1997 Interview with Paul James Berry

Interview with Paul James Berry 16/10/97 by James Parton

How did you all meet up?

Phil, Me and Alan were all at the same school and in the same classes, same age. We all used to skip school and go to Phil’s house, eat egg sandwiches and listen to the Beetles. At about 14 or 15 we were listening to stuff rather than writing anything.

What were your influences?

Old rock and roll, like the Beetles, the Stooges and MC5, Hendrix, mostly guitar based stuff. Bowie was also a big influence on us. We tried to do silly covers because no one else would do that kind of thing. No other fucker would do Dizzy Miss Lizzy.

Why the Goth tag?

I think you summed it up really well in your Biography. We weren’t particularly into Goth, but we were from Leeds at a time the Sisters were getting really big. The March Violets and the Lorries as well, plus we used a drum machine, it was the scene….It was like if you came out a year ago you were part of Brit pop, no matter what you did.

I suppose to get gigs you had to support these types of band?

There was no calculated master plan like there is with some bands, we were just young and naive and we were really into what we were writing. Especially the first 3 of us. The Early stuff we thought could be mega big. The biggest influence for me personally was Alan (the first bass player) we used to have a really cool rapport. We didn’t just get things and slap them together, we tried to, I don’t know, make a spiritual thing out of it. I feel the best thing we ever did and the only thing I really like was LA Rain.

Oh right, so it all went down hill from there?

Yeah, totally! (laughing) No there was some nice bits, but that was the best thing we ever did.

That’s interesting, because I think the style changed

Oh it totally changed.

You’d got the original line up, was it the fact you were going to start playing live that you got the second guitarist in?

No, what happened was when we were in the studio recording LA Rain at Parkways I think, and we got Lawrence the bass player from the March Violets to mix LA Rain. He helped us record it, and we were big fans of these people, they were all a little older then us, we were about 18 or 19 and they about 25. It was like “Oh wow”, we really admired these characters. He came to the studio and produced it, and he make a real fucking mess of it ( laughs), he really fucked it up. I think it was his 25th Birthday or something. We thought it was really cool, but….we knew nothing but we thought this sounds totally wrong. So he went and we re-mixed it! We saw him in the pub and he said “Did you change it?”, and we’re all going no, no (laughs) Yeah that was brilliant, that was the best. It was all drug orientated, taking speed and stuff in them times. Yeah that was the most interesting song we ever did.

I met Glenn at that studio, he was working there taking the money and stuff. He helped us because he was a really good guitar player, and we were only young lads and we didn’t really care about the fancy stuff. We wrote all the songs before Glenn joined, they we all simple but ones we considered really brilliant, but they never had that professionalism. We thought oh wow he can do all this twiddly stuff, yeah get on it.

I regret that now to be honest

Jumping ahead its interesting to note that when Glenn left, you didn’t replace him and got back to basics

I was told by a lot of people at the time it was a big mistake, but a really liked Glenn as a person, but I knew he was to advanced for us, and I felt we didn’t evolve at our own pace. Like I don’t know, a band like U2, their early stuff like Boy was pretty simple, and their later stuff is still pretty simple but there’s a definite progression. If we’d have spent 5 or 6 years, it would have changed , we’d have all got better as musicians, and we would have found our own identity. Instead we got someone in too soon, and too good. We were one chord and take over the world – totally. I think this was one of the reasons Alan left.

Alan and me used to write all the songs, Goddess, Velveteen, everything came out of that early stuff, well everything that I consider broke it for us.

Well I always considered that Mission support slot to be the big break

I wouldn’t say that I was the driving force but I wanted to do things but I was never in control of everybody. I was just young to understand. At the time I thought we shouldn’t get involved with these people. These guys like the Sisters were ok, and I fucking loved them but we were going to be stuck with that, but people didn’t understand. We had a manager that got us involved with a company that had the Mission, and because they were bigger then us, we were always looked down on. I though we were 10 times better than these people, their lyrics were crap compared to some of Phil’s and the structure of the songs. Their stuff would only ever reach a level, never total mass. We wanted to be the biggest thing ever, but I guess the people around me never really understood, and it kind of never evolved.

