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
Given that you've got a hit and the record company start using their publicity machine, did they ever try anything more direct on steering your image? Did they ever say 'don't wear that, wear this instead'?
JILL: The record company struggled with us, but they couldn't imagine doing it any other way. If they could've just cleaned us up, washed the make-up off and brushed the hair out a little bit, had the outfits but much cuter, got rid of the thick black eyeliner and blue lipstick, they would've done. I remember they got a stylist to come up with some cute clothes; they were really nice, really well done, but they were CUTE and girly and frothy and sweet. Little strawberries on them and things. Good grief! What do you think we are?! She'd done this presentation with drawings and little bits of fabric, but well the whole point was we just shoved our clothes together, made them really badly, that's why they look the way they look.
How much control did they have over it all?
BILL DRUMMOND: At the time they weren't doing anything...they were asked 'would you want to do these promotions?' or whatever. They weren't forced to go and make the David Motion record. It would be a joint thing.
They both talk in terms of things being traded off, of, say, being allowed to make videos with Tim Pope if they'd do some more blatantly commercial promotion.
BILL DRUMMOND: I think that would be hindsight on their part, maybe feeling embarrassed that they have done those promotional things. They were generally up for doing that sort of stuff, which now looking back I think [winces]. I was once in a band called Big In Japan, I was in my early twenties then, about the same age as Strawberry Switchblade when this stuff was happening for them. I can imagine if we'd been signed to a major record label I would've gone, 'OK, yeah, we'll do this, we'll do that' and I would have done all those things and regretted it afterwards. Later on I would've thought, 'why did I do that?'. It's very easy to get sucked into that thing. And when it's happening you think it's never going to go away.
Everybody does it who's an artist or creative person of any sort, when the spotlight moves on to you it's very easy to think, 'this is my just rewards for all the work I've done, and now that the world can see that I have certain qualities why would the spotlight ever move away?'. And it does, of course it does, cos the world's not particularly interested in you as a person or your artistic worth. It's like, 'we know what Strawberry Switchblade are about now, they're the girls in polka dots, what can we be interested in now?'.
Did they ever voice any discontent about pressure from the record company on the promotional aspect? They said that they did a lot of good interviews but a lot of really lame ones too and that there was a lot of pressure to be cute. Did they complain at the time about that?
DAVID BALFE: No. Well, yes - there's an awful lot of inane stuff, it's pop music, The Beatles had to do an awful lot of inane things, you name a band who didn't. You don't realise quite how inane it's going to be until you turn up in the interview sometimes. But they did an awful lot of inane stuff incredibly enthusiastically. They complained a lot because everybody wanted to stay in bed a little longer, everybody got bored with it, but a lot of the game is just a sheer numbers game.
Many an act that I've known in the music business, like Take That or Adam And The Ants are two that jump to mind, achieved an awful lot of success through doing incredible sixteen-hour days of work, always going and visiting two or three more radio stations, always popping into the offices.
Yes, they complained a lot, but that's the norm.
It's not so much the schedule as the content that they were talking about.
DAVID BALFE: I think it's unfair for them to complain about the content. They enjoyed it. When they were in the top ten everything was a joy. Later on it was more, 'why are we doing these stupid things?'. Sometimes it was just the sheer hard work, 'we've done this thing this evening but before we go to bed we've got to go and visit this or that, and I know you're knackered but tomorrow morning you've got to go shopping with Pop Hits magazine, shopping round Camden Lock saying how to get the Strawberry Switchblade style for some Little Miss Teen magazine, or Little Miss Teen Japan magazine' or whatever.
But people would be absolutely staggered at how important it is, just the amount you do. It's not the quality. If you're just a punter you don't read that many magazines. I might buy an album because I see something in the Independent On Sunday arts section and it has a little interview with Nick Cave and I think, 'oh he's got a new album out, I'll buy it', and that's often the way you or I buy records. You don't realise that if you do a hundred things you don't catch people a hundred times, cos they only read one of those things. OK, there is some thirteen year old fairly well-off pop fan whose mum buys her every magazine she wants who'll see you in every single thing, but for most people it's not like that.
Most musicians tend to imagine that if you put out a record and it's on Radio 1, everybody in the country hears it and decides at that point whether they like it or not. But we're not listening to the radio all the time, if something's on ten times a day all week - which is probably the most played record on Radio 1 - then I'll hear it probably once. And generally, even with my favourite singles, I didn't realise I really loved them until I heard them the third time, so that'd be three weeks. The same goes for the media, you notice a band cos you've read two articles but the band might have to have fifty articles for your average music buyer to have seen two of them and think there's a bit of a buzz going.
