Wednesday, December 30, 2015

With a touch of punk, funk and political outrage, England’s Gang of Four burst onto the music scene in late 1977. Led by Andy Gill’s distinctive jagged guitar licks and the battle cry vocals of Jon King, the band delivered aggressively wondrous songs like “Anthrax,” “Damaged Goods” and “At Home He’s a Tourist,” and the landmark album “Entertainment.” As they progressed into the ‘80s, their sound integrated more groove elements that spawned the danceable hits “I Love a Man in a Uniform” and “Is It Love?”

Sadly, by 1984 it was all over as the post-punk pioneers burned out. Or so we thought. They later returned in 1991 with the critically acclaimed CD “Mall.”

After the release of 2012’s “Content,” singer Mr. King called it a day, leaving guitarist Mr. Gill the last of the Gang with two choices: quit or assemble a new lineup.

Never one to accept defeat, Mr. Gill soldiered on, keeping the Gang going with a tour and a brilliant new CD, “What Happens Next.” Mr. Gill discussed the artists he influenced, finding a new singer and why musician St. Vincent may be his favorite soccer player.

Question: How did the original Gang of Four form?

Answer: Jon King and myself had been at school together [as teenagers]. We formed this band called Bourgeoisie Brothers. It was kind of slightly jokey.

Q: When did you take it seriously?

A: The pair of us went to New York in 1976. I think I got a university grant to look at Frank Stella’s art. We were staying with Mary Harron, who went on to direct the films “American Psycho” and “I Shot Andy Warhol.” She wrote for this punk rock magazine. It was a real education going to CBGBs, and John Cale would be standing there, Joey Ramone sitting there. Just standing around talking to us. Patti Smith Group, we talked to them.

After that Jon and I thought, “Well, we sort of write songs. And these guys do that. They have record deals.” We thought it must be easy. We went back to Leeds to the university and started the band.

Hugo [Burnham] was the one guy we knew who had a drum kit. Dave Allen answered our notice we had put up on the student board looking for a bass player. I started to take it seriously and do adventurous things with music. I saw, and Jon agreed, that things had to work side by side: the snare beat and the guitar stab, the bass thing. They all had to kind of work together. Also the vocals. Side by side instead of the traditional pyramid, with the lead singer at the top and drums somewhere buried at the bottom.

Q: Where did your stabbing guitar style come from?

A: It’s a mixture of things, really. I always like the kind of noise element of the Velvet Underground, where guitar is sort of smeared. But I also liked very funky stuff like James Brown, Stax Records. I liked the way the guitar fitted into the groove. Then, ultimately, reggae. The guitar is just stabs and part of the groove.

Q: So many artists credit you as an influence, including REM, Nirvana and St. Vincent. Have any of them ever thanked you?

A: Well Annie [St. Vincent] did that. She did a big announcement in the NME [New Music Express] saying I was her favorite guitar player. Then the music writer Michael Azerrad got me and her to talk on his podcast. She ended up interviewing me. I was trying to make it conversation, but she just kept asking me questions.

Have you ever seen her play football? Or, as you call it, soccer? It’s on YouTube. She’s pretty amazing.

Q: Why did the band break up in 1984?

A: I dunno. I think we had a couple of [bad] managers. It can get frustrating when things aren’t going right. Someone is stealing money. You get frustrated and tired. I produced the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers’ first album. At that time I sort of thought, “Maybe I should do this for a bit.” Jon wanted to stop. We both just wanted to give it a rest.

Q: What triggered the two of you reuniting in 1991?

A: I think somebody sort of said, “Why don’t you guys do another record with each other?” We just did. Played live a bit, made the album “Shrinkwrapped.”

I think Jon King was always a little unsure as to whether or not he should throw himself into it 100 percent. I think sometimes he just wanted to go and have a quiet life.

Q: Is that why Jon King left in 2012?

A: Yeah. He had other things he was doing. He just sort of said, “I think that’s it for me. Done.”

Q: Did you think that was the end of the band?

A: No, because I was getting into it. I enjoyed making “Content,” which was the record before Jon King left. I wanted to just carry on.

Q: How did you find new singers like John Sterry?

A: When I started the new record, I thought what I wanted to do was work with different singers that I like [such as] Alison Mosshart [of The Dead Weather and The Kills].

Herbert Gronemeyer is a friend. I wanted someone to do guide vocals. I asked around a bit. He came down and started singing. I thought, “This guy has something.” I got to like him. We did a semi-secret gig in London. After that I thought, “This could work.”

Q: What has been the fans reaction to the new lineup?

A: People seem to love it. There are some on Twitter or Facebook that complain, saying, “Oh, it’s just Andy and some kids now.” That’s fair enough. But I’ve never particularity felt that having the original names makes it authentic necessarily.

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