Article & interview with Mclusky written by Jude Benjamin. All images by Jonanthan Pirro
It’s 2002. You’re 18 years old. Its 1am on a school night and you’re staying over
at a mate’s house. You’re a little stoned and have just been soaking in the
ludicrous TV circus that is Eurotrash on Channel 4 (and been treated to some
bonus terrestrial TV boobs in the process). Next up… probably Karaoke Fish
tank? Suddenly some cut-and-paste photo animation of a kitten with a human
mouth and eyeballs launches onto your screen and starts screaming at you about
their Lightsaber Cock-sucking Blues. That was the video Rathergood.com made
for this sub-two minute, manic episode of a track and that was how Mclusky first
embedded themselves into my consciousness.
After three boisterous albums of mischievous, post-hardcore noise-pop , Mclusky
made way for singer/guitarist, Andrew ‘Falco’ Falkous’ new project Future of the
Left but that’s a story for another day.
Now Mclusky are back on the scene after a brief stint of gigs under the caveated
banners of ‘Mclusky’ (those inverted commas are part of it) and Mclusky*. To
mark their highly anticipated return to Dingwalls in Camden, on Thursday 6
th December, we caught up with Falco to have a chat about the past and the future
Mclusky were a band between 1999 and 2005, in which time they made a few friends and three albums. slow-forward 18 years and, thanks to the uncanny pull of nostalgia and gravity, they have made more friends at least. originally persuaded to reform – like ham – to help save a local music venue and for other vaguely charitable reasons, Mclusky are now in the process of writing and recording a fourth album and travelling around the world playing rock shows whenever circumstances allow.
For a while you were sporting an asterisk after the name. Why did you
choose to drop that this time round?
Partly because I forgot in an email I sent to somebody and they replied with “Oh is
it without the asterisk now?” and I was like “Oh, I don’t know? Yeah?”. So is it a
Freudian slip if it’s a character you leave out? It’s not really Freudian is it? It’s Lou
Reedian. A Lou Reedian slip. What we might do say, if we do an album, we can
release the album with an asterisk sticker on it so somebody can choose to either
accept it into the canon or have it as a kind of successor, cosplay kind of band.
So, yeah, no asterisks. There wasn’t a meeting. There wasn’t any great thought
behind it. Like nearly everything in our lives, it was a happy accident or an
unhappy accident, as the case may be.
So there was no kind of moment that prompted you to think, “Yeah, this
really is the band now”?
Not not especially. This really is ‘a’ band, this band. But I think, you know,
probably if I got down into the woods of that and nutted it out, probably, yeah. It
feels like it after a really good show.
But the whole point of this really is to live in this moment rather than just to cosplay
2002 to 2005. That is explicit, that bit. That’s a policy. I mean, a part of that is
ageing and learning what is important in life. But part of it is that that really works,
you know? And obviously some people will come and see the shows and it won’t
be the same for them and that’s fine. But, you know, they’re probably
understanding it through a rather different filter; the filter of being 43 rather than…
But, yeah, no special plan. You know, any confidence bordering on arrogance
should come across in the music and the performance as opposed to public
pronouncements, I suppose.
Last year you re-released Mclusky Do Dallas for the 20th anniversary of the record?
It’s predicted re-release was last year, but because of various issues with vinyl
pressing, that release was spread out a little bit like a rugby or cricket World Cup
to perhaps test the stamina and interest of everybody involved.
How does the experience of releasing it now compare to the first time
I think, in a lot of ways, it’s easier because we know exactly what it is and what it
represents. I mean, I thought it was a really great album, in my own terms, when
we did it. And you can’t help when you’re invested in something, especially as a
younger person, to see the possibilities in that; where it might end up taking the
band. And by that, I don’t mean gold-plated palaces but I mean big/big-ish shows
and a mark of, you know, success.
That didn’t really happen. But going back to the album, that doesn’t negate any of
the magic in it for me. You know, it’s still got the possibilities in it. And it’s just really
exciting. It sounds just like a lot of people having fun, even if that wasn’t
necessarily always the case.
What’s different for you about being in Mclusky now, to when the album was
first released 20 years ago?
Nowadays, I have to do a lot more admin. Admin never sleeps. My life is admin,
basically. I rarely get to actually write a song. But… The interpersonal experience
of being in the band is a lot nicer. Everybody’s a friend. Mclusky in its original form
existed…not when the band started but after a certain period, because I drove it
forward, solely. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in an enterprise like that yourself?
You feel like sometimes bits of you are falling off in order to maintain it.
