Read part one HERE
‘People are strange machines’ (with its Scary Monsters Super Creeps type opening) and Virtually Real’ off The Way (2015). Is it your way of saying there’s an overreliance on technology or something more sinister?
A jokey way of analysing people as machines, when you start to think about it we’re all on our phones, computers, we are almost machines, part of the machine, the machine is us as well as … they’re making machines more human …
We did a demo and I added the ‘uh-oh’ Bowie bit, the title is kind of areas he covered too, he did have an influence. I saw him on Ziggy tour in 1972, I loved the 60s and by the 70s Bowie appeared, he was incredible, every album was different, but, so was The Beatles. I grew up with all that stuff, the 70s it was the ‘art’ way of thinking about stuff, Warhol et al, Bowie kind of turned us onto it all, helped get others across (Pop/Reed). Made them artists. You have to be inspired by his whole musical landscape. It was a time when great changes could happen.
I always thought at school, ‘the magic in the grooves is something your Mum and Dad can’t teach you, something a college lecturer can’t tell you’ you put those records on as a kid, something in those dark grooves on the vinyl took you to another world, sometimes I hear stuff and think ‘It doesn’t mean anything’ whereas they are others that are so profound, knock you sideways you think you can never go back, your life’s changed.
If records or music can do that it’s a magical thing, it doesn’t happen every day and that’s probably a good thing, makes when it does a very special moment.
As a band you’d straddled punk, post-punk, more experimental scapes with ‘Moving away from the pulsebeat’, ‘Why she’s a girl from the chainstore’ and ‘Running Free’?
Before we split up (in 1981), I’d wanted to introduce electronics. Pete then went off and did ‘Homosapien’ which put paid to that. By the time we got to Modern we thought let’s do this now. Of course then you had people wanting the ‘Buzzcocks sound’
(In 1979) we had problems with EMI because they couldn’t hear a single or a hit, well, the others were only hits because our fans bought them, we never sat down and wrote a ‘hit’ they just came out. With ‘Running Free’ I was experimenting at home, recording vacuum cleaners and stuff, I’ve got demos of me singing like a German, I’d been listening to Can; an Englishman pretending to be a German trying to sing in English. I was in a funny place when I was 20!
Your antennae were up?
Absolutely, people like Stockhausen as well. With ‘… Chainstore’ it was supposed to be a sociological question, I enjoyed it in school, it mentions Bernstein’s Language Barrier, ‘the language spoken at home is different from the language in the classroom’, for working class people, not everybody, but, when you go to the classroom and the teacher says a word like ‘ubiquitous’ you’d think you’d underachieved. Close knit working class communities weren’t really allowed to step outside that, a Saturday Night Sunday Morning kind of thinking.
Kurt Cobain: Memories?
Playing the Trade Test Transmissions tour, we had all these second hand TVs behind me and I’d smash them up with my mike stand. We went on tour in US and when we got off stage Nirvana wanted to meet us, Kurt said ‘I loved the way you smashed the TVs, man’, they were Number 1 at the time and asked us to go on tour. We couldn’t do it as we had commitments. I told him of the time we were in Germany, I always have a straight mike stand, I put it through the TV and couldn’t let go, only the adrenaline kept me alive. Any other day I’d have been dead. It took me about 1000 TVs to master the technique, I told him that if you’re getting smoke from it then you’ve got it.
There’s a lot US groups who are fans, Eddie Vedder, Blondie, Pixies, Bob Mould, it’s never really mentioned over here. Probably influenced more over there than the Pistols.
Pledgemusic. Democratisation of culture or an indictment of art as business?
Both really. There’s no record companies, really, well, not companies that are going to sign anything that sells below 15 million, everybody knows that’s the way it works now, your Beyonces and the sausage machine stuff. We did the last Buzzcocks album this way so we thought let’s give it as go, I think EMI offered us a deal and it was better to do it this way. It’s like the 70s again, years ago you’d go in to a record shop and you’d order a record and you’d wait 3 weeks, people voting with their feet, hopefully the good thing about it is it is the fans who are interested, pre-ordering then receiving the record.
Yeah, a lot of waiting for it! At least the people who are ordering are the real deal, it’s not someone taking a punt, slightly out of necessity. Good to do stuff outside Buzzcocks, come up with stuff, I had a few songs lying around and wondered what to do with them, next minute I’m in the Pledge office. It is an indictment of the situation in the music business, but a lot of people are doing it that way.
You seem to be giving everything away apart from the kitchen sink! Has it been cathartic looking at your past?
With Buzzcocks I don’t think we gave that much away, but I found a few rare posters, like only 4 of those in the world so I thought it’d be nice for some fans to have those. I found some singles and some records and also the shirts, some of those shirts have travelled the world and have played to a lot people.
And you’re synonymous with those shirts.
They must have some magic, charged energy, that’s what you’re buying.
Is it easy getting rid of them then?
In some ways I don’t want to now! I want to do a Buzzcocks exhibition at some point and they do feel very personal, these are like old friends to me, I could look back in years’ time and go ‘Fuck, this shirt’s played everywhere’ once they’ve been sweated out they become something else. We’ve always had a good following, stayed with us over the years which is great. The stuff I’m offering is for people who know about us and have stuck with us, that’s the magic of it all.
With Pledge, I thought to have the first three albums as a trilogy and also put a new album in, a trilogy of four! If people do get that boxset of the three albums then the whole would make a lot sense, they are all interconnected; the internal one (Some Reality 2000), the existential one (Serious Contender 2005) the political one (Air Conditioning 2010). There is a thread.
Your solo stuff serves to highlight your input and influence to Buzzcocks, illuminates what you bring. How does the solo process differ?
If you’re gonna step outside the Buzzcocks you don’t want to sound like the Buzzcocks. I like to bring in some of the influences I’ve mentioned, blues, rock and roll, 60s stuff, one of the reasons is whenever I read books by artists they talk about their childhood or biography, bringing some of those influences out, on my first album I wanted it to be more internal, I wanted it to ‘sound’ like a first album, a bit spartan and naked, so you could look back and think ‘that was an early one’.
What I do on my solo albums is I do one song then have something almost completely different on the next one, almost like a roller-coaster.
Air Conditioning is a political one, how at certain times you feel like writing a certain song, the input we get from society, the feelings, this political inhalation we breathe in at the time … about the week that came out all the students went on strike, I thought’ Fucking hell, I was in the right place, in my mind’ it was time for something to boil over and it was kind of heartening to see that in some way because people thought that that rebellious thing had gone for bit, in society and with students.
Drugs: help or hindrance?
I wouldn’t want to advocate anything, in one way they are a hindrance, but, if you can use them rather than them use you then they are a help. I’ve always enjoyed and never had a problem, been close to the edge a few times. If you can do without them then … I have had some amazing things through them, but, they can have terrible consequences, just depends how much you want to dice with death.
The profound thing for me when I saw my mate die, it was ‘to know the meaning of death is to know the meaning of life’, after that I thought ‘I’m gonna live now’, see the whole world different, I kind of lived by that after it happened.
Certainly stuck to it!
Yeah, I’ve had a good run with it.
Steve’s Pledgemusic site is at