THE STONE ROSES, interview
Melody Maker, June 3rd 1989
by Simon Reynolds
scan courtesy of Charles at http://archivedmusicpress.wordpress.com/
THE STONE ROSES
Melody Maker, July 15th 1989
by Simon Reynolds
THE STONE ROSES, profile
director's cut, Spin, May 1995
by Simon Reynolds
I guess you had to be there--probably Manchester, definitely England--to understand
how The Stone Roses came to matter so much in 1989.
Half-way through a coast-to-coast traipse across the US to promote their long-awaited sophomore effort Second Coming, the Stone Roses appear to have brought some of that infamous Mancunian weather with them--outside, it's pissing down, as LA enjoys its heaviest daily rainfall for a century.
Manchester's grey and gloomy image--partly based on the damp North of England climate, partly on the angst-rock legacy of Joy Division and The Smiths--was revolutionised in 1989. Thanks to pioneering house music clubs like The Hacienda, the Stone Roses' hometown became the mecca for 24 Hour Party People and smiley-faced hedonist ravers from across Britain; Manchester became 'Madchester'.
"The black kids had always had something going," remembers singer Ian
Brown. "1989 was the year white kids woke up." "Whitey could dance, with a pill in
'im," adds bassist Manny. Ecstasy catalysed an invincible feeling of change-is-gonna-come positivity, seemingly substantiated by events across the world. Along with luv'd up good vibes, E incites free-floating fervor and belief. Surfing these energy-currents of idealism and anticipation, the Roses gave the new mood a focus. "In early '89, when we did gigs, you could just feel the people willing you to go for it," remembers Brown.
Why did the Stones Roses become the Chosen Ones? None of the other Manc
bands--Happy Mondays, with their gutternsnipe funkadelia and drug-damaged doggerel, or spindly garage-psych revivalists Inspiral Carpets--really fitted the bill. But the Stone Roses had the classic four-man Brit-pop formation--sexy, simian frontman Ian Brown, introverted guitar-visionary John Squire, scallywag bassist Manny, shit-hot drummer/motormouth Reni. Collectively they exuded a charisma midway between Beatles and Sex Pistols. They had the tunes, too, the sort of soaring '60s melodies that will always make young hearts run free. And beneath the neo-psychedelia, they had a rare sense of groove, testifying to their immersion in '80s house and '70s funk.
Most crucially, they had the right attitude, alternately lippy and laidback. "We hate
tense people," John Squire told me back in '89, referring to the people "who are only
interested in making money and who ruin things for everybody else". 'Madchester' replaced the workaholic materialism of the '80s with a new spirit, encoded in the slang buzzword "baggy": loose-fitting clothes (like the infamous flares the band wore), loose-limbed dance rhythms, a loose-minded, take-it-as-it-comes optimism.
But if there was one factor above all that sealed the Roses' bond with their following, it was the band's cockiness, emblazoned in anthems like "I Wanna Be Adored" and "I Am The Resurrection", in choruses like "kiss me where the sun don't shine/the past is yours/the future's mine": a self-belief that reflected the audience's own E-fuelled sense of confidence.
Rave reviews and music papers covers followed, rather than created, the Roses
phenomenon; Manchester became big news worldwide, and such was the band's unstoppable momentum that they sold 300,000 copies of their self-titled debut LP in America without playing a note there. Everything came to a head in November '89, when Happy Mondays' "Hallelujah" and Stone Roses hypno-funk epic "Fool's Gold" both made the UK Top Ten.
After this triumph, 1990 saw the Roses struggling to articulate the perilously vague creed of "positivity" that Manchester represented. But the 28,000-strong outdoor Spike Island party they threw in May 1990 was botched by bad organization, and the next single "One Love" was an insipid retread of "Fool's Gold". Then things really went awry. Frustrated by an invidious contract with their label Silvertone, the Roses went to court, and found themselves in legal limbo, unable to record or release a note. The case dragged on until May '91, when the Roses were freed and immediately signed to Geffen. Then Silvertone appealed the verdict, paralysing the band for another year.
While the Roses were tangled in litigation, Manchester's living dream turned to nightmare. Once upon a time, remembers Brown, there was "a feeling of community
strength... coming out of a club at the end of the night feeling like you were going to change the world. Then guns come in, and heroin starts being put in Ecstasy. It took a lot of the love vibe out."
Drugs meant money; money meant gang warfare for market control. The Roses actually saw one Mancunian gang-leader get shot at a reggae concert in mid-1990. But it was a series of violent incidents at The Hacienda that most publically announced the souring of the 'Madchester' party. "Before the Hacienda got gun-detectors on the door, you'd see 16 year old kids standing at the bar with a gun in a holster, right on view," grimaces Brown.
