Interview:
Ian McCulloch

Mac the Nice

It's not often that I feel really nervous at the thought of carrying out a telephone interview, but this one caught the imagination a little more than all the others. You see, if I had to make a list of my five all time favourite bands, they would be (in no particular order) The Smiths, The Pixies, Jetplane Landing, The Clash and, of course, Echo and the Bunnymen. Now, I managed to interview Morrissey's partner in crime, Johnny Marr a while back, and after having been told he was an awkward customer, I proceeded to find he was the most amicable chap you could ever wish to meet. Anyway, with Mac I had been given a similar warning from various (which I now know are totally unreliable) sources. So here I was, really hoping that my illusions weren't going to be shattered by the frontman of one of the greatest bands ever, and to be quite honest I was nervous wreck. And what's the first thing he does when I get him on the other end of the line? He apologises for being late, that's what! From that point on I was completely at ease and we chatted for rather a long time (perhaps more than we should have done) about football, the Velvet Underground and stupid jokes. Anyway if I'd typed the whole interview up it would have been about twelve pages long so this is the shortened version...

IM: Sorry for the delay. The first caller overran a bit.

AD: No worries, I've had my own problems here anyway - I had to take the cat to the vet for a booster and, because he's been nervous he's just taken a big steaming dump just inches from my nose.

IM: Nice. What kind is it?

AD: I don't know, I can't say I've inspected it too closely to be honest...

IM: The cat I mean, not the turd!

AD: Oh...he's a black and white tabby.

IM: Yeah? That's the same as we had. We took this stray girl cat in, but when we took her to have it "done" she legged it! Since we let it out after the operation she's just been a total tramp and it's like we're in "part ownership" now with a bloke down the road. She only comes back here when she's starving.

AD: Talking of tramps, this feline arse nugget is starting to stink like one now so I'm gonna get on with the proper interview questions now as quickly as possible.

IM: Ok.

AD: First of all, you've been quoted as saying that "Slideling" is the first solo record you've made that you're really happy with. Why?

IM: Well I did love "Candleland" actually, but I just couldn't be happy with it when it's so sad. Even though I wrote it when my dad died, but I still felt his presence while I was writing, towards the end all I could think was "He's gone". At around the same time the whole Bunnymen thing was over and the idea of playing those songs live wasn't appealing at all. It just didn't feel right, whereas now, with the new album, I can't wait. Another thing is, now I'm that much older that I don't care about any preconceptions. You know there'll always be a tithead somewhere who'll say something you don't want to hear. There's been all this talk of this being the first record I've made in years without Will (Sergeant) but that was kind of why I did it...and because I write all the Bunnymen stuff it IS gonna sound fairly similar.

AD: Not to mention that you have a very distinctive voice. So how did the writing differ between this and the stuff you've done with Will?

IM: It didn't differ a lot at all. All I used to do with Will was say "This is what I've got. Now paint your bit on it" and that's how it's always been pretty much. I think it was Les who came up with that riff for "The Killing Moon" but even that was written the same way really. I suppose on "Slideling" one difference is that we concentrated purely on stripping it down, so any breaks like on "Seasos", rather than creating musical bridges, I've vocalised on it. It's a stylised vocal thing. Oh, and I nicked a bit of "Starman" too, seeing as it's the song that inspired me to get into music in the first place.

AD: We do that song in my own band...

IM: You're kidding? "Starman"? What, can you do the whole thing?

AD: Yes.

IM: Even the high bits?

AD: Er, yes I think so. Nobody in the audience has ever complained anyway.

IM: Where are you from?

AD: Leicester.

IM: Ah, that figures. Only a Midlands band would attempt something like that. I remember chatting with a bloke at a gig in Birmingham once, and he said to me in this deep Brummie accent "You ought to come and see my band, Echo and the Funnymen"! Then he started going on about the drummer being on a par with Pete De Freitas and I was like "Yeah right. NO-ONE was on a par with Pete De Freitas". Pete could even give Dave Grohl a run for his money I can tell you.

AD: You were talking about "The Killing Moon" earlier on. That song suddenly came on while I was watching "Donnie Darko" recently, and I've seen several films lately where a Bunnymen track is utilised. Why do you think your stuff's so popularin movies?

IM: Because it's very atmospheric. Our stuff conjures up a haunting, spooky thing. In the past it was probably more atmospheric, around the time of "Porcupine" and "Ocean Rain". It's what I call rock 'n' roll gin. Anyway I remember Courtney Love saying she thought "The Killing Moon" should have been used and, although I haven't seen "Donnie Darko" yet, loads of my mates have been saying they think it's the best use of a song in a film ever.

AD: I'd go along with that. Now, on the new album, "Playgrounds and City Parks" is about your time at school...

IM: Not so much school - it's more about that sort of time, maybe when I was about twelve, when we'd play football, go home and have a kip then get back to the park and play some more footie using the gateposts of the sub station we used to live next to as goalposts. We lived there for twenty years - even when I moved away I'd always go back to me mam's to get away from the squalor of a shared flat. It was a magical time really, and very working class.