Whether it’s any kind of relationship, you’ll almost do anything to keep that other
person in the relationship. Not like any little indignity. You know, I wasn’t sucking
off sailors down the docks or whatever. But it was tough. And the end of the band,
even though it was sad in a lot of ways, it was a relief. And not because there was
internecine warfare or whatever. It wasn’t like that. I’ve subsequently worked with
bands in different capacities and the amount of actual arguing people do is beyond
all my understanding. I don’t know how you can exist in an environment where
you’re like, shouting at each other or whatever. I mean, wow. If somebody threw
something at me, that’s the end of our relationship. You know? We don’t patch it
up the next day and punch each other on the shoulder and go, “no worries, mate”.
You can’t possibly exist like that.
But, but yeah, it’s loads of fun. And it’s really easy for the most part. Writing songs
is just magic. We just don’t get to do it enough. We’re in different cities and we’ve
all got kids. We have conflicting work schedules. Outside of Dingwalls, we’re like
“Wow, let’s try and get in some writing rehearsals” and we’ve managed to have
one two hour rehearsal in six weeks. But that’s the nature of being a band where
you’re on the edge of some public consciousness, but you don’t have the financial
independence to just do the band in a particular way. That’s not a complaint just
the way it is, you know?
But, yeah it’s great. It was good back then and it felt like a significant part of my
life. I enjoyed it. But I enjoy it a lot more now.
So the new Double A/Side out on Bandcamp at the moment. How did that
come about? Had those songs been kicking around a while?
Well, partly it was an act of desperation because we really needed to raise money
to pay for visas. They’re not cheap. I’ve spent 11 grand on US visas in the last
year and a bit, you know, and news flash: I don’t have a spare eleven grand. I
don’t have a spare eleven . So we were going to go in and do some recording with
our friend and who recorded the last Future of the Left album. We just wanted to
do some recordings. Cause as well, giving yourself a deadline or something to
work towards is an important part of any creative endeavor really, Unless you’re
just happy to, you know, be 22 and stoned forever and go, “Yeah man, we should
totally do a sick record next year sometime” So we weren’t sure what they were
going to be. Posh demos? Like maybe try and rattle out 11 or 12 songs in a day
or two or concentrate on a couple of songs. But we wrote the ‘Unpopular Parts of a
Pig’ in a rehearsal two days before. And we had some other songs. It’s always the
way as you get closer towards something. It’s a combination of pressure and
excitement that often produces the best moments. We did eight songs in the two
days and six of them are, you know, for an album and two of them aren’t.
It was nice to release something. You know, it was nice to see that people were
excited about it. I mean, you can’t get too deep into why people are excited. You
just go, oh, it’s, it’s positive. That’s fine. You know, you can’t engage with
something good, something. You can only engage with negative criticism. You
can’t engage with positivity. It’s not healthy.
Its a great release, I really enjoyed it. Brain on Elves was about as mellow as
I’ve ever heard Mclusky go…
I just did it at home and I was like, “Well that’s a Mclusky song. But it wasn’t written
as a Mclusky song. It’s a very nice touching song. I wrote it whilst I was filling my
daughter’s bath and then I transferred it to my phone and took it and played it to
her whilst she was in the bath. She liked it and then she did some harmony
vocals on it. But that’s not on the released version because it just seemed a little
bit… I don’t know… a little bit like the kind of thing that someone who would like
inspirational quotes on Facebook would do. “Oh my daughter sang backing
vocals. That’s so cute!” Don’t get me wrong, it is lovely but you know you know in
the same way that some some genuinely beautiful gestures pass the smell test,
they just do. You can have two people on television saying, for ease of reference
here, incredibly woke or feminist things (which i i agree with you know in the to the
99th percentile) but one person will say it and you’ll just think that person just
believes that. Then another person will say that same thing and you’ll go “it’s not
something quite right about you”. It just doesn’t quite pass the smell test. And
sometimes when people do that whole thing with their kids it’s like “This isn’t
getting you an extra 5000 likes on Facebook mate. Your kid just needed a bath.
You should be getting your kid to bed, frankly, rather than getting them to do
backing vocals on a melancholy song which is destined to be the fourth track on a
digital only EP”. That’s a callow move isn’t it?
The rest of the tracks on that release still showcase that rawkous kind of
Mclusky vitriol… is vitriol the right word?
Yeah, I mean it’s as good a word as any. I’d struggle to classify it. I remember
reading early on live reviews back when I did that kind of thing and they’d say
“You’re angry and aggressive” and undoubtedly, obviously that’s a that’s a part of it
but apart from when say, a band has borrowed my guitar head and spilt something
on it or changed all the settings I’m never angry on stage. I’m fucking overjoyed.
So when I’m recording a song I’m really excited and happy but it seems the
medium changes that genuinely to vitriol. So I suppose that’s just what I am.
