Pete Jones interview
First published Fodderstompf, June 2000 (first
© 2000 F&F Publishing / Fodderstompf.com
Fodderstompf.Com: This interview with PiL bassist Pete Jones was originally conducted via email for The Filth and The Fury fanzine in June 2000. Technically Jah Wobble's successor, Pete was recruited in 1982 to help complete recordings of the 'Commercial Zone' album. Here, Pete gives us a full and frank view of his time in PiL, and speaks of his newly released solo album 'Twisted'.
F&F: How did you become involved with PiL, you had already worked with Martin Atkins hadn't you?
Pete: I had known Martin for some time before we did the PiL thing. I was playing for a shite local band and we needed a drummer so we advertised in the NME. Atkins turned up, delivered by his mum and dad and after a quick audition we gave him a job. We played for a while on the London pub circuit as a band called "The Hots" and he left us to join PiL around when 'Metal Box' was being recorded. After he returned from the 1980 PiL tour he started up Brian Brain and we collaborated on all of that stuff. When he moved to New York and teamed up with PiL again, he suggested me as a bass player for some American dates and Keith rang me up to
F&F: Was it hard
to fit in with PiL, did you find it cliquey, were you treated as
Pete: I had no problem playing for them. As for fitting in, Martin had given me an insight into what working with John and Keith was like so it held no surprises. I had worked with plenty of arseholes previous to that so another two weren't going to scare me none. It wasn't at all cliquey but me and Martin were mates and so were John and Keith. We all tolerated one another apart from that. Part of the PiL thing was of course that all players were equal, it's just that some were more equal than others. John was glad that I had joined the band and we could get on the road, Keith was busy talking shite and making up stories to hype the media.
F&F: How much did you contribute to 'Commercial Zone'? Who wrote the music, was it Levene, or did you all collaborate, including John?
Pete: I played on some but not all of 'Commercial Zone'. 'Love Song', 'Mad Max', 'Miller High Life' and 'Solitaire'. Atkins and I wrote 'Solitaire' but after I left they couldn't be arsed to give me a credit for it. Keith mostly came up with the original ideas, sometimes sparked by an Atkins beat. John mostly wailed over the top when he felt he was ready. Some of 'Commercial Zone' had been written before I joined, I went in and played the bass lines that Keith had done, only without the bum notes and in tune!
F&F: People would probably be surprised to learn you were only PiL's second bass player, Wobble was such a big part of the early sound, but you have a totally different sound on 'Commercial Zone' did the band expect you to crank up the bass, or did they just let you do your own thing?
Pete: The bass sound was left up to Keith and the engineer Bob Miller. I didn't have much input. I was trying to still get that fat and heavy bottom end but Miller hadn't even heard 'Metal Box' let alone understand how fat the low end in the original PiL sound was. By the time the bass got out front at the gigs it was all pretty much slap and punch. I wasn't very happy about it but then again I wasn't twiddling the knobs on the desk. I was usually too smashed to care.
F&F: I don't doubt John could be hard to work with, but from speaking to people around the early line up I've heard Keith was a far bigger problem than John, and that his role in the band was always over-stated could you back that up?
Pete: Largely yes, I always felt at ease with John, he left it up to you what you did and was usually pretty laid back about it all. Keith was another matter and at times needed a good smack in the mouth to stop him talking shit. I never actually hit the bloke but fuck me, he didn't half try your patience. I still believe though that Keith's' role was essential to what PiL was at the time, his off the wall approach and unique guitar style gave PiL that dark, threatening edge. Keith was very intense, we spent a lot of time talking when I was living at his apartment in New York and he came across then as being very complex and not always in control of his state of mind. He was having a lot of problems one way or another and I felt truly sorry for him.
F&F: What was your relationship with John like?
