The Monochrome Set are proud to announce the imminent release of their 11th studio album, Super Plastic City, on October 17th. Please note that all the online prices include postage to anywhere in the world. CDs & t-shirts will be cheaper at gigs. The CD will also be available at various outlets worldwide.
01 You formed circa 1978 from art-school punks The B-Sides, To quote the Asahi Evening News, 1993: ‘When B-Sides singer Adam Ant quit the band for an ill-fated solo career, The Monochrome Set was born.’
Wit and style were there from the get-go… I think they wrote that line… but I wished I’d said it.
02 Andy Warren and Lester Square helped shape the early Antz sound and were key to The Monochrome Set, yet the bands were both highly individual and unique?
That’s because Adam & I were/are the main artists, and we are different.
03 Your early live shows saw you working with film maker Tony Potts can you tell us about his role and the collaboration?
He lived in the same squat as JD Haney, and became a friend. In our second year, he came along to a gig with projectors and films. I can’t remember who’s idea it was. Anyway, we thought it made the live show more interesting, so we expanded the film show by buying more projectors and making screens, which we took on tour with us. However, much of this was stolen in the US tour of 1982.
04 Rough Trade found you and put out ‘He’s Frank’ your debut single, what were the Rough Trade years like?
Rough Trade were good and helpful, I liked the people there, but we felt like we never really fit in. Dindisc offered a deal, and we moved over. They didn’t offer much more money than Rough Trade. We did the same with Cherry Red and WEA in 1983/84. It’s difficult to know if these were the right decisions for us, but they happened.
05 The term ‘Indie’ back then was a genuine DIY arty mindset that seemed to generate 7 inch singles in droves, it became a ‘style genre’ eventually which housed clichés in abundance?
That term, when it was used, referred to small record companies, rather than bands or a musical style. There was a proliferation of bands, and singles still sold (in those days), so it made sense to revert to the 60s mode of releasing singles. Especially when a lot of bands only had one good song.
06 Major offshoots seemed to be the place to release LPs, was this to do with promotional budgets etc?
I think there was a fair amount of misunderstanding. Sales from Indie shops were not allowed in the charts. Major sales were massaged. Complications arose with bandwagon-jumpers. Money was waved. Wrong decision were taken by some.
07 What were the melodic, atmospheric and style influences on you LPs throughout the 1980s and 1990s? What shaped the sound references?
It was mainly a combo of late 60s & early 70s UK & US music. No point in me being more specific than that, as I don’t have a lot of control over what I write!
08 Your extensive back catalogue is diverse and bravely embraced many different approaches which we feel set you apart a little?
Well, we don’t play what is essentially the same song for 11 albums.
09 Where would you point a modern day newbie fan as a good place to start The Monochrome Set journey of discovery?
Hmm… the new album, ‘Super Plastic City’ is very well worked, and does represent a fair amount of our sound, I think.
10 Was the comings and goings of band members over the years (some coming and going several times) difficult to maintain focus and momentum?
Not really… adverse personal issues have a vastly greater negative impact. You can usually deal with a changing line-up, but it’s best if the band is stable and happy.
11 There is always a feeling of positive wit, style and artfulness in your writing and songcraft, has there been times when this simply vanishes or gets jaded?
Maybe, due to other reasons, reflecting one’s personal life.
12 There has been a certain vintage nostalgic warmth and charm that sort of lures the listener into tales of multiple double meanings and hidden taboo?
Well, I don’t know. There is depth in our music and lyrics, which is really the result of our continual but slight exploration into areas we don’t understand. If I could describe a typical TMS song, it would be: ‘a classic pop song, which contains elements that lightly tamper with the forces of nature’.
13 Do you think The Monochrome Set have been easily mis-understood over the years and harder to ‘pin down’?
Our music has always been impossible to describe, and I can see why – we regularly, but not calculatingly, incorporate other musical styles into the basic song pattern. Each song is written and treated as an individual. But they’re still mostly 3 minute pop songs, all done with a very similar lyrical style, and most following a very similar or same arrangement pattern.
14 You developed a loyal and in-the-know following from around the World over the years, what places stick out in particular?
Our 3 big sales areas are the UK, Japan, US. We have an old relationship with France, but it’s not an easy country to tour – but dates are in the pipeline. Currently exploring a return to Italy. Will try to… I’m not sure you meant the biz end! You just want me to tell you stories about midgets and alleys. *(the editor spat his coffee out at this point!)
