The Big Takeover - NY, Paramount Hotel, May 11, 1991.

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The Big Takeover - NY, Paramount Hotel, May 11, 1991.

Postby Syl » Sun Mar 02, 2003 10:50 pm

Title: The La’s: 4-TRACK WONDERS
Publication: The Big Takeover
Date Of Publication: Number 30, Volume XIII, Issue 2.
Origin: US
Interviewer: Jack Rabid
Photographer: -




JR: Jack Rabid

LM: Lee Mavers

NM: Neil Mavers


Singer/guitarist/songwriter/leader Lee Mavers and his younger brother Neil were interviewed in their room at The Paramount Hotel May 11, 1991. They were flown into L.A. and N.Y. solely to talk to the U.S.. press before their tour this Summer with the wonderful StraitJacket Fits kicks off. Also, the LP had just come out here 6 months late on Polygram.

Since their debut eponymous LP was released in Britain last Fall, the band has done nothing but express contempt for it in interview after interview in the British music papers. I can’t remember the last time a band that sold so well and was so well liked had such precocious hatred for their own music being released to the public. If I had any doubts about them growing used to the record and coping with it, they were dispelled immediately upon meeting them. Whether on the record or off, they despise their LP and singles and express vitriolic loathing for the record company Go! Discs in England endlessly (they have no bad words with Polygram, their feud is back home with Go!). Aware of the situation in advance, it should be said that I tried to delve further into this hatred, how it came to be and what steps were taken to avoid it, as you will see. I just couldn’t understand why such a good record could inspire this kind of revulsion to this infinite degree. I came prepared to challenge them on the subject, but even then it was overwhelming; they’ve made the company such a scapegoat (deservedly or no) that there can be no other villain in this play of theirs. Though it seems that they unfairly deflect any share of the blame from themselves, as if they were powerless ants crushed under the mighty boot of Go!, on the other hand the paradox is that in my estimation, and in the estimation of all their other fans and appreciative supporters, it isn’t blame at all but credit that should be assigned for their LP! Odd.

The result is an uncommon interview, one that was extremely uncomfortable to make (I usually enjoy interviewing bands I love. This was unpleasant), but one that I think makes for remarkably interesting reading, providing more than usual chance to read between the lines and draw one’s own conclusion.

Yes this was an displeasing experience. I’d met the Mavers’ brothers 2 days before, shot some pool with them and chatted aimlessly, in an attempt to help stave off some of the more adversary aspects of “ the interview ” that bands feel, particularly those more used to dealing with the sniping British music weeklies. It didn’t help.

The interview was scheduled for 11am the day they were flying back to Britain. I arrived on time, but was told the group had been up to all hours the night before, and could I wait. OK. At noon finally I was allowed up. Neil Mavers answered the door in his underwear, and upon letting me in quickly returned to bed, which is where he and Lee spent the duration of this half hour (a cloud of pot smoke filled the room, as I turned down their offer for some). I have done many interviews, but never 2 people lying in bed. Not the greatest atmosphere.

This small bother was nothing compared to their single mindedness, their agenda at slagging their record company regardless. I am far from a record company supporter, distrusting most of them for fools, idiots, incompetents, liars and pompous money-greedy windbags, but an interview like this almost makes you feel sorry for a label. On the other hand there's the real possibility that Go! is as heinous as they say. You'll decide for yourself upon reading this.

As well I wouldn't say the Mavers were humorless; certainly Lee has a clever, cock-sure way of putting things. But neither laughed once. Neil said barely anything (he's 19 but he has a mouth after all), and Lee just let out a stream of hatred for the entire half hour. To be fair, he was cooperative, and for the most part answered the questions without annoyance, but both seemed far more interested in playing a tape of their early demo versions of the LP's songs for me than answering yet more questions about a record they detest. It seemed an unproductive half hour, and I've seen better attitudes in my time, but I've also seen worse, and I think it turned out interesting anyway. I didn't go away disliking them, so they have some measure of graciousness in their tone if not their words.

