McCLUSKY interview


by Tom Kirk

ANDY Falkous is placid, but that could be the painkillers. Mclusky’s frontman – renowned for his raging lyrical tirades at unsuspecting celeb targets – has stomach cramps and seems almost tranquillised. If the sturdy, shaven-headed punk beast isn’t exactly docile, his movements are deliberate, his lilting Welsh accent noticeably soft, and he is standing up, because sitting down hurts too much.

What really proves Andy isn’t well is that Andy wants to talk about music. He doesn’t, for example, want to spend 15 minutes castigating US foreign policy, extolling the virtues of the word “cunt,” or explaining why Chris Morris is god and Bob Dylan “a whiny little maggot who needs a kick.”

For Mclusky this is highly unusual. Ever since their debut album – the brilliantly-titled My Pain And Sadness Is More Sad And Painful Than Yours – vitriolic spleen-venting has formed the meat of their encounters with the press. Perhaps the absence of bandmates Greg Chapple (bass) and Matt Harding (drums) means tonight singer/guitarist Andy doesn’t come across nearly as spite-ridden. Then again, perhaps his spleen is genuinely giving him trouble.

Certainly there are few moments during our brief meeting when Falkous veers towards mainstream-loathing venom. Even then it’s mild and fairly obvious. Andy is keen to point out, for example, that he isn’t on a personal crusade with Mclusky – he just thinks most music is “a pile of shit.” He also doesn’t care about releasing singles because “I couldn’t really give a fuck – they’re just promotional devices for albums. Back in the day they meant something, I guess, but now I couldn’t give a fuck.”

That’s all – no politics, no celeb-baiting, no punk sneers. Instead, Mr. Falkous, standing slightly awkwardly thanks to the searing pain in his gut, talks gently, lucidly and intelligently about music. What’s more, he insists that music is all Mclusky are really about. 

So right now Mclusky are about a tour supporting their single, There Ain’t No Fool In Ferguson – a barbed, splintered salvo of raggedly assembled punk-pop through which Falkous issues a semi-comical torrent of lyrical gestures like a tourette’s child playing word association. It’s a taster for their forthcoming third album, after the primitive, boisterous, demo-quality punk of My Pain And Sadness… and the more complete turbulence of last year’s Mclusky Do Dallas. In fact, it feels like the next step in that natural progression, as if Mclusky are distilling their perfect form.

Falkous, though, disagrees: “I wouldn’t see those albums as stages,” he considers. “The first one’s a bit of a red herring, it happened because we had written so many songs. We realised by the time we got a deal those songs would be gone, so we just got on with releasing them. And frankly, it was just as well, because we were about as likely to get a deal back then as we were to find a cancer cure.” 

Such modesty characterises Falkous’ conversation every time talk turns to Mclusky themselves, and in fact his statement isn’t strictly true. When My Pain And Sadness…was released at the back end of 2000, it was plain Mclusky’s record deal would be just around the corner. For one thing, the threesome were relentlessly prolific, effortlessly discharging bristling, three-minute tracks that skittered between Pixies parody and early-80’s hardcore punk faster than they could think to lay them down. Live, they were possessed, pulsing with a pugnacious mix of speed, self-abuse and hopeless, resentful humour. Mclusky’s early gigs turned ramshackle into an art-form, three boys from Cardiff drawing blood on a blur of guitar strings, their instruments sometimes giving up and caving in before the set list had run out. 

The album only achieved subsistence sales, but critically Mclusky gathered plaudits that have multiplied since. They signed to Too Pure, and in …Do Dallas were able to record what Andy regards as their first album-proper. The aim was to make, in his words, “a total, balls-out rock record,” a proposition that became more realistic than he could have imagined when engineering legend Steve Albini was brought in to produce it.

For a band whose direct influences take in the Pixies, Fugazi and Nirvana, Albini was the perfect choice. “We’ve always had a similar sonic ideal,” Andy says. “When Too Pure told us they were going to get him, as far as I was concerned it just showed they were taking us seriously. The great thing about him, and it sounds ridiculous, is the drums sound like drums, bass sounds like bass, guitar sounds like guitar… He gets audio performance from what’s happening live, and it’s perfect for us.”

One balls-out rock record in the bag, Mclusky return to Chicago to complete the follow-up with Albini this autumn. So far, they have found working with the notoriously difficult producer easier than expected. “He sees himself as an archivist of bands rather than a taste-maker,” Andy explains. “We just turn up, plug in, and play. He’s hardly a sycophant but he is, complimentary, shall we say. Although I wouldn’t like to speak for him. It’s his place to praise or criticise.”

