Since 1985, singer-songwriter-guitarist David Gedge has served as the only consistent member of The Wedding Present. As in the case of Mark E. Smith in The Fall, personnel seem to swirl around Gedge. Onstage, he looks like a dour, long-faced tenured professor of lovelorn jangle rock, with the other group members keeping up like they’re his dutiful, fresh-faced teaching assistants.
The Wedding Present’s latest, Valentina, proves itself to be the band’s weightiest, most rock-oriented record since the group’s reformation in 2004. And it sees Gedge back on the road with a (mostly) new band. In keeping with the band’s post-reformation tours—and the general trend in ’80s/’90s rock bands giving nostalgic audiences what they want—The Wedding Present’s also using its tour to revisit an old album in its entirety. This time around, it’s 1991’s outstanding Seamonsters, one of the finest rock records of the era, full stop.
The A.V. Club talked to Gedge, fresh from SXSW, about Seamonsters, the new tour, and playing a version of himself onstage. The band plays the Double Door March 27.
The A.V. Club: You just finished up at South By Southwest. How was that?
David Gedge: It was nice, actually. We played Seamonsters once, at our official showcase.
AVC: Was this the first time you’d played the record front to back?
DG: We actually just did a bit of a warm-up thing beforehand in Málaga, Spain. And we actually played it all in 1991, as well, when it came out.
AVC: South By Southwest is generally pitched as a showcase for up-and-coming acts. As an established band, how do you find the festival at this point?
DG: To be honest, it’s just such a great thing to go to. It’s so crazy. I went last year, just as a fan, and had a great time. This year, the timing was such that we had the new record, and we figured we’d start the tour at South By Southwest. And you’re right, it is more about up-and-coming bands, or new bands, I suppose. But I’ve always thought that The Wedding Present is kind of always a new band anyway. We’ve got all these lineup changes, like eight through the years. But we’ve got a rebirth—new band, new album, new songs—so why not celebrate it the same way all the other new bands do?
AVC: Does it ever feel like you’re in two bands at once, having all this new material from Valentina, but then also playing all of Seamonsters on the road?
DG: You’d think it would. But it doesn’t, to be honest. The lineup we’ve got at the moment is a particularly super one for doing Seamonsters. In some ways, they’re actually better players than we were then, so we can do it better justice. It is kind of a weird thing to do: having a tour and playing new songs, and then harping back to this 1991 one album. But it flows quite well. It’s just a break in the set. It may sound pretentious, but it’s almost one song in 10 parts. It’s a 45-mintue epic, and then we go back to the other stuff. The sets are 80, 90 minutes long, so there’s time for it.
AVC: Seamonsters kind of seemed like the culmination of the band’s relationship with Steve Albini. Why’d you start working with him back then?
DG: I think what basically happened is we signed to RCA record and released Bizarro. I think we were all a bit disappointed with it, really. I’m not saying it’s a terrible record; I’m quite proud of it. But it didn’t quite capture that sound of the band, live, at the time. Around the same time I heard Surfer Rosa by the Pixies. It instantly became one of my favourite albums of all time. Part of why it’s so brilliant is because of how’s it’s recorded, this lifelike, three-dimensional sound. I thought, “We’ve got to get this bloke to record The Wedding Present!” RCA had pretty much given us carte blanche in terms of who records it, so I said, “Let’s get Steve Albini, please.” I think he did what we wanted him to do, which was give us more the sound we were hearing live and during rehearsals.
AVC: Around this point, too, The Wedding Present was getting lumped in with a lot of the C86 bands—these jangly, shambling Brit-rock bands. Was this something you bristled at?
DG: Well, not initially! [Laughs.] It was very useful for us. We did come from a background that was probably influenced by these bands. It was very Velvet Underground-y. And this record label called Postcard Records, from Scotland, had an influence on us, as did bands like Josef K and Orange Juice. So I can’t deny we were from that background. So when C86 started, there were a lot of likeminded bands, and we were getting put in magazines and on the radio, and it was great. But after a while, it’s like, “Oh, you’re a C86 band.” It became a label, and we wanted to get rid of it. It’s the same with all scenes, really. That’s the thing about The Wedding Present: I feel we’ve moved on with each album, and we’ve tried to find different styles and sounds, really. It was good for us to leave that behind.
AVC: Was getting this heavier sound on Seamonsters part of this move—going to America, working with an American producer, getting away from the scene, and all of that?
DG: I think it was certainly part of that. It wasn’t totally that mentality. Like I say, most of it was wanting to work with the guy who recorded Surfer Rosa, because we thought it was so great. Part and parcel to that was probably the idea that we’d move away from the jangly sound of George Best and Bizarro.
AVC: What is it like going back now and playing these songs 21 years after the fact? Is there any element of having to get in touch with who you were then?
