Jah Wobble:
ZigZag magazine, June 1980

Transcribed (and additional info) by Karsten Roekens

© 1980 Zig Zag / Kris Needs


ZigZag magazine, June 1980The Legend Lives On ... Jah Wobble Now! By Kris Needs, pix by Adrian Boot.

Jah Wobble, PIL bassist and Man From Whitechapel, has just sneaked out one of the year's so far most enjoyable albums. 'The Legend Lives On ... Jah Wobble In "Betrayal"' has no pretensions, it's just Wob (nearly) let loose and revelling in a studio with various instruments and technology at his disposal and loads of ideas buzzing about in his noggin.

'Betrayal' is the single, complete with disco love lyrics he's so fond of. Guitar is courtesy enginer Mark Lusardi, drums from PIL's Martin Atkins – the rhythm has shades of Can's irrestistable 'One More Night', while Wob's voice has a relaxed passion of its own. The twin 'Dan MacArthur' variations for voice and melodica appear, as does a quirky, poisonous rendition of Fats Domino's 'Blueberry Hill'. There's a dubbed and dangerous version of PIL's 'Graveyard' called 'Not Another' (one of the added synth-blurps nearly knocked me off my chair when it leapt out of the speaker!). Snow White, a discovery of PIL's Jeannette, makes her singing debut on a couple of tracks, showing a fine vocal texture on the galloping workout 'Today Is The First Day Of The Rest Of My Life'. Meanwhile 'Pineapple' boasts a vicious, thrashing shuffle-beat (Martin). Lovers of rhythm and sound can do far worse than let Wobble's album dominate their summers, right?

I met Wobble the other week to talk about the album, PIL's recently completed American tour, and related topics. He was jet-lagged and knackered, but that didn't damp the earnest enthusiasm which spilled out as he repeatedly declared his love for music and recording.

The great thing is, Wobble don't take himself too seriously. He admits he wouldn't get the chance to do a solo album if it weren't for PIL (drummer Martin Atkins has got one in the pipeline too, incidentally). He's often painted as East End Jack the Lad rough kid, but Wob definitely seems to be a happier, more settled geezer than he was two years back. And that's thanks to the music, his naturally growing creativity having an outlet. Listen to him without preconceptions and petty restrictions and pleasure is there by the pintfull.

It was a great way to while away a couple of lunchtime hours, sitting in a sun-battered garden of the 'Earl of Lonsdale', across the road from Virgin. Beer in hand, Wobble on the rabbit. He's a sound man (and I don't mean a roadie).

KRIS NEEDS: "What did you think of the States?"

JAH WOBBLE: "I'm still recovering from it really. I didn't realise how it had hit me until I got back. It's a fast, brash and impersonal country, and when you're touring around there it's twice as fast, brash and impersonal. You get back to little old Britain and it's really strange. I'm still reeling from it. There's something that's dangerous as well, because you pick up on things which are more of an illusionary effect: what you're making of the situation there, rather than maybe what's really going on. It's kind of like a little game you play of how weird it is. It's been a very interesting effect for me, but that's it, full stop. No more for at least a year or two. Maybe just the odd occasional gigs, maybe a sprint around Britain or something. It just confirmed everything I think about touring. Ten proper dates were set up and a little club date in New York. It was just getting to be too much when we stopped, because we'd never done it before, and it was blindingly intense, and you're gonna lose that intensity. I'm glad we stopped, because once we got to L.A. I was getting really pissed off with it."

KRIS NEEDS: "Of course the cynics over here said 'PIL touring, eh?' and all that rubbish."

JAH WOBBLE: "Yeah it's true, because we said we wouldn't. [1] But believe it or not, we suddenly got this really big audience there. People told me that and I said 'Bollocks, we haven't.' So we hit Boston first of all and we did have a very big audience, and to do it properly it just seemed we had to do a few dates, and maybe the same should apply here soon, just do a few. Then I'd just like to stop for ages – I don't wanna do the same songs again and again, it just gets really pointless."

KRIS NEEDS: "That's good you've got a big following there, I mean their idea of current English music seems to be nothing deper than Squeeze or someone ..."

