In Set List, we talk to veteran musicians about some of their most famous songs, learning about their lives and careers, and maybe hearing a good backstage anecdote or two in the process.
The artist: Johnny Rotten fronted the Sex Pistols; John Lydon continues to front Public Image Ltd. If there’s any question as to whether there’s any intrinsic difference between the two, it’s answered within the first few moments of The A.V. Club’s conversation with Lydon, when he asks, “I’ll just go and get Johnny Rotten, shall I?“ A moment of silence passes. “Oh, hello, I’m Johnny Rotten! I’ll just go and get John Lydon for you.” Another moment of silence. “Oh, hello, I’m John Lydon! How are you?”
Unsurprisingly, the voices are identical.
Lydon has come a long way since his Rotten days, an era that he’s clearly grown weary of discussing at length, no doubt at least partially due to having detailed it within his 1994 autobiography, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs. It quickly becomes clear that he’s far more interested in talking about the post-Pistols era of his career, a period now covered at length in his latest book, Anger Is An Energy: My Life Uncensored. During the course of his Set List interview, Lydon discussed several items from his back catalog, including his lone solo album, a few outside collaborations, and a number of highlights from PIL’s discography, including the new album, What the World Needs Now..., which hits streets on September 4.
Sex Pistols, “Substitute” (1976)
The A.V. Club: What was the first song ever recorded by the Sex Pistols? The first three songs demoed were “No Feelings,” “Pretty Vacant,” and “Problems,” but which one did you first record when you hit the studio?
John Lydon: Oh, gosh. Off the top of my head, I couldn’t care less. [Laughs.] Well, of course, the first ones we would’ve recorded would’ve been in our rehearsal studio on Denmark Street. It would’ve been on a little handheld camera, doing versions of “Substitute” and “Road Runner” and things like that. From there, we went onto bigger and worse things. [Dismissively.] So that’s the beginnings explained.
Sex Pistols, “Pretty Vacant” (1976)
AVC: The first demos for songs that actually ended up on Never Mind The Bollocks, though, those would’ve been with Chris Spedding, correct?
JL: Chris was brilliant for us, because he gave us access to a proper large studio, and I really, really appreciated that. He didn’t have to. And he had great respect for us, you know. I mean, I don’t want to quote him directly, but… [Does a Chris Spedding impression.] “I don’t know why they say you can’t play and sing. It sounds in tune to me,” said Chris. And we all know where his career went! [Laughs.]
Public Image Ltd., “Public Image” (1978)
AVC: When you broke away from the Pistols and began Public Image Ltd., “Public Image” from the first record sounded like a proper single, like it was actually intended for radio. Was that the case?
JL: Well, it’s obvious what the subject matter is: Is there even a need for a public image, and avoiding the overstatements that the managerial side of the Pistols was coming up with. It was just a beautiful set of ideas that just quite naturally fitted well together. [Jah] Wobble was in a learning process at that point, and Jim, the drummer, was fabulous. Jim Walker. Just an amazing drummer. The way he could hold back a beat for a half beat was just great, and it made for excellence, crying out to be a single. I suppose it’s, like, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana would be an equal of it. You can feel the instinctiveness in it.
AVC: Did you feel that it was the best way to debut Public Image Ltd.?
JL: No, that was just the way it happened to be. We had no great ideas about what the music would end up sounding like, other than driven by our own ambitions. And all of us being from different musical likes and dislikes, it always makes for a joyous affair when you work that way. I was determined not to let the legacy of Johnny Rotten ruin Public Image Ltd., so I laid off the superstar role. [Laughs.] And to our benefit, ultimately.
AVC: How quickly did the trifecta of you, Wobble, and Keith Levene start to fall apart?
