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
Japanese releases: Ecstasy, I Can Feel and the CD
Do you still get much in the way of royalties?
JILL: We get some once in a while. We did get quite a lot from Japan cos they re-released the album there.
Did you know that was coming out in advance?
JILL: No! I didn't even know afterwards. I only knew cos my friend who's an air hostess got it for me in San Francisco as an import.
They stuck a load of extra tracks on it, the 12 inch remixes and Ecstasy.
JILL: Clearly they didn't ask us did they? I would certainly have binned all those.
When did you find out about the Japanese CD reissue of the album? Did they tell you in advance?
ROSE: No. They didn't tell anyone. Someone just told me they saw it and said, was it a bootleg? I saw it and it wasn't a bootleg it was Warner Brothers. I even advised people to buy that one, because it's got more tracks on it.
Have you seen which extra tracks they are? Trees And Flowers extended mix, Since Yesterday extended mix even though the normal version's on there. And yet no Sunday Morning! They're in the vaults and they choose the 12 inch mix of Since Yesterday over Sunday Morning! Who was that person and can I please slap them?
ROSE: I know, it's true. Especially the Japanese singles.
What's that, apart from Ecstasy? Did I Can Feel only come out in Japan too?
I've always thought those two are really anomalous. What are they?
ROSE: They're nightmares. Ecstasy was basically an advert for something, I can't remember what it was now.
ROSE: I thought that was the one they put Since Yesterday over. But it could have been. They used Since Yesterday just as it was over a car advert. Ecstasy, they called it 'Apple'.
'Ecstasy (Apple Of My Eye)'.
ROSE: 'Apple of My Eye'? Where did that come from? It was nothing to do with me. The song was called Ecstasy, that was part of the joke of it. They don't know what I'm talking about but I know what I'm talking about; some people will know, some people won't know.
How did you end up doing that? Did you understand what it was like?
ROSE: It was a nightmare, that period. We did another stupid jingle for Shock Waves hairspray, and that was fucking atrocious as well. With Ecstasy they actually sent us the lyrics, and asked us to write the music for it. I said I'm not singing those lyrics. So I rewrote the lyrics which were just silly, but whatever. We just made a few bad mistakes at the end of our career, basically. Mostly Balfey pushed from behind, dollar signs popping up in his eyes. All that money that we didn't really see from those adverts. You get paid for doing stuff like that.
Of course, why else would you do it?
ROSE: Exactly. And when I saw the advert I just thought [incredulous wince]. It's got these Japanese girls sprawled over the car like in those horrible car magazines where they have a dolly bird. It was like, oh Jesus, another nail in the coffin.
What's the story with I Can Feel?
ROSE: What d'you mean 'story'?
Well, Ecstasy was basically an advert turned into a single, but I Can Feel was another Japanese-only single.
ROSE: I Can Feel was a song that was actually properly written as a song. It's a good song, but the production left a lot to be desired I think. That would probably have been on the second Switchblade album, but done completely differently.
I thought Ecstasy (Apple Of My Eye) was really incongruous for Strawberry Switchblade, a real twee departure from the usual melancholic barbed sweetness. Where did that come from?
JILL: That's a Rose song. That was when she'd met Genesis P-Orridge. 'Genesis can do magic' Rose used to say, so we'd ask, 'why can't he magic himself a single in the charts than?'. Cos there was a point where Psychic TV were desperately trying, 'Godstar' which Rose sang on, was a real aim at the charts.
They got the video on all the kids music video shows and everything.
JILL: Yeah, he really wanted to be in the charts. And if Genesis can do magic why can't he get the bloody single in the charts? What, he's not going to bother? It's what he wants and he can do magic, but you know, not for that? Aw fuck off, just write a good song. It's luck, it's not magic.
Ecstasy is really incongruous. There was, for a while, an unwritten rule that if you have over a certain level of popness in your band then you have to do a Motown pastiche, and whether that ends up being Town Called Malice by the Jam or Stop by the Spice Girls, everyone has to do one.
JILL: It's an unwritten law.
Was Ecstasy really late on?
JILL: Yes, it was very late on, and I hate it.
Was it released outside of Japan?
JILL: No. What it was, it was an advert for Subaru. So they had the tune - we didn't write the tune - and Rose wrote the lyrics to it. I didn't want to do it at all. She wrote the lyrics to it obviously, she'd started taking ecstasy. And I just thought it would be funny to put it on a Japanese advert, but it's a shit record. I so hated that song. I still hate it. It's nothing to do with us as far as I'm concerned. It's got nothing to do with me, I didn't even play on it, I didn't do anything on it. I didn't write the lyrics, I didn't like the lyrics, I hated the song, and it was done for a Japanese car advert - what's the point? Why not let us write something? Why give us a song which is THAT shit? It was another Balfey thing, 'you've got to make money'.
I remember we did Ecstasy, and we did a Wella hair advert for the radio. It was for Shock Waves [hair gel] or something, and Balfey was 'do this cos you'll make money'. We went into a studio and wrote something for it. You'd hear it on the radio as an advert. I can't even remember how it went now. I think Janice Long was doing the voiceover for it. That was at the end of the band, I just thought 'this is awful'. Just piss off, with your bloody Subaru adverts and Shock Waves radio jingle crap; I'd rather sign on, I really would.
They both shudder when they talk about some of the stuff that was done just for money near the end of the band, the Ecstasy single, the car adverts in Japan, the jingle for the Shock Waves hair gel advert. They're really embarrassed about that and say it was you cattle-prodding them into it.