Most of the history of the band is discussed in the text that follows, so no need for one here, except to say that the reports over the years of them scrapping recording session after session sounded as paranoid as The House of Love making their 2nd LP, but now I understand why. My thanks to ANDREA MULRAIN for setting this up. Note: Bassist Tommy seems to be the only immediately friendly and talkative one, judging from the interviews he's done and meeting him over pool. I'm sorry he didn't do this interview, it doesn't seem like the Mavers' brothers like this sort of thing at all. Why they'd consent to do an "interview tour" here considering the above we'll never know. Except that all publicity is good, regardless. Just ask Malcomn McLaren. (transcribed by Jack Rabid)

JR: Please state your names into the mike so I’ll be able to transcribe this correctly.

NM: I’m Neil Mavers.

LM: I’m Lee.

NM: 2 birdies in one sack (yawns)

JR: How long have you been in the band now Neil?

NM: Since 1989. (pause, no followup)

JR: You used to be the roadie before that?

NM: Yeah. (pause, again no followup)

JR: Did you wish you were in the band when you were roadieing?

NM: No, it was fun roadieing.

JR: So you were roadieing back when the group started in’86, the band started then?

LM: In’86.

NM: ‘86, yeah. Was I roadieing for you in ‘87?

LM: Not ‘til 88.

JR: So you signed to Go Discs in England pretty much straight away in ‘87. Were you entertaining any offers from any other labels at the time?

LM: We had the pick. We had the pick of all the labels in Britain. (pause)

JR: So you chose Go.

LM: because they said the right things at the right time. Wrong time for us.

JR: And this was your first single (holds up “Way Out” 12” from ‘87).

LM: Yeah. (pause)

JR: Which interestingly enough has been ignored by a lot of people here who have called ‘There She Goes” your first single.

LM: Yeah. (pause)

JR: Is it strange to be promoting a single like “There She Goes” that’s just been released here (and rereleased in the UK), but is actually a 1988 single to you?

LM: Yeah. It is. (pause)

JR: Do you get the feeling you’ve moved on considerably from there?

NM: Where’s the ash tray?

LM: No I don’t feel as though we’ve moved on. Obviously we’ve been held back. (yawns)

JR: The recording for this album you’ve just released here in the States began as early as ‘88 though, didn’t it?

LM: No, it was earlier. ‘87.

JR: Really? So they signed you and said “OK, start recording an album right away?.”

LM: Right, start recording right away. So we went into a studio for 2 weeks and that didn’t work. We didn’t even get a thing down that we liked the sound of. We got 2 tracks down, but we didn’t finish them, we just didn’t like the sound. So we went to another studio, and that’s where “Way Out” came out of. They said, “c’mon you’ve got to get something out.” ‘87 was 2 or 3 months at a time in a studio, do you know what I mean. ‘87 twice we had 3 months in a studio with 2 different producers which didn’t work as well.

JR: You recorded “Way Out” at Townhouse 3.

LM: Yeah.

JR: Where were you recording before that?

LM: Matrix. (pause)

JR: What are some of the other studios you worked at?

LM: Chipping Norton for 2 months, Oxford with JOHN LECKIE, another studio (sounds like “Woodcray”) with BOB ANDREWS 3 months at Reading, then we get into ’89, we spend 3 months in Liverpool in a studio called Pink (I think that’s what he said) with somebody called Jeremy Allen. Then we spend 2 weeks in Devon with ANDY McDonald’s house, and more with some fellow called MIKE HEDGES, and we went for another month to his house, to his flat in London to mix them up.

JR: A lot of well known producers there for the sort of music I follow. Hedges for instance has done a lot of work with Siouxsie And The Banshees.

LM: He was building that desk while we were being recorded. Then he set it up in his flat for the mix, that was just rubbish. The last 3 weeks of ’89 we were at Eden Studios with STEVE LILLYWHITE just to see what happens, then we spent 3 months again with him in ‘90. Then we walk out again, and say to ourselves “What’s the story?” So for 4 years we’ve been recording the same songs, starting off with the same songs, which we already had recorded before we signed up, and were signed on the strength of the demo versions. And the demos sound better than all the rubbish that we’ve been made to create over the last 4 years, do you know what I’m saying?

JR: Had you been familiar with Lillywhite’s work in the early ‘80’s with like THE MEMBERS, XTC, and...

