David Gedge of The Wedding Present
by Erin Amar
“Oh, why do you catch my eye, then turn away?”
-from “Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft”, The Wedding Present, 1987
The first line of the opening track on The Wedding Present’s debut album George Best, was strangely predictive of the question frontman David Gedge would spend the next 25 years musically investigating. Through 9 glorious albums packed with drunken hookups, betrayals and heartbreaks, Gedge – and the throng of musicians who have filed in and out of the band over the years – has established himself as not only a man who can hypnotise his audience aurally, but also rock’s foremost authority on “What Becomes of The Broken Hearted?”
On the band’s latest, Valentina, Gedge and current cohorts Charles Layton, Pepe le Moko, and Patrick Alexander, turn in a record of rare beauty. Darkly grinding, crisp, and loaded with the kind of sonic and lyrical tension that is rarely heard in the world of rock, it makes one question whether Gedge is simply the most heartbroken man on earth, the keenest studier of human relationships, or a smoldering combination of the two.
Luckily, the 40 minutes Rocker got to spend chatting with Mr. Gedge provided a few answers about that, and an array of other heady topics. We started with questions about the current tour.
Rocker: A lot of people are doing tours where they pick out a record. For the Wedding Present, it’s “Seamonsters.” How did you pick that one?
David Gedge: It was just the way it went.
In 2007, which was the 20th anniversary of our first LP, George Best, there was a label in Britain who were going to release a 20th anniversary re-release version of it, and they actually suggested a George Best tour, and to be honest with you, I was kind of against it. I was looking forward to putting out new songs and the next LP, not looking back 20 years. But I spoke to some people, friends and fans, even people in the group, and everybody said, “Oh yeah, let’s do it, it will be brilliant! It would be interesting to do an album live like that.” And like you said, it’s kind of a trendy thing to do, but to my surprise, I actually really enjoyed doing it. I found it quite fascinating to go back and reevaluate something with a new perspective 20 years later. I suppose that it’s sounding a little bit pretentious, but it made me think that maybe the past is important to the group as much as the future and the present. Then we did Bizarro, which is the second LP, we did that two years ago in Europe, and in the US. We didn’t do George Best in North America, though we did that in Europe, I’m never quite sure how familiar North Americans are with it…
So, it’s gone from my not wanting to do it at all with George Best to Seamonsters, which I actually really wanted to do it. It’s kind of a unique album for us, it lends itself to this kind of performance really well, I think. It’s got a mood and it’s almost a continuous piece of music, really. I think it works well, and I’m happy doing it.
Rocker: I read that Seamonsters is called your “difficult album.”
David Gedge: It’s a weird one, certainly. With the first couple, we had this reputation for uptempo, half-jangly, indie pop-rock, and then we did Seamonsters, which was totally different, it’s more extreme, it’s a very dark album. We replaced this frenetic energy with textures, and layers of guitar noise and stuff. So it did alienate a portion of the audience, but that’s what we do, we’ve always tried to move on and do different kinds of albums. Often we do these songs, and people come back to it later, or you get new people. That’s the way it goes.
Rocker: I went back and listened to your older records and I realized how much more noisy the production and tone of those records are, and on ‘Valentina,’ things seem so much more crisp.
David Gedge: Yeah, I think it had to do with who recorded it, who mixed it, and who’s in the band. Even though it’s my band and I’m the major songwriter, what we actually sound like at any given time is really down to who’s in the group. I’ve been saying to people that it feels like eight different groups. It changes every few years. There’s new people, who have different ideas about what the band should sound like. I think that’s quite good, really. It would have been nice and romantic to be like U2 or The Beatles or something, where it’s the same four lads who were together at school, they started a group, and here they are, 55 years later. But it didn’t work out like that. I think in some ways, we’re all the better for that, really.
Rocker: I didn’t realize your drummer, Charlie lived in Berlin. Do the rest of you live in Brighton (UK)?
