Carry on regardless
ITS NOT THAT David Gedge is tired, but being the sole member of an iconic 1980s guitar band for almost three decades does tend to wear one down. As frontman of The Wedding Present, the band that Gedge formed in 1985, he has been almost exclusively responsible for the input (there have been numerous line-up changes over the years) and output (that’d be the nine albums released since 1987’s George Best, not including his releases under the Cinerama banner).
Not that he’s complaining, mind. Now 52 and in full retention of the Leeds brogue that decades of touring worldwide has failed to erode, Gedge is fully accepting of his fate.
“I’m kind of obsessed with this now, I think,” he says with a laugh. “I think I probably suffer from a mental illness, or something, because I don’t even enjoy it that much; I find it quite hard and stressful, really, to write songs and make records. But as soon as I get to a period where I’m not doing it, I do kind of crave it – I wanna start writing songs, I wanna get into the studio, I wanna get out on tour again. It’s like a self-perpetuating thing, really. I’ve never felt otherwise other than ambitious to write songs and make music.”
Its no coincidence that the cogs have been turning on Gedges band for so long, given his fearlessness in shaking things up. The bands sound has changed quite dramatically from the jangly bounce of George Best to the strident snap of their latest Valentina, – released earlier this year – something Gedge admits is partly due to the aforementioned “revolving door” policy for members over the years.
“It’s weird, because I always feel a bit bad saying this – but if I’m honest, it actually has benefitted the group. It’s sad for whatever reason when someone leaves, but the band always goes through a sort of rebirth period, and we’re stronger for it afterwards. I feel a bit mercenary saying that, really, because it makes me not sound like a nice person – but it does help the band. But even within those line-up changes, it’s been a big thing for us that every record had its own style, sound and personality. I’ve never seen the point of those bands who make a record and then make it again two years later. I know that’s probably the more commercially viable way to do it, because people don’t like change so much . . . and we probably have lost fans because we’ve changed so radically over the years, especially with the Cinerama stuff. But, y’know, Ive got no excuses for that, really, it’s just what I’ve always felt was important – just to keep trying different ideas. There is obviously an underlying sound to The Wedding Present, because we are a guitar band and it is me singing, but that’s the only thing, really.”
As keen as Gedge is to push on with new ideas, there’s also the past to contend with. Having played 1987’s George Best and 1989’s Bizarro in their entirety over the past few years, now it’s the turn of their third record Seamonsters, which the band are currently touring along with material from Valentina and a few other old favourites.
“At first, I wasn’t comfortable ,” he admits. “But it is kind of interesting to put yourself back 20 years. It’s a bit like looking at an old diary, or something – you re-evaluate what you thought at that time, and re-invent it, in some ways. And I came to this – and it sounds a bit pretentious, maybe – but this philosophical decision that maybe the past is as relevant to a band as the present or the future, and it’s all part of the same kind of continuum, in a way.
“And of the three we’ve done so far, Seamonsters actually seems to work the best, for some reason. When we decided on Seamonsters, it felt different to just playing the other two from start to finish – it felt more than the sum of its parts. There’s kind of like an intensity that goes through it, and a mood, really. It sounds weird, but I do feel like I get lost in it, in some way, because its so allencompassing. I feel like I’m in some kind of film, or play, or something, playing a part in this presentation. So of the three of them, I’m really enjoying this one the most.”
Still, Gedge is also aware that there’s a danger in getting too deeply ensconced in the past; having fans react so positively to hearing their old favourites can mean that new material becomes less of a priority. As the years have passed, has he felt less of an urge to keep up with the kids in a scene awash with young guitar bands?
“I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about it, to be honest with you,” he chuckles. “It’s been the nature of the group over the years to just always do what we’ve done, really. If anything, it puts us back with bands that I grew up with, like The Fall and New Order, who exist almost outside everything, almost. It’s like: ‘Here’s the music scene, here’s what’s fashionable right now, here’s what you should like.’ And then there’s: ‘Over here is a group of bands who just exist in their own universe.’ And often, they’re very influential and they’re great groups, but the question of relevance doesn’t come into it because nobody cares; it’s the new Fall LP, or the new New Order record. Hopefully, we operate along similar lines.”
‘Transcend relevance’, you mean?
“I didn’t want to say that, because it sounds a bit pompous,” he says with a hearty laugh. “I mean, obviously we were fashionable in the late 1980s in the C86 scene, with all those bands, and we were kind of the champion of that guitar revolution scene. But since then, I don’t think we’ve ever caught the media attention in the same way, really. We just existed outside of it all – which, to be honest, is fine by me.”
Nevertheless, in a world where a band like The Wedding Present release their own iPhone app, things have certainly changed. Does Gedge think that there are any bands worthy of the Weddoes mantle, should they choose to surrender it at any point?
“It’s very difficult to answer that, because the whole economy has changed,” he says rather diplomatically. “I think we’re lucky in a way, because we’re older and we’ve got older fans who still want to buy CDs and support a band in that way. But I always feel for a new band that’s starting out now – how do they do it? Because if they’re not big enough to make money from playing live yet, there’s no income coming through from record labels anymore – in fact, there are hardly any record labels anymore – so there’s no income from that . . . it must be virtually impossible, unless you’re working and doing it as a hobby, playing gigs at the weekend and stuff. When we started, we had income from our first record, so we were able to tour and get bigger and it built in a steady way. I think now, unless you get massive straight away, I’m not sure how bands survive, really. But we’ve been lucky: we’ve had a busy year and we’ve already got a half-dozen ideas for new songs. I think we’ll just generally carry on, really. Why not?”
* The Wedding Present play their album Seamonsters at Dublin’s Button Factory tonight