When I was younger, so much younger than today, trying to work out what this ‘being older’ and ‘growing up’ lark was all about, I discovered rock and roll. It was a wondrous discovery and has served as a faithful companion through thick and thin, life and death, and other less dramatic ups and downs. The music I most connected with had various forms, though guitars and distorted noise were nearly always involved. There was one band who quickly became extra-special, though. A band whose unique and thrilling guitars combined with lyrics of lost love spoke volumes to me. That band is called The Wedding Present and David Lewis Gedge was, and is to this day, the main singer/songwriter/guitarist.
I recall seeing them for the first time in 1991, my second ever live show. They were touring in support of ‘Seamonsters’, an absolute beast of an album that everyone should listen to at least ten times TODAY. It was my first moshpit experience and it was as thrilling as it was painful. Words cannot describe what the band’s songs have meant to me over the years. Naturally, I was overjoyed when I heard they were visiting these shores in July, and positively apoplectic when we tied down a show in Hamilton.
I was fortunate enough to speak to David ahead of the band’s upcoming visit. It was, for me at least, a joyous forty minutes, and what follows is a summarised transcription of our chat. After some small talk around the wonders of Skype and the recent merch sales tribulations at a well-known London venue, we got into the planned questions.
HUP: You’re coming back to New Zealand a few years after the last trip! Presumably the first visit in 2013 went well?
DLG: Yeah, we’re looking forward to it. We had a great time, we loved coming to New Zealand. I wouldn’t say it was an outstanding financial success, as it costs a lot to get there and there are other expenses, and also we are not massive there and, you know. They are small gigs, but the audiences were very enthusiastic and very friendly so yeah! We’re actually doing a few more concerts than we did last time (The band will play in Hamilton, Christchurch and Dunedin this time as well as Wellington and Auckland) and we’re playing with some fantastic other groups too, so it should be fantastic.
I moved here in 2005 from the UK/Europe and have since discovered the amazing Flying Nun back catalogue. Were you aware of many FN bands in the 80s/90s? Did you have any particular favourites?
It was a legendary label wasn’t it. Is it still going?
It is, yes, they have a small record shop now too in Auckland.
I think they created a genre, almost, didn’t they? At the time, it was a name that was bandied about often. The Bats, The Chills, Jean Paul Sartre Experience as well. We were always fans of them to the point where we covered one of their songs (‘Mothers’, B side to the ‘Lovenest’ single in 1991). If you don’t mind me saying, NZ has always punched above its weight. It was like all of a sudden New Zealand indie pop was a thing, with that sound.
I’d agree, particularly bands like The Clean, that jangly guitar sound that you can still hear in many bands today. Go the 4 million people of NZ!
Yeah, the size of the population…it’s like a town really, in Britain…but yet so many great bands come out of there, it’s great.
Cool, anyway, onto the present day the new album, ‘Going Going…’ Congratulations, because it’s absolutely brilliant, and a very unique album in terms of the range of music on it, and is huge with 20 songs on it.
Thank you very much!
How did it come to be, and was there any point when you had second thoughts about releasing such a big album?
It just sort of evolved really. We started writing songs after finishing the last album, Valentina, and we had a few ideas kicking round and then decided to do this road trip across the United States. I’ve been to every state now. I’d never been to Maine, so we started there and did the trip across America, and the two ideas (the road trip and writing songs) combined really, so it’s a concept album in a way you know, and I hate using that word because it conjures up images of 1970s Prog Rock…
Like triple vinyl releases..
(Laughter) Yeah, singing about Elves and the Knights of the Round Table and all that, but you know it is (a concept). All the songs are connected, and all the pieces of music follow each other in a way. The twenty tracks came about because we visited twenty locations in the United States. Twenty states, and we made twenty short films to go with the song, and each of the locations became a title for the track on the album and then I wrote the lyrics around that, so there’s a lot of different things going on really.
To be honest, in answer to your original question (laughing)…it did get a bit too big, that’s why it took so long. The last album was 2012; this one took five years to come to fruition. But having the twenty tracks gave me the space to experiment, I think. The first four tracks, for instance, are all instrumentals, and I see that as an almost ‘setting the scene’ if you like.
