Wreckless Eric Interview!
After a few successful years and drunken tours, Eric became annoyed with the business ideals of Stiff. By the early '80s he decided to ignore the music business.
That doesn't mean he quit playing music, he has never stopped writing or performing, he just started doing things on his own terms. Eric began recording himself at his home studio.
He steadily released albums throughout the 1980s and '90s on various independent labels that did not interfere with his music in the manner of Stiff Records.
If you ask me, that is when Eric's true genius was presented. During this period of his life Eric suffered from alcoholism, which eventually lead to a nervous breakdown. He filed for bankruptcy and moved from his native England to a secluded, countryside shack in France for almost a decade. All the while he was writing thoughtful songs that evoke more emotion than the average punk rocker.
His post-Stiff bands The Captains of Industry, The Len Bright Combo, Le Beat Group Electrique and The Hitsville House Band all released records that were at times poppy, spazzy and even dark. His lyrics always seem to tell a strange story, you're never exactly sure who they're about, but his narrative voice keeps your ear to the speaker, waiting to hear what's next.
His ability to capture odd guitar sounds and strange thoughts on record is what I appreciate most about him. From Joe Meek inspired weirdness, to beautifully crafted lo-fi gems, no two LPs have been the same.
Recently, Eric, 53, has started work on a new studio album with his girlfriend and fellow musician, Amy Rigby, at their home studio in France. They have been playing shows as a two piece group, almost like a punk rock Johnny Cash & June Carter!
Amy and Eric met each other at a venue in England. Fast forward a few years and they are planning to be married.
"The first time I met Eric he was covered with snow," Amy recalled. "He had a box of LP's under his arm, he was coming into the club I was playing at to DJ. Everyone told me he'd been in France but now lived on a boat or something, which I found ... interesting. I remember he was really nice to me, not scary like I imagined, and he played great records."
To find out more about their upcoming album, Eric's brawl at a recent gig, as well as some of his thoughts about his career so far, read the Wreckless Eric interview below.
Where are you right now & how are you doing today?
"Living in South West France with my girlfriend, Amy Rigby. We're just finding our feet here. I've lived in France before but it's all new to Amy."
"We’re nearly married! We are actually planning on getting married early on into the next year."
How did you and Amy meet?
"Well, I’ve had a crush on Amy for many years. We met years ago in Hull, in Yorkshire, which is a town in England. I used to be an art student at Hull Art College, I studied painting and sculpture. I was there at the beginning of the 70s. I played in bands out there, I wrote ‘Whole Wide World’ while I was living there. Anyway, years later, a few years ago, Amy was booked to play in this place up in Hull when she was touring. She was booked to play in this place called the ‘Bull Hotel.’ In fact, in the early 70s it was me who made it into a venue. I talked to the landlord and I said, ‘I got a band and we want to play here.’ It was the fist place I played ‘Whole Wide World.’ Years later Amy is playing there and the promoter said, ‘I want you to come over and DJ. I want you to meet Amy, you’ll like it because she does 'Whole Wide World.'’ I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah. I’ll come along anyway.’ So, I was DJing this gig, I was playing all of these records. I remember being late and also remember being in the middle of splitting up with a long-term girlfriend, but I played ‘Whole Wide World’ with Amy on stage. Then I didn't see her for a few years and I heard she lived in Alabama or something weird. Then we kept meeting up and I was with someone else. It took ages, but eventually we did get together."
Do you like being back in France?
"Oh yeah, I love living in France. Me and Amy were dating, she was in America, I was in England. She would come over to me and I would come over to her. Then it was like, what are we going to do? I thought about moving to America. We did think about moving to upstate New York, but I didn’t really fancy it because it’s cold up there. England, where I lived, was not a good idea. I don’t think Amy quite liked coming to England. I don’t think she wanted to live there. Then she came to play in France, she had to do a gig in Paris. I came over and we spent a couple of days and I said, ‘Look, this is where I’d like to live. This is where I used to live and I want to come back.’ Then she said, ‘Well, if you want to do that I’ll come over.’ I said, 'I’ll put my house up for sale as soon as I get back (to England).' Well, I sold the house in 24 hours! It was a bit of a shock. Now, we have been in this house (in France) for just over a year."
