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By: Bogar Alonso

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There seems to be an artistic quality in the act of stopping.  Or so it is suggested in Wire’s 2003 Send from the album opener “In The Art of Stopping.”  Not many could perceive such a quality in such an overlooked term, but then again not many are graced with Wire’s precise sentiment.  They have applied this ‘Art of Stopping’ to their own career, as they’ve disbanded (only to reunite in many shapes and guises) several times in efforts to “sharpen their edge and focus.”

I recently caught them in Chicago on the last day of their U.S. tour in support of their latest undertaking, Object 47—the 47th ‘object’ in their discography.  Wire is sans one, as Bruce Gilbert (their original guitarist) partook in his own artistic stop, leaving the group back in 2004.  I discussed his departure with the group, as well as grazed the very underpinnings of music sensibility with these aural intellectuals.

Thirsty: In what kind of shape do we find Wire at the moment?

Colin: Neckered. . .It's a British expression.  It's the last day of the tour.  So it's good to have a—it's like we have the energy to play a good show tonight, you know, and we're in fairly good spirits but you have to fly across time zones and we're no longer spring chickens.  Just the shear [gruelingness] of touring does take it out of you, so I talk about really literally this moment.  But in terms of Wire in general, I think it's in sort of a pretty healthy state, really.

Photo: Adam Scott

Thirsty: Right, right. I know you guys have described yourselves as being very good at self-preservation.

Colin: I think it's become partly the name of the game.  One thing that you find out when you do something long enough and if you're good at what you do it's that the highest value becomes an inane institution itself, it's become—whether we like it or not, Wire has become an institution, a subject which people admire and look up to.  And it's up to us to live up to it.  The important thing about that is, if you live up to it and you do the best that you can under the circumstances you're faced with, then you do get a certain pride out of it and that's the kind of thing that makes it worth continuing.  There's always lots of reasons to not want to go on.  And there's lots of aspects of being in a Rock Band that—

Thirsty: Like?

Colin: There's a whole kind of lifestyle thing.  It's not like you have a regular job.  It's not like you have a regular income.  You do really well at one point and then you don't do so well.  Anyone who's in a band will tell you that.  There are good times and there are bad times.  People thinking that you're demigods—it's that kind of thing.  There are animals that are deeply strange.  On the other side, the reward is in having—if you do something good and people like it then that's a good thing.  You don't do it more to have people like it, but the fact is that you manage to cultivate an audience that seems to go down the generations, an audience that understands that basically the way we're going about this--it's not just about trying to do a bunch of clichés.  It's so easy to fall into clichés.  Rock music is all clichés.  So how do you not do that?  You do it by thinking about it, really.  On one level, it's not rocket science but I guess you have to have some basic ability before you start.  And also the reason for doing it.  If the reason why anyone would do a rock band is because what they want to do is party all night. . .if the guys go off with all the girls, and go for the guys so the girls will go up for the guys and all that kind of stuff, and drugs—and all that concept—why would anybody expect to produce anything that anyone would remember?  If you want to party, go ahead and party.  But don't pretend you're doing anything good.  What's really important is that the work is good.  And that's the truth of it.

Thirsty: Building off of that—one of the reasons why you guys started [as Wire] was to reconstruct Rock n' Roll music.  Is there an objective this time around?

Colin: There's something about a moment in time.  During the mid 70's there was a lot of—rock music has always had a lot of formalism about it, especially here.  People's attitudes about what it was supposed to be were fixed.  There were a set of rules you had to follow, and it seemed to me personally that why would you need to do all that?  Didn't really have much regard for whether anyone would be interested in it or not.  It was trying to do something that like--trying to do something that takes away the elements that seem to annoy.  That's how I approach everything: take away the annoying bits.  It's gonna make life a bit easier.

