This Could Be The La's Time - NME, 20 October, 1990.

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This Could Be The La's Time - NME, 20 October, 1990.

Postby Syl » Tue Mar 16, 2004 12:57 am

Title: The La's - This Could Be The La's Time
Publication: N.M.E. ( New Musical Express)
Date Of Publication: October 20, 1990
Origin: UK
Interviewer: Stuart Maconie
Photographer: Derek Ridgers

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It took three years to make, it cost an unfeasibly huge sum, it's stuffed with great songs - but THE LA'S still hate their new LP. STUART MACONIE tries to convince mainman LEE MAVERS that it's worth another listen.

Pictures: DEREK RIDGERS

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

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“The trouble with people in the music business is that it's like a Play School mentality. It's like dealing with Bungle and Zippy” - Lee Mavers

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“So tell me about the new LP?”

It's the bog-standard opening interview gambit of the harassed journalist. And it tends to draw the bog standard responses. ‘Good, but just wait 'till the next one’ says the fresh-faced provincial hopeful. ‘We feel it's our best’ says the twerp in the satin tour jacket when he means ‘we feel it's our latest’. I've heard them all... except this one.

“I hate it, it's the worst. A pile of shit. There is not one good thing I can find to say about it.”

I freeze, sausage poised before mouth, all-day breakfast congealing on the plate before me. Across the table sits Lee Mavers - semi-mythical kid guru of prole pop. With his band, The La's, he's allegedly responsible for the return of the Lad, the renaissance in fortunes of the urchin gang as potent pop force. Despite, or perhaps because of, a workrate that makes The Blue Nile hyperactive, The La's enjoy glittering cult status, cited as mentors and prime influence by a generation of new young bands, revered amongst their people, universally approved of. Still, the young Liverpudlian munches on his fried bread as morosely as if it were sandpaper.

“I know I come across like a moaning twat. Always whingeing. But this is my chance to speak my mind. This is me, la. I don't give a shit.” Lee Mavers mops up a grilled tomato and toys disconsolately with a sauce bottle. This is The La's. And frankly. they're not HP.

THE LA'S, the only people in Liverpool to use the expression ‘La’, emerged back in '87 in what, with hindsight, looks like a blaze of glory. Into a sterile pop arena, awash with minor talents, The La's came playing vibrant, unashamedly nostalgic working class pop with council estate swagger and a sensibility honed in the northern beat boom. The La's got a lot of people excited very quickly, they became a name around town, and their demos, listened to eagerly, won them a deal with leading indie light Go! Discs. These demos are important. Bear them in mind. In these turbulent days, Lee Mavers holds them up as a paragon, as how the La's should sound, a blueprint for their ideal sound. Not everyone agrees.

Since then The La's story has been one of triumph, disaster, farce and the odd protracted silence. In early 1987, people were talking of The La's as the new Smiths. By early 1990, they were wondering why the band had managed only two singles in their career to date. Two very good singles, admittedly, but hardly back-breaking work for three years.

Depending on who you listen to, The La's were either errant but luminous genuises, gifted but wayward, or they were awkward Scouse sods who did not appreciate their good fortune. Singles, albums, live dates, all had been mooted and scrapped with embarrassing regularity. It was looking like The La's has missed the boat... until 1990 brought a sudden renewed interest in anything Northern, male and shaggy. There may never have been a better time for The La's to make an album. Lee doesn't agree.

“I suppose we've been unlucky... but then you make your own luck, don't you? Some of it's been our fault. We are single-minded. If some of these record company people and producers and what 'ave yer were as single-minded as us then there wouldn't be a problem. The trouble with people in the music business is that it's like a Play School mentality. It's like dealing with Bungle and Zippy.”

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

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This is the nearest Lee gets to a joke in all our conversation. Just what is bugging him? Well, it's a long story. Basically, he doesn't think The La's have ever sounded as they should on record. He castigates every release for failing to capture “the spirit of The La's” but he absolves himself and the band of any blame for this. The chief target of his wrath is the eponymous first album released this month. Lee thinks it stinks. I think it's great. What's so bad about it for God's sake?

“What's right with it? It's out of tune, out of time... they've ruined good songs. Put out versions with guide vocals on. I'm broken-hearted, la. We could have done better on our four or eight track studio, keep it simple. Believe it or not, there are accoustic guitars on that record. It sounds like electric guitars not plugged in. It's a bag of shit.”

I'd like to point out here that this isn't true.

“Oh, I know some journalists like it. Some of me mates like it. Well, you've got what you want, haven't you? Sound,” he offers witheringly. “Wanna chip?”

Predictably, there are two varying accounts of what went on in the making of the LP that Lee finds so intolerable and embarrassing. From his point of view it was a shambles. They didn't get on with producer Steve Lillywhite, they struggled with the sound, never got into their stride and abandoned the project within days, whereupon Go! Discs supremo Andy Macdonald, cast very much as scheming capitalist in this version, cooks up an LP from the tapes with Lillywhites's expertise and voilà, a hit album that the boys can't stand and don't think represents them.

