Imperial Wax. Solved. An interview with Pete Greenway.
Updated: May 26
Ahead of Imperial Wax's upcoming tour, which kicks off in The Sound House, Dublin on November 6, I caught up with guitarist Pete Greenway to discuss their super-powered rhythm section, band democracy and what fans can expect from their live shows.
I interrupted Pete's packing as he prepared to join the rest of the band, before they head off to Ireland for the start of Imperial Wax's 11 date tour of Ireland and the UK. Which, if he's anything like me, might explain his willingness to stay and chat, even over an occasionally temperamental phone line. Plus the fact that he is extremely engaging company.
"They went really well - we were pleasantly surprised by the whole thing" says Pete Greenway when I asked him about their recently completed dates in Europe. "We played Left of the Dial festival in Rotterdam ('mad busy city, like walking through a gig'); Nijmegen; took a massive journey to Berlin to play Kantine and then another huge journey back to Amsterdam to play London Calling festival which was a great way to finish it off."
So it sounds like they are in the groove and ready to blast audiences with their 'relentless transmissions of anger, frustration and other volatile states' as Mojo would have it.
"Yes we are up and running, we’re getting too good at our set, we fly through it very quickly.
It helps having such a great rhythm section as Dave (Spurr - bass) and Keiron (Melling - drums), that's our - well not secret weapon but main weapon"
"Yeah superpower! It's always great to play with them they can hammer out the songs and me and Sam (Curran - vox and guitar) just surf along on the top"
I wonder if that could potentially be a problem as well, in that they tend to go to a safe place musically?
"Not really no. When we played in The Fall, me Dave and Keiron used to rely on long riffs and repetition was the main thing. We've changed our style a bit and are actually constructing songs, so now we've got to learn to play the songs before we go out which was never a problem previously."
In a previous interview, Pete was asked how he survived 11 years in The Fall and he said he treated it just like a job. I asked how he feels in Imperial Wax - is it more of a gang now they are in a band together?
"We felt like we were in a band and all in it with each other towards the end of the Fall, we had that feeling and we definitely have it now we are on our own. Without something as powerful as Mark E Smith we feel a bit more vulnerable I suppose."
I venture this vulnerability might give them an edge and Pete agrees: "Yeah it makes you want to try as hard as you can really, everyone's fighting for the same thing, it's a good feeling at the moment."
The single Bromidic Thrills is a visceral experience and reminds me of new(ish) bands like Murder Capital or Idles. It's a strange dynamic as those bands would have been influenced by The Fall and they are now peers with a band who were The Fall.
I ask Pete how he feels about this. "It's what we wanted, it couldn't have been any better for us. What we didn't want was to go out as a greatest hits band, we got loads of offers to continue with guest vocalists believe it or not. It would have been career suicide. The idea was to come out as a complete new identity and to try something a bit different to what we had been doing. I can't imagine doing anything that was similar to The Fall. I know we have certain elements which have been retained but we weren't thinking along the same lines. When you write for the Fall you write with Mark E Smith in your head. I suppose it's liberating in someways because we didn't know what we were doing. We threw ideas at the wall to see what stuck and we managed to turn each idea into a song very quickly". Again Pete mentions what a great feeling that is - and I'm getting the feeling that Imperial Wax love what they do and how they work.
They write as a group and for their blistering debut album Gastwerk Saboteurs they had the luxury of going into a studio with no songs written and starting from scratch. Not something to faze these lads. When it came to recording the first Fall album he played on, Imperial Wax Solvent, Pete recounts how he was expecting to do guitar overdubs on an album which he thought had already been recorded. When he arrived in the studio it was just him and Dave Spurr and there was a whole album to write and record.
Not many bands would be able to afford to do that these days; although Pete admits that for the next album they will likely be more of a practice room band and get the songs into some shape before going to the studio.
In Paul Hanley's excellent recent book about how Hex Enduction Hour came to be, he describes how the songs were written (often at soundchecks), primarily so they always had new material to perform live. Then when they had enough songs they went into the studio and recorded them. This seems like the opposite of what most bands do and I ask Pete if they follow a similar route. "No not really, when we're on tour we don't have much time to do anything other than travel, play, eat and drink. The way we are carrying on with this band, we come up with basic ideas, we present those ideas to each other and see what happens. It's quite an organic method of working because everyone can put their viewpoints and influences into a track."
Unlike their previous taskmaster, Pete says he finds it unpleasant having to tell people what to do. "When you leave it up to the person to do what they want to do it generally sounds better."
When I say that it sounds like a democracy he agrees that it is. Mark E Smith said 'I've seen too many groups go down in the name of democracy' however Pete is adamant that The Fall was a little bit more democratic than people think. "We were left to our own devices when we were recording although MES definitely had the final word!"
The only time Pete is slightly guarded is when I ask about the name of the album. I wonder if Gastwerk Saboteurs is a nod to MES's penchant for mangled German titles such as Bremen Nacht, Dktr. Faustus or Early Days of Channel Führer. It turns out that it could relate to an incident in a German hotel. We'll leave that there.
However touring is something which he enjoys. "This is why we do it. Everything points towards the tour, everything else is something you need to do to get there. Playing live shows is the best bit of being in a band."
So what can we expect from the band on their tour of Ireland? They don't always have a setlist so maybe some surprises. "We're going to get funky and rock as hard as we can. And have as much as fun as the audience." And considering that the first gig they did after the death of MES was an improvisation with Can's Damo Suzuki who knows what might happen?
I have to register an interest here because I also manage one of the support bands at the Róisín Dubh gig on Friday Nov 8. Turnstiles are a local favourite in Galway and starting to stir interest nationally so I ask Pete if he has any advice for a band in that position. He laughs and starts by saying that it's bound to be a cliché and then follows up with something far from it, both heartwarming and heartfelt. "Please yourself and other people will follow. Don't try and second guess your audience because people aren't fools and they will know. Do it for yourself because if you like it someone else is going to like it."
Great advice, great band, lovely man. Go and see them - you won't regret it.