Interviewer: Dylan Harris, February 2000
"Xylophone tinkler sporting a wild hairdo not seen since Eraserhead" is how the Melody Maker once described you. Fair description?;-)
But yeah I guess it is a fair description !!..I tinkle on the X and I guess my hair is kind of out of control...That's what happens when you watch too much Seinfeld..it's that Cosmo Kramer !!
So when and how did joining Witness come about? Was it simply a matter of John Langley (also ex Strangelove) recommending you to the rest of the band?
I was, to coin the phrase - Over the Moon !!
I had been listening to the Red House Painters last album 'Songs from a Blue Guitar' and Witness over and over and had been thinking how lucky John was to be working with such an incredible singer as Gerard...then I got the offer to..
I don't actually know what John had said about me to the rest of the band/management...I imagine it was words along the lines of "he's a tinkler sporting a wild hairdo not seen since Eraserhead" !!!!!
Was the initial plan for you to just help out on a live basis?
Initially I also played on the recorded versions of Heirloom and My Own Old Song... I hadn't played the piano hardly before that - I met them at the studio whilst they were doing the album - and a few hours later they asked me to put down some piano on this track they been working on which was Heirloom.
I'm sat there with headphones on and Gerard's doing a vocal take at the same time..so I've got this huge piano in front of me and I'm thinking "F#%K!.."should have learned piano..where's C again"..all the while I've got this 'send shivers down your spine' voice booming in my headphones, it was bizarre...I'd only just met them and didn't even know their names !!!..
Furthermore I couldn't understand a word they spoke !!..they said it was in F or C or was that G ??..they sounded so northern I was lost..that's why stop on the F in the chorus piano line - I'm thinking "what did he say ??"
I notice that you're credited with the co-writing of new track, "Zero Zero". Do we take from this that you are now a "full time" member of the band?
How much input have you had into the writing of the new album?
Yeah I could have gone to town with writing for Witness and I've got enough stuff to make an album that rivals the Pumpkins Siamese Dream..but that's not Witness.
Furthermore I don't want it to be seen as "jeeesus they were great until he got involved"..best to let the great song writing relationships within the band continue and grow.
I did demo one thing with Dylan and Ray and Gerard and I never heard them mention it again, which I STRESS is not a moan - far from it - they probably thought just that it was shit and were to embarrassed to tell me straight !!! Just like there is no point in planting seeds in the wrong season, there is no point in doing something if you know it ain't going to see the light of day - I could write so so so much for them but its a wasted effort as it won't be worked on - again this is not a moan - again far far far far from it... that is the mechanics of a band - there are embedded ways of song writing in every band that are set from day one and that can never be remoulded.
You can pretend they are remoulded but then that's just a pretence before a split...Best to think - "if it aint broke" etc I have never enjoyed playing music more in my life than with Dylan Ray John and Gerard..they have something magical between them and I feel privileged to be involved.
I guess I shall hoard up all these ideas I have and one day unleash them on Witness and make a Witness meets Wilco meets Smashing Pumpkins album !!
What music did you listen to as a teenager?
But before all of that, I grew up on 70s DISCO...My mom ran a cocktail bar in a 70s 'Studio 54' kind of club - with the bar in the middle of a swimming pool !!!...and Travolta like colour tiles that change colour...It was awesome....guys in speedos and girls in bikinis still in platforms and afros!!..out of the pool on to the dance floor..the dance floor was a death trap So everyone's on the floor dancing to Chic and my moms behind the bar adding yet more blue eyed shadow to her eyes - and for all I know Hugh Hefner could have been there - seriously - it was a bizarre upbringing !!!
So I was really into all that stuff...and easy listening stuff like Bread - amazing group - David Soul !!!...Partridge Family...that kind of stuff too.
When did you decide to take up a career in music? Was there one defining moment or was it, like thousands of other teenagers, a childhood "dream" of becoming a "rock star"?
What was it like and how did things change for you after Strangelove signed for Food/Parlophone in 1993?
What were the highlights of your time in Strangelove?
..and the worst bits...?
What happened after Strangelove? Did you immediately set about getting back into music, or did you consider a career change?
After joining the band did you find there to be an aspect of naivety towards the music industry amongst the members of the band who were experiencing it for the first time?
Anyway they have the best management I have ever witnessed (no pun intended) and the band themselves don't have to debate things like royalty rates if Richard Claderman covers Quarantine or "locating mandolin strings in the middle of the night in Austin" (Spinal Tarp!!)
Apart from the one headlining tour last year, the majority of your gigs have been as the support slot. Is it frustrating to play to a crowd that, in the main, are not familiar with your music?
During your early gigs, Gerard built up a reputation amongst the music press for his "lack of movement" during live performances. This seemed to be down to nerves more than anything else. How do you, yourself feel up on stage? You seem to enjoy the experience and don't mind moving around a bit!
