Music: Interview: Sid Griffin
The Long Ryders should need no introduction, but if you’re unfamiliar with the band then they were one of the mainstays of the Paisley Underground in the mid-eighties – Byrdsian song craft married to punk aggression – and after some brushes with mainstream success they imploded. The band have reunited since, but they’re out this time in support of a long overdue career retrospective Final Wild Sons, a beautiful collection of tunes that will immeasurably enhance your collection. Sid Griffin took time to deal with a few inquiries prior to their show at the Fleece.
What are the bands that you are all collectively happy to listen to on the road, and what bands drive massive wedges between you?
Without question, there was a time when the Long Ryders tour van or bus played Rockpile every day. Now Rockpile only made one album so I of course include the Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds solo albums made by the guys in Rockpile. And the nice Mickey Jupp album they backed him up on, Juppanese. We also heard a fair bit of our friends Green On Red and the Blasters. A lot of country & western from the 1950s and blues artists from about the same decade was heard too. And we always played whatever the new recording was by our Paisley Underground pals like the Bangles or Rain Parade.
I do not remember an act which some Long Ryders liked and some did not. I do distinctly remember every single one of us, including our road manager who later went on to manage the Black Crowes, absolutely hating License to Ill by the Beastie Boys.
Glad you’re back in Bristol, how’ve we treated you in the past?
You give your age away with that question: I only remember one Bristol gig being anything less than spectacular in the 1980s and when we last played together in the UK in 2004 I can say the Long Ryders concert in Bristol, on our first tour in seventeen years, was by far the best of the two dozen shows we did around Europe. The audience was soooooooooo fantastic! Our guitarist Stephen McCarthy, later of the Jayhawks, said, ‘the best moment of that tour, the best-played song of that tour was Bristol when we ripped through Prairie Fire. And I would agree with that.
Let’s say a promoter offers you a one day festival to promote fellow musicians from back home or here in the UK, who would you select and why?
From the UK I would select The See See, who are a brilliant psychedelic rock group, and as a soloist in the alt-country mode young Hannah Rose Platt as she is Liverpool’s answer to Lucinda Williams or Emmylou Harris.
As regards the USA I would have the festival book the Fleshtones for a strong rock band. Even though they were part of CBGB’s back in the day they were left behind when success swept up Television and Blondie and Patti Smith yet they are the best up-tempo party band in America. Bruce Springsteen could learn something from them and in fact I was at a Fleshtones’ gig in Stockholm in 2013 and there in the audience were members of the E Street Band! For a solo act from the USA I would pick Peter Case. Remember that name, Peter Case. The guy is a genius, pure and simple. A brilliant singer, great voice, and a killer songwriter.
How real was The Paisley Underground for you? Was it just a media catch-all to lump bands together, create a scene and sell more music magazines, or was there a genuine movement and camaraderie?
The Paisley Underground was real, bands living within walking distance of each other’s houses, going to parties and barbeques together…with the sun shining all the time barbeques happened a lot in L.A….and enjoying roughly the same pop music.
The media didn’t create that. I shared a house with a Bangle and Eric Burdon of the Animals. Down the street were John Doe and Exene Cervenka of X, a bit further was Vicki from the Bangles. The Rain Parade guys lived just a little further than that. Green on Red lived primarily to the east but you could walk to Jack Waterson’s house and, as I recall, you could walk to Dan Stuart’s apartment as well. This was reality: all these people were my friends then and still are today. Michael Quercio of the Three O’Clock thought of the term “Paisley Underground”, used it in an interview, and BAM!, that term was all over the map.How important do you think artwork is for bands in these digital days?
Artwork and graphics are less important in the digital age as people stream more and more and do not care and do not know what the single sleeve or album cover art looks like in many cases. Yet at the same time having a hip or cutting edge personal and visual image is as important or possibly more important then ever. Go figure that one.
The NME, Kerrang! Mojo, Classic Rock – how important is print media to a working band in the age of social media?
Print media is obviously declining in the music world. NME used to sell 300,000 copies a week, now it is a humble rag which is given away. Wow. Kids today get their info from the computer via band websites, file sharing sites, and music chat rooms. No need to buy Rolling Stone like there was in my day. That being said you need to take and accept every mode of promotion for your band. Be it a paper magazine or an on-line magazine you should do that interview with them. It all adds up to getting your name out there.
Speaking of the digital world: vinyl, CD or download – does it really matter (except to blokes of a certain age)?
