INTERVIEW: Echo & the Bunnymen | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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In recent years a shift in roles has occurred within the Bunnymen ranks, as guitarist Will Sergeant informed me rather abruptly when I questioned him about getting back into writing as a band. “I didn’t write it,” he informed me. Nothing like short and sweet to get to the point.

The change of positions within the band have left Sergeant a little puzzled as to where he fits in as a band member, now that he no longer plays a part in the writing process. “God knows,” was all he was willing to divulge when discussing his role in the modern day Bunnymen set-up.

What’s obvious though, is that Sergeant is still more than happy to be involved with the live performances, a prospect he never used to relish. Having developed a love of touring, he reflected upon favourite memories from the stage during his mammoth career as a musician. “I probably prefer it now. I never used to. I don’t know why. There’s loads of shows I remember. We’re always somewhere doing stuff and playing live and there’s too many to think about specific shows. We did one in Peru the other night that was amazing. I always used to like Barrowlands in Glasgow, though. I think a lot of bands will tell you that as well.”

Memories of earlier Bunnymen days seem to bring out the loquaciousness in Sergeant, as he freely reminisced about his proudest career moment and the song writing processes the band used in its infancy.

“John Peel played our first single and said, ‘That was the mighty Echo & The Bunnymen’. At that point John Peel was a total God and was totally adored. I’d say that was a very proud moment, him accepting us and liking us. Years ago when we started writing songs, a song could start from anywhere and if it sounded like something that we thought was crap, or like what was in the charts, we’d say ‘Oh, that sounds like Kajagoogoo’ and that would be the end of that.

“We always thought we had a broad pallet. Songs like Ocean Rain and Do It Clean are really at different ends of the spectrum to the conventional Bunnymen sound and we didn’t really used to think ‘It’s got to sound like the Bunnymen’. We were trying to sound like the Velvet Underground anyway, or Bowie or something. So it’s kind of the case of everybody wanting to be something that already exists.”

The influences of early Echo & The Bunnymen records have rarely changed, even as the band itself has seamlessly adapted to new modern music markets. Sergeant was keen to express why he believes that, despite there being some obvious talent in new music, the songs of the sixties and seventies will always be his preference.

echo 2

I think it’d be a bit pretentious of me, being 56 years old, to be pretending to be ‘down with the kids’ and wearing an Interpol t-shirt. It’s bullshit isn’t it?

“I quite like American bands that are doing that same old psyche-scene stuff like The White Hills and The Black Angels. I like that kind of drone rock sound, like Boards Of Canada – they’re probably one of my favourites in the electro world. Generally though I prefer trawling through my old record collection or going to a record shop and looking through all the vinyl, trying to find something from the sixties or seventies. I think it’d be a bit pretentious of me, being 56 years old, to be pretending to be ‘down with the kids’ and wearing an Interpol t-shirt. It’s bullshit isn’t it? I remember Elton John was on the telly or something not long ago and he said he liked some band and it was blatantly obvious to me: ‘Elton, you do not like that band, you’re just trying to look modern and hip’. It would be bollocks if I just started saying, I like them or I like them. Especially when the stuff I liked in the sixties and seventies was better anyway.”

During the four decades that the band has been in existence, several different theories have been put forward behind their bizarre name. Sergeant was happy to put to bed some old rumours about a drum machine and explained from where the unique title originated.

“It was one of our mates called Paul Ellerbeck who was this sort of posh kid from down south. Me and Mack [Ian McCulloch] were writing things at the time. He had this list of surreal names including things like Glycerol And The Fan Extractors, Mona Lisa And The Grease Guns… there was The Dazmen, which I liked actually, and then there was Echo & The Bunnymen. And when Les joined, he joined on the Sunday and we had our first gig on the Wednesday, which was for a Christmas party for a college that Julian Cope went to. We were asked to support and we didn’t really know what we’d got ourselves into. It was just me and Mack at the time and Les was just a punk who I knew from school and he said he’d play bass, he’d never played one in his life. He bought one on the Sunday, it was second hand and had three strings. We rehearsed in this damp basement room. We never knew Mack was going to sing, we had never heard him do it before, we just thought we looked good. Anyway, when we got on the stage, obviously Mack knew about this list and just announced us as Echo & The Bunnymen and that was that really.

“The story with the drum machine was, later on everyone started thinking Mack was Echo, like we were doing the same as Huey Lewis And The News, so we made up the story about the drum machine. I think Mack didn’t like being called Echo either and he wanted to do that so we didn’t think he was calling himself the leader or the most important person in the band or whatever, but that’s what happened – that’s the true story, we made up the tale about the drum machine to kind of throw people off the scent. It’s basically just a random, surrealist, madcap jumble of words. It is weird that it’s stuck so well. I always liked the Bunnymen bit of it, but I’m not too fussed about the Echo. But there you go, that’s the story of a name that’s done us proud, really.”

Echo & The Bunnymen play Newcastle’s O2 Academy on Thursday 11th December.

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