Lawrence Q&A, Part 2: Felt

Can we talk about the beginning of Felt?

Lawrence: Maurice Deebank used to come round my house in 1978, and I used to think “I could do a band with this guy” but he wasn’t ready. I’d known him since I was 7. Then I’d think “I’ve got to do a band, but I can’t do it with this guy. I’m gonna make a record. I’m not good enough to write songs. I want it to be the best record ever, but I’m not capable of that yet. So what can I do?” It was the time of the DIY revolution – the one period when making a record in your bedroom was good, Thomas Leer with “Private Plane” and Robert Rental. I thought “I’m gonna make one of them…” I thought it’d cut out all the rubbish, having a van, putting a band together, rehearsing, getting some attention. I’ll make a record.

But I couldn’t make a great record, because I’d be doing it in my bedroom. I thought, “I’m going to make the most outlandish thing possible, it can’t be ignored. But it can’t be about music. It’s got to be a massive statement, like “I’m here. Waving the flag” “So I did “Index” in my bedroom, I tried to do something unclassifiable. It was neither good nor bad. It was just there. It just existed. I was trying to conceive ways of doing it, being famous. I wouldn’t have wanted to do a local group, and build myself up. I wanted to do a group that signed to EMI. I thought if I detour round this for a while, I can get myself known. I fit into that DIY thing perfectly – I was a fan of noise, I’d come of age, I was post-punk, though that wasn’t a word then. I loved unusual music, Fripp and Eno. I understood music wasn’t just about songs, but about many, many other things. I could introduce myself.

But when the record came out I couldn’t get arrested. I’d go into record shops and they’d say “We’ll have five on sale or return.” So I had this DIY ethic, and I was thinking “What a load of rubbish that is” And then in the other corner, I had my idealisation of Malcolm McLaren and the Sex Pistols. I thought, “Malcolm McLaren would never do this.” McLaren said, you go to the biggest label in the world and get the most money you can. When I made “Index” I thought, he’s right. I thought, the first shop I walked in they’d say “I’ll have the lot, go and press some more!”

Me and Nick Gilbert used to go to all these gigs, and we went to see Scritti Politti in Rugby and we talked to them at the bar. There was nobody there, so we went and sat at the table and bombarded them with questions. At the end of the conversation, I said “I’ve made a record”. I sent them one, and Tom the drummer took it into Rough Trade and they bought 100, then bought them all. The amount of time it took to do that, I thought, “I don’t like this independent world.” I loved buying the records – I didn’t want the scene to bomb, I just didn’t want to be part of it. I wanted it quickly.

It immediately became a different band when Maurice joined, didn’t it?

To do a band, I was obviously going to base it on my first love, which was Television. It was the epitome of outstanding greatness: it couldn’t get any higher, any greater, more emotional. It would be pointless to get Maurice in to play three chords – I could make this kind of music, as beautiful as Television but an English version. We bought an amplifier together, luckily we bought the right one.

Maurice said, “If we buy a transistor one, we won’t have to replace the valves. It’ll be good, it’ll be cheaper”. It was mainly bought by reggae bands because it had a really clean sound. One way it went distorted, the other way it went clean, this light sound. We were in my bedroom and set it up, like, this is where the band’s going to start, and  we put it on distortion and it didn’t work, we tried it  the other way and it was clean and pure: a new sound for a new decade.  I didn’t want to do anything distorted or…Marshally.

You reject the idea that your lyrics were at all whimsical in Felt, don’t you?

The lyrics are pretentious, but they’re knowingly so. I wanted to introduce a poetic vision into it. I thought poetic lyrics were up there: Horses, Richard Hell, Tom Verlaine. I wanted to bring something like that, but with my own Birmingham aesthetic –I didn’t want to copy anyone. And I had a funny way with words. I started writing poems when I was very young – I had 17 of these poems and they had lines in them like “Crumbling the antiseptic beauty” and stuff like that, those were the kind of poems I wrote. So it was easy to take the way I wrote poems and put it into lyrics, it was a natural thing to do.

You’re living in a little terraced house with no money, money problems, a gambling father, a horrible world you can’t bear and you’re just dying to get out of it. People around you, you can’t bear. You felt on your own all the time – you wanted to escape into a different world, the world of words. It was very different to the way I lived, having jobs in warehouses and factories. I didn’t want to write about drudgery of everyday life.

So you embraced this abstract, poetic world in your lyrics…

Not in an LSD way  – I’m not into that at all, Psyche, but like Patti Smith when she made Horses, the beauty of words. She wasn’t embarrassed about poetry. Rimbaud, I’d never heard of him, but she’d ram it down your throat. Just because it’s flowery, doesn’t mean it’s pretentious. I thought as soon as we started Felt, I thought we were great. We played a gig with the Fall, and they all rushed up and said “You’re great, your drums sound like Moe Tucker” which then was an odd thing to say. And I just thought, ‘Yeah, we are great.’ As soon as we started practising I thought we were the greatest band in England.

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3 thoughts on “Lawrence Q&A, Part 2: Felt

  1. Andrew says:

    Thanks for doing this, John. Great stuff

  2. Leka Mladenovic says:

    Thanks for this, one of the strangest and most beautiful bands.

  3. MattC says:

    without a doubt the best series of interviews with lawrence ever – brilliant brilliant stuff.

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