Alexis Taylor Of About Group On Fishing With John

Luke Turner talks to Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip and About Group about John Lurie's cult TV series, Fishing With John

As anyone who has spent too much time hanging around the high numbers of the cable television channels will well know, the channel numbers after the Nazis and before the grot are full of the kind of programming aimed specifically at The Man at industrious leisure.

Principally, there is Discovery Shed, where Men do DIY, fiddle with cars, whack each other on the back, and generally make me feel about as rugged as Quentin Crisp. One of the major strands on Discovery Shed is a particularly weird form of fishing, where men from the Antipodes head to sea in a quest to have their rods bent in two by marlin or barracuda.

Fishing With John, the cult TV series presented by actor, musician and artist John Lurie is a hilarious counterpoint both to this testosterone excess, and celebrity-at-leisure fare like MTV’s Cribs or Entourage. In Fishing With John, Lurie escorts his actor and musician friends – Tom Waits, Jim Jarmusch, Willem Dafoe, Dennis Hopper – on fishing trips to various exotic locations, with little to no success.

In fact, when he and Defoe try ice skating in the bitter frozen north, the expedition ends on disaster. Or does it? Fishing With John is riddled with peculiar in-jokes, non-sequiturs, and a terrific sense of mischief. And Lurie’s theme tune is a bucolic masterpiece.

At some point last year, Converse ran a massive poster campaign intended to connect musicians from across the generations. Hot Chip were partnered with Bernard Sumner and, on the giant fly posters across London, Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip and About Group could be seen wearing the hat sported by John Lurie and Dennis Hopper in the episodes of Fishing With John where the pair travel to Thailand in search of squid. Quick Twitter research found that this was indeed a tribute, and the Quietus duly set out to talk to Alexis Taylor about this pescatorial televisual gold.

Alexis in his Fishing With John hat

How did you discover Fishing With John?

Alexis Taylor: I think I bought the soundtrack to it. I used work in a CD and video shop called MVC and I ordered it in. I looked at the cover and thought ‘well that looks like a good programme’. I really liked the music and I listened to it a lot before I even saw it. An old tour manager of ours had the DVD, this would have been 2005, he lent it to me and I got really into it and watched it with everyone in the tour bus. It was more something that I was into, but I introduced it to them and I think they liked it, though they didn’t go on about it like I did.

Were you a bit of an evangelist for it?

AT: I was yes. Then Al went to Thailand to DJ, and I asked him to bring back one of the hats that they have on it. He and his promoter looked everywhere, but they couldn’t find one, and then two years later the same promoter found one and posted it to England to give to me. Then I wore it every day. I got the impression that they seem to have them in every street market in Bangkok. SInce then there’s a Japanese fan of Hot Chip who has sent me another one, so he’s found it in Japan too.

So you were originally more a fan of his music?

AT: Yes, and then I just started getting interested in him generally. Wild At Heart, that’s him in that cameo there, and I found the record so interesting. There’s one, and again I think I bought it in Rough Trade at the Portobello Shop, called The Legendary Marvin Pontiac–Greatest Hits. He’s pretended that it’s this old legendary blues musician who’s not alive any more, and it’s got quotes from people like Flea. When you listen to it it doesn’t even sound like it’s someone trying to be an old bluesman, it’s just another John Lurie record. And then some of the Lounge Lizards records, and Down By Law, that Jim Jarmusch film he was in.

Was Fishing With John compulsive viewing?

AT: I think I watched about four in one go. I quite liked the pointlessness of it. It doesn’t amount to very much, it’s quite a gentle sense of humour. Not that you need to set these things up as an opposite, but trying to describe it to other people I end up mentioning Jim Jarmusch, but I actually prefer this to any Jim Jarmusch film, even though he’s more well known. I suppose the comedy is quite similar, but Fishing With John is over in half an hour rather than dragging on.

It is quite hard to explain to people. They always say it’s just because you like fishing, but it’s not that at all. The opening sequence seems to make people get it straight away.

AT: Yeah, I don’t go fishing. I think it’s the voiceover too, making these strange statements. I like the fact that the voiceover will have been edited in completely at odds with what’s happening, where they starve to death because they’ve run out of crackers, and the next episode, ‘oh I’ve made a mistake’ and he’s alive. It’s a very silly sense of humour, but you also get to see these people just hanging out. I’m sure they’re playing up to the camera, and not pretending that it’s real, but I like seeing the way they are, people in those odd situations.

I like the way that you can’t see where reality and fiction starts and ends. Obviously Tom Waits is a very private man, and then there’s the story that afterwards he wouldn’t speak to John Lurie because of it. Is that true, or are they just furthering the mystery around it all.

AT: This isn’t very helpful as you’re trying to write about it, but I was thinking before the interview, what can I say? I like the atmosphere, the music, the stupidity, and trying to work out… isn’t there a bit in the Dennis Hopper one where John Lurie says Hopper has known him since he was a little boy? Those little bits of information are quite interesting to me, trying to work out how these Hollywood people all connect.

It’s kind of taking the piss out of the whol idea of famous people hanging out though, celebrity and so on, like in Curb, Larry David and his friends playing golf.

AT: I read that the one with Matt Dillon had been forced on him by the Japanese producers of the programme.

Do you have a favourite episode?

AT: The one with Willem Dafoe when they’re ice fishing and supposedly starve to death. I like the deliberate melodrama. I suppose I like the fact that they really are in quite extreme conditions, even if you know they haven’t died, and they can make a really good gentle comedy out of it, and yet they are going around the world doing these fishing expeditions. I like seeing themselves doing it with no expertise and no real sort of knowledge about fishing making a fishing programme that translates to a few hundred people. That effort going into it. The style of humour is so open-ended, and you’re watching these people rally doing something very little. But yet you’re tempted to try and read something into the silences or these statements that have been made are real or there to add to the programme. In some ways I think it’s not as deliberate as all that, and they’ve just edited the footage together to be funny. That does add overall to your perception of John Lurie and all these people. I suppose John Lurie comes across as a deliberately cool character in both senses of the world. It’s quite a nonchalant character in his music, films and in this programme. And also he’s clearly able to afford a lifestyle where he doesn’t have to do that much.

If John Lurie rang up and said, ‘Alexis, coming fishing with me’, where would you like to go?

AT: I said I’ve never been fishing before, but I think I went fishing with my stepdad when I was about five, in Derbyshire. Maybe it’d be worth trying to persuade John Lurie to go there. I don’t know the first thing about fishing, really, so I’d have to let him lead.

About Group play the Quietus Village Mentality Stage at this year’s Field Day Festival on Saturday, August 6th. For more information and tickets, go here

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