Since GR mag ran its course, I haven’t done many Q&As with people who aren’t already friends or friends of friends. But how could I pass up an offer out of nowhere to meet Andy Gill from Gang of Four? England’s unofficial Post Punk Guitarist Laureate would be in town to promote the legendary band’s upcoming LP, the first without singer Jon King, making Gill the sole founding member.
What Happens Next (out on February 24) is a heavy batch of songs with an intense, atmospheric sound that contrasts with the stark anti-production of the group’s hugely influential first two records. But the riffs are as angular and lyrics are as biting as ever. And Gill turned out to be an affable guy whose latest gig happened to be hanging out at a hotel bar and chatting about music.
MW: After doing interviews all day, maybe you wish you had Jon around to help out with press. It must be like an intense round of speed dating!
AG: Well, I’m such a control freak that I don’t mind doing it myself! It’s not that bad. I already like you more than the last guy, haha.
MW: It seems to me that there will always be hypocrisy and lies in society so Gang of Four will never run out of reasons to make music. But you’ll never get jaded, because your songs are so much fun!
AG: That’s an interesting way of looking at it. After Jon left, all I knew was that the album I wanted to make had to be great and that I wanted to collaborate a lot. I put everything into it.
MW: You’ve got some killer contributors on it, and I really love Alison Mossheart’s old band Discount a lot! Did you have her in mind when you were writing those two songs that she songs on?
AG: I only knew about Alison from working with The Kills, but she was perfect for “Broken Talk” and “England’s In My Bones.” I just asked her and she said yes, but sadly I can’t ask her to go on the road and play 10 shows with us because of her schedule.
MW: Well, you’ll probably play a festival with The Kills eventually… I think it’s great that you’re playing Burgerama.
AG: Actually, I don’t know anything about Burgerama!
MW: They started as a little suburban cassette label, but they’ve created a massive young indie and garage scene. Gang of Four will blow them away! You know, my first show was a festival. My dad took me to the US Festival and I got to see The Clash.
AG: And how was that?
MW: For people older than me, The Clash was probably “whatever” by then. But for a 14- or 15-year-old like me, it was a big deal. It changed the way I saw music and culture from then on—like it’s not enough to be cool but it has to be purposeful. Kinda for that reason, I love that your new music isn’t a solo project but Gang of Four.
AG: Well, Jon stepped away but our lineup has always changed. And now everything feels very new.
MW: Did you spend a lot of time in Los Angeles while you were producing records for bands like the Chili Peppers and Jesus Lizard?
AG: Yes, in the ’80s we were all looking for stuff to do other than Gang of Four. The Chili Peppers must have been in 1984. Then I produced a band called Thin White Rope–very nice guys. And later I was dating a girl from here and split my time between London and Los Angeles. You know, I thought it was very advanced as far as fast food goes. We’d go to this chicken place, but I can’t remember the name.
MW: Zankou Chicken? California Chicken Café? El Pollo Inka? El Pollo Loco?
AG: Yes, El Pollo Loco! There must have been seven types of salsa. What’s not to love about L.A.?
MW: You also produced a Chinese band I dig called AV Okubo. How did that happen?
AG: There’s this guy in Beijing, Michael Pettis. He’s an economics professor who spends everything he makes on a record label called Maybe Mars. He doesn’t earn that much teaching, but he travels around the world giving talks to bankers and important people and he uses those fees to pay for records. He asked me about AV Okubo and I said I’d do it for nothing!
MW: Did you record in Beijing? Did they speak very good English back then?
AG: Yes, and they were brilliant. Zu Yi and Hu Juan didn’t speak a lot but Tan Chao did and I think the singer Lu Yan went to film school in Canada. Because of that connection, we got to play in Beijing recently.
MW: Whoa, did you ever dream that Gang of Four would be allowed to play in China?
AG: Right? We had to send paperwork and videos of us playing and it was probably the most heavily vetted country to get into. But then we got to play for all these young people in their twenties who really understood the music. Actually, Michael said he would release our new album on his label in China but we’ll have to change our name to Gof4 or something. It sounds like the government is really starting to crack down…
MW: It must feel great to know that songs you wrote decades ago in Leeds would speak to kids in China––or anywhere––now.
AG: Right. We addressed lies that were in front of us and tried to speak the truth. We never said we were political or leftist or even correct. We never pointed a finger at bankers and said that they should go to jail.
MW: Even if they should! I think it’s really sad that being truthful is interpreted as being political.
AG: Yes. But it made me think if we are still making music and even playing in places like China, so it’s not such a bad life.
As Gill waited for friends to pick him up, I asked if he’d sign an old record to raffle away at our next Save Music in Chinatown benefit show and he did so gladly. Then we started talking about Chinese food in L.A. and he brought up the best food he ate in China, as well as dentistry tips from Lu Yan and what it was like to hang out in Hong Kong at Michael Hutchence’s pad. Sorry for not recording all that, but perhaps we’ll resume the conversation when the band comes back in March to play the El Rey. See you there!