All About Eve

Following the release of the first All About Eve album in years (Iceland), Keith Elcombe speaks to Julianne Regan about what AAE are up to now, the past, the future, and the perfect All About Eve world (and in doing so offers up the chance for Julianne to set the record straight about a few things.....).
(November 2002)

1. To start with, what was the idea behind releasing an album of mainly covers?
It just started out as a vague chat. Andy and I were saying to each other that all Christmas albums that we’d ever heard were rubbish and what a shame it was that there wasn’t an album that existed (that we are aware of) that could be a soundtrack to winter / Christmas / yuletide / whatever. So we decided that we’d try. In truth, we ran out of good Christmas songs to cover so had to put some of our own stuff on the album. Also, it was really interesting to take songs and really change them. Any covers we’ve previously ever done have been a bit karaoke but there really seemed no point in doing this album if it was going to sound all twee and tinselly.

2. Weren’t you afraid of putting some people off, after seeing that a Wham song had been covered on this release?
I like the idea of raising the odd eyebrow. I think people would assume that we wouldn’t be doing a syrupy pop version and that they could expect something else. When we stripped it down, we found it a really simple and pretty song that really leant itself to the AAE sound… (Well, one of the sounds as we are a bit sonically schizophrenic these days.)… The lyrics really stood out as being sad when we slowed it down and mellowed it out. It’s not Shakespeare but there is a simple yearning that is quite melancholic when you strip it to the bone.

3. So who goes to make up the ranks of AAE now?
AAE is now Andy and myself. That is the core. However, we have recently started working with a new guitarist called Toni Haimi. He has played in Malluka, Nozzle (who are an offshoot of NMA) over the past couple of years. He was in Finnish bands before that, the most famous of which was called the Low Down Shakin’ Chills. For live dates, we have had Rik Carter (Ex Mission) in the band and a guy called Del Hood on drums. Del is moving out of London soon so we might need a replacement sadly….
Apart from that, there is no A&R man and never should there be…. And there is no manager and it’s really working like that for now. We are far too old to be told what to do.

4. What has brought about the single largest change in the band?
We started off on an old upright reel-to-reel 4-track recorder and we now have computers and Logic Audio software and loads of loops and samples. So it would have to be the dawn of modern technology. We’ve been doing this on and off since 1985 and you get bored of making the same sounds and so you look to what’s new and adopt it if it’s relevant and if it excites you. Andy and I are very keen on loops and atmospheres. You get so sick of the old vocal / guitar / bass and drums thing sometimes. Sick of hearing the same sounds through the same pedals resulting in the same old formulae.
I don’t believe that you have to have either ‘a traditional guitar band’ or ‘a computer-loop / atmosphere based band’. The two styles can co-exist if you use your imagination…The great thing about Toni is that although he can play in quite a traditional way, (he loves the Stones and the Clash) he also listens to Goth and Indie stuff and weird stuff like strange folk music from odd corners of the Earth…. Until he worked with us, he hadn’t had his guitar tuned the ‘proper’ way for years. He had to with us at first though, to replicate the old stuff when we played live…He brings massive freshness in that he isn’t scared to make his guitar sound like a ‘noise’ or an effect or an atmosphere. He’s not into long wanky guitar solos. And I have had enough of them to last me a lifetime…

5. For someone who’s not been following the AAE scene for a while, looking at your website, and taking into account this album’s release (Iceland), and the promise of another new album early next year, along with a tour in April, some would say you are getting ready to storm the market again. Is this true, and can we expect to see AAE back in the public eye?
No, we aren’t getting ready to storm anything… except maybe some ears. I don’t think that we are ever going to be NME darlings or have features in Q magazine. We’re just kind of ignored by the press who hoped we’d go away and we did! But now we are coming back, they still won’t give a fuck about us and that’s fine. There are younger, newer more fashionable bands to write about and champion. That’s totally acceptable. We had our shot of it in the late 80’s.
As to us being in the public eye, I occasionally get offers to appear on some programme to discuss ‘what went wrong on TOTP’…Or to appear on ‘Never Mind The Buzzcocks’ to have the piss ripped out of me as a washed-up has-been. But I have more pride that that and we don’t need that kind of publicity. If we are ever going to have any kind of ‘presence’ ever again, it will be by doing it the way we did at first. Playing live and releasing records.