What has been your most memorable live experience with Witness thus far? Surely not the ridiculously early time you had to be on stage at Glastonbury last year?!
What were the recent Holland gigs like and why did you play just Holland? Anything to do with the countries 'relaxed' laws?!
Judging from the feedback I myself have received, you seem to be building up quite a steady fanbase across North America, despite not even having released anything over there yet. Are there high hopes for success after the impending album release and tour over there?
What is it like being referred to as a "Wigan" band, when in actual fact, Ray is the only member of the band to come from Wigan?
Do the constant Verve references tend to get annoying...as though you have to live up to their level of success?
Was it disappointing, or at least surprising to not gain any nominations in the majority of the "end of year" polls/awards, especially after the amount of praise heaped on you earlier last year? I suppose it just demonstrates the fickleness of the British press?
Its all a bit Blue Peter "Here's one I made earlier".
Ignore polls - they count for shit unless Witness win one of course !!
So all the band live in Bristol now? You didn't fancy moving up to Wigan then!
I remember one week I had the same meal every night from the restaurant - "Yeah I'll have the Fish and Chips again" It was groundhog day - the only variety in the day was whether to have mushy peas or garden peas !!
I'd be in rehearsal in the daytime and find myself thinking "tonight I'm going to have the garden peas for a change "...it was so awful - beyond awful....I'd find myself sat in reception talking to the cleaner about UHT milk.... Without doubt the most depressing time in my whole life.
Also Wigan is not the place for someone in Bell Bottoms...there must be a Wigan Law that states "if you see someone in Bell Bottoms you must stare at them like a dog that's just been shown a card trick "... To quote Bill Hicks "in some societies, people are shouting for Revolution - In Wigan they are shouting 'EVOLUTION'.."we want our thumbs !!"...the family tree up there must be a stump !!!! (no offence intended!!)
How's the new album coming along?
Presumably we should expect plenty of new songs about farmers and combine harvesters now you're all West Country inhabitants then!
Any plans to do the UK festivals again this year?
Can you see Witness being around for a long time to come?
Rather than putting Gerard's voice and lyrics on disk its like wait a minute..what's that pre-pubescent teenager saying over there ??..lets put her voice on disk so that it can't be erased for ever...Video killed the Radio Star and Major Labels killed Imagination
What are your main hopes and aims for yourself and the band in the future years?
Is Witness your main priority in life at the moment then or do you have time to pursue other interests?
What music are you listening to at the moment? Any recommendations?
Still listening to favourites like (band - album) Scud Mountain boys - Massachusetts Nadine - Downtown Saturday Josh Rouse - Dressed up like Nebraska Sunny Day Real Estate - Diary Whiskeytown - Faithless Street
As usual I can't recommend anything from the UK other than The Dakota Suite. Awesome band.
What do you think of the music scene at the moment and so called "lack of new talent"? Does it deserve all the negative publicity that its been getting?
If you are meaning the lack of new talent in guitar bands then go find some new stuff and don't wait to be told what you should like..ever since the lad mag culture exploded people (I'm meaning men here, women are far more intelligent to make up there own mind) ..but ever since this lad mag culture people can not think for themselves..they have to be told what to wear - don't tell me - combats - how to look - what to drive - to like Gail Porter - and what to listen to...
Flippant reply yes - but not that far from the truth.
People got lazy all of a sudden and forgot the joy in discovering things for themselves... Lack of Talent - that doesn't cut it with me...There is so much talent out there you've just got to go find it yourself.
Is the internet the way forward for music? Will it finally lead to the downfall of the fascist dictators that are the NME and the Melody Maker?
What equipment do you and Ray use? (from Simon Rand)
The best source for vintage pedals. I have a Pearl Octavia - regarded as one of the best vintage octave by pedal gurus as it can go 2 down and 1 down and 1 up and a mix of all three and original.
Finally I have a Diaz Tremodillo tremolo pedal with half time switch.
Guitars I use are a: Gibson Les Paul Deluxe Pro 1976 (ex Noel Gallagher) Gibson Les Paul Deluxe 1980 with bigsby trem (ex Shaking Stevens !!)
Amp is a Vox AC30, used with a powerbrake soak
Ray uses a: Fender Telecaster with Lace sensor pickups.and I think he is going to get - A Gibson SG from the 60's with Vibrola arm. A Tokai Breazer Telecaster.
He plays through a Mesa Boogie Maverick which is an awesome amp..
Pedals are: Boss DD5 with Tempo Tap Pedal Volume Pedal Boss RV3 digital reverb Danelectro Daddy O overdrive Coloursound Fuzz I think he uses some other gadgets but I think the biggest source of sound comes from what he inhales !!
Any tips on how to play the Audition riff? (from William Browne)