XTC's Blogs


Last Updated:
Nov 12, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006


Andy discusses Science Friction

Song of the Week -- Andy's take

The fourth in a series of interviews by Todd Bernhardt with Andy Partridge about the songs we feature each week on MySpace. This week's song, "Science Friction," was the band's first single, released in 1977. It was withdrawn as a single by Virgin (increasing the value of existing copies quite a bit) and then included on 1978's 3D-EP. Today it can be found on various compilations, including The Compact XTC and Fossil Fuel.

TB: Alright, let's go back to the beginning. Science Friction was your first single, right? Your first release?

AP: Yeah. Do you know what? If I could go back and re-do it, I'd do it with a steady dance rhythm, so that people could dance to it. But at the time, we loved the idea of stopping, of breaking up expectation.

TB: But I think that's part of the charm of your early albums.

AP: It was designed to piss people off! We really had a desire to get on people's nerves. It was a test for the audience.

TB: Haydn used to do that -- put stops in his music to catch people in the audience talking.

AP: Yeah! We'd do that. We'd put stops in there, so that people couldn't get too complacent with it. You could see people dancing around, and then there'd be these stops, and they'd be going "ungh! ungh! ungh!" And you'd think, "No, you've got to work harder than that to appreciate us!"

TB: [laughing] That's right. Listen, dammit! Because if you're going to dance well to it, you have to know where the stops are, and the only way to figure that out is to listen to the structure of the song.

AP: Exactly. It was an arrogance, and a desire to get up the nose of the audience and make them work hard, make them think, make them listen. But sometimes I wish that we'd put a steady 4/4 all the way through it, and then we could have invented the B-52's along the way [laughs].

TB: Let's talk about the lyrics a little bit. This is your paranoia, your insomnia, your...

AP: Well, it's pretty nonsensical. I didn't know really how to write songs, and I didn't know how to shape lyrics. It comes from a time when for me lyrics were all about the joy of the sound. You know, just the whole thing about "science friction" -- the pun itself is enough to write a song around. The heat from science -- [fast] "is it science or is it science fiction, or is it science friction, is there any heat involved, is it about aliens, what is it about? You must be drunk to write a song like that! Wow, it's about drinking then!"

It's not a well-formed lyrical idea, and in my defense I tell people that I did have astrophobia [a fear of stars and celestial space] as a child. I had a few years where I couldn't look at stars in the sky -- they petrified me.

TB: So, that is true -- you weren't just making it up to justify the lyric.

AP: There is a true streak down the center of it. I really was petrified for about two years, maybe three, where I had terrible astrophobia.

TB: Why? Because you felt like you were falling in, or you felt they were coming in on you?

AP: I think I felt that they were all looking at me, and coming in on me. I felt so fucking insignificant. I felt less than an ant's navel, you know, under the gaze of billions and billions of stars. I remember I would run home from Cub Scouts with my eyes closed, and I would open them every few yards to look at the pavement to make sure I wasn't tripping over the edge or running into a lamppost or whatever. I would run all the way home, sweating profusely.

We lived in a council house where we never used the front door. We used the side door, which was part of a inbuilt shed into the house, and it had a piece of frosted glass as the center part of the door. Once I'd got in, I would then stand there, panting and sweating, and I would slyly, slowly, see if I could see some of the stars distorted through this glass. I felt safer, because there was some glass between me and the stars. I wasn't going to fall into them, they weren't going to fall on me.

TB: Well, that was brave of you, anyway, to at least try to do that. Back to the music -- you just wanted to make a dance tune, or what? Was there anything particular going on in your mind?

AP: I think at that time, or just a few years prior to that, I was really obsessed with the idea of pop music being kind of that late-'50s sci-fi disposable novelty thing. Like "Martian Hop" by the Randells, or the "One-Eyed, One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater" [written and performed by Sheb Wooley]. So there was a sort of a disposable throwawayness to it. And I also associated music of that ilk with a very cheesy, sting-y sounding electric organ. I'm thinking of people like Johnny and the Hurricanes. That's really what I wanted the early XTC to sound like.

TB: Was there an artistic reason, too? Given Pop Art, and Warhol, and all that.

AP: It was more the retro thing of the 1950s. It was the idea of a future rock-and-roll that never was. Other bands touched on it occasionally -- Be Bop Deluxe touched on it, but they kind of got dragged too far back into that Heavy Metal thing, whereas I wanted the early XTC to be like Johnny and the Hurricanes through the Captain Beefheart blender -- it was pop music, but from the future.

At traveling fairgrounds, when you got on the bumpercars or whatever, they inevitably played a lot of these records that had that kind of failed sci-fi novelty feel to them. You'd be crashing around in this fiberglass rocket ship, after a few drinks, slamming into your teenaged friends, with sparks showering over you, and you felt like, "Wow, this is the future!"

TB: Right, so you just translated that to the dance club.

AP: Yeah. I thought, "Why can't this be a musical form? Why can't we make music that sounds like you've had a few too many drinks and you're in a fairground, and it really is a second shot at this failed future?"

5:34 AM

©2006 by Todd Bernhardt. All Rights Reserved.