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
Videos and Jolene
ROSE: We were working with [video director] Tim Pope. That was one of the major upsets for me. I loved his videos and I just thought Tim Pope and us were a perfect combination, we had good fun working together. We talked to other video directors and they came up with the naffest ideas like Jill sitting on a bed with a box of chocolates and real girly sexist shit, real crap, no sense of art or anything, just boring video.
JILL: The shit videos we had to do! We did a couple of good videos with Tim Pope who was fantastic, such a brilliant guy, I really liked him. His birthday was the day after mine, I remember having a joint party. He was the sort of the person I wanted to work with. The first video he did with us I thought 'he's got it'.
Which song was that for?
JILL: Since Yesterday. He got one of the animators from Magic Roundabout to do it. He shot it in black and white, we didn't look particularly glamorous and we had polka dots on velcro so they could move about and the guy from Magic Roundabout animated us. There was a big pop-art hanging with circles, mobiles that spun, it was bizarre but so exciting. It took two days to do it cos the animation was so slow. Tim Pope was such a nutter. I remember Robert Smith coming in to see him. It was incredible, really good fun and I thought 'yeah, that's great, that's a really good video', there was a point to making it.
Where did you first come across Strawberry Switchblade?
TIM POPE: As usual, I think I got a call. I was hip in those days, the early 80s, and I think I got a call from the record company. I wasn't particularly known for dealing with - quote - 'women'. Whenever you make videos for - quote - 'women', as actually I recently did with KT Tunstall, so many people try and get involved with a video for a woman.
Maybe the girls came to me or maybe it was Dave Balfe or somebody, but I remember meeting them and liking them a lot. Same as you, I thought there was something quite sinister and dark underneath the apparent fluffiness, there was something that drew me to it. They were just one band in amongst loads I worked with at that point.
My birthday's in February and Jill's is around then as well and we once shared a birthday party together. It was brilliant, all these bands from the 80s came to it, it was such a great night. I've still got the invitation somewhere, I'll probably put it on my website. I remember dancing with her, it was brilliant.
Did they have ideas for the videos already or did you cook stuff up together?
TIM POPE: Remember we're talking about something that was twenty years ago! But I seem to remember that I just instantly liked them, I liked their image. As always, I'll meet someone, spend a lot of time talking to them, listening to them, seeing what I see about them, listening to the music, listening to everything. I must have based it a little bit on them, that video [Since Yesterday], because of all that dotty kind of stuff, stuff like that, but I don't specifically remember.
I'm just curious about how much input they had to any of them. You said they didn't have that much with Since Yesterday.
TIM POPE: It's hard to say. I always say that I'm like this bespoke tailor. I'll make a suit to fit someone perfectly and that will involve me spending time with them, talking with them, looking at where I think their career is, really just evaluating everything and trying to put it together. I allow people as much into that process as they want to be, or as little as they want to be.
I've just made this video for this guy called Jim [surname unclear] and he didn't want any input into it. I made a video that was very much true to his music, very much fitted in, and if he didn't want to interact too much on it that was great. He loved the video. I reflect what people are.
Jill had an art school background, she'd worked - and indeed still works - in visual arts, so I wondered if she'd had any strong or definite input.
TIM POPE: I don't remember specifically but I remember I liked them a lot and I would've sat down and spent a lot of time and talked to them.
They remember being extremely proud that it was an animator from Magic Roundabout who was involved in doing the stop-frame stuff.
TIM POPE: Was it? Rory. I don't remember that, but it probably is true. He was an absolute nutter. It was a guy called Rory. I think to be honest he was a real pervert and really enjoyed these young girls. I have a funny feeling that's what was really going off with him. He did a bunch of stuff with me at the time, he did some Cure videos with me and some adverts as well.
How was the video received by the record company?
TIM POPE: Well the record company - this was happening to me with every band I was working with at that stage - were trying to separate me from the band. It used to happen with every band, it happened with The Cure. Everyone was trying to separate me and I said well fine, go and get someone else to do it, that's fine by me. There was nothing I could do. I thought the way I thought and I could only do it that way.