6. There was a while in AAE’s past when you seemed to distance yourself from the Goth scene. Why was this?
Record company pressure…Our own fear of categorisation…The fact that we always felt that we weren’t ‘proper’ Goth and didn’t want an Emperor’s New Clothes thing going on. I suppose we have always been a bit wary of ‘scenes’. It’s so odd though, the way we have been perceived. At one time it was as a Goth Band (because of The Mission association and the fact that we were quite Gothy to start off with), then a Soft-Rock Group (poor man’s Fleetwood Mac) and then as a Folk group (poor man’s Fairport Convention…).
I think that the Goth scene is pretty vibrant these days and the focus is more on new bands and sounds than old bastards like us.

7. Given that news of Iceland’s release was posted on a number of public Goth sites (UPG/Slashgoth to name a couple), are you trying to put AAE back into the Goth scene, or is it that you know that there’s still a lot of Goths who follow AAE, and that by tapping into this ‘reserve of fans’, sales of Iceland would be guaranteed? (slightly unfair question, but people will be asking themselves this.)
It may look calculated, but it is just a way of getting the word out to people that we think might like the album. There’s no point posting it on Folk notice- boards or Soft Rock notice-boards (if they even exist). Maybe we aren’t Goth but a lot of the people who like us are (I see them at gigs! It must be true!). So it makes sense to let them know we have done something they might like.

8. Julianne, back in 1998 you worked with the band, This Burning Effigy, on their album Descent (featuring your vocals on the tracks Exquisite and Descent). What brought this about, and what was it like?
I had a ‘proper job’ for about three years and one of my best friends who worked there happened to be the girlfriend (at the time) of the singer Ger Egan. One drunken night, Ger asked if I’d do some singing on their album. I said yes. He said that when I was sober I’d change my mind. I didn’t. When I sang on their stuff, it was like coming home a bit. I loved their stuff and really enjoyed working with them, especially on a song that Ger, guitarist Steve Carey and myself wrote together (Pure Complex). They seem to have split now, which is a shame. I am going to be doing some work in the near future with Steve. He’s a genius who fears neither machine nor guitar.

9. Sorry, it had to be asked, but Martha’s Harbour, has this song become a bit of a millstone around your neck as the years have gone on? When you play live, do people always expect this song to be part of your set?
The last tour we did, we brought the acoustic guitar along and Toni learned how to play it, beautifully. But it just didn’t seem to fit in with the newer stuff at all. It was like a party-pooper. So we didn’t play it for the whole tour and we certainly didn’t have anyone crying out for it!
Sure, I guess some people were disappointed but I think the audience and us need a break from it. I still like it as a song though. It always amazes me when it crops up somewhere though. A woman called Victoria Newton did a techno version of it a few years back and someone has covered it on the TV-advertised Celtic Chillout album! You can see how we do have identity crises from time to time!

10. Going back to the ‘early days’, what originally brought AAE into existence?
I was writing the odd piece for Zigzag magazine (of which Mick Mercer was the editor at the time). I saw a band called Gene Loves Jezebel play, interviewed them and then ended up playing bass with them for almost a year. After I left, I started to work with Manuela Zwingmann, the original drummer from Xmal Deutschland… We recruited a guy on bass called Gus Ferguson (who was in Test Department last time I heard)… All that was missing was the guitarist and that was Tim who I met through a girl I was at college with.
Gus got swapped for Tim’s mate Andy (who he had been in a Huddersfield Goth band called Aemotii Crii with). Manuela and I started arguing about direction and we parted and then Tim, Andy and I bought a drum machine and just got on with learning how to write songs…Three musketeers.

11. How far entrenched were you in the Goth scene then? Given collaborations between Wayne Hussey and yourself, the outsider would probably say that links were strong. What’s your take on this?
Well, we went to a lot of gigs. The bands I saw that were playing then were Ghost Dance, Danse Society, Into A Circle, Southern Death Cult, Red lorry Yellow Lorry, The Leather Nun, The Birthday Party, The Virgin Prunes, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees etc. I was pretty Goth in my musical tastes. I was a massive Cure fan and even saw them play a festival in Germany. But I didn’t really ‘hang out’ with anyone because we were tiny fish in a big (sometimes unfriendly) pond. I met Wayne because he asked me to sing backing vocals on the Mission album. He just asked me at a gig we were both in the audience for. I’d heard Serpents Kiss and liked it and so said ‘yes’. I hadn’t liked the Sisters really and preferred the Mission sound. The Eves and the Mission became mates and they let us support them on a UK and a European tour… and the rest is history!

