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martin banner & pooch, flipside july 1993
Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor have been associated with Robyn Hitchcock since the early days of the Soft Boys - England's seminal, cult "new wave pop/old wave punk" band. While Soft Boys guitarist Kimberley Rew went on to craft the perky pop of Katrina and the Waves, Hitchcock, Metcalfe and Windsor stayed true to their original influences. As Hitchcock's partners in the Egyptians, Andy and Morris through a string of albums, have helped consolidate their position as the quirkiest, most intelligent British band this side of XTC. With the release of Respect, a follow-up to their college radio smash Perspex Island, Andy and Morris took time to talk to Flipside.
(Morris picks up a CD reissue of the Soft Boys' first album A Can Of Bees that's laying about)
Martin: Have you seen the Rykodisc reissues?
Morris: Yeah, I've got the Rykodisc stuff. They're the green ones, right?
Andy: I've got them. Never looked at them.
Morris: I've got two. Never looked at either of them.
Andy: Yeah, but with this compilation coming out soon that'll be more interesting.
Martin: Is that the B-sides and unreleased material?
Andy: It's a double CD. Not so much B-sides.
Morris: We didn't have too many singles, y'know.
Andy: There's a lot of stuff that hasn't made it out. It's a combination of the three album's worth of outtakes. That will be almost everything. There really will be only shit left.
Morris: Some live stuff
Martin: You had a live album released in England, Live At The Portland Arms.
Morris: That was a sort of precursor to our current phase, actually.
Andy: Except I was playing double bass then.
Morris: Those were fun days.
Martin: How did you guys meet? Were you at Cambridge together?
Morris: I met Robyn through a guy. A tall bloke called 'The Great One'. He was so tall he had to stoop to talk to people. I was in a band in college and Robyn's band, at the time, opened for us. And that's how I met him.
Martin: Was this like a pub band?
Morris: Yes, exactly.
Andy: I can't remember how I got involved.
Morris: All I can remember is I met you in a pub.
Andy: Yeah, we met in a pub.
Morris: It must have been some kind of
Morris: There must have been a reason for it.
Andy: Our drug connection?
Morris: Yeah, lets say that.
Andy: OK, lets say that.
Morris: (loudly to tape recorder) OUR DRUG CONNECTION!
Andy: We have the same dealer.
Martin: Are you pleased the Rykodisc CDs are coming out?
Andy: I think we're all pleased that the music finally found a good home. It never really got what it deserved.
Martin: It really was ahead of its time.
Andy: When it did resurface, it was resurfaced in a kind of half-hearted way. It's nice that it's being properly put together now by someone who knows what they're doing.
Pooch: You've also got a cut on one of the Rhino Records 'DIY' releases. Which is neat because the Soft Boys never got the kind of promotion they needed to out here.
Morris: Somebody yesterday asked me about it. He said it had raised eyebrows because of the fact that we were included on it. 'Cause we weren't a punk band. It's amazing that we're on there at all. They've had all these, sort of 'retrospective', punk collections in England, but we're never on them. We really didn't figure in at the time.
Pooch: Did you ever play with any of the punk bands? Did you get booked with them?
Andy: Elvis Costello. We did a few gigs with Elvis. But he wasn't really punk, either.
Morris: There was always this sort of hierarchy with Bob Geldof and Paul Simenon and people like that. And Mick Jones was always around. You'd see them at the gigs. But we didn't really get booked with a lot of those bands.
Andy: Generation X. We did a gig with Generation X.
Morris: I remember we used to do 'Cold Turkey' live and Tony James came up once and said "Oh, that was really great".
Andy: The last time I met Tony James - it was in Santiago de Compestello in Spain. I was there on holiday. It's on the pilgrims' route. Now, it's actually a tourist attraction, but it used to be where the pilgrims walked on their knees or something. Anyway, we'd done a tour of Spain, and the guy who promoted it, we kind of walked into him in the lounge at the airport. He said "Here, have these passes to see Sigue Sigue Sputnik tonight". We were very pleased that we got invited to this gig. They were playing in the main square in front of the cathedral right outside our hotel window. So if we'd not gone, it would have been really, really irritating. That was my Tony James and Sigue Sigue Sputnik story.
