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Colin Newman interview

Boston's Weekly Dig, 2002

This interview finds Boston's Weekly Dig's Ad Frank [AF] interviewing Colin Newman [CN].

Aesthetic Governed by Tools

On their latest release, Read and Burn 01, Wire has achieved what any owner of their 1977 debut would not have thought possible—they have simplified. After having gone their separate ways twice (without ever actually breaking up) and reforming as a quasi-electronic band, they are back to a guitar, bass and drum format that manages to sound nothing like any of their previous incarnations. Most of the songs only have two chords and not many more lyrics. Singer/guitarist/legend Colin Newman expounds:

CN: 'Less is more' is a philosophy that appeals strongly [to the band]! I've always liked the things I'm involved in to be simple at heart. However, use of simplistic rock styling is more related to the energy of the last couple of years. Two-and-a-half-years ago, who would have thought that fast, jerky art rock would become deeply cool? We had already figured this out by about April 2000. Now The Strokes are headlining Reading (and are no longer cool). I personally am not big on the retro aspect, but I'm a sucker for fast, heavy, weird and shouty (preferably all at the same time!)

AF: After having worked with electronics for the past 20 years, do you find it limiting to be working in the guitar rock format again?

CN: Wire is a creature of whatever time it is being conducted in. If you go back to, say, 1995, it would be hard to imagine how Wire, as a specific unit, could have operated. The individuals are multi-modal. They are always happy to operate with culturally appropriate artistic currency, but it would have been hard to construct a model of Wire that could have operated at that time. For a start, it would have had to be totally instrumental. This guitar, bass, drums thing is about 'now' in some respects, but technically there is nothing going on different than before. It is, of course, no longer a current aesthetic to use the obvious retro futurism of late '80s, early '90s techhouse. Those stylings arose because '80s analog synths and drum machines were discarded in favor of 'new' digital ones, and so they became very cheap. The aesthetic is almost always governed by the available tools. Everything I've been involved in since 1999 has been purely in ProTools. Before it was MIDI and samplers, so it all comes down to fiddling about with computers.

AF: You recently said that rock & roll has become crap. Is there anything that you like now?

CN: One of my more choice phrases! It means depends on exactly when I said it. I personally never use the term 'rock & roll.' It reminds me of the '50s—everything in blurry black and white, and some fat bloke who died on the loo. Of course, the percentages of crap are always the same (about 99-to-1), but right now there are more and more items vying for our attention and more money being thrown at useless crap you don't need.

AF: In the '70s, Wire redefined what could be done with a guitar, bass and drums format. Can it still be taken further?

CN: Thanks for the compliments. I think MXR effects pedals might have had something to do with it also! Now, yes; but it's more in what you can do to guitar, bass and drums.

AF: You once said that Wire reforms anytime the world presents the need. What does the world need from Wire now?

CN: Oh, now the hard ones! I'm not sure I said that—it sounds really arrogant! I don't think the world needs anything objectively! Sure we all need art; and art that is conscientiously produced to be good rather than just easy to sell

AF: What is the difference between being influential and being ripped off?

CN: It only becomes an issue when there is money involved. I hope that the trend started by Fischerspooner of doing Wire covers catches on, as it's the more honest approach. But in general, some kind of quoting is part of art. It's always down to how it's done.

AF: What can people expect at your show at the Middle East?

CN: I'd say that now we are better live than we have ever been. The current set is all 'new' and consists of material from Read & Burn as well as material from future releases. Wire has never, ever been a request band. If people want to see the best Wire ever, playing a set they are genuinely excited about, then they should come. If they just want to fill in their checklists about which songs they saw us play live, then they are better off finding a cover band in a bar!

Ad Frank

This interview originally appeared online at Boston's Weekly Dig/The Din column.