ElD - Thirty years since the Knutsford Dominators became The Rezillos. A long time by any ones reckoning. Do you ever take a second, and think “What the hell are we doing”?
Joe Callis - A second? I sometimes take hours or even days thinking that. I deliberate on that question with every aspect of my life, “what the hell am I doing” but I just keep doing it regardless, we’ll never learn. I guess “it’s the way it is“, to quote Run DMC!
ElD-There is great deal being said and written about punk at the moment. Do you collectively even consider the Rezillos as a punk band? I always thought that you were much more multi faceted than most. Later on punk started to spread its wings, but at the outset your lack of nihilism definitely threw up an opposing option to many.
JC-Yes, due to the current national obsession with “anniversaries“, which I’m sure in many cases are publicised more to stimulate various sectors of the retail trade than for nostalgia or celebratory purposes, we now have the 30th anniversary of “punk” this year. We ourselves played at the BBC6 punk anniversary party at the 100 Club in London just a couple of weeks ago (30th March) and great fun as it was, and a good opportunity to thank BBC6 for their ongoing goodwill towards us, I don’t think that it would have given anyone there a true taste of what the edgy excitement of those old days was really like. No, we never really considered ourselves then to be a “punk” group, new wave perhaps, but now “Punk” is more a simple reference to a genre of music than anything else, in the “old days” it had the mostly misunderstood
connotations of an unsavoury rebellious lifestyle, much like Rock and Roll in the 1950’s and Hip Hop in more recent times. We don’t mind so much being called “punk”
now, it is a great word, especially when prefixed with “two bit” -as in the American vernacular. I think we’re probably more nihilistic now anyway.
ElD-I always thought that as a band you didn’t really get the acclaim, and fame that you deserved. On hindsight do you think that here were missed opportunities? Specifically, why didn’t you move to London, and why the lack of touring out with the UK?
JC-I’m sure there are missed opportunities in most endeavours, unfortunately for us due to our youth and inexperience we crashed at the first real hurdle, and the major
opportunity we missed was simply to resolve our differences and carry on as a band, but you live and learn I guess. I think the naive dream of the late 70’s/punk era was
that the music industry came to you if you made a big enough noise, and nationally reported scenes were springing up in Manchester, Leeds and all sorts of places, and
with the “local” independent label situation being probably the healthiest it’s ever been, decentralisation was the issue of the day, so like fucking idiots we just stayed put in Edinburgh. doh! I¹m not sure why we never got abroad more, I guess we thought to “crack” the UK first then spread our wings, but we ended up splitting up instead.
Strangely enough though, we now seem to have a lot more “legendary” status than many of the more successful groups of our day. It¹s the James Dean syndrome
ElD-Your association with Sire records must have been like a dream come true initially, yet they sat on the album for months. What was their reasoning for this, and how disillusioning was it for you all?
JC-Yes, which begs the saying; “Be careful what you wish for“. We were on top of the world about it at the time though, when the record (Can’t Stand The Rezillos) was ready for release Sire were in the process of changing their European distribution from Phonogram (now part of multi national “Universal“) to Warner Brothers, we had to wait till Sires deal with WB was signed sealed and delivered before the album could come out. Ultimately though, as Sires first release on Warners, along with latest The Talking Heads album, we and The Talking Heads did score with a lot of promotion, and high profile in-store displays etc in most of the major record shop chains. So although initially a frustrating situation, we probably benefited from the brief hiatus.
ElD-Do you feel that they were holding you back from maximising on the interest that you were generating from live shows?
JC-Not over here I don’t think; The whole punk/new wave thang was growing fast and becoming part of the mainstream whilst by and large remaining “cool“. By 1978/9 “The
Jam” for example would probably have generally been considered more a “pop” group than a punk band (It’s a shame that “pop” has become such a dirty word these days).
Likewise, we had only ever really wanted to be a self contained pop group, much like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones were in the 60’s, so the transition to the
commercial arena would have presented no problem for us, it would have been almost part of the plan. In the US however, I don’t think that Sire really knew quite which
was the best way to market us. I think they saw that we perhaps had the potential to “crossover” into the American mainstream, like the way that “Blondie” ultimately
would, more so than The Ramones, who at the time were probably the biggest US “punk” band, and in those pre Green Day/Offspring etc times The Ramones had probably reached the limits of the existing market. In a way, we have often felt that we are taken much more seriously in the US.
ElD-Why did you go for Sire? Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t there some interest from CBS and Decca?
JC-I don¹t know about CBS, but we did have some interest from the newly reactivated Decca, and also from Bearsville, which was Todd Rundgrens label. Being a Todd fan
myself, that definitely appealed but I think the Sire thing just moved along much more quickly, with Seymour his “bad” self flying over here to woo and charm us. I think we quite liked the idea of being on a cool US label which would give us some unique mystique and individuality!
ElD-I’m sure that you are tired of this, but indulge me. What was it honestly like appearing on top of the pops. As a music show it’s a bit of a joke now, but this was the highlight of the week for many at the time.
JC-Man, for me, and I’m sure for the rest of ‘em, this was a dream come true! We’d grown up with that show. Everything stopped on a Thursday night for it -corporation bus timetables had to be tailored to accommodate the rush to get home by 7.30. The very thought of Pans People still gives us a funny schoolboy/schoolgirl trouser tingle. It was usually a long day but doing TOTP was fucking great, you’d get to meet some of your heroes, chat to “Legs and Co” and I’d just join in with the audience after we were done, dodging the psycho cameramen who’d flatten you with the huge cameras like Panzers if you didn’t get out the way. Fucking brilliant! The job was a good ‘un. I¹ve still got my little red TOTP flag, which I captured during my days with The Human League, proudly on display in my home studio.
