"No one dare mention they were friendly with us let alone influenced by us!": 5 minutes with The Str
Some people call them survivors, their detractors label them misogynists, others simply veterans. We prefer to call them pioneers. No strangers to controversy, or indeed extended periods at the top of the hit parade when it was a requirement to sell at least one hundred thousand records to gatecrash the top ten, The Stranglers have seen and done the lot. And much more besides.
Having initially formed as a four-piece of Jean-Jacques Burnel (bass/vocals), Hugh Cornwell (guitar/vocals), Dave Greenfield (keys) & Jet Black (drums)in Guildford at the back end of 1974, it wasn't until the explosion of punk three years later that The Stranglers became a household name. Despite being the self-proclaimed "runt of the litter", their somewhat psychedelically inspired take on the genre soon elevated them to being one of the integral forces of a scene that continues to inspire artists to this day.
Within their first year as recording artists they'd released three albums, and since then they've gone on to put out a further fourteen long players culminating in this year's Giants. The line-up has also undergone a couple of changes over the years, most notably the departure of Cornwell in 1990. Having been subsequently replaced by Paul Roberts who lasted until 2006, then-fifth member Baz Warne - recruited as a guitarist in 2000 - took over the mantle of co-vocalist with Burnel and that's how the line-up remains to this day.
When offered the opportunity of (literally) five minutes in the presence of legendary bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel, DiS naturally couldn't refuse. Here's how the conversation went...
DiS: You've been making music together as The Stranglers for over forty years now. What is it that keeps inspiring you to write and record new music?
JJ Burnel: Don't remind me! I think we almost lost track of what we were about a few years ago but fortunately it was only a passing phase. The main thing is to enjoy what you're doing and don't worry about the money so much. If you start worrying about that you'll end up doing the obvious and prostituting yourself or writing songs for the wrong reasons. Also, we get on so well with each other and have done over the years. Even though Jet (Black, drummer) isn't with us at the moment due to health reasons we still speak to him on a weekly basis to see how he's getting on. We haven't lost sight of the fact we started this band purely to make music, and if you change those ambitions by aiming to play stadiums or be million sellers your impetus changes, and I don't think that's really healthy. You don't take risks any more. We've explored lots of different avenues, been on a roundabout so to speak, and if they haven't been successful then tough shit for us. But it's much more rewarding because you learn stuff.
DiS: With seventeen albums worth of material to choose from how do you go about deciding on what to include as part of a live set? That must be a mammoth task in itself?
JJ Burnel: It's completely subjective and arbitrary. You've got to please yourself, but at the same time you've got to please an audience. They're not coming just to see us exclusively, they also want to have a good time, so if you just please yourself you could end up boring the pants off people. It becomes self-indulgent and you only find yourself playing to the real converted. At the same time, if we just played a set that was exclusively the hits we're only being prostitutes again and not really pleasing ourselves, so there's a balance. We're pretty experienced at this now, so most of the time I think we get it just about right. When you're only given a forty-five minutes slot at a festival like we are today it can be quite frustrating. If it was a Stranglers tour and people were specifically coming to see us we could indulge ourselves a bit more.
DiS: Songs like 'Hanging Around' and 'No More Heroes' are still staples of club nights frequented by teenagers even today. That must give you a sense of pride?
JJ Burnel: Teenagers have got access to so much of the past now, much more than I would have done previously, and I think that helps them become more familiar with certain songs from our back catalogue, which is great for us, of course.
DiS: The Stranglers have been cited as an influence by many current bands, the likes of Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand being two that spring to mind. Are there any new bands you're particularly fond of at present?
JJ Burnel: People tel me this, and yet I'm really not sure as to which bands they're often referring to. At one point, no one dare mention they were friendly with us let alone influenced by us! Thankfully, that's changed, which is why I guess people seem to cite The Stranglers more and more these days. I suppose we've been around long enough that we must have influenced someone along the way. A lot of people have started to cover us again.
DiS: Of those seventeen albums, which one would you say is most definitive of The Stranglers as a band? Or perhaps even a specific era?
JJ Burnel: That's a bit of an unfair question to be honest. There were a few that I feel were quite complete, if not necessarily very successful. The Gospel According To The Meninblack is very dark and reflective of a certain period we were in, and production wise it's kind of "out there". I wouldn't recommend people to hear it stone cold sober that's for sure! That's one, definitely. Raven is another I'm particular fond of, and Giants is another. I'd say that's a 99% complete album, and also the last one we did.
DiS: And going one step further, I guess many people's interpretation of the "classic" or definitive Stranglers line-up would be the Burnel-Cornwell-Greenfield-Black incarnation, but do you see the line-up of the past twelve years with Baz Warne in the band as being a progression of that?
JJ Burnel: It certainly has, and also it's definitely been a shot in the arm. He's been easily the most accepted new member of the band since Hugh Cornwell's departure. It didn't quite gel with Paul (Roberts), which is a shame because he kept us going. But we were also treading water back then whereas with Baz, we've moved forward in a creative sense.
DiS: So, will there be an eighteenth album in the foreseeable future?
JJ Burnel: Who knows? I honestly don't know. I never plan that far ahead. I'd like to think so. We're at the period in our lives whether we like it or not where there's less to look forward to. I'd like to think that none of us pegs it before the next record comes out but you never know!
The Stranglers are touring throughout March 2013 calling in at the following venues:-
1 Edinburgh Picture House
2 Glasgow Academy
4 Aberdeen Garage
5 Dundee Fat Sams
7 Liverpool O2 Academy
8 Lincoln Engine Shed
9 Leeds O2 Academy
11 Leamington Spa Assembly
12 Guildford G Live
14 Brighton Dome
15 London Roundhouse
16 Birmingham O2 Academy
18 Oxford O2 Academy
19 Nottingham Rock City
21 Folkestone Leas Cliff Hall
22 Cambridge Corn Exchange
23 Bristol O2 Academy
25 Norwich UEA
26 Salisbury City Hall
28 Carlisle Sands Centre
29 Newcastle O2 Academy
30 Manchester Academy
For more information on the band visit their official website.