Ian McCulloch on the Bunnymen, U2, Liverpool FC and hypnotism
Echo & The Bunnymen's first four classic albums are being re-issued on vinyl today and the seminal pioneers of psychedelic post-punk pop have a Dublin show lined up for early next year. David Roy quizzes head Bunnyman Ian McCulloch about the Liverpool group's music, famous rivalries and an unshakable self-belief borrowed from Bill Shankly...
HI MAC, the first four Bunnymen albums are being re-released on vinyl today after being unavailable for many years. It seems odd that they were ever 'deleted'.
Yeah, I know. And it wasn't even their [Warner Bros] idea to put them out again. My manager and friend Peasy had to ring them up to say, "Do you know you can't get these f***ing records anymore?" and they were just like, "Oh, really?".
It's like, "They're the best four albums you've ever released as a company, you stupid t***s" - he wouldn't have said it like that, but I would have. We're the best band in the world and they're the best run of four albums by any group, as far as I'm concerned – even the Velvets let themselves down with their second one, White Light White Heat, I thought. Even though it's still good.
It was all sitting there in their vaults, they were just too busy trying to get their version of Ed Sheeran - unless they already have Ed Sheeran, I don't know. They were looking for s***e rather than jewels.
The Bunnymen's sound kept evolving with each new record, from the catchy post-punkiness of Crocodiles to the epic, atmospheric guitar pop of Ocean Rain. Were you concious of that progression at the time, which was only a four year period?
Someone else said to me recently that they couldn't think of any other band apart from maybe The Beatles who'd done the same – but I'd question that. I don't think their albums are as good as ours, and I mean that, totally. The Beatles aren't my kind of group, y'know? I much prefer the Stones.
Each of our albums was [constructed] like picking footy teams – we only put the 10 or 11 best songs on there. Although not Happy Death Men [from Crocodiles], I don't like that one – it's rubbish.
But you wouldn't really pick much by anyone else that was around at that time over our songs, except maybe the Talking Heads. They were the only group I thought came close, but they were in a totally different field as well, so that was good. It meant I could like them or love them without feeling that they were 'the enemy' or rivals.
Anyone who's a rival, you've got to hate them, y'know?
Like U2, for example?
People would always ask me, 'Why'd you say all that about U2?', but you never want to admit it, that they're your rivals. It wasn't even that they were doing 'better' than us, it was more that they were always getting played wherever we went. Whereas whatever record we had out at the time, like Rescue, it always cleared the dance floor.
It got to be that wherever we were touring, especially in America, we'd hear I Will Follow every time before we'd go on stage. It was just like, "Oh, f*** off". They probably weren't even being funny, it was more like, "Oh, they'll love this – it's part of their scene". But there was no 'scene' going apart from the Bunnymen as far as I was concerned.
You became known as 'MacThe Mouth' thanks to your knack for quotable self-promotion – where does that come from?
I was always into the footie growing up. I had a season ticket from the age of about 13 to 16. Me and my brother used to walk from North Shiels to Anfield every Saturday morning to get there dead early to try and get down in front of the stanchion.
Growing up, it was always 'we're the greatest team in Europe' blah-di-blah-di-blah – but I actually believed it. I just grew up knowing that was the way it was, hearing Shankly say things like 'it will be a bastion of invincibility' and all that. He had the most incredible voice I've ever heard – it still sends shivers down my spine today.
It was the same with the band, y'know? I just carried that [mentality] on. I said 'we're the best band in the world', because we f***ing were.
I've always been an intelligent lad and I'm also a Scouser: if we can get away with something, we will. So, if I was doing an interview around the forthcoming release of an album, I'd say things like 'it's the greatest work of art since Michelangelo's David'. I said that in the Melody Maker.
Then just to pull it back bit and put a bit of humour into it, I'd say 'is that the one without the arms?' or 'I actually preferred the Seventeenth Chapel'.
You've also been working on a new Bunnymen album, how's that going?
I'm going down to Henley on Saturday for a few weeks to finish it. It's certainly as good as those first four, I think, but it's different too. It might not have the obvious Cutter or Back Of Love or Killing Moon, but as body of work it's unbelievable.
All the songs are like three minutes-something as well, I haven't arsed around going 'oh I'd like to hear myself a bit more on this one'. And the subject matters are varied and important. Some of them are dark and some of them are just observational things.
Like, there's one called Brussels is Haunted, which is a phrase that came up a long time ago. Brussels was the first place we ever played outside of England dead early on. It was the first place I'd ever played, pretty much, outside of me mum's house.
None of us had ever been abroad apart from Pete de Freitas [the Bunnymen's late drummer, who died in 1989], so to me Brussels was incredible, just the look of it, y'know?
Touring bands and a lot of people put down Belgium in general, but to me Brussels is like nowhere else. And it always felt haunted in a weird kind of way, kind of like that melancholy that I grew up with and that I loved.
As much as I like to have a laugh, if I had to gather the recipe for me, melancholy, or melancholia, would probably be 50 per cent I think. But I do like to have at least 45 per cent of being able to crack jokes – and the other five per cent is obviously to be the most sexy b*****d on the planet.
Are you looking forward to being back on stage again next year?
I am yeah, it's mad to have been away for so long – I always think it's my natural habitat anyway. And it's where we've always converted people, anyone who saw us in the early days was always like 'they're my band'.
There's something beyond the records going on there, but we're not trying to put on a 'show' or anything. If you're running about climbing lighting rigs and that, that's an act. Our show has always been just us, our charisma and our stage presence. Especially me.
I always knew I had something there, I didn't even have to move. That's the best bit, when you can just hypnotise people by not moving.
:: Crocodiles, Heaven Up Here, Porcupine and Ocean Rain are re-released today on vinyl. Buy now via Bunnymen.com. Echo & The Bunnymen play Dublin's Olympia Theatre on February 9. Tickets via Ticketmaster.ie