Yeah, I was going to bring that up actually, because those first four are almost like an EP of their own really, like a post-rock thing on its own.
Yeah totally, and you don’t normally have the space to do that on an LP, on a normal album because it would take up like half or a third of the album, so that inspired it to be a double LP I suppose. It’s funny you should say EP because there was one time when we were discussing should we release it as five four track EPs or four five track EPs, you know. That was one of the ideas that was floated around. In some way it reminds me of The Hit Parade, the 12 singles we did in 1992; it was a series that was linked in some way. It has a story and a theme, and I’m very happy with it. I think it pushes The Wedding Present forward but it does refer to some things in the past, lyrically and musically. There’s quite a few strands to it, but yes there you go, it’s done now anyway!
It’s out there! Just going back to the first four songs, I mentioned post rock music, is that something you listen to a lot of, Mogwai etc?
Yeah for sure, Mogwai are one of my favourite bands. Actually, we just played in Barcelona at Primavera Festival and they played a surprise show there. I found out when my girlfriend bumped into one of them in the lift! Unfortunately we were scheduled to soundcheck at the time of their set so we missed them. I’ve seen them there before though. I think they’re a great band. I love all that stuff, actually. And in some ways, you know, we obviously aren’t one of those bands, Explosions In The Sky, Slint and all that, but we are really influenced by that and I think you can trace that back to (previous albums) Bizarro (1989) and Seamonsters (1991) era…
Yeah, I was going to say, from my perspective, definitely Seamonsters and the Albini, (Steve Albini, Big Black/Shellac/sound engineer supreme), take on things has that darker sort of feel to it...
Yeah, and the dynamics and all that are all part and parcel of the same kind of genre really. We just dip our toe in occasionally. And it’s funny because on ‘Going, Going…’, like you say, starts off with that kind of feel, and we just released an EP as well, which was essentially a couple of leftover tracks from ‘Going, Going…’ that weren’t going to be used, and it became ‘The Home Internationals’ EP, because on the album there’s the track called ‘Wales’, and we called the other three tracks ‘England’, ‘Scotland’ and ‘Northern Ireland’.
My next question is related to this in a way. I read in a reasonably recent interview that you had said that these days the true innovation in music is in how you release and promote music. You obviously embrace technology and look to do things differently; does that help to keep it fresh for you after over 30 years of making music?
Yeah, you know, I’ve always been interested in what comes next, and in some ways it's destroyed the music industry because nobody is making money out of making records any more, but at the same time it makes a lot of things easier, writing with people on the other side of the world…it’s a lot easier. In the old days I guess you’d be sending tapes, so yeah it’s a double-edged sword really.
That comment though (in the interview) was based around when I hear a new band now it always reminds me of an old band. I'm not sure if it’s my age….you know, the first time I heard Pixies or Sonic Youth it sounded fresh….but I don’t know, I guess rock music has always been cyclical to a certain extent, like those bands would say they were influenced by rock n roll or The Beatles or whatever…but you couldn’t necessarily hear it, whereas now, people say have you heard this fantastic new band, and they sound exactly like Joy Division! I personally feel we’ve done as much as we can possibly do with guitars, drums, bass and keyboards. You know there’s been punk, rave, dance music, it’s all been done. But, there’s new ideas all the time, like ‘have you seen this way of promoting or recording or marketing your music, and I go ‘no, wow that’s incredible, you can do that?!’ and, you know, a band could be in a bedroom right now in Brighton making a recording on a laptop, and then tonight it can be seen around the world, you know. It’s amazing, and if you’d have told me that when I was a kid I would’ve thought ‘What is this, Star Trek?!’ but that’s exciting you know. My only problem is there’s so much to keep up with.
When ‘Going, Going…’ came out we had a meeting with a friend who’s a social media expert, to discuss a promotional strategy - we have Twitter and a Facebook at the moment - and it was exhausting! It was ‘Where’s your Instagram account, and Tumblr, and Soundcloud and...it was almost like you need a full-time social media person for a band and we can’t possibly do that really.
I wonder what the cycle is with all this, if it will all come back to just being one or two things rather than the number of platforms we see today.
Yeah maybe, I guess when search engines started there were lots more, like Lycos and so on.
