Steve Jones talks about acting, Sex Pistols, and life’s miscellanea

Steve Jones talks about acting, Sex Pistols, and life’s miscellanea

Steve Jones has tackled a number of endeavors over the course of his career, including writing and recording music, hosting a radio show (Jonesy’s Jukebox), and even a bit of acting. But there’s little question that he’s best known for the time he spent as guitarist for the Sex Pistols. Jones’ rock ’n’ roll background was put to good use during season six of Californication, where he turned up as Krull, the tour manager for Atticus Fetch (played by Tim Minchin). When the series recently returned for its final season, Jones was asked back to reprise his role. The A.V. Club talked to Jones about his role on the show - he’ll be recurring all the way through to the series finale - as well as his career in music, some of his earlier appearances as an actor, and his increasing interest in securing more work in front of the camera.

The A.V. Club: You made your debut as Krull in Californication’s sixth season. How did you find your way to the series in the first place?

Steve Jones: I think Tom Kapinos had me in mind to do the tour manager for last season—being Tim Minchin’s tour guy—so I got a phone call. I went down there, and that was it.

AVC: Had you been aware of the series before he called you?

SJ: I’d been aware of it, but I’d never seen it, to be honest with you. I don’t watch a lot of regular TV. I watch a bunch of documentaries, although since being in Californication, I do watch some other shows now. I’ve been watching Silicon Valley. I find that quite funny. 

AVC: Given that you played his manager, did you know anything about Tim Minchin going in?

SJ: No, not at all. He’s good, though. He’s a talented guy. A very good musician, too. 

AVC: How much flexibility did you have with the part of Krull? Was it pretty well scripted, or did they tell you to just rock ’n’ roll it up? 

SJ: Well, obviously, I’m playing myself. [Laughs.] Yeah, they were relaxed. They know who I am—they know I’m not bloody Laurence Olivier—and I could change it up a bit. But I didn’t change it up a bit. It was nice that they told me that, though—just for a safety net. But I learned the lines, and I stayed by the lines. I wanted the challenge. I didn’t want to be an idiot making up nonsense. 

AVC: The plotline that brings you back into season seven is that Krull is working on his memoirs. Is that something you’ve ever contemplated?

SJ: Yeah, actually, I’m in the middle of trying to get a deal with someone right now to do a book. I’m looking forward to that.

AVC: Have you started the note-taking process, à la Krull, or are you in the tentative stages at the moment?

SJ: Nah, I’ve met with a couple of ghost writers, and there are a couple of agents who’re interested, so it’s a matter of picking the right one and getting the best deal. I should do it soon, though, before books are extinct!

AVC: Californication certainly isn’t your first acting gig. Do you enjoy the opportunity to step away from music and step in front of the camera?

SJ: Yeah, I like doing it. I should really get an agent and pursue it more. I don’t know about other actors, but for me it’s terrifying. It gives me anxiety. If the phone rings, it gives me a reason to show up, but as far as pursuing it, I don’t do it because it gives me a lot of anxiety. But I do enjoy it once I’m doing it—especially if you do a good job. You can’t beat the feeling after you’ve done a good scene. So what I need to do is get off my ass and make some calls to find an agent. I just want to be looked after by an old woman.

AVC: Well, sure, who doesn’t? 

SJ: I know! 

AVC: Your first acting gig was in The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle, which seems to have been a case where you had a lot of leeway with your role. 

SJ: I would say so. I don’t even think there was a script. [Laughs.]

AVC: If so, it certainly went through more than a few permutations.

SJ: Yeah, I didn’t have... [Sighs.] I didn’t know what was going on. I was so out of it back then. But it’s an entertaining movie, I think. Fun. Cult-ish. But it was a lot of fun back then. Kind of.

AVC: Was it Malcolm McClaren who first came to you and said, “You’re doing a movie”?

SJ: No, because that’s kind of the norm with certain bands. That’s always the next step after you’ve got to a certain level. I didn’t like the fact that he spent our money to make it. But it is what it is. That’s the kind of guy he was, Malcolm. He wasn’t really business-minded. He was more artistic, I suppose.

AVC: The original draft of the script was by Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert.

