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Cinerama put on a great show in San Francisco in June, and it gave me a chance to talk with David Gedge, main songwriter and singer for both Cinerama and Wedding Present. It was a big thrill for me because Wedding Present is my favorite band of the last 20 years, and I've loved the Wedding Present every time they've played in San Francisco over the years. This was the first time I've seen Cinerama, and I can't tell you how blown away I was by their version of "Kennedy." Here is part of the interview which appeared in issue #16 of Shredding Paper. Mel C

Mel: You started out with The Wedding Present in '85 I guess. Were the Smiths popular at that point or were they just starting out at the same time as you?
Gedge: They were popular by then. All I know is that I remember in '83 getting into The Smiths so I suppose they were a couple years ahead of us.

Mel: Your career seemed to be somewhat parallel because you were probably the two most popular Brit-pop bands, and then he went off and did Morrissey and you went off and did Cinerama at some point. Do you know him? Do you keep in touch with him?
Gedge: No, I've never met him in my life.

Mel: That's amazing.
Gedge: Well, it's a weird thing actually because he did an interview once for NME and he kind of slagged me off a bit. I can't remember what he said now. And then I got this postcard from New York, it was allegedly from Morrissey and he said something like "Apologies for slagging you off, but yeah, that's what us pop stars do." And I was like, is that really from Morrissey but then my girlfriend at the time had actually written a fan letter to The Smiths and the reply that she got was from Morrissey and that was in exactly the same handwriting.

Mel: You did a cover of one of his songs, "London" with Cinerama, is that your favorite Smiths song?
Gedge: It's really weird actually because at that time in the '80s I was quite, well not a massive Smiths fan but I did really think that they were something different and I thought, here's someone who's come along and he kind of influenced me lyrically, not particularly in the style but the fact that he's doing something different and you know, and they had their own sound and that. And I was a big fan, but then I didn't really get into the solo stuff and then we got invited to contribute a track, actually by a label here in San Francisco, they're putting together a Smiths compilation. And so I actually went back and said yeah, okay it sounds like an interesting thing to do and I went back and played all of my old Smiths LPs and, to be honest, I didn't think they stood the test of time quite as well as I thought they would do and it did sound a bit dated to me now and a bit, kind of weak, or you know, generally disappointing, and I spent a long time trying to think of a song that still fired me up and also which I thought we could actually do something to, and "London" it just seemed to work somehow.

Mel: When The Wedding Present started out what label were you on originally?
Gedge: It was our own label, which was called Reception Records.

Mel: So you were starting a band and starting your own label at the same time?
Gedge: Not by choice really initially, we just actually did a demo tape and things and we took them round to a few labels.

Mel: Which labels?
Gedge: Well, I think we had about two days in London. We went to every indie label we knew like 4AD, Rough Trade, those kind of people. And we just got rejection slips on everybody, you know, and no one was interested and so we just thought, well let's just do it ourselves. We were from Leeds, and twenty miles up the road there's a city called York and there's a distribution company there and so we did it all ourselves really. We just paid for the recording, I mean it wasn't that expensive really, to pay for the recording and the manufacture and we had the sleeves printed at home and we stuck them up with glue at home and everything and then we took them to them. And they sold out, well, the thing is I sent one to John Peel and he played it a lot.

Mel: Which song was it?
Gedge: It was called "Go Out and Get 'Em Boy." And we got loads of gigs from that, we got an NME review and stuff, and Peel played it about ten times.

Mel: It must have been exciting to be hearing yourself on the BBC?
Gedge: Fantastic, you know. It was kind of like...You know, people say what's the most exciting part of being in a band, you know, I've played to 3000 people at Redding, I've been to Japan, I've been on Top of the Pops, but nothing could match hearing my first single on John Peel's show on Radio One, that was incredible. So they sold out really quickly. In fact, we were actually too scared to ring (the distributor) in case they were like, "Can you come and pick the stock up please because we can't shift it." And they said, "Why didn't you ring? You didn't leave a number, this sold out like three weeks ago." We thought well, okay. So then, after that we had like a deal whereby they paid for it.

Mel: Did you have success with other bands on your label selling their releases?
Gedge: Not really, no. It was more kind of a service because they were our friends really, and we really didn't make any money off of that but our own label was fine, and as I said, we had a deal with this distribution company and they actually funded it all, so you know, it wasn't like a pop starry life style but then suddenly we started to get courted a bit by the majors and we had loads of meetings. And to be honest, it was a kind of patronizing attitude, they were like, "Well you've done very well so far but come to us and we'll take you to that next level" It's like well, I'm fine, you know, I'm quite happy with the level that we've reached. But I must admit after a while we started getting so many letters from people around the world saying, America and Europe, saying "We just can't get the record". So we thought well maybe we do need some kind of better system. And we met RCA and they were the first label who actually said "Okay, fine. Let's just do it as you've done it so far . We won't interfere, we'll just fund it and sell the records" and that was exactly what we wanted. Coincidentally, the distribution company were on the verge of going out of business, so in the nick of time we stopped doing our own label and signed to RCA and then we kind of stayed with them for a few years.