JL: Well, they were friends of mine from before. The trouble is, when you work together, it’s very easy to maintain that friendship, because an element of competition comes in, and the “I want more” or whatever. And that can be punishing, because… I don’t blame them at all for trying to use PIL as a launching pad for their own careers, you know? Because I’d already done that with the previous band. [Laughs.] So good luck to ’em, that’s all! And over the years, Public Image has, by one way or another, turned into, really, something like a college of further education for music.
AVC: Certainly, a number of people have come through.
JL: Yeah, and great stuff has come out by quite a lot of them! It might not be in the Top 30, but then again that’s no guide to decency, is it? [Laughs.]
Public Image Ltd., “Death Disco” (1979)
AVC: “Death Disco” was written about your mother.
AVC: I’m sure it was cathartic to write it, but at the same time, did you find yourself thinking, “Oh, man, now I have to play it”?
JL: I always wanted to play it. And I sung the idea of it to my mother before she died, so there was that. And it’s always been a deeply personal song for me ever since. We still every now and again perform it live, and every time it’s still as heart-wrenching as it was to even put it together originally. Performing the song, it shape-shifts in amazing and wonderful ways. You know, it’s a combination of elements, and it revolves around the idea of Swan Lake, which is a ballet my mum loved and, indeed, myself, too. I tried to really pin down the grotesque tragedy of trying to face imminent death, and then the death itself and how you deal with that.
To this day, it’s very hard for me to conceive of people dying. I don’t know if there’s a heaven. There’s no evidence of such. There’s just people’s opinions. Even our worst enemies, we say if they die, “I miss their space on earth.” So it involves much more than just a trite little song. It’s a deeply, deeply emotional wreck of a thing. But somehow, yeah, it… [Hesitates.] The word “cathartic” annoys me, because it sounds clumsy. It’s… painful. And then, of course, the fairly recent death of my father adds to the angst in it, the incapacity to accept death. But, you know, in my life, I’ve looked at death a few times. There but for the grace of nature, I’m still alive, despite childhood illnesses, etc.
Public Image Ltd., “Poptones” / “Careering” (1979)
AVC: After PIL released Metal Box, the band famously appeared on American Bandstand. How on earth did that booking even come about? It’s hard to imagine someone saying, “Oh, you know who would be great for Bandstand? Public Image Ltd.!”
JL: It was very, very strange. It must’ve been a Warner Brothers string-pulling session going on there. [Laughs.] Because I’m sure it wasn’t Dick Clark’s idea! Even at the time we were doing it, we angered Dick Clark very much. We played with his wig pieces before the actual set and did everything, really, to indirectly sabotage any chance of a career. And we went on it with no concept of how to mime. None at all! But it worked. And Dick Clark loved us and, indeed, put us in his all-time top 100 [American Bandstand performances]. I think we came in ’round the number 20 mark, or even higher than that. He always said good things about us after that. So you never know. You never know how things will work out. After all the bad reasons in the world, some good came out of it.
AVC: The perception at the time was that you were just trying to be rebellious with the bad miming, but you write in your book that they actually had you miming to edits of the songs that you’d never heard before.
JL: Yep. Because the timing issues came into play. In those days, any single that was longer than two minutes and 30 seconds was a no-no. Which to my mind was ridiculous, to try to compress something into something so much smaller than it really is. However, you know, you sink or you swim, and if you’re given the opportunity to show off, then you’d better fucking show off! [Laughs.]
Public Image Ltd., “Flowers Of Romance” (1981)
AVC: How do you look back on The Flowers Of Romance? Do you view it as a transitional record for PIL?
JL: It was fantastic. I’d just got out of jail. [Laughs.] Yes, I escaped a long prison sentence in Ireland, so I was rightly let free! But, yeah, it was exactly the same as putting together this album, that sheer joy in looking forward to starting to work. There have been times in the past where I’d be, “Oh, no. Oh, God almighty…” There are those moments, too. The Flowers Of Romance was a strange album because I couldn’t get my band very interested in being in the studio at all.
