Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now?
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
Formed in 1985 in Leeds, England, The Wedding Present became one of the UK’s most respected bands, with support from radio legend John Peel, music critics and a fiercely loyal fan base. From their first early indie singles and their genre-defining debut album George Best, the band forged their own path for twelve years, miraculously avoiding being pigeonholed into any of the many genres they outlived – from the C86 movement to Baggy/Madchester, from Grunge to Britpop. Never kowtowing to label pressure once they signed to RCA, The Wedding Present has cast an influential shadow over the Indie guitar bands that followed in their wake. They’ve never lost their credibility over the years, due in no small part to singer, songwriter and band leader David Gedge’s unique musical vision. With a constantly rotating line-up, Gedge has remained the sole original member throughout The Wedding Present’s blistering career, yet their output has been remarkably consistent regardless. The band took a sabbatical in 1997 – and Gedge formed Cinerama – but returned with a vengeance in 2004 and have been touring and releasing albums ever since.
Their albums released between 1985 and 1996 still sound as fresh and vital today as when they were first released. Over the years, the band’s sound went from wonderfully shambolic to gloriously hard-hitting, yet has always been deeply emotional at its core. The Wedding Present’s devoted fan base connected with Gedge and his mates on many different levels. It always seemed that they were right on the cusp of crossing over into the mainstream, but it never quite happened and they remain one of the UK’s best-kept secrets of the late ‘80s and ‘90s here in the U.S. Just about ready to celebrate their 30th Anniversary, David Gedge and The Wedding Present are still a force to be reckoned with. He may be considered an elder statesman today; however, his fire still burns as intensely as ever.
Nearly three decades on, Edsel Records is reissuing the band’s entire studio output between ’85 and ’96 in deluxe packaging. Each album will feature loads of additional bonus tracks including non-album cuts, live tracks and more. From George Best to Saturnalia, each release contains three CDs plus a bonus DVD housed in hardback book packaging. Painstakingly compiled, these releases feature everything the band released during their first twelve years plus loads of rare and previously unreleased recordings. Every fan of The Wedding Present needs to own these reissues as they are the definitive versions of the albums they released on their own label (Reception Records) and through RCA. Edsel continues to do an excellent job with their reissue programs and The Wedding Present releases are no exception – in fact, they’ve raised the bar with these!
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with David Gedge about The Wedding Present reissues and much more…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: The Wedding Present’s 30th anniversary is just around the corner and this reissue campaign by Edsel Records is pretty amazing. How are you feeling about this journey you took to get to this point and seeing these releases in front of you?
DAVID GEDGE: First and foremost, I’m actually proud of it. It’s something I didn’t really plan or envisage, and then I just got this invitation about a year and a half ago to go and meet with Edsel and they said, “Here’s what we want to do – we want to release all these albums in this kind of format,” and they showed me examples of what they’d done before and there was one half of me that was thinking, “This is brilliant, this is kind of that definitive release. It will be the final thing we do probably on each album because this is kind of everything,” you know? It’s like all of the album, all the extra tracks, all the radio stuff, all the live – everything is on there. And then there’s another half of me thinking, “This is going to be a lot of work.” Everybody in the meeting was all kind of enthusiastic and happy, and I was thinking, “Yes, I’m the one who’s going to be rummaging through my storage units.” And to be honest, it was quite a lot of work. It sounds a bit weird, but I’m the only person in the world who really knows how to do it. There’s people who kind of came and went in the group. Ultimately, there are certain questions which only I can answer, because I’ve obviously been there all the time, and I’ve had a great interest in it. So, all the time that they were kind of firing these little questions at me – “Can we do this?” and “Where can we find this?” and “What do you remember about this particular session?” – and so there’s a lot of going back through old tapes and diaries and photograph albums and press cuttings and stuff, but I enjoyed it. It was interesting to do. It was quite a task, but having seen the finished result, I’m very pleased with it.
SPAZ: Were you amazed at just how much material you were able to find and use? Were there things you had maybe forgotten about?
