XTC: A Conversation with Andy Partridge

Progressive Media
April 26, 1982
by Moira McCormick

They're a pop band with brains, never content to exist at only one level, forever bombarding the listener with tricks pulled from a bottomless bag -- puns and wordplay, serious commentary, aural effects, hooks, lines, and sinker. There is so much going on in the typical XTC song, no matter how immediately accessible it may be, that it takes a few dozen listenings to assimilate. Yet they haven't a pretentious bone among them; XTC doesn't care whether you appreciate their subtleties or not. If they can get you through the glands, they've communicated. And they just have the best time slinging more musical stuff at you than you can possibly catch.

Partridge says English Settlement reflects XTC's growth, especially in light of several years of touring under their collective belt. "We were very aware of England in general, and English things," he says of writing the album. Up to that point, "we'd been touring so much that coming home was like visiting a foreign country. But we knew we belonged there, and I think we suddenly became aware of lots of things that were going on.

English Settlement, Number 1, Progressive Radio Album
XTC, Number 12, Commercial Radio Airplay
XTC, Number 1, College / Non-Commercial Airplay
XTC English Settlement, Number 1, Reporters' Picks
XTC "Senses Working Overtime", Number 2, Stand-Out Cuts
XTC "Runaways", Number 20, Stand-Out Cuts
XTC English Settlement, Number 1, In-Store Play
XTC, Number 4, Audience Response (most requested)
XTC English Settlement, Number 2, Imports
XTC English Settlement, Number 9, Progressive Retail Album

"I think it's our most English record. That's why it has that title, you see. It's kind of an ambiguous title. [In fact], the British cover is an embossed prehistoric hill carving of a horse -- literally a kind of Iron Age advertisement for an English settlement that was on top of the hill when the first settlers came to England. And it's us living here, settling here, and also the settling of viewpoints, when two people have a disagreement or a different view and they get something settled.

The U.S. pressing of English Settlement is a single album as opposed to the two disc English release, a difference that has Partridge a bit nettled at their U.S. label Epic Records. "I'm amazed that they trimmed it down -- I don't know why they did," he says. "We asked them to sell it for the price of a single album because that's all it costs to make. An actual plastic disc costs a few cents to produce, so I can't see what the difficulty was. I'd better not dwell on it too much," he sighs, "because it's a really touchy subject."

"The American cover doesn't have the embossing, another point I'm really sore about," he adds. "It looks decidedly dull. I don't want to sound like I'm slagging CBS all the time, but I wish they'd just do what they're asked, actually. I know I'm going to be apologizing all over America for the apparently substandard cover."

Cover aside, Partridge sees English Settlement as a chronicle of the band as well as the world around it. "Nobody's personality stays the same from day to day," he explains. "It changes subtly, and over the space of weeks and years quite dramatically. We like to carry this to our music.

"I'm becoming much less interested in music and much more in words," Partridge adds. "And I think it's beginning to show -- on this album, there are a lot of words per track, if you see what I mean.

"Also, much simpler forms of music appeal to me -- I think the music's getting simpler as the years go by, and this is not a desire to say, “Hey, let's make some money.” It's just that I'm trying to simplify the music and be more effective with less."

The American record opens with Moulding's moody, percussive "Runaways." "I ran away when I was a kid, and Colin did, too," Partridge recalls. "I don't think we knew anybody who didn't run away when we heard our parents fighting. From what I can gather, it's just about feeling awful and desperate and thinking the whole world's collapsing when he or she hears their parents fighting."

"I'm quite an optimist, I'm quite a smiley person, really," he goes on cheerily. "I'm not down very often. I think there are people who are much more miserable than I am. Maybe that makes me a simpleton, I don't know. Some idiot formula for feeling okay."

His "Jason and the Argonauts," says Partridge, is an analogous description of touring. Far from the tiresome "on the road again" touring anthems, "Jason" is replete with tantalizing images of the "exotic fish" picked up along the way. "It's literally the only song about touring I've ever written, and that's not apparent," admits Partridge. "You go around the world so much, and you see so many apparently weird things -- my songs are never straight-ahead, there's always a lot of things colliding; love ambiguity and things like that -- it's basically like coming home and trying to explain the unusual things I've seen. When people try to explain these unusual things, they never come out right.

"With expressions in the song like, ‘She was a real scarlet woman,’ some people might think, ‘Well, did he mean she was sort of red?’ -- things like that. You're exposed to things for the first time, and you think, ‘God, how wonderful’ or ‘How amazing,’ and you go home and your head is absolutely crammed with this outside information, and I'm trying to blurt it all out.

"We try to give the music a continuous traveling feel," he continues. "It just keeps chugging and chugging on; it could be traveling on a train, or in a boat. Do you see what I mean? Some people have criticized that track ["Jason"] particularly for being somewhat overlong, but its length is just to create this hypnotic continual traveling effect."

Side one ends with the dub-inflected "Snowman," of which Partridge says: "It's possibly me in the past -- a chap being constantly ignored by a girl he's trying to make interested in him. She's treating him like absolute rubbish. A line in the song -- it's Dave Gregory's favorite line; he said, ‘Andy, that's absolutely the best line you've ever written’ -- is ‘People will always be tempted to wipe their feet on anything that's got “Welcome” written all over it.’ She's not taking any notice of him, and he's just freezing up, because he wants to show that he loves her.

The dreamy, hypnotically percussive, and quite jingly "It's Nearly Africa" is . . . at first glance a concession to pop music's current faddish preoccupation with African rhythms. In fact, informs Partridge, "The body of the song was written in 1975; I never thought about finishing it till 1981. The original song was called ‘It's Primitive Now.’ It was a little celebration of all things primitive, of how we should slow down and appreciate being basically animals, in the good sense of the word; how we should realize we're really very primitive and find the joy in that, rather than racing onwards through technology and losing our realness."

Partridge does of course realize that African songs are in vogue, and says apologetically, "I do find that a little bit embarrassing. I was very suspicious of bringing this song up when I finished it. I told the rest of the band, ‘Look, I'm awful worried about this -- it seems to be the thing to do now!’ They said, ‘No, it sounds like a good song, let's finish it,’ so they sort of coaxed me into it. If it does sound like it's in fashion, it's totally unintentional, and whoops, I'm sorry about that."

"I turn into a gorilla on stage. I use my brain the rest of the year, and then when I get onstage my brain turns off and this Neanderthal man rises out from inside me and jumps around for an hour and a half. And then the brain clicks back into use about 10 minutes after we've finished and I'm led in a sweating pile into the dressing room. And I think, ‘Oh God what have I just done?’ My brain just turns off. I stop thinking about what I'm doing, totally. I'm in total animal overdrive.

"You're so wound up with nerves," he goes on, "the little piece of elastic snaps, catapults your brain off into space -- to save it from going crazy -- and lets your body dance around for an hour and a half. Hopefully, it still keeps the audience interested.

"I hate repeating myself," Andy Partridge states with finality. "When we perform, every night the suit is made differently. Some nights we leave the arms off, and some nights we stitch one of the pockets up so you can't get your hands in."

XTC has the world in stitches.

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Transcribed by John Relph.