Bad memories of this dark period inspired "Begging You", the most thrilling track on
the Roses new album. A hyperkinetic fusion of metal and techno, ballistic blues-rock
riffs and looped beats, "Begging", says Brown, evokes "sitting in a club, everything's beautiful, you're E'd up, and then some baby-gangster comes up and starts talking in your ear about how they can get you a gun or an ounce of this-or-that."
In any drug-based pop scene, there comes a point when the collective trip turns bad,
when the rush gives way to the CRASH. Trying to reach a higher high, "too many people take one too many", says Brown. Drugs get adulterated as dealers maximise profit margins. The clientele turns to more reliable, soul-corroding poisons (speed, crystal meth). Heroin enters the scene (often initially as a way of cushioning the comedown after nights of excess). And where once they were full of open minds and hearts, all of a sudden the clubs are populated by zombies and paranoiacs. It happened in Haight Ashbury in 1968, it happened in the London and Los Angeles rave scenes in the early '90s, but it was especially disillusioning when it happened to Manchester in 1990.
The Stones Roses severed itself from club culture. Manny, for so long "the rogue
Rose", even relocated to a small village in South Wales. Fourteen people he knew had died from heroin in one year: "Kids I'd known since I was seven. I've seen people I've never ever thought would take the drug, fucked. Me, I'll turn my back on them people, however much it hurts me. That's why I moved out of Manchester, I don't wanna be near it."
Their momentum fatally derailed by the court case, cut adrift from the scene that had
energized them, the Stone Roses found it hard to get going again. They spent much of
1992-93 travelling in Europe and otherwise enjoying the first fruits of their Geffen deal, worth $20 million over five albums. After a few false starts, they finally commenced concerted work on their second album in the summer of '93, only to get knocked off course by a series of deaths among people close to them, including their new manager. "It's been the whole spectrum--birth, death," Manny grins wryly.
For the Roses were also distracted by fatherhood: Reni had two sons (he also has a nine year old daughter he met for the first time only two years ago), Squire had a daughter and Ian a son. Even Manny's now set to be a dad in a few months time.
Problems with producers also delayed them: the first choice, John Leckie (who'd done
the debut) bailed out, unable to cope with the Roses' lackadaisical, jam-crazy attitude to studio-time (one six week, $60 thousand dollar session produced a single three minute ditty!). Even after settling down with engineer Simon Dawson at Rockfield Studios in Wales, the pace was steady but agonisingly slow: 347 ten-hour days in the studio to produce 78 minutes of music! "Maybe 50 of them days would just be us getting stoned listening to our favourite records through the studio system", says Ian, quite unabashed by the extravagance.
Even though they seemed to have jilted their fans, the Roses continued to figure
prominently in the 'Most Sorely Missed' category of the UK music papers' readership polls, next to that year's famous stiffs. In the abscence of solid information, bizarre rumours flourished: that the band were "junkie golf-maniacs", that they'd bought an entire fleet of Ford Fiestas which they drove through the Welsh country lanes with the lights off. (The truth is that there was one Ford Fiesta, in which Squire had three minor accidents: colliding with a cow, running over a pheasant and crashing into a car driven by veteran hippy guitarist Steve Hillage).
Finally, the LP was released in December last year, titled--with characteristic
immodesty--Second Coming. There are precious few precedents for a five-and-a-half year gap between debut and sequel. A year is a long, long time in UK pop; since Madchester, the trends and Next Big Things have come and gone--rave/rock crossover (Primal Scream, EMF etc), shoegaze, grunge, Suede's neo-glam rock, and most recently, the so-called Britpop Revival (Blur, Oasis, etc). Despite, or perhaps because of this, Second Coming was greeted with huge curiosity--not just concerning its reputedly Led-Zeppy contents, but whether it could could possibly matter like its predecessor. Could the Roses slip back into the swing of things after half a decade?
The band themselves seem pretty nonchalant. "Our momentum was definitely stopped," says Brown. "But I don't think anybody's took it off us. Suede or Blur aren't anywhere near where we were in 1990. I thought that after house music, things would leap forward. But they went back to the '70s--Bowie impersonators, drama students."
Ironically, the Roses themselves have gone backwards in order to go forwards.
Apart from "Begging You", the new album doesn't bridge the gap between rock and dance by forging a futuristic hybrid, but by harking back to a time when rock and dance weren't so separated, when guitar bands grooved. Before punk removed the swing and syncopation from rock, black funksters like The Meters and white raunch'n'rollers like ZZ Top or Aerosmith were coming from the same R&B source. As Reni puts it, "Led Zeppelin could have backed James Brown..."