DAVID: Oh yeah, there were. There were things like just little radio sessions that we did for Virgin Radio here in England. There’s one that used to be in London and we just played a couple songs acoustically, around the time of Watusi, and I had totally forgotten about that. And then I was looking through some tapes and I thought, “Oh what’s this?” and played it and it sounded really good, and I thought, “Well that’s definitely one to go on there.” You know, there’s a lot of stuff, obviously. When you make a record you do a lot of promotion stuff and you do sessions and concerts and things so I’m quite good at kind of retaining a lot of that. I’m worse now than I used to be. I think when you first start a group you’re so excited because, you know, someone writes a review in the paper or something so you collect everything. And for the first few years I had quite a comprehensive kind of archive really and then I suppose as the years go on, you kind of get a bit more relaxed after that. I’m not quite as meticulous as I used to be, but thankfully, for the periods pertaining to these releases especially, I still had a lot of stuff. And also, people helped me. When I was missing things, which I knew we’d done, I just kind of asked a few people, and they said, “Oh yeah, I’ve got that,” whatever it was. So, it all came together. It was very labor intensive!
SPAZ: Looking back, while the band grew musically with every release, do you feel that you achieved your own personal goals and ideas for each record?
DAVID: Well, I think my goals have always been quite low! (Laughs) My chief goal, if I’m honest with you, I think my major ambition was to actually, A) have John Peel play one of our records and B) do a session for that program. So when that happened, I was kind of like, “Okay, I’ve done what I set out to achieve.” That was my main target, and it was a particularly lofty one, so anything that came after that was a bonus. I think the only thing that I wanted to achieve, which I think we’ve kind of done fairly well over the years, is make each record different. I know a lot of artists kind of say that and then you play the records and you think it kind of sounds the same, but I’m quite proud of the fact that apart from my voice and my lyrical style, I think the music just kind of shifted and changed through the years. Partly, it’s because we’ve had different lineups over the years, but it’s also been a very conscious thing to try and do that. In some ways, it’s not the most commercially successful way of doing things because you alienate sections of your audience if the next LP doesn’t sound like that last one, for instance. It puts people off, but I’m quite happy to do that because these eight albums almost sound like different groups. You know, it sounds like three or four different groups over the period of the eight records.
SPAZ: I noticed that when you signed with RCA, the band’s sound remained intact. Did you manage to retain creative control over the recordings, or were you just lucky that the label liked what you were doing?
DAVID: It was definitely a conscious thing. For the first few singles, we were on our own label and even before we recorded George Best we were getting interest from majors, but we were kind of happy being on our own at that point. We had these meetings with people and there was this kind of almost patronizing attitude of, “Well, you’ve done very well so far, but if you sign to our label, we will do this and do this and change this and put you out to the world stage, and we’ll take you from this level to REM or U2 or something.” And you know, it didn’t really appeal to us. We didn’t want to change anything because we were happy with the sound and happy with the direction it was taking. We didn’t feel like these business people would have anything to offer us really. So, over a period of a couple of years we met every major label, I think. Then we released George Best and, lo and behold, it was actually quite a successful record, so that kind of increased the attention even more. We still said no. And so we finally met somebody who works at RCA Records, as you say, and he said, “Look – I certainly understand what you’re doing here and what I’m offering you is basically the option to do that exactly as you’re doing it now, but just using RCA almost as a distributor rather than a record label.” And that was the first time we felt that we could do that really. You know, carry on and be on a major. So we said, “Okay, well, put that in the contract,” and he did. It was kind of a quite unique contract for that time, I think. It was quite lucky, because actually our own label was distributed by a company in England who actually went into liquidation shortly after, so it was the luckiest thing for us anyway to move from there to RCA. It’s just the way we’ve always worked. I can’t imagine not working in that way. It kind of baffles me when I see these creative people, artists and bands and stuff, and then they’re willing to kind of compromise because some business person at a record company says, “Well you should do it that way.” Obviously they want to sell more records, but at the same time – I don’t know, I think if you’re in the business of creating something, you want to have the freedom to create it, really.
SPAZ: In regards to modern technology and social media, if The Wedding Present started out today, do you think you would have stuck it out on your own or still gone to a major?
DAVID: I think we would’ve stuck it out on our own. It’s obviously a different situation today because there’s less money to be made. When we had our own label in the mid-‘80s, we actually made money from that. With young bands now, there’s no money to be made from that. It’s not even just illegal downloads, it’s streaming and Spotify and YouTube. So, if The Wedding Present was starting now, I think it would be harder, but I’ve always been stubborn. I’ve always had this kind of mentality that I don’t care. I’m not happy to take your money if it means I’ve gotta change the way that I work or the band works.