David Gedge: It’s always been like that. We all lived in Leeds, then I did Cinerama, my other group, for a few years, but then when we started doing The Wedding Present again, we had someone from Finland, a Canadian drummer, and our previous bass player was American. Our current bass player is Swiss, she lives in Brighton. Charlie just moved to Berlin a year ago. We’re all over the place, really. Our new guitarist grew up in Hong Kong. It’s been a very eclectic mix over the years.
Rocker: It’s not like every Thursday is band practice night, though.
David Gedge: No. It essentially becomes a ‘project.’ We’ll get offered a festival somewhere, or a couple of concerts, and we’ll work towards that. So we’ll build rehearsals around that, and we’re all together for two or three weeks, essentially, to do that festival or a couple of concerts, but then we’ll work on other stuff as well, while we’re in the same locale. It happens three or four times a year, when you get together and do something. It just all comes down to timing. I’m used to it now. I’m quite logistically-minded, I have a feel for planning.
Rocker: When you’re traveling in North America, it’s pretty intense, you’re with each other 24/7 going long distances. Is it strange that you’re not spending time with these people at other times, and then you’re thrown into an intense situation together?
David Gedge: It’s very strange, to be honest with you. It’s unnatural, in a way. It’s very intimate and you have these very strong bonds and you look out for each other. It’s almost like you against the world, that kind of thing. Then you go back to your normal life at home, which is obviously totally different. To be honest, not everyone can handle it. I think it’s one reason why we’ve had so many lineup changes over the years. People think, “Oh great, I’ll be in The Wedding Present. I’ll travel the world. I’ll play music for a living. I’ll make records. I’ll play gigs. I’ll meet girls. It will be brilliant,” and it is quite exciting to do that. But after you’ve done it a couple of years, the excitement of traveling versus the weirdness of being away from home, from your social network, your friends and everyday life, can be hard.
The first time you go to Japan, it’s like, “Oh, we’re off to Japan, brilliant,” and the second time, it’s like, “Yeah, great, we’re going back to Japan,” and when it comes to the third or fourth time, you’re like, “Eh…” It’s quite hard work, it’s stressful and you don’t eat very well and you don’t sleep very well. I think sometimes the novelty wears off for people, and they move on. It’s different for me, I think, because it’s my group. I’m probably the most driven, and it’s never really affected me that much. It can be quite difficult, at times.
Rocker: The touring doesn’t drag on you now?
David Gedge: No, I have to be honest with you, I think I’m probably a little bit obsessed with it. It’s probably some kind of mild form of mental illness, because I do feel compelled to do it. I don’t even really enjoy it that much. I find it quite hard and quite stressful and quite difficult, really, but I’ve kind of overcome that. I do have this compulsion to do it, and if we haven’t toured for six months, then I’m itching to do it. It’s a bit like an addiction, I think.
Rocker: Do you just feel bored at home?
David Gedge: Not bored, you just feel like you want to get on a plane and go and sit in a horrible venue in a terrible part ofGermany or something. It’s weird. Obviously, it’s exciting playing the concerts… Last night, I was a little bit tired, but the minute I walked on the stage, the adrenaline kicks in, it’s like you’re transported to a different place, really. That’s probably part of it, the excitement of playing your songs to people in concert, it’s an incredible thing to do.
Rocker: I’m crazy about the new record. The drumming sounds fantastic – is the record self-produced?
David Gedge: Basically. We had a short list of people we wanted to mix it. Whenever it says it’s produced by somebody, it’s usually because it’s part of a contractual requirement that they produce it.
We had a list of people who we wanted to mix it, and one of them was Andrew Scheps, who’s quite a big name, actually. He’s won Grammys and has mixed The Red Hot Chili Peppers and all these big rock bands, but he was also a Wedding Present fan, so we got in touch with him. I think it sounds great, I think he’s good at what he does. The recordings were OK, but he sprinkled a bit of magic or fairy dust or whatever… To be honest with you, it’s all things I don’t really understand, it’s all about equalization and compression and reverb, stuff which bores me. I know what I like, so if the end result is good, I don’t care how we do it.