SJ: Yeah, I was actually looking forward to that, because you know what he’s famous for, Russ Meyer. [Laughs.] They filmed a little bit. They filmed the bit where they killed a deer. I think that made it into Swindle, didn’t it? I think it’s in there. But that’s the only bit. Then he got fired. I don’t know why. 

AVC: Did you get to meet with Meyer?

SJ: Yeah, we met him in London somewhere prior to filming. I think it was just talking about the movie. I can’t remember much about it. 

AVC: Did Meyer live up to your expectations?

SJ: Well, he didn’t show up with anyone—put it that way. [Laughs.] It was him and—it might’ve been Ebert as well. I’m not sure.

AVC: Laura Dern said she had the “most fun ever” working on Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. Clearly, it was a formative film for her.

SJ: Yeah, that was a trip. We were in Vancouver for, like, three months. That was a wild time.  

AVC: How did that come about? Did director Lou Adler approach you and Paul Cook?

SJ: I think it came about by the woman who wrote it.

AVC: Nancy Dowd?

SJ: Yeah, she was friends with this woman in England called Caroline Coon, and I think Caroline Coon put us forward. I think that was the connection. Unfortunately, it didn’t do diddly back in the day. But, again, that’s another one that seems like it’s turned into a cult kind of thing. 

AVC: Still, it was a big studio picture. Presumably it was at least a bit more structured than Swindle was.

 SJ: A little bit, yeah. I think they had actually had a clapper board. [Laughs.]

AVC: Were there any particular challenges for you?

SJ: No, because I was still pretty young, and I didn’t have a clue, so I didn’t have time to get nervous. You can tell the acting skills by me, Cookie, and Paul Simonon are absolutely terrible. [Laughs.] But Ray Winstone was a pleasure to work with. I love Ray. He’s great. Someone had to act, so they chose him. We had a great time up there. That was a lot of fun. A few faces from that have gone on and done well: Diane Lane, Laura Dern, Ray... And I think the movie was produced by Joe Roth, who’s a big shot now. 

AVC: Did that leave you with a desire to further your acting career, or did you view it as a novelty?

SJ: Nah, at the time I couldn’t care less. I was still into music—that’s all I really knew. Acting wasn’t something that tickled my fancy then. Not like it is now—I think I can handle it now. Back then it wasn’t even on the radar in my mind to want to do more acting. 

AVC: When you first joined the Sex Pistols, was music something you actively wanted to pursue at the time, or was it a case of doing music for the hell of it?

SJ: Ah, that was a weird time. I’ve no idea. Some things just happen, and they’re meant to be, and you have no control over it. I think it was one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always had an ear for music, ever since I can remember. When I was 9 or 10, I used to know which songs were which, and which songs were bad songs when I heard them on the radio. But as far as being a musician, it never occurred to me to learn an instrument. But I guess it was the way it was meant to be. 

AVC: Supposedly there was an embryonic version of the Sex Pistols called The Strand. Did that amount to anything?

SJ: No, we never even did a gig. It was me and two other guys, like a school thing. We were at school still, and—were we at school? It might’ve been just after. But, anyway, it was two other guys from school. One guy, Jimmy Mackin, who’s dead now, he bought a Farfisa organ, and this other guy, Steven Hayes, who went on bass and never learned to play. So it was basically me and Paul Cook, and this other guy, Wally Nightingale. And we did one gig. It was me, Glen Matlock, Paul and Wally down the King’s Road at somebody’s café. I was singing, and I think we were called The Strand. Or the Swankers. Something like that. But it was horrible. And I was terrified, being the front guy. That was the end of that. But we kept on rehearsing, and that’s when Malcolm got involved, and he said, “You should audition for a singer, and you should play guitar.” And that’s when we got rid of Wally and auditioned. And then John showed up, and that was it. 

AVC: There’s a lot of discussion about how Glen brought his love of the pop hook to the songwriting. What did you bring to the songwriting? Did you help formulate the riffs?

SJ: Yeah, I did as many as Glen. And, by the way, Glen just came up with riffs. He didn’t come up with lyrics. [Laughs.] Rotten wrote most of the lyrics. I’ll give him that. John wrote great words for back then and being that young. He was a bit of a brat, John. But as far as the riffs go—“No Feelings,” “EMI,” “Bodies,” “Holidays In The Sun”—they’re mine, and a few others. It’s about half and half. I mean, obviously the big singles were mainly Glen’s idea. But considering I didn’t know what I was doing, I thought I did pretty good. 

