Interview: Glen Matlock
All those people, they’re all kinda pretty left field in a way, I’m not playing in a Chinn and Chapman kind of band (they made some good records).I’m quite proud of the fact that I’ve got to play with people that came prior to punk and people after who we’d influenced.
Original bass player with the Sex Pistols, Glen Matlock was co-writer of 10 of the 12 tracks on Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols before leaving the band in 1977 (1). That same year he formed Rich Kids with Midge Ure, Steve New and Rusty Egan, the band releasing Ghosts of Princes in Towers the following year (2). Subsequently he has played with Iggy Pop, The Faces, Primal Scream and The Damned, toured with Dead Men Walking, had his own band, Glen Matlock and The Philistines, and been involved with various other projects (1)!
Over the last 40 years Glen has constantly been on the move, trying new things and collaborating with a variety of musicians. Never content to be defined by his Sex Pistols involvement this year Glen has a new album out in September called Good To Go which reaches back to pre punk music for inspiration.
On an atrocious phone line from London (hence the proliferation of ‘…’) we had a chat about his musical past and present and the making of the new album.
(((o))): I’ve been doing a bit of reading up and the thing that’s struck me is that you are constantly evolving, constantly trying new things, not defined by the Sex Pistols, was that a deliberate decision you made to continually be trying new things?
Glen: Well yeah, but also the Sex Pistols were the Sex Pistols and it was the sum of the people that were in it, once you step outside of that and you’ve got different people it’s a different thing. If you try and copy that you’re either going to fail miserably or you’re going to be dishonest, pretending you’re something you’re not. There is a bloke I know, he is a really nice bloke and a good drummer and he was in the tailend of the Ramones but he goes out with a pick up van pretending he was the Ramones almost, and I just think that’s wrong.
(((o))): So he has allowed himself to get trapped…
Glen: That’s the last thing I want to be, I know if I do a gig people want to hear a couple of songs, and I enjoy playing them but not everything. I know if I went to see David Bowie and he didn’t play ‘Heroes; I’d have been disappointed so it is a bit of a juggling act. But I’d rather do newer stuff within my idiom. On my (new) album most of the tracks have got Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats on, he’s got a very innovative style. And Earl Slick who played with David Bowie and John Lennon, it’s quite high calibre. The guy who engineered it is Mario McNulty who did Bowie’s album before last. We’re not mucking around!
(((o))): Quite a collection of musicians on the album! Earl Slick, Slim Jim Phantom, Chris Musto, Jim Lowe, Neal X (3) -was recording quite an organic process or did you have a clear vision of what you wanted before you went in the studio?
G: I had a good, rough idea. But I think there is a good adage from Nick Lowe who said “Slap it down and tart it up!”There are nine tracks that we cut at the same time and then three that we cut a little bit later with Chris Musto on drums and Neal X on guitar on two, I think, and I got my mate Chris Spedding to play on one of the songs on the album.
(((o))): The new album ‘Good To Go’ is out in September isn’t it? I was having a listen and it seemed almost pre punk, it was quite rootsy, seemed to draw on blues, country and rock’n’roll-is that fair? How would YOU describe it musically?
G: I did some shows that were just me which I really enjoyed doing and maybe about three years ago I went to see Bob Dylan at the Albert Hall, and while I can appreciate Bob Dylan I’m not much of a fan, I don’t even know why he does it! He can’t be short of money, he does 200 gigs a year and he just looks like he doesn’t want to be there! He doesn’t acknowledge the audience, you can’t recognise hardly any of the songs! But the band he had were fantastic… and I had a word with Slim Jim and… suggested using Earl, that was the thinking behind it and because they are American we recorded in America, so there’s bit more of an american influence . I don’t want to pretend I’m the latest thing and I’m going to compete with Dizzy Rascal, it just ain’t going to happen. I see it as classic rock, kind of, but I also think it’s got quite a bit of skiffle in it. So if you want to call it anything…Skiffle. On the album,I’m supposed to be the bass player but I don’t even play bass, I think I play bass on one track, I play acoustic guitar, it’s the rhythm on most of it, I do that because I really like The Spiders From Mars where Bowie played all the rhythm on an acoustic guitar.
(((o))): Yeah, I noticed on the video for the single ‘Hook In You’ you’re playing an acoustic 6 string- a recent switch of instrument for you?
G: I’ve always played it, I played it even before I picked up the bass, I mean not very well, but well enough. If you had Bert Weedon’s ‘Play In A Day’ they say a guitar is an orchestra in your hand!
(((o))): What sort of subject matter do you engage with on the album?
G: Lots of things, general life, ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ that life brings you but also how you cope with them and rise above them, rise to the occasion, and perseverance through heartbreak somehow.
(((o))): Are your lyrics informed by observation, personal experience or other resources like films and books?
G: Bit of everything really, but mainly life. I tend to try and write like I’m having a conversation with somebody. I get most of my ideas just walking down the street, you see something…that gets your mind going, you get a little catch phrase to hang it on, you start thinking ‘What does it mean?’ It’s funny songwriting, I don’t think any songwriter knows how to write a song, you just do it, y’know.
(((o))): I was very interested in the video for the single ‘Hook In You’, because it cut from yourself playing guitar to footage and it seemed to be exploring themes of power and sexual exploitation and masculinity. I was wondering what gave you..