Mel: What was your first record on RCA?
Gedge: The first official record was "Bizarro", which was the second album. But while we were still on our own label we were planning to release this compilation of Ukrainian folk songs, which were sessions recorded for the BBC, so because the distribution company went down, RCA took that on as well, so that was kind of the first release, but it wasn't the first planned release.

Mel: So your first record on a major was sung in Ukrainian?
Gedge: Yeah.

Mel: 12 months, 12 singles. Was that your idea? How did that come about?
Gedge: Yeah, well I think it was kind of inspired by those, you know Sub Pop did a 7" singles club and Rough Trade did one as well, so it wasn't completely original because labels had been doing it, but then we thought why can't a band do it as well. There was this one rehearsal where we were just rehearsing and somebody said, I think it might have been the bass player Keith, said let's do 12 singles, you know, one a month and as soon as we had the idea it just seemed so obvious that we thought if we don't do this now it's gonna be really disappointing.

Mel: Somebody should do it.
Gedge: Exactly. It's gotta be done. I've always been a fan of like comic books and stuff and the idea of one a month with matching covers and a generic kind of feel to the thing and we did a video for each one, a t-shirt for each one and it was great. To be honest, it was really hard work because with an album you haven't got that kind of deadline of you know, "Well it's the end of the month, you haven't come up with a B-side yet."

Mel: You hadn't written the songs at that point.
Gedge: No. In retrospect, I suppose we should have given ourselves a bit longer but I think it was October or something of 1991 and we had the idea and we thought we can't wait until 1993 so let's just do it, you know.

Mel: And I guess part of the idea was that one the B-side of each single there would be a cover version. A very interesting concept that worked really well.
Gedge: Well yeah, and as a media thing it kind of took off as well, you know, people were really interested in it. It was a good idea. It's weird because in retrospect people will say "Oh, what a cool marketing ploy that was." And I'm like, it wasn't exactly a marketing ploy, we just thought it was a great thing to do and obviously it was clever I suppose.

Mel: How did you come up with name The Wedding Present?
Gedge: I've always kind of thought it was kind of an odd name for a group, and I think that appealed to me. It always, to me, sounded more like a film or a book or something.

Mel: When you came up with the name Cinerama it was because there was a cinema influence in terms of what you were doing musically?
Gedge: Kind of. First and foremost I just thought it was a really cool name for a band and I was interested in the whole idea of the Cinerama film process, the three cameras and all of that. At the time, when I was thinking about a band name there were two original Cinerama theaters left in the world and one was in America, I think it was in Ohio, and one was in Bradford, which is six miles from where I live. So I saw a film there called "This Is Cinerama" and I thought yeah, this is a good name for band so I decided to steal it really. (Laughs)

Mel: How influenced are you by film music?
Gedge: Well, Cinerama, I think, was kind of set up for me because I was interested in film music. I've always been a really big fan of people like John Barry, you know, the James Bond themes and Ennio Morricone, that kind of stuff. I started to feel a little bit restricted in The Wedding Present in that it was just the kind of classic rock 'n' roll line of guitars, bass and drums and I felt like I wanted to introduce some different elements especially with the kind of big cinematic sound. I didn't really have a clue how to do that so I didn't think it was fair to try and graft that onto The Wedding Present so I thought I'll start something like a fresh project and then I can explore that.

Mel: I noticed that both bands recorded with Steve Albini, who's fantastic, I mean if you're a band and recording with him I think you're just plain lucky. How did you first hook up with him?
Gedge: Exactly that, I mean you've answered the question already. I heard "Surfer Rosa" by The Pixies and that record just sounded so fantastic. I was interested in some of his other stuff as well, but I think that was the first record where it was most of the bands he's done I kind of go (makes strange noise) and that was the first one where I thought it was like a pop group as well as a rock band and I thought it would actually work for us and it did I think. As you say, I think he's great.

Mel: He's a great engineer and apparently works pretty fast.
Gedge: It's weird because people say "how does he do it?" and it's very basic really, I mean it's kind of like old school in a way in that his heroes are people like George Martin and the BBC engineers. It's basically get a band, tune the drums, tune the guitar, it's all good equipment, it's an acoustically suitable room, great microphones, well-placed and he records it, and it's like, yeah it's kind of obvious really. Why change that? People spend six hours on the snare drum sound or longer and you've kind of lost the mood of a band playing together, you know?

Mel: When you were recording with Albini was that in both the United States and England?
Gedge: Yeah, over the years.