AVC: One of the guitars you favored back then was reportedly one that Malcolm gave you that he’d obtained from Sylvain Sylvain. Did you know its origins when he gave it to you? 

SJ: Well, I was a fan of the New York Dolls, and I guess Malcolm was working with him. I don’t know how he ended up with it. He probably took it off Sylvain. I have no idea how he got it off of him. [Laughs.] But I was the lucky one who got it!

AVC: How did you find the experience of recording in general? Do you prefer playing live versus playing in the studio?

SJ: I prefer the studio, really. I like recording. I mean, I don’t mind playing out sometimes, but I really enjoy recording. I don’t mind rehearsing, but I like recording.

AVC: What is it about recording that appeals to you?

SJ: The process of making something. You start from nothing, and you end up with a record. I like that process. 

AVC: When you appeared on the Bill Grundy show, did you imagine you’d have that clip come back to haunt you for years to come?

SJ: I wouldn’t say “haunt.” I think it’s a masterpiece! [Laughs.] It’s a weird one. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, really. But I guess back then it was, considering that there weren’t but two channels in England, and everybody watched that show. If you did it now, it wouldn’t be a big deal, because there’s so many different outlets of media. But it was fun. It was another quirky moment in the Pistols’ history. I loved it. Malcolm was actually terrified after we did it. He thought that was the end of it all—until he saw the press the next day and, of course, then it was all his idea. Thank God for youth, man.

AVC: When the Pistols finally wrapped up, had you felt that they’d had a limited lifespan after Sid Vicious joined, given his limited bass-playing ability, or did you think he’d pick it up as he went along?

SJ: Poor Sid, man. He got thrown into the deep end. He was a great guy, and I think he could’ve went on to actually be a big star. He had all the elements. He obviously had the look, and he had some talent. He just got shoved in there way too early, and he got involved with that heroin, which is very hard to be around—even though I did it myself. It was tragic, really, his whole deal. But then again, I was a mess, too, and miserable as hell at that point, and I didn’t really see it as a future. It didn’t seem like it was going to go any further than it did. When we were in the U.S., it was like, “I don’t like this anymore. This is not fun. It’s getting weird.” And I chose to hop out. Do I regret it? I don’t know. I kind of like the fact that we only did one album and we’re still popular. From one record? That should be in The Guinness Book Of World Records!

AVC: How do you feel about the material you did with Paul Cook as The Professionals?

SJ: It was okay. But, again, I was a mess, and I wasn’t really focused on music. I was doing it because I didn’t know what else to do. All that stuff’s being released, by the way. Universal in England is re-releasing all of that Professionals stuff. They did a cheap little thing a while ago, but this is going to be more of a proper deal. With, like, everything we did. They’re trying to get me to go over there to do some shows when they release it, but… I don’t know. 

AVC: Have you gone back and revisited that material since you originally recorded it?

SJ: Nah. Not at all.

AVC: Are you scared to? How well do you think it’s aged over time?

SJ: It’s good. I’m sure it still holds up. But it wasn’t great memories for me back then, because I was a confused lad who didn’t know where I was going, and it was kind of depressing for me. I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear ’80s songs—they depress me, because my head space at that time was in a real depressed state. So it’s the same with The Professionals—it doesn’t bring back good memories when I hear certain songs. 

AVC: Is that the same with Chequered Past?

SJ: About the same. It’s only since I got sober—about 30 years ago—when I really started to figure out things. That was a miserable time. Like I said, man, back then I was a confused young chap who didn’t know the right side up. Not good times, really. 

AVC: When did the good times start? Was that circa the release of Mercy?

SJ: Yeah, that was fun, because I’d got sober a year or two before I recorded Mercy. For me, that was kind of the mending of me, from that point onwards. Now I’m a happy camper.

AVC: One of the songs from that album, “Pleasure And Pain,” was used on the soundtrack of Sid And Nancy. Did you have an opinion one way or the other about the film?

SJ: It was good. I mean, it’s entertaining. Gary Oldman did a good job, I thought. 

AVC: To tie your music back into Californication, the show used your cover of “Did You No Wrong,” from 1989’s Fire & Gasoline, on the soundtrack last season. Did you suggest it, or did they?

