AND RUN WITH BIRDLAND
Every once in a while bands have the power to really blow you away.
I don't mean that they were good, I mean when a band is awesome! These
rare groups tend to make every other group you see pales in comparison,
it becomes the litmus test for your view of what rock'n'roll is all
about. One such group for me was Birdland, who came over to the States
for three dates late in 1989 (Boston, NYC-CBGB's, Hoboken-Maxwells).
After an undocumented period with RCA Records in America Birdland finally
have their first domestic release on Radioactive-MCA Records.
The following interview took place prior to the bands sound check at
Maxwells on December 4, 1989. At the time of this interview Birdland
had yet to sign with RCA or MCA. The questions were asked by myself
and Blair B. While at times Birdland may come off as a bit egotistical
or up on themselves, after seeing them live I can only tell you this
-they deserve to have faith in themselves and their future.
During your New York debut at CBGB's, what happened. Why did the
show last a startling 3 minutes?
Sid: Basically the bass fucked up and that was all.
How about the previous night in Boston? Did that go well?
Lee: The guitar screwed up that night.
Robert: We only did about 15 minutes that night.
Why did you choose to come to America at this time, are you looking
for an American label?
Robert: No just to do gigs, and to test the waters. And this is the
last one tonight. We've already done four tours in '89 in England, so
most of the equipment is pretty smashed up.
Was the audience different here than it is in England, did you approach
Robert: It's strange, honestly, we didn't know what to expect!
Kale: We didn't know if anyone knew about us or anything.
Lee: We did speak to this one d.j., Rodney on the R.O.Q. who said he
was playing us and really liked us a lot.
Robert: Plus we thought a few people would show up because we are an
English band, we thought people would come out to take a look to see
what was going down.
The first two singles have done amazingly well in Britain and have
been played a lot on college and some alternative stations here. What
do you think about those releases in retrospect?
Robert: "Paradise" was a step up from "Hollowed Heart"
and the new single will be a step up from that, as well. There will
be a new single in January called "Sleep With Me." It will
also include a song called "Wanted" and two new ones called
"All over Me " and "Stay". There will also be a
version with acoustic versions of earlier songs. It's coming out in
a lot of different formats.
Lee: I like having lots of formats. It looks really good in the collection.
did all the songs run together on the "Hollow Heart" 12"?
Lee: That's how we do it live and we tried to do the record live in
Sid: We tried to record the track as a single at first and it didn't
sound live enough. This was the only way to get the live energy and
performance into the record.
What is the deal with the limited edition live album that you released?
Sid: You really can only get copies in England. We gave them away during
our last tour. (ed: Hey guys, where are the copies of the album which
you promised to send? We're still waiting!)
Kale: We just gave it to people who came along to gigs.
Robert: We wanted to put something out that reflected the way we sound,
but we couldn't really release it officially because that is not the
way to do things, for the first album being a live album.
Are you going to be sticking with Lazy Records?
Robert: Yeah, yeah, we're going to stick with Lazy in the U.K.
Lee: We were looking for a major deal in the beginning, but nothing
suited us. They all wanted us to change, they all wanted us to sound
like this to sell more records and look like some other band.
Robert: I think we would have ended up getting lost. There are a lot
of bands that get signed to a major after their first indie single,
and then get lost completely. Their singles never show up anymore on
the indie charts and their singles only get to about 99 on the British
Lee: It's really great building up on it and doing what we do. It helps
that they are really small so we can keep our eyes on what they are
Has working with Lazy done anything else for you?
Robert: Well, we were in this other band, but we didn't know what we
were doing then. We used to wear dresses and furs on stage and Lazy
sorted us out and pointed us in the right direction.
Did you enjoy wearing dresses?
Robert: Yeah, it was a lot of fun, it was just a few years ago.
Sid: Don't look at me, I wasn't in that band.
Robert: It was basically Lee, Kale, and me. Sid was just our roadie.
How many records did Zodiac Motel release?
Robert: We had a mini-album and two 12" singles and they've become
like collectors items now. Nobody wanted to know about them at the time
but now they are going for about ... each. There were only 1000 of each
pressed at the time. We only sold about 300 copies and that was only
to friends. Now kids are paying ... a copy.