15 Tell us about the formation of Scarlets Well?
TMS split up in 1985/6, and I then did a couple of productions. One of them, ‘Songs For The Jet Set Vol. 1’ featured 3 or 4 different girl singers, and I thought of the idea of having a band with a few lead singers in it. It wasn’t initially meant to be a live band. The musicians were mainly Orson Presence (the guitarist & keyboardist from TMS) and myself, with Toby Robinson (the producaer) also contributing. Aesthetically, it was very different to TMS, and a great deal of fun. I think the 2nd album, ‘The Isle Of The Blue Flowers’, may still be the best I’ve made, or been involved in.
16 You reformed the Monochrome Set in 2010, why there and then?
Tetsuya Nakatani of Vinyl Japan contacted me in Spring 2010 to enquire about TMS reforming for a short tour of Japan, and we said yes. SW had just released (what would be) their last album, and I didn’t at that time see TMS as more than just reforming to play the old stuff in Japan. I had my stroke at the end of July, and after the operation, I decided that I couldn’t continue with two bands. It seemed to me that SW had run its course, and I decided that I’d continue TMS as my only band, and the one I’d write new material for.
17 You suffered a serious health issue in mid 2010 with a SAH (a form of stroke), would you mind telling us about how this came about and it’s affects on your life and work?
It was due to a ruptured cerebral aneurysm, and aneurysms are really a mechanical fault which develops and may burst. I was told that this is not due to lifestyle reasons; it’s just bad luck. In my case, it was good luck, as the mortality rate is approx. 45%. Quite soon after leaving hospital, I started writing songs about being in hospital! I was initially not keen on this, but decided not to stop the flow. It has since become much easier to write songs, as my central consciousness is now slightly weaker, and less able to stop the artistic side.
18 After your health issue and reformation, you have certainly got back to a busy and hectic schedule, tell us about getting back into the swing of things?
It’s not really busy as such, I think. I had some difficulties on tour and on stage, with temporary aphasia, but it passed. My brain has now seemingly rewired itself to that my lexicon functions are kept operational, at the cost of my walking co-ordination – this is called ‘neuroplasticity’, and is the subject of the title track of the new album.
19 You have a new record called ‘Super Plastic City’, can you tell us about the recording and songs?
We recorded the album at One Cat, which is the same studio (well not quite exactly, as they’ve moved into larger premises) that SW used for Black Tulip Wings and Gatekeeper.
20 Does the collection of songs on ‘Super Plastic City’ echo the sound of other past LPs and if so how?
Maybe… I don’t know how, exactly, but it does seem to encapsulate a TMS sound in many ways.
21 What themes and feelings shaped the songcraft on this latest offering? The sound is very warm and clear from what we have heard so far in preview?
The album doesn’t have a tight lyrical theme in the same way as Platinum Coils, but I suppose many of the songs are personal. The sound differs in that, apart from some organ and percussion, it is a 4-piece band now. Many parts were worked in some detail, so in that, the approach (if not necessarily the sound) is quite similar to Strange Boutique.
22 You have a set of live shows to end 2013, does your energy level have to be considered these days or are you liable to extend the list of dates across Europe?
Currently, plans for 2014 are for a 2nd UK tour, Italy, Germany, Paris, Japan… it won’t be a shed-load, as the band aren’t collectively available for more than about 3 weeks (of weekdays) per year. First come, first served.
23 Whats in store for The Monochrome Set down the line? A movie or book perhaps?
I don’t know… at the moment, we just keep going.
24 Are there any modern bands that you would namecheck that you feel are ‘chopping the onions’ as it were?
There are probably many, but I don’t pay attention.
Forthcoming gigs & sessions:
19/10/13 – The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, UK (tickets here)
20/10/13 – The Georgian Theatre, Stockton, UK (tickets here)
21/10/13 – Mono, Glasgow, UK (tickets here)
22/10/13 – The Continental, Preston, UK (ticket links from site)
23/10/13 – Eric’s, Liverpool, UK (tickets here)
24/10/13 – Hare & Hounds, Birmingham, UK (tickets here, here, here)
25/10/13 – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford, UK (tickets here)
26/10/13 – Thunderbolt, Bristol, UK (tickets here, search “The Monochrome Set” if you can’t find)
23/11/13 – 229 the venue, London, UK (tickets here)
30/11/13 – MJC / Espace Hélios, Lambres-Lez-Douai, France (tickets tba)
*All images courtesy of B.I.D and the TMS website (thanks folks), extra special thanks to Steve Brummell!