We (heart)] Mekons
On Tuesday, November 16, Mekons rocked the Duke Coffeehouse on a double bill with Seam. This was the Leeds band's second tour through North Carolina, in support of their new album, I (heart) Mekons. The interview below took place before the show with gui tarists Jon Langford and Tom Greenhaigh. Topics ranged from the Mekons' troubles with record labels (four in the past three years) to Beavis and Butthead and condom slang. The highlights follow:
Interview by Pat Anders and Spott ( = SF! )
M = Tom and Jon Mekon (Sorry for lumping them together, but they tended to answer things together.)
SF! You've been around since 1977 on your own and other people's record companies. What's the Mekons' secret for record label relations?
M We look for honesty, but have yet to find it. How this Touch 'n' Go thing will go we don't know yet. It seems to be working out pretty good. With our last label (Warner subsidiary Loud), we worked out a lot of stuff on paper, all the things t hat had gone wrong with past deals, and they seemed to understand what we were talking about. For instance, we told them we wanted a cash advance for certain items. They just never got it together. We spent loads of money on lawyers' bills, things like th at. Our lawyers are in touch with them to get money for the EP they released last fall (Wicked Midnite).
SF! So they're not even giving you royalties?
M Oh no, we've never even been accounted to.
SF! With Touch 'n' Go, is there less on paper than usual?
M Nothing on paper, just a hand shake. When we went to Touch 'n' Go, we didn't know whether they'd be interested or not. It didn't seem like we'd fit in on that label. Seam is more a Touch 'n' Go variety band. That's why we're on 1/4 Stick. Car l Bloch, who works for Butthole Surfers and Jesus Lizard, is our agent. You can trust Carl. One thing that we all quite liked about him is that he hated our ex-manager so much that he said we'll deal with you as long as you don't have Paul Smith as your m anager.
SF! We didn't see your fiddler, Susie Honeyman, during soundcheck. Is she on this tour?
M She had a baby, called Annie Morag Honeyman McFaddean. She looks like her father and hopefully will have the mind of Susie.
SF! On recent albums, it sounds like you've learned your way around the studio a lot more, and that you've branched out beyond your raw cowpunk sound. Are there any music styles you'd like to experiment with that you haven't done?
M I don't know. I think we're very open to a lot of influences, but I don't think we've tried to experiment with genres as such.
SF! Do you write your lyrics collaboratively? Album to album, the songs seem to hit consistent topics and seem to be of one mind, you know?
M We are of one mind a lot of times. No one just gets a whole lyric through untouched. Sally had one full lyric on the new LP called "Special," but we put it to such horrible music that it had to be added to anyway.
SF! Are you still working on the Mekons' novel?
M The novel just exists on a few computer discs. It's a slow process. It's hard to write a novel. We're doing it collectively and that's quite nice. A lot of people who aren't actually in the band, say playing in the live band, have worked on t he novel. We're trying to encourage people to take photocopies of what exists and add to it, alter it as they go.
SF! Why the decision to go with all the love songs on the new albums?
M We came up with the title first. We thought the title was amusing and the songs followed.
SF! It makes a great bumper sticker.
SF! I read in summer of 1992, about a month after you played in Chapel Hill, that your present album was due out that September. Do you have any albums in the can now that have been held up by your label trouble?
M No, but we're going to record another album when we get back to Chicago in a week's time. Most of the songs are ready. In fact, we'll play a few tonight.
SF! Do you ever find when you play shows that people request old songs that you aren't ready to play live?
M Fortunately, everyone tends to have their own song, so there's not a lot of clamor for any one song. It's all different songs and we obviously can't play them all. We put plants in the audience to shout for the songs that we can play.
SF! Are you planning to do any covers on the new album?
M No, not really but we do a friend's song on this one, "Point of No Return" for Bridget Fonda. But that's not really a cover because it's not well known.
SF! How did you meet Bridget Fonda?
M Backstage at a Soul Asylum gig.
SF! Wow. How popular are you in England, or Europe generally, as opposed to here?
M There are pockets of popularity. The English scene is very fashion-dominated. Berlin and Hamburg are very popular places for us. Vienna, Glasgow, Edinburgh are good. London and Manchester, you get a smallish crowd. We don't do a lot of appear ances anywhere in Europe. If we did, I guess we'd be more well-known.
SF! (After a long talk about hotel TV and CNN) How do you fell about NAFTA?
M I wouldn't think I'd be for it except that Ross Perot's against it. It's a lot like the Common Market in Europe.
SF! That's interesting. How is he looked upon over there?
M Ross Perot? A stupid fascist. It seems that his only problem running for President in 1996 will be whether he can stay sane long enough without cracking up. All that mess about his daughter . . .
SF! Tell me again what you call condoms.
M I've heard them called "East River whitefish" in New York. "French letters" is what we call them in England.
SF! That's very classy. "Condom" is not a classy word. To change the subject, you don't all live in England anymore, do you?
M No, we're spread all over. Sally lives in New York. I'm (Jon) in Chicago. The others are in London or Chicago.
SF! How do you work when you're so spread out?
M We all write songs, get together for tours or to record at set times, and everything gets ironed out at whatever times we're together.
SF! What was it like working for a major label, A&M, a few years back?
M Well, there's definitely a push, a sort of "you-gotta-get-a-hit-record" feel.
SF! But that's not too realistic, is it? I mean, I'd be very surprised if everyone liked you. No offense.
M None taken. That's what major labels don't understand. They think that because some people like you, there's this untapped potential for everyone to love you.
SF! You could just dumb yourselves down, couldn't you?
M We were told to do that at one point.
SF! What? They told you, "no literary references," or go with, "I love a girl, she's really cute?Ó
M No, not that explicit, but they still made it plain that's what they wanted.
SF! What was your response?
M [Jon lifts his middle finger]