Is your family living back in England?
"Yeah, my daughter lives there and my mother lives there."
Being a former art student, do you plan to create any art or paintings in the future?
"I just do the music, really. It’s all music and writing. In some ways I’d like to be doing painting, but there are too many pop stars doing painting and it’s questionable. You can spread yourself too thin in the end. I love recording, I love going out and playing live and I love writing books. I have to do a certain amount of song writing as well."
You and Amy Rigby have been touring some as "The Eric & Amy Show." Will there ever be an album?
"We’re working on it. We’re making an album and we’re half way through. Then we’ll want to tour coast to coast. We want to do it all. We want to play everywhere we can possibly play in the States. Anywhere we can get an audience. Obviously if there isn’t much of an audience we can’t do it because it will end up costing us money."
Will the record sound like the live show or will it be different on record?
"I think records are different than playing live. More and more with technology people try to replicate their record on stage. I’ve always been of the mind that your record is not the blue print, but it’s presenting something more like a rough, lively, sketch."
What instruments are used on the new Eric & Amy album?
"On the record we use all kinds of stuff. We’ve done a lot with bossanova beat-boxes. The old-fashioned organ type beat boxes. We don’t have a drummer. We figure if we get a drummer it will normalize it. I mean, we just don’t want to be normal. Rock music is normal so it’s a question of guarding against normality."
"It’s a mixture. We've got tape machines and a computer. Really, it's whatever I can get a result on."
Do you record any bands other than your own in your home studio?
"I’ve had a recording studio. I used to run a little recording studio in France. Then I moved back to England for a while and I had this recording studio in Brighton. I stopped doing it because I couldn’t stand it. You have a bit of a recording studio and you think, ‘Well, alright, I’ll record another person to make ends meet.’ Then you end up doing that all the time. You end up recording people’s hideous demos and horrible bands. So I stopped doing that a few years ago."
What about your your recent live shows with Amy Rigby? I heard they're more acoustic type sets?
"Yeah, but it’s going through the PA and also into an amplifier through a fuzz box."
What sound do you two go for with your live gigs?
"Either me or Amy is playing an acoustic guitar most of the time, but the idea is that the acoustic guitar is our bass and drums. We go for a big fat acoustic sound."
What instruments do you guys play on stage?
"Amy plays the acoustic guitars, she plays the electric and keyboard. I play bass guitar, electric guitar and acoustic. I play the organ on stage sometimes. We do a lot of harmonies."
Do you dig playing the recent shows with Amy more than the Stiff days? How are you two liking the road?
"Back then, I had my first album and ‘Whole Wide World,’ it was great. But I was pretty weird, I was the space cadet, I was the rustic whiz kid. We played free jazz and people did not quite understand but they were mesmerized. It was this mixture of free jazz and pop, it got straightened up.
I ended up doing what I was told (by Stiff Records). Having lead guitar players. I mean, nobody fucking needs a lead guitar player. These people listened to Steely Dan records! They thought my songs were a great vehicle for their playing. They are machine operators. They can’t do anything original. Some of them can quote Jimmy Page, some can quote Jimi Hendrix or Robert Cray. I don’t know, it’s just boring. Or they think they’re the best George Harrison impersonator.
It’s nothing, it doesn’t have anything to do with me and it doesn’t have anything to do with what Amy does. It's just something you don’t need. So, I mean, I don’t have all that around me now and I’m happy about that.
Amy and me together, we have a terrific time, we have a great time traveling around even when it’s exhausting and inconvenient. We enjoy seeing towns and seeing the countryside, meeting people and playing together.
I do enjoy the shows. I love playing live. I’ve always loved playing live. I mean, people think I stopped playing; I just went underground. I’ve always played. I think I’m better than ever now. Nick Lowe said to me 20 years-ago, ‘Don’t ever stop, because the more you do it, the better you’ll get.'"
Eric on stage, post-Stiff!
What is one of your craziest stories that you witnessed on the road touring?