AD: Do you think that whole working class thing is the reason that Scousers have been consistently better at making class music than their counterparts over the years?

IM: I think that's probably a part of it, plus we've never had much goodwill from outside - except maybe from the Japanese or Americans. And it's kind of an attitude that Liverpudlians have developed where it doesn't matter what people say about us or do to us, you'll never take away our self belief. I see Ken Dodd died then?

AD: Eh? Hang on, you needn't think you're going to catch me out with THAT old chestnut (NB For the uneducated, this joke runs thus: "I see Ken Dodd died then", "Did he?", "No, Doddy").

IM: Aah that's a shame. It works ninety per cent of the time. I think that's another thing about us too - the accent. There's something about the accent. It's so spiky, funny, and to me it's the sexiest accent in the world. That's what made that "Are you asking?" phrase so funny.

AD: And "They do though, don't they?"

IM: Hahaha. They don't though do they?

AD: If your Ken Dodd thing doesn't work, there's always that one where you say "What are those things that the army drive?" and when someone says "Tanks", you say "Don't mention it".

IM: Ha ha. I like that, I've never heard it before. I'm gonna try that tonight!

AD: Anyway moving on, you wrote and recorded the official song for the 1998 World Cup. I always thought that was an odd line up on that single. Will you be putting forward a track for 2006?

IM:
(laughs) Er....no! It WAS an odd line up, and the reason we had the Spice Girls was because everyone was saying it was going to be Robbie Williams and we didn't really want him. So we said "Can't we get the Spice Girls?" as kind of a joke...and they did! Keith Allen gave me a load of stick about that song, because he was doing that "Vindaloo" thing at the time - a real football anthem. So he took the piss quite a lot. I HAVE written one actually that's fantastic and I'm hoping to persuade Keith to sing it. It goes (sings) "I'm from London, I like Liverpool, I even like the Brummies too, but those effin' Manc bastards, do you want it? I don't think you do, do you want it? Not like I do".

AD: That's great! You really should release that. It'll sell everywhere except Manchester.

IM: It'll sell on the blue side. Come to think of it, some of the United fans are so stupid they'll probably buy it too.

AD: You've got a point there. Now then, what was your take on receiving the Inspiration Award from Q magazine?

IM: I was very pleased, but it just seems mad that in November I was picking up the award, and then come March I couldn't get an interview with them! Apparently I influenced today's artists more than any other person, but basically I only got the award because Chris Martin (Coldplay) wouldn't shut up about me. So kind of what it means I dunno.

AD: Of course, Chris and Jonny (Buckland) feature on a couple of the tracks from the new album. How did that come about?

IM: They begged! No, not really. What it was - When they were recording "A Rush of Blood to the Head", they did the latter bit in Liverpool and I went and listened and met them there. Towards the end they were asking me to play some gigs with them and I was like "Hang on, you're going a bit over the top now. All I did was come into the studio and do some stupid David Bowie dances to make you laugh"! But I suppose I did help out here and there, so it all stemmed from that really.

AD:Did you feel like a father figure to them?

IM: I think I felt more like a mad brother who legged it to Swindon when he was fifteen and jumped out of a window...Chris made me laugh. God knows how he got on in University. He's always going on about losing his hair and I was having to say "Look Chris, stop it will you? Mine's on the way too"! He reminded me of what I was like when we supported Bowie - like a hyperactive kid. I remember one day at the studio he turned up in a t-shirt and trainers, but with his socks pulled right up to his knees! I felt sorry for him and had to say "What ARE you doing?". He hasn't got a clue when it comes to style.

AD: Going back a bit now, when you left the band, what did you think when the remaining Bunnymen decided to get Noel Burke in as a replacement?

IM: I think it's pretty obvious what I think. Noel Burke...the name says it all really doesn't it? No, that's not fair. It wasn't his fault, it was Will and Pete who were the berks really. But no, I thought it was disgraceful and after that I suppose it was quite surprising that I continued working with Will after that. I'm glad I did though. Johnny Marr called them Echo and the Bogusmen when that happened.

AD: So, finally, Echo and the Bunnymen are 25 years old this year. Are there any events planned to mark it?

IM: Yeah, Warners are remastering the first 5 albums through Rhino - who incidentally have done a fantastic job - and repackaging them. There won't be any extra tracks though. I hate it when they do that. I hate the Bowie albums they've done where they've put out-takes on. But what there WILL be is a load of photos, lyricsa on the sleeve for the first time, and anecdotes from me and Will.


So that was that, and I can with my hand on my heart say that Ian McCulloch is not just one of the greatest musical heroes ever to have graced the planet (although he undoubtedly IS), he's also one of the nicest, funniest and friendliest people I've ever had the good fortune to speak with. If you haven't already got his new "Slideling" album then what are you waiting for? It's yet another excellent addition to the Mac catalogue.


Interview and transcript by Tone E

 

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