This week Will Sergeant of Liverpool postpunk band Echo & the Bunnymen chats with moody-minimalist Chicago husband-and-wife duo My Gold Mask, aka Jack Armondo and Gretta Rochelle, about the parallels between Sabbath and Joy Division and their mutual love of Lynchian simplicity. Echo & the Bunnymen play the Vic on May 17. My Gold Mask play Ribfest Chicago on June 10 and Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park (opening for Blonde Redhead) on July
My Gold Mask: As a guitar player, it's interesting to watch the evolution of your playing. Is it true you were influenced early on more by minimal music?
Will Sergeant: Every song's different. It kind of creates itself, starts its own story. It's a funny little process. I think the best thing to do is not think about it too much and let it flow. With the minimalist thing, I always find, what's the point in filling up every possible hole? Space is quite good in a song. You can get what you're doing with a couple of notes, rather than loads. For much of the world, Black Sabbath will still sound great because it's just dead, heavy chords. I used to think Joy Division sounded like Black Sabbath quite a lot.
That's funny you say that, because I just had that revelation like a week ago after listening to them for so many years.
Well, it's a similar idea, isn't it? Kind of dark chord sequences.
I also find that when you pull out and you wait and you hold back, it makes so much more [impact].
Yeah, less is more. I remember when we did "Killing Moon" it got reviewed by that bloke out of the Police. You know that band, the Police?
Yeah, I heard of them.
The guitarist out of the Police said, "Oh, I would have thought he would have learned to play more than one string by now." To me, that was a compliment. Millions of bands can play like Stevie Ray Vaughan, or try to, but it's just boring. Give me the minimalist, atmospheric route any day of the week. Give me the David Lynch films.
Are there ever songs that you record in the studio as a band that you later have to figure out how to execute live?
Yeah, totally. The beginning of "Killing Moon" was just something I did while we were warming up or tuning up or whatever. We went out for a curry or a po' boy, and when we came back the producer had kind of looped it straight onto tape—this is years ago, before computers—and he created this funny little intro. And we liked it. It's always the first thing that you do that sounds the best. I'm not clever enough to know exactly how music works. I think that's what adds a bit of charm to it.
When you have a new song, do you prefer to play it live first before you bring it to the studio?
Playing live, you find the weaknesses in the song, but we don't tend to do that so much now. The problem now is that we've got so many songs. It's hard to leave things out of a set and put new ones in. Everybody wants to hear "The Cutter" and "Killing Moon" and "Dancing Horses" and "Never Stop." You don't want to disappoint anybody or have to force them to listen to something new, because a lot of our songs take time to get together and get used to. It's not pop music really. It's not Lady Gaga.
Do you ever miss playing small clubs?
We still play small clubs. We're doing a small club tonight, the Paradise in Austin. Playing-wise the small clubs are better, but sometimes you do an amazing show in a big place. We still do festivals where there's big stages. We've got loads of festivals coming up.
You were talking earlier about playing the songs that everyone wants to hear. I'd imagine you'd want to keep it fresh for yourself, but do you ever make little changes here and there? Do you ever get concerned that if you change it too much the audience is gonna be upset?
We have songs where we can ad-lib it. On "Dancing Horses," we have a whole breakdown section where we do loads of stream of consciousness and I'm free to do whatever I want. But I've got no worries about playing the songs over and over again, because it's the only time I ever hear them. I don't sit at home listening to our records. Plus it's good when you get to the point where it's just automatic.
You can sort of become one with the music in a way.
Yeah, it gives you a bit of freedom; you're totally in control. You don't have to think, "Oh, I have to change gears." It just happens.