The drummer at the time, which was Martin Atkins, he’d booked himself a tour with his solo band, Brian Brain, and off to America they went. So I just got him to lay down two days of drum patterns. And Nick Launay, the very young trainee engineer—because I got rid of the producers that the record label advised!—he understood where I was coming from, so we started editing and cutting up and snipping bits of tape together. And that was the basis of the album. We couldn’t get Keith Levene interested at all.
It’s interesting you bring up The Flowers Of Romance, because I had to for the first time play a lot of the instruments myself. And I don’t like to do that, because I feel like I’m stepping in somebody else’s space, where they’re much more educated than me in how to handle that particular area. So there it goes: saxophones, violins, pianos with ashtrays on them… All wonderful stuff. The closest album to Flowers, actually, would’ve been the solo album, Psycho’s Path, in terms of approach.
John Lydon, “Sun” (1997)
AVC: It’s funny you bring up Psycho’s Path: I was just going to say that your comment about “pianos with ashtrays on them” reminded me how you wrote about how you used cardboard boxes for percussion on that album.
JL: Yes! I got the most amazing sound from that. And from letting a stupid thing like an accordion—Irish show band style, the big heavy ones—gently fall down a staircase, the noise it made, the whizzing and huffing and puffing. That was indeed a theme of Psycho’s Path. I remember being criticized for that album, too, because I said that I used a fax paper roll and toilet roll—you know, the cardboard inner tube—to create a Chilean pipe kind of thing, which I loved. I loved the effect. I love Chilean music anyway, but I wanted to do something else with it, and… I liked blowing wind through cardboard tubes! [Laughs.] And I was condemned in England, in particular, for not taking music seriously! Well, why the fuck should I, when I get such great results?
AVC: You’ve got a great story in Anger Is An Energy about how, while you were making Psycho’s Path, you spent an evening sitting, drinking, and listening to music with Todd Rundgren.
JL: Yes! What a great fella he can be. And in a madhouse way, you would never expect a chap like him or me to get on with each other. Well, we did! I introduced him to things that he hadn’t heard. His music is very soulful, really. White soul, which is not to say invalid at all. It’s a very seriously interesting thing. But I played a Tim Buckley track to him that he hadn’t heard of called “Sweet Surrender,” and we hit it off musically. We’re sort of on the same page, but very different from each other. And he’s a great drinker. [Laughs.] You know, you’ve got to come fully prepared for the man! But more so than that, he’s a great thinker. And I’m always—always!—happy in the company of thinkers.
AVC: Could you imagine working with him?
JL: No, I don’t think that’d be necessary. I think we’d end up canceling each other out, oddly enough. I think we’re better off as friends. But you never know. I’m not closing any doors, and I’m not opening any. It’s, like, what will be, will be. I’m only, what, 60 years young at the moment. I’ve got plenty of time for that. And if you know anything about either of us, you know we won’t run out of energy! We’re Duracell bunnies! [Laughs.]
AVC: I have to wonder how much time in the studio would be spent on being right. You’re both very opinionated about what you want.
JL: Oh, yes, but when a thing is right, it’s right, and then there’s a common consensus and a meeting place on that. So that’s hardly a problem. [Laughs.] A problem begins with a situation like that when people don’t think deep enough, don’t know what they’re saying, and are merely opinionated. We must all have opinions, but they’ve got to be valid in order to work. And healthy debate is the most fabulous way to achieve anything. It truly really is. I mean, you try having a debate with Ginger Baker and be wrong. [Laughs.] You know, you’ve got to be right! But he’s sensible enough to know, when you’re saying something and it’s right, then it’s right. People claim he’s difficult to work with, but I never found that. I found quite the opposite. He’s fantastic. I love him to death.
Public Image Ltd., “Rise” (1986)
AVC: Do you consider “Rise” to be the defining Public Image Ltd. moment?
