Jon Langford: Into the art of the country
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the birth of the Mekons, a punkish band that emerged from Leeds Art College with a social conscience, a self-deprecating sense of humour, a kind of sloppy charm and major attitude --their "manifesto" demanded no stars, no photos and no albums, which quickly changed when they got a record deal. The band's compelling mix of leftist politics, crime-fiction lyrics, country and Two-Tone influences and John Cale-style cacophonous strings is back via a reissue of the classic 1985 album Fear and Whiskey on Touch and Go Records.
Meanwhile, guitarist-singer Jon Langford -- who's spent the last few years making inspired country rock with the Waco Brothers and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts (as well as rock with the 3 Johns and Skull Orchard) -- has hooked up with our own Sadies for an upcoming album and tour that brings him to the Horseshoe Saturday (Feb. 2). How he finds the time between fatherhood, visual art, producing and co-writing with the likes of fellow Mekon Sally Timms is a mystery, but we can count ourselves lucky that he does.
What exactly is a "Jon Langford" show -- will you play a bit of everything?
It varies -- we might do some Wacos stuff, some covers, some of my recent solo Skull Orchard stuff and some of the new stuff we've written together in the mail....
What does that sound like?
I haven't heard a lot of it, as the Sadies have been writing it for me. I sent them a lot of words and a few tunes and they're turning them into a fabulous collection of anthems and classics. I'm hoping for a mix of funky-Celtic-reggae and Crazy Horses-era Osmonds.
When you write a song, how do you know which outfit it fits with?
I usually recognize the solo stuff as things I could never dare foist on the Mekons or Wacos. Since I moved to Chicago I've done more writing on my own, which is harder than the collaborative Mekon way. Wacos songs have to be in G and go "dugga dugga dugga dugga..."
You seem to have found a niche in which you can make a living, but not have to deal with the trappings of big-time fame. Did that happen by design?
Trying to avoid a proper job and scratch out a living doing things I like has led me to this point sort of deliberately and mostly accidentally. The painting is my job, playing is my social life... and some trappings would be nice.
Why has Chicago become a hotbed for country music?
Chicago has a long history of country music. When I first got here, there were still places you could go and see people who played on the WLS Barn Dance, which was bigger than the Opry back in the '30s. It's where I really discovered country music as something I could be involved in, in my own weird way. Also, the industry isn't here, so it's a great place for all things out of the mainstream.
In the '70s, it was common for bands to emerge from art schools, but that doesn't seem to be the case anymore. Are people less open-minded about genre-hopping now?
Those old English art schools probably don't exist anymore. But I'm sure there are still kids out there who don't see the walls between one way of making art and another.
Why do people sneer at political music these days?
Do they? Oh dear, time for a rethink. But people sneer at everything. I sneer at Bono and Sting.