The Roses have always been steeped deep in black music. Ian Brown's been listening
to a lot of Chess blues, to hip hop and contemporary Jamaican artists like Bounty Killer and Cutty Ranks; Mani digs "the stepper tunes of '70s reggae", bands like Culture and Burning Spear, singers like Big Youth and I Roy. "I've got 500 CD's, ten are by white artists," says Brown. "I'm not interested in what [whites] have got to say, they can't tell me nothing." He says he was "double 'umbled" when Run DMC sampled 'Fool's Gold' on their track "What's It All About"; entering the sampler's gene-pool of breakbeats and licks, alongside JB, was the ultimate accolade.
Five years on, the Roses seem barely to have aged. Apart from a pronounced diminishment in the width of their flares, they could almost have stepped out of a time capsule. They're still into dressing sharp (Brown, for instance, sports a natty deerstalker, originally acquired to shield his skull when he shaved his hair off after a disastrous stab at self-coiffure), and they're as sharp-witted as ever, too. In stark contrast to their public image (vacant, party-minded working class lads), the Roses aren't just smart, they're positively learned--discoursing at length on topics like the latest theories of the origins of mankind, crimes committed by the British empire, the way runaway slaves in the American South often joined Indian tribes, and so on. If they weren't so colloquial and salt-of-the-earthy, I'd almost dub them 'politically correct'.
Take their reverential attitude to women, as exemplified by the single "Love Spreads", a paean to matriarchy whose chorus goes 'the messiah is my sister/ain't no king, man, she's my queen'. According to Squire, the song's premise is "why should God be a white man with a beard?". Elsewhere on the album, "Daybreak" is an anti-Eurocentric homage to Africa as the Origin of human civilization. The band's comfy financial situation hasn't blunted the edge of its class-war politics, either (the debut album featured songs like the anti-royalist "Elizabeth My Dear" and "Bye Bye Badman", a diatribe directed at a May 1968 riot policeman). Reni probably speaks for the band when he says that his vision of utopia is "the weak people everywhere running government". And "Second Coming"'s catchiest tune is "How Do You Sleep?", a jaunty vial of vitriol targetted, says Squire, at "the people who make decisions that are guaranteed to cost lives, like sending troops into battle."
If Second Coming is anybody's record, it's John Squire's. Where the debut was a Squire/Brown affair, this time he wrote all but three of the songs; his pyrotechnic solos and swaggering riffs dominate. Squire describes the album as an exercise in "neo-classical homo-erotic eclecticism", an exploration of rock's most masculinist aspects--speed and noise, machinery and explosions.
"I wanted the first album to be harder, we sound kind of neutered. But can't you hear the second album trying to get out of the first one? The second half of 'Resurrection', that's the aggression coming out." Live, Squire used that song as a chance to freak-out, a la Hendrix circa "Third Stone From The Sun". Jimi remains a touchstone; he fondly remembers the "religious experience" of hearing Electric Ladyland for the first time, one "acid Christmas" in 1988.
Despite the late '60s influences in which his playing's steeped, Squire is, at 32,
one of the last of the original generation inspired to pick up an instrument by punk.
Hearing the Pistols' "God Save The Queen" was a revelation: "It became my mission in life to try to create something with that power, just the noise of that guitar." Before that, it'd had been the Beach Boys' "20 Golden Greats" and "me mum's Beatles LP's". This Pistols/Beatles blend is redolent of Kurt Cobain. Like Kurt, Squire is your classic female-identified man ("I prefer female company, and I enjoy seeing women in positions of power") who nonetheless has a 'warrior male' inside struggling to get out. One minute he's explaining how "Love Spreads" was inspired by Rosalind Miles' The Women's History of the World, an elegy for the lost utopia that existed before patriarchy; the next he'll talk about watching Apocalypse Now for the 15th time", then realising "that's like looking at hardcore porn and masturbating".
When I ask Squire which trait he most admires and envies in women, the answer is
revealing: their superior ability "to release tension" and the fact that they enjoy,
through their periods, "a monthly venting of spleen". Incredibly soft-spoken, impassive, restrained in his movements, Squire is your classic chronic introvert. His intensity seems to be vented entirely through the phallic panache of his playing, through his "violent dreams" and his painting. Originally influenced by Jackson Pollock ("a real rock'n'roll painter"), now into collage, Squire's canvases decorate all of the Roses record sleeves.
