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A Quietus Interview

We Were Basically Abba: Andrew Falkous Of Mclusky Interviewed
JR Moores , September 16th, 2019 07:38

Cult indie-punks Mclusky* are back, now with a different bassist, an added asterisk, and T-shirts bearing the slogan "Poundland Shellac". Words: JR Moores. Photos: Jonathan Pirro

All photographs courtesy of Jonathan Pirro

2004 was the year the music died. At the final night of Glastonbury, Muse headlined for the first but by no means final time. Meanwhile over at Reading & Leeds, the bill was topped by another joke that had got way out of hand: The Darkness, who at that time had released only one album of throwback hair-rock cack. Elsewhere on that line-up were The Libertines, Razorlight, Franz Ferdinand, and The Von Bondies. Much of their success was down to the support of one Conor McNicholas. He was NME editor at the time and the arch fabricator of a scene christened - try not to be sick in your mouth as you read this - "The New Rock Revolution". McNicholas had instigated a policy of reserving the pages of his magazine for the exclusive appearance of musicians who had "good hair and good shoes". In October of that year, John Peel died (literally). And in December, Mclusky played their final gig.

Cardiff-based and graced with a networking nous comparable to that of Norman Bates, Mclusky never had the right hair or shoes. Singer and guitarist Andrew Falkous had a shaved head for Christ's sake. And he wore scruffy trainers like a normal person. It is entirely possible that Mclusky's cause wasn't helped by an interview with The Telegraph newspaper that began with the sentence "Andy Falkous says he was betrayed by the music magazine NME before he was ever in a band."

Mclusky appeared on the Reading & Leeds bills too, on a smaller stage than those trodden by The Hives, Steven "I'm not a racist, but..." Morrissey, and The Ordinary Boys. If only Mclusky had put the same effort into their footwear and hairstyles as they'd put into their three fabulous albums of fiercely idiosyncratic indie-punk, he could have been a judge on The Voice by now. Or made a plonker out of himself on the reality TV show Celebrity Stanford Prison Experiment. Or had a tune featured on a Nissan advert.

Death also means rebirth, however, according to Tarot card enthusiasts and the chipper outlook of David Lynch. Mclusky's spirit has lived on through Falkous and drummer Jack Egglestone's next band Future Of The Left, as well as Falkous' sort-of-solo-project Christian Fitness. His music has often been mislabelled noise rock on account of its, well, noisiness as well its frequent shouty bits and often darkly humorous lyrics. Yet Falkous insists it has always been his intention to make some form of pop music, with melodies and choruses and similarly palatable ingredients. "Only, it's fed through the filter of self-respect," he has specified.

And now Mclusky have returned, at least partially. After a handful of sporadic comeback shows, the band have been touring again. These days they have an asterisk at the end of their name to denote a change in personnel. Expat Jon Chapple's bass and vocal parts are being performed by Damien Sayell of The St. Pierre Snake Invasion. Belying any greying temples, the shows have seen Mclusky* spitting out old songs with still-fresh lyrics like "All of your friends are cunts/ Your mother is a ballpoint pen thief" with such a fire in their bellies it's as if the tunes could have been written in the last month or so. In between numbers, Falkous will happily point out which songs he doesn't believe have aged particularly well, and which ones still stand up. Plus he helpfully signals when a slow one is next on the setlist so you can nip off to the bar or visit the toilet.

At these recent gigs, Falkous has been wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan "Poundland Shellac". For this - and for much of the resumed Mclusky* activity - we have a certain person to thank. It's none other than tQ co-founder and editor John Doran. In certain circles, he's known as The Woolworths Lester Bangs.

To find out more, I spoke to Falkous. Between arguing over the contested merits of Loutallica and hearing specific details of how Falkous would defeat his zombie grandmother (digressions which have not been published for the sake of saving webspace and personal dignity), this is what he had to say about Mclusky-based activities old and new:

Can the return of Mclusky be attributed to a certain journalist referring to you as the Poundland Shellac?

Andrew Falkous: To a degree, it can. I'll give you the whole uninteresting origin story. Honestly, one of the things that makes my blood boil more than anything is the term "origin story". It is my one proper grumpy old man moment. Why don't you just show us characters properly? Then we don't need a fucking origin story. "Origin story" or, as AC/DC would have said, "We need five more songs to make this album because we do two a year, so shall we just churn out another fucking load of shit and stick it out there?"

