Alt-Nation: The One Man Gang – Gang of Four’s Andy Gill Talks on the Then, Now, and Next

altSeminal post-punks Gang of Four make a rare return to our lands with a Saturday night headlining gig at The Met Café. Gang of Four is touring behind their latest release, What Happens Next (Metropolis Records), which was released earlier this year. What Happens Next is the first Gang of Four record to not have vocalist Jon King, which left guitarist/songwriter Andy Gill has the sole original member. Despite this, What Happens Next is chock full of Gill’s signature stabbing guitar and has the feel of a Gang of Four album set in the future. What Happens Next does have a more electronic feel than some of the band’s classic records, like Entertainment and Solid Gold. This transition, though, comes off as a natural evolution without sacrificing any bark or bite. To replace King, Gill enlisted John “Gaoler” Sherry and used guest vocalists like Alison Mosshart (The Kills and The Dead Weather). The results are another groove-fueled record peppered with all the hot licks and politics that one would expect from a Gang of Four album. I called across the ocean to chat with Andy Gill to find out what was, what is and what happens next.

Marc Clarkin (Motif): What Happens Next is your first Gang of Four Album without Jon King. How did that come about?

Andy Gill: After doing the previous album, which was called Content, I was very much in the mood to write more songs. It is what I do. Jon made it pretty clear that he was done.  He didn’t want to continue and go into the studio and do any more of that stuff. So it was very natural for me to get on with it. You have to bear in mind that in the past I basically dis all the music and 45 to 50% of the lyrics. It is very natural for me to continue to do that.

MC: You have a unique guitar style. Who were some of the guitarists that inspired you?

AG: When I was a kid I was a bit obsessed with Hendrix. I like the way that he was happy sometimes to just make a lot of noise with the whole thing with feedback. I suppose also The Velvet Underground, although they have had different people play the guitar in that type of noise approach. Also the British guitarist Wilko Johnson from Dr. Feelgood. He has this kind of proto-punk rhythmic very aggressive style that I thought was amazing. Then people like Steve Cropper who did all the guitars on the Stax Records. People say nice things about me as a guitarist, but it would be hard for me to sit down and play you an Andy Gill guitar part because it is so built into the other instruments. The whole idea is the guitar is not too complex, but it fits around the drums. The drums fit around the guitar. The bass, guitar, drums, and even the vocals need to fit together and work like a Swiss watch. Each part has to work together. It’s not like a Bob Dylan song where you can just strum the chords and you got it. Each thing is equally important and needs to fit together in a simple yet complex way.

MC: Gang of Four is noted for being a very lyrically political band. The name of the band even comes from a group of Chinese party insurgents who were convicted of treason. What is it like touring around the world in places like China? Are you ever told that you can’t play a particular song?

AG: When you go and play there (China), you have to submit a video of the songs you are intending to play as well as the lyrics. They take a look at that stuff.   think there are huge benefits for everybody if interesting Western bands can get to China and play in front of a Chinese audience. There is an enormous opportunity for interesting things to happen. So if you have to play along with these rules to go there, I think it is very much worth doing. When Sonic Youth played in China, there were some officials who were unhappy about them playing. One night they swapped names with a Chinese band so that they could play, which is kind of funny. There are little things like that you have to do to make it work so everybody is happy.

MC: Gang of Four came out of the ’70s punk revolution. How do you compare that time when you started to the music scene today?

AG: It certain respects it was very different and in certain respects it is just the same. People tended to value music a little bit more. Music get consumed now more than it ever was, but the value of it (has) diminished. I think that happens when anything is made free. Obviously the world was a different place because the polarity was between communism and capitalism – the USSR and its allies vs. the Western democracies. The polarity kind of determined an awful lot in the way people thought. The world is facing a different set of problems these days. For awhile it looked like Russia was not going to continue to be the black sheep and now it has sort of receded back. The way we construct our societies in the West and the way we live our lives is not profoundly different. A lot of surface things are different because of technology. Things move in quite small ways. Take, for example, one issue – gender equality. If you asked me in the ’70s about gender equality, I would have optimistically said, “Oh yeah, there is going to be complete gender equality.” That hasn’t happened. You could go on to racism, especially with developments in America in the last nine months. Some things get better and some things stand still. In the ’60s and the ’70s there was this belief that things were going to get more progressive and more liberal and that technology was going to help that. That really hasn’t happened.

Gang of Four and The New Regime rock The Met Café on October 3.

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