the Telescopes'TO KILL A SLOW GIRL WALKING', THE TELESCOPES' NEW EP FINDS THEM SEVERAL STEPS FURTHER ALONG THE PATH TO THE GREATNESS SO MANY PREDICTED FOR THEM LAST YEAR. STEVE SUTHERLAND TAKES A GLANCE AT THE MAP AS THEY STRIDE TOWARDS THEIR DESTINY. PICS: TOM SHEEHAN
UNDER THE INFLUENCE. Some people write songs because they want something - love, money, fame, sex, God, looks, strength, to be someone else, someone they're not. Others write songs because well they write songs. It's what they do for a living. Others still write songs to change things, to put someone down or put the world to rights. But, at their best, when they're truly freaked out and burning, The Telescopes write songs under the influence. Not Drugs, they hasten to add. They're not into drugs. Just you know, imagination. Under a spell. In a trance. Steve Lawrie, The Telescopes' singer, explains. "Take 'Pure Sweetest Ocean' from the new EP: I was ill at the time I wrote it and I read that book 'Whale Nation' by Heathcote Williams from cover to cover. And you know when you're ill, your emotions seem to be a bit more open for some reason, what with the fevers and everything ... Well, the phrases he had to go with these pictures of whales bursting out of the ocean lust seemed amazing. It was like a kid's story and then, suddenly, it became reaIly nasty.
"The song's like that. The music's really beautiful but some of the words are tragic. Like, when I sang 'I wanna die where the ships don't ride' in the studio, it sent a shiver up my spine. Y'know, I thought I was a whale."
You thought you were a whale?
"Yeah. Well... wished I was.
"The sounds at the end and the beginning are real whale noises. These guys went out in a boat and recorded them. It's on a BBC soundtrack. The bit at the beginning is three whales singing. It's called three whale choir. And the end part is an experiment they carried If you listen, it's about four minutes of whale noises and after about two minutes you hear a rumble. What they did was, to test the whales' reactions, they exploded dynamite on a beach.The whales stop as if they're listening to it they're really silent for a few seconds, and then they carry on communicating."
"Listening to that" says guitarist Jo, "gives me the same feeling as listening to those Bulgarian voices. You don't know what it means but it send a shiver up your spine."
This, approximately, is the appeal of The Telescopes.
WE talk in a pub. It's a shrine to boxing. There's fight posters, photos of old pugilists all over the walls. When we walk in, a group of ageing rowdies at the bar take the piss "All right lads!" They jeer. So we've come this for have we? Long hair again a reason for ridicule. The rowdies don't give bother though. There's six of us - safety in numbers- and we probably look harmless enough. Still, I can't help wondering whether Steve has logged the chill as we came through the door, put the emotion on ice, as it were, to draw upon later when he needs a little fear to adrenalise a song.
We're a few hundred words into this feature by now and we haven't yet mentioned black holes or collapsed centres. This must be some kind of a record when it comes to The Telescopes. Instead, we get down to how the came about, how they started.
'There's two types of people," says Steve. "There's the people who complain about music but still buy the records and spend their time mooning about it, and there's other people who don't like the music that's happening at the time and form bands. We fit into that category. There wasn't any records to buy so we thought we'd make records.
"But it starts even earlier than that. Like, when you're growing up, school's trying to push you in this direction and it all seems so methodical - there's no room for feeling, and thought and expression. So you start looking for ways you can do something because you don't wanna sit in your bedroom for the rest of your life. I started in art and went to art college and everything, but it was just the same as school - I haven't pointed or anything since- so music seemed the only option." Some people reckon music doesn't provide that option for "the kids" any more. They say that it's become so homogenised and compartmental ised and controlled, that it's as routine a career as any other.
"Those people have got every right to say that" says Steve. "Look at how the music industry's treated the kids - it's just conned 'em left, right and centre. It's resulted in the death of seven-inch singles. And all these mixes and remixes and everything - the kids don't want that. They wanna hear new songs,they wanna hear excitement. They want the prolificness that The Clash had, or The Beatles, the Stones. I mean, they released B-sides that you couldn't get on the albums most of the time."
"You can't trust bands these days," says Jo. "Look at Black Box. The girl's not even singing on it. It's just a sample. It's not real."
They did away with the records and now they're doing away wit the bands!
"Yeah, and there's nothing more exciting than seeing five people who are actually playing that record on TV. I mean, everybody must have felt the thrill when the Mary Chain appeared- actual people, actually playing it. Real bands on TV like Echo And The Bunnymen, The Smiths. But, they've gone now, and what is there? The Stone Roses? No thanks. They haven't totally got it. They're almost there, but..."
