KEXP Suggests: DRILL: SEATTLE w/ Wire + Interview with Colin Newman

Interviews, KEXP Suggests
Janice Headley

Earlier this year, post-punk legends Wire conceived of a music festival, DRILL. Frontman Colin Newman explains, "The concept is simple: it's an unpretentious city festival featuring artists from across all genres actively curated by Wire with a lot of input from local, informed media partners. The concerts take place in small venues with great sound systems. There are no big ticket acts playing for over inflated fees. Wire go for the best in upcoming local talent combined with friends who just want to be part of it."

The first DRILL festival happened back in March in London, and Seattle is thrilled to have been chosen as the second city to host a weekend of amazing music. We chatted with Newman over email, and with KEXP DJ Larry Rose who led the curation, about DRILL: Seattle, and what we can look forward to this weekend:

How did you choose Seattle for the next DRILL Festival?

Colin Newman: When I came up with the concept of the festival, which became called DRILL, the idea was that it could be done in other cities other than the one where we launched it (London, back in March). However, it took the success of the London event to make us realise that we really should transport it elsewhere. Seattle has the things we need to, hopefully, make this work again. Firstly, you have a strong talent base in the Pacific Northwest. This is really important because DRILL is not held in large venues, and therefore is not designed for flying in artists from all around the world. Secondly, it has the kind of venues we need, and the music culture surrounding them. Thirdly, we have a supportive media partner in KEXP. I'm not just saying this to be nice; KEXP are a station that anyhow supports Wire, and a sympathetic media partner is absolutely essential. A more obscure reason is that the cover of our latest album Change Becomes Us was actually shot in the Seattle Public Library!

You worked with KEXP DJ Larry Rose to select the local bands who would play the festival -- what drew you to choose Chastity Belt, Pillar Point, FF, or Vestals?

Newman: As I said the media partner is very important. We are not so arrogant as to presume we know what's happening musically in your area -- we want to choose artists that will surprise & inspire (a festival of Wire soundalikes would be extremely dull!!). So for us, informed locals are the absolute key to making it work! On that point, Larry has ticked all the boxes! We did ask quite a few people to get the most rounded view we could, but Larry made a lot of suggestions (including some great ones who were unfortunately unavailable).

On the specifics - Chastity Belt. Well, everyone we asked suggested Chastity Belt, and how could we disagree! Aside from local recommendation, they also get airplay on BBC's 6 Music, so I'd already heard them. They were one of the first bands we asked, and luckily they were available and are, in fact, supporting on the whole run up from Los Angeles (Wire is playing shows in LA, San Francisco & Portland en-route to DRILL in Seattle).

Pillar Point were one of Larry's suggestions. As I said, we want the festival to be diverse, so it is essential that we have artists that are more electronically orientated. Pillar Point fits that bill very nicely! FF were suggested by a few people: their energetic but precise raw pop definitely recommends them! Matt from Wire is already a big Vestals fan. We think she deserves more recognition, her music is beautiful! You didn't ask but Earth came about though quite an interesting route. Graham from Wire actually played a show with Dylan Carlson back in October. It seemed too good an opportunity not to take advantage of!

Larry, How did you approach choosing local bands to be part of the DRILL: SEATTLE event?

DJ Larry Rose: In my initial conversation with Colin, he made it clear that he wanted the festival to be diverse and feature a lineup of artists that people would not necessarily associate with Wire. So, with helpful input from other KEXP DJs, I basically focused on bands of many genres that were breaking new ground in interesting ways, as well as artists that I felt well represented the current Seattle music scene.

Do you remember the first time you heard WIRE?

Rose: The first time I recall hearing Wire was in 1988, when their single “Kidney Bingos” was getting a lot of college radio airplay. I loved that song and rushed out to pick up the album A Bell Is A Cup…Until It Is Struck, which I basically wore out. So many good songs on that record. I then went back and discovered their earlier records, including the amazing Pink Flag and have been a fan ever since.

Helmet are headlining the second night, and guitarist Page Hamilton, will join Wire on stage for a rendition of "Pink Flag." I understand Hamilton is an old friend of the band and played on Object 47. How did you first meet Page Hamilton? What do you like best about working with him?

Newman: We go way back with Page. He was in Band Of Susans who supported Wire on a US tour back in the '80s. We were all impressed by his ability to be both direct and refined in his approach, and we immediately recognised a kindred spirit. Interestingly, as Page tells it, during his period working with Bowie, David often would ask him to "play that Wire guitar"! We kept in touch, and in 2008 when we were starting again, subsequent to Bruce's departure in 2004, we actually went quite a way down the road of trying to figure out between us how we could make it work with Page as a second guitar on tour. Sadly the fact that he is based in Los Angeles, and we are in Europe made it too difficult to work out, although he did consider moving to Berlin for at least part of the year!

When we decided to go for Seattle, Page was the first person I asked. There's no way we could have not asked him!

Can you describe what the pinkflag guitar orchestra will be? What inspired this idea?

Newman: The pinkflag guitar orchestra is best experienced rather than described! Basically you have a lot of people playing guitars joining Wire on stage to play the song "Pink Flag" -- put that way it sounds rather dry but it's all about the sound! The sounds of massed guitars all hammering away on one single chord is ENORMOUS. The "orchestra" is something which is both very Wire but also very open to those that join. We've done it twice to date, and you see a lot of smiling faces both on and off stage! Wire played "Pink Flag" in its current arrangement (reduced form the original two chords to just the one) since from 2000 to this year. Now we mainly only play it with the "orchestra". Conceptually it has its roots in a piece I did for Wire's 1979 "People in A Room" performance at the Jeannette Cochrane Theatre in London, however in place of a troupe of free playing guitarists the "orchestra" augments Wire playing a classic. The addition of a fearsome rhythm section and a strong formal structure gives the piece wings!

Which night are you most looking forward to?

Rose: All three nights should be great, but it’s hard not to look forward to the headliner show at Neumo’s, which features the pinkflag guitar orchestra, along with one of my current favorite local bands, Chastity Belt. Also, the first night at Barboza, with Wire and other musicians performing Drill in such an intimate setting, along with Earth and Pillar Point, should make for a fun, diverse evening.

DRILL: Seattle

Thursday, November 21, 2013DRILL: Seattle featuring EARTHSpecial Guests: Pillar Point, an Unannounced Special Guest + Special DrillBarboza8 pm21+BUY NOW

Friday, November 22, 2013DRILL: Seattle featuring HelmetSpecial Guests: FFThe Crocodile8 pmAll AgesBUY NOW

Saturday, November 23, 2013DRILL: Seattle featuring WIRESpecial Guests: Chastity Belt, Vestals + the pinkflag orchestraNeumos8 pm21+BUY NOW

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