Scritti Politti – Quiet comeback
Using babelfish, a dictionary and my highschool german i managed to translate an interview by Tom Venker on intro.de. Some sentences were hard to get right, and i’m not sure i succeeded. In spite of what you might think, dutch is very different from german, so i didn’t get it all at once. I first put the whole thing through babelfish, which made its amusing literal translation. The one that will stay with me for a long time is skirt music (Rock Musik!).
The biggie for me in this article is that Green talks about a second single, a collaboration with Mad Skills who is known for his work on Rawkus Records.
Enjoy the article, and I apologize in advance for some weird english, but i think i got the general direction right.
It is 29 years ago that Tom Morley and Green Gartside, two London artstudents, brought Scritti Politti into being. The project, trained and lived between squats and sociological and philosophical discussions, developed rapidly from Punk into arty, reggae and funk-inspired postpunk to what would enter as 1982 pop history: ‘Songs to Remember’ is called the soulfull intellectual pop communist manifest of the year. Afterwards the ways of the founding members parted, Gartside worked alone on the constant change of Scritti Politti – and with increasing distance between lifesigns: from synthpop and hiphop to the current puristic gitar pop album ‘White Bread Black Beer’.
[ Green Gartside looks interested at the iPod with microphone ]
One can probably attach the times of your music, due to the long phases between the albums, at the recording devices the journalists use: from taperecorder to minidisc to iPod.
You could say that, but many still use happily the same devices. Yesterday for example I saw the old Sony walkman again twice.
You had your first live appearance quietly and secretly after 26 years in a pub in south London, under the alias Double G and The Traitorous 3. Others, if they had such a legendary status as Scritti Politti, would have booked a high profile comeback route. Why so?
It’s simply because of the fact that to me the whole Scritti Politti thing is still somewhat unpleasant. Above all, concerning live gigs: I wasn’t sure if I could do it, I wasn’t sure, if it would work. Therefore the other name offered itself. I have to say that it’s not perfect musically, since we are not so experienced yet, but it was fun. From there we will probably become Scritti Politti quite soon.
And the band you have casted appropriately in pubs in Hackney, a London area, in which you live yourself. It doesn’t get any less pretentious. A friend of our author Alex Major, who went to your first gig at the beginning of January for intro.de, approached you after the concert and learned that you were looking for a keyboard player and got the job (including that of backgroundsinger). Are you an uncomplicated type?
Oh yeah. You know him? Nice… Yes, that is the principle: I found with the exception of one all band members in the same pub – the drummer in a pub four hundred meters away. The drummer is twenty, the bassplayer never played in a band before, she worked in a pub behind the bar before this. But I liked them, they have good music taste, and I like to hang out with them. When I decided to play live again, I could have flown in many brilliant musicians from America for large amounts of money, but I did not want that: I wanted to surround myself with people who I like.
Did it come because of this feeling that it must fit socially a hundred percent, that there were long pauses in your career?
There was always something funny with me. The three albums in America were very social affairs with a lot of musicians, a large team. Afterwards, as I left the studio I just wanted to be alone. In London that has changed, instead of in isolation in the country or in Los Angeles and New York very private, I was living in an animated neighbourhood, which was also still pleasant to me. I found new friends. They liked me for what I am, we never talked about Scritti Politti – since they knew that I rather not. And that’s how it became that I made an album again, completely alone in my room.
Once again briefly back to the moment of your last stage performance: in 1980 you had a violent panic attack after a joint gig with the Gang Of Four and as a consequence didn’t play life for 26 years. Why then now suddenly? One would think that had been the final step away of the stage.
We played in Brighton that time. Everyone thought it was a heart attack, when I had pain in the chest suddenly. Thus I was brought in the hospital, where they determined also heart rhythm failure. But I think that was wrong, actually everything was okay with me, I had only a panic attack. I was at that time in a rather bad condition: Andy Gill of Gang Of Four and I had a bet, who can take more drugs and drink beer. Besides I was also still a vegetarian and only ate a cheese sandwich. And lived in a squated house. It which full on. Afterwards I simply did not want to play live any more and went therefore to America among other things, in order to work on other music. Since one playbacks on MTV and other TV-shows, I could continue nevertheless and sell records. I changed everything after that: fired the band, the manager and left my girlfriend. The years after that i lived completely alone.
I had to keep away from a situation like that afterwards. When i thought about it, for some years i became frightened. Hmmm, and then it suddenly changed. I think it comes with age. I asked myself the question – and rightly so – what can happen?. And look, it is fun. We have now have an agent and will tour more: in America, Japan and Germany too.
Compared to your last album, White Bread Black Beer almost feels conservative in its gitarpop direction. Don’t understand me wrong, it is a beautiful album, but contrary to the last one – it feels strange to say the last one, because the latest one is so long ago – it was an unexpected turn: now it is more subtle.
For the first time in my life I felt good singing – that accounts for the direction of the album. Also, the 80’s-records were so concentrated on the technology: we worked on a snare(?) for ten days, crazy. Then i thought way too much about what so and so would think of the song. This time I wasted no thoughts on it. It also didn’t matter to me if I would come across as sophisticated. I didn’t want to please anybody but me. And I don’t care anymore, if people don’t like it.
I think there will be many who will like your music. Particularly because it is a good time for this music. The whole north european culture, bands like Kings Of Convenience, or the Neo Folk movement made people interested again in albums focused on singin with good melodies and songwriting.
Yes, I see it that way too. I was aware of that during the writing. That was also one of the reasons, why I did not go into an expensive studio with a meter-long desk, but at home in a small room.
