In the annals of Indie rock, David Gedge is one of the last great survivors.
While other great hopes and next big things crash and burn under the weight of major label pressure, or drug-fuelled excess, Gedge ploughs on, steering a singular, uncompromising course through the minefield of music biz pomposity.
Since forming the Wedding Present in 1985, he’s continued to produce witty, blistering, studies of love, lust and heartbreak, while embracing technology and inventing new ways of engaging fans – including the autographical comic Tales From the Wedding Present.
Bandmates have come and gone, but Gedge remains a constant driving force, indulging his love of soundtracks to create Cinerama in 1997, before reviving The Wedding Present in 2005 for Take Fountain – an album born out of despair at his split from long term partner Sally Murrell.
Now, 30 years after featuring on the NME’s much heralded C86 cassette along with Primal Scream, The Primitives and The Jesus and Mary Chain, Gedge and the Wedding Present are as active as ever.
Having enjoyed something of a renaissance thanks to the 2014 Edsel Records deluxe re-release of the band’s previous eight studio albums, The Wedding Present are presently touring their well-received ninth – Going Going… – their first double.
In an interview marking the imminent US vinyl release of the album, Gedge tells Matt Catchpole about his extraordinary career and the (tongue firmly in cheek) “semi-legendary” status of his band.
You’ve been doing this for more than 30 years – do you still get as excited about every release as you did when you started?
Very much so. I think it’s to do with the idea of creating something. It’s fascinating to start off with the germ of an idea – a little melody or a phrase – which eventually becomes something that you launch into an unsuspecting world!
What would the David Gedge of 2016 have to say to the David Gedge of 1985?
I’d say be aware that technology is going to change the industry, to which you’ve just started contributing, out of all recognition. All those record labels you know are going to die and most of those record shops you hang around in are going to disappear. But you will be able to watch the videos of all your favourite bands anytime you want… on your ‘phone!
Working with hardcore noisenik Steve Albini (Big Black, Shellac) on Seamonsters was seen as a radical change of direction at the time. Did he know much about you?
I’m pretty sure he didn’t – but our record label at the time, RCA Records, brought him over to meet us and he came to see us play in Manchester.
Was it part of a strategy to increase your appeal for American audiences?
Ha, ha… you think I have a ‘strategy’? You do realise that you’re talking to David Gedge of The Wedding Present, don’t you? The main reason I wanted to use Steve was because I heard Surfer Rosa by The Pixies and I thought that that LP had a breathtakingly great sound.
You’ve worked with him several times since, what do you think he brings to your sound?
Steve is essentially a brilliant recording engineer and, as long as the band know what they want and have the means to achieve it, he will provide them with an accurate document. The main thing I noticed when we started working with him is that the recordings became more three dimensional… more like the band sounded live and during rehearsals.
Cinerama was inspired by your love of film soundtracks – who are yur favourite film composers?
My two all-time favourites are John Barry and Ennio Morricone and I like pretty much everything they’ve done.
You’ve had a number of interesting collaborations over the years – is there anyone you’d like to work with?
I’ve always thought I’d like to work with Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine but that’s just because they’re my favourite band. Or maybe I could write a song with Rhett Miller (Texan singer-songwriter) … that’d be cool.
This interview coincides with the US release of Going Going… – how do you think US audiences compare to European ones?
We’re not as big in the USA as we are over here so the concerts over there tend to be more intimate, which the audience prefers, of course. There’s always plenty of interaction, which is great. Sometimes if you’re on a big stage in a big venue you can lose that connection with the audience.
Can you explain the concept behind the album – was the plan always to make it a double?
The concept has evolved over the last couple of years and, at the beginning, I had no idea how the finished thing would look. It’s loosely based on a road trip across the USA from Maine to California which I did myself along with photographer Jessica McMillan. We travelled through twenty states and so it seemed obvious to work on twenty pieces of music. It wasn’t until we started recording demos that I realised that it wasn’t all going to fit on a single LP! In the end it’s five tracks per side of vinyl… and the geek in me likes the symmetry in that!
Does songwriting get easier as you get older? How is the process for you – does it all come in a flood once you get the basic idea, or is it like getting blood out of a stone?
I don’t think it’s become any easier or harder. On the one hand, I’ve become more experienced and so I know earlier on in the process what is and isn’t going to work in a composition. On the other hand, I’ve written over 200 songs now and I’m always worried that I’m going to be repeating myself! So I’m always looking for new ideas and trying to stretch myself. Once I’ve had the initial inspiration I think the rest of a song usually tends to fall into place. It takes me a long time… but that’s more because I’m probably too much of a perfectionist!
Your style always appears to be nakedly confessional, but are you always writing specifically about yourself, or do you adopt different personas when you write?
It depends on the song. Some are totally biographical… especially on George Best and Take Fountain… others less so. But even in an imaginary situation it’s usually my thoughts on how I would react… what I would say, what I would do. So there’s at least a little bit of me in every song, I guess.
I read an interview years ago when you said you used to hate playing a new song to the band – do those kind of nerves still affect you?
Ha, yeah, well… it is kind of scary, baring yourself like that… although I suppose I’m more used to it now.
Do you enjoy the responsibility of being a band leader? How tough is it to tell someone they’re out of the band?
I don’t enjoy it, no. I hate it! I hate confrontation. Managing people and their expectations within the confines of the group is definitely the most difficult part of my job. That being said… whenever I’ve had to ask people to leave, they usually know; they usually bring it on themselves, really.
Does touring tend to get more arduous as you get older?
Not really. I actually enjoy the physical aspect. People pay $100 a month to go to gym and do the stuff that I do on tour.
What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you on tour?
Keanu Reeves coming to an L.A. show with a bunch of paparazzi photographers in tow was a bit strange.
You once described The Wedding Present as ‘The Smiths fans’ second favourite band’ – how would you describe the band now?
What or who first inspired you to pick up a guitar and form a band?
I can’t remember a moment when I thought ‘that’s what I want to do’. It sounds weird – maybe over-confident or something – but I’ve always known that I’d be doing this. I’ve been obsessed with pop culture – music, films, books, comics, radio, TV – from an early age.
You’ve been publishing a comic-book version of your autobiography since 2012 – would you ever go the whole hog and write a full print version?
You mean just a ‘normal’ biography? No, I have no plans to do that. I’m more than satisfied telling my story in comic book style!
You’ve been very innovative in terms of the projects you’ve undertaken – making 12 singles in 12 months, using cars as a metaphor on MINI and singing in French, German, Welsh and of course Ukrainian – to name but a few. Do you actively try and avoid making ‘just another album’?
Not for every single release but, yes, I never wanted to be one of those ‘write songs, release album, tour, write songs, release album, tour…’ ad infinitum type bands. I’ve always wanted The Wedding Present to challenge the audience as well as ourselves. That’s probably why we’ve not been hugely commercially successful, though!
Finally, the world seems to have taken a shift to the right this year are you concerned about the way things have been going?
I think that, sadly, a large number of ill-informed people have become disenchanted with politicians and have used Brexit and Trump as a way of venting their frustration, regardless of the effect on everyone else.
Do you see any comparisons with life under Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan when you first started out?
I do. Maybe politics is as cyclical as pop music?
And on that bombshell! Here’s a blast of Kill Devil Hills from Going Going….