The Chameleons

Interview réalisée par Christophe Labussière


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Version française de l'interview

« M+D=1(8) »

[Blue Apple]

Sorti le 26 novembre 2013

If this is true that other bands can claim the same longevity as The Chameleons, very few of them have been granted of such loyalty from their audience. Mark Burgess' group has been with us for 35 years now, and we've never had any bad review ever of its short discograpy. Mark Burgess never released that ultimate album that never should have been. He never let us down. Because he managed to protect "Script of the Bridge", "What Does Anything Mean? Basicaly", "Strange Times" and "Why Call It Anything?" as you would protect a fortress, although he never stopped writting, starting new side-projects on a regular basis, always with dedication, thus always offering multiple recommandable albums under new monikers, without shadowing his main group in any way. If every Chameleons' record overwhelmed us since the very first time, it's with the same intense emotion that we still listen to any of their tracks today. A particular sound, which from the very beginning established itself out of time, out of genres, without even the will to create confusion, like a singularity that wasn't made on purpose, an accident in art that doesn't compare to anything else and which allowed them to survive over time. It's as if the band had been floating above all of the scenes which have come and gone for the past 40 years. A band that is confidential but also whith a major notoriety at the same time; indeed, at one time did Interpol's sound borrow from the souls of Joy Division and The Chameleons. Would being from Manchester as well as showing contempt for all of the followers from that era explain their very own identity? Well, that's what Mark Burgess seems to suggest in the following interview he gave us a few days ago, before the band comes to play the Supersonic in Paris on May the 28th. Our love for is band is equalled only by his own.

Ten years ago you went on tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of "Script of the Bridge". I saw you on stage at Le Petit Bain in Paris at this event, and this show was announced as your last show. Have you ever imagined you’d stop playing live one day?
Well I wouldn’t say I’d stop playing altogether unless there was some physical reason I couldn’t perform, but I have thought about stepping away from the heavy touring I’ve been doing with ChameleonsVox and in fact did a farewell tour a few years back, but then I got so many letters from people, and people coming up to me at the show tearfully urging me to continue that in the end we decided to keep it going a while longer. It’s meant that I’ve had to put new ideas on the back boiler as it were, which is less than satisfactory. That’s purely down to the amount of time ChameleonsVox takes up. I’ve been touring pretty solidly now for the last seven or eight years, but the demand to hear this music has if anything increased and we find ourselves being invited to perform in places like China and Australia, where we were in January. Having said all that I have a whole back log of written songs now the I’m eager to record and the impulse to do something fresh is really pulling on me.

« It’s anything but "Groundhog Day". That’s a stupid comparison. »
You have been playing live for the past 35 years, but you have only released 4 studio albums with The Chameleons, you're always playing in front of the same audience, an audience becoming older year after year, as you, as me, don't you ever feel like in the film "Groundhog Day" (every morning is the same morning, every day is the same day and the same things always happen), always singing the same songs with the same feeling every night?
Well I think that’s a very misguided view of our audience to be honest. That’s just not true. I mean I’m almost always meeting our audiences face to face and while it’s true we get regulars the show that have seen use perform umpteen times, there are q great many that haven’t seen me play this material in around 30 years, others that are seeing for the first time, and even others that never thought they’d ever get the chance to see me perform this material, so it’s anything but "Groundhog Day". That’s a stupid comparison. We don’t play exactly the same set night after night tour after tour. Chameleons wrote over 40 songs together, during a set we’ll play 10 or 11 plus a few in the encore, so we vary it quite a bit unless an album performance of course. Even then every single show I’ve ever done has been unique unto itself, it never gets repetitive or dull. We sell out everywhere we go, I think if people perceived it the way you express it, that wouldn’t be the case. I couldn’t perform this material unless I was really feeling it and the fact that I DO feel it intensely every single night is a testament to the quality of the writing. This music is timeless.

Some of the Chameleons’ songs make me feel transcended, "Soul in Isolation" or "Second Skin". Each time I listen to them. Since the first time. Are there songs from other artists that make you feel like they had been written especially for you, even when you just hear a few notes of them?
Oh God yeah too many to list here. I have albums made in the early 60’s and 70’s that sound as fresh and original to me today as they did they day I bought them. Music has always had a very profound effect on me in that regard.

Is there any Chameleons' song that makes you feel you like that?
Well with Chameleons all the songs we perform make me feel like that. I’m very, very proud of that body of work, which is why I’ve devoted most of my life to it.

I remember an "old" interview with you, maybe 20 years ago, when you told us that your job, beside writing music, was to be the manager of a castle, not the owner, but the guy who was managing everything… I couldn’t found anything about this, is my memory playing me tricks or was it your day job for real?
It wasn’t a castle it was a Manor House, a 50 room chateau type place in the Borders of Scotland. It wasn’t really a “JOB” as such, the guy that owned it gave me the gate house to live in in return for helping him restore the grounds of the place 12 hours a week, it was an amicable arrangement that served while I was writing my book and writing the songs for the album that became Paradyning. If you want my details I suggest you get a hold of my autobiography “View From A Hill’. Any way that was around 1990 to 1994.

