Seminal Scottish punk band THE REZILLOS have just released their second ever album – a mere 37 years after their much acclaimed debut. We’ll have a review of said album on the site very soon, but before then we have this interview Harry Mulligan conducted with them a couple of weeks ago. If you scroll a short way you’ll also find a full album stream embedded too.
The Rezillos formed in Edinburgh in 1976, and although they emerged at the same time as other bands in the punk movement, they did not share the nihilism or social narrative of a lot of their contemporaries. Taking a more positive approach to their art, they described themselves simply as: “a New Wave beat group”. Released in July 1978, Can’t Stand the Rezillos has been hailed as a Classic of Punk worldwide. The group famously split just four months after that seminal album was released, earning themselves iconic status as a result. Co-vocalists Eugene Reynolds and Fay Fife quickly formed The Revillos, as guitarist and main songsmith Jo Callis joined The Human League. Recently recognizing that the time was ripe, Fay and Eugene, the Rezillos exuberant Front-persons, wrote a dozen songs and recorded the brand new, ZERO. This devastatingly long awaited second album, consolidates their reputation for creating timeless, iconic music, with the listener constantly reminded of their ability to pick up the corpse of Sixties pop culture, and re-animate it in a blaze of dayglo brilliance.
I met up with both of them in Edinburgh on the day they were leaving to tour the UK with The Stranglers. Below is how our interview unfolded.
I’m sitting here with Fay Fife and Eugene Reynolds from The Rezillos.
Fay Fife: Hi!
Harry Mulligan: After the Revillos, is this manifestation of the Rezillos a deviation back to the mean?
Fay Fife: My God! Deviation back to the mean. Actually it’s two Standard Deviations away from the mean. Above average but perhaps not into hyper level. I have no idea what you mean by that question.
Are you resorting back to the default of the first seminal Rezillos album?
FF: Okay, I know what you mean now. We’ve had very, very, very, very many discussions about this. It’s not a default we’re going back to. We’ve tried to keep a very strong, definite and concise identity.
ER: Obviously you try and do something different. Its sounds like us, and that’s what people are saying to us. Sometimes it’s difficult for us, inside it, but the feedback we’ve been getting is that ‘We know it’s a Rezillos when we hear it!’ But obviously that’s who we are. What you write musically can change the shift. I’m hoping we’ve moved out of the strictures of what we have from our first album, and somehow relate to it because it’s all inter-related.
FF: See, it is two Standard Deviations from the mean.
What’s it like having a long awaited second album after a thirty-seven year creative hiatus?
FF: The first thing I’d say, is it’s not really a creative hiatus as we’ve done other things. In terms of the The Rezillos Story-and the narrative, it feels bloody weird actually. I think that huge gap is probably one of the reasons that it’s taken so long to get our arses in gear. Weird but good because things got thrown up in the air in an untoward fashion, in a premature way. The story wasn’t finished, it’s not complete, but it’s good to actually continue on with the story. It’s something that should have been done a long time ago.
ER: In terms of the Story, the first bit was the first chapter. It was meant to be more of a story that then artificially beheaded or terminated itself. So we feel like we’ve had the chance to come back with The Second Coming Album. Also it hasn’t been poisoned either with thirty-odd years of treading the boards and doing it for the sake of it. We do it because we really want to do it, not because we have to do it…
FF: We do it because we need to do it. Yes! A Great Need!
ER: Well put.
FF: Yes, yes, yes!
ER: I think there’s more of a chance when you grow up a bit, to give a bit of self-expression. Sometimes when you’re younger, you know you want to say something, you don’t even know how you want to say it, and you rely on people almost having to interpret things. Situations where someone says: ‘Why don’t you say what you mean?’ Well we meant what we said, but we didn’t know we meant to say it. I know that sounds daft – if you get where I’m coming from here… This time, we have things we want to say, but not in a literal sense. It’s important that you open a portal into people’s imaginations and let them interact with what you’re saying. I think that’s what’s happening with the lyrics. They suggest ‘ideas’ to people that they can then interact with.
FF: I told you, it’s two standard deviations beyond a mean…
ER: It’s important that people interact with what you’re doing rather than just say: ‘This is it!’ and actually, Love Songs… seems to me that ninety-nine percent of songs out there are Love Songs, and if that’s all that’s important to human life- it’s about Love, that’s fine. But songs that show where you’re coming from, from a different angle, have their place. The best we do generally, is write an Anti-Love Song. Hopefully that works for people.
