Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Phil King - Exclusive Interview

In celebration of The Jesus & Mary Chain’s return to live performing this year – and in particular a much anticipated September US tour – longtime band bassist Phil King agreed to answer some questions that relate specifically to his time with this most influential group.  Regular readers of this blog are all too aware of my passion for the music this band has produced.  Links at the end of the interview will provide more than adequate testament to that fact. 

Here then, the DaveCromwellWrites exclusive interview with Phil King

It’s been pointed out from time to time that you first began playing as a member of The Jesus and Mary Chain during end of their initial period together in 1998. Was this only as a touring member or did you play on any of the band’s final recording - the album called “Munki?” The reason I specifically ask this is there have been published reports stating that you did play on the record.

PhilYes, I've seen it written that I played on “Munki” – but this is not true as by the time I started playing with them the album had been long finished. I was brought in to play on the live shows as Lincoln Fong couldn't do it. The only recordings I am on from that period are a Radio 1 session in April 1988 and a show we played at The Electric Ballroom in Camden, London in the same month. These are both on the bonus disc of “Munki”. I am also in the video for ”I Love Rock 'N' Roll” . I remember having to borrow a pair of sunglasses for that as I forgot they were de riguer.

The original JAMC bassists were (first) Douglas Hart, then Ben Lurie replaced him. Do you have any kind of relationship with either of these men? Have you discussed playing styles or anything related to playing those particular songs with either of them?

Phil: Actually Ben never played bass with The Jesus And Mary Chain. I did get an audition for them around the time of “Automatic.” This was to play guitar. Ben got the job. They tossed a coin and I lost according to Jim. My shoes were too pointy according to William. I got my audition through my friendship with Douglas Hart. We shared an apartment with a friend of his from East Kilbride called Stephen Sands who was in a group called See See Rider that I played guitar with prior to be in Lush. Douglas played guitar on one of their songs called See See. There is actually meant to be a See See rider compilation coming out sometime soon. We lived at the time in Maida Vale but ended up moving to a squat in Kilburn that was nicknamed 'Disgracelands'. On my first day of rehearsing with The Jesus And Mary Chain all they said to me was that I knew the songs better than they did – and let's go to the pub.

Head On – live at Hollywood Park, Los Angeles, June 2012– shot by Rob Dobbs from the stage:

Since you are also an accomplished guitarist (and from what I gather was your first instrument), wasn’t there a point in the mid-2000’s (possibly around 2005/6) when Jim Reid was putting together a post-Freeheat solo project, and asked you to play guitar in it? How did that project come about? Wasn’t Mark Crozer enlisted to play bass in that Jim solo project as well?

Phil: This came about because Freeheat came to an end and Ben went back to Australia. First of all we went out as a two piece with a drum machine and Mark was actually our agent and guitar tech towards the end of that period. Then when we thought of putting a group together Mark offered to play bass and said that he thought he might be able to get Loz Colbert to play drums.
When the Jesus and Mary Chain finally decided to reform again in 2007, you and Mark switched roles and you moved back to bass and Mark played second guitar in the band. Was this role switching at the request of anyone in the band or did you, Mark and the principal bandmembers - William and Jim - discuss it and decide this is the way it should be? Do you feel more comfortable on the bass in the live environment?

Phil: I was offered the role of the second guitarist when the group originally reformed – and also when we started playing again this year – but although I started off playing guitar I have been playing bass live now for 32 years so feel more comfortable in that role.
Talk about the differences between playing live shows with the band in 1998, 2007/8 and now. Is there any difference to how you approach a show? What happens on stage? How you interact with your bandmembers?
Phil: There's been no difference at all really apart from when I started playing with them we seemed to spend more time in the pub opposite The Drugstore recording studio they owned rather than rehearsing.

(Some of the earlier bands Phil played in)

Let’s talk tech a bit. What bass and amp do you use? Is this your preferred setup or would you go with something else if you had no limits? What about effects pedals? Do you try to recreate what was recorded on the JAMC records or are you allowed some creative musicianship there?