I just hope people don’t expect me to remember all the words because I’m an old
man now and I’ve got like 200 songs in my head. I can’t remember them all so
there will be a lot of just “Oh I’m just gonna sing this first verse again you’re just
gonna have to cope” I’ll try and remember the really significant lines but it’s not a
test. Future of the Left, early on we were doing a song called ‘Singing of the Bone
Saws’ and I had to have fucking four sheets of A4 on the monitor and I was like
“This is rubbish. This is not just not what it’s about” It’s being creative. There’s
two lines in ‘Popular Parts of a Pig’ I forget every time I sing it so I’ve just gotta
scream through it and as long as the song keeps going who cares?! I don’t think
anybody is there to get a precise reading of the sacred text and if they are well…
good luck on getting home safe!
Come to the next gig?!
Come the next gig, give me some notes on what I should work on specifically.
What brought about the move from working on Future of the Left to
Well, Julia and I had moved to London, we’d just had a kid. Jack had 2 kids, Ian
who plays live with us was living in London at the time. Rehearsing was a huge
logistical challenge even when we had the time. It was very expensive, like if we
go to Cardiff say to do rehearsal, you’re looking at getting hotels, babysitter… Julia
and I don’t have any family who are able to to help us in any way. So every
rehearsal was costing three hundred pounds or something and that’s just
unsustainable. So that was quietening down anyway. We got offered a show in
Portals festival which we originally said yes to but then we realized we couldn’t do
it, I can’t remember why. Then… I think this is the way it went…the guy said “Oh
well, how about doing a Mclusky show?” and I just thought “Ah fuck, it all right”
And so I asked Damien and Jack because we did do a Mclusky*, very much with
an asterisk, show in Newcastle I think a bit before that. That was very much in the
spirit of a one-off. There wasn’t any imaginings of doing it any more than that.
And so it just it just happened like that. There was an incident with a Quietus
journalist calling us ‘poundland Shellac’ so there was a degree of spite involved as
well. But only a degree really. It’s nice to to have a funny bit of spite as a
motivator moment but you can’t let it power all of your life. Otherwise I think you
really are just working on wanky fumes. So it happened from there and its
happened slowly; a guy called Simon from Manchester messaged me to see if we
wanted to do a gig and I thought, if we’re doing a gig in Manchester I may as well
hit the Brudenell up in Leeds so that happened. It’s easier when people know
you’re going to be getting some people through the door I guess. If it’s important
to see in these terms, which it is because it helps to sustain it from my perspective
at least, Future of the Left was doing pretty well but there’s basically about 25%
more people at these shows on average and that 25% it turns out is where you
make any money. Part of the problem with Future the Left is we kind of existed at
almost kind of a break-even point and you know what it’s like with venues: it’s the
last few people in through the door who actually make you the money. That’s
when the band are getting 80% of the money as opposed to none of the money.
That’s all just the economics of it but the the art of it is it’s just just really easy. It’s
fun and there are nice people involved. Everybody who works with us knows what
the deal is. There’s no ridiculous ambitions. There are ambitions to play as much
as possible, when you’re not fucking up your own ears like I managed to do,
despite protecting my hearing for a while, or the various illnesses and bad luck we
seem to go through. It’s just impending hilarious disaster which you just end up
having to deal with. One thing I’ve learned over the years is definitely if
something’s not a major health complaint for you or one of your loved ones then
it’s always something you can work around. You know like we’ve had a lot of
illness around in the last few years and it’s been horrendous. So even a huge
inconvenience for the band, is a huge inconvenience for band and to quote Steve
Coogan as the security guard in the swimming pool in the Day-to-Fay “No-one
died”. You’ve just got to have that perspective in life, you just got to.
Fuck *chuckles* Ever since I got my new phone it just does things when it’s in my
pocket. I’ve bought books on Audible and I’m like “What, I didn’t buy that?! I’ve got
like a tapo thing for plugs in the house because I’m out quite a lot; you know like
where you remotely turn them on off? I’ve just gone to see if the living room lights
are on and that button’s just not there anymore. Honestly, the time I’m having at
the minute I’m losing my mind. I ordered a birth certificate to pick up visas the
other day and I applied for it was my wrong date of birth! I must have just ticked
the wrong month thing on the bizarrely fonted government website.
Coming back to the ‘Poundland Shellac’ thing, which I know you proudly
sported a t-shirt of for a while there, is there anyone you’ve ever been
compared to that rubbed you up the wrong way and you though “this isn’t
Nah,I mean you get amusing ones when you start as a band. I remember some
people we knew put out this fanzine in Cardiff and I’m talking about in the late 90s.
