Still Swimming Against The Tide In 2009 - The Names Interview

Posted: 25th April 2009
Review Info
Release Date:
23rd Apr 2009
Str8line Records
Paul Pledger


A few days later I caught up with The Names' singer Michel and guitarist Marc Deprez in a Brussels tavern (where else) over a jug of Lambic to find out what the past means and what the future holds for the forgotten sons of the Tony Wilson era:

Q: Michel, it is nearly 3 decades since your last official Names album...why now?
Well I witnessed one of the most incredible concerts last year that helped me to decide what to do next with my life. We all have decent jobs, honest jobs (laughs) but still had a strong interest and belief that we were and still could be a band to be reckoned with.... but we are not getting any younger of course. John Cale is in his 60s (he is 67 this year) and still looks amazing and has so much energy. I thought hang on, I can still do this and I am much younger that was it, we had to regroup and make a proper go of it again. I want to be as good as him or at least give it a try.
Q: So between 1982 and 2009, what else have you achieved musically?
We actually had enough songs for a second album with Crepuscule but it never happened. We needed to get day jobs and pay bills! But we did record an album under the band-name Jazz. But it didnt get the attention it deserved we foolishly thought that a name change would carry us through but not so .It worked when we changed from The Passengers to The Names after all! But Jazz was not the right name in 1995...
Q: you couldnt find that album in the UK so even I didnt know about it at the time...!
Yes, distribution was mainly restricted to France and Northern Europe. The thing is we didnt really know what we wanted in 1982 or how to go about things like promotion etc but we did have Factory behind us. In 1995 we werent as naive but still didnt have the backing or marketing. Now we have a much clearer idea due to our experiences. We decided to begin making new music together back in 2005 and set about rehearsing again. We played some songs at a birthday party and it all just clicked and made sense. 2 years later we were playing the Factory Night Again event at the legendary Plan K, where it all began, to 1200 people. I had already written songs for this new album so this was an ideal opportunity to play them live. It went very well and everyone was supportive and nice to us just as they had been during our gig with Joy Division all those years before.
Q: Going back in time, how did you end up on Factory considering you are from Belgium rather than Manchester?
The late Rob Gretton (Joy Divisions manager) liked us full stop after the Plan K gig with JD. He urged us to come to Manchester and meet Tony Wilson and the other Factory people including Martin Hannett. It was so weird because we turned up at the hotel in Manchester but no-one knew about the reservation or what we were doing there, it was so disorganized but we felt excited and Factory seemed so keen on us that we rode it through even after the original doubts. When we met Tony, everybody stood around us in a circle to witness the moment like it was an event. Bizarre. When I asked about the contract, Tony offered his handshake and said Thats your contract! No papers, no signatures, nothing! Disorganized but charming we liked them for it.
Q: What was working with Martin like? Are the legends true? (Hannett was famed for keeping bands and artists away from the studio while he mixed and produced their precious final product even resorting to working during the night while the bands slept)..
He was a really lovely person actually and very funny. I think he liked us more than any other act because we let him do what he liked and because we liked what he did. I think he enjoyed the lack of interference from us. He certainly didnt turn the air-conditioning up to full power to keep us out he didnt have to!
Q: Zeroes on the new album is a tribute then?
Yes. Martin was nicknamed Zero because he never set any levels at zero on his mixing desk. We owe a lot to him for creating a sound that we didnt always agree with but feel proud to have made. The legends about him taking ages recording parts of songs or instruments is certainly true he spent hours trying to get the right feel for one song by recording take upon take of the bass drum. I mean, not the whole kit, just the bloody bass drum! But he cared so much for his art and he knew what he wanted things to sound like. His drum sound is his trademark after all. We paid homage to this sound by adding delay and echo to the drums on this track.
Q: If it wasnt Factory who snapped you up then who else could you have signed to?
Fiction were also in the frame at one point. Michel Duval (Crepuscule boss still yet to start his label at this point) asked us which label we would like to be linked with. It was to be Fiction or Factory, no question. We had a chance to share the same label as The Cure and The Passions, two artists we admired a lot. But Factory did all of the right things at the right time so we went with them. I certainly dont regret that decision because without them we would not be sitting here talking to you about the marvellous music from that era or the legacy we are a part of, albeit in a small way. We continued to work with Martin on further singles and the album, even though these came out on Factory Benelux and Les Disques Du Crepuscule based in Brussels. He even came over to produce The Astronaut our last single and although he took out a lot of our rock and roll power by removing Marcs guitar, much to his frustration I think, he added a lot of new sounds back in and a lot of emotion There were always a lot of alcoholic liquids and other strange substances around during recording sessions as well especially during the later productions.
Q: Coming back up to date do you think the gig went last night and what are your plans going forward?
We were amazed at the response from people. I mean it sounded good from the stage but the reactions of a few journalists watching us bordered on total surprise. They expected a more downbeat affair but we all agreed that we would treat the gig like a fast train journey and to take our audience on a ride with us right through the walls and beyond. I think we did that judging by the feedback. We also want to get a live album released and we have some gigs that we are working on later in the year, but for now we have the new album to promote with interviews and stuff. We want to be busy thats for sure.
Q: Why call the album Monsters Next Door?
It stems from 2 things. The title is drawn from a lyric taken from another song that just failed to make this albums track-listing and that we are still working on. The idea also comes from when you are a kid and you get asked at school about what you have done at the weekend and where you live etc etc. You tell the class that you live in this street where the neighbours are monsters a kind of line between reality and fantasy that only children can express. We just like the sound of the words as well.
Q: Finally, what are your past and present musical influences and regular favourites?
Mine and Marcs first loves were Led Zeppelin but we also adore most of Neil Young, Velvet Underground, The Stooges and I really liked Arcade Fires last album. But the album I put on to remind me that life is really not as bad as the album itself portrays is Robert Wyatts Rock Bottom. Yes life can always brighten up after listening to a good way of course! As a band we admire Magazine, The Cure, Television, Richard Hells Voidoids period, Psychedelic Furs and The Clash. We owe a debt to Magazine because they signed us up as support when they played at the Ancienne Belgique (legendary Brussels live venue) back in 1979. Second-hand Daylight was and still is an incredible album. Marc pays respect to the fabulous John McGeogh on Flesh Wounds with some great guitar work by the way.
Q: So how does it feel to be finally recognized for your songs by being included on related compilations over the last few years.
(Laughs) I remember we appeared on a compilation of Hannetts best works. I mean that was an honour enough. It was pointed out to me that we were rubbing shoulders with U2 on Zero The Martin Hannett Story (Big beat Records) and that I must be proud. I was like no no, we are rubbing shoulders with Nico...I mean how cool is that? U2...whatever....Nico? Hell yeah!!.

And with that, another beer is poured and talk of family duties comes into play as time whizzes by. And time has whizzed by for The Names, maybe too fast at times. But now they are ready to play the game and do what they should have done 30 years ago doing it their way and in their time with the same emotive force they had before but with bells on and amps turned up.

Monsters Next Door is provisionally released in France, Belgium, Italy and Germany and is available now via the STR8LINE website. A UK release and live dates are being considered watch this space! Swimming (plus extra tracks) and Spectators Of Life (round-up of early demos and live tracks) can be obtained from LTM Publishing.

Paul Pledger