Rocker: It’s one of my favorite of my records of yours.
David Gedge: It’s very punchy, it has a rocky-sounding kind of thing. I think the rhythm section, Charlie, and Pepe, the bass player, I think they really locked in together. Charlie’s been in the group for a while now, and the drumming on this record is inspiring, it’s really powerful and tight, and I think Pepe’s gotten locked into that, so it’s a good foundation for the rest of the songs.
Rocker: You’ve always delved into romantic problems and betrayals in your lyrics, but there were a few songs on this record where I felt you had more… adult heartbreak songs, that sort of were really different and exciting to me as an adult listener. I mean, I think you’d never hear a 20-year-old, write a lyric like, “I used to think that I’d rather fight with you, than fall in love with somebody new.”
David Gedge: I think that’s because I’m not a young person. I’ve always written in a personal way, that’s been my style, and I do look back at some of that early stuff now and think that it does sound a bit immature and a bit teenage angst-y. Obviously, as I’ve grown older, the writing changes perspective slightly.
It’s a universal subject, people have relationships, start relationships, finish relationships all their life, even until old age, you just come at it from a different perspective. I’m glad you say that though, because I do try and do that, I don’t want to write from a teenage point of view, even though I’m probably quite juvenile myself. I hate the word ‘mature,’ because it doesn’t sound very rock and roll, but I do like the fact that the lyrics have matured, in a way.
Rocker: I feel like you hit on how people’s relationship to heartbreak changes. When you’re 20, it’s a different experience than when you’re 30 or 40.
David Gedge: Completely. It’s all kind of the same story, just told in different ways. Your values change, you expect the changes, you get more experienced about it…. It’s interesting, you don’t really notice the changes, it takes place over a long period of time.
Talking about doing LPs from the past,… when we did George Best, especially, it was quite odd going back 20 years and reexamining what I was saying then, because I did feel like a different person. I felt like I was reading someone else’s diaries. I’ve noticed the changes since, gradual things. I got the feeling that I was different and that I’ve moved on in some way.
It’s happened again with Seamonsters. It’s quite a dark LP, very intense and melancholy, and it’s about lust and greed and jealousy and all these kinds of things that you shouldn’t really be obsessed with. I think, “God, what was I like 20 years ago, did I really have all these strong feelings?” I guess I did! It’s a bit worrying, really.
Rocker: In 20 years when you go back to do ‘Valentina,’ what will you think about it?
David Gedge: I don’t know! It’s funny, isn’t it?
Rocker: I’d say that one of the things I’ve found as someone who interviews people is if you talk to people who make happy music, they’re often sort of depressed, and people who make angry music are often really cheerful. With that in mind, since a lot of your work dissects heartbreaks and betrayals, do you think you’re a bit less high drama than other people?
David Gedge: I think you’re probably right. Maybe you get it out of your system in the writing. It’s a bit of a catharsis or something in that respect.
Rocker: Do people approach you thinking you must be high drama because of your music?
David Gedge: They do. Sometimes people kind of connect the character in the song with me, and often, it is, but often it’s not.
The funniest thing is when people think they see themselves in the songs, and they’ll say, “I remember that thing…” and I’ll say, “That wasn’t you.” Sometimes they’re changed to make it rhyme, or to make the story go along, so I change the names and places a lot. So people think that they’re in the songs when they’re not, and vice versa, people don’t realize that a song may be about them.
Rocker: Have you ever thought of going into long-form story-writing? Often your songs seem like scenes from a play.
David Gedge: Throughout the years, I actually have quite a lot. I’ve had literary editors approach me saying, “If you write a book, I can get you a deal tomorrow,” and maybe I’d like to do it someday, but it’s finding the time, really. It takes some of my time doing The Wedding Present, and I’m really enjoying doing the comic, there’s loads of things I’d like to do. People say, “David, can you write music for films?” Yeah, I’d love to have a go at that as well. I need to be four people to do everything I’d like to do. It’s a case of seeing what comes along, and seeing what opportunities arise, and what I have the impetus to do.
