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The Sound - Life with the Lions - interview (Melody Maker 24-10-1981)

date: Oct 24, 1981


 

LIFE WITH THE LIONS 
Allan Jones listens to the SOUND. 

And then we were talking about suicide and facing up to death and the girl in the green shirt put another record on the jukebox. And then Adrian was talking about Ian Curtis and a song he'd written about him for the new Sound album. It was called "Silent Air' and Adrian thought it was a kind of farewell; not a morbid tribute, not an attempt to polish Joy Divisions shining myth: just a kind of farewell. Typical of much of the new Sound LP, "Silent Air" is dignified, stately, carefully poised; it also burns with a secret optimism: staring into the darkness, the Sound refuse to be blinded by the night. Borland might be able to acknowledge the depression at provoked Curtis' suicide, he can respect his memory; but he refuses to see death as the only answer to life's terrors.
 

"Joy Division," Borland said, really believed there was no way out. I listen to 'Closer' and that's the impression I get. Ian Curtis probably went through the same kind of confusion as a lot of other people ... he just came to more depressing conclusions. For him, obviously, there was no hope. "Some people can't cope with what's happening, so they don't stick around. I can see the world is full of shit, that it's unbearable sometimes and ugly, but I'd never dream of doing what he did- I don't think that it's so much that I feel it's braver to go on living, it's more a fear of death. Frankly, it's the last thing I want to do. I remember when I as young, I used to wonder what it would be like to be dead. I used to imagine lots of lack, empty space. I simply don't think about it any more. "I mean, why upset yourself?" Looking up, I remember seeing the girl in the green shirt selecting another record for the jukebox. Listening to the tape of this interview with Adrian Borland, I was struck by something between a chuckle and a chill: engrossed in our worried little exchange, we hadn't noticed that the record laying in the background was "Knocking On Heaven's Door". Just another of life's witty little ironies, I suppose. "Jeopardy" The very title of the Sound's first LP rang in the listener's ears like a declaration of war; alerted its potential audience to the band's unflinching attitudes, their determination to illuminate the darkest passages of our ludicrous voyage. 

On the first album, the Sound were violent, exploding with impatient passion; self-produced, the album cut you from ear to ear with its brazenly untutored harshness, cradled you in the white-heat exhortations of "Heartland" and "Heyday"; convinced you the Sound were a band with a future because they were so clearly dedicated to surviving the present, to seeking an exit from this current turmoil. "We were never content to wallow, as you put it, in our own depression. Or anyone else's for that matter," Adrian Borland said. "There's no art to that. It's too easy for music to communicate depression or gloom or desperation, "A lot of people say we're a depressing band, that Joy Division were, too. I don't think there's any truth in that at all. I've known some people who've thought we were the most uplifting band they'd ever heard. "Now, that's something to aim for. Because I honestly don't think we're at all depressing. We're honest. We're actually trying to say something. Compared to most bands, we are saying something. We are confronting things, trying to look at what's happening, the way people might feel. "When you confront these things, I don't think that's depressing. It's when you pretend you're dealing with these things and you're actually avoiding them, that's what I find depressing." Sitting in the sombre back room of a pub in York, with a girl in a green shirt plugging florins in the jukebox: that's where we were. The Sound were halfway through a short tour with the Comsat Angels, Adrian Borland was fielding questions about the forthcoming (now released) Sound album and simultaneously quarrelling with a sudden attack of nausea. Borland thought the album was best characterised by its optimism, I thought it was best described by its acceptance of melancholy and regret as part of our natural condition; we agreed that it was a step out of the frantic shadows of "Jeopardy". Compared to that scalding rush, "From The Lion's Mouth" was positively graceful. "We're simply thinking a lot more about what we're doing. What comes out is more considered," Borland said. "Earlier songs like 'Heartland' had a wild rush, they were exactly the type of thing you'd expect a band to come up with when it first gets together. That kind of, 'Well, we've got our instruments, a basic idea of a tune, some lyrics, let's do it. 