Lee: That doesn't make them any better records. We thought they were
brilliant at the time but we were just in school then.
How did the other kids in school take the fact that you had a record
Kale: They were about to murder us.
Were any of you in bands before Zodiac Motel?
Robert: I was in a few bands in school, we would get a singer, guitarist
and a drummer on tape and think that it was going to be number one in
Now that you have made it to number one in the charts how does it
Robert: It's brilliant, but it was a lot of hard work.
Kale: It hasn't been quick, we had three years with the Zodiac Motel
and a few years before that, so its taken us five years to get there.
Robert: It would have been really easy to give up at any time, but we
When did you change the name of the band?
Sid: We started the group about a year ago in November of 1988.
Robert: We stole the name from a Patti Smith song called "Birdland."
How has the audience response changed to the band over the years?
Lee: When we started it was mostly guys hanging out at the front of
the stage. Now there are more chicks up front.
I've read a few places that on a couple of occasions you've gone
after members of the audience with guitars and mike stands. Is this
Lee: You should stand up there sometime, they abuse us. You go to so
many gigs where the band is being spat at by the audience and they do
nothing about it. It's really great to have a guitar to knock them over
the head with sometimes.
Do you consider yourself primarily a live band?
Lee: The studio is really important to us, but live is the greatest.
What do you like best about being in a band?
Robert: Just being in one, getting on stage and playing for people.
Lee: If we don't play a gig for a month all I want to do is get on stage
and smash up a guitar.
Kale: When we are in the studio for a long time sitting around listening
to the same song about 10 times it feels really good to get on stage
What are your influences?
Robert: A lot of punk things: Patti Smith, the Clash, the Ramones.
Lee: We have everything from the last 25 years to choose from.
What were the first records you ever got?
Robert: The first album I ever bought was the Ramones "Leave Home"
I think, and the first record I had was "Touch Me" by Gary
Glitter. He's just like a decrepit druggy today getting on stage. It's
really scary. Sweet are the same way, they play heavy metal versions
of all their hits.
Lee: The first single I got was by Mud (ed: a '70s English glam band)
and the first album I got was the Specials first album. I was a late
developer with albums.
Sid: Well I wouldn't want to do what the Buzzcocks did-break up and
get back together five years later.
What do you think about the other bands in England that are doing
similar types of music?
Robert: Like who?
Mega City Four and the Senseless Things?
Lee: We really don't have anything to do with any of them. There is
no scene in England except for in Manchester, you know the Stone Roses
and all that rubbish. The whole Manchester scene is about taking acid
and ecstasy and things like that. There is no rebellion going on there,
dancing is no rebellion, and wearing flares again, my god they think
that's rebellion. (ed: they say this as they are dressed all in black
with needle sharp Beatle boots).
Robert: There is no movement or scene in England today. Kids that like
us don't like the Wonderstuff and vice versa. People who like us probably
hate Mudhoney. Everyone seems to be on their own trip and nobody is
Lee: There is no scene in England, when we play with bands they hate
us. They say yeah have a good show and stuff but they still hate us.
When we come off the stage the other bands are like "you bastards."
What it comes down to is that they are just jealous of us because they've
been playing for years in piss halls and we haven't.
Robert: Mega City Four had been playing for years all around London
and when we played there for the first time had to support us. They
were just livid and every time we walked past them they were giving
out looks which could kill. They became our enemies.
Didn't you start at the indie local level with only your friends
coming to shows?
Robert: No, not really, we did not go through that phase because we
never had any friends. Everybody hated us in England.
Lee: They hate us because the rest of them are in such shit bands. They
are all doing what we were playing two years ago. In Birmingham they
hate us because we have the nerve not to play that shit anymore.
Kale: When you're nothing everybody else thinks that you're a joke,
but as soon as you do anything, like getting a support with a bigger
band, it's like "you bastards." So that is the attitude of
the people from where we are from.
Robert: Yeah, fuck 'em. We managed to get out of there. You used to
never see any of the other bands going out to see touring acts when
they came to town and we did. When Patti Smith and The Ramones came
to town, none of the other people would stand in the front of the queues,
and those bands were brilliant.
Lee: We would never play locally because all there are are piss halls.
When we would go down to London nobody would know us and we didn't have
any friends. We would really have to work hard to go over with the audience.