DAVID BALFE: Yeah, but we had financial problems.
The level of the financial problems didn't come over in the interviews with Rose and Jill, the emphasis was on 'Balfe was pushing us to make money all the time'.
DAVID BALFE: There's a zillion types of manager, and there's an argument for nearly every way of approaching it. One of the things I was doing was saying, 'OK we've got enough in the bank to pay everybody's flat and wages for however many weeks'. OK, I earned 20%, but if they earned two grand I wasn't going to get a fortune. That's all it'd be for doing that Shock Waves thing. Literally, my neighbour invited us over for a drink one evening and she happened to be an advertising executive. She found out I was in the music business and said she needed a radio jingle for Shock Waves. I said I'd got this top five band who could do it, thinking Great, how much can we make out of it, a couple of grand. It's not as if it went out with their names on it.
Ecstasy did go out with their names on it.
DAVID BALFE: What is Ecstasy?
It was a song done for a Subaru advert in Japan, it's this excruciatingly squeaky cheesy sanitised Motown pastiche which was given to them that Rose rewrote the lyrics for. She was doing a lot of Ecstasy at the time and it's written so if you know that's what it's about then you spot it, otherwise it just looks like it's talking about being happy.
DAVID BALFE: Oh it rings a bell now, I'd forgotten that.
It's this abrasively cheery bouncy thing that wasn't written by them, it came out as a single in Japan with a picture of a Subaru on the cover and everything.
DAVID BALFE: I remember that now, yeah. I think at that point it was totally desperate financial straits and we were cashing in whatever we had going for us. Also, the record company really wanted us to do it in Japan, and Japan is a weird and wacky market.
Over here doing a TV ad for cars would severely mess with your credibility.
DAVID BALFE: It's totally different over there. Well, I don't know, but Japan was sufficiently different and we were in sufficiently difficult straits that that I wasn't going to say 'we're not going to do it'. Especially as we got paid a lot, I think. I can't remember. We were living from hand to mouth for months and months, and literally they might have had to pack it all in and go home to their mums and dads, and that was the difficulty.
They were mortally scared of losing their wages, not that they were on a good wage. In actual fact, when the shit did hit the fan they did manage to get social security to pay for the flats, so they'd lost a lot of money but it wasn't as bad. They thought they'd have to leave London and by that time they didn't want to leave London. So that was that.
I'm surprised they haven't mentioned the tax problems they had afterwards. I don't think Rose ever had to pay any of them, whereas Jill did, I think.
That is a bit weird. They were both really open and candid, I think they just lump the financial stuff in together with the other Stuff They Didn't Like, like the record company pressure to be more commercial, pressure from the promotions department to be a bit more cutesy or go out with Mike Read cos it'd get a picture in the tabloids. I think they throw in with that, 'oh god, AND we did these adverts as well', things that they were never in a band to do any of.
JILL: I'd spent all my time trying to fight against stuff, by that time it was just about the end of the band and I thought fuck it, nobody'll ever hear it [Ecstasy].
And they put it on the 1997 reissue CD of the album. They add that and the 12 inch mix of Since Yesterday but miss off Sunday Morning. What were they thinking?
JILL: Exactly! Please miss the point, why don't you?
There was another song after that that we recorded, I don't know if it was ever released, I think it was a Japanese single ['I Can Feel'] which I had nothing to do with. I just sat in the studio, it was Balfey and Rose who did it but it was released under our name. I was there thinking 'I really hate this, this has got nothing to do with what we started off being'. It was so depressing, so deeply depressing. It was nothing to do with me, I didn't sing on it, didn't play on it, didn't even know what it sounded like until I got in there. That was the point where I thought, just leave it.
ROBIN MILLAR: You shouldn't define your career by the records you sell, not in any sense. One of the really nice things about conceptual art is that you mount the piece for the duration of an exhibition and then you sweep it up into bin bags at the end, and it's gone. That doesn't devalue it as art because it's the process of creation and then getting some people to experience it the way you want.
The time they spent in the studio with the BBC, the time they spent in the studio with me, the time they spent with David Motion, to me they're all periods of their life.
Herbie Hancock I suppose leads a slightly more comfortable life than he would've done because in twenty minutes as a joke he wrote Watermelon Man before going on stage, because a friend was described as having a head like a watermelon. He literally went over to the piano and went 'heeey, watermelon man', and that was it. But I don't suppose for a minute if you talk to Herbie Hancock about the highs and lows of his musical journey he'll discuss Watermelon Man. He'll mention it as being a good meal ticket but it won't form any important part, it was just something he did for twenty minutes. It sold a lot of records and it's paid for a lot of suits.
So, in a way, if they fell out as a result of music industry pressures, they should take a deep breath and they should take a longer view. They should say all music careers last a finite amount of time and we did some very interesting things together and we had a very interesting adventure together from an extraordinary fortuitous beginning, and then this fascinating rollercoaster ride where we were able to explore and to develop all sorts of different ways and work with all sorts of different people and then we had a short period of unpleasantness near the end where we felt rather compromised and it got on top of us. But there's no value to an ex-husband and an ex-wife hating each other ten years later. None whatsoever. You have to say we liked each other enough to get married once, let's try to step back.
Just listening to the Peel things and the demos and the stuff they did with me and the excitement when they first went into the studio with David Motion; if they drew a line after that, they had a good time, really.