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Cole Marquis - Interview with Martin Rossiter

  by Anthony Strutt

published: 16 / 6 / 2003

Cole Marquis - Interview with Martin Rossiter


Gene have had many up and downs since they first formed in 1992. Frontman Martin Rossiter talks to Anthony Strutt about the much acclaimed group's albums, and their long career

Gene features Martin Rossiter on vocals, Steve Mason on guitar, Kev Miles on bass and Matt James on drums. Gene was born in 1992 out of the ashes of an indie guitar London-based group, Spin, which was originally Steve and Matt's band, and which Martin and Kev joined latterly, after a horrific motorway accident left the original line-up of Spin unable to continue as a group. By 1994 they had changed direction. While they maintained their own charm and wit ,they emerged as the natural successors to the Smiths with Martin's wry tales of bedsit angst, alienation and despair. In 1995, they released their debut album,'Olympian', on the small indie label, Costermonger. They followed this a year later with 'To See the Lights', which featured singles, live tracks and lost gems including a demo of their first single, For the Dead'. Gene's career was helped along by the rise of the Britpop movement. In 1997 they released their first album on the major label, Polydor, 'Drawn to the Deep End', which saw them sell out the London Albert Hall and play with an orchestra. Two years later they released their second Polydor album, 'Revelations". In 2000 they left Polydor, who the following year released 'As Good as It Gets', a badly put together retrospective of the band's work. Since leaving Polydor Gene has released two albums on its own Contra label, a live album 'Rising for Sunset'(2000), and a studio record 'Libertine' (2001). The band's subsequent disastrous 'Club Libertine' British tour featured spoken word performances from authors such as Irvine Welsh, Howard Marks and Kevin Sampson , film screenings and DJ sets, with a different line-up every night. The group has made a regular point throughout it career of recording songs by other artists. These covers have included the Jam's 'Wastelands' , REM's 'Nightswimming' and the Beatles 'Don't Let Me Down' Martin Rossiter spoke backstage over the course of two evenings, one at the Liverpool Lomax and the other at the London ULU about Gene's long history, and some of its highs and lows PB : Could you tell me about about the early history of Gene ? I believe that you were all in the latter line-up of Spin. MR : To cut a short story even shorter, Spin wasn’t working and that was patently obvious. The whole concept of Kev and I being in Spin, however brief that was, was a flawed one. The band soon realised that we had a different identity, we had a different voice, we were something else, so we took the conscious decision just to say okay, let’s lay that to rest, not reinvent ourselves so much, as to find out who we are and what we do. We did that and the new name came with it. PB : How did you come to replace the original singer, Lee Clarke. I heard a story that there was a car crash. MR : Yes, there was a very, very nasty van crash and this was before I knew any of them. The van broke down on the M40 coming back from a gig and they got hit a by a 40 ton truck and John, Steve’s brother, who was the bass player, was in a coma. Our usual soundman broke his back. It was a miracle that no one died and the band just disintegrated from that point really. Understandable really ! PB :I spoke to Julian Wilson (ex Gene keyboard player, now full time in Grand Drive) and he told me, not that Gene were any part of it, but that Britpop came along and not only carried you, but helped you on your way. Would you say that that was a fair statement ? MR : Yeah, I would say that’s fairly fair. Yeah, I think it did it for a lot of bands. PB : But you’re still here. MR : Yeah, we have survived it and I think that’s a measure of the fans as much as anything, who I think realised that we did something a little bit beyond Menswear which wasn’t hard. PB : 'Drawn to the Deep End' and 'Revelations' are perhaps your best-known albums. MR : We recorded that latter album in a month. PB : You had some problems with it though. You were supposed to go into the studio long before you did. MR : Yeah, such is life, but that’s neither here or there really. We just played the songs really. There’s some good really tight pop songs on that record. There are some moments that bring a tear, but I think there are a lot of laughs on that record. PB : How do you feel about the Royal Albert Hall gig, because that was the biggest headline thing you ever did ? MR : It’s typical really. All the problems that should happen over a whole tour transpired