Well, Bruce Willis might have spanked Jeremy Irons’ butt in the end, but this time the Yanks face a far more serious threat. We join the Britrock vanguard of ASH, A, FEEDER and GAY DAD in New York as they attempt to conquer America
NEW YORK is under attack! Like a dire Fifties B-movie revisited, clouds of killer, brain-swelling mosquitoes have swarmed onto its streets, lured in by the unnaturally warm conditions and all the ripe, naked flesh that’s walking around in short sleeves. Consider it as nature’s revenge for years of Mosiguard and fly-swats, a revenge so serious that NYC’s mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, has sent out choppers of bug-spray to bomb the f*** out of its pinhead-sized enemies. Or at least that’s what they’re telling us on CNN.
We know the score, Rudi, and your number’s up. This is CMJ week, New York’s annual college music convention with 1,000 gigs in four days — and that means only one thing, doesn’t it, Mr Mayor? Loads of British bands, stealing your ladies and drinking your beer. And you’re scared, maaaaan. This isn’t about stemming the invasion of killer bugs, this is about stemming the invasion of killer British rock! Well, flipping bugger to that, pal. We’re gonna rock you Brit-style until you ban mullets, make everyone watch This Morning and introduce the Euro!
Ah, well, maybe not the Euro, then…
Of course, Mayor Giuliani does have a budget of millions of dollars on his side, while the Britrock army advance guard only have a few guitars and a pocketful of dreams on theirs. So, when The Man’s attempt to fumigate the city of good music fails (only one gig cancelled — and that from a band that always blows out gigs!) he raises the stakes, makes a quick trunk call to God and summons up a f***ing hurricane! Erm, hang on a minute… isn’t that cheating?
THE TWO shivering, wet souls stuck out in Times Square look a bit like Tim Wheeler and Charlotte Hatherley from Ash. Right now, they also look a bit like Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in Singing In The Rain, but we wouldn’t be asking them to do a photoshoot in Force 10 conditions, so it’s probably Ash after all. Still, check this for Britrock spirit… “Is it raining?” trills Tim, nonchalantly.
“I hadn’t noticed.”
Hurrah! He’s either Andie MacDowell from Four Weddings And A Funeral or he’s exactly the kinda chap we need to help us win this war. Come on, Tim! Over the top and tally-ho! “God,” he drips, miserably, “I’ve gotta get out of these clothes!”
Wuss. Still, Charlotte’s brimming with excitement at being in New York. “I so love it here,” she squeals. “Luckily, we’ve been here quite a lot, especially recently, when Tim and I did some modelling for Calvin Klein. And, well, I’ve got a boyfriend in New York so…”
You’ve been shagging!
“Ahem,” she coughs demurely. “I’ve been living it large on the sofa bed! But playing over here’s pretty special for me, because I only joined Ash after they’d already slogged around America. The guys toured extensively, especially one where they went out with Weezer for a long time. Did it drive them mental? Yeah, it’s what ‘Jesus Says’ is about: ‘One million light years from home/Throwing up and feeling small’. It’s Tim’s big rant about touring America, feeling f***ed-up.”
That’s no way to go about breaking America, is it? Snivelling like wretches!
“Well,” she laughs, “after a while, there’s nothing to do but whine on tour. But, on the other hand, being over here really pumps you up, too. You tend to pick up that big, sleazy, laid-back cool attitude over here, walking around with an extra swing to your stride.”
Will our bands ever make it over here in America, Charlotte?
“Is anyone really bothered?” she wonders. “It’s probably just a matter of investing time, living over here like U2 did, and I don’t know if English bands want to do that. One of the benefits of being in Ash is that Americans have this thing about Irish bands: ‘I’m a quarter Irish.’ Like f*** you are! But, even with that, we’re still relatively unknown over here, which is totally cool.”
Still, if the Yanks don’t understand us, that’s nothing compared to how badly we misunderstand them sometimes. Charlotte smirks, remembering a story her friend, the producer and composer David Arnold, told her recently.
“He’s working on the music for some film starring Robert De Niro,” she sniggers. “So De Niro rings up his studio and says to the guy at reception: ‘Can you tell David Arnold it’s Bobby De Niro?’ And this guy says to David: ‘It’s Bobby Davro on the phone for you!’ isn’t that brilliant?”
Oh yes. Slay the enemy might of Hollywood! Burn their stinky-vomit-ego-fortress to the ground! Arise, my friends — to war! And, um, that rather nice diner in the East Village…
WHICH IS, coincidentally, where we find the three Perry brothers from A, knocking back nachos and beer and American teeny-pop slime with the sturdy cricket bat of good old British righteousness.
