musiques cínema arts livres multi/medias society 1989 - 2010
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musiques cínema arts livres multi/medias society mars 1992
XTC - Quality Sweet

Interview by Christian Fevret

Born with the punk acne, the vivacious young men of XTC already saw themselves adulated billionaires of the new-wave movement with "Making Plans For Nigel". Andy Partridge and his squad decided, on the contrary, to avoid the spotlights and to devote themselves, secretly in their imaginary pagan monastery, to the making, very much in the style of a cottage industry, of musical toffees. To talk to Sir Partridge is to be subjected to the British insularity propaganda, to tickle the man's enigma, to attempt to visit the scullery of the masterpiece English Settlement. It means to glance through fifteen years of a career concentrated, in the announcement of a spring album, into a winter compilation, The Tiny Circus Of Life. The metamorphosis of the woodlice.

Les Inrockuptibles: You do not like to show yourself, you have not played on stage for ten years. What are you still doing in the world of pop?

Andy Partridge: No idea. I feel like a blundering prehistoric creature, lost in a ridiculously mean world of pop. Now, we are dinosaurs, but if you are interested in dinosaurs, why not? From a musical point of view, we are now much more selfish. We must neglect the audience. In the beginning, we were willing to do some pirouettes for the record companies, but we felt we did not look the part. We did not feel at ease in the role of idols; I could not bear the idea of being idolized. That is all over. But since we sell more and more records, our stubbornness proves us right.

LI: When did you decide to go back into your shell?

A: In 1982, when I decided to stop playing on stage. I realized we were not destined for this pop life, for fooling around, for this professional teenager job. We were so aware of and ill at ease with being in the window. We are three woodlice, we work very well hidden. But as soon as we are in the light, the three woodlice simply do not know what to do.

LI: By existing only in studio, are you not afraid of becoming a navelist and claustrophobic band, without flesh nor blood, an abstraction?

A: We are a band without flesh nor blood in the sense that one can not come and smell our sweat on stage. We exist in a more magical way, by capturing these songs on tapes. I have never been to concerts, live presentations do not do anything at all for me; I prefer to play at home with a desk pad, writing or drawing. This disappearance from public life may have made us less adventurous, but what we do is more genuine. Like a tree with deeper roots, perhaps less loud, but a damn good tree, strong, resistant to storms and to diseases.

LI: In the beginning, did you like to play on stage?

A: I began by telling myself, "Great! That's what I'd always dreamt of when I was a schoolboy!". And we toured a lot, all around the world. Then, the lack of financial fall-outs, combined with the lack of real recognition, combined with the lack of self-confidence, the confusion and the fright that my presence on stage brought to me, all that made a rather dangerous cocktail... I hence drew the conclusion: I was not made for that kind of life. On the other hand, I think I am made for songwriting and for the cottage industry of music, if such a category exists. I announced the death of the pop band, and the birth of the artisan.

LI: Has your family life been another reason for your withdrawal?

A: I must have felt it was time for me to start a family. I now have two children; I would like to have more... Let's say at least six, but I do not have enough room for them, unless I put them in the drawers. When everything goes wrong, it is a good way to win immortality. Immortality for everybody, the immortality for common people. I love children, well, mine, because I hate others'.

LI: Had you thought of the mystery and the cult following such behaviour would create?

A: I first thought, as did our record company, that we simply were going to disappear from the surface of the Earth. I thought, "Here it is, we had our time". But the fact that we had remained in the shadow for so long has made people come towards us. We were not shouting to people, "Hey! Buy us!" any more, but people were going towards us, saying, "Excuse us, but we would like very much to buy you." In the shadow we have become exotic creatures, we have been transformed into rare birds [laughs]... People are more fascinated by what we have to offer.

LI: Do you like the mystery around you?

A: It is very pleasant, because I do not have to be a public character, to tour, to be "rock 'n' roll". I can then avoid this routine, this mediocrity of rock 'n' roll. I was very relieved to leave this spiral which, in my opinion, seemed to be negative. I then thought that the band would very quickly fall into pieces. Honestly, I really did not see us continuing to record music, at least not as well as we have done since. I simply could not imagine stuff like Skylarking. I thought it was the end.


Les Inrockuptibles: A lot of bands from your generation had become very popular, before they broke up. At the time of Drums & Wires and "Making Plans For Nigel" in '80, many predicted fabulous success for you.

Andy Partridge: At one time we would have given everything to become the gods of pop. But I never had any regrets because my ambitions have changed. Some live on this pop god status, which I found pitiful. We have nothing to do with the present English charts. Or even with those from the twenty last years. We surely have more in common with the 60's, or maybe the 50's or 40's. Or even the last century.

LI: When one listens to your very first albums, from '77 to '79, one is struck by their narrow-mindedness: they sound like caricatures of what was then called new-wave.

A: You can put it down to our age, to the age of the music which was in the air, to the fact that we had written only a very few songs, and that we were learning on stage. Those were the albums of some guys who wanted to be pop gods for a day, before saying "Goodbye, and Thank You!" We wanted to come to the party, to make noise, to be noticed, throwing vases on the floor, pulling the carpet out. But as soon as people knew who we were, we could be ourselves. When I am shown the first album, I see a conceited teenager who comes from the hairdresser, his face covered with spots, disguised in the fashion of the day. I am told, "Look! It's you!" "No! Help!"... We were very shy, so we made a shell out of noise. The songs from the first albums, they were not really us, they were some ideas we projected on other people, on other things. We progressively became more personal by dint of writing.

LI: In the beginning, the only songwriter you referred to was Bob Dylan, with a crushed cover of "All Along The Watchtower": more a V-sign than a tribute.

