Since their emergence in the jangly heyday of mid-80s British indie, The Wedding Present have been through a vast array of changes, stylistically morphing through post-punk, indie, shoegaze, low-fi and just about any other guitar music fad of the past thirty years, all the while operating a King Crimsonesque revolving door policy with regards to personnel. The fact that through all this upheaval their music has always maintained its essential spirit and feel is testament to the talent and personality of ever-present frontman David Gedge.
Danny McPherson got the chance to speak to David ahead of their upcoming Watusi tour, where they will play their cult mid 90s guitar pop album in its entirety as well as a mix of other material.
This is the 4th time you’ve trawled your back catalogue to play a classic album all the way through, how has the experience differed each time?
David Gedge: One of the things I’m most proud of having achieved with the Wedding Present is to have made albums which each have their own particular feel and personality. We’ve had so many line-up changes over the years, I feel like I’ve been in five or six different groups really. It’s always interesting revisiting old works, feeling yourself transported back to the era in which the album was recorded.
Has there been any one of your albums which you feel has been best suited to the format of being played live in its entirety?
Not particularly. The Wedding Present has always been a live band. When we record we don’t rely on much in the way of studio trickery, we just plug in our amps and get on with it. I consider all our albums to essentially be well recorded live sets, so on each occasion it has translated easily.
When revisiting old material are you ever tempted to make slight alterations? Given that you’re the only remaining member from that era of the band, do your current band mates ever try to leave their own personal imprint on the sound?
We always do to a certain extent. There will be little bits where I’ll think ‘’Hang on…that doesn’t really work’’, but only little subtle things, never anything that would take away from the essence of the original recording.
You’ve said revisiting old material transports you back to the time of their recording, what are you defining memories of recording ‘’Watusi’’ back in 1994?
I really loved doing that album. We had just signed to Island Records, who suggested we use the producer Steve Fisk, who was renowned within the whole grunge/low-fi/alternative rock movement which was thriving at the time in America, as well as for his interesting and experimental use of keyboard parts. It was perfect for us, his was the sound we were looking for. So we flew out to Seattle, spent a month there. We got on really well with Steve, we explored a lot of new ways of arranging and recording, it was all very natural and relaxed.
It’s been a recent phenomenon, bands from the 80s and 90s revisiting their classic albums and playing them live in their entirety. Does it ever feel like you’re just wallowing in nostalgia or is there something more to it than that?
I do worry about that. When it was first brought up as an idea in 2007, for the 20th anniversary of our debut album George Best, I was the main opponent. I didn’t want to rely on my past achievements, I thought looking backwards could lead to complacency, I wanted to keep things moving forwards. But when we actually did it I really enjoyed it, I felt it was more than just nostalgia, it was reimagining the material with a new band, giving our fans a chance to experience the music in a way in which they never could before. Plus a typical Wedding Present gig is 90 odd minutes long, so doing an LP all the way through still leaves a good half set of other material. But this is the 4th time we’ve done it, so after the Watusi tour that may be it, I don’t want to be known as the guy who just plays his old albums.
What can the audience expect from the rest of your set on this tour? Any new material?
A mix. I have a few new songs, though the time I’ve had for writing recently has been somewhat limited. Our label is reissuing eight old Wedding Present albums, in deluxe format with dvd and what not, and given that I’m the only person in the world who knows everything about The Wedding Present they’ve had to rely on me quite heavily. They’ll come to me with something and I’ll say ‘‘Well actually this demo was recorded when we were making this album, oh and don’t forget this session we did for Swedish radio.’’ There’s such a vast bulk of material, it’s been exhausting. Though it’s done now, coming out imminently, so the time I have for making music will no longer be overshadowed by anything else.
With the volume of reissues being released, and indeed the internet having pretty much all music ever released there to listen to, my generation without doubt listens to more music from the past than any that has preceded it? Do you see many younger faces at your gigs?
It depends. In Britain it’s mainly the old guard, the people who have been with us from the start. Often when we go abroad to Europe and America it’s a more diverse range of people. We played in Istanbul recently and it was an overwhelmingly young audience. I like seeing a mix of faces, it’s good knowing that a new generation connects to our music and that it’s stuck with people who liked us back in the day.
Do you listen to much modern music? Do you hear your influence in anything?
To be honest I’ve become slightly disillusioned with the state of modern music. I don’t really hear anything that original. There’s so much stuff around, people will play me bands but they always just sound like other bands to me. Like they’ve been listening to too much 70s punk, or Joy Division or the Velvet Underground, whatever it may be it always feels slightly derivative. I don’t hear anything that sounds as shockingly new as Pixies or Sonic Youth sounded when I first heard them. I sometimes wonder whether guitar music has gone as far as it can go.
So what music do you listen to?
I’m a big fan of radio. I’d rather listen to what Marc Riley’s playing than go through my old records. 6Music is an excellent station, I also listen to a few American ones online.
You’re not stopping off in Glasgow on the Watusi tour, but I have to ask what your defining memories of playing in the city are, and whether the city’s sound has had an influence on your own?
In the early 80s the whole ethos and sound of Postcard Records, artists like Josef K and Orange Juice, made a big impression on me. We played in Glasgow recently, at the East End social with Mogwai. It’s something of a truism amongst musicians, Glasgow is a great place to play. People don’t just stand there staring at you waiting to be impressed, they get into it.
It’s been a pleasure David, all the best for the tour.
The Wedding Present play The Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh on the 11th of November.