Andy Comes Clean

A relatively old interview of Andy Partridge by Australian music writer Barry Divola. Very special thanks to both Barry and to Jessica Adams, who connected Beatown to this rare insight into Andy's psyche. This interview is from December 1996. A small portion of it was published in Who Weekly magazine.

Andy comes clean in a short but riveting dialogue.

Andy Partridge: I'm sitting in the Virgin Records stock room. They always stick you in the fucking stock room. It's all filing cabinets in here.

Barry Divola: They obviously think a lot of you Andy.

AP: (laughs) The shits! It's going to be one of those days. I just go the train with one minute to spare after a lazy night's sleep and there was supposed to be a fellow to meet me at the end with a car. He was an hour late, because they sent him to the wrong station.

BD: A comedy of errors. . .

AP: That's my career.

BD: So it's all over with the good folk of Virgin. . .

AP: Yeah, thank Christ. Now we want to go and make a new set of mistakes.

BD: Did the relationship go sour a while ago?

AP: The relationship was sour for years. We've actually been on strike for four years. That's why we haven't made any records. I used to laugh when I read about The Who spending eleven years before they went into profit. I know the feeling. It was such a crap deal that it was totally stacked up against us and we couldn't get out so we had to go on strike. After four years of facing them with their own filth they couldn't stand the smell of it any longer and said, "Oh, go then." The world's turned upside down for me in the last four years incredibily. I got divorced, lost my hearing. . .

BD: You lost your hearing?

AP: I lost my hearing in my right ear after an ear infection. Jesus, that was painful. At two o'clock in the morning, after banging my head on the wall because I didn't know what I could do, blood started trickling down my neck, so I figured I better get the doctor. Puss had welled up and broken through my ear drum. Then I got divorced and then I went on strike.

BD: Did the hearing loss have nothing to do with the divorce?

AP: Totally separate, except she spent ages saying "I want a divorce!" and I kept saying "What!" But hey I'm still alive and relatively happy.

BD: What doesn't kill us make us stronger?

AP: No, it just makes me want to rent a flame-thrower and come and do this office.

BD: How long ago was the divorce?

AP: About three years ago. For a real solid stay-at-home married man it was a real shock. It was very necessary now I can see it, for me not to be with that woman.

BD: What's the kid situation?

AP: Well that's another facet. I've spent the last three years being a single parent. I've had them almost six months of the year, on school holidays and weekends.

BD: Are you still living in Swindon?

AP: Yeah, I can't afford to go anywhere else. I must have done something terrible in a past life because I find myself living in Swindon. It's a punishment. So much ugliness crammed into such a small place -- how do they do it?

BD: So we've got the big themes out of the way first -- divorce, strikes, hearing loss. . .

AP: Yeah, I'm starting with my big rollers and then I'm working down to the fine brushes.

BD: What's the state of play with XTC now?

AP: We're resting between engagements as they say in theatrical terms. We're fishing for another deal and we're getting some great offers. We don't want to make the same mistakes, so we're being very cautious, and in the meantime storing up one hell of a lot of good songs.

BD: How bitter and twisted are these new songs?

AP: Well I tried not to do a Phil Collins -- you know -- "Songs for Swinging Divorcees". I've tried to stay well away from all that. There are a couple of bitter ones, but they're sweetened somewhat.

BD: You've been through the mill -- even people who don't know that much about XTC know that you had a breakdown in 1982. . .

AP: I thought I was a candidate for the Syd Barrett Award for a while. I just found myself doing something that I didn't necessarily want to do. I'd done five years solid touring and recorded goodness knows how many albums, and I never had a penny. I think it worried me that I was being kept on a kind of treadmill for everyone else's monetary benifit. We never got any money and we were always too busy to look into and find out what was going on. It began to get to me in a big way, plus I wanted something of a home life. I was sick of hotels. I just felt I was in the wrong place. My body started to tell me I didn't want to be doing that. I was trapped in this roving prison sentence -- touring is absolutely no fun at all. Don't let anybody tell you it's fun. I think you're a real saddo if you enjoy touring.

