Complete Strawberry Switchblade interview by subject
Jill Bryson interviewed 9 June 01
Rose McDowall interviewed 29 Jan 02
Bill Drummond interviewed 26 April 03
David Balfe interviewed 19 May 03
David Motion interviewed 2 Aug 02 & 15 April 03
Robin Millar interviewed 16 Feb 03
Tim Pope interviewed 22 June 06
Recording the album, iv
When the album was finished was everybody happy with the result?
DAVID MOTION: I think so, yeah. I was very happy.
Rose and Jill?
DAVID MOTION: Yeah, they seemed very happy.
It was finished in summer, then it was released in September or October [the flagship single Since Yesterday was - the album wasn't released until early 1985] and they were hoping to get the autumn rush as I was saying, and I didn't really see much of them cos they were busy doing loads and loads of promotion. At the tail end of the recording of the album they were also doing a lot of stuff like photo shoots and general image things and beginning to do interviews. They worked very hard.
I remember I saw Rose some time later. It was all such a novelty to begin with, doing the interviews. And then after a while there were these rumours emerging, I think she said she liked mud wrestling or something like that in some interview. She said, 'yeah, we say the same thing day in day out, after a while I got bored and started making stuff up,' which is just brilliant. They were very much on a fast track for a while, preoccupied with the promotional side. I know that sounds very corporate, but that's the way it is.
They both say it exactly the same.
DAVID MOTION: They were very good at hanging on to their integrity about what Strawberry Switchblade were, they were rock solid and they had a clarity and a presence which was great.
When you heard what they'd been doing with David Motion what was your reaction? It was so very different from what they'd done before.
DAVID BALFE: Again, I haven't got a great memory of it all, but my memory is that everybody - myself and Jill and Rose - were equally extremely excited in a positive way about it. It WAS different, but that wasn't a problem with me, I've always been into things radically changing as you work with them. And it suddenly made a lot more sense. It sounded commercial, the record company were excited about it and everyone felt strong.
So where did Phil Thornalley come into it?
JILL: There were a couple of tracks that we were a little bit iffy about. And Phil Thornalley was somebody I think Balfey and Bill Drummond knew, so we said let's see if he can do a version of them. I really liked him, he was great. We had a very intense session doing it, he got the drummer from The Cure in to play the drums.
He'd already recorded some great stuff with The Cure, which is a whole different attitude than Dollar. Putting your songs together with a Cure attitude I can imagine working in a way that it couldn't with the Sade thing.
JILL: It was Who Knows What Love Is we did with Phil Thornalley. We'd already recorded it with David Motion.
DAVID MOTION: There was a residual thing about the album, that Rob Dickins was saying about my sound basically, which was that it was incredibly bright and it hurt his ears and there was no bass and stuff like that. Which I don't think is really true, although I was very fond of that kind of that really bright, jangly, angular kind of sound. Which is why Phil Thornalley did a couple of tracks on the album. Obviously I'm bound to say this, but I still think my versions are better, but his were much smoother and more commercial really.
I was just about to ask this, what brought Phil Thornalley in?
DAVID MOTION: I think because of this residual thing that somehow my sound was a bit hard. They - that's Rob and Max - were obsessed about things crossing over into the States. I'm not sure Strawberry Switchblade were ever a Stateside proposition.
I don't think anything was ever even released in the USA.
DAVID MOTION: No, but they identified that if it was smoother and a little bit softer it might work better for the States. We did have this ongoing tension between us, Rob and Max versus myself, about the sound. I loved it, the brighter the better as far as I was concerned at the time but, as I said, I did have my own agenda. So he [Phil Thornalley] was brought in and he did Jolene and he did..
It was Clive Langer did Jolene, Phil Thornalley did Let Her Go and Who Knows What Love Is.
DAVID MOTION: Yeah. My version of Who Knows What Love Is, there's the reprise at the end, which forms the basis of my version. I only just relistened to it today for the first time in five or six years and a lot of the arrangement was stuff lifted straight off mine. They were quite open about it, they said 'all the arrangement stuff is fantastic but if you can't get that sound we need to try it with somebody else. Phil Thornalley had been doing the Thompson Twins - I don't know if that was the same time, but I think it was [it was earlier: Thornalley engineered the two previous Thompson Twins albums] - and he was just starting to work with The Cure then and was seen as a useful choice.
Do you still have copies of your versions of the other two tracks?
DAVID MOTION: I probably do. I need to dig them out. I've got an original test pressing with the original running order which I just saw today. I'd need to have a little poke around and see what I can find.
There was also... I don't know if we ever finished it... I'm a bit hazy on my memory... we did two more tracks after the body of the album, and I think there's a version of Let Her Go that I did and then there was one other track, I can't remember the name. We did two more tracks down at Sarm East and they were never released. I can't remember what it was, it might've been the sort of thing where Since Yesterday had been a hit and there was a certain kind of acknowledgement that maybe it was right for me to be doing it or something - this is a guess rather than anything else - and we did do another two tracks and for whatever reason they weren't released. I'll try and find those. It might only be a backing track.
They were very very busy, the second the single came out they were very busy with interviews and stuff, I didn't see much of them for ages after that.
How does the album sound to you now?
DAVID MOTION: I just listened to it this morning, I thought it sounded fantastic. It still sounds very fresh, sounds very modern to me and I'm pleased with it. It had a lot of ideas, I think that's the thing, it's just packed. From my point of view I'm very happy with the way it sounds. I'm not a big one for saying I'd do things differently cos I just wouldn't, you know? It's all part of a learning process. It sounds very assured to me, it sounds very clear and did exactly what we all wanted.
