At the dawn of the 1990âs, the Wedding Present were one of Britainâs biggest indie bands; arguably the brightest stars of the C86 scene and commonly dubbed âthe Smiths fans second favourite bandâ. The 1991 release of third album âSeamonstersâ proved a huge change in direction, shelving the indie jangle so often attributed to the band for a huge sonic dirge of an album recorded in Minnesota with Steve Albini over just eleven days. The album proved a shock to many fans at the time though the album has grown in stature constantly since its release. The ultra-heavy, discordant wall of distortion that is the hallmark of Steve Albiniâssound is omnipresent through the record, punctuated by machine gun drums and belching guitars providing the perfect sonic reflection of David Gedgeâs haunting lyrics that lurch into the darkest depths of despair and hurt. Gedgeâs usual lyrical themes of relationship breakdown and unrequited love are here thrust to the very brink of desperation and angst â âSeamonstersâ is easily the Presentâs darkest album, in terms of both content and sound. Fast forward to 2012 and the band are touring âSeamonstersâ in its entirety across the globe â following on from the successes of re-visiting previous albums âGeorge Bestâ and âBizarroâ. Louder Than Warâs Fergal Kinney caught up with David Gedge â sole constant member of the Wedding Present and chief songwriter and visionary â at Manchesterâs HMV Ritz to discuss, amongst other things, returning to âSeamonstersâ.
How have you found the experience of revisiting Seamonsters so far on this tour?
Well even when it came out, we never really toured it; obviously when youâve got a new album out you generally can only play 3 or 4 songs off it alongside singles and old stuff. We played it live once in Birmingham as a one-off in 1991 but other than that weâve never done it in full until this year. Itâs interesting actually, as obviously we did George Best and Bizarroâ¦and Seamonsters is definitely very different to those two. Itâs hard to explain but it works a lot more as a complete thing. When doing George Best and Bizarro, even though they were certain songs from a certain time in a certain order it still felt much like a normal set.
Itâs one of those albums thatâs greater than the sum of its parts I think
Yeah, exactly, thatâs why I donât talk on stage in between Seamonsters songs whereas with George Best I was just doing my usual âthank you very muchâ and so on. But that would feel weird as with Seamonsters weâre really trying to create a mood for it.
As an album it seems very much to expand upon the darker moments on Bizzaro
Yeah, in my mind I didnât really notice that then. Of course you try and make every album different and I think âYeah, Seamonsters, definitely more rockyââ¦George Best is more jangly, indie pop, Bizarro is a sort of transition â experimenting more with guitars â and then Seamonsters really takes it to the next level. But I didnât really kind of appreciate how dramatic that change was at the time. I think I just thought we were writing songs as usual, but a lot is to do with the way we recorded and the way the band were situated at the time.
You mention the way you recorded it, obviously that was with Steve Albini, what influence did he have on it?
I think the main thing with me was that with previous albums I was happy with the songwriting, theyâre not bad albums, but they never captured the sound of the band that I thought we had live or in rehearsal rooms. This big Wedding Present sound. They didnât quite have thatâ¦itâs hard to describe when itâs music but an extra dimension. Then I heard Surfer Rosa by the Pixies and again, it had good songs but something extra that really took it further. And he really did that for us. I think we were changing anyway.
Steve Albini is known for working bands hard over a short period of time, was this your experience?
Well it was very straight forward to be honest as that was the way we were used to working at the start. We were always very quick. Then when we got signed, and with Bizzaro, weâd go in the studio for a long time and I just donât think we got anything better from thatâ¦you just thin kthat youâve got the money so you might as well spend it, which is stupid really. And since then weâve always done it like Seamonsters, trying to get it like a live band. All we ever do in the studio is try and capture what we are as a live band anyway. The Beatles recorded albums in a few daysâ¦record it, mix it, bang it outâ¦
Morrissey said that he found it uncomfortable as a man in his fifties singing songs that were a projecting the experiences of someone in their early twenties; is this something youâve found in revisiting certain songs over 25 years old now?
I kind of had that with George Best, musically and lyrically a bit naive. I still enjoyed doing it. That was weird because I didnât really want to do it. I was approached by Sanctuary around the 20th anniversary of the album about a re-release, and it was them who suggested doing the album in full live. And I was like (long groan) âOhh Iâm an artist, Iâve got new stuff!ââ¦but everybody else â the band, friends, fans â all went âYouâve got to do it!â. So I did it, and I loved it. It was weird going back, it was like looking at an old diary thinking âOh God, I used to think that way, that song is about that person, Iâd forgotten about thatâ. To go back and re-analyse that stuff and then re-invent it with a new line up. I found that really interesting.
Did approaching it with a different line up help?
Well I think the current band actually do Seamonsters better than the original line up. Thereâs no baggage or having to worry about being originally on it. Itâs just timing really, there’s been quite a few changes and this Wedding Present is certainly rockier than what you may have seen four years ago or so.
Is this the one youâve enjoyed the most so far?
