Crud’s NOSEY BASTARD pokes and probes the industry mechanics of ROUGH TRADE ‘s latest re-signing, the legendary SCRITTI POLITTI. Here’s how they got signed. Here’s how they celebrated. Here’s how they intend to f**k it all up. Just sign here boys.
Label: Rough Trade
Label Mates: The Strokes, Arcade Fire, British Sea Power, Super Furry Animals, Sufjan Stevens, the Delays, the Libertines, Fiery Furnaces.
Here’s what you do if you’re Green Gartside of Scritti Politti. You kickstart your career by forming a quirky British DIY post-punk band at Leeds Polytechnic, play one show in 1976 and then disillusioned and bored with college you move into a squat at 1 Carol Street in Camden, London. You teach your best mate since primary school how to play the bass in six weeks, hear a Clash album, come up with a name based around an underground Marxist critic, borrow £500 for your first record, gets signed to Rough Trade, succumb to a physical and mental breakdown and reinvent yourself as a studio savvy master of electronic R n’ B in New York before crafting the mighty multi-platinum-selling ‘Cupid & Psyche’ in 1985.
Then to all intents and purposes you disappear.
Scritti Politti. One line of investigation leads you to arrive at ‘perfect pop’, whilst another blows cold and goes nowhere in an instant. Deeply surface bubble-gum on the one hand, deeply subversive on the other. Not even the boy-meets-girl songs were ever that simple; boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy loses girl in the casual interplay between signified and signifier, dissolved in the ether of semiotics and in the long, tender sighs that accompanied them.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Green Gartside. Re-signed. Re-sealed. Re-delivered.
How did you get signed?
Hmm. Back in the day you didn’t get ‘signed’ to Rough Trade as such. With them I put out an album called ‘Song To Remember’ which featured ‘The Sweetest Girl’ . That album got the attention of the major labels. I was feted and courted (inc. free Christmas in Jamaica) a lot and them signed for the most money with a separate major deal for North America. Very shrewd of my then manager, Matthew Kay.
How did you celebrate?
I don’t precisely remember. A number of days of eating, drinking to excess and general partying . . . goes without saying.
How did you blow your advance?
When I signed to Virgin I gave away too much of my first advance to management, then ‘blew it’ on expensive New York studios and the Manhattan high-life. I think I got a $500,000 advance for three songs. I’d heard Chaka Khan’s ‘We Can Work It Out’, which was produced by Arif Mardin, and liked it so much I asked Arif to produce the next record.
What other names for the band did you consider?
When I first formed the band we were briefly called ‘AGAINST’. Yeah. Punk Rock!! In the end we chose ‘Scritti Politti’ – a name that came from a book called ‘Scritti Politici’, which was written by someone called Gramsci in prison – a clever Marxist writer. It was a play on of the Italian phrase ‘political writings’. It also sounded like the kind of sound we wanted to create with the band.
What was the worst thing a label asked you to do that you didn’t like?
I always have ‘complete artistic control’ but being asked to do morning children’s television is the pits. In Japan in we did 40 interviews and 40 photo sessions in just 6 days. We did TV shows like ‘Funky Tomato’ and ‘Telegio 7’.
Live circuit or showcase? Did you do it the hard or easy way?
I did it the vinyl way. Press up a few of your own songs. We were living in a squat in Camden and with a £500 loan from a brother of one of the band, we booked some studio time and came up with a 7″ called ‘Skank Bloc Bologna’.
How much did getting signed rely on being tied to a scene? Was there ever any pressure to conform?
We started a scene I think. Pressure to conform? Well when I didn’t like what was around me – the beginnings of institutionalized-indie – I moved to New York and got into R n B. Boredom and distaste were the only pressures.
Did any of the labels or management you were with support or discourage unruly rock n’ roll behaviour?
One label did want to hook me up with some tabloid-friendly women at certain fashionable venues. Unbelievable. There was never any discouragement to rock n’ roll behaviour – just a little discretion.
Where’s the strangest place you’ve been asked to promote a record?
In Portland, Oregon with a man in a head to toe fish-suit called the Jammin’ Salmon. I had to spend a day touring the town with him – he never spoke. I never saw his face.
Have you ever been conscious of lifting directly from another record? If so, what was it?
If I do something that sounds too obviously like something else I discard it straightaway. Tons of ‘influences’ though.
What’s the biggest myth about success?
That it makes you happy.
What was your biggest commercial mistake?
Disappearing for years on end.
Your most triumphant fluke?
I’m still waiting for a triumphant fluke – is it a big fish? A giant parasite?
Ever burned a copy of an album/single put out by your label for a friend?
Never. Never. Never. No . . . honestly . . . never . (clears throat)
What’s the most rock n’roll thing you’ve ever done?
I’ve done some bad, bad things. I’ve been a very wicked man.
How closely does the finished product – ‘White Bread, Black Beer’ – match its original intent?
Well the album is the demo really so its exactly like it started out. I have a little studio at home in Hackney – in a room about 12 feet square and I would sit in my living room with just a guitar and play around. When I found some chords and a melody I liked, I’d go right next door to the next room and record it straight into my computer.
What’s the biggest musical asset you have that you feel you deserve least credit for?
I dunno. Musical asset? Listening-well? Or maybe my singing. On the new album I play all the instruments for better or worse! I’m fine with guitar and bass, but Keyboards n’ stuff I struggle with so those parts are pretty simple. I’m certainly not trying to impress anyone with my musical skills on this album.
Here’s the deal: you’ve made an excellent record and some unscrupulous hack handling the press release is about to screw it all up. What words would YOU use to describe the new release?
“A joy. A triumph. The cherry on the ice-cream cake. A little too long at 14 songs”
‘White Bread, Black Beer’ – Out Now on Rough Trade .share this: