by Dom Gourlay Staff | Photos by Press

The Return of the Empire of the Senseless

Senseless Things are back after 22 years and a lot has changed, Gigwise catches up for a chat

 

Senseless Things interview Mark Keds Cass Brown Shepherds Bush Empire Photo: Press

Next month, the Senseless Things return to the live stage for the first time in 22 years with a show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire on Saturday 25th March. Having initially formed in 1986, the London based four-piece – Mark Keds (vocals & guitar), Ben Harding (guitar), Morgan Nicholls (bass) and Cass Browne (drums) – became prominent figures in the DIY punk and independent scenes of the time. Having attained a reputation as the most exciting live bands around – not to mention most prolific and hardworking – their shows became events and word of mouth spread like wildfire. Culminating in them eventually being picked up by a major (Sony) in 1991. Unfortunately, the onset of Britpop and label politics eventually saw the band call it a day after the release of fourth and final album ‘Taking Care Of Business’ in 1995.

With the comeback show just six weeks away, Keds and Browne spoke to Gigwise about the show, why they’ve reformed, new material and the other band they both currently play in, Deadcuts.

You’re playing at Shepherd’s Bush Empire on the 25th March. This will be first time all four members of the Senseless Things have shared a stage together in 22 years. Why now?

MK: For a start, all four of us were available at the same time. We wanted to get back together back in 2007 for the tribute gig for Wiz from Mega City Four, but Morgan (Nicholls, bass) was in China with Muse. Since Senseless Things split up all four of us have continued to play in bands and make music, so it’s difficult getting us all in one place at the same time. It’s taken 22 years to do that!
CB: Myself and Mark hadn’t really seen each other for seven years since we did the concert for Wiz. It was never meant to be a Senseless Things concert or reunion or anything like that. Mark was going to do a couple of songs. Then he asked me and Ben was around at the time. Morgan was away with Muse so we got someone else in to play bass but it wasn’t really a Senseless Things show. Afterwards, I didn’t see Mark for quite a while and then in 2015 The Replacements were playing at the Roundhouse. The last time they played was in 1991 at the Marquee and Senseless Things supported them. So I bought a couple of tickets and tracked him down. I’d heard some of the stuff he was doing with Deadcuts and really liked it. At the time I had no plans to get involved but then Mark asked me a couple of months later if I’d sit in for their drummer at a gig supporting The Libertines after their Reading headline slot. It was at the Dublin Castle. After that, Mark and me were playing together quite a lot and I ended up joining the band. We’d never fallen out. I still played with Morgan in Delakota, the band I formed after Senseless Things split. We played together in Urge Overkill, then Gorillaz. Myself and Mark had always kept in touch until shortly after the Wiz tribute, So we all started talking but all of us had different schedules hence the 22 year gap. It wasn’t as if none of us were speaking to each other. So when the opportunity came up where we could all get together and play those songs again, we all thought why not? It wasn’t a big dramatic reunion and still isn’t. How we left it was quite open anyway. We never announced we’d split up. We never announced any dramatic falling out. We were just playing in our own projects and when this came back together it was the same kind of thing.

Was it difficult to persuade anyone to do the show? Was everyone on board with the reunion from the start?

MK: We’ve left it a long time but we’d been talking about playing together again for years. We always wanted to do a retrospective record that we were proud of. Our last label did a particularly bad one. Now that me and Cass are playing together in Deadcuts it made things a bit easier. Everyone’s keen. Ever since that show for Wiz when me, Cass and Ben played four Senseless Things songs with Micky Wyle on bass because Morgan was away there’s been interest in a reunion. I know Morgan would really like to have been there that night for Wiz.
CB: I’ve done a lot of interviews about the early 90s music scene where we get asked about bands like The Wonder Stuff, Jesus Jones, Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine and EMF. They’re all great bands but that wasn’t really what we were listening to. Senseless Things came about through a shared love of The Ramones, Buzzcocks, The Replacements, Wire and Magazine. So I often find it difficult to talk about a scene we weren’t really a part of. We just happened to release a bunch of records in the same year as they did. Then I saw Senseless Things were on a rock compilation with bands like Winger and Ratt and lots of hair metal bands! I don’t understand who’s curating our back catalogue. I don’t understand how there’s been this misinterpretation of what we were doing. Our press agent was also Nirvana’s press agent so we’d been playing with Mudhoney, Sonic Youth, Tad and Fugazi. So I started listening to a lot of the old songs again and the final nail was a compilation Sony put together as a so-called ‘Best Of’. It was basically just the singles and a few other tracks that had no relevance or chronological understanding. We weren’t consulted at the time. We had no input on the artwork which was always a big part of what we were. I didn’t even know it was out. It felt really unloving towards the work we’d put in there and the quality of songs we’d written. I was really disappointed no one had spoken to us. So we want to do a compilation ourselves, mainly of songs that didn’t make that ‘Best Of’. B-sides I thought should have been on there and tracks that were recorded but never released at the time.

Why did you choose to play Shepherd’s Bush Empire for your comeback show?

