The Buzzcocks 1999

The Buzzcocks are the one, lone vanguard of the old school of punk from the 70's which also included the Sex Pistols and the Clash. However, instead of just cashing in on reunion tours, they still make relevant, new albums that matter! Their new album, MODERN actually breaks new ground, as the group ads elements of techno and funk into several of the tracks. But it is not selling out to the new styles of the moment. It is unmistakably Buzzcocks with a new twist. I talked with co-founder of the group, Pete Shelley, right before the kickoff of their American tour in Atlanta...

E.C.: With the new Buzzcocks' album, MODERN, was there a new intentional approach?

Pete: Yes, we're trying not to make a rock album. So, instead of trying to make it sound like we were a rock band, we tried a more studio based approach. And, more control over what was going on. Also, we felt uncomfortable with trying to be a rock band, when everybody's trying to be one. We though, why more modern.

E.C.: The new album is contemporary, but it is definitely Buzzcocks. Your voice is very distinctive.

Pete: (laughs) Yes, it gives the game away!

E.C.: How is your songwriting different from in the 70's? Is it easier now?

Pete: There's more different ways of doing it, but then again there's more distractions.

E.C.: More schedules to meet?

Pete: No, not really. I think because a lot of the songs we did as the Buzzcocks were all written five minutes before going into the studio. So, its easier when you start writing songs. You haven't got any songs that you know you are trying to write like that. So, you don't have that subconscious fear of coming up with the same song twice. It's a little bit harder than that, trying to make sure that you don't re-write the same songs ad nauseum.

E.C.: How do you think your writing style is different from Steve's (the other songwriter/singer in the group)?

Pete: Well, I tend to wait until the last minute before I write songs, where Steve likes to finish them all and have them all ready. I'm notoriously bad...all right you have to do the world tour tomorrow! So I just stay up all night writing the lyrics. If it was me, I'd wait until the day of release before finishing.

E.C.: The first single and video was for THUNDER OF HEARTS. With two writers in the band, how do you decide which is the first single?

Pete: We don't decide, we let other people decide. We tend to go with the consensus. It seemed a bit arrogant to say that we know better than everyone else. I mean we DO...

E.C.: On THUNDER OF HEARTS, there is a line of the lyrics that stays in my head..."sometimes even monkeys fall from the trees". What does that mean?

Pete: Actually its Japanese...I sometimes buy lots of Japanese books, and there was one which was Japanese proverbs. And that was actually the title of the book, even monkeys fall from trees. It means even the most skillful people can make mistakes.

E.C.: What happened with the deal at IRS records?

Pete: Miles Goldham (ed: correct name?)...was trying to buy back his share from EMI/IRS, and he had backers in place, but then they decided, oh you can't have the REM stuff. As a result of that his backers fell through. So, he just threw his hands up in despair. He was left with no option but to close down the company.

E.C.: I though ALL SET was incredibly strong, but it got no publicity...

Pete: We had two weeks publicity! We were on tour and all the people we were working with suddenly got the phone call that there's no record company.

E.C.: WHAT DO I GET? is now on a car commercial, how did that come about?

Pete: I haven't seen it yet, I just found out from the internet, we got mail in and people said, have you seen this advert?

E.C.: I mean, do you own the rights to the old songs?

Pete: Publishing? The people who made the advert were in touch with a subsidiary company, the American part. The American publishing company collects for my part. So, we got in touch with the one in England, said, Do you know anything about this?! And they were like, No, we didn't know anything either.

Well, in England, Ever Fallen in Love has been used for a car ad...and What Do I Get's been used for a cat food commercial...Ever Fallen in Love? was used again for a coffee commercial. Every now and again it appears...

E.C.: How did you come up with the name Buzzcocks? I was listening to a tape in the car and a friend asked me...I said I had no idea.

Pete: There was a review for a TV program back in 76. One of the lines in the program was, its the Buzz comma Cock. Its the Buzz, Cock. Howard DeVoto saw this and put together the word, Buzzcocks. It's served us well ever since.

E.C.: The Buzzcocks seem to transcend punk, almost the Rolling Stones of punk music. However, your music is more melodic than most punk. Why is that, was it intentional?

Pete: Well, the good thing with punk was that it was really a state of mind, rather a form of music. But when people heard the state of mind, they associated it with the form of music. And because those comparisons were all encompassing, they tended to just concentrate on certain elements of that. So that when other people decided that they would make punk bands, they thought we have this certain, narrow form of music. It became narrower and narrower. Both ourselves and the Sex Pistols and the Clash were really the vanguard of the old punk. We all acknowledged the fact that it became something else, while we were all doing our own things. I mean it was music with energy and passion, not really ballads.

E.C.: But you still had elements of melody and harmony that the Sex Pistols and the Clash didn't have. When someone first introduced me to the Buzzcocks in the late 70's they said, "you gotta hear them, they are like the Beatles on speed".

Pete: (Laughs!) Good comparison!

E.C.: Why do you think rock always comes back to melodic pop?

Pete: Cause people like melodies. The secret of a good melody is that you can remember it. Whenever I write a song, I tend not to record the first thing that comes into my head. Because if I can't remember it, how can anybody else remember it? So, I keep it inside my head for long enough, so I can come back to it. Then it grows on me. Then I know its a good enough melody.

E.C.: Your music has lasted more than the whole grunge thing, where the songs weren't melodic and the lyrics were depressing...

Pete: Well, I have depressing lyrics, but very happy tunes! (laughs)

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