Gang of Four's Andy Gill Talks Gear, New EP, 'Complicit,' Songwriting
Formed in Leeds, England in 1977, Gang Of Four are generally considered to be one of the founders of the original post-punk movement. Their debut album, 1979’s Entertainment!, is still considered a landmark, having influenced members of R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, INXS and Rage Against The Machine. The quartet’s follow-up efforts—1981’s Solid Gold and 1982’s Songs Of The Free—are also held in high regard, standing with Entertainment! as pillars of the post-punk genre.
Gang Of Four have gone on a few hiatuses over the last 40-something years, but band activity has been steady since their regrouping in 2004. Guitarist Andy Gill is the only member to have been part of every Gang of Four lineup, also serving as the band’s primary composer, producer and lyricist. Bassist Thomas McNeice joined the group in 2008, lead vocalist John “Gaoler” Sterry replaced original vocalist Jon King in 2012 and drummer Tobias Humble filled Jonny Finnegan’s spot in 2016.
The latest release from Gang Of Four is their new EP, Complicit, which is set for an April 13 release. Read on to see our discussion with Gill about Complicit, gear and his songwriting process.
How long did you spend writing Complicit? Was the plan to make an EP, or was there always a full-length planned?
I’ve got about seven songs completed or very close to completed and mixed. Four of them were co-produced with Ben Hillier, including “Lucky,” and another two with Patrick Mascali and Mark Taylor. Currently I am in Sheffield in the north—just down the road from Leeds— working on a song or two with the producer Ross Orton.
In the past I’ve tended to produce a lot of Gang Of Four material myself. I suppose the thinking being that I’m a good producer who works with a lot of different people. But the problem with that is you just get too close to the work, there’s not enough bouncing off other people. I’m really enjoying working with people who are maybe pushing me a little out of the comfort zone.
What was the first song written for Complicit?
“Lucky” was the first song that actually got fully completed, but I’ve got a large stash of songs in various stages of development of which I picked out some randomly to work on. I’m getting up before seven these days and I like to get some lyrics written earlier on. I also like writing words traveling on the tube in London; for some reason I get a few lines down between stops. So during this next week I’ll pick which four songs actually go on the EP, Complicit.
There is an “Andy Gill tone” that people know to expect when you’re playing on Gang Of Four recordings. How long do you usually spend working on tone?
I don’t really spend time thinking about the guitar tone. I tend to just plug it in and play with a few tremolo effects, tweak a few things and then off we go.
Did you use the same guitar on all of Complicit‘s songs?
The guitars that are used most are the semiacoustic Gibson 335, a Fender Thinline and a guitar I got from the wonderful Reverend Guitar workshop. Occasionally I’ll use a Magneto. It will work or not. If not, start again.
Do you ever write on an acoustic? Is all of your writing done on guitar, or sometimes do you do writing via bass?
I don’t often start with an acoustic, but I often start with an unplugged-in electric just to get my head round where the thing might go. And actually, songs start from various directions. Sometimes the lyrical idea is there first, sometimes it’s a drumbeat and sometimes it’s a drumbeat and I mess around with bass sounds on it, both four-string and electronic keyboard.
What was your last guitar-related purchase?
I’ll be honest with you, a load of picks and a few guitar straps. I go for a 0.60 mm or maybe a 0.73 if I’m feeling aggressive. There’s a cool pale grey canvas strap I like to have a few of. It’s very similar to one I still have from the Seventies, which I sprayed gold and stuck glitter on. I also buy cheap guitars to throw around for when we play “Anthrax.”
When comes to shopping for guitars and related products, where do you usually go for them?
When I spent a lot of time in L.A. in the late Eighties, I used to search through The Recycler every week—which was all secondhand stuff—looking for a 335. I guess you would look on eBay these days. I found one in the end. I took Jack Sherman with me from the Chili Peppers for his opinion on it. He thought it was great, and it is. From the serial number, it was made in July 1979, just after Gang Of Four’s first gig. I got the main Strat I use from the Fender factory in California, and the Reverend from their factory.
Any projects coming up for you beyond Gang Of Four? Do you have plans to produce any other artists’ albums in the near-future?
Gang Of Four is quite all-consuming, either when playing live or writing or recording, and I have to say I get quite a kick out of it. Although occasionally things come along when people ask me to mix something for them or something like that, which if I like it I will occasionally do. A few months ago my friend Dado from the amazing Brazilian band Legião Urbana wanted me to do guitar on a song of his, so I spent some time giving him all kinds of options. It was a very Brazilian-sounding thing, so quite different for me.
Finally, Andy, any last words for the kids?
Okay, I’m sorry, but it wasn’t entirely my fault.