interview for the skinny
Twenty-three years after forming in Leeds, seminal indie rockers The Wedding Present are still evolving and learning as they launch their eighth studio album El Rey. Even though two Fifers have joined the band since 2005’s Take Fountain, it’s still hopeless romantic David Gedge who runs the show – he’s the founder, only constant member, singer, songwriter, and tour manager.
Hello there Mr Gedge, where are you and what are you doing?
We're rehearsing this week in Brighton on the south coast, so got a day off tomorrow and one more rehearsal then we're off on our mini tour. Just England, Exeter then Shrewsbury…
All the glamorous places then?
Yeah! Then it’s Norwich and Brighton. Our new album [El Rey] comes out on Monday.
Are you excited about the launch of the album?
It's still nice, yeah, to get a box of the CDs and vinyl from the manufacturers and rip it open and see everything. It's a culmination of a two year cycle of recording and overseeing artwork and everything. It's a lot of work, so to get the final thing in your hands is definitely exciting.
Were you trying to do anything different from previous albums?
Well I try to do something different every time. I've always admired the groups who move on and try different ideas. I hate those bands where you hear a record and you think 'I've already got this!'. I was hearing - do you remember The Lighthouse Family? – they were on the radio chatting about working on a new album, but halfway through working on it they said 'wait a minute, it doesn't sound like The Lighthouse Family', so they scrapped it and started again! I'd see that as a positive thing, if I'm working on stuff and it doesn't sound like The Wedding Present I'm actually quite pleased. We always try to move on and we've had a substantial line-up change since last time.
How does that change the dynamics of the band?
I think it works very well, it's always sad when people have to leave or you have to ask people to leave. You're working with these people quite intimately, so it's quite heartbreaking to see people go, but then a replacement comes in and you've got a whole new set of inspirations and influences and enthusiasms. They always want to ensure that they're as good or better than the people before, they want to be as good as the 1992 line-up or whatever. That competition is good for the group, makes it stronger. After Take Fountain Simon Cleave left the band, he'd been in for 10 years or so, with Cinerama, so that was quite scary in a way. But then again this album is as good if not better than Take Fountain so all these changes work quite well.
Why is it called El Rey, is that a Californian reference?
Nah, it just means ‘The King’ in Spanish.
Is that you?
Nah, it's Elvis! I've always been a big Elvis fan, but also having lived in Hollywood for the last 16 months or so, I quite wanted to have a southern Californian feel, so the artwork and photographs are all from about there. Also thought a Mexican-sounding name would be appropriate.
I was in L.A. recently, is it actually the area of Hollywood you live in?
Yeah, West Hollywood. I kind of enjoy it… when I first moved there I didn't like it, I suppose I'm a big fan of pop culture and that's the home of pop culture really, film music and TV and stuff. It's a big cartoon city really. It is like walking into a film or something.
The city does seem like it’s completely built around the film industry…
Everybody who lives there, or most people, have gone there for a reason, which is fame, working in films or being rock stars. So it's a very self-centered place, it's a very Me Me Me society, and I found that a bit alienating at first. But I suppose I got used to it, and the weather's obviously fantastic. It's just odd that you're sat in a cafe or something... I was in cafe table on the street and as we were leaving I saw a very attractive woman in a very short skirt, and the person sat next to her was Mike Tyson! I thought - of all the people you don't want to be eyeing their girlfriend up, it's probably Mike Tyson! In L.A. you see celebrities everywhere, I saw Dr Who in Urban Outfitters. Not David Tennant, the previous one, what's he called? [Christopher Eccleston - Ed who knows his Who] Lives in Manchester...
Ah but Mike Tyson and Doctor Who were probably going "oh there's David Gedge over there, look!"
Haha, right. I was watching a DVD film one night and then the next morning the actress from the film was walking down the road! It’s funny really.
I noticed on the track-listing for the new album, 'The Thing I Like Best About Him Is His Girlfriend' is listed as the 'Santa Monica and La Brea' version. Well, a guidebook I had in L.A. said that Santa Monica and La Brea was the gay prostitution district. So what's that song all about then?
That's a complete coincidence that! The only reason we did that is the pedestrian crossing there talks to you rather than beeps, it goes 'wait, wait, wait, wait', and that's the intro to the song.
I think it might be interpreted a different way…
Haha! Well you can take something else from that if you want.
'Model, Actress, Whatever' - is that about anyone in particular, or just Californian girls generally?
It's a general thing really, I'm quite interested in obsession, it's about being obsessed about somebody who's probably obsessed with themselves too. I'm interested in relationships and lust and regret and jealousy and stuff like that in my lyrics, and there's loads of that in that town. It attracts those kinds of people who’re driven to try to achieve certain things. There’s all sorts of lyrical references to L.A. in there, and in the song titles.
All your songs throughout your career been about relationships and such, you must either have loads of girlfriends or a really good imagination...
I think George Best was very personal, it was almost like reading out my diary, but after that you have to move on and make stuff up. I think it's always me in every song in some way, if it's not directly happened to me it's always something I imagine myself in a situation. But I just think it's the most successful way to write pop lyrics. I've tried other ways, to write about politics or science fiction or whatever, but I'm just more happy when I'm writing love or relationships songs, and the best are the personal ones.
So have you got a great cheat sheet of chat up lines or is it just 'hey, I'm a big rock star'?
Haha! well a lot of my songs are about failure, aren’t they?
How does Terry's [De Castro, bassist] co-writing influence your songs?
Not at all when it comes to lyrics because they're always mine. Terry's just been helping with musical ideas.
And you’ve been recording with Steve Albini again...
Seamonsters was the last album we recorded with him. Most bands who record with Albini sound like [makes harsh throaty growl], Big Black or Shellac or whatever. I wouldn't say he's bored with that but he does like the challenge of working on music which is different, so when I said it'd be easier to do strings in Britain he was like "oh, we can do strings here."
If you’re able to take a step back, what do you think of El Rey?
I'm far too close to it really! The last album was produced by Steve Fisk [Nirvana, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees] who's an engineer in Seattle, it sounds great, so there was a feeling that we should perhaps go back and use him again. But I had this worry at the back of my mind I didn't want to make Seamonsters Part 2 with Albini, so my main feeling is that it's nothing like Seamonsters, it's got an Albini edge to it but it's such a different type of LP, so I'm quite pleased with that. I think the thing about Albini is he just kinda records the band, whatever songs you've got at that time. Some of the songs on this record are quite poppy actually, he just records it in the best way that's appropriate, so it's got great sound as well.
Apparently you're contributing to a tribute album for The Cure...
I like the first album, think it's really good, and I saw them a couple times about 1979, but then I kinda went off them to be honest, and I'm not a big fan of Robert Smith's voice, I find it a bit whiny. When the list came through, it was my fault, we sat on it too late, and when we went back all the songs we wanted had gone. I think it was Graeme [Ramsay, drummer] that suggested High, so we're doing that. I don't think it's a fantastic song.
Why did you agree to be on the tribute album if you're not a huge fan?
Because I like doing covers, we've got a history of doing covers. It's very helpful over the years to work out how other people write songs and arrange songs, because sometimes you get ideas from that that you can reapply to your own work. And yes it is weird that we don't like The Cure that much, cos normally it is bands that we like that we cover, but it’s probably good for us in some ways that we don't much like them, because it makes us less precious about it. I think we've made it a better song, we didn't feel like we had to honour the initial version.
Looking forward to finding out. Thanks very much for chatting to us Mister Gedge, bye then!