Exactly yeah. Who knows.
We have just had The Bats play in Hamilton 30 years after their debut album, 'Daddy's Highway'. Now you are playing 30 years after your debut, 'George Best'. Will you be following in their footsteps, and playing primarily new material? Or should we expect a good smattering of the back-catalogue?
Yeah, if I’m honest it will probably be a mix of tracks from ‘Going Going…’ and ‘George Best’ given that we’ve just been playing the George Best shows. It was interesting actually. I didn’t realise it was the 30th anniversary, but we got asked to play it at some festivals, and then when I talked about it to the band, they said ‘Yeah we’d love to do that’, so I thought if we are going to learn it, we should do some more shows too. So yes, probably a more than average number of ‘George Best’ songs most likely because they are in the current set that we have learned.
Is it difficult to select a set list these days, given the material you have to draw from? How do you decide what to play?
Well yeah, that’s the problem to be honest, we’ve got over 250 songs to choose from now. The answer to the question is that I don’t do it, our drummer does it now! He’s been in the band for about ten years so in some ways he’s got more of an objective view of the earlier songs, and to be honest with you it’s a thankless task, you know. Whatever you do, out of 250 songs, you pick like twenty for a setlist or something, and people come up to you afterwards and say ‘that’s the best I’ve ever seen you, that was a blinding set……but why didn’t you play such and such?’. You know, one of the 230 songs that we didn’t play! And you know it’s not always just hits, you have to structure the set...
So it flows properly…
Exactly, yeah, it has to have a beginning a middle and an end, highs and lows, fast and slow, so yeah it’s a hard job really but he seems to do a good job and people are enjoying the sets.
At this point I did a time check and realised we only had five minutes of the planned thirty left, but David was gracious enough to let that slide so we carried on for another fifteen minutes.
A bit random this one, but I’m a huge Pavement fan and intrigued as to how the 'Box Elder' cover eventuated – can you enlighten us at all? I had a feeling it might’ve been through John Peel…?
No, not at all. It was our old bass player, Keith, he went on holiday to New York and went record shopping as you do when you’re in a band, and he came back with a bunch of records, and it was the first EP I think, and we thought ‘we could cover this’. We’d never heard of them. I think it was before Peel played them actually so they were unknown in the UK I think.
It’s funny, we recorded it with Albini. The first time we worked with him I think..
Wait am I right in saying that? Anyway, he was like ‘How do you guys know this band?’ because it was before they got much media coverage.
Aha great story! Totally different from what I expected. Well done Keith! It’s worth a bomb now that EP if he’s still got it.
Yeah, haha! He’s not the sort to keep it to be honest, he’s not a collector, he probably gave it to somebody.
I first saw you on the Seamonsters tour in 1991 on the outskirts of Swansea at a place called Penyrheol Leisure Centre! Do you remember that?
Ah, I do yeah, because we haven’t played Swansea very often.
It was a weird venue to choose!
I can’t remember the venue.
Neither really, not in detail, I remember Buffalo Tom played…
Ah yes, Buffalo Tom that’s right.
…and I remember my introduction to moshpits, and aching for days after but in a glorious way. So given Penyrheol is a weird place to play, what’s the oddest or most interesting location or venue you’ve ever played?
Oooh, there’s been a few places. For example, on the last tour, we played on a boat. It was in France, not once but three times, it was like a boat tour of France! I’m not sure if it’s a thing there, but these boats had all been converted into venues for some reason.
Were they moored?
Yeah they were, but that was a bit odd. And then most recently we played at someone’s flat in Barcelona, as part of Primavera Festival. It was quite cool what they did. It was like a competition basically, where festival goers could enter and win a place at this gig. It was like a Manhattan loft, quite a bit of space, and about maybe fifty people there, and it was brilliant actually and some people said it was the best gig of the festival.
Do you find you listen to many ‘new’ bands/artists and if so how do you tend to discover them?
Ummm, I’m a big fan of radio, and with the sad loss of John Peel that’s affected a lot of the ways I hear a lot of new music, but there’s BBC 6 Music which is a great station, and I find a lot of stuff on there. But I’m also in a privileged position because people send me stuff because they want to support us on tour, and I do the ‘At The Edge Of The Sea’ festival every year too, so I’m always coming across new stuff, and again. It’s the power of technology too because I get sent links and stuff and it’s so easy of course to listen and see bands.