JL: No, not at all. I consider it to be one of the highlights of a continuous highlighted career. It’s a wonderful song that came about in an odd way. I mean, I’d written it and rehearsed it with a very young band, and as I took them to New York, when they got in the studio, Bill Laswell… He was right when he said, “Look, these guys are too young, they just can’t cope with this.” They were very, very nervous and weren’t fulfilling the expectations, so we had to replace them. And it was a challenge and a worry who the replacements were, because that was a serious bunch of people. It was really, really frightening to me, almost overwhelming. “How am I going to swim in this ocean of sharks?” [Laughs.] Well, quite well, as it happens! And so “Rise” comes from many, many things. And it just became better and better and better as we added the layers to it and laid down the foundations. An overwhelmingly important song for me, I think, in terms of politics. I think it sums up the attitude best.
AVC: Do you think that, had Elektra been more behind Album, the band on the album (which included Ginger Baker and Steve Vai) might have toured behind it?
JL: Well, I don’t know about that. Actually, I never got to that point with them. It was absurd and bizarre that they dropped us. I mean, the album went straight in at #100, but the reason Elektra dropped us was that they didn’t know who was playing on it! If you remember the artwork, it mentioned no names. [Laughs.] So they erroneously thought it was made by, well, a ship of fools! But at the same time—and it’s odd, because I’ve still got friends who used to work there—Metallica were an up-and-coming act for them, and so all their investment was into Metallica. So something had to give, and unfortunately it was me. And it’s very odd, because Michael Alago was the Elektra representative with Metallica… and he’s ended up to be one of my best friends! So you understand it’s, like, the competition isn’t from us bands. It’s from the bread-heads, who don’t understand music at all. And that’s why the record companies are folding, isn’t it? It’s too much influence from the accounting department. You can’t account for taste!
AVC: It’s true, though. You read memoirs from musicians all the time where they talk about how labels used to be run by music lovers, if not actual musicians, and it’s just not the case anymore.
JL: Yeah, it was great to join them. But it very, very quickly went crooked.
AVC: You mentioned introducing Todd Rundgren to a Tim Buckley song. When you signed to Elektra, were you were aware that you were signing to his former label?
JL: Yes and no. [Laughs.] It wasn’t actually the driving force, because those were different people then. For me, it looked like a bright spark in an otherwise dismal record-company future. But now we see all those large labels have basically imploded on themselves, and there’s good and bad that’s come from that. It’s very difficult for a new band now to really get the backing and the push that they probably fully deserve, because there just isn’t that kind of financial clout. And you do need it if you’re new and struggling and upcoming. Somebody’s got to barter an advert here and there on your behalf. And radio promotion and things like that.
Actually, I talk about that, but I’ve never really had radio promotion. Not ever in my entire life! [Laughs.] I’ve never been on playlists. Except, you know, in retro. Say, a classic rock station might chuck a tune in. But I’ve never been on high rotation… or any rotation. It’s bizarre, isn’t it? But there it goes. I’ve always been dead against a publicity machine behind me, and I’ve done my utmost to keep away from that, because I feel contaminated somehow. And I’ve never done this for chart positions. I do this because I truly love music. I’m an avid record collector. Always have been, always will be.
AVC: There’s a great line in your book—and I’m paraphrasing—about how you’ve got to be accepting of other people’s tastes in music because you’ve got two Alvin Stardust albums in your collection. I actually laughed out loud at that.
JL: And I can still sing them! [Singing.] “Coo, coo, I just want you / Won’t you be my coo ca choo / I love ya, yes, I love ya / I love ya, baby.” [Bursts out cackling.] I mean, how fun is that? And isn’t pop music supposed to be fun?
Public Image Ltd., “Disappointed” (1989)
AVC: In regard to what you were saying about not being on playlists, by the time “Disappointed” came out, Billboard had instituted a Modern Rock chart...
JL: Wait, sorry, I missed the first part. I was still imagining Alvin Stardust and his one glove. [Laughs.] Which, of course, Michael Jackson later adopted!