G: That song is my kind of tribute to Screamin Jay Hawkins’ ‘I Put a Spell on You’, there is a great line in that song “I don’t care if you don’t want me. I’m yours”, not in a nasty way but ‘I’m not going to give up’ basically, and sometimes people have a mutual attraction that is predestined somehow. I don’t think it (Hook In You) was a chauvinistic thing and if it comes across as that that’s the last thing I want. But I really don’t think it is. It’s not what I meant and nobody else has picked up on that.
(((o))): What about the clips of Soho and the reference to…?
G: It’s a bluesy kind of dance…it’s a blues club, and there’s sexuality and it’s not all flowers and boxes of chocolates.
(((o))): I was reading an interview you gave a year or so ago, I think to the Guardian, and you were saying that you’d grown up in a family with a sense of class identity, you weren’t particularly well off, your Dad voted Labour (4)-which I guess you expressed, to a degree, in the Sex Pistols-you seem to have maintained a sense of connection to ordinary people-not felt the need to develop a dramatic persona in any obvious way..
G: No. I’m a regularish kind of a bloke considering what I’ve done, I’ve still got my feet on the ground. Lots of people in the punk movement were against the Phil Collins types who probably made many millions…and became divorced from what’s going on around them. And I don’t think that the punks…ever will really…maybe it’s to do with the degrees of success they’re having, the punks who are doing really, really well have become a little bit divorced from things, but I think you could count them on one hand with a finger or two missing!…I’ve been an art student I like to check things out…last week I was in Mumbai, I’ve been in Korea, I played at the Peace Train Festival…near the border…they appreciated me going over to show a bit of solidarity with them, I’m not living in some ivory tower somewhere at all,and I enjoy it, I don’t think I’d enjoy being in an ivory tower watching daytime TV!
(((o))): And you’re off to Sweden in September, aren’t you?
G: Yeah I’m touring over there, and I’ve (got a gig at 100 Club) on the 31 August, Earl Slick’s coming over and he is going to be playing with Chris and Jim Lowe who plays bass on (the new album).
(((o))): You seem happy to have a go at new things and step outside your comfort zone-I read somewhere that you’ve been DJing for a while and have done some music teaching in a college (5), how did the teaching thing come about?
G: Somebody asked me to do it! You’re sort of passing on the baton a little bit…
(((o))): And as a co-writer of some of the most effective songs of the 20th Century, why do you think early punk has had the longevity it has had?
G: Because it’s an important alternative to the main stream, and because it’s the voice of dissatisfaction…its the voice of reading between the lines, and it seems to have struck a chord all around the world to this day.
(((o))): In the book Lipstick Traces (6) it talks about Dada and the Situationists and punk as art movements that really did change the world, that were disruptive and critiquing of society, do you think there will ever be another equally significant art movement in our lives?
G: I think a lot of the problem we have these days is everything’s been done a little bit and it’s very hard to do (something) new. There is a shop called ‘Topshop’ where the whole world seems to get their clothes from these days. It’s just a mish mash of different styles and that applies to music and lots of things really. People think that by putting of bunch of old things together they’ll make something new but I don’t necessarily think that’s true. So that’s why I’m deliberately a bit more classic really. Records by Elvis Presley-early ones- and say Gene Vincent sound as fresh and vital today as when they first came out. So I’m trying to capture a bit of that.
(((o))): What bands and writers have you been enjoying lately-who should we be checking out?
G: Don’t ask me! But there is a whole wealth of older stuff that people haven’t even heard of these days, I still like Mose Allison, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band…Scott Walker, in fact I even cover a Scott Walker song on the album, ‘Montague Terrace (In Blue)’, I like the words in that song, kinda of pushing the envelope a little bit…
(((o))): You’ve had a really varied musical life, you’ve played with Iggy Pop, The Faces, Primal Scream (1). You’ve had your own band…
G: All those people, they’re all kinda pretty left field in a way, I’m not playing in a Chinn and Chapman kind of band (they made some good records).I’m quite proud of the fact that I’ve got to play with people that came prior to punk and people after who we’d influenced. I’ve (done) lots of different things but I only really do one thing and play my kind of brand of music.
(((o))): And all these collaborations must have kept you stimulated, stretched, learning-have they been part of your evolution both as a musician and a person?
G: Well. I don’t know if I’ve evolved that much but ‘Yeah’. I think when people get to a certain stage of playing they tend to play like what their personality is, and their personality adds something to the rich broth of what you’re trying to do, hopefully. But you’ve got your influences and you’ve got somebody like Earl who has played with so many different people and they’ve all influenced him and that all comes out in his playing somehow.
Thanks to Glen for time and words.
(1)Glen Matlock https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glen_Matlock
(2)Rich Kids https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rich_Kids
(3)Singleton, P. (2018) ‘Glen Matlock Interview and Album review Good To Go Track by Track’’ http://www.philjens.plus.com/rattle/GoodToGo_trackbytrack.html
(4)Padman, T. (2017) ‘Interview. Glen Matlock: ‘My Mum Got Called Mrs Sex Pistols, Which Really Upset Her’ https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jun/16/glen-matlock-my-mum-got-called-mrs-sex-pistols-which-really-upset-her
(5)Glen Matlock EPK http://yellowbrickmusic.com/glen-matlock-epk/
(6)Marcus, G. (2011) ‘Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century’, Faber and Faber, London.
Photo by Olly Andrews.