It's interesting the labels always wanted to separate me from the bands cos I was a similar age to them and made these daft videos, I wasn't prepared to take no prisoners with anything I did. I was quite strong about their views.
JILL: The second one he did was like a follow-on to it with a flurry of polka dots going off and they [record company] totally didn't get it. It's a bit more glam cos I think they'd told him to try and make us a bit more glamorous. But Rose was just wearing this hilarious tutu and boots, we wanted it to look like something from Eraserhead, something really weird, something 'these people aren't quite right', and the record company hated it. We did another one with Tim Pope for Who Knows What Love Is with us running about in costume in a park somewhere which was funny, and then they just wouldn't let us use him any more.
DAVID BALFE: As a pop band we lost all indie credibility with the top five single [Since Yesterday], and the video which was totally down to the girls. It was done by Tim Pope who was an incredibly trendy video director and did the Cure's singles and won awards for them. The girls and he fell in love and ended up doing what I consider to be a far too lightweight video; very entertainment, very good for kids TV. I thought it was a very big mistake we did. I thought it was a good video in terms of being entertaining, but it was just wacky. If you're The Cure and you do something that wacky it's one thing, but if you're girls who wear polka dots and ribbons and you do something that wacky, it just looks wacky, it doesn't look a kind of ironic-wacky, it just looks lightweight-wacky.
I think that more than anything made them see it's just all about pop, and once you're a pop band that doesn't have hits it's all over. I think we gave it one shot after we couldn't work out what was wrong with the second single, and then we were into desperation mode for I don't know how long before Jolene came out, and that was just a real desperate thing. If you could get back in the top ten you were back in the game, and if you can't, we knew it was all over.
ROSE: Then the Jolene one came up and we talked to Tim Pope about it. With Tim Pope we put ideas together, jumbled them up and came out with something good. But we went with this other company - well we were forced into it basically; 'just try it', famous last words. So we did this video with somebody else, because if we do THIS then the record company will let us do THAT, something we want to do that they didn't want to do. It was like that all the time. We shouldn't be in that situation, we should be calling the shots because this is our art form, it's what we DO. Then we did the video and I loved bits of it but a lot of the best bits they didn't put in cos they thought they were too risqué for 1985.
What sort of stuff?
ROSE: I don't know if you saw the Jolene video. You know the cage bit? There's a bit where I'm dancing in a catsuit, a full-body catsuit with hands and feet and everything. I was dancing in a cage with flowers. There was a camera on rails, and I had shackles and handcuffs on and chains, and I was following the camera; it was really pretty fetish actually. And they just cut out all the best bits that I thought were really really good and that said 'this is Strawberry Switchblade'. We have people who like that side of us as well, it's not just people who just like Strawberries; some people like the Switchblade.
They cut out all the bits that would make people's heads turn round and make them stop saying 'they're twee'. THIS is how we get out of that, it's not by turning into someone who looks like she should be singing in the West End or on Dallas or something like that. This is how we get out of people calling us twee, just by letting us be who we are, because we're not twee. Just let us express ourselves completely. But that wasn't going to happen.
Also there was this dance scene that was supposed to be shot in a club, the cage was in a club. I thought, if we're gonna have all of these extras let's get all our friends. Actually I don't think Jill wanted to get her friends, because I think she thought some of my friends were too weird. We ended up getting all these extras who looked like a bunch of wankers. It was so cheesy, a bad cheesy eighties club thing with guys dancing about in tights.
TIM POPE: The record company, specifically this guy called Rob Dickins who managed the label, very specifically wanted them to be marketed like they 'should' be marketed, in inverted commas. He wanted them to be marketed like little girls, if you like. I thought there was something much darker, much more interesting. And they felt very strongly, I remember this, they felt really strongly that they shouldn't be marketed that way. They wanted THEMSELVES to be in the video, they wanted their personalities to be in it. And I think they were.