DG: It’s really weird with Seamonsters. We did Bizarro a couple of years ago. It was a bit like reading an old diary, almost forgetting what you’ve learned over the years. You go back to a more naïve state, to the way that you thought about music, at that edge. I though it’d be the same with Seamonsters. But it’s a different kettle of fish. I feel more like a character in some weird, dark film about relationships that have gone wrong, and love, and lust, and all those things I write about. With Bizarro it felt more like a set. With Seamonsters it hangs together a bit more. It’s hard to explain really.
AVC: It almost sounds like you have to play the role of yourself, or a version of yourself.
DG: [Laughs.] As a younger man, maybe!
AVC: This is now the third retrospective tour, or anniversary tour, that The Wedding Present has done since reforming a few years back. It started with George Best, which you were a bit resistant to do. What’s changed?
DG: As an artist, I think you tend to want to always look forward. When the idea [of an anniversary tour] was first suggested to me, I kind of thought of it as just nostalgia, and looking back, and that we should be thinking about the future. But everyone else wanted to do it. I was kind of the only person against it. So I went along with the idea.
I was very surprised to learn that I really enjoyed the process! It’s a bit odd to go back and look at old stuff. I came to the realization that the past is important to a band, as well as the future. I’ve got used to the idea. After we did George Best, we had to do Bizarro, because I’ve always thought of it as a better version of George Best. Then the next one was Seamonsters, and I’ve been looking forward to doing it for a couple of years.
AVC: It seems to fit well with the material from the new album, too.
DG: Yes, they both of quite of a rock feel. The lineup for Valentina is a bit of a rock-y lineup, for lack of a better word. I’m not trying to sell it to you or anything, but it does fit pretty seamlessly into the whole set. It fits in there really well for some reason. We’ve only played it a few times, but it’s been working fine.
AVC: What’s the significance of doing 21st anniversary albums? Conventional wisdom would say you should do the 20th anniversary.
DG: [Laughs.] It’s good that you spotted that! I don’t know. It’s just how it worked out. I don’t know why. I suppose we did George Best on the 20th, so that worked. Then I can’t remember why we didn’t do Bizarro on the 20th. I think maybe we were taking some time off. We really only tour in North America every two or three years, and we were touring for the new album now anyway. I thought, “Do I really want to come back in 2015, or whatever, and do the 26th anniversary?” So we just combined it. Maybe it’s an odd thing to do.
AVC: In 2015 you’d be busy doing the 21st anniversary of Watusi.
DG: Could be! Could very well be.
AVC: The Wedding Present was one of a lot of bands that got a big push from John Peel. How do you feel about this recent announcement that his collection is going to be digitized and shared with the public?
DG: It’s absolutely brilliant. It’s one of the benefits of the digital age, that we can do stuff like that. It deserves to be accessed, I think.
AVC: There’s something like 25,000 LPs and 40,000 singles there.
DG: Oh God, yeah. It’s incredible. I’ve seen them! I’ve been to his house many times, and it was just full of records and CDs and stuff.
AVC: Any unreleased Wedding Present stuff buried in there, you think? You guys have been pretty good about compiling rare material and B-sides. But is there a single or something lurking in those pules?
DG: I think everything I sent him after the band started has been released. But I did send him loads of demo tapes before that, which may be there. Who knows? I keep threatening that one day I’m going to release the pre-1985 versions of The Wedding Present, back when we were the Lost Pandas. But we have demos from then that might make a nice little compilation, especially nowadays. You don’t even have to release it on anything. You can just put it on iTunes or something. Maybe I’ll go back and look at that someday. It’s just time, really.
AVC: Speaking of the digital age, you’re known among fans for being very active on Twitter. Is it just a way of keeping in touch and getting news out there?
DG: I love it, to be honest. It’s a new world now. And people say, “Oh, you should be on Facebook, you should be on Tumblr, you should be on Spotify.” There’s so many things to deal with. I just kind of randomly thought, “Well, I haven’t got time to do ’em all. I’d never write another song again!” But I picked up Twitter and it clicked with me. It’s a great way of keeping in touch with people interested in the group. It’s like texting, except there’s 10,000 of ’em. And some dialogue develops, too. People will be like, “Have you seen this illegal website where you can download the new album?” So that’s been useful. I like the way it’s 140 characters. You have to make your point quickly and get out of there.
AVC: It’s nice to see you interacting with people. On your records you might come across a little chilly and introspective at times.
DG: [Laughs.] Well, I’m being nice to you because you’re interviewing me! But to some extent, I feel like do have a character. It’s like having a dual personality. When I step out onstage, I do want to get immersed in the songs. I’ve got to focus on that. People do think I’m a bit unfriendly sometimes. But I think it’s just because of what I do.
AVC: We’re going to blow the lid off this and tell everyone that you’re friendly.
DG: No, please don’t. [Laughs.]