I don't know how it could have been done better. There was this sense - they had high profile management in Balfe and Drummond, they were connected right at the very top in WEA so they got all the promotional machine. Other than taking issue with some of the choices of singles or whatever, the actual production side of things, I don't know how it could have been bettered, really.
BILL DRUMMOND: As much as I like the idea of electropop I'm not sure it was right for the album. What was the album called, by the way?
Just 'Strawberry Switchblade'.
BILL DRUMMOND: That's why I can't remember it! I really really like early 80s electropop. Vince Clarke period Depeche Mode for me is the best, when it gets heavier and [throws a sledgehammer-wielding pose] wallop, I don't like it. So I could see that that very light synthpop stuff could really work for Strawberry Switchblade as much as acoustics and stand-up bass.
ROBIN MILLAR: I wouldn't have wanted to take Strawberry Switchblade where they ended up going anyway. I wouldn't have been happy doing them. I never got any sense from them that they wanted something different from what was going on; that might have been my na´vety, I was pretty na´ve as far as UK producing was concerned, I only did things as I felt them. Maybe if I'd sat down and asked them the right questions...but you would've thought that somewhere in the conversation electro and sequencers and synths would've come up if that's what they'd wanted.
They've said that it was David Motion's idea and they rolled with it, and Rose said there was this situation where the Powers That Be would say 'if you're not entirely happy just give it a chance', and by the time it's been given a chance there's a lot of time and money been invested in it and it's much more difficult to get out of it. They liked working with David Motion. It shocked them at first, but they liked the result. It was only later they realised it was part of the plan to make them into this frothier Smash Hits thing which they REALLY didn't want to do and they really hated, and in the end it pulled them to pieces.
ROBIN MILLAR: I certainly could have told them that that would happen. It's so EASY to bulldoze young artists into making records that they end up ashamed of and compromised by, that end up painting a picture of them that's not them.
I absolutely have faith in the fact that I can walk into a room with any artist I've worked with will come up and embrace me, say 'great to see you,' and something like 'I still play those tracks we did together', whether they were hits or not. I've never been interested in getting into that.
The records I've done that have sold - and there've been lots of them - have stood the test of time, are generally organic in nature, generally involve real musicians. And that, as I said earlier, is not because I don't like that other stuff, it's just not what I do, it's not what turns me on.
It's funny that Balfe went full circle in a way and ended up hating anything that didn't sound like a band had walked into a studio and just played it. He made public speeches about it at record company do's.
ROSE: There was this other thing that we did, we did a bit of a soundtrack for an Ursula Le Guin story called Rigel 9 [David Bedford album 'Rigel 9', see discography]. The guy that did some of the orchestration on the Switchblade album asked us to do it. There's this part in the book where there's a procession of little aliens, it's a funeral procession and they're mourning, and he got us to do the vocals for it, these high little alien voices. I don't actually know if there's a movie or anything, but you'd wonder why there was a soundtrack if not.
Do you remember the David Bedford album that Strawberry Switchblade sang on, Rigel 9?
DAVID MOTION: No I don't
The contact was through the sessions you produced.
DAVID MOTION: David Bedford's done loads of stuff, he was involved with Tubular Bells and all that. I'd come across him cos I admired a piece he did, I think it's called Twelve Hours of Sunset or something like that, and I really enjoyed it.
So it was you who brought him in to work with Strawberry Switchblade?
DAVID MOTION: Yeah, I said I think he's the right person for this, and he did what I thought was a great arrangement, the orchestral stuff on Being Cold, and I think he did a little string thing on Another Day, just a string section thing that was pretty easy [also on Poor Hearts]. I also got Andrew Poppy in on 10 James Orr Street as well.
I used David Bedford for one little section on Orlando as well - you know, the movie [Motion did the score] - he did a section on that.
After the album there was only one more single that came out in the UK, Jolene, which Clive Langer gets the production credit on
DAVID MOTION: Oh really?
Do you find it odd that they went with someone else after you?
No. That's a lesson that you learn over time. It's not something that makes it any easier. I don't feel bitter about it or anything, that's just the way that the industry is. There was this feeling at WEA that my sound is too bright, there wasn't enough bass, all that sort of stuff and they wanted something smoother. That's what they thought, so they'd just go to the people who do that sort of stuff. They were basically still obsessed about the idea that something could be a hit outside the UK, preferably in the States, and I think that drove a lot of their choice of producer. Obviously it's disappointing, but I'm not sure I could've done a job on Jolene anyway, it's not my cup of tea really.
It smelt of desperation, the previous single not having charted, so throw out a cover version. Drummond's idea, apparently.
DAVID MOTION: Ha! When in doubt, do a cover.
But it's funny the kind of impact and the echoes that it has, it's almost like a full cycle because I'd been listening to a lot of YMO [Yellow Magic Orchestra] before I worked with Strawberry Switchblade and I really liked that kind of techno thing, and I liked what Japanese music that I'd heard. It was great that it [Strawberry Switchblade] did so well in Japan - as a result of that over many years I've worked with quite a lot of Japanese artists. A lot of them have gone 'oh, Strawberry Switchblade was really important to me'.
There's one artist in particular that I work with, I think I was brought in because of the Strawberry Switchblade connection rather than she was influenced by it - the record companies are very powerful there - a woman called Chara, she's monstrously big there. I've done stuff on eight albums with her, maybe two tracks on each album. A lot of it does have some of those kind of sounds, it's just interesting that that's why it should have connected. I know in Japan they loved the whole image, that was an important thing as well. It's kind of cute but they can see it's slightly dangerous as well.