Music Editor Sammy Andrews chats to Will Sergeant from Echo and the Bunnymen about his time in the band, their upcoming 40th Anniversary tour and his record collection
I sat down with Echo and the Bunnymen guitarist, Will Sergeant, ahead of their 40th Anniversary celebration tour and the repressing of their first four studio albums Crocodiles, Heaven Up Here, Porcupine and Ocean Rain.
Echo and the Bunnymen have always been hailed as one of the most important British bands of the 1980s and that must be incredible to hear. What was it like starting out in the 80s and finding your feet as a band?
It just sort of came naturally really. The more you play, the better you get, and the better you get those sorts of things don’t scare you the same way that they do at the very beginning. It was all a natural source of growth. It’s good being in a band together and you’re all on the same side, on the same team It’s kinda like a little gang, like being in the scouts or something.
Is that team feeling something that has always been there?
Yeah, we all used to dress up in camouflage gear and army surplus stuff and it felt like you were a little invading army. You’d turn up in Norway or somewhere, and even the crew would all have all this stuff on. All of a sudden, we’d be these weirdos in the middle of the square, all dressed in army fatigues and I think that added to the feeling that you were part of a gang.
You continue to carry that legacy as a band, and you are re-releasing the first four albums on vinyl. What do each of those albums mean to you?
Oh it’s an amazing time. Learning and not just learning to be a musician but learning about life. Until we started the band I’d never been anywhere or done anything. So, I had never been in a taxi or a restaurant or anything like that. So it was a real eye opener and travelling was the best thing about it, I think, getting to see different places around the world. That was one of the best gifts of being in the band.
Where is your favourite place that you have been with Echo and the Bunnymen?
I’ve got loads! I love Venice. Paris, San Francisco, New York, Tokyo. Places that a kid like me from a council estate would never have got to. So, it was just a real eye opener that whole thing. The first four albums even just recording in the studios and learning all the techniques was really good, it was just a brilliant time.
Is there one of the four albums that is a particular favourite or that you’re really proud of?
I was heavily involved in all four of them so it’s difficult to pick a favourite because they’ve all got great things that I loved doing and I’m proud of. I always used to say that Heaven Up Here was my favourite but I don’t think it is now, I think it’s probably Porcupine. But I don’t dislike any of them. There’s the odd sound on the odd track that I’m not happy with but it’s all minor details and stuff that only I would be worried about.
They have clearly stood the test of time. Why did you feel like vinyl was a fitting way to celebrate these album?
I’ve always loved vinyl. When CDs came in and they faded out vinyl I was doing solo things and we always did vinyl as well. I like the physical thing of vinyl; the cover and the way they feel and smell. You can actually read the writing on the covers, whereas on CD covers you can’t and on MP3s you probably don’t even get a cover. You get a little bit of information on Spotify but it’s not the same. You don’t feel like you’ve bought anything. It’s too transient, I like to have something physical – if I spend money on something I like to hold it in my hands. The thing with vinyl is as well they go up in value with different editions. I’ve got records worth 1000’s here but I’d never sell them.
I’m a collector too so I am really intrigued to know if you have a particular prized possession in your vinyl collection?
Oh nice! I’ve got quite a lot of Bowie records that have been signed. I love bands, I love music, and I’m a fan. At the end of the day, I’m still just a music fan, it just so happens that I have ended up being in a band. Before that I was a fan of bands. Led Zeppelin and people like that. Roxy Music too. I think possibly my favourite is Ziggy Stardust signed by Bowie.
Next year you are embarking on a tour to celebrate 40 years of Echo and the Bunnymen. What does it mean to play these songs live 40 years on?
To me it’s like playing them the first time. I don’t get tired of them because it’s the only time I really hear them. I don’t play the records at home so that’s when they come alive to me. It’s the same with a record, it’s alive when you put the needle in the groove – the rest of the time its like its in a coma in a stack of records, it’s the same sort of thing. But when we play them live that’s where they exist for me.
I don’t play the records particularly because that’s how they’ve been in the studio and when you’ve heard it five million times you’ve heard it enough. There’s elements in the live gigs that are not predictable. There’s stuff that can happen and you can take them off somewhere else. There’s areas of songs where we can improvise, which is always interesting and it keeps the interest there for me. But I’ve got no worries about playing the songs live at all. It’s for the crowd, they come and they want to hear the songs so I want to play them. Without the crowd we’d be nowhere, we wouldn’t exist.