It’s difficult, though. I know now that we’re approaching the end of this cycle, the album is written, recorded, we’re on tour, the North American tour is finished, we’ve got Australia, Japan, Europe, and that’s it. I know we’ll start writing new songs and will be heading towards the next project, really. I hate to say it’s nonstop. I haven’t been too busy, but it’s kind of that. If I wanted to do a long-form book or something, I’d have to put the band on hold for six months, because I’d have to learn how to do it, and it would be trial and error. I wouldn’t rule it out though, it’s an interesting idea.
Rocker: I was looking at the ‘George Best’ record and thinking, you’ve been at this for 25 years, are there ways your music career has developed over the years that surprised you?
David Gedge: There’s two answers for that. One is that I didn’t really expect it to be this long. When we started the group in 1985, we had this idea that we’d probably do it for five years, we’d do an LP if we were lucky, a few singles, a few concerts, and that would be it. The fact that here I am talking to you 25 years after that, it kind of shocks me, in a way.
On the other hand, if I dig a little bit deeper, it sounds a bit arrogant, but I always knew I was going to do this in some way. Even when I was a kid, growing up, I was kind of obsessed with the idea of being in a group or being a DJ or something. So in that respect, it doesn’t surprise me. It’s not as if I made a decision, I didn’t decide one day, “Oh, I’ll be a musician now,” it’s always been the case, really. It’s like I did other things, like university or whatever I had to do, until I was able to make this my full-time job. So in that respect, no, it’s not surprising.
Rocker: Is the comic book a faithful retelling of your real life?
David Gedge: Totally. It’s possibly a little too faithful sometimes. I’m not sure I come off totally positively in it. Our old bass player, Terry, had this idea to do what would be basically my biography, but written from her perspective from being in the group, and she started doing it, but it never got past the planning stage, so I just got a friend who is a comic book artist and said, “Can you convert these into comics?” and he jumped at the chance. So that’s what we’re doing, we’re converting her little observations of me into comics. She’s known me inside and out for the last 12 years. She’s very well-placed to do that, shall we say.
I love comics, it’s one of my favorite mediums. I’m always in comic shops, I would walk out with half the shelf if I could fit it in my bag. So, just the fact that I’m in one is so exciting: “It’s me in this comic!” It thrills me. Again, it’s juvenile I suppose, but I just think it’s so great. I get such a kick out of it. It doesn’t always show me in a positive light, but who cares? It’s just a great thing to do. We have issue one, and are working on issue two now. I guess we’ll do it until we run out of ideas, or until it gets too personal.
Rocker: Do you ever come to a story and say, “We’re not going down that road”?
David Gedge: So far it’s been Terry writing and I edit it. It’s not always totally accurate. It’s the same as the records, I write the songs, then everybody arranges it, and it works in my interest to give people as much freedom as possible, because, obviously, then it’s not got my stamp on it all the time, it’s actually got someone else’s stamp on it. It’s the same with this, really. The more outside input there is in the project, obviously, it’s going to make you stronger, and I just edit the bits out that I don’t think are quite right.
Rocker: There’s this new Wedding Present app, where did this come from? How much Wedding Present do I need every day?
David Gedge: It’s a funny one, isn’t it? I think there’s a feeling that we should keep up with the times.
I think people are looking at the internet on their phones more. We have the website, obviously, and I’m very happy with that, and it’s perfect for if you want more information about the group, but it’s not like that on the phone. So we thought it would be a mobile version of that. It’s an experiment, to be honest with you. It’s not cheap, and you have to pay a monthly fee…I don’t think it’s going to make us any money, because the people who have got it are fans, anyways.
In the old days, you made a record and a t-shirt and that was it, really. Now there’s YouTube and Facebook and Twitter and apps and Spotify, the list goes on and on. Every six months, somebody comes in and says, “You should be doing…whatever” and every now and then, we say, “OK.”
Rocker: Does it enable you to keep up with your own band?
David Gedge: Yeah, I can find out everywhere I’m supposed to be tomorrow!
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