Q&A: Baz Warne of The Stranglers
You guys just completed what was The Stranglers most successful UK tour to date. Now, although you weren’t with the band during their earlier years, they must have been on your radar. What was your outside perception of the band, and did you ever think they’d stick around long enough to tour into their 60’s and 70’s, let alone that you’d be touring with them?
When The Stranglers started in 1974 I was ten, so I was just a kid. I don’t know if you can tell from my accent but I come from the North of England. That’s 300 or so miles away from London where it was all supposed to be happening, so I only ever got little snippets of it on TV, the radio, and sometimes in the music press.
Back then I was actually a paperboy. I used to make deliveries on my bicycle, and there was one guy who I used to deliver to that had an English music periodical called Sounds. What I used to do was deliver all the other papers to the next street first, and then sit at the end of this guy’s street and read his paper before I gave it to him. The Stranglers were always in there, always. They were on the front cover and you used to think, ‘Jesus Christ, look at these guys.’
They didn’t look like The Clash with the little uniforms on, or The Sex Pistols with all the silly safety pins and funny coloured hair. They just looked like really mean motherfuckers. The music was great because it was progressive; I mean they had a keyboardist with a mustache who smoked a pipe for God sakes. They were just mean and moody, and even at that point in my life I could tell they were just a bit older than the rest.
Anyways, I started my own band when I was a kid and we stayed together for many years. Then we got the opportunity to play with The Stranglers on a UK tour in 1995, and again on a European tour in 1997, by which time we’d become good friends. In 2000, after their guitar player left and my own band had folded, a member of our road crew who had gone on to work for The Stranglers, called me up and said the band needed a guitar player and was I interested? First, I nearly crapped myself because it was one of my all time favourite groups, then I went to London, auditioned for the band, ten days later we went on tour to Europe, and I’ve been here ever since.
In the band’s earlier days you guys were known for having the aggressive no compromise attitude that became synonymous with UK punk. Even still, The Stranglers were very much cast outside of that scene, despite being one of the only bands at the time to tour outside of London, and open for acts like Patti Smith and the Ramones. It seems like you guys were doing a lot of the work and getting none of the credit. Why was that?
The thing is, The Stranglers have never split up. Things may have weaned commercially from time to time, or fallen off the radar as you say, but the band just kept going. Even through very lean periods, it’s a lifestyle you know? It’s a mindset, and it’s just what we do.
I mean The Sex Pistols got back together a couple of years ago, and clearly for the money. We know them quite well, and they make no bones about the fact that it was just for the cash. They only released one album for God sakes. The Clash, well you know, you’ll never see their likes again. They had something to say for about a year or more and then they came to America and ended up wearing fucking cowboy boots and cowboy hats. What’s that all about, you know what I mean?
The Stranglers have always been known for doing their own thing both musically and in terms of the direction the band has taken over the years. Something you guys didn’t do, that many of your contemporaries did, was overcompensate to capture the North American market. Can you tell me a bit about the reasoning behind that because as it turns out you’ve just released your 17th career album, so it’s looking like you did pretty good without it.
Well, without being detrimental to North America, a lot of people saw it as the be all and end all. They went the way of U2 and The Police and all those bands that came over, and they relentlessly never broke the format. That was just something The Stranglers didn’t fancy.
I think what’s helped us to survive for so long is that we just don’t bow to certain pressures. You have to obviously realize that it’s a business and that you’re in it to try and make some kind of a living, but really it’s about us and what we enjoy. The moment you stop enjoying it, the moment it starts to become a real pain in the ass, then we’ll all do something else. We’ve all got a few quid, we’ve got some money, but it isn’t about that, you know? We’re here because we love it. We’ve got a sold out show in Toronto tonight, which everyone is really psyched about, and it’s just one thing at a time.
You have seen the music industry change significantly over the course of your career. What are your thoughts on where things are at today?
Oh man, it bares almost no resemblance now to what it was like. The music business is really just run by lawyers and accountants. Nowadays, if they don’t get a return on their investment within the first year, you can forget it. There is no such thing as letting a band develop anymore. You used to get to your third album and really start hitting your stride, now that’s all gone. It’s all about the quick, instant, 15-minutes-of-fame, and people aren’t really in it for the long haul.
It’s very rare for bands to be able to form in the type of economic and social climates we have today and actually survive. If you were to look at the whole thing in a sort of pie chart, you’d see that musical ability is probably a very small section of that. We’re very close to being the last of a dying breed.
The thing about today is that anybody can put a few little tunes together, post it online and it’s instantly accessible. I had to get on a bus and go down into the city to buy records when I was a kid, and actually wait for them to come out. It’s just a totally different thing.