“The only people on the streets are British!” cheers drummer Adam. “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in hurricanes!” Like a spot of rain, some killer bugs and ocean-loads of death spray could stop A, eh? Even the narky immigration official who got Adam to sing a Bee Gees song, just to prove he really was a member of a band, couldn’t stop this lot from rocking America into submission.
Then, suddenly, the lights fade, plunging us into eerie gloom. “Cuh!” sneers singer Jason. “Now they’re trying to black us out! But they’ll never stop our rock!” And, with that, the band pile outside, thrust their devil-fingered hands into the air and bring Giuliani’s rain of terror to a drizzling end! Hurrah! As the sun slowly emerges, it’s our cue to ambush this town on the sly, so we pile down to the Empire State Building and make like the good Monkey Kongs we are. Cool.
“I’ve just had the coolest New York day,” Jason gushes. “First, some guy was bending down and his skateboard rolled down the street, so I picked it up for him, thinking: ‘Yeah, cool-looking guy.’ Then he turned around and it was Adam Yauch from the Beastie Boys! How brilliant is that? So I’m still shaking, totally starstruck, and I’m waiting to cross over the road and the guy standing next to me was only f***ing Iggy Pop! F*** me! Now that’s a New York day!”
Oh yes. So, how up for this breaking America thing are you, Jason?
“I think we’ve got a wicked chance,” he grins. “I’m an Englishman and I love that, but if you go round my flat most of the things I own are from America. Loads of my records, my games, my clothes. I’ve even got an American jeep. This place is wicked!”
“I was watching MTV back home the other day,” adds Adam, “and it was such crap until the Limp Bizkit video came on, full of kids rocking. I don’t even like Limp Bizkit, but I’m like, ‘Ahhhh, rock music still exists! And it’s Number One in America!’ So it’s such a breath of fresh air to come out here where rock’s not some kind of taboo. We’re gonna walk onto radio over here.”
“We’re great live,” nods Jason, “and we can easily outrock most bands, so I’m dead excited about it. We’ve already paid our dues in Britain, now we’ll have to come over here and do it again. Loads of gigs, four radio shows a day, whatever it takes.”
Keyboard man Giles sneers at the weaker battalions of our invading army, saying:
“So many big bands back home think they deserve to be big over here. But people in America don’t give a f*** about how big you are in Britain, and quite right too. You’ve gotta work, and that’s what I love about America: that whole work ethic. That, and how brilliant the people can be. I remember going to this supermarket in LA once, around Thanksgiving, and when the old lady who was serving us found out we didn’t have any plans, she said: ‘Well, I’ve got a big turkey — come round to my house for Thanksgiving!’ We thought, ‘Uh? Are you mental? We could quite easily be murderers!”‘
Did you go?
“Of course not!” splutters Adam. “We just went, ‘Sod off, you old bitch!”‘
“Get yer own friends,” mocks Jason, “and stop picking on foreigners!”
Now that, my guitar-slinging guerrillas, is the f***in’ attitude!
“Damn right!” roars Adam. “We’re gonna destroy this place! So many bands think they ought to try and conquer America, but we actually want to. That’s the difference!”
FEEDER ALREADY have. Well, sort of. They’re certainly not unknown Stateside, having toured the US for nine months solid last year. Think of them as Her Majesty’s advance minesweeping platoon, clearing the way for all our brave, brave boys.
“We toured the arse off America,” boasts singer Grant Nicholas as we saunter down the Brooklyn Bridge the following day. “Things went well, but it was hard work, dead intense — the sort of tour that could very easily have split us up, were it not for the underlying chemistry in the band.”
So exactly how big are you over here, Grant?
“Well,” he hums, “I’m not saying that we’re big megastars here — cos we’re not — but we’ve certainly done better than a lot of UK bands in America. We’ve actually sold more records here, but it’s a much bigger country, of course. Do I get recognised? Oh yeah! We were filming our new video on Wall Street the other day and so many people came up to us, going, ‘Feeder!’ The fans are really full-on here and, yeah, some of the American girls do love that whole rock’n’roll groupie lifestyle — but it’s nice to be appreciated! I’m not gonna lie! Do you want to play a show where 10 people stand at the front, not moving, or would you rather have loads of screaming girls?”
Screaming girls, please! But only when we get a week’s leave of action, Grant — cos, you know, there’s a war to be waged and stuff.
“Is there?” he ponders. “I don’t know if we see this as a war, exactly, but you do have to try and entertain a little bit more over here. They like you to be intense and passionate, but not arrogant or acting like you’re doing them a big favour by playing. They just like to be entertained. It’s the same back home, but everyone’s too f***ing cool to admit it there.
