Below you’ll find an interview between Dan LeRoy, author of The Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, and now of the B-sides chapter on Scritti Politti’s Cupid & Psyche 85, and Scritti Politti frontman himself, Green Gartside! They discuss how it feels to listen to your own music, having Sir Elton John as a fan, and Gartside’s new music.
All manner of albums are touted as influential, as difference-makers, as revolutionary. I submit that there are few that have had such audible influence on music as Scritti Politti’s Cupid and Psyche ’85. It was so far ahead of the game on its release that if you listen to any pop record, whether MOR power ballad or new jack swing, from the half-decade that followed, you’ll hear musicians and producers frantically trying to catch up. They got some of the sounds, but almost none of the soul that made Scritti a one-of-a-kind proposition.
An interview with frontman Green Gartside, conducted via email, arrived a bit too late to be included in the chapter on Cupid in this book, but I’ve excerpted some of it for this post. Even truncated, it makes clear that Green’s dual reputations — as music’s moist reluctant should-have-been-superstar and its wittiest interview — are both entirely deserved.
And while it may be gauche, allow me to brazenly campaign for your votes in the contest attached to this book, for the chapter readers wish to see turned into a full-length 33 1/3 entry. I’ve interviewed just about all the key players of this story, and am ready to write the Cupid and Psyche installment for this series. All I need, my fellow citizens of the literary world, is your support. (And maybe a year’s sabbatical.)
When we spoke in 2006 for Billboard, you stated clearly — and have repeated this idea several times since — that you had no interest in listening to your old stuff, Even when talking about live performance, you said, “I make the band listen to it and tell them, ‘You figure it out.”
Obviously, you’ve had to revisit things occasionally, but has that stance about your past changed at all over the last dozen years?
I still recoil from the idea of listening to my own music. I say if it’s vulgar and unseemly to talk about oneself then it’s vulgar and unseemly to listen to oneself. What kind of egomaniac wants to hear their own songs?
It’s not a stretch to conclude that the reason it kind of disgusts me to hear myself is because I’m kind of disgusted with myself. It’s non-specific self-loathing. I’m appalled at myself for having the temerity to make records.
Having said that I’m happy to listen to the hours of unfinished music I’m working on now. Maybe that’s because I’m not listening to anything that’s been heard and found wanting by the ears of others.
You talked in Simon Reynolds’s Rip It Up and Start Again about you and your manager Bob Last meeting with American labels, and trying to convince them to part with “large sums of money” to make Cupid. Obviously Warner Brothers signed on, but do you remember any of the other labels you met with?
I met with some major labels in the UK before Bob Last got involved. There was a buzz around Songs to Remember. I was courted, fed and watered very handsomely by a bunch of different companies. Dinner with Chris Blackwell. Chrysalis Records suggested they could immediately facilitate a tabloid press presence for me by orchestrating my appearances at the right nightclubs with the right women. Appalling. Hilarious. Another company flew me to Jamaica for a Christmas holiday. That kind of stuff. Sort of horrid, ghastly, fascinating. Lunch on Richard Branson’s houseboat. All of that.
Then Bob got on board and it got more serious. And more playful. I think in the states Bob and I talked to everyone. Clive Davis. CBS. Everyone. It was fun. The guys at Warner Bros were the best. By that time David (Gamson) and I had done a couple of demos which were a lot more accomplished and professional and ‘contemporary’ sounding than the Songs To Remember stuff.
Bob and I shared and enjoyed an interest in politics and theory. We were a good double act in meetings with record companies. We had a kind of articulacy, wit and sense of purpose that served Scritti well.
Geoff Travis of Rough Trade told me he “accidentally” sent keyboardist David Gamson a promo version of Scritti’s “The Sweetest Girl” because he felt you two would work well together. Do you remember the first time you heard David’s work?
I can’t remember which of David’s tunes Geoff Travis first played for me. Geoff initially thought of us as potential collaborators. He put us together. Scritti Mark Two was kind of Geoff’s invention. I loved the sound of David’s work immediately. I can’t now remember if it’s true but I think test pressings of my song “The Sweetest Girl” were sent to David in Westchester (N.Y.) by mistake. The story goes – as I choose to recall – that David liked the echoes of the ‘Canterbury Sound’ on that record. Not surprisingly since I had liked that ‘genre’ and Robert Wyatt played keyboards on that track.
Everything about David’s approach tickled my fancy. Still does.
Cupid is an album that not only has its share of die-hard fans, but also some quite well-known examples. Miles Davis is an obvious one, as well as David Bowie; Sir Elton John reportedly gives people copies umprompted. Does that praise ever move the needle for you? And what is the most meaningful praise you’ve ever received about this album, from someone well-known or unknown?
It’s nice to have the approbation of people you admire. McCartney and Stevie Wonder said nice things too. But for some reason, like I’ve said, any kind of attention makes me uncomfortable, positive or otherwise.
Meaningful praise I wouldn’t recognize. I’m fond of the reaction of British journalist Andy Gill, who criticized my voice for not being authentically soulful. I think he said I sounded more like Violet Elizabeth Bott (a spoiled, lisping schoolgirl from English children’s comic fiction) than, say, Sam Cooke or Wilson Pickett. I genuinely love that.
At first I wanted to be original and not ask about your new album. Then I realized that we are now in the midst of the longest Scritti hiatus ever, at least album-wise. So I can’t resist. And I would also be remiss if I didn’t ask about your memoir.
Many many hours of unfinished new songs. I think easily the best stuff I’ve written is in there somewhere. Vocally more competent. Lyrically improved I hope. It’s very varied stuff. Big trap influences in places. Guitars elsewhere.
I have procrastinated and prevaricated, shilly-shallied and pussy-footed as much with the book as the music. It’s maddening. All I can say is that I have promised to deliver both this year. Please don’t remind me that I said that last year.