Julian Cope

 

ENLIGHTENMENT AND SALVATION IS JUST A STAMP AWAY

 

A conversation with JULIAN COPE by CARL ARNHEITER

 

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 day.

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 worth it?

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 album.

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 album.

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 different.

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 yourself credibility.

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 material?


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 been singles?

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.

Nice one!

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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