Mike Edwards (seen here at the front), lead singer with Jesus Jones, chats with Kevin Cooper about his love of touring, his thoughts on the music industry, the release of their latest EP Suck It Up and their forthcoming tour of the UK
Jesus Jones are a British alternative rock band who was formed in late 1988 and who have Mike Edwards as its lead singer. Their track Right Here, Right Now was an international hit which was subsequently globally licensed for promotional and advertising campaigns. They also achieved chart success with the songs Real Real Real, International Bright Young Thing and Info Freako.
Incorporating elements of electronic music styles such as house and techno to an indie rock format, along with fellow British groups such as The Shamen, Pop Will Eat Itself and EMF, Jesus Jones were one of the leading purveyors of the early 1990s alternative dance scene.
Whilst busy preparing for their forthcoming tour, Mike Edwards took time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Mike how are you today?
I’m good thanks Kevin how are you?
I’m fine thank you and before we move on let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
It’s my pleasure.
And just how is life treating you today?
Life is treating me very well actually. Things at the moment are really good. I am just getting over having a cold but other than that things are really great. Thinking about it the route that I should have gone down really was having two days in bed. That is the solution to most things really (laughter).
If you do decided to go down that route then make sure that you take plenty of DVD’s with you because you don’t want to find yourself watching Jeremy Kyle (laughter).
(Hysterical laughter) absolutely, that is so true.
I have to tell you that I first saw Jesus Jones on 13th July 1991 at Wembley Stadium when you were supporting Inxs on their Summer XS gig. How was that for you playing in front of seventy two thousand people?
It was a fantastic day. I remember Deborah Harry being on the bill too.
I remember that The Hothouse Flowers were on the bill too. They had just appeared in an episode of Lovejoy and as a payback they let Dudley Sutton who played Tinker come out onto the stage and play the harmonica with them.
(Hysterical laughter) good grief Kevin that is impressive trivia, very good.
You formed Jesus Jones back in 1988. Looking back would you say that you have achieved all that you set out to achieve?
Yes absolutely (laughter). Looking back we did once manage to become a successful rock band, tour the world and do all of those incredible rock band things that we had always read about and dreamed about. Jesus Jones did all of that in no uncertain terms. Back in 1991, just three years after we had formed the band we spent nine months of the year doing just that. We had hit records all over the world, together with all of the trappings of fame and success. That was the first goal but also I always thought that it would be pretty cool if I could make a living out of music and considering that is still going on I would say that yes, phase one went really well and now phase two is working out.
When I knew that I was going to be speaking to you I have actually been playing Liquidizer which you released in 1989 and I have to say that I think that it still sounds as fresh today.
(Laughter) I am sure that I would disagree with that simply because I really do criticise my own stuff fairly harshly. However, in all honesty, at the time, all through those early years, I was saying in interviews that it was pop music and that it was temporal. It was simple and I always said that its time would pass; it would sound dated and it would sound old. In a way that was why we were doing it. We wanted to be passing a musical comment on those times. So I am quite chuffed that you think that the album has aged okay but as far as I was concerned it probably had a lifespan of about two years, so once again, we are doing pretty well (laughter).
You are going to be playing six dates here in the UK in November. Are you looking forward to being back out on the road?
Yes, I absolutely love being out on the road. Jesus Jones have never been one of those bands that complains about touring. We have always enjoyed playing live to be honest and this may sound a little big-headed but I think that we have always been a really good live band. I believe that we still are and we really do still enjoy getting out there and actually doing it. I personally enjoy all of the time that is connected with touring. It is the time when I get to think about music the most and it provides me with the opportunity to do that simply because there is not much else that you can do (laughter). I have to focus on something and music is the obvious thing for me to focus on. I love it in all ways.
It is so good to hear that you haven’t reached the point where you think ‘oh god, not again’ (laughter).
(Laughter) no, not at all. It always used to amaze me when I read about bands saying just how hard touring was. Come on, you have got to be joking. Touring is simply one of the most interesting things that you can do. It is absolutely fabulous.
I would have thought that actually being out there performing live was the pinnacle of your career.
Yes, I would personally agree with you but for a lot of bands out there it is not the touring, it is the creativity side of things; creating a new song, creating a recording that is as good as you can get it. I share that as obviously I am still doing that. I like creating music and I like having that creative process. But there is also a whole different world, a whole other dimension to it once you start playing that song live. For me they are two sides of the coin.
The tour arrives here in Nottingham at The Rescue Rooms on Tuesday 15th November. What can we expect?
(Laughter) a really great kick arse live band I would expect (laughter). That would be the first thing but also with regards to what you should expect, I will tell you a story to try to demonstrate that. I recently moved house and I now live up on Dartmoor. I went into the village pub and I got chatting to a guy about what it is that I do. A couple of nights later I went back to the pub and the same guy who must have been in his forties said to me “do you know that I am a bit of an ignoramus about music but after we had talked the other day I went home and looked up some of your music and I am amazed because although I was sure that I had never heard of you I knew so many of your songs”.