Pooch: After the Soft Boys split up, what did you two do? Did you immediately get together with Robyn, or did you play with other people?
Morris: Like Robyn, I kind of retired for a couple of years. Although, I did have a stint with the Monochrome Set for about six months. We had an aborted tour of America in 1983. And then I retired again for about a year. Then, Robyn, he'd done his acoustic album, and he'd decided he wanted to do some records with a band. It started off with just me and him playing on some tracks. Then, Andy
Andy: Then I appeared. I beamed down into the studio.
Morris: It all kind of happened by accident.
Andy: It was a complete accident.
Morris: We weren't expecting it.
Andy: I was helping somebody write TV commercials and soundtracks in a studio in London at the time.
Morris: Roger Jackson. He was the keyboard player in the early Egyptians. That's what he does.
Andy: Not so much commercials, anymore. He does a lot of TV dramas, BBC dramas. I was working with him when I went off to the Egyptians. So I dragged him along to a couple of gigs to play keyboards.
Pooch: It's neat that you've maintained friendships. That's really cool.
Morris: We never fell out or anything.
Pooch: What's Kimberley doing?
Morris: I think that the Waves still exist, actually.
Andy: We just did a gig with Kimberley not too long ago.
Morris: Actually, all of us did. We had a Soft Boys reunion in November. It was a benefit for Bosnian medical relief.
Martin: Will the benefit be released as an album?
Morris: No. It wasn't recorded. Well, there is a DAT.
Andy: I have the DAT. I'll wait a couple of years and then accidentally give it to some bootleg producer.
Morris: There's a lot of reunions going on.
Martin: You know, Big Star just did a reunion show.
Andy: Did they?
Morris: Yeah. They used a couple of the Posies as a backing band.
Martin: Didn't Alex Chilton open for you guys?
Andy: Last summer.
Morris: He did a whole half a tour.
Andy: We run into him all over the place. He's opened for us a couple of times.
Morris: I actually played on a live album with him in London.
Pooch: Did you guys back him up on your tour?
Andy: No, he has a band. I sat in on organ a couple of times.
Morris: He's funny.
Andy: Very laid back.
Morris: Yes, laid back is the word.
Pooch: Do you two write?
Morris: Yes. I'm left handed.
Pooch: No, songs.
Morris: Not really.
Andy: A little.
Martin: I understand you recorded Respect in Robyn's house?
Morris: Some of it was in the kitchen, some of it was in the living room. I did some cymbal overdubs in the toilet.
Martin: It must have been chaos.
Andy: It wasn't chaos really. It would have been chaos if we had not had some very together people doing it. The BBC have a bunch of mobile studios that they use for films and broadcast stuff. I think they're the only computerised, 24-track mobile studios in the world, and they rent them out. And nobody knows. Nobody knows they rent them out, so the rates were ludicrously cheap. So, when we asked around about mobiles, the BBC was the cheapest. It's the best equipped because they're doing live broadcasts and the like. It's absolutely fantastic. So we took them over to the island on a ferry.
Martin: The Isle of Wight?
Andy: Yeah. And we parked it up on this really narrow, residential street. It was 40 feet long. We ran these huge power cables into the garage. It was great! It was really, really fun!
Martin: It must have attracted a lot of attention.
Morris: There aren't that many people, but what there was it certainly attracted their attention.
Andy: This was after the holiday season. So, it was only the local people who were there. It's a very tiny little town. It's very old-fashioned. So, even if you attract attention, it isn't much. In a big town, we would have gotten crowds of gawking people.
Pooch: Doesn't Robyn live in America, now?
Andy: In Washington, D.C.