Squire's erstwhile creative partner Brown is a bit of a dreamer; his idea of utopia
is "living outside with Nature, getting down to the Great Spirit, full community, like the Red Indians". It's Squire's cynical streak ("I get the feeling that wherever we're going it, it's gonna be an empty surprise", he says at one point) that gives the Roses their edge. "On the first album, if ever a lyric was getting too slushy I'd give it a sick twist. I didn't have to try for this one." He cites the devotional ballad "Your Star Will Shine", an idyllic reverie about watching his daughter sleep, whose last lines catch you off guard: "your distant sun/will shine like the gun/that's trained right between your Daddy's eyes." The jolting image comes from guilt-pangs inspired by the premonition that he wasn't going to be the perfect dad, that rock'n'roll was gonna drag him away from his family.
That predicament isn't likely to improve: the Roses' recent choice of Doug
Goldstein (who handles Guns N' Roses) as their new manager, plus talk of the band doing Lollapalooza, reveal a serious intention to finally crack America this time.
Back in Britain, Second Coming got a mixed reception--seemingly less to do with the record (which most reviewers conceded was excellent, bar the odd misguided stab at pure blues) and more with an obscure resentment that the Roses, divorced from the cultural moment that gave them meaning, were now "just another band". Wryly noting the "schoolmasterly" tone of the reviews--"you've been very very naughty, you've been away too long and this isn't good enough to buy back our affections"--Squire puts his finger on it when he complains: "it's like we'd signed some kind of unoffical agreement!"
But that's exactly how it works with the bands that COUNT (as opposed to those who
merely put out good records). By some mysterious process, a contract between band and audience is sealed, often without the band's consent. Sometimes it's hard to say
precisely what's at stake. But with the Stone Roses, everything about them--the songs, the look, the 'tude--seem to have crystallized a sense of possibility. The Roses represented the brief return--just after the Smiths' miserabilism, just before grunge's gloom--of a long-lost and near-unthinkable '60s notion: that being young could be fun, a real cool time. "We were s'posed to be the hedonistic playboys of that era," muses Squire. "That was easier then, there was more money around in the late '80s. Maybe that's all we were, a reflection of that."
Now all the spaces of possibility are closed off. In Britain, the 'dole culture'
that originally allowed childhood chums Ian and John to avoid deciding what to do with their lives for several years, has been extinguished. The idea that a way of life beyond 9-to-5 drudgery is possible is fading fast. Now the only flight-paths are individualistic, the traditional escape routes (soccer, pop stardom) for glory-hungry working class jack-the-lads. Take Oasis, the band who ripped off the Roses'
nothing-can-stop-us arrogance and ambition shtick wholesale. The difference between Oasis and the Roses is that the latter always represented a shared sense of 'going somewhere', a collective hope. There was something generous and noble about their narcissism. Now hope (like everything else in Britain) has been privatized. And the Stone Roses are "just another band".
THE STONE ROSES
Manhattan Centre, New York
Melody Maker, May 1995
by Simon Reynolds
Then and now, there's a curious blankness at the heart of the Stone Roses phenomenon. Neither diehard devotees nor the band themselves seem able to articulate exactly why the Roses mattered so much. Because of this, the fervour that greeted The Stone Roses in 1989 and the bitterly disappointed response to Second Coming in '94, both seem--from a detached, non-partisan standpoint--equally out of proportion.
Perhaps, first time around, it was just a question of right place, right time. There's a theory that people fall in love when they're ripe, and project their latent amorousness onto the least unsuitable candidate to come along. In
Manchester, E seems to have facilitated the bonding process, as freefloating fervour and will-to-belief found a focus in the band; this spread to the rest of the country by plugging into Brit-rock's latent hunger for a Big Band, a four-man trad-guitar combo (the Smiths, the Jam; Suede, Oasis).
But why the Roses, and not, say The House Of Love? If there was a kernel of magic to the Roses (discounting their obvious assets i.e. good-to-great songs, Squire's
flair, the band's flares, the looselimbed rhythm section, the cryptic class-war lyrics), it's got to be that oft-cited, seldom elucidated intangible, 'attitude'. Really, it was just a self-confidence that fit the turn-of-decade positivity like
a glove, and briefly resurrected a heretical notion: that being young could be fun. The Roses' melodies had a soaring unfettered spirit that echoed the optimism that coursed through everything the Beatles did, even their sad songs.
That idea--adolescence as endless possibility as opposed to endless torment--seems illusory and irrecoverable, post Kurt and Richie, despite the insouciant efforts of jack-the-lad combos like Oasis, Supergrass etc. The difference between the Roses in '89 and Oasis in '95 is that the latter are all ME ME ME, a purely individualistic escape route from dead-end drudgery into self-willed rockstardom. With the Roses, it was more a case of WE, "we can all it make it out of this place": their narcissism was somehow on behalf of a community.
