Andy Partridge video interview

May 30, 2000



Having endured a seven-year silence since the band's departure from Virgin Records in 1992, XTC fans have been in heaven for the last 18 months.

First came 'Apple Venus', a breath-taking melting pot of lyrical and elaborate pop, in early 1999. Lush orchestral arrangements, a vaguely ecology-minded agenda and some of the most endearingly awful puns ever recorded.

Before the end of the year the band, now reduced to the duo of original members vocalist/guitarist Andy Partridge and bassist/guitarist Colin Moulding, would also release 'Transistor Blast', a four-CD box set of radio sessions and live recordings from the heady punk of the late-'70s to the prototype Britpop of the ensuing years, and 'Homespun', a collection of the original demos for 'Apple Venus'.

Now comes 'Wasp Star', subtitled 'Apple Venus Volume Two', technically their seventh album inside a year-and-a-half! More basic and electrically-charged than its predecessor, the new LP mines several seams of rock's history while still managing to be as fresh as tomorrow's cut flowers.

Partridge is on fine form, particularly during the opening 'Playground' (featuring his teenage daughter Holly on backing vocals) and 'The Man Who Murdered Love', all Lennon attitude wrapped up in McCartney chord changes.

Andy Partridge spoke to Terry Staunton exclusively for Music365 from the garden of his home in Swindon, Wiltshire. Here's highlights of the interview . . .

See Andy Partridge talk about:

The new album 'Wasp Star'...

'The strike'... XTC's long-running dispute with Virgin records...

Where the titles 'Apple Venus' and 'Wasp Star' came from...

Releasing two albums in 15 months...

Britpop stalwarts Blur...


Andy Partridge: Hello, I'm Andy Partridge. This is my table. I'm going to drum it for you. Here's one I made earlier on. This is Music365, and you should get out more.

The new album, Wasp Star

Music365: Okay, the new record, Wasps St St, errr Wasp Star . . .

AP: You found that tricky to say on those borrowed teeth didn't you?

M365: I certainly did!

AP: Wathp Thtar!

M365: Apple Venus Volume 2. So in relation to Apple Venus, which came out last year, how is this a companion piece or a sequel or whatever?

AP: It's a long and boring story so I'll say it quickly.

M365: Make it short and interesting?

AP: I'll say it with the aid of this big sludgy brown drink which is coming my way . . . [drink arrives] Look at this. I'll just gargle with some liquid soil here . . .mmmmmmm, that's better.

Ahem, yes. These songs, on Wasp Star, are the best of the second half . . . here's where it gets confusing . . . the best of the second half of the material that was written while we were on strike. The best of the first half of the material became Apple Venus. The best of the second half became Wasp Star.

Originally, I wanted to do it all as one project. It was all gonna be Apple Venus, one box with two CDs in it. But we ran out of time and money . . . and band members! So we had to release this a year later.

But I think if you pretend that you bought Apple Venus and you opened it up and then a year later and discovered there was another disk under the tray. 'Cos sometimes you do that with double albums, months later you'll think, "Christ, there's another disk under here", and then it folds out again, "Here's another one, I thought it was expensive!"

Errrm, so treat it all as the Apple Venus project.

The strike, XTC's long-running dispute with Virgin

M365: You mentioned just a second ago, the songs that you gathered while you were on strike. Can you just very quickly run through the strike thing. This is your long running dispute with Virgin, yes?

AP: Mmm-hmmm. Which is pretty much over. It's over as far as we're not owned by Virgin anymore. Our back catalogue is though . . . for perpetuity!

M365: Oh dear!

AP: But erm, essentially it's something err . . . It was 1992, I think, when Nonsuch came out and we really wanted to leave the label because we were never gonna make any money - it was such a crappy deal. And they weren't interested in promoting us, we were like some weird trophy band that was left on the label. We were making them just a little bit too much money for them to throw us off. We weren't making any money, but they were, that's the sad twist. So we all agreed to go on strike. We said, "We're not gonna deliver you any more records so you have to let us go". And they wouldn't.

So we couldn't work, we couldn't record, because they would have owned it forever. As soon as you go near a microphone they'll own it forever. And, we kept writing and writing and writing, storing up songs, thinking, "One day we'll get to record all these", and one day we did get free and started on the entire Apple Venus project.