MK: I really like the venue. I’ve seen a lot of great gigs there. We never played there back in the day. I always said if we played again it would have to be in West London because that’s where I grew up. Most of the venues we played in Hammersmith and Fulham are long gone, and Shepherd’s Bush Empire is local to that area so it makes sense to do the show there. CB: That’s pretty much how it happened. We’d never played the Empire and thought that would be fun. So we just went about organising the show how we’d always done things. It all came back without any real pre-empting from anyone else. We thought it would be great for Skinny Girl Diet and The Tuts to support us so got them on board. We could have asked bands that we played with back in the day but neither of us thought that would be relevant. Both those suggestions came from Mark. They’re really good, energetic, lively bands. MK: The Tuts have played with Deadcuts a couple of times now and Skinny Girl Diet should balance it out nicely with what we’re doing.

Will there be a tour and festival dates?

MK: No. I don’t think so. We really want this gig to be special. We’re going to record it. We’re more interested in the possibilities of recording together.
CB: There may very well be a show before the 25th March. Nothing’s been confirmed but we’re planning to do a warm-up show. I also play in a band called Penguin Café and we’ve got an album coming out in May. I think Morgan’s back with Muse then as well so there are no other plans beyond this. It’s a genuine one off at the moment. It will be nice to do this. It will be fun. MK: The warm-up will be a northern date.

Any clues as to where it might be?

MK: Well, it’s the city of culture this year. And it’s in a venue that we’ve played umpteen times. We had so much support in Scotland and the north of England. If it goes to plan the show will be on Sunday 19th March.

Have you been writing new material?

CB: Mark’s written some new material for Senseless Things so we’re planning to record some of that and see how it sounds. If it sounds good we’ll put it out and if it doesn’t we want.
MK: Hopefully there’s going to be a new single. I wrote a couple of new tracks that I thought were more in the vein of Senseless Things. We’ve rehearsed one of the two and it sounded good. With regards to the retrospective I was talking about earlier, rather than get into negotiations with Sony it will be much easier for us to just go into a studio and re-record the songs. We’ve got lots of ideas.

As for the setlist for the shows, will they be career spanning or will it focus on one particular era?

MK: I suggested to the band we should just do a complete Sony Records set but I was shot down in flames! There’s a couple of tracks we’ve been rehearsing off the last album that sound really really good. ’16,18,21’ and ‘Watching The Pictures Go’ in particular are sounding great. We did about 30 songs the other day which is by far the longest set we’ve ever played! By the time we play Shepherd’s Bush I’d like to think we’ll have 21-22 songs that we’re really confident playing.
CB: It’s been a long time since we’ve played those songs but now the dust’s settled, we’re all starting to agree collectively which ones we liked playing the most. A lot of stuff from the pre-Sony years that was just on the Peel sessions we’re up for playing. I agree that some of the later stuff we recorded for Sony is great too. Songs like ‘Page 3 Valentine’ and ‘Runaways’ for instance. There’ll be smatterings of each album but whenever we’ve written setlists they’ve never been in any kind of chronological order. It’s more about which song would best follow the last one.

Senseless Things influence can still be heard today, with Beach Slang having recently covered ‘Too Much Kissing’. Were you flattered when you heard their version?

CB: It is flattering. Deadcuts played with Beach Slang at Dingwalls and because me and Mark were obviously there and Ben was in the audience we played ‘Too Much Kissing’ that night.
MK: Beach Slang are big Psychedelic Furs fans from what I can tell, but it’s great that they’re covering our tune. They’ve speeded it up a lot from what our version sounds like, but it sounds good.
CB: It’s funny because after we played it I saw a recording of Beach Slang doing it during a soundcheck and it was about 30 miles per hour faster! The Deadcuts version was a lot slower and less frenetic so I guess if we’re going to play Senseless Things tracks again we have to speed it up a little.

Looking back through the Senseless Things back catalogue, which of your records are you most proud of?

MK: For the sound, I’d say I’m most proud of the two EPs we did on Decoy in 1990. We were working with Jon Langford from The Mekons and The Three Johns. Those two records have stood the test of time for me. A lot of our singles still sound quite fresh. I was never a big fan of our first album. It was a very different time back then and we were into different things. At the time we really nailed those songs live but I don’t think we fulfilled our potential with that LP.

Senseless Things achieved a lot of their success via word of mouth by playing hundreds of shows up and down the UK and releasing a succession of DIY singles and EPs before being picked up by a major. Do you think if you were just starting out now you’d be able to attain the same levels of success in the same way?

CB: It’s really difficult to predict. With Senseless Things there was never any kind of reason or route to market. There was never any kind of “If we do this, that will happen.” We played a lot of gigs because we went to a lot of gigs. We played a lot of gigs because all the bands we grew up on played a lot of gigs.
MK: I think it would probably be easier now. Because of the Internet and being able to send digital music files its changed the way people work. When Senseless Things were active first time round there were no mobile phones. I don’t remember getting one until the late 1990s. When we first started I remember writing a lot of letters to venues and promoters trying to get gigs. Then running down the road for an Electroset and making up posters, fliers and press releases. We opened a PO Box at our local sorting office as we used to receive over a hundred letters per week. Nowadays with the Internet and mobile communications it’s made everything a lot easier.
CB: I have people in bands now say to me how did you used to get people to your concerts back then? We’d go to other bands concerts and hand out fliers. Or go out at night with a bucket of flour and water and a broom and put up our own handmade, photocopied posters to announce the gig. And we used to write to NME and put our shows in their Giglist section. Our attitude at the time was this is where we feel comfortable. This is where we want to play. This is where our music is alive.