JAH WOBBLE: "It's funny you should say that, they see the English new wave spearhead as Squeeze. The Police are heavy to them, they haven't even got as far as some of the second division punk bands. Some places they're just so incredibly out of touch it's disgusting. I met a couple of people, like this 30-year-old geezer from Cincinnati who was completely crazy – he's got a dossier on PIL! It's a weird country, you've got some real mad people and some absolute dullards. There was one incident that happened: me and Martin did a radio station, where you choose what records there you want to play, but there was none we liked, so we went down to the classical section and put on Mozart and 'Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer'. We thought we'd just have a bit of fun, the Warner Brothers reps there was having babies!"

KRIS NEEDS: "Did you soak up any music at all?"

JAH WOBBLE: "Yeah, the disco stations are on all the time. The disco records that are out there are out here as well, so the actual music wasn't shocking me as such, because I'm pretty well up on disco here. I really like it, it's very useful, practical music. I love the lyrics, that's why with 'Betrayal' I did that thing, it's that Roberta Flack 'Back Together Again' record. I just love those love lyrics because they're not really sentimental, they're hard-hitting for what they are. I think they're really useful, because I think everyone with any kind of relationship can see something in them kind of disco lyrics. It's on all the time in the States and I soaked it up, because it's like non-stop music all the time, this disco beat all the time."

KRIS NEEDS: "What sort of set you been playing?"

JAH WOBBLE: "We were just doing numbers as we got them, and improvising on them and going into new things as well. They were getting really long, and sometimes one or two of us would leave the stage and leave just the others playing. I hope this is a sign of things to come, but you can't go too free-form. As a bass player I could very easily, but it's maybe harder for Keith or John to get into that, because you're really put on the spot as a guitarist and more as a singer – just sing a load of crap or what, know what I mean?"

KRIS NEEDS: "Ever thought of doing your own stuff on stage?"

JAH WOBBLE: "Yeah possibly, I dunno. I've toyed with the idea of doing a couple of dates and maybe I will, I just dunno. I think if I did I'd just do something purely instrumental, I'd like to do that. Funnily enough, in the States a lot of people there are ready for that, whereas here I don't know. I'd just like to go out and do lots of rhythmic things, just see what happens. Not experiment, I don't think there's such a thing as experimenting, you're just a channel for what's around you and you just direct it out and you get some really interesting things happening. At the moment I'm tied up with PIL, and that's the main thing. This is just really a nice diversion. The aim of the album is a small one - I just want to sell enough records to get the money back and maybe make a small profit, so I'll be able to make a record in the future. I'm keeping my aims personally very small. I wanna keep going for years and years as long as I can keep doing it, rather than just suddenly make a big solo impact. I've got no interest in that at all. I just think if you keep it small and without too much pretension you can just make nice music. I've made an album I just want people to listen to in the summer and get a pleasant buzz off it and enjoy it, rather than thinking 'Right, let's get it shipped up there, have big promotional stuff there.' As it happens, sales are disappointing so far: NME's on strike and Melody Maker, and as I don't tour as a solo act people have to rely on magazines, plus the radio in this country is a sick joke."

KRIS NEEDS: "How long have you had doing an album in mind, cos the singles started off as a joke, didn't they?"

JAH WOBBLE: "Yeah, the first one [2] was just something to make a bit of money and have a laugh. Funnily enough that was probably the worst record in the world, and it sold the best! I just had the idea to do a load of singles, I was just recording for the fun of it, trying to get cheap studio time. I just love recording, I love mixing and hearing it, especially in a good studio. You get really deep bass coming at you – supreme fun, you can't whack it. I just found myself with a load of material and thought if I edit some of this down and tidy up the production a bit, I'll have enough stuff for an album. So I used about half the stuff I've done. That was the biggest problem, trying to get together what I was going to put on the album. I've got some heavier stuff which I think would probably be better for 12 inch disco mixes rather than albums, it's so much better. I think a lot of albums now are becoming fast obsolete, especially the kind of music I'm into personally. Any track off that album could have been used for a disco mix. 'Betrayal' made a good 12 inch."

KRIS NEEDS: "'Not Another' is a version of 'Graveyard', isn't it?"

