The Gordons MkII – 1983 Q&A
In honour of NZ Music Month, Gary Steel climbs into the crumbling catacombs of his back catalogue, and disinters a different story Every Day In May (EDIM). Today’s piece is a raw transcript/interview with The Gordons from 1983. It will have been excerpted for a story or two at the time, but otherwise, the interview is previously unpublished.
Note: When I chatted to The Gordons MkII on their first tour in 1983, I had no idea they would be a very short-lived incarnation of the band… and going by this interview, it’s clear that they had big plans that never quite eventuated. I must have eliminated a lot of my own comments-cum-questions when transcribing, because John is constantly changing subject, as if prompted to do so. I love John’s description of the first album – last year voted the Classic Album at the Taite Awards – as “a bit feeble”. As for his yarn about Alister having become a Christian, and wanting the band to appear as Alister Parker And The Christian Gordons… was that just a jape?
Gary Steel – Is it good for The Gordons to play all the time?
John – No. If we were playing in another country, possibly, it would be good for us to play all the time. In NZ if we did that we would exhaust ourselves. There are not enough possibilities in this country. So you’ve gotta make sure you don’t overdo it. You’ve gotta just give people enough. You’ve gotta build-up to a performance if you’re doing it any good and if you’re doing it every week you get blasé about it. You lose your vision and forget about what’s important.
It’s all new material bar five songs and we’re writing a lot right now on tour. This is the best opportunity we’ve had. We’d like to have enough songs to do a three-hour set, without a support act. I’d like enough songs to be able to do that.
Our material’s getting better all the time. This is a new format. Vince is writing too, and we’re all writing – we’re only just getting a real communication going now, between us, especially now that we’re on the road. And we’re away from our home situation, which isn’t too good in Christchurch.
Gary – Why is that?
John – Just the lunatics that live with us. Just not enough space. Finally we’re by ourselves, we can talk about things…
Vince Pinker – Find out what each other’s like, too…
John – We’ve had two visitors who have stayed with us for months, and it’s been a crucial time for us to have space. They’ve affected The Gordons quite a lot, those two people. I hope they’re not there when we go back.
Gary – How do you write? Do you jam?
John – That’s how we used to do it. We haven’t jammed an incredible amount as yet. The song just arrives, and we either reject it, or practice it a couple of times, and give it a name…
Every song comes a different way – some songs, the words are there and the music is added. Other songs, everything happens at the same time, the vocals, the bass, guitar, drums, the feel. Half of them just arrive, pour from the skies as though they were there already.
Gary – Vince…
John – We weren’t really looking for him.
Gary – What bands were you in before?
Vince – Proud Scum. I’ve been in Christchurch about a year.
Gary – It must be different playing with The Gordons.
Vince – It’s very comfortable.
John – Vince fitted in straight away. That’s why he’s in the band. That’s how the band started really… None of us were looking really hard to be in a band or anything. It just fitted, so we did it. And then we stopped. And then it happened again. Vince came along at the right time.
Gary – The studio.
John – It’s the three of us, plus two. It’s a co-operative. It’s got to be a commercially oriented thing for it to be able to happen in the first place, unfortunately. While we’re away on tour, the others are running it for us. It’s not complete yet. It should be pretty much complete by the time we get back, or by the end of the year. It’ll be the best facility in the South Island. People are going to have to pay to use it but… We need more [equipment]. We’ve got an 8-track, a really good space, a double garage which is really well sound-proofed. We need a good quality mixing desk.
We’re a label as well, distribution. Freefall Records, and Freefall Studio.
There will be other labels for other things. Like, The Gordons will be on Freefall, and some other bands. I’d like to do a label for mums and dads as well.
In New Zealand we can do it [distribution] ourselves. Overseas there are thousands of labels which are linked up, and they can distribute as well as EMI can do it.
The album was coming out when we were starting to tire of it all. We went to Christchurch and started living our own lives a bit more. We hardly even saw each other. It came out at the wrong time – Christmas – when the shops were shut and the magazines were shut. No advertising. We just lost interest for awhile. [Presumably he’s talking about the first album?]
There were lots of possibilities that we didn’t follow up [re. distribution of LP overseas]. Europe seems to be generally very interested in The Gordons.
Gary – What do you think of the old stuff?
John – A bit feeble. Good for what it was. The album wasn’t representative of live Gordons. We were trying to change people’s ideas of what we were. For one night’s recording with a low budget it turned out incredibly well – but every time we played it back, that’s one hour, 40 dollars, and we couldn’t afford to play it back. So we hardly heard it before it was released, we just did it, late at night, stuffed. What I would really liked to have done would be to shelve it for a month, listen to it again, and say ‘no, let’s do another song’.
I think that’s why the album has been so well liked because it was one night’s effort, and it sounds like that. And a lot of people appreciate it because they can tell that it hasn’t been overly-produced, but it’s still got some good production on it. I wish that it was a live album. I don’t mind that existing, but by itself… we were hoping to have lots of other records out around it.