I don’t want to sound sour grapes, because it’s gone, I think a lot of it was complacency from Phil’s side, I don’t know just kinder doing what he did, which was fair enough. But if your destiny is being taken over by someone else you have to put your foot down and say hang on a minute. You need to be a two headed monster at times, and I’ve learnt that now, definitely. I need that to get anything.

The Mission tour was the first were we did consecutive dates, but we did a lot of one off gigs before that. We used to come down to London to do one gig, then go back. Coming from a small town like Leeds the people around the Mission were very cliquey. We were younger, and we didn’t realise why we couldn’t be part of that, and it made it really difficult for us to get anywhere.

The tour came up, and we had to pay for that , and it was £8,000 which was a lot at that time. Glenn nearly left after the England dates because he couldn’t hack it. It was just too much we were getting out of our skulls every night, it was total madness. But we thought this was normal. The things that piss me off now were the people around the Mission, they used to treat us like shit. You know it was “Who the fuck are you?” You know we didn’t know anything different, and to be on a tour with these guys who’d done it all with the Sisters, they were totally fucking professional. We were just slobs! It really spoilt it, because of the atmosphere. On the German leg of the tour we traveled in a converted horse box!!

The only good thing, and escapism I guess, was we could get totally pissed every night! Some nights we would totally blow them off the stage, because we didn’t know. This was totally typical of that tour – it was Halloween in Newcastle I think. The Mission had this amazing light show and we had nothing. On the way to the gig we stopped in this field and got three pumpkins, and chiseled them out in the van (laughing), got to the gig and put in candles, and put them on the amps, and it looked amazing (laughs some more). And the Mission crew asked if they could use them and we told them to fuck off!! They had all these gothy arches, and these pumpkins totally blew their lighting show!! We had a good time, apart from the attitude, but as a band I don’t think we leant very much because we just got pissed all the time.

Like I said before the Irish dates, Glenn just refused to go, because he was just too fucked. I went round to his flat to talk him round, because you don’t have to drink like an animal every night, it’s not fair on everyone else. I managed to persuade him, and he went, because we wanted to go, I’d never been to Ireland, and it wasn’t fair on the rest of the band.

It was around that time that you signed to Fire, which seemed to fuck everything up?

No we actually signed to their publishing company Twist and Shout. The first time we’d ever been to London, it’s like one of these clichés, and we got ripped off. Alan, me and Phil went down to their office. The only reason I remember is because I nicked this book out of the office (laughs) and I was really proud! They became Fire records. When it came to signing the contract I was in Paris, so Sid the guy that helped us out a lot, signed it for me.

They re-issued loads of compilation albums, I take it you never got a penny from them?

We never got anything off them, I think we got a £300 advance, that was it. We were just young and stupid, we didn’t have a manager. I remember us all sitting in a studio, again cliché, trying to work out all this legal jargon, passing it around. The reason we so were quite in England was when we were fighting Fire in the Courts. When you are in dispute with a record company you can’t release anything. We got legal aid for the case, but Promoters weren’t interested in booking you if you didn’t have a product to sell. The band weren’t clued up enough to take part in the legal side of things, and so after a number of years it was just a case of banging you head against a brick wall. All this time we weren’t getting paid either. I remember that we did managed to get some cash out of Fire to record some stuff, which was later to be released as In Rock. We were still in the studio, and Fire arranged for someone to steal the master tapes of the session, which is something you just don’t do. Normally the tape has to be finished, and everyone sign to agree that they are happy with the results and stuff. But they nicked it, and just released it, and turned it into an album.

The new line up and new sound – was this a deliberate move?

