Founded in 1985, the Wedding Present were a bit of an anomaly right out of the gate: they were louder, faster, and generally more ill-mannered than their C86 counterparts, even as songwriter David Gedge’s lyrics–make-ups, breakups, longing, etc–separated the group from similarly guitar-oriented acts like the Buzzcocks. They became, almost immediately, John Peel’s favorite band, and remained so till his death in 2004. The excellent El Rey, the band’s eighth studio album, was released in May, following Gedge’s long hiatus with his other band, Cinerama, and the Wedding Present’s 2005 reunion record, Take Fountain.
When we spoke, Gedge was in LA, preparing for a US tour. The Wedding Present frontman, who wrote El Rey in LA, no longer lives there, so he was holed up in a Super 8 hotel, from which he discussed, in a charmingly unreconstructed Leeds accent, Seinfeld, internet pornography, and the death of the 7″ single.
The new record was written in LA, right?
It feels like an LA record.
It’s funny because I could’ve never really set out to make it the LA album. Because I see that as a bit of a concept, and I kind of shy away from concept albums–in the same way of being a punk rocker, that always seemed a bit progressive rock to me. So I didn’t really plan it that way, apart from–what I tend to do is put in a few little lyrical references into where I am at any one point. So there’s a bit of that in there. But I think you’re right, it does have a particular sound, and I guess that’s just filtered through somehow. It definitely sounds different from other records we’ve done.
Well, there are some specifically American references in there. You have a Seinfeld reference…
Yeah–funny that, because I think Americans don’t think it’s a very cool reference. But in Britian, Seinfeld was not quite as big and mainstream and a bit more cult-y, in a way. It used to be on really late at night, on kind of a minor channel, so people don’t really know it. So people in Britian have no idea what that’s about. But then you come to America and people go, ‘Uh, that’s a Seinfeld reference.’ It’s not very cool. It’s a bit too mainstream, isn’t it?
Yeah, I think that song [the “No Soup For You”-quoting “Soup”] references probably the most popular episode of a pretty popular show here.
Oh, really? Right, OK–well I went straight for the salt [?] there, didn’t I? But you know, I don’t care–I just like to reference pop culture in general, really, and I’ve always been interested in North American culture as much as European culture, so I’ve kind of included references to both over the years.
Well, there are a lot of super-hero references in your work.
Yeah I’m a big fan of comics.
And then there’s “Spiderman on Hollywood” on the new one.
Well, I grew up reading Spiderman comics, and then when the age of the ‘graphic novel’ came about, I got really into that, and thought there was some really good stuff there, and now it’s the age of superheros in the movies, and I think I’m really into that as well. It’s kind of stayed with me as I’ve grown older, really–maybe I’m the target audience. I liked the Spiderman movies, actually, I think they’re really good. I think it was a really wise choice to use that Sam Raimi bloke, because he made him a bit kind of weirder and scarier. I thought the Fantastic Four one was a bit stupid really. And I really liked the Iron Man one, actually, i thought that was really good. But I’ve been a bit disappointed with these new Batman ones. That new one, it seems to be a bit too–they’re throwing too many ideas in there or something; it’s a bit confusing. I’m just a simple bloke. I don’t want too many complicated plot-lines and characters to follow.
There’s a song on El Rey called “Model, Actress, Whatever…” that seems like it’s almost definitely about internet pornography.
Well, I don’t know–possibly, yeah I guess. I think it’s about obsession really. I think it’s about being obsessed with something unobtainable, and … you can take that how you want really.
I think that’s the first time I’ve heard the word ‘jpeg’ in a song before.
Well I like to keep things modern, you know?
Seems like there’s more jokes than usual in your work this time around.
