Jah Wobble:
Deadline magazine, October 1988

Transcribed (and additional info) by Karsten Roekens

© 1980 Deadline / JIM McCARTHY


Interview by JIM McCARTHY

Deadline magazine, October 1988How did a yob from Whitechapel avoid work, YTS scemes, become a face on the punk scene and join John Lydon in Public Image Ltd. to play subatomic bass? Jah Wobble has managed to escape his past of squats and clubs and booze and drugs of the nihilistic new wave music scene to link up with John Lydon, after the demise of the Sex Pistols, to form PIL. His present line-up, Invaders Of The Heart, introduces a contemporary mix of exotic arabesques and electronics over a heady percussive base.

JIM MCCARTHY: "What led up to your intro into the music scene?"

JAH WOBBLE: "I was at College of Further Education [1], basically because I didn't want to work. Thank God they didn't have YTS schemes then, I would have been in real grief. Anyway, I blew the course out and did a few jobs, but I got the sack from all of them. I was a bit of a face on the punk scene, knew John Lydon and Sid Vicious."

JIM MCCARTHY: "Were you asked to join the Sex Pistols?"

JAH WOBBLE: "No. I wasn't interested really, I was too much of a yob. Anyway, I didn't like the clique of trendies that were about at the time."

JIM MCCARTHY: "How soon after the break-up of the Pistols did PIL start?"

JAH WOBBLE: "I'd been reading about the goings-on of the Sex Pistols on the U.S. Tour in the 'Daily Mirror'. When John Lydon phoned me I don't remember being phased or anything. I'd been given my marching orders indoors, I'd been warned that if I didn't bring a score a week in I'd be thrown out, so I suppose I thought it was my destiny in life or something. PIL was formed in March 1978."

JIM MCCARTHY: "Any past musical experience?"

JAH WOBBLE: "I'd bashed on Sid's bass a few times, and in the squats there was always instruments and old guitars about, so I'd have a go on them. I'd had three or four offers from other bands and I felt very drawn to bass, but I hadn't done anything really before PIL. I'd been listening to a lot of music in my mid-teens, stuff that's called rare groove now, I loved reggae and bluebeat and the old Trojan label. I did think that reggae was not taken seriously enough, it was almost a racialist thing. I'm ashamed to say that one of the first sounds I really liked was Rod Stewart and the Faces! I'd got bought a brand new black Fender Precision bass and an Ampeg stack, that made a big difference."

JIM MCCARTHY: "Did you start recording straight away?"

JAH WOBBLE: "We had a few nutty rehearsals, chaos really, people wandering in and out, everyone completely drunk all the time, it was madness. No respect shown to any of the record companies, bust-ups in the studios, the police always seemed to be there, knuckling sound engineers, all of that stuff."

JIM MCCARTHY: "What was it like on tour?"

JAH WOBBLE: "I was 19 or 20 when we went on tour, a lot of time it was insane. I thought that was what it was all about. I had a go at the head of security in Brussels [2] and the riot police was called. It was madness. I was always serious about the music though, slow, loping basslines, I loved that, as low as possible. I learnt from Holger Czukay about the old DNA code in music. Because of John's reputation we could do what we wanted musically, there was no dictatorship. It was a good band, PIL."

JIM MCCARTHY: "After you left PIL, what then?"

JAH WOBBLE: "After PIL I thought I'm out of the game, but just as I left PIL I met Holger Czukay through a mutual friend [3] and we really connected. I went over to Cologne [4] and although I mucked around a lot, I did have an idea of how music should be. I learned a lot from Holger, he had previously done an album called 'Movies' in 1979 which a lot of people were indebted to. He produced tapes from found sources, but he used them compositionally, not just for effect. 'Movies' for me is a work of bloody art. We did the 'How Much Are They?' EP with Jaki Liebezeit, which had a very large cult following. It's funny, PIL's not really talked about now, I've got my own following, people even say they've forgotten I was in PIL."

JIM MCCARTHY: "Your bass playing is very heavy."