Phil: I used the Mary Chain's Fender Jazz bass and hire an Ampeg SVT amp and speakers. I play through that without any effects apart from a bass fuzz pedal that I use on Sidewalking, Teenage Lust and Reverence. When we toured in 2007/8 I used a Wooly Mammoth pedal that belonged to our guitar tech at the time. This time round I had a clone made of it which I have used although recently I have been using a pedal supplied by our guitar tech John Kassner.
“Reverence” - live at Hollywood Park, Los Angeles, June 2012.  Shot by Rob Dobbs

In addition to being a musician, it is often reported that you work as a picture researcher for major print (and now I’m assuming online) publications. A recent feature on you has you revealing you first did this sort of thing as early as 1988. Can you explain a bit about what a picture researcher actually does? I only have a vague notion of what this entails.

Phil: I get in the images for articles in the music magazine Uncut. To do this I use the archive of prints and transparencies we have in the files that we share with the NME. There are also the images from the Melody Maker collection in there as well. I also use images from various picture agencies such as Getty and Rex. I can download these from their sites. Also, I contact photographers to get their images. Luckily because I am a freelancer I can easily take time off to go on tour.

What about writing? Besides songwriting (which I assume you still do) do you also write stories or articles for publications? I am aware that you contributed significantly to a recently released book titled ‘Wired Up! Glam, Proto-Punk & Bubblegum European Picture Sleeves 1970-76.’ What did you provide for this book?

Phil: I only write when it is something of interest really. I did a short piece on The Jesus And Mary Chain's trip to China recently for Uncut, there were some recollections on Felt for a book/fanzine on them a couple of years ago, I wrote about David Bowie and New Order for The First Time I Heard series of books and more recently some interviews I did with Jesse Hector, Brett Smiley, Sal Maida from Milk 'N' Cookies and Chris Townson from The Jook - that I did about five years ago for Shindig and Bucketfull Of Brains magazine - are being collected in the Wired Up book. I also supplied them with record sleeves, ads from the music press of the day and photos.

Anything else in the publishing pipeline?

Phil: To be honest I am busy enough with The Jesus And Mary Chain, working at Uncut and spending time with my family in Portugal to even think about doing much writing at the moment. Saying that, I am writing something on Sal Maida's career as a bassist (Roxy Music, Milk 'N' Cookies, Sparks, Kim Fowley and The Runaways – he ghosted bass parts on their album Waiting For The Night) for a future Shindig magazine.
You were best know in the US during the 1990’s as the bassist for influential female-fronted dreampop band Lush. Much like JAMC, the influence of Lush on emerging bands today is quite noticeable. Yet it appears that both Miki and Emma are truly done with the music business. There doesn’t seem to be anything capable of enticing either of them back - even for a one-off show. Is this noble or selfish (to the fans who would love to see Lush perform one more time)?

Phil: I guess that is really a question you would need to ask Miki & Emma but I would say noble of course. The problem is that we have had offers to play but because we have families and day jobs they really need to be financially worthwhile as we would need to rehearse and take time off from work and none off the offers we have had so far have really made it worthwhile enough to do it. If we did get back playing I certainly can't see us ever doing just a one-off show.

You recently told a story about how back in the early days (I believe in the mid-to-late 1980’s) you attempted casual friendly banter with both Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth (at separate times) and they both summarily dismissed you as unworthy of an answer. In hindsight can you attribute this to the brashness of youth? Did you ever meet either of them later on in your career and have a different experience with them?

Phil: I did meet them later on when I was in Lush and they were much nicer than in 1986. This would have been in 1994 when we were promoting our "Split" album. We were doing an interview at a radio station in New York and they had just been interviewed before us.
You also mentioned that you wondered if Glen Branca would have been so rude. Who knows? Are you a fan of the particular twisted orchestral guitar compositions that Mr. Branca has engaged in for lo these many years? What about Rhys Chatham (who was a contemporary of Mr. Branca, and in recent times has mounted similarly ambitious sound exhibitions)?

Phil: I remember reading about Glen Branca back in the day but I can't say I have ever heard him or Rhys Chatham. I for the most part like to listen to music that soothes me these days and I can't imagine they would ever do this.
Moving back to the present, in June you completed a series of shows with The Jesus & Mary Chain in California, followed by a few August dates in Canada and Buffalo. This leads up to a much bigger tour of the east coast of America in September. The reviews have been for the most part, positive. However, there have been reports of some live show snafu’s as well. Anyone who has been a fan of the band over the years is well aware of these occurrences. Even Jim makes references to these occasional false starts (or even mid-song restarts) as "Ooops, it's a MaryChain moment" - in your live performance of "Halfway To Crazy" at Hollywood Park (Racetrack) in LA this past June. Then, the song further breaks down to the point where he stops it entirely - and asks the audience - "does anyone know our songs out there? We don't." Ultimately you all complete the song to much satisfaction and Jim concludes with "we got there in the end."

