As the 1970s drew to a close, punk rock had become anything but radical. This brought upon the dawn of post-punk, a genre that once again discarded the humdrum traditions of the past in order to bring about a higher standard of creativity. No band epitomized this approach more than Wire, who, from the very beginning, disassociated themselves from lazy categorization and “scene making.”
37 years and 29 albums later, Wire continue to make music their way. In March, the band released Change Becomes Us on their own Pinkflag Records. The music is a return to the minimalist, guitar-based formula of their late ‘70s output, with many tracks in fact based on unrecorded material from the period. It picks up where 1979’s 154 left off, yet manages to sound contemporary and fresh. Frontman Colin Newman and I recently sat down to discuss, rather tensely, the album, writing process and more.
Change Becomes Us is the first album in a few years. What made you decide now was the right time to release a new record?
The last album, Red Barked Tree, was released just a bit over two years ago. Normally we, like most other artists that aren’t Ty Segall, put out an album every three or so years. So, in fact, it’s a relatively short time since the last one came out.
This album, in fact, started out more as a project to, in part, harness the strength we have developed as a live band, especially since we have been working with our new guitarist, Matthew Simms. During 2011 we toured extensively with Red Barked Tree. This included a second UK tour for that year and it was important to us that we present a pretty different set from the one we had toured during the earlier part of the year. Wire has always had a high absurdity factor and the idea of, instead of writing a bunch of new songs, engaging with a bunch of half-formed ideas left over when the band went into meltdown in the early ‘80s seemed to appeal. It was at least worth a try!
What does the title of the new record imply?
Wire is unusual in that, although I am the main vocalist, what I write tends to be what Wire calls “songs” as opposed to “texts,” which are mainly written by Graham Lewis. Various people suggested the title was very strong and I could see how that might fit in with the nature of the album and the current strength of Wire as band and a creative project. You can decode the title if you understand that historically Wire has always seen its biggest strength as “change” and in some ways, the band can be seen as being “change.” In that way, the title is about us as individuals claiming the “us-ness” of the process that is Wire. This may seem like a rather strange idea, but after all, who else can be Wire but us?
What did the writing and recording process look like for Change Becomes Us?
It was first a matter of choosing which pieces to attempt to inter. There were four sources for this: a rather lo-fi recording released posthumously called “Document & Eyewitness” and a very lo-fi recording from the Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre, which was included in the first set of Pinkflag Records’ “Legal Bootleg Series.”
Having decided what to record, we assembled last spring at Rockfield Studios in Wales and spent a week putting down backing tracks and taking as much recording opportunities as we could in the studio. Then it was down to six months’ slog of “production.”
Do you see Change Becomes Us as a continuation of the minimalist art rock of Pink Flag?
Wire is not interested in adhering to any tradition. We just do what we do, what feels right, and what makes sense to us.
How does Change Become Us fit into the current landscape of punk rock?
Wire was not punk in 1977 and hasn’t been punk since. We are bored by being “claimed” by depressing throwbacks and latter-day Sid Vicious wannabes. If there is any such thing as punk rock in 2013, it’s probably played by people who are not allowed to express any rebellion of any kind in their countries and are putting themselves in danger by expressing themselves in that way. One should always applaud that, although I doubt if the music is any good.
You’ve been lumped into various genres over the years and given various labels including art rock, post-punk and industrial. How would you describe your musical philosophy?
To try to not get lumped into any meaningless genres.
Would you say Wire’s lyrics lean more to an autobiographical or fictional side?
As I say, I don’t write the majority of the lyrics, but I doubt if fiction comes into it that much. On the other hand, is everything which is not fiction therefore autobiography? That seems a rather dubious standpoint.
Over the years, what bands would you say have had the biggest influence on Wire’s sound?
One of the rather depressing tendencies amongst, especially indie-type bands, since the ‘90s is the influences list. The assumptions are that one spends their callow youth immersing oneself in the greats, the newly rediscovered and the currently fashionable, somehow concocting a sound out of that. Unfortunately, that means that so much sounds like a lot of other stuff dating from years before.
That doesn’t mean that those who pre-date that approach are somehow free of influence. It’s just that it operates in a different way. I’m influenced by everything and nothing.
What current artists do you find promising?
In the UK, we chose a rather non-standard way of launching the album. To coincide with the release date, we had our very first festival. Over three nights in the Lexington & Cafe Oto and one night in Heaven, we presented a series of things we like: Charlie Boyer And The Voyeurs, Malka Spigel, It Hugs Back, Comanechi, Stranger Son. This festival is something we are keen to make again so doubtless there will be more opportunities to share our choices with the world.
Wire will be playing at Philly’s Union Transfer on July 13 and NYC’s Bowery Ballroom on July 16. Their new album, Change Becomes Us, is available now. For more information, go to pinkflag.com.