by Andy Wired
When the phrase 'cash from chaos' was coined in the heady days of punk, seemingly nobody was listening. Prolapse, the best band around, both live and on record (and that's not even debatable) thrive on chaos. They rub against the grain of accepted normality with a gleeful glint in their collective eye and a razorblade stashed down their socks for when the going gets tough. There is no order, the music is just as likely to become like a heated argument involving the couple next door tearing each other apart, physically and verbally, over an incessant barrage of early Fall and Kraftwerk albums as its take on a Stereolab-like ambient blitz through stark, repetitive riffs and crazed collages of sound. Y'see, Prolapse are far from being one-dimensional and equally at home with dark, moody experimentations and demented amphetamine-addled stare punk blitz. Yet, as I conduct this interview, unbelievably, they have no record label. A damning indictment on the cosy safeness of blanket boredom we are being force fed. For fuck's sake, somebody must have enough suss to realise that Prolapse are never gonna be Top of the Pops/ Smash Hits one-hit wonders yet will undoubtedly rarely fail to pull the crowds. Totally Wired spoke to Linda Steelyard (L), Mick Derrick (M), and Dave Jeffreys (D).
The best band around, both live and on record...
First of all, what happened to the deal you had with Cherry Red?
L: As far as we know what happened was, you know they closed down their whole A&R department and then reopened it again cos they wanted to get back into modern music and they found a few bands - us, Blind Mr Jones and Tse Tse Fly - and then just completely out of the blue, after a year or so, we got a letter saying our contract wasn't gonna be renewed because they decided to close down the A&R department again. God knows why. I think they just panicked and I think they'd forgotten that you actually have to put money into bands before you got any back. It's daft really, even from a business point of view, but they can make enough money out of their back catalogue really, so they might as well do that.
D: They basically dropped everybody and felt it was safer to just go with their back catalogue. It was very last minute and I'm not sure if they're gonna regret it or not. It could be a blessing in disguise.
M: I think they were more interested in raising the status of the label and we just kinda did our job, so they got rid of us. We owed them £8000, so that's all been written off.
We're not gonna be on Top of the Pops overnight
There's been rumours circulating about a couple of major labels showing interest - are you about to sign to another label?
L: Oh blimey. There's been quite a few labels interested but we're not interested in going with any major label, just because it's not us. We've been offered a couple of deals, one's for a decent amount of money but we've decided we'd rather go for the one with less money simply because we think they'll be behind the music more and it's the enthusiasm and genuine interest in the music you need more than the empty promises and a bit of cash, that's rubbish. Plus, if we took the massive deal we're not gonna be on Top of the Pops overnight unless the attitude of the British public changes drastically and we're not gonna be able to put back massive advances quickly and we don't want some accountant sitting in his or her office, totting up the figures and saying oh dear, this is a bit of a deficit with Prolapse, they'll have to go because then we're just back in the same situation. So it's best for everybody if we take the smaller deal. It's with Flying Nun anyway.
D: It's still in negotiation at the moment, but it looks likely to be Flying Nun. We've had a bit of interest from America. I don't think that many people know what to do with us. A&R people come to our gigs but even though they like the band they don't wanna sign us, there's a climate within the industry that's quite conservative. It's an interesting development because both Urusei Yatsura and Bis used to write to the Prolapse Information Service and now our fans are becoming more sought-after than us.
M: We're gonna be releasing Backsaturday with PCP I think, but it's gonna have TCR on it too, just to add a bit of a poppy slant for those American underground ears. There's also talk of a singles compilation being released in America too. We're wrangling with Flying Nun here, and that looks hopeful too, but you never know. It's just one of those things that takes ages with all the contracts and shite like that, one of the most boring things in the world to do with music.
You've recorded with a couple of labels since you left Cherry Red: Lissy's and Love Train. There seems to be a lot of label-hopping and one-off records going on in the alternative scene at the moment, almost echoing what's been happening in the American underground for a while now. Is that a healthy thing?
L: I don't wanna use a phrase invented by the papers, but this British underground thing which is what's going on even though NME has trademarked it, I think bands in that category are having a bit of a problem finding deals because, like us, they're not gonna be on TOTP overnight but they wanna be, perhaps, with labels that have got a little money behind them. In the meantime, when you're trying to find that illusive deal, you wanna put stuff out and you go onto maybe some friend's label or something, but also it's kinda keeping the real indie ethic alive of small labels and DIY. It is happening loads with labels like Kitty Kitty, Love Train and Fierce Panda and the likes. A lot of people are doing it, and it's partly to bridge that gap and also it's making for something very exciting, however loosely linked.
D: I thought that maybe at the beginning of 95 there were all the majors looking for their token indie band and that was really unhealthy, but some of the indie labels were more interested in finding the next Blur or Oasis and not mush else. The thing about record labels is that you have to get everyone from the label to your gig because one person can't make a decision on their own. I think the major music press have been really bad recently. It's always Oasis, Blur, Pulp and that kind of 'we want stars' shit that's still going on. They're not interested in the music. There is a certain way to sound to get you into the music press and it's so conservative. All the bands sound like Freddie and the Dreamers, rather than the Beatles and they're all exactly the same. I hope we're not destined to be one of those bands that everybody likes but never get anywhere.