Morris: We live in this one great big line. Andy lives in London. I live 100 miles west of London. And Robyn lives 3000 miles west of London.
Martin: It must make it difficult to work together. What does he do? Call you up on the phone and say "Hey! I've got some songs, come on over"?
Andy: He actually sings them to us over the phone.
Morris: He hasn't been over here that long, in fact.
Andy: He didn't move here till after the album was actually finished.
Pooch: You guys have a tremendous chemistry together. When you played the other day, Robyn said "Let's play 'Waterloo Sunset'" and you didn't know what key it was in. But he went "1-2-3" and you were able to pick it up right away.
Morris: Well, it's a familiar thing.
Andy: We've been playing together so long we ought to be able to do that. There's a common area. If you were to make a diagram of what we all like, there would be a blob where the three circles would meet. And we could do that stuff in our sleep.
Martin: You've done covers of Byrds tunes.
Andy: Byrds, Beatles, The Band. Groups beginning with B we've got down.
Pooch: Have you had a chance to see any local bands?
Morris: Not a lot.
Andy: We saw a few bands when we were rehearsing out here. Poster Children.
Martin & Pooch and 'Chelle the photographer: OH NO!
Morris: They're not our cup of tea.
Andy: It's best to say none of us really understand it.
Morris: You can understand it on a superficial level. It's 'bad music' basically. I can respond to it on that kind of level, but it's mad.
Andy: If you look through my CD collection, you'd understand why I wasn't quite sure about Ween.
Morris: We heard the Screaming Trees soundchecking about 200 yards away and that was loud enough for us not to go any closer.
Pooch: What about Poster Children?
Andy: Interestingly enough, when I stood behind the PS and watched them, I thought they were playing really, really well.
Morris: We met them earlier in a restaurant and they're so shy and quiet. They sort of come up to you and --
Morris: Then, onstage they're like wild people. It's kind of like a therapy for them, to let out all their aggression. It's music therapy.
Andy: (laughs) Not like us. We're outgoing when you meet us and then we're shy onstage.
Pooch: Yeah, but you talk onstage.
Andy: That's just nervous babble.
Morris: Anybody want any chewing gum?
Martin & Pooch: Yeah.
Morris: We love your chewing gum.
Andy: We do love your chewing gum.
Morris: It's the perfect size. (Morris offers Andy a stick of gum.)
Andy: I won't right now. But I do want you to know that I do have my own pack.
Morris: We're going to have to go soon. We're soundchecking.
Andy: Are there any questions you would like to ask us about the new album?
Martin: How did you like working with John Leckie on Respect?
Morris: Not an easy person to get to know, really. After working with Paul Fox on Perspex Island, who's all over the place, and quite vocal, John Leckie's a very introverted producer. It's not easy to know if what we're doing is right or wrong. He pretty much left us to do what we wanted, and if he didn't like it, he didn't like it.
Martin: I would think Robyn would be the final word on a song.
Morris: We're quite open about these things.
Andy: Earlier in our career, we sort of produced everything ourselves.
Morris: Paul Fox is the one who's had the most control over what we were doing.
Andy: We'd all liked what John Leckie had done. With Paul Fox, we had a bunch of songs and had to make an album. On that, the producer was quite instrumental in which songs would go on. And, although we've got enough ideas between the three of us, Paul was a good 'filter'. He was very good at making us think about what we were doing. With John Leckie, it was more a situation of having songs we were ready to record and wanting to do them in a particular way, and he was really the 'recording co-ordinator'.
Morris: He's a very good engineer
Andy: He's really excellent.
Morris: He was more important as an engineer than as a producer.
Andy: He had a very trained attitude towards recording. If we said, "We want to record a sauce pan" he wouldn't say "You can't record a sauce pan in a living room". A lot of producers and engineers would be freaked out by not recording it in a soundproof room. But he wasn't bothered by that. He just wanted to get it down. He was very "Whatever makes you feel comfortable, I'm a good enough engineer that I can make whatever you do sound good". Which, on Respect, is exactly what we required.