"They've sold their souls to the business side whereas the business side, to us, doesn't stop us, or restrict us, it frustrates us. Y'know, we can't get out of it what we feel we need, but it's not stopping us, it's not stopping our creativeness or stopping us enjoying ourselves as a band."
Steve says it doesn't matter to him whether The Telescopes record for an indie or a major, it's how you use your opportunities that count. But do they honestly feel in the current dance-your-cares-away, fiddle-while-the-world-burns climate, that The Telescopes poisoned perfume of Velveteen Romantic gloom could really be embraced by the mainstream? Can they see themselves, without radical redefinition, on "Top Of The Pops"?
Steve simultaneously: "Yes. Maybe I'm suffering from delusions of grandeur but it bugs me why everybody doesn't like our music, because l like it and I like all sorts of music from Tim Rose, Tim Buckley, Lee Hazlewood to the Pistols, MaryChain to Xmal Deutschland, the full spectrum.
"My first fad was The Beatles. I went into a record shop one Christmas with two record tokens and asked my mum what Beatles records to get and she said 'Help' and 'Rubber Soul'. So l got them, and then I bought more and more and more ,and I became obsessed by them. Then John Lennon was shot and everyone else got into them so thought I ought maybe to start getting into the charts like everyone else my age. So I started liking stuff like Soft CelI."
Punk didn't really affect The Telescopes. Jo was six when the Pistols started. They liked The Undertones, Buzzcocks, Zeppelin and Blondie, and they got into The Velvet Underground, to whom they've often been compared, at college.
"And Teardrop Explodes and The Specials, they were great... See? We're into so much music. I don't understand why people have to be so narrow about it."
Jo: "But our attitude and the way we are as a band is not what major labels are looking for. They want something they can manipulate, something that they can just turn into product an we don't wanna be a product. We wanna release classic records, all the tracks on a 12-inch as good as each other, with a good sleeve, and video, and everything about it has to be classic. We don't wanna do four songs of which three are remixes. That's worthless."
They cite the Mary Chain as the bond that encouraged them, that gave them hope that it could be done with a simple song and a "F*** you" attitude, and The Wedding Present as an example of a band who've stuck to their principles, signing to RCA, retaining full artistic control. They see themselves taking the same route; building up alive following so that the majors can't ignore them, granting them complete autonomy to sign.
"Everything we've done so for complies to a sort of loose plan. We have faith in ourselves and it's not just a case of believing it'll happen, it's a case of making it happen! I mean nobody gets anywhere by dreaming - you've got to make you dreams happen. It may seem a bit of a Tory thing to say that at the moment, but really believe that anybody can anything if they set their mind to it.
"But a lot of people in bands, the finish school and they go to work, get married, have kids and a house and a mortgage and they play in the band in their spare time. That's useless - They can't afford to give everything up - You have to make sacrifices. Like the last time any of us worked was 18 months ago. We've dedicated the last 18 months solely to The Telescopes. We've taken the risk and we're broke, sure, but we're making it."
IT seems to me that The Telescopes were born under a microscope - there were rough demo tapes in the MM office long before they recorded for "What Goes On". By the time they came to release "Taste", they're heavy (as in think and clogged) debut album last year, they'd acquired a reputation as the up-an-coming threat, on the crest of a new wave of indie luminaries set to challenge My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3 as College darlings. I wonder if they ever felt under pressure?
"It doesn't really bother us because we don't live in London. We live in Burton, and when we go back there, it's total peace. We don't mix with many people there, we just an around with a few friends who know we're in a band but aren't bothered. It does my head in if we're down here for more than a week ... you can't cross the road," says Jo.
"From a creative point of view, it's good to have a lot of things buzzing around, a lot of here-and-there and everything, because it gets your creative juices flowing, but then you don't have time to sit down and take them all in, whereas we go back to Burton On Trent and we have time to think about things, y'know, get our heads together," says Steve who reckons it wasn 't as easy for The Telescopes as maybe it seems.
He says when the band started, he and Dave were clueless about how to go about getting noticed they'd come down to The Hype Club to see gigs and spend the whole day leafletting record shops and venues. It got them a big, fat nowhere so, disillusioned,they retreated to Burton and started working on songs, scrabbling around for a few support slots, sending demos to fanzines. One of the 'zines, Sowing Seeds, based in South Woodford, showed interest. The editor wrote back saying he was thinking of starting a record label, and he put The Telescopes in a studio in Leeds where they recorded "Kick The Wall". He became their manager when What Goes On became interested in signing them. As the saying goes, they haven't looked back since.
From the first gig, when the band was thrown together at short notice, they've thrived on live spontaneity, on the tension and excitement of wondering what the moment - and whether it will work. Steve says the same attitude holds true today. Their controversial "Perfect Needle" single (they claim it has nothing to do with smack though they fully appreciate the value of shock) was written and recorded within 24 hours. "That sort of thing's really natural," he says. "Pick it up , do it. Your reflex reaction to it."
