JJ Burnel of the Stranglers : interview about upcoming 2013 tour, the band’s future and other projects

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The Stranglers tour this spring…tickets available from here…

It’s nearly spring and we are ready for our annual dose of belligerently brilliant, epic, melodic, unclassifiable rock n roll that appeared in the middle of punk, influenced countless bands and made several great albums and then pulled off an unlikely comeback thirty years into their career- the Stranglers.

The meninblack hit the road flushed with the success of their 17th album, last spring’s Giants which is a career high for the band and saw them locked into a world tour. This spring is their lap of triumph in the UK but as this following interview with iconic bass player JJ Burnel explains it could be one of their last- or the start of another chapter…

How’s things JJ?
‘It’s been one of the busiest years ever for the Stranglers. We toured the world including going to Australia with Blondie which was a laugh and half. Baz wrote a blog about it. He’s a really good writer. He’s got a good talent, a good writer.

I tore my cruciate ligaments whilst training last August. I was playing a gig a week later but I couldn’t move so well. I’m getting it operated on straight after the British tour. They have to harvest part of my hamstring to replace the ligament that’s gone- they have to use that for a new ligament, that’s the most painful part and then after the operation I’m on crutches for week or two and I can’t fly for a month but I can move enough to play my bass.
My knee is loose now, if I kick a pad wrong I can dislocate it. I can train a bit but it’s affected my training a lot. I can deal with it though, it’s one of those things that when you do physical things you will get injuries occasionally.’

Next year, after touring, we will take a sabbatical and have a whole year off and I will start writing and see what comes up. I will be writing music, hopefully a new Stranglers album.
I will be working on other projects and move the meninblack ballet forward. I need to stop touring for bit, get some time. Originally there was going to be a ballet of the Meninblack. The album was the story and I thought I might have to write some complementary music for it. I might have to speak to Hugh about it.

Interesting…
‘I might speak to Hugh because he and I wrote Meninblack together and if I exploited it as a ballet it might be with his input. I'm not sure at this point how this will be.

So could you work with Hugh in non Stranglers situations?

‘Yeah, of course in theory I would be up for it. Of course not in a Stranglers situation, I wouldn’t want to upset Baz in any way but I'm open to anything really to be honest.

You’ve not been in touch with Hugh though, have you?

No, not for a long time.

And would Dave theoretically be involved in the ballet?

Well, he was part of it originally and he might wish to be involved in it again. I could get different musicians in as well, it’s an intriguing project. The story was never completely explained on the album. I’d like to explain it in the ballet. It's about the ‘gods’ and aliens creating man in their own image. At the end of the album, the 4 synth sound is of the spaceship flying back up away from the earth as they leave this mess behind. They give a religion or a god or whatever you want to call it behind and then they fuck off and I want to explore what we were saying more fully. There’s a possible romantic thing in there, it’s sort of Frankenstein meets Madam Butterfly!
I need to find a good choreographer and a few are interested. I will also see if I can write another Stranglers album. At the moment I’ve got about 85 bits of ideas down, riffs and bits lots of them in this phone I'm speaking to you on. I need to sit down and collect them all together and remember what was the impulse behind them in the first place and start turning them into song ideas.’

People are worried that the last album was the final chapter..

‘It could be or it couldn’t be. Jet is coming on tour with us but he won’t do a whole set every night. It’s just not possible any more. He will play ten songs every night. What happens after that? This could be Jet’s last tour behind the kit, who knows? What happens after that ? Do we stop out of respect to him? Knowing him he would probably would want us to carry on. When we take the year off we can access whether we take it off permanently or not. It could be the smart thing to do, we don’t know yet.

And yet the band have been at their busiest…

Giants is about to come out in America and we will tour there. We have turned down American tour offers, the consideration was whether we could be arsed or to do the tour or not and I just not could arsed for a long time. I'm up for it now. They want to release Giants in the States and that’s a positive thing and there's lots of money on the table to tour. Because for most British bands you just break even going over there and playing toilets all over America. Everyone wants to tour America, and do it in shitty conditions and put up with the shit and they don’t achieve much. I haven’t been keen on doing that but this time could be interesting and it’s planned for the end of May and hopefully I will be standing up by then after the operation.’

Ironically it could only be Dave left standing by then!

‘(Laughs) That would be completely ironic.’
‘Fontana is releasing Giants in the states. I think that’s giving us a bit of interest and we will follow it through probably.
I'm not really thought about making it in America. You got to do what we were never prepared to do and that is tour there every three months, you end up living there and all the bands who did that and succeeded from our peer group were successful financially but creatively they went stale. They ended up wearing cowboy boots and Stetsons and bought into the whole thing, look at the Police, look at the Clash, so many bands who did well there but stopped growing, bands like U2 after that bit of success in America, they repeated themselves and repeated the formulae once they had found the formulae. That never happened with the Stranglers. We have lived well, lived comfortably without huge success in America but it also allowed us to explore different venues and with success in America I don’t think you would have got such an eclectic back catalogue.’

Any surprises for the set on this tour?

‘It’s going to have to surprises but I’m not saying yet.
For a start Jet will play ten songs every night or most nights but not the nights when we can’t fit more than two drum kits on the stage if the stage is smaller. Provided we can set the kits up he will probably be with us. He can’t do a full set but it allows us to do an up-tempo set with Jim and a more melodic set with Jet and a chance to play a few things that we have not played for years, like from Feline and stuff.
I don’t know how it will work yet. We are working on that at the moment. We will see how it pans out next week when we meet up for rehearsals and start identifying what we can do with him and see what Jet is physically capable of. He is saying himself that he's not up to doing too much, he's out of breath after a bit. He’s going to be 75 soon and he’s still a funny, lovely guy but he’s saying himself that his body is giving up.’

Whether he plays one or five songs for the fans it’s important that he is there.

‘Yeah, exactly- that’s part of the communion. Everyone loves Jet, even though he is a bolshie old bastard! He’s not mellowed but he is aware of the boundaries now. He is a huge presence in our lives and the in the Stranglers history. If he can be part of this tour that would be important but we can’t ask any more from him but whatever he does lots of people will be pleased to see the old cunt! (laughs).

Any hint of any curveball tracks?

‘I’d like to keep it as a surprise thank you! We always like to change it around a bit and not be programmed to do same set every night. There is a ball park and parameters of what tunes to play of course but we have a lot to choose from John, and some of it is quite complex.

Are there plans to cover another album after success of Black And White at the 2011 Stranglers convention?

‘No there isn't. I think a lot of people are doing it now and have been doing it for a few years. Sometimes it’s good fun to go back and look at an album but far too many people are doing it as a commercial imperative with their big album because it sells tickets
When we dig Black And White out for the convention it was for friends and family, saying that, though, I wouldn’t mind theoretically exploring the Raven or Meninblack at some point. It focuses your mind on something and to go back to it. We found with Black and White there was a track. Enough Time, and we couldn't do it. We were not in same mindset as thirty years ago and that’s a good thing. You cannot always relate to some things because you were in a different space and you cannot do it justice anymore.’

part 2 of JJ Burnel interview here

 

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  1. Cheers John another excellent JJ Burnel interview.
    Interesting comments about working with Hugh Cornwell in a non Stranglers capacity, he now awaits for the serve to be returned I suspect.
    Great news that we’ll get to see Jet on the forthcoming tour a and hope he continues his road to recovery.

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