In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Louise Wener of reformed Britpop band Sleeper.
1: What household product do you hold up in the ‘Inbetweener’ video and what does light entertainment legend Dale Winton use as percussion?
“Was it a mocked-up soap powder of some sort? I think Dale had maracas.”
CORRECT-ISH. HALF A POINT. You do indeed hold up Sleeper-branded soap powder, but Dale uses Pringles as percussion.
“Almost correct! I’m sure he had maracas as well! We used to get up late, watch Supermarket Sweep, then rehearse. It was cult viewing for us, so it was amazing to have him do it. He was lovely, full of energy and humour. Video shoots are long with early starts and he was mucking in and making everyone laugh most of the day.”
2: In Trainspotting, what is the name of the club that your version of ‘Atomic’ starts playing in?
“Oh God, I don’t think I’ve ever known the answer to that.”
WRONG. It’s called Volcano.
“Brilliant! No idea. (Laughs). It was an intimidating song to cover but also a joy to record something by a pop star you grew up idolising and watching on Top Of The Pops.”
Did Blondie give you any feedback?
“No, but we met them before that. Not Debbie Harry but the rest of the band came to our gig in New York and hung out.”
Didn’t you once end up playing poker against them and Courtney Cox?
“That was around the same time at a party at our agent’s house. We didn’t know who she was. Friends hadn’t happened. She was wandering around in a bikini looking fabulous and we thought: ‘Who is this amazing woman?’. Yes, I played poker against her – that’s where my lifelong love of poker started. Did I beat her? I can’t remember! (Laughs) Probably not!”
3: Which megastar once recorded backing vocals for you?
“Who was this strange person? George Michael?”
“We were recording some songs in his studio – this is post-Sleeper – and he helped produce a track and asked to do backing vocals. So we have a recording of a song called ‘Cinderella’ buried secretly in our stash, which was an aborted solo moment before I decided to concentrate on writing books. I remember him asking whether I thought he sounded alright. I was like: (Laughs) ‘Of course! You’re George Michael! It sounds phenomenal!’. He was charming and full of great, honest stories about everyone from Princess Diana to Elton John. He’d wander in early with his dog, then finish recording and go: ‘I’m just going to get my helicopter and go over to my south of France home with Geri! [Horner]. It was very entertaining.”
4: What heinous act caused you to be nearly dropped as Blur’s support band on their ‘Parklife’ tour?
“We ate their cheese plate.”
“We were hungry! They had lavish riders and catering and all we had was a packet of Wotsits or a Ginsters pasty. The dressing-down was from Alex James, but of course he’s slightly obsessed with his whole cheese environment. The signs were there!”
Have you tried any of Alex James’s award-winning cheeses?
“I’m too scared to try Alex James’s cheese because I might have some sort of flashback that upsets me.”
For a bonus half-point, which Blur member proposed to you?
“Um, I think it was Graham [Coxon]. He generally proposed to everybody within his immediate vicinity during that period.”
CORRECT. Did any other Britpoppers try any lame chat-up lines on you?
“Probably, but I’ve blanked them out. I was only interested in Dale [Winton] to be honest!”
5: Which pop star included you in his 2013 list of ‘quarter-decent three chord knobheads [who] could and did get a deal in the ‘90s’?
“I’ve no idea! That’s pretty good that I don’t know that answer, right?”
WRONG. It was Robbie Williams. He posted the blog in response to a Brett Anderson quote about ‘crap boybands in the ‘90s’. Among many others, the list included: ‘Echobelly, Menswear, Sleeper, The Bluetones (Apart from that one song), Ocean Colour Scene (Apart from that one song…Hang on nah not even that song), Salad and Geneva (Sub-Suede -Can you imagine?)’.
“(Laughs) I’d like to know who’d win in a fight between Robbie Williams and Brett Anderson.”
Apparently Robbie asked your advice on his 1997 single ‘Angels’…
“He did. He was recording ‘Angels’ in the studio next door when we were recording our last album and he wanted us to listen to it and see what we thought. He said: ‘It’s an 11 out of 10 isn’t it?’ (Laughs) I don’t think he wanted an answer – he’d already decided! At the time, he wanted to escape the pop treadmill and be mates with indie bands. We spent a lot of time with him playing Cool Boarders [PlayStation game] between recording. At Andy [Maclure, Sleeper drummer and her partner]’s birthday, he bought us champagne then Elton John came to collect him and whisk him off to rehab.”
