Lay Of Her Land: Brix Smith Start's Favourite Albums
, December 15th, 2016 11:19
As she prepares to release a debut album with her band of former Fall troopers, Brix Smith Start takes Julian Marszalek through some of the records that have shaped her life
Brix Smith-Start tilts her head back, punches the air and yells out, "Yes!"
Good news, Brix?
Putting her phone down she smiles broadly and replies, "Oh yes! We've just been offered a live session on Marc Riley's show in the New Year. That's wonderful!"
"We" is Brix And The Extricated, the new band assembled by Brix that includes fellow ex-Fall members Steve Hanley, Paul Hanley, Steve Trafford and new boy Jason Brown. Given that tales of The Fall that have filled the pages of Brix's own memoir, The Rise, The Fall and The Rise, and Hanley's tome, The Big Midweek - not to mention the countless other books that have been written about the wonderful and frightening world of this venerable musical institution - it's a surprise that any of them are playing again. Not least Brix who put down her guitar after leaving The Fall for the second time in 1996, and her solo project, the breezy, psyche pop of The Adult Net, came to an end before pursuing a career in fashion and TV presenting. So how did Brix And The Extricated come about?
"The Extricated was completely unexpected," she starts. "It started as a bizarre hobby because I hadn't touched the guitar or sung in about 15 years. I had a complete breakdown from music and my heart was ripped out. I never spoke about being in The Fall and it never entered my conversation and I just shut it down, which was quite sad. Then, over about a period of three weeks, three people that are very important to me said to me, completely out of the blue, 'why don't you think about playing the guitar again? You're such a good player and singer and writer' and I was like, 'are you fucking joking? I'm never doing that again!'"
She pauses and then continues, "But because three people said it, I took it as a sign and I thought, well would it hurt to try? So I picked out one of my guitars and I started singing and playing by myself to my dogs."
The results came as a surprise to Brix: "First of all, a chill went through my body and the voice that came out of me was no longer the voice of the strangled angel of The Adult Net '80s; the woman who allowed herself to be controlled by controlling people. This was now a woman who had completely grown into herself and fucking knew who she was. The voice that came out was crazy and it was a voice that I didn't know I had. It was so powerful and emotional and it was like there was whole bag of songs in the ether just waiting for me."
The catalyst for the band was the publication of Hanley's The Big Midweek: "That put us back in touch. I hadn't seen him for 18 years! He put a band together but didn't invite me so I said, 'why didn't you ask me to play at your book launch?' and he said, 'oh! We though you'd quit and that you'd never do it.' And I said, 'well, secretly I am' and he said, 'well, let's go into a garage and just jam.' And from the moment we started playing, the feeling came back. We knew there was something there; it was undeniable. There was no way that it couldn't be done."
The next step was getting the project up and running: "We put together the right band with Paul Hanley, Steve Trafford and Jason Brown – he was the only one who hadn't been in The Fall. Then we all got in a room, started playing and all looked at each and went, 'wow!' A promoter heard we were playing and he said, 'if you want a gig then I'll give you one.' So we did. It was totally unexpected but we love it!"
Mindful of their fraught experiences with The Fall, Brix And The Extricated are careful not repeat the same mistakes that led to stress, breakdowns and violence.
"As a band, we'd learned the pitfalls of the band dynamic and in being in such a difficult band as The Fall. I mean, that was a really shockingly difficult band; that's why there's been 20 books written about it!" she says. "So in this band we split everything five ways, we're very empathetic to each other, we really like being around each other a lot, we like hanging out together and laughing. And because of all that, we have a great time."
It turns out that it's been such a great time that the band recorded its debut album in just three days. Describing it as "a cross between PiL's Metal Box and Blondie”, Brix And The Extricated's debut should see the light of day in 2017.
It's been a long journey for Brix Smith-Start and one that's taken her from her home town of Los Angeles through to Chicago, Salford and then London as she moved from music to fashion. The Quietus wonders if there was ever a game plan?
"I just follow my gut instincts all of the time, and I do what feels good at the time and I follow what's working and what feels right and makes me happy in what I have a passion about," she says smiling. "There are times when you want to do something so badly. Like, after I left the The Fall for the second time, I desperately wanted to make a second solo album more than anything but I couldn't get arrested. I was writing songs that I thought were great but nobody would listen to them, they wouldn't take meetings with me and it was the height of Britpop. I really felt kicked to the kerb. It was so frustrating and heartbreaking that I realised that if I carried on doing this I would just be destroyed. It was so depressing so I had to figure out something else to do."
And that something else was fashion.
"Necessity is the other of reinvention, for sure, and all of a sudden something else started to make me feel good which was doing stuff with clothes and fashion. It was great because the clothes didn't argue back!" she laughs. " It's just another form of resonating particles, really. So I followed my gut instinct and did what I felt as right."
Not that it was plain sailing. Explains Brix: "I hit brick walls but I would turn and try another route. Because, when things are going right in your life and everything is flowing, it's like you get in your canoe and you sail on downstream without any effort; things come to you and it's all good. When you're battling everything, everything is a mess. That's what I think."
Almost unexpectedly, Brix then found herself as the exuberant co-presenter of Channel 4's fashion show, Fashion Fix, with fashion consultant, Gok Wan, which eventually led other TV presenting roles centred around clothing.
"I always knew that I wanted to do something on TV. I think I was born to do that," she laughs. "A lot of people looked at me in that show and they'd think, who's that annoying, loud woman? But of course I was cast to be that character and there needed to be a counterpoint to Gok. It worked and it was fun."
The Quietus is has been invited to Brix's London home to discuss her Baker's Dozen choices of her favourite albums and she's at pains to explain the rationale behind her choices.
"Now, here's a thing," she begins. "When you're talking about your favourite albums of all time, it's a weird thing because everyone has really strong opinions about them. And sometimes you think, if I'm going to miss that one out them people will think I'm an idiot, but people have to realise that this list changes all the time like shifting sands. And this is the reason for this list: I'm not saying they're the best albums ever made, and I'm not saying they're the most important, but they are the most influential to me as an artist. So these, for various reasons, are records that I go back to forever.
"The other thing that was disturbing about doing this is that there aren't any things that have come out after the year 2000. And when I look back at records released after 2000, I still go back to these. And I think it's because these were my formative years and these were the years in which I was forming as an artist. There are great albums after 2000, no doubt, but for me, these were the ones that had the biggest influence."
The Rise, The Fall And The Rise by Brix Smith Start is out now on Faber & Faber. Click the pic of Brix to start looking through her selections