B Side Magazine - late 1986
CRIME AND THE CITY SOLUTION
ROWLAND HOWARD & SIMON BONNEY WERE INTERVIEWED BY TIM A.
*Do you know when Crime & The City Solution first formed?
Rowland: I think it was about 1977. Simon was living in what was basically a trash can, a place called Bury St in Sydney. Somehow, and I don't know how it ever happened, but somehow Simon and Harry (Howard, bass) got together to form this group which became C&TCS.
*So the Boys Next Door were already together at that time?
Rowland: Yeah. When I was 16, I was in a group called the Young Charlatans, and we moved to Sydney to find a bass player. I met Simon at this trashcan, he was pretty interesting for a 14 year-old.
*I guess C&TCS had a lot different sound then.
Rowland: Yeah. There were two different line-ups; the first one played very repetitive grungy stuff and had a soprano sax player, so it was really strange for its time. The 2nd one contained several virtuosos and musical geniuses.
*How did he get such talented musicians interested in joining?
Rowland: Well, he was a really hypnotic frontman. Simon's attitude towards music is very strange, and he affects the sound of any group he's in. Musically he's a lot less assertive in this group. I think that's because he has so much faith in Mick. Because Mick and Simon live in Berlin, they're usually the only two who actually sit down together to write songs.
*You filled in with the Bad Seeds on one tour, didn't you? What was that like?
Rowland: It was really horrible. I really didn't want to do it, but I decided it would be wrong to be that proud and stubborn about it, so I did it and it was stupid. I really didn't know the songs; I had six hours to learn the whole set.
*Well, these are a lot better times now, and that comes through in the music, doesn't it?
Rowland: The new album is a lot lighter in a sense. There's even a song which sounds fantastically happy!
Simon: It does seem to me that it's made by people who are pretty comfortable with themselves. It's a natural progression.
*Will there be any guest musicians on the album?
Rowland: Bronwyn Adams plays the violin, and there's a couple of other string players. There's a lot more colour to it in terms of a greater diffusion of the instruments.
Simon: A lot of light and shade. It was done over a longer period of time; I think everyone decided subconsciously not to spare the horses and just do it until it was as perfect as we could make it, and I think that will show. We did 'Just South Of Heaven' in something like 7 days, totally incomplete. 'Dangling Man' was done in 4 (new rec is 'Room Of Lights', by the way-w.e.Ed).
*That's great about Bronwyn playing on the record. I was wondering if you had thoughts similar to Mark E Smith's when he got his wife involved with the group.
Simon: Well, she writes half the lyrics. When one writes a piece of music, some other people are very good at realizing the potential of that in a way that the writer couldn't possibly see. I write reams of lyrics, but there's still the problem of editing, which Bronwyn is exceptionally good at, along with adding her own part to a song. But it's still true of what I would like to say; it's not as if it's someone else's attitude. I think that's probably a pretty natural thing. Rowland works with Genevieve.
Rowland: It's always really annoyed me that when Genevieve played on 'Some Velvet Morning', people said it was sick getting my girlfriend play. But when I met her, what impressed me most about her initially were the things that she was capable of doing. Love is an extension of admiration. If you don't admire someone, I think it's pretty hard to love them.
*Are you and Bronwyn still the sole lyricists on the album?
Rowland: It would be really silly for Simon to go around singing one of my songs.
Simon: Well, I would be doing a disservice to the person who wrote the lyrics. I wouldn't have his vision of the song. I mean, I have difficulties with Bronwyn, but our views of the world are close enough for me to be able to do that.
*Isn't it kind of hard for everyone to juggle their schedules with all their different involvements?
Rowland: Yes, it is pretty hard. There's now the Bad Seeds, Crime, there's my thing, These Immortal Souls, me and Epic (Soundtracks, drums) also play with Nikki Sudden, so there's 4 things going at once.
*Do you think there's an understanding that if it ever came down to it, that C&TCS would come first?
Rowland: It's a situation which should never arise.
Simon: Because the other outlets up until this time haven't really conflicted with Crime. Rowland: I think the other outlets have actually helped C&TCS, because they give the people who want to do other things an opportunity so that they won't become dissatisfied with their limitations in C&TCS.
*When Mick writes the music for a song, how does he determine whether it's going to be a C&TCS song or a Bad Seeds song?
Rowland: The Bad Seeds tend to write most of their stuff in the studio.
Simon: And it always tends to be from Nick's idea, on the whole.
Rowland: Mick tries really hard to complement what Nick wants to achieve. With the things that I write, it's just whether what I write has a set of lyrics or not. If it does, then I can't use it with this group.
*You're careful about how the music is credited to just certain individuals. Does that mean that one person pretty well has a song worked out before you get together?
