The House of Love
The House of Love
Melody Maker, summer 1988
by Simon Reynolds
The House Of Love's Guy Chadwick
Melody Maker, 19 October 1991
by Simon Reynolds
Did you, like me, forget all about Guy Chadwick? Did the "godlike glow" of ‘Christine’, ‘Destroy The Heart’, ‘Love In A Car’ — pop so brilliant it burned your eye — fade from your vision too? We can hardly be blamed. Somewhere along the way, The House Of Love, paralysed by expectation, developed a death wish. Somehow, all the magic was worried out of their music.
But suddenly, just as Chadwick seemed to be slipping irrevocably into the ‘forgotten men of pop’ category, here comes a new EP, brimming with songs like ‘The Girl With The Loneliest Eyes’ that bring back the primal rush, the glacier up the spine, that made us care in the first place. And here’s Guy Chadwick to talk about how he came through his ‘dark night of the soul’, and got back on the right track. "What happened, even before Terry left, was that I lost my belief in the group — and I don’t know why it all escalated. It just didn’t seem to be as important as when I started out."
This was rather unfortunate, considering the huge amount at stake — critically, and not least, financially.
"Musically, it just wasn’t happening. We’d stated everything on the first album. I would present a new song, and we kept making the same noises. And that inertia carried away through right to the end of 1990. I needed time to get away from the group, to write and listen. I’ve spent almost a year listening to music, rediscovering my passion for music. I was determined to have enough time to finish the work.
"But we were broke, and the only way to get more money was to start recording the next album — that’s the way contracts work. But we weren’t ready. I wanted more material to choose from, and for the group to be much better than it was. So we bought time by going on the Continent and playing a lot of lucrative shows. And we developed as a band. Then the money ran out again, a month ago, so we started work on the album. It’s the first time we’ve ever been in the position of having 30 or 40 songs. ‘The Girl With The Loneliest Eyes’ was the first song I completed last year that made me think I could still do it."
Was it the classic rock ’n’ roll crisis: the first album is a life’s anguish released in one cathartic, incandescent burst; the second album lacks inspiration because, instead of living, you’ve been gigging, ligging and doing business?
"Kind of... I was very aware of the way I was perceived. With the first album, I hadn’t got a clue what the songs were about, they were just words. And being interviewed and interpreted made me very aware of how angry that album was, how much frustration was in it. And I realised exactly where each song came from. It’s almost like a diary. The record documented a long period; some songs dated back a long time before The House Of Love.
"I hadn’t learnt the craft of songwriting. Through so much listening in the last year, I’ve tuned into so much music that I was never aware even existed. From Scott Walker to Public Enemy to Sonic Youth to The Beach Boys, I’d subsisted before on a staple diet of Velvet Underground, Stones, The Doors, The Beatles. I’ve always liked things on the radio. I’ve never kept a grip on what’s been happening. I’ve always been uninterested in what one is supposed to be aware of. I don’t know whether it’s ignorance or just a childish rebelliousness. At the end of last year, when I hadn’t got an ounce of confidence, my publisher started chucking records at me every time he saw me. He was a catalyst."
So you lost it — confidence, the knack — when people hailed you, and started expecting things from you. And then as soon as people started to write you off, you got it back? Paradoxical! Wasn’t the praise what you’d always dreamed of?
"It was and it wasn’t. All singers and writers want recognition, whether teen adulation or serious consideration. I think what happened was that my head exploded, I couldn’t cope with it. A year just went."
It must gall you, the way people have seized on the brilliance of Levitation as proof that Terry Bickers was the real genius in The House Of Love.
"I’m really glad that Terry’s got a group together and they’re doing well. I haven’t seen them and I’m not really interested in seeing them. I’m just glad that he’s not some mess in a squat somewhere. But I was just as on the verge of falling into that as he was at the time. I was gone. We’d spent a year drifting apart musically, and we’d never socialised. He got in the band by answering an advert, so it was never like we were friends. The only person I knew as a friend was Pete, the drummer. And it just became apparent that Terry didn’t want to be in the group and I didn’t want him to be in the group. And he’s gone on to form a group that completely justifies his decision to leave. And apparently he’s really happy, which is great, cos he was miserable as f*** while he was in the group."