I've got friends who are into dance music and the word indie is a swear word.
We do actually write pop music and it is catchy but it's not bland enough for these times. I've got friends who are into dance music and the word indie is a swear word. No offence to Lush but that's what everyone thinks when you say indie. I do like the word because there's a plethora of really good music out there every bit as exciting and inventive as dance music. I do think, since the dance revolution, that bands really have to try harder to be special. People are used to having a really good time at the weekend and perhaps gigs aren't that exciting anymore, but they can be. The gig is getting close to being obsolete, there are places where people actually don't like going to gigs anymore. Leeds is awful, I've had so many really shitty times there. I think that everything is still too centred in London and all that Camden shit only perpetuates that. Thankfully Glasgow is getting written about but they do still have to make that London connection to get the seal of approval.
M: We're thinking of doing more one-off singles. We wanna do one for Guided Missile with Donkey, basically cos it's a pal. But I think it's got more exciting during the past year with loads of really cool small labels and hundreds of great 7" singles. People are being less and less tied to the big labels and in turn the major labels are more out of touch and less sussed about what's happening in the indie world. They're getting a lot more cautious as well, which is a great thing for smaller labels. There seems to be a really big marketplace for alternative music again and one that's not really elitist, but something that's kept smaller scale with 7" singles and limited editions simply because of the nature of the bands and the majors' unwillingness to take risks. The majors go for the obvious because they need to make the money back. They use the indies as a breeding ground - kind of like non-league football and the professional leagues. 1995 was such a good year musically, especially singles. There's so much going on now. It's no good, businesswise, for bands like us cos there's so much competition, but it's so exciting.
Your two most recent releases, TCR and Backsaturday, have shown the very contrasting sides of the band - is that something you like to play around with?
L: Yeah, we've got so many different sides to the band that are all equally as important and it's nice to be able to show all those aspects. Do you know about Backsaturday, the story behind it? Jamie from Lissy's gave us £300 and he told us to record something for him. That bought us three days in a friend's studio and so we went in with no ideas apart from five minutes of Flex. So we just started at the very beginning, bought in some extra instruments and bits of equipment and just all farted about and didn't really do much, and then somebody would just start playing guitar or banging something and the rest would join in and the results were recorded, and that's Backsaturday. We started on Friday morning and by Sunday night it was mixed. I really like it, it was nice to do something other than just vocals, I played keyboards and recorder and even though we know TCR is more poppy, we thought it was a good idea to let them both come out at the same time so that people didn't think we'd gone in any certain direction. We knew that TCR would set the balance straight.
M: It's been a bit of an experimental stage, if I can say that without sounding something poncey like Steve Hillage, because we're in between labels so we wanted to use this time to try out things. Backsaturday has sold really well too. I think it's one of those records that you couldn't get into right away.
So you still record things in that spontaneous way, making things up in the studio?
M: Aye. The last thing we recorded was Backsaturday. Most of the tracks didn't have any vocals until I went in and shouted a load of nonsense but yeah, a lot of that spontaneity is still there. You get the odd one where we've practised. We practice a lot of the stuff live, that's when we do all the new ones. You get the odd disaster, like when we were in Amsterdam and we had to do a live broadcast and we were saying to the guy, oh we're dead cool we'll just make things up as we go along. And we did a few songs that we knew and thought we'd make a few up and we did this song that was the most crap thing you've ever heard in your whole life. So it doesnae always work. It was complete mince!
So what happens when you play the songs live, because you've recorded them, do you feel limited in what you can do with them because the audience expects to hear them as they are on record?
M: Not really, even old songs we change them al the time. Also, I've got a really bad memory and I forget the words and the stuff I make up usually turns out better than the stuff we've recorded. It stops it getting boring.
L: Once it's recorded it still doesn't always feel right and we often add things and take bits away and we might even record things again at another stage.
We've not actually recorded anything yet but there are a couple of things now that we'd like to rearrange and redo for a new album, whenever that gets done, so it's quite possible the lyrics will change again and certainly on stage they're always changing. The only thing I'm quite conscious of, though, is that people do like to get to know the words and sing along at gigs and if the person on stage is doing different things in the song, it loses the familiarity, and that's important. But I do feel it's important to change things that don't feel right cos otherwise I'd just get bored with doing that song.
Because you're all living in different parts of Britain, does that make rehearsals a nightmare?
L: We don't get together as much as we should but I don't think we're reluctant to rehearse. It's kinda difficult to organise. Also, we're not really about, y'know, this song always has five chords and this is how it always sounds. That's not us at all. Some bands like to practise every couple of days so they're really tight but we find that boring. We do play gigs where we come off and say we were really tight, but our tight is everybody else's all over the place!