Martin: Even though you said it was recorded quickly, Respect is one of the most lush sounding albums that you've done, complete with the strings and horns.
Morris: It's probably because it's more than the sort of basic guitar-bass-drums sound we've had before. I've got to go downstairs and set up some equipment; thanks for stopping by. (Morris leaves.)
Andy: I guess my favourite aspect of the album is, quite selfishly, the string arrangements, which I did. I had never done that before. I had music in college, so I kind of knew what to do, but I had never said "I'm gonna do it" and then gotten the string players and booked the studio, and thought "if this isn't good enough, I just wasted three grand". I kind of did it with a piece of manuscript paper and a pencil, which is really the 'guerrilla' way to do it. It's quite nerve-wracking when you're there with the string players, who do this all the time, and they're going to look at what you did and say "I can't play this!" But it worked out really well, and I'm very proud of that. I think by doing it the way we did it, we came up with some pretty original combinations of sounds. A lot more thought went into this one, at least different sorts of thoughts, than in previous albums. The sort of thought that went into Perspex Island was "We're really a three-piece that plays guitar-bass-and-drums", whereas this album was more "Well, here's a song and what can we do to make it sound different?". I mean, as soon as you say "There isn't a drum kit and no electric guitars" right from the start, and we're using more piano, and shakers, and acoustic guitars - well, it paints very lush. The original tracks were quite bare, and we had eight days of overdubs where we went hellbent for leather, a lot of stuff got put in there. Some stuff got left out, but more got left in.
Martin: There's always that moment in your live shows where everyone stops and exchanges instruments; so Robyn is on drums, you're on electric guitar and Morris is on bass. Everyone seems pretty comfortable with that. I mean, I can't hear any differences in the songs.
Andy: That is interesting. I think we are definitely better at the things we're best at. When I play drums, I can only play one way, and that's the drumbeat I do. One thing that's very interesting when we all swap around is that we're all constrained by our hopeless limitations, so what we play has to be very simple. It becomes very simple, which is not necessarily a bad thing. On this tour, we do very little of that. Except for the fact that I do half the set on bass and half on keyboards. Robyn does all the guitar and Morris does all the percussion.
Pooch: Didn't Robyn say at South By Southwest (music festival) he doesn't ever want another guitarist in the band?
Andy: He kind of swings violently from one extreme to another. Which is not to say he didn't mean what he said. I think we're all musically jealous of any competition in the band. I hated having a keyboard player on tour, because I was used to playing the keyboards on the records. I hated it. I probably hated it more that the other two. I think all three of us are very intricate in what we do, so I don't think there's a lot of room. We were very surprised when we cut down to a three-piece, after we got used to it we thought "Where was there ever room for anybody else?".
Pooch: Do you ever help with the arrangements?
Andy: The songs come out the way they do. I don't think either of us have ever suggested lyrical changes, ever. I often suggest structural changes which end up leaving lyrics out - too many verses and that sort of thing - Morris, as drummer, will often influence something just because of the way he plays. I will often define the harmonies. A song like 'Winchester' is a good example. Almost all the way through Robyn is playing the same chords, and the melody suggests the chord sequence I will play. Most of those type of things are never really discussed. 'Winchester', before it was recorded, Robyn and I played it once into a cassette recorder and I'd never heard it before that day. The next day we recorded it with Morris with no rehearsal. A lot of the things we do are like that, and then there are days when we are very uncertain. I think, interestingly, the ones that happen spontaneously are the ones that last the longest. I ought to go now. You don't have any Flipside t-shirts, do you?
Pooch: This shirt's actually from about 1981.
Andy: Yeah? I like that.
Martin: Does Al have any more of the black on black t-shirts?
Pooch: No, he's out.
'Chelle: They're all gone.
Andy: That's too bad. Well, I better go now. Thanks so much for coming by.
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