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Most people don't give a damn.  They don't really give a damn.  They really don't necessarily know the difference between what's really good and what's averagely good and what's pretty generic.  If you're in that position—which in no ways is an enviable position—to actually know the difference.  In a way it's very hard; you can't do the generic, because the generic doesn't appeal.  It's very hard to be average, I mean you have to really strive.  So therefore it's a matter of that you look at something and say well the reason why this is good is because of this but I wish they hadn't done that bit.  So if you could do this but without that, that would be a good start.  It's that way of thinking, that way of looking at it. As a kind of advice or recommendation to anybody, it's you need some sense of fine art criticality, you need to be able to look at things objectively and say yeah that kind of makes me feel pretty much like that makes me feel but actually that is better.

Thirsty: A sort of detachment?

Colin: Yeah, some kind of detachment but while at the same time you have to have some—music, sound is an emotional communicator.  Everything would appear to be speaking in opposites.  But all those things are necessary.  All those things are necessary for it to be any good.

Thirsty: So would you guys describe yourselves as the Duchamp of punk music?

Colin: I think the phrase 'you guys'—there isn't a Wire—Graham will come and tell you something entirely different to what I say but, me personally—yeah of course there's some element of Duchamp in it.  The idea that you might want to try to make something or view something in a different way, or see something in a different way.  But that's not really the most original idea ever.  Some people are amazingly good just simply because they are; they don't even know why they're any good.  Maybe people like me will sit around and say well I think it's good because of this, this and this because I'm more analytical.  But they certainly may be better.  It does help.  It seems to me that there are two kinds of artists who are good.  There are kinds of artists who are good but they have no idea why they're good.  So then they have no idea why they cease to be good.  And ones that have some idea why they are good, so therefore they have a responsibility to figure out how not to be bad.

Photo: Malka Spigel

Thirsty: Would you be the latter?

Colin: I would put myself in the latter, if that's the harder position to be in because—I can think of bands that have been at some point in their lives insanely great  but then they just do something else and they don't know, they don't understand.

Thirsty: Like you said, Wire has influenced countless groups over the years.  Do you feel a sense of responsibility for being such a great influence?

Colin: It depends who it is, really.

Graham: It doesn't really work that way, does it?  The way it works is that you try to be good at what you do and do what you think is right.  You try to maintain that kind of attitude towards your work and then hopefully whatever happens after that it's not really in your hands is it, what they do with it?  I think it's extremely dull when people just copy.  I think it's really stupid.

Thirsty: Elastica?

Graham: Well. . .you said it.  That wasn't stupid though, that was cynical.

Colin: There's another thing which I'm not certain happens here but something that happens in Britain.  Wire has become something on an essential checklist.  It's like there's a number of boxes that have to be filled--you know, like, tick. . .yeah, Wire.  You just wonder with some of those bands whether they actually have any idea about what we've ever done or have any idea why we've ever done it.  They're just quoting it because it makes them look good.  There's just 'n' reasons for all that.  Of course, if somebody does something great and they say to us “well actually we took some inspiration from you guys,” normally the people who say that—you just think, well I don't hear anything of what we do in that. But they've taken something of the notion, something of the world view.  What Wire do is they take it seriously.  We can make jokes, we can be humorous—that kind of thing.  But ultimately, what it comes down to—we seriously try to do the best we can.  It's not a joke.  An awful lot of people just do it for laughs.  Why not, you know?

Thirsty: Anything to add?

Graham: It is a curious thing.  I live in Sweden and as Colin says, it's really peculiar there because Wire never really did anything there in terms of business because we always had shit record companies who really didn't do anything about it.  It's a countless number of famous Swedish artist-rock people I've met and they go, “yeah it changed my life, Pink Flag [1977].”  And you think, well that's great.  If it did change your life, and it got you to do something you wanted to do then that's excellent cause I think it's always good if you find that your work is actually helpful in someway.  That it is actually functional, it does something.  But as Colin said, you do have the people that got you on the checklist.  There's one guy with this fantastic group.  They made a couple of really good records called Whale  And the guy who's in that, he's like one of the most famous Swedish comedians as well.  We were on tour here once, in San Francisco and I said hello to him.  It freaked him out.  I spoke to him in Swedish and he didn't know who I was.  And the thing about it is that I know his brother-in-law and I know he knows who I am.

