Not being able to get the original Pop Will Eat Itself permanently back together, but feeling that the world is a better place with PWEI around, Graham Crabb has unleashed a new version of the band. With Mary Byker taking over as co-vocalist, the group released a new album in 2011, “New Noise Designed By A Sadist,” and has done a series of tours (most recently with The Wonder Stuff and Jesus Jones this past December.) In an email interview, Crabb discussed the process of creating a new incarnation of PWEI, how things have changed over the years, and more. Photo courtesy of fotocad.com
What were the motivations behind returning to Pop Will Eat Itself and assembling a new line-up?
I’d been yearning for a return to PWEI ever since the Reformation Shows we did in 2005. I really feel it’s ‘me’, my best work and what I feel I was meant to do! The original band was actually reforming in 2005 but Clint had to pull out as he felt he couldn’t give it enough time to do it justice. So that was that. There was a second attempt and then a third to get the band to reform – to celebrate our 25th anniversary. When this failed I knew it was never going to happen and the only option for PWEI to exist again would be getting a whole new band together. A daunting prospect, but one which I took on.
Was there ever a question as to whether it would go under the name Pop Will Eat Itself, as opposed to just being a new project continuing along the same lines musically?
Yes, various options around the name PWEI were considered, but they all sounded like an apology. Whilst I could see the merit in a different name I couldn’t see the point in fucking around. From 1986 to 1995 I had written nearly 100 songs for PWEI – songs that were meant for a PWEI-like vehicle, so rather than attempt to copy myself…I re-built the vehicle. I’m very thankful to have worked with Clint, Rich, Ad & Fuzz, all very talented as well as great blokes, and that respect would be the main reason not to use the PWEI moniker. But after all the soul-searching there was just too much of me wrapped up in PWEI history, and that was coupled with a belief that I could form a great band true to the PWEI ethos. I’m biased but I think the world is slightly, ever so slightly, almost un-noticeably better with a Pop Will Eat Itself in the present, that people can see & follow.
How did the current line-up come together?
Mary [Byker] was an obvious choice, we’d always got on great over many years. We lived in North London around the same time, had the same friends, went to the same clubs & he’s a great frontman and great guy. My manager Craig Jennings made a few suggestions to complete the line-up and we managed to secure our drummer Jason (Pitchshifter, Killing Joke) this way, but it was difficult to pin down anyone who was of the calibre we wanted as they had other commitments. Eventually we got there though with the help of Rob Holiday (Sulphur, Prodigy), who suggested a couple of his heavily tattooed friends: Tim (Gary Numan & also Sulphur) & Davey (This Burning Age).
As a music fan, I’m sure you’ll agree that hearing that a favorite band is returning, but with only one original member, can spark concern and doubt. Were you conscious of this when putting together the current incarnation of PWEI, in terms of thinking about fan expectations, not coming across as a rehash, etc? Or did you feel that overthinking it would be detrimental, and that it would be best to just see what happens?
Very conscious, and a little over-defensive in hindsight. I learnt what an incredible varied spectrum fans were; some thought it sacrilege, some were ok, let’s watch this guy fall flat on his face, some were saying better this than nothing, and some gushed with good luck messages and best wishes. The thick skin that helped me through my time in ‘original PWEI’ with all the critical panning & backlashes, was the same thick skin that got me through the rebuilding process.
Was all of “New Noise Designed By A Sadist” written specifically for this album? Or where there previously unused tracks or musical ideas that became part of it?
No, not everything was written specifically for this album, and that’s something that’s entirely in keeping with every PWEI album to date. Part of the appeal of the name Pop Will Eat Itself is that it fitted our ethos of recycling. At first, riffs or lyrics and then sampling later. Some of the tracks were demoed as potential Vile Evils tunes (the band I was in with Adam of PWEI) with some, like Nosebleeder Turbo TV originating from as long ago as 1996 as demos for the PWEI album that never was. Anything that’s potentially usable can hang around for years just waiting for the right moment to be used. Others happen pretty spontaneously and work straight away.
