Who were your early influences?
I got my music sensibility from my parents. I grew up with the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Frank Zappa. When my mom got remarried, my stepdad was into prog. He was a drummer. I got into Steve Hillage and Mike Oldfield’s Incantations—a double LP with four sections. Oldfield worked so hard on that record he wore down the two-inch reel and had to start from scratch. When I was eight, my parents took a trip to England. We lost some money and stayed for two-and-a-half years as a break from Hawaii. That’s when I heard Kate Bush’s ‘Never Forever.’ I had a poster of her in my room that friends would ask about.
In Coventry, where we lived, the whole ska scene happened. Madness were so popular in my school. There was the Specials and English Beat. It was such an interactive lifestyle. Back in America, kids were into Kiss, but didn’t necessarily dress like them. In England, third graders would go to school in trench jackets with The Who stenciled on back. Flight jackets with all those buttons with band names. They took fashion seriously. I got my first pair of Doc Martens at age nine. We looked like thugs. It was hilarious. That was a big musical ingestion. I went back to America and those things weren’t happening yet. Nor would they until my 20s. I never heard Adam & The Ants in America. I got into classic rock in high school. But meeting Jason was key. He turned me on to the Replacements, Husker Du, Descendents, Dag Nasty, Cali skate punk. I shifted out of my Pink Floyd/Yes/Genesis mode and embraced it.
Over the course of six albums, including an unheralded self-titled ’98 debut, your lyrics have gotten more deeply romanticized.
Source Tags was very sentimental. There’s songs about the break-up I went through, like ‘How Near How Far’ —the idea of letting go of a muse. There’s no mystery about that. It’s as close as we’ve come to writing a romantic record. The new one’s sentimental, but there’s no love theme. It doesn’t mean we won’t go back to that in the future. Worlds Apart was real political, but not well-timed. Maybe it was three years early.
Those things I was pointing my finger at on Worlds Apart were about consumer society, which consumes The Century Of Self. There was a sense that Worlds Apart was informed by the ongoing Gulf War. I tried to address it but the album suffers from being overly ambitious. We were really reaching hard to make a testimonial that’d push our abilities as writers. But we were going through personal stress with Neil leaving the band. That took away from us achieving everything we wanted with that record. I’m proud to have the courage to say those things at the time but I didn’t think anyone wanted to hear them.
Was So Divided a haughtier extension of Worlds Apart?
Except it had no political statement. It didn’t try to reach out to the world. I still think So Divided was a big ‘fuck you’ to everyone. I didn’t want to connect. I wanted to withdraw into our own world and say ‘screw you if you don’t like it.’ I was disappointed with its reception amongst peers and the label. The idea of working on a major label wasn’t working so maybe it was a self-indulgent attempt to get dropped. But The Century Of Self couldn’t have been made if we didn’t do So Divided. The hardest record we ever made was So Divided, especially the painful lyrics. In contrast, The Century Of Self felt easier— the way the songs came together naturally. There were technical challenges with the producer and the studio, but the creative part was unified.