SJ: It was Tom’s idea to do that. That was good. Hey, listen, you’ve seen more of this season than I have: In my scene in the bar, did they still use [Sid Vicious’ cover of] “My Way” in the background?

AVC: They sure did.

SJ: They did? Oh, cool! That’s cool that they made it happen. I didn’t know if they would. 

AVC: Maybe this’ll be something you haven’t been asked about much: You were in the mix for the self-titled album by P, the collaboration between Gibby Haynes and Johnny Depp. 

SJ: Yeah, although I don’t remember much about it, really. Is it any good? I’ve never even heard it! [Laughs.] 

AVC: I couldn’t sayI haven’t heard it since 1995 myself. But the Neurotic Outsiders was just added to Rhino Records’ digital catalog.

SJ: You’re kidding me! I guess because Maverick was with Warner Bros., eh? If it’s up on iTunes, I should have a look. It’s not a bad album, actually. That was a good time.

AVC: Was that a case where you and the other membersJohn Taylor, Matt Sorum, and Duff McKaganhad traveled in the same circles and decided to get together and have a laugh?

SJ: Yeah, we did a benefit at the Viper Room. Matt Sorum said, “Let’s do a thing for this benefit,” and we just happened to all be around at the same time, and then we had a lot of fun doing it, so we carried on playing at the Viper Room every Monday, which turned into a thing. Various people used to get up with us—Iggy Pop, Billy Idol, other people—and it was a real thing. Guy Oseary—who now manages U2—was working at Maverick, and he decided to give us a deal. Unfortunately, we weren’t there to promote it, because the Pistols went back on the road, so I couldn’t do much touring with it. Although when we got back in ’96, the Pistols had three weeks off, and in that three weeks off I did some shows in Europe and back here with the Neurotic Outsiders. But we weren’t there to give it 100 percent, unfortunately.

AVC: Have you ever thought about getting back together and doing another album or tour?

SJ: Well, we’ve talked about it. It’s such hard work. I’m 58, you know? And you’ve got to be doing it because you love playing the music. I like to do things, but I like to get paid, too. [Laughs.] I’ve got bills to pay, and there’s just no money in doing, like, a Professionals tour, or the Neurotic Outsiders. It’s a lot of work, and I’d rather be acting, to be honest with you. But I don’t know, maybe one of these days. You never know. 

AVC: You turned up on The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson a few years ago, backing him as he performed a cover of “Scottish Rite Temple Stomp.”

SJ: [Laughs.] Yeah, that’s right. That was fun!

AVC: You’ve appeared a few times beyond that as well, and you even contributed a track to the soundtrack of Ferguson’s film, The Big Tease.

SJ: I’ve known Craig for years. I didn’t know him in England or anything, but I knew him once he got to L.A., so it’s been since, what, 20-odd years ago? 

AVC: You’ve got another half-hour show on your résumé besides Californication: You appeared in an episode of Roseanne.

SJ: Yeah, another great debut. [Snorts.] That’s actually more nerve-wracking, because it’s in front of a live audience. You have to get it right the first time. So that was really terrifying—I don’t know if a lot of other actors find it as terrifying. When I was on the set of Californication, I’d watch these guys like Evan [Handler] and David Duchovny, and they’d come on the set, they’d have a rehearsal, they’d look at their sheets, and they’re like, “Okay, boom!” And they’d do these fucking scenes that go on for about 10 minutes, with all this dialogue, and I’m like, “How the fuck do you remember that?” And they look totally calm and not stressed out. And here’s me, with, like, four lines, who’s shitting himself in his dressing room! I guess it’s the same as them looking at me when I’m playing guitar. I can do it in my sleep. But I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that fear. You know my problem? I have a hard time memorizing lines. I can stand in front of a camera and look natural, no problem, but actually memorizing lines? It’s a real stretch for me. 

AVC: Have you thought about taking a proper acting class?

SJ: I have thought about it. Maybe it’d be good to do that—I don’t know. Your memory’s your memory, right? If you don’t have a great memory, I don’t know how you get over that.

AVC: Maybe they’ve got some tricks they can teach you. 

SJ: Yeah, let’s hope so! [Laughs.]

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