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Last Updated:
Mar 15, 2007

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Andy discusses 'Battery Brides'

Song of the Week -- Andy's take

Part of an ongoing series of interviews by Todd Bernhardt with Andy Partridge about the songs we feature each week on MySpace. This week's song, "Battery Brides," is from 1978's Go 2.

TB: Let's look back 30 years or so, and talk about "Battery Brides." What I'd like to do with this is post a live version of the song, because it gives...

AP: Oh, the live versions I think are better.

TB: I think so, too, because I think it gives a better idea of what you guys were trying to get at with this song.

AP: Yeah, I think by the time we were playing it live with Dave in the band, it had grown to be what I would have wanted it to be, but because it was brand-new when we recorded it for Go 2. It really hadn't had time to gestate properly.

TB: Oh, I thought you were just keeping it tight for the studio. I thought maybe John Leckie was making you keep it short and focused.

AP: No, it was absolutely brand-new, and it was so new I hadn't even pitched it properly. I pitched it in-between keys for me, so I either had to sing it very loud, and high and screechy, or I had to sing it down low.

TB: So that's why you decided to do the vocals in octaves?

AP: Yeah. I'd grabbed the song quickly, just before we started, because we had a few weeks to write an album, you know. I think we may have even slowed down the tape a little bit, so I could get the pitch a bit better. It was in a bad place for me key-wise. Because the loud screechy one was a bit difficult for me, I thought, "Well, I'll go for the quiet-sounding one." Which made me think of Brian Eno doing his best Syd Barrett voice, and that's why it's subtitled, "Andy Paints Brian." It's a sort of a little nod of the head of that kind of English deep voice. And it's also the thing about, you know, "Andy paints whatever" -- you know, like Andy Warhol painting something. So, it was just a little bit of fun to say "Andy Paints Brian."

TB: Wasn't there something about you guys trying to get Brian Eno to produce this album?

AP: Yeah, we asked him if he would produce the album, because he was turning up to some of our gigs. I didn't see him there, because I didn't wear my glasses on stage, and you can't see out with lights in your eyes, and he never came backstage, but I learned later that he would come to our gigs, and he was starting to say rather flattering things, like we were the only band that he'd seen in recent years that he'd ever wanted to play with. I thought, "Ooh, that's rather flattering," because Roxy Music had some great ideas when they started.

John did a good job -- John Leckie -- but it was like, "Ooh, I wonder if Brian Eno would do it?" -- you know, just out of the pure Roxy-ness of it and the fact that Before and After Science was a great album.

TB: Had you guys played with the Talking Heads at this point?

AP: Uh [thinking about it] ... yes.

TB: So there was the common connection there. Was he producing them yet?

AP: No, not yet. But he did do the song, "King's Lead Hat," which is an anagram of Talking Heads and is a song in praise of them, apparently.

We had a meeting with him in Simon Draper's office, at Virgin Records, and he very calmly said, "Look, I really think you've got enough ideas of your own. You probably don't need me." He actually just sat there and talked himself out of the gig, and by the end of the meeting, we felt, "Well, maybe he's right, maybe we do have enough ideas of our own, and maybe we'll just stick with John engineering."

TB: So, even though John's credited as producer, he was playing more of an engineer role?

AP: Yeah, it's a tricky one, because whenever we have a producer, I don't think of them as being the producer. I know they probably are in some cases, but certainly I've always tended to go for the engineer-producer rather than the producer-engineer, if you see what I mean. Because we do have a hell of a lot of ideas, and we do really largely know how we want our records to be -- certainly I do. Colin's not so clear -- he likes to experiment a little more in the studio, to look for something that he may not know of up-front, but I'm pretty set when I go in there. But John was the school of engineer-producer, and he was good in that he would experiment. You could fire any idea at him, no matter how crazy, and he'd say, "Well, let's try it."

But this was a tricky album to make, because Barry and I were squabbling awfully. The group was sort of splitting up into factions.

TB: You guys were living together at the time?

AP: Yeah, it was like The Young Ones, you know. We were living in this house...

TB: [laughing very hard] Which one were you? Were you Viv?

AP: [laughing] Um ... no probably Neil, actually. No, no, Rick -- definitely. I'm too gauche and too full of himself. I think Terry was Viv -- [Viv voice] "Very metal!" Or Barry Andrews was Viv. Colin was Neil, I think. [chuckles]

TB: [still laughing] Even though he'd cut his hair by then.

AP: [bemused] Yeah. Just.

Yeah, it was a difficult album. The whole album was difficult, because Barry just wanted to leave, and you could see that even then, you know. He brought up a lot of songs -- Colin and I were dead worried that he was going to hijack the band, you know? Take it in a totally different direction. I was convinced that we still had to make an album that still had a continuity from White Music -- that it didn't suddenly take a 90-degree turn and veer off somewhere else. I thought, "Well, that's really going to lose the audience that we've spent the last few years gaining."