12. Do you still maintain links with those in the scene from years back?
We were quite an insular bunch. We knew the Mission and that’s about it really. We weren’t big party people or backstagers. Andy was in the Mission for a few years when AAE temporarily split up. He is still in touch with Wayne. The last time I saw Wayne was when he came to see us play at Shepherds Bush last May. He’s U.S. based now so we aren’t exactly in a position to pop round to each other’s for cups of Blue Nun…

13. What happened (in brief) to AAE since the release of Ultraviolet?
Andy (Bass), Mark (drums) and Marty (Guitar) made a bloody awful album under the name of Seeing Stars. Andy is one of my best friends and beloved to me, but the album is total bollocks. It sounds like Spinal Tap in places! Testosterone gone wild! There is even a song on it called ‘Come’ which is about how this guy is ‘pleasuring’ some woman until she erm….’comes’. Fucking awful!
I made an album under the name Mice, which was seen as kind of Britpop because of the climate it came out in. It was me and a guy called Tim McTighe who had been in a band called Powder. Bic from Levitation and Dark Star (and now the Pet Shop Boys!) was heavily involved in it and was fantastic. Although Andy played bass on some of the tracks, he thinks it is mostly rubbish. Although we have played a couple of the non-rubbish ones at AAE gigs before. Then Andy worked with the Mission and then had his own project called The Lucy Nation that actually got signed (and dropped) by Madonna. It was a great album though. Marty went back to do stuff with The Church and Mark joined, erm, Right Said Fred and then Del Amitri. I got a job in Qualitative Research (marketing) for three years… We then reformed to support the Mission for a few dates at the request of Wayne and then ended up doing acoustic shows for ages. Just because we couldn’t afford to do electric ones and people were only booking us because of Martha’s Harbour. It was fun at the time though. We released several albums (live and compilation) on our own label, Jamtart. I also released a lounge / euro kind of album under the name of Jules et Jim which was me and Jean-Marc Lederman who was once the keyboard player in Gene Loves Jezebel and other arty Belgian bands like The Weathermen.
And now AAE are looking at a new album and tour in time for next April 2003.

14. What is the AAE ethos, and what gives you the inspiration to release the material that you do?
Our ethos would sometimes seem to be to not have an ethos. Much of our past has been a string of accidents. We have rarely had a plan as such. Our philosophy would be that as long as we want to and as long as we can make music that pleases us, then we’ll continue. Of course we need an audience and so have to hope that we please other people too. But I think that having been part of the big music-biz machine for so many years, the main thing we bear in mind is that we should cherish and use the freedom we have and not to allow our past to limit what we do in the future. I think we have been nostalgic in the past and still can be at times, but we live for the present much more now.
The stuff we are releasing now is very much unfiltered and untainted. We make it and if we like it, we release it. We aren’t aiming to get on the radio but if that ever happened and more people got into us, then that would be nice.
We can’t work with anyone who doesn’t ‘get’ our laid-back philosophy. I can’t stand to be hurried beyond my own pace or my own ambitions. Sometimes people around a band can have higher ambitions than the actual band and then enforce their vision of it on the band. I can’t stand that.
We are in a bubble. Certain people are allowed into it and sometimes we’ll leave the bubble to reach other people. But it is by invitation only and if you gatecrash then we have big dogs!

15. Today’s Goth scene has a number of AAE clones amongst it ranks. How do you feel about inspiring so many ‘would be’ AAE sound alikes?
I think a lot of people start of trying to sounds (even if it is subconsciously) like another band. In the very early days, we were very much in a Siouxsie / Cure / Cocteau Twins trap and that got us interest at first. Although we were in denial that we sounded like them…Hopefully, then you being to get your own style. Anyone using AAE as their blueprint though, I feel a bit sorry for them as they are never going to get rich! Still, they are younger and thinner than us and so who knows…?

16. Julianne, given your obvious singing talents, have you ever been tempted to strike out and go solo in the mainstream music scene, at the danger of being classed as ‘just another female solo artist’?
Well, my Mice project was the closest I ever got to going solo but I wanted to do it in a band format. The record company were very pissed off and wanted me to call myself Julianne Regan and to model myself on Heather Nova…. They were arseholes and told me that I should ‘wear more lipstick’. And a nice dress…. No, it wasn’t in the 19th century it was in 1996.
Also, I love working with Andy. We have a chemistry. I have written songs with other people and the closest I got to that chemistry was with Tim McTighe. But with Andy, we’ve been mates for about 17 year and the whole writing process is pretty telepathic with us. We egg each other on and inspire each other and have a really great time. I’d miss that. I’d be lonely and easily manipulated…

17. Describe a perfect AAE world.
No terrorism threats. Firemen are all on 50K. I am still 8 stone. Martha’s Harbour did in fact get to number one and stayed there for ten weeks and I was able to buy a nice house and loads of studio equipment out of the proceeds. I have a big garden and therefore can run around with a couple of Border Collie dogs. It is also snowing most of the time and it is nighttime all the time and chocolate is less calorific than even celery. Q and Mojo and all those magazines are banging at the door for an exclusive interview, all the time, but we are washing our hair. Aliens exist and live amongst us and stop us destroying ourselves. There are only two seasons, autumn and winter…and alcohol is actually good for you.

