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THE THE talk vintage guitars, The Donald and other tour bus conversation topics

Matt Johnson by John Claridge
The The’s Matt Johnson by John Claridge

The The‘s 2018 Comeback Special tour kicks off its North American run (their first tour here since 2000) tonight in Boston, and then hits NYC for two shows: Brooklyn Steel on Sunday, September 16, and Beacon Theatre on Monday, September 17. Tickets are still available. There are also stops in Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco — watch the tour trailer, featuring video from The The’s show at London’s Royal Albert Hall, below. 

In each city, there is a also a screening of The The documentary The Inertia Variations. The NYC screening is Saturday (9/15) at Theatre 80 at 7 PM. Matt Johnson, bassist James Eller and the film’s director, Johanna St Michaels will participate in a post-screening Q&A. We’re giving away a pair of tickets to the screening on Facebook. All tour dates (concerts and screenings) are listed below.

We asked The The if they would do a “What music we’re listening to” list for us. Main man Matt Johnson politely declined, but then offered us something else, which is a whole lot more. We’ll let Matt take it away from here…

THE THE – 2018 COMEBACK SPECIAL (By Matt Johnson)
A few days ago I arrived in America for my first visit in seven years. This is the longest I’ve been away from the country since I was 20. Back in the early 1980s I always felt a mild discombobulation upon arrival; a combination of jet lag and genuine cultural distinction between Britain and America would create a dreamlike quality to the first few days of any trip. It was like being on a different planet in those early days, albeit one which spoke roughly the same language. Curiously I felt more at home in New York than I did in my hometown of London and ended up living in Manhattan for most of the 1990s. But in recent years these fascinating differences have evaporated substantially – your cars have shrunk to European size whilst the UK has become even more Americanised in its habits; our high streets are now virtually indistinguishable from yours and with the emergence of the Internet we’re all connected to much of the same media – and subject to identical propaganda too – even our slang terminology seems to have converged. Though sadly both countries political ideologies are still infected with the wrong-headed neoliberal / neoconservative nonsensical policies that have wrought such agony upon the world since the 1980s.

So it is into a strange world that THE THE re-enter the American market as a touring group and I have been asked many questions since we returned such as why I ‘retired’ and why I came out of ‘retirement’? Well, I never really retired but just concentrated on other creative outlets away from public view such as film music, photography and books. But the full story behind THE THE’s disappearance and re-emergence is told in the recent documentary about the band, The Inertia Variations, which is being screened at Theatre 80 at St Mark’s Place at 7pm on Saturday 15th and is one of three events we are visiting New York for, the other two being our concerts at Brooklyn Steel on Sunday 16th September and the Beacon Theatre on Monday 17th September as part of the ‘2018 ‘Comeback Special’ world tour (ironic nod to Elvis!).

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I’m also asked how it feels to be performing again after an 18 year sabbatical and what differences I’ve noticed since coming back? One noticeable difference for me is how many people view concerts through their phones rather than their eyes and ears. It’s extremely irritating for a musician to look out at a sea of phones instead of faces and I often request people put them down. I suppose it’s a symptom of the cultural narcissism that’s taken hold in recent years, where many people fear that an experience doesn’t exists unless they capture and post it on their social media page – along with photos of the various meals of the day!

One other thing I’ve also noticed — and I’m most grateful for — is how much more deeply rooted the songs seem to have become with the audience during the time I’ve been away. As a songwriter there is always the fear that one’s songs may lose their relevance and energy as the years pass but from the concerts we’ve performed in the UK and Europe the opposite seems to be the case, with the catalogue cementing its place in the emotional landscape of the audience.

