(From Free Williamsburg, New York-based monthly, May 2000.)
Jah Wobble is a member of
Invaders of The Heart, Deep Space, and now The Damage Manual, who will be
touring this summer in America. Wobble was original the bassist for PIL, and
other bands including Human Condition. He has also played with David Holmes,
Holgar Czukay, Primal Scream, and Brian Eno, to name a few.
He had a top ten single with Public Image and his most successful album is Rising Above Bedlam which featured Sinead O'Conner. In 1994, he played with Peter Gabriel in the WOMAD festival. He's also been busy running 30 Hertz Records. In the past year, he has hooked up with Martin Atkins, of Pigface and Invisible Records, and started a new band, The Damage Manual. Geordie Walker of Killing Joke and Chris Connelly of Ministry are also members. We talked recently by phone about what Jah Wobble was up to lately. The Damage Manual will start a world tour in June 2000.
by Alexander Laurence
AL: You have been doing records with Invaders of the Heart for several years, and you have your own record label 30 Hertz. How did you find time to do a separate group with Martin Atkins and The Damage Manual? How did it come about?
Wobble: I've only seen Martin Atkins once since I left Public Image in 1980. He called me about 18 months ago and we had a chat. He was in England and asked me how would I fancy giving him a bassline or two on DAT tape so he could sample it. I said that since we were both actual musicians that we should get together and play. Martin said okay. We began to think of other people who could participate and the first person who came very much to mind was Geordie Walker, of Killing Joke. He was one of the best musicians of that era, the late 1970s. That's how it came about basically.
AL: These first sessions took place in London?
Wobble: It was one of those things where everything comes into sync. Martin had come back to England. Geordie was just visiting. We did one session and then another. Musically it was very open. The only predestined thing was that Martin had brought some loops. We didn't really know where it would go. Maybe it would be this really weird hybrid rock record? At that point I didn't think we were going to be a group or band. It was very relaxed and there was no pressure about being a successful band. I enjoyed the fact that it was a bit "rocky" because I was doing modal and dub music for years. I'm used to doing jazz or avant-garde music. This was the first time that I did a rock record. Most of the songs we played live. There must be five hours of tapes that we did. Maybe more.
AL: Did you do any singing on these tapes?
Wobble: No singing. There was no definite plans for a singer at that time. I remember that Martin took the tapes away and did things with cut-up voices. There was stuff from an Alex Harvey voice over. It was a spoken word record. That was okay, but I thought that we needed something else. I knew that these were powerful sounding rock songs, so I knew we needed a powerful singer. So at some point Chris Connelly came along. I thought that was interesting, because I did want a singer that had some enthusiasm about the project which Chris had. So Chris got together with Martin and laid down some tracks. I heard the basic song arrangements in October and I was very surprised. It all sounded good.
AL: What did you think of Martin's work and his approach in the studio, compared to the type of records you have been doing the past ten years?
Wobble: It's quite different. I am not honing actual songs from live stuff. I have worked like that, but not anymore. Martin does a very good job. Sonically I would have done it a little bit differently. But I'm very happy how things have come together. I was pissed off about the sound in January, but after a few arguments on the telephone, things are basically much better. The EP turned out to be really good. We have benefited from arguing about production values. The original demos had a real edge to them. What Martin and Chris did with those tapes is amazing. What I was pissed off about early this year was I think that they were going too far in the production. But since we talked about it, the EP is back where it should be. And the album will probably be mixed by Bill Laswell, because he's one of the few people who has the strength of character to mix an album properly. Bill Laswell is the real deal. Most people are fake the way filmstars are. But I'll tell you without Martin Atkins there wouldn't be any Damage Manual, because he dedicated a year to it.
AL: You've played on records by Primal Scream, David Holmes, and Brian Eno. How is playing with them different than The Damage Manual?
Wobble: With Primal Scream, that's very straightforward, that's me playing in a session for them. I've played for Brian Eno and produced a record for him. So there's different ways of working. Sometimes you're a session musician and sometimes there's actual collaboration. On the first night with The Damage Manual, the first session I said to Martin, "This is very strange. This feels like a group, a rock group!" A feeling I haven't had since Public Image. Don't get me wrong. I have been in other groups since, but none that had a rock group feeling. In a rock group you have four people arguing over how a record should sound.
AL: But when you think of most good bands, you think of four people from the same town, with the same background. There is a shared experience that they are drawing from.
Wobble: Most of the members of PIL were from the same area of London. As far as The Damage Manual, Martin Atkins was in that same generation of players. Geordie is most definitely a kindred spirit. He comes from an English working class background. I was in Geordie's house the other night and he was like fish and chips on a Friday night. He comes from East London. Most of his family is from York. He lives in this estate that is full of Eastenders and Cockneys. I'm a Cockney. Geordie is like what you call "One of your own." He has a bad temper and likes to drink....
AL: Is he a fan of Arsenal?
Wobble: I hate Arsenal. I'm a Tottenham fan. They're the big rivals. Geordie is not into football. Martin is. He's a Coventry fan. I went to a football game a few weeks ago. It was Coventry vs. Tottenham. Tottenham won 1-0 in a very bad tempered game. It's a working class thing. Chris Connelly is from Edinburgh. He's a very clever fellow. Scots I get on with the best of all. There is a link there. Chris is four years younger than the rest of us. You know what I'm saying? I can definitely sit down and have a laugh with these fellows. I had some fantastic arguments with these guys already. I quite liked it. I'm not afraid to stand in my corner. Every argument is not a good situation, but I think this one is. If we ever make it on stage, it's going to be very tense.