AVC: I was just saying that Billboard had just adopted its Modern Rock chart when “Disappointed” came out and, in fact, the song actually topped that chart. Did you not see any uptick in airplay as a result of that?
JL: No, I missed that completely. Billboard was a pamphlet that I was never too very much interested in. But God bless ’em if they did that, because “Disappointed” is another record that means so much to me. So much. And I loved making it, putting it together, and releasing it. It’s about how you deal with friends that let you down occasionally. Well, you know, you forgive them, and you move on. That’s what true friends are for. And that’s how the song deals with a reality and an area not really covered by most people. Except in a Taylor Swift way, with ex-boyfriends getting it. [Laughs.] That’s about the closest to it as a sentiment… but without the sex, thank you!
AVC: How do you think 9 would’ve sounded if Bill Laswell had produced it, as had been the original plan?
JL: I’ve no concept. I loved working with the producer, Stephen Hague. I loved the ideas that we were up to at that time. It was to deliberately use clichés in an un-clichéd way. You know, it was good. It was very healthy to do. But, again, when the record company isn’t backing you and supporting you, you know you’re lost in limbo, so you might as well just get on and enjoy what you’re doing. Which is what I do.
But because of that, by not taking the warning signs, I found myself in limbo quite literally, through the financial restraints of owing money, to not be able to release records at all for almost two decades. It was insane what I had to endure there. So I went into… Well, all manner of different things: TV shows, nature programs, and live-broadcast internet radio. And I loved them. I found a beat and a rhythm in them that felt musical to me in my head. But I never dropped music. Music is impulsively part of my nature.
Time Zone, “World Destruction” (1984)
AVC: Interestingly, when I mentioned on social media that I was going to be talking to you, more people wanted to know about working on “World Destruction” with Afrika Bambaataa than anything else.
JL: Yeah! Great chap. Great fun. Very open-minded. No problems at all with Mr. Bambaataa. Loved working with him. And what a delicious track we put together. You know, truly, it’s the beginning of hip-hop into rap there. It was groundbreaking. But then a year later, of course, Run-DMC and whatzit came out and claimed the laurels. [Given the context, we are presuming that “whatzit” is Lydonspeak for “Aerosmith.”—ed.]
AVC: Bambaataa has apparently made reference to an alternate take of the song in which you “cussed the Queen something terrible.”
JL: Oh, there’s several outtakes that should never be heard. [Cackles.] We had great fun in the studio. Great fun. There was a brilliant rhythm guitarist in that session. And Bill Laswell was there! That’s how we met, and that’s how one thing led to another.
The Golden Palominos, “The Animal Speaks” (1985)
AVC: After “World Destruction” but before Album, you also worked with Laswell on a track for The Golden Palominos’ Visions Of Excess album.
JL: Yeah. [Mild surprise.] Yeah! Which not many people know about.
AVC: It’s a great album. Did you know the song “The Animal Speaks” before going in, since it was a cover of a track by The Numbers Band?
JL: No, I never actually heard the original. I knew there was a song there by someone, and they wanted to play it to me, because we were doing a version, basically a cover. But me being me, I thought, “It’s best I know fuck all about the original and try and shapeshift it and see if I can grasp anything in the integrity of the original.” And then when I heard it after, I thought, “Yeah, I did a good job there!” [Laughs.] It was like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle without the original picture. It’s fantastic the challenges you can come up with in life. It’s brilliant for me, music. I just feel like I was born to be a part of it.
Leftfield featuring John Lydon, “Open Up” (1993)
AVC: Was “Open Up” a challenge for you?
JL: No, well, I’d known Neil [Barnes] and Paul [Daley] for a long time, because Neil had done similar work as me when I was young, looking after problem children and children whose parents work late. It was a day-care center sort of thing. Evening care and day care. It was several years before it finally came together, though, because the original idea they came to me with was very much slower—grindingly, cheesily slow, to my way of thinking—and I kept saying, “No, no, there’s no way! I’m not going to do that. I don’t want this to be like ‘Albatross’!” [Laughs.] And we upped the tempo one night, having a laugh, and—bingo!—I went, “Yep, I’m ready.”