LM: I knew he’d done work with THE ROLLING STONES and SIMPLE MINDS

JR: I was thinking earlier than that, before he went snare drum crazy with U2, BIG COUNTRY & Simple Minds. He actually did same great work before that, THE CHAMELEONS first single...

LM: No, I’m not familiar with that mate, probably the stuff he’s done I’m not into. The things I like, the only reason that I do like them Is more down to the nature of the sound and the whole thing. not the artists or anything.

JR: Do you like the more primitive sounding recording?

LM: Yeah. I’ve got a tape here I could put on with our original demos I’d like to play for you. Does your recorder play back? Has that a speaker.

JR: (laughs) I’d love to hear them, actually. They must be quite different. Butno, this recorder doesn’t play back, I have no headphones with me.

LM: It’s a pity. You could hear how those songs are supposed to sound.

JR: So you’re obviously not backing off the slagging you’ve been giving your album in the British press for the entire last year or so.

LM: No, it’s not a slagging, it’s just the truth. You ask us what we think, we’ll tell you what we think.

JR: Well for instance, what records have been made in the last 10 years that have a sound you like, a sound you would have preferred for your group? Any?

LM: You know, I dunno. It’s easy to produce yourself. Yeah a few, what’s that guy who sings (sings) (unintelligible) “Chocolate.”


LM: I don’t know. It’s easy to capture someone on their own, sounding real. When you get other noises around like drum kits, and bass, and guitars, you have to go with the right balance to sound well. Do you know what I’m saying? People get off that balance and lose the goodness of each individual sound. Do you know what I’m saying? It kind of balances up even though it’s a simple sound. Technology’s evil.

JR: Was it all these studio failures that led to the departure of the other 2 guys other than you and John who made the first 2 singles?

LM: No, it was just like, there’s been more than 2. Neil here is like our 9th drummer, John is the 4th bassplayer. Cammie is like the 7th guitarist.

JR: Does this imply that you’re difficult to work with.

LM: No. There’s not many good musicians mucking around. And what happens is like if you want yourself, and you can’t find any, you still have to get on and do what you do. People who can’t play usually fall off all by themselves anyway, you know what I’m saying. They realize what’s going on, move out of the way and let somebody else come on.

JR: I’ve read several times in the British press over the last few years that you’d split up.

LM: Never split up. It was never close. We’ve been through bad times, but we’ve never decided to split up, ever. Maybe if the band decided to split up I’d carry on doing what I’m doing, ‘cause that’s what I do.

JR: A lot of times it was just you and John though?

LM: Eh, no. Most of the times there was like... Put it this way, it’s always been me and John, since John joined, kind of thing. But we’ve never been alone, without other musicians.

JR: Have any ex-La’s gone on to do anything interesting?

LM: No. (pause)

JR: None of them went on to play in any other groups.

LM: None that I know about.


LM: Oh yeah. That’s not interesting.

JR: (laughs) Well I didn’t say they had to be any good.

NEIL: He was the drummer with ICICLE WORKS, then World Party.

JR: How familiar were you with the Eric’s club and the whole Zoo Label Matthew St. Liverpool crowd in the late ‘70’s early ‘80’s?

LM: Eh, I’d been there loads of times, but it Wasn’t like my favorite club, there was another club called the Swinging Apple, where no bands played there, it was just a proper punk club. Eric’s was synonymous with punk rock. Swinging Apple was just around the corner. (Long pause)

JR: Whose giant eye is it on the sleeve of your LP and single for “Timeless Melody?”

LM: Fuck knows, better ask the record company. It’s only an idea.

JR: Did you have anything to do with your record at all?

LM: We did it in January while we were being recorded. In one room we were making good music and in the other room we’d walk in and hear the playback on the tape and say, “fuck, this is just the instruments but no music,” you know what I’m saying?

JR: Do you blame more the engineers or the producers you’ve worked with?

LM: No, I blame the record company. Because if they’d let us do it our way back in 1987, we would have been 5th album along the line by now. As it is three years down the line we got this out, or they did against our wishes, it sounded terrible, so that’s why it’s against our wishes. Shattered dreams, you know what I’m saying?

JR: Their objections were your demo recordings weren’t state of the art?

LM: Yeah. But then what is state of the art? If that’s the state of the art then I object to that. I’d rather they go unheard, I’ve been overruled constantly.