FF: Actually, Tiny Boy (from outer-space), is a Love Song.
ER: Yes, well, it is, but, the shiny guy doesn’t have a face.
FF: It’s certainly off kilter.
ER: The cut and take of that is it’s not what you say sometimes, but how you say it. You got to come in at an angle where you connect with people without being that literal.
Fay, would you like to say something about what it’s been like being a woman in Punk Rock, and also something TO women who are in Punk Rock?
FF: Yes – thank-you! I could probably write a novel about that, maybe even a Russian novel. Yes, well, I’ll just say this: ‘I’d just do my thing and be like – I have no idea what you’re talking about, I’m just one of the Guys anyway.’ I never set myself up, and as I’ve grown-up, I’ve found it’s quite difficult. I think there’s a lot about finding your own voice despite the fact that a lots projected on you. I don’t think anyone has really any idea what it’s like. I think you have to find your own voice within that. Also you’re in a very male world -all the Rezillos are men, nothing’s changed there,
ER: We didn’t do it on purpose…
FF: … they were born like that. I am the only one of them (females). I’m the only one of THEM in the band, being a woman. Yeah, it’s quite challenging in some ways. But on the other hand, Rock & Roll is the thing I want to do, and it’s how I find my expression, so, that’s it…
ER: When you think about how many females are in Punk Rock groups anyway. There’s not many…
Do you try to be better?
FF: No, it’s not that, it’s trying to get the unique voice that women have, and I have in particular – because there is a particular female perspective, and to get that over, have that heard, that seems challenging in a sense, because it’s different. I think that there’s a tradition that, and there’s lots of exceptions to this, but in the main, women are in some men’s words, are being directed to be a certain way, and sing a certain way. You have to sort of appreciate that part of that becomes part of your identity. And of course, it’s even weirder when you get older, there’s another aspect of that, being not a young person, but an older woman. So you get ageism and sexism all in a most fascinating mix.
ER: It’s easy for the music business to pick up young people, put them in front of the camera, and think, it doesn’t really matter that much, as long as they look good, and think, there’s always another young person. Everyone finds out to their surprise that they don’t stay young forever. Then, where are you? Are you going to go and rape yourself over a song until the next Big Thing comes along, this is strangely enough, a long-lived thing. So, we haven’t curled up and died. We’ve just kind of waited till we’ve wanted to come out, and we’re proud of that.
Having passed through ‘Sunny’ Jim Callaghan’s Winter of Discontent, how did you manage to do so without buying into the nihilism inherent in Punk music at the time in 1977, Eugene?
FF: Have at it Eugene.
ER: Well, what do you do? Do you just curl up and say: ‘I can’t handle the future!’ Lots of those bands that were nihilistic then, they don’t exist. They have nothing else to say. We do have something else to say. Even the Rezillos first album, there are some quite dark aspects to that. I know it was a cover: ‘Someone’s gonna get there head kicked in tonight’, it wasn’t intended seriously, but some people took it seriously. Maybe you consider ‘Cold Wars’ which is a song about Cold War and subterfuge, maybe when its sung with a melody, rather than a shout, maybe its…
ER: Yes, it’s a juxtaposition of that. I don’t think people got the juxtaposition in what we were doing.
FF: I think the Rezillos were very much sucked into the nihilism of the day. They were that sucked into it, we broke up, so we acted-out the nihilism. Right? The way that the songs came over, was merely an escape from that. Sort of like a jump away from that in a way, but I think we acted it out. That was really nihilistic.
Sort of like a self-fulfilling prophecy?
FF: Yes, indeed. In a sense now what we’re trying to do is say in fact: ‘that was a stupid thing to do.’ That was nihilistic, and you know this thing about ‘resisting the projections from other people’ that was projections put on us. We fulfilled that! I think we’re more honest about expression. We’re ambivalent about nihilism. Or positivity and nihilism and negativity. Whatever you want to call it.
Do you think that had anything to do with Joe going off to do The Human League?
ER: No because that happened later on. We don’t like to dwell on the past, but the past is relevant to now. Actually with the first band, the two of us went in different directions. Fay and I weren’t allowed to continue with The Rezillos, that’s why we invented the name Revillos, to get out of the record contract. It took us a year.
FF: Let me just say this. One of the reasons Joe went one way and we went another. I think we had crowded ourselves into our nihilistic little corner to the extent we couldn’t actually make a second album. I think he felt the pressure about that, we probably all did, but he certainly felt the pressure, and exploded.