But, of course, many questions centre around the new band, the thinking behind it, and how different it feels from previous bands and tours and what it really feels like to be back out on the road again. I can honestly say that I think this is the best band I have ever had and that I’m enjoying this tour more than any other I’ve ever done. For the tour I wanted to strip-down many of the songs and actually reduce the sonic palette — we don’t use samplers, click-tracks, sequencers, synthesisers, auto-cues or in-ear monitors. It’s just five musicians, performing reinterpretations of my back catalogue. The songs are not intended to be reproductions of the album versions, and many of them don’t sound like they do on the old recordings. Intentionally, we have a limited amount of sounds at our disposal, and so we have to work a bit harder as we can’t rely on recreating the exact sounds from the album. A lot of the decisions were therefore based on creating new arrangements. It’s making sure there is space for everybody but that—most importantly—the emotional force of the songs continues to shine through.

I’m now a very different person to the one who wrote and recorded these songs. I’ve tried not to disturb their soul but rather just distil them to their essence whilst adding the flavour of this particular line-up. It’s important for me to be surrounded by people I like, trust and respect. Each one of these musicians is a band-leader or musical director in their own right. I’ve worked with many wonderful musicians over the years, and I always find the best ones to be the most humble and hard working. They deserve acknowledgement. What people might be disappointed to learn about THE THE, however, is that, contrary to our public image, much of the time behind the scenes is actually spent laughing, joking and talking. We are a very tight knit group and being a bit older I suppose our behaviour is generally more mature than would have been the case on my previous tours (I’m talking drunkenness and debauchery here).

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BrooklynVegan have asked what music we are listening to on the tour bus as we travel from city to city. Well, the truth is that we actually sit around and talk to each other rather than listen to music. And for this article I thought I would share some of the typical topics of conversations we have during bus and plane journeys and when sat at breakfast, lunch and dinner together, topics such as ‘Love, Death And Age’, ‘The Fun & Foibles Of Classic Cars’, ‘Brexit Thrills’, ‘The Joys of Vintage Guitars’, ‘Globalisation As The Trojan Horse Of Imperialism’, ‘Zen & The Art of Motorbikes’, ‘The Donald’, ‘Fine Wining & Dining’, ‘The Impact Of Childhood Trauma Upon Adulthood’, ’The Older Musician’, ‘Birth, Life & Death’, ‘Practical Jokes and Wind Ups’.

I will now quickly introduce my band mates and allow them to talk in their own words…

DC Collard (photo: John Claridge)
DC Collard by John Claridge

DC Collard (keyboards) I’ve worked more with DC than with any other musician I know. Apart from The The Versus The World, Dusk and Lonely Planet, he was also my co-arranger on the album of Hank Williams songs we worked on together, Hanky Panky. He has also played with Subway Sect, Jo Boxers, Billy Ocean, and Rita Coolidge, amongst many others.

Earl Harvin (photo: John Claridge)
Earl Harvin by John Claridge

Earl Harvin (drums) worked on the Naked Self album, subsequent Naked world tour, plus a couple of recordings for the 45RPM album. He has played with Earl Harvin Trio, MC 900 Foot Jesus, Tindersticks, Seal, AIR, Art of Noise, and Richard Thompson, amongst many others.

Barrie Cadogan (photo: John Claridge)
Barrie Cadogan by John Claridge

‘Little’ Barrie Cadogan (guitar) I asked my old friend Johnny Marr to recommend a guitarist, and the first name he suggested was his friend ‘Little’ Barrie. Coincidently, two months previous to that conversation, I had ‘Shazamed’ Little Barrie when I heard some of his band’s music on the TV show ‘Better Call Saul’. He has played with Little Barrie, Primal Scream, Edwyn Collins, Thee Hypnotics, Damo Suzuki, Spiritualized, The Chemical Brothers, amongst many others.

James Eller by John Claridge
James Eller by John Claridge

James Eller (bass) I’ve worked with James on and off for a very long time, notably on Mind Bomb, Dusk and The The Versus The World. Recently, he was musical director for my Radio Cineola band—which performed in the documentary The Inertia Variations. He also produced a version of ‘December Sunlight’ for the 45RPM compilation album, He has played with Nick Lowe, The Teardrop  Explodes, Damien Saez, Kirsty MacColl, Billy Bragg, and The Pretenders, amongst many others.