By all accounts, the pair of you went over the edge with ye olde chemical indulgence.
"It’s a phase a lot of groups go through. Self-discovery through drugs. Money has a lot to do with it. In 1989 Ecstasy was really widely available and if you had the money, you could spent 200 quid a week on it. Seriously, it happens to a lot of groups. It just had to stop. I think drugs are brilliant, but it’s a boring subject cos it’s been so heavily talked about. I like the way Shane McGowan talks about it, in a really matter of fact way that doesn’t seem to glorify it. I think the whole drugs issue is so old hat now really. It’s been going on for years."
How did you recover your muse, after the debacle of the second album?
"I had no problem writing tunes, but a lot of trouble with words, so I decided to just write whatever streamed through my head and not worry about what it meant. And afterwards, sure enough, a picture emerged, all these subconscious thoughts. And it was really seriously angry. We’ve got a song called ‘Cruel’ and it’s just about sado-masochism. It wrote the lyrics completely randomly, and they had a great thread running through them. I was just feeling arrogant, and I really liked the song and I wanted to write a lyric that I considered to be dangerous. Something that would challenge people.
"I want to affect people, and recently my approach has been that I want to shock people. My approach on the first album was the same: it had to be ambiguous and it had to be potentially shocking.
"‘The Girl With The Loneliest Eyes’ began with this line I heard in a conversation I was having. I was with Alan McGhee and I was describing a girl we both knew, a groupie. The song is a really random take on the way I perceive groupies.
"And before you start fretting about that, I consider myself to be a groupie. All people that are drawn to bands are groupies. Whether they’re the managers or publicists or whatever. Some people just love being with groups. They love basking in the glory. This particular person is just like that. She’s quite a character."
Do you think that’s a dismal, inadequate way to live?"
"No. I tend to think, these days, that if people are happy it doesn’t matter what the f*** they do. Whatever the motives are, that’s just the way they are. A lot of the second album is about the rock ‘n’ roll life, about the way I felt. And it’s so confused. ‘Hannah’ is this pathetic statement about how I wasn’t into being a star. Then it segues into ‘Shine On’, an MTV-friendly recording of the catchiest track on the LP. It’s quite maudlin really."
Chadwick has talked before about this "fear of being an icon". In retrospect, that whole idea of Chadwick as some sort of seer, of The House Of Love as successors to The Smiths, was a bit of a red herring. A calamitous misconception (mea culpa). He’s not a Morrissey-esque statesman articulating the zeitgeist, nor is he a fruity exhibitionist in the Ian McCulloch godstar tradition. The House Of Love are a much more private, introverted experience.
"I think the big problem, and it probably resulted in the split, was that the whole idea of the Morrissey/Marr comparison was misconceived. I wrote the songs and arranged all the music. Terry was basically this machine I got to play my guitar parts. It really irritated me because I wasn’t being recognized as a musician. And that’s how I see myself. I’m not a guitar hero. Terry was very aware of it, and he really got into the way he was perceived as this guitar god. And when it came to recording the second album, I just squeezed him out of the studio. Just because I felt he was trying to impinge on my territory. It was very self-destructive. But it goes on.
"For instance, I’m glad you like the new record, but in your single review you refer to ‘Bickers-style torrents’ of guitar. And other people have referred to how there was a songwriting partnership between me and Terry. And it never existed. Look at that label, every single song is written by me."
For a while, The House Of Love were touted as the inheritors of The Smiths’ mantle — the new white guitar saviours. But that didn’t last too long. The Stone Roses took the pressure off you, by stealing the initiative. Then they in turn got crucified by the pressure to articulate the Manchester vibe. They lost it.
"They still are the ones, as far as I’m concerned. I went to see them at the Powerhaus in late ’89, with only 300 people in the audience, and it was incredible. Like U2 meets The Monkees or something. They had it and you could see they knew it. I actually followed them round for a couple of months. I was obsessed. I was off my head one night at Heaven, and I went over and sat on Ian Brown’s lap. I told him, ‘My God, you’re just amazing’. The problem with them, I reckon, is that the music they made was so easy. It created a genre overnight, you got all these groups like The Charlatans and Blur. And it’s so generic. You know it can’t go anywhere, it’s so stifled in its conception. And I think The Stone Roses must be really pissed off."