ZigZag magazine, June 1980JAH WOBBLE: "Yeah, it's dubbed up. It's really good if you hear it on a powerful system, which I've not got. I live at home and I can't listen to really loud music, that's why I like going into the studio, it's the one time I can really go over the top with everything. A track like 'Not Another' is very adaptable, it's the perfect rhythm. You can put anything over it and mix it in so many different ways, you could use that for a lovers rock. I just brought the drums out so it's more punchy, used a harmoniser on the snare, brought the synth out. I got a lot of echoes on it so it's a continuous flowing movement with this bedrock beneath it. Other times I go for a more liquid sound. I must admit I go more for the instrumentals when you lose your body and soul in it – man, 'Dan MacArthur', that's a very fluid thing. A lot of people said synth, but it's a melodica. I'd done this rhythm, and I was really drunk and I thought it was maybe a bit iffy - I'd gone for something and it just didn't work. It was one of the first times I'd worked completely on my own and I'd lost track a little bit, I must admit. So being the adaptable person that I am, I realised I could adapt it. So I took a lot of drums out of it and a few drums in, and put a lot of effects on them. Then the melodica I made like a train in the distance, I like sounds more than anything, and one of the most beautiful sounds is a train in the distance. I did that with the melodica, it's very sad and wistful. Where someone like Augustus Pablo plays whimsical tunes by streams, which I love, mine is an urban train-in-the-distance-type feel."

KRIS NEEDS: "Who's Snow White?"

JAH WOBBLE: "She's never sung before. I met her through Jeannette, who said she knew this girl that wanted to make a record. I said great, because in studios I don't like singing a lot of the time. I don't wanna get a proper singer, I always say to people 'Come and sing!' If you were in the studio I'd ask you to sing, write your own lyrics or I'd give you a lyric sheet. I had these lyrics that I'd written and it was brilliant, cos this girl had the lyrics written out already. She was eager, and she went and sung. The first time we had to work it up a little bit, the were a few cock-ups – that was on 'TV' [3] – and I thought 'Er, I don't know about this really.' Everything's an effect on this really, nothing should stand out, that's the idea of that track: just one total thing, very robotic, which is what it's about, very much muzak, but beautiful music. Then I had the studio time together for 'Today Is The First Day Of The Rest Of My Life', and she just went in and sang like an angel to it. She should get herself something together now, I hope, and maybe that'll give her some bargaining power with record companies. People should remember that name Snow White, she's one of those people who's got that ability to just do it and not worry about it."

KRIS NEEDS: "I've read in your other interviews that you're well into natural music, seeing what comes out."

JAH WOBBLE: "Yeah. There's loads of different ways though. Sometimes music completely comes to you in a very mystical way, not just with instrumentals but like in 'Beat The Drum', which was formerly 'Dan MacArthur' as well. That's another thing: I didn't see why I should give everything a name, so for that single I just had it as 'Dan MacArthur' – that's the name of the record, not the songs. [4] That was the name of the package, kind of an alter ego thing. Both sides of that, the melodica one and the singing one, are just things that are beautiful when it happens, but you can't force it. At other times you make very practical music, like 'TV' [3] or 'Betrayal'. You don't have to be a musician to apply yourself in a practical, common-sense way to it. People being what they are have got lots of senses that they don't use, and can just go into a studio and be very natural about it. It's a very natural thing to create music."

KRIS NEEDS: "You have developed your own bass sound, haven't you?"

JAH WOBBLE: "Which is changing. I'm really changing on that, I'm getting more into subtleties on the top end. 'Blueberry Hill' is the archetypal bass sound I'm going for now, and on 'Betrayal', except it's very hard to cut it. Not just because of the bottom end but the other frequencies I got in there that you'd only notice if you took 'em out. I seen it on a televiewer – the trouble cutting 'Betrayal' for the single. I had to do it fifty-five times! It breaks my heart to cut down the decibel level on anything. I like noise. It comes from that attitude of not having a big record player. If I can get big noise I want big noise. That's still the idea. I'm so in love with the music I've done – egotistic, right? - that I go to the cutting room mainly so I can listen to it at volume! I'm not there to work out which is the best noise level to market a piece of product, I can hear my record loud. I hate people who turn things down. What I wanna do is get my own studio together, that's the thing I'm totally into, so I can record in the middle of the night. I just love recording all the time."

