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Last Updated:
Oct 26, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008


Andy discusses 'Funk Pop a Roll'

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, "Funk Pop a Roll," is from 1983's Mummer.

Self-admitted "long-time lurker, first-time poster" Ian of the The Larch ("the Larch") guessed the song correctly right off the bat -- though lots of other people came up with good guesses, and others added their voice to the choice of "Funk Pop a Roll." We'll be back in two weeks, two days before Andy's birthday, with a look at one of his sad-yet-hopeful songs.

TB: Let's talk about "Funk Pop a Roll," coming at it from my point of view -- because it's all about me, goddammit! [Andy laughs]. I discovered you guys in classic Todd Bernhardt style, right after you'd finished touring. So Mummer was the first new release of yours I bought after I'd discovered you, and when I heard "bye bye!" at the end of the song, knowing that Terry had left, I thought, "Oh my god -- this great band that I just discovered is breaking up!"

AP: Now, why did I know you were going to say that? I've written at the end of my notes, "bye-bye," and "Not me retiring." People had the theory that, "Oh well, the drummer's left, and they're calling it quits. He's saying goodbye on the last vocal on the last track!"

TB: Plus, given the subject matter of the song itself, it makes sense.

AP: So, you think it would have been great if I fell on my sword then and disappeared? [chuckles] Good moment to actually wander away into the sunset?

TB: [laughing] Absolutely not!

AP: A lot of people apparently had that theory -- after hearing me say "bye-bye" on the last vocal on the last song on [fake quavering voice] the last album ever!

TB: What prompted you to yell that as the song was nearing completion?

AP: Well, this is the end of the album, so it was a matter of, "Cheerio 'til next time!"

TB: You knew then that this would be the album closer?

AP: The thing was, the whole album had a sort of a feel to it, and all the songs, all of the material for Mummer came up in sequence. And then the very last one, that came up at the last moment -- that didn't even get a demo, because it was so last-moment -- was "Funk Pop a Roll."

In my opinion, as is the same with almost every other album, this was the first track of the next album. It's the first track of Big Express, in my mind. It's like a serial, you know -- [melodramatic voice] "Next week, find out if the intrepid XTCs can fight their way out from the clutches of the evil Fu Manchu!" So, you see a bit of the next record, and the next record sounds like "Funk Pop a Roll."

TB: Yeah, I can see that. Let's go back to something you just said, that these songs came out in sequence. You actually wrote the songs in pretty much the same order as they are on the album?

AP: No, no. What I meant was, they came out not sequentially -- sorry, I led you down the wrong path -- they were not written in the order you hear them in, but they were all of a sort of state of mind, and a sound that I wanted to reflect that state of mind. Then, for some reason, right at the last minute, it was like, "Okay, we're going into the studio next week, but wow! I've got a new song! And it's nothing like any of the others!"

It surprised me, because I thought we had a done and dusted album that was going to sound a certain way, and suddenly kapow! This big, noisy -- I wouldn't say heavy-sounding, but violent-sounding -- thing suddenly fell out at the last minute. And like I said, there was no demo, because it was too late. I've got a funny feeling we probably only rehearsed it in the studio before recording it. I don't even remember rehearsing it, which would have been in the scenery store at the Mechanics Institute theatre, which is where we rehearsed the Mummer> album. I've got a funny feeling we just ran through a few times at The Manor.

TB: I've done that before, and sometimes the resulting recording is fresher and almost better as a result of that, I think.

AP: Yeah, there wasn't time to overthink or overcook it -- "This is going to fall out, and it's going to be tough and hard, and it's going to go like this."

For some reason, I rediscovered the saxophone that I'd bought in 1981 for English Settlement. I thought I'd cover that riff, you know -- [sings horn riff in song].

TB: I was going to ask about that -- I didn't know if that was keyboard or real horns.

AP: It's me honking on an alto saxophone. In 1981, I rather foolishly thought I could buy an alto saxophone and be Charlie Parker in about a fortnight. [chuckles] "Yeah, okay, we've got a dozen little keys and all do you is play [sings complex, Parker-esque riff| -- okay, that should be easy enough!" And of course all I could get out of it was "traffic jam in Lagos." So, it was a Herculean feat for me to play an actual melody for "Funk Pop a Roll," and harmonize with myself! I'm my own little sax section there.

