We caught up with Baz Warne of UK punk rock institution The Stranglers ahead of their UK March On tour to talk about the band’s 40th anniversary, vinyl and the band’s future plans.
Last year was your 40th anniversary as a band, an accolade that few acts can say they have achieved. How does it feel to reach this milestone? What would you say is the secret to such longterm success?
Well obviously I’m not an original member, I’ve only been in the band for 15 years. Which I say only but it feels like a lifetime! I think over and above anything else, to be perfectly honest its just the enduring quality of the songs. I think the songs that this band write are well crafted, they’re very identifiable, they sound unique. To find a unique voice in pop music is difficult in this day and age, there’s nothing unique now. I listen to things and wonder who on earth it is because everything sounds pretty much the same to me, I have to be honest. The Stranglers have always set themselves apart sound wise, philosophy wise and temperament wise as well; and it just seems to have struck a chord. Every time we play, the places are sold out, everywhere is rammed, last year was incredible to think that it’s been going on for 40 years! Although the original boys themselves didn’t seem to be particularly phased by it, you know it was just business as usual really. I think this year it will be the same, we’re all very surprised that there’s been so much interest in the next tour in March, because we tour every year, last year was a big one in terms of history, but this year is going from strength to strength as well, the whole thing’s going to be just as busy as it was last year.
As part of the Ruby Tour last year you toured an impressive number of cities and festivals, were there any stand out gigs or any cities that the band particularly enjoyed playing?
Glasgow is probably without exaggerating my favourite city in the world to play, there’s something about the crowd: they’re always up for it, they’re always fantastically friendly, they’re wacky people doing all kinds of stuff. London is always special because that’s where the band are from and where they used to do all of the early stuff when they were based in Guildford. There were also a lot of festivals we did last year; T in the Park was fantastic, it’s always great up there but it never stops raining! It’s always pissing down, but that’s always a great gig. The V festival was great as was the Electric Picnic in Ireland then we did a couple of fabulous ones in France and Portugal, just you know it sounds like a cliché but we just enjoy playing to everyone. To just put on a guitar and go out and play is what we enjoy and love.
How do you feel about the modern UK punk scene? Do you feel like the youth of today can still engage in the punk mentality given the current economic climate?
Well this band was founded before the original outbreak of punk in 1974, two years before punk even came along in 1976, but you know the music of the 70s spun out of social unrest and a lot of economic decline, three day weeks and the power going off all the time. It was a pretty dismal place to live, the UK in the 70s. This day and age I don’t think there’s anything like the poverty and the class struggle there used to be in those days. I think any punk music that comes out of the UK in this day and age, or in fact across the world, is born out of rebellion, loud fuzzy guitars and well people like fast angry music. I don’t think a lot of it has much social relevance to be honest. I’ve just read John Lydon’s book and some of the stuff they had to go through in the seventies, I couldn’t see kids going through that in this day and age.
You mentioned on your blog how you have a lot of younger fans at your festival shows, how does it feel to have such a wide ranging fan base be into your music?
It’s fantastic, we want to reach as many people as is physically possible and when we play festivals it’s a massive cross section of people. When we play a festival we’re just another band that’s on, so we have to impress. A lot of people have been finding out about us through the internet and social media, there’s instant access. Also our original fans are getting on in age and they’re bringing their children and in some cases they bring their grandchildren as well so it’s a great cross section. You look down in the crowd and you see all these young faces, all these old faces and middle- aged faces, everyone’s just in it together. And that’s what music’s supposed to do, bring people together.
I’ve just seen you’re re-releasing a number of your works on vinyl, what’s your opinion on the resurgence of vinyl in an age where everything is increasingly becoming more and more digital?
Well I think it never truly died, but it’s definitely making more of a resurgence now than it has done in recent years, a lot of it is to do with nostalgia I think but also if you talk to a lot of the old guys and myself included, there’s nothing like listening to an album on vinyl on a good sound sytem with a good pair of headphones or decent pair of speakers. It’s the way it should sound, it’s warm, it hasn’t got that digital ping and clatter to it. When you record these days you resign yourself to the fact that however you record stuff, if you go analogue, in a studio in London or some backstreet somewhere it’s still going to end up as a digital format somewhere along the line. As it turns out, a lot of people record digitally and the technology exists to give it a warm analogue sound. I think that in the coming years there won’t actually be anything tangible that you hold in your hands, it’ll all be downloads. You know I used to go on the bus when I was a kid and wait in the queue and buy an album that had just come out that day. I used to sit on the bus on the way home and you could read the sleeve, smell the sleave; it wasn’t just the sound, it was the packaging, the trouble that people had thought through. It was an artifact, like a document or a testament.
In 2012 you came out with ‘Giants’, the band’s 17th studio album, are there any plans in the near future for some studio time and the possibility of a new album?
In actual fact there probably are. That was three years ago now and we need to move onwards and upwards. With this band we’re not a nostalgia trip, a lot of bands are but we steadfastly refuse to stay in a furrow and just play the hits and the stuff that people know. I’m always writing, JJ Burnel is always writing. I’ve just been down to his place in France for the weekend and we tossed a few ideas around and some bits and pieces. I can’t say yes and I can’t say no, other than that we’ve talked about it. Finding the time is the thing, once this tour is over, then who knows.
I’ve read in other interviews that in some cases some of your songs will take form from ideas that were penned years ago, how would you describe The Stranglers’ songwriting and creative process in general?
First and foremost what we’re referring to there is our old adage of you never throw anything away. Obviously if an album comes out with twelve songs on it, you’ve written twenty five and you’ve probably recorded twenty. Then you’re in the process of honing them down into what you think are the strongest ones. So we keep everything, in a lot of cases it might just be a riff or a snippet of a chorus or even a title, or some subject matter that is close to your heart, that you just didn’t have time to finish off. I know a lot lot of people throw stuff away and prefer to start from scratch, for us we are so prolific that we write a lot of stuff and you think you can’t possibly use it all. What we’ll do is deconstruct songs and store certain parts until its time to start recording new stuff.
Apart from the March On Tour are there any more big plans for the stranglers this year?
We’re actually going to Moscow in April, which is a first for me! In my fifteen years in the band we’ve never been to Russia. The band went to Russia in the mid nineties for a one off festival in the Red Square I do believe! This time we’re playing at a famous Moscow nightclub, which I really can’t wait to do. Apart from that there’ll be festivals around Europe, but at the moment we’re just concentrating on the UK tour.
Tickets for The Stranglers’ upcoming March On Tour are available here.
Words: Charlie Jaco