Paul Interviews…Mark E. Smith of The Fall
We had such a positive reaction to Paul’s interview with blues legend John Lee Hooker that we persuaded him to brave the cobwebs and the creepy crawlies in the crypt of Roland Towers in search of more archive interviews. We’re delighted to say that he emerged some hours later with four more transcripts, The Velvet Underground, actor Peter Cushing, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull and this one – a conversation with Mark E. Smith of The Fall.
Mark E. Smith has a reputation for being a rather prickly character, but I found him very pleasant and easy to talk to. The interview was conducted for the now long defunct ‘Stereo’ magazine sometime in 1983, if memory serves me correctly, and by necessity focused on his Hi Fi and record collection, but is interesting nevertheless.
“Beware of strangers bearing gifts”, it is said. And when someone lent our hero a cash & carry card, he ended up with a queer old set up, a Sovereign S45 music centre.
“It’s got a really cheap fuzzy sound,” confessed Mark, “but I was poor at the time and someone lent me their Arbour credit card. I bought the cheapest thing they had. It’s like a radiogram without a radio. A one-piece system. I bought it about a year ago and it cost around 125 pounds at the discount price and is made in the UK. But I couldn’t say how many watts it is. It can be loud though. I like a lot of volume.”
And anyone who has been to a Fall gig will know that second only to large amounts of volume, Mark and the boys have a perverse affection for distortion. Does he really like to bring his work home?
“It’s wrong to spoil yourself with sound in my line of work. I like to hear my records distorted to a degree, but I am pretty fussy when it comes to other people’s records. I really love the sound of those early Elvis and Gene Vincent things. I’d like to capture that atmosphere myself.”
Does this mean then that his modest little home system is the yardstick for The Fall’s own vinyl efforts?
“That’s right. I don’t make judgements until I’ve heard it on the Sovereign. Everything sounds good in the studio but that isn’t the way everybody else hears it. Some things don’t come across too well on it though. The bass can be very fuzzy, but then I don’t like much bass anyway. I particularly hate the very clean thudding bass on a lot of new records which I find very irritating. It’s too clean and becomes like a metronome.”
So what was the first system he had?
“Well, the funny thing is my family never had a record player. I’d been collecting records for years but always had to play them at friend’s houses. We just didn’t get around to owning one. Then I bought a mono record player some years ago. It looked like a little red suitcase when you closed it up and being mono it brought out a lot of things in the records that you wouldn’t normally hear on a stereo system.”
And what exactly are these unlikely aural items?
“I’ve got a lot of fifties records on compilations that I bought fairly recently, quite a lot of early stuff before they (Elvis, etc.) went rotten. I’ve got about 400 albums and the same amount of singles. I have some rare sixties garage punk on German albums, mainly on the Line label. I’ve got quite a big collection really, everything from rare Seeds albums, that I bought second hand, through Lou Reed to Country and Western!
“I like the odd classical record too. Sometimes I put on a bit of Beethoven or Wagner, but it doesn’t come across too well on the Sovereign. I’m very selective about my records. I don’t like to cram my brain with other stuff when I’m recording. I’m afraid to be influenced.”
Judging from this the unwillingness to be influenced extends also to the new technology. Bet he hasn’t even got a Walkman.
“No, I don’t like Walkmans. I can’t say why, I just don’t. But I usually take a small cassette player on tour and I use it on stage for echo and backing effects. At home I have a small Hitachi cassette player and a JVC portable cassette recorder with Dolby, which I use for demos. I use it to jot down ideas with just voice and guitar. Sometimes I like to use it in the studio, putting the vocal on to it and then from there on to a track, but out of sync, so that it adds atmosphere. Sometimes I do the same for the guitar. I use that trick a lot on stage too.
“I’ve got a little black box in the guitar and if I tune the JVC to FM [radio] I can put the guitar through it to get odd noises. I like unique sounds but as I’m not mechanically minded I prefer simple methods like that. You lose a lot of atmosphere when you try to recreate a demo in the studio, that’s why I like those early Elvis things. It’s all one-mike stuff. I don’t like using separate tracks for the drums, etc., in the studio but our latest album, ‘Perverted By Language’, was well-produced by our standards. It’s not so offensive to the ears this time!”
OK, but now that he’s on the verge of a mainstream breakthrough, isn’t it about time that he bought a new Hi Fi?
“Now that I’m married my wife has ideas about what Hi Fi we should buy. She says she wants a nice TEAC for about 300 pounds. So I guess that’s what we’ll get.”