A: We have cut up this lamb of sacrifice... with love and hate. I like the atmosphere and the lyrics of this song very much, I find that it is a marvelous monument, gigantic, medieval and futuristic, a moment of History. I wanted to play this song and to mess it up at the same time, to break it and to own the pieces: nothing flower-power, hippy, or which would sound like Hendrix's cover. I wanted to smash it into tiny pieces, to dissect the machine and see how it worked. But we just squashed it. We wanted to manhandle the old: "Listen, we can take your old-fashioned stuff and make something far better with it". To squash it, that was undoubtly all we were able to do. It was the usual conflict of generations, we wanted to take their place by kicking them in the privates, telling them, "Get off! It's our turn!", with the arrogance and the violence of young men who cannot express themselves. We saw ourselves as very attractive young men who submitted pop to their experiences, dismantling pop to reassemble it in another way. Tearing off the side wings to put them behind, taking off the wheels and putting them in front, tearing off the bonnet and throwing it away. We were looking more for admiration than for esteem. Or esteem in a childish and arrogant manner, like these kids who make themselves noticed only by drinking: a desperate willing to make oneself heard, to take over something. Afterwards, progressively, we became impassioned for what a song is, for its beauty and its sacred nature, all that we were not aware of.

LI: One now gets the feeling you hide behind your songs.

A: Our songs form a multi-coloured armour, the best one we can make; this shell protects us. It protects us from the external world. Inside I am a mollusk. I am paralyzed by the outside world, this wonderful and horrifying place, this paradise crowded with monsters. Terrifying and very exciting, like a fair for a young child. I need armour to face it, so sometimes I drink. Now more than ever, I know how men, the most violent animals, can be horrible. I find it very hard to go out in the world, emotionally naked.

LI: You claim to be normal people, especially yourself, whereas it is obvious you have a strong personality.

A: People tell me I have a strong personality, but I am only a goldfish, I cannot get out of my bowl to see. I do not act, in this sense; I do not intentionally change my feelings to affect people, to manipulate them. It is just like clothes that I cannot take off.

LI: Unlike the two other members of XTC, you seem to like to put on an act, to show yourself, to dress up, to play with this personality.

A: Providing that I feel like conceiving the theater myself, the world in which I show myself. I like to feel that I control it, that I can snap my fingers to remove it instantly and stop putting on an act. When this is the case, I feel good. Dave and Colin are very calm people. If there were people as boisterous as I am in the band, we would scuffle too much.

LI: There is a contradiction between the pleasure you get putting on an act, playing with the images and the appearances, and your deep unwillingness to be a public character.

A: When I am really in public, I feel as if I am losing myself, wasting away and disappearing. I have got to keep away from it if I want to keep in touch with myself, so as not to crumble. The show must be reserved for a limited audience, a handful of persons that I know, that I feel for, maybe that I trust. I have the feeling that the "mass audience" is only a huge, blind and clumsy slug, a primitive animal being, unintelligent and indifferent.

LI: Were you an exuberant child?

A: I could say yes. When I was unable to do something, I took some food from the kitchen to bring to school to pay my mates with for doing it on my behalf: to lace my shoes, to knot my tie. I was good enough to swap all that I needed, physically or mentally. I certainly was an ugly kid, and I had terrifying fits of hysterics. Religion worried me a lot, I saw God and angels in the sky many times, staring at me severely. I was a child so anxious about everything that I had visions and hallucinations.


Andy Partridge: At the beginning of the adolescence, one becomes suddenly mad about something, the promotional clip of Jumpin' Jack Flash or the B-side of a Small Faces EP. . . All these little unquantifiable events, the aura radiated by a band, the black and white photographs on the back of a record sleeve that one gazes at for hours, thinking, "But I want to be like that! I want to be him!". It is a way that teenagers need to connect to the outside world, to the rebels. I have been through it too. But the rebel has now become a selling argument. Bands appear as cartoon characters. What is proposed is ready-cooked rebellion: "Which rebellion would you like?" There are now so many variations, for all tastes. When one is young, since one wants to grow faster, one splashes himself with the perfume of rebellion; all that annoys older people is worth taking. I lapsed into it a lot. I gloated at the thought that my mother would be admitted to the asylum as soon as I put the Sun Ra Arkestra album on.

LI: What was your first musical shock?

A: In the middle of this musical ocean, I remember some islands. When I was a child, there was no rock'n'roll on the English radio. The only interesting things were innovative records with strange voices or crazy lyrics. Otherwise, there was only music for the old. As a child, I mostly have listened to these innovative records, like the Randells' Martian Bop. I was 10 when I saw A Hard Day's Night with the Beatles. It was very exciting, but I didn't know what to do with the excitement. At about 13 or 14, the Monkees appeared: I thought it would be easy to form a musical gang with other guys, to use the guitar as a fishing rod for girls. I thought I could be like one of the Monkees, the Who, the Stones. It seemed easy, it was the only kit needed to fish for them in the street or in the audience. The adolescent with wild hormones that I was had found how to succeed in life. I loved women, but I didn't know exactly how to catch them. But it remained very hard for me, because I was excessively intimidated by women, for me they are another race, from another planet, they are so wonderful they still terrorize me today. When I was adolescent, if a girl talked to me, I would shake all over and lose my tongue. I would like to found the religion of the admiration of women, entirely devoted to the cult of women, with breast-shaped churches with vaginal doors.

LI: How did you react to the punk movement?

A: It happened at the very right time for me, because I was worked up for some years, after having been exposed to the New York Dolls, the Stooges and the MC5 at the beginning of the 70's. When punk invaded England, its energy -- and not much its blind and silly fashion -- was the dynamite I needed to explode.

LI: In the beginning with XTC, did you feel close to any other bands?

A: Not really, since even if I liked the energy, I found that what most of them said were rubbish in fashion. We too used a lot of empty declarations, we were at the age where we did not know how to express ourselves. I have never really admired the other bands, but I liked the noise and energy. I hated the way they proclaimed there had never been any music before '77. It showed their stupidity. In England, they like it if you behave as a moron, it's supposed to be a way of being genuine.

LI: Are there bands now which belong to the same family as yours?

A: I think I have more affinity with the bands I listened to at the beginning of my adolescence, the Kinks or the Beatles, whose evolution I like a lot. I feel I am following a similar path. What I listen to most now is some jazz and music from the Renaissance. I have got some very good records of music from the 15th, the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century. I love its taste of earth. Something man has lost, he is not linked to earthly cycles any more.

