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Interview: Wreckless Eric and JC Carroll of The Members

Interview: Wreckless Eric and JC Carroll of The Members

John Baker / Thursday 18th October, 2018 4:57PM

UK punk / new wave trailblazers JC Carroll (The Members) and Wreckless Eric had alternative hits in New Zealand in the late 70s and on the back of those made their first forays to the shakey isles. In the next month both return to play solo shows - JC Carroll this Friday 19th October at the Thirsty Dog in Auckland, and Wreckless Eric plays Christchurch, Wellington, and Auckland in early November. Both artists were affiliated with hugely influential British independent label Stiff Records in the late 70s, they generously took time out to reflect on their careers and the lifestyle of a rock 'n' roll touring artist with John Baker...

Morning gents - most likely Sunday where you are now - thank you for taking the time to chat. What were you doing before I interrupted your day?

Wreckless Eric: Drinking my second espresso. I have to have two espressos every morning and it has to be the best. It’s my only vice. You can’t have too many (I limit myself to two a day) so a bad espresso is a minor tragedy. When people tell me they can take me to a coffee place that I’ll love they’re usually wrong. I’m very selective!

JC Carroll: Reading a book about a German private detective called Bernie Gunther.

I know you both know each other and come from an era much lauded by fans from the time. You're both due for shows in New Zealand in the next month. What are you currently working on?

Wreckless Eric: I’m working on a new album. It’s a haphazard process - I comb through hundreds of really lo fi demos, mostly recorded on a phone and quite often in my car, go through notebooks and grubby envelopes with scraps of lyrics scrawled on them, and put stuff together until some of it starts to make sense, at least to me. Then I get people in to record. I’m very lucky living in upstate New York - the place is teeming with the best of the weirdest and wackiest musicians so it’s always possible to assemble some sort of unit to record a track or two.

JC Carroll: I am working on three things, a cover Members album for Cleopatra Records, a movie soundtrack for a movie about the Anti Nowhere League, and a book about my life...

Was music always going to be your career - did you think in the 70s you would still be artists nearly 40 years later, and touring? Not to mention being able to record a lot easier than ever.

Wreckless Eric: When I was nine I decided I was going to become a pop musician. I never revised that plan. I went to art college and studied fine art, came out with a degree and I was a painter. Except that I didn’t do painting anymore, I was concentrating on music full time - outside of the inconvenience of having to do various menial jobs in order to make ends meet. The jobs never lasted - the longest I’ve ever held down a job outside of music is a record ten weeks as a quality control inspector in a lemonade factory - I conned my way into the job in order to pay off an overdraft. My performance at the interview could have won me an Oscar - "I’ve had my fun but now it’s time to put all that art school nonsense behind me, buckle down and join the real world... we’re planning to start a family... I’m going to have to work hard and this is a job I feel I can really get my teeth into..."

They were quite disappointed when I handed in my notice nine weeks later. I’d been good - I used to method act my way through these situations.

I never wanted to be anything other than an artist and I’ve never been anything else. I used to think I was flaky, as in no steady job and no visible means of support - I lived from hand to mouth for years. I’d drive three hundred miles to do a gig with a full tank of gas and ten pounds in my pocket which was literally all the money I had in the world. It was all going to be okay - I’d play the show, get paid and move on to the next show - and it usually was okay except when the car broke down and I’d fix it at the side of the road in disgusting weather conditions somewhere in Belgium in tears of rage and frustration. I always made it to the next show because it was what I wanted to do and I wouldn’t let anything stand in the way of that. And sometimes there was even the odd unexpected royalty cheque.

I think I’ve done quite well really. I’ve survived for over forty years mostly without artist representation or a record label behind me. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant, but fuck it, I’ve earned the right!

JC Carroll: No, I didn’t think people would be interested, but once you hit 60 everybody is really enthusiastic, the ones that are still alive that is. It's hard work being a musician actually most of it is doing emails and interviews like this.

Has your diet changed from 37 years ago to now? Or perhaps it was always good - I don't know. One needs a good diet to be creative I believe.

Wreckless Eric: Eating is very important. I don’t subscribe to the starving artist in the garret thing. If i don’t eat the first thing to go is either my ability to concentrate or my mood. And then I go dizzy or faint.

I try to eat healthy food when I’m on tour, and avoid sugar. I never get anything like enough sleep when I’m on tour but I find I can function on well on three or four hours a night as long as I eat good food. I’m probably going to sound really boring but I stopped drinking or taking drugs a very long time ago when it got to the point of being life threatening.

JC Carroll: I am overweight and should diet more… but you can’t have everything and being fat is not a huge issue like it would have been when I was young...

All bands find it tough - how about you guys now?

Wreckless Eric: Things are a lot easier now. I seem to be able to make a living and I can pretty well pick and choose what I want to do.

Local artist Chris Knox carved a legendary reputation in The Enemy and Toy Love in the late 70s - but he always looked forward , rarely referencing his past - while not making music at the moment - he is painting. Some other artists, by default, go to their back catalogue - and some are 'lucky' enough to roll out 40 + year old material every night – that’s the job they've chosen. Why is it important to be in the now?

Wreckless Eric: I’ve seen so many of my er... peers trotting out their illustrious back catalogues. Some do it very well but mostly the edges are worn off, like a piece of glass that’s been in the sea for a long time.

