Ultimate Guitar, April 28th 2010
© 2010 Ultimate Guitar / Joe Matera
PiL: 'The Band Is Working Really Well Together Musically'
Interview by Joe Matera
Public Image Ltd (PiL) recently undertook their first North American tour in 18 years that included a much acclaimed performance at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. The group was formed by former Sex Pistols front man John Lydon in 1978 after The Sex Pistols imploded. With their experimental sound fusing Rock, Dance, Folk, Ballet, Pop and Dub, PiL are regarded as producing some of the most diverse music of the 70s and 80s. As a band, the music and vision constantly evolved like no other, culminating in an incredible live experience. The group made a welcomed return to the stage in December of last year for seven monumental concerts in the United Kingdom which were their first shows in 17 years. The group earned critical and public acclaim for these concerts, with many British media outlets championing them as the shows of the year.
Joining John Lydon in the current incarnation of the group are Lu Edmonds on guitar, Bruce Smith on drums and Scott Firth on bass. For Lu Edmonds who is also a multi instrumentalist and the former guitarist in The Damned, it is his second stint in the band. He first joined PiL in 1986 and appeared on the group’s 1987 album Happy? and co-wrote – but did not appear – all the tracks on the group’s 1989 album 9 adding yet another dimension to the PiL sound. With a wide and varied back catalogue spanning three decades, Public Image Ltd will be showcasing on tour the unique sounds of tracks such as Public Image, This Is Not A Love Song, Rise, and Disappointed, with many further surprises in store. During a stop over in Salt Lake City during the band’s current US tour, Joe Matera put in a phone call to Lu Edmonds to discuss PiL, The Damned and remembering Malcolm McLaren.
UG: How has the current U.S tour been going the band, which is its first U.S tour since 1992?
Lu Edmonds: It has been going very, very well so it is great. And whether playing for a long time or not doesn’t make any difference to us really, we’re happy to be here. We recently did a UK tour which was great. On these shows, the audiences come scratching their heads as they are unsure as to what it’ll be like. But we play for two hours and we go through the whole gamut and so everyone is happy. John [Lydon] has got his tricks up his sleeve and we’re doing some new stuff from his solo album period as well and so there is stuff people have not really heard before. We’ve really delved into the back catalog a lot though.
You played a critically acclaimed show at Coachella recently, and have been quite lucky in the fact that you actually were able to play it. Considering, many bands had to cancel their appearances there and their US tours due to being stranded because of the recent volcanic ash which affected a lot of the air travel.
Yeah a lot of bands didn’t make along with many of the crew. People like Gary Numan didn’t make it there either. There were a whole heap of artists that couldn’t get over.
The U.S tour thus has received rave reviews from the critics, you must be happy?
Yeah and I think deservedly so as I think the band is working really well together musically. And the main thing is just John’s singing which is quite stunning. It is stronger than ever before and I think he is singing three or four semitones higher as well as lower. His range has increased incredibly. He is doing some amazing things, and stuff that wouldn’t be out of place in non-western music such as in Turkey fro example.
Do you have another UK tour planned for later this year?
I certainly hope so. We do have some festival dates locked in for the summer that is going to be going through Spain, Belgium, Ireland and places like that. It is all piling up and we will be going anywhere that shows are booked.
Are there any plans to release plans to release a live DVD of the new shows?
We have recorded every American show on multi-tracks and for the UK shows, four of them were recorded by a firm called Concert Live. They have a little truck that follows you around and in the truck they have a studio in there where they’ll mix live a feed from the desk. And when you’re finished the set, they press a button and start manufacturing quantities of CDs and then sell them to the people after the show.
What about a new PiL studio album?
We are definitely planning to do a new studio album. With how everything is going, we are all getting along really good and there is no other option really than to do a new album. And also John is pregnant with many ideas and so, has a lot of musical things he wants and needs to do.
A lot of the songs from the PiL back catalog have had new life breathed into them. Was this something that was important to performing the material live?
There is always life in the material but what we have to do is we have to be true to the original essences of it. And we are not trying to ape anything as that would be stupid. We just get the instruments that we have, that sound the best and find ways that best support John’s singing.
What has it been like working with John both then and now?