BD: What happened on that last night?

AP: Well, in Paris I had an enormous panic attack mixed with feeling totally dilapidated. I was crying and utterly shattered. That happened on stage literally during the first number. The whole world crowded in on me and I just paniced terribly. Before that we'd been in Italy and Germany and I'd not felt good. I'd resisted going on stage and been cajoled into going on. I think Paris was the last straw. We did one more gig in San Diego, I think, and that was really unpleasant all the way through. I just didn't want to be doing it. And I lost my bottle totally on a sell out gig at the Hollywood Palladium. We did the soundcheck and I was laying on the hotel bed afterwards, and I couldn't make my legs go to get off the bed to go to the gig. I was literally seizing up. I guess I'm not one of those touring, playing live rock n roll types when it all comes down to it. But I'm glad we did stop. I think if we hadn't stopped, I think the pressure of continuous touring would have made us fall apart. And I don't think we would have come up with the best material which I think has been since then.

BD: That was the last time XTC played live?

AP: Apart from doing the acoustic radio and TV thing around the States in 88/89, at the start of the accursed unplugged thing, but there were no audiences and no big pressure. It was more of a fun thing. There was no pressure to get up and perform like a horrible little monkey strapped to the barrel organ.

I'm a songwriter who happens to have a guiter hung 'round his neck. I was never a gig goer. I only went to a handful. I didn't really get off on the live thing, although I did quite like theater. I think the whole gig thing is closer to a Nuremberg rally than a theater -- the mass hysteria kind of thing.

BD: Is it true you disagreed with just about every single that was chosen by Virgin off the albums?

AP: More or less. They took the easy option, and I didn't think they were the best songs. In fact, I thought they tended to be some of the worst songs our of any given collection. The worst one in my opinion was "Sgt. Rock", which I thought was appallingly crass, and we really shouldn't have recorded it, but of course they picked it as the single.

BD: And it's become a feminist favourite ever since. . .

AP: (laughs) Yeah, I've had my sack of hate mail for that. I think there have always been better songs tucked away in the albums.

BD: With that in mind, what do you think of Fossil Fuel, which is a compilation of singles?

AP: (exhales) That's a tough one, because part of me wants to disown it because it's dead and gone and it's the old shit, the stuff you got rid of. But part of me is proud of it like some wonky kid I gave birth to. I like a lot of the later stuff. I can't listen to the early stuff. It's like baby photos.

BD: How far back before you start thinking, "Hey, I don't look too bad there?"

AP: The early 80s? Otherwise it's just gawky and spotty with your arse showing. Please mum, put those photos away! We had to learn our songwriting craft and maybe we made albums too early like most bands do, but rather than falling apart, we kept going, and learned our songwriting in public.

BD: So, would you consider English Settlement the point where we can start looking at the photos?

AP: Yeah. There's not too much arse cheek showing on Black Sea. English Settlement I feel more comfortable with, although being one of life's natural born editors, I think it's too damn long. I'd cut down all the songs. It sounds kind of big and unfinished to me.

BD: So Go 2 and White Music don't get much airplay in your house?

AP: Not really. I was in a restaurant in Bath some years back and someone obviously recognized me, and on the inhouse speaker system they put White Music on, and I cringed. I felt like dying. This smug waitress came over and said "Is there anything else you want?" and I said "Yes -- get this off the record player." It's like somebody gathering up all the spots you ever squeezed and presenting them to you. That was then. I was a different being. I was a gangly self-conscious pretentious late-blooming teen. The good thing about them is that they have youth energy and a naive charm I suppose but otherwise they don't have anything else. That's fine if you're someone else, but if you're the actual originator you don't want to be reminded that you were nervy and only attractive because of your nerdishness.

