Mark E. Smith - 1994

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One day in college, the music director at my WXYC radio station gave me the opportunity to interview The Fall's singer/mastermind Mark E. Smith via phone live on the air. I was nervous but excited. Would he be angry and spew venom at me like he did at so many other journalists? Oh BOY was I nervous! But he was nice. It went fine.

And by "fine," I of course mean "I asked him about 50 `yes/no' questions, resulting in perhaps the least interesting interview of his career." And I'm glad to share it with you, the reader!

My words are in bold. His are in plain text.


Okay let me turn you up just a little bit. Is this okay, Tim? Okay here we go. Sorry about that!

It's alright, Mark.

OK, you've been with the Fall since about 1977, right?

Yeah, about 78 yeah yeah.

OK, you've been - so you were around at the beginnings of punk rock and new wave and all that -


And you're one of the few bands from that era that are still around!


What do you owe that to? Your dedication or you just.

Little bit of that, yeah. Just always kept the people at arm's length really.


(laughs) Yeah.

(fake laughs out of giddy excitement and politeness, even though no joke was made)

(laughs some more)

I guess I mean you're you're underground legends at this point, but the mainstream audiences, a lot of them, especially around here still have never heard of you.


Does that bother you at all?

No, not particularly, no.



Do you feel you deserve more credit or are you good with where you are?

We're OK. I mean, even if you're on an American label, they would never let you down into Carolina, y'know.



Yeah. Do you get - do you still enjoy touring?

Very much - yeah.

How much touring are you gonna be doing for this album.

Well, we'll probably do about three weeks in September.

OK, you'll be touring around - are you be touring the U.S.? (nice grammar, Mark - first day with the new mouth?)


OK. Will you be, I guess Washington DC, the big cities?

That'd be the nearest to you, yeah.

OK. I've just got a bunch of questions here in no really good particular order, so I'll just get going.


On an early live Fall album, one of the first things you said to the audience was, "The difference between you and us is we have brains"?


Do you still feel that way? Or did you even at the time?

I did at the time, yeah. Yeah.

Do you still feel that way, you think?

Ah yeah, er well, I think uh.. talking about the mainstream, yeah (laughs).

(laughs because Mark Smith laughed and God I love that Mark Smith) You feel that they're - what, what reason would you say, do you think they're closed-minded or -

I don't know. Whatever. I mean, maybe we're not good enough to work in America. I mean, we're a top 20 band in Britain and Europe so you know, maybe I'm concentrating too much on that! (laughs)

(follows suit with laughter, though I likely didn't even understand what he said at the time) Do you think Mat-

They're not trick questions these, are they? (laughs)

Well, I was just curious!

(laughs) Yeah, okay.

Has Matador been, been helping you out in the U.S. pretty well?

Yeah, the last few years have been pretty good with `em.

With the promotion too?

Yeah.They work, work a lot harder really.

I guess it must be a lot harder - you guys, do you guys do any videos? Music videos?

(clears throat) Yeah, now and again.


Don't really enjoy it.

Oh. Why not? Just seems too fake or.. it's just boring?

Well, do know it's very excruciating to do, you know. We got one out - it's a track off the record - it's coming out soon - "15 Ways" off the LP.

Oh! What goes on in that video?

It's quite funny actually.


It's me as a newscaster and stuff and the band's like having chains with their amps around them in Manchester.

Do you see it becoming a buzz clip on MTV?

Oh, I wouldn't know.

(laughs) Do you ever watch MTV?

Unfortunately yeah.

What do you think about the latest trends in music? Did you enjoy grunge?


What did you think of it? Just a lot of lack of songwriting talent or did -

Yeah I think so. I like rave more, me.

What sorts of bands?

I like Italian rave music.



What sorts - do - can you give us any names? I'm not sure if I've heard of any of that.

No, no you wouldn't have. But I like rockabilly as well. That's my other favorite.

Are there any good rockabilly performers around these days? In the `90s?

Not new ones, no.


There's a - There's a something like in the Midwest starting out, I believe. That's what I've heard at any rate. Like The Vibrochamps. (?)


Yeah. So what's it like down there? Is it alright?

It's okay. I've been. (judging from the beginning of this sentence, I think I was going to tell Mark Smith about how my DAY WAS GOING!!! Luckily, reason suddenly took over) What, you mean musically or just in general?