All of this is evidenced by the fact that when they did make their fourth video, which was, er…
TIM POPE: Jolene! They were put in cages and stuff like that, and I don't think that was good. I think they were better than that. There was something about their music that had a David Lynchy kind of quality that I liked, something kind of dark, lurking in the shadows with their music.
Certainly with the Let Her Go video, that seems shiner, more colourful and mainstream.
TIM POPE: Yeah.
Was that record company pressure to make it more like that?
TIM POPE: Probably me. I think the first one [Since Yesterday] is the best video, definitely. I think the next ones are OK, they sort of have a magical quality which I think are nice. I was still inexperienced in those days as well, I was still very much learning, and unfortunately learned sometimes at other peoples' expenses! I think it's quite quirky that one still [Let Her Go]. Funnily enough I hadn't seen it for years and then maybe I saw it on your site, I hadn't seen it for about 25 years or something and I suddenly saw it and I thought it was pretty shit actually to be honest, but I could see what I was trying to do. It had a sort of dreamlike thing. There's that bit where Jill leans over where she's a bit sort of mad which I liked.
For Who Knows What Love Is there's all the outdoor sequences. Is that consciously trying to make it different from the first two?
TIM POPE: No, I would never work that way. I thought the song had a very dreamy sort of sappy quality. There was something very sexy about the two of them as well, and I used trees and things like that, and there's this overt sort of sexual almost lesbian thing that happened in that, in a very dark and bizarre way. There's this idea of Rose stalking Jill and all that kind of stuff, and coming between that big tree, I thought that was a real old chuckler.
It was just me having a bit of a chuckle to be honest. We just ran around with a 16mm camera. There was a cameraman I had met in that period who was an art student or something and I liked the way his stuff looked. We just thought we'll fuck off to this forest and shoot all this dark stuff.
The light was brilliant that day, it was really magical. I remember the rushes of that were really magical and quite dark.
Where was it shot?
TIM POPE: I have no idea. I wouldn't even be able to begin to tell you. Somewhere in England.
Jill remembers it being Sussexy maybe, but no idea.
TIM POPE: It's a lovely place though and I'd love to go back there.
How do you think your videos stand up in retrospect?
TIM POPE: I like the first one [Since Yesterday], that's the only one I really like to be honest. The others don't do it, but then I don't think the songs are as strong. Whereas Since Yesterday is a quintessential piece of pop to me, it's quite succinct and to the point. It really encapsulates what they are, which is extreme light and extreme dark, and somehow or other I think that video has that quality within it, there's something odd and bizarre about that video.
At that period I was really into David Lynch movies and that kind of stuff and there's something like Angelo Badalamenti who always writes the music for David Lynch stuff, and there's something like fluffy clouds on the top but underneath it you know there's something VERY dark. That's what I like about their music and Since Yesterday did that, I don't think the others encapsulated that idea as well.
Jolene's a fairly cheesy song to have done though, isn't it? What was the idea?
JILL: [laughs] Well, we were just desperate by that point. They wanted us to do something like that.
Who suggested it?
JILL: You know, I can't remember, I think it might have been Balfey.
ROSE: It was Bill Drummond. Loved the song, loved Dolly Parton, thought 'you have to do this song'.
BILL DRUMMOND: That was a definite record company thing.
DAVID BALFE: Jolene had come from the girls and their boyfriends. I think it was Peter, Jill's boyfriend, said 'why don't you do Jolene with an I Feel Love backing thing?'. We had a John Peel session or a Kid Jensen session or something like that, and we went in and I programmed a thing to go dududududu [I Feel Love bassline] and you can actually sing Jolene to that and it worked great, and we did it.
