Interview: Phil Wilson of the June Brides, on ‘spiky pop,’ wild mushrooms and not becoming a rock star



By John Girgus

Indie-pop, twee, jangle … for the 30 years in the current of popular music, these are often vague (and lately misused) terms in reference to a genre, that does, in fact, have a documented (though maybe difficult to define) lineage. While the aesthetic can be traced to Buddy Holly, the Velvet Underground, Jonathan Richman, the conversation often includes the 1984 Creation Records’ live compilation “Alive In The Living Room.” There you will find the music of the June Brides, the Television Personalities, the Pastels and Jasmine Minks – bands upon which the now-legendary English label was built, only to be overshadowed by later artists like My Bloody Valentine. For artists like the June Brides’ Phil Wilson – who, after releasing his last single in the 1980s worked as a civil servant in the U.K .for 20 years – becoming rock stars like Primal Scream (a member of which played on that very single) simply wasn’t what it was ever about.

Wilson returned to music a few years ago, releasing some singles followed by the album “God Bless Jim Kennedy,” and, after being rejoined in 2011 by original guitarist Simon Beesley, went back to the June Brides name, releasing “A January Moon”/”Cloud” in 2012 and, this month, the three-song “She Seems Quite Free” on Slumberland Records.

||| Stream: “Being There”

With the revival of indie-pop as a strong crosscurrent in music, and the re-emergence of some of its original purveyors, we thought a conversation with Wilson would serve as a nice re-introduction:

When you started The June Brides in 1983, there was no such thing as indie-pop. Bands like yours, through labels like Postcard, Cherry Red, Creation, helped define that. What did you think, then, of the music you were making?

To be honest, we didn’t really do much thinking about it! We just did it, for the pleasure of being in a band. I think the question of what sort of music we were playing only come up in interview much later, and I said then that it was “spiky pop.” There had been bands like the Undertones and the Buzzcocks in the U.K. pop charts just before we formed – playing loud music that wasn’t macho or aggressive. We saw ourselves, at the time, as following that tradition. I guess what differentiated us was that we also had some of the more radical post-punk ideas about independence from the music industry, and we wanted to reflect that, too …

You then spent 20 years away from your own music. There must still be a large part of your life it doesn’t account for. What else keeps you busy?

When I’m not working, I love to be outdoors. I’m lucky to now live in a very beautiful part of England (Devon, in the South West), and I still try and make the most of it. Nothing finer than walking through woods, contemplating nature and the meaning of life. And foraging wild food and feeding yourself on the cheap is a bonus!

I’ve seen you post with equal enthusiasm, cataloging wild mushrooms and rare thrift shop vinyl scores. While it’s easy to see how “Revolver” or “Odyssey & Oracle” are influences, does nature account for as much of an influence?

The older you get, the more you realise that everything is passing and transient, and everything you own will one day be lost when you die. It seems to me, then, that it’s worth slowing your life down, and getting out into nature to do the things that give pleasure and satisfaction in the here and now. Watching the seasons change, walking the woods, getting to know every inch of your surroundings, it brings you closer to some sort of spiritual satisfaction that I find missing elsewhere. Foraging for food is as close as I get to religion. And the mushrooms are delicious!

Dave Eggers tracked you down in 2006 for an interview and to chronicle his fandom of The June Brides. Manic Street Preachers borrowed from you for one of their most literate moments. Morrissey, Belle & Sebastian are fans. What is it about your comparatively simple, sincere pop songs that attracts these seemingly obsessive and analytical writers?

I’m not entirely sure, but my guess is that it’s got something to do with the weird juxtaposition in a lot of my songs, particularly some of the earliest ones: On the surface, they sound like joyful things – the guitars ring out, the trumpet parps away merrily. But the lyrics are quite often in stark contrast to the feeling generated by the tune. So there’s a weird bit of a disconnect between downbeat words and upbeat tune. Also, I always try to get some actual meaning across in the lyrics: Even if they’re not 100% clear-cut, they should generate a certain feeling and/or atmosphere. Maybe that appeals to the more literate types?

John Girgus is a Los Angeles-based musician and former member of Aberdeen, who released music on the U.K.’s Sarah Records in the 1990s.

||| Stream: 2012’s “A January Moon”