The album, "Taste", was only written a couple of weeks before they recorded it.
"It's so loose but remains so tight, that's the beauty of it," says Dave, who's also eager to explain how important playing at volume is to The Telescopes; how the body hit is as important as the mindf***; how, at certain levels, you can hear things that aren't there. Where fantasy and reality merge, that's where The Telescopes thrive.
If they're so wrapped up in the music, does the audience matter?
"Oh yeah, they matter to me," says Steve. " If you get people spitting on you, I'm not one of those guys who get off on that - I get really uptight and angry about it. I have been known to have violent outbursts. And yet, when we were playing Newcastle Riverside, I was smiling and laughing on stage because the audience just got me that way.
In Manchester, we walked off after three or four songs, because the audience was spitting at us, and these people came backstage afterwards and gave us so much shit about it. l felt so vulnerable, I just couldn't talk to them. I had to leave."
"But people are weird," says Jo. "Someone came backstage the other day and said, 'You're shit! You're really shit! I've seen you six or seven times now, and you're really sh it!'And Dave said to him, 'Well, why do paying to see us then?' And the guy goes, "You're shit!" that's all he could say!"
"I've got a bit of a reputation," says Steve. "I don't know how it's evolved - I guess it's just that I don't take shit off people. I don't let people throw glasses at me and get away with it. But at The Subterania recently, I accidentally knocked my mike stand over and it hit this guy on the head. He thouqht l'd hit him because of my reputation but, between songs, I went and said sorry and told him it was an accident, and he just threw his arms around me, and him and his mate started kissing me! You just never know what's gonna happen. That's what makes it so great."
ON the new EP, all four tracks are deliberately very different, a reaction against the atmospherically claustrophobic uniformity of "Taste". "It's to show people who've grown complacent about us that we are going to do different things. There's so many thinqs we want to do, we haven't even got one millionth of them out yet."
"To Kill A Slow Girl Walking" is The Stooges filtered through the Mary Chain, a bit of a forgettable rush - "Treasure" is much better, a brooding, bitter garnet of putrid psychedelia. "Forever Now" is another headlong black-out while "My Sweetest Ocean", the whale song, washes majestically through the senses and, yes, you can almost taste the salty spray.
"Because of the lyrics, a lot of people think I'm a really evil person, but l just think I'm observant, because all the songs are just feelings I've had, and I can't be alone. Like, in 'Violence', I'm not telling everybody to go out and murder somebody. It's just a scared feeling I had walking home one night, scared of nothing really, just my, own imagination. But people do get like that.
"Most of lyrics might be miserable - I 'm not denying that - but I think delineate a lot of people. I'm sure a lot of people think they're one in a million, walking down the street feeling the whole world's against them. I know I do. And, if l feel like that and it's an interesting feeling, other people might get some inspiration from that. They might think: 'Well, he feels like that, but Iook what he's doing. He's doing something that's making him happy'."
Steve considers the new EP less dark than sarcastic: "'To Kill A Slow Girl Walking' is like a sarcastic approach to religion - well, not so much religion as people who are easily led; y'know, people in a flock looking for a shepherd, people who don't think for themselves looking fora new messiah all the time. There's also people looking for a flock - Manson, people like that because there's a market out there. You can make yourself somebody by exploiting people which, too certain extent, is what we do. It's just an examination of that subject.
"'Treasure' is sarcastic too. There's whole verses of sick sexual images and then it goes into the chorus which says, 'All this is my treasure'. It's almost like Vincent Price showing you a beautiful rose and suddenly silver blades pop out of it and he slashes you face. And 'Fovever Now', that's sarcastic about complacent people, people who sit and just remember yesterday, people who just sit and worry about tomorrow. It's saying; 'Wow! Slowdown. It's today!'."
STEVE has recently contributed a short story to an anthology about being buried alive to be published soon by Black Sheep Press. Meanwhile, The Telescopes are looking forward to seeing The Cramps in Nottingham and then they're off to tour Europe. The interview over, they nick my tape recorder and interview each other.
Steve asks them each in turn if they've ever had a serious drug problem.
Robert: ....... no. I don't think so."
Dominic: "Uh, yes... I used to be addicted to coffee."
Jo: "Big dog's cock."
Dave:' Uh . yeah. Hahaha."
The Telescopes can be great, sometimes. On "Treasure", when they're gone, possessed, or on "Ocean", when they're lost in the music. But sometimes they can be so ordinary, you can scarcely believe they've touched the skies.
Deity's still a fair way off, but they say that's okay. They can see for miles.
Originally appeared in Melody Maker January 20, 1990. Copyright © Melody Maker