Brix Smith: A Spider’s Web

BRIX SMITH is the girl who can’t really help it: she has rich-baby eyes, heavy blonde hair, a voice that comes in giggles. It’s the sort of identikit one might expect from a cheerleader, but it’s the natural turf of a nervous, shrewd, faithful American who has made her second home here. Brix has patiently hollowed out a corner of British rock for herself.

When she married Mark E Smith and cautiously involved herself in the history of The Fall, that noble band had been passing through its most wintry period. Her early contributions, like the thunderous jolt of ‘God-Box’ and some of the tunes on The Wonderful And Frightening World injected new light into a vision that had grown dreadfully dark.

Her Fall tunes are simple rather than simple-minded. Mark E’s songs have a trudging, inevitable quality that is usually hypnotic, but Brix’s tunes find a spark that The Fall have sometimes missed.

She moved from playing a rather dumpy, distant girl at the back of The Fall’s stage to becoming an integral member. Smith’s lads have polished up their charcoal atmosphere into something approximating hard graphite, with Brix’s glamour (there’s no other convenient term) acting like the tablet fizzing in the glass.

“I’m concentrating really hard on what I’m playing. The beauty of The Fall is that it just keeps changing. I’m playing a lot more lead now, and it’s important to keep a sense of melody there. We’ve started to do ‘Fiery Jack’ again, which comes from way before I joined, and I only heard the record a couple of times. He throws things at us. You just have to get up there and play it.”

For a small figure, a guitar can be a sheltering thing. “It makes you feel less vulnerable. If you’re standing there, twitching…. you can hide behind it, though I don’t very much. I like it to be like an extension of my arms, part of my body. Nothing phallic. I think most of my guitars are girls, if they have a sex.”

Are they weapons?

“Did you see the play we did? You machine-gun in it and it was funny, it felt like my guitar. So it can be a weapon. Especially if strangers crawl up on the stage, groping. Smack! I don’t mind if people are dancing on stage. I get freaked out when they touch.

“I’m not a real violent person. I don’t like hitting people, especially if they’re smiling at you.”

BRIX SMITH talks in a voice which sounds affected – all those American soaps – but it can’t be. It would be a yakkety American voice if she didn’t use it in such a charming way; you can hear that on the records by her own project, The Adult Net, where she can sound flirtatious and silly or mean and appealing. She tends to roll herself into a ball on the furniture. A smile starts on her huge lips and sweeps up her face.

“I get nervous,” she whimpers. “You’re so quiet, you make me flinch.” Brix is always shaking. She trembles as though she’s on a train, being buffeted in a high wind, or living over a roller-rink. It’s the nerves, the tiredness, the coffee. And maybe the work of The Fall and The Adult Net together.

The Adult Net began as a sole single, ‘Incense And Peppermints’, a psychedelic revival that chirped with good humour. The other side, a ‘Rebellious Jukebox’ that put real sparkle into the old Fall chestnut, revealed the kind of creature Smith is.

She’s an enthusiast, a fan who marvels at the brilliance of rock. Her attempt at getting the sneer in the ‘Jukebox’ vocal suggests that she loves the wit and energy more than the misanthropy in Fall music.

Since then, she’s pieced together three more singles, with another due in an instant. ‘Edie’, a clumsy tribute to Edie Sedgwick, didn’t amount to very much, but the locomotive pop of ‘White Nights (Stars Say Go)’ and the nagging repetitions of ‘Waking Up In The Sun’ put the idea back on course. The Adult Net aim at a tough and memorable music, but Brix seems captivated by the innocent spirit of an older sort of pop. Their cover of The Shangri-Las’ ‘Remember (Walking In The Sand)’ is a wonder because it’s not a pastiche nor a joke: it’s done with grace and trust.

Compare this with Siouxsie’s disdainful cover versions: Brix is the one with the pop heart.

“I like songs so much. If I pick up a guitar I just hit something and it sounds good, and the rest just follows. I never make the song about something – I never say this is going to be about teenage sex and the emancipation of women. It comes out more like… a poem. ‘Waking Up In The Sun’ is about spiritual enlightenment, if you want to look sooo deeply!”

Is she sent poems?

“Sometimes I get letters saying, Why did you marry Mark when I’m the one for you? Or love poems. Sometimes…I was a witness to a woman saying to Mark, What purpose do the girls serve in the band?

“Those people can go and f*** themselves. A lot of people don’t realise that I write a lot of the music. They think I’m there because I’ve got blonde hair.

“I wish I had more women fans,” she whispers. “I’m not feminist, but it’s important that a person like me is showing I can do both these things properly, look good, be a strong person – be a good role model. It’s good to show you have brains.”

Brains are something that Smith has in, as they say of attractive women, all the right places.