6: What bizarre fetish did your one-time support band The Wannadies introduce you to?
“They introduced us to the fetish of docking.”
CORRECT. You allege the Swedish indie-poppers would greet men by inserting their penises into the other guy’s foreskin.
“I think a diagram would be useful in these circumstances! (Laughs) I don’t want people to experiment and end up in hospital. They did it with other bands, A&R men, record company people – whoever could be easily persuaded, which turned out was quite a lot of people! They’d only need a door to hide behind. It wasn’t like they were in a locked hotel room – it wasn’t public consumption and yet it wasn’t particularly private. They went on tour with lots of other bands so who knows which big famous names they persuaded into their little docking cult?”
They also used to shove vodka-soaked tampons up their arses. Were any of Sleeper tempted to give that a whirl?
“You know, it’s not that tempting! I’m not sure what the reasoning was behind it. When you can’t take any more vodka orally then there was a new way round it?”
7: Who once sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to you onstage?
“Michael Stipe of REM”
“It was surreal because it was such a huge crowd. It was shocking but enjoyable. When you’re in that world, you’re a little inured to it. It feels more significant in retrospect than when it was happening.”
8: The term ‘Sleeperbloke’ was used in the ‘90s to describe the anonymous, nondescript men in bands who aren’t the singer and stand at the back of photoshoots. But can you name any of the current Sleeperblokes in either Chvrches, Paramore or The 1975? (ie: any member bar Lauren Mayberry, Hayley Williams or Matty Healy).
“No, I cannot! Probably because they’re Sleeperblokes? (Laughs)”
WRONG. You could have had: Iain Cook, Martin Doherty (Chvrches), Taylor York, Zac Farro (Paramore), Adam Hann, Ross MacDonald or George Daniel (The 1975).
“Does that mean I lose seven points now? I could have just said a load of names like Iain and Mark. (Laughs) God dammit!”
You brilliantly reclaimed the jibe by selling ‘Sleeperbloke’ T-shirts and ‘Another Female Fronted Band’ tops. How do you look back on the avalanche of vitriolic – often horrendously sexist – criticism you used to receive?
“I’m probably more astonished by it now than I was at the time. People put old cuttings up online. I saw one yesterday which was titled ‘I’m Not A Slut’, which is extraordinary (Laughs). The music industry turned out to be much more conservative in terms of women’s position in it and women playing and being respected and valued in the way I assumed they would be. I thought the notion of equality would be central to it and that was always a disappointment to me.”
9: Which emo icon credited Sleeper among his Britpop influences for his 2014 debut solo album?
“Um…I don’t know.”
WRONG. It was My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way for his ‘Hesitant Alien’ LP.
“Okay, right. (Laughs) I didn’t know that.”
How do you feel about Britpop now?
“As a musician, you’re constantly asked later on to analyse it as a cultural phenomenon and think about what it meant, what it represented, was it important? Was it overrated? Was it underrated?’. I feel that whole period is so overanalysed and just doesn’t bear that level of scrutiny. ‘Did you like the bands? Did you like some of the songs?’ is the beginning and end of it for me.”
There was a Twitter and Guardian think-piece theory recently doing the rounds that Britpop paved the way for Brexit…
“(Laughs) Oh God, whether Britpop started Brexit is the least of our worries, frankly!”
10: You appeared on notorious TV show The Word in 1994 performing ‘Inbetweener’. Can you name any of your fellow guests?
“Ooofff….no. All I remember is there were loads of insane dancers and girls in fur bikinis. Who was on? I’m interested.”
WRONG. You could have had Aaliyah, Frank Bruno, McAlmont or Marc Almond.
“Really?! God, I thought I’d remember that. Love Marc Almond! Our weirdest TV appearance was a Saturday night national TV show in Japan. They had a segment where British/American bands came on. They’d give you Japanese phrases which you had ten minutes to learn before coming back and repeating them to the audience. They’d bring on a midget with a pugil stick to hit you while you try to remember these Japanese phrases which, if you got wrong, would be something obscene or explicit, so obviously the audience are hysterical. You went through this ridiculous quiz so you’d get to perform your song. It was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life.”
The verdict: 5/10
“Is that good? I feel quite proud of five out of ten.”
Sleeper release their new album, ‘The Modern Age’ on March 22. The band are on tour throughout the UK from March 21.