Complete Strawberry Switchblade interview by subject

Jill Bryson interviewed 9 June 01
Rose McDowall interviewed 29 Jan 02
Bill Drummond interviewed 26 April 03
David Balfe interviewed 19 May 03
David Motion interviewed 2 Aug 02 & 15 April 03
Robin Millar interviewed 16 Feb 03
Tim Pope interviewed 22 June 06

Recording the album, ii

On Since Yesterday, how did the fanfare from Sibelius' 5th get on it?

JILL: That was David Motion. I'm not sure he even realised. He didn't tell us. Not being great classical music fans we didn't know! That was his thing, he did it and said what do you think, and we said, 'yeah, sounds good'. It's only afterwards we had to ask 'who's Sibelius then?'.

Did much get changed that late on?

JILL: Nothing major. Since Yesterday we rewrote the verse. But that wasn't him, that was us. We were sitting together and David Balfe was saying that we should think about the verse and rewrite it cos it was a bit repetitive, so Rose rewrote the lyrics. That was the most major change that we did.

It's the most prominent song on the album and yet until quite late the lyrics and melody were totally different. How late was it changed?

JILL: Pretty late, cos I remember Bill Drummond and David Balfe saying we should work on the lyrics. And not so much the lyrics but the tune to get more melody into it, a bit of variation. It was fairly late on, we were rehearsing together in London for the album and Rose rewrote the lyrics for it.

Out in one go or did she work at it?

JILL: She must've gone off and worked at it. I think later on she'd just have said no! I was quite amazed that she did do that, I think that was the only one that she did rewrite the lyrics for.

Listening to the earlier versions of the songs they change a bit but the lyrics are basically in place for everything except that one.

JILL: When she changed that little melody bit and it wouldn't fit whatever we had for it before, so she just had to go away and rethink it, and she did. I remember her coming up and singing it and thinking it was much better, fantastic. So that's how it was. At that point David Motion must've heard the demos, it was very late on.

That was Balfe spurring that on - how close was he watching?

JILL: Not that much really. He was involved and he would probably have liked to be a bit more involved, but no, he left the music side of it to us. He had another band at the time that he was managing. It's funny cos when we signed with David Balfe and Bill Drummond we thought Bill Drummond was going to be our manager and it turned out to be David Balfe who was the one looking after us, and he was obviously a man with an eye on climbing a career ladder and having his own record label or being a manager and making money. So a lot of his decisions we were wary of, cos it was obvious that's what he was doing.

[Balfe swiftly went on to form his own label, Food Records, starting with Jesus Jones, Crazyhead and Diesel Park West. Then he signed Blur and sold the label to EMI for several million pounds]

When you and Bill approached the band it appeared as if you were going to jointly manage them, but it turned out it was much more you than Bill. How swiftly did it become that way? How much of an interest did Bill retain?

DAVID BALFE: When Bill and I approached them - as my memory has it, but who knows - we were just trying to sign their publishing, we had a company through Warner Music called Zoo Music. I think it was just me who wanted to manage them, cos Bill had got a job as an A&R man for WEA. Though I don't remember it, it is possible that we were going to manage them together, then Bill got the job and dropped out. Bill and I were officially joint publishers and he was the A&R man and I the manager. But because Bill and I had a close relationship we did a lot of things together, not defining the boundaries too strictly.

JILL: He had a band called Brilliant, do you remember them?

Yeah, Youth from Killing Joke and Jimmy Cauty who went on to do the KLF with Bill Drummond. Truly dreadful album, the Brilliant album. I don't know how much you can confirm of this - the legend is that Drummond signed them to WEA for a ridiculous amount of money.

JILL: Yes. Which didn't happen with us!

And Drummond got Pete Waterman in to produce for another ridiculous amount of money, and doing the Brilliant album is what paid for Waterman's set-up that gave us the Stock Aitken Waterman unholy trinity in the late 80s.

JILL: Very possibly. I would imagine that's the truth.

The Brilliant album deservedly sold fuck all and lost a fortune.

JILL: I remember going down to meet Youth. I can't remember why. Balfey was also managing Zodiac Mindwarp as well.

That early?

JILL: That was towards the end, after we'd done the album. I remember [Jill's boyfriend] Peter doing some photos for Zodiac Mindwarp. Balfey seemed to know a lot of people, a big network of quite disparate people.

There's the Youth connection with you then - Youth gets a credit on the Let Her Go remix.

JILL: Yes, that's right. Him and Balfey were quite big pals.

The version of Since Yesterday you would've heard on Peel sessions or demos would have been called Dance, which was substantially different.

DAVID MOTION: I didn't realise that. It's possible she said, 'I'm going to rewrite it' and when she sang it it just sounded so natural, but I can't honestly remember that.

I remember doing something I did an awful lot at the time, at the end of a track to have all the vocals running at once for the end choruses. I think they really enjoyed that because all of a sudden it takes it to another level and you can see how everything fits nicely together, you get extra texture. I think it was something they hadn't really come across before. It worked really well, you just ran a section of the verse vocal while the chorus vocals go on at full tilt.

Having heard the tapes of the Radio 1 sessions and other early versions, the bombast of a lot of the released versions is quite overpowering by comparison.