BD: Have you read Giles Smith's Lost In Music?

AP: Yeah, I did and I laughed my socks off, actually. He's a pretty good writer. I'd done interviews with him in the past and I didn't know he was such a fan. Then strangely enough I was working with Martin Newell and Giles came down to see him. I didn't realize they were so connected until I read the book.

BD: He really gets across that thing of being obsessed with music. . .

AP: I can sympathize with that. I was obsessed with music myself. I think do most of your topping up when your younger and you spend the rest of your life spewing the stuff out.

BD: Do you listen to anyting these days?

AP: I rarely listen to pop music. What have I played this week? Some Ali Fakhatour, some Duke Ellington, a little Harold Budd, I dug out an old Kinks record. I used to get crazy mad passionate crushes on people and true to most young people's form, I'd live my life by what I thought they were telling me on record.

BD: Which particular people.?

AP: Captain Beefheart I was obsessed with. The New York Dolls. As a kid I was a big Beatles fan. I stood there in a queue in my duffel coat and shorts to see A Hard Day's Night, wondering if it was cool to scream or not, because all the girls seemed to be screamingl I wondered if it was okay to scream if you were a boy. I decided not to scream. It's a terrible dilemma when you're young.

BD: So you haven't followed the latest wave of Britpop with baited breath?

AP: No, they just sound like a bunch of average bar bands to me who are doing the same kind of stuff that we have done in the past and therefore I can't get too revved up about it. It's okay. It's kind of cute and I can see them making some of the mistakes that we made. I worked with Blur temporarily but I didn't really get on with the record label too well.

I could see a lot of us in Blur in the studio, actually -- just the way they interacted personally. Alex, the bass player, is Colin, I'm sure of it. They're very similar.

BD: So is Damon the benevolent dictator that you are?

AP: No, I actually got more of Barry Andrews out of Damon. I think he's intelligent but resents it. Barry Andrews was like that, and tried to get as much street in as he could. Damon comes from a very learned family, but I think it embarrasses the shit out of him, so he takes off the airs and graces.

BD: So is Graham more you?

AP: Probably, yeah. A little unbalanced, likes to make a row with a guitar, always having problems with women, gets drunk. And wears glasses as well.

Oasis are okay. But I don't know who the other three plumbers are on stage with them. They're like three electricians who are working over the cables before the band comes on.

BD: I'm sure they're paid accordingly.

AP: Yeah. To put up with those two. They're the Ray and Dave Davies of the 90's -- two sisters arguing continuously. They're alright. They've just started and they're a bit turgid. When they stop being turgid they'll be okay. Everthing's kind of mid-paced and fuzzy. I don't think anyone's pointed out that Oasis are shockingly turgid. They kind of grind on like Motorhead at the wrong speed. They're okay and they've got a fair few tunes. The lyrics mean fuck all. It's like, "Let's sit down with a Beatles album and select a few words."

BD: What about the stuff you did with members of the Talking Heads?

AP: Yeah, this was minus David (Byrne), who put the band on ice for a while. They said "Come on we should be touring" and he wanted to mess around with his solo career but now it appears his solo career has gone down the toilet, he's been asking to get back together with them and they've told him to away. They wanted to do an album, and they decided he had some big shoes to fill -- or a big suit to fill, in fact -- and instead of having one singer, they contacted 12 and said if we posted you a track would you write a song to go with it? So they posted me [a track]. I wrote a song and went out to their studio to do it and so did a bunch of other people including Michael Hutchence and Debbie Harry. I sound a bit like Perry Como on my track for some reason.

BD: The future?

AP: I'm slaving away over a hot mixing desk at the moment and we've stored up about three albums worth at the moment. I'd like to get 20 or so of them out.

BD: What of the Duke of Stratosphear?

AP: They all died horribly in an incident in a sherbert factory. It's too gruesome to relate.

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[Thanks to Kirkwood Duke, Barry Divola and Jessica Adams]