Interview with David Feck
Comet Gain have never been given proper credit but are one of the finest indie groups produced by these islands in the last couple of decades and, in an era of plastic pop, are one of the last true “soul” bands. Led by David Feck, whose air of cynicism conceals an archly romantic and deeply idealistic music fan, Comet Gain are a band of dreamers influenced by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Orange Juice, Northern Soul and punk rock, plus Burroughs, Brautigan and French movies of the 1960s (to give just a hint of the things they adore). They first formed in the early 1990s and, according to Wikipedia, have released 15 singles and 6 albums, plus the excellent retrospective Broken Record Players. In 2010, members of Comet Gain hooked up with Crystal Stilts and others, including Phil Sutton, the early Comet Gain drummer, to form Cinema Red And Blue, releasing a self-titled album of Comet Gain-ish songs and covers, issued alongside a cracking mixtape showing impeccable musical taste.
The band is currently Feck, Jon Slade (ex-Huggy Bear), Woodie Taylor (ex-Morrissey and The Meteors), Rachel Evans, Kay Ishikawa, Anne Laure Guiot Guillain and Ben Philipson (ex-Kicker and The Eighteenth Day Of May). We spoke to David Feck in August 2011 shortly after their two nights at the Lexington playing “Heartbreakers and Floorshakers” (and for which they issued a fanzine Thee Optical Sewer #1).
SXP: I noticed that you’re now referred to as “legends”. How does it feel to be a legend?
David Feck: It doesn’t take much to be a legend - it just means that they’re not dead or they’ve not broken up. I think that “legend” just comes with longevity. Most bands tend to make their good records and then there’s a slow decline until they break up. So I hope people don’t just think: “they must be shit because they’re legends now”. I enjoy putting “the legend” thing in brackets before the name as a kind of joke. I can use it as leverage with Sean: “We’re legends now. Give us some more money. Or some money…”
SXP: Looking back over your career, do you think you’ve been too casual? (*snort of derisive laughter*) Maybe with a bit of sucking up to the right people you could have been Ocean Colour Scene?
David Feck: I don’t think so. It wouldn’t have happened anyway. I’m amazed that what has occurred has occurred, [considering that] in the last 15 years or so, it’s mainly been me and Jon and people like Kay. We have absolutely no organisational skills, any skills whatsoever, so I’m just amazed we’ve made it to making records and doing shows. There was a point when we were on Beggar’s Banquet in America and they asked us to do videos. I just couldn’t face the idea of compromising - that’s why the previous [Comet Gain] band left. I do the artwork and stuff, and for that record [Beggars] were desperate, they had an art department and they wanted to use the art department even if it meant just tinting the photo a little bit. But it was just stupid and I got angry about that record because I wasn’t in control of it.
SXP: In being uncompromising and presenting your vision, were you consciously trying to emulate your heroes – people like Skip Spence and Roky Erickson?
David Feck: I admire all those people – and the same for writers. They’re fuck-ups but they fuck up gloriously and something comes out of it which is worthwhile and has an aesthetic point to it. Maybe by absorbing all that I’ve accidentally unleashed it in the group. But I didn’t really think it was a plan. Maybe it was at the start. It was me trying to become this glorious failure where everyone else was hoping to become a success. This is why they left! And I continued to fail when they disappeared!
SXP: In the fanzine (the ‘Gnostic Jukebox’ article) you were saying that these people were tapping into something bigger than them. Do you have any ambition to be a shamanic Julian Cope figure?
David Feck: There are all those people that I admire, like Julian Cope and the comic writer Grant Morrison, who started off as one thing and ended up as these kind of magic visionaries. I think in a way I’m too kitchen sink. I wrote all these things for the fanzine then realised the people that might like Comet Gain want to read about Billy Liar and things like that. I didn’t explain properly in that [article] because it was just a stream of consciousness thing I’d written, but the esoteric means “the hidden” - the ideas behind hidden knowledge, and also the super-context of everyone being the same thing. Pop music is just the same to a shamanic person as ley lines or pagan stuff. It’s our way of seeing things, and explaining the world, and we have this hidden world – the underground or whatever it is.
