Scouse Honour - Melody Maker - October 13, 1990.

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Scouse Honour - Melody Maker - October 13, 1990.

Postby Syl » Fri Jan 09, 2004 7:46 pm

Title: The La's - Scouse Honour
Publication: Melody Maker
Date Of Publication: October 13, 1990.
Origin: UK
Interviewer: Bob Stanley
Photographer: Phil Nicholls


L. to R. - Lee Mavers, Neil Mavers, Peter 'Cammy' Camell, John Power.


FOUR-THIRTY in the afternoon. I walk into the hotel lounge and there are The La’s, sitting around a table covered in pint glasses. Everything’s very loud.

”All right, la?”

That was singer Lee Mavers, the one who looks like Ian Beal only uptight, fists clenched, subtly psychotic. Next to him are curly-top bassman John Powers and the two recent recruits, Cammy (guitarist and young Roger Daltrey lookalike) and Lee’s brother, Neil, the drummer. Both are roadies turned band members. All four have accents thicker than the silt that chokes the Mersey. John is looking totally spaced. This is gonna be a larf.

OVER the road to Hyde Park for a photo sesh. Our man Nicholls is struggling to keep all four La’s in the picture at the same time as they giggle and stagger, shout and chase dogs, trying to get them in the picture as well. After about 10 minutes he gives up and, disgusted, heads back to the hotel bar to take care of his flu. Lee taps me on the shoulder, grinning conspiratorially.

“Watch your step, la.”

I look down to see that one more step would have landed me in the shit, would have wrecked my nice new suede shoes. Lee knows where he’s heading. Already I like him.

THESE boys have always had something of a reputation. Formed in Liverpool back in 1986, Lee and John and two cohorts recorded a seven-track demo which caused a huge buzz in their home town and earned them a deal from a drooling Go! Discs. In 1987 they released their first single, “Way Out”, a semi-acoustic affair in waltz-time given weight by Lee’s rasping vocals. Janice Long played it to death, but it still wasn’t until “There She Goes” more than a year later that things really picked up. A masterpiece of simplicity, “There She Goes” had a melting melody and it ached and tugged in all the right places. It appeared around Christmas ‘88, along with The Stone Roses’ “Elephant Stone”— every time I visited friends these were the two singles I heard. We played them over and over again. Dewy-eyed pop purists, we were enchanted and predicted world domination for the Stone Roses and The La’s within a year.

Almost two years on and The Stone Roses you know about. The La’s? Well, they’ve just got around to releasing the follow up to “There She Goes”. The two intervening years have been somewhat traumatic. The La’s LP was recorded at the second attempt with Mike Hedges in early ‘89. Old recording equipment in pieces at Abbey Road was put back together at Hedge’s studio in Devon and a single, “Timeless Melody”, was readied for release in April. Brighter, more chiming,even more uplifting than “There She Goes”,it seemed to take The La’s into the Top 40 and beyond. Like The Stone Roses’ “She Bangs The Drums”, it was a song obsessed with itself and the spiritual power of music. In short it was a f***ing classic. Having garnered great reviews everywhere, including a Melody Maker Single Of The Week, “Timeless Melody” was withdrawn at the last minute. No explanation was given. The few white labels that exist are now super-rare artefacts. Rumours soon filtered through that the Hedges-produced LP was not coming out either. Guitarist and drummers came and went. It all sounded like chaos. And then, mid-summer this year, came the news that The La’s had finished an LP with king of rock bombast, Steve Lillywhite. Sure enough, the faulted but ultimately satisfying LP was released this month to (again) across the board rave reviews. After two years in the wilderness, you’d expect the drunken spectacle in the hotel lounge to be a birova celebration, right? Wrong. They’re getting pissed to try and forget.

LEE and John, bottle in hand, drag me off to the relative calm of their room. John is barely conscious and slouches on the floor, his cherubic face a fetching shade of green. I’ve got an armful of questions about why the LP’s taken so long to appear and is it finally the sound they want. Within seconds, Lee lays them all to waste. “D’you wanna know they story of that LP? We walked out on it. Then they mixed it and released it and it’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard, bar nothing. I can detach myself from it and it’s unmusical, it’s out of tune, and the worst thing about it is the singing because they took the backing tracks from the first two weeks we were in the studio and used the guide vocals. It’s flat, out of tune, out of time... I wouldn’t have minded what they’ve done if it sounded good!” But, after two years in the studio on and off, don’t you think you’ve been perfectionists? Didn’t you need someone to give a second opinion?

Lee looks angry: “Listen, the record company says, ‘Those sounds are only in your head, Lee’, and tell us we need a producer. But it’s not just in my head cos we do it. It’s not in the producer’s head or the engineer’s head and certainly not in the f***ing record company’s head which is where it should be. Know what I’m saying?”

What is the sound you’re after, then? How would you describe it? “Organic. Very four-track, easy to come-by. A tape recorder in the middle of the room captures the sound we’re after. It sounds real. Modern studios convert things to numbers and it’s all processed — like processed cheese. But the record company’s excuse for not putting out the songs the way we want them to sound is that Polygram will moan and say it’s not good enough quality. ”

Why don’t you produce yourselves?