"The other week Amy and I played in Canterbury in England. It was one of those places that thinks it's encouraging culture but is run by fools. The young man in charge was very drunk and quite possibly coked-up too. We just thought he was the doorman but halfway through the set he came on the stage and started turning my amp down. I told him to fuck off. I was in no mood for any of it because the PA was hooked to a limiter and kept cutting out and the sound man wasn't any good, and there were some troublesome people who wouldn't shut up. Earlier on I'd invited one on stage so that he could get whatever it was he wanted to say off his chest and leave us in peace. He threatened to hit me so I lunged at him with my guitar. Fortunately he moved sideways and avoided it - more by drunkenness than good judgment.
The security did nothing about it. So later on the coked-up doorman comes back and starts fiddling with things, and as we finished the song before the last one in the set the sound man pulled all the faders down. I was so mad that I picked up the mic stand and threw it across the stage. Then I did the same with Amy's mic and I pushed the coked-up twat out of the way and suddenly there were three large men holding me down and a fourth calling for police assistance on a walkie talkie. And all the time Amy was yelling at them to let me go and I was trying to break free so that I could hit the organizer.
All this happened on the stage in front of the audience who just sat there watching as though we were a TV show. We'd been going down really well up until then. The management refused to pay us because I'd apparently broken all their equipment, but then they relented but kept back a third of the fee which they said they were going to donate to charity. It's a fairly pathetic story, but at least it's a recent one. And it's not a story of naked women and sinister drugs, they've really been done to death by now."
Going back to your childhood, at what age did you start liking music?
"I probably wrote my first song when I was about nine. I think my mum found the lyrics and told my aunt about it because my aunt nudged me conspiratorially one day and asked me if I'd written any more songs, I was really embarrassed. I've always liked music but it was The Beatles and then the Stones that really got me serious about it."
"The Who, The Small Faces, The Kinks, The Easybeats, then it was all progressive stuff. I loved Led Zeppelin at the start but their second album came out and kids that weren't hip were into it so it got to being a drag. Same with Pink Floyd - I lost interest when they did that album with the cow on the front of it, but they were never really quite right without Syd. I loved The Jimi Hendrix Experience but I've never had much time for anything after 'Electric Ladyland.' I used to be like that about Dylan and 'Blonde On Blonde' but I'm over that now.
I loved 'SF Sorrow' by The Pretty Things. They were the first real group I ever saw. They changed my life.
When I was 15 or 16 years-old I got into jazz. I bought 'The Art Of The Improvisers' by Ornette Coleman because they'd sold the last copy of 'Hot Buttered Soul' by Isaac Hayes. I still sing bits of that Ornette Coleman record in my head, particularly 'Moon Inhabitants,' 'The Fifth Of Beethoven' and 'Legend Of Bebop.' I think it's done permanent damage."
"No. I was an art student up in Hull in the North East of England. I played in a couple of bands and people said we were crap, and then some of them started to think we were quite good, and then everyone thought we were really good and I was the star of the show. I just wished I really was good but I was always pretty uncertain, still am. I only moved to London because I had an ambitious girlfriend. Success came as a shock. I wasn't ready for it and I always feel that I had to learn everything in public."
Eric on the cover of Melody Maker
"He was Stiff Records house producer. That is, he was signed to Stiff and he was probably the only person there who had a handle on producing records. He was brilliant, he still is."
I once heard that Stiff Records did not promote you enough during your final days with that label? Did Stiff Records really have something to do with your quitting music for a while in the 80s or is that bullshit?
"Stiff Records had everything to do with me quitting the music business. I don't know that they didn't promote me, but everyone there had a different idea of what I was and what should be done. In the end I felt as though I really didn't exist outside of those people's own egos.
Stiff Records now is a very different proposition. The label was re-floated 10 years-ago by new people and we get on really well."
Yeeeah! Wreckless on stage! photo:Rick Walton
"I got too drunk to play (music) once too often. Life was a living hell. I hated the life I was living and somehow realized that I had the power to change it if I really wanted to. It was hard, it took me years to adjust. I had a nervous breakdown at the end of the 80s but I never went back to drinking."
"I was being managed by my friend Johnny Green who used to be The Clash's road manager. We auditioned loads of people to be in my new group and eventually I got signed to the Go! Discs record label. By then various formations of the group had fallen to pieces - there wasn't a group anymore, just the drummer, Dick Adland. So I got Norman Watt-Roy to come and play bass and he brought in Mickey Gallagher. Then we went on tour and it cost me loads of money. I should have done it all as Wreckless Eric but I was trying to move on.
