Gareth Cattermole, Getty Images Pearl Jam are celebrating their 20th anniversary…
- Posted on May 30th 2012 2:15PM by Chris Epting
Their latest record, This is PiL, is already garnering many strong reviews and Spinner had the pleasure of speaking with Lydon on the heels of the official release date. The onetime snarling and confrontational personality has evolved into a thoughtful, funny and quite erudite man -- or maybe he was that way all along and we just didn't notice ...
How do you think the new PiL album compares to what you've done before with the band?
Well let's begin with, what two PiL albums can you actually compare to each other? I mean, they're all so incredibly diverse [laughs]. When you're dealing with different feelings and subjects and different emotions, of course it requires different sound structures. We recorded all of the new songs practically live. We rented a barn in the countryside of Britain, Steve Winwood's place, and basically recorded live. That made it a bit different than usual.
Did the actual creative process vary from the usual?
Yes, it did. A lot of the songs came from jamming around and feeding energies off each other then we'd just crack into it when it felt right and build the actual song on the spot. A lot of the songs were done in one take, and I love it like that, recording live. But that said, I love the spirit of all the productions I do. Analog, electronic, whatever it happens to be, I simply love and adore literally every aspect of making music.
I want to add though, if we can't play it live in the studio then what's the point? That's our basic attitude as a band -- we have to be able to play it live for people, all of our songs, everything, because that's the whole point of being a band in the end, being able to play things for people.
It's hard not to notice how much you have grown as an artist since the Sex Pistols.
Well I mean, I hope so, you know? After all, Isn't that entire point of being alive? To improve oneself? To grow and to learn and to evolve?
But not all artists follow that.
That's true. But it would be unhealthy for me not to grow, for me personally, anyway. And that fact explains why record companies never loved me -- just when they thought they figured me out and what I should be doing, I'd do something different! Look, to understand me, you have to look at me in a bigger way and it goes back to my childhood illness, which was meningitis. At age 7, I lost my memory and it took years for that to come back. When my parents took me home from the hospital, where I had been for a very long time, it was if I was in a house full of strangers and I had to learn to trust them, and judge what they were telling me and then decide it was right or wrong. And because of that, I don't believe in lying, ever. And that's why I say what I say as an artist. With me it's all about genuine feeling. When I say something, I've already worked it out; it's not off the top of my head.
I don't think many people know that aspect of your life, the sickness.
You're right. But at the age of just 7, I was in a hospital for a full year. I mean, I was in a coma. It was a great secret for years and years and years. But it taught me something: In any and all situations, you have to make it a positive. There's no self-pity in me, and I'm indebted to that situation as a child because it made me what I am and I know plenty of people who would accept their ill and just cry, boo hoo, as if life's all over. But it isn't! If my leg falls off, I'll get a prosthetic. There'd be no deep sadness about. I'd just get on with it! It's called life, and I love life. You have to be positive and you have to crack on no matter what.
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You read a lot. Is there a particular book that's had any sort of great effect on you?
Many, but one of them in particular was a small little book written by Muriel Spark and it was called The Public Image. I read that and loved it to pieces -- it was all about corruption and how stardom can be your own undoing. I worked off all those ideas and thought, that's dead right! The term for my band, Public Image Ltd. is just about that -- public image is limited and so my private life is very private. I'm not a showbiz tart.
Do you hear from many young, up-and-coming artists these days?
I do, but what can you tell them? You have to go through it yourself and there are no easy roots, and you have to go through the ABCs of it all on your own. Every band situation is entirely different, there's some common ground -- but not much. Also, bands and musicians I love most tend to be people that do nothing at all like me -- they just express how they see the universe. I love things outside my normal realm. That's what gets me intrigued. There's a give and take then that gets going on and I love that.
What were the first records that influenced you?
There are very many, just an enormous list. My mum and dad loved parties and fine music. And because I was the eldest, they'd let me pull the records for the little record player at their parties. And I loved it. Loved it! And I've still got the deepest fondest memories from that period, and mum and dad had a very varied record collection. Everything from Irish jigs to pop music like Petula Clark to bits of ska to Jim Reeves, you name it. And I'd go see bands like the Pretty Things and the Pink Fairies. I'd listen to everything. But I personally drew the line at the Beatles, though. Couldn't care less for them.
What about the Rolling Stones?
Loved them! Still do. There are some Rolling Stones songs that are just stunners.
Your favorites for instance?
"Sympathy for the Devil." My goodness. Amazing. Just amazing. And there's one side of Exile on Main Street that is absolutely, jaw-droppingly brilliant.
Which side do you like?
The one with "Rip this Joint."
Side one, with "Rocks Off," "Tumbling Dice," etc.
That's it, there you go. It's perfect and I just love it. And there are other odds and sods all over the place. Physical Graffiti, I adore, the Zeppelin record.
Do you still listen to Never Mind the Bollocks?
Oh, of course. It's just a stunning piece of work! We broke every rule, and we didn't know there were rules to break! That's a good lesson in life -- do what you feel to be true, and you'll go far! But when you try and compromise, well that's weak, weak work, isn't it?