Yeah, I wanted to try and re gain that early feel that we had from the 3 piece, and just get back to simple powerful songs. We wanted to be in control and positive. We tried to get new people in that were younger and enthusiastic, and try and re-invent the band. We even did one tour as The New Rose. We didn’t play in England too much because of our management, while it was easier to play in Germany.

After about 2½ years with the new line up, things were getting slightly better, we had new deals in France, Germany and Italy. Stringa Beads worked, but it was just, you know ok. We were going along at a level, but I didn’t want just that, I wanted all or nothing.

I.C.E. did turn out badly partly due to the fact that Phil wanted to record each part on the tracks separately, where I wanted a ‘band’ feel to the sound. Phil’s influences were changing, and the people around the band weren’t 100% committed to us, I wanted people that wanted to support us, nothing half hearted. I wanted all or nothing basically and was getting really pissed of with the apathy. If your aren’t 100% into what we are doing then that’s going to show itself in the quality of the songs.

I.C.E. was the final contractual obligation we had. I thought this was my opportunity to say my piece, because I didn’t want to shit on the others, they were all my mates, and I’d known Phil for years. I remember we called a band meeting in a pub. I made it clear I felt it was time for me to try something different. I could see that Phil was visibly shocked by the news, but Sid just started talking about who we could get in to replace me. I was totally shocked by his attitude, and it left me with a horrible feeling.

Phil and the other did actually carry one after that, and even got Glenn back into the band. I think they were called Diversion, and I’ve got a demo somewhere. I’ll try and find it for you, but I don’t think anything ever happened.

Tell me about starting out solo?

Well I was trying stuff out myself towards the end of The Rose, and I always felt I could sing, but I never really tried, as we never even had any backing vocal parts. In 1994 I booked some studio time, and cut my first demo, and my first gig was at the Mean Fiddler club in London.

Were you shitting yourself?

No, not really I knew what it was like getting up on stage, I knew I’d only get better by working at it. The more work I got the better I’d get as a performer. I supported the Cranberries and Belly in Leeds in front of my first large crowd, and loved very minute of it. I need the experience to give me the confidence to control the stage, and get peoples attention. I traveled around Europe by train just with my guitar playing every dive, and East German Squats. I kinda developed a cult name in Germany for turning up at gigs and getting myself on the bill on the spur of the moment. It was just a case of taking it to that next level, having a product to sell, so I had to take various day jobs to finance the CD.

What inspires you now?

It’s the freedom I now have, I really truly feel I can do anything that I want, being out of a band frees you of the different personalities, I only have myself to please. I wanted to get to a level where I could entertain people.

Are you there now?

Just about.

Are we going to see you playing in England?

It’s difficult. In Germany people will let you play your own stuff, if I wanted to play in England they expect you to play cover versions, or play a club where you don’t get paid. I love the attitude of the English people, but promoters aren’t really interested. When I started playing in Germany I was billed as “ex Rose Of Avalanche”, but I don’t think it brought any more through the door, as old Rose fans didn’t really give a fuck. I’d never play any old Rose songs, as I don’t really want to cling on to the past, even though I never did anything I’m ashamed of, I wanted a new start. However if it ever does help to mention the band then of course I will, I’ve met a few people that remember seeing me playing with the Rose.

Life as a solo artist?

I did a big support tour with the American band Giant Sand, but my main problem was having no product to promote. So even though it was great, and I was playing in front of a 1,000 people per night I had nothing to sell. Now I make most of my money selling CD’s at my gigs. So at the end of the tour it was a little flat. I needed to get to the next level, either my own headline tour or record an album.

I have also played support to German band Salavdos, we got in contact via a German music paper, and by me writing one of my cheeky letters to them.

What next?

I’m thinking about a change, maybe brining in some more people, adding some more instruments, but I want to be careful. Getting the business side of things sorted out is the key, and I’ve got my own company, Eggtete Records. Finding some finical backing would be nice!

You can find details of Paul James Berry’s current activity by visting http://www.pauljamesberry.com/