It was called ‘Stink of Shoe Polish’…or maybe it was the Cardiff Student
Newspaper which was called Gair Rhydd? I remember seeing a review of a
friend’s band called Cubare who were really good. The review said it sounded like
a cross between the Propeller Heads and Three Colours Red *laughs*. And then
once you read on in the review section you found the other person reviewing other
things and comparing it to the Propeller Heads and Three Colours Red and then
you find the person reviewing other things and comparing it to the Propeller Heads
and then you find out their favourite band is Three Colours Red and you’re like,
well I think we might have just traced the river back to its source. When
somebody says something about music, a band or any work of art you know
they’re saying a lot about themselves as well. I know what it is to me and
sometimes somebody will go “That sounds a bit like…” and you go “Oh yeah!”. So
my mate, John Mouse, to me he looks just like Pep Guardiola. He looks just like
Pep Guardiola. But my wife’s like “No. Mnyeh” And I’m like, “No, look at him!
Look at him!” So it’s all fine.
Early Mclusky were definitely wantonly inspired by the Pixies but then we found
our own personalities and it went in different directions. There was stuff which it
sounded like we were influenced by, like genuinely I love the Jesus Lizard now but
I’d seen them live maybe once when Mclusky Do Dallas was recorded at the
Reading Festival in the mid 90s. You don’t really get the Jesus Lizard Experience
on the Reading Main Stage at two in the afternoon. I think probably we sound like
a lot of bands because as compared to a lot of bands in the milieu we’re a bit
poppier aren’t we? Noise rock bands tend to be, not necessarily louder than us,
but more more noise I suppose. That’s based on a very superficial reading of
most noise rock but I think we’re at the poppier end of it. But maybe that’s just
’cause I wrote songs? They seem poppy to me because I wrote the songs!
There’s definitely a groove…
Groove… yeah, absolutely. That’s Damien’s whole thing. He’s always like, “Yeah,
that one’s got the groove” and I’m like “Mate, your dancing like a fanny” and he’s
like “Yeah, that’s how I know it’s right” and you know what? We’re both right
But yeah, there is a groove. Like a song like Collagem Rock has a groove to it. It
doesn’t just go straight for the throat, in and odd way.
I genuinely think I make pop music, albeit with lovely loud guitars and weird
rhythms yeah, because I like those things as well. But it’s tunes first and
foremost. You’re meant to whistle it as you’re getting onto the bus or exiting the
shower, or even in the shower if you can keep your mind on cleaning and music at
the same time.
So it’s never intended to be exclusive…
No and I think partly that might actually be in a weird way, subconsciously driven
because I’ve been in a band with somebody who’s written a big tune and you can
tell they feel a bit guilty about it, straight away and they seek to sabotage it from
from that moment. Don’t get me wrong that can be funny and I’ll still never forget
when we played our manager at the time, Craig, who’s still a very dear friend, ‘She
Will Only Bring You Happiness’ for the first time. He was in the music industry but
he’s genuinely a fan. You could tell when stuff excited him and when stuff just left
him a bit, you know, nonplussed. We’re playing him the track and he’s sitting there
going “This is great! This is great! Oh my God!” You can see he loves it, but he’s
thinking this can help take the band to another level. Or not necessarily another
level but different places maybe. Then it gets to the refrain, you know? “Our old
singer is…(a sex criminal)” and he just goes fucking mental, like screaming at me
like “You fucking always, fuck it up! You deliberately sabotage any chance this
band has!” And I was like, “Listen if we didn’t do that it wouldn’t have been right”.
The song, it demanded that kind of turn. That was genuinely not to sabotage it, it
was to make the song mine and ours. Then it became our song. I mean, when
we started playing that song we used to just laugh at it and call it our Pavement
cover. I’ll never forget him launching at me that day. We joke about it now but it’s
a very typical moment in our existence.
It’s sort of ironic as it’s a beautiful little melody.
It is! But there we are, them’s the brakes. Sometimes you stamp on your own leg
and go “Oh my leg’s broken”, it’s like “Yeah you did it, you daft c*nt”.
When you first re-emerged with Mclusky, were you surprised to find the
band’s audience had expanded somewhat in your absence.
I was kind of aware the reputation of the band had been built in our relative
absence but Future of the left, in a way (this wasn’t the intention of it) kind of
helped to keep that ticking over. People would find Future the Left and then go
backwards to Mclusky and visa versa in some cases as well. In its original run
Mclusky maybe sold out five or six small shows whereas this band has already
sold out 11 or something. I mean it’s not like one of those noir kind of “SOLD
OUT! TONIGHT!”, things in our life but shows do sell out and people are excited.
So that’s where our riches are going to come from. That’s how I’m going to buy
my yacht. I’ve got no interest in going on a yacht but I’ll definitely have to buy it just
as a symbol of who I am and what I’ve become.
– Interview by Jude Benjamin, Images by Jonanthan Pirro