TB: And it works, I think.

AP: It sounds oddly jolly, and it shouldn't be -- it should be a little more Blues-y and gritty, but my technique was so primitive that all I could so was this overblown, parpy little bit. It sounds primitive. It sounds like a naive player. It sounds a little too fat and jolly.

TB: But I think it goes well with the rest of the song. The song is almost an old-style Rock and Roll song, anyway -- you've got that sustained piano chord going, just like '50s Jerry Lee Lewis-type stuff...

AP: Well, I can tell you where that came from. That was direct crib from The Stooges. There's a number on the first Stooges album with this really idiot "ding-ding ding-ding-ding ding-ding-ding" piano, and it was a case of, "Yeah, that is so moronic, that is going to work as a little unifying thread through this." So I can be honest, and say this was a lift from that album, though I can't remember which track it is.

TB: Is Dave playing that part?

AP: Yeah. If you listen, it's like two or three notes, and he's moving one of the notes each time to reflect what the underlying chord is. It's sort of Stooges, after Velvet Underground, if you see what I mean. I think the Stooges probably nabbed the idea from the Velvets, and given that John Cale was the producer on that first Stooges album, it came straight from the source, you know?

TB: Then, the rest of the song -- as you said, it's not exactly heavy. If you listen to the guitars, they're quite bright.

AP: Yeah, I'm playing the very thin-sounding riff guitar, which has been given a slappy echo and is panned left to right, and then Dave plays the big, broad-sounding 12-string, which is stuck in the middle of the mix.

TB: Yeah, I figured that was probably him.

AP: That's Dave! So, yeah, it's got this chiming nature. But it's violent at the same time. I remember when we were mixing this -- we did a mix of this with Steve Nye, but it just wasn't happening. He's a fantastic engineer, but he doesn't want to screw up his fantastically engineered sounds! So, taking it to Phil Thornalley, and saying "C'mon, more violence out of this, please," and standing over him while he does it -- "No! More violence out that snare drum!" -- that was a good move. Because he had no compunction about screwing the sounds up more to get what was required out of them. There was no sense of ownership -- it wasn't his beautiful babies that he was treading on.

TB: Speaking of chiming guitars, I wanted to ask about the beginning of the song -- that's Dave's 12-string, correct?

AP: Do you know, I think Dave thought that figure up. I don't remember coming up with that. All the chord changes and the melody and lyrics are mine, of course, and I came up with my figure -- I remember how I came up with that. I was messing around with some things by one of my favorite guitarists, Rory Gallagher. There's an album by his band Taste, an album called On the Boards, that has a song called "Morning Sun" with this kind of rolling riff in A. I think I was messing around, playing that, but playing it more choppy and less shuffle-y, more straight. I found a little variation of it that made me think, "Ooh, that's even Bluesier, in a funny way. That's not bad -- I'll have that." But that chiming 12-string intro -- I'm convinced that Dave thought that figure up rather quickly, in situ.

TB: So, I guess he built his own part, if you guys arranged this by rehearsing it in the studio?

AP: Yeah, he grabbed his own part there. I probably would have said, "We need some sort of theme here," or something, and then he came up with that. It's a reflection of the melody, in some ways.

TB: And of the part he plays throughout the rest of the song, too.

AP: Right, it's the way he's arranged his guitar playing. It's always very thoughtful with Dave.

TB: The beginning kick-and-snare pattern is great, too. Did Pete Phippscome up with that?

AP: I really like dislocated drums that suddenly resolve, and then you're going. You can hear it on a lot of our things, such as "The Disappointed." So, I probably said to Pete, "Can we get a kind of dislocated thing going, to kick this in?"

I don't think I ever recovered from the intro to "Drive My Car," which is very dislocated on the drums. To me, it sounds like a mistake, and they just left it. Because you try counting where 1-2-3-4 is on the intro to that song, and you won't get it.

So yeah, Pete did a great dislocated intro. And that is one of the more violent-sounding snares we've ever had.

TB: You said this song fell out at the last minute, but what do you remember about the writing of it? What prompted you to come up with these vitriolic lyrics? I mean, obviously, you were just off the road...