LI: How did you react when, two or three years ago, ecstasy became a very fashionable word?

A: I do not scorn this kind of movement, I realize that technology has progressed at such a speed that the big chill is to mount the technology of computers and samplings.

LI: In many of the Manchester bands there was also an important '60's part.

A: The image was well thought-out. Their parents had surely told them about the golden age. These kids who begin to make music think their parents had known nirvana in the '60's, where everything was paradisiacal, groovy and psychedelic, where the healthy drugs did not spoil the brain. Then they play with this image, just disguising themselves with it. In the '60's, all centred on the songs. These bands have all the external signs, the rhythms, the wah-wah they took out of the drawer, etc. . . They adopt the worst aspects of the '60's, the fashion or the haircut, while the '60's were another thing, people who appropriated music to build their own world on it.


Les Inrockuptibles: Your forthcoming album, Nonsuch, will be released three years after the previous one, as usual. Is it perfectionism, lack of inspiration or laziness?

Andy Partridge: I humbly apologize for this delay. But none of those reasons is the right one. It is a rather sad story, a big melodrama. We were ready two years ago, but our English record company refused all our songs. Then, we were unlucky with the approached producers. I am very annoyed with it, because I would like to release an album every six months, I feel I am gagged. The ideal solution would be two albums every year, but the situation is for the most part beyond my control. I would like to release a huge amount of albums: if the audience is not seduced by quality, it will give way beneath quantity. I will study the American zen: always more.

LI: Todd Rundgren, who produced Skylarking in 1986, had a very precise concept for that record.

A: While listening to the demos, he noticed that a lot of songs were precisely situated in time and space: in the open air, during the summer, in fine weather, each one was related to a precise hour of the day. He chose a very precise order and asked us to perform these songs one after the other, without any pause between them. It was very tiresome to achieve, because Todd Rundgren's ego was huge enough to keep everybody else in the background. Despite the difficulties getting along with him, he may have been our best producer thanks to his brilliant ideas about arrangements and his overall view of the project. We need somebody from the outside, the goldfish would not know the shape of its bowl if he had nobody outside to tell him about it. We are three goldfishes.

LI: It is rather astounding you had not been working with more nutty producers. When you were immersed in your experimental bath, you never thought about appealing to people like Brian Eno?

A: Brian Eno had been contacted to produce our second album, GO 2. We met him, he came to a few concerts, but he explained to us that we did not need anybody. I think he emphasized what we had in mind but that our modesty prevented us from saying. In the beginning, we had thought it would have been a great honour to work with someone like Brian Eno, very innovative, with good taste, who ploughs his furrow, as farmers say. We have become what we are with the passing years, with our way, we are like nobody else. I know who my heroes are, I am old enough to recognize what has had a lot of influence on me: the Kinks, the Beatles, loads of singles from the end of the 60's, some noises and psychedelic wailings two minutes long. Some strangeness of a day, like Tomorrow's "My White Bicycle", or some psychedelic incarnation of the Small Faces. The psychedelic singles had a great impact on me. With the passing of years, jazz from the 50's and be-bop have become to come back, all that I had been injected with when I was young, by my father, all that I had initially fought against. And recently, during the last five or six years, I realized the influence of the Beach Boys.

LI: Each of your albums is packaged with a strong image. Which one is the most representative of the spirit of XTC?

A: They are all very light and level-headed, you will never see one of us wearing latex, with chainsaws and wigs, it is always politely English. They all have tried, in their time, to approach this spirit as nearly as possible. Except for the sleeve of Skylarking, which was not the original project. The initial sleeve opened at the top: there were then two fronts, or two backs. On one side, pubic hairs of a woman photographed very closely, with meadow flowers tangled, on the other one, pubic hairs of a man with flowers tangled. You then could choose the side you wanted to see. But we had problems with our record company and the record shops. Yet, one could see almost nothing, all was in the imagination. . . I found that it nicely summarized the time, the place and the feeling of the album, and there was a Lady Chatterley's Lover side, mischievous outdoor sex.

LI: Yet sex is not a primordial theme of XTC, your albums are almost asexual.

A: It is because I find that a lot of pop musicians become too easily besotted with sex. It is after all just one of the marvellous physical and spiritual functions, in the same way as eating, shitting, reading, listening. I cannot see why nine pop musicians out of ten concentrate themselves on their cock, that is not in the image of life. . . Our next sleeve, Nonsuch, reproduces a castle which does not exist any more. It was called "the summit of ostentation". It is a very beautiful word, but also one of my favorite record companies, the American record company Nonesuch, which releases this old music I like a lot. I then discovered it was the most marvellous castle ever, covered with gold, sculptures and paints, it looked like a fairy tale's wedding cake. It was built by that tyrant, Henry the eight, who razed a village for it. The edifice quickly disappeared, it exists only on two second-rate drawings.

LI: A much more complicated and much richer image than the one which ornated the sleeve of English Settlement.

A: It was a chalk sculpture on a Cornwall hill, from the iron age. Iron age man pulled up the grass to expose the chalk ground: a piece of art and a very primitive sign of a village or a group of persons beginning to live and work together.

LI: This sleeve is very representative of the album and of the very beautiful acoustic, rich and rough, sound. How do you explain this radical change?

A: If that record was made of wood, the first, White Music, was made of fluorescent plastic, with an excessively shiny surface, and rather impersonal, because the songs were very early attempts of songwriting. Progressively the songs were less and less intended to make an an effect -- with noisy bells, fluorescent lights and all this stuff. With English Settlement, we finally made music to please ourselves and which, apparently paradoxically, affected much more people.

LI: On the album, one of the tracks is "All of A Sudden". This change happened all of a sudden?

