Ed from Radiohead recently described them as truly 'inspirational' while Brett from Suede popped into the studio to sing on one of STRANGELOVE's tracks. Love them yet?...
Well, this is patently wrong. It's a lovely, sunny day and, outside, the ducklings are quacking their fluffy way along a tranquil canal. Yesterday was a miserable day, all crash and holler, all swamp and suffering. But today, I', due to meet Strangelove - and this is patently wrong.
Until you walk inside, that is. The room where we meet is decked in red, with several macabre instruments of torture littered about and, to one side, sits a vase of lilies - the flower of death. Over in the corner, lurks the swarthy, sinister figure of famed sorcerer The Great Kovari ("George" to his friends), who looks like he's dipped his pinkie in the swirling pools of the dark side more than once. And, just behind him, about to sever his head with a guillotine, are Patrick Duff and Alex Lee, singer and guitarist respectively, in Bristol's Strangelove. Alex is brandishing a mean-looking sword and contentedly mumbling "It's just a good feeling of authority" to himself, while Patrick's ordering The Great Kovari down to meet his doom: "Go on then mate... on your knees!"
How times have changed. For years, Strangelove were gently mocked for being almost cartoonishly gloomy. They suffered the knock-on effect of the anti-miserablist backlash and wore a "party-poopers" tag during Baggy and Britpop. But, all of a sudden, fashion has swiveled on its Cuban heels, looked them straight in the mascaraed eyes and planted a big, wet, sloppy kiss straight on their frowns. It's a good time to be B(L)ACK.
Radiohead's guitarist Ed O'Brien recently described Strangelove as "inspirational", admitting that "Radiohead are definitely post-Strangelove." How did you take that?
Alex smiles as he remembers, "I just scurried into a newsagent, looked up the Radiohead article, read the bit about us, put it back on the shelf, and then bought The Guardian and did the crossword. But I did think that is was really sweet... we're really pleased."
STRANGELOVE have a new single out. It's their most disturbing yet, shocking almost. Not because it mines new depths of misery, or plunges the listener into a bleak chasm of anguish and despair. No, "The Greatest Show On Earth" is shocking because it's upbeat. And Funny. Perhaps they've picked up Suede's pop nous after touring with them last year. "Yeah, they used to be a bit cool, a bit distant," says Alex. "But now, they're such a big celebratory thing. They don't have to worry about being judged any more because they had people who loved them, going nuts every night. That's quite inspiring."
"The Greatest Show On Earth" is also remarkable because it casts a series of children's story characters well against type. Christopher Robin, for example, kills his friends and moves to Barnsley. Explain Patrick.
"That song's about the children you see at the seaside, and they're the only people who want to play in the sea and the sand. Everyone else is trying to fix themselves with lager and Kiss-Me-Quick hats. Their sense of awe in the world has been lost. Instead of putting myself in the song, though, I thought I'd put other people into it, fairy tale characters who'd just given up. I thought that would get the message across better."
Is everything a show to you? You once said that everyone who writes a diary hopes it will be read by someone else, otherwise what's the point?
"Yeah, but I write a diary now which I wouldn't want anyone else to see. It's for me to work out the crap in my head, but not in a creative way. I've kept this diary every morning without fail for a year now."
Have you formed some kind of dependence on it, then?
"Yeah, I have. But it's not unhealthy. I know it benefits me - I've noticed the change."
That makes you sound like a machine which needs to be serviced.
"That's a really extreme interpretation. I've just got a lot of crap in my head, and I've made the choice to get rid of it, to keep it out of my work. I'm trying as hard as I can to do something about it."
The chorus to "The Greatest Show On Earth" goes: "Hold on, slow down/You'll never get to heaven on this merry-go-round". Both Patrick and Thom Yorke (in Radiohead's The Tourist") have been feeling this need to slow down and avoid excitement. In Patrick's case, this is largely due to years of alcohol and drug dependency, now resolved through a spell in detox and a strict physical and mental regime.