Colin: What I've always said about Wire is that it's a very peculiar thing.  If you meet the right person you're like the most important band that's ever existed but I bet your mom's never heard of it.

Graham: We were in Minneapolis last night and Todd Trainer, he said “the musician's group.”  And that's really ironic.  You know, cause we started and we weren't musicians.

Colin: No.

Graham: We started as artists and I think perhaps that's one of the things which has been helpful in our preserving whatever directions we've decided to take at the time.  Just because that's what our background is.  That's where the discipline comes from.  And it's not a bunch of mates.  And it's not a bunch of guys who like riffing out.  It is about designing things and making things strong.

Thirsty: So what was it in art school that inspired you to choose the rock (punk) scene as your medium?

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Colin: It was almost pure chance.  There was a process.  I got kicked out by my girlfriend and went to live in Rockford and met Bruce at a party.  Got offered to join a band that was going to play at an end-of-college thing which was absolutely rubbish.  Somehow it persisted as a three piece.  Then we recruited Graham and Rob and sacked the person of the ba—

Graham: [Hang about]. . .recruited?  I knew [Bruce] Gilbert because I went to art college with his girlfriend.  It was all inter-connected.  It was not like recruited.  It's not like the enemy or something like that.

Colin: I was trying to do the short version.

Graham: I know but that's not good though, cause that's not the way it works.  It was by networking.

Colin: Of course!  Rob was a neighbor of somebody I lived with in Rockford and actually when we sacked the guy—you realize, we sacked the guy who's band it was.  And we kicked him out of his own band.

Graham: Then it became Wire.

Colin: Then it became Wire.  And the thing was, is that the guy who lived in my house, Robert's friend, had to move out at the same time cause we all lived in the same house with the guy who's band it had been originally.  He was not best pleased.

Graham: Slim.

Colin: Yeah, slim had to move out the same day I did.

Graham: As Colin says, it's a lot of chance in it.  It's about being in the right place at the right time.  And I met Bruce, I don't know...months before.  It was the summer before—it was like the October or something I came over for the first time to play.  And I had various conversations with Bruce, many of which were about what we didn't like.  There was an awful lot of shit around at the time that we did not like.  There were very few things that we said, yeah that's good.  And you knew why.  It was all the people had very specific music taste.  I don't mean narrow. I mean specific and broad.

Thirsty: A purpose behind it.

Graham: You know what I mean?  Everybody knew what they liked and why they liked it.  It wasn't just a sort of general music.  There was an awful lot of groups that formed around that period.  They all jumped on the bandwagon.  They wanted to be punk bands.  We didn't want to be a punk band.  We weren't a punk band.  We were a '77 band.  Punk was finished.  It dawned.  It was good for what is was.  It was finished.  We thought, we're gonna do something else.  Cause that's what anarchy's about, isn't it?  Doing what you want to do and doing it with some kind of responsibility.

Colin: The whole punk scene offered the chance to do something which would—had moved from where it had been before.  In '75, '76 you couldn't get a gig in a pub unless you were playing other people's material.  Not playing your own material; it was all covers.  I remember—

Graham: You did have people like Gilbert & The Highroads.

Colin: Yeah, but they had a name.  The new bands.

Graham: You didn't stand a chance.

Colin: Yeah, you didn't stand a chance.  As soon as punk happened, then you could get a gig somewhere like the Roxy even if we were rubbish when we started with the original lineup.  Still we managed to get gigs and get invited back.  There were possibilities.  Maybe even a year before, that couldn't have happened.

Graham: It's like this pop-rock band.  It was pop rock and people were playing vague kinds of Americana, which was awful.  They were English but they were playing Americana.  As Colin said, then was the opportunity to actually go up and stand in front of people and fail.  That opportunity was there.  No one expected that to be the case.  People were busy.  People were making clothes.  People were putting bands together.  There's all sorts of things going on, which was great for us because previous to that it looked pretty damn dead.  The shadow of the 60's was huge, but it didn't really work for the state the country was in.  The country was really fucked up and something needs to be said about that.  People did say things.  Something happened.