I’d be the first to admit to you that if we had gone down certain routes and changed certain things, I’m sure we would be more commercially successful – especially in North America for instance. But, you feel like you’re compromising some kind of integrity. I’m not saying I’m even right. Maybe that’s not the right way to do it, but it’s just the way that I’ve always worked and I’ve always been comfortable to do that. And I’m perfectly happy with my lot.
SPAZ: Well, I know that here in the U.S., fans were pretty rabid and you guys seemed to be getting a lot more attention than a lot of your contemporaries. Why do you think the U.S. took to The Wedding Present and maybe not to some of the other bands at that time?
DAVID: I think we always showed an interest in North American kind of Pop and Rock culture, which maybe has something to do with it. First of all, we grew up fans of American comics and American movies and American music and then I think, even at the time when in the formative years of The Wedding Present, we were very open to the bands from the U.S.A. I think even more importantly, your producers – we always had decided we’d like to work with Steve Albini, and then later Steve Fisk, people like that. Even though people in the United States actually say that The Wedding Present has a very British sound, I’ve never felt that myself really. I’ve always felt we kind of had one leg on each side of the Atlantic, so to speak, and we’ve drawn influences from both cultures. I think that’s possibly one reason why it’s more acceptable to an American ear, I guess.
SPAZ: When I listen to The Wedding Present, I can hear influences, but I don’t hear you ripping off any bands like The Pixies or whoever. What were your main influences musically?
DAVID: Well, that’s a very good question. I think you’ve answered the question in the actual question –because we were very conscious that we didn’t want people to say that. Obviously there are bands who sound like other bands – it’s the nature of the kind of art form in a way because it’s very cyclical and people grow up listening to a certain type of music and then wants to hear that kind of music later – but we were very conscious that we wanted to have an identifiable and hopefully unique Wedding Present sound. So whenever we are working on a new piece of music, whatever it might be, and we start arranging again, then somebody will say, “Oh that’s really cute, it sounds like The Pixies.” And you think, “Yeah…I don’t want people saying that sounds like The Pixies,” and so at that point we tend to move away from that really. It’s almost like a subconscious thing, but I think it’s like fear of being accused of plagiarism or something. I think it’s easier now because we do have a Wedding Present sound and we kind of work within that framework rather than scrambling around trying to sound like other people. So, the answer to your question is really a myriad of influences over the years. Again, it probably comes back to John Peel because the bands he played, especially those in the early ‘70s and ‘80s and maybe into the ‘90s, I think they were the bands that probably influenced us the most anyways. But no specific artist, really.
SPAZ: Do you feel that it’s easy to separate yourself from your previous work and just get on with it, or is there some sort of pressure trying to outdo what you’ve already done?
DAVID: I think it’s natural in any kind of art form, whether it be writing or making films, you always want to kind of progress and make something that’s better than what you’ve done before. I’ve got to be honest with you – in two weeks I could write you another record that sounded like George Best because I know how to do that. It’s fairly simple for me to do that, and I’m sure it might be quite successful, but at the same time I’ve done that. It’s already finished so I want to move on and try different ideas. We’ve never had a problem with that, to be honest. I’d say it’s stressful, but at the same time, it seems to evolve naturally. I think it’s probably because we’ve had such a shifting lineup over the years. So every time somebody new comes into the group, obviously, straightaway you’ve got this person who has got a whole set of new ideas and new inspirations, and enthusiasm as well. I think the band goes through this little kind of rebirth, if you like, and that often takes us off on a tangent. I do rely on the input of the other members over the years. I think if it was my band and I was some kind of weird dictator, I think it would have been more one-dimensional. I do feel like I’ve been in like four or five different groups over the years, and I think they’ve all had a slightly different feel to them, and the records have changed in mood as we’ve gone through the years, really.
SPAZ: The band successfully survived so many musical fads – everything from C86, Grunge, and Madchester to Britpop. You managed to swing your way through with integrity. Was it sort of difficult to not succumb to the flavor of the moment?
DAVID: No. I think we’ve always felt more comfortable outside of that really. None of us ever wanted to go and live in London or New York or wherever and hang out with all the kind of the movers and shakers. We’ve always been a bit more comfortable being outside of those scenes and just plotting our own little course. We’ve always steered clear of any little scenes, really.