I’m heartened in a way that you said radio, hurrah to that!
Yeah it’s funny, it’s in my blood really. I’ve always been in to the radio, you know. When I was young if I was off school, I’d just listen to the radio all day. When other kids would be playing out, I’d be listening to Tony Blackburn and Jimmy Young and then eventually John Peel and Alan Freeman and the more alternative stuff, and that kind of informed my musical background in a way. It was one of the reasons we did The Hit Parade in 1992; the love of the 7” single and hearing it on the radio.
Ok this one is from Ian, who also writes for HUP, ‘What advice would David Gedge of 2017 want to give to David Gedge of the late 80’s/early nineties?!’
Hmmmm, I don’t know actually. It’s a very good question! I don’t think…I’ve not done particularly badly out of it. I can’t think what I know now that would’ve changed that much of how things have turned out, the way we’ve done The Wedding Present over the years. I’m fairly happy with the fact that we’ve controlled it all the time and I’ve managed having to avoid getting a day job to support it so…you know, I think that lad back then did alright, he probably doesn’t need my advice. haha!
Maybe a bit of assurance, a ‘don’t worry, it’s going to be alright’ perhaps?
Yeah, although to be honest, and it sounds a bit arrogant or something but I’ve always been pretty driven and so single-minded….well actually, I either wanted to be in a band, or a DJ on the radio. That was target, and I wasn’t going to let anything get in my way really, so yeah, I didn’t really need any reassuring, and it’s turned out ok. Which is good otherwise I’d be in a bit of a pickle now.
Fantastic! ‘Go Out And Get ‘Em, Boy!’ perhaps? (This is the title of the band’s 1985 single)
Haha yes, there you go, there’s you’re lead line!
The final question is this; ‘If you could curate a show anywhere in the world, with any three bands playing (alive or dead!), where would it be and who would play?
Wow Blimey Charlie. haha, ummm…I’ll go with places first, there are three that I really like to visit…you know we play all over the world, America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and it’s great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not that dissimilar to the UK. People talk in a different accent or whatever. But there’s three places that we’ve played where I feel like I’m in a different world, and that’s Reykjavik in Iceland, Istanbul in Turkey and Tokyo obviously in Japan, and in those places it is so different and there is so much to experience, so they would be my favourite places to play concerts in I think, so you asked for one but I’ve given you three there. haha!
As for the three bands...I could probably give you about ten! I think My Bloody Valentine are probably my favourite group, the way they’ve done it you know over the years, and everyone was waiting for that new LP and then it arrived and it was definitely not a disappointment so them…ummm, The Velvet Underground were always very influential to The Wedding Present, particularly in the early days. That rhythmic guitar playing and the conversational lyrics, the way they wrote it was just like a conversation between two people, and that inspired me. And I think the third band I’ll go with is The Chameleons, if you know them..
I do, yes, Manchester band…
Yeah Manchester band, I actually went to school with them…
Did you!? Oh wow I didn’t know that.
Yeah, I went to school with three of them. It’s funny actually, I do an autobiographical comic book these days, and I’ve recently been doing the story of when me and The Chameleons were at school…you see, the thing is we were at school together, they formed The Chameleons and I went off to University, playing in bands, but doing a Mathematics degree, and they went off and became famous. That was a catalyst for me. I thought ‘wow, blimey, if they can do it I can do it as well’, I mean I still finished my degree because I’m a sensible geeky person, so yeah, they inspired me to do this. There you go, there are your three bands!
Fantastic! What a great answer! I’m coming, I just need a ticket, and a passport.
Haha! No worries. I’ll have to write that down for next time somebody else asks me!
And there, after a quick ‘see you in a few weeks’, ended our chat. A huge thanks to David for taking the time to talk to us. If you haven’t got a ticket yet for the Hamilton show (Wednesday July 5th at Nivara Lounge, with Ancient Tapes and Rumpus Room), hop over to undertheradar.co.nz and grab one before they all disappear!