"I spent a lot of time running around like a headless chicken," Patrick sighs. "But not any more. I'm comfortable in my own space. I've based everything in my life on my creativity."
Is that enough?
"I don't think it will be forever, but at the moment, yeah, it is. I've always been a private person, even at school which was my own private hell. There was a lump of people and there was me; I just didn't feel part of it at all. So now, when I'm not working, I just stay in on my own. I don't watch television at all - it's like watching my head go by, watching it drift over the walls."
Do you have a voyeuristic side to your character?
"Not at all. I'm so far up my own arse that I'm not interested in prying into other people's lives! Some things are interesting though - self destruction's good to watch."
So can you blame others for their interest in your self-destruction?
"It's a surface view - that's what's annoying. I try to give other people respect now; I try not to see them as cartoons. I know now I can be wrong about people."
After you sobered up, were you surprised that all your problems hadn't gone away?
"No, no, no... I knew. I had a pretty good idea as to why I was doing it, and I knew it was to do with me. Those things were still going to be there. Definitely."
Are other people happier to help you now you're helping yourself?
"It depends who they are. I wish I'd never said anything about it, but I believed that telling the truth was the best thing I could do. I don't believe that anymore. I don't mean lie; I mean withhold. It's a totally personal thing; my case is different than anybody else's"
Are most people too afraid of feeling bad?
"I don't know. It's so bad for me to try to get inside other people's heads, because I'm comparing how I know I feel on the inside to how you look on the outside. And, because people put up walls and disguises, when I compare myself, my feelings of alienation start to kick in and I feel really different from everybody else. And I'm now, you know?
Would you baulk at the idea of your music being a lifeline to somebody?
"People make their own choices. But stuff has been a lifeline to me, so I feel more able to embrace that. Songs have really fucking meant something to me. They've really, really have. And I've always found so-called 'bleak' music really uplifting - the feeling isn't of wallowing. it's of your spirit rising. Yesss!!! I love that, that's really special."
Patrick's tapping a knife against his thigh really vigorously now. Tap. Tap. Tttttaaaaappppp.
"You can do anything if you work at it," he continues, " but I don't blame people who don't. I know what it's like to be told you're a piece of shit time and time again - you start to believe it. It doesn't fucking matter why my problems occurred though. I could go into psychotherapy, but it would do nothing apart from make me resentful towards those people. I've lived with resentment, and it's No (tap) Way (tap) To (tap) Fucking (tap) Live (tap)! What I care about is solving my problems."
Which is certainly why Stranglove's new songs sound so much stronger. One of the stand-outs is "Freak". Even though it's got quite a down-beat, self-loathing lyric. ("I live a life alone"), "Freak" sounds like nothing so much as a sleazy Rolling Stones.
"Does It?" grins Patrick."It's supposed to be like that. Definitely."
Alex widens his eyes. "We needed to re-energise ourselves, for the music to be a more visceral rather than a purely intellectual hit."
Won't that piss off the die hard fans though?
"No way," Patrick barks. "The idea that Strangelove fans are really narrow-minded people wallowing in their own excesses of darkness is bullshit. I've met some of them and they're not like that. It'll be fine. I know it will."
'The Greatest Show On Earth' is out now on Food.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Four of the strangest 'Strangeloves' off the net.
"STRANGELOVE MAGAZINE". The first issue of which features the immortal coverline: "Colonic Techniques". You tell me.
A certain MICHAEL STRANGELOVE, who would appear to teach teachers how to teach people to teach using the net. Or something.
A character called THE PURPLE POPE STRANGELOVE OF STENCH AND STAGNATION plans to take over the world. From his bedsit in Slough.
There is a band called Nuclear Moose who recorded an album in 1994 called "STRANGELOVE". Truly dreadful.
Written by Robin Bresnark.
Used Without Kind Permission From The Melody Maker, 1997
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