Robert: When most bands would go down to London from Birmingham they
would bring along a coach load of their mates. When the other bands
would finish their set the audience would go yeah, they would all come
back thinking that they had done really well there. What they did not
realize is that they were only being cheered by their mates. When we
would go down there people would clap for us, but at least they were
people who actually liked us for our music and not because we were friends
Lee: The only friends we ever had were the other guys in the band and
our girlfriends and maybe four or five other mates. One of the problems
with playing in London was that the gigs would ask us if we could bring
down a coach load of friends. And if you couldn't they would not book
you and you couldn't play. (ed. Things are the same all over) Now we
play to about 2000 people in London.
Robert: That's our basic audience now. Our audience doubled in the last
four months of '89, what with the NME going mad over us and putting
us on the cover. When we gave away the (live) album it got us a lot
of press. We were amazed at how large are audience had gotten. It was
incredible to play before that many people.
Lee: We've played gigs in front of 60 people and had the same intensity
as at the Astoria, we play basically the same gig. In the states we
have to start building our audience.
Has your sound changed as your audience and the venues themselves
have gotten bigger?
Robert: Well the songs are progressing but I don't think the actual
sound has changed. I think the sound is still pretty exciting and we
still get a buzz from going on live, there is still loads of energy.
Lee: We have two amps now instead of one and at that is about the extent
of the change in our sound. We still have to patch up our guitars before
we go on every night. Whenever we go on tour we seem to be perpetually
patching up the guitars.
Is it true that major labels paid you money just to hear the demos
of your first single?
Robert: Well, most of that is true. WEA paid us $4,000 to hear it. They
do things like that because they are stupid. That is the major label
attitude. Our manager puts together those kinds of deals and that's
where we got the money to record the live album and that is how we could
afford to give it away. But all the major labels are looking for is
the next U2 or band to stand on a barren cliff and pose for the camera.
Most of the bands who the majors are picking up don't realize that it
took U2 ten years to get where they are. They think that they can get
an instant U2 package together. It's no different with pop bands like
Duran Duran. Its just that real major label mentality which we don't
want to have any part of.
Would you ever play a place the size of the Wembley?
Robert: Yeah, of course, but we don't want anyone else telling us how
to get there. We just want to progress and see what happens. We don't
set out to get a certain sound, we don't go into the studio and say
that we want a really smooth guitar sound for the next single or get
some big rock producer. We plan on continuing to just go into the studio
and record the songs live. We don't spend hours on the production, that
would be just crap. Who needs an over produced sound in the studio,
two weeks on just the vocals or something. We're really just not into
that, we just want our live sound. The excitement of the live sound
is all we want.
Where do you see yourself going with music?
Robert: I can see this going on for two years or so and then I want
to try something else. I don't see it going on and on and on. There
will be a point when Birdland will just collapse and die, when we all
think that it is just shit. One day we will just feel it inside and
when that happens we will just stop. I don't see this going on for ten
years. There won't be any twenty-five year reunions like the Who, they
are just crap. My dad was out at a train station and there were a group
of Who fans there and he started talking to them (because that's the
kind of guy he is) and he mentioned us and all these kids in Who t-shirts
said that they really liked us. My god, that's really terrible. Are
we going to turn into a band like that, I really hate them! I've always
hated Roger Daltrey and his fake American accent. When I have to start
acting to earn a living or doing adverts that will be the end of it
Are there any other art forms which you would like to try your hand
Robert: I would not mind being a director, but I would never be an actor.
I would rather be behind the camera as opposed to in front of it. We
did a video for "Paradise" and we will be doing one for the
new single. For "Paradise" we were just playing but at this
point I don't know what we will do for the new one. I can't stand acting
videos, all those Duran Duran videos, they were total bullshit, like
Spandau Ballet videos - they were total shit, spending $2,000,000 flying
the band over to Siberia for a shooting or on top of a camel. Those
kinds of things are total bullshit. You could do a million better things
with that kind of money. Most of the time in England they don't even
show those videos, if you do get on Top of The Pops, which is the major
pop show on the air, they have you live in the studio. Even on the Chart
Show where they do show videos they only play a short part of them.
What a waste of money.
They do show lots of Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan videos there.
Robert: Kylie is the pop crime for the masses.