You produced everything yourself this time?
Yes. Partly because, like I already said, i feel a lot more confident nowadays. I wasn’t afraid anymore for negative feedback.
And when did this happen?
I would say, for about five years, when I moved to London. I bought a house, got together with the girl I had left many years before, and found many new friends. I was suddenly happy to be amongst people, became a social person again.
But you didn’t really felt misunderstood, did you? Why this fear of the feedback? You were from the outset very successful and always got good press.
I hated it, if I were praised, and I hated it, if I were criticized.
Well, that doesn’t make it easy. You are probably not a simple partner.
[ laughs ] Right. There was little in between, and therefore it was my strategy for many years to avoid everything.
Do you regret from the today’s point the fact that you did not work continuously and like other artists of your time wold have made 20 records or so?
No, I don’t regret anything at all in my life. I have nevertheless a mad luck: I can afford it, to bury myself in a cottage for years. How do many people would like to do that? I know how to value my luck.
Let’s talk about hiphop. In my opinion Tinseltown To The Boogiedown is, the collaboration with Mos Def on the Anomie & Bonhomie, is one of the best hiphop songs ever. What interested you so much in hiphop that you placed it during your New York days so much into the center of your productions? You produced at that time among other things with Pete Rock and the Beatnuts.
Oh, thanks. That makes me happy… I came for the first time 1979 to New York and went to the Roxy and Mudd club, where hiphop was played for the first time, before it moved to Manhattan. That was at that time still a mixture of roller disco and hiphop. I loved it immediately. In England punk between 1977 and 79 became boring, there I found something exciting. I only listened to hiphop, produced however this sophisticated poprecord. At that time I still believed that I couldn’t take it on – and was confirmed in that opinion by the people around me. Sometime near end of the 90’s, after I listened to hiphop for nearly twenty years, it had become such a large part of me, that changed. I asked myself, why not change it.
I have also worked on straight hiphop songs in the last five years. These just haven’t come out. On the b-side of the first single will be a hiphop song. And then there will be one with Mad Skills, who you perhaps know from its work with Rawkus, comes. I have whole hard drives full of tracks.
With the current album Geoff Travis of Rough trade had advised me to get my guitar and to put myself in my music room. Simple.
Did the fact that you did not dare try hiphop productions for so long have anything to do with the fact that you are white, while it’s a purely black genre from the beginning?
To be honest, I believe: yes. My peer group at that time was also white, and they said: “Leave the fucking stuff alone” – they could understand my love for the sound, we all listened continuously, if new records came like from Run DMC, but the step seemed too daring. Even while working on Anomie & Bonhomie, some were still very sceptical, when I wanted to involve MOS Def and the others.
And how do you see the development of the genre? Aren’t you disappointed, how few of the promises that seemed possible in the 90’s were fullfilled? On labels such as Rawkus, Def Jux or Anticon one always finds something mad, often however very poorly produced…
I know what you mean. I think, the problem was that so much was released, also from second and third rank people, who simply did not have the flow. Their beats were not to the point as those from DJ Premier, and the raps didn’t have the flow as for example like from Nas. I don’t listen as much, simply because I find ever less new stuff, where the rhyme gets me, the production convinces. Perhaps I have it also overdone it.
A tendency, which crept in the genre, was also the play with rock music. That spoiled for example the fun with Mos Def’s second album.
Oh yeah. There I agree you.
You produced 1991 with Shabba Ranks the single She’s A Woman. How did you actually meet on him? It is not considered politically correct. Keyword: gay hostility.
I was kinda hurt by that. Let me recapture: I worked with him before his hits, omnipresent at that time in Londonby in dancehall sound , which inspired me very much. I was going to sing something for the Heaven 17 boys. I had prepared three songs and was actually already finished, when Curtis Mayfield as planned could not to be come because of a bad accident. Thus I took the available studio time and asked Shabba Ranks to fly over. It was rather hard to find him. But back to the question. Let me begin with: if one goes that way, then I shouldn’t have worked with Miles.
You speak of Miles Davis, who not only covered your Song Hypnotize [ Translator: Perfect Way!], but also played along on the album Provision.
Yes. It was well-known that he was a racist homohater. Everyone, which worked with him, could tell stories, as bad it can be. I knew that he hit women, but shouldn’t i work with him for that? I didn’t feel uneasy with it. If you decide, with people, whose opinions differ from yours, not to co-operate, then you must draw the line consistently. Looking back I am glad I that I made music with him.
Aha… How are you as very thinking [reflektiertem] popauthor, who not only always looked for social politics in your texts, but also in interviews positioned yourself, because actually with the status quo outside? The absence of bigger discourses must pain you nevertheless. You had at that time, at the beginning of the 80’s, already the vision, to clear up the world with pop from Camden.
I am aware that that was a very special time in music history, at the end of the 70’s in England with bands such as Gang Of Four and Human League, label people such as Geoff Travis who met one another and strenthened each other in the opinion to see popmusic as a social phenomenon and not only as entertainment. By the success of postwar building England had some good years, in which the working class got entrance to the education, and liberalisation took place. One asked questions, discussed a lot. I lived at that time with Ian Penman from the NME in a squat. We believed, due to the whole circumstances, that we had the power to design utopia’s, tear down identities and build them up, change sexuality. Today nobody talks about that, that is right. We have other conditions. But I am sure, that will change again. Popmusic will be nothing like today’s form to in the near future, perhaps in 20 years. Honestly I am very much surprised that record companies still exist, not as financially strong as in the 80s, but they exist. It will again be asked more, who has power and who can carry music out, in order to distribute her socially.