Pete: As I said, it was OK. He could be a bit of a cunt at times when he tried to play up to the Rotten image, but behind that he was an intelligent and funny bloke. I used to piss myself laughing at how other people (especially journalists) would shake with fear when talking to him. He would just fix them with that inane stare and totally freak them out, but there wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs around when we got together, it was usually strained to say the least. He would say the strangest things to you totally out of the blue and you would think, "What the fucking hell is going on..." No normal person would talk to you like that. So I just put it down to the pressure of being a skint rock icon and let him get on with it. I wasn't going to let it get me down none, I just played bass and left the rest of the squabbling up to the others.
F&F: What was Ken Lockie's role in the band, if any?
Pete: I had worked with Ken Lockie when he was in Cowboys International. I did a European tour with them in 1980 and hated every minute of it. They were a bigger bunch of cunts than PiL ever were and that tour ended up with arguments and fighting. I was surprised to find Lockie hanging around the PiL camp when I arrived, but he was a mate of Keith's and he had played guitar on Kens 'Original Sin' album so everyone put up with him. John thought he was a complete tosser. His role was supposed to be that of Keyboard player, but me and Martin convinced Keith that we didn't need him playing live so we fucked him off. I don't know where he is today.
F&F: Going by the bootlegs I've heard I thought the '82 line up was really powerful and had great “commercial” potential, tracks like 'Where are You' & 'Mad Max' (Bad Life) sounded great, did you feel that the line up had a long term future, or was it really a case of doing the studio tracks, playing some gigs and going back to being lazy bastards?
Pete: I never thought about it at the time. Looking back, I think we could have gone on to produce some interesting stuff. A lot of stupid decisions were being made and I soon realised the fragility of a PiL line up. John and Keith were essentially skint, and we needed to earn some dough by going on the road. We should have been playing every night and coining it in but instead we would play every now and again and spend it all on drugs. There was also the question of paying a big studio bill and the so called manager was ripping us off too. With the right guidance and better producers and engineers, and a lot less drugs, it could have been fucking great. I believe that Martin and I were a shit hot rhythm section and would have been an interesting partnership.
F&F: After the 'Flowers of Romance' LP and the riot at the Ritz gig, what do you think made them go back to a more 'conventional' band, simply a lack of cash?
Pete: Yes. But Keith didn't want to become a rock and roll band and he saw every gig being an event. But in the end we were just that, a rock and roll band playing the old hits to bemused punters. I would have loved to see a riot or two to make it interesting but it just never happened. The idea was that each gig was going to be a “Commercial zone" and we had posters made stating, "You are now entering a Commercial Zone" to put up at the entrance to the gigs. I only ever saw them once.
F&F: How long were you in the band? How many gigs did you actually do?
Pete: From about September '82 to April '83 I did around 30 gigs, the last being 'Toads Place' in New Haven on 4th April 83.
F&F: Why did you leave PiL, were you offered the cabaret tour in Japan and Europe?
Pete: Here is the transcript from my website, it sums up what went on at the end...
The infighting and squabbling had reached a peak. Lydon and Levene were drifting further and further apart and Atkins was trying to manipulate himself the best power position possible. Management had been rumbled...
The money was being syphoned off and the greasy coked up slimeball and his equally spaced out girlfriend that had ripped us off went low and hid back under a rock. Larry White, who had taken over behind Keith's back. One of these occasions was over a Sushi dinner (in San Francisco I seem to remember) but I didn't much care for the food or the bullshit, both were highly unpalatable, so I settled for the warm Saki instead, by the jug load. The small talk and manoeuvring was pathetic but I didn't care, the Saki won, and I honked up raw fish all over the sidewalk and staggered back to my hotel. This was pretty much the pattern for my last few weeks with PiL, and quite frankly I was getting pissed with the whole affair. Talk had turned to organising a Japanese tour, which was one place I had always wanted to visit. I knew that the earning potential from the land of the rising buck was huge and I believed we could take a large slice of it. We discussed who would form the entourage to travel but for some reason it didn't include my girlfriend. She was expected to stay behind in New York on her own. Now I wouldn't have minded so much if John wasn't going to take soppy Nora or if Keith wasn't going to drag the new Jewish princess of a wife along but they were. Petty in the extreme, it was at Keith's insistence that she wasn't going, and Atkins was meekly quiet when I put up my defence.