AP: I was feeling somewhat had by the record industry! We'd just come off the road, and it was the thing of, "Well, we've been playing live for five years, and I've not seen any money."

TB: At the same, like you were saying, you wrote the rest of the album first, and those songs are a little more introspective. Do you remember what sparked you off and reminded you how mad you were?

AP: I guess I just had an angry moment. I think I felt that I'd gotten the album out of the way. It was like, "Well, that's cut and dried -- that's going to be the pastoral record. Hey, what's next? I'm angry! Let's turn it up!" I think I mentally felt like the album was out of the way, even though it hadn't been recorded. It had been written and put into that mind box of, "Well, that's going to sound like that."

But the thing is, an album is never really cut and dried. There are always overspill tracks. There are always tracks where you start to fall into the next album. You can hear it all the way through our career -- stuff like "Wrapped in Grey" or "Rook" is on Nonsuch, but they're us falling into what was going to be the territory for Apple Venus. There's usually a space where you feel the next album is in there.

TB: "Complicated Game" is also a good example of that -- it sounds like it could be on Black Sea.

AP: Yeah, I think you're right. And maybe so is "Roads Girdle the Globe." They're very related to things like "Paper and Iron." And then you'll also get stuff that looks backwards a bit. So, wherever you dice and slice any album, you're going to get bleed-through from the previous one, and certainly stuff that's going to be falling into the next one. Any recorded musical career is going to have that. Look at The Beatles -- "Tomorrow Never Knows" is probably the first track of Pepper.

TB: I think that's true of any band that continues to grow and to strive to create new art. That's one of the reasons I like XTC so much, is because you've tried to do something different on every album -- you're not just repackaging what has worked for you in the past.

AP: I would hate to be trapped on that cycle. Can you imagine being stuck having to reproduce the same thing over and over? That'd be horrible.

You know, the big trap is success. Because if you have success making one type of cheese, you're not going to want to stop and change and try something different. You're just going to want to reproduce Cheese A forevermore. Because, "Cheese A -- we know that sells!"

But we had the luxury of not being successful. We could say to ourselves, "We always fancied doing a record like this -- let's try that." "Yeah, why not, let's get the orchestra in," or "Let's get the acoustics in." We weren't going to be pissing anyone off, because not enough people were buying our records to piss 'em off!

TB: [laughing] Except the record company!

AP: [laughs] Well, yeah, there is that. But they're just banks, in any case. They're only lending you your own money. So, I don't feel sorry for poor old Virgin. No way on Earth.

TB: Speaking of that, and going back to what prompted the lyrics, I know that when you guys did stop touring, the debts that you'd incurred were what forced you to really look at the books, correct?

AP: Before we stopped, I didn't have time to wash my underpants. You got no time -- you're touring constantly. Virtually every day of the week you're either in a new town or new country, and then somebody'll say, "Great! Okay, the new album's scheduled for January, we want to stick you in the studio. You've got three or four weeks off -- can you write and rehearse the album during that time? Then you're going in the studio on this date." Everything was done in such a quick turnaround. We had no time to do anything.

As soon as we started to think about the byzantine meanderings of the whole financial system -- which was beyond the grasp of any of us, because it was so complicated and mysterious -- it was pointless. I mean, I got to the point where, later in my touring career, Colin would be singing, or we'd be doing our long, hypnotic intro to something like "Battery Brides" or whatever, and I'd sort of drift off and be thinking, "Whoa -- there's so many thousands of people here, they're paying X dollars per ticket -- wait! That's a lot of money! Where is that? Where's that money going? And we've done 40 dates where that's been the case! Where's all that money gone? Oh, whoa -- this is the bit where I come in!" [laughs] You know? It's literally like that -- you'd have to snatch thinking about this process where you could.

Once we stopped touring, it was like, "Right -- so, where is all that money going?"

TB: Which was prompted because you were on the hook for a lot of expenses as a result of cancelling the U.S. tour, right?

AP: Yeah. It was a case of, "You owe Virgin, and you owe your manager X thousands." "Okay, well, let's see the accounts." "Uh ... no, you don't want to see them." "But if we owe all this money for shipping the gear and cancelling the hire of the bus and stuff, let's see how much it cost." "Well, take it from me, it cost this much." "Let's see the figures."

