Articles / Reviews

The Sound - Interview by Steve Sutherland (Melody Maker 22-11-1980)

date: Nov 22, 1980


The Sound Of Music 

Steve Sutherland swaps philosophical asides with the Sound. 

The Sound are four young people who formed a band in London and, seemingly from nowhere, produced "Jeopardy", my favourite album this year. The Sound used to be called The Outsiders and, from all accounts, made pretty dire punk records for the Torch label before undergoing some personnel shifts, naturally evolving and going through some changes ... and how! The Sound are sitting around a table in a tiny room in the offices of Korova, an ambitious young label which had the sense and vision to sign them up.

The Sound are Adrian Borland, plump guitarist and chief spokesman; Bi (Benita) Marshall, occasional sax, keyboards; Graham Green, blonde, thin bassist and Michael Dudley, drums. The conversation pitches in somewhere around the band's first major assault on the Great British Public. Signing to Korova and opting to go on tour with successful label-mates, Echo & The Bunnymen, has reaped rewards in terms of reaching target audiences and playing through better P.A' s, but it's also led to some tiresome comparisons between the two bands, which Adrian accepts as an inevitable if superficial response. "We're trying to clear this up now because it really isn't fair to just call us a second-rate Bunnymen," he argues forcefully. "We hadn't even heard them until about two weeks before we went on tour and yet we've been compared to almost as if we were copying them. What happened was, Korova said to us: 'We really like you in the same way that we really like The Bunnymen. Have you heard them? We hadn't, and at that stage, when they were deciding whether or not to sign us, they played us 'All That Jazz' off their 'Crocodiles' album. 

It's' got the same rhythm as 'Brute Force's the B-side of our single. "We thought 'God, y' know they're right, they do sound a bit like us and they've got similar ideas.' But our album was completely recorded by the time we ever heard a note that The Bunnymen had done," The most cursory listen to 'Jeopardy' confirms the fact that what the Sound have in common with the Bunnymen, they also share with the likes of Joy Division and Teardrop Explodes, the ability to make challenging, new, eloquent music from the ashes of the Doors and the Velvet Underground. That's, the extent of it, pure and simple. when it comes down to attitudes they couldn't be less alike. Whereas the Bunnymen seem content to preen and perfect their chic new camo stage show, the Sound like to get involved in all aspects of the business. Adrian: "We've been accused of being to business wary, but you hear about so many bands being ripped off by record companies and managers, We've done things the other way round ... we employ our manager to work as administration for us. That's come out of a new awareness compared with the naivety of bands in the Sixties. You'd think things would've changed by now but people still say: ' just get on with writing the songs, We'll do the rest.' I just have to say ' No, I'm gonna be writing the songs. I wanna know what's going to happen to them,' It's keeping a grip, We'll still be ripped off probably, but we try." 

It's this sort of fanatical dedication that shines through on "Jeopardy", leaping from the grooves in great bounds of energy, This is the sound of a band enjoying itself and much of the power is due to the extraordinary ragged, basic production that makes it sound live, clear and uncluttered. I wondered whether this was just a happy accident born of inexperience or the result of of some grand design. It turned out to be a bit of both. They produced the album themselves, with the help of engineer Nick Robbins, for a mere o£800 on an eight track. Some of the sparser moments like the last (and in my opinion, worst) track, "Desire", could have been worked on more fully, they now agree. However, they are justifiably proud of the album. When I toss them the names of a few famous producers and ask whether they'd considered using any of them in the future, the answer is unanimously negative. Graham best articulates the band's opinions. "I think it's a lot better producing your own albums rather than getting a producer in because you know what everything should sound like, whereas a producer doesn't," he explains. "And if we carry on producing our own material, it's gonna progress as we progress. Their only real regret is that "'Missiles, easily their most powerful live track, was recorded at the beginning of the year and sounds weak in comparison to its present, brutally apocalyptic incarnation. I ask Adrian, who writes all the lyrics, to expand on "Missiles", the most moving and angry anti-war song I can ever remember hearing and up there somewhere alongside Neil Young's - "Ohio" for sheer emotional release. 'Missiles' is a short-hand song" he began. The first verse is the fear, The second verse is the danger and the third verse is the damage - the three components that I feel about nuclear war. It doesn't attempt to completely sum up everything about missiles; it's more a song about who the hell makes them. "That's the main line and you might think it's a bit weird just picking on those poor people, but I think that's the whole essence of it; The fact that people have to earn money and are willing to do anything to have a house and support a wife and two kids. "I'm not blaming them either, It's just that by inadvertently being part of this system, you're helping what might, in the end, destroy all that ... y' know, the house and the kids might be blown up. "Everyone's, part of it, right? Like, live, I sing: 'Who the hell makes those missiles/ 'And who the hell lets them?' Because we all do in a sense, nobody's innocent". Such clear-sighted compassion is rare in an industry that thrives on shock tactics, and tends to reduce everything to an easily marketable black versus white. So rare, in fact, that the Sound have already fallen foul of that blinkered media outlook which fails to acknowledge the existence of any viewpoint that falls between the fictitious extremes. 

