NME, February 1st, 1992
Transcribed by Karsten Roekens
© 1992 MANDI JAMES / NME
IF YOU'RE LOOKING FOR WOBBLE (YOU'VE COME TO THE RIGHT PLACE)
Once renowned PIL bass player JAH WOBBLE saw out the '80s screaming "I coulda been a contender" from the ticket office of a London Underground station. But now he's back, cleaned up and promoting 'kebab house' music with his new outfit Invaders Of The Heart. MANDI JAMES talks to him about the 'lost years' and his comeback with Sinéad O'Connor on 'Vision Of You'. Reflections of Jah: DEREK RIDGERS.
"For as long as I can remember I've always been very self-obsessed. I've never found the process of living life particularly easy, I've had to work at it – music's the only thing that's ever come naturally, nothing else has, ever."
Jah Wobble pauses mid-chew of his medium rare steak, fixes me with his piercing blue eyes and, jabbing his knife into a serviette, drives his point home loud and clear.
"But without a struggle, what's the point? There ain't no such thing as Utopia, life's fucking hard work!"
Jah Wobble – self-educated Eastender, passionate philosopher and, in some eyes, major musical godhead – has a gargantuan appetite for life and a reputation and repertoire that makes the squeaky rebellion of the Manic Street Preachers pale into mealy-mouthed insignificance.
Music hasn't just been a major force in his life, it's literally been his saving grace, from PIL's mean and moody rumblings to the sleepy sensuality of current creation 'Visions Of You', all driven by a rumble of discontent from that ever-present bass. 'Visions Of You' features the delicate, velvet vocals of Sinéad O'Connor and is being touted by Radio 1.
"It was one of those things that came together really quickly," says Wobble of his alliance with Sinéad. "She put the lyrics down in 45 minutes. It was like 'OK – this is the song!' and bang, bosh, there it was ... Just beautiful, like an angel. She's got real power, Sinéad, that's why people come down so hard on her. She wears her heart on her sleeve which puts her in a vulnerable position. I think she's very brave. She's special, she's got a special aura about her. A real star, and there's not many of them about."
Wobble isn't a star in the tedious limousine, white lines and stadium rock tradition, but he's been through an emotional mangle that would have destroyed most people and emerged alive, kicking and ready to blow your mind.
Wobble first emerged on the music scene during the initial explosion of a snotty, snarling cultural revolution that catapulted him out of his dead-end existence.
"When I was a teenager, I used to think 'There has to be fucking more than this!' So from the age of fifteen I was looking for a vibrant scene, something to colour my life, and I knew it was necessary if I was not to die prematurely. Then punk happened, this crazy little scene came about with all these angry, lost little orphans and opened a door for me against all the odds. It changed my life, because if it wasn't for punk I wouldn't have started playing."
Sitting in the relative comfort of a swanky restaurant, tucking into a free three-course meal and chewing over the fat of his tempestuous career is a far cry from Wobble's angry adolescence.
When Wobble first zipped up his bondage trousers, he used to hang out at Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren's 'Sex' shop with John Lydon and Sid Vicious, who gave Wobble his first taste of bass.
"I can still clearly remember the first time I picked up a bass," he recalls with a grin. "I borrowed this bass off Vicious when we lived in this squat. The first time I held it, I dunno – it just felt right. It felt like I could do something with it, make something with it. I never realised the power of creativity until that time. I tell you, it fucking blew me away! I would lose meself playing bass, then emerge like two hours later thinking I'd only been playing for five minutes. To me playing bass was relief of pain, it was like healing. It was good for me. The rest of the time, unless I could get drink of drugs, I'd be really anxious."
His natural attitude for dub-quake basslines led to Wobble joining PIL at the tender age of 18, where he played on the groundbreaking debut 'First Issue' (1978) and the dread disco of 'Metal Box' (1979), which showcased his talents to full effect.
Yet it was a short-lived love affair, soured by an acrimonious split due to "four different people doing four different drugs, which does not make for a healthy working relationship" and Wobble's increasing fascination with Arabic and African music.
"It wasn't called world music when I first heard it, it was called kebab house. People used to scream at me 'Get that fucking kebab house music off, what you listening to that shit for?' I was about 20 when I first heard Arabic music. I remember flicking through me radio and getting Radio Cairo on short-wave, and it just seemed so familiar. It sounded so committed, so righteous, so awesome, it was really something else. It transported me, not in any crappy hippie sort of way, but in the way the drums get your adrenalin flowing and pipes make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end – well fucking hard. There's nothing contemporary that induces that kind of feeling in me."