Vinyl had soul, I will say that. For example, Peter Blake’s immortal sleeve for Sergeant Pepper is Art in and of itself, forget the music The Beatles put inside the sleeve. But as a CD that same Peter Blake artwork looked puny and kinda weak. Yep, records had soul. Yet record fans do not want to admit records had harmonic distortion built in. They have rose-coloured glasses about it…or rose-coloured hearing aids, at least. I like the warmth of vinyl as much as anyone, sometimes vinyl does indeed sound better, but sometimes it was a hiss-laden crackle and that is a fact.
I have only downloaded a few things in my life…I guess that gives away my age. It simply seems like such a joyless, un-soulful thing to do. Takes all the fun out of being a fan, if you ask me, and you did.
Rock’s most voracious capitalist (of course Gene Simmons) has stated that he would like to establish a Kiss franchise whereby officially licensed tribute bands would tour the world enabling him to sit at home in his dotage raking in even more dollars. Fancy establishing a Long Ryders franchise when the time comes?
Gene Simmons once called the magazine L.A. Weekly to get an article on Kiss printed. He actually said to the receptionist, who reported it widely, “Hey, what ‘ya gotta do to get on the cover of your magazine? You gotta have AIDs or somethin’?” So he is quite a character and one best kept at arm’s length. Alas, there is no demand for a Long Ryders franchise to tour incessantly so the question is moot.
Building on the thought of a Long Ryders franchise, let’s extend the concept – Dolly Parton has Dollywood…what would a Long Ryders theme Park involve?
Free universal healthcare and also some white-water canoeing lessons.
If you could hop back in time, is there any single key choice you’ve made that you’d like to change, and if so, what & why?
I think it was a shame to break the Long Ryders up in 1987. We had no idea the music we were playing would be so popular later, that it would spawn an entire genre called Alt-country; that Americana would be a radio format. When we were playing it we were almost alone. Just the little Long Ryders versus Spandau Ballet, Haircut 100, Duran Duran, Heaven 17 and all manner of ghastly synth-pop music. At the time we were considered old-fashioned and dated. Now who is old-fashioned, stuck in a time warp, and dated? Not us. Today what the Long Ryders played is considered worthy and hip and very, very few people look back and think, “Wow, weren’t Haircut 100 a brilliant band…what a contribution they made to our collective culture”. That may sound harsh but this is how I feel.
During their time Elvis, the Stones, the Tubes, the Pistols, NWA, Lady Gaga and others have all shocked the mainstream and their fans’ parents…is there any way that a mere band can cause the same level of outrage and shock in the 21st century – especially given what can be found on the internet?
I imagine there is someone right now planning a mode to shock their way into the pop charts of tomorrow but that is their business and not mine. There will always be someone willing to look foolish or pretend to be rebellious in order to have money flow their way. Very few music acts actually are rebellious. Just look at the heavy metal bands on MTV. Many of those bands play a very repetitive, old-fashioned music, but they dress a tad differently than their predecessors and people think it is new. It is the same old wine in a brand new bottle. And there is nothing rebellious about it. As Lester Bangs wrote, those bands should simply go onstage and flash a sign saying, “SEND MONEY…SEND MONEY”.
In fact, should rock bands even be deliberately trying to shock anymore? If not, what is their purpose…?
I don’t care if bands of any ilk shock the mainstream public anymore. The idea is to make good music and any band or act on Earth, any band period, which allows its image or its act to take precedence over its sound and its music is no act Sid Griffin or the mighty Long Ryders are going to admire. Some people think swearing in public is badass. Fine with me, go right ahead. And wear a meat dress if you want to, more power to you. But if this superficial appearance and paper tiger rebellion means more to you than your sound or your new song then you really, to use a lovely Californian phrase, suck out loud and on time. The purpose of a musical act is not to be rebellious or make money, it is to make music, to make their art, to the very best of their ability.
What currently makes you most proud to be an American?
What’s the biggest misconception about America?
You tell me. I am trying to promote the Long Ryders, I am not on the USA Tourist Board.
And what currently makes you least proud of your country?
Finally, what’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to a musician starting out right here, right now?
Think about not doing it. There used to be 600 million CDs sold a year. Now there are 150 million sold yearly and CDs are still the biggest medium out there. So far streaming has not eclipsed them though it might one day. And downloading has peaked, it will not grow year on year anymore. Streaming is the way forward. This means the very industry which burst forth with Elvis and got a huge shot in the arm with The Beatles is now slowing down rapidly. Imagine Ford Motor Company selling only 60% of the automobiles they did a few years earlier. Would you, as a young person entering the marketplace’s work force, would you want to work for Ford Motor Company knowing that was the case today?
I am musician as it is my calling. I was given no choice in the matter. Come rain or come shine it is what I do. Yet I know in my heart of hearts it is no longer a wise career move; that the market is declining, that music is simply not that important to young people in cultural terms anymore. And that…that is very, very sad.