Gang of Fourâ€™s place in music history is set. Their brand of biting, razor sharp punk is every bit as revolutionary as the group of communists they names themselves after. To listen to Solid Gold or their triumph, Entertainment!, and you can hear a band that is every bit as relevant now as they were 25 years ago. Now, for the first time, all four founding members are reuniting to show all those theyâ€™ve influenced (recently The Rapture, The Futureheads, Bloc Party, and Radio 4, their supporting act) how itâ€™s done. The Beat Surrender sat down with Doug Burnham to discuss the genesis of their sound, rebellion, and parenting.
So what are the main differences between this reunion and the 94 reunion.
That really wasnâ€™t a reunion. That was more a continuation of what Andy and Jon were doing. That was more like, the â€œgang of twoâ€? as some people have called it. They got together and did a couple of things. This is a true reunion. All four original members, continuing what we set out to do all those years ago.
One of the great things I feel about Gang of Four is that every element is so different, from the vocals and guitars to the drumming, on its own, and when combined you are this completely original entity. Was originality the most important aspect to the bandâ€™s creation?
It is difficult for myself to determine what is original. I mean, there are only 8 notes, you know? When we started we were clearly influenced by the music we loved. We came together because of the same bands that we adored. We were born out of a love of P-Funk, Free, the Velvet Underground, bands we mutually loved. The sound and the fury of Gang of Four is actually just a distillation of those bands, and our approach to how music should be played.
Were you guys ever nervous about how your sound would be accepted?
Iâ€™m not sure. Our goal was to make music we were interested in, and that meant it had to be different and challenging. Now any band that decides to leave the garage on some level are looking to entertain an audience, to share something with them. So in that manner, we hoped that people like what we were doing. We were confident in what were trying to do musically, so we felt everything else would fall into place. And it did.
Do you think that people focused too much on the politics?
Back in the day, yes. I wouldnâ€™t call it lazy journalism or anything like that. It was something interesting for people to write about. We named ourselves after the Maoists, thatâ€™s an intriguing angle for people. And the political aspect was important to us, but it did seem that people only wanted to talk about, sure.
It became evident when we went to the States. People would say â€œWow, we thought you would be dour and shoegazing.â€? It seemed foreign to some people that you could be serious and have some fucking energy behind you.
Now Entertainment has been dissected consistently for the last 25 years. What do you think isnâ€™t mentioned about the album?
I donâ€™t think anything isnâ€™t talked about. The four musical elements of the band, not to use that awful clichÃ© â€œthe four parts are greaterâ€¦â€? or whatever the fuck it is [laughs] â€œthe whole is greater than the sum of its parts.â€? I got it. That dynamic between people who are dedicated to their art. The purpose of creating something meaningful. We have that dynamic, the excitement and fear, the potential danger. Thatâ€™s why I loved The Who so much. You would listen to them, and you could feel it, the conflict. You got the feeling that they were always this close to beating the shit out of each other. Now we have never been that close, but we do challenge each other. Thatâ€™s the whole point of this reunion. We agreed it wasnâ€™t for nostalgia. When all four of us got together to decide on it, we all agreed we would only do it if we could keep the same ferocity as we did 25 years ago.
If we didnâ€™t think we could, we wouldnâ€™t have done it. Mainly because it would a) be boring, and b) embarrassing. I love the Rolling Stones, but what they are doing now isnâ€™t the Rolling Stones. There is no sex, no danger. I saw them in 1972, and you felt something. Now itâ€™s a fucking Vegas act. Though I must I will probably go see them on this latest fossilized trek. I am attracted like a moth to a flame.
Also we donâ€™t have any â€œhits.â€? The band wasnâ€™t all that successful when we were together. If you like the band, you like the music we made, not one or two songs. There isnâ€™t any â€œAnd now ladies and gentlemen, â€˜Bela Lugosi is Dead.â€? There would be no point in doing it
Why do you think there have never been any prominent right wing/conservative band to ever reach the masses?
I have no idea. You could give the easy answer and say that the art community is comprised mainly of liberal, progressive minds, but I think there is something more to it than that. Art is about communication. I donâ€™t think dialogue is a part of the far right. There is more pontificating. There is no subtlety to those people.
I ask that because the great irony of rebellion is that it seems that every generation is rebelling against the same things, the same conditions.
Itâ€™s a part of growing. First, youâ€™re completely dependent on your parents, and then almost immediately, you are on your own. Itâ€™s a part of growing. You have to realize, thatâ€™s what rock and roll is about. Rebelling against the norms and terrorizing your caretakers. There comes a point in every teenâ€™s life where they truly listen to rock nâ€™ roll, or punk, or what have you, and they decide whether they are going to rebel or conform.
Hip-Hop was about that, although I feel it has gotten really stagnant now. Hip-Hop was at its peak when it was embraced by white suburban teenage girls. Not so much because of the racial aspect, though that does play a part. Thereâ€™s a sexual element there that is no different from Elvis shaking his hips on television and driving all of the parents fucking crazy. These girls have their asses hanging out of their trousers and they are pissing off their parents to no end. The parents forget about when they were that age, and they did the same thing. It is all about moderation in your reaction. They donâ€™t understand that they are just fueling the rebellion even more.
You are talking to the father of a five-year-old daughter. My friends ask me how am I gonna react when she starts dating boys, I tell them simple, I will lock her up when sheâ€™s twelve and keep her in the basement until she is thirty. She asked me once, â€œwhen will I grow boobies?â€? and I said, â€œnot as long as I am aliveâ€? [laughs].
Now what is the concept behind this new album coming out?
Well Andrew produced it. We re-recorded 14 of our songs for the first disc. The interesting stuff is on the second disc. Weâ€™ve handed the masters over to some bands, and we told them to do whatever they want to do with it. That means they may have added vocals, guitar, tabala, whatever. We are leaving ourselves out there. Itâ€™s not just an album of retreads. We wouldnâ€™t have done it, if that were the case. If any of the artists thought the drums sounded like cardboard boxes filled with down, they can change it. We are inviting these bands to make improvements, as they see fit. I think to hand these over to other artists show our confidence in our ability and what we have been able to accomplish.
What bands that are out now do you feel are keeping Gang of Fourâ€™s spirit alive?
Gang of Four.
There are a few bands that sonically take their cues from us quite obviously, but do they also have the lyrical depth that we had? I think one of the greatest aspects of Gang of Four are our lyrics, and what we were trying to accomplish.
Perhaps Bloc Party, I donâ€™t know, I havenâ€™t heard enough. I know they have a political bent, but I am not sure if it is to the degree that we had it. I mean, is it just window dressing? I can not say for sure. As I said, I havenâ€™t heard enough of them to say one way or another. They said they had never heard us until after they recorded their album. Yeah right, and I weigh 198 pounds.
The flame has to be kept alive. Flea, Michael Hutchence, and other bands of the late â€˜80s and early â€˜90s mentioned us as influences. Those kids that were into those bands checked us out and loved what we were doing. They begin to form their own bands. Franz Ferdinand begins selling records, and we get mentioned as an influence. Some kids read about us and decide to check us out. The cycle repeats itself, and those kids start bands and what have you. We never made any money when we were first out there, so when these bands sight us, we are a bridge..
The tour has been great so far because of that. More than half the audience is kids 25 or younger. At first we thought we were going to play to a bunch of 40 years old, you know, people who were in their heyday when were together. Instead, there are all of these kids, and it is great. In the end, it is all about keeping good music alive.