Part of a series of long lost interviews I wrote for 3D World Magazine back in the mid 1990s.
Going South With Tom Jones
On par with Nick Cave in the longevity stakes, the Wolfgang Press have been around for a quite some time, eleven years, in fact. Like Nick Cave they have made the transition from gloomy post-punk gothicism to discover their far less ‘dark’ soul. For the Wolfgangs the change came about when they “rediscovered that music could indeed be fun” through the delights of De La Soul’s rather important Three Feet High And Rising debut album. This discovery pushed the Wolfgang Press forward into releasing their pop masterpiece, Queer, a collection of funky beats, melodies, dry humour, and soul. With the singles A Girl Like You, Mama Told Me Not To Come, Sucker and (Question of) Time, they were, to many, a new band. That was 1992.
Now in 1995, the Wolfgang Press release their latest creation, Funky Little Demons, still through their initial label, 4AD. Preceded by work on the recent Tom Jones album, which includes Tom’s cover of A Girl Like You, and another track, Show Me (Some Devotion) written at the request of Tom himself, Funky Little Demons sees the Wolfgang Press move even further from their gloomy roots, embracing the guitar twang of American road music, and the subtle bleeps and beats of well crafted electro pop. Their links with Tom Jones have continued, with him joining them on-stage at the All Virgos Are Mad, 4AD anniversary gig, in Los Angeles.
Singer, Michael Allen, explains; “It was a complete accident really. 4AD were approached by Tom Jones’ record label for some samples of material for Tom to cover and so they sent him a compilation pointing him in the direction of a particular Love And Rockets track and the next thing we find that Tom wanted to do A Girl Like You. After recording that they came back and asked us to write another track for him, he came down, recorded it and that was it. It was all very surreal, when we first heard about it we all burst out laughing but I think it is really good that Tom is out there looking for new material and it will certainly be an experience we’ll never forget . . . Live he just said ‘yeah I’m up for that’ and on he went. We were a bit worried at first that the 4AD crowd would be a bit snooty about Tom Jones, the big star that he is, and turn their noses up at him but they just went wild”.
Possibly the Wolfgang Press have been hampered, in the past, if not still now, by their ill-deserved reputation as ‘Goth’. ‘Goth’ as in prone to black over styled yet unkempt hair, black clothes, and a penchant for candles and all ornaments silver and preferably cross-like. “I’ll never understand that label ‘Goth’ myself. Birdwood Cage (their second last album with the superb bass grooves of Kansas) was dark in its content but I would never call it Goth. I feel its just a label that people put on it because they don’t quite understand. Is Nick Cave Goth? I can understand the Sisters Of Mercy and Siouxsie as Goth but Nick Cave, no? People aren’t still doing that black hair, black clothing stuff are they?”. I’m sorry Mick, but yes they are. Maybe we still haven’t grown up.
On Funky Little Demons there is a track that stands out from the traditional lyrical themes of the Wolfgang Press (“I hear the music and then words come to me . . . and I try and fit words around what the music is doing . . . a lot of what I write about is very simple – relationships and how they affect one another, the people in them”, Michael confers) – titled Christianity, it is highly critical of the “lie that is Christianity” – the blind faith, the exclusion of all other modes of thought, the history of oppression. Aptly timed these criticisms may be with the enormous resurgence in dogmatic ideologies as the fin de siecle approaches, and as the song explains, people are wandering around looking for meaning and certainty. “I think religious education can really fuck you up when you’re at an impressionable age . . . and often the Christians are the most un-Christian of all . . . maybe its the end of the millennium things and people are trying to get a grip on it all and save their souls and that kind of thing”. Or maybe a powerful few are seeing it as an opportunity to line the coffers and fill their pews with new suckers?
Where Queer was lined with electronics, from synthesisers to smooth production techniques, Funky Little Demons is more stripped back and raw. Mick Allen explains the change; “For this album we decided to spend more time on song writing than before, but the main thing that has changed is that it is far more mellow and far more structured . . . From start to finish its taken about two years . . . but the main reason it took so long was because we bought our own studio and then found that we were going over and over the same tracks trying to perfect them. When you are paying for time in a studio you can’t do that so you make do and I think we’ve learnt the lesson that that is often the best way . . . After Queer we were looking for more organic, more natural sounds, on this one. Maybe I’m going back to the more traditional ideas of songwriting, ore maybe I’m just growing old”. Remix-wise they have chosen a star-studded line-up for the first single Going South including Jah Wobble, Barry Adamson, Adrian Sherwood and Andy Weatherall’s Sabres Of Paradise – “We specifically chose the people who did the remixes on Going South because they knew what they were about and we knew the quality of work we’d get from them. In the past we’ve handed work out to the ‘people of the moment’ and have been very disappointed so this time decided to hand them over to the people who are really our contemporaries, including Andy Weatherall. I thought that Eleven Years was a curious track for him to choose, but it has really grown on us and has been pretty big in the specialist clubs here”.
Citing their “most important records of the last ten years” they include “De La Soul’s Three Feet High And Rising, Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, anything from Nick Cave and The Fall. Maybe the record that started it all for me was Public Image Ltd’s Metal Box, and Portishead’s Dummy is certainly one of my favourites at present”. So where’s it all going? Will we catch their newly found funky grooves and sarcastic lyrics in the flesh? “The indie thing has become the mainstream. You’ve got your Nirvanas and your Nine Inch Nails – dance is still happening in a big way – but personally I’m getting more interested in the more traditional song based ways of making music. I think as long we are keeping the sounds fresh we’ll plod on . . . with any luck and finances, we’d love to come to Australia and Japan”.
Sebastian Chan 1995