JAH WOBBLE: "I reduced the heaviness of my bass playing. I use a lot of sub-lows now, what I mean by that is that you can't hear it but you can feel it. Like 30 hertz causes difficulty in breathing, low frequencies I find more comforting. Some people find them disturbing, certain parts of the body resonate at certain pitches, you can kill people with sonic attack. If you can find the resonation for the liver, for example, you can disintegrate it – theoretically. I listen to shortwave oscillations, I find it very meditative. I never liked the piercing upper mid-range frequencies in rock. I've known all about this subconsciously for a long time, a long time before I knew it consciously. I've always had the ability to sculpt and shape the sound. A dream for me is to play one composition for one and a half hours, no breaks. Holger told me to treat composition with respect, to shape and mold it. We haven't worked together since then, I don't think he'll talk to me now. Drunken behaviour, old boy! It'll take quite a lot to bridge it. I ran amok in Cologne for a few days. [5] I've had my Wild Man of Borneo sort of few years."

JIM MCCARTHY: "Where else have you played the Wild Man of Borneo?"

JAH WOBBLE: "Oh, all over the fucking world. It was an arty scene but I behaved like Keith Moon, mental, really rock 'n' roll. Holger for example is lovely, a real eccentric. John Lydon, a real character. They're bread and butter to me, they are few and far between in the music scene, most people are so transparent. I was always treated with mistrust by the promoters because I was over the top at times. At these big continental festivals the heavy rock 'n' roll bands would come in, all in leathers and big boots, and then go and sit down quietly and sip Perriers. We'd be doing a real big arty set, playing all this spiritual music, and then trash the hotel afterwards. That contradiction gets to you after a while, you have to stop. Funnily enough I did a tour recently [6] and I was very well behaved and sober, no bother. Although I find it increasingly difficult to get records released these days."

JIM MCCARTHY: "Do you think that's got anything to do with your reputation?"

JAH WOBBLE: "I have cleaned up my act over the past couple of years and I'm now quite a civilised sort of chap really."

JIM MCCARTHY: "Do you think you're lucky to have got out of it all intact? Many didn't."

JAH WOBBLE: "In essence it's like building a prison compound in your head. People imprison themselves and it's a very difficult downward spiral to get out of it. Drink and drugs don't come along as an external thing and imprison people, your own thinking does that. I get a real buzz just walking down the street now, not every day, some days are grey and boring, but on the whole I get a real buzz out of everyday life."

JIM MCCARTHY: "After Holger Czukay, did you stop playing for a while?"

JAH WOBBLE: "No. Quite busy in fact, quite a few tours, including the States [7], with four different versions of The Invaders Of The Heart. I also had another band called Human Condition, a three piece power trio. I had a couple of cassettes released, one was pony, 'Live In Europe' was the other, with Animal on guitar, and it was really good."

JIM MCCARTHY: "Any record company interference?"

JAH WOBBLE: "They didn't know how to handle us, no one could tell us what to do. Since leaving PIL I've come to realise what a very conservative industry it is. We did two studio albums and one live for Virgin. I thought the first one was the best, the most consistent. Funnily enough 'Metal Box' needed editing. I suppose PIL will become the rare groove of the year 2000, same as Can. It was a very powerful time really, but it all got a bit silly in the end, you know, hairdressers and all that. Not that I've got anything against hairdressers, nice little living. I always saw the humour in it all though, I still joke around a lot now, but people tend to take me seriously when most of the time I'm having a laugh."

JIM MCCARTHY: "You also did some solo records at this time."

JAH WOBBLE: "Yeah, around the same time as PIL I brought out a record with Wayne Jobson called 'Dreadlock Don't Deal In Wedlock', which was the best selling 12" up to that period, they were a fairly new ting then. I also released 'Steel Leg Versus The Electric Dread', another 12" with Keith Levene on guitars and Vince, a mate from Hackney, on vocals. He thought he was going to be a millionaire but it was only like a session fee. I gave him a ton, which weren't bad money in the late '70s. Yeah, I like a bit of fun, humourous but not throwaway or crass. Pop stars are very serious these days. I was very lucky to get into PIL and escape the restraints of society. It was at the time that Thatcher got in, and I remember thinking it was bad news, and it's turned out even worse than I thought it would. Kids today don't know anything different than today's society, no caring, no municipality. People don't even know that they are dispossessed, you can see the difference in that generation."

JIM MCCARTHY: "Ten years on, how do you see punk now?"

JAH WOBBLE: "There was a lot of negativity and angst, a lot of badly played rock 'n' roll, but I didn't mind that feeling of anarchy though. I enjoy life more today than I ever have done before, but I'd hate to be one of those parcels who say" (Northern accent) "Those were t'days."

