Jah Wobble interview
Fodderstompf, April 1999 (first
© 1999 F&F Publishing / Fodderstompf.com
Fodderstompf.Com: This interview was originally conducted for The Filth and The Fury fanzine in April 1999. We had just watched Mr Wobble and Deep Space give a bone-shaking performance at The Temple in Glasgow, and had arranged a meet to discuss PiL, along with his current activities; which included a surprise collaboration…
I know it's been a long time since you were in PiL, and it must
seem weird to you that 20 years later people are still interested
in something which must have been such a small part of your life...
Jah Wobble: No, it was a big part of my life really, it was a big deal because that was when I first started playing, if it hadn't been for PiL I wouldn't be here tonight, I doubt I would have started playing seriously if it wasn't for PiL... I still think it's really good, like that whole thing with celtic music, it had that drive and inner energy to it, so I'm not surprised people still like it... It's funny because in the last few years I haven't had many conversations about PiL and I never really listened to the stuff, and then Martin Atkins has come back, and now I'm doing a record with him, him and Geordie from Killing Joke.
F&F: Really? I'll
look forward to that!
Wobble: I hadn't seen Martin since the early eighties, we were talking about PiL, we had a lot of catching up to do!, and Martin had said, send me a couple of bass lines, and I said fuck it, if you're living back in Britain lets get together and do a bit, and I thought Geordie was always one of the better guitar players from that era...
F&F: When you look back on PiL what are your feelings on the band?
Wobble: It was
really intense, I don't think you'll find many bands like us now,
because it was very naive in its own way, there was no manager,
we could never get fucking happening, and 'cos John had been in
the Pistols and earned that reputation we could get away with a
lot of stuff other bands possibly couldn't. It was totally anarchic,
it was mad, very intense, a real mixture of feelings, some of them
really funny, some of it was very frustrating. I know we were young
and fucking crazy, but we should have played more for people, we
should have got out all over the country.
F&F: I think you only did something like five UK shows when you were in the band.
Wobble: Yeah, something like that, we did two at the Rainbow... I don't think we ever did Scotland did we?
Wobble: I thought
that was mental, because the people in Glasgow would have gone fucking
F&F: There's probably still a small PiL following up here.
Wobble: One of my favourite places in the country to play is Scotland, especially Glasgow. Newcastle, Bristol, the North West, a couple of little towns in Essex... I get a lot of letters from people in those places who are heavily into PiL, my stuff, electronic music, reggae, real heavy freaky music...
F&F: Yeah, I think it's good when people like a lot of different stuff, that was the thing with me, when I started with PiL I went sort of sideways, I checked out some of the things you done, I checked out all these Dub records and Can etc, and kept going sideways. There's definitely a line in there somewhere...
Wobble: I think one person who's really part of that tradition is Bill Laswell, that geezer makes 25 albums a fucking year! That stuff is insane, the Moroccan trance music, all that mad drum stuff, that's all part of that same tradition...
F&F: He's even done a sort of 'rock' album with PiL.
Wobble: I thought that was the best thing John had done since the period I was with PiL.
F&F: It is a good album, I think it's one of the strongest albums along with 'Metal Box', possibly 'First Issue' as well...
Wobble: Yeah, 'First Issue' is a bit patchy but there's things like 'Annalisa', 'Low Life', 'Public Image'...
F&F: Records like 'Metal Box' and 'Public Image' have clearly influenced people, but PiL never seem to get any respect, not many people come out and say it, maybe Massive Attack or somebody like that...
Wobble: Massive Attack are smart fellas, I've met them a couple of times, there definitely smart boys. I think there was more respect probably ten, twelve years ago than there is now. Maybe if PiL had ended after those first two albums it would have been different...
F&F: The thing that surprised me with the Virgin box set were the reviews, I couldn't believe them, I mean at the time the records got bad reviews, but now they've split up they're given good reviews...
