It's funny how these things work out. I've had a soft spot
for Liverpool's finest post-punk proponents of the new psychedelia The
Teardrop Explodes ever since 'Dark Star' magazine kindly introduced me to
their music back in 1980. All you had to do was take out a six issue
subscription, add 60p for postage and pristine copy of the band's brilliant
debut LP 'Kilimanjaro', "the British answer to Strange Days" as they hailed
it, was yours for the taking. One of those early pressings with the now
rare, but none the less awful, photograph sleeves, too. Sure enough, the
album righteously blew my mind; a graceful and seemingly effortless shifting
tapestry of sound which features eleven compelling examples (twelve later:
the reissue with the better known zebra sleeve added 'Reward') of principal
songwriter Julian Cope's glistening teardrops which turned to electric
jewels the moment they splashed to the production-room floor. The next issue
of the mag, issue 26, featured the 24 year old Julian Cope (born
Mid-Glamorgan 21/10/57) on the cover; and I'm still waiting patiently for
the remaining five copies of my subscription. I'm sure they'll turn up one
Saint Julian himself later turned up here in Wiltshire, moved in just along
the road from Terrascope Towers and set about saving the standing stones of
nearby Avebury, which didn't really need saving since they've stood there
quite happily since prehistory and are in too much of a backwater to make it
worth anyone's while building a hamburger franchise amongst them, but, well,
he's a Pop Star, it's a Good Cause and it has the added advantage of being
closer to home than a rain forest. Curious then that the first opportunity
we should have to interview Mr. Cope should be via the services of my good
friend (and publisher) in New York Carl Arnheiter, who took the chance to
speak to Julian on our behalf during his recent American tour, once in
person and once via the 'phone. So, it takes me over fifteen years to finish
what 'Dark Star' first started, and then we end up going to America to
interview our next-door neighbour. Like I said, it's funny how these things
work out. Over to you, Carl.
These interviews were conducted during November, 1995 just after the U.S.
release of Julian Cope's latest album, '20 Mothers'. The first part took
place in Washington, D.C. just before one of the shows on Cope's massive 4
date North American tour. The second part was recorded three weeks later,
via telephone, at which time Julian was recovering from a bout of the 'flu.
His catalogue should hopefully be known to most Terrascope readers already —
a vast amount of material spanning seventeen years, highlights being
(arguably) the albums 'Kilimanjaro' by The Teardrop Explodes and the solo
LPs 'Fried' from 1984 (the purposefully obtuse sleeve of which, with Cope
seen cowering, naked, under a turtle shell, drew comparisons with Cope
heroes Syd Barrett and Roky Erikson), the chronologically third album 'Skellington'
and, latterly, 'Jehovakill'. In between we've seen a re-recorded version of
'World Shut Your Mouth' (originally the title track of his debut album in
1984) his the UK Top 20, and Cope receiving considerable critical acclaim
with his 1991 double album 'Peggy Suicide'. The constant object of past
malice, for example Bill Drummond releasing the unauthorized Teardrop
Explodes LP 'Piano' and Island Records releasing two volumes of 'Floored
Genius' as well as the now seemingly aborted 'Creaming Off' LP, Cope has
nevertheless managed to out-do all possible foils to date and remains, well,
uniquely Julian Cope.
The interviews that follow touch on various moments in Cope's career and
rarely settle for long on any one subject. His newest (and to my mind,
finest) material is available direct via the K.A.K. Ltd/Head Heritage
organisation, who can be contacted at P.O. Box 3823, London N8 8TQ. Write
and place yourself on the mailing list: enlightenment and salvation is just
a stamp away.
PT: Why did you write 'Head On'? Did you feel it was necessary for your
own story to be told?
JC: Because I realised that the people who make history are not the people
who are there but the people who make it and then write about it. I wanted
to write it when I still had it firmly in my mind rather than write it after
25 years. I thought that was important. Also, I was the only one who was
going to be honest about it because I have no colleagues. The rest of them
have colleagues, they all hang out, they're always talking about that shit
all the time, you know?
