Interview with Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding

WBRU 95.5 FM, Providence

Dramatis Personae:
Andy Partridge (AP)
Colin Moulding (CM)
Alexa, a rather young and awkward-sounding interviewer (WBRU)

AP: Yes, this is Andy Partridge of XTC -

CM: And Colin Moulding of -

AP: Yes yes yes, you're listening to our heart-throbbing voices via those scintillating airwaves of 95.5, WBRU, Prrrrovidence!

Announcer: Welcome to a very special WBRU interview with XTC. WBRU's own Alexa had the opportunity to talk with Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding last month and, for the next thirty minutes, we'll hear what they had to say. We'll hear them discuss the making of their new album, Oranges and Lemons, as well as listening to a few cuts from the album itself. They'll also talk about the making of Skylarking, and about the future of their very special friends, the Dukes of Stratospshear. So, sit back and listen up, as we talk with XTC.

WBRU: Well, here we are, and maybe we can get just a hello from each of you?

AP: Yes, grunt, grunt.

CM: Hello, hello, hello.

AP: Hello, world.

WBRU: (giggling) Um, here we are with two of three of XTC. . .

AP: Yes, two-thirds, or slightly more than half - here they are, the Two Thirds!

CM: (sotto voce) Two turds. . .

WBRU: And your other third is. . .?

AP: He's at home in bed, I expect. What time is it? Is he going to be in bed by now? Hmm. . . He's probably thinking of turning his amplifier down a bit and going to bed now.

WBRU: OK. Well, it's been quite a while since we had new music, since Skylarking - did you spend most of that time working on the new Oranges and Lemons album?

AP: Uhh, no, well, there was Psonic Psunspot - you know, we helped our favorite group the Dukes of Stratosphear to finish that off.

WBRU: Just a little bit of help, right?

AP: Just a little bit of help. We clubbed together for a plectrum for them -

CM: We gave them their guitars back.

AP: Gave them their guitars back. They were stood there empty-handed for the first week in the studio, couldn't figure out why they couldn't hear anything. Um, then after Psonic Psunspot, it was really time to put our real heads back on and be really us again, and so that was when this stuff that is now Oranges and Lemons started getting penned. I think that's the word you professionals use - penned.

WBRU: Wonderful album, just spent some time listening to it earlier today -

AP: Aw, shucks.

WBRU: - and I have to ask you about the cover now, of course, lots of Beatles inspiration in XTC music in general, the cover is "Yellow Submarine," a.k.a. . . XTC?

AP: Well, it's kind of bastard son of Heinz Adelman and Milton Glaser. The original inspiration came from a Milton Glaser poster for a radio station - actually, I think it was a Boston station, I think, the original poster, and. . . I always wanted to do a kind of Pop Art cover, you know, like the Who's A Quick One, or Oldies but. . . Oldies but Mouldings. . .

CM: (laughing dutifully) Cheers.

AP: (laughing) That's all right - "I have this rusty shilling. . ." [Anyone know what this means? - ed] So we thought it was a nice thing to do - we always wanted to do a cover like that. I was initially rather worried that people were going to say - how dare you take this style of art and claim it to be your own for five minutes, but nobody has, everyone has said "Coo! How fresh."

CM: So we've got away with that one.

AP: (laughing) Phew! Yeah, I think it's a rather fresh art style that hasn't been seen for twenty-something years, so, worth a spin.

WBRU: (over intro to "The Mayor of Simpleton") OK, well, um, why don't we take a listen to something off of the new album, something I think our listeners are familiar with -

AP: Don't play the rim.

WBRU: No. "The Mayor of Simpleton," how about that one?

AP: Oh, that'll do.


("The Mayor of Simpleton")

WBRU: (over outro) Good tune there, that's one of yours, right, Andy?

AP: Yes, there they go, heading off into the sunset. (hums "Happy Trails")

WBRU: (giggling) A story behind that? Obviously not about you.

AP: Actually, this is a tricky one to talk about, because the thing is, it's a very simple song, it doesn't say that you need - it means that you don't need vast wads of exam papers and stuff to say that you can feel, you know. . . everyone can feel, and I think that's a bit better than brain-power, usually.

WBRU: OK. Um, now, Todd Rundgren, I know, produced Skylarking, and you have a - (AP sucks in his breath with horror) - story behind someone who produced this album. . .

CM: Emperor Toddulus.

AP: Emperor Toddulus the First, yes, the only four foot tall producer we've ever worked with.

CM: Yes, it can be told now, listeners, that Andy Partridge did not get on with Todd Rundgren. It has to be said.

WBRU: (worried) Ohh.

AP: It's OK. Too much has been made of that, actually. We should be nice to Todd today.

CM: Todd likes to do things the Todd way -

AP: In Toddio. [?]

CM: And if you don't like it, then the sparks are gonna fly, you know, but. . .

