SIMON DUFF: Gang Of Four, one of the most radically important, relevant and well
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informed groups of the last thirty years, released their first album of
new songs for sixteen years earlier in January. Entitled Content, the
record sees founding members Jon King and Andy Gill continue to deliver
intelligent and liberating music that is both provocative and
thrilling. New tracks include “Who Am I?” “You Don’t Have To Be Mad,”
“I Can’t Forget Your Lonely Face” and “I Party All The Time,” and they
reveal Gang Of Four to be just as challenging and unconventional now as
they were in 1978.
The album is available in a standard CD release and on vinyl. It is
also released in a limited edition Ultimate Content Can which contains
six booklets, the first containing the new album on CD, the second
featuring an art piece Jon and Andy have created to depict the last 40
years of world history (composed of a series of twenty drawings and
montages), and subsequently a book of lyrics, a book of Rotoscoped
photographs of the band's emotions, a book containing sachets of Jon
and Andys' blood and a scratch and sniff booklet which reflects the key
areas of human activity. The band are currently on an extensive touring
schedule in America and Europe. They play at the Hop Farm Festival on
The new single 'Who Am I?' is released on April 18th.
Gang Of Four are Jon King (vocals & melodica), Andy Gill (guitar &
vocals), Thomas McNeice (bass) and Mark Heaney (drums). Simon Duff
spoke to Andy Gill.
SD: “Content” is full of a hard hitting political funk sound. How did
you approach writing, recording and mixing? How are the rhythm tracks
AG: Typically I would put lots of ideas down in my studio, guitar
stuff, drum patterns on the computer, then review them and pick out a
couple that I feel might inspire Jon. Then Jon would come along and
start singing and writing a few words. Then we talk about it, all
aspects of it, where the words are going, not just what ‘the point’ of
the words might be, but also how they work with the ‘idea of
songwriting’, how they draw attention to that. Then I’ll edit it, and
then we might play what we have with Thomas and Mark; rehearse it, demo
it. Then I’ll start recording it, trying to get a good drum take, bass
take. I’ll do the guitar many times till I think I have a good approach.
I think sometimes it just boils down to the undeniable impulse to make
things. When those things have a meaning, when they are cultural
artifacts, that’s even better.
We have always been obsessed with groove and to make all the elements
work equally together, side by side.
We make music where every segment plays an equally important part, but
has a relentlessness that takes you somewhere else. It s supposed to
get under your skin and make your brain dance. It can, and does, become
part of peoples DNA.
Its purpose is to resonate with people; sometimes to be a rallying cry,
sometimes to explain ourselves.
SD: In the press release for “Content” you are keen to stress all the
band had an intense contribution. How as a collective how did you
democratically achieve this?
AG: The songs are written by Jon and me. But I want the feel that
Thomas and Mark bring to it. They are both great musicians and they
both play with an urgency, an aggressive edge, which helps mould the
character of the recording. I always listen to everything they have to
say about how they feel their parts should be and work very closely
with them. It really is a question of every note being under the
microscope. In the end, it’s all about being human. How we see
ourselves, and how we see the world we have created for ourselves.
SD: What are the lyrics for ‘You’ll Never Pay for the Farm’ about?
AG: We are always wary of saying what we think a set of lyrics is about
as we believe that authors are intrinsically unreliable witnesses and
what they think they're writing about may turn out to be about
something else, or that the meaning floats around and changes depending
That said, the words come from somewhere and in this case the title
comes from a phrase has a few different meanings, something we always
look for, that has resonance, like the album title "Content". Soldiers
used to say, when someone was killed in combat, that he bought the
farm" and we commonly say that some of the (usually more repetitive)
work we do, "pays for the farm". We were writing this as the financial
crisis exploded a few years back, the extraordinary scenes in the US
with its storm of foreclosures and bankruptcies
But this is only one angle on the song; it also describes a person. we
had a real person in mind initially but then the song evolved into
something else. I think Gang of Four fans are smart enough to work
out their own interpretations, which are probably sharper than ours.
SD: What are the lyrics for ‘A Fruitfly in the Beehive’ about?
AG: It's a set of questions posed by someone who feels that everyone
else has a pre-determined or over-determined function and role in the
world and doesn't want to play ball or feels apart from this drudgery.
what if, in a hive of bees, you were a fruitfly?
SD: Can you talk about the variety of vocal combinations and vocal
sounds used in the album?
AG: We have always been interested in different voices playing a part
in the songs. Only a minority of our songs is sung with one voice and
one point of view. We loved the way ‘the band’ used different voices in
their songs - one minute Rick Danko, the next Manuel or Robertson. We
like our songs to a, be like little dramas or short stories, one or two
characters and often, the voice of a narrator, and b, to have an
internal commentary or critique or explanation so that the internal
workings [words and voices and instruments and ideas] are made clear.
It then makes sense to treat the different vocals each with a
SD: What innovative technology do Gang of Four use for guitar sounds?
AG: Over the years I've tried to not use too much effects. And it seems
to be getting simpler as time goes on. I have little tricks for
getting certain sounds but really I just plug it in, use a plastic
pick, turn the amp up half way, and hit the strings in the correct way
SD: You both studied art. Does contemporary art and painting still
inspire and inform your approach to music today?
AG: We draw inspiration from everywhere. Overheard conversation, T.V.
film, books, adverts, news, and politics. We don’t especially get that
much from contemporary art and painting.
SD: For the special edition of “Content” released in a can you have
given away some samples of your own blood. What is the intention behind
AG: It’s a play on authenticity in the age of digital reproduction.
Something that can’t be downloaded. It is also a riposte to the peer
to peer people. We work very hard to make our music and they would have
it for no payment - so , ‘What do you want, blood?’
The record is called Content, in recognition of the way every creative
form has been reduced to just that: content, the obligatory filling for
the advertising sandwich. So we decided to make a box with contents, or
rather a metal can. It reminded us a little of Manzoni’s canning of his
own excrement [Artist's Shit 1961].”
SD: How can music redefine itself in the future to engage with a new
radical political agenda?
AG: The hopelessness of the labour movement and the reinvigorated
Tories of the 70s created a huge polarisation in the UK. The slow
defusing of that situation, along with the fall of the USSR, let people
believe the erroneous myth that ‘ history was over ‘. Politics became
unfashionable from the mid 80s onwards. I think it’s only in the last
few years that people are realising that’s not the case.
With hindsight, what we did was to make our own language out of all the
stuff we had to hand, in a kind of hurried response to, and analysis
of, the world around us – both the trivial mundane and the shockingly
radical. If I were to tell someone how to do it now I would say rule
one is to not just think about music.
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