18. In terms of the band, what has been the lowest point in its existence, and how did you overcome this?
I think it had to be when we were trying to write the second album. We really nearly did split up after just one album. We’d been sent by the record company to some Tudor mansion to write an album. The first album had been written in my bedsit on a diet of Pot Noodle and cider and that worked out fine. This luxury didn’t suit me. We disappeared up our own arses and thought we were Led Zeppelin or something. Tim, Andy and Mark would go to jam in the barn studio thing and I would watch Neighbours twice a day and quietly go mad. I felt really isolated since the drum machine had been replaced by a human because the human was another bloke and it really upset the balance. It made it feel like ‘boys against girl’. I trashed the cottage and then everyone went back to London because they hated me. Our manager sent me to a psychiatrist and she sorted me out. Tim and I could hardly stand to be in the same room as each other but suddenly, Martha’s Harbour looked like it was going to be a hit and so we had to pull ourselves together and get on with it all…Making a video, TOTP promotion and press etc. The success of Martha was a distraction from our troubles and helped paper over the cracks while we made the second album. But the rot had set in there really for that line-up.

19. On a similar note, what has been the bands highest point?
It’s not the three nights at the Royal Albert Hall and it’s not having a top ten hit…I honestly think that now is the best it’s felt for ages! We do what we want, no-one tells us to do anything we don’t want to do and we run the whole thing ourselves. We are also ‘mature’ (old!) enough to enjoy what we do for ourselves and not to have to please and pander to businessmen. If a major label came up and offered us thousands of pounds, I’d have to think really carefully about whether I wanted to swap this freedom and satisfaction for ‘security’. A lot of the time in AAE has been pretty miserable actually. I didn’t like being ‘famous’ at all. I only ever wanted to sing and write music. I never really wanted to be on the telly or recognised in the street or told that I was great. I like the low-keyness of what AAE is now. It suits me for where my life is at. I couldn’t be arsed to be Marilyn Manson or Bono. Far too much effort involved. Yes, the present is looking good to me.

20. Who was the last band you saw live and why?
I haven’t seen a band play live for ages. It’s a bit like a busman’s holiday. Also, we gigged so much over the past few years that when a band was on that I did want to see, then invariably it clashed with us playing in Hull or something! I wanted to see Mansun and I wanted to see Air last time they played, but, we were entertaining the good folk of Kings Lynn and Tavistock…or somewhere like that….

21. If asked, would you play Whitby Goth festival?
Well, we were asked before but there was some reason that we couldn’t do it. I think there were several. I had a day job and squeezing gigs in was always hard… Also, I think we didn’t think we’d get a warm welcome at a Goth festival as we have been in and out of favour so many times. Suppose I just didn’t think that we were ‘Goth’ enough. We were pretty much in an acoustic phase for about two years.
Friends of mine have been to it several times and have enjoyed it but they are a lot more seriously ‘crimp and velvet’ Goth than I am.
I think that we would consider it if asked again. Sadly, this year it coincides with our playing at the Mean Fiddler (ex LA2) in London. Also, to be honest, I think that we are a lot less ‘sniffy’ about being categorised these days. Life is too short and we’ve been labelled with so many things from Goth to folk to Soft Rock (that HAS to be the worst though!) that labels seem pointless.

22. What was the last book you read, and would you recommend it to anyone?
It was actually Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow and it is so much better than the film. I’d definitely recommend it as it is a really sneaky mystery of a book and is full of conspiracy theory but has great characters too. Miss Smilla is a Greenlander living in Copenhagen and she is trying to get to the bottom of a death… I just think I am snow-obsessed at the moment. It’s getting out of hand… Anyway, the language in the book is atmospheric without being too flowery. Phrases like “December darkness rises up from the grave…in this darkness, our faces are merely pale, shining discs…” are just so evocative and gorgeous….

23. What do you see the future holding for AAE? Will the future depend on the success or failure of the next album?
It sees the writing of a new album and an extensive tour of the UK in April and May. Our future doesn’t depend on the failure or success of the next album as we’ll probably carry on regardless…. We are in our own little bubble where we really will do this until we get totally fed up of it or until every last person is sick of us…. And then we’ll do it just to annoy them and to prove that there is more to like than the Cranberries or Robert Palmer.