But you didn't leave them?
No, no I left Liverpool because I was really kind of, uh, too weirded out.
Too close. Yeah, just blew my mind.
When 'Queen Elizabeth' came out, people were saying "How come Cope's
doing this at the same time as everybody else is?" What made you do that,
and 'Rite', at the same time?
Everybody is doing those kind of things now because it's right to be doing
those things. I actually think I'm quite a harmonious artist and in terms of
what I'm doing, I would always prefer to be in harmony with what's going on.
I'm so rarely in harmony that I can't complain when I am. So I mean, in that
case I would just be being cantankerous for the sake of it, wouldn't I? I
think the sense of community towards the end of the millennium is something
I would try and help... that's my Robert Graves kind of side coming out.
Do you think that struggling along for the last seventeen years has been
Oh yeahhhhh (grins), completely!
No regrets, then?
Shitloads! Loads and loads of errors, but they were all only tactical
errors, so... it's like Jung said, "no one can drink the whole cup of life
with one dignified swallow." You're allowed to have a couple of chokes.
So, what do you think your chokes were?
I think that sacking Calli was a bad error. The album that came after that,
'My Nation Underground', was just me figuring I ought to do another album
and not feeling sure of what I wanted to do. That was a bad time. A bad
That's a pretty harsh critique of a record which featured one
particularly fine song, 'Charlotte Ann', and was to my mind a very coherent
Well, I've got to be harsh about my own music, haven't I? 'Charlotte Ann' is
a good song, but one good song is not enough. Perhaps it was a coherent
album, but it was nothing like what I had inside me. I couldn't put it out,
I just could not get it out. If you think it's even halfway decent then I'm
pleased 'cause I was trying, blasting my mind apart.
It didn't come across as a pained album, though.
No, no, that's the thing, I was not getting over what I wanted to get over.
It seems a lot easier to translate where I'm at now because I just sit back
and watch it going on, really.
You're an incredibly prolific songwriter, and have already done more
albums in the nineties than you did in all of the eighties. Is it right that
someone once dared you, said you couldn't do an album in a day?
Yes, yes. 'Droolian' was done in two days in Pam Young's living room in St.
Michaels Terrace, Liverpool. [Pam Young was secretary at Zoo Records during
the time Bill Drummond managed The Teardrop Explodes]. She went to London
for a couple of days and Donald and I stayed in her flat and recorded on
what was available. It certainly has the ambience of that front room, which
was good. We mastered it off a C90.
'Droolian' came out about the same time that Pete de Freitas [Echo & The
Bunnymen] died [riding his motorcycle, June 14th 1988] and seemed to
exorcise you in a way, because all the music after 'Droolian' was markedly
Well, my kind of Pete de Freitas vision had happened during the recording of
'Droolian', so that would make sense. It was recorded in Pam Young's living
room as I've said, and Pam and Pete were close for years. Pete was adored by
most of the women in Liverpool and I don't think Pam felt any differently. I
think there was a lot of Pete's ambience in Pam Young's living room, so I
mean it kind of set the scene perfectly and was a very de Freitas thing.
Do you think that that kind of approach is part of the reason why you're
not as big as, say, U2 today?
That's pretty obvious I think. U2 do it the corporate way, they do what the
corporation wishes, they spend a lot of time on the album then they spend a
lot of time promoting it, they wear everybody down until everybody knows
that U2 is back. Whereas I'm just an artist, I can just slam it out. Mine's
a holistic trip. That's the difference. You could put me in a coracle and
send me off to some rock somewhere to make art, but do that to any member of
U2 and they wouldn't make art, you know, they'd find a way back to the
mainland. It's like Joseph Campbell said, it's the difference between the
celebrity and the hero. The celebrity will walk across tall buildings and
dance on tightropes for his audience, but the hero will do exactly the same
things and if the audience has all gone home, he'll still be doing it to
please himself. And that's the thing, I have an incendiary in me, which is
entirely at odds with pretty much 99.9% of the people on the Earth and if I
can sustain that, then I'll change things entirely. You've just got to have
faith that what you're saying is the cosmic truth. That's why I blast out so
many albums and everybody says "fucking hell man, not another double album,
people don't have time." I say they do. If my trip is real, then it will
sustain, and in ten years you'll be doing another interview with me. In
thirty years, if I'm still doing it, you'll think Cope is truly on the line
because he's making sense, he's still coherent.
