One of the original punk funk bands return with new material and we talk to guitarist Andy Gill about XBox, politics and releasing a new album after 16 years silence
Gang of Four are undoubtedly one of the most influential bands in history. Cited as having a major impact on names ranging from Nirvana to Bloc Party, their mix of funk and punk has given their sound an enduring quality, made all the more interesting by a conscious skewing of the expected trajectory of a record - not just from a sonic, but a lyrical perspective. –They’re one of cleverest and more socially aware bands around – whilst others could be accused of manipulative reactionism, Go4 will ask questions – not just shout with the mob.
The problem with this is that they’re falsely taken in on political crusades – they’ve been named as Communists, Marxists, anti-consumerists - so it’s a strange reality when people are as outraged now with their music appearing on an Xbox advert as they were in 1978 when they signed to EMI. Now with the release of ‘Content’, their first album of new material in 16 years, they are still creating the same buzz. We caught up with guitarist Andy Gill to get his take the differences between then and now, what he’s writing about and on the pressures of releasing a new album.
Dazed Digital: How do you feel about releasing your first new material in 16 years?
Andy Gill: Essentially really good. I love producing other people, I’ve made so many records with other bands, but there’s something about writing and recording your own songs that’s special. I don’t know why it’s taken us so long to get round to it. I kept going off and producing other people and it became obvious that we weren’t going to get it done unless I put aside a big chunk of time. Making the record is the easy bit, the hoops you have to jump through to get a record out in a good way worldwide is quite something actually.
DD: I’ve read in an interview that you were called “political by default”. Did you find your identity being entwined with the band and thus hard to step away?
Andy Gill: I don’t know about that. The political by default thing is something I’ve said on more than one occasion and it’s really because people are like, right Gang of Four: politics – where do you stand on this? What about that? Which is absolutely fine but we are not and never have been ones to wave the red flag and bang the socialist drum. That’s not what we’re about. For example, during this current financial crisis it’s quite common for people to say that the bankers are bastards and should be put in prison and I’ve heard all kinds of people from all parts of the political spectrum say that, whether they’re Daily Mail readers or Guardian readers. A populist, socialist band might do a song on it, you know, ‘Lock up the bankers!’ - to me there’s something very reactionary about that.
DD: Are you approaching your writing in a different way now?
Andy Gill: Weirdly I think not. I feel that we’re asking the same questions and coming up with not dissimilar answers. The things that fixate over now are the things that I fixated over in 1978, which is for me; everything is about the groove and rhythm. Nothing excites me more than a cool grove you know? That’s the stuff which really excites me. Rhythm has always got me going and the big thrill from the early Gang of Four stuff was that you wanted to make a beat that was really insistent and people would have to move to, but wouldn’t it be great if you could alter it so it could surprise you at the same time as being insistent? That’s what makes the Gang of Four beats what they are, that’s what makes them so hooky, because we see things in a new way.
DD: You’ve been cited as an influence by so many bands – do you feel pressure in bringing out an album in that context?
Andy Gill: I have once or twice wiped the sweat from my brow – firstly because we do have a bit of a reputation and secondly because it’s been such a bloody long time! I say to myself this bloody well better be good. If it’s a dud I don’t think anyone would show any mercy. It does involve a bit of hutzpah to stick a record out. I think a lot of people will have been like who do they think they are?
DD: What did you think to the backlash from the Xbox advert?
Andy Gill: I’ve heard that there have been a few comments on websites and stuff. It reminds of when we originally signed to EMI and at the time the music press was full of letters – well not full of letters, that’s a bit of an exaggeration – but there were a few comments saying that Gang of Four shouldn’t be signing to this multinational organisation, they should be signing to Rough Trade or someone like that. They’ve sold out etc. But we’ve always been clear that we wanted to be on a multinational corporation, given the choice, that was where we wanted to be because it made more sense conceptually to be there – we made a record called ‘Entertainment!’ for god’s sake! Gang of Four’s music may be slightly difficult, may be slightly left field but the point in our music is that there is always a massive connection to pop music.
DD: Do you think people take your anti-consumerist lyrics too literally?
Andy Gill: Well you know what when I wrote a song called ‘Capital (It fails us now)’ and it’s quite a funny song it starts off with ‘The moment I was born I opened my eyes I reached out for my credit card, Oh no I left it in my other suit. Capital, it fails us now.” And It goes on about I need a freezer, I need a hi-fi, well you know what? I do need those things and in a perfect world we’d all have those things. We’re not anti-consumerist and it’s deeply reactionary to say that people shouldn’t have those things. It’s based on sloppy thinking. Same as with EMI, we want to reach as big an audience as possible. Because we don’t design our songs to be on the radio or to be commercially successful, we follow our muse in terms of creating the work we do.
Gang of Four's new album, 'Content', is out now