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Colin Newman interview

uzine, 2002

This interview finds uzine [U] talking to Colin Newman [CN] about Wire and his solo career.

U: For such a young band, you've obviously been influenced by Motörhead! Did you want to make a 'kick ass' record with Read & Burn—or what kind of energy was it that drove you?

CN: Hmm, not sure about Motörhead. More the energy of the times. Read & Burn 01 was mainly conceived in 2001 and we were absolutely sure that it should not come out after summer 2002 at the latest.

U: You recently re-recorded 12XU, the original of which you referred to as 'the basic Wire rhythm—the father of Drill'... Was re-recording it a return to Wire's roots?

CN: It was based on a version recorded at the Garage in 2000. It set the method for how to do Wire mk III recording. You cannot divorce Wire from its times and its culture. It's all about a moment in time and an associated methodology.

U: Was there any art in starting again?

CN: A great deal.

U: Was everyone ready to start that third career at roughly the same point in time, or did someone keep the others waiting. Did anyone need coaxing?

CN: How Wire works is perhaps not at all obvious from the outside. Suffice to say that this is the most democratic and accountable version of Wire. Again its roots lie in cultural cycles and right timing. Not everyone really conceived it that way at the outset of mk III, but events have proven that there is logic in the thesis.

U: How come Robert no longer calls himself Gotobed?

CN: Ask him.

U: Is there a video for any of the tracks?

CN: There is a video for In the art of stopping. There are Web versions at

U: Does the '01' on the sleeve of Read & Burn mean it's not a one-off, and what are Wire's intentions with this recording?

CN: It's not a one-off. Wire deserves to exist and we as individuals need to prove that 'everything after Pink Flag sucks' is crap (which '80's Wire mainly failed to do).

U: Read & Burn 01 initially strikes you as a remarkably un-technological record, and quite different from The First Letter or Manscape. Is that perception correct?

CN: I personally think the 't' word should be banned from interviews with musicians making contemporary music. The Read & Burn series involves a much more intensive use of computers and sequencing that any previous Wire efforts. The software is just better now.

U: Even while playing more straightforward rock with pretty simple lyrics, Wire doesn't seem to be able to bring hollow words. Was it a hard job getting the lyrics and the songs written this time around?

CN: It's all about editing. I'm personally no longer interested in obfuscation. The words had become too convoluted. It's like the music. Stripped.

U: How did Comet come about?

CN: Bruce's lyric, my riff.

U: Is the fact that In the art of stopping is the first track on the first disc of your new career a comment on some of your contemporaries now playing the revival circuit?

CN: Like most of the other lyrics, they are deceptively simple. You can get a lot of meanings. One can take it in a more general sense and say that it's (on one level) about editing. We live in a time when we have comparatively limitless options in art made by digital means. But the 'art' is actually in the choosing not in the making. We can make anything but if the art is to be any good we have to reject a lot.

U: Did you know that the (legendary to some) Mission of Burma decided to reunite upon seeing one of your most recent live shows?

CN: I didn't know they re-formed for that reason. I have met them and know they have a great love for Wire.

U: You're one of the few bands who've reunited and made it worthwhile. Are you aware of any other successful reunions?

CN: It's hard. I can't think of anyone right now but then I'm sure I sound arrogant by saying it. I think Wire are very lucky; were the conditions different we would have no choice to be anything but irrelevant.

U: You've been invited to All Tomorrow's Parties by Steve Albini. What was your initial reaction to that?

CN: Rather amazingly, we headlined the festival. (Well, if you call headlining the Saturday on a weekend event 'headlining the event'!) Obviously, we were quite flattered! ATP is a great institution, and we played in 2000 as well. It's definitely the best UK festival.

U: Who was Albini to you? For instance, did you like his cover [with Big Black] of Heartbeat?

CN: I wasn't really a fan of Big Black although I like Steve as a person and I think he gets a great sound on some of his productions (such as Mclusky & Beachbuggy).

U: What are the Ex Lion Tamers up to these days? Are they ready to do The Ideal Copy yet?