There's an awful lot of that, there's an awful lot of regional radio, satellite TV. Some things are wrong for some bands and would damage their cool, but I never saw Strawberry Switchblade as a band whose cool could be damaged more than, say, the first video damaged it, which they LOVED! See if you can get hold of the Since Yesterday video.
I've got it, I actually quite like it.
DAVID BALFE: I quite like it, but in terms of pitching them somewhere, it pitches them at the Little Miss Teen market.
I think there's a lot or weirdness in it because of the stop-frame animation and the monochrome, it doesn't look sleek or sweet.
DAVID BALFE: I think it's too cutesy, I think it pitched them too cutesy. At the end of the day I always had a love-hate relationship with their image because I always knew it was very strong and it could get them to come across, but I always knew it was too cutesy and it would really work with Little Miss Teen magazine.
I think it always showed more than that. I remember it as a fifteen year old into REM and The Cure and it came across to me as something shiny and poppy but also twisted and gothy, and all my mates recognised that as well.
DAVID BALFE: That's what we were striving for. But who knows what went wrong. Maybe you're right, maybe we should have made them into a goth band.
JILL: I remember the worst thing, the thing where I thought 'I don't want to do this any more' was round the time of the third single. The second single [on WEA, Let Her Go] hadn't gone into the charts and so they really wanted to push. They wanted me to go out with Mike Read [then Radio 1's inane breakfast show DJ and twattish TV 'personality', not to be confused with Mike Reid who plays Frank Butcher on EastEnders, an even grislier sexual prospect]. He phoned somebody up and said he liked me, and we'd done Top Of The Pops and I think he was presenting it and he was chatting to me and I was [uncomfortable squirm] and he'd got in touch with the radio promotions guy and said he'd like to go out with me. They'd tried to arrange for me to go out with him. I was going out with Peter, and they knew him.
They wanted me to go out with this guy, to go to some awards ceremony with him as his date. I was like, 'HELLO?' I remember Balfey saying 'I'll come and sit outside the place in the car so if you want to leave at any time you can'. I was like, 'HELLO? EXCUSE ME? Am I a prostitute?'. Mike Read used to turn up at things, he'd turn up at studios. They'd obviously told him where we would be, and I was NOT INTERESTED, they knew I had a boyfriend. The promotions departments in record companies seem to be peopled by folk with no morals, they just want you to do ANYTHING. And I said no. The mind boggles cos we weren't exactly glam pretty girls, we were weird hair-extension freaks. I would not be the Spice Girls. You look at them and think, god, what must they get? Someone saying, 'ooh, I fancy that one' and some sleazy guy in radio promotions going, 'I really think it'd do you a lot of good if you went out with him'.
I remember going with the radio promotions - radio promotions seem to be the worst - to Langan's Brasserie, that posh restaurant, to have lunch with Mike Read, ostensibly just to chat, and it was with Rose and Balfey and radio promotions guy and I'm like 'I'm not sitting next to him, you're not putting me next to him'. And they put me right next to him. Can you believe it? Just for publicity, let's get a photo. That is NOT why I was doing it, and I thought fuck it big time, I'm not doing it, that's not what I want to do.
DAVID BALFE: I was never managing them to do those things. If every single had been number five we wouldn't have had to do it. We'd probably still have had to butter up to Mike Read but we wouldn't have had to do those advert things, it would have been considered beneath us. But at that point I had no other group who were earning me much money. I wasn't getting them to do it for the £400 commission I'd get on a two grand thing, I would be getting them to do it so they would have wages for another couple of months.
You've got to know what kind of energy you've got, and a pair of pop girls making pop music - and I don't say pop music in a totally trivial way, I mean, the Beatles made pop music - they weren't the Velvet Underground. I think they liked the idea, though there were elements that were Velvety.
They totally loved it, they were Smash Hits kings at the time. There were all these hits magazines, Smash Hits, Number One, aimed at teens and pre-teens, and they LOVED doing all those things. They did all the 'tell us about how you do your hair, tell us where you buy your ribbons, let's take you out shopping', and we did tons and tons and tons of those press things and they were brilliant at it and they loved it. It was a real poppy-pop thing.
Once you've started playing that game, that's the game you're in. You don't start playing netball and then suddenly decide you're going to switch to Premiership football or something. That's a very bad analogy but you know what I mean.