SXP: In ‘Thee Ecstatic Library’ you sing “the music will save you”. Do you believe in the power of music?
David Feck: Not just music but the kind of music that I like, and other people that I know like. There is a power in its hiddenness. I met Jon at a Jasmine Minks show so when I hear the Jasmine Minks it’s the lyrics, the sound of it, the sleeves, and meeting friends who’ll stay with you all your life. I don’t understand these bands that get very popular and then they drift away, and they don’t seem to have a romantic hold on people that lasts other than when you hear it at a wedding and you jump on the dancefloor. But that thing where music is actually is so powerful it can save you if you need saving! And if you’re socially inept it gives you a language to share.
SXP: You released a brilliant mixtape alongside the Cinema Red And Blue album.
David Feck: Yeah, that was Andy actually, who plays bass in Crystal Stilts. Everyone thinks it’s me – I’m more than happy to take responsibility for it! I’ve known Andy for a long time. He used to be in this band called Toulouse. Back in the days when Comet Gain played America, we played and build up a friendship with them. It’s continued as Andy is in Crystal Stilts. That’s what I mean –certain bands just link people, ever though they’re a thousand miles away and I might not see them for 10 years. You know those people because of those records and you continue to know them and have a similar code to share.
SXP: Judging by all bands you like and promote your love of, is there any space left for new bands?
David Feck: I constantly have this obsession with finding *that* great song, whether it’s just a B-side or a really sad soul song. I buy too many records that are worthless because there’s nothing on them…but every now and again there’ll be this one song that’s fantastic and you want everyone you know to hear it. One of the main things in Comet Gain is that thing of trying to pass on. When I was about 11 or 12 I loved The Teardrop Explodes and there was this NME article where Julian Cope just talked about his favourite 60s psychedelic records. In those days you couldn’t find the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, there was no reissue thing except for Bam Caruso, so you’d find one or two and they’d be fantastic - partly because your hero told you they’re fantastic. So if I have any power to influence anyone, I want to use that so they buy good records! Maybe it continues, that esoteric thing of passing on the hidden texts through generation to generation. It’s probably just as important as anything else in Comet Gain, which is why [we did] the fanzine. And I always try and mention bands and writers and things like that and it’s not showing off or being pretentious. It’s genuinely because I love these things and I want other people to love them!
SXP: Your fanzine has a classic handwritten, DIY look.
David Feck: For ages I’d been wanting to do the fanzine. Sean printed that up for me and he thought it was going to be 4 pages long. So then I turned up with 34 pages! He wasn’t happy. I’d like to do 2 or 3 a year. A lot of friends of ours, like Ian Svenonius, have written stuff. The first issue is deliberately a bit hit and miss. In 10 years time it’ll be this massive glossy brochure – and it’ll be sold in art shops!
SXP: In many of the bands and films you’ve praised, is it the Englishness of them that you like?
David Feck: I’m a big noir fan and things like Preston Sturgess but you can’t use them. It would be dishonest if I was singing about 40s American film noir because it has no real grounding in my life. I’m English, I come from a working class background. So even though I love these films just as much, I feel it’s more honest to reference [English] films – and also use the imagery of the French ‘60s films. These are some of the first films I saw, that really had an impact on me, other than just being entertainment. So it’s about remembering the power they had when you’re younger.
SXP: When you look back at your records, it feels like your early songs were manifestos and overtly political whereas now you’ve become more of an observer; once you wanted to go down to the club and now you watch the kids going down to the club.
David Feck: Partly it’s because when you’re younger, you’re naïve. You read things and the ideas half form in your head and you spew them out instantly because they’re cool. The ideals and the ideas are the things that inspire, and you try to release them in your own language as quickly as possible so you don’t have to analyse them too much. There’s a bit of growing up in that respect, of slowing down the thought processes. It’s a bit cheesy to continually be singing about going to the nightclub - because I don’t. I go out but it’s not like I go dancing to soul records every weekend. And it’s also more universal. It seems to make more sense if you’re speaking about other people rather than just yourself.
SXP: One of the things you’ll be known for after you’ve gone is the way you synthesise Northern Soul and punk and garage to create something distinctive. Where did that come from?
