'We're Not Limited To Any Hard Or Fast Set Of Rules'
John Lydon On Stage With PiL

I think it can show. In the recording process and certainly on stage, what you’ve been talking about…that sense of one upmanship.

Which I despise. It’s the downfall of mankind. All those personal inadequacies, they’re tantamount to jealousy. Well there’s none of that at the moment. There’s none of that in PiL right now, none one of it!

That sounds like a really positive place to be in.

It is, for the first time ever, I’m truly and completely enjoying my work. There are many, many problems: business and financial but they’re surmountable. What you can never get over is animosities. There’s no need for it, PiL doesn’t make music because it hates people. Quite the opposite. It’s an act of love!

It’s obviously a pain in the arse financially to go through all this but is there a certain freedom to move forward entirely on your own terms?

It means on stage we can expand the songs into new environments. With the utmost respect of course to the audience. When people come to see PiL they come to enjoy themselves. With no negativity, there’s no ‘us and them’ attitude. It’s a completely non-violent situation and one of utmost respect. It’s quite a different universe.

You mentioned getting back into the studio later in the year. I’m aware that you’ve consistently been writing although even though you may not have had records out. So what direction do you see PiL taking for the future?

Hopefully it will involve a completely new record label and there are people out there now that are starting to pay attention. But the only way you can be a potential for a new label is by playing live and proving the point that you are worthy to be taken note of. For me, I think I should be taken note of anyway (laughs). I’ve done enough for the wonderful world of music really. It should somehow be an easier ride, but it isn’t. So therefore I have to smile in the face of adversity and progress from there in or there on. Its great the ideas that are flowing around in our heads, it’s wonderful, it really is. I could go all soppy and sentimental on it. It really means that much to me. This band for me is something that surpasses the trivia of what the industry usually churns out. There have been so many major bands that have taken from us. Some with respect, mostly out of mockery (laughs). Where they say ‘well anyone could play that’. The point being that no one else did come up with it. We were instrumental in creating new genres, ideas of how songwriting can be.

Well, it’s quite the thing these days, taking all these disparate elements and putting them all together. But go back to Metal Box (PiL’s seminal second album), that’s the one album everyone talks about. Because you were truly bringing so many new ideas together I guess?

Well, I read the nonsense of journalists that without Keith and Wobble…they’re not paying attention the extraordinary work that is ‘Flowers of Romance’. Or the sheer pop beauty of ‘Rise’ & ‘Disappointed’. We’re an outfit and I’m a songwriter. I can tread into any area I like and create new things.

Often you read these retrospectives of PiL and everyone just talks about ‘Metal Box’. There’s little doubt it was groundbreaking, genre defying even…but you as an artist must have to move on from that, there’s no point in making another 8 Metal Boxes.

The subject matters I deal with dictate the music. Not the other way round. Putting some words to a catchy tune? There’s a little bit more to it. And to be true to the emotional content of each song and subject, well it sometimes requires extraordinary lengths. Sometimes you can use a verse/chorus format very appropriately, but not always. Were not limited to any hard or fast set of rules.

Isn’t that the maturity of PiL though? You look at the Pistols and yeah, fantastic but very much of their time. That’s a young mans game.

For me as a songwriter I was thrown in at the deep end with the Pistols and I proved my fucking worth. That’s not a bad year and a half’s piece of work.

It certainly made its impact on popular culture and the musical landscape…

Yeah, I have no problem at all with going back and doing Pistols gigs, but I do writing new songs for them. That was certain period in time that I love to revel in. But I don’t want to fakely reproduce it. Once I’ve cleared my head with PiL I can look at it in a lighter context. But PiL’s the thing that matters the most.

I saw you give a very poignant interview to the Culture Show earlier in the year (who would have guessed Andrew Graham Dixon was a fan?) where you spoke about the passing of your father and you intimated that PiL was a vehicle for you to deal with your grief in a constructive way.

I’ll give you an example with the death of my mother, which was ‘Death Disco’. Before she died I played it to her on a cassette at the hospital, a rough of it. And she loved it. You would think it would’ve been like ‘No!’ but my family is a very good family that way. My father died last year. Just torn apart because of that really, the emotions of it. So I’m kinda using the song ‘Death Disco’ to explain my feelings about my father too but he deserves a song of his own and at some point later in the year that will be available. I guess that’ll come in its own time.

I can empathise with that feeling, after losing my own mother last year. It’s not just sadness, there’s a rage…

(Sighs) Well you reach a point don’t you, you feel that words are useless?

But there’s a strange propelling force also that pushes you forward. It cuts through the inertia, the bullshit and in turn spurs you on…

I don’t know what it is, maybe its psychological, the tone of Uilleann bagpipes in me. I know that words work best with music. I would love to have been a writer but I would always have been disappointed because I would always know that the written word is just not enough. There’s just that extra bit that tones and sounds can add to a thing. If you can find exactly the right tones, you can create a bigger picture. A much more accurate picture. That’s what I do. That’s why I love songwriting.

I’m only explaining it that way because I was brought up listening to folk music and pop music. All kinds of music really. It just seems for me the best way to explain how I feel, is by combining that with some kind of literature and the two compliment each other. Poetry in motion! Rather than sterile words on a page. I see so many modern bands ignore that capability. There’s very many of them out there now, wonderfully creative musicians etc but the songs aren’t about anything. Its just filler.

I guess if you want to just listen to music, you should listen to maybe Mozart or Stockhausen, if you don’t want any lyrics…

When I listen to that stuff, which I do…if there’s great chunks of just music on its own I do want to fill in the words. It’s my problem with jazz, it just annoys me because the singers are just filling, ‘doob ooh deh’. It’s not poignant enough. But there are exceptions and Billie Holiday is one of them.

Part 3 to follow...


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