Alternative Press
October 1992

A Mutual Interrogation by XTC's Andy Partridge and AP's Jason Pettigrew

In this musical circus labelled "alternative," bands sprout and die faster than a Republican's lies and occasionally, once-mighty institutions start back up and fail miserably, tainting their memory in the process. Ten years ago, many cynics believed XTC would shrivel up after guitarist/singer Andy Partridge succumbed to nervous exhaustion and stage fright. However, what could have been career suicide turned out to be a life-sustaining move for Partridge and his cohorts bassist/vocalist Colin Moulding and guitarist Dave Gregory. Their tenth release NONSUCH is brimming with hooks and advantageous production, and the band still thrives while their contemporaries have become nothing more than the front page of a faded issue of MELODY MAKER.

For a change of pace, Partridge and AP's Jason Pettigrew decided they'd interview each other. Pettigrew has been an XTC booster since the band's hyperkinetic beginnings in 1979 [sic], and Partridge welcomed the idea, which gave him a respite from the typical why-did-it-take-so-long why-is-it-called-NONSUCH interview routine...

Andy Partridge: Let's see... which of our songs give you the best pictures in your head?

AP: I really like "Rook" from the new LP. I used to work in a cemetery a long time ago and there were lots of birds around.

Partridge: [laughing] What, carrion?

AP: Starlings and such. I think it questions a listener's mortality. "Life Begins at the Hop" takes me back to sneaking in to see bands with my home-made XTC T-shirt. You've got a fake ID but you don't want to push it so you order Coke all night instead of beer.

Partridge: [laughing] We don't have to deal with ID's in England. You have to be 18 but nobody really bothers checking.

AP: I saw XTC on what was to be their final swing across the states in a club called the Cleveland Agora.

Partridge: I remember that club I think.

AP: That gig was very spirited and exuberant, almost cocky and arrogant. It seemed to go against the grain of everything you've said about playing live.

Partridge: It was probably the best side of running on fear. You try and channel it, but it's definitely fear. Fight or flight. OK, lemme grill you some more. Do you have a favourite guitar solo on any of our songs?

AP: In all honesty, I would have to say "Love at First Sight."

Partridge: Wha? You mean [he imitates one crunch chord being repeated and picking up speed].

AP: Yeah, son of the Gang of Four's "Armalite Rifle." I think theirs came first though.

Partridge: I know that one. I think it was 1979. They had a great song... something about "a beetle on its back"?

AP: "Anthrax."

Partridge: Yes, that's it. That's one of the best things they ever did.

AP: Now here's a segue. Many of your colleagues from the skinny-tie-and-safety-pin days...

Partridge: Dreadful. Go on...

AP: ...have petered out or they're trying to make comebacks and they are failing miserably.

Partridge: Dreadful. If you believe in it enough, you don't go away.

AP: Exactly! So by the weirdest twist, XTC has survived, even with a "no gigs" policy and sporadic record releases, which I assume is a product of the biz.

Partridge: Damn right it is. I'd like to make a record every six months.

AP: So to what do you attribute your staying power?

Partridge: The fact that we absolutely love what we do. As far as hobby, job, vocation, celestial lavatory to get all this stuff out of us. The distressing thing is we're getting better at doing it, which must annoy some folks.

AP: Distressing?

Partridge: You're supposed to get older and crappier by the laws of all other bands. But I think we've actually gotten better. Not in terms of what an 18-year-old may expect from a band but certainly in terms of our output from Day One, it's gotten better. Markedly better since we stopped touring.

AP: I always love how bands will use the word "progressing" to rationalise making crap albums.

Partridge: I don't mind bands softening up as long as the songs get an intensity that's greater. If you would have played "Rook" for me at the age of 20, I'd have said "Oh God, what's this, it's some kind of lounge-from-hell music." It's like you're in the waiting room for damnation and you're thumbing through old National Geographic's and that is playing...

AP: Either that or Leonard Cohen.

Partridge: [laughter] Yeah! If Leonard don't getcha "Rook" will! But if I was played that at 20, I would hope that it was soft but hopefully emotionally intense.

AP: Wasn't it an A&R jerk who delayed the new album?

Partridge: Terrible A&R problem, we were delayed at least a year. The A&R manager who is the group's umbilical cord to the world, declared that out of 32 songs, he liked one which was "The Ugly Underneath" and a part of "That Wave." He then came up with this great phrase: "To be frank, if you don't write an album of twelve guaranteed hit singles, I don't think you'll be making another album."

AP: People like that should have red ants poured in their ears and nostrils.

Partridge: I think a thermometer should be inserted in their penis, snapped and then make them masturbate in a frenzy of glass, mercury and spermatozoa.

AP: That'll work.

Partridge: Or insert an umbrella in their penis and retract it. It's so crazy having an A&R man that hates the band. The president of the company called me and asked why we hadn't written any songs in two years and I told him we wrote 32, go look in that idiot's desk drawer. They called back in a few hours saying, "These are wonderful, when can you start?" It was very hurtful because I think some of our best work is on this record. So in the little comparison game that writers play, what half-dozen bands do you think we sound like?

AP: You don't sound like anyone. XTC were progenitors.

Partridge: Come now, [he imitates a critic] "They sound like [makes flatulent noises]."

AP: No, I remember when the band Stump came out and everybody accused them of being XTC nickers.

Partridge: Stump! I remember them. They were the most attractive of all the daft bands back then. But I thought they were more like Captain Beefheart's magic band, actually.

AP: Well, XTC did take a cue from Beefheart on your first three albums. But over the past couple years, you've been deemed "Beatlesque."

Partridge: That seems to be a critical stick to hit. I'd rather be hit by a Beatles stick than "Oh God, they sound just like Roxette!"

AP: As exciting as a four-day-old open bottle of cola.

Partridge: About as interesting as Sweden on early closing day.

AP: So what's next for XTC?

Partridge: In England they want to release "Wrapped in Grey as a single and I know later in the year we're putting out the entire NONSUCH record as "The Home Demos." We do most of the work on our individual eight-track home demo gear out in the shed. Studios are so expensive.

AP: Yes, but how else do you expect to make your record sound like Roxette?

Partridge: [laughing immensely] Take it off the reel, rub it on the floor, and remove with a magnet anything that would constitute music!

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[Thanks to Natalie Jacobs]