Music » Music Stories & Interviews

Many Words with Gang of Four's Andy Gill


Gill looking sleek in silver - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Gill looking sleek in silver

Andy Gill, original guitarist of British, post-punk outfit Gang of Four, knows that his band has been copied, duplicated and appropriated by a plethora of groups since its '77 inception. He also knows that, as the only remaining original member, many fans are poised to berate and lambast him with cries of "Sellout!"

He also doesn't really give a shit.

I got to speak with Gill last week in preparation for the Gang's Saturday show at Paper Tiger and not only was he articulate, thoughtful and British, he was also very complementary of my "clever" questions and inquiries. I was smitten.

  What has changed as far as what people want from you and Gang of Four from when you started?

I don’t know what people wanted. I mean, I had an idea, John King had an idea of what we wanted to put out there. It was a mixture of doing great live shows, combined with an approach that was sort of challenging - challenging in an ideas way - and something which proposed certain alternatives and raised a few interesting questions. It’s hard for me to judge…there is sort of the shock of the new and maybe once it’s been around awhile it's not as much of a shock, and Gang of Four has been much copied, stylistically, so it’s not so out of the blue anymore.

How have the interactions of people coming to see you changed?

People are pretty enthusiastic. One of the interesting things is we get a mixture of people coming to gigs. Y’know, we get twenty-year-olds up to seventy-year-olds.

Is the omnipresence of technology and corporate sponsorship at live shows an issue for you? 

Well, funnily enough, we don’t do that many corporate-sponsored things. If you wanna go play in China, or something, there will probably be a sponsor somewhere in the food chain. I don’t have a problem with that, particularly. I think it’s really hard for musicians to make a living these days…It’s hard to sell any records, it’s hard to make money. It’s a very different thing than it was twenty, thirty years ago, so people have to look around to find money out of what they create. Music is more consumed now than it ever was but not much goes to the artist.

Who have you stolen from as a guitar player?

I’ve borrowed bits here and there. Wilko Johnson from Dr. Feelgood was an influence on me. I suppose Steve Cropper to a certain extent, I like the rhythm things. Jimi Hendrix, in a big way. I’m very minimal and simple as a guitar player. I’m sometimes surprised by how complicated some guitarists are, y’know? That thing of, um, playing mixolydian scales or whatever, it sorta goes over my head. The people I’ve mentioned, I’ve taken certain bits of their attitude and some of their feel. I think,  to me, it’s a lot about feel, pretty much more than anything.

Is the image, persona and branding of artists detrimental to music?

I think that, in a way, people are great admirers of people that come up with something that is new and truthful. That’s sort of the nature of celebrity - you do something, people think it’s good for various reasons, then you’re sort of known for that. To be honest, I don’t know whether that’s good or bad. It’s sort of part of the culture in a way, isn’t it? And it’s not just about music, it’s sports stars or people that are known for one thing or another. I’m not really sure if I have an opinion about whether it’s good or bad.

How do you respond to folks that feel that reforming Gang of Four, releasing a new record, etc. is tarnishing the legacy of the band?

Well…there’s very few of those people. I have come across that opinion, but, I think, Gang of Four has been through so many permutations that I’m sure there are some people who say, "well, y’know, after the first two albums you should’ve stopped there." There’s been many lineups, in the past it had always involved John King, it has always been me and him. He’s not involved anymore cause he doesn’t wanna do it anymore. But, I…I do want to do it. Basically, I’ve kinda always kinda been responsible for the music: for the way it sounds, and the way its arranged, and the way it’s produced and I’ve always been writing lyrics. It’s up to people if they want to listen to the music, if they want to come to the shows. 

Do you think human beings are capable of maintaining a healthy existence as superstars?

Well, I think when people get very well known, it brings problems. I was a close friend of Michael Hutchence [INXS]…whom, you probably know, I did an album with, and produced it. I think certain aspects of his lifestyle were absolutely out of control and I think that’s kind of pretty well known, and that’s part of being, this kind of massive star, receiving this adulation, and in the end, that wasn’t good for him and there’s so many other examples of that. But there’s other people that seem to cope, y’know?

What was, sonically, the first thing you listened to, coming up?

I think…um…I think…the groove and the drums. So, when I was a kid, I guess some of the Beatles stuff was pretty impressive. I remember getting pretty obsessed with that song “Satisfaction” by The Stones. And, the, kinda the groove of it, the riff, the very upfront sound and the kind of aggressive like feel to it and the very lively kind of feel. I very much got into all that.

Did it feel curious, as a Brit, to love rock 'n' roll but to be sort of critical of the excess and bombast?

Well, that is a really interesting thing, because there is that sort of duality. There’s a lot of things about The Stones that I don’t like. There are aspects of it which contain a really, sort of exciting and vital essence and there’s other aspects of it that are less exciting. I guess there’s that…um…listening to, say, Muddy Waters, listening to some of that music and being thrilled by the kind of… the space and the groove. And I think a lot of rock music has taken from that...but being sort of awed by all the lyrics about cars, girls and guitars, and just thinking, there’s more to life than that and wouldn’t it be exciting if we could kind of look at a lot of other experiences in life and sing about those things combined with the groove and the excitement and the sound and all those things. I think that’s where I was coming from.

Is there any music, for you, that satisfies your political side that isn’t overtly political in lyrical content?

I think, for me, it’s something that has some truthfulness to it - something that has authenticity to it. Some of the Burt Bacharach songs, something like that…”Say a Little Prayer,” or “San Jose,” or whatever. They’re very musically accomplished but lyrically they’re about sort of a specific time, it feels like there’s a kind of innocence in there, but also a lost innocence as well, and there’s a kind of sadness to it…it rings true. It has truthfulness going through it. I think sometimes describing things truthfully and honestly is, in itself, a kind of political act. 

Note: Andy Gill was rather thoughtful, taking time to pause and consider my inquiries - things that do not often come across well in written form. Especially in regards to Michael Hutchence. If any of the answers seem rushed, callous or clinical, they were not so when delivered verbally.

Catch Andy Gill and Gang of Four at Paper Tiger this Saturday.

Gill at work:

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