"From The Lion's Mouth" is a thoughtful, mature album that communicates a deeply felt concern. It doesn't waste your time with irrelevant poses and it won't be satisfied if it gets your feet on the dance floor and finds you've left your thinking tackle in the cloakroom. Like LPs as diverse as "Trust", "Stories Of Adventure" and "East Side Story", it demonstrates its painful insights with a piercing emotional clarity that encourages the listener to face up to the world, to take action. As Borland explained, his songs insist upon communication: his lyrics might be full of images of loss and desertion, but they call out for qualification. Exploiting and expanding the traditional standards of pop 'love'- songs, he pursues wider truths, exposes broader dishonesties. A song like 'Possession', he said, - isn't simply about the point where the personal meets the political. Living and loving are political acts, there's no real separation. That song could be about two people, it could be about, like, two nations. It could be about America and Russia. People don't realise that they wage war on each other in private. You can't beat someone up, physically or emotionally, and then complain about America threatening to bomb Russia. It's the same human emotions taking over. It's also a banal comparison, but really, you can't complain about the police beating people up if you go around occasionally kicking peoples' heads in. Again, that's a very simple analogy, but I think a lot of people talk about changing the world and making it a better place, but they fail to see that their immediate world isn't as good as it could be. The only thing I'm really interested in is making the world around me a better place. That's the only thing anyone can ever do. It's a start, at least, and it may be as far as You're ever going to get. The Labour Party or the Conservative Party, they're not going to make anyone happy. It's up to you. If you know someone, if you like them or love them, try to do something for them . . 

That questing, questioning spirit at the heart of the Sound's music and their ultimate suspicion of any kind of authority is often allied to a peculiarly mischievous humour. At the Glastonbury Festival this summer, they upset a field full of benign OAP hippies by dedicating "New Dark Age" to Marcus Sarjeant, who'd just fired a pistol full of blank cartridges at the Queen In Manchester, a few weeks ago with the Comsats, they sent out "Brute Force" to the city's police chief, James Anderton. This didn't seem at all like the jeering rabblerousing of the Clash, say. I mean: would Strummer let something slip through the ranks as an aside if he could whip it up into an entire song, or even a triple album? On the new LP, Borland and the Sound take their argument with authority right to the top of the Christmas tree. Supported by booming tympani, panoramic keyboards, nudging bass and glistening guitar, Borland uses "Judgement" as an opportunity for a colourful and frank exchange of conflicting opinions with the ultimate Big Cheese (no, not Jake Riviera) "I suppose that song is addressed to all the powers that be," Borland admitted. "But the final verse sees God as the ultimate symbol of authority. 'Judgement' is a very anti-religious song. I mean, Bono wouldn't like it attacks the whole idea of faith of belief in other people, when it's you who should be doing things. "I can't accuse Bono of not doing anything. He does what he wants to do, but I just can't understand U2's obsession with religion. I find the whole history of religion appalling and I find it curious, the idea of a religious rock band. "To me, the whole idea of playing rock music is antireligious, the basic essence of rock is anti-religious. A band like Crass would probably go 'Fuck God, fuck Christ . . .' We're trying to explain ourselves more. "The thing about 'Judgement' that I think might be even more extreme is that says, even if there is a God I'm rejecting you. I refuse to surrender to His authority. 

The trick now, of course, is getting "From The Lion's Mouth" across the counter. Produced by Hugh Jones, the Bunnymen's knob-twiddler, the LP doesn't exactly sound like it was recorded for a couple of quid and the price of a fish supper for the engineer. The gatefold sleeve is evidence of Korova's commitment to the band and the label's conviction that they can emulate the commercial success of Mac's mob. "Jeopardy" didn't leave too many people out of pocket and even the most recent jaunt around the Isles with the Comsats found the Sound familiar circuit of clubs, polytechnics and town halls. Audiences were enthusiastic, both groups were marvellous but the profits were probably light. Borland knows that if the Sound are to continue, they'r pretty soon going to have to leap into the black. "We can't hang on indefinitely, it's obvious.," he reasoned. "And I think it's a shame that there's a lot of people working in the music industry, and they all do a job fair enough. But there are a lot of them who're earning a hell of a lot more money than we are, and, really, without band like us. they wouldn't even have jobs. "It's really very hard to sell enough records to earn a living. I think people would be amazed by the number of bands who weren't earning a living. Bands that are supposed to be quite famous, who aren't really making any money at all. 'This really gets on my nerves. Like, after maybe three years, nothing happens, we fade away. But there are going to be people sitting behind their desks in record company offices still working, stiff refusing to acknowledge that it wasn't for these bands who are all willing to risk everything . . . well, you know what I mean ...I just want our records to sell, "Five years from now. I don't want people to be saying to each other as they dig out our old albums, 'Hey, man, the Sound. Weren't they a really good band, I wish I had that record'-I can just imagine all these people being into us who didn't buy our records when we needed them which is now. "I don't want to be famous after we've packed it in. We're here and now. This is the moment that counts. We want to be listened to now, not tomorrow." 

Across the bar, a girl in a green shirt carelessly tipped another coin into the jukebox wondered whether she'd hear the Sound. 

Allan Jones (Melodymaker 24-10-1981)

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