I’m proud of what I’ve done but it’s never good enough, and that’s probably what drives me forward. Some of my back catalogue stands the test of time and some of it doesn’t work for me. I’m constantly reviewing it for live performances and sometimes I find new meaning and relevance.

I just finished a sixty something date tour in the UK and USA. I played nearly all the songs from my latest album Construction Time & Demolition every night plus a good selection of tunes from all the phases of my strange career. I always play 'Whole Wide World' - I couldn’t very well not do, and why wouldn’t I? It’s a hit! It’s what we dream of! I’d be a miserable sod if I refused to play it at this point!

JC Carroll: It’s all about balance… I mix it up, but you are a very cruel person if you cannot include some people’s favourite songs in your set. We are lucky to have written the soundtrack to some people’s lives and we owe it to them to play those songs and have our photographs taken with them.

Shows have changed on many levels too - Eric details them in his blogspot and made it clear "it's not a nostalgia act" (thank god) - how are the audiences? Are original fans bringing their progeny? Have fans grown with you? Is there an even balance of the sexes at your shows?

Wreckless Eric: My American shows are usually fifty-fifty. For some reason my New York shows seem to attract a lot of young women. It’s a bit of a puzzle - I’m way too old to be a heart throb but I get a chance to quietly preen myself and think I’ve still got it with the ladies while some young woman thinks "what a nice old guy..." and everybody’s happy!

JC Carroll: There is a whole new generation of people out there who are interested in our music (I just haven’t found them yet) only joking :) There are plenty of young people who missed out on the energy of our era, especially amongst the Hispanic community in LA. And yes there are lots of women at our shows… in the UK…

Let’s wind the clock back - you both toured here for the first time in the late 70s / 80s with your albums of the time doing remarkably well - here in the 'colonies', on the other side of the planet. NZ has changed on so many levels now. English visitors at that time commented on how NZ was like a time warp - full of old English cars , and pieces of the Empire everywhere. What was your impression of NZ the first time you came here?

Wreckless Eric: It was like stepping back into the 1950s. We left Los Angeles on a Thursday night.The flight took fifteen hours and when we got there it was Saturday morning. They gave us lamb chops for breakfast and a lot of journalists asked me what I thought of New Zealand. I didn’t have any thoughts on it at that time having barely left the airport. I saw every British car from my childhood in perfectly preserved condition and my hotel room had G-Plan furniture and a handmade rug like the ones my dad made when he was hospitalised in the early sixties. I wanted to go shopping and buy some socks but the shops were all closed because it was Saturday. We left for Sydney first thing on Monday morning so I never did get to buy any socks.

JC Carroll: NZ was like Kent in the fifties with Morris minors and old Fords. We were thrilled to be the first new wave act apart from Elvis Costello to tour there. It’s a very different country now. The UK joining the EU was actually a good thing it made NZ diversify, I love the country and the food I would like to see more of it when I tour with The Members hopefully in 2019.

Not sure many NZers at the time thought that in nearly 40 years we'd have a new Labour mum, in her thirties running the country - let alone musicians returning that far in the future.

JC Carroll: I think your new PM is amazing...

Stiff - an important label in NZ as many of the artists did well here. You both have experiences with the label - some well documented - but for those readers unaware - could you let us know what your relationship is with what Stiff is now.

Wreckless Eric: Stiff Records started to go bad sometime in 1978. It was resurrected by Trevor Horn’s ZTT label in the early 2000s. They started out with good intentions but they farmed everything out to a company that specialised in putting CDs in gas stations. Amy and I licensed the first record we did together as Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby to the new improved Stiff Records and pretty soon wished we hadn’t. Most of the Stiff catalogue has ended up along with most of everything else in the hands of Universal Music. I’m trying to have a relationship with them.

JC Carroll: Stiff was sold to ZZT and then became a part of… I’m not even sure maybe Eric could help me out Universal music... we don’t have a relationship because it isn’t a record label any more.

Then again its hard when some of these labels have young staff with no awareness of anything pre 1990 - nor any real interest. Some of them are shown no respect all. Do either of you have any control of your early work at all?

JC Carroll: No we generally don’t - however I managed to licence some of the early Members catalogue for a Greatest hits package last year that has done amazingly well on vinyl... the people who control our catalogue now do not understand it and see it as precisely that catalogue… they don’t even know which are the best tracks.

Do you think rock and roll needs to smarten up at all? It's poorly dressed at the moment.

Wreckless Eric: I’ve tried playing in a suit but it gets too hot. It nice to get togged up but mostly the bands I see play in t shirts and jeans which I find very sad - they have very little sense of occasion.

JC Carroll: Modern music is rubbish, I tell that to my children because they prefer it that way. If my parents told me they liked my music I would have been disappointed.

JC Carroll is playing on Friday 19th October at Auckland's The Thirsty Dog w/ Atsushi Moisty and DJ Skin & Bone. For tickets head along over here.

Wreckless Eric is hitting venues in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland in early November. For more info and tickets head along over here.


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JC Carroll - The Voice of The Members
Fri 19th Oct
The Thirsty Dog, Auckland
Wreckless Eric
Wed 7th Nov
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Wreckless Eric
Thu 8th Nov
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