The bubble was about to well and truly burst. A short time later back in New York nothing had changed, I was still shacked up with the roadie and there was a lot of confusion. What really mattered to me at that time was a decent pint of ale. I couldn't get it out of my mind. I had been drinking piss for 8 months and now all I wanted was a decent pint in a decent pub. That was it. I went and bought two tickets back to London there and then, leaving the next day. At the time I intended to return after a short break in London, but deep down I knew that I wouldn't be back. After my phone call to Lydon I knew for certain that I wouldn't be back. I called him at the loft and Atkins answered the phone. He had moved into the loft, smart move, get close to John... I told Atkins my plans and he relayed the message to John in disbelief. I heard John screaming in the background, his parting words being "bollocks!!"....
I never spoke to John again. A weight had suddenly lifted from my shoulders, the clouds parted and I felt happier than I had been for weeks. I went out and bought some recording equipment to take home (It was a lot cheaper than buying it in London) and went to pack my bags. Next morning as the plane touched down in London, the grey early morning Heathrow gloom didn't look all that welcoming, and by the time I got home I was shagged. It didn't take long to readjust and the glorious pint of ale that I had craved tasted oh so sweet. The family were pleased to see me and it was real good to talk to sane people again. The crazy days had ended just as suddenly as they had begun, I had tasted the sweet nectar of fame and success, chewed for a while then had to spit it out again, for it tasted awful......In fact it was Rotten, well and truly rotten...
F&F: Were you
still in the band when John and Keith fell out? What do you think
happened, was it simply four years of drugs and egos coming to a
Pete: They had this sort of love hate relationship that was quite volatile they did most of their arguing in private. I used to listen to them shouting at each other behind closed doors. For PiL to work they needed each other but neither of them realised that .That's drugs for you... It fucks you up in the end.
F&F: What do
you think of the versions of the 'Commercial Zone' tracks
on 'This is What You Want...' LP ? Do you agree with the
people who say 'Commercial Zone' is the last 'real'
I thought 'TIWYG' was pure shit. 'Commercial Zone' wasn't
the best of albums but it sits in with the PiL ethos better. Once
Levene left, PiL was dead as a duck.
F&F: Why do you think John has been so reluctant to let 'Commercial Zone' be released officially, he always refers to it as a bootleg of demos, do you feel it's a finished album?
Pete: It's probably got more to do with him not singing too well on 'Commercial Zone'. I think that 'TIWYW' was a better performance for John. Keith released 'Commercial Zone' and I don't think that John liked that not being under his control.
F&F:Are there any unreleased tracks from your time in the band?
Pete: Not that I am aware of though I know Atkins has some unreleased stuff that Johnny fans would like to get hold of. His version of 'Twist and Shout' which I first heard back in 1980 is fucking hilarious though I doubt if it will ever get released.
F&F: Did you enjoy your time with the band? Any favourite gigs, songs?
Pete: I had my moments. Mostly when we played live. There was a lot of shit going on which just spoilt it all. The first gig was memorable. The opening number in New York when the crowd crushed the stage was pure energy and I shall never forget that moment. One of my favourite numbers was 'Blue Water', that's why I decided to cover it on my new album. Some of the old stuff was fun to do live, 'Annalisa', 'Public Image', 'Death Disco' etc. I had a hoot playing with Martin. We had played together for a long time and were a formidable partnership. I don't know how it compared to Wobble/Atkins but I believe we were one of the best power house rhythm sections around.
F&F: What have you done since you left PiL?
