This article was originally published in The eXile on September 17, 2004
Exile editor Mark Ames exposes a rare fawning side while interviewing his lyrical hero, Mark E. Smith of The Fall, while Smith, who is notorious for abusing journalists (even reportedly putting a cigarette out in the eyeball of one Brit journo), reveals a charming, disarming side. Particularly in the number of times he addresses Ames by his first name, giving the interview a kind of Paintwork/Dale Carnegie sensibility.
In preparation for this weekend’s back-to-back Fall concerts, Ames phoned Smith up at a recording studio in Manchester, where the Fall are laying down new tracks. A woman with a French accent answered the phone — perhaps MES’s beau. She was very particular about getting Ames’ first and last name. We pick up from the moment Smith takes the phone…
Ames: Yeah, is this Mark?
Ames: Thanks for taking my call. So you guys are in the studio right now?
Smith: Yeah, we just finished recording all morning.
[Line goes dead]
Ames: Ah shit.
[Dials, Smith answers]
Ames: Hi, this is Mark again. Sorry about that. KGB cut us off. Happens a lot.
Smith: Ha-ha! Is that it?
Ames: So you guys are working on a new album?
Smith: Well Mark, it’s actually like between-album songs, you know. Not a new album, just some between-album songs that we’re doing.
Ames: I heard a new song you guys did recently on BBC called “Clasp Your Hands” I think. It kind of sounded to me more like a Grotesque or Slates-era song.
Smith: Yeah, it does sound like Grotesque, doesn’t it? I was thinking the same thing.
Ames: Was that intentional or did it just turn out that way?
Smith: No Mark, it wasn’t intentional you know, it’s just how the song was done. My new bass player wrote it, they’re all much younger than I am.
Ames: How do you like your new lineup? How do they compare to previous ones?
Smith: Well I think this band’s the best one yet.
Ames: Do you think the sound of this lineup is going back to the old sort of…
Smith: We’re not trying to, you know. I don’t ever go back and listen to the old Fall albums. I don’t like listening to stuff I’ve already done, unless I have to if we’re doing an old song in our set.
Ames: Raw, lo-fi rockabilly always seemed to be one of your biggest influences.
Smith: Yeah, yeah, that’s right, Mark.
Ames: How did you find your new band, or they find you?
Smith: I don’t know, through contacts and stuff. I don’t like hiring Fall fans, you know what I mean? Don’t want people coming to me. I prefer if they don’t even really know The Fall.
Ames: You’re very prolific. I was wondering if you ever had a crash after a hard working period of a few years and you just can’t do anything.
Smith: Well I haven’t had a vacation in five years, you know!
Ames: Jesus… (Laughs uneasily)
Smith: I really don’t understand these bands that take time off, like a year off, after their albums. I like to keep working, you know. Cuz after I put out an album, if I’m just sitting around for a couple of months I get bored, you know? You turn on the radio and it’s just nothing but crap, these awful bands and all the awful music, you know. So I have to go back in and make some new songs.
Ames: You’ve always said that the world needs The Fall. Is that still the case?
Smith: Ha-ha! Yeah, Mark, I think it’s still true. It hasn’t gotten any better.
Ames: Especially in Russia. It’s just kind of waking up after about 10 years of shitty pop, the loudest awful pop imaginable. So I think it’s really good timing for you guys.
Smith: (laughs) Yeah, I agree, I think it’s a good time too. They’ve got all that 80s crap they play there, don’t they, Mark? All that 80s and 90s crap.
Ames: Matt Damon was supposed to come here to promote his new movie where he plays a fearless spy mixed up with the Russian mafia, and he just canceled his trip because of fears of terrorism.
Smith: Ha-ha-ha! Oh yeah. That’s typical isn’t it? The Chechens are going to get Matt Damon. Ha-ha!
Ames: Are you worried about something happening at The Fall show?
Smith: No Mark, I don’t think the Chechens care about the Fall (laughs). Anyway, we had terrorism here all my life, you know, with the IRA. I don’t even think about it, you know.
Ames: You once said “Serial killers have always been a bore in my books.” What about terrorists, do you think they’re boring too? [Line cut off] Hello? Fuck…
[Ames calls back]
Ames: I guess the KGB doesn’t like all this terrorism talk.
Smith: Ha-ha! Yeah, seems that way. You were talking about this Matt Damon, right? What a [unintelligible]… I can’t believe he won’t come out. Ha-ha! Incredible. I think I know who you’re talking about now, that actor.
Ames: He’s afraid to come to Moscow. I hope all the Russians boycott his movie here.
Smith: Yeah! They should boycott it. He deserves it.
Ames: The name “The Fall” came from the Camus novel, and Camus was influenced by the Russian writers, like Dostoeyevskii.
Smith: Yeah, that’s right Mark, Camus was influenced by the Russians.
Ames: Did you ever go through a Russophilia stage yourself, with their writers or artists?