We did some shows a few years ago which were initially to raise money to help Le Pub in Newport to stay open. We did two shows in Cardiff, then we did a show for Cancer Research because cancer is something that has affected our band very closely. Then we did a show for the staff of the Buffalo Bar in Highbury which was closing down. It's a venue that Future Of The Left have played a few times and we were very fond of the place and the people. Then I think we did a show at 2000Trees where we actually made money for ourselves. It was really nice to make a bit of money from a band I'd been in. We didn't make anything from Mclusky. It was a real adventure, but I was living on four grand a year when I was in that band. It was a bit of a fight to just exist in that environment. As everybody always says though, I got my alcohol for free. There is that. What you've got to do then is make sure your alcohol is fortified with different vitamins, like Kellogg's Frosties.

This year we were going to be doing Portals Festival with Future Of The Left. They called and we said yes at first, although we had to double-check. Then we had to say no... and we felt really bad about that because they were nice people and we felt as if we'd strung them along, albeit for just a week or so. When they asked if we'd be interested in doing a Mclusky show, my initial instinct was to say no. But it was around that time that I became aware of being referred to as Poundland Shellac. In fact, it might have been the very same day. I basically ended up saying yes to this gig out of spite. The subsequent shows have spiralled from there. That's the origin story. I'm not sure if that appeals to incels.

You can't be entirely powered by spite, of course. Obviously, being a person living in a notionally first-world economy, I need money to pay for goods and services. As somebody who basically spends my whole time staying at home looking after the cutest little girl in the world (patent pending), I was delighted at the opportunity to be able to make some money. As a result of being referred to as Poundland Shellac, it's the first time I haven't lived month-to-month since I was 18. Don't get me wrong, I'm not putting down a deposit on a house and I can barely afford the dental surgery I need. But I basically don't have to worry about money for a while. And I get to go out and have some great times with my friends. The only real difference for me is I drink quite a bit less these days, which is to do with not wanting to die prematurely. 

Didn't you once say you wouldn't reform for less than £200,000?

I haven't reformed though, have I? It's Mclusky* with an asterisk. I'd be needing that money to spend time with Jon Chapple! I say that largely as a joke. The guy was fine. I certainly hold no animosity towards anybody. I've heard a couple of things from people saying he's always been trying to get away from the personal legacy of that band and to do new things without being constantly referred to as a member of Mclusky. I think that's a shame. For me, I'm immensely proud of the two bands I've been in which have taken up most of my adult life. Sometimes you feel lucky. Sometimes you feel unlucky in terms of the reach or "success" you've had. But you just get on with it. After a while, if you love doing the thing so much, then where the thing takes you is almost irrelevant as long as the thing still has the essence of whatever the thing is. Sorry to use so much jargon there.

Since Mclusky's first album, I've always been in my favourite band. That stopped being the case for Jon. In the last year or two of Mclusky, Jon wanted to be in Lightning Bolt and/or be Bill Callahan which would be quite the example of cross-genre pollination I'm sure you would agree. Sometimes fans of music can make the kind of music where the influences aren't so much processed as worn around the eyes as a fancy pair of sunglasses. It was really explicit. Sometimes he'd come up with an idea and you'd go, "That is a fantastic... Lightning Bolt riff." If that's the way a person's tastes go, that's completely understandable.

It's great to walk onstage now, and to not have to motivate somebody else to get up on the stage with you. To play those songs that I invested so much of my life into writing and playing, and to actually go onstage with somebody who self-evidently loves playing them, is just incredible. A lot of the songs were tainted for me because the experience of playing them for the last couple of years wasn't entirely comfortable. Whereas now, there's a celebratory air to the whole thing. I feel as if that cannot be overstated.

Damien sounds like Jon.

AF: To a degree, yes. Damien has a deeper voice. There are mating cockatoos who have deeper voices than Jon. That was part of the appeal of Jon, and it was a bit of a counterpoint to my voice. There are a couple of songs where if Damien tried to sing like Jon, it would sound ridiculous. It would sound like somebody doing an impression of Jon, which isn't really the idea. For example, there's a song called 'Icarus Smicarus' where it's impossible to sing it like Jon. It's very difficult to sing. Not difficult to remember the words, because the daft cunt only ever wrote one verse. That was one of the constant battles in that band. He'd write a verse and go, "Yeah. I'll just repeat that for the second verse and then we're done." I'd go, "Oh. Can we try a second verse, maybe? You know, just for shits and giggles. Maybe it would be nice to have a second verse that was different." And he'd go, "Okay," and he'd change one word and say, "It's different now." Yeah. It's kind of different. But it's also... not different.