Wobble: The flak we took at the beginning was unbelievable. A few people understood it, got it, but a lot of people were seriously offended by it, because they wanted their regular traditional rock, I still don't know how to play that stuff!
F&F: Thanks to you I got involved in the PiL box set, so thanks for that!
Wobble: No problem, I couldn't think of anyone who had it. Martin phoned me up about the box set as well, if it hadn't been for him, and my mate Brycie, I wouldn't have known it was going out.
F&F: Yeah, COs when I spoke to Virgin they said Martin had turned up with a cassette full of unreleased tracks, there was a track called 'Vampire', do you know anything about that?
Wobble: No, it might have been after my time.
F&F: They mentioned a version of 'Twist and Shout' as well...
Wobble: Yeah, Martin told me about that... Martin felt it could have been a better compilation. I must admit I thought there should have been more from 'Metal Box', I know most of the punters have got it, but I'd have bunged on more of that, or got some remixes of some of the stuff...
F&F: Yeah, that's the thing, I've got a C-90 full of 'Metal Box Demos', some of it is stuff you done that later turned up on 'Betrayal', but a lot of it is outtakes from 'Metal Box' they could have got stuff like that and cleaned it up... The impression I got about the box set right from the very beginning was that they wanted to do it more as a compilation. than anything else, but at least you get the Peel Sessions.
Wobble: Yeah, that's good... To be honest, I only remember one tape, it was an instrumental from when we very first started, when Jim Walker was on drums, that was really good. Apart from that I can't remember. There might be a few outtakes, but it wasn't a band that really recorded lots and lots of stuff. I might be wrong, it was that long ago, but from my era with PiL, I don't remember there being that much stuff.
F&F: Both you and John have admitted it was egos and drugs that destroyed the early line up, where things really that bad!
Wobble: Oh yeah. It was pretty intense, I just felt totally frustrated and depressed with it because there wasn't a lot of communication with the different people. There were different people on different drugs at the same time. I felt very bad about it, I got very annoyed with it. We done an American tour, and that was the final straw. There was a lot of respect flying about and it got very paranoid, and fucked up. There was a lot of people round the group that shouldn't have been, all the regular stuff, and you've got the young people, disturbed people, so what fucked it up, was what in a way made it great as well, all that mad energy!
F&F: I've seen posters from that tour that say 'Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols', so you were up against it right from the start.
Wobble: The actual Americans were fantastic on that tour, but I just felt I wanted to go out and get a band and do stuff. So I had it away on my toes... It's enough for me looking back, there's two great albums, some great shows, some great memories...
F&F: There have been so many stories on why you left the band, can you clear up what happened, what's the truth to the 'stealing backing tapes' story?
Wobble: What I was doing was going and working. I wanted to fucking work! They were sitting about the Manor [Studio] all day, and I was going and doing stuff and saying look I've done some stuff do you want it? So I started working on my own stuff, I'd have been happy working on PiL stuff, I just wanted to work. Because I'm starting to play, I love it! I've been on the dole. All I wanted to do was play with this fucking group, and I still feel like that, you've got to get out and do stuff, what's the point of sitting at home if you can go out and play to people, that's what you do. So I got very frustrated... But the backing tape thing is all sort of bollocks really. They are the same backing tracks, but I'm like here's this, I'm working on this stuff over here. The same tradition with reggae, you use the same backing track fifty times, it's not stealing a track, and it's not taking stuff COs I went and did the stuff, put the bass and drums down myself in Chinatown, so when you've gone and made a backing track yourself, it's not nicking it! I just wanted go get into the studio and do stuff, I just wanted to start working. So when I left PiL I thought maybe the game was up, so I formed a band, The Human Condition, because I just wanted to do stuff, it was as simple as that. Because the whole PiL thing was sitting about being stoned for days on end, and I couldn't bare that, I just wanted to do things, even now I'm like that.
