An oft-overlooked/original-sounding guitar player of the late ’70s/early ’80s was certainly Andy Gill from Gang of Four, who was one of the few gentleman to not utilize distortion in his sound, while he often attacked the strings in an almost percussive manner. The group’s 1979 debut, Entertainment!, is considered an influence and/or favorite by many subsequent bands, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana (Kurt Cobain selected the album as #13 favorite album of all time, in the book Journals).
And Gang of Four is still at it (although Gill is the lone original member left in attendance), as evidenced by the announcement of a new studio album, What Happens Next, to be issued on February 24, 2015, with a Stateside tour to run throughout most of March. Mr. Gill (who is the chap in the middle of the pic above) was kind enough to answer a few questions via email for Alternative Nation. Read on, dear friends…
What is a standout memory you have of producing the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ debut album?
Anthony [Kiedis] smashing the acoustic guitar that was being recorded when he stepped into the studio saying, “No fucking acoustic guitar on my record.” We had to find another and re-record it on the track “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes.” Trying to persuade Anthony that we should use a drum machine to help keep time for the tracks and Anthony saying “That’s just like 1984. Andy, that’s a machine, it’s got no soul.” So Cliff Martinez the drummer had to play a cowbell to the drum machine and then the band could play to the cowbell, which got round the “soul” problem.
Looking back at producing the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ debut, is there anything you would like to have done differently?
Looking back I don’t think it was possible to do any of it differently; Flea and Anthony were the people they were and I was the person I was and we all brought our distinctive talents to bear. I think the main thing I did was to steer them away from the superfast two minute punk songs they were doing and get them to concentrate on the mid-tempo, funky, hip-hop-esque numbers.
How did you come to co-pen the tune “Grand Pappy Du Plenty”?
Well “Grand Pappy” was kind of a soundscape. I just had an idea that doing something like that would bring a massive breath of originality to the record – being an instrumental Anthony wasn’t involved but Cliff and Flea and Jack [Sherman] were all into it, and I directed proceedings.
How would you say What Happens Next compares to earlier Gang of Four albums?
To me, it sounds like it’s pulling away a little bit from classic Gang of Four, if you like, but other people tell me it sounds absolutely 100% Gang of Four. I consciously didn’t want it to sound like the earlier records but on a more fundamental level (in other words not just “sound”), it is very Gang of Four, very me. I always approach rhythms and beats in the same way and you can spot the guitar from half a mile off.
How was it working with the special guests on the album (Alison Mosshart from The Kills, Robbie Furze from The Big Pink, Gail Ann Dorsey, German musician Herbert Grönemeyer, and Japanese musician Hotei)?
With Hotei it was a case of playing around with guitar riffs in the studio and co-writing something which was a lot of fun. The other people were all singing and everyone was amazing in their different ways. I’ve always thought Alison was a fantastic singer and performer and she brought something new and fresh to the two tracks she sang on. Gail goes way back with Gang of Four of course. She’s played with the band for both live and in the studio since the early 90s on and off, and she brought her gorgeous rich voice to the recording.
Herbert is an old friend and he asked me if I would like him to sing on the record – I had various tracks kicking around that I could have given him but because he has such a moving, emotional and technically superb voice, I felt I had to tailor-make a track specifically for him.
When you were originally working on the Entertainment! album, did you have any idea it was going to be such a strong album?
I did feel that Entertainment! was very, very special when I was working on it; everybody else just laughed at me when I said how important it was going to be.
Why do you think Entertainment! is widely considered such a timeless album?
Entertainment! did something which hadn’t been done before – it invented a musical language. I love grooves; whether it’s James Brown or reggae or disco and I love noise – Hendrix, the Velvet Underground, and just as Jon King and I wanted to talk about a new agenda in the lyrics, so I felt I had to have a new language of sound; breaking it down to the individual building blocks and starting fresh .
Why did singer Jon King leave Gang of Four?
Jon has dipped in and out of the band a couple of times, but I hadn’t expected him to go again so close to the release of Content [Gang of Four’s 2011 album]. Having said which, for some of Gang of Four he has had other interests which were maybe more important to him. For me music has always been front and centre. This project has been intensely exciting for me creatively. I have often been called a control freak; so it felt liberating to have free reign in re-imagining where the project could go.
How should a guitarist go about trying to replicate the trademark “Andy Gill guitar sound”?
I’m not sure I’d recommend that experiment. My guitar playing is a direct analogue for my understanding of the world around me and on some level it connects with my internal joy, pain and excitement. Not sure how much of my pain anybody else wants to share.
What can fans expect from the upcoming tour dates?
I think the dates will be ultra intense, eye and ear popping, with a combination of new stuff with a choice selection of things from the past .
Band photo by Leo Cackett.