Musically we've got the Chapel Hill scene going on.



Oh right! Yeah, right.

Have you heard them?

Would you call them grunge?


Now and then, someone was telling me that they're Fall-like, something. They're like the Fall or something.

Somebody told you that they were like The Fall or they LIKE the Fall?

No, I don't know.

I know they LIKE the Fall. I know the singer is a big Fall fan.

I've heard, I've heard them. Yeah, they don't sound like the Fall at all.

No they don't. No they don't. Is that your - have you heard any of the other bands around here, like Polvo?


No. Let me see. and this is sort of a question I was prompted to ask you because everyone else seems to, at least as far as I've read. Everybody asks you your feelings towards Pavement.


You don't like them.

(Keep in mind he was calling me from the offices of Matador - Pavement's record label) I'm - I don't know really. I've never really listened to `em. They're mostly Fall fans who talk about them really, and say they've ripped us off and things, y'know?

There are a few bits here and there, but they're.

Yeah, well I wouldn't know.

Yeah. Are there any newer rock bands that you're into at all?

No. (laughs)

You just mostly listen to the Italian rave and your older records or?

Yeah, yeah.

(OOO - here comes the "tense" part! Where I try to DEBATE him about something he said in another interview! I thought I was QUITE THE CLEVER ONE! WHEE!!!) I read somewhere a while back a quote from you saying something that - to the effect that today's young audiences should listen to music from their own generation?

Well, well, they do listen to - yeah, yeah. As opposed to their father's music, yeah.



You think exclusively?

No, I just think a lot of groups sound like Led Zeppelin which is what they must have, what must be, you know what their fathers listened to.

Yeah. (HERE COMES MY WELL-THOUGHT-OUT ARGUMENT!!!! GET READY!!!!) But I sort of, I've, when I was thinking about that, I was thinking, I was sort of like, there are some old bands that just newer bands copy completely and I think that a lot of people who haven't heard the older bands don't realize when they're copying them.

Well that's true. That's obvious, isn't it? (and thus my argument dies a quick, pathetic death)

Yeah. Like the whole grunge thing is basically a take on early Black Sabbath as far as I -

Yeah, except without the really really sparse lyrics.

Yeah. Do you like Black Sabbath?

Yeah, I used to love `em when I was about 14, yeah.

(laughs. Not sure why) What other stuff were you really into about the time the Fall got started, that sort of got you in -

Not much. That's why The Fall was started.

Because you didn't like much music at the time?


Did you like punk?


Some of your early stuff sounded like punk.

Yeah, I mean when punk started up, it was great, but it deteriorated very fast after about a year.


Became very heavy metal, speeded up.

Yeah. And it just got boring after a while for you?


OK, let me ask you a little bit about your own music - in recent years, I guess the fast, the past four albums especially, it's clearly switched mainly with the departure of Brix from the band, from a mostly guitar-oriented rock sound to more of a dance beat -


With a really warm guitar tone in a lot of it.


Was this because you wanted the change? Or because Stephen Hanley and Craig Scanlon ...

Yeah, they needed to be pushed out a bit more, I thought. They needed to come out of their shells a bit more.

And that's what they wanted to do?

Well, they were TOLD to do it! (laughs)

Oh! You - YOU told them to do it? (Mark - who ELSE would have told them to do it? Jesus Christ. Is there any way to go back in time and kick my own ass?)


Oh! Were they okay with that?

Now they're very independent, yeah. I mean, I've got five sort of good musicians now I can trust - I don't have to force it through anymore.

Do they write a lot of the music or do you write -

Yeah. Now they do, yeah.

But in like the last few albums they haven't? Or just the earlier albums?

No, the last two albums they have. Yeah.

Oh OK! I see what you're saying. And, so how important - would you say they're as important as you are in the band now?

Yeah, I would, I would think so. I think they're very underrated actually.

Like if one of them just got tired of being in the band, do you think that they would be replaceable or - or would the Fall continue?


What would you do? Or would you have any -

Ah, I'd find something, I mean you know. I mean if anybody's indispensable, it's them two.

Yeah, does the new keyboardist - his name is Dave Bush, right?

That's right?

Does he write any of the music?

Yeah, he writes some bits, yeah.

Really? Or do - you don't just tell him what to play, I guess?

No, not. not any more.

Okay, do you - do you play an instrument yourself?

I used to. Not anymore.

What did you play?

