The Wedding Present's "Palisades" | Song of the Week | Indy Week
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David Gedge on guitar tunings, living in America and Steve Albini's sounds

The Wedding Present's "Palisades" 

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click to enlarge "Guys, my cell phone is ... in my pocket." - PHOTO BY CATHERINE WYGAL
  • Photo by Catherine Wygal
  • "Guys, my cell phone is ... in my pocket."

It's a slinky, slow-fuse cut that nods to The Wedding Present's early '90s heyday, when the band left the huggable C-86 jangle behind for a better-edged sound. While the melody shimmers, the guitar tone is steely and terse. Likewise, frontman David Gedge has always favored the high-tension wires of a relationship bent to its breaking point, and "Palisades" is a particularly haunting take on a break-up conversation. Complaining about his lover's inscrutability and sudden pronouncement, Gedge asks, "Do I have a say in this?" He argues rather persuasively that she owes him more than "Hey, sorry, there's the door."

Yet, as it goes along, this plaintive request turns creepier as the music churns aggressively beneath. Like a warning bell, one of the guitars clangs with a persistent metal heartbeat. "You might think you're spar-ing me /But, no, I really don't care/ I just need to know why...," Gedge sings, taking a well-timed breath before completing his thought: "You don't love me."

Muscular guitar passes in jagged swipes through the chorus and into the break, buoyed by rubbery bass tough as jerky. Guitars swirl dramatically around the exit, like Gish-era Smashing Pumpkins pursued by Billy Corgan's overwhelming ego, only with a better ending. The guitar work the last 70 seconds are a clinic on beauty and sinew, while Gedge's lyrics color the chiaroscuro from reasonable to neurotic obsession.

We spoke to The Wedding Present singer/guitarist before a recent show in Montreal.

INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: How is the tour going so far?

DAVID GEDGE: Very well. I think it's going all right. We're still talking to each other, and nobody's killed each other yet.

You said recently in an interview that you still enjoy touring.

I don't know if I enjoy it or not anymore. I'm so used to it now it's just like what I do. I've kind of gone past the point of enjoyment. I don't dislike it, but it's what I expect from my life, really. I've been doing it so many years it comes completely naturally to me.

Listening to "Palisades," the guitar tone in the chorus and break particularly takes me back to the alt-rock late ‘80s and early ‘90s. I'm a commoner when it comes to guitar. Could you tell me what about that tone takes me back?

I feel like a layman as well to be honest with you, fumbling around here. Occasionally, it works and often it doesn't. I think it's probably the classic kind of song that you'd get someone like [El Rey producer] Steve Albini to record. I think it's exactly in the middle of what he does best, like an alternative rock band recorded in that way. He's probably cornered the market on that sound. That's probably what you're hearing, a decent alternative rock song recorded by Steve Albini. It's what we set out to do, quite really. It might sound a bit dated right now. I don't know.

It's still a good sound. Nobody calls Beethoven dated.

That's good. I'm going to use that. That's one reason we went to Albini this time. We had a few songs that ere going that way, and he is the best person to record them really.

I read you'd initially gone to Steve Fisk.

I was very happy with the previous album, Take Fountain. I think it sounds great, and we had a really great time recording in Seattle with Steve Fisk. There was that kind of feeling of, "If it's not broken, why are we fixing it?" But, on the other side of the coin, there was that, "Well, we've done that now," and I've always been anxious to make each record different.

I suppose the songs were getting more guitar-y anyway, moving away from the Cinerama thing. And Albini is sort of a recorder of rock bands, but I thought, ‘If we do that, we don't want it to sounds like [1991's Albini-produced Wedding Present breakthrough] Seamonsters." But by the end, I didn't think it sounded anything like Seamonsters. It sounds different from Take Fountain, and that was part of the objective. I think he's done a really good job. So, again, more by bumbling around, it worked quite well.

How did you end up in Los Angeles when you were writing the album?