They set it up in the studio, and I came over, and we laid it down in about three or four takes. And it was fantastic fun. Really, really lovely to work, and in a different way. They’re not people who understood at the time of the mixing board. With them, it was monitor mix. And I love monitor mix anyway, because you get the livelier, clearer aspect of the song. There you go: I’d become spoiled knowing too much about music and had to unlearn a lot. Situations like that are always beneficial. And what can I tell you? It’s great fun working with friends.
Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, “Strings Of Love” (1990)
AVC: This is probably the most unlikely credit on your CV: How did you come to contribute backing vocals to an Edie Brickell song?
JL: Oh, wowzers! [Laughs.] It was because of a remix by the producer of “Rise.” We did a 12-inch remix of “Rise” with Bob Clearmountain and his partner, whose name I can’t remember. My God, you’ve caught me out here! [Tony Berg—ed.] But it was hilarious and great and odd and weird. I mean, I’d have to blend my voice to hers, and that was something I hadn’t really thought about doing at all, so it was very much like starting from scratch in the Pistols all over again, because it was very uncharted territory for me. But somehow or the other, a really nice sounding record came out. And she’s a lovely, wonderful person. What can I tell you?
We did that in the producer’s studio, which is attached to his house, so the whole thing was very much a family affair, kids running in and out the whole time… as, indeed, it should be. I can never be distracted by children enjoying themselves. In fact, I view that as bonus points. You know, I’m the kind of a person, I don’t mind kids crying on an airplane. I feel sorry for them and have a great sense of empathy, no matter how tired I am. I mean, that’s the future. We were all there once. I’ll bet you bawled your eyes out, too. I know I did!
AVC: That reminds me: When I told my mother that I was going to be talking to you, she said, “Well, you can tell him that the first time you started talking about ‘Johnny Rotten,’ I thought, ‘I just hope he’s not going down the wrong path.’ But you didn’t, so he’s all right with me.”
JL: [Bursts out laughing.] And you can tell her that that’s a lovely, lovely sentiment and thought and an act of care. No, it really is! I genuinely appreciate that. That’s most wonderful… and that’s how we should all be amongst ourselves!
Public Image Ltd., “Seattle” (1987)
JL: Yeah! “Seattle” was a strange one, because the band was up there a week before me, because I had other things to do that I fail to remember at the moment. But they’d laid down that backing track, and I got there and I was really impressed! Really, really moved. And so I found that the lyrics just flowed almost free-form out of me. I’m very, very proud of that one.
Public Image Ltd., “One Drop” (2012)
AVC: Would you have revived Public Image Ltd. if you hadn’t been able to pull together Lu Edmonds and Bruce Smith again?
JL: It would’ve been very difficult without them. They were essential for my sense of well-being. And I was shocked when I rung them that… Well, Bruce recognized me straight away! He went, “Hullo, John.” [Laughs.] We hadn’t talked for… I don’t know, 15 years! Because things happen and you move on. But I’d remembered them fondly, and it turned out likewise, and we went on from there. And we found a brilliant bass player with a brilliant personality called Scott [Firth] and… not looked back, really.
I always presumed there’d always be animosity in bands. It’s not the case. You can actually find that you achieve a lot more without it. So it was quite a disturbing revelation to me! [Laughs.] Because up to that point, I’d always quoted Shakespeare to myself: “Smile in the face of adversity.” But you don’t need to: There’s something far better around the corner. And our current lineup is the best I’ve ever had it, because we’ve known each other for such a long time that we truly do know each other, and there’s an element of respect that I’ve never had until this last decade. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to work with.