I used to play a bit of guitar and a bit of piano and violin.

On the albums?

Yeah, on the early albums, yeah.

Mm-hmm? Did you tire of it or -

Yeah well I think you get worse before you get better, y'know.

(laughs) Was that you playing the kazoo on some of the early stuff?

On the early? Uh.

"North Will Rise Again"?

Uh.. no! (laughs)

Aww! It wasn't even your kazoo. That's okay. Let me see - Oh! That's of interest. Do you ever get the urge to do any of the sort of stuff you used to with the longer, looser, experimental things like "Hip Priest" or the, you know "The North Will Rise Again," any of those? Or are you really big on the sort of 4-minute, 5-minute songs?

I've always tried to, yeah, keep it compact lately.

Mm-hmm. Is there a reason for that, you think?

Yeah, it - I think it's a lyrical reason, not, more than a musical reason.

Do you write the lyrics before you come up with the music?

Nah, I do a bit - I do both.

Well, how do you go about - because critics for years have commented upon your very confusing lyrical style.


How would you describe the way you write a song?

Well, it's a secret really. But I - I find a lot of it really straightforward. And when it's not straightforward, it's meant to go along with the music.

Mm-hmm. What are some of your favorite songs of yours? Are they mostly newer ones at this point? Like which are the ones that you're really proud of.

I like. I like the first four on the new LP very much. I'm quite proud of them. I put a lot of craft into them. Might not sound like it, but I did.

(laughs) A few minutes ago, I played "M5" on the air.


What is th -

That's one of the tracks I mean, yeah. I think that's really great.

What is that song about? What is that song to you? `Cuz I just hear it say "M5, 6, 7 PM".

Yeah well, M5 is like a motorway route in England. It's like into the country from the industrial part. And that's the way Britain is trying to go in a false way, you know. Like an agragarian way.

Oh really?


Hmm. I don't -

It's all, it's all a fallacy, this farm stuff, isn't it? A bit of hype. It's like whole brown bread and all that. It never existed anyway, did it?

(laughs at his own ignorance) Uhh. I don't know really!


I'm sorry!

It's okay! (laughs) It's over there iin Britain, I don't know about over here.

Are most of - Do you write any songs about American sort of issues, ideas?

Not lately, no. It's like it'd be good to get back to that. I do find it very stimulating.

Do you like America?

Yeah! Yeah, I do.

Will you - let me see - would you -

I like the contrasts. It's good.

The contrasts?

Yeah. The difference between like the south and the north.

Oh. (I did a great job here of completely ignoring a great opportunity to dig into his Mancunian perceptions of the different regions of our country. And why? TO TALK ABOUT HIS ALBUM COVERS!) Would you be interested at all in going into the idea behind - it seems like the last four Fall albums have looked a lot different, they've all looked, I mean they've all looked similar to each other and different from the ones that came before. As far as, even, they sound different and they look different. And I was wondering if you were purposely trying to separate these from the earlier product?

I always try and start from scratch with every LP.

With each new one?

Mmm (presumably a positive "Mmm")

Because it seems like all the ones after Extricate - especially like just even the cover art, the cover art looks very similar on all of them.

Yeah, the cover art - there's trying to be a thread there. But musically it's trying to be different.

The new one - Everyone I've talked to has agreed with me on this, is just very very good. I mean, I don't, you know, I don't mean to kiss your butt or anything but it's uhh. Like a guy wrote on here, on the CD here that he thinks it's the best album you've done since The Frenz Experiment.

Well that's good. Yeah.

And it it it's very impressive. I was wondering if you just felt mmm. (it's really too bad you aren't here to hear this "mmm" - it's quite a musical "mmm"!)

It wasn't deliberate.

(laughs) How - It sounds like you're having a lot more fun on this album.

Yeah, yeah I'm a lot happier.

What was the change there?


Why are you happier?

I just am, you know.

Just, alright is anything -

Like I'm not worried about if it's gonna come out or not! (laughs)

Oh! Since, you mean since you signed with Matador?

It helps, you know.

Oh okay. Are the rest of the band members happy with what's going on?

I think so, yeah. Probably change in the next few months.

(laughs) Are - Is there ever any threat of anybody wanting to leave at all?

(laughs) No.

Well, I mean, I just - I've read that you're a hard person to work with. I don't know if that's still true. Or if it was EVER true. Do you think it was true?