So do you think you can change the world?
Of course! I don't think you can even start projecting stuff like that until
after the millennium though because there's all the big psychological
freakout that's going on. I'm trying to put my feet into the 20th century
and therefore the last thousand years by doing as much as I can now to gain
credibility. So they can look back and go well, fucking hell, somebody in
the 20th century actually understood what was going on. You've got to give
Have you always considered yourself an artist rather than a musician?
Um, yeah. It has always been the bane of my existence that my passport says
"musician" and not "artist".
Do you feel lyrics are most important in a song, is it the music that
matters or do you feel it's the song as a whole that's important?
Oh, I think it's the whole thing. I think you can have the greatest lyrics
in the world and if it doesn't have the best tune in the world then it will
suck. I mean, if the music wasn't important then it would just be a poem.
There's two schools of thought: the whole thing, or the lyrics don't matter,
just the music, like Robyn Hitchcock.
Yeah, but his lyrics are crap!
You two are supposed to be friends!
Yeah! But he's not writing about anything!
How do you feel about your new album '20 Mothers' in comparison to your past
I think it's a cohesive fuck off, a lot of songs to get into, and I'd hate
to have to review it. It's unbalanced, which is what I'd aimed for. (long
pause) There's not enough singles on it.
What about 'Wheelbarrow Man' or 'Highway to the Sun', they could have
Yeah, but the thing is with my songs, people in the record companies jump up
and down when they first hear them and then after a couple of days they all
go back and they start conferring, and they go, "well, you know, it's not
really a single, it's just very melodic, I mean, you're all going hoop de
doo, but it's really just melodic". So I figure that's fair enough, I'm
actually just pleased that I've got any kind of single at all.
How about the Rabbi Joseph Gordon single, how did that come about, if that
really is you and you're admitting to it?
Well, I know side two sounds like me and yes I am admitting to it. It was a
Calli thing. Nobody in Phonogram really gave a shit, even though I'd been on
Phonogram for a few years by then. And when it came time to do the
'Sunspots' EP, Phonogram wouldn't give me a 12" release, so we had to make
do with a double 7" and make it look as interesting as possible. So even
though Calli worked for them he was very un corporate, he thought fuck them
and said you can put something out on my label and we'll just do it as a
laugh. So I did that as Rabbi Joseph Gordon and with the royalties, he
couldn't pay me money so he just bought me two expensive Dinky toys.
Yeah, it was a really nice, a nice little earner.
It seems like you've been doing a lot of your career that way.
I think it's important to.
What of the 'Creaming Off' LP, that never came off, did it?
That, no — fuck 'em.
If Island Records didn't like you, if you weren't selling enough records for
them, why do you think would they release everything they can of yours, to
make money off a supposedly "unsellable" artist?
I know, yeah, they don't even know what they have in the archives, those
people. Why is the stuff deleted in the first place, it's hardly been
released that long.
You've recently written a book, an introduction to "Kraut-rock".
My Krautrock book is as important to me as '20 Mothers'. It's not going to
make any money, but in the great scheme of things, the people who read my
Krautrock book will be getting into a completely new genre of music, so I
had to do that incredibly well. It's doing really well, it's quite funny,
when we first decided this was going to happen, we were planning on printing
a very small run and then we decided, for some strange reason, that it
didn't matter and so we went for three times as many, and now that first run
is almost out so we're going to go to a second edition really soon.
Julian Cope was interviewed for the Terrascope by Carl Arnheiter.
Produced by Phil McMullen, © Ptolemaic Terrascope 1995.
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