“We’ve learned to be totally indifferent about what people think about us.”
For 34 years alternative rock/post punk outfit New Model Army have been walking the path less travelled virtually ignored by mainstream media. Various incarnations surrounding frontman and main composer Justin Sullivan kept the band alive through some very trying times. Since the release of Between Dog And Wolf things are on the up and up and in order to keep the momentum going the band decided to release a very interesting double album, entitled Between Wine And Blood. Enough reason for MR scribe Raymond Westland to have a friendly chat with Justin Sullivan himself…
Can you take us through the motions as what led to the release of Between Wine And Blood?
We had always planned to do a live album featuring tracks from Between Dog And Wolf. We also had two half-finished songs from those sessions. It just happened that in the early part of the year when our touring schedule was interrupted by problems with Michael Dean’s health, we took the time to finish the two and write and record four more.
The new songs on Between Wine And Blood are very much in the vein of the previous album. To which extent did you guys write all new material versus ideas and songs that didn’t make the cut on Between Dog And Wolf?
I’m not sure about your observation except for ‘Devils Bargain’ perhaps (which was an unfinished BDAW song). The others are different and far more eclectic. I think that perhaps being mixed by Joe Barresi again (his mixes have a very distinctive sound) and the fact that we recorded much the same way (drums on tape and the rest in our own studio) mean that it has such similar sonics to BDAW that people think it’s musically similar.
Joe Barresi once again handled the mixing duties. What made you decide to work with him again and what he bring to Between Wine And Blood?
Going back to work with him on BWAB was so familiar, that it does seem that he’s a bit of a member of the family now. The thing about his mixes are that they are so huge and so clear and I think that this fits our music very well. And he’s a pleasure to work with, loves the band and understands at a gut level our relationship with power and beauty.
Let’s talk Between Dog And Wolf for a bit. The album itself is a quite a departure in terms of music and style compared to NMA’s past works. What caused this?
We thought a lot about how we wanted it to sound before we started. We wanted to experiment with layered drums and think carefully about arranging that with other instrumentation. We wanted to produce it ourselves – producers’ jobs often involve keeping a band ‘on track’ and not going up blind alleys. We decided we wanted to explore the blind alleys but would ultimately give the mixing to one of the best mixers in the World to finish. Above all we wanted to make a real album that held together as a piece with a strong overall atmosphere. We’re always told that in the modern era, no one has time to listen to whole albums and no one buys them. I think what happened with BDAW suggests that this is not entirely true.
The gamble obviously paid off, because the record was met with almost rapturous acclaim. To which extent did this come as a surprise to you and the rest of the band?
A little perhaps – though not everyone liked it. But then again we’ve learned to be totally indifferent about what people think about us.
What’s the secret of New Model Army’s musical relevance and longevity, despite being largely ignored by mainstream media to this very day?
Probably the same answer as the last question. We don’t care what other people think. We are in this to make something that we love and are proud of.
Back when you guys started out in the early 80’s music in general actually meant something to people, but nowadays it seems (pop) music and its innate appreciation can be similar to going to McDonalds. It’s utterly disposable and forgettable. How do you see things from an artists’ standpoint?
I’m afraid I can only give the same answer. I read a depressing article written by a self-proclaimed ‘young person’ which was an attack on U2 for being ‘irrelevant’ and out of touch with the modern machinery of ‘success’ (social media, youtube blah blah). But it assumes the same nonsense as the mainstream music business has always assumed – that all musicians must be primarily ‘in it’ for ‘success’. Now I remember what ‘success’ as a musician really means and that is being able to make a living from it. After that not all musicians care about ‘where they are in the charts’, how much they’re written about, whether they are considered ‘relevant’ by today’s movers and shakers (who will always be tomorrow’s irrelevances). Being in New Model Army is about as good as it gets because we do make a (very modest) living from it and we are 100% free to do whatever we want creatively without ever caring what anybody else thinks.
The NMA fanbase is very loyal to the band. What inspires this loyalty and in what way do they sustain the band and vice versa according to you?
Something Neil Young once said comes to mind (and I paraphrase) – that if you just always do what you believe in (irrespective of criticism), eventually people learn to trust you.
The second leg of the tour in support of Between Dog And Wolf is going to continue in October. What can the fans expect and how are you guys going to incorporate the new songs in your show?
We will – but actually we haven’t really decided yet…
inally, what’s in the cards for you and NMA for the rest of the year and beyond?
The rest of the year is busy – with the special Christmas shows, the release of the film about the band and all kinds of smaller projects. Looking further ahead, nothing is really decided. We’ll do what we do…