Interview: Mark Stewart (The Pop Group)
Published on September 12th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Legendary The Pop Group front man Mark Stewart has quite the wave of activity ahead, starting with a headline show at London’s Village Underground on 27th September (click here for tickets), with support from Factory Floor. 1st October shall see the release of “Stereotype”, the second single to be taken from his critically acclaimed eighth solo album The Politics of Envy, and then an album of dub reworkings entitled Exorcism of Envy shall see the light of day on 3rd December.
Suffice it to say, Rocksucker wanted to know more, so we fired him off some questions on such topics as dub, his stunning list of collaborators (Tricky, Massive Attack, Primal Scream, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Daddy G, Keith Levene from PiL etc.) and whether or not there’s any activity on the horizon for a certain band of Bristolian punk pioneers. We are delighted to present you with the following set of responses from a man who was said – by Nick Cave, no less – to have “changed everything”…
Congratulations on The Politics of Envy, and indeed the warm critical reception it’s been met with.
Do you have any surprises in store for your Village Underground show?
I went to see my mates Throbbing Gristle’s final gig there and was really inspired by the tunnels. We’re going to make it immersive.
A taster of the forthcoming dub album, perhaps?
For sure, full-on sound system stylee. Bass is maternal.
Whose idea was the dub album? Are there any other dub rework albums that you used as a rough blueprint? Perhaps Massive Attack’s No Protection?
My favourite dub album is Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of Vampires. I’ve loved dub since I was a teenager. It was my concept to exorcise The Politics of Envy, to deconstruct the original trax, stripping back to the skeleton or ghost. Dub is the music of the dispossessed.
Have you started thinking yet about a new studio album, or is it way too early to ask?
It’s all top secret but I’m trying to harness extreme frequencies.
If so, might we get a sneak preview of new material at Village Underground?
I’m really excited by getting people I love and respect to rework trax at the moment. I’m loving this new dance style coming out of Chicago called footwork or juke, and Chrissy Murderbot has done a crucial remake of “Stereotype”, my next single with Factory Floor. Hopefully some of these new styles will mutate the set.
How did you come to work with Factory Floor in the first place?
Sonic Youth asked me to play with them on a new year’s eve gig with Steve Albini and the Floor; since then we’ve become mates and I think they and Savages are two of the most important bands in the UK at the moment.
What was it like working with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry?
Lee is a dance hall shaman, what he does is beyond art and more like the Dalai Lama.
Aaaahh Trix or Tricky kid. I miss him as he’s over in Paris. I remember when he used to knock off school and hang out at my gaff, those days when we made “Aftermath” in Bristol were blissful. The kid’s a star.
Sorry to bang on about people you’ve collaborated with, but it’s such a fascinating and enviable list!
Yeah, working with Daddy G, Kenneth Anger, Richard Hell, The Raincoats, The Jesus and Mary Chain etc etc on the last album The Politics of Envy was really like being in Alice in Wonderland. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven
Have you recorded your part on Primal Scream’s new album yet?
If so, what can you tell us about it, and the album in general?
I don’t think I’m allowed to say much but what I’ve heard sounds fucking amazing and Bobby [Gillespie] says our track reminds him of The Temptations.
Is it true you had to intervene with a fight that broke out at your Scala gig in March? If so, was it quickly defused? And is it true you were a big arm-wrestler back in the day?
All I can say is I spent my formative years in delinquent discos.
Jim Sclavunous said of you: “I’ve known Mark for years and he’s always been far out on some distant cosmic plain that makes him hard to reach sometimes.” Do you recognise this in yourself?
More my dad: he teaches remote viewing and has found the philosopher’s stone.
Conversely, Nick Cave said of you: “Mark Stewart changed everything.” Have you ever come into contact with him?
Nick is a creature that’s escaped from the pages of Maldoror by Lautreamont.
Are there any more The Pop Group shows on the horizon?
New material, even?
Yes we are working on new stuff; it’s taking the most bizarre directions, but it’s awe-inspiring. I’m shocked by it.
Have you listened to PiL’s recent album? If so, what are your thoughts on it?
I think John is on good form. The drumming is not bad either!
Have you been following the situation with Pussy Riot?
Yes, and please follow the Prisoners of Conscience campaign.
Are there any obscure and /or up-and-coming artists that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
Ghost Playground: he’s Canadian. The list could go on for days. Project Dark, who play in nuclear bunkers and issue sandpaper recordings; Rupert Goldsworthy, author of the book Consuming Terror and fellow collaborator on our new banalist art project.
Finally, if you had to spend the rest of your days with the back catalogues of just five different musical artists, whose would you choose?
James Brown: from the age of 15 onwards I’ve been trying to master his dance moves; Phil Ochs, protest singer; beat singer/poet Laura Nyro; baroque and roll band Ohm, and their mother band Sleep, the ultimate sludge metal band.
Mark Stewart, thank you.