Anyway, right now the Roses are in the unenviable position (although the money probably eases the pain) of being just another band (now that everyone's copped their attitude and Sixties recycling is this nation's seventh most profitable industry). Divorced from the context that lent them the lustre of meaning, the Stone Roses must bear the brunt of everyone's disappointment (as if any band could
singlehandedly turn back the clock to the happy daze of '89/'90). They have to get by on good singin', good playin', on the trad virtues of their deeply traditionalist thang. In America, where the resonances of 'Madchester' were always impossibly remote, the Roses must above all make it as a ROCK BAND. And that's how they project themselves tonight.
After a mood-establishing prequel of Hendrix' "1983, A Merman I Should Turn To Be" (Electric Ladyland being a life-changing aural revelation for John Squire), the Roses EXPLODE onstage in a glare and blare of searchlights and overdriven guitar. They start, like they useta, with "I Wanna Be Adored", only now it's much heavier than before, a monolithic shock-wave of sound that almost obliterates Ian
Brown's wind-tunnel vocals. Next is "She Bangs The Drum"; all the lithe and lissom bouncincess of the original is exchanged for Steve Jones-like aggression ("God Save The Queen" being another formative moment for Squire). Apparently this is how the band wanted the debut LP to sound, until John Leckie got his emasculating hands on it.
What's weird about Second Coming, and about the Stone Roses tonight, is the way the band replay the entire 1965-72 era at once--from mid-Sixties beat through psychedelia to heavy rock-- but jumbled and anachronistic. So "10 Story
Love Song" has a Merseybeat melody but a Santana/Hendrix solo, while "Good Times" fast-forwards Brown's 1966 Manc mod whine to sit uneasily amidst blues-boogie bombastics circa 1970; the Crosby Stills & Nash acoustic balladry of "Tightrope" contrasts with the ZZ Top-isms of "Love Spreads". After Brown's done with his cod-bluesman jivetalk, "Daybreak" provides Squire with pretext and launching pad for an
extended fretboard freak-out, the kind of polychromatic ejaculation-fiesta last heard with Beck, Bogart & Appice's "Jizz Whizz". It sounds great, actually: along with J. Mascis, Squire's one of the very few contemporary guitarists
who can sustain a solo. If nothing else, this kind of phallocratic pyrotechnicism will get the band on the cover of all the muso guitar mags.
As you might have twigged, the guitarist dominates proceedings so extensively that it can only be a matter of time before the band is renamed the John Squire Blues
Explosion. Poor old Ian Brown (whose own 'instrument' is by comparison expressively rather limited) is utterly eclipsed by his schoolchum's onanistic exhibitionism. In truth, these days the Stone Roses' balls-out rockist furore really requires a singer as histrionic as Robert Plant; Brown emanates from an aesthetic universe whose cut-off point is 1967.
A band as good as the Roses can get by with one weak link, but not two. It's early days yet, but it looks like new sticksman Robbie Maddix is no replacement for Reni (one of the few great drummers this country's produced in the last decade). A rock band is a complex rhythmic engine, and you can't just replace a crucial component like Reni and expect things to swing along as groovily as before. The resultant
stiffness doesn't really mar the heavy-rock that most of the set comprises, but "Fool's Gold" is a farce: what was once exquisitely poised and in-the-pocket becomes clod-hopping, closer to funk-metal than baggy-beat.
Now that the Roses are hard rockin' muthas rather than dance-pop, "Begging You" works better as a rave/rock hybrid than "Fools". A weird crush-collision of blues rock and technorave dynamics, Yardbirds and Joey Beltram, "Begging" is
the set's highlight, just as it's the pinnacle of Second Coming. The song is apparently an evocation of that period in 1990/91 when the Madchester party soured: E'd up euphoria turned to edgy paranoia as punters necked one pill too many,
while the drug gangs' bloody struggle to control a lucrative market killed the luv vibe good'n'proper. 16 year old "baby-gangsters", as Brown puts it, stalked the Hacienda openly sporting guns and selling dodgy powders. With its churning
cylindrical groove and almighty turbine-roar guitar, the song sounds exactly like the panic rush of an E'd up raver wondering how and why the rave-dream's dying all around him.
"Begging" sort of begs the question: now the Manchester moment's long gone, what are the Stone Roses "about"? What are they good for? (More good-to-great songs? Yet another axe hero?). I don't think the Roses really know, and in some sense the blitzing bombast of their performance tonight masks that abscence; the volume is almost like a barrier between audience and band. You can barely see the players through the swirling dazzle of the lights; likewise, there's no banter from Brown to the crowd. Beneath the glare and the blare, that curious blankness remains.