CN: Jim Derogatis is quite a rock writer these days. He's done a couple of books and has a radio show in Chicago. There is no chance of them re-forming.

U: What with tribute bands covering you and various Web sites being dedicated to you, I can imagine you've had to deal with all sorts of idolatry by now. Have there been less pleasant instances?

CN: It can be weird but actually a lot of the really big fans are pretty nice and understand that the fact that we are able to sometimes create extraordinary things doesn't make us superhuman as individuals.

U: In a sense, your pinkflag record label setup seems to pitch to Wire being a 'cult' band, with special limited releases and the like. What's the ploy, and was Mute no longer an option?

CN: No ploy, just a fairly good (and realistic) idea of how the industry works. We had no idea if doing it through pinkflag would make any sense. In the end we have succeed better with Read & Burn 01 than perhaps any other label would have done. Even if someone spent a lot of money (which we didn't), there probably would have been a backlash. People get sick of having stuff shoved down their throats.

U: I don't suppose you're touring in much the same way as in the 1980s? Are you able to plan your concerts and your travels according to your own desires now, such as by having a journey abroad coincide with the opportunity to visit a country or city?

CN: In our dreams! The tour of Europe we are about to undertake is in a more comfortable coach than in the past but when it comes down to it, economics dictate.

U: Has any member of Wire ever lived the rock 'n' roll life whilst on tour?

CN: Some (definitely not me) have known their share of excess.

U: Do you still meet a lot of interesting people on tour, such as musicians you'd want to collaborate with, or other kinds of people? Is there a touring anecdote you'd like to share with us?

CN: This all sounds a bit like the Beatles' house (four doors on a street but one house behind it). Unfortunately, real life is not like that! Normally the only bands you meet on tour are the support band (usually the same one every day). You just go from one place to the next: wake up, eat breakfast, travel to 'point B', sound-check, eat dinner, play, go back to the hotel. You can do it more comfortably and you can get well paid, but in the end it always comes down to the same thing. Tour anecdotes are for tour bores. A lot of it is quite depressing.

U: Are there still things about Brussels that you miss, or are you perfectly happy in London?

CN: The food. It was a different time. I'm happy in London for now.

U: Do you still have contact with a lot of people from your Belgian days?

CN: Obviously I live with Malka and have contact with the Minimal Compact people (Fortis and Berry, who live in Tel Aviv, and Samy, who is still in BXL). I haven't seen Sean for a while (he lives in Sicily). [Samy = Samy Birnbach aka DJ Morpheus, who compiled the famous Freezone series for SSR/Crammed—Ed.]

U: What is the current status of the Swim label and your solo career?

CN: Surviving. It's a technical point but pinkflag couldn't really exist without swim. It uses its facilities (including studio). Wire took up a lot of my time recently but we always have plans to advance swim. There is a new 7" by a band called Rhodes getting some UK attention.

U: Are there any instruments you'd like to master? Which instruments do you love to work on the most?

CN: My main instrument is my Macintosh G4. I do production rather than songwriting.

U: What is your current set-up? Are there any instruments that you've sold over the years but that you wish you'd kept?

CN: A G4, running Digidesign Pro Tools through 001. I get eighteen outputs to my Allen and Heath board. Lots of plug-ins. Hard disks full of various forms of audio. Otherwise, some guitars, a couple of MS10s and an old Casio synth. I don't sell equipment. Even though I have two samplers I never use anymore, there's no point in selling them.

U: On Lo records, there's an album by Cursor Miner [Explosive Piece Of Mind], and at times, his singing sounds remarkably close to yours. Have you heard the album, and what are some of your favourite contemporary artists?

CN: I have the Cursor Miner CD but didn't get a chance to listen to it. Posteverything (of which I'm the MD) do mail order for Lo and I've known Jon Tye for years. My favourite band over last year is Liars.

U: Thank you very much for your answers and for your time!

Patrick Vandenberghe

Originally published in ULTRA WWW Magazine [uzine] and reprinted with permission.