A: For the most part, because the previous album, Black Sea, had been in my mind the last record for a tour, the last time I would ever write songs to play them on stage, with two guitars, bass and drums, harmonies to a minimum. It was our concert on vinyl: a perfectly oiled machine, geared for performance at that time. When we were writing, Colin and I were very much fed up with the incessant tours and wanted to try different musical textures, maybe more difficult to reproduce on stage: acoustic guitars, more keyboards, more subtleties. A lot of bands of that time, people like Aztec Camera, became conscious that that was something to follow, that the acoustic guitar brought a bit of fresh blood to a world made of electricity, synths and electronics. We were looking for a more personal domain. We spent more time at home, less on the road. Since English Settlement, the English countryside setting is much more present in our music.

LI: The songs that ends the album, "Snowman", is amazingly personal, you seldom expose yourself so much.

A: I found it hard to take the mask away. I usually wear it to protect my feelings. I call myself "them", or "she", I even sometimes hide behind an inanimate object. A way of writing behind a mask of metaphors. From time to time, the mask slides a bit and then I simply must be myself. It may be wrong to think one increases his strength with armour and a mask. Even if it was hard to let so much out of myself, I felt stronger by getting away from this stuff. I had difficulties with "Hold Me My Daddy" because I imagined my father listening it. He could have taken it for weakness, to expose my feelings in front of him in such a way.

LI: It didn't happen?

A: No, I am from a family rather not much emotional, we had difficulties to show our emotions, we were real icebergs. The English are for the most of time icebergs, then imagine frozen icebergs [laughs] . . . In my family, we had difficulty to give a cuddle, to say what we felt.

LI: You say you have a very ordinary everyday life. Is it really true?

A: Yes absolutely, very ordinary, with the only difference being that I do not work at the factory but in a pop band. I try to immerse myself in the world of children, to guide them, to show them the world.

LI: No vices?

A: I drink a bit, that is all. I have never taken any drugs. I had consumed prescribed medicines for ten or eleven years, valium. The docs prescribed it to me because of a nervous system in poor condition. I did not know what these tablets were, but I was addicted to it during all my adolescent years. Until an American tour. My wife, at that time my girlfriend, did not like to see me taking all these tablets, increasing the doses. She threw everything in the toilets one night. I became raving mad, I turned all the hotel upside down thinking she had thrown away my emotional crutch. After feeling very bad for two weeks, I felt good. I now distrust medicines and drugs, even if I sometimes drink a lot.


Andy Partridge: England belongs to another century, it's one hundred years behind the times. The only other country which I could imagine living in is Holland. I like the verdure and the dairy produce. England has been sacrificed to cars. They have devoured everything. This country is a huge salad bowl progressively devoured by cars which proliferate like worms.

Les Inrockuptibles: Do you like the cultural insularity of England?

A: We are terribly arrogant, we need to believe that what we have invented is the best thing ever done, even if it may last only one week. England is a highly productive cattle-breading area, but we never know what to do with the Frankenstein's creatures once we have created them. We have the terrible habit of bringing out something new, and saying it is the best thing ever, just to see it fall off its pedestal two weeks later, because it had no substance. Saying that in fact it was awful, that we had never really liked it. We do not have an ear critical enough to really listen to it at the beginning, we always make up our minds in a rush.

LI: Your influences are strictly English, nothing American.

A: I like the Beach Boys' music, when it begins to sound like Handel's or Bach's. The best of the Beach Boys did not sound American, it was rather in the tradition of European classical music. America has nothing to offer to me. I feel jammed in England, for better or for worse, standing stock-still in English history. I know that a great part of English history is very far from brilliant, but I feel I cannot get out. And there is something satisfying in my imprisonment. I like history. It is very enjoyable to search it, to exhibit all its atrocities and to cover yourself with it. Now that I am old and decrepit, I am interested in older and more decrepit stuff.

LI: American people like Phil Spector seem to have a musical spirit close to yours, in the sense of melody, the arrangements, the combination of simplicity and complexity. Do you like these eccentricities of American music?

A: "Americanism"? It's true it is fascinating, but I do not completely understand the language spoken by Americanism, people like Spil Factor [laughs] . . . I like, but I do not really understand, I remain an external listener, I cannot participate because I do not understand the wheels of it. You must come from there to really participate. It remains a mystery for me. I never had any particular admiration for Spector, whom I took for rather trigger-happy [laughs]. . . Captain Beefheart is in my opinion the greatest American poet, he had a way of filtering, concentrating the Americana, old and modern, into some little pieces of music, three minutes long; I admire him enormously for that. His music is a never ending bomb, surprising one from the first to the last noise. I do need elements of rigour in order to understand music, but I like to lift the lid and find surprises. Some people do not appreciate uncertainty, do not like to look under a stone to find something marvellous. I like to put it in music. I know we have been criticized for that, but I cannot help being myself, so love it or hate it! [laughs] I am easily bored, so my favourite music is the one that takes you by the ear to bring you to another horizon. You lift up the lid and suddenly there is something marvellous in the box, something you did not expect.

LI: You could not live in America?

A: I would feel too much like a stranger there. England, with all its flaws, is now entirely part of my own system. I realize that it is a weird place, where everything seems to work under different rules from the rules of the rest of the world. Each time I come back here after a journey, it is as if someone threw a bucket full of sweet water at my face. "Humm. . . the taste of England!" It is a sickly drink but with a subtle flavour. The English race is now the only one which does not understand us. Americans do not understand the way we act, but that is what seduces them. These Americans like to feed themselves with anglicism, with fancy England: the tea towels, the beefeaters, the HP sauce, the London cabs. . . I am sure they like all this comic book anglicism in our music. That is the language we talk. They must see England like a negative of Hollywood, the theater of ultimate decadence.

LI: In France, the Monty Python symbolize the spirit of English imagination. Do they too, in your opinion?

A: English are this way: the Monty Python put the English under a microscope and reveal the stupidity of all these mannerisms. David Lean's movies and Dickens' novels are the quintessence of distilled anglicism. David Lean's version of Great Expectations or Oliver Twist is dreamt anglicism in a deadly dose. Throw it and anglicism splashes all over the place. Nitroglycerin of English. I need to watch his Great Expectations every two months to reaffirm my vision of the world. Among the contemporaries, there is also Mike Leigh, very embarrassing, who puts his finger exactly where he has to.