She has just returned from a visit to her family in Los Angeles – “I love the dry heat and the crystal blue skies.” While over there she tested for a film, got a lawyer, an acting agent, a music agent, visited record companies and A&R men and read for some acting parts.

BRIX HAS extraordinary belief in a pop idea that began as a simple one-off record.

“It’ll be different in America. Here, I’m coming from left field, the indie scene. That’s not where I want to be at all with The Adult Net. I want to be right in the mainstream, and it’s hard when people here go, Oh, it’s just that girl from The Fall, she doesn’t do anything. If I could, I’d go out and plug it myself. I could do the best job of everything.”

Is it a trial, for a shy and nervous person, to work this hard in front of people?

“I’m not really that shy,” she says, in the loudest voice she can muster. “I just have this will, it just takes over. It’s an iron will. I can go to someone’s office, don’t know them, they don’t know me, and I have to convince them without being too ballsy or too tough or too bratty or too conceited that I’ve got something to offer that no one else has. And I just do it. It’s like job interviews.

“The thing is to do it with style. Who does it really well? Aw, I don’t wanna talk about people! I don’t like saying names of bands.” She folds her arms, with the perpetual click of her bracelets. Perhaps The Adult Net will have to go to America to make all their news. Here, stuck with the bright but limited Beggars Banquet, there doesn’t seem very far to go. In a British pop scene that’s more stratified than ever, they sound like novelty act. Besides, why do this short circuit when there are people calling for film soundtracks?

“I suppose everyone knows now that my partner in The Adult Net is Simon Rogers. He does ballet scores, stuff for the BBC and adverts and things. He wrote a ballet score and it was being put on in Poland and this director heard it. And for two years he was calling about it, wanting to do something. I told Simon, No, it’s complete bullshit, these people in Hollywood rob you blind. But it happened.

“One day this guy rang up while an Adult Net track was playing in the background and he said, What’s that? It’s the other band I’m in. He loved it, chose two songs for the soundtrack and said, Bring Brix out and have the band play in the film.”

It is, of course, a TV movie about teenage pregnancy. Smith flew out and was given her own new Thunderbird for two weeks. “And I got my best friend Lisa, best friend Tolly, Chris and Simon, we just mimed to it in a party scene.”

She thinks about Los Angeles for a moment, where everyone has a script, a record and a pilot scheme, and sighs. “For a long time I felt I was getting nowhere.”

Nowhere? With all this?

“Yeah but I’m a workaholic! I’m proud of myself and what I’ve done, but I’ve got a goal. I want to write great pop songs and have commercial success with The Adult Net. It’s easy to write rubbish pop. I want to do it well. I don’t care if it takes a long time.”

IT MAY do yet. Their singles so far are good records, but not great ones. Brix has a knack for a pop tune, but this is not a time when you can make great pop records by instinct. There’s something gimcracked and done-by-numbers about some of their tracks which their spirit ought to transcend and doesn’t. Perhaps the forthcoming Spin This Web LP will sort it all out. How does she see herself perceived?

“So far it’s been…on the favourable side,” she answers, with a resist-this-one! smile. “I think people like me. I’m beginning to earn some respect in the press. I’m not the most secure person in the world. But I’m a good person inside, I’m a good friend and a loyal person. I have a good heart.

“They respect me in The Fall. They wanted me to join. They taught me lots of things and were really supportive, when it could have been the opposite.”

Though she lives in Manchester, she spends most money in London. On black clothes. Did she ever want to be tall and thin and lovely?

“Well, I’m not fat! Do you think I’m fat? Past the age of 15, I knew it wouldn’t happen, I knew I wouldn’t be like a model. I wanted to be a jockey. I’m still a good rider and riding isn’t such a snobby thing in America as it is here. My family are giants, but I never grew tall.

“I don’t mind being little. People always say, Are you the girl from The Fall? I thought you were a lot taller!

“I always had style, but I never thought I’d be attractive. I thought I’d never have a boyfriend. Kept waiting for that first date. His name was David Hickman and he was the son of this guy who was a child actor. He was cute in the way teenage boys can be.

“People say I’m pretty now but I don’t always feel it. I feel good inside, though.”

She holds out one arm and beams. It is almost still. “Look. I’m almost done shaking.”

OUT ON the street, it’s a day to chill the bones. Brix Smith sees a taxi and runs for it; she is not a very graceful runner. Inside, she pulls her bag up to her chin and peeps out at East End London. “I’m one of those people…childlike in a way. I play a lot. The Adult Net is kind of a joke because I don’t think of myself as an adult. Because life’s so serious sometimes you have to let go and play.

“My Christmas present was a Rock Star Barbie, which goes with my Marilyn Monroe Barbie. I just sit there with them and dress them up and comb their hair and… make them have lesbian sex. Just kidding!”

The cab bumps on towards the West End. “Oh,” she murmurs, “I hope Terry Waite’s alright.”

© Richard CookSounds, 21 February 1987

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