Some of those songs are difficult to sing for somebody with a normal human voice. 'Falco Vs. The Young Canoeist' is an assault course. You have to do forty minutes of cardiovascular work a day in order to be able to sing that song, which is ironic because Jon never did any exercise in his life unless it was going to the shop to buy cigarettes. Jon once told me that a normal housewife's routine was better exercise than that of an Olympic athlete, which definitely sounds like he was on drugs when an episode of QI was on and he combined two different questions. Because it's clearly not true, is it? Otherwise Agnes from Barrow-in-Furness would be above Carl Lewis on the all-time medals table. 

How accurate is the term Poundland Shellac?

AF: If any band was going to be called Poundland Shellac, then Future Of The Left would be Poundland Shellac. Mclusky is not informed at all by Shellac in any way. Frankly I'd assume that anybody who's involved in our tiny subculture of noisy-but-hopefully-still-tuneful rock music would know that. Aldi Price Pixies? I don't know if there is an Aldi Price. I occasionally go to Lidl. Lidl Pixies sounds too Welsh for me. I've just moved away from there and am still slightly traumatised by the experience. Mclusky doesn't sound like Shellac at all. They're just pop songs, especially Mclusky Do Dallas. The only song on that album which you could say sounded remotely like Shellac would be 'Clique Application Form' which is not a song, really. It's like a poem written by somebody with a brain injury. I think the term Poundland Shellac shows a basic lack of attention to the source material. That would be my main contention for it.

But you have been wearing a T-shirt with Poundland Shellac written on it.

AF: I have. And what a delight it has been to wear. But we can't sell it.

Why not?

AF: Well I don't know if you're aware of this but there is a band called Shellac, and they're called Shellac. Hence the odious comparison! And if you're going to quote me on "odious comparison", you have to make a note of the accent I just did. [Note: Falco's accent momentarily resembled that of Richard E. Grant reading a particularly brutal review of his deplorable 2002 Argos adverts while being forced to smell the dead feet of Michael Winner.] You can't sell it when it's got another band's name on it. I mean, I need money for stuff but they're people I admire greatly. I'd much rather piss off, I don't know, Fountains Of Wayne. Are they all right? I can't say I know the first thing about Fountains Of Wayne. I remember people talking about them in the 90s. Is that a good band name or a terrible band name? I can't decide.

It's pretty bad.

AF: Okay. Thank you. That's the thing. I'm out of opinions. I've been asked by a few different people over the years to write columns. What they want is for me to just tear stuff apart. There are things that annoy me, but I can't get going enough to hate that many things. I can't help feeling that people who have to do that are either very good liars, for money, or they must live in a constant state of angry arousal. That's a good name for an album though. Angry Arousal.

You could arrange a trade-off and Shellac could sell T-shirts with "Waitrose Mclusky" written on them.

AF: Chorusless Mclusky.

Isn't there a Shellac song that steals from a Mclusky track?

AF: There's a very little reference in a Shellac song to 'The World Loves Us And Is Our Bitch'. Yes.

So Shellac are copying Mclusky, not the other way round.

AF: Copying. Yeah, let's go with copying. So, what you're saying is: let's begin legal action. Tell you what, we'll use your cash reserves to start the process. Then we'll use my cash reserves for the appeal. I think we might have to go to small claims court on this one. I don't see this in the high court. Steve Albini represented by Carter-Ruck? That'd be quite a scene.

I suppose with Poundland Shellac, we recorded in Steve Albini's studio so by virtue of the rooms they were recorded in, some of the instruments were occasionally going to sound similar. But Mclusky to all intents and purposes, and we especially felt this when we played All Tomorrow's Parties at Shellac's invitation in whatever the hell year it was, we really did feel like a pop band in that environment. We had pop songs. They went verse-chorus-verse-chorus and then they ended. Whereas everything else at that fantastic weekend was less concerned with such traditional structures. We were basically Abba. That is a very strange feeling to have when turning up to a show, although not an unpleasant one. It's nice to be the light relief. I can't say that's been a dominating feature of my life. 

You played Reading & Leeds in 2003 and 2004.

