Our interview with Colin Newman from Wire

Our interview with Colin Newman from UK band Wire.

As they celebrate their 40th year since forming, seminal UK band Wire’s forthcoming release Silver/Lead, is due out March 31st via the band’s Pink flag label. The band also recently announced various DRILL FESTIVAL dates, a boutique city festival curated by Wire with dates in LA, Leeds, Brussels and Berlin, plus two nights at London’s Garage and various other Spring tour dates. We, recently caught up with Colin Newman, to discuss a number of interesting topics.

NT: Your new album Silver/Lead is being released on the 40th anniversary of Wire’s debut performance. You obviously aren’t afraid of a little nostalgia but the album sounds gloriously untied to the history of early wire. Was it tempting to revisit those sounds or are you soldiering ever-forward?

CN: To be honest Wire is pretty much what it always has been, not particularly interested in looking back and always interested in new approaches. You could describe that as being a permanent condition of the band. However, from my point of view the 40th anniversary was too good an opportunity to pass up. In many ways, it is both meaningful and meaningless. In terms of the band and it’s approach to its art it’s completely meaningless but in the area of a narrative around the band and a context to why we are the way we are it does have meaning, it gives the rest of the world the chance to connect up what we do within the context of the whole history of the band. The clue is in how we are celebrating this. Instead of trying to resurrect the set we played 40 years ago in a basement in Covent Garden, London we will be on stage on the other side of the planet (to London) launching our new album.

NT: What is the meaning behind the album title Silver/Lead?

CN: It’s Graham’s text and he describes the tile in terms of the world as viewed by the Mexican drug cartels. Every problem can be solved by silver (money) or lead (bullets). I have another parallel interpretation in relationship to the band and its anniversary. It touches on that duality of the meaningful / meaningless nature of these artificially created events. We aren’t looking for any kind of “reward” (silver) for having lasted so long!

NT: What sort of modern music are you interested in? Wire has always had great pop hooks. Are recent Wire records influenced by any new music, popular or otherwise?

CN: That’s quite a hard question to answer! I’ve always had pretty eclectic taste I really like a lot of stuff people wouldn’t imagine I like and quite possibly hate stuff they’d expect me to like 🙂 I personally regard influences as a very weird thing. People say they are “influenced by” when they are really referring to the source they are copying from (if the are honest enough to admit it!) I’m most definitely “influenced” by everything I’ve ever heard but I have no idea how that affects the music I come out with. Even within the band nobody “gets” the associations I tend to make. Truth is, a lot of original artists tend to be quite obscure about how they relate to what is around them. That’s how they are original 🙂 When it coms to “influences on wire” I’d say you can’t say anything at all. You have 4 very different individuals who share very little in the way of personal taste!

NT: You run a label, swim~. Do you enjoy the business side of running the label? Do you have any interest in releasing new artists as well?

CN: It hasn’t got anything to do with enjoying the business side. swim ~ started because Malka & I wanted to release material and nobody was offering any kind of deal we could relate to. swim ~’s first release (in 1993) was Malka’s first solo album “Rosh Ballata”. As the 90’s progressed we did release quite a few artists besides ourselves (g-man, Silo, Ronnie & Clyde & Lobe amongst others) some of these even sold quite well! However as we moved into the last decade several things happened. Sales in general dropped and it also became more expensive to release stuff because you’d have to spend more on promotion. I also became much more busy with Wire and running pinkflag (which was started for similar reasons to swim ~) . Over the past few years we’ve put out various ”home” projects, Malka, Githead & of course Immersion.

NT: You live in Brighton now- why move to the smaller seaside town over London? Do you check out the local music scene and record shops? Any recommendations?

CN: The move was really about lifestyle, we don’t HAVE to be anywhere in particular but it has to be said that we found in Brighton a lot of what used to be in London. Even only 20 years ago central London at least was still pretty vibrant about venues, record shops, music shops etc. but all that is gone now and what does exist is all in East London. Transport in London (like many cites) is radial so if you don’t live in East London then going out gigs there becomes difficult. London is also very expensive and the marginal quarters favoured by artists become less & less. Brighton is not a cheap city but it still has a lot going for it in terms of venues, record & music shops as well as rehearsal spaces, recording studios & even backline & van hire. It’s got some very good small venues like the Hope & Ruin, The Green Door Store & The Prince Albert. Resident is probably THE record store in Brighton. There is of course a very healthy local music scene, a couple of artists I personally know are Merlin Tonto & Tuval. Also, alongside Graham Duff (writer, friend & long term Brighton resident) we are also experimenting with an event night called “Nanocluster”. We had one so far.

NT: You’ve released a new reissue series of your solo records on Sentient Sonics- a label you also run! Why a new label, and not release them on swim~?

CN: Thing is swim ~ doesn’t release old records (Malka & I can be quite didactic when we want to be!) So we decided to create a new label simply to put out old material. The name actually came from Graham Duff.

NT: With the solo reissue series freshly released is there a new solo album in the works?

CN: Not really. I’d have to have a good reason to make one and TBH I really don’t.

NT: Also happy to see that your project with Malka- Immersion, returned with a new album last year. Is immersion back for good?

CN: We hope so! The thing that is different with Immersion now as opposed to back in the day is the fact that we can & do play live. We felt this was something we really had to do to give proper life to the project. We do it in a pretty stripped down way without any computer which means it’s not just a switch off for an audience. If anyone is in LA during DRILL : LA then we are playing on the first night of the festival. At the moment Malka & I are feeling Immersion as the main focus of our joint activities.

NT: Wire is a band that has consistently released great albums for 40 years- always sounding new and innovative. Even the solo records sound like they could have been recorded yesterday. How do you make a record sound timeless? Is it the production or the songwriting?

CN: Well thanks for the compliment! I think both elements are important. IMO the writing has to be as pure as possible, unplanned, instinctive & unmediated and the production is about making the most of the elements present and keeping everything audible. I don’t really believe in making a mess and tidying up on the mix. Everything should have its place. Wire & immersion are very different types of production but I’d like to think they share a certain kind of clarity of vision.

NT: Can you name us 5 of your favourite albums?

CN: Oh gawd, I hate this kind of question! I’ll tell you 5 albums I bought in the last year ok?

Thor & Friends (s/t)
Emitt Rhodes (Rainbow Ends)
The Beatles (1 – 2015 version)*
Beverly (Careers)
Joni Mitchel (Ladies of The Canyon)

* for the stereo mixes

interview by Tim Clapp