JIM MCCARTHY: "Do you think you still have to be a music detective?"

JAH WOBBLE: "Under ground there's still a lot of good music happening, you've just got to look for it. Nowadays there's a load of media around, like 'Arena', 'Q', 'The Face' etc, telling you what record collection to buy. Sad really, cos finding it yourself is all part of the buzz. People listen to music to identify with, to reinforce their lifestyle, or lack of it. If you are 26 years old with a job in the city and a sophisticated lifestyle you listen to Sade, it reinforces the dream. Not that I'm knocking her, she's a good act. I use music to fantasize to. Funk makes me feel affluent, young and attractive."

JIM MCCARTHY: "Which of course you are, John?"

JAH WOBBLE: "In droves …"

JIM MCCARTHY: "Music and fantasizing?"

JAH WOBBLE: "In essence music has an effect on me, art in general does. Music shouldn't be used just to fantasize to, it's a bit voyeuristic, a bit secondhand. The same old things are happening with all this New Age. You still have Kylie Minogue, I'm not knocking it, I mean, Scott, Wakler and Aikerman or whatever those three geezers are called, they produce good, hard, commercial pop, very well put together. But still the same old things happening, pretty girl singers still sell records."

JIM MCCARTHY: "Did you find it hard coping with the success?"

JAH WOBBLE: "We were all very young. It all gets out of hand. The same kind of behaviour applies to, say, a builder of 20 who does crazy things with other builders. It's a pattern of youth. I wanted to knock it all on the head, I'd never really felt entirely comfortable in the music biz – it's not based in reality. I needed to break away to keep my feet on the deck, otherwise I think I would have died or gone insane."

JIM MCCARTHY: "What about material success?"

JAH WOBBLE: "It never crossed my mind to get loads of money or a bg house. I don't see anything bad about making a pot of dough out of music and then investing it in something more stable. This is one of the functions it can perform if so required. I've always been involved in the art side. I've met a lot of great people all over the world."

JIM MCCARTHY: "What other music did you release at the time?"

JAH WOBBLE: "I got my own label together, Lago." [8]

JIM MCCARTHY: "As in Key Largo?"

JAH WOBBLE: "No, as in 'High Plains Drifter'. I do like a good Clint film. He is the one geezer I wanted to meet, I always thought he was a laugh, old Clint. Island Records cropped up again, I did the 'Body Music' single with Ben Mandelson, African music styled in London. I was also on Holger's 'Peak Of Normal' album, a big cult seller."

JIM MCCARTHY: "Any idea of the amount of records sold?"

JAH WOBBLE: "Well, it's cult success, large cult success, 80 to 100,000 records. On the whole it's gone down, the indie scene has got less, perhaps now selling 10,000 copies without promotion. The Lago releases were all self-financed. I printed and sold them myself, took them about in the old van to the wholesalers, you make a much better return on them. Without having to go through a major you can make as much dough without being tied to a contract. After completing the 'Neon Moon' mini album with Ollie Marland and doing another tour, I took a break between 1985 and 86 with just a couple of gigs inbetween. I started working again in 1987 with the 'Psalms' album on the Wob label, and I made a video and then did a tour with another version of The Invaders Of The Heart. We'll be recording an album later this year. [9] I think it's the most interesting line-up so far, very varied. Getting backing is a problem. What I need is a loony with power and loads of money."

JIM MCCARTHY: "How many loonies like that do you know?"

JAH WOBBLE: "I know a lot of loonies but none of them have got any money. But it would be nice to record with a bit of comfort, sofas in the studio, that sort of thing.

JIM MCCARTHY: "Where do the Arabic and Turkish sounds come from?"

JAH WOBBLE: "I was drawn to the Middle East culture. I saw a programme on the Romany trail in India. [10] I always checked out musicians of the Nile. I've always been drawn to the music, it wakens something inside of me. I think there are two reasons why people make music: one is to seek God or have closer contact to a higher power, and the other is to make money. I fall somewhere in the middle. I remember Stockhausen, the composer, went to Japan and when he came back he was doing Japanese style compositions and he was told that he'd been influenced by the Japanese, and he said 'No, I found the Japanese in me.' I think the same, I think that there's a bit of Arab in me."

JIM MCCARTHY: "You're very into Miles Davis, you also have a copy of the rare 'Dark Magus' album."