I think that what you find is if you come and see Jesus Jones playing live, you will suddenly realise that you know lots of the songs and that you may admit that there are some really good tunes being played.
You have played Nottingham many times now. What do you think to our fair city?
Yes, you are right, we have played in Nottingham many times now. Nottingham is one of those places where we do the usual thing where we are in one afternoon and out the following morning. So in all honesty we have never really had the opportunity to spend much time there. However, from what I have seen it has a real vibe to it. You have lots of students there which always gives anywhere a young and exciting feel. I have always enjoyed being up there and it is not like one of those places, whose names I am not going to mention, where I am always very keen to get out of (laughter). I have had lots of very good experiences whenever we have played in Nottingham and I am very much hoping to do so again.
In June 2016 you released the EP How’s This Even Going Down which was your first new material in fifteen years. I have to ask you why that moment in time?
(Hysterical laughter) what can I say, it was finally ready (laughter). More than anything else we had slowly been rebuilding momentum over the years. If I am honest with you we had previously lost our enthusiasm for doing stuff and just did bits and pieces every so often. Our manager had retired, our record company had gone, and all this kind of stuff and so there wasn’t really anybody there to push us. So we do a lot more in-house now because we genuinely feel that there is much more of a DIY ethic in music these days. Making music now is so much easier at home that it used to be. Also I personally like the idea of marketing a new product via social media. You can now do all of the things that the record company did, but obviously not as well in some cases, but you can do a lot of it yourself.
As social media has grown and we have found that we can do these things ourselves then it has given us a head of steam. And now, if I am honest I feel that we are riding the crest of a wave with our stuff because we have another EP coming out in time for the tour so for us to release two EP’s in five months is simply amazing (laughter). So I think that it is a good time to be doing things on a do it yourself basis. It also comes at a time when we are all really happy to play music together, to talk to one another and to do all that kind of stuff.
Were you happy with how well the EP was received?
The only way I know just how well it was received is just how it goes down when we play it live. I tend not to look at or read reviews any more but I am very pleased with how it has gone down for us, who are now considered to be a legacy band (laughter). Because people refer to us as being a legacy band it is always very risky for us to play any new songs. Having said that, there are legacy bands that I like and if they come on stage and play a couple of songs from their new album even I will think ‘okay it’s time to go to the bar’ (laughter). I don’t want to test peoples patience so I am extremely pleased when the new songs have gone down as well as they have when we have played them over the summer, because they seem to fit into the set list really well.
I totally accept what you are saying about the DIY side to the music industry but I have been collecting vinyl now for many years and it saddens me that the whole musical industry has now become a disposable commodity.
I have to say that I agree with you and that I do feel exactly the same as you feel. I feel very strongly about the fact that music is now so widely available to so many people and yet in terms of compensation for the artists then it is probably worse than it was back in the 1950’s. I was talking about the royalty rates the other day and Jesus Jones had six months of YouTube downloads and the payment honestly would not have bought you a cup of coffee. That sums up the money that we make from that. I’m not complaining about our luck, but the reason why I have bought it up is that new bands basically cannot make a living from music now. You just can’t do it anymore.
We were very lucky in that we caught the last few years of that. So if you can’t make a living from it then you can’t dedicate yourself to it fully. The amount of good quality music out there will reduce because people can’t really spend time investigating their creativity. Take David Bowie for example, he was sponsored by a record company just to be an artist. Therefore he had the freedom to investigate his own creativity, he could take time over things. He was paid to do that. In particular the 1980’s were when the artists milked it massively (laughter). It was at that time that artist’s royalties were better than they had ever been before. I just think that there is so much music out there that is available freely that no major sponsor is ever going to want to sponsor a band anymore.
Whenever I ask artist what they think has bought about the downfall of the music industry they all give me the same answer. They all say streaming.
Yes, I would agree with that but in a way the artists royalties are despicable. But for me, someone who is making music, I quite like the idea of not having to make an album of twelve songs by a certain given date. I think that it is far more creative just to make some music, pick out the better songs and get them out there. However, I feel that our thinking has been shaped by the space available to us on a vinyl album (laughter). Vinyl albums dictated that you could only get so many minutes of music on there and that dictated the way that you thought about music. So from the creativity standpoint I feel that it is much better to come up with a good song and get it out there. I really do quite like that idea and I also like the idea that people put out EP’s regularly. That is pretty good but I would like to see people getting paid for it too.
The whole music business is baffling me at the moment. I was speaking to Grant Nicholas (Feeder) and he informs me that they are putting their latest album out on cassette. What is that all about (laughter).
(Hysterical laughter) I don’t know. Is it going to be one of the Edison Cylinder Phonographs (laughter). That would be pretty neat, I think that we should do that.
I tried to make a joke of it and asked Grant if it came with a free pencil.
(Laughter) maybe Grant is not old enough to remember cassettes the first time around.
That is quite a frightening thought (laughter).
