British indie legends The Wedding Present play their first New Zealand show at the King's Arms tonight, then the San Francisco Bath House in Wellington On Saturday. Our in-house Wedding Present superfan Renee Jones caught up with singer Dave Gedge for an intervew.
As you can imagine, there are some New Zealanders waiting very keenly to see the Wedding Present; a friend of mine was even in the Wedding Present fanclub back in the UK. So this one’s for the fans, and the simply curious.
Following their long-awaited maiden visit to Australia in 2012, The Wedding Present are heading back there next week, fitting in their first ever New Zealand shows on the way – at Auckland’s King's Arms tonight and Wellington’s San Francisco Bath House on Saturday.
The Melbourne and Sydney dates will see The Wedding Present playing back-to-back nights, performing two of their much loved classic albums George Best and The Hit Parade (A-sides) in full, among many other songs from their extensive catalogue including their new album Valentina, released in 2012 on Australian label Lost And Lonesome. The New Zealand shows won’t be structured, so you never know what you might hear.
"That’s a hard one," says Gedge. "We have over two hundred songs we could play – and we don’t want to play just the most popular songs, that doesn’t always work. A set’s got to flow – have a beginning and an end. ..so the drummer Charlie puts the set lists together. He wasn’t in the band 10 years ago so has a more objective point of view."
"Yeah, we feel quite guilty about that really," says Gedge of the fact that it's the band's first visit to New Zealand and only the second to this part of the world. "Bringing a band there is a huge financial commitment – we’ve had a ton of negotiations but they didn’t work out. We met Mark from Lost and Lonesome, who released our latest album Valentina, and he arranged a tour of Australia."
I asked if he was aware that George Best had been included in a Facebook meme lately naming it as one of the 100 most influential albums of all time – he’d found out about a week before, and "it’s very flattering". He says he’s only just registered the coincidence of the fact that they’re featuring George Best heavily in their Australian tour at the same time that this list has emerged. He was thinking he should have made more of a song and dance about it!
Regarding social media, Gedge is very interested in the way the industry works, including the growth of social media; and "within the lifetime of my group the whole industry has changed. I feel quite privileged to be working in an industry which has had such extreme changes over the years. It’s a lot easier now to seek out music, old and new."
What started him down a musical career path in the first place?
"I always knew it was what I wanted to do. There are photos of me aged five pretending to be a DJ. It sounds a bit pretentious, but I always knew I would end up in a band. I had no question that I would do anything else."
Were your family supportive?
"No, they hated the idea! In retrospect I can see why – I went to uni, which they helped fund, and they thought I was wasting my time and my life. Over the years they’ve come to accept that I have found some success – but they’d probably still like me to get a real job! I think if I told them I’d got a job in a bank they’d be very pleased … but I don’t think that’s going to happen now …"
I compared Gedge’s songs to short plays – vignettes narrated by a central character. Gedge agrees, and says he’s always been a fan of pop music – Motown, the Beatles, glam rock and then punk – and love songs and relationship songs have always been the most direct; there’s a "lack of pretentiousness in their lyrics – some song styles can seem a bit lazy – pop music can hide behind meaningless words," just for effect without actually saying anything. He prefers the direct approach and has "honed that style over the years. I’m very interested in how people speak to each other."
He's a prolific songwriter who always seems to be working on something new, so how is it for for him to revisit earlier work, as in the Bizarro and Seamonsters tours?
"I find it quite fascinating to be honest."
It all started when the 21st anniversary of Bizarro came around – the record label were keen to reissue the album, and Gedge was approached about the idea of playing the album live. He was initially sceptical.
"I was more interested in moving forward, but everyone said 'Oh, I’d love you to play George Best/Seamonsters/Bizarro. It’s been quite an interesting process – a bit like looking at an old diary and reinterpreting it. Plus it’s nice to hear an album from start to finish, with all the highs and lows and drama".
He’s always seen the Wedding Present as a live band anyway, with their albums intended to work in a live setting. And, despite the band’s recent album focus, Gedge also admits "I am fond of a single. iPods are great for that – taking an album track and mixing it amongst other songs – it’s like your own personal radio station."
New Zealand fans may be aware of a couple of side projects he’s been involved with – many years ago there were the Ukranians with his Wedding Present bandmates, and more recently has been his own project, Cinerama. Gedge does enjoy branching out – "Being in a band is not just making records – it’s a gateway to doing lots of other things." Another of Gedge’s projects is his curation of an annual festival in Brighton, At the Edge of the Sea.
Particularly fascinating to me was finding out that there’s also a Wedding Present comic. Former Wedding Present bass player Terry de Castro wanted to write a biography of Gedge – but based on her experiences of joining the band and touring with him. This never got further than the planning stage, so Gedge contacted a friend of his – Lee Thacker - who is a comic artist, and he’s teamed up with de Castro to publish some of the tales in comic book form. Gedge is quite tickled at the thought that his whole biography may end up as a comic!
I sourced questions from a few of my Wedding Present fan friends. One asked how the French version of ‘Why Are You Being So Reasonable?’ goes down in France – not too well as it turns out as Gedge admits they may be an element of butchering to his pronunciation; French audiences seem to prefer the English version. One particularly stressful rendition happened during a Paris show: Gedge’s French isn’t that great so he had a lyric sheet handy, the smoke machine was pretty pumping, and Gedge couldn’t read the lyrics …
The same friend also wondered if the band would mind having giant confetti thrown at them during said same song.
"As long as the venue is okay with any cleaning costs…"
You seem to have a very busy schedule; how do you find the time to write new material and come up with song ideas?
"I’m probably a bit obsessed…I don’t really stop. I carry a notebook with me and jot things down all the time. I’m fascinated by it really – not just the music but everything – videos, books, comics…"
It must be great to be doing something you enjoy.
"I’m not sure if I do really enjoy it – it’s quite stressful! But I’m driven to do it."
How do you relax? Do you enjoy unwinding with music or movies or books?
"I don’t really – even if I’m watching TV or go to see a movie, I find myself making notes for songs. Which is funny as music is a leisure activity for most people – for me it’s a bit of an addiction".
I point out there are worse vices you could have, which raises a chuckle.
How do you find having your independent label, Scopitones?
"It gets harder and harder to be an indie label, and becomes increasingly difficult to make any money out of it. Over the years income has dwindled, and now we’re happy if we break even after making an album."
Advice for a young music lover thinking of starting their own label?
"I’d probably think twice about starting one now – you have the passion and want to release bands, but it’s almost like being in a voluntary organisation. There’s also a parallel with the decline of print media and the film industry - it’s very hard to compete with free."
Bands seem to be focusing more on live shows now to make a living – is that okay with you?
"Live shows are probably why I started doing this – at a show there’s a certain communication and exchange, a coming together I suppose, which at the end of the day you don’t really get from a record. It’s more meaningful in a way."
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