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Wedding Present - Interview

  by Mark Rowland

published: 24 / 5 / 2008

Wedding Present - Interview


The Wedding Present have just released their latest album, 'El Rey'. Front man David Gedge talks to Mark Rowland about it, an eighteen month period living in Los Angeles and his recent return to Britain

When David Gedge brought back the Wedding Present after a seven-year hiatus, it was, to some degree, under different circumstances to his previous records. Part of this was due to the influence of Cinerama, Gedge's post-hiatus band, who had bascially evolved (or de-evolved) back into the Wedding Present. The other main influence was Gedge's change in lifestyle. After 20 years of living and writing in his home town of Leeds, Gedge decided he wanted a change of scenery: "My girlfriend left me a few years ago and I decided to leave[Leeds]," he says. "Partly because of that, but it just dawned on me that I could write songs anywhere. I’m a bit gutted that I didn’t do it earlier, really. My current girlfriend is from Seattle so she said ‘let’s go to Seattle for a bit’ so we went out there and that’s where we recorded 'Take Fountain'." Alhough it is clearly a Wedding Present album, 2005's 'Take Fountain' has a distinct feel that was in part influenced by the location in which it was written - reflecting the cold climate and creativity of Seattle and its neighbouring towns. When it came to recording the follow-up to 'Take Fountain', Gedge decided to write from another new location: "I guess I was inspired by the previous excursion so I decided to do it again. I thought about going to France or something, but our bass player, Terry (de Castro), has lived in LA for some time now and our guitarist had just left the band, so she took more of a writing role after he went, so the obvious thing seemed to go there." The resulting album, 'El Rey', has something of Los Angeles about it: upbeat and warm, with a clear lyrical influence (check 'Spiderman on Hollywood', 'Model, Actress, Whatever...' and 'Don't Take Me Home Until I'm Drunk' for the most obvious Hollywood references). Gedge is unsure of how much influence LA had on the album. "I'd feel pretentious saying it’s my LA album. I don’t think it is in many ways because the subjects that I write about are not really tied to any location. It’s more about people. Having said that, it did influence the odd lyrical references and all the photographs in the album were taken there in the same way that the artwork for the previous album was taken in Seattle." The Sunshine State may have had a more subconcious influence on Gedge than he realises.'El Rey' has all of the elements that you expect from the Wedding Present - a mix of British and American indie pop sounds, Gedge's distinctive gift for telling a good love story, a melodic urgency to the songs - but the melodies are bigger and songs bouncier than 'Take Fountain.' As well as its LA referencing title, 'Spiderman on Hollywood' is a good example of the Wedding Present's new-found sunnines. "It’s kind of metaphorical," says Gedge of the song. "It’s about people not being what they seem to be. There’s this bit of Hollywood where people dress as super heroes and pose in photographs with tourists. It’s very strange and quite unsettling in places. It’s about seeing Spiderman and thinking it’s not really Spiderman – obviously Spiderman doesn’t really exist – but realising it’s just a bloke in a Spiderman costume." Gedge describes his experience in LA as surreal, which the Spiderman story backs up. Initially Gedge was unsure if he was enjoying living there. "It’s like a big cartoon city really, it’s like walking into a film – it’s so visual and hot, with all these gorgeous people walking around everywhere. It’s a surreal place, but it’s also a kind of self-oriented place, because most of the people who go there want to be a movie star or a rock musician, or something, so it’s a kind of me me me society." Gedge felt alienated at first, but, as he got to know people, he started to enjoy himself: "There are quite a few British people over there that I bumped into. By the end of it I actually really liked it. It’s a fascinating place to live because of the entertainment industry there. If you have any interest in popular culture, which I obviously have, you’re right in the middle of it. There are celebrities everywhere. You’ll watch a DVD, like a film or something and the next day you’ll be walking about and you’ll see someone that was in the film. That actually happened to us. That doesn’t happen very often in places like Leeds." Who did Gedge spot while he was staying in LA ? "You see anybody, it’s generally shocking. Literally the week before we came back, I was sitting in this cafe when I spotted this