ROSE: I know. It was quite weird really, cos it was a medium that I wasnae that familiar with - synthesisers and stuff - not being very technically minded. I could work the mixing desk, I'd engineer for him and stuff like that cos I really liked doing that. I do like synths a lot more now than I did then, I buy them now and I use them now. But I kinda always really liked the sound of Trees And Flowers, the fragility of it and the beauty of the pure sounding instruments that are played well, it just sounded really really nice. I would have liked to have done a bit more of that, especially when you get little hook lines in something like On The Journey From Home [Being Cold] with the melodica parts, melodies like that. If you have really strong melodies, OK we played them on melodicas and we were playing harmonies over each other, but I would have been so nice if some of the other songs could have been that rich. They wouldn't have dated quite as much. I know loads of people are back into 80s stuff again.

It's in a revivalist way though, superficial and nostalgic rather than creative.

ROSE: Yeah and kinda kitschy. I would love to do that album again, I think those songs just weren't done justice to. I don't want to say anything that would reflect badly on anybody that was involved in it cos I liked everybody that we worked with, but I really think they [the songs] weren't done justice to, they could have been SO much better.

It's difficult with new technology to spot what's going to date badly, you can't tell what's going to be superseded and what's going to stick around.

ROSE: Well of course, I know, of course. And there were some great sounds actually- I love that whale sound on Deep Water which was a synth sound. I love that sound, it gets you in the gut. I really liked quite a lot of it but there were bits of it that are too rinky-dink for me. You know what I mean? Like, press the sequencer and everything just goes dut-dut-dut-dut-dut, there's nothing organic in there. Where's the breath? Where's the human in that? Everything's digitalised. I like analogue, although I use digital now as well, I do like that REAL feeling about music when you can actually hear somebody's breath or you can hear them play the guitar, you can almost hear the fingers touching it.

I love acoustic stuff where you can hear the fret squeak as the fingers move on the wound strings.

ROSE: When they squeak and it's a good squeak in the right place I like it, but if it's a squeak that's 'that wasn't supposed to be there', I don't like that actually. Although I'm guilty of it sometimes. I like deliberate ones though. Music's just one of those things, it does something different to everybody. I think those songs could have been SO much better if we'd gone with the same approach as Trees And Flowers and done it with real instruments, and we should have blended it a bit, but it all went dut-dut-dut-dut-dut. And some of the songs, my voice is so shrill, it's really high and I just think, god, I sound like a chipmunk.

But it's that which gives it the fragility, the delicate touch. Harmonies build it up but it's the high voice that creates that gorgeous fragile bit, that's the thing that gives it its real sensitivity, its real power.

ROSE: I like them, but I like them when they have a bass harmony down there somewhere. I like harmonies that are really close, that kind of resonate almost, like they're the same organic thing. A lot of things I do now I like to put really close harmonies so it has almost a Gregorian feel. Then I like to put really high things over the top. But some of the first album I did in Sorrow I went overboard on harmonies, harmonies everywhere, put on another one! The second album round I thought, 'you're being too predictable putting harmonies everywhere just because you can,' so I pulled back from that a wee bit.

But it's good to experiment. I want to record an album that's all vocals, all the different melodies are vocal melodies. Maybe just a bit of simple heartbeat drumming a bit of flute or something like that, but mostly all vocal melodies coming from all directions. I really want to do that, something to completely surround your head and get drowned in.

I did a gig recently and a guy came up to me and said 'your songs really haunt me,' and I thought that's a real compliment. And we did this gig - this is not about Strawberry Switchblade - we did this gig in America and the whole audience started crying, it was amazing, it was totally amazing. First of all this girl started crying, then someone else started crying, her boyfriend started crying, it was fucking amazing. What a compliment, to make all these people cry, you know? A whole bunch of them - ten of them - got a plane and came over when we played Whitby last year.

We did one gig in Germany, the venue had a lot to do with it, it was this massive big monument and it was circular. We opened with a vocal piece and then bagpipes came in, really really soft and gentle at the beginning. There was a little glass dome at the very top of the monument and just as I started singing the sun came through this dome and put a ray of light where I was stood, it was fucking angelic! And this girl who was in one of the other bands, the cellist with Backworld, she came back afterwards and said when the ray of light came through her eyes just filled. If somebody tells you that you can make them cry it's really touching. You're touching people then.

The thing that separates good music from bad whatever the genre is a thing Mick Jones from The Clash said. He said he was sick of seeing all these big bands doing enormous gigs that just took your money and put you in a field while they played and at the end of it you were exactly the same but older and poorer. They just take your money and time, they don't GIVE you anything. He said he wanted to be in a band that gives more than it takes, something that move people, make them feel different at the end than they were at the start. That power to affect is the thing that separates all good music from the bad. Whether you're listening to Dead Can Dance or Nirvana, they both pass that test.

ROSE: I totally agree with you. Music is there to move you, it's there to play with your emotions. Even when I was growing up the stuff I was drawn to was the stuff I could FEEL, it's the passion in music - whether it's tragic or beautiful or whatever - it's that passion in music that makes music so powerful, which gives music the power over you as a human being.

I remember I just love Jah Wobble's bass playing cos it used to thud you right in the gut, right in the solar plexus. Some people's music just has that. This Is The Day by The The, that accordion part, god, I used to play that over and over on my walkman all the time. Whenever I was feeling shit or depressed I'd put that on and I'd go [sings melody] I just loved it so much. I got an accordion, I needed to play that melody! There are just some things so brilliant that will stay with you forever.

This is why people still want to talk to you about Strawberry Switchblade or why people still listen to the Mary Chain, when nobody wants to interview a contemporary like Nick Kamen about his records. It's the difference between who means it and who doesn't.