The whole thing was a disaster because no one knew who or what Captains Of Industry was and we got really bad reviews. It was the 80s and everyone was having a great big cocaine party - all except me, drunk and disgusted in my corner. I tried to make an album about the state of the country, real life under the Thatcher regime, but no one wanted to know. I think the production lets it down - I particularly don't like the vocals or the vocal sound. When 'Different Class' by Pulp came out it all became clear, that was the album I'd wanted to make but I wasn't up to it."
"There was. It was called 'Combo Time!' We split up shortly after it came out."
"Recovering from a nervous breakdown. Learning how to enjoy life. I moved to France immediately after I finished recording Le Beat Group Electrique. That was a turning point, I spent nine years living in the French countryside in a shack. I went on tour in Holland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and occasionally in the UK in order to earn what little money I needed to survive. In some ways it was tough. I had no real heating, just a couple of old woodburners that I salvaged from the scrap yard and a gas heater that worked on bottled gas and made the place damp if I used it too much. There was no hot water, no insulation and the electrical wiring was apt to catch fire occasionally."
"I moved to France in 1988, ’89 because there was no future for me in England and I like France. I ended up living in the middle of nowhere in this really old semi-derelict house (laughs). People said it was unlivable, but I lived in it. I lived in that place for a couple years, then I lived in this other place for seven years, then I moved back to England for a while. And then I came back (to France)."
"I was living in that shack in France. I recorded it in that dilapidated house. It took ages. I did it all on the four-track, Teac open-reel machine and a couple of old Ferrograph two-track machines. I was bouncing stuff backward and forwards on those. I recorded it like a Joe Meek record. It’s very fucked up sounding, that record."
"The first record I ever bought was ‘Globetrotter’ by The Tornadoes back in 1963. I really like Joe Meek’s stuff. I’ve always had this thing about Joe Meek for years. When we were doing the ‘Beat Group’ album we used to be on about Joe Meek. We’d be like, ‘Yeah! We’re just like Joe Meek, we’re recording up in this flat.’ We recorded that album in a flat, an apartment.
Suddenly this guy wrote a book about Joe Meek. We got a hold of this book, and this was before it was a bestseller, it is now, but at the time nobody knew who Joe Meek was. We got a hold of this book and it told the story and it talked about how he recorded songs and it had photos that we’d never been able to get a hold of before. (After I read the book) I immediately wrote ‘Joe Meek.’ It took me a week to write that song, it took me a week to get it right."
Sympathy for the Record Industry released the CD format of 'Donovan of Thrash', how did that happen?
"I wish I never had anything to do with Sympathy For the Record Industry because that guy (Long Gone John) is not exactly straight. He told me he pressed up 1,000 copies of it and he’s still selling it. It’s taken him all these years to sell 1,000 copies? Like 18 years or something, I don’t understand that."
I have been looking for the 'Donavan' vinyl for a long time, I can't seem to track it down.
"It’s getting rare. I will re-release it eventually. I was thinking of doing a remix."
"I had a rabbit. I had a dwarf angora rabbit, a white one, and he was called "Remix." He used to break-dance and he was house trained. He had the run of the house and he used to sleep in the cage at night. He was very happy and he was very intelligent as well because he wasn’t kept in a cage all day.
Did Remix the bunny like to chew on your stuff? My rabbit does every once in awhile.
"I used to have to keep him out of the studio. There was a board I put across the door, but he used to jump up and look in. When I was working in there he would run past, jump up and look in. It was like he was saying, ‘Yup! Sounds good! That’s good, carry on!’ Another thing he used to do was when I put a record on, he would rush into the kitchen and do a little break dance. He would just run in, do that, and then run out!"
"Bungalow Hi" (Southern Domestic) album cover
More recently, your last album, "Bungalow Hi" (2004) has a bungalow on the cover, is that your house?
"If that had been my house I wouldn’t have had to make another record! (laughs). Actually, that house ... To me, the whole album had a theme. ‘Bungalow Hi’ was an album about the quality of life. I love the title ‘Bungalow Hi’ because a bungalow is not high, it’s almost low. The word bungalow, I’ve always loved it. I grew up in a bungalow, I recorded that album in a bungalow and it was an L-shaped bungalow. Before I lived in the bungalow, I used to live in a boat but I had to get rid of the boat and I was a bit sad about it, a bit heart broken."