Nah, I don't - I wish you could ask them, you know. It seems a shame really, `cuz people never ask them.

Where are they right now - in England?

They're at - They're at home in Manchester.

(Watch a little Prindle joke come to LIFE!) I could call them if you want.

(excitedly) Could ya?

Well, I don't know -

(excitedly) Okay, do it!

No, maybe I shouldn't.

(excitedly) No, do it!

I don't actually know if I could get both of - that'd be two long distance calls at the same time. I don't -

Well, get one of `em. Come on, they'd love it.

(at this point I start shouting very loudly to a station employee who's in the other room. SHOUTING. LOUDLY. Even though all I have to do is ask the question in a normal tone of voice INTO THE MICROPHONE as he is LISTENING TO THE INTERVIEW IN THE OTHER ROOM. Who the hell hired me anyway?). CAN WE DO THAT? CHRIS? I'm checking the powers that be. CAN WE DO THAT? COME HERE! (suddenly realization sets in) Oh I guess I could say this over the air. Can we call another number while we're on this number?


It's, you know it's up to you.

CHRIS, IN BACKGROUND: I don't know! Who are you trying to call?

Another member of the Fall. (laughs)

Why don't - why don't you call. call him right after you've called me?

Okay! Do you wanna leave a number?

Yeah, it's Manchester.

CHRIS, IN BACKGROUND: Yeah, do that.


(first three numbers of phone number - OVER THE AIR)



46? Okay.


Mm hmm?

And that's Stephen Hanley.


And just tell him that Mark asked.. asked you to ring him.

(laughs) What sort of special things do I have to do with the phone to reach England?

Well, look - look it up! (laughs)


Alright, Mark!

No! The work for me. (?)

Yeah, do it! Do it, Mark!

It's I - Okay, I might do that!

Have you got - Have you got enough there?

Would you like to say anything else?

No, that would be cool!

Okay, well, one more question.


I once read a critic who - or a little work by a critic - who suggested that the only band that has put out more consistently great albums than The Fall was the Rolling Stones.


Would you rank your band up there among the greatest bands of all time? Or does that even seem necessary?

Well, I think that - I think they were pretty patchy actually. I think the Stones stopped in '66, to be honest! (laughs)

Really? You didn't like, like Let It Bleed? Sticky Fingers? That sort of thing?

I like Sticky Fingers yeah, very much.

Well, they got a new album coming out in about a month. (Voodoo Lounge)

Have they?

You know it's gonna be their strongest yet.

(laughs) Okay!

It might be!

Okay! Okay, Mark!

Another "Start Me Up"?

(laughs) Okay!

Alright, umm well.

Nice to talk to you, Mark.

Well thank you very much for calling! I wasn't sure if -

Very refreshing.

- if you would. But I'll probably go see your band in Washington DC. I saw you last year.

Alright Mark!

Alright, have a good day!

Ring Steve! You have a good day now.



Bye. (hangs up) Okay! That would be Mark E. Smith from The Fall and I'll put on another Fall song here and hopefully we'll call Stephen Hanley, who is the guitar player for The Fall (nope. Bassist) and that should be fun too. Right now we have a very old song by The Fall cued up.


Oh! It's their very first single. So they really don't sound much like this anymore. And they probably will never ever play this song live but this is called "Repetition."

(plays Repetition)

(tape stops and I forgot to start it again until after I had already started talking to Stephen Hanley - I'm still in bold, Stephen's in plain text)

I know he's got a fairly hard reputation, but you know, I find him pretty easy to work with.

Really? I guess you - I guess you would have to! You've been in the band for a long time.

Yeah! Otherwise I wouldn't have lasted this long now.

(laughs) So do you still enjoy touring?

Yeah! Yeah. Actually I really enjoyed it last year, the American tour, yeah! You know.


We stopped in for a while and we're due to go again this year, so.

Do you - Do you - Are you given, I guess, the opportunity to write a lot of the music?

Yeah! Well, everyone in the band writes music really. So, you know.

Do you get together like once a year and practice for a few months or you just -

No, we get together all the time.

Oh really?

Yeah. On and off, you know. When everyone has ideas and we see what we can come up with.