to happen over a half hour period and I can remember talking to my Mum after the show and her saying “Oh, I didn’t like that noise”. I was trying to explain to her that it was completely out of our control. It was a technical hitch that we couldn’t cure. I still look back and say “Yes, I did that”. I can still tell taxi drivers I have done that. They always say “What do you do ?” and I say “I’m in a band” and they say “What are you called ?” and I say “Gene” and they go “Oh, you are just starting out, are you ?” Occasionally I get on my high horse,and say “Actually we have done this, this and this and up your rear end”. PB : You were dropped from Polydor after 'Revelations'. Was that a mutual thing ? MR : I would love to lie and say that it was mutual, but did we get dropped ? We sort of got dropped. We knew they were going to drop us, so it we were like “Just do it now” like some rhino wanting to kill itself, battering its head against the wall for 12 hours, so instead we got them to shoot us and they happily fired many rounds. PB : They then released a 'Best of’ and spelt your names wong. MR : Yeah ! I know. That’s shocking, isn’t it ? I’m not a bitter man at all. Actually, that’s a lie. I’m an incredibly bitter man, but spelling your name wrong on your record is just appalling. PB : Especially when they have spelt your names correctly before. MR : I know. It’s a shambles, a put together compilation. Quite frankly I wouldn’t want one. PB : And the next thing you did was the live CD ‘Rising for Sunset’. MR : Yeah ! PB : Live at the Troubadour in L.A. MR : Los Anglinguise. It’s quite a good record actually. PB : I like it. MR : I was a bit doubtful because you’re always a bit like “Hmmm. Live album” and whether it has anything good. ‘London, Can You Wait ?’ is on it, isn’t it ? PB : Yeah ! MR : And I think that it is worth it for that alone because it is one of the best songs we have written, and one of the worst recordings that we have ever done. The ‘Olympian’ version is really bad because we were still very young and we didn’t have the grace to pull it off. I really like the version of '"London' on ‘Rising for Sunset’ too. It’s a lot slower, just a lot more suited to the actual song. PB : Do you feel that the American audience now is more appreciative of Gene than the audience over here ? MR : Americans in general seems to be more up for it, and that’s just in their nature which can be a great thing and also very dull depending on what mood you are in. Are they more appreciative ? They are remarkably similar.. .they just have worse shoes (Laughs) PB : Fair enough ! MR : But I’m a shoe fascist says the man wearing pink and yellow trainers. PB : You put 'Rising for Sun' out on your and Jerry Smith’s (Gene’s manager-Ed) label, Contra. How did that come about ? MR : Well, no one else wanted us frankly. We are stubborn bastards. The lot of us. Frankly we should have been put out of our misery years ago, but for some reason we keep on. PB : Is that because you still love doing Gene ? MR : Yeah ! PB : And you didn’t want to get a day job ? MR : Well, we have to. We mostly have all day jobs, but I’m on the dole. It’s funny. The days of being on 'Top of the Pops' and being sorted for life are well and truly gone. PB : Morrissey has just signed with Sanctuary, which is like the worst label. MR : He’s got a few quid in the bank though. I think Tofu, those Russian girls or whatever they’re called... PB : T.A.T.U. MR : I prefer Tofu. They’ve made him half a million quid with their cover of “How Soon is Now’ ? PB : And the next thing you did was the ‘Is It Over’ EP and ‘Libertine’ which is in a completely different direction. MR : Is it in a completely different direction ? PB : I listened to it again last night and it does sound like Gene, but it doesn’t sound like what you would expect from Gene. MR : No, well, that’s a good thing. I really like it. I think it’s our best record by a long way. PB : The one thing I found against it, not against it, although not as record, was the live CD was stocked everywhere for £12, but with ‘Libertine’ it was £17, and a lot of people didn’t buy it because of that. MR : Unfortunately we’re not in a position where we can discount the records. It’s as simple as that. i would love to. I know that is shocking. PB : But I know a lot of musicians who are not on a major label anymore and they put their own money behind it. MR : That’s what we have been doing. We put all our money into making that record. We are all broke and we don’t have the resources to offer Justin Timberlake discounts which is a shame, but that’s just plain old reality. PB : Who came up with the idea for Club Libertine for the Libertine tour ? MR : Some fool ! PB : It was weird. MR : It was one of those