Colin: We were, in some ways, extremely lucky.  Roxy was the size of this dressing room, basically.  There were like four bands a night and we were bought under the bill the first night.  We played two nights and they moved us up the bill the second night cause they thought we were good.  We played for like [three and a half] people but it got recorded.  Those recordings were made on behalf of EMI.  The department here got to hear it and thought we were worth it and offered us to do demos.  So, in April we were really a band getting fifty quid for appearing—

Graham: Thirty-five pounds for two nights.

Thirsty: How much is that today?

Graham: About seventy-five bucks.

Colin: In today's terms that's a bit much.  It's probably like five million pounds with inflation.  It wasn't a lot of money in those days.

Graham: The funny thing about it—we’d just been beavering away previous to that.  Once we kicked this guy George out, we had to write some material.  We thought the material was his, which we didn't like.  We wrote seventeen numbers in about three weeks.

Colin: It was all done very quickly.

Graham: We rehearsed like four, five days a week.

Colin: A friend of mine said you got to get rid of this George.  And I said, "yeah, but we're playing his songs."  And Graham for saying, "Oh, I like that new material."  He handed me the lyrics to “Lowdown” that night on a little piece of paper.  There were some more words on the other side but I never turned it over.  There were an extra two verses that never got included.  That was the first song that Graham and I wrote together.  I sat in my bedroom in Rockford and just started like—

Graham: As soon as the four of us started playing it was so bloody exciting.

Thirsty: Did you have a similar process for Object 47?

Graham: No.

Colin: No, we changed it at the moment.  The writing process--

Thirsty: Speaking of Bruce [Gilbert].  .  .

Graham: What happened?

Thirsty: What happened?

Graham: Four years ago in 2004, he resigned by email and said he didn't want to discuss it.  We can't really give you a comprehensive answer why he did.  There were several parts of it.  One of which was the manager which we consequently fired.  It caused a lot of trouble within the group.  The other thing was Bruce never really liked playing live so much and he became increasingly reluctant to do that.  Also, he's like seven years older than everybody else.  We did some tours which the schedules were pretty tough.  And also, he's a contrary bugger.  Sometimes he does what he wants to do.  When he quit, the band was in a real hiatus.  It was very close to dissolving.  Until 2006, which kicked off the arc of work which was Read & Burn 03 and Object 47.  What we decided to do when we developed the material quiteaways, was to corral all the material which Bruce made a gesture at.  Cause some of this material was started in 2001, 2002.  When we decided which four tracks they were, we gave Bruce a CD and said, “are you interested?”  And he said, "no."  He didn't have his heart in it.  So I guess it's official.  That was that.  But as to completely why, I'm afraid you'll have to ask him.

Thirsty: Have you been in contact ever since?

Graham: Yeah, we have to be.  Cause we got serious legal issues which are going on over this fucker of a manager we had.  It's like, you can quit but you can't get away from history.

Colin: Yeah of course.  In the end, a lot of it has to do with the idea that Bruce doesn't really like being in a rock band.  Wire is more than just a rock band; it is, in some respects, an art statement.  But it takes the form of a rock band and it's something you can't get around that.  You stand on stages and play songs.  However much you dress that—we may be the favorite of any gallery curator across America or Europe but still, we stand on stage and play songs.  That aspect of it, he's always been uncomfortable with.

Graham: But it's like, uncomfortable and comfortable.  Cause when we started Bruce was like 31.  And it was punk.  So he was a lot older than everybody else.  His interest has always been on some of the other things.

Thirsty: Would you attribute the distinct sound of Object 47 to Bruce no longer being a member?