Wobble's two-album stint with PIL earned him a reputation which led to subsequent collaborations with Can's Holger Czukay and U2's The Edge. Yet despite his obvious talent, his creative collusions and vision of fusing Arabic rhythms with a dub reggae sound were put on hold as Wobble sank into self-destruction.
A self-confessed "reckless fucker", Wobble's reputation for hard drink and hard drugs became nearly as legendary as his bass playing ability, and as the bitterest PIL found life increasingly hard to swallow. He gave up music ("Well, music gave me up") and divided his time working on the London Underground and "propping up the nearest bar".
The mid-'80s were Wobble's wilderness years, and the fact that most people had given him up for lost were fuelled by rumours of increasing instability. Like the time Wobble supposedly took over the tannoy system at a tube station and, instead of relating train information to the masses, started ranting that he was Jah Wobble, he played bass guitar and used to be someone, someone with a purpose.
"Of course I've got regrets about that time of my life," shrugs Wobble. "But if I hadn't had those experiences I wouldn't be the person I am now. I'd quite like to go back and edit places where I said yes, and say no. There's many times when I wish that I hadn't had that extra double Scotch, but then in retrospect I needed every drink, every rejection. It kind of shaped me in a perverse way. I can sit here and tell you these things now because I'm not in pain and agony anymore."
Within two years boredom set in and Wobble put his life in order and got back into music again, his newly appointed bent to clean living meaning that he could plough all his energy into melodies rather than mayhem.
"I missed making music. I became driven by this overwhelming gut feeling, that 'Yeah, I can still make a go of this, I've spent years fucking about and never fulfilling my potential!' But I became obsessed with this idea in my head of a certain kind of sound that I never got together, so thought 'Sod it, I'll go for it again. If I don't do it I'm going to have more regrets, and if it doesn't work out then at least I've had a go!' Which is important."
In '87, when most people were shrieking 'Aciiied' and crossing the country in pursuit of the ever elusive party, Jah Wobble took music back to its roots and began to perfect the idea that is now Invaders Of The Heart. Undeterred by the musical climate, Wobble let his heart rule his head, nurtured his cosmopolitan influences, embraced a Catholic style and pursued his unique vision. Wobble believes totally in the power of music.
"Music should appeal to your base emotions, stimulate you. It should make you want to sleep, shit, cry, get angry. Actually there's too much music around that makes me mad. 'The Birdie Song' – that's a savage, violent piece of music, it's totally neurotic. It just conjured up these hideous images of 1001 office parties, all that groping behind the filing cabinets, I mean, what a soundtrack to getting knobbed."
Musically, Invaders Of The Hearts were always way out on a limb, they just bided their time until people came round to their way of thinking. Wobble's walloping bass groove, dominating rather than decorating exotic Eastern rhythms, redemptive healing chants and percussive walls of sound.
Unable to secure a deal ("I've basically had to start from scratch cos in my past I've burnt a lot of bridges and fucked a lot of people off"), the Invaders began to build their reputation as one of the most exciting and innovative bands on the live circuit.
Meanwhile Wobble worked continually on other projects, including contributing his unique bass sound to Sinéad O'Connor's last LP 'I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got' and co-writing and playing on Gary Clail's 'Beef'.
It was only a matter of time before people started to sit up and take notice, that and the rise of dance culture which turned the record industry upside down and created a climate in which the Invaders could stake their claim.
A chance meeting with longtime PIL lover and ace remixer Andy Weatherall led to the single 'Bomba' being released last year on hip dance label Boys Own and Wobble's subsequent involvement with Primal Scream – Weatherall's Dub Symphony Mix of 'Higher Than The Sun' revels in the glory of Wobble's thunderous bass.
"Out of all the soggy, stupid bands that are around at the moment, Primal Scream are the only ones that are saying anything to me. Bobby Gillespie and Andrew Innes, I mean, what a pair! I saw 'em rehearse once and they blew my mind."
The album 'Rising Above Bedlam' combines Latin grooves, Arabic rhythms and lyrics in foreign tongues, but it is not the kind of tedious world music championed by brown rice social workers. It's rammed with pop songs, laced with exotica and fluid dance beats that will find favour with club punters.
And whilst Wobble talks about the spirit and finding himself, he despises all the connotations attached to New Age for its self-conscious abstractions.
"All this New Age bollocks does my head in. My music ain't about imitating these funny little people who live thousands of miles away and introducing it as some trendy scene. It amazes me the people get off on this spiritual trip, turning to other cultures like it's going to save their life and make sense of it all. Spiritual is practical, it's here and now. I'm not a fucking monk in Tibet – I'm a neurotic bass player just trying to make sense of it all."
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