LI: Your main influence is the rock of the 60's. Yet one can think that the original rock of the 60's was American, that the English just adapted it.

A: The best music of the 50's was American, but by dint of copying it clumsily, we finally ended with something much more exciting and innovative in the middle of the 60's in England. Then, during the 70's and the 80's, it was musical ping-pong. But we won the 60's play. Even Jimi Hendrix had to leave the United States to settle in England. I did not like Dylan a lot, I found he copied too much Donovan [laughs]. . . That is what I say to Dylan fans to annoy them. Ray Davies has always been an extraordinary songwriter, I have a relationship of love and hate with the Kinks, marvellous and sometimes awful. Yet, I believe in musicians who get better with the age, in good artisans. I am still feeling I am learning and progressively coming near to songwriters like Burt Bacharach, a marvellous guy. I would like to write music that, as his own does, would follow the meanders of the most beautiful melodic landscapes. The song is dying, yet everything is here. You now hear only sung grooves, which are not songs. My conception of a song is very much out of fashion.

LI: You seem to be obsessed by growing old. Are you anxious?

A: Without a doubt, but I try to get rid of it by thinking one can get better with the age. Nothing is worst than rotten fruit, but nothing is better than an old wine bottle, at least until it is completely emptied. I hope I will not become a rotten fruit, I want to improve. I hope that is what happens to our music. I am paralyzed at the idea of not having exorcized the ghosts of all of the people who I admire, of not having been better than them. Paralyzed at the idea I could not defeat them in a song duel, like knights in armour. I am about to equal some of them, but I want to defeat all of them [laughs]. . . The task is long, so I sharpen my weapons, I want to defeat Ray Davies, Lennon and McCartney, Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson. . . I want all these people dead at my feet.


Translated by Emmanuel Marin.
musiques cínema arts livres multi/medias society 1989
XTC - Noblesse Oblige


They were divers, papermen, railwaymen, clergymen. Now made up by the flower-power parody, Andy Partridge and the hedonist clowns of XTC gorge themselves on the sweetness inside the musical nirvana of Oranges and Lemons, a snakes-and-ladders album where madness and naiveness are combined, sobriety and exuberance, all blessed by England. A land of plenty where the children of the Monty Python become intoxicated.

Q: "Garden Of Earthly Delights" is the first track of your new album, Oranges and Lemons. Where is it? The place where you live, the room where you keep your collection of little lead soldiers?

Andy Partridge: It is the world. The world is a fantastic place, in the same time horrible and beautiful, with towns, jungles, forests, trash or splendid things. It is the world with all its facets, filled with ugly and nice guys... And that is all we have. Many people are spending their lives considering the Earth as the waiting room of the Garden Of Eden and are wasting it: "Oh! I cannot wait to die! Afterwards, I will be happy, it will be the Garden Of Eden..." But the Garden Of Eden must be awful! Can you imagine yourself staying for eternity in a place where you cannot even have a drink? I am sure there is no alcohol in the Garden Of Eden, it must be unbearable. Most of people are wasting their lives. I do not think that they realize that the Garden Of Eden, well, it is here. The Garden Of Eden and the Hell, by the way... It is the same thing. The whole song gives children, young children, basic advice, so that they can make the most of life. Because that is all we have in life: pleasure. Or should I say that is all we should have. But there is one rule, only one: do not hurt anybody. If you succeed in it, then you play the game of life perfectly. The idea that life is a waste of time, waiting for death to reach a better world, is totally silly.

Q: Since when do you know that the Garden Of Eden and Hell are here, on Earth?

AP: I think that this idea slowly spreads through the planet: religion is a human invention. All the religions have been invented by man. The truth is that there is no old Shakespearian actor sitting on a little cloud, wearing a huge beard, who says: "Oh come! Hurry to die, the you will be able to visit all your ancestors!..." What a terrible thought! I simply do not want to see my old uncles! It horrifies me. A lot of people do not realize that life is wonderful, until they are going to lose it. When they grow old, they begin to think "I'd better be on good with God, just to show him that I have not forgotten him, that I go back to church". Elderly people, near death, go back to the church, thinking "God, sorry to have neglected you all these years, but you see, I will soon come near You, then if You could make a place for me..." Absurd. To live is to open one's head, one's mind, and to let in the most you can of life. Because that is all we have. There is nothing else. There are no twilight zones, no other dimensions filled with spectres. There are no UFOs, no Gods, no giant turtle carrying the world upon his back. There is only what we have, which is wonderful, so why are we looking somewhere else?

Q: Are you always so convinced or do you sometimes feel like ...

AP: Praying when the plane is caught in turbulence? Yes and no. When the surgeon gives you an anaesthetic, when you begin to lose consciousness, what are you thinking about? First, the classic things about death, your mother, your wife, your children, school... Then, more animal instincts, agony... The idea of God, THE figure of the Father and the Mother together, helps only to put your mind at ease. In fact, you try to cool down by praying, it is like instant meditation, "God, please help me", but all we do, is to take fresh heart, "Come on, pull yourself together". And you do not need religion for that.

Q: You talk about the pleasure of being on Earth. You have the image of being an ecologist band, close to Nature...

AP: I think it is for a great part one of the ideas that people project onto us. Had they stopped to project these ideas, they would realize that we are just an empty screen. We think we are honest musicians, songwriters... bastards, anything you want. Honesty is not to claim to be what you are not. I think we are as honest as possible.

Q: Do you feel close to nature?