What was your proudest achievement with the Senseless Things?

CB: The moment we got invited to do our very first John Peel session has to be up there. I always thought that was the point where we became a real band. We were on the radar after that. Even today it has to rank as one of the biggest thrills if not greatest achievements of my life. Just to see our name on the cover of the old John Peel sessions vinyls. It felt like we’d become legit as a band. When we went over to Japan aged just 18 was an amazing experience. We were very young, and me and Mark both came from odd backgrounds. I moved away from home when I was 15. At the same time I was moving out Mark was moving into my home. So we had this thing. We had this band that made music and kept us happy, kept us moving creatively. Funnily enough, after a 20-year break of playing with Mark, when we finally started playing together again with Deadcuts we found ourselves back on the same page. I think releasing ‘Homophobic Asshole’ as a single is up there too. It’s a fantastic piece of music. We were really obsessed with Sonic Youth at the time and we wanted that to sound like a cross between them and the Sex Pistols. It was recorded at Wessex Studios where ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ was made as well.

Putting out a single like ‘Homophobic Asshole’ in 1992 and challenging stereotypes and behaviours was a bold move at the time. Who was that song originally written about?

CB: It was unheard of at the time for a band on a major label and I think we might have paid a stiff price for that. It’s a true story. It was written about when we were in America, and Mark was having a drink with a fan in a bar. They were talking about music then this gay hating shit came out of his mouth, and Mark was like, “Sorry mate, wrong page.” And that was the end of that.
MK: I’m proud of that one! I’ve got an interesting story about that actually. We were desperate to get out of our contract, so Rob Stringer, the managing director of Sony called me into a meeting. And he told me when we released ‘Homophobic Asshole’ as a single they went out of their way to ensure our career went nowhere. That song really was a thorn in their side. I don’t really get where they’re coming from about it? I just don’t get it. We did something a pop band signed to Sony wasn’t expected to do. He signed the Manic Street Preachers and I know they were pissed off that we wrote that song and released it. According to the late Steven Wells they thought they’d cornered the market for political songs. It wasn’t considered cool to be releasing songs that challenged stereotypes at the time.
CB: In the video we had John Peel, Sinead O’Connor, Billy Bragg, Boy George, Mark E Smith, The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprosy. It was Steven Wells who filmed that video. He got confirmation from Sonic Youth they were up for it but then because of schedules and timelines they couldn’t do it in the end.

The Tuts and Skinny Girl Diet are supporting you at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Are there any other new bands you’d recommend Gigwise and its readers should check out?

MK: I really like Desperate Journalist. CB: I spend a lot of time making compilations so I hear a lot of new music. I like The Wytches, Temples, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Tame Impala. That whole psych rock thing. It’s just hard and furious and out there. There’s loads of established artists I like too. The new PJ Harvey album is amazing. I think St Vincent is incredible. Both me and my daughter love Frank Ocean. I thought the Sky Ferreira album was mindblowing. It’s an incredible pop record. The hooks on it are great. I have absolutely no problem with pop and that album is perfect pop. We live an age now that’s very different to where we’ve come from. Nowadays if somebody mentions an artist you can have their entire career on your hard drive in literally ten seconds. There’s stuff I’m still discovering from years ago. Broadcast being one band I’ve only just found out about. Popol Vuh are another. I discovered them through a Werner Herzog soundcheck. There’s lots of amazing music coming out all the time, both old and new.

What advice would you give to new bands that are just starting out?

MK: Don’t just sit at home staring at a computer screen. Go out and play as many gigs as you can and enjoy yourselves as much as you can.
CB: This is the only thing I can really say, and it comes from years of playing in bands. But basically, when all the other shit falls away and the only thing I’m left with is music and those records I can look back at that with a sense of pride. My only intention was to make a record and if we got an opportunity to make another one that was something else. We always made the records that we wanted to make. So my advice is play the music that you want to and be happy with what you’ve done. Because when you put that record on and listen back and know you were a part of that, there is no better feeling in the world.

Finally, Deadcuts have an album out soon. Will there be a tour to promote the record?

CB: It’s finished and mixed and sounds amazing. We’re really happy with it.
MK: The album will be out on Record Store Day in April. We’re playing at Oslo in Hackney on 13th April. We’re playing Leicester and Nottingham around the release of the record and hopefully we’ll be doing some in-store shows as well. We’re hoping to get to Scotland as well. CB: We’re also collaborating with a bunch of hip hop artists – me, Mark and the other guys from Deadcuts – on a record that is for want of a better word, gothic. But in a literary sense.

 


Dom Gourlay

Staff

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