It is like chalk and cheese really. In the mid-‘80s from both sides I don’t think either the band or John were really fully committed. John had all that success with the Album (1986) and with the single Rise and which was produced by Bill Laswell. It also had Steve Vai on guitar throughout and John had just come out of that very experimental phase with The Flowers of Romance (1981) and This Is What You Want, This Is What You Get (1984). And so when we came together, we just vaguely learned the chord sequences and vaguely learned the songs. We weren’t really good as a band and we didn’t take it seriously. I think with John, he’d be sometimes interested and sometimes he’d be bored. But right now, he is totally interested in what he’s doing and totally into it and having a really good time. He is doing things with his voice that I’ve never heard him do before. In fact, I have never heard anybody else do before.
Obviously working with him inspires you creatively as well?
Absolutely, John is a really open-minded person. In rehearsal I will pick up a perfectly good guitar and will play that and then John will say to me, ‘what’s it like on another instrument’. And so I will pick up the saz. For those who don’t know, a saz is a very long neck Turkish lute, it has a neck as long as a bass. I play saz on more PiL songs than anything else.
Do you take many instruments with you on the road?
I have five instruments with me; I have a 1963 Gretsch semi-acoustic, a Fender Esquire, a modified Telecaster, a Tokai Les Paul and the saz.
What other gear are you currently using for this tour?
I use a Lazy J amp which it’s a custom built amp made by Jesse Hoff. He has just started making these amps and has made ones now for Pete Townsend and Mark Knopfler too. He puts them together himself. They run at strange voltages internally, I think it is 100 watts lower than normal. In addition to that, I have two Blackstar 30 watt combos and I run those in stereo and then I feed them left and right and put them in mono through the Lazy J. When it comes to pedals, I have a fairly extensive pedal board which is made up of whole lot of different overdrive pedals and boost pedals which I use in combination because of the five different instruments I’m using. And there is also a few boutique delay pedals in there as well.
Do you have any fond memories of the late Malcolm McLaren?
Well I only met him once and that was when he came up to me and said, ‘you’re Lu? You are the guy that made Rat Scabies leave the band, right?’ And it was like, ‘fuck off’.
So were you responsible for Rat leaving The Damned?
That was not quite the case actually. Rat left The Damned because he had a lot of problems. We were on this European tour and it got a bit too much and honestly to tell you, all that fame had gone to everyone’s head. And at the time he had just won the Melody Maker poll for the third best drummer in the world and I think he just wasn’t comfortable with it all and didn’t like it. And then he retired from music industry for a few months and then got himself together and over the years he came back to playing and making some great records.
While on the subject of The Damned what do you remember fondly of your time with the group?
It was mayhem, getting drunk a lot, lots of laughter and lots of running around. And it was a very energetic time. We were all very young and full of hormones. There was definitely something in the air and it wasn’t just in London, it was also in New York. We were all kicking against the grain trying to do something different.
The Damned album you played on, Music For Pleasure (1977) was produced by Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason who over the years various members from The Damned have stated that Nick was not passionate about producing the record?
I don’t think that is quite fair. The original idea was to get Syd Barrett to produce it but of course Syd was not in a very good state mentally at the time. So went into Britannia Row Studios - which at the time was this fantastic studio in London - with Mick Mason instead. Anyway I don’t think the band gave him much of a chance and really the personalities involved when you look back really didn’t suit. Someone like Nick Lowe who produced The Damned’s previous record, he had a much easier time with it all, while Nick, who I really don’t think was the right person, really wasn’t given a chance. So no one listened to him.
What has been the most important lesson you have learned from being in the music business?
That there is no music business now, but the only thing I have learned is to not trust anything that has got to do with the business and only just play with your friends and connect to the people who you really share a passionate interest with music. Also keep your mind open and never dismiss anyone, never condemn anyone and never think you know everything. Always keep your ideas open and go and see as much music as possible. And don’t clam up because if you become despondent and depressed, you will clam up. And if you think you are really successful and are the bees’ knees and there is no one else better than you, you are going to clam up too and you are going to stop absorbing and stop connecting. And either of those two things are your nemesis. You have to stay calm and stay and stay open. That is my advice.
Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)