Oh, really? Yeah, dunno, maybe–I am kind of known as this writer of melancholy, you know, quite dark stuff. But I’ve always tried to include humor in it, because I’ve always felt that was an important element of what I write about really, that is, relationships. Even in the kind of darker phases of relationships, there is definitely an element of humor there. And people just say the most surreal things sometimes, it’s quite ludicrous. But you know, they’re kind of funny and sad at the same time, really. And I’ve always been quite interested in that.
Seems like there’s a lot of that on the new record–people saying really bizarre things to one another.
Well they do, you know, and I think it’s just an interesting phenomenon–the beginning of a relationship, and the end of a relationship especially. But not always, and not exclusively. People come out with these lines, and you just say, oh that’d be a great song title, that’s a great idea for a song there. And I just kind of build it around those kind of things.
Is this autobiography? Were you single when you were in LA?
No. I wouldn’t say that it’s autobiographical. To be honest, I think the last album, I don’t know if you heard Take Fountain— that was completely autobiographical, really, very personal. But with this one I think I’m kind of back to more–I think there’s a bit of me in each song, but often it would be me imagining myself in a situation, and thinking ‘what would I do? what would I say?’ and kind of acting a role in a way. But then I kind of mix it up with references to things that might have happened to me twenty years ago or ten years ago. So it’s a bit of a mish-mash really.
Take Fountain was your first recorded album after John Peel died, and El Rey is your second. Is there a hole in the album rollout/promotional schedule/personal routine with that guy no longer being around?
[Laughs]. There’s definitely a hole in the promotional schedule, but more importantly to me, there’s a hole in my, kind of…I don’t know what the word is, really…I just can’t believe he’s not there still. Because he was so important to me. I grew up listening to that program. And you know, one of my ambitions–people always assume that your ambition is to get famous, tour America, tour Japan, get on Top of the Pops, be on TV and stuff. And my overriding ambition was to do sessions for John Peel. Which is a lower target, really, compared to most people. But I just thought he was probably the most important broadcaster that Britain’s ever produced, and he’s been so instrumental in the promotion of alternative music in Britain and Europe. And people over here know him as well, obviously. But it’s a general void kind of left for everybody there. Not just in terms of bands wanting to get on the radio or whatever, but at the BBC.
You recorded El Rey with Steve Albini, which is the first thing you’ve done with him since 1991’s Seamonsters. But I don’t think much of the new record necessarily sounds like Seamonsters…
No, and I’m glad, really. Because we did have a long debate about whether we should go with Albini again. Because the last one we did with Steve Fisk in Seattle, and I though that sounded great. And there was a kind of element of well, ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, so we should use Fisk again.’ And then we thought well, maybe we should change and try somebody different, and the music was actually going towards being more traditional guitars, bass, and drums, kind of the classic rock and roll lineup, and we just thought, ‘well Albini’s kind of the best person in the world to record that music.’ But then there was that worry: we don’t want to make Seamonsters Part 2, you know what I mean? So there was a little bit of fear. But it came out and it’s nothing like Seamonsters; as you say, it’s a completely different record. I think Alibini is kind of identified with a certain sound, but I think that’s partly because a lot of bands who go in there want that sound and have got that sound in the first place, and he just kind of refines it. But I think if you go in there with more ideas that are not of that genre, he will just record that in a way that suits that. So he’s a lot more multi-dimensional than he might appear sometimes.
The Wedding Present is a band I think of particular when I think of the end of the vinyl singles age, when people no longer really have a record, a 7″ or a 12″ with one song or two songs. Your band even did a year where you released a single each month. Do you guys miss that?
Yeah, kind of. It’s a weird one really. I do have an iPod, and I do think it’s great, and in a way it has replaced the 7″ single. Because you stick it on shuffle when you’ve got a few friends around, and it is like playing singles, although you’re not particularly choosing them, and I quite like that–I think it’s like having a little radio station of which you are the compiler. But ultimately I do miss the idea that you used to go out to a record shop and part with your well earned cash and come back with this piece of pop history, which you then played. And I don’t think downloading a file onto your computer is quite as romantic somehow.