The The’s Matt Johnson interviewed: “I was hallucinating giant spiders!”

Includes experimental music, the wisdom of John Lennon and an album of Hank Williams covers

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An early classic, as Johnson delivers an accomplished set, including landmark tracks “This Is The Day” and “Uncertain Smile”
I was pleasantly surprised by last year’s fantastic response to the reissue! I still get a lot of letters from people asking about it. I hadn’t heard it for a long time until I went into remaster it and I thought it sounded great. So I was hopeful other people thought the same way; and I’m pleased that the album still means a lot to people. My key collaborator was Paul Hardiman. Funnily enough, I saw him for the first time in 30 years a few weeks ago. I did a radio show about the Garden Studios in Shoreditch that I used to own. He came round to my place, we turned a tape recorder on and he hadn’t changed. He’s very, very funny. After Soul Mining, we did a track called “Flesh And Bones”. I don’t know what went on, whether there was a dispute between his manager, who was his wife at the time, and my then manager Stevo. In those days, I wasn’t thinking about themes… when you’re doing your early album, you just write. You have songs you’ll possibly be working on for years – I was just a teenager when I wrote some of the songs on Soul Mining. Later, once you’ve established yourself you can approach a project and place certain parameters over the subject matter. In the early days, it’s all instinctual, just how you feel. I grew up listening to The Beatles. Lennon used to say, “Tell the truth and make it rhyme.” You can’t get simpler advice than that. That’s what I wanted to do, be truthful: “This is how I feel at this moment in time”, rather than intellectualising it.



Johnson’s impassioned response to Thatcherism. Tom Waits is nearly involved; a large quantity of exotic narcotics are consumed while making the accompanying ‘video album’ in Peru
After Soul Mining, I was eager to move in another direction. I’d always been aware politically, but Infected was my reaction to the growing strangle-hold of Thatcherism. John Lydon told me it was the most spiteful record he’d heard in years, a huge compliment! I was a fan of Tom Waits and Holger Czukay, and thought it would be amazing to collaborate with them. I was very confident. I just reached out. I also contacted Brian Eno, who came back lukewarm. We didn’t hear from Holger, but Tom Waits got back and said, “Come over to New York, hang out and discuss it.” So we spent a week talking about it. We played a lot of pool – he thrashed me. He wasn’t drinking at the time, just soda water and bitters. But he had a big thing going on. He just fired his manager, he was living in the Chelsea Hotel, just finishing off Rain Dogs. So it was a fantastic trip, but he said, “I think you could produce yourself. I’d love to do it but I’ve got so many things going on, I just can’t commit to you.” The films came about because I didn’t want a tour. It would have been hard without the huge, expensive cast of musicians to do it justice live. But Stevo suggested we make a film for every track on the LP, and we’d tour that instead. I knew Tim Pope through Soft Cell, and he shot films for three tracks and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson, who I knew from Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, also shot three. We filmed “Heartland” in an ex-gasworks in South London, but for the others we went a little bit more exotic. We went to New York to do “Out Of The Blue”, in a brothel in Harlem – we had to have police protection. Then we went to Peru and Bolivia with Sleazy. It was amazing we all got back alive. You can imagine the purity of the coke down there. We started in Iquitos, where Fitzcarraldo was shot. We got taken into the jungle by a former Peruvian army guide who was well-connected. There was a scene in “The Mercy Beat” where we came across a crazy communist rally, and I’m handling snakes and monkeys… I was out of it most of the time, hallucinating giant spiders on the hotel walls. The stuff was too strong. I flew back from Bolivia via Amsterdam, so you can imagine what happened when Customs got hold of me. They had me in the interview room down to my underpants. Luckily they didn’t strip search me! I think one of them recognised me from TV…


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