Oh yeah definitely. I mean, I donât enjoy it. Itâs not fun. But itâs something Iâm really proud of. It sounds pretentious but I feel like Iâm in a weird film doing it. Some sort of drama. Our guitarist, Patrick, said that it was like going into this world where there was ten songs that totally link together and itâs almost hypnotic. I didnât get that with âGeorge Bestâ or âBizzaroâ. Iâm not sure any other album has that feel really.
Are there any tracks in particular that youâve enjoyed re-visiting? Or not enjoyed!
One Iâve really enjoyed is âOctopussyâ actually. Itâs just such a great finish to it. Itâs not loud and big or anything. Itâs quite intense, yeah; itâs not like other songs in the Wedding Present catalogue
It almost fits a narrative of relationship break up and jealousy â which has really underpinned a lot of what youâve done, is that still an inspiration for you?
Yeah, I think it is really. Iâm very interested in that, for me I think itâs the perfect subject matter for a pop song â you know, relationships. Iâm always interested in how people talk to each other in those kind of situations. Iâve tried everything and Iâve never been quite as happy as with the stuff thatâs relationship orientated. I kind of decided a few years ago not to change it if it works for me. The music has changed considerably but the lyrics can always be narrowed down to that, and itâs what I do. You might think itâs quite a small topic, relationships, but itâs not at all, itâs such a big subject. It affects everybody, I mean this conversation right now is a relationship, and youâre always hearing things. You could write an album about a five minute conversation. It gets so complicated very quickly from different points of view. Which is why the history of pop music is littered with thatâ¦the Beatles, Motown, punk, soulâ¦.
Youâve recently brought out a book about the making of your latest album Valentina, what can we expect from that?
Iâd love to say it was my idea but it wasnât (laughs). Iâve always been very fond of doing interesting projects. I never wanted the Wedding Present to be an album, tour, album, tour situation. Thatâs why we did an album of Ukrainian folk music for a while, Cinerama my other group, got my own festival, my own comic, all these other things. But this bloke called Scott Pack, who works for Harper Collins, brought me a book by Kristin Hersh about making one of her albums and itâs just a great idea. Iâve always been interested in those kinds of documentaries about bands in the studios, Iâve always been obsessed with it.
A lot of artists can be quite precious about that and want to retain a mystery between what goes on behind closed studio doors and what people listen to, was that not an issue for you?
No, I think weâve always been quite an open band. Iâm interested in the relationship between the artist and the audience really. Itâs not âIâm the pop starâ, Iâm actually just interested to hear what people have to say. To be honest I think my main concern is just not to make it too, kind ofâ¦dry. Talking about special tunings and all thatâ¦which some people probably want but I tried to keep it about how the songs were arranged and recorded and things. Itâs just a nice little one off thing. Itâs like those 33 1/3 books, Iâve always loved those
Or the âClassic Albumsâ series, you donât even need to like the artist for it to be compulsive viewing
Exactly, Iâve always been interested in what goes on in studios.
You mentioned the relationship between artist and audience, is that something youâve had to think about more in light of the download and the internet?
I think itâs changed the way we do it but Iâve always been on the merchandise stall talking to people, chatting to people at gigs or in the old days replying to letters. But now instead itâs tweets, or e-mails, and itâs great.
Is that independency something you value? You had your own label Reception Records and even on RCA it always seemed you had a great deal of creative control, is that independence crucial?
Itâs not crucial; itâs just out of the question that we wouldnât do it. Itâs paramount. Iâve said before, I could not be in a situation as an artist where what I do is controlled by a group of business people saying âYou canât do this, you canât have that on your album cover, you canât use thisâ. The whole point is about the freedom to express yourself. Itâs just something weâve always done.
Youâve said in interviews before that youâve had to sacrifice some level of a normal life for being in the Wedding Present, is it a fair swap?
Thatâs a very difficult question as I donât know what the alternative could have been. I do think about it. People say âOh I wish I had your job, travelling the worldâ¦â but sometimes I just think âNo, Iâd like to have your jobâ. When Iâm loading gear into a venue, and itâs freezing, and you spend all day setting up and soundchecking for just fifty people to come. It makes me wish I had an office job where you can clock out. No, itâs just a weird thing really; the bottom line is that I donât do it for fun. Itâs not like a job, it was a hobby but you get more obsessive and it takes over your life. One thing Iâm lucky about is that I want to keep going, right now Iâm on tour but Iâm aching to get writing again. Our new guitarist has some really great ideas. And then weâll do that for a bit and Iâll want to get in to the studio and get that done, but then in the studio Iâll be thinking how much I want to get out and do it live. So itâs just a cycle, thatâs repeated over twenty odd years!
Do you have any idea what will come next?
Well weâre already talking about doing the Hit Parade (run of 12 singles all from 1992) next year, weâve got some Australian and American dates, and some in Japan. So we thought weâd do the Hit Parade there.
Including the b-sides?
No I donât think we will do the b-sides, I’ve thought about it but I just think it would be too much. You can neatly fit an album into an 85 minute set but it might be a bit much to do all the A-sides and B-sides from the Hit Parade. But if we do it over there Iâm sure weâd do it over here.