Echo and the Bunnymen: “We Weren’t a Fluffy Pop Band”


Echo and the Bunnymen

Now the quartet is finally re-released on vinyl – and the band’s guitarist, Will Sergeant, says he’s “made” about it.

“We’ve been talking about it for years, why aren’t the records vinyl,” says the 63-year-old. “You see all these other bands from that period, they all released vinyl and you wonder why [Warners] collect it and turn it off. They have done it now.

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The Bunnymen’s penchant for psychedelia, The Doors and Captain Beefheart set them apart from many of their post-punk contemporaries. The same goes for Sergeant’s unwavering love for progressive rock. “I know it was hip to say, ‘I’ve never been to Emerson Lake and Palmer’ or anything, but when I was 14 I was so tough,” he says. “It was linked to my youth and my childhood. Emerson Lake and Palmer, Yes, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, these were the underground bands of the time. They sold millions but everything sold millions. They were the monsters that were into this stuff, the aliens.

“It wasn’t until later that the punk came in and said, ‘Oh no we don’t want that anymore, they can play too well’ and then they all denied ever being in it in the first place. It’s a pile of garbage, that’s all there was about Mud or Showaddywaddy. Which will you choose: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway or Showaddywaddy? And you got rid of it? Sorry.”

By the time the Bunnymen made Crocodiles Pete de Freitas had joined the group, replacing their drum machine. The sergeant thinks his arrival has brought a “totally” dynamic to their sound. “Until then, we had a working drum machine. We couldn’t program it or change the beat in the middle of the song, there was no ebb and flow or strong enough songs. It was great, I loved drum machines, I was a fan of Eno and all that kind of stuff, Kraftwerk, and I knew about drum machines, but when Pete came in it was like it went from black and white to color it was a whole different kettle.

“You could have teardown sections, intros with drums. A drummer is like someone with a song card too. It’s like little signals the whole time a drummer is doing, you can’t get lost, it’s like having a GPS so that was great on that side, and he was such a powerful drummer too. .

“We had seen Gary Dwyer play drums in The Teardrop Explodes and Stephen Morris in Joy Division and a few other people, but we didn’t know much about drummers. I was focused on the guitars anyway. It is only by rehearsing that you realize how important a drummer is. Look at all the accolades that Charlie Watts has just received. There was nothing flashy about Charlie, but it was solid and it was pure and it was necessary what he was doing. They are such an integral part of a band and it was great that they could put their own character in the songs, like Charlie and Pete from Freitas and Keith Moon did.

Crocodiles were largely produced by Dave Balfe and Bill Drummond. The sergeant said, “They were just more of the party-mongers than anything else. I don’t think they knew much about the production, they knew when they liked it and when they didn’t like it. Balfey was always trying to get to the heart of the matter, saying “I’m going to put a keyboard on this”, and we still had an argument with him. I went to dinner with Balfey the other week and he’s doing fine, but at the time he was annoying, trying to make him pop more than we wanted.

The Bunnymens’ second album, Heaven Up Here, propelled them into the top ten and they also started to break into the US market. The sergeant, however, takes issue with singer Ian McCulloch’s claim that the album was more the guitarist’s record than his own. “Mac always says that, but you know what he’s really saying there?” He says “everyone else is mine” and they’re *** bulls because they were all us, “he says. “I used to be confused by this comment. I thought ‘what are you talking about – like i have nothing to do with other people, are you kidding?’ It’s a smart psychological blow.

A melancholy record, journalist Simon Reynolds observed that compared to Joy Division’s Closer, released the same year, it “turned its face to the light.” The sergeant is less sure his tone is ultimately upbeat, adding, “I never thought of us against anyone else.” I love the music and I love the other bands, but I don’t see it as a competition, there is a lot of space for everyone.

Their third album Porcupine turned out to be a difficult record to make. The sergeant said the problem was “more the label didn’t like what we had done” than tensions between the bands. “They put us in (the studio) and do more, remix stuff and stuff, and it was boring because you’ve been around for years and you think that’s how it should be and then they say , ‘we don’t’ It’s not like that, can you come in and start over? ‘

“We paid for it in the end. You don’t think about it at the moment, it’s only later that you realize that you still owe the record company a lot of money.