How old were you when you lived on the boat?
"Too old to be living on a boat, I suppose it was about six or seven years ago."
"I was going to call the album, ‘The L-Shaped Boat,’ but it became ‘Bungalow Hi.’ I always think of Hi-fi when I think of bungalows, because bungalows came along at the same time as Hi-fi and easy listening, things like that. I was living this 70s fantasy in my bungalow. Listening to the Ray Coniff Orchestra or whatever! (laughs). Some of those easy listening records are great stuff. Jose Feliciano, Nancy Sinatra and stuff like that. So, I thought of ‘Bungalow Hi-Fi.' It just seemed to have a bit of poetry about it."
"It took ages to find the right house to photograph to put on the front cover. It was really difficult to find the absolute right house. I found that one somewhere up in the north of England. I went along with a friend of mine who is a photographer to look for a house. We were driving by and I said, ‘That’s the house! Stop the car! That’s the house! That’s it!’
The front cover is actually the back of the house. The front of the house didn’t do any good for us. So we thought, ‘How can we get back there? Obviously we just can’t climb over the garden wall, there might be a dog or something.’ So my friend (the photographer), she said, ‘It’s not a problem, just follow my lead.’
She rings the doorbell and a woman comes to the door, it’s this old lady. She (the photographer) says, ‘I’m sorry to bother you, but we were wondering if we could take some photos of your house, we’re art students and we’re doing a project about houses and your house is just the sort of house we need.’ The old lady said, ‘Ooh, well, that is just marvelous! Would you like to come in?’ Next thing we’re being shown in and meeting the husband who was a retired truck driver.
He showed us all around in the garden and everything. We had a tour of the house from the cellar to the attic and then we had a cup of tea. It was a nice house, very cool house. Then we took the photos and that was it. I just hope they never find out! (laughs)"
So they don't know their house is on an album cover?
"No, I don’t think so. People get a bit funny when it’s LP covers. They think there is money in it for them and there certainly isn’t!"
The Monkees covered your song 'Whole Wide World' on their 1987 reunion album "Pool It!" What did you think about that?
"Oh yeah! That was hilarious. This is 1987 and at the time I was very depressed. I actually had a nervous breakdown in the end. I don’t blame The Monkees, it wasn’t their fault (laughs). I was sort of wondering what the fuck am I going to do with my life. I had left The Len Bright Combo, that had all split up. Nothing was going right. When I talked to this guy I knew from Music Week he said, ‘It’s funny, I was just thinking about you. I've just seen something, apparently The Monkees have covered ‘Whole Wide World.’
It's like, I always go back in time. So when The Monkees did ‘Whole Wide World’ I was instantly transported to 1966 or 1967 and I’m going ‘Wow!’ So I talked to the boss of the record company and he said, ‘You've got to have a copy, I’ll send a copy over to you immediately. We’re really pleased that they’ve done it, they’ve done it in the style of the original and it sounds fantastic.' So I’m walking around and going, ‘Wow!’ I’m making these mental lists, ‘Last Train to Clarksville,' 'I’m a Believer,' … 'Whole Wide World.' (laughs) For a few days I was absolutely insufferable. ‘Neil Diamond, Goffin & King, Harry Nilsson … Wreckless Eric!’
They always used the best songwriters. So I was really strutting around, thinking, ‘Yeah, I write songs for other artists, The Monkees!’ (laughs)
Then the record comes through the post and I rip all of the packaging off and I’m looking at the cover, and it’s looking a bit 80s. Then I’m jerked out of my 1966 fantasy. I looked some more at the record; there are only three of them (Monkees). Mike Nesmith isn’t there, he was the one who knew what he was doing.
Then I put it on, it was the second track and it was just … horrible. It was Mickey Dolenz singing it and you could just see the jazz hands, like the old Jolson jazz hands going on.
I was looking at who had written the rest of the songs and it was a song writing team called 'Fairweather & Page.'
