Reformation of the Year? DiS meets Young Marble Giants
After something like a thirty-year kip, Cardiff's style makers Young Marble Giants have surprised everyone by surfacing from sleep, settling their differences and playing gigs once again. The trio made up of brothers Stuart and Phil Moxham with Alison Statton, and the recent addition of a further brother Andrew, played a homecoming show in the National Museum of Wales recently for the Swn Festival. Earlier this year, we learnt why this multi-band germinating trio matter to Everett True (here) and as they prepared to reacquaint themselves with old stamping grounds in the Welsh capital, DiS managed to catch a few words with Stuart Moxham, the band's main writer.
The sound of Colossal Youth, your only album, sounds like optimistic naivety but now you're returning to play it live with thirty years of experience under your belts, how are you managing the arrangements? Can you keep the ingenu?
We are doing it exactly as we used to, to an absolutely fetishistic level. What we have found is that because our sound is so empty in a way, so precise, the slightest thing can throw it off but when it works, boy, it really works.
In that case, are you still using the same old gizmos or have you had to find replacements?
We've had to get replacements but it's been so hard getting them. For instance, with Phil's bass guitar, we discovered back in the day that someone had wired it up, quote, wrongly, which gave it that fantastic sound and one day he took it to be serviced. The guy discovered the wiring and thought he was doing a good thing by by sorting it out and putting it right. But the trouble is he doesn't know how it was before he started messing with it so he couldn't put it back, so that was that. And of course my electric organ was some shitty old thing and my guitar was a particular Rickenbacker which I've never ever seen again, even on their websites. So we've found it pretty impossible to get the exact gear again so what I do is use what I've got and just make it fit.
You've brought in another brother, Andrew, to play an electronic drum kit but how does it feel for the original three of you to be playing together again?
The whole live project is weird actually. It's a bit like being an animated waxwork dummy, because in that context we're totally uncreative. Yes it feels really weird but it's fun and it's good to do for the moment. When we met up again it was like one nano-second had passed since the last time we had walked off the stage. So the reason we met up again was to write new stuff. We did one gig at Hay-on-Wye last spring as Domino had re-released our full back catalogue. While we were there, we swore we would never become an eighty's band coming back and doing their old stuff. It was new stuff or nothing as we really didn't want to do that. However, as soon as we came off stage we were approached by a French lady who had been in contact for a few years and who asked us to come and play in Paris. We were so high after the gig that we agreed so here we are; an eighty's band playing the old stuff (laughs). We are well aware that there's a novelty value to this and it won't last forever.
I think what helps you here is that so many people missed you first time round and only know of you through reputation.
You're right, and we have found a new group of young fans who have come to us after the Domino re-issues. And it's funny what people expect from us as we did a Q&A recently with a group of people and had a lot of fun with it. When we read the article afterwards, it said “Young Marble Giants are nice and they are funny” and it amused me that people expected us to be a certain dour way. But that's the great thing about art; science cannot measure art.
I've heard it said that the band broke up because you never wanted Alison in the band anyway and she was was getting too much attention when you were the writer.
The first bit's true but the second bit isn't, except in the way that whoever's in the front of the band will always get the most attention. I didn't plan to have Alison in the group at all . I just wanted to work with Phil so I asked him to come round and talk about it even though I didn't have any plans. He had already decided that he and his girlfriend Alison were going to work together so he said to me that I would have to take the two of them or none of them. So thinking that as this was Cardiff, and nothing was going to happen anyway, I compromised so that was the fatal flaw that wouldn't go away. And of course there's all the sibling rivalry and family baggage so eventually is all came out in the wash and we ceased trading.
Do you ever wish you had all counted to ten rather than breaking up?
I do, yes.
What about the others?
I don't know. You'll have to ask them. Even at the time, we never talked about anything important. That was half the problem. When we broke up it was shattering. It was like a divorce. And as we had never really communicated anyway, we spent the next 30 years where we wouldn't even get in the same room together. To add to it, Phil and Alison were in the process of breaking up while we were still in the band and on tour. So you can imagine; suddenly you're hugely popular and successful and everything was going absolutely crazy and up until that point I thought I'd be on the dole for the rest if my life in Cardiff. So having arrived, there was no Plan B so we were just swept along with it and everyone was falling out with each other and having no plan of what we wanted out of it or what we were going to do next or anything. So in a way the only thing we could do was part. I had a massive marijuana habit in those days that blunted and distorted band life when we were touring as it was. Basically, we existed just to get a record deal and once we had done it and made the record, in many ways, that was it.
Your cousin Pete Joyce supplied the band with your unusual electronica back at the start. Did you you tell him the sounds you wanted to make, or did he just make these things and you would explore and incorporate them?
He just had them around. He made this rhythm generator because he was that sort of person. He bought at great expense an early synthesiser. He wasn't a musician and he didn't buy it because he was involved with us. He had already bought it and had already bought the deluxe really big Stylophone too. The world, as I'm sure you know, is filled with people who have all kinds of really great kits that they never use. So you can ask to borrow it and they never ask for it back which is great.
I wonder if Courtney purposely stole Kurt's thunder by getting to the song before him? Was she just being provocative in doing it?
There are all kinds of theories about why she did it. I've never met her but One of them is that it just gave her kudos because she was playing a YMG song. There's a rumour that Kurt did a four track. If it does exist, it hasn't surfaced yet. Maybe she just did it just because she wanted to.