Was that anything to do with Sire (Records – their label in 1976)?
ER: It could have been any record company, it had nothing to do with them. We were with an American label, and all things looked pretty rosy. I don’t know whether we could have survived with any other record label anyway-at that time, with that set of circumstances. There’s something horrible, if in your life, someone comes at you with pre-determined expectations of you. Anyway, in a relationship, as a chef, as a racing-car driver, it’s really pressure-full, and those expectations were there, and if you can’t fulfil them, there’s no room for saying: ‘Take a break’. It was: ‘Oh, it’s a disaster!’ You can’t fulfil what you need to do next, end of story. Okay, take the cyanide tablet. Effectively, Bang! And it’s done. So, in that way, as you said before, Punk, and the rest of the bands stop in a flash, it’s not a good career move.
FF: Obviously you can see that obviously that trajectory was written into the Punk ethos. That’s the perfect end: Destroy! Some destroyed themselves in more fundamental ways of course. So, Punk scored an own Goal.
Fay, your quoted in Noisey as say: ‘Creativity is much more important than how good you are at it!’ Can you say more about that for any burgeoning Punks out there?
FF: Yes, I think that is an essential philosophy that I hold to. Some of the most interesting music is from people that don’t really know how to play, or are just learning, or they have just one person in the band who know how to play, and they create something interesting. Like The Slits for example. If you listen to their music it sounds pretty amateurish, but who cares? There is something interesting coming out there. That’s probably one of the most brilliant things about the Punk Movement, actually, is that it allowed that to happen. People were like: ‘I’m just going to get up there and do it.’ Whereas before that ‘Muso’ oriented …
FF: Yes Yes! And I still think, myself and Eugene, if you continued on with that ethic to this day… If you come at this from an angle that if creative people, more visual artists, certainly you’re more of a visual artist (Eugene) and then we started with music as an expression. I feel really comfortable doing music now. I always did actually, but nevertheless, we come from more of an artistic sensibility…
ER: It’s conceptual. There’s more conceptual-ism than might appear on the surface. The Rezillos were a concept that never even existed. Normally, when people get together, they get together and are like: ‘what we gonna call the band? Come on, we got a Gig coming up!’
ER: Say: ‘The Bus Drivers’ … Well, take something, and turn that upside down, with a Marvel Comic, you could look at that superficially and say; ‘They took the name from a Marvel Comic and changed the name that I LIKED in a Marvel Comic and then changed some of the letters, so it was a word that never existed before, and I’m proud that we have a band, the name of which never existed before, until that name was created. It’s not like ‘The The’ or ‘The This’ it’s something…
ER: Yeah, it’s a new word. So, the band existed as a concept, and stepped into those, for wont of a better word, artistic concepts, and interpreted what we wanted to do through that. When we first started none of us could play, though we could play by the time we made an album, we’d been struggling up to then, to express ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with struggling to express yourself. Worse is being very versed in expressing yourself in a very professional, boring and dead way, which of course music was-right there and then. I would also say, in a way, we’re not a Punk Rock group. Punk Rock groups are not entirely Punk Rock Groups. They have an attitude, and we certainly had oodles of that, and it sometimes works against you. But when you come to think of ‘what we should be doing’, there’s lots of arguments with ‘so-called’ Punk Rock Groups, in parentheses, who say:’ You don’t wear the right sort of clothes-you don’t have the right haircut’ and we’re like: ‘Here we go again’. Just like you had to have flares and long hair, if you listened to a certain kind of music that was the general perception. Punk became very commercialized, very restricted.
FF: Doctrinaire. Originally, there were tons of things going on, and it was not just three chords, you know about that. I’m sure you know about that?
ER: What’s the point in coming and doing a three chord song about anarchy and state of unemployment? I mean, why do that? It’s been done. The circumstances are so totally different, but you’re still yourself, unless you change your name, and that’s what some people did. Or not do it. We still feel that we’re, in our concepts and visualizations that we know where we’re going. It’s not about that one place in time. It’s about NOW. It’s relevant to them as well. It just depends on how you interpret it.
FF: I think when you’re talking about philosophy that comes from something, you know, the minute something becomes acceptable, settled, doctrinaire, you’ve got to change it. That even includes the fact that, if you start not being able to… You know, the Rezillos was the first band I was in, so I did not have experience with musicians, but, I could sing actually. But if you start off not being fully, one hundred per-cent competent, you become competent. You might even become better than competent. That’s actually a reaction against the incompetence. You never really need to get stuck in the thing, the groove.