What - Are you uh - Are there any pe - any new bands that you've been listening to that have been impressing you at all? I asked him that question. And, and he said `no.' (laughs)

A band called Oasis in.. from Manchester. (for the record, this was the VERY FIRST TIME I ever heard the band name Oasis. And it was from Stephen Hanley!!!! Unfortunately, shortly thereafter I began to hear the band name Oasis quite often.)

Mm-hmm? What are they like?

Sort of in the same vein as people like Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, but a bit more `60s you know, a bit more like from the `60s. You know, guitar rock. They're quite good.

Have you heard any of the bands that some American critics have been saying are sort of ripping off The Fall? Like, like Pavement?

Pavement, yeah.

Do you like them?

I've got that LP, yeah actually. Yeah, well I can see by the references on the front but - I don't, I don't think they're very good at writing songs! (laughs)

Oh really? (laughs)

To be honest, y'know.

(continues laughing) Would that be the Slanted and Enchanted? Is that the album?

Yeah - that's the one, yeah.

That's very popular over here among our, among our youth.

Yeah? Is it? Eh.

Did you - It's - A lot of people feel that the new album by your band is the strongest in a long time.


Would you agree with that? I mean, that's kind of a dumb question, I'm sorry. It seems like you, you guys -

I don't know - I think it's - some of the songs on there are, but ehhh. I thought, I thought the one before was really strong, you know? Infotainment Scan.



Yeah, it was. (I was just being polite - I've always considered Infotainment Scan to be their weakest studio album) And it.. it.. And you're on Matador now in the U.S. (why did I mention this? What did it have to do with ANYTHING?)


Umm.. Let me see - I really wasn't prepared to interview the bass player. We all really like your bass lines!


Mm-hmm! (laughs) What are you guys - and he said you'll be touring a few cities in the U.S.?

That's right, yeah. A new tour in September.

Mm-hmm? And.

Whereabouts are you?

I am in North Carolina.


Chapel Hill! Home of Superchunk. Have you heard Superchunk?

Yeah, yeah.

Do you like them at all?

Well, I don't really know their stuff that much.

Yeah. Let me see, well, okay. Well, I don't really guess I need to take up any more of your time.


I was just curious.

It was a bit of surprise actually, you know? Not used to getting calls from America.

I could have made it collect!


I could have made it collect.

Yeah? (laughs) Not for very long.

Yeah. Okay I guess have a good Friday -

Thank you.

And congratulations on - on a really good new album. I hope it's - he said you made a video for "15 Ways"?

That's right, yeah. Just recorded it last week.

Hopefully that'll.


`Cuz most of - a lot of the people I know have never even heard of The Fall.


Or they've heard the name and haven't heard any of the songs.

Yeah well, we have had a few problems in the states, you know. Well, the last record company we had didn't, didn't release the two albums there, you know.

Was that Beggars Banquet?

And we hadn't toured for five years too.


So it's understandable, you know. But we did really well on the tour!


You know, last year.

Yeah. I saw the DC show and it was, it was packed there.


I mean, I oh that's good.

That was good, yeah. It was right at the end. One of the last days.



Okay well thank you very much!


And have a good Friday and uh

Thanks a lot.

Hope everyone goes and sees ya in DC in September.

(laughs) Right!



Talk to you later!

Thank you! Bye!

(hangs up)

(in a rare moment of immediate intelligence, spoken sarcastically): Yeah, I'll talk to him later. I'll call him up later. Okay here's Pavement off of an album that Stephen Hanley doesn't like and Mark Smith has never heard. What song is this?


Well, it's a hit.

(plays "Two States")

Reader Comments (Brian Scranage)
followed the link from fallnet to the mes interview. Loved it!
I was in a record store recently and they had a live Fall cd playing. Never having heard them, I said "Who is this? It sounds like Joy Division with a drunk asshole on vocals" and the girl behind the counter kind of sniffed and said,"It's The Fall!"

Rian Yirkah
You did a great job with this interview considering your youth and inexperience and the interviewee. You're lucky that you caught Mark on a good day!

My top 5 favorite Fall albums (in chronological order):

Hex Enduction Hour
This Nation's Saving Grace
Middle Class Revolt
The Unutterable

My top 10 favorite Fall songs (also, in chronological order)

Rebellious Jukebox
The Impression of J. Temperance
Hip Priest
Disney's Dream Debased
Paint Work
Gross Chapel-British Grenadiers
Hey Student!
Dr. Buck's Letter
Crop Dust
Nate Will Not Return

Add your thoughts?

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