From some Memphis newspaper, November 19, 1993:
By LARRY NAGER
Nothing succeeds like failure says Sally Timms of Mekons.
"That's the secret of our longevity, that we're failures, basically," Timms said drily, speaking in a telephone interview from the British rock band's sound check prior to a recent New York show. "l think success would kill us."
Ambivalence is a way of life for Timms's band — ambivalence toward American culture, rock and roll, the record busiess, their audience, themelves. You name it, the Mekons are ambivalent about it.
Not that they haven't flirted with success. In the late '80s, the band signed with a major label, A&M Records, then in the midst of a major alternative rock push tnat included Soul Asylum, the Mekons and several other "indie" bands.
But though the Mekons figuered the move would at least ensure good distribution and promotion of their "Mekons: Rock ‘n ‘Roll" nabum, they discovered that not everything is major about major labels.
"That was our main gripe," Timms said: "that we recorded a record that was basically very solid and critically acclaimed; and then when you drive around the country and it’s not in the shops when you’re playing in a city, that’s really very upsetting."
After their one-album A&M deal, a lengthy American recording hiatus followed, during which fans made do with import albums. But the Mekons are back in the shops with a new album called "I (Heart) Mekons" recorded for the American independent label Touch & Go. Timms and the Mekons also perform the title track of independent label Rykodisc's new abortion rights benefit album, "Born to Choose."
"With an independent ... you can just go straight to the top and say, 'What the hell's going on7' if we're traveling around and our records aren’t in the stores when we're playing somewhere."
This week's "somewhere" is Memphis, where the Mekons perform Sunday night at Barristers, 147 Jefferson.
"Alternative" rock has become an increasingly meaningless term, as so-called alternative bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam sell millions of albums. But the Mekons, formed out of the late '70s British punk movement, remain a true alternative, blending political, anarchic lyrics with musical styles from punk to folk to rock of all sorts, resulting in a unique sound that often centers on Timms's sultry, hypnotic vocals.
"We do anything, basically," Timms, 33, said of the Mekons' eclectic approach. "I think that's a kind of English sensibility, very much a mix-and-match. It was just a tradition that English pop was really just a hybrid. All those English bands, people like the Beatles, when they came to America, the first person they wanted to meet was Muddy Waters. And lots of American kids who were going to see their shows had never heard of Muddy Waters."
Part of that tradition stems from England's BBC and offshore pirate radio stations.
"We don't have a black chart in England; we don't have black radio stations, white radio stations. People play everything on the radio. You'll hear reggae next to hip-hop next to rock music next to everything else. It's really bizarre the way the charts are segregated here in America. On the whole, things are so segregated here."
But Timms remains hopeful, if a bit ambivalently so.
"I think what we're going to see in the next few years is a complete moving away of people signing to majors," she said, citing the irony of Nirvana having platinum albums. " ... I think the idea of going into the stores and just picking up your favorite alternative records on a major label is just not going to continue that much longer. I think you're going to see a big return to the underground. Things will splinter again. It's just not cool to be popular."
Which is one reason the Mekons remain one of the coolest bands around. Timms said the members don't even make enough money to give up their day jobs.
But money has never been a major consideration for the Mekons, she insists.
"It depends how you view art," Timms explained. "Is music just commercial? Is it just a commercial enterprise or is it something you're supposed to do because you actually think you can create something worthwhile? Our attitude is definitely not on the commercial. We think muisc’s got a bit more value than that."