AP: Yes, suffice to say that when you work with Todd you just have to leave your ego at home in the cupboard and come and be fleshy recording fodder for his love.

WBRU: Which is what you love to do.

AP: Oh, I just love to do that, yes! I mean, I've got a reasonable-sized ego, no bigger and no smaller than anyone else's, and Todd's rather got a monster! But he wouldn't show it to me, so. . . We just didn't get on too much. But I think the LP's fine. When we initially finished it, I was a little displeased with it, but I think that was more my - the fact that I thought that doing the whole LP was going to be like a summer holiday, a summer camp or something - not really summer camp, it was more like a concentration camp! Yes, Camp Todd, Stalag Todd, as it was known, actually.

CM: Todd's got this studio up near Bearsville in upstate New York, and when the bands record at his studio, you have to stop in "The Guest House" for bands, you know, you make pals with the mice that roam the corridors and. . . it's a pretty decrepit sort of place.

AP: It's amazing, the last band that were there had such a plague of mice that they tried to poison them, and succeeded, and so there were lots of dead, rotting mice under the floorboards stewing up the house lovely by the time we got there.

WBRU: Always good for a bit of musical inspiration.

AP: Oh, it was great, you get in there and - (sniffs) - Hmm, what's that smell? Is that airline food? (sniffs)

CM: One thing that did strike us was the fact that Todd's gear that he's got in the studio all seems to be very antiquated, it really is stuck in the early 70's, technology-wise.

AP: He's got "Stalinphone" printed on the lot of it.

CM: And even more surprising that he runs his 24-inch, uh, sorry, 24-track tape recorder at 15 inches per second, which is unheard-of these days. It's supposed to be thirty inches.

WBRU: All right, well, before we get sued, maybe we should stop. (Giggles nervously)

AP: Just to round it all up, despite him being a total pain in the neck to work with, he's, uh -

CM: He is a good producer.

AP: He's a great producer, and -

WBRU: The album sounded wonderful.

AP: And a wonderful musician. And he did some very surprising, but very good things with the music. It was his idea that we do the kind of John Barry existentialist spy theme backing to "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul," I mean, the original demo was nothing like that, it sounded more like Leonard Cohen, the original demo.

CM: But he's a rotten engineer.

AP: (over intro to "Dear God") Well, he's a rotten engineer, yeah. It's give and take, you know, he's a good producer. . .

CM: On balance, it was a good experience, I think.

AP: I wish I hadn't crapped in his wastepaper bin.

("Dear God")

WBRU: Now, there's a different story behind Paul Fox, the man who produced this album?

CM: Yes, Paul's been kicking Los Angeles for about ten years as a session keyboard player, and he did a single with Boy George called "Living My Life," which he virtually took George's vocal and re-wrote all the arrangement around his vocal. It had previously been recorded with another producer, and I think Virgin Records weren't too pleased with the results, so they got Paul in to re-arrange the music, and he just re-wrote the whole song around George's vocal, so we thought - That's very impressive! So we thought maybe we should use this guy, so we got him down to Swindon, and had a chat, and we seemed to talk the same language and -

WBRU: Pleased with the results?

CM: He drunk more beer than what we could, so we were pretty pleased with that. . .

AP: And keep it down.

CM: And keep it down.

AP: Drink more beer than us and keep it down. . . Well, he was - just to finish off the Foxy tale here, he was literally the only producer we saw. We were supposed to meet up with lots of others and then put all their names in a great big hat, in an empty tape spool box, and draw one out, you know - "So the producer will be (whssh!) seven and a quarter!" No, we didn't see any of the other producers. After this meeting with him, we thought, "Mm, fine, we'll go with him." And I think it was just the right choice. Of course, it wasn't till about three quarters of the way through that his wife let the cat out of the bag and said (atrocious American accent) "Paul's very, very excited about the mixing that we're going to start in a day or so, this being his first album!" We thought - (makes horrified sound). A bit like being told you're about to land at Heathrow Aiport - "Uh, is there any pilots on board? Can anyone fly one of these things?" But he landed it brilliantly and we're all cock-a-hoop with the results.

WBRU: OK, well, why don't we take a listen to something else from the new album.

AP: Oh, pick one!

WBRU: "King For a Day"?

AP: "Kink For a Day"?

WBRU: "Kink For a Day," right.

AP: "King Dong For a Day."

CM: Yes, that's me, folks.

WBRU: (over intro) I guess the theme here, sort of. . . being your own person, not just to follow other people. . . [Very American interpretation - ed]

CM: Well, it's about the English way of life, now, really. There's a big thing in England about being self-made men - which in itself is OK, but it's just the way you get there and - it's a pretty ugly scene getting there in England at the moment.

("King For a Day")

WBRU: I have been told that there was something you had had a discussion about removing from the album or not.

AP: There was on Skylarking, I mean, "Dear God," actually, "Dear God" got removed from Skylarking.

WBRU: Which wasn't on the original.

AP: Yeah, at my instigation, it has to be told.

WBRU: Truthfully?

AP: Yeah, I didn't think I'd written the song chewy enough, tough enough.

CM: Well, Andy was faced with a dilemma, that the record company and Andy himself wanted a track called "Another Satellite" on the record, so something had to come off, and Andy chose "Dear God."

WBRU: Well, that's personally - "Another Satellite" is my favorite off of that album.

AP: Hmm. Well, I can't pick singles - you're talking to the man who thought "Senses Working Overtime" shouldn't have been a single, and had no idea that "The Mayor of Simpleton" might be a single. You're talking to a man with no single judgement whatsoever. Single dyslexic! Yes, are you dyslexic? Write to me at (backwards noises)

WBRU: (giggling) I thought we might try listening to something a little stranger off of the album, a song called "Poor Skeleton Steps Out."

AP: Yes yes yes.

CM: Fair game.

WBRU: . . . which I listened to and first thought it was funny and strange and kind of odd, and then sort of listened to it again and all of a sudden in the middle it seems to be about sex discrimination and racism.

AP: Well, it's all about liberating from all "isms," getting yourself liberated from racism, sexism -

CM: Jism. [Someone had to say it - ed]

AP: - ism-ism, jis-ism. . . If you're going to take it that far, let's get down to liberating the skeleton, he's the poor swine that has to hold up all these people. So it's the ultimate liberation song - poor old skeleton, he has to wait until you've died until he can come out of the fleshy cupboard and party. . .

("Poor Skeleton Steps Out")

WBRU: OK, well, something a little different off XTC's new album, Oranges and Lemons, that one was called "Poor Skeleton Steps Out" here on BRU. Speaking of things a little strange, a little funny -

AP: (defensively) What did you look at me, when you said that?? The accusation in your eyes is horrendous.

WBRU: What's the future of the Dukes of Stratosphear?

CM: They're packing it in.

WBRU: They are packing it in. Officially.

CM: Yeah, they're hanging up their guitars and joining XTC.

AP: They died in a very strange cooking demonstration accident indeed. . .

WBRU: Those are awful.

AP:. . .involving a lot of hot fat and lemon drops. They've had to stop, yeah . . . how far can we take this thing? But we've got some other projects up our sleeve, but I shouldn't really tell you about them in case they don't materialize. You'll know it's us when you can't decide who it is.

WBRU: Right, must be them. I thought we might throw in a Dukes song, "You're a Good Man Albert Brown." Where does "Curse You Red Barrel" come from, the second name of the song?

AP: Ah-hah! Well, it's a - in England in the late '60's, a chain of companies called Watney's brought out a new beer entitled Red Barrel, which was absolutely disgusting, and they gutted all these pubs in England and made them - well, they took these lovely charming olde worlde wood-panelled saw-dusty pubs and made them look all tiled and futuristic, like men's lavatories, and had this Red Barrel stuff in there, that was all you could get - and the thing was, "the Red Revolution," this disgusting beer, and it's a mixture of - it's meant to tip your hat at Snoopy and the Red Baron, and also this wretched beer in England from the late '60's, Red Barrel, which made you go to the lavatory pretty imminently, and so it tries to get rid of a few influences all at the same time.

("You're A Good Man Albert Brown")

WBRU: So I gather since Skylarking came out you've had yourself some children, correct? Two?

AP: Well, actually, I had one before Skylarking, and then, my goodness, I got home and I had another one! It's something to do with the bedroom, but I can't work out what it is, I haven't got the connection yet - in any case, I'm not going near celery anymore. Uh, yeah, I have a little girl of three and a half and a little boy of one and a half - bookends, the set.

WBRU: Wonderful! OK, uh -

AP: I don't have them with me now, so I'm afraid we can't . . .

WBRU: They're holding up the books, right?

AP: Yes, they're at home now, you know, cleaning chimneys and - we have a huge treadmill in the front room which runs the electricity generator in the house - they're going round on that right now.

WBRU: OK! Wonderful, and the future - you're not touring, you don't tour. . .

AP: And you never would have guessed.

CM: Make more children, I think.

AP: Staying home, getting drunk, and making children, that's kind of the ideal in life, really.

WBRU: It's better than touring?

AP: Well, I do like practicing at making children, yes. Whether I make them or not.

CM: He's not very successful, though.

AP: I have a little button by the bed, I can summon, if I need someone to come and make children for me. (Upper-class drawl) Yes'm, make a child for me.

CM: His wife keeps him for stud purposes. (long pause)

WBRU: On that note - (giggles, continues hastily) well, it's been a pleasure speaking with you, Andy and Colin.

AP: I thank you.

WBRU: Speaking with two of the three members of XTC here on 95.5, WBRU.

CM: Cheerio.

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[Thanks to and transcribed by Natalie Jacobs]