Smith: Yeah, still am a Russophile, still going through it.
Smith: I like Gogol, still read him.
Ames: What is it about Gogol that you like?
Smith: I don’t know Mark, he’s just so surreal and comical. I mean this story about the nose coming to life, you know, really great. There’s something about his stories.
Ames: It’s strange that he seemed to come out of nowhere. There was almost no Russian literature before Gogol and then he came out of nowhere to write these stories that seem so modern and disturbing.
Smith: Yeah, exactly. He’s really good, isn’t he.
Ames: So what are you expecting when you come out here? Do you have any expectations?
Smith: I was in New York twice in the last three months, you know. And uh, I met a lot of Russians there. There’re more Russians in New York than Americans, you know?
Ames: Yeah, New York is full of Russians. Did you hang out with any?
Smith: Yeah, you know, I met a few of these guys.
Ames: Heavy drinkers?
Smith: They’re tough guys, these Russians, you know what I mean? They’re really tough.
Ames: Yeah, Russians are tough, for Europeans. So you won’t be doing any tourism stuff?
Smith: No Mark, I never do that wherever we go.
Ames: You’ve been to Eastern Europe?
Smith: Yeah, we played Vilnius and Prague.
Ames: How did you like it out there?
Smith: I don’t know, they were all over us, the Czechs, you know what I mean? I didn’t really, uh, see what the big fuss was. I mean all these English people are saying, ‘Isn’t Prague great,’ you know, but there wasn’t much there. Just…
Ames: Yeah, I lived there briefly and hated it.
Smith: Ha-ha! You too? That’s what I thought. It’s full of stupid college students, you know. They all think they’re part of something. I couldn’t stand the place. Nothing there at all.
Ames: People think somehow if you go there it gives you literary status and then you can write your memoir about it.
Smith: That’s what it is, isn’t it Mark. It’s like they all think it’s something they’ve got to do, isn’t it?
Ames: Yeah, but it’s safe.
Smith: Yeah it is.
Ames: Unlike Moscow. Moscow doesn’t feel so safe, so those types don’t really come here, you know.
Smith: Ha! Yeah, right.
Ames: You guys have influenced pretty much every band in the last 20 years that people now consider important. Does that piss you off that so many bands have ripped you off? Do you want to sue them or something?
Smith: Naw, it doesn’t piss me off. I just hate it when they use my name, you know? I don’t like it when I see “The Fall” used by all these bands as their influence, you know what I mean? But it doesn’t piss me off that they ripped us off, no.
Ames: Well do you find it flattering?
Smith: No I don’t find it flattering, not at all. Because they’re all such crap, you know. I just wish they would stop using our name. I hate opening a magazine and seeing my name in some article about a crap band.
Ames: Like Pavement. I got genuinely angry the first time I heard Pavement.
Smith: Yeah, so did I. My label was really angry, they wanted to do something about it.
Ames: And Sonic Youth too. Although at least they mixed their own sound with yours.
Smith: Yeah, they’re not as bad as Pavement in that way. I don’t like any of it really, Mark.
Ames: What bands do you like? Are there any bands you’re listening to these days?
Smith: Yeah, there’s this band Mouse on Mars from Germany, I heard them a few months ago. They’re really good, I like them a lot. And I’ve been listening to a lot of reggae lately.
Ames: Yeah? Some of your songs have a reggae beat, like Kurious Oranj.
Smith: Yeah, right, it is kind of reggae.
Ames: Will your band do a kind of reggae-rockabilly sound on your new stuff?
Smith: Well the band members like that sound. They’re a whole generation younger than I am, you know, and they’re really into the reggae and old rockabilly. So that’s the sound in some of our songs, yeah.
Ames: Do you think that’s because old rockabilly is sort of the least bullshit sound after all the trends?
Smith: I think that’s right, yeah.
Ames: Are your new bandmates influencing you as well?
Smith: Yeah, I think so. I mean the bass player was like four years old when The Fall started, you know. (laughs). None of them were big fans of The Fall, so they’re not trying to reproduce it, you know. I don’t even think they liked The Fall that much when they joined. Ha-ha!
Ames: Yeah, you don’t want them to fawn all over you, you want them to push you.
Smith: That’s right, Mark. Keeps it more surprising.
Ames: You once said you try to limit the amount of information you take in otherwise it can scramble your brain. Do you still live by that?
Smith: Yeah, you don’t want to get too influenced by things, you know. Most of the new music is just crap anyway. You just get distracted. We always try to do something different, you know. Like “White Lightening.” I don’t know if you’ve heard that song?
Ames: Oh yeah! In fact when we first started this newspaper, that song became a kind of production day theme song in our office. The Russians we worked with loved it.
Smith: Really? Ha, good!
This article was originally published in The eXile on September 17, 2004
Still like to know more? The eXile: Sex, Drugs and Libel in the New Russia co-authored by Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi (Grove).
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