As a result, the band are finding themselves being neatly shoved into the very handy, but hardly appropriate, category of urban depressives. Adrian, there's a great review in an Irish newspaper that starts off with: "I hate the sound, "Jeopardy" is the most depressing album I've heard in ages and this person is obsessed with the deaths of Ian Curtis and Jim Morrison, he doesn't really know that other people live in this universe. It has absolutely no redeeming factors'. ... That's rubbish. To me there is a hope balanced by the music. Okay, I mean something like 'Unwritten Law' is about violence. People will kill one another because of things like passion and hate. There is no law that society could set up that is gonna stop them doing it. But, maybe a law within you will. " The hope's there in the music and it may he sad at times but it doesn't sound depressing and it's certainly not hateful. It's really quite energetic and doesn't drone on all the time with me intoning over the top. "It's like 'Heartland', too, is a song of hope in a way, although it's got all the despair wrapped up in it, To take a cliché, you go out on the town at the weekend but on Monday you always come back down and go to work again which is something that everyone here's felt at sometime. You can't separate it, it's facile to sing about happiness without showing the other side. I think there's a kind of balance in our songs that, I hope, equates to the balance of life as I see it," That's exactly it. 

What makes the Sound so unique is that they work strictly within the recognised commercial framework of mainstream pop, using the clichés and adopting the styles, but treating them in a refreshing, realistic way that refuses to look upon the music business or the process of making records as anything other than a simple ingredient of every life. In other words, they come as close as possible to breaking through the imperishable fabric that separates act and action; art and life. It's a down-to-earth attitude that even includes the choice of their deliberately bland and anonymous name. Graham: "You can usually categorise what a band's gonna be about by the name but the Sound doesn't really suggest anything. It's not aiming at any particular market, it doesn't say 'We're an MOR band.' It doesn't say anything and that's important because we'd rather that all different people came to see us and not just one particular elitist audience." Not that they suffer from any delusions that the system won't trap them sooner or later. Adrian: "lt's all part of trying to destroy preconceptions about our image but obviously, it'll accumulate and we'll get one eventually, In fact, our anti-image will probably become an image itself because that happens to a lot of bands, like the Fall. "We're not interested in that aspect at all because the music should speak for itself, although, by not having a particular stand-out name, we may not get across to as many people to start with. On the other hand, at our last Moonlight gig, someone came to the dressing room afterwards, just popped his head round the door and said 'Thanks for what you're, saying,' and disappeared, that shows that you don't need the whole image thing," Oh yeah? What about 2-Tone then? What about mod and ska and Teds and Punks, oh, and you-know-who? "Yeah, Ronald Reagan is the ultimate in packaging and he won. That's very disturbing because it suggests to me that we'll never win in that strict sense of the word, but it doesn't matter to me. The way he can win in America shows that there are absolutely loads of people who will just take the surface as being the reality - the surface is all," It strikes me as funny that here we are in a rock 'n roll interview using such an arch conservative as the means to unravel the 'Sound's ambitions and attitudes, especially as he has been using the popular media to blur reality into an acceptable image while The Sound are doing their damnedest to cut the crap and come clean. 

Adrian: "We're so basically against all that image stuff - it's just a fantasy. If it ever gets to the stage when we're quite a big band with tours and gigs, I don't want everyone just to walk away from a show where we've been useless and say it was great fun. "I'd rather they said: "Tonight they weren't so good but we'll go and see them again because somehow we believe in what they're trying to do." Which brings, us to the subject of honesty - that stupid, naive, much-maligned word that supposedly has no place in the cynical world of pop music except an another marketing ploy. I was embarrassed to use it, but as we talked it became obvious that the Sound are, if such a thing exists, an honest band. In saying that, I don't wish to lumber them with a journalistic albatross to carry round their necks the way U2 wear passionate hearts on their sleeves. What I mean is, simply, their attitude is straightforward they don't hide behind a disguise. Their album is as devoid as possible of all pretension, both technically and emotionally, and they make no bones about their ambitions. As soon as I mention it, Adrian characteristically spots the pitfalls, thinks for a while and says: "Anybody who actually comes out as being honest, that might be, or probably is a pose. Maybe we're degrading honesty right here and now. I don't think we are. Some people might do but they're the ones who are screwed up, not us." 

Steve Sutherland 
Melody Maker 22-11-1980

<< previous page