Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Brix Smith Start
In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: The Fall’s former guitarist and songwriter, frontwoman of the Extricated, and solo star Brix Smith Start
1In 1984, The Fall memorably performed ‘Lay of the Land’ on The Old Grey Whistle Test with ballet dancers and a pantomime cow. But what T-shirt did host Andy Kershaw wear to introduce the band?
“No idea! Could it be something like ‘I Heart Rochdale’? (Laughs)”
WRONG. He sported a Marc Riley and the Creepers shirt – the band of the former Fall member that frontman (and your husband at the time) Mark E. Smith dismissed in 1983.
“Oh yeah! I do remember! It was definitely to provoke Mark Smith for sure. I was so involved in the performance and making sure we had all the counts right for the dancers that I didn’t notice the presenter. You can’t blame anything else for killing my brain cells except pure laser-point focus on my work! (Laughs)”
2Which Sheffield musician covered The Fall’s ‘Big New Prinz’ this year as a tribute to dancer and choreographer Michael Clark?
“I know this but I’ve forgot!”
WRONG. It’s Jarvis Cocker. Aside from choreographing and dancing in the aforementioned Old Grey Whistle Test performance, Clark also collaborated on The Fall’s ballet I Am Curious, Orange.
“I was going to say Pulp! According to Mark Smith, Jarvis used to follow The Fall around and also dressed similar to him in the early days. I feel I’m failing by your criteria – but not mine! (Laughs)”
You’ve covered everybody from Donovan to David Bowie. Ever received any feedback on your versions?
“Donovan told me my cover of ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ was the best cover of that song ever, and he’s become like my rock ‘n’ roll godparent, and we’ve worked together since. I only ever met Bowie once – backstage at an arena with Mark Smith and [snooker player] Hurricane Higgins – and I was extremely star-struck!”
3An easy one: which grunge band were you a member of for 24 hours?
CORRECT. In 1994. After you left the Fall for the first time in 1989.
“That was one of the most action-packed, memory-stuffed 24 hours of my life. It was only six months after Kurt [Cobain] had died, so Courtney Love’s house still felt extremely charged and there was a lot of drama. Courtney’s bedroom went alight [while she was sleeping] and I had to put out the flames! (Laughs) I love Courtney and it was a super-intense whirlwind.”
You had to make the choice between joining Hole or re-joining The Fall….
“I’m unsure the choice was ever mine. Courtney announced in Melody Maker that I was in Hole, but I think all along she knew she was probably going to have Melissa [Auf der Maur] as bassist. But it was fun. In the back of my mind, I’d already chosen to return to the Fall because that was where everything began, and Mark begged me to come back and kick ass because it was all going wrong. I thought I was going to save the band, but it didn’t work out that way – I went back into a whole different world.”
Kurt was a fan of yours too…
“I met him only once on Nirvana’s first European tour when The Fall played the same venue in Berlin, but in different rooms. Marcia [Schofield, Fall keyboardist] said: ‘There’s this cute scruffy American band downstairs, they’re like little urchins. They’re so poor they don’t have anything to eat and look like they’re starving’. So we grabbed everything off our rider and fed them and they were super-grateful. Years later, when I wasn’t in the band, Kurt famously wouldn’t get off The Fall’s tour bus because he wanted to be in the band.”
4Name three pseudonyms your Fall bandmates adopted when playing in your indie-pop band The Adult Net?
“OK: producer John Leckie was ‘Swami Anand Nagara’ which means – extra points! – capable of bliss, because he’d just come out of the Rajneesh cult [immortalised in Netflix’s Wild Wild Country] that his entire family had been in, and that was the name he’d been given. He was still wearing the colours of the rising sun. Next: drummer Karl Burns was ‘Mask Aiechmann’. He and Mark were obsessed with Nazis and World War 2, so I’m assuming that’s some weird reference I don’t get. Bassist Simon Rogers was Ottersley Kipling because Simon loved Mr Kipling’s cookies and Mark was convinced – in his brain! – that Mr Kipling’s first name would be Ottersley! (Laughs) Mark was always flagellating Craig [Scanlon, guitarist] so I dread to think what his was!”
CORRECT. You only missed Silki Guth [Scanlon] and Mark E Smith’s cameos went under the guise of ‘Count Gunther Hoalingen’.
“Mark brought me over to the UK [in 1983 from her native USA], not to join the Fall, but for him to produce my solo stuff – which eventually became The Adult Net, produced by John Leckie. I had the Fall as my backing band and for The Adult Net’s second stint, I was backed by members of Blondie [drummer Clem Burke] and The Smiths [guitarist Craig Gannon, bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce]. It’s a super-underground cult band that happily people are rediscovering now.”
Talking of The Smiths, you never spoke to Morrissey again after a 1986 incident where your hotel caught ablaze and was evacuated and you asked Moz where Mark was – to which he coldly replied: ‘He’s probably upstairs burning up in the fire’…
“At the time, I was freaking out. It was not a nice thing to do when there’s a fire and you can’t find your loved one. He was probably making a dark joke, but it was cruel.”
5Which 1990 Sonic Youth EP title namechecks you?
“That’s ‘4 Tunna Brix’”
CORRECT. Sonic Youth’s EP of Fall covers.
“I first met [Sonic Youth frontman] Thurston Moore in New York City before I was even in The Fall. Eventually, Sonic Youth supported the Fall as our special guests at one of their first UK gigs and we were super-excited because there was a buzz around them. And they were humungous Fall fans, so that album and namecheck is flattering.”
6Which two characters do you portray in Mark E. Smith’s 1986 play Hey! Luciani: The Life and Codex of John Paul I?