What is going through your mind when this is happening? Are you amused? Annoyed? Half expect it to happen at some point during the set?
Phil: It's always a bit chaotic live with the group and invariably songs fall apart sometimes. You could never say that the group is over rehearsed but then again I think that gives us an edge, because we are always on edge, so it is never boring. For us or for the audience. I guess part of the problem is that shows have been so sporadic this years, just a few here and there and then a gap, so we are just warming up and it ends. I'm sure this three week tour in the US in September will sort things out.
Never Understandlive at Hollywood Park, Los Angeles, June 2012– shot by Rob Dobbs:

Are there any plans to change up the set list at all? Add some different songs?

Phil: I can't imagine so as once the order of songs are sorted out they are pretty much set in stone. Saying that in 2007/8 we did add some songs to the set.

(I had the good fortune of meeting and chatting a bit with Phil when they came to New York in 2007.  Photo by Rob Dobbs)



Misty said...

What a thoroughly insightful interview! I love when artists will take the time to answer questions with this much care and detail.

And those live video's are excellent.

Simply put, this is about one of the truly great bands of this (or any) generation.

Kudos to Phil for being a part of it, and for his overall lengthy career in music and publishing.

DaveCromwell said...

I agree, Misty - thanks to Phil for doing this - and to the band themselves - for the amazing musical soundtrack they've provided over the years.

Patricia Mena said...

This is an amazing one Dave, very detailed and fluid. Cool pics, nice vids and great band. :)

Mr Smork said...

i agree.
nice feature. serious stuff.

DaveCromwell said...

Great band, Paty = check.

Serious stuff, Mr. Smork = without a doubt.

I'm happy to add to the information pool that aready existed via the prior interviews with Phil (that I link at the end of the blog).

Anonymous said...

Excellent interview!

Do you know what are Steve Monti doing nowadays?

And any chance of a Marychain concert in Brazil (specially in Rio), Mr. Cromwell?


Anonymous said...

Great review Dave. Was interesting to read :) And nice photo at the end!

DaveCromwell said...

Steve Monti is still playing, Lenoardo.

Check this out:

We're you around for the Live in Brazil at Planeta Terra
on 08/11/2008?

Thanks, Anouk! Yes, that last photo is my fave ;-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the feedback!

Yes, I was there. I travelled six long hours on a bus to Sao Paulo (and other six hours back to Rio), just to see them. That was a worthwhile effort, even sleeping on the Bus Terminal. As the words of Rollercoaster says: easy streets are not for me, when I drown I drown in sea. (:

Also was my first J&MC concert, cause in 1990 I was just 6.

It's a shame that Rio have been out of the bands schedule when they come to Brazil lately. JAMC have many loyal fans here in Rio. I don't know if they still friends with Bobby Gillespie, but Primal Scream did an awesome Screamadelica concert here last year and the crowd gone mad. Would be a dream see the both bands playing together, as they did in Glasgow 1998.

Nice to see Monti! He's my favorite Marychain drummer, and I'd like to see he playing with the Reids again... same for Ben Lurie.

DaveCromwell said...

That's such a great story, Leonardo. I've had similar "sleeping in bus terminals" experiences. You look back poeticially at them now (but you are cursing them at the time).

Jim has mentioned in recent times that he's gone to see (so one would imagine still friendly with) Bobby G and his Primal Scream.

Your Rio dream may yet come true.

Andy Von Pip said...

Great stuff, Phil always comes across as a down to earth chap and has been involved in many of my favourite bands over the year, Lush and the JAMC being right at the top of the musical tree

DaveCromwell said...

Indeed, Andy.

As great as these MaryChain reunion shows are going - it DOES tickle the mind to consider Phil's words about a Lush reunion at some point. He's not ruling it out - and in fact, implies that if they did reunite - it would be for more than simply a one-off.

deepskyobject said...

thanks for posting Dave! very interesting

Uncut & freelance rulez

well that here remembered about rare group See See Rider

pity that Phil was not told about other projects - Apple Boutique & Hangman's Beautiful Daughters - they now forgotten

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