PWEI have been known for using quite a bit of sampling, but on later music from the original line-up, as well as “New Noise Designed By A Sadist,” easily recognizable samples, at least, don’t seem to play as big a role. What were the reasons for the change of approach?
Quite simply, the legalities were the reasons. Fear of being sued or having to pay 100% of publishing to greedy publishers. The nervousness started when we first moved to RCA. Such a big company didn’t want complex legal issues hanging around, so the samples that they o.k.’d we’d have to pay for but there would be samples such as the brass riff from Led Zep’s Kashmir and the ‘talking to you’ vocal refrain from Tears For Fears ‘Shout’ that were just outright refused. Also, you just get more skilful at treating samples as a piece of audio to manipulate into something unrecognisable. I think there’s probably more sampled audio on the last album than the first, you just wouldn’t be able to spot it so easily. Perversely, there’s so little money in recorded music these days for a band like us, I’m thinking of going back to the old school methods of recognisable samples, it’s fun and a nod to PWEI history. Might even get a DJ in like on the first two albums, we’ll see. At the moment I just feel the exposure, or re-exposure to PWEI is more important than 100% of a pitiful royalty statement.
Advances in technology and the widespread adoption of the internet have opened up even more opportunities for people to recycle mass media into new creative forms & circulate them – mash-ups, autotune videos, filmmaking within video game worlds, etc. What are your thoughts on this?
No thoughts. I haven’t gotten involved in any of these as it takes all my time just to live the life I live at the moment! I guess it’s great for people who are into those things but I have noticed the lack of real musical ‘movements’ like there used to be. Music was all we used to have so we lived it obsessively. It’s now very diluted.
Are there any particular ways that you feel the evolution of musical technology over the years has affected your creative process and/or the way you record?
Well, like a lot of people now, 100% of the recording can be done on computers, laptops rather than in recording studios. Song parts are swapped & sent back & forth via broadband. The benefits I’ve noticed are not having to spend stupid sums of money in studios and not being such a slave to deadlines.
Looking back, are there any particular ways that perhaps the sound of earlier PWEI was shaped by the state of musical technology at the time?
Yeh, the technology was pretty basic, looking back now. Our original Akai S900 had about 60 seconds sample time or 30 seconds stereo. The Ataris we used always crashed as the song arrangements and number of tracks got more complicated. So you’d end up shouting ‘Save it!’ at Rich who was our chief programmer, several times an hour. I think this made the sampling more ‘static’ as opposed to later on where you could experiment a lot more. You might merge several different treatments of the same sample, or record everything in stereo and use only the side you preferred or lay different programs out along the keyboard and switch midi channels to see if anything interesting cropped up. Things used to take an eternity I seem to remember, the major breakthrough now is the speed at which you can audition sounds & samples so as not to disrupt the creative flow.
How did the recent tour with The Wonder Stuff and Jesus Jones go?
Brilliant, better than we thought it would. There’s a clear division in the audience of who’s into what band, but somehow it works. If you asked each band their influences and favourite artists you’d get radically different answers but if it makes for a good evening’s entertainment, that’s what matters. I think a fair few of the audience were enlightened by finding they really enjoyed a band they’d never followed before.
What’s in the future for PWEI? Do you have new material in the works? More live shows? Any chance for you performing in America?
We’re working on the next album as we speak. No promises as to when it will be out, as I say, I don’t like deadlines. There’ll be more shows when we’ve got something we want to put out & we’d love to come to America.
Are you involved with any other musical projects right now?
No, I don’t have a spare minute!
I was surprised to find “Can You Dig It?” at a karaoke bar a few years back. But while I love the song, it turned out to be a terrible karaoke choice due to the structure of the song. How do you feel about it being available for karaoke?
Ha, that says a lot about the tune! I don’t give a monkey’s about karaoke either way. It’s not my bag, but live and let live. You’re right about that track though, it does all hinge on the vocal & the detail in the lyrics. Some tracks might be all about the groove, like ‘Menofearthereaper’, some about the brutality like ‘Kick To Kill’, but that to me is PWEI, it’s not one dimensional.
For more info and the latest news, be sure to check out popwilleatitself.net. Also, check out our 1994 PWEI interview with Clint Mansell.