Relations with Warners didn’t even improve when the band wrote the single The Cutter. “They didn’t like it either,” said the sergeant. “Bill Drummond came in again and mixed it on the sly and put those horrible trumpets on it. They were like keyboard trumpets and I was really pissed off. Now everything seems so petty, but back then you are very precious. It’s as if Picasso was doing a painting and someone would come up and say “what about a little white here?” Or “that face looks a little strange, can you make it smile?” It really pissed me off about that kind of interference, but it happened a bit.

Released in 1984, the group’s fourth album, Ocean Rain, is considered their magnum opus. The sergeant says he wanted him to be more musically expansive than his predecessors. “Me and Les had just been on vacation in Russia and that influenced us a lot,” he says. “We were in the studio in Paris and they had a bunch of really old fashioned keyboards like a celestial and a piano that had tacks in the drummer that made it sound crisp and quirky, like some kind of western bar. or a Mrs. Mills on her knees. We used all of those kinds of things in the background with guitars.

“The fact that we are also in a foreign country, we did everything differently. They had this amazing plate reverb, it was a really big wooden box in the basement and everything could be sent through that and sounded amazing. It just sounded like one of Scott Walker’s records, it was a really hot reverb. We didn’t mix it there because there weren’t enough tracks to record the reverb. What they do sometimes, if there is a spare track, they record the reverb sound on its own and you can have it in the mix anywhere you want. It actually sounded better to me when we were in Paris, but it’s still awesome.

At the time, the album was marketed as “the greatest album ever made.” The sergeant jokes that he “didn’t believe” in such hyperbole. “Things are claimed on all products, what does it matter? ” he says. “It’s not like (claiming) that we are greater than God.”

After revisiting the albums for a Tim Burgess Twitter Listening Parties series, the sergeant says he found his perspective on them had changed “a bit.”

“I was very happy with them,” he says. “By the time you do them there may be a little guitar thing that really annoys you or you do something and it doesn’t sound quite right, a dumb and dumb little thing and that’s all you can.” hear when you are in the studio listening to it. After twenty years or so you’ve forgotten all these things and you just listen to it like a record, a work of art, it’s pretty refreshing. I was really delighted with the way they sounded. There were a lot of little sounds in the background that I had forgotten.

“These listening evenings are great. When you were buying records years ago, when you were 133 or 14, you would walk around your mate’s house, have a cup of tea and listen to Foxtrot or something from Pink Floyd and listen to the all. You were there just to listen to the record and that was what it was about. It doesn’t seem to be like that now, there’s no common listening or if there is, it’s just in the background. People now listen to headphones on trains and switch from track to track or album to album on Spotify. They miss (the fact that) many records were made to be listened to in their entirety. That’s what’s great about the vinyl revolution, people are listening to the whole record again. The bad thing is that when you sit down and play an entire record, there may be some tunes that you don’t like, but after a while you get used to them. The old adage was ‘he’s a farmer’, it doesn’t all have to be instantaneous. “

The memoir of Sergeant Bunnyman has been one of the most acclaimed music books of this year. Writing the book led him to look at his youth with “different eyes,” he says. “At the time, I was probably a bit of a obnoxious jerk. I was arguing over things that now when I look back I think to myself what was I arguing about? But for me it was (important), and I think that’s what made us who we are. We weren’t a fluffy pop group that would do anything. I hated doing Top of the Pops. Once I didn’t go, someone must have taken my place and pretended to be me. It wasn’t just about being on Top of the Pops for me, it was more the creative side, doing interesting things or being involved in something good, and I wanted it to last the test of time. time. I didn’t want it to be throwaway pop stuff, which it isn’t.

“There are songs on (the albums) that you would call pop songs, but they’re on their own terms. The Cutter has some crazy pieces. Back of Love has a little weird in the middle where it goes down and there are all kinds of crazy noises. We’ve had these swirling things that you swirl around your head – this noise. We found a bunch of them in the studio and whirled them around. It wasn’t even the right note, but it sort of adjusted chaotically. I like things that are unusual. I don’t want things to be what you expect.

Next year, the Bunnymens embark on a tour of the UK. The sergeant admits to being “a little afraid” of the prospect. “We haven’t played since 2019 so it’s a little intimidating,” he says. “My fingers are all soft from not playing guitar. It takes time for it to stop hurting. It’s also about remembering where all the effects go in each song. But I’m sure after a while you’ll be fine.

Echo and the Bunnymens play at Sheffield Town Hall on February 1, 2022 and Leeds O2 Academy on February 2. www.bunnymen.com


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