Monday, April 1, 2019

Dear Robert Smith – spare a thought for us poor interviewers | Penny Anderson | The Guardian

My how we laughed at Robert Smith’s reaction when the Cure were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Deadpan, he responds to giddy, over-eager interviewer Carrie Keagan, who, bubbling with gleeful enthusiasm, asks him: “Are you are as excited as I am?” Glumly he replies: “By the sounds of it, no.”

When I wrote about music, my life was frequently complicated by interviewees who could or would not cooperate. The interview process is seldom sparkling, but we do what we can with occasionally fatigued, overwhelmed, intoxicated, arrogant, tedious musicians (some are lovely admittedly). A friend attempted to liven up his days on the interview circuit treadmill by posing questions cut from random magazines (including gardening publications) to the initial bewilderment then eventual amusement of his subjects. I still have fond memories of interviewing Edsel Auctioneer for the NME, a Leeds band with the nous to tell benign lies in order to enliven the process (who offered a welcome, slightly ribald fib about song lyrics and a jacuzzi).

Bands might imagine that all journalists are super-keen devotees, paid to spend weeks extensively researching the object of their adoration, when my reality was a features editor noticing a space to fill, their eyes alighting on the nearest likely writer. This explains why, as a huge Triffids fan, I was tasked by a post-lunch, well-refreshed features editor with chatting to the McComb brother who had not contributed to the Johnny Cash tribute album we were reviewing (he was generous and tolerant but couldn’t throw me a lifeline, the interview was abandoned).

I once interviewed a brand new Manchester band, whose guitarist wept explaining he’d never been asked questions by anyone before. However, Rick Astley at the height of his fame appeared tired, bored and therefore quite dull, reasonable it must be said when he is just some bloke who can sing after all. And not all interviews could be as thrilling as my phone call with Wendy James of Transvision Vamp, who after the first hello suddenly began to scream loudly accompanied by the sound of fire extinguishers down the line, having dropped a match and apparently set fire to her clothes. Or Linda Womack, who (probably jet-lagged) repeatedly hung up.

Interviews can be a chore for all concerned, it is true. Jason Lytle from Grandaddy asked tetchily if my tape recorder was working, having been subjected to an hour of tech failure before my chat with him (he was lovely after that). Back in the day I interviewed Peel favourites Stump (I was assigned all the greats) who admitted to a whole day being asked virtually the same questions by battalions of neophyte fanzine writers for days on end. A musician friend regulaly tweets during mammoth pre-tour interview fests: “How’s the tour going?” since he might be asked that same question every 20 minutes for several days.

Tracey Thorn’s reaction to that Robert Smith moment on Twitter was insightful, noting that a woman behaving in a similarly arsey fashion would probably be instantly derided as a morose diva. Would Smith prefer interviewers to be casually dismissive or nonchalant? He’s lucky to be honoured. In future, perhaps try to be nice about it.

Penny Anderson is a writer and artist


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