Bid Lives! The Monochrome Set Live!

Vendredi 18 Octobre 2013

As Johnny Marr of The Smiths discovered, The Monochrome Set are one of those bands that make you want to go out and start your own as there's simply no way you can make your friends understand how great they are. Their songs are absurd, literate and true. Swingle Singers harmonizing, Postmodern surf music, German drinking songs and the occasional sea chanty are all performed with supreme panache and an understanding of what makes great, original pop music tick. Cowboys rub shoulders with Spanish court painters. Animal vivisection, a slowly decaying Lambeth with the occasional ghoul or grave robber have all been fair game for the MSet discography. Bid's arch croon falls somewhere between a psychedelic Bing Crosby and a more tuneful Lou Reed. And yet, it's the band as a live act I could never quite figure out. On stage, they can be deadpan and studious, almost to the point of appearing to completely ignore one another as well as the audience. Bid's sense of humor can be so dry as to be virtually undetectable. Bassist Andy Warren, an amazingly fluid and versatile player, looks as though he'd gladly club anyone even contemplating leaping on stage and giving him a hug. Even Lester Square appears to be demonstrating guitar god moves rather than actually making them. No wonder Andy Warhol once cited them as his favorite band.

Bid Lives!  The Monochrome Set Live!
A couple of years ago, lead singer and frontman Bid ended up in the hospital and very nearly died, so the only logical way to kick-off this celebration of all things MSet is to ask..

Why restart The Monochrome Set?

We were asked to reform in 2010 for a short tour of Japan. It was meant to be just to play the old stuff, you know- Scarlet's Well (Bid's musical troupe of school girls, werewolves and goblins and their superb series of albums about the mythical port village of Mousseran) were still going and had a tour booked. Then I had my aneurysm, and, when I was certain that I had survived, and was not, in fact, undead, I decided to stop Scarlet's Well and continue with The Monochrome Set. I couldn't continue with two bands, and I felt that it was the right time to stop Scarlet's Well.

Do you ever think to yourself, "I'm not really the same person I was when I wrote 'Jet Set Junta'. I can't be bothered to play it again."?

The live mentality is completely different. I'm not really an "artist" on stage- I'm a craftsperson, enjoying playing music. It's not that the songs are meaningless, or my actions mechanical; it's just the unthinking pleasure of being in the thick of music that I'm playing. There are very few songs which I become somewhat conscious as I perform them; "Hip Kitten" is one. It's not an easy song to sing.

You don't strike me as being a particularly nostalgic person when it comes to the MSet or any of your work. Is it difficult to deal with that element especially in regards to the audiences that come to your shows?

No- as I say, live work is completely different. We like playing the old songs, and are aware that people have paid money to see us. On the other hand, our audience very often wants to hear new things. If anything, we don't vary the live set enough- we know that, and try to strike a balance, given the time we have to prepare.

Are you a better guitar player and performer in general now than when you first started?

I don't think I'm a better rhythm guitarist than I was when I was young- not much better, anyway. I took myself up to a high level quite quickly, I think. I started using a thumb when I tried to follow the chord sheet of Hendrix's "Red House" (though it's not a Hendrix song, of course), and noted that you can't play 9th chords properly without using it. You can't play "Eine Symphone des Grauns" without a thumb and capo...and many TMS songs need ye thumbe.

I'm a much better lead guitarist now, but I don't focus on it.

As a band, at least with this line-up, how is it compared to past tours?

The line-up is different now, from when we reformed- it's a four-piece. Anyway, in comparison to the 80s and 90s, there are big differences. Outside of London, we don't use our own backline, and only rarely travel by road. In fact, for the last German tour, we did the whole thing by train (Eurostar from/to the UK)- it was great (and cheaper than by road). With the combo of train/plane and single rooms, it's much less stressful than the old days.

MS album tracks are you NOT playing in your set and why?

We choose songs that have worked on stage; most don't. At any given time, there are only about 30-35 songs which would work well on stage. We will sometimes try songs which we haven't played before or for a long time, especially if the band personnel changes (as the overall sound and capabilities also change). There are no albums which we deliberately avoid...! But, some of the 90s songs perhaps need to be played with twin guitars or a guitar & keyboard. Well...we could try to rearrange them, but don't have a great deal of time to rehearse, and have new material coming in all the time.

We are very aware of the nature of the live set, and often debate this.

Is it become easier, more difficult or simply irrelevant being in a touring rock band in this day and age?

For us, it's easier, but you have to already be at a certain level. For new bands, it's close to impossible. I would guess that a very large number of very talented young artists have come and gone in the past 20 years without being noticed- and that's just in this country.

My wife theorizes that when band members actually start enjoying each other's company, they record a crap album. Discuss.

Nearly. Very astute; few people think about this. It's complicated. My thoughts... I think that band members spending too much time together outside of the band is not conducive to longevity. When the band is together, in rehearsal, studio, or on tour, they do need to get along fairly well.

Single rooms are one of the first things to aim for in showbiz. Friction is only ever sometimes good in the writing process- for some artists, but it's not necessary for others. It can make people think and create laterally, which can be good. Too much friction is bad. Friction/adversity can be artificially created (i.e., imagined), but it takes discipline.

Do you look at your back catalogue and feel you've done something lasting and maybe important pop music-wise? This is including Scarlet's Well.

It's not why I do it...

But The MSet served as the inspiration for the whole el label ethos, Shibuya-kei movement in Japan and was a huge influence on a lot of other people that went out and started their own genres. As you said, it's not why you do it, but do you derive a little bit of satisfaction that you did it anyway?

I said that because I find the subject uncomfortable. I know we've influenced a lot of people, but part of that is due to the way we are- that we ignore other people.

I recall you telling Iain McNay (Cherry Red majordomo) that The Monochrome Set were more successful than anyone would like to believe. I take it you have no regrets band-wise?

I don't think that anyone can ever have regrets about anything- whatever you've done, at the time, you thought it was the right thing to do. Even if it was really fucking stupid.

The Monochrome Set will be appearing 30/11/13 at MJC / Espace Hélios, Lambres-Lez-Douai, France. More information here

A new album, Super Plastic City will be released Oct. 17th.

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Vincent Merkhajeb