Big. Sexy. Noise.
By Cathi Unsworth.
(Photo: JOE McNALLY)
…is this match of musical muscle. In the blue corner, from London, we have James Johnston, Terry Edwards and Ian White, collectively known as Gallon Drunk. Their decades-long journey into the low dives and wrecked lives of the capital’s gutterati has thrown up a succession of albums that fuse the live power of the Pistols and Suicide with a connoisseurs’ knowledge of soundtracks and jazz. All presented in sharp, East End style, suited and booted like the last gang in town.
And in the red corner, from New York, the No Wave Nostradamus herself, Lydia Lunch. This raven-haired, red-lipped femme fatale has spent decades facing down the corporate and the banal, with a career of constant subversion, confrontation and transformation via music, spoken word, film and photography.
They first met one steamy night, “somewhere in Germany in the early Nineties, when Gallon Drunk supported Die Haut,” James recalls.
“Like so many juicy details, that event has slipped my mind,” Lydia raises an eyebrow. “But I began working with Terry on live shows after I recorded ‘Mantrakamantra’ in around 1998. Eventually Ian was brought into the fold, and accompanied me for live performances of ‘Hangover Hotel’, ‘Smoke in the Shadows’, ‘Real Pornography’ and ‘The Ghosts of Spain’. Not many of these required guitar, but when the music called for it, I would often invite James. Besides being stellar musicians, gentlemen and a pleasure to work with they are all, like myself, flaming weirdos. A marriage made in, well, Tijuana?”
“Lydia was first given my number by a mutual friend,” says Terry, “who didn’t tell me he’d done so. She rang me out of the blue one night to play on a five-week European tour. You could say that I was surprised! But I think the seeds for this band were sown when Gallon Drunk and Lydia played consecutive nights at a club in Greece. It just makes sense for the four of us to be making this noise together.”
And what a sonic KO it truly is.
…is the sound of their debut mini-album, six slabs of sonic bump’n’grind in shades of red raw blue. Available in vinyl or download from Sartorial Records, it kicks off with the ‘Sexy Side’ – band originals ‘Another Man Comin’ (while the bed is still warm)’ and ‘Bad For Bobby’, plus a revival of ‘The Gospel Singer’, from Lydia’s 1989 Harry Crews project, co-written with Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. The ‘Sexy Side’ sounds like it was recorded somewhere in the Deep South, in one of those fleapit motels favoured by Henry Lee Lucas, with a busted air con and grateful alligators snapping in the swamp outside.
“Well, if anything’s going to inspire a killer riff,” says six-string-strangler James Johnston, “it’s the lyrics Lydia was sending us. It was so exciting getting an idea back from her with a new vocal on it.”
Initially, the Drunk boys traded ideas with Lydia over the Internet. “Generally it was a perfect opportunity to do things musically we’d wanted to do for ages,” says James. “The sound of the tracks was initially formed around the need to make it as basic and primal as possible. I’d send riffs or songs over to Lydia and she’d select the ones that worked with existing lyrics or triggered new ones. Musically everything was led by the basic premise of being simple, big, sexy… and, of course, noisy. When we came to play them all together it came together very quickly and naturally – when we got together in London as a band to try the material out, we immediately cancelled the second day’s rehearsal and recorded it instead.”
…is what these guys do best, fashioning White’s delinquent drums, Johnston’s no-fat guitar and Edward’s wild squalls of sax and blareground organ around Lydia’s deadly primal hollar. The ‘Noisy Side’ of the record contains two more originals, ‘Baby Faced Killer’ and ‘Your Love Don’t Pay My Rent’ with a version of Lou Reed’s ‘Kill Your Sons’ that was just itching for the treatment. With its vistas choked with teenage pimps, bombed-out junkies and general all-round sleazebags, the ‘Noisy Side’ has all the urban claustrophobia of bum Bowery bar, where the walls drip with sulphur like the barman’s nose drips sulphate and the floors are slick with decades of spilt drinks and split lips.
So what kind of kick will the uninitiated get from this release?
James: “The euphoria of intelligent, sexy, moron-rock at full blast.”
Terry: “I expect the usual back-handed compliments – I never knew you were so good, etc, etc…”
Lydia: “For those who miss balls-to-the-wall rock, this is the perfect nasty ass medicine.”
BIG SEXY NOISE, in case you haven’t gathered, is the name of the racket, the band and the record. There’ll be a full length album release later in the year with live dates burning hot on their debut’s heels, the first UK one being 21 July at London’s Corsica Studios. “There’ll be much more…” Lydia promises. “More Music. More Madness. More assault against the bloated state of over-produced rock, twee techno, lousy pop porn disco and lame ass rap.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cathi Unsworth is a former journalist for Sounds, Melody Maker and Bizarre and recently wrote the novels The Not Knowing and The Singer, as well as editing the London Noir crime writing anthology, all on Serpent’s Tail. Read her 2008 interview at 3:AM. Photo: Allison McGourty.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, June 15th, 2009.