Then we took it into the record company and said 'this could be a good single' and we got a guy [producer] Clive Langer in to do it who'd done the Teardrop Explodes and was famous for doing Madness and he'd done the big Come On Eileen Dexy's thing. I got hold of him, I was doing the programming. For some reason - which I argued with him about but he insisted on it - he changed it from that I Feel Love thing that could have worked in a disco to this dun-de-dundun-dun thing. It sort of sounds like some programmed hopalong cowboy beat. I think he was probably too scared of doing a straight pastiche of I Feel Love. It's quite a modern phenomenon now, bunging two things together, and we liked that.
Rose said it was you that had the choice of song.
BILL DRUMMOND: She really liked Down From Dover. She came to me and was talking about Dolly Parton, she was a big big Dolly Parton fan and I think they already did this version of Down From Dover themselves, it was a cover version they would do. So it was borne out of the fact that she was really into Dolly Parton and they did this Down From Dover song. So we said, 'do you want to do Jolene?'. So that's how that came about. [In 1993 Rose released a cover of Down From Dover on the Spell album Seasons In The Sun].
ROSE: And that was another thing - we should have gone for the Marianne Faithfull one when they wanted us to do that. They wanted us to do a cover.
Which Marianne Faithfull song?
ROSE: The Marianne Faithfull one was put to us much earlier on, it was As Tears Go By, which is a beautiful song and I love it. I actually have done a version with Dave Ball which was not released, but we did a version of it. Rob Dickins loved that song and wanted us to do a version, but we at that point didn't want to do a cover. It was too early in our career to do a cover song. I think it was just after Since Yesterday or something like that, so we didn't want to do a cover that soon cos then we're going to get into the covers thing, and we want to our own songs, so we bluntly refused that.
But then after a couple of other singles the Jolene thing came up and that was one of those 'you do this for me I'll do that for you' things. Things were all falling apart by that time, we couldn't use the video director we wanted. I actually liked the song Jolene and I liked Dolly Parton, but it was still a trade-off and I was anti it purely on the principle that it was a trade-off. They wanted it to be a club thing and I wasn't into that scene at all. I didn't care if the records got played in clubs. We're not releasing records to be played in clubs, we're releasing records cos we're musicians and that's what we do. They wanted to do it cos it would make more money and blah blah blah.
Moving on to Jolene, Rose remembers talking up some ideas for a video with you.
TIM POPE: And they were fantastic. And I don't remember the ideas at all now! Bear in mind it was twenty years ago. But I remember whatever way we were going was fantastic. And that's when this guy Rob Dickins stepped in and said, 'we want videos where they look sexy, obviously sexy'. If putting them in cages is 'sexy'.
The record company push to commercialise them, do you remember where their management stood on that? What Balfe and Drummond had to say about what Rob Dickins wanted to do?
TIM POPE: I think everyone's balls were a little bit snipped after things didn't work out as strongly as they wanted them to, d'you know what I mean? I seem to remember everyone having to concede slightly. Everyone had been great bangers of drums after Since Yesterday but the drum sounded less resonantly later on, shall we say. That's all I seem to remember. Again, it's hard to remember.
But they went off and did that thing which was fascinating, and I didn't even know about that side of them, the KL whatsitcalled, the band they had…
TIM POPE: Yeah, which I loved. They were always arty, they were always subversive people, so they were a very good match for the girls. But they must've caved at a given point cos they stopped working with me. I'm fine working with someone else, but I don't think you need to do a video where you're hung up in cages, do you? I saw them afterwards and they were in tears about it.
JILL: We thought OK, that would be really funny because we could do it really camp and we wanted to do this really camp video and we had it all worked out and they didn't let us do it. We had to go to Paris to shoot it and it was terrible, sooo embarrassing. I can't even tell you, it was just shit, just awful, really bad. All the other ones had been making a little film. Especially the first one, I'm proud of that. I did film at art school and I was really into doing this. We'd been given a budget to make a piece of film that's to represent you and something that you've written yourself. What a fantastic opportunity, it ought to be something decent instead of total shit.
Also, with doing Jolene, if you've got any kind of tongue-in-cheek or ironic level to what you're doing then it's really important to have the video make it clear.