Actually, what really got it was this. When we'd finished on tour, I remember coming down the stairs and there being a big, fat envelope on the floor that had come through the letterbox. I picked it up and sat on the stairs, thinking, "God, this looks official." It was from the Customs and Excise -- some branch of that, you know, the tax people -- and when I opened it, it read, "Unpaid VAT: £300,000." And it had my name on it!

I thought, "Wait -- I'm on £50 a week, of my own money! How can I owe £300,000 unpaid VAT?" You know, if you work up how much that is, that's tax on an income of millions. So that really was the thing that made us say, "Uh oh. Someone's had all the money and has not been paying the tax." Then it started to click into place.

So yeah, we were all fucked up the ass by a stainless-steel pineapple. Sideways.

TB: [laughs] Is that why the song fell out it when it did? Had you written the other songs before you discovered all this?

AP: I just felt a bit damaged with the other songs, and I was being quiet. And things like "Ladybird" came out while we were on tour in Europe, when I wanted quiet. I wanted peace and quiet, and to get off this treadmill that was destroying me physically, mentally, and was not rewarding me or any of us in any way. I guess, with "Funk Pop a Roll," I'd felt that we'd gotten the album all sorted -- there's all that gentle, hurt, quiet stuff there -- and then it was, "Fuck me, I'm angry! Where's the money?!?" You know, suddenly all this stuff just blurted out. I was feeling had by the record industry, and if we were being had, wasn't every other band being had as well? And when you look into the history of it -- look at how Hendrix was had, for example.

TB: Oh yeah, go back to the '50s, and the beginnings of Rock and Roll, or go back farther to jazz and other music -- record companies have almost always done this to the artists.

AP: That's true -- record companies-stroke-managers-stroke-agents-stroke-publishers. Actually, "stroke" is what most of those people need. [chuckles ruefully] Yeah, you're right of course -- it's not new. Ripoffs are not new.

TB: The lyrics are darkly funny, but I guess it's probably not necessary to go through them as we have with some of your other songs -- they're pretty self-evident.

AP: It's one of those self-evident lyrics. Not only was I feeling had by the record industry, and management especially, but I was also mad about the fact that I actually felt this naive belief that our music was going to change something. And of course it's not going to change anything -- what's it going to change? It's silly to think that.

TB: It certainly changes things at a personal level, for you and for your listeners.

AP: I don't think it changes things at a personal level -- I think it's the wallpaper of whatever you're doing at the time. If you're doing big emotional things, that musical wallpaper will stick with you forever. If you're doing inconsequential, everyday little things, the effect of the music in the background is not going to be so strong. But if you're going through a divorce or dealing with a death or falling in love, or some of the big things, then the soundtrack of that is going to stick with you forevermore. That's the way it affects people. It doesn't change things.

TB: I guess I can see your point. I was thinking of all the different people whom I've talked to over the years who've said how your music has played such an important role in their lives. I get emails through the MySpace site all the time where people say that you've changed their approach to music and influenced their songwriting...

AP: I guess that feels nice, to hear stuff like that. I just hope that we were never moronic for the sake of being moronic. I think we were a bit cantankerous in wanting success on our terms -- if any success was going to come, it was going to come out of the bloody-mindedness of doing the music we wanted to do. A lot of bands do get seduced, as I was saying, by success, but we were lucky enough not to have that success.

TB: I think that's what endears you to a lot of musicians -- they know that you've followed your own course.

AP: Maybe so, yeah! I know it sounds perverse, to say we were lucky not to have success, but I really do think that's the case. We could be in a system, right on the edge of that system, and still do what we fancied doing at any given time. And we were also chasing the idea of success, because we were saying, "Obviously, nobody's buying this album, so the next one's got to be even better!" My personal thing was to make the music stronger and stronger and stronger. "We can't go backwards -- we've got to make the next one even better!" Obviously, orgasm denial worked with us. [chuckles]

TB: [laughs] You and Sting!

AP: [laughs] Tantric love!

TB: [sings to tune of "Tainted Love"] "Don't touch me please / I cannot stand the way you tease"!

AP: [laughs] There you go. Lack of success is our best friend. "Failure -- everyone should embrace it!"

7:21 AM

©2008 by Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge. All Rights Reserved.