That’s what we’re probably going to do next… probably a studio album, and a live EP of our old songs that have never been recorded, and new ones. Straight after this tour, we’ve scheduled a couple of months’ recording. Part of that will be setting up, teething problems… Out of that we should get an album, and I’d like to record all of our gigs from now on, so we can get a live album out of that.
The film has been canned for awhile. It’s obsolete now that Alister’s not with us. It wasn’t a film about The Gordons. Gordons music was going to be the soundtrack. Vaguely pointing in the direction of pure energy. See it and walk out feeling changed. We need more of a budget. At that stage we had a bit of excess money, because we’d stopped touring, and our album.
We covered costs [on a Friday night gig]. It’ll give us enough money to get to Auckland and hopefully do some recording.
We were really worried about Wellington. It’s just so unpredictable what’s going to happen. It depends so much on what’s on television. I’m really glad the people arrived and they didn’t forget, otherwise we would have been stuck here for months.
Gary – The van.
John – It’s fine. We thought we’d blown it up. This tour is a lot like our first tour. We’ve got a brand new dog. We always had a puppy with us. Van nearly blowing up. Everything’s gone wrong that could possibly go wrong. We had lots of money stolen, $1200. We’re inclined to have a bit too much faith in this race.
Brent McLaughlin – Under my bed [the money was stolen from].
Gary – Heavy metal?
John – I can understand it [the comparison], but I think we’re more like city noise, amplified streetnoise, than heavy metal. We’re not trying to be heavy metal, that mould, but at the same time it’s a shame heavy metal has become such a cliché, because there are elements… like we’ve got everything that heavy metal’s got in a sense. We’re loud, full on, and I play a Stratocaster through a Marshall stack which means I sound like a heavy metal guitarist. Heavy metal’s pretty staid music. I think we go over the top a bit more. I think we border more on jazz and soul. In format, it’s pretty loose, and mainly spontaneous energy. Like, there are structures there, but there’s lots of scope for anything to happen.
We take quite a risk when we play live, because we can play really badly. Sometimes we do but nobody seems to notice.
Gary – How would you rate last night?
John – Some of the songs were excellent, other things didn’t work so well.
Alister’s not here and he was a very big third of The Gordons. We really miss him. He’ll be playing with us again, possibly, at some stage.
Us three, we’re The Gordons at the moment, but if Alister wants to play with us, we’ll be a four-piece.
He used to sing an play guitar as well. He is [still interested]. He had a religious experience, and he’s a Christian. He’s still right into The Gordons. He’s just gotta be sure that we’re Christians too. Like he wants the album to be called Alister Parker and The Christian Gordons, if we do some recording with him.
Gary – Do you feel guilty that you’re making people deaf and stuff?
John – Well, I hope people are sensible enough not to come that often. Sometimes I feel guilty about it.
Vince – For the amount that go deaf, there are an equal amount who say ‘can you turn it up tomorrow night, it wasn’t quite loud enough.’
John – My ears are fine. Ears adjust. If you live in the city you’re already exposed to heaps of decibels, and apparently your ears do harden to sound so that they can cope. My ears are fine. I can hear things from miles away. And I’ve been exposed to it constantly for the last three years.
I was worried last night that it might have been too loud. I don’t want to hurt people’s ears. I don’t want to chase people away, but at the same time I want it to be loud enough for the full effect; so that you can feel the bass in your stomach so that it makes your spine move by itself.
Except for four or five songs it was all new. It’ll be different again next time you see us. We’ll have new songs and the others will have evolved. This is just a quick tour to get the idea in our own heads that we’re together.
The contract said we had to play no louder than 80 decibels, and we tried, but we actually got Mainstreet shut down.
Vince – But the woman died in a train crash, so it’s alright now.
John – I don’t know if it was arranged!
What am I singing about? The whole bloody lot! Pretty personal. I try not to be too egocentric. They’re about social issues, applied in a very personal sense.
I’d like it to be like a flow of consciousness, improvise everything – but you can’t always do that. I’m trying to insinuate much with as few words as possible.
Gary – On being musically competent.
John – It can be a danger. It depends what you’ve been getting better at in the first place, but that’s never what we’ve been getting better at. I couldn’t, especially now, play in a covers band. I couldn’t technically do it. If I really applied myself to do it I probably could, but it’s a lot easier for me to play my own music, it always has been. That goes for all of us.
Gary – Have you ever done cover versions?
John – No. I don’t mind other bands doing that. That’s all right, if that’s what they want. If you’re planning on doing it for a long time you may as well start off making it your own, so when you do get better, you’re better at making your own music.
We do use tunings. A lot of the songs are just standard tunings. We don’t use any effects pedals, just standard equipment. What you can do with that is as limited as the people involved.
I’d like a negro chorus section.
Brent – I’d like cannons.
John – A few nude lunatics on fire.