attractive lady at one of the tables with a really short skirt on. I thought to myself, wow, she’s a very good-looking lady and I glanced at who she was with and it was Mike Tyson. You think of all the people who you shouldn’t look at their girlfriend and it’s probably him. His head was almost as wide as my body. Things like that happened all the time. That was part of the fun in a way. We actually met Dr Who – well Christopher Eccleston, who was the first of the new Dr Whos. He was shopping for scented candles in Urban Outfitters." After a year and a half in Los Angeles, Gedge has since moved back to Britain with his girlfriend while the band tour and promote the new album. Gedge's new British base is Hove, where he also lived after recording 'Take Fountain'. It's also the base of his label, Scopitones. "I do like Hove, it’s very convenient for a group or record label to be tied here. There are a lot of music people here. It’s a very arty place and it’s good for a band because you can be in London in an hour. From Leeds it was like a day return, whereas from London you just pop up there and can get back quickly. It just seems like an obvious location and I know people here now, so. Our first drummer actually lives here, Shaun Charman. He’s the only ex-member I see really." Talk turns to the songs on the album. US indie rock bands such as Pavement and Low share some sounds with the album, but Gedge tries to avoid obvious influences within his music :"It sounds like a cliche and I’ve said this before in interviews, but I try really hard not to be influenced by other people. I have this obsession about not wanting to sound like anybody else, I think it goes back through years of doing it, when you’d do an album and people would say ‘that sounds like Sonic Youth’ and I’d think 'God, I don’t want people to think I’m ripping off Sonic Youth', so you try to get as far away from that as you can. I am fans of those two bands that you mentioned. I think with the Wedding Present we’ve always drawn inspiration from British pop music and American alternative rock music." The American alternative rock influence was also reflected in the choice of producer for the album - the band (Gedge, de Castro, drummer Graeme Ramsay and guitarist Chris McConville) went to Chicago to record with Steve Albini. The last time the Wedding Present had recorded with Steve Albini was back in the early 90's, the resultant album being 'Seamonsters', one of the band's most acclaimed albums. Expectations from fans of 'Seamonsters' have been high and the two albums have been inevitably compared - it was described as "the band's first in a while to give the 'Seamonsters'-era another go". Gedge had some reservations about any similarities between the two as the band started recording. "Listening to them both now, I don’t see any connection. I think it was a different band and a different era and a different style of song-writing, I think 'Seamonsters' was a lot darker. I think it’s powerful. Basically, [Albini]’s really good at recording a rock band – drums always sound really good, the bass sounds really good, the guitars sound great. The only thing he’s not so hot on is the vocals, but I’ve had so much experience now that we got around that really. His studio in Chicago is really good as well, so we’ve been there a couple of times with Cinerama over the years. It’s just a painless process really." Gedge says that the decision to work with Albini was a difficult one: "I was really pleased with the sound of the last album, ‘Take Fountain’, which was produced by another American guy called Steve Fisk. There was a temptation to do the same thing again because it worked really well. But then there was a nagging thought in my mind that you should always move on and try new things, that it is a mistake to do the same thing over two consecutive records. So I started to have some doubts about using Steve Fisk again. As we were putting the songs together they were becoming more guitar-y and less reliant on what I’d call orchestration and Steve Albini popped into my mind because I thought he’s a guitar band specialist and when we worked with him before it worked really well and he was really quick. He’s just really good at that kind of job. There are certain things I wouldn’t really equate with him but making a guitar record I certainly would. In the end we decided to use him again. I think it was the right decision to make, because it does sound different to the last LP, which to me is quite important." It seems to have been a good choice - the album has an energy and freshness that is lacking on records by much younger bands. Gedge is full of praise for Albini's methods. "His forte is really that he wants to capture a moment. He’s of the school of thought that you get a band. They’re well rehearsed, they have good equipment, it’s all in tune, it’s all been serviced and you put them in an acoustically nice sounding room, you mic them up in a good way and let the magic happen. There’s a certain amount of ambience that can come from people playing music together. Which I suppose is what being in a band’s all about really. He’s meticulous in his preparation, making sure that everything is miked properly and that sort of stuff, but he’s not really interested in people doing multiple takes, because he can’t see the difference between one take and another take. The band will be saying ‘that bass drum was slightly out of time there’ and he would say ‘who cares about that? Let’s move on.’ I don’t mind doing that, that’s sort of how I work anyway." Gedge's and Albini's methods do differ when it comes to recording vocals, however: "Albini would record a vocal take and he’d say, ‘Yep, sounds fine’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah, but that was just kind of a warm-up’. He would say ‘Yeah, but it sounds fine,’ and I’d ask to do it again and he’d sigh and say, ‘Ok…’ We’d record it again and he would say, ‘Well, that sounds exactly the same as the first one.’ The main principle he works to is that the band is the boss, so ,if you want to do that, he will do that, but he makes it known to you that he thinks you’re wasting your time and your money, which is fair enough. He’s there to offer advice and stuff. I find working with him very easy. I think some people are quite put off by him because they find him…not aggressive, but he is very opinionated and forthright. Some people find that a bit difficult. Probably because I’ve known him so many years, I know what he’s like, so I’m used to it. I just get on with it really." The title of the album 'El Rey', is Spanish for 'the king' Gedge underplays any significance in the name: "I was just in my book of possible LP titles. It’s a weird hybrid of two ideas. I’m a massive fan of Elvis Presley, so it was a tribute to the king and also I crossed that with the fact that Southern California is a very largely Spanish-speaking area, so I thought that it would be nice to have a Spanish sounding name for the album. Stupid reason really. 'Take Fountain' has a much better reason than this one, but I think it’s quite a good name anyway. It reminds me of the Pixies or something, even though I claim not to be influenced by other people." As an Elvis fan, how did he feel about equalling Presley's record for the number of top 30 UK singles in one year ? The band achieved this with their 'Hit Parade' singles project in 1991. Gedge laughs: "It was a weird thing because I thought it was a great thing to do, if not a stupid thing to do, but it was a false achievement because Elvis sold millions of records, while we sold 100,000 for each single." The Wedding Present will be spending the next few months touring and promoting 'El Rey' and appearing at the Indietracks and Bestival festivals in July and September respectively. For now, Gedge is staying in Hove, but it's likely he will be relocating again when the tours finish and he starts writing the band's next album. "Both of those cities were chosen for me in a way, but I’ve enjoyed the experience and I also think that it’s useful for a writer to get a change of scenery from time to time. Not that I think I suffered from being in Leeds for twenty years, but I could have taken some of that time to travel and live in different places. Of course, we went to a lot of different places on tour but you’re there for five minutes then you’re off to somewhere else. It’s different to move to a new place and get to know it." Will Gedge head to Europe for the next album, like he considered for the current one ? "Yeah, I think I probably will. The last few years have really changed my perspective on where I live and also it stops you accumulating rubbish. You collect all this stuff and one day you think to yourself hang on, I’ve got these hundreds of LPs that I’m never going to play again and every time you move you have to put them all in boxes, file them away again, never play them, then put them away again. Being less tied down in terms of location makes you less inclined to hoard things. You think hang on a minute, before I spend money on this stupid thing, which I’m going to carry around for the next few years, do I really need it? Simon Cleave, our guitarist before Chris joined, lived in Germany and when he went there he had this one little van. It was like a car really and that’s all he had, he took all his stuff in a suitcase with a guitar and amplifier and I thought it was great. He pretty much had no possessions, so he could up sticks and move in about half an hour. I like the idea of that."

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