Interview with The Wedding Present: Enter The Bizarro World

During 2007, David Gedge joined the minions of semi-famous indie rock artists (Pixies, Primal Scream, and The Cult) re-creating classic albums in a live setting for a generation once removed. When his renowned British band, The Wedding Present, celebrated the 20th anniversary of their stunning post-punk debut, George Best, the Leeds-based crew gained an audience of younger heads poised to discover one of the most resilient rock troupes in the last quarter century.

Still going strong accruing large cult status in America, these legendary English rockers have now decided to revive their more melodic, less brazen second album, ‘89’s enthusiastic breakthrough, Bizarro, with local shows at Maxwell’s in Hoboken on April 10 and Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom on April 11.

A pre-grunge guiding light one small step below the Pixies, The Wedding Present’s exuberant chain-like guitar-jangled drum-beaten attack could be seen as a natural progression from The Fall’s unbridled punk-drunk frenetic intensity. Fronted by Manchester-raised Gedge, whose half-spoken Brit-accented baritone gurgle hurls idiosyncratic inflections, these amazing three-chord wonders grew into a more emotionally expressive outfit over the course of ‘91’s moodier Steve Albini-produced Seamonster and two eclectic ‘92 Hit Parade sets (collecting all their double-sided ’91 singles in order).

Taking lessons learned from the Pixies, The Wedding Present steadily developed a bouncier pop step and heightened insouciant flare to hedge against the elevated lovesick melancholia their next few full-length recordings fully exposed. Seamonsters’ dissonant sonic rumble, “Lovenest,” and murkily feedback-drenched flange, “Carolyn” (plus Hit Parade’s scoffed-up revving of the Monkees’ breezy “Pleasant Valley Sunday”) also deployed a headier grunge-informed pounce.

“Actually, Seamonsters was recorded months before we knew grunge had hit big. The reason it sounds that way is grunge producer, Steve Albini, whose work on the Pixies breathtakingly wonderful Surfer Rosa I’m a big fan of,” Gedge admits. “We were probably trying to get away from the jangly Velvet Underground sound and become rockier. That ambition and Albini’s skills made it sound like one of the early grunge records— very aggressive, very intense.”

Thereafter, ‘94’s Watusi widened Gedge’s musical range further, placing acoustic six-string and piano into the scratchy circular lullaby “Spangle” and debonair ballad “Gazebo” while utilizing climactic multi-part harmonies for joyously surging Farfisa-based chant “Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah.” Furthermore, he burns down the house on ass-shakin’ spitfire scrum, “Shake It.”

Gedge claims, “Watusi was a very strange album in a way. A lot of folks don’t like it. It’s different—a sidestep away from the wall of noisy guitars. It was more pop with a nod to retro ‘60s pop, surf, and a cappella. It’s experimental in many ways. But I don’t want to make the same album over again like some bands. That’s stultifying.”

Although ‘96’s Saturnalia paled in comparison, wispy-voiced euphony, “2,3 Go,” and soothingly uplifting postcard, “Montreal” are topnotch, offering a convenient holding pattern.

Along with ex-girlfriend Sally Murrell, Gedge took another sidestep with the equally rewarding band, Cinerama, whose ’98 debut, Va Va Voom, brought an orchestral restraint to melodic flights of fancy. Then, ‘05’s Take Fountain, originally slated as Cinerama’s fourth album, became The Wedding Present’s triumphant re-entry, re-igniting the excitingly fast-paced three-chord scurry of yore. Three years hence, the rampaging follow-up, El Rey, further substantiated Gedge’s prolific career.

“By Take Fountain, Cinerama had changed. The first album was very poppy, reliant more on keyboards and orchestration than guitar. They evolved into more guitar-based music, which I love.” He adds, “That filtered its way back into the arrangements. It went back to our original Wedding Present sound. We did a London session with the late John Peel for BBC radio, came in as Cinerama and they said, ‘David, it sounds more like Wedding Present.’ We used to have string sections and trumpets, but went back to just guitars. People would’ve been disappointed if it was a Cinerama LP. It created confusion so we switched back.”

Never losing focus on what’s most important—making aggressive music out of a few concise chords and well-constructed arrangements—Gedge continues to get sheer joy creating a harrowing frenzy. His splashy guitar assaults, bolstered by rail-bending bass and rat-a-tat drum patter, are easily digested, if oft-times skewed by quirky dissonant reverb.

Presently splitting time living in England’s southerly coastal town of Brighton and oceanic California haven, Santa Monica, I spoke to the inimitable Gedge during a snowy winter’s day in February.

How’d the European George Best tour go in 2007? Why didn’t you do American shows like you will for Bizarro?

In ’07, our label in England wanted us to do a 20th anniversary re-release and mentioned the idea of playing the whole album live in its entirety. Honestly, my first reaction was, ‘No.’ I’m more of a forward-thinking musician not dwelling on nostalgia. But everyone I spoke to said, ‘You got to do that. It’ll be brilliant.’ I’m now glad we did it. It’s quite surreal putting yourself back two decades, forgetting all you learned afterwards. You remember yourself as a naïve youngster. It was natural to do Bizarro next. We didn’t do George Best in America because it didn’t have the popularity of Bizarro, which was a better album.

I thought Bizarro and Seamonsters showed great restraint. There’s a bunch of reserved retreats countering the hard rocking stuff.

We just improved. When we did George Best, we were a young band with only a few songs. There was no plan. By Bizarro, we were in a position, by playing more concerts and recording more songs, to gain experience. We matured a bit and put newfound skills to work and became more imaginative and substantial.

There are three singles collections, including Singles 1995-97, that offer a perfect clearinghouse. Did those singles all make the British charts?

Yeah. They did. We share the record with Elvis Presley for most hits in a single year. All 12 from Hit Parade made the Top 40, which Elvis did in ’57. He obviously sold a lot more. (laughter) But in this current downloading environment, people are going back to the way things were in the ‘50s, when singles were the main medium. Maybe the LP is dying. CD sales are way down. Originally, I’d play my mother’s singles pretending to be a discjockey.

What are some of your favorite singles from back then?

Stuff by the Everly Brothers and Bill Haley. I’d play the Beatles to death. Then, in the ‘70s, I discovered Queen and Steve Harley’s Cockney Rebel.

If you didn’t have such a British singing accent would The Wedding Present have been bigger in America?

People’ve said that. But I’ve heard others say we’re not English enough. David Bowie’s very British sounding but became very successful in the States. It’s not the quality of music you make, but instead, being in the right place at the right time or having a hit on a film or big label affiliation.

‘Don’t Take Me Home Til I’m Drunk’ from El Rey certainly retained the ecstatic charge of yore. But ‘Santa Ana’ had a fresh dramatic fervor confronting the usual hit-and-run blasts.

I suppose the early stuff is more personal and intimate. But the drama came later on. You move on and change as a songwriter. Certainly a lot of the bits on George Best I’d change now. Currently, I’m writing lyrics for a new album. The first half of my shows will have new and old songs. The second half will feature Bizarro. I have a deadline to get these songs prepared.

The Wedding Present will be playing Maxwell’s in Hoboken, April 10, and Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom, April 11.