AP: Absolutely. I prefer by far Nature to anything man do. Or woman. I have always thought you can trust animals, but not humanity. For example: take two cages. In the first, you put the director of a big petrochemical company, seated behind his desk, with a phone. Now it is your turn to enter the cage with this... human. I do not think you could trust him. In the other cage, a tiger. You can trust it in an implicit way because, at least, you know what you can expect. The tiger says to you "Step back, I'm gonna eat you", but you ask yourself what the director can think, if he tells you the truth, if he smiles or if he just takes you for a fool, you see what I mean? Then I prefer animals to people. Humans are so pompous, and violent. Pretentious enough to suppose anything, for example "Well.. Let's see... Well, okay, someone has created us, and since we are perfection, this someone must look as we do. Then, he made us to his image, because he is like us and we are like him..." People are so puffed up with self-importance that they have never imagined that the incarnation of life could be a cockroach. Why should the Maker of the Universe not look like a cockroach, making everything to his image? Man would be only a mass of flesh, a sort of big joke, like a failure, well designed but a failure. Humanity has a ludicrous self-importance. You cannot trust it and it is superficial: you can see through, permanently, and that is rather funny to observe.


Q: At the beginning of its career, XTC was labelled as one of the bands in has been called the New Wave movement. Your titles, "Science Friction", White Music, Drums and Wires, sounded like declarations... May people have taken you too seriously?

AP: Maybe. Some people, surely. To some extent, we too have taken ourselves seriously. Because we were new and because you make a lot of mistakes when you begin. We also made a lot of noise, to impress people. It is like somebody turning up at a party for the very first time: he makes a lot of noise so that the others notice his entrance, to hide his tension, his lack of self-confidence, so that the others know quite well he is there. At the age we were at that time, we would display some aggressiveness, bother people, more than established musicians can do. All these factors had been what mattered. We were new, we did not know how to write... We thought you just had to put some evocative sentences end-to-end, full of atmosphere, like "Radios in Motion": it is meaningless, it is just a pleasant expression that leaves a kind of electronic and contemporary feeling. It relates to nothing, it is just a handful of syllables that creates an effect. It was this way during the first two albums. After that came the time when we had a feeling of waste. Then we have decided to write songs about what we were feeling rather than beautiful sentences that were interesting but without any relationships between themselves. We have decided to make ourselves clear, to communicate with people, and, once we had their attention, we wanted to say things with a meaning, which were not just rubbish. But people remember, above all, our entrance and forget what followed.

Q: You have got to admit it was a punk party, or should I say, an after-punk party. The sleeve of your record Go 2, black with a typewritten text explaining its concept, has been considered as a manifesto of the contemporary state of mind. Did you see it in this way?

AP: I have been very much attracted by the punk energy. Some young men, 18-20 years old, had thought they were reinventing Rock'n'Roll, though many elements of their music and many sensations had come from previous periods... What they did was not more then what Dadaists, Futurists or 50's rockers did, with louder amps. But they had thought they had reinvented all that. We have thought it too, of course, but we have not invented anything. We have rearranged in a new way what had come from the previous years. But at this age, you have the feeling of doing everything for the first time... There was a lot of that in punk. I like this energy, this desperate need to be noticed. I think that we all thought it was so hard to draw peoples' attention, that we needed to make an incredible din, musically, to be recognized.

Q: Had you a craving for public recognition?

AP: Precisely. For example, my voice: you know that I simply cannot listen to our first two albums?! The voices are so mannered!... But I believed in it. I wanted it to be that by listening to our records, people could say "I know who is singing in it, he has a style which has no equivalent". I sang in a very complicated way, with a sort of hiccough, a kind of dub, a bit as if I were pushing the buttons of the console in the same time, except that I was doing it with my voice... I wanted people to recognize me, I thought it might have been the only record I would ever make, I wanted to leave something with nothing to do with the others. Therefore, there had been quite a lot of things which were not totally sincere, but we believed in it. We believed in this desperate talk, necessary to express ourselves and to be immediately recognized. I could not foresee that our success would last. When suddenly we realized that, our personality changed, we did not want to waste this mass-media any longer.

Q: How did you consider the band at its beginning? As just a hobby, writing some songs, recording them and seeing what was happening, or did you felt you had to succeed at all costs?

AP: Of course. When we made our first record, we thought we would be Number One everywhere, that we could buy castles and Rolls, that we would throw motorbikes in the swimming-pools...

Q: Did you think it really?

AP: Absolutely. We were young and naive, instead of old and naive... We were still thinking that our castle would be like that, with four separate entrances with a single big room inside, in which we would all live together... We just would have to plug our guitars straight in the wall, it would be terrific, it would be real life... You play this game seriously, and then you realize that no, this is not like that... the awakening is not easy... and you discover it is just a dream, this old pop dream.

Q: Has music been for you a lifeline? The chance of your life?

AP: At the beginning, we were rather anxious. Each of us had a job and music had arrived as a marvellous adventure, a travel, a discovery, but it was definitely not a job. It was as if the Hand of Fate had pulled us out of everyday life, to bring us in a cruise around the world. And, when you stay at sea long enough, you realize that there is nobody but you on the boat, no guide, and that you will have to learn how to sail if you want to arrive somewhere... We had the impression of having been invited to participate to the discovery of a brand new world, but we did not worry about leaving our jobs, without really knowing where our incomes would come from... Basic concerns, in fact...

Q: What have you done before?

AP: I was painting "special offer" billboards, you know: "This week, exceptional discount". Not too bad, by the way... I spent my days in an office, surrounded by very surrealist things, heads of dummies, Grecian columns, a lot of green plastic plants... A very "Dalí" decor, and I was painting the bill-boards, drinking, trying to spend most of my time somewhere else, using various excuses... But I had reached the point where I was so often away, because of the concerts, where I could not find any good excuses to explain my delays, and where finally it was simpler to stop.

Q: What have the others done before?

AP: Colin was a gardener in a school. More precisely, he was driving the engine which traces the white lines on the fields. He was in prison in a small wood cabin, at the far end of the fields, with a... let's say, backward guy, that kids called "Ten Foot". Not that he was ten feet tall, but because he had a disproportionately long sex... He was a mental defective, but his sex was enormous, and the schoolgirls would come and knock at the window of the cabin, singing "Ten Foot, Ten Foot". Often, this deranged and hefty guy would come near Colin and ask him "You know why they call me like that, eh?!" Then, Colin would pretend not to know, and the guy would insist to show him...