It's such an in-yer-face and literal medium it's important to be overt that there's a jokey element.
JILL: Absolutely! Which it didn't, it really didn't. We wanted it to be shot in a fake saloon with busty barmaids with plumes and cowboys and stuff, we just thought that'd be so funny. Really crap, bad shaking saloon doors, really tacky, really colourful so there's no doubt in your mind that this is fun and something daft. But no.
It's really odd as a counterpoint because there's such incredible melancholy to your own songs.
JILL: I don't understand it myself really. We liked it, but we liked it the camp silliness of it, and it was such a silly thing to do
Especially trying to see it as being of a piece with everything else you'd done before.
JILL: Exactly. And also the way it was done, which was Balfey. There was a lot of Balfe influence, I remember we did the recording at AIR studios in Oxford Street which was very expensive and there was a lot of muso people involved, it was nothing to do with me. By that time I thought I don't want to do any of it, I just want to go home, go back to Scotland and lie in a darkened room and pretend it hadn't happened.
TIM POPE: But I liked it, I loved the song, I thought it was great. Did you not like it?
I think the idea's good, but it was done badly. It's not dated very well. It's dated, the 80s electro thing, although Larry Adler's harmonica is killer on it.
TIM POPE: Was it Larry Adler? D'you know I recorded with him once. Me and my mate recorded this song called With You and one Saturday or Sunday I went into a recording studio with the two of them. We just went in for a total laugh and fucked around and recorded this thing. God knows where it is, I've no idea where it is, I haven't heard it since then, but somewhere it exists.
The initial idea had been to do a more kind of I Feel Love sort of backing and instead it's got a bouncy hopalong as a nod to the country provenance that kills it stone dead.
TIM POPE: Didn't it do pretty well in Japan?
TIM POPE: It was obvious that they had that kind of thing, almost like The Cure, that sort of floppy doll kind of effect, if you like.
I'm surprised The Cure had so little support with being on Fiction with Chris Parry, I got the impression it was a small label run by someone who respected them.
TIM POPE: It was Chris Parry who used to sit me down with The Cure and say, 'I've had a couple of meetings with MTV and they want you to cut the videos this quickly'. I said, 'well fuck off and get someone else then'. And in the instance of Strawberry Switchblade they did. Rob wanted something to make them look sexy, and clearly his idea of sex was putting women in cages.
BILL DRUMMOND: It was that classic thing of get them to do a cover version, they don't seem to have any other songs right now that can be hits and if we don't get a hit soon the whole thing is definitely over.
I really enjoyed that record. I tell you what I enjoyed the most about that record, getting Larry Adler in to play harmonica, that was FANTASTIC. Have you got the twelve inch version? I don't know how it stands up today.
The production sounds really horribly dated, but yeah, the harmonica is fantastic.
BILL DRUMMOND: I remember being in the studio thinking it was fantastic. For a moment I must've thought it could be a hit.
DAVID BALFE: He [producer Clive Langer] did it and then Bill and I went and did some additional production on it, and one of the most memorable recording moments of my life was when Bill had the idea of getting the harmonica player Larry Adler. We were in the studio and he came in, and he was famous in his day for telling anecdotes. Within fifteen minutes of arriving he'd already dropped incredibly famous names - 'oh, when I did this with Jacqueline Kennedy' - almost compulsively he would be mentioning these people. We said we just wanted something to weave in between the lyrical lines and he went and did this stuff that I just LOVE. It was one of the most amazing times in a studio with a musician. He played all this stuff, he did it first take. We did another take just to have a choice, and that was it.
We put that out, we worked it hard, and I think it got to number twenty something or other.
It was further down than that.
DAVID BALFE: It was a flop anyway, and that was that.
ROSE: So that's when it started falling apart basically. That whole Jolene era was too many compromises and not enough comebacks.
Did both you and Jill feel like there were too many compromises?
ROSE: Yeah, I think so.