“I once said that the only difference between American audiences and British audiences is that American audiences are a bit fatter. It’s a bit of an evil thing to say, but there really isn’t that much of a difference.”
And how do the other guys feel about being over here?
“I’m sure they’re very happy,” he grins. “Take gets a bit of a break from his kids! John’s just about to have a baby with his girlfriend who he met on the Everclear tour out here.”
What? An American! Isn’t that fraternising with the enemy?
“Um,” Grant mumbles, slightly confused by our bellicose attitude, “well she does live in Florida. So, anyway, he’s going through a bit of a weird time right now. I can’t even imagine having a baby at the moment!”
Surprise, Grant! I’m only pretending to be a journalist! I’m actually here to serve you with a paternity suit! Ta-da!
“Ugh!” he shivers. “Well, that happens a lot in America. If you do something wrong onstage, you run a serious risk of getting sued! I have friends in big bands over here, and one of them threw a beer bottle into the crowd and they tried to sue him for it. And then, another time, he got some girl up onstage and kicked her up the arse! Not hard, but she’s actually suing him for the humiliation he put her through. Big time! Can you believe that? In the UK, they’d just cheer!
“Don’t get me wrong, though,” he adds, hailing a cab to peg it back into town for the band’s soundcheck, “I don’t dislike the American people at all. They really respect us and all they want in return is a bit of respect too. We’ve played to the hardest, toughest, scariest audiences — big, tattooed bikers in Texas and everything — crowds I thought were gonna kill us! But they loved us, and that’s what’s fantastic.”
THEY PROBABLY wouldn’t love a band with a name like Gay Dad in Texas, but here in the anything-goes utopia of New York, they’re chomping at singer Cliff Jones’ bit.
Not literally, though. That’d just be unhygienic. Fortunately, Cliff’s not quite so chompy — in fact he’s up for a bit of a scrap with ol’ Uncle Sam after some horrible technical difficulties at the Dad’s sold-out US debut.
“They like that whole Breakfast At F***ing Tiffany’s shit over here, don’t they?” he sneers. “This is a country that lives on baby food and goo-goo juice and stuff you don’t have to chew. And it’s the same with the culture: stuff you don’t have to chew. Does that mean we’re f***ed? Probably! But I think they could go for us, in the same way that they went for Liberace!”
Isn’t your name gonna mess you up in the less-enlightened regions of the States?
“Look,” he says, resolutely unfazed, “there’s 250 million people here — at least it’s gonna get us noticed. I dunno, America is simultaneously vile and attractive. It’s like an attractive rapist. That’s America. But America won’t get its f***ing claws on me.”
Hurrah! But also, boo! Because we’re never gonna win this war if they’re not even going to be fighting it. Fortunately, Cliff seems to understand the score.
“These skyscrapers are just like mountains,” he coos, as we leave the venue, headed for a secret, behind-lines reconnaissance mission at the nearest late-nite bar, “but they’re mountains made by men. And, instead of climbing them with pick axes and crampons, you have to climb them in the corporate sense. With crampons made of f***ing dollar bills. But I think Gay Dad could be just what America needs. They just don’t know what to make of it, so they’re deeply confused, and that’s f***ing funny. I remember talking to John Cale once — he wanted to produce us, but it didn’t work out — and he goes: ‘I think the f***ing merchandising on this band is gonna be incredible. I can see everyone at every weenie roast right across America wearing a cap which says “Gay Dad”.’ That really sounded cool to me!”
Just caps, Cliff? How about the Statue of Clifferty? Or a Gay Dad burger at McDonald’s?
“Oooh, yeah, that’d be fantastic!” he beams. “The McDad! But what would it be? It would have to be something really, really unexpected. Maybe it would look like a hamburger, but it would actually have a slice of Battenberg cake in the middle, doused in ketchup and mustard! A hideous combination of things that really shouldn’t go, but are actually amazing together.”
Saucy on the outside, sweet on the inside — that’s Gay Dad. Who knows what’s going to happen to them out here in the field? Who knows what’ll happen to any of our brave forces, fighting the good fight out on the Western front? We f***in’ do! We’ll come, we’ll see and we’ll conquer, same as ever. And if that bothers Mayor Giuliani and his swarm of deadly bugs, just tell ’em that The Maker‘s back on the home front with countless other volunteers and watch them piss their Calvins. For Britain, boys. For Britain.
© Robin Bresnark, Melody Maker, 25 September 1999