Q: The 76/77 movement, mixed a modern music with a return to some older values, like rhythm and blues. Some values that one does not detect in your music. Was a record like White Music a kind of rebellion against these values?

AP: Our values were not really rhythm and blues, we were rather from the 60's "guitar" generation. All three of us were much more influenced by the "white beat" bands, the Kinks or the Small Faces, rather than by Chuck Berry, or names like... Blind Boy, Deaf Grunting or Epileptic John (laughs)...

Q: The American music seemed to have had no influence on you, unlike many other English bands from the same period.

AP: It is true. I do not like the American music from the end of the 60's. I found it too political, at that time the USA were at war. If you talked about drugs, they would answer heroin or coke, whereas in England, we only had got to acid... We were not involved in any war, but in USA, it was the enrollment under the colours. The American music had a very dark side and I was at the age when so much darkness could not interest me. Like most of people at that time in Great Britain, I was attracted by lighter things, more eccentric and coloured, recalling masquerades, parades... America was too heavy, too charged with police connotations, with severely repressed riots. The atmosphere in England was clearly more... musical, that is the only word that crossed my mind.

Q: A lot of people roughly connect you to the Beatles, especially since the wink of the Oranges and Lemons record cover. Have you always had a particular admiration for them?

AP: It came progressively. As I progress in songwriting, I realize that I move around a particular style, which has quite obviously influenced me a lot. I did not realize that, at the beginning, because I was at the age when one is convinced one invents everything, I firmly believed I was the first to write texts like mine. But the more I write, the more I realize that I turn towards something more... how to say... not "communicative", not popular, but... It is as it was for the Beatles, their first numbers had nothing to do with those that they did at the end. They have moved towards a songwriting style where you find people like Burt Bacharach, a style you can describe as mythical, which would be the "Kingdom of the Good Songs"... It is an outcome, a place you approach progressively by working. The Kinks began in a totally different way, with a very "snotty" rhythm and blues, which gradually became better, which brought them in the suburbs of this Kingdom... What we are doing now has nothing to do with what we have done at the beginning, but we carry on in our own sweet way. If everything goes off smoothly, we should approach this place reserved for the good songs.

Q: Are some shadows, like the Beatles', sometimes too heavy?

AP: There is some Beatles in our music, but also some Captain Beefheart, some jazz bands, some others who were not necessarily musicians, like Miró, Walt Disney... Everything, absolutely everything, I have seen, heard, smelt, read, since I was born. If people see only some Beatles, it is because they want to search only for some Fab Four... They could find also some George Orwell, or everything they would search for.

Q: You were rather young during the great psychedelic period...

AP: I am afraid so! I was too young to be an hippy, my parents did not agree (laughs)... In 1967, I was 14, a little too young, alas... I did not work, I was broke, I could not afford all the records I wanted... But those I bought with my pocket money, or with the money I earned by carrying the newspapers each morning, were absolute treasures that I cherished above all, that I listened continuously... The memories I have of this period is a feeling of absolute freedom, as far as music is concerned, a feeling that one could do all what he wanted to.

Q: Drugs, especially acid, were then an important way of creation. XTC's madness seems more reasonable, more sober.

AP: I am against drugs. I simply cannot believe that you can create and have hallucinations in the same time. It is a pack of lies. How can you play guitar when you see your hands changing into the claws of a crawfish? You do not hear music the same way if you are under drugs. Creation is a personal affair and with drugs, you become a projection of yourself, a puppet, which happens to be here by luck. You must remain in control of yourself if you want to create. It is either one or the other. I personally never had any real idea while getting high. The only thing I can do while being drunk, is to stand, if that! Drugs modify perception. You spend hours on all fours, finding your carpet fantastic. The day after, you realize the carpet is still the same. The only difference comes from the fact that the previous evening, your conscience perceived the external in a creative way, but created nothing.

Q: You all three have released, incognito, two records of psychedelic hallucinations, under the name of The Dukes Of Stratosphear. Could you not let yourself go at all your deliriums inside the band? Were The Dukes too monstrous to let them appear with XTC?

AP: The Dukes, or The Frankenstein's Monsters, were a good idea, but we had to get rid of them. Or rather, The Dukes' spirit took possession of our souls and hold us in its power... I feel like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, I am possessed by this demon who come to see me from the far end of my childhood and talk to me in a curious language without vowels: "Grrppphhhhfffftttcchc..."

Q: Oranges and Lemons is then the meeting between XTC and the Dukes...

AP: Yes, exactly, now we are seven members in the band (laughs)... We could not do more with The Dukes, because they had already been used a lot. After a certain number of times, you cannot keep on telling the same jokes. But what these creatures inspired in us is still here, and we all agree on letting it act, not suppressing it, and using it.


Q: With Drums and Wires and "Making Plans for Nigel", you have obtained your first and nearly only big public success...

AP: We had already released two records and I felt frustrated by the fact they had been ignored. It was very pleasant to land up in the success, but it did not last enough in England, a very changing country. No sooner had we been known, we were out-of-date... I then concluded that England is not interested in what we are doing.

Q: For some bands, success means the beginning of the end. But for XTC, on the contrary, it seems it has been the beginning of your perfect discography: Black Sea was your first album having a real unity. The first volume of XTC second part?

AP: Yes. At this moment, Dave Gregory, who had joined us on the previous album, was perfectly integrated, we were indeed very bound together. This album had been especially written to be played on stage. It was a hot-rod, customized album, whose design destined it to go faster and hit stronger: two guitars-bass-drums and no superfluous singing, as on stage. This album is really representative of the live machine we were at the time of Black Sea.

Q: Many are whose who consider your following album, English Settlement, as your masterpiece. Did you record it in particular conditions?

AP: By this time, I did not want to tour anymore. It was in this mood that I wrote this album, knowing I did not want to tour anymore. This tiny certainty was enough to remove this heavy weight, this straight- jacket which prevented us from carrying on our exploration. We had made Drums and Wires and Black Sea, we did not manage to go further in this direction. English Settlement was the the first multicoloured album, it was the first time we realized there were so many colours on each side, instead of only one or two, in the middle. English Settlement is one of our best albums and Oranges and Lemons is comparable to it, with its unity. An optimistic feeling radiates from Oranges and Lemons, a feeling or vigour, rather... This album has been made in a vigourous style, I think, which was what missed in the previous one. Skylarking was very intimate, very hazy, cloudy...