SPAZ: Do you think that there’s a certain album or era that is overlooked? Personally, I think Saturnalia and Watusi were highly overlooked records. Is there an album you think people should really pay attention to?
DAVID: Yeah, those two, actually. I think Watusi less so. If I had to name one, I’d say Saturnalia because I think Watusi attracted attention because it was so different from the rest of them, so that was kind of cool. And then you had George Best, obviously the big debut, and then Bizarro, signing to RCA, Seamonsters with Steve Albini, and Hit Parade, which was the singles. But I think Saturanalia didn’t really have any special kind of feature other than it being a good record, really. There’s a lot of experimentation happening on that record, which people don’t necessarily see because they are not familiar with it or they glossed over it. I think we kind of looked at the way The Wedding Present operates and tried to change some of the ways we approached songwriting, and bringing a kind of more avant-garde feel to it, but still kind of make a Pop record out of it. So, Saturnalia and Watusi are actually two of my favorites. I came very quickly to the conclusion it’s not usually the best records that become the most famous. It’s the ones who had a bit of luck in the marketing. There’s loads of reasons why records become successful and it often has nothing to do with the quality of the music or vice versa. You know, you hear brilliant albums that are completely unknown.
SPAZ: On the other hand, was there an album that you didn’t feel quite as strongly about, but once you put the reissue together, you had a whole new appreciation for it?
DAVID: In my mind, George Best is the weakest record because the band had just started, and we didn’t really know what we were doing, and then subsequently we kind of learned how to write songs better and arrange songs and record songs. I always kind of thought that Bizarro was almost like a better version of George Best. It’s the same kind of sound, but it was better production and just kind of more depth to it. Whereas George Best, in my memory, it’s just this kind of total jungle thrash 100-miles-an-hour racket. So, it was interesting to go back and then play them all again. I think I changed my mind slightly. I think George Best isn’t quite as one-dimensional as I thought. I think there is some kind of charm in that collection of songs, which possibly I didn’t notice at the time because I was there, but looking back now, you know, there’s a quite youthful exuberance and a certain naiveté. I still think it’s probably one of the weaker records, but I do see the appeal now I think, which I didn’t really before.
SPAZ: Is there a particular lineup that you consider the definitive Wedding Present lineup, both live and/or in the studio?
DAVID: Absolutely not, no. There’s sort of a romantic part of me that feels like the first lineup is, but then again, I think some of our best work has come after that. (Since reuniting), there’s been three more Wedding Present records, and I think some of those are the best things we’ve ever done. Again, I feel like I’ve been in four bands over the years (laughs) plus Cinerama, plus the Ukrains (a Wedding Present side project), and all the rest of it. It’s hard to compare them really. You know, they’ve all got different ideas about how to make a record. I’m very pleased with Watusi because I think, as I said before, all the records sound different. I think Watusi sounds especially different. At the same time, I think it was a very challenging record and I think it was a very successful one. So, I do have a soft spot in my heart for that particular lineup, as well as the first one, I think.
SPAZ: Do you feel that Watusi was a foretelling of Cinerama?
DAVID: Oh yes, definitely. I’ve always had interest in that kind of music, by which I mean, I guess more, slightly Lounge-y, kind of Pop music. But then also I’ve had interest in soundtrack music like Ennio Morricone, but I think if you take away the soundtrack music, I think the other stuff there was definitely kind of always in me. I think Watusi was a chance to actually experiment with more of that. I think once we did Watusi and enjoyed working in that particular area, it did inspire me a few years later to actually take on the project of Cinerama and apply some of that kind of influence and inspiration into that record.
SPAZ: Do you prefer the finished studio recordings, or the radio sessions and live stuff? Because I feel the studio recordings often have more emotional depth, but the live stuff has more intensity.
DAVID: I think it depends what mood you’re in, really. I think there’s definitely a certain charm to the kind of live stuff and the radio sessions, so you’ve got that kind of tension and that possible aggression stuff. But then when you’re in the studio, you haven’t got the time constraint so you can put more into it, and if it’s not working you can stop doing it and try another day or change something around. I wouldn’t say I prefer one to other at all, really. They’ve all got their own different kind of personalities.
Thanks to David Gedge
Special thanks to David Beaufoy, Alex Jimenez, Jonathan Hanscombe, John Campbell, Dana House and Nick Kominitsky