Eugene, do you still use you’re sunglasses as a portal into your stage persona?
ER: Yes! It’s like Jim Carey in The Mask – the second I put them on, it happens, it puts me in a different mind-set, and I can’t help it. It takes me into a different area. Some people listen to music to get them into a different mind-set. It’s a ritual. The sunglasses are getting a little bit tired, they’re stuck together with tape now.
(To Fay) Do you have an equivalent?
FF: A Portal? Well, I’ve actually got on a portal at the moment. These boots here (shows me her boots)… I have many portals. These current boots are one of them.
ER: Portals are interesting. There are portals in your life all the time and you don’t notice. You feel you’re being sucked in. At other times, you feel like you’re being kicked out of places. They’re a great thing to think about, interactions, in and out, of and on. I remember when we were on the Tour Bus, and someone wanted to come and interview us, and we were all asleep. This Tour Manager came on, and he said: ‘Well here they are…’ and he was like: ‘Urgh…I thought I was going to have an interview?’ and he was like: ‘Well, no, they’re all asleep!’ I was laying with my arms crossed, and the interviewer said: ‘Well, the kind of look like they’re dead!’ and the Tour Manager said: ‘Well, they’re kind of dead until the walk on stage, then they kind of grow like flowers, and then they kind of come back and shrink back again. It’s a funny thing. You’re in those portals, resting portals: Rezillos On – Rezillos Off. It’s quite enjoyable.
Tiny Boy, She’s The Bad One, & Spiked Heel Assassin were the songs that spoke to me from the new album. What songs resonate most for you guys and why? Fay first.
FF: Well Spike Heel Assassin – I love the way it has been produced., and Eugene and I co-produced it. After a lot of fiddling about and arsing about, we eventually got there. I really, really love that song. It encapsulates something about the slightly fantasy orientated… It draws from things like Biker Girl mentality. That’s the sort of images that come up for me. Outsider-it draws on this idea of this Shangri Las & Baz Girl identity, which is quite cartoony, but still it’s a bit bad. There’s all that aspect but also more real things; but they are so esoteric, about places like Fife, my home, and things to do with witches. You might say it’s also about the Attribution of Badness. She’s The Bad One, that’s my favourite. It’s not like I’m The Bad One – She’s The Bad One, so it’s about The Attribution of Something – the rejection – of women. Something that’s alienating (because you’re outside the norm) and also something that gives you great strength. Tiny Boy – I love, because it’s a very strange song. It’s one of those peculiar things that comes from Above, and Tiny Boy brought it down and landed, not in the lap of the God’s, but of the Rezillos. Like an Egg – a pre-formed Egg. I also like Spike Heel Assassin because its noise.
ER: Well, the interesting thing about the songs on this album, Tiny Boy being one of them, is that if you listen to song structures, many songs have verses, choruses, instrumental breaks, middles sections, middle-eights, and people say: ‘Oh, that’s how you should write a song’, but if you listen to: I then take you back, in relation to Tiny Boy from Outer Space, to ‘I can’t stand my baby’, there’s no chorus in that song, it’s a statement song. There is no melody in ‘Can’t stand my baby’ either. It turned out to be one of the bands most seminal songs, in those days. It means something. It still means something. There is no chorus, it just erupts and happens, and then it stops. Now Tiny Boy does that. To me that’s raw expression, it erupts and there is no need to go into structure. Just because, you should do that, we do, and just because we shouldn’t, we do. Then, for example, ‘She’s the Bad One’ – I agree with everything that Fay said there, and it’s got an Epic feel to it, that one. It’s got different textures and sounds. All those three songs show the diversity, hopefully of where we’re at, at the same time as being a Rezillos. Because we are pulling at the reigns in different directions, rather than everybody just blindly following one thing. Then ‘Spike Heel Assassin’ is part inspiration in movies in that one for me. Part of it would be Blade Runner! I just see Rutger Hauer with rain running down the wall with a nail through his hand. It’s actually talking about a female assassin in this song. Now she’s fallen out of favour, we see how people swing from being the hero to being the rejected. When Heroes suit people it’s great, but when they don’t, they don’t want them. We’ve experienced that being in a band. They can build you up and knock you down, almost like we don’t really exist as people. It leaves you feeling like the rejected and that song – it occurred to me that it’s quite dark in its meaning. Basically, ‘Who is the Hero?’ The only way to hear that song is to turn it up as if you were at a show. That’s a big, wide screen format. That’s a cacophonous thing. Sometimes when you’re making an album, you can’t get the loudest track to sound as loud as you want. It has to be digitized and put into a level that’s playable on a system. Whereas live, your ears will compress.