“The Devil and also an Israeli commando hunting Nazi Martin Bormann, and I do a song ‘Haf Found Bormann’.”
CORRECT. No footage exists of the play, and it sounds bonkers…
“That brought me joy! Mark read a book [In God’s Name] about corruption in the Vatican, and was inspired to loosely base a play around it. But it had no plot. None! Nobody could follow it. It was just a weird abutment of different scenes out of Mark’s brain. I even remember one line: ‘The desert has addled his jungle mind and Mezcal screwed his nomad wits’. So that’s the mind of the man this was coming out of! He also did a weird thing where he shamed us for our religions. I have three-quarters Jewish blood in me and Marcia’s Jewish, so he made us dress as Israeli commandos looking for the Nazis. And [The Fall’s] Steve Hanley is Catholic, so he was The Pope. I’ve no idea why he made me the devil. I’m sure it was something super dark! (Laughs) In reality, I was defiantly an angel!”
7For The Fall’s ballet I Am Curious, Orange, you performed atop a giant rotating hamburger. What was the person spinning you dressed as?
“The person spinning me was [famed performance artist] Leigh Bowery, but he was spinning it so viciously fast, I couldn’t see clearly as I hung onto the plastic sesame seeds while trying to play my guitar! (Laughs) It was all a blur.”
WRONG. According to your autobiography, The Rise, The Fall, and The Rise, he was dressed as a tin of baked beans.
8In the late 1980s, the family of a kidnap victim allegedly phoned your record label requesting the lyrics to which Fall song, believing the track contained psychic clues their missing relative’s whereabouts?
“’Terry Waite Sez’”
CORRECT. Terry Waite was an envoy for the Archbishop of Canterbury held hostage in Lebanon from 1987 to 1991.
“I believe – and Mark did too – that artists are channellers: we’re psychic mediums that can tune into energy. When I wrote the music to ‘Terry Waite Sez’ I kept hearing the name ‘Terry Waite’. Mark wrote the lyrics, but I told him the title had to be ‘Terry Waite Sez’. At that point, Waite hadn’t been kidnapped – that happened a year after the song’s release.
“When something happens like that, the family will look for clues anywhere they can and historically police do use psychics to track people down when all other leads have failed, so it didn’t seem that strange to me.”
If you both believed in energy after death, has Mark ever made his presence felt to you since he’s passed away when you’re playing Fall songs with your band Brix & the Extricated?
“Yes – his presence has been felt by the whole of the Extricated. When we played a shithole in Hull that was on the corner of Crack and Hep C, there were huge pickle jars in the venue containing magazine pictures of different artists – one was Jarvis Cocker, another was Thom Yorke and the final one was Mark Smith, who had only died six months prior [in 2018], which made me upset so I had to move it. During the show when we played The Fall song ‘L.A.’, my guitar started making strange noises. And it was going up and down in volume as if Mark Smith was twiddling the knobs, which is historically what he had always done to us onstage.”
“It was his way of showing us he was there. He does that periodically. Lights will flash in the rehearsal room and we’ll go: ‘Hi Mark!’. He comes through me when I write too.”
9You’re releasing your 1997 “lost” album ‘Lost Angeles’ in December. What colours are the vehicles on its cover?
“There’s a truck that’s red and a car that’s… silver?”
CORRECT. ‘Lost Angeles’ is your collaboration with Marty Willson-Piper, which was written during your break from The Fall (1992-1994) and recorded in 1997 during your ill-faded second stint in the band, but was shelved until now…
“The album’s intense for me. Listening back, it’s the missing piece of the puzzle linking The Adult Net and The Fall and Extricated and what I’m doing on my forthcoming solo album. It was written after the destruction of my marriage to Mark and leaving The Fall [in 1989]. I’d lost everything – my marriage, house, record deal – and was living in a garage in LA and working as a waitress, so this writing was the most honest and vulnerable I’d been. Some of the songs I’d written for it ended up on the Fall albums ‘Celrbre Caustic’ and ‘Light User Syndrome’ because Mark needed more songs, but after I left the band for the second time – because Mark was in a devastatingly bad way and I needed to protect my own mental health – I finished the album that’s now called ‘Lost Angeles’, but couldn’t get a record deal. I needed to turn my back on music industry. I was chewed up, spat out and broken with severe depression. The album gathered dust until this year when my manager asked if I had any unreleased material, and we listened to it and it blew us away.”
10In The Fall’s ‘Hit the North’ video, which act is billed as playing on Blackpool’s Central Pier?
“The name in lights was somebody who was doing a residency at the time, but I don’t remember! I didn’t spent too much time outside in case there were nutters waiting for me! (Laughs)”
WRONG. It’s Linda Nolan of mood-for-dancing family The Nolans. Tell us about your forthcoming Youth-produced solo album…
“We started writing remotely during lockdown, and we’ve captured lightning in a bottle. The album’s personality is dystopian Californian. Historically, some of the best songs I’ve written have been about the LA in my mind. I’m fascinated by its glamorous untouchable fantasy layer and its dark underbelly. This is the dystopian desperation of the city with its seediness and glamour on top. To tour it next year, I’ve put together an all-new band which is all-women featuring, among others, Deb Googe and Jen Macro from My Bloody Valentine. I’m ready to go out and kick ass now!”
The verdict: 6/10
“That’s a good score!”
– Lost Angeles’ by Brix Smith and Marty Willson-Piper is out on 17 December. She plays a career-spanning show ‘An Intimate Evening With Brix Smith’ at St Pancras Old Church in London on 25 February 2022.