RICO BELL: Interview
DABOOT: The Pontiac Grille in Philadelphia has become a tour STOP for Mekon /Bloodshot related artists over the past couple of years. Any plans for Rico Bell and The Snake Hand-lers to play there soon? Can you reveal some upcoming tour information about you and the band in support of Dark Side Of The Mersey?
RICO: I'm doing a couple of shows to mark the CD release in UK at the beginning of Sept. One in London and one in Leeds, dates and venues still to be confirmed. I'll be in USA (SF) from mid Sept. and will be playing at NXNW in Portland, probably on Oct. 1st. There will be a show in San Francisco before that, but again the date and venue are still to be confirmed. I'd love to be playing in Philadelphia soon but an East Coast tour hasn't been put to-gether yet. I'm taking up residence in SF in Sept., so hopefully things will develop from there. Info will be posted on The Mekon and Bloodshot websites respectively. In the meantime I'm open to any offers!
DABOOT: To these ears Dark Side Of The Mersey sounds like a much tighter and more focused work then your previous release. Would you agree?
RICO: I'm glad you think so. 'The Return' CD was recorded in about three days with the minimum of preparation and was kinda meant to sound like that. I had a lot longer to think and prepare for 'Darkside' and I'd been playing some of those songs solo & 'live' for a while. It gave them a chance to develop.
DABOOT:Give us some insights of your recording/creative processes (writing, playing , etc.).
RICO: I get ideas for songs all the time but I have to set time aside and do some concentrated blocks of hard work in order to get them to a finished stage. I usually get the basic lyric and tune, or riff, at the same time playing acoustic guitar, then I'll demo it on a four track and do some multi-layering of instrumentation till the feel is right. The next stage is to involve other musicians and I'm always open to their ideas musically. I never stop working on the lyrics till the final take. Ideally I try to make songs that will hold up when they're stripped back to basics i.e. vocal and acoustic guitar.
DABOOT: Are there any contemporary rock singers that you admire?
RICO: Yeah loads, too many to mention really though i'd have to say Van Morrison and Rod Stewart. I'm influenced in some way by any singer who, to me, means it and delivers with real emotion, Neil Young for instance. People tell me all the time that my vocals (and some songs) remind them of others in some way; more often than not each has a different idea. I'd like to think that they're liking what they hear and are associating it with things they've liked in the past; a sort of continuity if you like.
DABOOT:What's up with the brand you have been given "Sexiest Accordion Player Alive?"
RICO: That's for others to say, but it amuses me and I don't have a problem being branded with it (metaphorically speaking).
DABOOT: Is it safe to assume that you painted the cover for your latest release?
RICO: Yes it is. I wanted to depict someone a bit like me wrestling with a symbolic force in the darkness. The skyline is of Liverpool seen from the other side of the river Mersey where I was born.
DABOOT:Is that how you meet Jon Langford through your dual passions for painting?
RICO: Jon and I met socially through mut-ual friends and acquaintances when I first moved to Leeds and connected through music, though we both had Art School backgrounds. We shared a job as graphic artists for a while but spent most of our time writing songs, doing Mekons publicity and, yes, experimenting with ideas for paintings that were plastered with the dirt and grot of time and were anti 'High Art' in concept.
DABOOT: A recent Bloodshot Records press release about you claims you took in The Beatles at the Cavern. Can you provide us with some historic facts about the experience? Any other bands you saw in your youth that you care to share with us?
RICO: Yes I did see The Beatles at the Cavern. They were just starting to happen but still played afternoon gigs there. My friends and I used to truant from school and catch the Mersey Ferry over to Liver-pool. One time I found myself standing next to Brian Jones who'd come down to check the place out. The Stones were due to play the next day. Sadly I couldn't get there two days on the run and I didn't get to see them live till a few years later. I was in total awe of Brian though he had very high Cuban-heel Chelsea boots on (and was still smaller than me), blue jeans, black polo-neck sweater and a long and expensive looking black leather coat. His hair was outrageous for the time and his face was like a white and deeply lined mask. He looked both young and old at the same time. Very decadent. Compared to The Beatles in their smarty collarless suits he was the business. I saw lots of rhythm and blues bands round that time and even knew a few of them. I wanted to start a band but couldn't really play any instrument. Then this older guy who was more of a 'beatnik' blues man introduced me to the 'blues harp' and early Bob Dylan. Later I learned a few guitar chords and started bashing away. Not much has changed!
DABOOT: "Far Sub Dominant" from the Mekons '98 Me re-lease is totally different direction for you and perhaps the band itself. Did you write the song?
RICO: All the lyrics for Me were written collectively, as are most Mekons songs these days. We wrote the lyrics first then cast around for appropriate riffs and tunes. In the case of "Far Sub Dominant" I'd been playing round with that chord sequence and rhythm for a while but with no particular lyric. I played it to Tom and it seemed to work so we demo'd it in the way it more or less ended up on the record.
DABOOT: What kind of musical challenges /outlets do being part of the Mekons provide for you?
RICO: One thing you can be sure of in the Mekons is that any idea you have as an individual will end up being different to your original concept. That's the whole point of course, working collectively enables things to happen that otherwise wouldn't, boundaries and ta-boos get broken down. It can be hard and slow at times, or it can even seem too quick at others. There's an unwritten common goal that's achieved when you work with like-minded people and it's quite a buzz. The fact that we (nearly) al-ways have a riotous time on stage has much to do with that same ethos. A weirdly dysfunctional but affectionate family.
DABOOT: I've witnessed a few Mekons shows in the past and it seems that many devoted followers of the band enjoy taping your shows. How do you feel about that? Any comments or thoughts on bootleg recordings regarding your performances, the Mekons and other performers?
RICO: I really don't have a problem with that and I'm always interested to hear, or see, bootlegged stuff, it can be very funny and sometimes em-barrassing. (Though if your prepared to get up on stage and goof around what do you expect?)It's not as if we're making any money anyway and I don't think it'd make much difference if we were. I doubt if anyone bootlegs the Mekons with the idea of making their fortune (they'd be very stupid if they did) and if it gives them pleasure, well...As for bootlegging superstars, they get too much money anyway!