THE THE – WHAT WE TALK ABOUT ON THE TOUR BUS

“The Donald” (Earl Havin)
I guess his name mainly comes up in conjunction with discussions of UK politics and the global situation. Far more important to me personally than the character himself, is the brand of politics and type of thinking that gave us such a person. Division politics, and media-cultivated fears have very much eroded that USA which I left in 2006. That relaxed decorum Americans are known for (and sometimes called superficial because of) is facing extinction, the “live and let live” attitude we had, the civility even when we disagreed with another’s political leanings… has given way to immense fear, trolling, name-calling and choosing sides… pro/anti gun, Liberal/Conservative, pro/anti Trump etc. These days whenever I return to the USA I find the tension on the streets palpable, everyone seems on a knife’s edge, doing their best not to allow politics to surface for fear of an ugly altercation. The old “how ya doin” now feels more like trying to keep the peace rather than genuine good will. There is a positive side, which is that Americans are definitely not “sleeping” anymore on issues. Just today overheard a loud, slightly tense but mainly cordial discussion in a 7-11 between the cashiers, a postman, and some locals including a homeless man… about gun control. This is good and encouraging. Perhaps The Donald will inadvertently “Make America Great Again” but just not the way he imagined.

“The Impact of Childhood Trauma on Adulthood” (DC Collard)
I was born in Malaysia: a country of warmth and color that claims the oldest rainforest in existence; the jungle with its snakes and a tiger or two where I roamed as a child, carefree and happy, a veritable garden of eden. At the age of 9 I was taken from my home, my vibrant culture, and two weeks later deposited in a British boarding school – dark days indeed! The unidentified trauma became apparent at age 12, when I was unable to stop crying for 3 weeks straight in front of the entire school. The day the tears stopped a part of me died – it took the death of my mother some 30 years later for those tears to fall again . . . I am older now, my hardened heart a little softer and the walls have started to crumble.  (These are the things we talk about in THE THE – but don’t get me wrong, we also laugh our asses off, daily)

“Brexit Thrills” (James Eller)
Brexit is an act of self immolation the like of which I’ve never seen, a national self harm that I can’t recall any nation state embarking on. I’m obsessed with it, losing sleep, reading about it and thinking and talking about it constantly. When I was growing up, Britain struggled to find a place in the world, post Empire; we didn’t know what we were nationally, or what we wanted to be, though our music helped our generation find ourselves. In the EU, we built a place and a role for ourselves, contributing diplomatic, legal and financial expertise for the greater good of the bloc. Not to mention our cultural input and language. I had a major revelation this morning, walking through Boston. At the moment, I feel our country is on a par with the US – as part of a globally significant geo-political union. Come March the 29th next year, we’re more likely to feel like just another state of the US. Heard that somewhere before? I’m still hopeful that the madness will be stopped, but we’ve becoming more aware of the globalist forces that drove it in the first place, and are becoming more determined to complete it.

“The Joys Of Vintage Guitars” (Little Barrie Cadogan)
There’s much for us to talk about on the serious state of the world, humanity or the lack it and we do, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have a right laugh in THE THE and also an appreciation for some of mankind’s better achievements. There’s a great fondness for classic design and beautiful craftsmanship from the past amongst the band, whether it be cars, motorcycles, sound production, architecture and clothing to name but a few. One that’s never fair away from any of us is vintage instruments, for me especially guitars from the golden era between the ’20s and late ’60s. I’m the worst for it out of all of us, and after nearly 30 years it’s bordering on a sickness. The appeal is there for several reasons – The build quality and sound of that era in general (especially in today’s times of everything being built to become obsolete and superseded), but more than that is the guitars connection the music. From the acoustic delta blues of the ’20s through to the early electric pioneers to the birth of rock ’n’ roll and youth culture and beyond. These guitars along with the artists using them define moments in time, whether it be when the music was new or when you first heard or saw it yourself. The records we loved that changed the course of our lives. Like Chuck Berry and his red Gibson 355. The imagery as powerful as the music. I still play that style of guitar today because of seeing him on TV when I was fourteen. There’s a romanticism and beauty to these old instruments too – Where have they been? Who owned them? What kind of life have they had? It’s fascinating. We’re also merely temporary custodians of these instruments, a small part of their story. It’s sad that nowadays many old guitars are way too expensive for young aspiring players to afford. They are bought as financial investments rather than as creative tools. A high end vintage guitar isn’t always going to make you best gunslinger in town or write you that ground breaking album either. Does that stop me thinking about selling a kidney to buy that old Gold-top Les Paul? – Nah.