Rowland: It's really different. I mean, Epic tends to write very minimal things which are good in the sense that they allow everybody in the group to express themselves, so that song can be changed into any form of music. It's very malleable, whereas Mick usually has a very strong idea of what he wants to do. I tend to have these ridiculous ideas about what I want to do, but no ideas whatsoever about how to do it. Harry's - well, with 'The Last Day' he just had the bassline.
*So it's whoever has the original idea who gets credit, no matter how much it mutates after that?
Rowland: Yeah, basically.
Simon: I think that's pretty traditional.
*Well, some bands would just credit the whole group.
Rowland: There's one band composition on the album. It's just that it's really fair to credit the person who had the original idea no matter how slight it was. No matter how many things someone may think of to put over the top or be able to change it, none of it would have happened without the original spark.
*When Crime re-started, was it Mick who approached you about joining?
Rowland: Yeah, Mick just rang me up and said that he and Simon had a group that was basically him and Simon, and they wanted a varying line-up. They had asked Harry to play with them and wanted to know if I would be interested.
*Did it take a while for things to get rolling, or did you have some songs pretty well written that you knew you wanted to do?
Simon: Oh, we had already done a demo tape in Australia when the Birthday Party broke up. I've known Mick for a long time, and he noticed that I hadn't really done anything the last four years, five years, but waste away. He rang Daniel up at Mute, Daniel has a lot of faith in Mick's judgement, and so he forwarded us enough money to do a demo. We did that, and it turned out quite well. It was just me and Mick; Mick played all the instruments. Then he decided he wanted to live in Britain, Nick lived in Europe and he was going to continue the Bad Seeds thing, so Mick arranged for me to go over there, which was fortunate. 'Dangling Man' didn't come out for - wasn't it a year or something?
Rowland: We rehearsed for a very long time, a really long time, and it was very painful.
Simon: We just didn't have a fifth member, which made it virtually impossible to play live. We kept auditioning the most extraordinary people!
Rowland: Well, we were going to play, even without 5 people. We had organised a tour. Simon: Actually, yeah, we were going to do it as a 4 piece. Then we discovered how they'd advertised the whole tour, which was basically "Come and see the new Birthday Party", which would have put us right in the shit. We cancelled that one and changed agencies. I think it's good that up until this time, or even now, I've had very little pressure, very little expectations. We just have a lot of freedom, which is quite good. Some bands can get caught up in what people expect of them, and it can be very detrimental to the group
*How did Epic come along? Did he audition with other people?
Simon: No, he met Mick. He was working at Mute part time, not really doing a great deal. Mick had seen him either in the Swell Maps or Red Crayola. He was a drummer, and I think that sort of fitted in more with what Mick was seeing at the time. I think he had grown weary of the drums.
Rowland: Well, he was playing drums in the Bad Seeds and wanted to exercise his other musical skills. He has a very comfortable attitude towards approaching things. Most people feel you can't just go in and pick up any instrument in the studio, whereas Mick has the self-confidence to try these things.
*Was it your idea for the name 'Crime And The City Solution' back in the '70s? Did you have a special inspiration?
Simon: No. It's not a political statement, it's a contradiction. It doesn't mean anything. If it has any bearing, my mother's a criminologist. I might have been dreaming about it one night, or maybe it just came to me as a name when I was trying to think of a name for a band. I like the fact that people think it has some sort of deep political meaning to it.
*It is a very thought-provoking name, obviously. Have you ever been to Kentucky?
Simon: No, the Kentucky click is just an expression that someone told me about or I read about. It's about getting drunk, and there's a click that's called the Kentucky click, and that's when you forget everything.
*There was a controversy over whether a Jesus & Mary Chain single encouraged people to use heroin. There aren't any oblique drug references in any of your lyrics, are there, Simon?
Rowland: Oblique? No, they're really blatant!
Simon: No, I think they're pretty tenuous references. But how many rock songs have had lyrics leaning towards a desire to seek out some . . .
Rowland: Sweet substances?
Simon: It'd verge on the trillions, I imagine. I don't think that there's any encouragement or glorification of drugs in what I write.
*Of course, this is your first tour in the States, and you've done some European dates too, right?
Rowland: A lot of European dates. 'Just South Of Heaven' got into the Dutch Top 40 or something ridiculous for about a week. We've played Holland a lot. For some reason, the Birthday Party played more in Holland than anywhere else in the world, apart from Australia where we played 3 times a week for about 3 years. So I think people have got more faith in us over there. We've only played England about 15 times. We've only played London four times. We did an Australian tour, which went pretty well considering the fact that there was absolutely no publicity whatsoever Nobody even knew we were there.
Simon: Or that we had ever left.
Rowland: Or that the group even existed.
Simon: Yeah, our Australian record company managed to show their world of faith in us and imported something like 10 copies of our first record, 15 copies of our second record, and sold out but forgot to re-order. This is Possum records, a new subsidiary of RCA.