When I was writing Take Fountain, I was in Seattle, then I moved back to the U.K. because we had loads of concerts and things. Then when it came to the writing period for this one, I thought, "I quite like being in the country [America]. It was a nice change." I thought I'd quite like to do that again. That was combined with the fact that our guitarist at the time left, and Terry de Castro, the bass player, she lives in L.A. and became more involved in the writing. She actually co-wrote half the songs on this new one. It just seemed convenient to go live in the same city as she did, so I did. I suppose I have a weird fascination with Los Angeles, really. It's this big stupid cartoon sort of city. It's a bit of a love-hate relationship. It's been an experience.

You've said the environments/surroundings bleed into what you write and that songs can be biographical or about friends in disguise. Where did some of these ideas come from? Were you sitting next to people in LA restaurants scribbling madly?

Yeah, I have done that, all the time really. I like to travel around and I'm always scribbling ideas down. Sometimes there will be an idea from last week that I saw on a film combined with an idea from 20 years ago that I heard someone say in a play or something. They all get stirred up. I'm like a sponge, and then I sit down and sift through them and see what stories I can make of them and what little things I can write about. It didn't really impact the music I suppose because that was more of the sum of the parts of the people in the group.

Having said that, lyrically, it's very personal, the way I write. It's universal themes. It doesn't really relate to any particular location, but there are little references, and I think [Los Angeles] is a strange city because it's not quite what it seems on the surface. Everyone has a story there. I find that quite interesting, the fact that you could speak to anybody—a waitress or a parking attendant—and they're in L.A. because they want to become a model or an actress or something.

There's a certain darkness within the beauty that seems well suited to the what you do.

Exactly, that translates I think. You've just said it better than me.

Great, all I need to do is write some songs now.

If you do, you can send them over here.

Where does your fascination with social dynamics—and, more specifically, those in "Palisades"—come from?

Isn't everyone fascinated with that really? I'm just interested in the way that people speak to each other, what they say, how they say it, and why they say it. But especially in these extreme circumstances: It's either in the beginning of the relationship or the end of the relationship, or something in the middle where something is not quite right because someone has had an affair. I think those emotions and the things people say lend themselves so perfectly to pop music. I've always thought that, even as a kid. Every kid listens to pop music, and those songs mean the most to me, that deal with those subjects. I've tried to write about other stuff, and maybe be a bit more poetical or metaphorical or something, but it never works for me. I'm always happier to write about the extreme feelings that people have with each other at those times. I hear a line and I think, "Whoa, that's a great chorus."

That said, "Palisades" is the opposite really, because the chorus is so obvious. You've kind of got all this intricate building up, what's going on, etc., and then it's just a simple line, "Why don't you love me anymore?" It sounds desperate. When I was writing, I thought, "Is this too simple, too kind of obvious in a way?" But in the context of the song, I think it works quite well because it is quite an extreme song. It's like a plea I think.

You've gotten more than a couple Smiths/Johnny Marr comparisons over the years. Was he an influence or should I be looking at Roger McGuinn or maybe Andy Gill?

I'm really just not a very good guitarist. I can't do what Johnny Marr can do. My guitarist is Chris McConville, and he can do all that stuff. It's nice to have someone in the band who can. I'm definitely into The Velvet Underground and that sort of strummy thing. I'm more of a rhythm guitarist. I'm not great at that sort of picky stuff, intricate business.

I also really like that kind of hard chiming guitar that hangs on the song like a London Calling bell.

I have this guitar that's tuned weirdly. It's mainly E-tuning, so out of the six strings, four of them are Es, a tuning I use quite often, and it's for that kind of sound really, kind of chimey and heavy, like a beached whale. But Chris plays all the plucky stuff. I think he finds it rather difficult. He doesn't like playing that thing live because he thinks it's the hardest thing he plays. And it's weird because Terry, the bass player wrote it, but only had to play it once. He's got to play it for eternity now. He's not the happiest man about that.

The Wedding Present plays with The Jealous Girlfriends Sunday, Oct. 12, at 9 p.m. at Local 506. Tickets are $12-$14.

  • David Gedge on guitar tunings, living in America and Steve Albini's sounds

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