Yeah, because you hear of artists that get bored of playing the hits, has that ever happened?
I just don’t I don’t get that frame of mind at all. When you’ve got people looking at you and enjoying it, why would you get bored of it? You might get comfortable playing the songs and not having to worry about them and knowing that you’re going to play the next bit right. When you start on a tour there is a bit of apprehension regarding, ‘am I gonna get all the bits in the right places?’ Because, we never rehearse enough really. But it’s not about being bored really, it’s more like getting it right and getting it the best you can for the crowd who payed the money to come and see you.
I never get bored of playing ‘The Cutter’ or ‘The Killing Moon.’ There’s always something fresh. It’s about the sound on the stage too, you’re too busy to get bored. I have loads of stuff to do. I have loads of pedals and I’m tuning the guitar so you never get bored. Some bands you see and they’re going through the motions but I just think you should feel lucky to be up there you should be grateful.
What do you think it is about Echo and the Bunnymen that has managed to keep captivating audiences?
I think there’s sort of an enigmatic thing in the band. Mac is an amazing character, isn’t he? A lot of it is to do with him, a lot of people like him and his style and attitude. It’s the same sort of thing as Liam Gallagher but Mac was doing it a lot longer. It’s that sort of self-confidence thing that can touch on arrogance but he’s there and he’s doing it.
And you still bring in new fans all of the time. Echo and the Bunnymen have always had a really strong student following, what has that student crowd meant to you?
At the beginning we’d always play student places. It’s just young people isn’t it? Young people like music. Our crowd has got older but you do get young people in there who have maybe discovered us, or heard someone talking about us – like a new band. You backtrack and buy the records – it was the same for me with The Doors. I just think good music stands out and lasts. That’s all I ever really wanted from the band. I wanted us to be a classic rock band that was always available and always sizes as a good band.
Definitely! I have to ask this because ‘The Lost Boys’ is one of my favourite films and you did a cover of The Doors’ ‘People Are Strange’ for that. Your music has been in tons of films, have you got any favourites?
I think that the beginning of Donnie Darko is a classic – the scene with the lad on his pushbike was a really good usage of the song. Did you see Stranger Things? They used ‘Nocturnal Me’ off of Ocean Rain and its one of the more unusual tracks. They used that in one of the episodes and that was really good. A weird one to use but it was great, it really fitted.
And you recently released your memoir, Bunnyman. Why did you find it important to write everything down from your time in Echo and the Bunnymen and put it into a book?
There was another label that put our stuff out a bit earlier on in really limited edition hard-back sleeves and I did liner notes for them. Just about the recording and what we were doing at the time so I sort of wrote about the first four records and I really enjoyed it. I met somebody who got me in touch with an agent and sent him some of my writing and they liked it.
It all flowed out naturally. The story’s already written in a way because its just a life from beginning until 1979. The next one will be sort of ’79 onwards, looking at the recording of the albums. It’s a great time to look at because all of a sudden you started to get treated like somebody. We’d go to studios and there’d be tons of food in the fridge. It was just like ‘look at all this amazing cheese.’
So from all of your experiences in Echo and the Bunnymen, do any standout as a particular favourite?
I think going to New York for the first time. After we played the gigs, we used to go to this place called The Peppermint Lounge, which is where the Twist was invented. It was a legendary place, but we got to know the people there. So, after our gigs in New York, we’d always go back to The Peppermint Lounge and do another little gig for free. All our fans would know about it, and they’d turn up as well, and we’d do about four or five songs.
It was just so different to everywhere else we’d ever been. It’s a real mindblower. Our manager at the time, Bill Drummond, used to say it was like a medieval city and I kind of get where he was coming from. When we first started going there it was still scuzzy and there was nobody in the city at all. I really liked that kind of danger factor, and you don’t get that in New York anymore.
You never knew where you’d end up. It was like the Scorsese film ‘After Hours.’ It felt like we were in ‘After Hours’ and we could end up anywhere. Once the gate was opened you were off without knowing where the hell you were going, it really was a great adventure.
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