“The Fun & Foibles of Classic Cars” (Earl Harvin)
This is the place I can retreat to in my mind (or indeed on the bus!) when it simply can’t handle any more of my brooding over the topics of American politics and racism. Nothing like an aimless discussion about Aston Martin racing in the 1950s or re-sleeving a 1930’s carburettor to turn the brain completely off and daydream like a schoolboy. The main foible of ownership Matt and I can both attest to, not to mention some friends of ours, is trying not to go broke!

Other than that, now in 2018 so long as your smartphone is charged before you set off, nothing too terrible can really happen… so the foibles are few.

In the old days you needed to carry a spare car in the trunk! I used to have tools, belts, water pumps, air compressors, spark plugs, etc. at the ready for a roadside repair. This was of course, and still is, part of the charm. The ability to tinker and bodge your way home gives one a sense of achievement! This topic is a great way to bring a group into a discussion, because even for those don’t care about cars, most people have fond memories of a relative, an uncle or maybe even their parents who had some car they admired as a kid. And “as a kid” for most of us means the car was from the 1970s at the very newest!

“The Older Musician” (James Eller)
When I started out in music, in the late ‘70s, we came through a kind of year zero, in which musicians over 30 were seen by us as dinosaurs, so I’m somewhat astonished to still be playing vital and relevant music 40 years later. In fact, I think I’m playing ‘better’ than I ever did, and way more sensitive to other musician’s input. We decided to avoid the use of all the contemporary assistants, including autotune, sequencing, in ears, samples – you name it, we dumped it – in order to play this music as five human beings. It has a high-wire feel to it as a result, which only serves to make it even more intense.

DC Collard:  Zen & the Art of Motorcycle . . .Well . . . Maintenance, completes the title of the book by Robert M. Pirsig, who states in his introduction that “it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.” I love that. For me, motorcycle riding is where I get centred  it’s meditation, it’s peace surrounded by nature – oh, there’s excitement and danger, but there’s also control and calm. I ride many miles on my own, it’s personal; but I also enjoy meeting others down the road and sharing twisty mountain roads with friends I trust – I call it, ‘Going to Church’. Riding The The’s tour bus I often find myself discussing the benefits of my particular religion – and, unlike Mr. Pirsig, I do get quite factual about Religion and Motorcycles; within the former one can see the origin of many of this world’s problems, while the latter has unquestionably been my Saviour!

the-the-tour

inertia-variations

THE THE — 2018 North American tour (concerts and films screenings)

BOSTON
September 14th – Concert: Orpheum Theatre – supported by Agnes Obel

NEW YORK
September 15th – Film: Theatre 80
September 16th – Concert: Brooklyn Steel – supported by Elysian Fields
September 17th – Concert: Beacon Theatre – supported by JG Thirlwell / XORDOX

TORONTO
September 18th – Film: Revue Cinema
September 19th – Concert – Sony Centre For The Performing Arts  – supported by Agnes Obel

DETROIT

September 20th – Film: Cinema Detroit
September 21st – Concert (SOLD OUT): Royal Oak Music Theatre  – supported by Agnes Obel

CHICAGO
September 21st – Film: Logan Theatre
September 22nd – Concert (SOLD OUT): Riviera Theatre  – supported by Agnes Obel

LOS ANGELES
September 23rd- Film: Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever
September 24th – Concert (SOLD OUT): Ford Theatre  – supported by Agnes Obel
September 25th – Concert: Hollywood Palladium  – supported by Agnes Obel

SAN FRANCISCO
September 26th – Film: Alamo Drafthouse
September 27th – Concert: The Masonic  – supported by Agnes Obel

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