Graham:  It's really easy.  Send had this huge John Lee Hooker on steroids guitar, garage rock, right in the middle.  That was basically Bruce's guitar, with everything strengthening that.  When you move that aside, which is obviously what we did, suddenly there was a huge space which could be used.  Because of the way that Bruce plays—basically since the end of the 70's—he's always intruded on. . .intruded? I don't know. . .interfered with the area that is the bass.  Because he plays a lot of low mids, which means that the bass is rather restricted in what it can do.  Once you've taken that away—and quite a few of the tracks were started from bass loops and once we had that situation obviously, Colin was playing guitar which was then influenced by the bass. 

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Then, because of that space, we realized that perhaps what we wanted to do was write songs, whereas Send is about slogans really, not about songs at all. There's more melody.  And because there's more melody there's a greater wish to sing.  So there's more singing.  It all follows a natural process cause Send is very, very claustrophobic.  What we decided to do deliberately with Object 47 was let the light in.  The drums are more expansive.  Everything's more open.  A lot more questions. . .a lot more info.  It's more inquiring.

Colin: There is a process.  They were both made in similar ways—the two albums.  Actually I'm kind of thinking now of a different way of approaching how to make a Wire record.  We haven't made a record in an old school recording way since the 70's.  I think that's one way in which we could do something by updating the process.  Because it was always a very frustrating process, especially with the material that was new.  To actually play it coherently together in a room we have to get everything absolutely right.  It was always a struggle.  We're talking about people with specific, shall we say, while limited musical ability.  Everyone knows how to play the thing they're playing but not necessarily everything in general.  We're not like people who can say, “yeah we can play this in A and it'll all be fine.”  But that's how you get nonstandard stuff because people are very specific about their approaches.  And become interested, because what Object 47 does is it stretches the style of Send with a different palette.  But the working method is exactly the same.  There's a strong element of cut-and-paste about how it's put together.  Although there's a sense of a band playing it's partly made up.  But I want it to sound like a band playing.  That's part of the production method on both albums.  It's been more successful with Object 47, and it certainly sounds like a band playing.  Only for those who really care about the production methodology, does that really matter.  But most records are made like that these days.  People are doing more detailed stuff than we ever got down to.  That's because of people who can't sing.

Thirsty: When someone calls Object 47 a return to form.  Do you resent that at all?

Colin: I think a return to form kind of thing is a bit rubbish.  It's the kiss of death.  That's what I think.  I read a review somewhere about—you shouldn't write about a band's return to form cause it's a kiss of death.  In the end, we've attempted at all times to maintain.  Send was a kind of—they can get it up for old guys, now we've gone beyond that.  We've proved we can get it up, now we've proved that we can do some songs, as well.  I don't know what the next thing will be.  The swerve that was thrown into the pot with Object 47 is permanently removing someone.  Whereas that could never happen in the past.  People always work in combinations but there was always another combination to be had.  The next approach has to be, now how do your write?  How do you go about this?  Maybe production is cut-and-paste but the writing isn't.  I'm still trying to figure this through, but I've got some ideas of how I want it to be.

Graham: One of the great strengths of the group and also one of the great weaknesses is the fact that you have three people writing.  We can write in any combination.  We've never had a problem, in terms of material.  It happens all the time cause everybody works all the time.  You don't sit down and say “oh I guess it's time to write an album.”  It doesn't work that way.

Thirsty: You briefly mentioned that you had been working on something else at this moment.

Colin: Only thinking.

Graham: Thinking is working.

Colin: The majority of this year has been taken up since April playing live.  When we first talked about, “let's do some more stuff.”  I felt the band needed to be a stand up and play band not a machine band.  Even if we use machines for making records.  There could be a way of doing it, but right now—

Graham: We've kind of done that, though.  We did that with Wir.  It worked but I don't think that anyone really felt happy about it.

Thirsty: Is that why you decided not to drop the "e" this time around?

Graham: The reason we didn't do that again is because we've already done it once.  So there is not a point in doing it again.  It'd be boring.  A bit dull.  Once, it fitted.

Thirsty: Will we ever get to see an Object 94?

Colin:  I have no idea.  What we're trying to do now is not have the thing fall apart under our feet.  Things don't always come as quickly or as often as maybe other bands do.



All opinions expressed by Bogar Alonso are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

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