By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Wire is a band that has achieved a kind of cachet or mystique with a moniker prone to be dropped into conversation about relevant music at all your most tomorrow-leaning parties. Most certainly you’ll want to highlight them in your MySpace favorites list or whatever.
“Wire tends to be one of those bands that people talk about in hushed tones,” says founder Colin Newman with a snigger. “My reading of the situation is, well, if it’s the kind of music you’re supposed to be into, your girlfriend definitely won’t like it. There’s always been an inclination in Wire to be both incredibly artistic and sussed, something that blokes like but also something that has some kind of appeal.”
And who or what exactly are Wire? How did they come to stride such hallowed historical halls?
The short version opens with a quartet of very art-oriented young men in London, circa 1977, a time and place that, musically and sociologically, you don’t need to hear much more explanation about, ’cause all that’s been done to death. Punk rock, OK; form a band, bash it out, express yourself in very forceful and direct terms. Cut your hair, don’t wear flairs.
The Wire fellows — Newman, voice and guitar; Graham Lewis, voice and bass; Bruce Gilbert, guitar and electronic stuff; Robert Gotobed, drums — while intrigued by punk rock’s healthy minimalizing and fat-trimming aesthetic, seemed from the start far more interested in borrowing punk’s clean lines and ferocious energy to abstractly express an obliquely monochromatic emotional palette with brutally restrictive technical delivery. Their infamous debut album, Pink Flag, was about short-sharp-shock: 21 tracks totaling 35 minutes in length, all killer. Though Newman and Lewis’ gruffly intoned or barked lyrics mentioned rape, homosexuality and social isolation, the group seemed staunchly unpolitical in the literal sense.
Pink Flag launched Wire into the punk stratosphere cred-wise, and bands like Bloc Party, Interpol and Spoon have obviously grabbed huge chunks of its finely chopped rhythmic aesthetics to build their own careers. Yet the album here and there hinted at gloomier or at least more expansive ideals, which were more fully explored in their subsequent Chairs Missing and 154 albums; both made extensive use of atmospheric keyboards and complex studio effects— which punk purists disdained, of course, as being too prog — in often protracted tracks, such as “A Touching Display,” and more often avant-pop ditties, such as “I Am the Fly,” “Outdoor Miner” and “Map Reference 41°N 93°W.” On these latter tracks, the band’s modernist electronics and textural densities were combined with a unique gift for ripping good sing-alongish rock choons.
Through the years, this hugely influential band has re-emerged as a recording/touring entity, between periods in which they’ve taken time off to devote themselves to their solo interests, mostly in the electronic and avant-garde realms. Wire Phase II would be their late-’80s/early-’90s return with terse rock/electronic hybrid albums like The Ideal Copy and A Bell Is a Cup ...Until It Is Struck. The awe-inspiring Phase III saw them come back super-no-bullshit-strong with the brutal salvos of Send in 2003 and subsequent EP series Read & Burn.
Now Wire returns with a harshly beautiful thing called Object 47 on the group’s own Pink Flag imprimatur. Colin Newman and Graham Lewis talked to L.A. Weekly about its genesis, how electronic music has changed and improved rock music, and their peculiarly righteous place within the “progressive-punk” quagmire.
L.A. WEEKLY: First, what had compelled you to come back in ’02? You just roared back out of the gate and haven’t let up since, albeit briefly.
GRAHAM LEWIS: Originally what happened is that right at the end of the millennium there, we were approached and asked to play in what was a series of concerts, which were called Living Legends, believe it or not, at the South Bank complex in London. And as we hadn’t worked together for about nine years — Bruce, Colin and myself had all been involved in electronic music since the last manifestation of Wire — none of us had played guitars or anything, so there was a sufficiently large fee for us to think that if we gave ourselves two weeks we might be able to put something together, we might be able to pull it off.
And that’s what we just about did. And then we did a few more shows, came over to the States and did some dates over there, and at the end of it, through playing old material but in a contemporary way, we actually felt that we had something we could use to shape or make a new recording, which was Send.
Send had a very deliberate design to it, which was that it was extremely sonic rather than melodic, the tempos were very fast on the whole, and it was an extremely ruthless sort of work.
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