Pete: When I came back to England, I spent some time chilling and settling back to a more normal life. I then wrote some stuff intending to get my own band on the road and I was having talks with record companies about putting out some material. Then one day, quite suddenly, it seemed a Pile of shit and I couldn't face talking to another record company suit again. So I turned my back on it all and decided to retire from the business. I continued to write stuff but I did it for myself and wasn't interested in putting out any records and joining the whoop de fuck circus again. I had a couple of kids and spent time on building renovation, photography and other altogether more rewarding pursuits.
F&F: Are you still in contact with Martin, or any of the others?
Pete: I still keep in distant, e-mail contact with Martin Atkins. I recently met up with him after the London LA2 Damage Manual gig. There are no plans to work together again. I haven't spoken to John, or Keith since 1983.
F&F: Is 'Twisted' your first solo release? Who else plays on the album, is it all you?
Pete: 'Twisted' is the first release in the public domain. I have put out stuff previously to friends and like minded artists who appreciate what I do. I have decided to put this out due to public demand, but it is all on my own terms. I wrote all the songs apart from 'Blue Water' and played all the instruments myself. Apart from a couple of vocal samples, I did all the vocals too. It was recorded in my own studio and I engineered, mixed and edited the whole album. There is no other input. I designed and laid out the cover on my PC, and did all the work on my website. So you can see the PiL ethics working here, total control and all that! I have also decided to make it non-profit making, making money is not the driver here. It is also only available through my website so it cuts out the dealers percentage. I shall actually lose money on the whole deal but I was quite clear that I wouldn't let economics get in the way. I don't use music as a main income generator, so it allows me to be quite free in what I do. I only write when I feel creative. Sometimes I will work 12 or 14 hours every day on my music. Sometimes I wont pick up a guitar for weeks, it all depends on how I feel. I couldn't plan a studio session and then say "Record a song now" if I didn't feel like writing.
F&F: I don't think 'Twisted' necessarily sounds like PiL, but you have sampled John and covered 'Blue Water'. Aren't you worried that people will just say you're using your PiL connections to sell the record?
They can say what the fuck they like. There will always be critics
and they are entitled to their opinion no matter how misguided it
is. I care not one toss if the album sells 1 or 10,000 copies, but
I know that those that do buy it appreciate what I'm doing, and
are very supportive of that. That's fine by me. I was a member of
PiL, that is a fact that cant be taken away and is part of rock
history, if people have a problem with that then fuck them. I don't
need the mutual back slapping from other artists, critics, or the
media. Bollocks to the lot of them. I believe 'Twisted' to be a
fine album, there is a lot going on and has a lot of depth to it,
I hope it makes you think. And if you hum one of the tunes on your
way to work, so much the better.
F&F: I know from your web site that you're involved in the internet and selling your music via it, do you think the net is the future of independent music, or do you just think its a glorified QVC, and it's getting more and more commercial?
Pete: I could see a couple of years back what impact MP3 and other stuff was going to have. I think its fucking great that people can do there own stuff and access a potential world wide audience for next to fuck all. Unfortunately, the big record company suits are shitting themselves and trying hard to get it all back under their control. You can see what they are doing to Mp3.com as evidence of that. The amount of information now available to nearly everyone is staggering. It's all about choice, and there is more of that than ever before. Isn't it great that some band in Bumfuck Texas, can record some stuff in their basement and put it out so that some kid in Iceland can listen to it? Without having to pay a slice to a record shop, record company, publisher etc? I am all for music being an art form driven by passion and ideas than by money. I don't see how millions of people can put wankers from the music business up on pedestals and worship the ground they walk on, media driven bullshit. There are bigger heroes in the world. Look at the Gallagher brothers as a fucking prime example of how it's all gone tits up.
Check out his website for further info on Pete's art and music and his time in PiL, including many unseen pictures. Official Pete Jones: Jabberjab website
Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
Twisted: Pete Jones; circa 2000 © Pete Jones
PiL live 1982 © Maureen Baker
PiL live at NY Roseland Ballroom, 1982 © Maureen Baker
Pete Jones; circa 2000 © Pete Jones