After ‘Fools’ Gold’, the Roses were expected to come up with the goods, articulate the moment, and all they delivered was ‘One Love’, that limp, garbled pseudo-manifesto.
"I think the thing with The Stone Roses is that they’ve never done what anyone had expected them to do. And right now they’re doing exactly what people don’t want them to do."
What, destroying themselves? Failing ignominiously?
"Well, I don’t think they have. They’re still the most important group to emerge in the Nineties. The talent in the group is so obvious, as musicians and songwriters. And they don’t have the constraints that Happy Mondays have in terms of progression. You can see the possibilities in Stone Roses, in the same way that you can see the possibilities in Ride."
Ride?! For me, they’re the epitome of the pale and uninteresting...
"I see Ride blossoming into their own. They just get better and better. I see Ride as a modern blues band. Home Counties blues!"
What's great about The House Of Love’s new songs is that the music has a flow to it. The second album felt like it had been worked on too much, perhaps to compensate for the lack of an initial spark.
"The thing that I needed was a really good group. And it started to gel only recently. We’ve now got the capacity, which I need for my writing, to go from the gentlest kind of thing to sounding like Sonic Youth or even Glenn Branca."
That side of The House Of Love comes through on the EP’s ‘Purple Killer Rose’, a fulminating downpour of guitar approaching the first album’s torrential ‘Touch’. Guy sounds very fraught indeed. At the opposite extreme, there’s ‘Tea In the Sun’, Guy’s fragile, bereft vocal cocooned in a cascading myriad of acoustic guitars. Then there’s the cover of The Chills’ classic ‘Pink Frost’. A daunting song to trespass upon, surely, since it’s about watching a friend die?
"I love that record, and the rest of that Kaleidoscope World album — it’s like early Cure, very simple. It was Chris’ (bass) idea to do it. He’s a New Zealander. I was very much aware that we could do it justice or fail terribly. I approached it from the point of view that it was a kind of folk song. We could have The House Of Love-d it up. But we just loved the way it was. Chris tried to get me to sing it with an Antipodean accent. There was an element of me mimicking the original vocal. I thought the ‘pink frost’ image referred to dead flesh. Either that or it’s a New Zealand drink! It was a really difficult song to cover, cos musically it’s really primitive, there’s no logic to the form of it."
So Guy Chadwick’s relaxed again, he’s eased out of the creative constipation. But he’s still under enormous pressure. Phonogram want big, big sales. Chadwick claims he’s glad of their bluntness.
"They want us to be superstars. When we signed, we took them for a lot of money. And you can’t just turn around, three years later, and say, ‘We’ve decided we’re a cult band after all’. I like a lot of extremely popular groups. And I guess I’d hope to be their musical peers." Like who?
"R.E.M. To me, they’re the epitome of everything good. That last LP is one of the best I’ve heard for years. ‘Losing My Religion’ — it’s classic bedsit, pimpledom stuff, yet it was a huge hit. A group I love and who I think are extremely neglected critically are Depeche Mode. Have you every listened to Violator? Every single song is a classic, and the lyrics are so devious. It borders on genius. The sampling is outrageous. ‘Personal Jesus’ is based on a John Lee Hooker song which they’ve Kraftwerkized. For me, that’s one of the most important records I’ve discovered in the last two years. And I saw them at Wembley and they just blew me away. They’re so arrogant. Martin Gore in his tutu cranking out the riff to ‘Personal Jesus’!"
Guy says he’s really disappointed with the way the English music scene has developed since 1989. "There’s so much laziness." Does it piss him off that people have criticized him for ‘failing to transcend his influences’, when there are droves of groups (the most fatuously feted examples being Blur and Chapterhouse) who are so far from transcending their influences, it’s a case of them being welded to, and assembled out of, their record collections? Limited, unimaginative record collections, to boot?
"It does. Or rather, it used to. I’ve stopped paying attention to the press now. It’s nice at first, but it does your head in eventually."
In summation, then, it seems like it was only when we started ignoring him that Guy Chadwick got back in touch with his muse. Presumably, now that he’s back in critical favour, he’ll be f***ed up for the next two years! Strange man.