AVC: It’s great that you finally found a lineup that worked in such a fashion.
JL: Well, it’s very important that people really, truly know you. And that’s the process. That takes time. And sometimes it takes separation and then a coming together, at which point it becomes ever so much clearer. Because these are some of my best friends ever, all three of them. I just respect them to high hell. They get me to go places vocally I’d never really conceived before. They get me to twist my voice into all manner of shapes and terminologies. It’s quite great. I’m hitting notes that I never thought possible, and I’m doing it because I feel so safe and secure with them. They’ll never let me down, and I’ll never let them down, because our ambitions are similar: We want to truly represent the emotions we’re trying to portray in the songs, and that goes above and beyond any ridiculous concept of what is or is not music.
AVC: When you got back together to record This Is PIL, was there a learning curve, given that it’d been so long since you’d played together?
JL: It was deeply, deeply promising that they were rehearsing two days before I came in, because I wanted them to get used to the sound in the rehearsal room and not be there, like, sitting around and being annoying while somebody sets up a high hat. So when I arrived, I opened the door and walked in, and the first thing they were playing—and they decided this of their own accord—was “Albatross.” And they were doing it amazingly! And I just went straight up to the microphone and began singing, and from there on in, we knew we were hooked together. And we were meant to be. Because that’s a very difficult concept of a song, you know? It’s so easy to get it wrong.
AVC: When you entered the studio to do the album, did you come in with a certain amount of material in hand, or was it all written together?
JL: The ideas are always floating around, because of the way we tour. Everybody’s always constantly talking and listening on the tour bus, so this all to me is like research before recording, and I think it is for the others, too. And that’s how it unfolded. There was no concept in mind when we opened the doors to the recording studio. It was just this eagerness to create something new and challenging. The great unknown, you know? Welcome to the void. Let’s fill it! [Laughs.] That’s the healthy PIL approach.
AVC: “One Drop” was the first single from 2012’s This Is PIL. Would you say that’s a good entry point or gateway drug into that album?
JL: I have no idea what people will think. [Laughs.] I just generally lead them in a direction and hope they grasp what its ambitions are… The fact is that we were able to complement each other and understand each other, and the songs flowed from that. And it was even more so with this new one.
The title of the new album, What the World Needs Now…, is an unfinished sentence. So it really is up to the ears and the eyes of the listener to interpret and finish that sentence in any way they like.
Public Image Ltd., “Double Trouble” (2015)
AVC: The first single for the new album is called “Double Trouble,” correct?
JL: Yes. It’s a song about a row about a toilet between my wife and me. [Laughs.] But somehow there was a great sense of learning. And I’ve often told people when they’ve asked me what’s it that keeps Nora and me for so long, well, it’s that we do row. We do. And we reach a fun conclusion in the end. So it’s an exploration of how to survive in life and how to make room for each other without that atrocious word “compromise.” I’m far more into the word “respect.” As you should expect! But I love this album from start to finish. It’s a stunning album to me. It feels like the most complete work.
AVC: Which is impressive, coming this far into the existence of PIL.
JL: Yep. None of us are bored with what we’re doing. It’s quite amazing. And all of the struggles of trying to form your own label and be independent of what we call the shitstem, it’s a joy. We tour to make the money to record, and what we’ve recorded, we make that album so we can tour. It’s a very healthy wheel we’re spinning.
AVC: Well, to bring the wheel full circle, is there a defining Pistols track for you?
JL: Well, that would be everything on the new album.
AVC: No, sorry, not PIL, The Sex Pistols.
JL: Same thing, mate: I’m in all of them. [Laughs.] I’m not being cynical! I view it this way: They’re all aspects of my life, and it’s, like, I can’t pick out a particular moment and say, “That’s more self-defining than another.” It’s an ongoing process, and till the day I die, I’m not able to tell you what the best song is yet, because there’s more to come. I feel that in me. I can still feel the burning energy and the desire to create and create and create.