Monday, March 24, 2014
INTERVIEW WITH THE VIBRATORS
“On the guest list” is your latest CD with a ton of guest appearances celebrating 37 years (wow!) of non-stop punk rock n roll, how did the making of the CD happen and proceeding tour come together?
KNOX: Brian Perera, head of Cleopatra Records, thought that it would be a good idea to get lots of other people involved singing and playing on the record, make it a bit different. Also I’d stopped doing the band (to go solo) and I think Brian had worked out that doing an album like this might be a good way for the band to reach for new fans.
Pure Mania is still considered one the greatest punk LPs of all time, do you think it’s because the band was well versed in writing rock n roll structures before the punk explosion? When I listen to every Vibrators track up to the latest release, there’s a lot of attention given to riffs and hooks instead of a band that is just coasting because of its popularity. Quite an accomplishment!
KNOX: I think the song writing benefited because we were a bit older than most of the other bands. I was very influenced by Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, plus a lot of 60s music, as were the others, and I think that really helped. I love song writing so I pay a lot of attention to getting the songs right.
Eddie: Knox, Pat and John had been writing for a while, especially Knox so they knew how to write a good song. Popularity had little to do with it, as we were not popular when writing and rehearsing those songs. It was the songs that made us popular!
Where does the band currently call home and is the non-stop touring a way of life, as long as I can remember the Vibrators have been on tour non-stop (so it seems). Most bands do not have the energy to keep up this kind of momentum, where does the energy and motivation come from.
KNOX: The band is London based. I’ve actually had to give up as I’ve got a bit ill, but I’m still writing and demoing songs at home. I actually left the band in April 2011 to go solo but it didn’t happen as I sort of derailed myself and got ill from over-working. I’m still motivated to write and record, in fact I’m about to start work with Charlie Harper (UK Subs) making a new Urban Dogs album. Touring is a great way of life. My friend who has a record shop sometimes has Robert Plant come in, and he said he loves touring with his smaller band, doing smaller gigs than Zeppelin, and he loves travelling around in the back of the van/tour bus.
Eddie: Being a musician means making records and playing live. If you don’t want to do that then don’t be a musician!! When it stops being fun and we have no fans, I'll give up. Home for me is in the wonderful Brightlingsea,UK.
The lyrics of Pure Mania still stand the test of time because they address everyday subjects instead of sloganeering. The topics of an uncertain future, girls, and looking for an escape from the bores of daily life keep the music alive. When you were recording the first album, were you just keeping it solid with the set list you had… getting it put to tape.
Eddie: This is department of Knox, John, and Pat, they were good then and still as good today.
KNOX: We basically just recorded the songs we were playing live, and the album was produced by our then sound guy Robin Mayhew who had been working with David Bowie before us. I think the only totally new song we did in the studio was “You Broke My Heart”. So we knew all the songs from playing them live every night. This was very different to how we record now.
Out of all the Vibrators releases, which album is one you would like fans to hear, that doesn’t receive as much media recognition as the first three outings?
KNOX: I currently like the band’s new album “On The Guest List”, and my favourite song on that album at the moment is “My Stalker” which Eddie Spaghetti from The Supersuckers sings. He does a great job. I also think the album “Hunting For You” is pretty good too.
In the recording process, is there a special way the Vibrators have always approached the studio process? Some bands excel in the studio and others seem to get lost and lose direction. The Vibrators songs are always catchy and self-assured. Is the recording process a fast one for you guys?
KNOX: I usually have finished demo’s, with most of the instruments on them, which essentially the band copy as we never get to rehearse before going into the studio. I’ll have a load of songs demo’d up and the band choose which ones they want to do; plus the others in the band often have a song or two as well. The band puts the tracks down very fast, hopefully with a few changes as it’s good to get input from the band on the songs, as it is a band and not my solo project. You’re always running against the clock in the studio so there’s not much time for experimentation which is a shame, but you accept the process for what it is. I’m a bit of a perfectionist so it can be quite stressful to rush against the clock and not have the songs finished exactly as you’d like. But c’est la vie!