AL: What currently going on with your record label 30 Hertz?
Wobble: We just released another Deep Space album. Then in May we have the Molam Dub record, which is all these local musicians from Southeast Asia, from Laos. They perform a type of music which is called "Molam" which is similar to Reggae and Ska. For a few years I wanted to make a very heavy dub record.
AL: Who is presently in Invaders of The Heart?
Wobble: Well, Bill Laswell is coming over as an honorary member. Our drummer is Mark Sanders. Chris Cookson, the guitarist. Clive Bell on pipes. A Frenchman also on pipes, Jean-Pierre Rasle. And the Molam Lao. They all sing and play percussion. There's about twelve musicians altogether.
AL: What are some of the other people you have played with in the past doing? Ollie Marland from early Invaders, Keith Levene and Jim Walker from PIL, and Animal from The Human Condition?
Wobble: You know about me don't you? Ollie, I haven't seen him since 1985. He went off to be the musical director for Tina Turner. Some people you stop working with and then you bump into them two weeks later. I was very good friends with Ollie. He was a laugh. I'd like to see him again. It's sad about Levene after all those years with PIL. He is one of those people who really gets on my nerves. He got under my skin on more than one occasion. I tried to be his friend but eventually I told him to fuck off. I haven't seen him. I heard he was back over here in England. I saw him in 1993 last. It was all fast talk and hype bullshit. Funny enough I just got an invite to the premiere of the new Sex Pistols film by Julian Temple. I've seen John Lydon several times. He used to come round to my shows. I saw him again at his book launch and we had a chat. We get along. But I don't really see anybody from those days. Jeanette Lee is quite sensible and I get along with her. You can actually have a conversation with her. (laughs). She was the assistant to Geoff Travis of Rough Trade. She has three albums.
AL: What about some of the early albums by The Human Condition and The Bedroom Album?
Wobble: Martin wants to bring out The Human Condition tapes. Animal and Jim Walker were in The Human Condition. Jim was a great drummer. Jim and Animal gave up playing at some point. People always talk about The Bedroom Album. I don't have any copies and lost the master tapes. Maybe I will make a new tape from taping an album? I was never going to put that out. It was really a bedroom album. No plans. A guy from Rough Trade came over to my house and I played it to him on a four-track machine. I told him that I needed some money. He said that he could make that tape into an album. He told me "You'll make money!" I said "Then do it!" I am more concerned with the new stuff, so I tend to overlook what has been done. I am more concerned with Deep Space and Molam Dub. I'm also trying to finish a college degree. I also fancy being a bass player in a real rock band. It's a big responsibility being in a band and touring. I'm 41, so I might not have this chance to do it again, unless I'm very lucky.
AL: Unless you are married and have kids too? You don't have to worry about that?
Wobble: Yes I do have kids. It's the reason why I do a bunch of single shows and I usually don't go away for two weeks at a time. I miss my kids too much.
AL: What do you think of most of the mainstream music now?
Wobble: I don't believe in it. I wasn't a big Led Zeppelin fan, but I cared when I first heard Physical Graffiti. It was a great album. It was tough and it was something that I believed in. Same thing with The Who. It was great and you believed it! And the playing was amazing. I think that is a lost art now. All these big rock groups are really retro-sounding. There really isn't an edge there. Give me some names?
AL: The Flaming Lips?
Wobble: Haven't heard them.
Wobble: Yeah. I heard some. I think he's very clever. I think he's very comical in a good way. I'm not an expert on what he does. But there's an essence that isn't there for me. Sorry. When I hear a good record I get turned on, but it happens less and less.
The Damage Manual will be playing at The Bowery Ballroom on June 15th, and will be touring America in June and July....
Footnote: same author from the November 2000 Issue, covering the CMJ Music Marathon, October 19-22.
This was a wasted day. I sat around Williamsburg waiting for Robert Lanham, the main force behind Free Williamsburg. I missed the Flaming Lips movie. I missed any CMJ events at the Hilton. I was not able to find any drugs. There was plenty of sales on Bedford Avenue though. I stayed home till really late then went over to Wetlands to see The Damage Manual. They were supposed to play this summer but canceled the tour. This was one of their first American shows.
When I got there, Ari Up, from The Slits, was on. She was really tall and thin. She had her underwear popping out from a low tube skirt. I guess that was supposed to be sexy. She had the longest dreads I had ever seen on a white girl. She looked more like one of the girls in Shampoo. She played a form of Reggae music. I am really against white people pretending to be black. I guess she is from Brixton? Not sure if she is even British?
While the Damage Manual set up I was downstairs watching a more fun band, The Plastic Plan. They were a band from Atlanta, Georgia, and they could really play. It was a three member band, drums, bass, and keyboards. They sounded like a mix between Gary Numan and Matthew Shipp. A lot more engaging than Ari Up. I really don't like Punk either.
The Damage Manual took about an hour to set up. Martin Atkins had his own drum riser. His drum kit seemed customed made. They are a band made up of other bands like PIL, Killing Joke, Pigface, and Ministry. When they came on I notice that the Jah Wobble wasn't in the band. They had a guy from Thrill Kill Cult replacing him. After three loud songs, they didn't really explain why Wobble wasn't there. They have only been together less than a year, and one member has already left. My interview with Wobble was in Free Williamsburg this past summer. I left soon after. . . .