So this is really the second disk of that project.

Where the titles Apple Venus and Wasp Star came from

M365: Where does the title Apple Venus and where does Wasp Star come from, are they just nice words or what?

AP: No, Apple Venus was . . . It was orginally titled, the whole project was going to be titled "The History of the Middle Ages", which I thought was very truthful, because we're middle-aged fellows and it was our recent history in song, if you see what I mean.

But Dave Gregory, who was still in the band at the time, threw a complete tantrum. [Imitating Dave] "I'm not being in a band that calls . . . I am not middle aged!". He's actually older than me, you know. Here's a man who's flabby and balding and greying telling me he's not middle aged! I said, "Well, of course, we're all middle aged, come on, grow up, wake up".

[Being Dave again] "I'm not middle aged, I won't have people thinking of me as middle aged!"

And so, "Alright, we won't call it that then!"

And I knew the album was gonna have a sort of pagan, feminine aura about it, so I wanted a title that seemed to sum it up.

And I'd heard that our fans have got this obsessive, daft idea where they think that our album titles come from a previous lyric on a previous album.

M365: Which is not true at all?

AP: No it's not true. It's purely coincidental that that word happens to be on our previous album.

M365: I can only think of one example of that: Oranges and Lemons, there's a line on Skylarking . . .

AP: Orange AND Lemon, yeah.

M365: That sounds a little bit TOO obsessive, are your fans like that?

AP: Oh, they're . . . exceedingly obsessive!

Anyway, you've caught me playing with my little toggle! Look at it, it's black and all frayed at the end. So, where were we before I was so rudely, eerrr buggered, errmmm . . .

Yes, I decided to check out, as a piece of mischief, this theory, and see if I could use a phrase from Nonsuch that would pertain to this rather vaguely pagan, vaguely feminine-sounding record. And I saw the phrase Apple Venus, which was part of the lyric of "Then She Appeared" and I thought, "That's perfect, I'm gonna nab that, I'm gonna steal from myself and have that".

So we had that, and the whole project was going to be called Apple Venus but then it got split into Apple Venus Volume 1 and, because this one is later, we sort of ummed and aaahed a bit about whether we should just call this Apple Venus Volume 2 - was that gonna be just too confusing? And then the American record company said, "You're gonna confuse radio endlessly over here", 'cos they still function on a "One-K brain", basically, the people who put American radio together.

And they said, "Why don't you call it a shorter title and we'll have that as a sub-title", which I was umming and aaahhing about doing in any case. I was thinking about calling it "Firework" but I went off that.

And while we were mixing the record down at Rockfield, I bought a book of Aztec art. And I saw the Aztec phrase for Venus - which is "The Wasp Star". I thought [raps table], "That's perfect, that's beautiful!" 'Cos it's two great words; it's two words that you would never see together. I thought, "We'll have that". I just liked the electricity of the title Wasp Star. It sounded a really electric title and this is a very electric album. So it's got nothing to do with . . . People are already on the Internet going, "Is it because they're white anglo saxon protestants?" Soitainly not, Stanley.

Or, "Is it because they're wasps and their music is annoying and dives in your pint on an August afternoon?". No. It's the Aztec phrase for Venus.

Releasing two albums in 15 months

M365: So we've now had two albums in the space of 15 months from you, after a 7 year gap. How long will it be until the next one? Are you fired up? Are you of the mind to bring something out every year and a half or so?

AP: Well, we haven't written anything because we've been busy making these two albums on the trot. I'm getting really itchy fingers now, to want to write. So I actually find myself in between interviews and stuff in the evenings, picking up the guitar, thinking, "There's an idea in there and I can't get it out." I'm really intending to write. But we have a couple more months of gabbing to do.

M365: That's the great question you're asked all the time, and I shall ask it as well. Any chance of live shows at all?

AP: Not necessary. That's the art [pointing to a copy of Wasp Star]. The art is not standing on stage wiggling your fat arse.

M365: Do you actually enjoy going to see concerts yourself?

AP: No, they bore me shirtless. They really do.

M365: Why is that?