Eddie: This is always a struggle between doing it fast to get the energy and enthusiasm but taking enough time to get the detail in. Also studios cost money so that is a big factor in how much time you have. Basically we try to get drums ,bass , guitar down in one and overdub vocals guitars etc but the new single was done live, we recorded everything in one take only Knox overdub gtr. It's called Slow Death.
With the 37-year anniversary, are there any special vinyl re-releases that are in the works?
KNOX: I’m not completely up to date with all that’s happening with the band (they’re currently touring the USA) but we recently had a new compilation out: “Greatest Punk Hits” on MVD Audio.
Eddie: Not sure on this, but Pure Mania, V2, Alaska 127, Guest list, Slow Death and Baby Baby are out on Vinyl at the moment and Under the Radar has sold out on vinyl. Hope we get some more next year.
Has the digital age made it easier to connect with current fans or more difficult to reach new ones?
KNOX: I’m sure it’s easier, but there’s so much more stuff for people to look at and hear so I’m not sure if that’s so good. I mean there’s only so much time in the day and there are millions and millions of songs out there..... and The Vibrators are just another little fish in the big punk ocean as it were....
Eddie: I know very little about this digital stuff so it's no good asking me! But my children tell me that it works very well. We get them all from 17 to70 at our gigs so the young kids are catching on for sure. They like a bit of rebellious music and not that TV pop stuff served up for the masses.
What’s it like hearing every punk band over the years cover “Automatic Lover”, “Baby, Baby”, and “ I Need a Slave”? The chord structures are intense and always a crowd pleaser… Do you mind these being songs that people associate with you? Is there a concept?
KNOX: I’m not sure there is a concept in them, I just write them. I have quite a broad area of writing; in fact, I’ve got dozens of non-punk songs which we could never really do in The Vibrators. There is a romantic element in a lot of songs, the love songs, which I think comes from being around in the 60s and hearing all those sort of songs then. I think The Ramones also had quite a good grasp of, and were very influenced, by 60s melodies.
Eddie: I very rarely hear bands covering our stuff live 'cause they don’t do them when they play with us but there are lots of recorded stuff. Good on them. The more the merrier I say.
I’ve always loved Alaska-127 and the track “Amphetamine Blue”, where did the song come from and what was the recording and writing of that album in like in the year of 1984?
KNOX: That’s very Buddy Holly and Bobby Fuller influenced. I got the title idea from a song called “Cocaine James Dean” I think, but I never found out who the band was. When I first wrote it the song was just called “Turning Blue” and I thought it needed to sound more exciting. I remember some amphetamine pills were a blue colour so I put that in the title. Also around that time I was making an album with some of Hanoi Rocks (called The Fallen Angels) and we recorded that song as well. That project came about as I had all these songs and my manager at the time had the idea to put me together with Hanoi Rocks, probably to keep them out of trouble, to make an album, and around the same time, The Vibrators reformed and recorded the song as well.
Eddie: This was done at Pat's Alaska studios in about 10 days and I think Amphetamine had been done by Knox before but I figured out was a really good song and we could improve on it. Punish Me with Kisses features me whipping the floor with a leather belt as sound effect, you had to pause for the trains to go over doing the vocals as the studio was under the train lines in Waterloo arches. They left off the 2 songs about Jesus when it was released in the USA but we didn’t know till after!! I thought that was weird.
Do you still see and feel the same enthusiasm in 2014 as you did in 1976, or has it changed?
KNOX: I think I might have more enthusiasm now, or what I have is better directed, more concentrated on the songs, though I kind of miss having those insane ‘teenage’ ideas you have when you’re younger. Funnily enough, I think the newer songs I’m writing, (but yet to be recorded), are getting more political. It’s like when you see the state of the world and the terrible plight millions of people are in, you feel it’s only right to make a statement about it. When I was a kid and people were being blown up and displaced, it didn’t have any real meaning or interest to me. But as you get older you develop more empathy and those situations you now see as terrible, and you feel in a tiny way that you have to draw attention to them so something will be done about them.
Eddie: - I just get up every day and get on with what has to be done. It's still fun for me and we make good friends so we’ll carry on touring and recording for few years.
-Kevin McGovern, Fear & Loathing LB