Metropolis Magazine
Issue #805 - Friday, Aug 28th, 2009
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309: Santana
Music
By Dan Grunebaum

The Wedding Present
Quintessential indie-rocker David Gedge and Co. return to Japan after 16 years

©G. Vigfusson

It’s late January and the singer for what’s been described as England’s prototypical indie-rock band is back in Brighton, sorting through the wreckage that’s become of the music industry in his absence. But David Gedge is philosophical about his record distributor’s bankruptcy.

“It’s been coming a while, but adding in the recession now is the icing on the cake for a lot of these companies,” he says by phone ahead of the band’s first Japan tour in 16 years. “Such is the nature of the music industry.”

Yet The Wedding Present, founded by Gedge in the mid-’80s, is coming off the longest tour in its career. The band spent the fall bringing its spare, unadorned guitar music and Gedge’s melancholy lyrical observations from Britain to North America to Europe and back to North America before finishing off the year in Turkey.

It seems their indie status may have preserved them from the boom-bust cycle of pop culture. “When punk came in the ’70s, it inspired a generation to do music out of the mainstream,” Gedge explains. “It was a time when independent labels were being set up, so when we started in the mid ’80s, it became the ‘indie’ scene. Our primary objective wasn’t to get a record deal; it was to have some control over everything. And now, 20 years later, we might be the only ones left, so I suppose we’ve been one of the more successful indie bands.”

The downside of the “indie” label? “I suppose you do get tagged, and people have an expectation—I’m continually meeting people who have just discovered the group, and may think, ‘Oh it’s an indie band, not my cup of tea.’ But when they listen, they go, ‘Oh, I really like it.’ Over the years, we’ve done so much varied music it can be a bit disappointing when people perceive you as having a certain sound.”

The latest addition to The Wedding Present’s 250-plus song catalog came in the form of last year’s El Rey. The album grew out of Gedge’s year-and-a-half songwriting sojourn in Los Angeles, where bassist Terry de Castro lives, and includes piquantly phrased outings like “Model, Actress, Whatever.”

But the new disc, says Gedge, isn’t an overt tribute to Southern California. “Musically, we wouldn’t sound different anywhere, because our music is the result of the people in the band’s contributions,” he emphasizes. “And lyrically, I was shying away from making it ‘the LA album,’ so I purposefully didn’t write about LA. But I write in a personal style, so it’s bound to seep in.”

Aside from the obvious difference in climate, Gedge says the biggest difference between London and LA was the likelihood of bumping into someone famous. “At first, it’s a bit strange, but you get used to it,” he says, illustrating this idea with an anecdote. “I was in a café and there was an attractive woman there with quite a short skirt on, and her legs caught my eye. But as I was leaving, I realized her boyfriend was Mike Tyson!”

Ever reflective on the trials of romance, Gedge wrote a song on the new album called “The Trouble with Men.” Have the issues changed for a man who began writing lyrics in his 20s but is now in his 40s?

“I can only answer for myself, but I feel exactly the same now as when I was in my 20s,” he says. “I feel the same about everything: about being in a group, worrying about getting a proper job some day… But having said that, people say the writing is more mature, the lyrics less teenaged and more middle-aged.”

The Wedding Present is also legendary for its refusal to do encores. Will they make an exception for their first Japan tour since 1993? “No, we never do them,” Gedge insists. “I think they are a bit of a hackneyed rock tradition. When you first start, it makes sense because not every show is well attended, so when you play well the crowd reacts and you want to come back on stage.

“But then, after a couple of years, you play an encore every night, and it gets to be a ridiculous situation where you draw a line across the bottom of the set list and the encores are pre-programmed. It seems a bit false to me. It may sound a bit pretentious, but I feel a set has a beginning, middle, end—and that’s it.”

Shibuya O-Nest, Mar 12-13 and SuperDeluxe, Mar 14. See concert listings (popular) for details.

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