By Daniel SylvesterIf playing music for a living were like any other regular occupation, the three original members of Wire — Colin Newman, Graham Lewis and Robert Gotobed — would be busy working on retirement plans. Instead, 31 years since their groundbreaking debut LP, Pink Flag, Wire are preparing the release of a new album and globetrotting tour. Early reviews of Object 47, in stores July 7 suggest the band are still creating increasingly intense and modern music. Between the release of their last LP, 2003’s Send and the recording of Object 47, Wire have been weathering a storm of career lows, culminating with the departure of founding member Bruce Gilbert. Wire’s persistence to remain current coupled with a swing of summer festivals (including a co-headlining spot at the Sled Island Music Festival in Calgary this month) has paid off in dividends, resulting in Wire keeping company with some of the most important bands of the 2000s. Exclaim! tracked down front-man Colin Newman to chat about the recording of Object 47, their first visit to Calgary and telling Kevin Shields how he really feels about My Bloody Valentine in a public washroom.
How’s everything with you? Fine, my hearing’s a little bit bad… I saw My Bloody Valentine last night. My wife and I went last night because I kind of know them. I don’t know if you know of the magazine Mojo, I gave them their award for Loveless. It was a strange occasion; that’s really not my scene, a weirdo outsider guy giving an award to a weirdo outsider band.
So, Wire is ten shows into this tour, correct? Yes, we’re off and running, as they say. We’ll be ready to hit the ground limping by the time we get to Calgary. Which must the maddest plan, like, "Hey, let’s fly to the other side of the world and play a festival.”
It does seem kind of strange. How did this offer for you to play the Sled Island Music Festival come about? It came to us back in February. I was on tour with my other band Githead and I was talking to Graham and our agent for both bands sent me an email that we were playing and I kinda said, "Where’s Calgary?” And Graham said, "Well, I don’t know because we’ve never played there.” But the line-up is quite impressive.
But in some way, this has got to be a mini highlight — discovering places in the world you didn’t know existed and then fly there months later. Well, it’s not quite as linear as that. We go through periods of not doing very much and we’ve just gone through a terrible period between 2004 and 2006. We’ve gone through one of the worst situations that our band has ever found themselves in and somehow, even though we’ve a man down, we kind of recover ourselves. But we’re already getting very strong responses from the album. So, when you find yourself in a situation where somebody doesn’t want to do it, for reasons we still don’t really understand… Well a big fight with our ex-manager is part of that story. But we had to say, "No matter how bad things are, we’re talking about Wire here,” and we think it’s good, we think it’s worth fighting for.
Considering the first three Wire albums — Pink Flag, 154 and Chairs Missing — are held in such high regard, do you feel that everything you release as a band after that has been compared to these three records only? I mean, not too many people will be comparing Object 47 to A Bell Is A Cup… Until It Is Struck. Well, there’s going to be a percentage of people who will always compare everything to Pink Flag but there’s another percentage that really get it. But it’s about having some sense of what is contemporary, not to be a complete fashion victim, but to be part of what’s going on. In music, there are two camps: there are traditionalists, and then there are people that are about the moment. With Wire, I feel like we’re in that kind of mode. I know there’s been a tradition built around us, but it’s not just about Wire in the past, it’s about Wire.
You’ve hired Margaret Fiedler McGuiness to fill in on second guitar live and I know the departure of Bruce Gilbert has affected your band personally. How has it affected the band musically? Well, Wire is now a three-piece; we’ve really been a three-piece since 2004, although I don’t think we knew it at the time. We realised that we couldn’t start adding other members 30 years into it. That’s not what we really want it to be. We wanted to keep — when it come to the writing— what we’ve built upon. Because Margaret has done the same sort of thing with Polly Harvey, so we thought that she might be a good person to try out. It takes a certain type of person to step into that role. We didn’t want to hire some young bloke that wanted to use this as a stepping stone to something else, not that we would want to rob someone of that ambition. Plus it would make us look old. It was a difficult task.
I had a chance to see you for the first time in 2003 and I notice that your fan base has remained young. Does the fact that many of your fans were born after the release of Chairs Missing influence what you perform live? The fan who is in their 40s or 50s and wants to only hear stuff from Pink Flag, I don’t care about. But someone who is 21 and wants to hear stuff from Pink Flag, I get it. It seemed like, in 2003, after we had (metaphorically) crashed into the ditch and pulled ourselves out, that no one would remember who we were. But the weird thing about Wire is that whenever the bus crashes into the ditch and you crawl out from the wreckage and onto the road and start hitching a ride, you realised that you are further down the road than you were before. You realise all you’ve done is just dust yourself off. We’re bigger now than we were three or four years ago.
Do you feel that you are in the same band that you were in 31 years ago? Well, yes and no… Really, for Wire there was no "plan b.” It is just part of my regular life. Last night, before we went home, my wife and I were at the after party and I had to use the loo. And Kevin [Shields, My Bloody Valentine] was in there. There were three stalls and I was on one side and Kevin was on the far side and there was another guy, who was at the after party, but he looked like he was just a fan. Kevin said to me, "What do you think?” and I just said that it just "hurt my ears” and that the last song "went on too long.” He said, "Yeah, we’re going to have to do some work on that, it was something that we were just kicking around.” And the guy in the middle said, "I can’t believe you just said that! It was such a religious experience for me!” But to me it was just my friend being too loud.