JAH WOBBLE: "It's the ultimate, it is my favourite piece of music. It's so fucking dense, that album, dense! Teo Macero's really good production, it's even more over the top than 'Agharta', dense walls of sound and a heavy backbeat from Al Foster. It really cooks!"

JIM MCCARTHY: "How do you exercise your role as leader dealing with musicians?"

JAH WOBBLE: "It's a strain dealing with the money side when there isn't enough go round, having to subsidise and budget tours can be a nail-biting time, but it's worth it as I love playing live. This new band came together very quickly, two weeks in fact. The role of leader is a mantle I wear uneasily at times, but there has to be one."

JIM MCCARTHY: "You mentioned you are doing some pop music now."

JAH WOBBLE: "Yes, I'm doing one thing with David Jaymes [11] from Modern Romance, it's a bit Led Zeppelin-ish. Also some heavy computer funk music with Neville Murray, the Invaders percussionist."

JIM MCCARTHY: "How much into the new technology are you?"

JAH WOBBLE: "Not very much, I get fed up with it. I don't mind in the pre-production of certain projects, certain songs. If I want it so much I'll be a word processor in a bank. It's like the actual procession of information, it becomes more important than the information itself. We've got more TV programmes conveying information, breakfast TV etc, but essentially it's of no use to anybody, it's just a load of filler. There's more information about but it's of a less important degree. People are always looking for an easier, softer way to record music – the easy way is to do it live, get the sounds down. With all the sampling going on, basically to a large extent a lot of music has become interchangeable. It's kind of sad in a way when people strip their humanity to such a degree you can't tell them on a record from another person. Their DNA code isn't allowed to come through. They've got all this maze of technology but there is no personality or character there."

JIM MCCARTHY: "Trends in music over the next ten years?"

JAH WOBBLE: "The eternal truths in music stay the same, the same as in life. It goes on and on, it's a cycle. That's the trouble with the music industry, it's become very fashion-orientated. If I was a top A&R man on £25,000 plus company car, I wouldn't sign me. Why sign me, an old washing powder, on which you'd have to spend X amounts of money to revamp and remarket this brand, when you can get a brand new washing powder all ready to sell? I'm just a commodity anyway, I work on the perimeter of the business."

JIM MCCARTHY: "Any words of advice to sweating A&R men in their offices?"

JAH WOBBLE: "Like the 'Road Runner' cartoon, run off the edge of the cliff but don't look down. When you look down it's fatal, you'll fall!"

JIM MCCARTHY: "Anything you'd like to be remembered for?"

JAH WOBBLE: "Taking a few chances. You live and then you fucking die, so you might as well take a few chances. I've got a buccaneer attitude to life. I'm as much a conceptualist as a bass player."

Forthcoming in 1988: Invaders Of The Heart album
Jah Wobble: bass, vocals
Neville Murray: percussion
David Harrow: keyboards
Justin Adams: guitar, vocals
Ned Morant: percussion

Deadline magazine, October 1988

[1] Wobble went to Kingsway College (45 Sidmouth Street, London WC1) from 1974 to 1976.
[2] PIL's very first gig took place at Théâtre 140 in Brussels (20 December 1978).
[3] Wobble met Czukay through music journalist Angus MacKinnon when Czukay visited London to promote his 'Movies' album in early April 1980.
[4] Wobble went to Cologne in June 1980 to record the 'How Much Are They?' EP with Czukay.
[5] Wobble spent a few days in Cologne in late November 1984. He played two gigs with Czukay and did his last studio recordings with him, which were used on Czukay's 'Rome Remains Rome' album in 1987.
[6] Wobble and Neville Murray put together a new Invaders line-up in early 1988 and did a short tour of Europe in May 1988.
[7] The Invaders played a long tour in North America in May/June 1983.
[8] Lago (initially called Jah) had six releases between 1982 and 1985.
[9] The album 'Without Judgement' was recorded in March 1989 in Utrecht and 's-Hertogenbosch (Holland).
[10] 'Romany Trail part 1: Gypsy Music into Africa' (BBC2, transmitted on 15 November 1981), now available on DVD.
[11] David Jaymes became Wobble's manager in 1989 (David Jaymes Associates Ltd.), they released a single 'Love Is (Not Enough)' under the joint moniker Happy Valley in 1989.


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