“The record company won’t let us! They’ve got this attitude like, ‘Hang on boy, hang on kid, we’ve been doing this for 15 years’. We’ve even started to build our own eight-track studio but we can’t finish it because the record company won’t give us any more money. It’d only cost £6,000, but they’d rather spend £1,000 a day in some hospital studio making us sound like shit. We’ve hated every La’s record so far. Since we signed to Go! Discs, these have been the worst three years of our lives.”

THE “organic” sound that Lee’s on about can be heard on the flip side of the current single, a bowdlerised version of “Timeless Melody”. The song is called “Over” and it follows in the footsteps of “There She Goes” and the original “Timeless” as a pop gem. Spare and melancholy, this is the real sound of the La’s. I suggest that it’s got more passion and more honesty than anything of the LP (which I adore, anyway) and Lee looks elated.

“That is the sound. That was the first time we ever played it.” “The very, very, very, very first time,” moans comatose John from the corner.

“It was recorded on a tape recorder in a barn. That’s the way we like to do it, la. Just a tape recorder, it gets the...” Lee scrambles for the right words to convey his belief, “the tough element, and that validates it. Yeah, it’s a million times better than that cheesy shit on the album! Y’know we didn’t have any say in the sleeve for that, nothing. The lyric sheet’s all wrong. We wanted a 16-track LP and it was going to be called ‘Callin’ All’. Like callin’ all cars, callin’ all people. They just want to push us in a direction which is Housemartins as far as I’m concerned. We’re not into that at all. Beans means Heinz. Playschool humour. I mean, The Housemartins, they’re just crap!”

THOUGH they may totally disown the LP, the songs on it are still Lee’s. From the gruff, straight ahead R&B feel of “Failure” to the tearful pop of “There She Goes” to the staccato, near-military “Freedom Song” there’s a hell of a lot of variety in there. Lee agrees, “It’s all in the rhythm. Like ‘Son Of A Gun’ has a South American influence but it’s as dirty as f***. Someone said,” he says disdainfully waving a photo-copied wad of praising reviews, “that it sounds like The Carpenters. I like The Carpenters,I think she had a lovely voice, it really f** *ing touches you, but how the f** do we sound like that? And that bloke then wrote there’s a twist at the end of the song where I sing, ‘Kick your heels in the killing fields’. It probably takes his mind back to Vietnam, yeah, Hendrix man!’ An excuse to mention the f***ing Sixties.”

You don’t like journalists too much, then?

“F***ing planks! No disrespect, but why hasn’t anyone got their head on and their feet on the ground?”
John now decides he’s had enough and slinks off to get a pizza. I ask Lee how he writes his songs.
“The phrasing, the rhythms just come to me. And then I trace over them, like with tracing paper, the words and melody. I usually take five minutes to write a song, it just happens. It’s like a medium, his mind takes over. It’s when he’s not there he gets all his information, right? I’m not talking abaut drugs or anything, but the subconscious is always better than the conscious. There’s star material, not like pop star shit, there’s a light in all of us. You’ve just got to levitate to the right level.”

GET Lee onto the subject of his favourite music and he’s fit to burst with enthusiasm. Big Bill Broonzy, Chuck Berry, James Brown, The Beatles... He stresses that he’s “not into antiques” and declares admiration for “Fools Gold”, but reckons the sound The La’s are after, “is more akin to ‘Street Fighting Man’ or ‘Substitute’ by The Who. The only thing by The Who worth buying is ‘Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy’. Side one, and about a third of side two. It’s tough and motorbikin’... I don’t mean like bikers, I mean it combusts (he’s upon his feet now, gesticulating wildly), it’s flamin’, it’s. . . I dunno,” he says, slumping back in his chair. “It’s like the best song they did... ‘Can’t Explain’, kidder!”

Hold on, the record company completely changed “Can’t Explain” from the way Pete Townshend wanted it to sound!
“Yeah, but ‘Can’t Explain’, even with all its bends and whoooaaahs. It’s Iike—whoooaaah! it’s like riding a horse, it’s like riding a f***ing spaceship! Whatever it is, it’s motivating music for motivated people.”

And that’s what The La’s want to be?

“That’s what The La’s are, forget this processed record company album. It’s like a pinball game, it’s like Pete Townshend said: you shouldn’t play the game if you don’t know how to play.

“This might all sound like a sob story and dirtying people’s washing, but I’m just being straight.”

The irony of this whole fiasco, the reason why the joke is on the music biz, is that Polygram have spent half a million trying to get a sound that the group could record on a Walkman. The tragedy is that, while The La’s want everyone in the world to hear their natural, real sound, it’ll probably never be heard by more than a few friends of the band. Lee sums up what Polygram can’t understand, “At the end of the day, even if you’re on your tod, you go to bed with a tune in your head. And that’s what it’s all abaut.”

The music biz sucks. Long live The La’s.

Bob Stanley.

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