NME last sat down for a quick chat with Mark E. Smith in February 2015. Journalist Jon Bennett caught up with the Fall frontman at that year’s 6Music Festival, where the band were showcasing the soon-to-be-released album ‘Sub-Lingual Tablet’, their penultimate release. He was, it’s fair to say, in fine form. Following Smith’s passing, we present the interview in full.
How are things then Mark?
“Who do you work for? The NME? Right. You want to know about the new LP. It’s good, finished it this week.”
What can you tell us about it? Where did you record it?
“London, Castleford, Salford and a bit in Liverpool. The title is ‘Sublingual Tablet’. Do you think it’s alright? It was going to be called ‘Dedication Not Medication’ but, you know, it looked a bit like a Barclays advert.”
When you go into record now, do you go in with a plan for what you want to do and how you want to make it different?
“Pretty much yeah. This one took quite long, it took about four or five months, which is a new one for me. It’s all relative, I was saying to my wife that tour managers look at me like I’m quick because they’ve worked with New Order and it took them about (witheringly) five years. It’s good it’s finally done, it’s a big load off my mind. I like it.”
Do you know when you’ve finished an album whether it’s a good one?
“Yeah, I do now. It could have been out a month ago but I wasn’t happy with it so I had to go back to a couple of tracks. It’s great now.”
You once said that you refused to have a mobile phone because they’ve “ruined modern manners”. Have you got one yet?
“I have not! The manners thing’s got worse. People think they can just text you if they’ve got bad news for you. It’s not on. And as for people taking pictures at gigs on their phones, that’s just weird. I mean why would you do that? Why? I mean I try not to look at the audience but it’s just weird. What do they do with them?”
What about selfies Mark, do you get asked for those?
“Only when I go into town in Manchester. You don’t know what to do really. The last time it happened to me it was because by mistake I blundered into a pub next to a Pixies concert in the summer. Fucking hell. I was just walking down and I was going to meet a fella about some business and I wanted a nice empty pub. I got to the pub and it was fucking jam packed with all these Pixies fans who wanted selfies. I am totally oblivious to these things but it turns out the Pixies cover one of our songs. I never liked the Pixies but all these fans wanted pictures. It’s just fucking weird.”
Are you aware of the existence of the selfie stick?
“What the fuck is that? [Explanation follows, Smith looks increasingly incredulous]. They get what? A better angle for the picture? Fucking hell. You can’t say anything either can you…”
What’s your take on the argument between James Blunt and the shadow culture minister about whether it’s harder for working class people to make it as a musician nowadays? Is it harder?
“You what? What’s Jamie Blunt or whatever his name is been saying? I thought he was a cock? He’s a so-called tank driver isn’t he? [explanation follows]. Is he the ‘So Beautiful’ bloke, the tank commander? It’s news to me but to be honest I said about 12 years ago all this was happening. I don’t want to be a bighead but when I went bankrupt in 1999 I said it was happening then. It was like the bank managers weren’t the bank managers anymore, they were fucking graduates. It used to be some big fat old corrupt fella who you could get another loan off. I thought then they’re squeezing you out. I always used to get fucking a couple of grand here and there from the bank manager because I could go out for a pint with him. I thought it was me being all bitter and twisted but I remember saying to the group at the time that it’s all changed. The posh dads don’t say to their kids anymore “don’t be in a group”. They see U2 and all that and they’re saying ‘be in a group’.”
So they see it as a career?
“Have you not noticed? Fucking hell. Some of the groups we play with at festivals. I mean they’re not prejudiced but they’re, so fucking… I mean the Arctic Monkeys (sounds despairing), come on. All those Domino acts they’ve been to music college. They’ve got degrees in rock music. I think some of them have got passes in The Fall. It’s all about Daddy-o. I remember when I was skint these two kids came round to buy my house but they looked like The Stone Roses. I was so pissed off I went, ‘No, you can’t have it’. It used to be (posh voice), ‘Son, go into banking,’ but now it’s, ‘Son, go into band management.’ The amount of cunts I come across… I get sent these magazines with all this advice for new bands and it’ll have a list and it’s, number one, get a decent bank account. Two, get your application into festivals two years before and make sure you speak clearly to the dickhead at the festival. It’s like applying to university.”
So it’s nothing new?
“There was always privilege in music, it was always like that, but nowadays you don’t have a chance in hell. Why Blunt would talk about it I don’t know but that’s what I’m saying. He’s looked at them cutting the army back, he’s in a tank and he’s gone to Daddy, ‘What shall I do?’ In the past it would have been ‘stick at it’, now his Dad is telling him to be a jazz singer. Imagine him as a tank commander, I’d shit myself.”