FF: Those three songs have something in common. They’re alluding to real things, generic. They’re Cartoony, cinematic, or some sort of Illusion, to express that. Tiny Boy from Outer Space is not about Outer Space, but is using a metaphor to express that. She’s the Bad One is about Biker Girls, but uses that metaphor to and Spike Heeled Assassin is about been seen as a hero or being alienated. It’s about kind of genre-izing to get at that.
ER: I think we can speak from fairly dense experience about being hailed as heroes, or villains.
FF: I’ve had many dense experiences.
ER: Well yeah, but you do. When you’re younger, you’re that angry young man who just wants to kick out, what are complaining about? Well now we have got something we can complain about. Not complain about. You can make a very considered statement. We feel we’ve made very positive and considered statements, without trying to get precious about it. People are beginning to tune into it. It’s a bit of a weird step, from that part of your life, to that part, and still be relevant? How do you be a punk rock outfit if you don’t want to fit a pre-determined format, to play at certain shows, looking a certain way, playing a certain genre.
FF: Aren’t we all as people, trying to make sense of our life narrative? This is not therapy by any stretch of the imagination; it’s an artistic and creative project. The story was cut off and we’re joining up the ends, and making it make sense. It’s not The End, but it’s actually a living story.
Having drawn all the loose ends and loose threads together, and looking ahead at a pretty manic year, are you starting to gestate ideas for a next album?
ER: We were already there before this album.
FF: We wrote new material and still had older new material, that didn’t get used on ZERO. We didn’t have space, and we’d come up with new ideas. It’s not that they weren’t good enough, they weren’t developed, we had sixty-sixty-five per cent, let’s just leave them. We had to make choices about what ones we were going to get developed. We demoed them and were like: ‘they are going to take longer to develop, let’s just leave them, bye. Also, both Eugene and myself have already started writing lyrics and there are quite a few, and scraps of melody ideas. These are things that need to be developed over time, making it into a kind of cogent thing that you like is a long…
ER: don’t have to write ten or twelve or fourteen songs. What you have is a work in progress, not a book, but sometimes scraps of envelope, bits of paper, cigarette packages you’ve written something on, a pile of concepts, ideas and directions for songs, and the you kind of flick through them and say: ‘Well I’ve got an idea that kind of goes with that, and that one, well, we’ll lay that to one side!’ You kind of layer them together, and there are literally hundreds of songs. It takes a long time to condense a dozen songs, unless you go into a studio, bit of paper, guitar, jing jang jong, you just fire out twenty albums. We’re not like that. Sometimes you have a song that’s in your set for years, and your: ‘You know what? We’re not going to do this song anymore. It’s not going to go in the album, maybe we’ll revisit it. It’s a matter of reefing, and sieving, to make a cogent album.
FF: There’s also other people, Jim the guitarist has contributed to new songs. We’re a writing partnership (gesticulates to Eugene) and it’s great to bring in new ideas.
ER: When you work with people, you either dictate to them, and they either do everything you say to them, or there is an interaction. It’s a double-edged sword. In a way, if you don’t dictate, you end up coming back to them, and you have a song that is designed by committee. We try to be, democratic, but sometimes we walk into Dictatorship.
Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you’d like to speak about?
ER: It is always interesting from my point of view, to hear what anyone else says about what we’ve done, because we have no idea. So, nobody says: ‘That’s the Single!’ They resonate differently with different people. I’m quite pleased about that. It suggests to me that there is a diversity. The record label says: ‘Oh, we could play the album on so many different stations, but it seems to be appealing to so many different people, and genres in different radio stations, so that’s interesting.’
I was hearing so many different references, Gracie Slick, Nico, B 52’s, Blondie…
ER: It’s never about being someone else. It sounds like you’re picking it up in a textured way.
FF: What I want to know is ‘when are you going to do a statistical analysis? Where is the mean average?
Eugene and Fay, thanks very much for taking the time to speak to me.
Some of the photos on this page were taken by Svenja Block at the Stranglers | Rezillos | Membranes gig at Roundhouse, London. See our full photo review here.
The photo at the top of the interview is © Mish Miller-Harrington.
All words by Harry Mulligan whose Louder Than War author’s archive is here.