F&F: Do you think it's ironic that when you first started releasing solo records like 'Betrayal', they were written off as a joke, or "curry house music", whereas now you're widely respected?
Wobble: I always the sort of geezer who just steamed in and done stuff, have a bit of joy in what you're doing, and have a bit of humour in there at times, and 'Betrayal' was the funny cover and all that stuff, yeah it was a laugh...
F&F: How do you feel about the fact you were written off as a piss-take, but not that long ago you were up for a Mercury Prize and now you're well respected?
Wobble: All I've ever done is follow the music, and as the years went on I always had a thing, I never really thought I was really a musician, and I always felt the game was going to be up, and enjoy while I could, I'm still a bit like that, enjoy it now COs the game might be up tomorrow. I'd always had those feelings but then over the years I just kept coming back to music, I'm obsessive about it, and then suddenly you've got a track record that you haven't planned, you've just done what you felt was right at the time. I'd always come back to certain forms of music, heavy bass lines, the drones, and what we done tonight wasn't that dissimilar to PiL in a way the way it's put together...
F&F: Yeah, I noticed that but I didn't want to say it! The way the bass and drums were working together...
Wobble: Yeah,and all those octaves on the bass.
F&F: That's the sort of stuff I like, the simple repetitive things, building the sound up, as opposed to using a lot of notes...
Wobble: Exactly. What we were doing that was different to other bands at the time, was that they'd write chords and we never did that, it was block units of sound, and textures and atmospheres.
F&F: What turned you onto the sort of music you do now?
Wobble: I was listening to lots of short-wave radio, static and oscillations and all that. I picked up Radio Terran and Radio Cairo, and started hearing Egyptian music, I'd already heard reggae because that was the music you heard about you in London at the time, and that's how I got into all that, and yet again, scales, drones, wailing, it's not chordal, there's no harmony, I haven't got a fucking clue about harmony really. And there was no harmony which I didn't know at the time, I just thought it was beautiful music, then I started to find out there was no harmony to it, it's all overtones.
F&F: How would you describe what you're doing now to a young PiL fan who doesn't know it, but would like to check it out?
Wobble: It's the same essence, it's very deep, very trancey, very dark, but dark in a good way, dark coming into light, in essence it's the same except more sophisticated, it's more extreme, there's no lyrical content, in essence it's trance music, it's music you go somewhere else when you listen to it, you go away from the conscious mind into somewhere else.
F&F: I found that tonight, it's back to the old PiL thing, there's no image with your band, it's just the music, you forget their even there, it's not some flash rock show...
Wobble: Exactly. We get up and all it's improvised, nothing's worked out before we just go on and do it.
F&F: I was wondering that, I bought the album last week but I didn't recognise any of it, did you do any of it?
Wobble: No, it's all improvised.
F&F: You set up your own 30 Hertz label a couple of years ago, can you tell me more about it?
Wobble: The basic reason was I was fed up dealing with record companies, didn't want to be shopping stuff around, so I thought if I get a label at least I'll get the stuff out, then I've got a bit of freedom, because it's got very constrained the corporate record company scene, so the idea was just get the stuff out, do the stuff you really want to do. And to be honest the stuff I was doing with Island Records, they really didn't see it, and at that time they started to move from being fairly esoteric at times to looking for hits, but for the first time ever it was an amicable split, which is very unusual...
F&F: Do you plan to put out any other bands on it?
Wobble: Just me own stuff for the time being, it's a vehicle for my compositions, but I've got an open mind eventually something might come up, but I wouldn't want to do that at the moment, because I wouldn't be able to give people the time that they need, simple as that.
F&F: What about some of your old stuff from the eighties, The Human Condition or the first Invaders album?
Wobble: Martin Atkins wants to put out The Human Condition on his own Invisible Records.
F&F: What about
the Invaders album?
Wobble: I was a piss-artist a few years ago and a lot of that stuff got lost!