Mel: Do you live in England or the United States?
Gedge: Well, you've got me at a weird point in my life really because I've still got a house in Yorkshire, but this year I've been over here quite a bit because I came over at the end of January, and then I went back over to Britain for a British tour in April and then I've come back over for this tour and then we're going to do some more recording so I've been living in Seattle as well. I've kind of been an international, jet-setting pop star at the moment, with a foot on each side of the Atlantic, which is quite nice, you know.

Mel: In an average year, how much would you plan on touring over the course of the year?
Gedge: It varies quite a lot actually. We tend to come to North America at least once a year and American tours seem to take four or five weeks but a British tour maybe one or two, so we do that a couple of times in Britain. Then we'll get European things and festivals so it can vary.

Mel: When you play as Cinerama, how do the size of the crowds compare with when The Wedding Present played here?
Gedge: It's definitely smaller. I think I was a bit naive really because I suppose I vainly assumed that people would know what Cinerama was. I've subsequently met a lot of people who've come up to me, even like last night when we played, people said "I just didn't realize that Cinerama was David Gedge. I'm a big fan of The Wedding Present and I really enjoyed the gig" or "I've heard the record, and I'm sad that I missed out on the first three albums." So we started putting these big stickers on there. At first I didn't want to do that because it's a different project, you know, "featuring David Gedge from The Wedding Present" but I think it's just a purely information service and people don't know it and everyone loses out. It's getting bigger now really, I think people are starting to realize it's me.

Mel: With Cinerama being, in a sense, a solo project, whereas Wedding Present was an actual band, that must have radically changed the approach to recording an album because instead of having band members play you have to figure out each sound individually and how you're gonna get that on the record.
Gedge: Well, the first LP certainly, it was just really me with my girlfriend and then we just brought people in when we needed them.

Mel: When you were doing The Wedding Present and Cinerama it seems like that was over a period when recording technology changed a lot, and as a solo project recording with Cinerama, adding in all these extra elements that you hadn't done before, and figuring out how to get them in the mix must have been a lot to master.
Gedge: I think it's because that stuff became available, hard drive recording, I could actually do Cinerama because I can't actually write music, I can't score music, so I know what I like to hear in terms of string arrangements and things, but it was only because I could play them on the computer with a keyboard and then print out the scores and get the string players to come and play it. So, obviously I didn't have a clue because people go to music college for five years to learn how to how to do compositions so I was actually writing things for people which they couldn't possibly play. I was writing string parts where the violinist would say," Actually my violin doesn't go that high or that low, what you want is a viola." So it was definitely a trial and error I think. I remember I wrote this thing for two oboes together, it was a tiny little piece, and the oboes came in and said "I'll do it but it'll sound terrible." I just thought he was being an arty musician, so I said no, no I'm paying for it, you go and do it. He went and did it and it sounded terrible. And then he said "I should say it's not a pure note, it's like screeching cats sort of thing."

Mel: Let's say you bring in a string player, how much do they charge you?
Gedge: It's weird actually because how long is a piece of string. In England, there's musician's union rates but then, obviously, I couldn't really afford to pay an entire orchestra that amount of money so people will negotiate. But over the years since I've started Cinerama I've now got a group of musicians in London and Cormore (?), funny enough, who are tried and tested, and they're friends now, so they'll do it cheap for me if they want to help me out. For instance, if we do a Peel session, a string quartet.

Mel: Maida Vale.
Gedge: Maida Vale. They'd probably get 130 pounds which I think is fair enough for the day.

Mel: It's coming from the BBC essentially, right?
Gedge: Uh huh.

Mel: Do they pay the band a fixed rate or do they pay each musician?
Gedge: They pay the band based on how many musicians are actually in it.

Mel: When you play at Maida Vale, because sometimes I hear that when I'm listening to the BBC and I've heard you play at Maida Vale, in fact, I recorded it. "Your Time is Now" and I'm trying to think of what other songs you played two times ago when you were on , how big a crowd is it, like 20, 30 people?
Gedge: Yeah, yeah. It's weird actually because there's a studio and a balcony and they stand up there, so to see the people you have to play like that which is impossible. It's weird because it's not a concert because it's a recording studio but it's not a recording session because you've got people up there.

Mel: And you're playing live.
Gedge: Yeah, so it's the most nerve racking thing that I could do because it's the worst of both worlds. It's not a proper atmosphere for a concert and yet, you've got to play really well, so it's really scary. I do enjoy doing those things because it all sounds great because those studios are really good. I think if Britain is good for one thing it's the BBC. I think it's such a great organization and I've done a lot of sessions in America for stations, in fact we did one in Seattle, but it sounds like they're doing you a favor, no one gets paid. It seems like their promotion of the band which is really good that they do it, but the BBC it's seen as you're coming in as a musician, we're gonna pay you a decent rate, it's almost like a subsidy.

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