Interview with Tim Gaines
published: 23 /
Stereolab's Tim Gaines first band was 80's political indiepop group McCarthy. Tommy Gunnarsson speaks to him about it, and the band's three albums
The history of indiepop has a lot of political bands to offer, but none of them were quite as angry as McCarthy. This English foursome was formed back in the early 1980’s in Barking, and released three albums ('I am a Wallet', 'The Enraged will Inherit the Earth' and 'Banking, Violence and the Inner Life Today') and a lot of singles and EPs before they called it a day in 1990. Their blend of jangly guitars and left wing lyrics are still gaining them new fans today, and they have been cited as one of the Manic Street Preachers’ main influences.
Back in 2001, I interviewed lead singer and lyricist Malcolm Eden for Pennyblackmusic, the first interview he had given since the demise of the band. Although Malcolm straightened out a lot of my questions marks, I also wanted to know the view of the other three members of the band.
After a short and frankly quite pointless correspondence via e-mail with bass player John Williamson, I aimed at getting hold of drummer Gary Baker. But, with such a common name, and since neither John nor Malcolm knew what he was doing nowadays, I soon gave up.
The only one left was guitarist Tim Gane, now a successful musician in his own band Stereolab, so I guessed that he wouldn’t be very keen on talking about this old band. Despite this, I sent an e-mail to the band’s website, and soon got a reply from their webmaster/manager, Martin, who gave me Tim’s private e-mail address. Another e-mail was sent, this time to Tim, and he replied quick as a greased lightning that he would love to do an interview about McCarthy.
Suddenly, I was sitting there with Tim’s phone number and a whole lot of questions that were just written in my mind. I hadn’t prepared for it happening so quickly!
At the same time, I thought that if I didn’t do it straight away, I never would. So, I pressed the correct combination of numbers, and Tim answered on the other side of the line. After a short introduction, I began questioning him:
PB : How did you get involved with McCarthy?
TG: As I’m sure Malcolm told you, we met at school. It was at the end of punk rock and the beginning of post punk, and we were the only ones into that kind of thing at our school, so it was natural for us to get together. We used to meet at Malcolm’s place and listen to music and read music magazines. Malcolm actually taught me to play the guitar. Then at age of 13 we formed a band that played punk covers. We knew all the Buzzcocks songs.
PB : What was the earliest song that you wrote?
TG : The first side on our first single, 'In Purgatory'. I wrote that very early, and recorded it in an electronic version with another band I had at the time. Then we re-did it with McCarthy and Malcolm wrote the lyrics to it. He also wrote two songs on the B-side to that single.
PB : Did you agree with Malcolm’s lyrics?
TG : That didn’t really matter to me. I agreed with his general philosophies and thoughts, but we never interfered with his lyrics. He just wrote them and came and sang them, really. All these people tell me that you must be so left-wing, because you played in a left-wing band then, and you play in a left-wing band now… but I could just as well be right-wing, because I have never written any lyrics. I remember one time when there was a kind of a clash. I was a vegetarian at the time, not a militant one but anyway, and Malcolm had this kind of anti-vegetarian thing going on…
PB : You mean the 'Kill Kill Kill Kill' song ?
TG : Yeah. But I thought his lyrics were very funny though…
PB : So, what’s your favourite McCarthy song? If you have one…
TG : Yeah, I do have one… But I can’t remember the name of it… It was on a flexidisc…
PB : 'You’re Alive'?
TG : Yeah, that’s the one! I think we recorded it at the same time as the first album, but for some reason it didn’t go on it. I think it was bit different to the rest of the songs. So it came out with a Swedish fanzine. People often think that I should say 'Red Sleeping Beauty' or something like that…. But I like this song.
PB : Malcolm thinks that 'The Enraged Will Inherit the Earth' is the worst of your albums. Do you agree with him?
TG : Oh yeah. That’s the worst one. Not when it comes to the songs, because there are some really good songs on it. But the recording was horrible. The first album was recorded almost live in the studio with no add-ons whatsoever. And then we signed to Midnight Music and they had their own studio where we could stay for as long as we wanted… We didn’t knew what we were doing, really. And Gary, the drummer, arranged all the drums himself and he wanted to do all the drums on a drum machine. So, all the drums on that album are done by a drum machine, and it sounds awful! He could sit for days just programming that thing. I actually think that it was at this point that the band began to split up.
PB : You often read that the band split up because you thought you were ignored. Do you agree with that now?
TG : No, not at all. When we split up, we had known for six, maybe nine months that we were going to split up. I think it began when we recorded 'The Enraged Will Inherit the Earth'. Another reason was that we signed with Midnight, which was the worst mistake we ever made. That contract was a trap, but we didn’t see it then. But I don’t think we were ignored… no. We were very popular in some countries in Europe…
PB : France I have heard…
TG : Yeah, France and Germany. We never got to the USA.
PB : Were your records released in the US?
TG : No, not really. They were imported and stuff like that. But when I tour in the US now I meet people from time to time who are big McCarthy fans. But there aren’t too many of them, I suppose.
PB : Do you have any contact with the other members of the band?
TG : Yeah, I hang out with John from time to time. He lives a couple of miles away from me, so we meet sometimes. But I am away so much. And I met Malcolm… I think it was last year. He came to my house and had dinner. We are quite the same people as were back then. And John is the exact same person as he was then. We haven’t changed that much.
PB : Does it happen when you tour now that people shout for McCarthy songs?
TG : Well, it happens a couple of times every time we tour. There is a man in Germany or France or wherever who always comes to our shows and shouts for McCarthy songs. But I don’t think anybody else in the audience knows what he’s talking about. And if they have heard of McCarthy, they probably don’t know the names of any songs.
PB : Do you think that the people who listened to McCarthy listens to Stereolab now?
TG : Mmm, not a lot really. It’s hard for me to say, but I think there may be some people who do. I think there may be some people who have started listening to McCarthy because they have heard that was a band I was used to be in. Sometimes there is someone who comes up to me with the 'Red Sleeping Beauty' 7” and wants me to sign it…
PB : How come did ended up releasing Herzfeld, Malcolm's next band, on your Duophonic label ?
TG : I started up this label with two other guys and it was quite natural that I would release Malcolm’s stuff. I think Herzfeld's single 'Two Mothers' is fantastic. Actually it’s two of the best songs Malcolm has ever written. The tracks which appeard on 'The SaCK', the 10” which followed that,are very good too. But I don’t feel that those are songs that McCarthy would have recorded if we would have kept on going.
PB : Do you listen to McCarthy's stuff now ?
TG : No, very rarely. The last time I listened to them for real, and, not just someone putting on a song on a club or something, was when we re-mastered the tracks for the compilation, 'That's All Very Well But'. in 1996. John and I did that. But I think some of the stuff is really good. Half of the songs on each album are very good, and the rest are not so good. I still think Malcolm’s lyrics are very good, but musically we were a bit shallow sometimes.
PB : The albums have all been reissued. How involved were you with in those?
TG: We picked the tracks for the compilation. And John was kind of a go-between with us and Cherry Red who put those out. They wanted to put everything out, but we didn’t want any songs so overlap, to be on two records at the same time. Because we thought that the ones who will buy those CDs are already McCarthy-fans, so we didn’t have to make it more commercial by putting all the A-sides on one CD and so on, which was what Cherry Red wanted to do. But we stopped that. In the end, we just put everything on CDs, B-sides and all.
PB : Thank you.