According to Go! Discs, what actually occured is that after an eternity of procrastination and piddling around, The La's walked out of the studio. Convinced nonetheless, of the excellence of many tracks and determined to get an album together, Macdonald invited Mavers to be part of the lenghty mixing and editing process. He refused. At this point, depending on whose account you prefer, great songs are butchered or a great album is salvaged from the jaws of disaster. Mavers is in no doubt where he stands.

“That album should have cost 500 quid to make. We could have made a great record on four track bedroom gear. I'm not a perfectionist, contrary to what everyone thinks. I just want to capture the spirit of the music on our records. Before we were signed we had a little backline and a vocal PA. That's how we should sound - simple, tough, street. But they don't understand that.”

In contrast with the 500 quid that Mavers believes a good album could be made on, the business is rife with speculation about just how much The La's album did cost. Some of the estimates could bleach your hair at a hundred paces. To this The La's seem non-commital, arguing “That's cos they had seven goes at it, We didn't ask them to spend the money. Yet in the end, it's our debt. It's on our slate.”

Wouldn't he concede, though, that if he were merely a La's fan, like me, and not privy to his own dreams and intentions, he'd love the record? He's dismissive.

“Listen, I wouldn't be a La's fan. Not from what I've heard. Not if I'd only heard these records. I just wouldn't be interested. But I'd die for those demos, man.”

Which brings us back to the real bone of contention between The La's and their parent company. Mavers believes that The La's natural habitat is their own eight track studio in Liverpool. He reckons that live and on disc, they are currently being made to sound like ‘stadium rockers’. For their part, Go! Discs claim that unlimited opportunities to produce material in a range of environments- four tracks, eight tracks, painstakingly renovated antique '60s Abbey Road desks- has led to nothing. “After three-and-a-half years,” says Andy Macdonald, “It was time to bring those songs to life. Otherwise The La's would still be in their rehearsal room in Liverpool every day.” Given what seems like the label's extraordinary patience, doesn't Mavers feel slightly disloyal in his venom?

“No. Course he's loyal to the songs. They're boss songs. He should stick by 'em. Those songs could make a load of money. And there's a lot of sweat and blood in 'em. I can't just walk away from them. Besides, I'm contractually obliged. A European tour, some radio sessions, interviews like this. But I just can't do what I'm being asked to do. I can't put my face to that record.” A familiar refrain begins.

“We could have done that record in four weeks. We'll deliver the tapes and he can say yes or no. But we retain 100 per cent artistic control. At the moment we might as well be autistic. But we will get what we want at the end of the day. No, not the end of the day. Before noon, la.”

CUTLERY CLATTERS. Tea is slurped. In an optimistic attempt to move the conversation to more positive matters, I bring up the matter of The La's importance. Over the last year, with the irresistible rise of the baggy urchin brigade I've been hearing The La's name a lot. In style and attitude, if not always musical terms (dance music to The La's is ‘I Saw Her Standing There’) they are hip big brothers of a generation.

“In the beginning we didn't make any claims to be different. We just went ahead and did it. Just these songs on borrowed guitars. But we looked like this (indicates voluminous clothing) when The Stone Roses had ponytails and leather kecks.”

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Peter ' Cammy ' Cammell. - Picture caption: Cammy takes the news of a 15th remix badly.

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And what does he make of the work of his peers?

“Well, that ‘Fools Gold’ had a sound beat. Dead good. Full and rich. Nothing else of theirs, though. ‘Step On’ was smart. Oakenfold is the man. But this dance stuff... five per cent of it is cream but the rest is shite. Actually, we've got danceable rhythms. But you wouldn't know that from the way it sounds. All f---ed up like a snake with a broken back.”

And so back to where we started. A bunch of lads complaining that their debut LP is “a cheap excuse for a record” when it should sound “hard, pure, uncut, like Elvis, Bo Diddley, James Brown, The Beach Boys... like ‘Street Fighting Man’or ‘Substitute’”. Given their all-pervading satisfaction, why not pack it in? Lee takes the question surprisingly seriously.

“I've been tempted. But what else can I do? I'm too old for an apprenticeship and I don't fancy clearing graves. But I haven't been happy for three years. I'd probably be better off on the dole. Financially and spiritually.”

And when I ask what comes next, I'm left searching for irony.

“Ride this bad patch 'till it bombs. Get dropped. Apparently we're contracted to do another seven or eight albums. But they can whistle if they expect us to do it like we did this one.”

Mavers leans back on his chair and drums on the table in a manner instantly familiar to anyone whe remembers the lad at the back of double physics on a Tuesday afternoon. Andy Macdonald thinks that this is the low ebb of their relationship and things will get better now that “this boil has been lanced, so to speak”. Meanwhile, The La's are in a minority in thinking their own record stinks. It's your vote that counts.

Stuart Maconie.

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