I think it’s in my book, at the end of (my time at) Stiff Records, Dave Robinson said I couldn’t write tunes anymore. He said, ‘You’ve never been able to write good tunes, so I’m getting some people in here to do the tunes, you just write the lyrics.’ He put me together with ‘Fairweather & Page,’ and they were a couple of wankers, fucking horrible. Eventually they made it big, they wrote ‘We Built This City on Rock-n-Roll’ for Jefferson Starship. So anyway, I’m looking at all the other writers on this Monkees record and most of the other songs were by ‘Fairweather Page,’ the songwriting team. So they don’t use the best songwriters in the business, do they! I wasn’t in good company!
It was really a downer. At the same time, I can edit the record out. I’m good at this, I’ve edited the record out of it and I’m really fucking proud! (laughs) I’m very proud that The Monkees covered me."
"I also want to do some fiction writing as well. Which I’ve got ideas, some bizarre ideas; I’m working on that. There is a thing on my site at the moment, a link to a blog, which is the ‘Page Family’ page.
The Page Family are the most boring people. They’re sort of like an English standard, average, consumer family. Their hobbies and past times are listed as ‘shopping’ and ‘watching T.V.’ They are the most dull people. Anyway, I write this blog of the Page Family, just started that. That actually started one night when Amy was having trouble sleeping, so I said, ‘I’ll tell you a story! I’ll tell you a really boring story and then you’ll be able to sleep.’ It was so dull I fell asleep in mid-sentence. She was like, ‘And then what happened?’ (laughs) They’re a part of a fiction world. I just like the idea of making it exist in reality. I’ll probably wind up making Myspace sites for people who don’t exist."
How did you finally decide to write your book, "A Dysfunctional Success: The Wreckless Eric Manual" (2003 Do Not Press)
"I always wanted to write a book. People were saying, ‘You should write a book about it.’ I was like, ‘How the fuck do you get a book published? I’ve got no idea.’ So I thought this is all too difficult. Anyway I kept on writing stuff, having stops and starts with it. Then with the advent of the Internet I started writing stuff and putting it online.
Suddenly I got a call from a guy I knew who had been a promoter and an agent and later became a book publisher. He said, ‘I’d like you to write a book, would you like to?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I would, but I don’t know if I can, really. It’s just an undertaking.’ Then I said, ‘I would really like to write a book, but not the sort of book you’d want.’ Then he said, ‘Well, it depends, what kind of book do you want to write?’ And I said, ‘Well, I think I could write a good biography, but I don’t want to write all that normal stuff that people write about being famous, like, "Oh, then we signed the contract, then we met David Bowie and then Elton John walks into the dressing room and meanwhile, Kenny, our lead guitarist was getting a blowjob."’ You know, all that kind of crap."
And then came the cocaine!
"Well, there is a cocaine incident in my book, but I think its much more low-life. I said, ‘I’m not interested in writing one of those books.’ He said, ‘Look, do me a favor. Just so long as you make a mention of Stiff Records and admit to who you are, because then we’ll be able to sell it.' Okay, right, then he said, ‘I think you should write it under your real name and we’ll just make sure that Wreckless Eric is on the front cover or in the title somewhere.' So that’s what I did, but I also made him give me an advance. This is a guy I have known for years. I said, ‘Look, I know you haven’t got any money, really, but the only way I’m going to write a book is if I’m sort of obliged to. I need some money before I do it. I’m going to invest some time in it, but I need an advance.' So he paid me an advance, we agreed in an advanced structure and I wrote the book."
"It actually took me a couple years because I kept moving house. I think I kept moving because I was trying to get away from the book, but it kept following me! (laughs)"
Are you planning to write another book, a follow up to "A Dysfunctional Success"?
"Yes, I’m planning to. We just moved into this house and I haven’t got a room to write in at the moment. We got the studio sorted out and it’s livable and everything. Once I get the attic fixed up, I’ll have somewhere to write. At the moment, I’m sitting at the entrance hall at the computer; it’s not exactly conducive to writing. It’s more than I can do to answer emails at the moment."
Wreckless Eric website:
Wreckless Eric Myspace:
WATCH THIS! Eric doing his thing!
Eric on NPR (audio interview and songs!)
Eric's Page Family blog:
Eric bio on Trouser Press.com:
Amy Rigby online:
Rick Walton's rock pics!
Adam PW Smith pics:
Pics by Pab2000!
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