JR: Was there nothing in your contract that guaranteed artistic control over your music?

LM: We had 100% artistic control, but they never allowed it.

JR: (laughs) So much for the contract.

LM: Yes.

JR: You spend 6 months negotiating it and signing it but you just throw it out the window anyway.

LM: It’s pathetic.

JR: What a waste of lawyers. But in these sessions you did, assuming that you knew that they were being recorded for eventual release, do you fault more the engineering or the production?

LM: No, well, tell you what I felt. Just everything, what should have been done... I mean, Steve Lillywhite even asked us where we’d like to do it and we said “right here, where we play, in our practice space.” And he just ignored us. And straight away we’re down in London in this studio, this hospital clinic 24 track state of the art solid state logic desk, digital. What happens with digital, is that a noise signal gets to tape and it gets changed by converting it to numbers.

JR: Like CDs.

LM: Yeah, that’s crap, I don’t like CDs at all. The surface of the music just sounds like a coffee table, it doesn’t lick like flames, I’ll tell you what, I’ve heard LED ZEPPELIN remastered on CD, and compared to the proper ones it’s got no bollocks whatsoever. They’re empty. They even make the original performance sound bad.

JR: What sort of tracking do you want for the La’s then, 8 track? 16 track?

LM: 4 track.

JR: (amazed) 4 track recording?

LM: There’s only 4 of us in the band isn’t there.

JR: (laughs) And you’re surprised you’re having such a battle with the record company? No bands on your level record 4track.

LM: Yes, but that’s why we were signed up. They knew that, they said that, they knew what we were all about. But it’s changed now down the years, like, they all wanted to get their own hands in it.

JR: What about your manager. Hasn’t he been able to fend some of this off?

LM: (indignant) Our manager works for the record company.

JR: Was he the one who got you signed to this deal?

LM: No. Ourselves did. We did have a manager and a lawyer, but it’s the band that chooses a label. The record companies arranged to come and see us, and all the manager did was arrange for us to see them. But like, if he didn’t he would be blocking it. So he didn’t do anything.

JR: Yes, but his job once you’re signed is clearly to fight for your interest with the record company. Particularly in cases like these where the artist and company so blatantly disagrees.

LM: Iwould think so too.

JR: Well what’s the story. Is he not doing the job he’s hired and paid for?

LM: That’s another manager now since the first one.

JR: Well, is he doing this job?

LM: Alright. If people are interested in us working, all he does is liaison. I can’t tell you what deal we could have got compared to the deal we got. But they don’t start things, they don’t get the ball rolling, the ball is already rolling. All they do is oversee us as far as business is concerned. (hasn’t answered question. Waves off all further questions on the subject)

JR: How long are you signed to Go! for?

LM: 8 albums.

JR: 8 albums! Holy cow. (shakes his head) At one album every 4 years that’s 32 years! (laughs)

LM: When we signed up we were naive I guess in the sense that we thought the simple sound we were making we can do at the drop of a hat. We take a small advance and go into a studio and in 2weeks we turn out an album that would get straight to the top, etc., you know what I’m saying? ‘Cause we thought we’d have the same sound as we did on the dernos, some of those were done in one day for 15 pounds (25 bucks). That’s how much it costs. There’s no problem for us to play, the problem is when people capture our sound and say “this is it” we say “no” because it’s not. When it is we’re going to be happy. We could do it ourselves mate! When other people are involved invariably you can’t.

JR: So I should just bootleg record one of your gigs and give it to you and you’d like that better than your records to date.

LM: If you only had headphones you could listen to these demos. If you heard them, the questions you’d ask would have a different edge, a different tilt. You’d see.

NEIL: That doesn’t have a speaker?

JR: No.

LM: The tapes tell the story.

JR: Are you surprised people like your records so much, myself included, since you don’t?

LM: No, there’s not much competition around, is there?

JR: You were telling me the other day you didn’t like any modern groups.

LM: That’s what I said, there isn’t much competition around.

JR: That’s beyond “not much” that’s none. (laughs) Is your music so different, recorded in a vacuum?

LM: I mean every now and then I might hear a good tune, but I easily forget about it.

JR: What about some of the people in Liverpool when you were younger, like an IAN McCULLOCH?