AF: That's correct. It was loads of fun. I think Reading 2003 was Jack's sixth ever show with us so he was a bit nervous. Jack was a good drummer when he started in Mclusky. He's a fantastic drummer now. As far as I'm concerned, he's as good as it gets. Future Of The Left is more a reflection of Jack's drumming, whereas Mclusky is a lot simpler. For anybody out there who's at all interested in drums, Jack is not that keen on playing quickly. It's just tiring. You don't want to run to The Spar, do you? You want to amble to The Spar while catching up with Kate on the phone.

Reading was fantastic apart from when Jon performatively smashed his bass, backstage. That was a little too much for me. We were on a budget and even a £160 Squire bass was something we had to account for. We've all seen that Paul Simonon shot from London Calling. I'm not sure whether that image is mighty and inspiring, or just a silhouette of a toddler.

At Leeds 2003, I missed the beginning of Mclusky because I was watching the end of Electric Six's set. And they had already played 'Gay Bar'.

AF: [Laughs for an appropriately long time] And. They. Had. Already. Played. Gay. Bar. Those are the final words the judge will say. He doesn't need to say, "Let that sink in". He just looks around the packed courtroom, because it will be packed when you go down, you cunt. And those words will circle the rafters. Then each one will come back and shoot through your eyes. You'll feel a terrible human.

At Reading & Leeds 2004 you played below Kasabian in the Carling tent. What happened to them?

AF: I have no memory of that at all. In fact, I have no memory of Kasabian as an entity. I think that's what Kasabian is. It's an entity which is gradually taking over car advertisements. I know that guy's always got a coat on, but I'm sure he's all right.

Do you ever run into bands that you have been less than complimentary about?

AF: Not really. It's not like I'm going to pop along to any of their shows on the off chance of getting head-butted. Fannies know they're fannies. They don't need to be told. Apart from Reverend & The Makers, I can't even think who that would be really. The Smashing Pumpkins doesn't count, do they? I don't even know what that is anymore. What's The Smashing Pumpkins? That doesn't just need an asterisk. It needs to be part of an equation. I'm no mathematician but I'm pretty sure that whatever has been fed into whatever that is, the eventual answer doesn't equal The Smashing Pumpkins. If people enjoy something that's absolutely bloody marvellous, as long as I don't have to listen to it. I will say that if you were fucking paying attention in the 90s to a lot of the cunts who were getting largely uncritical coverage, it's not a huge surprise to find out which ones are conspiracy theorists who more than tend towards the right wing. "Oh. Morrissey's a racist, is he?" That would have been a viable thing to say in 1988.

Did you ever run into Muse back in the day?

AF: You know what? Never. There was a band called Parva, who were signed to Beggars Banquet, who became The Kaiser Chiefs. I remember that when they were Parva, they were very nice people. Who else? The bass player of Ikara Colt was drunk once at a festival and abused the singer of Puddle Of Mudd. That is a distinct memory I have of actual band-on-band combat that I have seen. Mclusky never really supported anybody. It was a short time as a band. There wasn't that much touring. There isn't really a big band social club where everybody has whammy-bar-offs or compares new jeans. Maybe there is, and I'm not invited. I wonder how many record sales you've got to get to be invited. You've probably got to be on a Radio 6 playlist.

The Guardian recently compared the new song by The 1975 to Mclusky's 'Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues'.

AF: You're not getting me to listen to The 1975 that easily, mate. Why would I want to do that? I'm sure they've done a song which is a bit heavier than their normal songs so whoop-de-fucking-doo to that. There's nothing wrong with dipping into that kind of music as a hobby. It's rock music. It's silly. It's stupid. But when I listened to The 1975 years ago it sounded like Living In A Box to me. But absolutely fantastic for everybody who likes it. Here, have a balloon. It works with a two-year-old. It works with everybody. Two-year-olds are tough [to deal with]. Here, have a balloon. All existential problems just fade away if you keep lots of balloons. You don't need to shape them into animals. This isn't a labour-intensive thing, so don't panic.

I watched the video for The 1975's song and he does do that shouty singy thing. He's also dressed up like the guy from The Icarus Line so there's definitely a weird early 2000s throwback vibe going on.

AF: Well as long as he's having a good time. Does he look like he's having a good time?

Not really. It's more like he's pretending to be angry. I don't know how someone that rich and successful can be so angry but he is at least feigning angriness. But then he is the son of actors, so he'll be good at that.