So, there was a lot of tension, and it was erupting into -- it got rather bitchy, between the two of us, you know? When Barry was doing some keyboard overdubbing, he actually banned me from the studio [laughing] -- he didn't want me saying what I wanted on the songs and stuff. He wanted to play what he wanted to play.

TB: Given that you just put out an album together, have you guys talked about this, and buried the hatchet?

AP: Oh, it's buried, but it's not the kind of thing that you need to really drag up again and say, "Hey, look at this funny old corpse!" Because it still stinks a bit when you pull it up -- let's be honest. [laughs]

Yeah, we were living together in a rented house, in St. John's Wood. It was a lovely house -- it's probably worth millions now. I don't know how [then-manager] Ian Reid rented it. We were in the basement -- gorgeous, really beautiful. We had a bedroom each, and there was a communal kitchen, and a communal lounge area and stuff. But it just got trashed -- there were beer cans everywhere. It really was, it got like the set of The Young Ones. I was the only one that bought any food, and they'd steal my food!

TB: Yeah, I can empathize with you there. I've been in that situation before, and it pisses you off.

AP: Oh, really terrible, because you wake up in the morning, and you want your food, and they've eaten all your bread, and they've stolen all your cereal, drunk all your milk and your orange juice. Then you get to the studio, because everyone would be walking in, in dribs and drabs on their own, and you'd be like, "Hey, which one of you bastards eaten all of my Cocoa Pops?" And that became the big joke -- [peevish voice] "Ohhhh, he's missing his Cocoa Pops!" You know, they just couldn't address the fact that they were just too lazy to buy their own food. It was like, "Oh, hey, there's food in there! Let's eat it!" They didn't think who'd bought it.

But that's the young-man communal living thing, isn't it. You get to writing "Andy's egg" on the egg, you know. [laughs] And Harry's going through this now, at university. He's in a house of people, so now it's "Harry's egg." In pencil.

TB: [laughs] In situations like that, you've just got to make sure you lick all your food, in front of your roommates.

AP: [laughs] Yeah! Or put your finger up your nose, and then touch it on all your food in front of them.

TB: So let's talk about where this song came from.

AP: I just love the idea of the drone thing. I think I was playing harmonics, just hitting harmonics, and if you hit them on the octave, you basically get a glorious G chord, but made in harmonics. I think I was hitting these harmonics through a flanger, which I'd bought not long before -- a chorus-flanger pedal -- and I thought, "Oh, this sounds like a dream. It just sounds like some sort of electronic heaven or something." It put me into a funny little trance. I began to think about other people in trances, specifically check-out girls in Woolworth's, who seem to be in a funny dream. You know -- you'd go into Woolworth's or any big store, and they'd be staring off into the middle distance, sort of imagining marriage or something.

TB: Yeah, what they're going to do that night...

AP: Yeah. What they're going to do that night, and "Oh, that boy, isn't he dishy." And they weren't looking at what you were buying -- they were just listening for the little beep, and they were away in a kind of dream of romance. That whole thing, I thought, "Well, they're kind of like battery chickens -- I thought, "There they are in the supermarket, or in the store, and they're dreaming away trapped in their little coop with the till." So I facetiously thought of "Battery Brides" -- you know, she's dreaming of her beau, her dishy fella, she's going to meet up with this evening, and she's really not regarding you. I thought, "Well, this kind of weird harmonic dream music that I'm making is the sort of music that's going on in their heads while they're having these bridal fantasies."

But what the hell do I know, I've never wanted to be a bride! [pause] Much. [chuckles] Not unless it was Fabio.

TB: [laughing] And he'd just take you. You wouldn't have a choice in the matter.

AP: You wouldn't have a choice, and his hair would be much nicer than yours.

So, it was kind of facetiously written, I guess, but it came from just strumming these harmonics. And I do love repetition songs. I love the joy of the drone and the repetitive pattern. It gives me so many ideas to put over the top. It's like a thing you can skate over! It's like an icy surface -- you have no trouble doing wonderful acrobatics over the top of these repetitive drones.

TB: Did you ever get any resistance from the other players? You know, "This is boring -- two notes for most of the song? C'mon!"

AP: Well, I had to explain to them, "Look, the idea is, we're creating this kind of dream." I think we touched on it on the album version, but by the time we were playing it live, sometimes that dream intro would go on for five minutes or so. And I loved it! I loved playing that live! Because you could get into this -- it's kind similar to the middle section of "Jason and the Argonauts" -- you're making this scenery for the intention of the song. With "Battery Brides," you're making this sort of electronic heaven or something.