Each instrument is doing its utmost to be heard above the others and the result is a brutal cacophony of freeform anarchy
D: I think we'd be a different band if we practised a lot. You can overdo things. Someone at our old record label said something really strange along the lines of 'you have to work at improvisation'. That's really paraphrasing it, but it's difficult to see that when you've not practised in ages and then the first thing you do when you get together is bloody amazing.
M: I don't really find it exciting. It's like, if I'm gonna make something up, there's no audience to get into it, but if you're doing it in a recording studio or live onstage, it's like your mind ticks over faster and you get more into it.
Prolapse live are an unbelievable experience. No two gigs are the same and you're just as likely to see Linda and Mick fighting one another in an extremely real, completely unrehearsed bout of hysterical anger release as you are to watch them perform a rigidly tight set. The thing you are guaranteed, though, is huge excitement. It's not just the well-publicized occasional rucks between the two vocalists. Each instrument is doing its utmost to be heard above the others and the result is a brutal cacophony of freeform anarchy that will have you twisting and turning, like watching a tennis match on fast forward, to keep up with the myriad of onstage happenings.
How hard is it to keep that air of surprise in the live shows now that the onstage fighting has been well documented?
M: Not very. Every time something gets a bit static or expected, we make subtle changes. Like the way everyone expects me and Linda to have fist sights. We had one in Germany and we hadn't had one in ages and it seemed really fresh again. Things are always twisting and turning and there's always a lot of exuberance, so while we've still got that then it's exciting. I don't think we have it in us just to do nothing, so we're always twisting things. Who knows, maybe we'll start pushing each other around in prams or something. I'm sure it'll keep changing and hopefully there's always gonna be that air of surprise in it. You've always got to make an effort and be different without forcing it.
Who knows, maybe we'll start pushing each other around in prams or something.
L: The gigs are just naturally different, that's just the way we play, probably because we don't have this tightness or whatever that others aim for. A far as the way me and Mick move about onstage, when we first started we had a lot of different props onstage and we'd smash things up, or throw things at one another and the audience, and that was great. But then the press started going 'go and see Prolapse, they throw things' so we just thought no, that's completely not that it's about at all, so we stopped doing it. Now the press say 'go and see Prolapse, they fight onstage' and that's completely irritating. What they should say is 'Go and see Prolapse, they do whatever they wanna do' because we never rehearse or plan any outbursts but to some it probably seems as though we do.
The stage is a massive playground and we use it
D: I think maybe it's time to move on. It's been a natural thing to change things when they become expected. If it doesn't look forced, that's all right. The one thing that a lot of journalists miss is that the whole band are arguing within the music. It is very repetitive and we like to build things up into a real cacophony live. There is a lot of discipline, the messy bits are just superficial. There's definitely two lines of attack to Prolapse.
Does it ever feel like you're going through the motions?
L: I think some people do go along with the specific idea of seeing us fight. There's nothing more boring than thinking oh no, it's that song, here comes the fight, from my point of view. It would be so crass and boring if it was staged. It's not put on and shouldn't be perceived as such. Sometimes we do irritate each other and it'll kick off. We don't really care what we do onstage and we use that. The stage is a massive playground and we use it depending on how we feel at the time.
M: Every now and then you feel like you're going through the motions. A really important thing about our live shows is that it all depends on how you're feeling on the night. You're always playing a part really, I don't ever really feel like I'm me when I'm on stage and you can get into your characters and you don't have to be the same pissed off person who was wandering around drinking beer five minutes ago. I feel like I'm a serial killer onstage.
Despite the frequent onstage arguments, tantrums and general disintegration into physical violence, Prolapse seemingly get along very well offstage. The band recently went on a lengthy European tour, and the question had to be asked, were the band as amenable after being stuck in a van for hours on end? Despite having formed when some of the band were at poly/uni/college in Leicester and were all close friends, the fact that they now live scattered around the country and self-admittedly rarely meet up for rehearsals, was bound to take its toll, wasn't it?
L: Well, we're all very different people and we're a strange group in that we've got together in Leicester on the basis that we were all friends, but I don't think we'd all be friends now if it wasn't for the band really because we're all very different people with different ideas and strong personalities and I've been around other bands and it made me realise what a strange concoction of people Prolapse are. One minute we'll be absolute best of friends, a really tight group, and the next minute everybody hates each other. There's been a couple of fights between various members of the band, not including the ones between me and Scots MIck and it can go up and down from one day to the next. There's a couple of people in the band whose moods swing quite a lot.
I feel like I'm a serial killer onstage
M: Most of the time, if we can get away from each other, it's probably a good idea. When we're in the van, it's quite tolerable, everybody does get on, but you have the inevitable arguments that are fuelled more when the van breaks down in the middle of nowhere on the continent and somebody on the other end of the phone is telling you that you're not actually in the AA.
D: We do get on amazingly well. We didn't pace ourselves very well with two heavy nights in Hamburg, but it was really the van that caused the most problems.