ideas that was good on paper, and I’m sort of glad that we tried it. i don’t think we really had the organisation or the money to pull it off, but the concept of doing it was a fine one. PB : There were a few movies in between ? MR : There were some good little films and it was nice having people reading poems. I think if I went to see it I would have applauded the intention and given it 9 out of 10 for that and 6 out of 10 for execution, which I think is fair to be honest. PB : How many songs do you waste ? In the future when you split will we get a box set of unreleased material ? MR : No, virtually everything gets recorded. PB : And used ? MR : And used, yeah, We tend if a song isn’t working to scrap it before it’s recorded and before it’s written. If it’s not working, you get a sense it’s not working. The only song I can think of that got completed-I don’t think it got recorded but it got demoed that never made it-was a song called “The Restaurantier’ which was just plain silly. I can’t remember the lyrics to it, but that never made the grade. Virtually eveything else has. PB : There’s been a lot of bands reforming over the last few years. MR : Culture Club, yes. PB : How would you feel if the Jam reformed ? MR : Well, I’m not that bothered. I was always a bit too young. I was into Adam and the Ants. PB : What if they reformed ? MR : Yeah, I think I would go along, but in disguise. It would be difficult not to go along because Chris Hughes (Adam and the Ants drummer) produced ‘TDrawn to the Deep End’ and I have met Adam many times. We exchange Christmas cards . I have met Marco Pirroni many times as well and he is very nice. PB : Have any of the bands you have done cover versions of actually heard them ? MR : I don’t know actually. I think Paul Weller must have heard the Jam stuff we have done. What else have we done ? PB : ‘Nightswimming’ by REM. MR : Yeah, they have heard it. PB : Have they ? MR : Yeah, I know they have. We shared the same agent in America so I know they have heard it. In fact it was them that suggested us to their agent, so I think it was...I can’t remember his name. I think it was Berry, Bill Berry. He had ‘Olympian’. I think it’s him. I might be wrong. It’s always nice. I was never a great fan of REM. PB : Do you consider Gene as a London band, an English band or just a band with a message ? MR : I certainly don’t consider us as a London band because only two of live in London. I don’t consider us as English because I’m Welsh. PB : Well, British ? MR : No, I don’t consider us as British either. Personally I consider myself as European. I definitely see us as a band with a message though. I see us a band with heart. PB : Mat manages Mower and you said you all have day jobs. Have any of you got any other bands ? MR : Well, Steve is managing our first band on tonight, Silvertongue (who had something of an early U2/early Radiohead and Muse vibe going on-AS) and Kev has become a runner up in Northern Bingo caller 2002 and I’m working on cruise ships as a prostitute. PB : And it’s good pay ? MR : No, it’s terrible. PB : Are you going to work on a new album because I heard there’s going to be a new version of ‘Libertine’ with extra tracks like the US version. MR : That’s a long story which has yet to be finished... PB : So maybe, maybe not... MR : I hope so. PB : There’s talk of a DVD of the Troubadour gig. MR : Well, it’s been put together. I have’t seen it. Matt’s seen it. He says that a lot of effort has been put into putting it onto disc, so it has a menu and things tthat DVDs are meant to have. PB : So maybe ? MR : it would be quite nice. PB : Anything else you would like to add ? Will we see more of Gene live again ? MR : I hope so.Again it’s the unfortunate dull old story of if circumstances allow. PB : How do you view the internet ? MR : On a computer. Ha Ha ! PB : Has it been good for the band ? I know the Troubadour was a big download. MR : Yeah, so I heard, but I don’t know what a download is. I don’t know is the simple answer. I have been on the internet, but I’m not on at the moment. I’m rather glad. It’s terribly addictive. I’m sure it’s useful if you don’t spend all your time looking at pornography, which is what I think most people. It’s like you get to see Tofu/T.A.T.U’s ass. PB : Well, that’s it. Thank you. MR : I’m glad I finished on the word ass. I like to finish everything on the word ass. Part of this interview originally appeared in Anthony Strutt's previous fanzine, 'Independent Underground Sound'

Picture Gallery:-
Cole Marquis - Interview with Martin Rossiter

Cole Marquis - Interview with Martin Rossiter

Cole Marquis - Interview with Martin Rossiter

Cole Marquis - Interview with Martin Rossiter

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