They did used to complain -- we'd get off the stage, and they'd say, "Jesus Christ! I thought you were never going to start singing in 'Battery Brides' tonight!" I'll tell you, I'd get myself into a zone playing that, where I'd get really tranced-out playing that intro over and over, with little minute differences and stuff.

It was one of the few things we used to play live that had outside aid. We had the note of G played on a synthesizer, and we made a cassette of it, and it went on for about 10 minutes. The man at the mixing desk, Steve, would put this cassette on, hit play, then fade it up, and as soon as we heard that drone in G fade up, we knew we had about 10 minutes' worth of song we could do.

TB: When Dave came into the band, and he found that way of transferring Barry's organ and piano part to guitar, did you have any input on that?

AP: On the album, Barry was doing these little Terry Riley, circuit-board sounds -- "Oh, I'm playing the diagram on these circuit boards, as if it were music or something." Dave had to sort of grasp that and turn it into the part-- but Dave's great at arpeggios, so it was kind of a piece of piss for him to just take Barry's circuit-board music and turn it into the guitar equivalent of that.

TB: So he just did that on his own? A little bit of woodshedding, and figured out how to do it?

AP: Yeah! He would just get into these lovely little arpeggio patterns and things, and I'd just get myself into that trance. Poor Terry and Colin would be doing their little two-note thing "Bjorn Borg" pattern...

TB: [laughing] Yeah, that was one of the trivia questions in a holiday contest you had a couple of years ago at Idea, right?

AP: That's right! Yeah, it's the bass through a flanger -- Bjorn Borg, Bjorn Borg -- anyway, sometimes Terry would get so pissed off, he'd go into what we'd agreed was the intro roll for me to start singing. And I just wouldn't come in, because I was enjoying myself so much!

TB: [laughing] That's really funny you say that, because listening to the various live versions I have of this song, I thought that was what he was doing!

AP: Yeah, he did this kind of agreed signal. Usually, what would happen was, I would move closer and closer to the microphone, and he would look up and he would see I was in position, and the music had grown to such an intensity, or down to such a plateau, that he would then do his signal drum roll. But sometimes he'd get so pissed off waiting, that he'd do that roll, and I'd be nowhere near the mic, and then it'd just be, "No, you're going to have to wait, I'm enjoying this!"

I remember, when we did the album version, we had to put in a counting track, counting the bars, so after a certain number I came in.

But it was a rest song live, because you could play calmly and focus in on yourself, and Dave could play all those arpeggios. It was a matter of, "Oh, I've got a nice long rest. I don't have to sing for five minutes. I can just trance out."

Which is what I wanted to do in any case! I never wanted to be the singer.

TB: C'mon. Really?

AP: Yeah! I got the singer's job by default.

TB: That's interesting to hear you say that, because, even though I never saw XTC play live, but I've seen video, and it seems like you're very comfortable and quite a natural performer in that role.

AP: No, I just never knew another singer. When we sacked Steve Hutchins -- because he was just too far away, he was too out of contact with what we wanted to do, and he was just not right, ultimately, for the band -- it was a case of, "Oh dear, we don't know any more singers. Who's going to sing then?" And all eyes turned to me. And I said, "Oh Christ! Well, I can't sing, I don't have a voice at all," you know?

TB: Really? Having covered a lot of your songs, I think you're a really good singer.

AP: Well, that was something I just had to get into.

TB: What about Colin?

AP: Colin would refuse to sing! He wouldn't even do backing vocals. It was like, "Well, if we're going to have any singing in these songs, it's going to have to be me by default!"

TB: And you guys are both very well-known singers now.

AP: I guess so, but it was purely because I never knew any other singers. And stand-alone singers always have that reputation, that show-off reputation.

TB: Barry's keyboards were a big part of your early sound, and that shows on this song.

AP: I love the sound of that Crumar keyboard of his. Never heard a sound like that from any other band. For example, I love the little runs he does down the keyboard after we sing "ba-ba-ba-ba-battery brides," and he plays some funny musical quotes in there -- he drops "I'm Getting Married in the Morning" in there, and some of Mendelssohn's Wedding March, if I'm remembering right.

Do you know, I haven't heard this album forever. I'm going to have to dig it out now.

TB: Oh yeah! There's a whole Go 2 Appreciation Society out there!

AP: Ooh, I must tell you that Virgin sent me a triple album of mash-up mixes called "TripTik," which was done by Fred Deakin from Lemon Jelly. He's used the dub version of "Battery Brides," which was called "The Dictionary of Modern Marriage," and he's put an a capella rap thing over it. It works quite well, actually. I don't know what the fuck they're talking about in the rap, but it seems to work well over the groove.

6:03 PM

©2007 by Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge. All Rights Reserved.