at a couple. Nina Simone being one. Do you know The Pop Group? It’s English, early ‘80s, sort of eccentric, very good actually, sort of funky… weird funk, if you can get hold of some of the stuff, the early stuff. Beyond Good And Evil we were going to do. It’s fucking excellent. Well, we tried that but it wasn’t really working. Our producer Justin Maden, he’s often just sitting… We did a lot of stuff around Mark’s flat, and he was fooling around with the keyboard and he came up with the opening riff to “Mama.” I really remember that song. I really liked the “Three Dog Night” version. He said, “you should try doing this. . .you should try doing this, and it kept going on and on. And Leslie worked out the structure of the song and put down a little bass, and it just seemed to happen. It just seemed to fit in real well with the rest of the material, so that’s how it happened.
SLUG: The whole record has a really good feel.
Mick: Yeah, it’s sort of relaxed, sort of feeling…almost incidental in some ways. It sounds really fresh and not…labored. To me it doesn’t sound labored.
Watch for the return of The Wolfgang Press this Fall and keep your eyes open for their latest U.S. single, whatever it may be.
Check out more from the SLUG Archives:
Cover Story – Henry Rollins: The Catharis of Anger
Decomposers: Adding Humor to the Intensity of Life
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