By Alan Brostoff
For nearly 40 years, the band Wire have created some of the best British rock albums of their respective decades. With their beautifully jagged and concise punk of the 1970s (i.e., the 5-star album Pink Flag), Wire were crucial in the influence of many popular post-punk bands of the 1980s — and Wire continue to influence burgeoning music artists to this day.
In a time when fans can wait 20 years for a band to put out new material, Wire has released two albums in the first six months of this year. Colin Newman, founding member, singer and guitarist, sat down with Goldmine to talk about the past, the current music and a the future of Wire.
COLIN NEWMAN: It was not totally planned like that. We did three straight years of releasing one album a year — in 2015, 2016 and 2017 — and felt that was probably a little overkill. I do the scheduling since I run the label, and I suggested we don’t put out another record until 2020. The planning for Mind Hive started in 2017. I kind of knew that I wanted to wait for a January release. January is a great release month because it’s very early in the year and, believe it or not, it’s a good time to tour to support the new released records, because people are kind of fed up with Christmas and want something different. Other times of the year can get very crowed, especially around Record Store Day.
In 2017 we had some songs we wanted to record for the Mind Hive session, and we recorded those songs. The original idea was to do a sort of book edition of Mind Hive and have a 2-CD (set) with extra tracks on it. The thing was that we had done something like that on Silver/Lead, the previous released album, and while it’s nice having the book we were not sure what to put in it. Also, the documenting of the studio sessions was done partly by video, because a film crew had been in on those sessions for the filming of the documentary. We felt that maybe the book edition wasn’t a good idea and then distribution came and said, “What do you have for Record Store Day?” I said, “We got three tracks,” but that’s not enough. And I started thinking how we can make three tracks into an album. Again, I was just thinking about Record Store Day. Then I remembered that we had done an earlier record where we offered four additional songs only to mail order, a four-track extra CD. They were four tracks that had been in sets previously but were significantly different to the original versions or had never been on a record. So, I thought if we combine that, because they never had a vinyl release and certainly not a paid release to the general public. So that made up one side and then the three other tracks, and we can find one other track, a track that never made it through the whole process of Silver/Lead called "Wolf Collides." Now we have eight tracks and that makes an album. What a perfect Record Store Day record.
When others are cynically releasing classics from the past, on orange vinyl, we are bringing a record of mostly new stuff or at least stuff that had never been released on vinyl before, and that would be a nice way of celebrating Record Store Day. That was the plan with 10:20, it was supposed to be a Record Store Day release. Then we got hit with the coronavirus which sort of made record store day impossible to have. Like many labels, we had already made all the stock. So, to make a bunch of records on vinyl is not cheap. If you can’t sell them, you are a bit stuck. While discussion was going on between the American Record Store Day people and the British group about what were they going to do and when shops would be open and “What would we do”, there was some talk about putting everything off until September. We couldn’t really just hang on to this stock until September. So, we decided to just put it out. We had originally planned that the vinyl version would come out on Record Store Day, in April, and the CD version would come out June 19. We made the decision to just put everything out on June 19th. We could have held it over for another year if we had not already manufactured the stock. It was deliberate but not deliberate. As it turned out 10:20 is a way stronger record than anyone expected it to be. Suddenly we were in the situation of releasing two albums in a year which is kind of crazy, but it’s like "whatever." The world has gone mad anyway. Us releasing two records in one year is not the most remarkable thing of 2020.
GM: Following up Mind Hive, which I have ranked in my top 10 albums of 2020, the album 10:20 is also amazing and is quite a gift to the fans.
CN: What happened was, we were back in 2019 and after all the mixes of Mind Hive were done, I started working on the mixes of what would become 10:20, when I listened to everything together for the first time I was like “Bloody hell, this record is good. I can’t believe how good this record is.” It was really not planned. I don’t think that anyone should take credit for something they did not do. Yes, of course we did it all, but it was circumstance, and all came together like that. I mean the content for that, stuff recorded in 2010 and stuff recorded in 2020. The 2010 marked 10 years of (guitarist) Matt (Simms) being in the band. I remember when we got the test pressings back, Matt had some and I had some. Matt rang me up and said “This sounds brilliant” and I said "Yeah, it’s really good." We literally could not believe how good it turned out. In a way maybe it’s just Wire being Wire. Wire doing stuff that they do. These songs that are on the record, we have been doing them live and we can do them better live then in the studio. We knew these pieces so well, because we had played them so many times. We knew what we wanted to do to take the production up to the next level, maybe even push it a little more to try to get somewhere else with it. It’s just a process of trying to get out the best possible material.
The world has gone mad anyway. Us releasing two records in one year is not the most remarkable thing of 2020. —Colin Newman
GM: You mentioned several times initially wanting to get 10:20 out for Record Store Day. Is that something you and the band think about?