David Feck: That came from my peer group at the time, that age when you’re defining what you are – the records, the clothes and everything. I lived in North London. Everybody would be playing Motown and Northern Soul records and be into the Cramps and the Fall and having the Nuggets compilations and the Bam Caruso compilations and early Creation records. And everybody thought it was just good music. To us the Modern Lovers and Kent soul compilations were the same thing. One minute it could be the Subway Sect - the Subway Sect are a great example of a band who did soul music but they’re clearly a punk band. There were enough bands around at that time – Dexy’s Midnight Runners and the Jam – where you could be into soul music but there were jagged guitars, there was politics. That whole era is really important. In the charts you had these bands who were erudite, political mod/soul/punks. It was fantastic! It’ll never happen again!
SXP: Did you listen to John Peel?
David Feck: I vividly remember certain things, like ‘Cattle and Cane’ by the Go-Betweens. It was the first time I’d heard the Go-Betweens, I’d never heard of any record that sounded like that, with talking in it; it was a very romantic, sentimental sound, especially when you’re under your covers in the dark. I used to tape whole nights ‘cause I’d fall asleep; I’d just do a lot of fast forwarding through the 10 minute reggae dubathon things and probably missed much good music by so much fast forwarding!
SXP: One thing I really like about Comet Gain is the fact that you appear to be so spontaneous. Things go wrong and things go right but it feels like there’s a lot left to chance.
David Feck: At the moment we’ve been rehearsing a bit because of those two [Lexington] shows. We were doing songs – especially the first night – that even I haven’t played in years. Ben had to teach me some of the songs because I couldn’t remember them. But I wouldn’t want to see a band that has a lot of records do the same 10 songs over and over again. You owe it to the people who’ve come to see you to not prepare totally, because something terrible could happen or something great could come out of it. One song could fall apart and another song could hit some magic vein. I never want anyone to come to our shows knowing what to expect – other than out of tune singing and the odd broken string. We don’t deliberately play that badly –the mixture of drunkenness, the fear, unrehearsed(ness), that’s the way it is! I’m not going to apologise. But I do like to fuck everyone around. We’ll rehearse and I’ll change the set just before we’re going to go on. I need that feeling of…urgency or something. Every time we do a song I want everyone in the band to at least not go through the motions and be avatars of what this song is supposed to be!
SXP: You must be proud when you look back.
David Feck: I don’t know. Every CG record, even though they probably all sound the same, is a direct retaliation to the previous one. I wanted to make a good one, or at least somehow get out what was in my head properly this time. But it never worked. And now I’m just more comfortable with the fact that what I see as a failure seems to be popular with some people. The very few people that I’ve met who like Comet Gain all seem to be people who I’d like to know and hang around with.
SXP: Looking back, you’ve written some great songs, like ‘You Can Hide Your Love Forever’ and, coming up to date, ‘Working Circle Explosive’ from the new album.
David Feck: Really? That’s so weird! *surprised* It was meant as a self-indulgent B-side where I get my love of drone rock – a Spacemen 3-type thing – out. It was going to be a 10 minute long thing and we did it and it was almost a pop song! It was never meant to be on the record, or probably wasn’t going to make it as a B-side. And then Sean was like: that’s a single! The media-mogul!
SXP: I read that there have been 60 members of Comet Gain over the years.
David Feck: My original ideal for Comet Gain was as a collective, a communal thing. If you play drums once, that’s it, you’re now a part of the [collective] and we will call upon you. You will be cursed! There are a lot of people on that list who have only spent a few hours in the company of Comet Gain but that’s it, they’re fucked, they’re in!
SXP: Do you ever see Comet Gain ending?
David Feck: It’s too much fun in one way. I want to write songs, I want to make music; it might as well be Comet Gain. It would be silly to stop and do another record that sounds like Comet Gain but isn’t. I like seeing my friends in the band. I like having adventures with them. And it would be nice making a couple more records that were good. It’s never ending. But I can imagine that even if no-one bought our records [I’d] still be doing an occasional Comet Gain record, just for the sake of my friend Dale, just to see what he thinks, you know.
All photos courtesy Uncle Bob Stuart at www.underexposed.org.uk