Andy Partridge on Triple-J FM, Australia

Triple-J FM, Australia
June 2000
interviewed by Francis Leach

Two albums in two years! XTC are truly spoiling the fans. But they should spoil the fans because it's been a long time coming for these two last Apple Venus volumes. Legal troubles with the record company... We actually went into it with Andy Partridge when Apple Venus Volume 1 came out last year. But just recently Andy Partridge from XTC made contact again with Triple-J and spoke to Francis Leach and he explained to Francis why the two volumes in the Apple Venus collection:

Triple-J: Why didn't the Apple Venus series come out as a double album?

Andy Partridge: It's two sides of the same coin. You have to imagine all this lot coming out in one double package, that's how it was originally intended to come out. Imagine that the year between, you were struggling with the case and you eventually lifted it up and found there was a second disk in there. That's what happens, I buy albums, I don't know they're double albums, and then a month later, I think, "My God, there's another disk in here!"

JJJ: Why didn't they come out together then?

AP: Oh, we ran out of time, and we ran out of money, we ran out of producer, we ran out of band member. Aaah, we thought we had better get the one project finished up, or half the project finished up and out, rather than make people wait anymore.

JJJ: What about the long period of time between making these two records and Nonsuch in 1992? I know that you had legal problems but as a musician and somebody who likes to record their material and put it out there, that must have been a pretty tough time.

AP: It was a tough time. It was a real giant ups-and-downs time. It was a time where we were on strike to get out of our inequitous deal with Virgin, and it was ... it was very frustrating that you can't work, you just know that if you step in the studio, they're going to own it for perpetuity. They'll own any songs, I wrote for up to 70 years after my death.

JJJ: They'll own you beyond the grave.

AP: It is beyond the grave, you know, and my kids wouldn't benefit from it unless they were some ... they lived to some stupidly Guiness Book of Records type age, but it is very frustrating not to be able to work, but the good thing was I was storing songs and going through lots of emotional ups-and-downs. Marriage went PHHHUTT! Fell in love again, which was good. That saved me from looking out of a bottle I think. So it was real up-and-downs time, and the material written in that shows real ups and downs.

JJJ: How did you survive in that time? I can't imagine XTC have been flushed with wealth over the years? What did you do? Did you have to go and busk in the streets?

AP: We didn't go into profit from the sale of our records for 20 years, which sounds completely surreal. And people say, well that's a long time to wait for a wage packet. And it really is. We never received a penny from the sale of our records until 1997 - which was actually a few weeks after we managed to escape from Virgin. Suspicious, or what?

JJJ: What about your relationship with Colin, because it's just the two of you now?

AP: Yeah. We used to be a four piece but I've eaten all the others.

JJJ: It seems to be that way. Is Colin next?

AP: He's looking great with a bit of steak sauce on his hair.

JJJ: It's a bit like that movie Alive, you know, when the plane crashes...

AP: Well we made a cannibal pact back in 1977, and it looks like I'm the fattest surviving member!

JJJ: [Laughs] But has it been frustrating for the others that you don't like playing live anymore? That rock 'n' roll instinct is to find an audience, isn't it?

AP: Yeah, but I think you're grabbing at many different straws here. Yeah, it was frustating for Terry Chambers, the original drummer, because he was not a writer, and his sole joy in life was to hit those drums, get offstage as quick as possible, and then to hit the bars of the world.

JJJ: Seems a reasonable thing to want to do.

AP: That was his modus operandi in life. So he was a little disappointed when we stopped touring. And Dave Gregory was a little disappointed because he wasn't a writer, so he found his role seemingly getting smaller and smaller. But for Colin and msyelf not touring was the beginning of a new life. You actually get to lead a normal life, and you can concentrate on what you love doing.

JJJ: It's a remarkably optimistic record. I mean you hear that song 'Stupidly Happy', and it's almost incredibly unfashionable to write a song like that these days. You know, "Things are just going fine, thank you very much."

AP: Yeah, well, I have to say, when you write a song you should be emotionally truthful. I think if you're miserable you write a miserable song, if you're happy you write a happy song. If you're confused you write a confused song. Too many people with 100% broad spectrum of emotion who are just writing one percent spectrum songs. They expect to be taken "seriously" all the time, so they write "serious" songs, and that's just so untruthful. So I try and emotionally write ... correctly, if you see what I mean. Not correctly ... but truthfully.

Well after all the bothers that they've been through especially in the last ten years it's good to hear that he is "Stupidly Happy". That is Andy Partridge out front of XTC, from the new XTC album called Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2). Volume 1 came out last year. That was a terrific release. This one sounds pretty much along the same lines as well, although when Andy Partridge spoke to me last year he said that this one was going to be different. The first one was kind of a bit more lush, a bit more orchestrated. And this new one was going to be a bit more rock 'n' roll, a bit more riffs, a bit more "up", too, and it sounds like it so far from the bits that I've heard.