CN: It’s not necessarily the band, it has more to do with the label. You have to understand that I run Pink Flag, which is Wire’s record label, and I spend a lot of time talking to our distributors, both digital and physical. Pink Flag is an independent label and we have to operate in the mixed economy that an independent label works in. You have mail order, and you have digital, but you also have shops and you have brick-and-mortar shops and it’s important for the whole sector, Covid aside. There are record shops, and record shops serve something very unique that you can’t get anywhere else. Where else can you walk into a shop, hear a piece of music, think “That is really good,” and just go and ask the person behind the counter what it is and probably walk out with a copy under your arm. That’s not something that happens to you at another place. The danger is that if record stores all go, the only place you will be able to buy records would be Amazon. Amazon, for all it’s benefits, as it become more of a monopoly, it just starts to undercut everyone else. This drives the price down and while they may be selling it cheaper, its just means that everyone on the other side is just getting scalped because you are getting less money in for the sale of the records. The label is seeing less, the distributor is seeing less and then the bands see less because there is less money coming in. We want a mixed economy. We want plenty of different places with things going on. We are also very good about not just saying “Buy from our mail order.” If it’s more convenient to buy from a local retailer, do that.
GM: Are there physical record stores you like to visit?
CN: Right now visiting anywhere is very limited. We have a great record store in Brighton called Resident. It is kind of the institution of a Brighton record store. I suppose you could say it’s the Brighton version of Rough Trade. I think, (just recently) they are opening their doors to customers again. I do think they keep going during the lockdown selling stuff online. They have a pretty strong online business. They are trying to survive in a difficult circumstance. Rough Trade East has always been really good to us. We have done quite a few album launches and stuff there. We have played live on their stage. There are some great record stores out there and there are too many to mention.
GM: Do you collect records?
CN: I personally have a fetish about physical records. I like all formats. I like the way the vinyl feels in my hand, but I don’t require to consume my music on vinyl. I’m happy to consume it any way. The most important thing to me is the music. I think artists should not be snobby about what format people consume their music at. If the way you consume music is with Spotify or your phone and your listening to my music, then I’m very happy…as long as you are listening to my music and not somebody else’s.
GM: How did you come up with your band's name, Wire?
CN: It one of those classic stories. Back in the days when I was living in North Watford, in the very early days of the band, we did not even have the final lineup. We were experimenting with various things. The original thing that this developed from was called Overload, but we already knew that that was not a good name for anything. We went through a lot of names and the walls at the place I was living was covered with endless pieces of paper that had names and potential names of bands. This is in the days before the internet so, we were trying to make a highly unique name. Basically, it came down to two choices. Both of which were suggested by Bruce. One was Wire and the other was A Case. We ended up with Wire because it had less letters in it. The idea being that when you are on the bottom of the bill poster if you have less letters your name will look bigger than other bands with long names.
"Wire were considered to be too weird, too arty, too odd to be a punk band." —Colin Newman
GM: In the history of punk music, where does Wire and the album Pink Flag fall?
CN: I’m not a music historian or music critic, so If I say something. I’m not just trying to blow a trumpet. I think it’s the first post-punk record. If you are my age and you were living in London in 1977, you would not classify us as a punk band. Wire were considered to be too weird, too arty, too odd to be a punk band.
GM: Do you consider Wire to be an “artsy” band?
CN: Yes. I think it’s an artistic venture. That’s what it always has been and I think that is what it was first for everybody. I think it’s the best way for everyone to understand it. I think quite a lot of music comes from being an artistic venture. People don’t always think about it that way, even great pop music. Because there is something about a level of communication. Music is a great emotional communicator. If what you are doing is not mechanical then you are doing it from a position of love for the medium then it makes you smile, “Yea, that was really good.” You hope that it has the same effect on other people.
GM: What do you currently enjoy listening to?
CN: I have a long-term partnership with my wife, Malka (Spigel), and we perform as Immersion. We also started doing a radio show on a local radio station. So you can listen to our radio show to find out what kind of music we have been listening to. [LISTEN HERE] This is the first interview I have been able to say that because the first show just went out. It is also available on the internet. People can listen to the type of taste we have.
GM: Do you remember the first time you heard your music on the radio?
CN: I guess it would have been John Peel in the '70s. I don’t remember the precise moment.
GM: Anyone you would like to write or record with?
CN: Blimey, I think I would need a lot of time to come up with that. Give me a few hours and I could come up with a long list of things I would like to do with certain people. One of the things that Malka and I do is an occasional event here in Brighton, at a venue called The Rose Hill, it’s not operating right now. We would do a collaboration with an artist, bring them to our studio, work 2-3 days, record everything we did (completely new music) and then go present that on stage, in the venue. What we are working on right now is an album of those recordings. These are actual collaborations. These are people we kind of feel comfortable with. Sometimes you might think you can work with someone because of their music but then you find out you can’t work with them at all because they think very differently from you, there is no common ground. Collaboration is interesting.
GM: The best way for people to get the new releases?
CN: Pinkflag.com is a great way to get it. You can navigate your way through it. You can click on the page and it will take you to the shop where you can buy it, (and) even T-shirts.