LM: Not influential to me. No.


LM: I suppose I was into music that was leaning towards that direction, like THE DOORS, straight to the source.

JR: How about you Neil?

NM: I don’t know, I was too young then. I was about 12, 13 then. I’m 19 now.

JR: Your mom and dad took a long break between Lee and you?

NM: There’s kids in between.

JR: Still he’s 10 years older than you?

NM: Yes.

JR: What would you say to cynics who say that the new single “Feeling” is like a RUTTLES outtake?

LM: That whole LP is pure Ruttles shit. I’ll play you the same songs, and it’s pure powerful stuff. That really fucking rates with JAMES BROWN, Bo DIDDLEY, CHUCK BERRY and all these people that I love as classics.

JR: That’s why you want to record 4 track, all those people were using 2 track recording.

LM: No, I actually got turned on to those people by doing what I was doing all along. It was natural I would like it. I lnow what I want. That’s what I want us to sound like.

JR: There must have been a whole string of songs you’ve written since ‘87 which is what this LP dates back to.

LM: I’ve got plenty of songs but nobody’s heard them except us. We have live recordings. Actually our LP is songs I had all finished by ‘86. I’ll tell you what, that whole LP is crap, I don’t care what anyone says about it.

JR: But you must be dying to make a 2nd LP with what you’ve written in the 5 years since those were.

LM: That’s right, I’d rather be doing that now then touring, or doing this interview tour.

JR: And your LP has been out for 8 months in Britain, but has just come out here?

LM: Yes.

JR: So on this 2nd LP you’re just going to go through all these fights about engineering and producing again, aren’t you?

LM: No. Since they have no chips, we have all the chips. We’ll just give them what we’ve done on the table. Next time we do it they’re not going to be anywhere near the recording. It’s like, we’re just going to do the whole thing ourselves in our practice space and put it on the table.

JR: And when they refuse to release it?

LM: That’s all. Tough.

JR: Would you sue them?

LM: No, I’ll be basically busy getting on with me life. Leave them to it.

JR: I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s not uncomnmon to have fights about recording, but not for 5 years. And you’re still playing these songs live as if they were new.

LM: Yeah. I can’t grow tired of them, not the songs anyway. I’m tired of recording them.

JR: Why aren’t your names here on the LP sleeve?

NEIL: We chose not to have it. We said don’t write our names on it ‘cause we hate it. Don’t want to have nothing to do with it.

LM: That’s the record company’s idea of how the La’s sound. So leave it to them.

JR: Your names were on the first single. (nods yes) Well this is going nowhere. Anything else you want to say?

LM: No.

JR: Do you get tired of doing interview after interview slagging your record?

LM: Yeah.

JR: Obviously on an “interview tour” like this you’re forced to talk about it over and over. Is there anything else you’d prefer to talk about?

LM: Yeah. The fact that our album was good until someone else got involved. We’d like to say it was as good as it should be, but the truth is, it’s bad, so all you can do is tell the truth. (that’s someting else?—ed)

JR: How ‘bout at least ‘Timeless Melody.” That’s a brilliant single.

LM: “Tuneless Malady” on that record. Listen to the recording it’s just totally trashed.

JR: I can’t guess how you wanted it to sound.

LM: That’s all you can do, really. Just guess.

JR: What about the first single, since that’s the roughest sounding of the records you’ve released?

LM: Eh, that one’s alright. “Knock Me Down” is alright. There’s a part near the end after the middle eight. The first 4 or 6 bars of that are alright, I think and after that it’s bad.

JR: Do people call you cynical?

LM: Yeah, they do. But it’s cynical of them to call me cynical, isn’t it?

JR: Good answer (as they say on Family Feud). The new issue of Melody Maker had a live review of your show 2 weeks ago at The Marquee that went so far as to call you arrogant.

LM: Yeah, well arrogance comes from sure-ity, and there’s nothing wrong with being sure I think. That fellow is obviously unsure. Or if he’s sure that I’m arrogant then he’s arrogant.

JR: Is this “sure-ity” some kind of Liverpool trait that the rest of us in the world don’t understand?

LM: Well that’s cockiness, isn’t it, that cames from being sure. That’s the opposite of being unsure so which is right?

Jack Rabid.

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