JJJ: You must be proud though that, XTC has not only found an audience, that has listened to you for years and years, but also that in a way XTCs become a 'musician's band' in much the way that The Velvet Underground and groups like that have become 'musician's bands'?

AP: Trouble is that we're really big with people who get their records for free.

[Francis Leach bursts into laughter]

That's the problem, y'know - the critics love us and bands kind of ... yeah so, you know, we're big with people who tend to get their records for free.

JJJ: A lot of your work's been formed by your experiences as a child, hasn't it? I mean over the years we've had that, but on this album the opening song 'Playground' touches a chord for a lot of people who've left school long behind. And there's that fantastic line in it at the end of the song: "You might [sic] leave school, but it never leaves you."

AP: Mmm, well everything you do in your childhood ... not just the song playground, but everything you do in your childhood, everything that goes in, every piece of sensory input, your ears, eyes, nose, arse, fingertip - wherever it goes in. Everything is gonna make its mark on you. And when you get to the adult stage of putting out, you're gonna use the clay that went in when you were a kid. There's not much clay goes in after about the age of about 15. I think from then on you start wanting to explain the world in terms of what the world has filled you up with up to that age.

JJJ: Is it part of the genius of creativity to be able to still access that part of yourself and to trust it and to celebrate it and to explore it?

AP: I dunno about genius. I don't wear jeans any more so you couldn't call me a genius. I'm more of a 'corduroyus'. It's good to grow up, but it's good to grow up and not lose. Why don't you just grow and gain? Too many people grow up and leave behind. They leave the child stuff behind, which is wrong. I think you just add to it.

JJJ: Where does all the melody come from?

AP: Oh - they're easy ...

JJJ: Oh, come on!

AP: ...That's easy. It's the words that's the [important thing?]...

JJJ: No they're not! Lots of us have been in crap pop bands and tried it, but you still do it better than most. Where does it come from? Where are you hiding it?

AP: Ahhh, well you gotta study. You don't wake up and then you're ... you don't pick up the violin on day one and then you're Yehudi Menuhin. You gotta work at it. You gotta listen to people you like, and listen to 'em and find out what makes 'em tick. You know - sit down with a hundred Burt Bacharach songs and find out what the formula was. Sit down with a hundred Lennon & McCartney songs. Find out what structure their architecture is - what things they keep doing over and over, you know?

JJJ: So there is a science to it?

AP: Oh sure, but too many people think you just plug in the [wall?] ... you just plug a three-pin plug on your guitar, plug in the [wall?] and out comes a record. You've gotta work at it. You've gotta ... you know painters of the past they didn't just take up a paintbrush and they were fantastic. They sat and they copied people they liked. They sat and they listened to people telling them how to do stuff. They worked through. You know, they made sure they had all the weapons and equipment they needed for when they wanted to make a big bang.

JJJ: It interests me because it seems that British pop above all has that love affair with melody and harmony in a way that comtemporary American music hasn't had. What is it about the British experience that means that we have The Beatles and we have The Kinks and we have XTC?

AP: I think it's in ... the British, we never had the blues. Forget it. We didn't get any of that. We had it second-hand, third-hand in the Forties or Fifties or whatever. Before then it was the music hall. It was the European tradition. It was the tradition of music hall, it was the tradition of pantomime - you know, baggy pants falling down - singing songs about people next door getting drunk. It's all very local and very small and ... probably if I thought it through, it's got a hell of a lot to do with the class system. But then again you can bring 99% of things in England back to the class system.

JJJ: Andy, over the years you've written many great songs that have been on the radio a hell of a lot, that must have resonated with people. And they must occasionally tell you about the impact of them. And I'm thinking about one that still gets asked for a lot at this station, and that's the song "Dear God", which whenever we have a request time is always asked for. Is that one of the songs you think has had a deep impact on people?

AP: Well, personally I think it's one of my better failures. I think it's such an enormous subject, a subject that was really important for me to try and grasp personally or to try and wrestle with and to get rid of - you know, to purge the last bits and pieces out of me on that subject. I think I failed terribly. I mean how do you put a subject as big as human belief into 3-1/2 minutes? I mean you just can't do it. So I thought it was a lovely failure. But seemingly ... it seems to get on people's tits. When it gets played on the radio, mostly loving caring Christians, then want to theaten me and, you know, firebomb me, and that sort of thing. So it's a shame that you're not really allowed to have your opinion. Free speech doesn't exist. We all know that.

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[Thanks to Clifford Smith, Duncan Kimball, and Toni Adler]