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Adrian Borland - interview with Chris Roberts (Melody Maker 1989)

date: Oct 5, 1989


(1989 Play It Again Sam) 


"To me, the music is one of the things that separate living from existing. Ever since Live Aid there's been this thing of... well obviously someone starving is more significant than someone writing a song. But if you reversed the situations, the first thing those people would do, probably, is play some music and dance. Do you know what I m getting at? That's why art is important, why a three minute pop song should not be just trivial. I don t like the meaning of it. "Admittedly most of it is shit, but it doesn't have to be. I'm not blaming Bob Geldof, he was very brave. I saw him when he came to ask Phil Collins to do it cos he was recording 'No Jacket Required' when The Sound were doing Heads And Hearts, and Geldof was absolutely shattered already-- this was six months before Live Aid. But one of the bad things that's come out of it is-- oh, things are so much more important than music. The first thing those people would do, if you put food in their stomachs, is make music and dance. 

As the decade spins to a halt, one of near-casualties becomes one of its survivors. When the hard luck story that was The Sound split up, it looked like the end of the hill for Adrian Borland. But still he comes back to climb it some more. "Alexandria" is his first solo album. Naturally one asks him what the title means. 'Oh no, ifs nothing to do with Lawrence Durrell. I get shown all these examples, but I'm completely illiterate, y' see. The only books I ever read were for my A levels. So, uh, I met a girl on a bus going to Catford. I asked her her name and she was Alexandria, from Mexico. What a strange name for a person. Yes I it's a place. I know that. It's a place in Egypt. I wanted something that wasn't pinning anything down too much, that wasn't some big, heavy, blunt meaning. "It was my fault, but I think THE SOUND suffered from this image of being blunt and straightforward and hitting you in the face with what we wanted to say, right from "who the hell makes those missiles?" So I wanted 'something more vague, something almost without reason. I mean, I only talked to this girl for two minutes - no, I didn't fall in love with her or anything. It was just such an interesting name. I always get stuck for titles. That's why THE SOUND always had such duff ones. Nah, that's not true. 'Thunder Up' was all right. Actually that was a joke-- It means "fuck off" In Dutch. We always did well in Holland. "I tell you what-- I got this idea that I wanted to give myself a bit more air to breathe in, a brighter place to be. Maybe Alexandria conjures up sun, slightly evokes the startof something, the beginning of civilization. The Egyptian ships sailing out. Ready to be plundered or whatever. Ah, so you did have a reason... 'No, this all comes to me later. Obviously this is all bullshit, isn't it? You should know that by now! But I did want a brighter situation. You end up performing songs night after night, so if you start off in a very dark intense claustrophobic musical area, it rubs off on you after a while. This could be what got to lan Curtis. I'm guessing. But if you surround yourself continually with a heavily negative gloomy thing, in the end it comes back at you, Like a picture you painted jumping to life and almost throttling you. So I thought, the best thing I can do, if I m going to carry on in this, is lighten up. 

ADRIAN BORLAND, who nearly called his flexible set of musicians Citizen Flame but settled on The Citizens because he remembered "that crap Seventies series "Citizen Smith", remains almost obsessive about his music, but seems chirpier than ever before, Seems less desperately frustrated and more affably, content. He hardly even bitches about lan McCulloch these days! The Sound never enjoyed the breaks which elevated post-punk peers such as the Bunnymen and Joy Division in this country, but made some unforgettable albums that still stir and stun all who stumble across them. The worst thing we could've done was carry on and on at the same level, become insignificant. I wasn't consciously happy that we stopped, but I am now in retrospect. It happened in a strange way-- mental disorders, drugs and God knows what, mainly my fault really. Obviously eight years, Or whatever it was, is a long time. "Our best gigs were when we pretended we were The Stooges. We'd get completely loaded and fuelled and go 'Kill! Kill! Kill!' and we'd go on stage and I'd be part Iggy, part James Williamson and Graham d'be Ron Ashton. Actually, they were probably our worst gigs. We'd have a great time, but perhaps our best gigs were the ones where we were concentrating.