ElD-I‘m interested in the whole cult of celebrity thing. Was there a vast difference in how you were perceived as individuals pre top of the pops, and post top of the pops?
JC-Yeah, all of a sudden everyone thinks you’re stinking rich, so in stingy freeloading Edinburgh everyone thinks you ought to buy them a drink, and if you don’t then you’re the stingy cunt. People who would profess to disliking hippy’s would accuse you of “selling out” (man). Some would make a point of ignoring you in in fear of their friends thinking them posers for talking to you, some people who had previously snubbed or look down at you all of a sudden think they’re your best friend. But it was a helluva lot easier to pull, so fuck the lot of ‘em. Oh yeah, and people expect you to listen their tedious “Demo” tapes all the time, like you¹ve got nothing better to do; “Yeah mate, that’s brilliant, I’ll get you a deal with EMI records tomorrow!”
ElD-I don’t recall any promotional videos for your material at the time. Was this an artistic outlet that you would have wanted to explore? Did you have any ideas kicking about?
JC-We did actually do a promo video for “Destination Venus” when it was released as the follow up single to Top Of The Pops. The whole promo video thing was very much in
it’s infancy at the time, Sire/WB had booked a photo studio type room for an afternoon for us somewhere in London on November the 5th 1978 I think it was. The entire film crew consisted of one guy with his 16mm movie camera! The same chap incidentally that had filmed our recent London Lyceum gig for use on BBC’s “The Old Grey Whistle Test”. It transpired that we all got along well with our Producer/Director/Cameraman, and by bouncing a few ideas about and pretty much making things up as we went along, by early evening we had all our footage in the can. We then went back to our grubby Paddington hotel room and set off all the fireworks that we had purchased earlier in the day, from the balcony window and even in the room, much to the consternation of the hotel management. When the thing was edited together, we were all very pleased with the result, and even the record company seemed happy with it. Considering many of today’s “no expense spared” video promo’s, we are still quite proud of what was achieved in a single afternoon on a budget of next to buggar all. Unfortunately, as we had pretty much split up by the time “Destination Venus” was released, the video received very little airing and we’d now dearly love to get hold of an original master if one still exists. There are some bootleg copies knocking around but mostly 3rd or 4th generation domestic VHS jobs. I’d love to see it again as I don’t even have a dodgy video copy, and it would be great to have it to re-release on DVD perhaps along with some other archive footage. So yeah, this is an artistic outlet that we would still love to explore, and we¹ve got loads of ideas kicking about for such endeavours. -Bring It On!
ElD-To jump from then to now, do you want to give us your highlights from then, and highlights since reforming?
JC-I guess our first highlight was the surprise at getting encores at even our first ever gigs - we’d never experienced anything like that before. So much of it is a highlight, because when all is said and done, we just love doing it, we even perversely get off on the rows and arguments. Recording in New York had to be a highlight from the early days, and going back to the US to tour some 23 or 24 years later was a more recent highlight, we seem to get on with America, and America seems to get on with us, at least within those that know us there. Highlights! -why, we could write a book.
ElD-I was at the last gig that you played in Glasgow (Garage). While at the bar I got talking to a couple who had traveled from Japan, and based their holiday around some nights of your tour. Does this type of adulation seem surreal to you?
JC-I think this kind of thing is quite usual for most bands who have a bit of a following -even a “cult” one. Adrian Wright, who I was in The Human League with during the 80’s, used to follow The Ramones everywhere whilst at the same time professing to “hate” Rock and Roll, now that’s pretty fucking surreal to me, but he was a nuttier, and hopefully still is (bless ‘im). At our most recent gig at The 100 Club in London (30th April 06) I was talking to a Spanish guy who had last seen us in his home town of Guadalajara in 2003.
ElD-You played some new songs that night, but as far as I’m aware they haven’t seen the light of day. What’s happening with new material? Has there been any recording
done, and what’s the current situation with label interest?
JC-We¹ve only recorded our newer material as either “Demo’s” or on live radio sessions so far. We would love to put new stuff out but have no noticeable label interest at present, at least none that we are aware of. We do intend to record a new single this month, and we’ll put it out ourselves if we have to. Also at some point we'll put some mp3s up on our website, these will include some of the newer songs. Well, it worked for The Arctic monkeys!
ElD-There have been sporadic shows here in the UK, but will there be a tour? How difficult is it to actually commit to touring, as I’m sure you all have other responsibilities that need your attention.
JC-It is difficult to tour with people having other commitments, I’m the only person in the group who is full time “in the business” so to speak, we’ve been trying to arrange to get back to the States for a tour for over a year. We did do a summer tour of UK dates last year though. Being an unsigned band, it’s difficult to tour without losing money, especially abroad. We do need that new record out so we have something to promote and hopefully sell and also to raise our profile a bit, aye it’s tough at the bottom.
ElD-So in closing is this going to be the year that the Rezillos finally reap the rewards?
JC-Well here’s hoping! Rock ‘n’ Roll isn’t rocket science, basically you put out records, do gigs/tours etc. hoping that things get promoted properly, then get wasted and smash up your hotel room, oh -and the internet helps a bit to these days, we are at the moment in the process of giving our site (www.rezillos.com ) a major overhaul. So the plan, as much as there is one, is; Get some records out, get some dates lined up (hopefully including Glasgow again soon, -we like Glasgow) get the website overhauled, and just get rockin‘!