Q: Is the decision not to tour anymore at the origin of the feeling of Mummer, the feeling you were like in a monastic retreat, you had entered your carapace?

AP: We were at this time totally disgusted by the show-biz, we wanted to retreat... We do not let ourselves be photographed very often, we do not run from one party to another, we do not behave like show-biz people. Simple because we do not like that. I do not appreciate at all the Hollywood-ian glamour they try to impose you as soon as you are a pop-star. It is so hypocritical and ridiculous... Just as we do only few videos, we do not frequent this circle, we rarely give interviews, because we do not like to show ourselves... Above all because of our deep disgust for the show-biz.

Q: I am sure you remember some Parisian concert, in '82, where you left the scene during the first song, definitively...

AP: Oh yes, very well, I was sure I would die...

Q: During the song?

AP: During the song, yes. And after, too. By the way, I almost died when I saw the firemen coming, but of shame this time... I did not understand anything, I did not know why they had called the firemen, someone should have told them the guitarist was burning and that they should go and fetch him... I think it was due to a mixing of various things. A bad diet, too many concerts, an enormous nervous fatigue, a very little moral... It was the second nervous breakdown I had on tour but by a stoke of bad luck, it began on stage...

Q: Have you always hated to play on stage?

AP: Not at all, I loved that at the beginning. I found there was a funny and amateur side in the fact of establishing a communication between us and 150 persons in a pub. But at that time, we had not any claim about the show-biz and we had not to be incredibly good, at any price... Then the concert halls became bigger and bigger... How can you play concerts in front of 15,000 persons, and claim to enter in a sexual communion with the audience? I did not like at all this idea of a would-be sexual relation with the audience. I like what is true. I can, if need be, "penetrate" the mind of one hundred persons in a pub, but surely not of 15,000 persons in the same time, in a stadium... In my opinion, concerts have always been, in five years of touring, moments when the audience masturbates on one side and us on the other, without any sex, nor anything but an only "visually" sexual relation, satisfying, without connection between the band and the audience... You are so lonely on stage, you hardly distinguish the bassist on the right of the scene, the guitarist on the left, you do not see the audience, only darkness in front of you. There is no more fun. When things stop being funny, you have to try to correct what is wrong. The scene disgusted me because I did not like playing the same songs the same way, each evening, because I did not like being propelled on stage in front of thousand persons, without having seen anybody during the day, and having to be great. And I did not bear the physical fatigue of touring. In addition to that, we did not sell much records, we lost a lot of money in these concerts, we were trapped in the promotional tours: all the negative aspects prevailed over the positive aspects. There was no creativity in touring permanently, we preferred to put an end to it. And our music became instantly much better: we were relieved of our chains, we could finally be happy, we did not have to bear all these negative things any more. Why should we have forced ourselves? We liked making records, not touring. We have recorded records since then which were better than the previous ones.

Q: Just after English Settlement, you recorded Mummer. I personally get from it a feeling of intense claustrophobia...

AP: This album has been made, for the greatest part, in my garden. Because of my mood at that time... I was rather unwell, I felt permanently exposed to the audience, I could not walk out in the street without feeling everybody recognized me and that I should play my role, be up to it... That summer, I spent it in my garden with an acoustic guitar. Only the idea of going out made me sick... I could not go to the pub, because there were always a few persons who made comments "Look! That's him." I could not bear to be permanently a performance. Mummer reflects this period, were everything was introverted, the writing, the songwriting, the personalities. The horizon itself was like drawn up by the black hole my garden had become, with me and my acoustic guitar... I wanted to write, but suddenly the Universe had collapsed, instead of going its way...

Q: Had this feeling disappeared on the following album?

AP: I shook myself up, to get rid of it. Big Express is more violent, with a will to act positively, for lack of being positive. Some have said it was like a journey by train: after having travelled through the country with Mummer, the train crossed the town, with Big Express.


Q: On Oranges and Lemons, my first surprise has been the "Pink Thing" lyrics: You wanted to have two levels of reading about them, didn't you?

AP: You have surely already seen these drawings which represents two profiles facing each other, and you do not know if it was two persons looking at one another, or the silhouette of a stemmed glass. I wanted to use this effect in a song: am I talking about my son, or about my penis? I wanted it to be a picture which can be seen on two ways. The song begins with "the furious pink thing", because at the beginning, we called my first son this way when he cried and that he looked like an hungry exotic plant. We would say then it was time to take care of the "pink thing". I began to play with this idea of title and it instantly made me think of my sex! The entire song centres on these two themes at the same time, like the profiles and the glass. The first of the two you see, prevents seeing the other one.

[Translated by Emmanuel Marin, thanks to John M. Relph for grammatical and spelling corrections...]
musiques cínema arts livres multi/medias society 1989
Oranges & lemons
& lemons

De la pop albionissimement anglaise, foldingue, excentrique, qui brasse dans un même élan dadaïste humour pincé, conscience sociale et mélodies tourneboulantes fleurant fort les muffins et le thé au lait.

Oranges et citrons, confiture et strychnine, les XTC transforment là ce qu'ils n'avaient qu'ébauché au sein des Dukes Of Stratosphear: une première face exceptionnelle qui contient au moins deux hits planétaires (Mayor of Simpleton et ses lyrics à la Wonderful world, King for a day et sa ligne mélodique éblouissante), des mots poivrés habilement enfouis dans des couches de barbe à papa (President kill again, Scarecrow people), un chatoiement incessant d'idées sonores. . . A vous rendre nostalgique de l'Angleterre de Penny Lane, cette image d'Epinal à laquelle on rêve en feuilletant L'Ile noire, en mâchouillant des toffees Quality Street. Ou en écoutant XTC.

Serge Kaganski (1989)

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