What is the difference for you between the way you writed or played music 30 years ago and now?
For me personally? No difference whatsoever in terms of the quality of the music. Obviously we weren’t going to make a record that sounded like it was made 30 years previously. Who the fuck does that? We’d all changed as people, as writers, in terms of what we were listening to, what we were interested in, but the music that came out, as different as it was, was The Chameleons. So in that regard it was no different. I know that a lot of the fan base probably did want a record that sounded like it was made in the 80’s. I found that a bit frustrating. I mean you can have a child and love everything about the child, but the child grows up, you don’t keep the child in baby clothes until the child reaches the age of 21. That would be abusive. The band grew, some of the audience got that, some didn’t, I don’t really give a fuck about the ones that didn’t.

« There was some great music in Manchester at that time, but unless you were part of the clique you never got to open for bands like The Fall or Joy Division. Because we hated cliques...  »
You are from Manchester, but it seems that you never had any link with the Manchester scene? Why?
Because we hated cliques. There was some great music in Manchester at that time, but unless you were part of the clique you never got to open for bands like The Fall or Joy Division. And MOST -not all- of the undiscovered bands in Manchester at that time were variations of either Joy Division or The Fall, which you know, I couldn’t understand. I mean you know, what’s the fuckin’ point of that? If you’re a new emerging band what’ s the point copying the cities two most prominent bands. We didn’t want to sound like anyone, we wanted our own sound, we didn’t dig cliques and hanging out in places to appear hip, we had our own thing going on. We forged our own path. I know before he died Tony Wilson expressed his regret that he never signed Chameleons, but we wouldn’t have signed for Factory anyway, we had absolutely nothing in common with them.

However, you did play the Hacienda around that time, didn’t you?
Yeah we played it a couple of times, we did a local band night there and pulled 900 people, people who wouldn’t ordinarily go to the Hacienda, came to see to see us there. That was the first night I met Pete Hook. 

But you never had anything to do with Factory, Joy Division, nor New Order?
Well Pete and I share a mutual respect and have met a few times. But aside from that NO.

During a few years, between the third and the fourth album, you have released many records under different "names". The Sun and the Moon, Invincible, Mark Burgess & the Son of God, Black Swan Lane, but it seems that everything has stopped. You don't need anymore to write news songs emancipated from The Chameleons?
Under different names? They were projects. The Sun And The Moon was a project, it was John Lever's project actually that he started getting together when he left The Chameleons in 1987, and he and his two mates asked me to collaborate on it when he heard I’d left the band about a month later; Invincible was a project, a collaboration with the Corsican producer Yves Altana; The Sons of God was a project, again with John, Yves and Neil who I play with currently; Black Swan Lane was the solo project of my friend Jack Sobel in Atlanta, which he invited me to collaborate on. Black Swan continues to make good records my time with the project came to a natural conclusion.
I’ll do a Project,  then when it’s reached it’s logical conclusion, I’ll move on and do another project. They’re all different from each other, that’s why they’re called different things, to distinguish them from each other.

You have worked with the french musician Yves Altana for some of these "side-projects", he is now playing with you with The Chameleons, what is your relation with him?
Purely professional. I hired him to play guitar with The Sons of God around 1994. Then I asked him to produce a solo album Paradyning shortly after, and I ended up giving him song writing credits because he helped so much with the arrangements and the production of that record. Later we collaborated properly writing the album VENUS with the Invincible project. When John Lever decided to leave ChameleonsVox Yves stepped in to cover for us on drums because we had live commitments. He ended up staying with the band for about three years as drummer, but now he’s focusing on his own solo project and his place has been taken by a local Manchester musician named Stephen Rice.

The Chameleons released an EP in 2013, "M+D=1(8)", but you haven't recorded any new material since this release? Why is that?
Actually I’ve written about 25 new songs in the time since and I’m finally planning to record demos of them later in the summer and hopefully release them early next year as part of a new project I’m putting together.

In 1997, a new band has emerged from New York City, with many influences, particularly with two notable influences: Joy Division and The Chameleons. How did you feel when you heard to Interpol for the first time?
Well I like Interpol but I don’t hear the Chameleons influences in their records. People have told me they’re there, but I can’t here them. Maybe it’s because I was IN The Chameleons and I’m too close to our music to tell. I could hear Joy Division in there, but Chameleons, no I couldn’t hear what people were talking about.

What are the bands or artistes that you appreciate these days?
I like the bands that came out of the San Francisco underground about five or six years ago, Blasted Canyons, Wax Idols, Grass Widow, The Oh Sees, I love a band called Girls Names, who I THINK are from Ireland although I couldn’t swear to it. I saw an incredible band in Beijing last January, in fact they opened for us, but their name escapes me right now, they were produced by one of the guys from Brian Jonestown Massacre who introduced me to them at our show.

In 2002 you released an album with acoustic versions of The Chameleons, entitled "This Never Ending Now". Can you confirm that you will never stop? What could stop The Chameleons?
I don’t know. An Astroid collision. A pandemic? Invading aliens from space? Who can say?