Who the fuzz (bass) is Phil King?!A man of many, many talents…Mr. King has locked in the groove for several influential groups over the years, including Felt, Lush, and The Jesus and Mary Chain. He filled us in on his journey as a sideman just as he hits our shores with JAMC’s return to the Fillmore on June 14th.
Lush and JAMC was the first concert I went to (and the reason I went to Lollapalooza ’92). Nothing like hearing the opening notes of ‘Stray’ in 90+ degree heat and humidity at high noon to kick off a rock festival. What was your first concert experience?
“My first concert experience was Wizzard at Sutton Granada in 1974. It was at a local cinema. I was 14. My friend was meant to go with me – but he decided not to in the end so I had to go on my own. I sat next to Rob Davis, the guitarist from Mud. I was so starstruck I couldn’t relax for the whole show.”
The world could use some Lush again, with all the ’90’s nostalgia and rediscovery going on, is it at all on the table for a possible reunion?
“We’ve talked about it a few times in the last few years – but the logistics have been too difficult as we have day jobs and families. Maybe one day. I even got asked if Lush would come to China when I played there a few weeks ago with The Jesus And Mary Chain. I was told that 4AD is popular out there.”
Along with spending my hard earned teenage money on that first concert, I managed to scrap together a few more bucks and buy a Samick bass guitar and practice amp, A Korean sunburst Fender copy of a beauty that only a 16 year old stuck in the suburbs could truly love. The first thing I learned was “For Love”. Did you find the bass or did the bass find you? What are some bass players you looked to when starting out?
“The bass found me. When I joined The Servants it was a case of one six string guitarist too many. David Westlake was the singer and songwriter and played the rhythm guitar and John Mohan was the talented lead guitarist and they really needed a bass player. They had a short scale Fender Musicmaster bass – and also an amp – to hand so I picked it up and started playing it – and have been playing bass ever since.
The first song I really noticed the bass playing on was Herbie Flowers on Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side.’ I understand he got double session rates for that as he played both a stand up bass and an electric one. In terms of bass players that influenced me when I was starting out playing I would say David McClymont from Orange Juice and Ken Forsi from Love. David McClymont’s playing was very inventive, quite busy, but very melodic and you could dance to it. Quite a difficult thing to pull off. I particularly like Ken Forsi’s playing on the first Love album. It is outrageously loud in the mix too. As a bass player I like that.”
Fast forward 6 years to 1998, and I got into a sold out Mary Chain show (and their last, before breaking up) in NY, thanks in part to your predecessor waving me past security through the loading dock. I owe him a pint wherever he is. How did you come to play bass for Scotland’s favorite punk experimentalists?
“Actually maybe that was me as I played bass for them on in 1998! I’d met them briefly on Lollapalooza and had even auditioned for them (as a guitarist) around the time of Automatic. Ben Lurie got the job. William tells me I didn’t get it because my shoes were too pointy whereas Jim says they tossed a coin whilst in Paris and it came up tails for me.”
You’ve also logged time with Felt, another under appreciated band who’s been perking interest as of late. What can you tell us about any future plans with this influential group?
“Lawrence has vowed never to reform Felt. I did have had a passing thought about forming a Felt instrumental group made up of ex-Felt members. Felt’s music would certainly lend itself to being played just instrumentally. I did mention it to Lawrence and he didn’t think it was a bad idea.”
Apart from holding down the rhythm section for these and many more, you have been a picture researcher for NME and currently, Uncut. Some of your projects include writing for “The First Time I Heard” book series on New Order and David Bowie, and contributing to a new album art book highlighting the Junk Shop Glam era called, Wired Up!. Where do you see the world of publication heading with the likes of Kickstarter allowing for specialized projects getting a chance to see the light of day more organically. What projects are you currently working on and is there a subject you’ve always wanted to cover for a book?
“I think certainly in terms of music books I can see there being a lot more limited edition books such as the Felt photo book that came out recently where you pay upfront for the book and then once enough money has been accrued the book is published. At Uncut we did an i-pad app version of a Bowie magazine special which I thought worked very well. It was album by album plus archive interviews and galleries of photos and Youtube links.
I tend not to be that pro-active about writing for books. Normally I am approached and if it is something that interests me I will do it. For example the Wired Up book. I had already done the interviews with Jesse Hector, Brett Smiley, Sal Maida (Milk N Cookies) and Chris Townson (The Jook/Jet) over the last few years for various magazines and it was great to get the opportunity to have them all in one place. It’s going to be a beautiful book. It looks amazing. Scott Heim approached to write something on David Bowie and New Order for The First Time I Heard series of book and to be honest I was quite surprised what I wrote as I realised that when I pulled up the memories of when I first heard them it was very much linked to what was going on in my life at the time.”
Two years later, in 2000, shuffling through a used cd bin at a record store in Chicago, I came across a live bootleg of the Lush/JAMC sets from the same Lollapalooza show I was at. They say music comes full circle. How has music come full circle for you?
It’s interesting that I seem to be working my way through my past musical career. My first group The Beautiful Losers finally had the recordings we did in 1980 released in 2010. My next recording ‘Skylon’ came out as bonus track on The Second Layers ‘World Of Rubber’ album on Cherry Red in 2009, The Servants had a Cherry Red compilation out a few years and Captured Tracks released a vinyl album last year (now on its second pressing I understand), the Apple Boutique single was reissued (twice) and an album came out last year too. There is a See See Rider album due this year. All we need now is some Lush reissues – or a box set with bonus tracks. I’m just saying.”
2008 saw the return of the Mary Chain to the stage for me once again, on a cool sundown in the desert at Coachella and among the ghosts in the living landmark of the Fillmore. Any impressions from that tour as I believe it was your first with them?
“That was a pretty amazing show. Especially playing as the sun was setting. On the intro to Just Like Honey the drums seem to reverberate off the mountains in the far distance and come back at us with a slight delay. It made me think of The Ronettes and Phil Spector who was being tried at that very time in the same state. The sky had a pinkish hue, the flashlights were going off as Scarlett Johansson walked onstage to sing backing vocals on the song and the big old Hollywood stage set lights behind us burned into us like sun ray lamps.”
A few days from now, you’ll plug in at the Fillmore and treat old and new fans to how the Reid Bros attack feedback and melody. Your current tour leaves a big gap between China and the US start and then again until the Toronto date. Are you trying out new material/booking any studio time during this period?
“There is talk of recording new material but nothing as of yet. There are certainly a stockpile of great songs by Jim and William”.
Finally, any questions for us?
“Yes, any new good used records stores in San Francisco?”
Ah, record shopping… our favorite therapeutic pastime. Check out small but mighty,The Explorist International, opened shop about a year a half ago on 24th St. in the Mission. Great finds with great prices on a great street with great eats! (Phil King and Lush pictured below)