I have to say that listening to your pencil quote I know exactly where you are coming from there. I am now probably going to offend you with your love of vinyl but I think that your witticism actually displays the problem with those older media, they were shit (laughter). I personally thought that CD’s were pretty good and I love MP3’s. I love the fact that you can have all of this music with you everywhere. You can carry with you a massive collection stored on a hard drive. My daughter got into vinyl a couple of years back and personally I am glad that the year of the vinyl is over. All of that snap, crackle, and pop. Sure enough she bought an album, put it on the deck and within four bars it had skipped. I simply looked at her and said “welcome to vinyl” (laughter). It was just as I remember vinyl, a truly horrible media, in my view.
Well I think that I was the only person in the UK who bought a mini disc recorder and that lasted for a whole two weeks (laughter).
You and me both (laughter). I only had one for the second of those two weeks but I really liked those. Whilst I can see why they never took off like the CD did, I really did think that they were good. But going back to your comment, I have to say that cassettes were absolutely diabolical, bloody awful things (laughter).
I take it from the tone of your voice that you still enjoy writing for Jesus Jones?
Absolutely, yes, most definitely. Jesus Jones has always been my vehicle and that is how I have expressed myself. I have absolutely no problem writing for Jesus Jones. The other thing as well is that the other members have all become quite flexible about writing stuff. The rest of the guys have told me not to worry about, for example, writing a drum part for a new song. They are now all happy to just let the new songs come first and we can work out the rest at a later date. They are all just happy if I can make the songs work creatively and I don’t have to worry trying to make it work for a five piece band anymore.
The five of you have lasted longer than most marriages. What’s the secret behind that?
(Hysterical laughter) that is most probably because we never got married (laughter). I think that we were a well matched bunch to begin with. We went through some pretty tough times, in fact the rest of the band were very good at looking after me.
Will we be seeing a new Jesus Jones studio album any time in the near future?
Yes, I think so yes. We have already released one EP earlier this year with another one about to be released plus we have another six songs in the pipeline, so undoubtedly there will a collection of songs wrapped in that thing that we used to call an album.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
I think that it would probably be standing on stage in a television studio in Argentina and we had to mime to one of our songs. For a start we are in Argentina which is pretty good. We started playing the song and we had no stage directions so none of us knew what was going on, we were just standing there playing our song. There we were blasting away when suddenly I became aware of movement behind me. I turned around and suddenly this bunch of women in bikinis walked onto the stage being followed by dwarfs dressed up as dinosaurs (laughter). This is already pretty good going but as I try to continue miming to the song I noticed that our guitarist Jerry (De Borg) was having an altercation with one of the dinosaur dwarfs.
So the next time that I look around Jerry is rolling on the floor wrestling with a dwarf in a dinosaur suit whilst topless women are dancing behind him. Topless women and dinosaur dwarfs, you can really beat that can you (laughter).
At what point in your career did you feel the most musically satisfied?
That would have been with the third album Perverse. It was written in 1991 and 1992 whilst we were touring. It was recorded in 1992 and came out in 1993. For me that was the album that I had been leading up to. That was the album that I have always thought was really good. That album was the pinnacle of the rock meets digital era. I really do think that in a lot of ways it was way ahead of its time. There were no live instruments on it, it was all programmed stuff and yet it still sounded like a full on rock record. Also, I think that it had some really good songs on it and it crystallised what Jesus Jones had always been about. So that was the pinnacle for me.
Are there any ambitions left for you to achieve?
Yes, I would like to keep on making music, I would like to keep on touring and I would like to keep this lifestyle going. I would love to keep playing these songs. I would also like to keep writing some more songs that move me as much as the old ones do.
On the subject of being moved, what was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?
Wow, what a question, made me cry, right here goes. Our keyboard player Iain (Baker) had a dream and in this dream he released a single which was guaranteed to be a world-wide hit. So in his dream he had written this song and this song that was a massive world-wide hit was called I Live Next Door To My Own Arse (laughter). So Iain puts this all over Facebook and someone wrote out a poem of this dream. Iain then puts the poem to music and narrates the poem I Live Next Door To My Own Arse over the top of the music. And I have to say that I cried over that. It was very moving I have to say (laughter).
What was the first record that you bought?
That would have been Hell Raiser by The Sweet.
Who did you first see playing live in concert?
I can’t be sure because it was such a long time ago now but it would have been either Status Quo or Whitesnake.
Who has musically inspired you?
Whenever I think about it, it changes every day. I think in a way not so much musically but in terms of outlook I would have to say that the outlook of The Beatles was one of the most influential things because I would often look back and think here is a band that have had a lot of success writing pop hits but then they started going way out on a limb with the likes of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They made it safe for you to be avant-garde and write killer pop tunes. That to me was the manifesto, which was the manual. That was the way that things should be done. I thought that was the approach that you should take the same as with Bowie and Prince.
Are you still racing cycles?
Yes I am. To be honest I haven’t done any in about a year because I have moved down to Devon and races are hard to come by here. But yes, absolutely, races are still a major part of my life.
On that note Mike let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been a pleasure and I hope to see you here in Nottingham.