F&F: Outside PiL you're probably best known for your Invaders of the Heart stuff, what's the situation with the band now? Are Justin Adams and Mark Ferda still involved?
Wobble: Justin's doing some production stuff, Mark's in the studio, we've got another Invaders album coming out in about a month and a half. It's got the Invaders sort of sound, the last time we put an Invaders record out was the 'Celtic Poets', it's always a changing line up. It keeps on moving, you keep evolving, it's got to the point where running a big band nowadays is very difficult, and I felt it had been took to a certain limit, we had used a lot of song structures, and I wanted to get back to something very pure, the real essence of music...
F&F: You've been doing some shows for GLR can you tell me about that, we don't get it up here!
Wobble: They wanted a series, I had different musicians in for the first series and I played music I was into, and had musicians come in and play some of the things they liked. The last series was bit of a piss-take on the music business, I had a few bods come in from the industry come in and tell a few yarns, slag the business of completely!
F&F: Do you think the GLR shows will ever be syndicated?
Wobble: I doubt it because it's BBC. They want me to do another one, but I don't think it'll ever be syndicated or go national because the radio gets more and more bland all the time, even though there's more stations.
F&F: Yeah, there's no real alternative, you either get Radio 1 playing the top 20, or Virgin playing the top 20 from ten years ago, you don't hear PiL on the radio, and you certainly don't hear your stuff.
Wobble: There's a few good public broadcast stations in America or on the continent, but not in this country...
F&F: Apparently you've been doing some lecturing at college? Is it music your doing?
Wobble: I got offered a visiting fellowship at Goldsmiths, it's Media and Communications I'm supposed to be in. I basically go and use the facilities, talk to a few PHD students and that's about it! I haven't done it for a couple of months, but it's supposed to be pretty informal...
F&F: It'd be strange having you as a lecturer! It must be a strange one for you too!
Wobble: It's totally bizarre! I never really got on well with education!
F&F: I know you occasionally write articles for the Independent, but rumour has it you're planning a book?
Wobble: Yeah, that's on the cards at some point, but it's a question of finding time to sit down and do it, probably later this year, it'll be music based...
F&F: So it's not an autobiography?
Wobble: No, I don't think I'd go for that, it might be a bit autobiographical at times, a bit funny, but no, I wouldn't do that...
F&F: I know you see Martin now, but do you still see Keith or John?
Wobble: I haven't seen John, god bless him, since he brought his book out, Keith I haven't seen for about four or five years.
F&F: He seems to have disappeared.
Wobble: Which suits me to be honest, he started to get on me nerves whenever I saw him.
F&F: The last thing I know he did was when he was in Glen Matlock's band.
Wobble: Yeah, that's right, with Jim Walker. But round about that time, it was see you later time with Keith to be honest...
F&F: Do you think you'll ever work with them again?
Wobble: With Martin yeah, John I dunno know. Sometimes it's best not to go back and do stuff, if it was viable, and it was working, then fine, no problem, but I don't know if that would be the case...
F&F: In general what do you think about the music business now?
Wobble: Very corporate. It's all about a quick profit, on the corporate side it's pretty depressing, pretty dull. But on the indie side, with all the new technology it's easier than it ever was to get records out. I think that side of it is exciting, it's opened up...
F&F: Yeah, the mainstream is as bland as ever, probably worse, but there are alternatives now, one thing punk did do is bring an alternative, the more and more you look into all the different indie scenes the more good stuff you find...
Wobble: Yeah, there's people like Martin, Bill Laswell, Adrian Sherwood, a lot of them people are still going strong. I mean I still manage to get records out, do shows, you still do stuff, but the corporate side, there's nothing happening...
Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
PiL on roof of Gunter Grove, 1978 © Dennis Morris
PiL USA 1980: Atkins, Wob, John, Keith © unknown
Wob live at Manchester, Witchwood © Robert Pajkert
The Damage Manaul 2000: Wob, Chris Connelly, Geordie, Atkins © unknown