AF: Again, as long as everybody's having a nice time, or a performatively nice time, then who can say. There are lots of fucks that you have to distribute across everything that happens in the world. I genuinely don't have any fucks to give to The 1975. There are no fucks in the fuck well. Sorry. One day I might go down to that fuck well and there'll be some spare fucks assigned to some kind of fuck canopy which I can somehow use to envelop The 1975. Until that point, amount of fucks engaged: zero.

At the shows, you're very open about the songs you still like and which songs you don't like.

AF: A lot of that is a joke, though, to have something to say. If I say I don't like a song, that usually means, "This one is hard for me to do." 'That Man Will Not Hang' is very hard for me to sing. There's nearly no breath in it for me. Whereas 'You Should Be Ashamed, Seamus' has a really long intro, so I can get my breath back and that's why I like it. Although I do also think that's a really good song. If there is a Mclusky song which could be said to sound like Shellac, the end of 'You Should Be Ashamed, Seamus', could be seen as sounding like Shellac. If John [Doran] had heard that minute of music and that was his reference, then that would be understandable. And let's face it, a lot of journalists have written reviews on smaller samples of music than that.

In between songs, I've just got to invent things to talk about. It's funny to hear people laugh or shout things out. You were at the show in Newcastle. Why was that guy down the front so pissed off about Bristol? He went "SHUT UP ABOUT BRISTOL!" I think I'd only said the word Bristol twice. Bristol gets a lot of coverage at the minute because of Idles and all those bands, but he was really exercised by it. "SHUT UP ABOUT BRISTOL!" Jesus. What happened to you? Did he have a bad experience with cider one night? I'm trying to think of something famous from Bristol. Are there any famous actors from Bristol? It's not really an accent that lends itself to international superstardom, is it? The whole stereotype's all a bit farmer-concentrated.

There were people at the Newcastle show who'd come over from Chicago. That's lovely. But it's demented. Don't do that.

They have the real Shellac in Chicago!

AF: They absolutely do! Maybe that should be Shellac's next T-shirt: THE ACTUAL SHELLAC. That kind of thing doesn't happen to us a lot so it's incredibly appreciated. But it's mainly appreciated if you tell us AFTER the show. I put enough pressure on myself anyway without having somebody come in and go, "Have a nice time. By the way, this cost me three grand." Oh my god, no. Future Of The Left once did a show in Stockholm that we'd driven from Zagreb for. I don't know what your notions of European geography are, but that's quite a long way. Four people came to see us in Stockholm, apart from seventy people who waited at the back of the room for the indie disco to start. We had to fly to the states the next day and we were thinking we'd just take it easy and play for forty minutes because there's only four people. Just before we went on, these two girls came up to us and said, "Hello, we have travelled from Finland to see you play tonight." That's a 32-hour round trip on a bus. So we had to play for an hour and a half, didn't we? You can't let somebody do that and then give them half a show. There was some guy at The Lexington in February who came from Australia to see us play. Why would you possibly do that? It's lovely and flattering but COME ON. Get it together. I guess that's the power of Poundland Shellac. We can drag people across oceans, away from the real Shellac.

Are you going to carry on doing Mclusky-based activities?

AF: "Hey, lads. You got any Mclusky-based activities this Autumn?" Yes and no. I would love to do a short-ish American tour but with the costs it's really quite tough to do. I would love to do a new Future Of The Left record but the logistics of finding our way from London to Cardiff with a spritely two-year-old is proving even more difficult than we thought because we don't really have any family help and it's incredibly time consuming and expensive. Because of the place that Mclusky holds in a lot of people's hearts, it does to a degree overshadow Future Of The Left which still does well but doesn't have that same story behind it or doesn't bring back the same kind of memories for people. I understand that. In some ways it's incredibly exciting and liberating to see the attention that Mclusky gets but Future Of The Left does suffer a bit in comparison, which is a real shame because it's so much fun and it's so enriching. But there we are. Mclusky-based activities. They're depending on opportunity and how that fits into time and the financial constraints placed on us by God. It's God who does this to us.

It's all part of His plan.

AF: I mean, Poundland Shellac is there in his plan. It's not near the top of his plan, it must be said. It's between "armour for otters" and "scooters that only turn left". But it is there in the plan. I believe it's in the appendix. If you read closely enough, it's there.

Check in here for news of future Mclusky live dates