THE most important thing Adrian learned from it all was to take your chances while you can, to do what you want. Sit back when you' re old and be able to say: "I did what I wanted." Maybe it didn't go exactly how I planned," he says but there wasn't really a plan with The Sound, it was all so haphazard. We were managing ourselves most of the time--I remember Allan Jones asking me if l didn't think that was strange and I said it was no big deal. But I've realised over the years that it probably stopped us becoming successful. The music business is basically wrangling and hype and, at all times, exaggeration. We were a bit too honest. 'I think we all felt towards the end It was starting to fall between two stools, between being a vehicle for someone's songwriting and a band at its best. I'm into the concept of the great group, like The Stooges or the Velvets, the group with a magic about it. But it started slipping away from that. It was a democracy which didn' t always work. 'I'm just gaining more control over my own songs now. I don't want to be fascistic or anything but when you write a song you want to see it through right to the end. It's much easier arranging it all myself. You don t get painters-- well, apart from Andy Warhol and Rembrandt-- who have other people paint part of the picture for them and then they fill in the rest, do you? All that can happen now is that I can make mistakes. But it's on my own head.' 

"ALEXANDRIA" displays Adrian Borland's craft very clearly. What it loses in sparks it gains in serenity. Of course, no one is better qualified to describe it than the reformed walking energy bomb himself. "Like 'Shadow Of Your Grace' is a helpless situation, but it hasn' t got that heavy ponderous , feeling; it suggests rather than emphasises it. There' s a balance. The ones I wrote straight after The Sound split up--- Rogue Beauty', 'Light The Sky'-- have more of a conscious optimism, whereas a year later I was starting to feel the withdrawal effects and you get songs like 'Deep Deep Blue' and 'No Ethereal'. "There's a balance between someone pushing for something else, but remembering what's gone before and not being able to escape that. Now I'm trying to replace teenage vitriol with a more latent vitriol. If you scream at people crassly, they're just gonna walk out. I like not having everything spelt out to much. You can talk too much about music. Some people spent say $100 a year on music papers and only $30 a year on" records. That's the wrong way round, isn't it? I'd like to keep some mystery in there. If anything, The Sound, in struggling for coherence, got a bit too obvious. Isn't there a danger that this album is, ironically, too mature, too calm? Oh, but we're past the stage now where rock music is some kind of generation rebellion thing. At the same time I look to young bands to provide the noise and the energy. That's their job. That's their duty. That's not for me to do-- it was when I was 19, not any more." Though there is a certain elation when the guitars finally break free and squeal in "She's My Heroine" ... 'Oh yeah, well, once a child always a child! I'm talking about what I'm attempting to do. In a way the album's sequenced to that climax, then you have a cigarette afterwards. She's My Heroine provides the safely valve, lets off the steam the record's always threatened to. It's a tribute to Patti Smith. Maybe I'm schizophrenic-- half of me has this desire to create a nice harmonic order to things. Then as soon as I've got that, I want to tear it down. I always want to pull things around and shake up preconceptions. I may not be weird and wild, but I'm not.., straight. Ha! If this is a broader and more restrained music that's so you can grasp where your feet are in the adventure-- but your head is still spinning. 

I can now exclusively reveal that Adrian Borland is also the secret fulcrum of that enigmatic and fabulously legendary arsequake combo The Honolulu Mountain Daffodils, whose farewell double album materializes in the new year. Not only does it feature incredibly hunky recitations from Push and myself but it is also "really pretentious but has no pretensions, totally over the top and laughing at itself, more pompous than Yes, and great fun.., maybe as a laboratory experiment with a mutant headless body could turn out to be really useful to me". Meanwhile Adrian the solo artist tours on the Continent with his largely foreign band soon, and wonders whether people here generally have the right or wrong impression of him. 

"Maybe there's this slight image of me as a arrogant and bullshitty. And I'm not. I'm confident not arrogant. I tend to be quieter and more reset than I was, because I know what I'm doing and why. Basically I just want people to listen to it. It'll be a slow crawl back-but to a place beyond where we were, We always wanted to know what was going on outside our little box. 'It does cheer me up when I hear that Bono's got my stuff, when Wayne Hussey and The Mission come up to me at a gig, and say, Oh hello, really liked "From The Lion s Mouth", when I'm standing there waiting for The House Of Love to come on stage and they tab me on the shoulder and say how much they like my guitar-playing.., it's not an ego thing, but it is nice. I write music in isolation, but I make it for consumption The phrase 'a songwriter's songwriter' sounds horrible but it's not such a bad thing to be really! I've got loads and loads of new ideas…strange but not obscure in an avoid-the-truth avoid-cohesion sort of way. There's a stance, a vital attitude, which I still have. But the most important thing is that the songs are greatness" 

Chris Roberts (Melody Maker 1989)

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