Hearing him talk like this, one realises how fast and far Mclusky have moved without anyone really noticing. Three years ago they hadn’t even released their first single. Now they helm an expanding cult of fans and are recording a third album, while Andy talks coolly about fraternising with rock’s smartest underground figureheads. 

It feels for all the world like a covert takeover, and at times Andy’s references to a “sonic ideal,” suggest that has been the plan from the start. Even parts of My Pain And Sadness…seemed to lay out an enraged, explicitly subversive agenda. Take that album’s spectacular finale, World Cup Drumming, in which Andy cites himself as unable to rescue anything real from a sanitized “popular culture course,” that takes in “costume dramas/ watched by piranhas/ and rows of muppets staring straight at the sun.”

“My tastes are very conservative,” he agrees, “in the sense that I don’t want to be hearing any cheese at all. I want to be hearing, for better or worse, something very pure. There’s nothing wrong with a tune – a tune is a very different thing. But cheese is expressing that tune in a cliched way, while music is about finding that hook you haven’t heard before, that isn’t so obvious. I consider all our songs pop songs, but pop to me has to have melody, a degree of intelligence to it, and just a general feel of excitement.”

That’s melody, intelligence and excitement – added to the anger, disillusionment and bitter comedy that seem to characterise Falkous’ lyrics at every turn. It doesn’t just smell like a manifesto, it sounds like Mclusky are the band of now – directionless, reproachful, confrontational. Andy, though, while he exudes these qualities, denies Mclusky represent anything at all.

“Oh, no, I hate that word zeitgeist,” he cringes. “I think there’s a danger with the music press that a band doesn’t have any significance if it doesn’t come in representing a certain sort of – I hate this word too – disenfranchised group of people. 

“I can understand it, because music comes to prominence because it expresses a certain sort of feeling. But it’s when you get things like the way the press want their pop to be British and their rock to be American. It’s ridiculous – in New York, it’s exotic to see a band from Wales. People in New York don’t want to be sold a ridiculous two-dimensional version of New York, because they’ve got the real, three-dimensional version right there in front of their eyes.

“I suppose there are things in our music – quite a lot of what you could call bitterness there. That’s not something I particularly wanted. I just want to play music. Maybe there’s some nihilism, but I’m not on any explicit mission. I just think most music’s a pile of shit. That’s my basic bone of contention. And I guess that’s a very limited way of working but it would be inappropriate of me to pretend that I have any agenda outside that.

“As for the band… I would like to think we could actually stand out and be unique, but then everybody wants their band to be special. So I just want to play music. And the music is defined by the three people in Mclusky.”

It’s difficult to reconcile these comments with the aggressive cultural statements so often made on Mclusky’s records. But listening to them again, you realise that resentment isn’t conscious – just something that was already there.

In fact, Mclusky’s “ethic,” or “sonic ideal,” existed before Mclusky themselves. Falkous was already very, very sceptical about music. And long before his band was an effective proposition, they already recognised they would inevitably be shunned by most people. The mainstream media would not, of course, spare them a passing glance. The alternative, with its obsessively predetermined notions of (American) rock chic, and artificially synthesised “scenes,” probably wouldn’t either. Along came Mclusky, pent up with ideas, intelligence and things to say, and assessed, quite rightly, that music was fucked. 

And so, three years later, here they are – still tearing up gleeful, bloody-minded pop songs with the same hysterical fury. There’s no doubt Falkous understands his band’s worth. But perhaps the reason he never once acknowledges their widespread critical recognition is because he doesn’t believe his critics will ever have the balls to do anything about Mclusky being quite as good as they are. 

So why have a gameplan, a manifesto, why believe in a zeitgeist, why not fuck it all and just play music? “Right,” says Andy. “Once you start thinking about that kind of thing you lose sight of why you’re playing music in the first place. As boring and dull as it sounds, any band with a manifesto will usually find the manifesto occurs at the expense of something called tunes.”

If you can’t beat the system, ignore it. It’s not just the painkillers – Mclusky feel tranquillised by the times they live in – if not disenfranchised, then disengaged, directionless, doubtful and disinclined. 

In a nutshell, they’re quite possibly the most zeitgeist band we’ve got.

Interview by : Tom Kirk 

all pictures (c) mcclusky / too pure 2003 

McClusky Label Website 

(c) (p) musicdash (june) 2003