AP: They're just never as good as I want them to be in my imagination. They haven't bothered with the light show. They've got crappy shirts on. The music's out of tune. Or they're miming. They're a tribute band. I don't know. I think it's a young thing. Even as a teenager I used to go and see bands, and then resent the bands because they'd play too loud and I was trying to chat up girls. I'd have my fingers in my ears yelling, "Can I walk you home? Where do you live?" The bands would be spoiling my sex life. So I was never a big gig fan of anybody else.

M365: You mentioned the tribute bands. Are you aware of any XTC tribute bands? Do any such beasts exist?

AP: There are, there are quite a few, actually.

M365: They're obviously filling the live void.

AP: The live void. Don't go near the live void. In America there's a few, and I think there are some in Japan as well. I met one of them. I met me! I met me!

M365: Have you a photograph with you?

AP: I don't remember. Maybe he snuck a quick one in. I don't remember. He came to a record signing in a store in New York. And he was a fatter younger version of me, with more hair, and glasses. He brought his guitar, and had a big floppy cap on as well. And he said, "I'm you". He explained that he was me in this tribute band. I can't remember what they were called, "The Nigels", "The Simpletones", whatever they were called. "The Dear Gods". Whatever they were called. And, he had me sign his guitar and his shirt and everything else that wobbled.

M365: Did he actually play anything for you?

AP: No, thank you.

M365: So you don't know how good or bad he is?

AP: I had him ejected from the store. It is a bit worrying meeting yourself, I have to say. I was uglier than I thought I'd be.

Britpop stalwarts Blur

M365: At the height of Britpop, a band called Blur brought out the Parklife album and in at least half a dozen reviews I read, the name of XTC was mentioned - almost every song had been influenced by what yourself and Colin had been doing ten or fifteen years earlier. "Boys and Girls" or "Girls and Boys", whatever way round it is, was like a rewrite of "Meccanic Dancing".

AP: Or "Life Begins at The Hop". Well, Blur are one of the braver British bands, they've actually . . . We are the love that dare not speak its name, if you like XTC, you don't say so, well not in England, you know. "What those middle aged old art gits?"

M365: You've actually worked with Damon haven't you?

AP: Yeah, I did some production work for them, which was rejected by their record company, for Modern Life Is Rubbish. Blur were one of the braver bands, they actually said, "XTC influenced us". Although we can hear ourselves in other bands, they were the only ones that had the guts to say so. And, yeah, I did some production with them, but their record company said it "wasn't sexy" [laughs]. What was the quote? Oh yeah. "The drums aren't sexy" . . . Well, Dave [Rowntree, Blur drummer, assumedly] isn't sexy! He's just a big ginger git that 'its 'em, you know.

Poor old Dave begged me not to use a drum machine or a computer or anything, he said, "I really want to drum, please let me drum". I said, "Okay, it'll be good for band morale". And the record company rejected it saying, "No, just not sexy, Andy".

M365: So did any of the songs you worked on re-emerge in a sexier manner?

AP: Err, I think one of them did, but I couldn't hear any difference. My sex-o-meter didn't go into the red when I held it up against whoever did the next version of it.

M365: You've also worked with a couple of other strange people. You worked with - well you've written songs with - Terry Hall.

AP: Aaah, you wanna hear the stuff I wrote with Lenny The Lion! That was really good. [Laughs]

M365: [Laughing] I don't think our viewers would know much about Lenny The Lion. You're showing too much of your age there!

AP: Yes, well.

M365: And didn't you work with Goth overlords The Mission at one point?

AP: That was a production job, that was the biggest mistake of my career! Alright, I did it for the money! It was unpleasant, it was very unpleasant. The Mission were Okay, but Wayne Hussey was . . . a big four-letter word. That's about it really. But I did quite a good job I think.

M365: That was some B-side stuff was it?

AP: No, it was a single, called . . .eerrrrrr . . . oooooohhh . . . it had the word "sand" in the title.

M365: Oh, I think I know the one you mean . . . .

AP: No, can't remember . . .

XTC's latest CD 'Wasp Star' (see review) is out now on the Cooking Vinyl label.

Tue May 30 2000 17:05 GMT

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[Thanks to and transcribed by Dave Smith]
[Thanks to and photos provided by Ed Kedzierski]