Cult Faves Continue Their JOURNEY

The story of the Mekons, arguably the world's greatest unsung rock band, is, simply, one of the greatest stories in rock. It's romantic (a love affair with music); it's harsh (there's punk music and two blown major record deals); it's funny and political (check out the lyrics); and like your favorite soap opera, it just keeps on going. Beginning as lefty punks from Leeds, England, in 1977, original members Jon Langford and Tom Greenhalgh played alt country before it had a name; played reggae when it already did; cut THE MEKONS ROCK AND ROLL, one of the most brilliant concept albums of the '80s; lost members and added others; and always, always kept the audience laughing and thinking. Their millennial effort, JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT, is an elegant affair that finds the group blending folk with electronic throbs, weaving pretty vocal harmonies around haunting lyrics. Barnes &'s Seth Kaufman interrupted the Mekons' renaissance man Jon Langford -- he's also a painter, cartoonist, record producer, and member of the Waco Brothers -- at his art studio to talk about the state of the world's longest-running (former) punk band. Let's talk about JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT. Is there any connection with the cult French novel of the same name by Louis-Ferdinand Céline?
Jon Langford: In name only. We liked the title -- that's about it. So what kind of journey is going on here? Is this some kind of murky concept album?
JL: The songs are linked by the night. They're all about different images of the night. That's really the only concept. Where do you think this fits in the Mekons' history? JOURNEY sounds more like the late '80s' SO GOOD IT HURTS.
JL: A lot of people have said that. I don't know why, actually. I guess there are some bouncy moments that are similar. Actually, the singing is better. Great harmonies.
JL: Ah, we had some help there. [Chicago-based singers] Edith Frost, Kelly Hogan, and Neko Case came in and did backing vocals. And Sally [Timms] has this sex-kitten voice going on. Where did that come from?
JL: It's Julie Andrews. It's the Julie Andrews in her coming out. Sally had laryngitis and was sick when she did our vocals. She had to go on tour the next day, and since reuniting the Mekons to record is such an expensive proposition, we just said get in there and do it. She didn't have a choice. Where is everybody?
JL: Me and Sally are in Chicago. Rico just moved to San Francisco. Steve is in New York. Tom, Susie, and Sarah are in London. So, now that America is consumed by millionaire-based TV shows, is there a push to sell your brilliant MILLIONAIRE EP?
JL: No, I don't think our record company is that on the ball. So no plans to sell the song to Fox or ABC?
JL: No. [mutters] Who wants to marry a drunk? Were you surprised by the critical response to your book of cartoons, GREAT POP THINGS?
JL: Well, people had said some nice things, but it got some national recognition. I keep thinking it's going to end, but then something happens to keep us interested. We wanted to create our own style of comics and create our own myths about rock 'n' roll. Speaking of rock-'n'-roll myths, any chance of your brilliant MEKONS ROCK 'N' ROLL being reissued?
JL: It's available in England and as a rare import. But A&M won't give us the rights. They want us to buy it back. I'm not about to license my own music. They've also got THE CURSE OF THE MEKONS, which was never released here. Now that Sammy Davis Jr. is no longer among us, you're the hardest-working man in showbiz.
JL: And I've got both eyes! Are the Waco Brothers a threat to the future of the Mekons?
JL: That's just a local bar band. That's what it started as. It was never meant to go beyond that -- although we did just get back from Europe. What's the best other band from Leeds?
JL: I don't know any bands from Leeds anymore. Let's mates the Gang of Four.... I guess ENTERTAINMENT was pretty good, although they had so many fucked-up ideas about production. But in 1978 they were the greatest live band around. What reggae album should everyone own?
JL: The Congos' THE HEART OF THE CONGOS. It's a two-record set on Blood & Fire records that Lee Perry produced, and it's great! What about country music?
JL: The Handsome Family's IN THE AIR. It's strange and brilliant, and it makes the idea of alt country seem silly. There's so much crap out there. The Kelly Hogan album is great too, but I produced it, so I'm kind of biased.

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