KRIS NEEDS: "PIL use their money to set one up or something?"

JAH WOBBLE: "Financially everything I make goes into PIL. That's it, we want our own studio, hopefully we're gonna get one together. But I dunno, things with PIL are often strange, cos things don't happen."

KRIS NEEDS: "John told me that you were recording for a year for 'Metal Box'." [5]

JAH WOBBLE: "Over a year! We just record. It's basically what you edit out that matters. We were just cutting selections out, it's a real job. We must have another five or six hours solid from the past year, and another six hours from before that. Maybe one day we'll dig through it. To me it's a really natural way to record, I just love taping everything."

KRIS NEEDS: "You gonna do another album, or more singles?"

JAH WOBBLE: "I wanna do some more singles. Hopefully the album's gonna start to move enough to be a very solid little thing. I'm not into bums coming up and going 'I bought your album, maan.' I think I'm making a mistake here, I should be in the window cleaning business. I mean it. I like it when I meet people genuinely into it, I met some people in the States and they had 'Betrayal', God knows where they got that from."

KRIS NEEDS: "Okay, what are you up to next? Recording, gigs?"

JAH WOBBLE: "I've no idea! I'm going to try and raise the cash, I think, to get a studio together for us, that's the one thing I've got in mind. Apart from that I don't know. I wanna get some more singles out definitely. I mean, I'm probably the most together person in PIL, and that's not saying much! I don't see the need to force situations, they happen, they happen, you know. 'Don't force it, don't push it, it will happen if it's meant to be', you know that disco record, right? [6] That applies to life, we got no control over what we do anyway. That's what I like."

KRIS NEEDS: "Yeah, like with the States: no one knew you were there till we read about it."

JAH WOBBLE: "It was very low-key over there. They were really good venues, the kind of venues I love, really small cinemas. In a way I prefer them to small clubs. We played the Palladium in New York, and you could hear the bass five blocks away!"

KRIS NEEDS: "I used to see you at gigs when we were all pissed, then you joined PIL, now you seem to be getting more direct in what you want to do, more refined, if anything."

JAH WOBBLE: "Yeah, you grow up, you get older and you learn. At that time I was very frustrated because I had a really rough time for two or three years, in that I had very strong views on things and wanted things done. I was absolutely spitting full-time into the wind, very frustrating. When I first got into PIL though, the first thing I thought was 'Good, now I can get some money for a pair of Dr. Martens,' that was the first thought I had. It was no big artistic integrity thing – 'I can finally express myself' – it was 'I can get some money', I must admit, cos I was broke. Then the artistic leanings come after. It was an opening and I was absolutely determined to take it. It's worked up to now, but I'm totally aware that the situation could change. I could be back out of a job tomorrow and back in the same situation. But it's been good, I've had a real crack for two years and I can't ask for more than that. I really have had a crack, totally."

KRIS NEEDS: "It's been said already, you wouldn't have had a chance to do this album if it wasn't for PIL."

JAH WOBBLE: "Absolutely no way, but there wouldn't have been a Second World War without Hitler. Everything leads on, I really think this, right? I never done a lot to get into a band except hope with great intensity that I'd not so much be in a band but be able to make music, and if you hope enough for something I think it comes to you in the end."

KRIS NEEDS: "How come you whipped the lyrics to 'Blueberry Hill'?"

JAH WOBBLE: "I did that with Mark. Whenever I do stuff with him it just ends up total aural anarchy, idiocy, I can't resist it. I listened to 'Blueberry Hill', and some of Fats Domino's lyrics are really ... mystical. I mean, the way he sings that and the actual words he's singing doesn't come out like the actual words on paper. I just thought I'd change the rhythm sounds, because I despised the actual rhythm, and just use the words. 'The vows you made are never to be' – it's so final, it could be the soundtrack to one of those horror movies. He's left the bird in a shallow grave on the top of a hill, and he's burying it, and he's singing the song as he buries it with a full moon behind! That's the way I saw the song – good horror movie music."

KRIS NEEDS: "What will rock 'n' roll purists say?"

JAH WOBBLE: "Yeah, right. What's rock 'n' roll anyway? I've never been into rock 'n' roll, I dunno why. The way things have moved I've never been in those circles, and I've never listened to rock 'n' roll."

KRIS NEEDS: "I like the berserk stuff, like Little Richard going potty."

JAH WOBBLE: "Yeah, or Vince Taylor. I mean, I say I wasn't brought up with rock, that wasn't my cultural background, but obviously I've listened to rock."

KRIS NEEDS: "It's straight-down-the-line rock I hate."

JAH WOBBLE: "Yeah, it's a real non-cultural music. I despise it. In the States we were put in the same hotel as the Van Halens, stuff like that. It was in Cleveland." [7]

KRIS NEEDS: "That's the place where they reckon rock 'n' roll was born."

JAH WOBBLE: "Yeah, and that was one of the worst reactions we got. It really is a hotbed for the music scene. We pissed a lot of people off, because we do not want to hang out. I find it very hard to talk to these kind of people."

KRIS NEEDS: "What, geezers in bomber jackets with 'Boston' on the back?"

JAH WOBBLE: "It's such a parody, it's unreal. I find it really hard to just blank anybody, but I did it. I thought 'What the fuck?' I felt like saying 'Listen, I'm a deep-thinking person and I'm trying to get as much out of this life as I can, and the last thing I want is a bum like you coming up and offering me coke and a groupie for the evening! No! Full stop – leave me alone!' So I did it. It takes a lot for me to do that!"

KRIS NEEDS: "It's like a bloated old elephant the U.S. music biz, isn't it?"

JAH WOBBLE: "That attitude where I cannot adapt to anything new, it's incestuous, and it's self-perpetuating the way it's gonna destroy itself. I think there are maybe one or two people out there who recognise PIL as being something new and refreshing."

KRIS NEEDS: "I read about that press conference with John and Keith, sounded like a farce." [8]

JAH WOBBLE: "Yeah, they just went there and slagged off rock 'n' roll, which is not something I really like to jump at. It's like Virgin - I don't really like to jump on the bandstand and slag down our record company. Obviously sometimes we have friction, but they're part of something bigger, so I look beyond them. An intelligent man looks over the wall. Virgin's the wall, if you're intelligent you can see what's beyond the wall. Whatever's beyond the wall built it to stop you getting in there. It's the same with rock 'n' roll, it's just an entity, just another kind of a wall."

KRIS NEEDS: "When I spoke to John and Keith last year [5] they were expecting a right slagging for 'Metal Box' after the way the first one got treated, but there were really good reviews and the public seems to have gone along with it too. Do you think the tide's turned?"

JAH WOBBLE: "I knew it would be good reviews. But the tide will turn again, and the thing is, we don't care. For that year people would be horrified at us, 'How can you say that!?', then the tide started to turn and I thought we'd get good reviews for the simple reason that we were saying to people 'Why did these bums get our first album to review, when there are people on the record papers who are into this kind of music and are probably nice people?' Cos if you're into that kind of music you're not normally a cunt, right, and you're not going to be that pushy. With 'Metal Box' the good people got the album to review and understood it. What got me was 'Metal Box' got good reviews, whereas 'First Issue' was not perhaps as extreme in many ways, it had three or four numbers with rock 'n' roll structure, yet people's reaction was disgusting. Then we do this, getting more into the particular style that we're into, and it's 'Oh yeah, they cracked it.' It goes to show it's just bullshit, it's just political games – it's hip to like PIL, in other words."

I'll usually go to great pains to avoid ending an article with the easy 'check out the album now' routine, but Wobble's case must be an exception cos you simply ain't doing yourself any favours if you don't own that record. Without it summer'll be flat as a cowpat, I'm warning ya.


[1] PIL interview 'NME' (16 June 1979)
[2] 'Dreadlock Don't Deal In Wedlock' (released 5 October 1978)
[3] 'Tales From Outer Space' was called 'TV' on the original album sleeve, this was corrected for the 1990 CD release.
[4] PIL did the same with the 12" version of 'Death Disco', which was released simultaneously.
[5] PIL interview 'ZigZag' (December 1979)
[6] 'Don't Push It Don't Force It' by Leon Haywood (released 1980)
[7] PIL played the Agora Theater in Cleveland on 30 April 1980.
[8] 'Record Mirror' (29 March 1980)


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