Karl Wallinger interview

It’s hard to imagine many other acts releasing a 70-track box set and deliberately avoiding existing album tracks (and studio hits), preferring to include unreleased material from the archive. With the five-disc ‘Any Year Diary’ Arkeology set, this is exactly what World Party have done.

The band is, in essence, Karl Wallinger. Having left Mike Scott’s The Waterboys in the mid-eighties, Wallinger has been something of a one man band in the studio, overdubbing, layering instrumentation and recording with regular help from a small clique of musicians, namely Chris Sharrock (drums), Dave Catlin-Birch (guitar) and in the early days Robbie Williams’ future musical partner Guy Chambers (keyboards). Five albums have been released in the last 25 years; Private Revolution (1986), Goodbye Jumbo (1990), Bang! (1993), Egyptology (1997) and Dumbing Up (2000).

The Arkeology set has been out in the US for a while but only received an official release in the UK earlier this month. Make no mistake, this is possibly the most satisfying release from the band since 1993’s Bang!. It’s a White Album of a box set – more than you actually need, but with very little to dislike. It is full of fantastic songs, silliness, covers, some rough edges, the odd b-side and even a few hits (only as live tracks). There are absolutely no studio album tracks from the five records released. The only semi-exceptions are All The Love That’s Wasted (CD2) from Dumbing Up – which was criminally removed when that album was reissued in 2006 – Kuwait City (CD4), a Beach Boys parody which was a hidden track on early pressings of Bang! and a pre-edit version of Thank You World (CD3).

World Party / Arkeology 5CD set
Don't call it a box set - Arkeology: the 5CD 'Any Year Diary'

The set is packaged in what Wallinger calls the ‘Any Year Diary’ – literally a ring-bound diary with photos, useful dates (“Neil Armstrong becomes the first man on the moon”) and little pockets for the five CDs.

World Party / Arkeology 5CD set
Each song in the set has its own page with photos and recording details

World Party’s last studio album was Dumbing Up in 2000. The following year Wallinger had a serious health scare when he suffered an aneurysm that left him unable to speak. After a long rehabilitation period he returned to performing in 2006, with gigs in the US and the following year in Australia. Arkeology is the first World Party release in the UK for 12 years.

We recently caught up with Karl and asked him about Arkeology….

SuperDeluxeEdition: It’s been quite a while since the last World Party album, why did you decide to come back with this box set?

Karl Wallinger: That was the thing it isn’t a box set. My colleague in America was banging on about it, do a box set buddy! That kind of thing, but I really didn’t want to go and remaster albums and put them in a box – the same World Party albums that you had before, but you need to buy them again because we want to make some money. And the thing with these box sets is that you don’t know what to do with them – you can never find the right shelf. So I really didn’t want to do that, but then I thought that there is probably enough stuff knocking around to make a record and do something a bit different – not have any album tracks on there for instance, but also include some original tracks, something new. I was in the kitchen and we have a Redstone diary that we get every year, and I thought, I spend more time looking at that than I do any album cover, so why not create something useful – a diary. Then you could have week one, track one, CD one and a page for each song.

SDE: How did you choose the tracks?

KW: I couldn’t actually do the track listing, but Mike Worthington, who is our label manager, came to stay for a week and we listened to a load of stuff, and from something ridiculous like 79 days of music, he took away five days worth on this portable hard drive. He came back with four CDs of music from that lot. In the meantime I’d been listening to a load of old DATs and came up with another CD to fill with more recent things. So the idea was to put these five CDs together with the packaging – you can rip your CDs to whatever format you want, iTunes for instance, and then shove them in a draw, but you’ve still got the diary which is a useful thing and you can use all year long.

 SDE: Do you think many people will actually use it as a proper diary?

KW: I hope so. I really hope they do. That would be great – mission accomplished.

SDE: So is the cupboard bare in terms of your archive? Probably not, if you had 79 days worth to sift through?!

KW: No it’s definitely not bare. I could do this again, although it might be the ‘B’ team! Actually, there’d be some ‘A’ team things there. There’s some pretty heavy duty covers that I could put on there that I’ve put out before, such as No.9 Dream and Penny Lane. Sometimes these things turn out ‘delicious hot, but disgusting cold’, but you do them because it’s good just to know how.

SDE: There are undoubtedly people out there that would be interested in a deluxe expanded version of, for instance, Goodbye Jumbo. Lots of artists are reissuing old albums with a bonus CD or DVD – is that something that you might consider?

KW: I don’t like it when you go to buy a CD and it’s got five other tracks at the end that are basically rubbish versions of other tracks on the album. I hate that. I think what we’ve done with Arkeology is a better form of retrospective, because a lot of it is what we’ve done between albums that never got on the records for whatever reason. There’s a lot of stuff that is not even finished, with a guide vocal, that we didn’t do any more work on. It’s a strange collection really, like a ‘trousers down’ thing. I’m not really in to remastering tracks we’ve heard before, I don’t really agree with that.

SDE: Do you think you’re a good judge of your own material? Looking back through this set and listening to the music, you discover songs like Basically which is a charming track that never made it on to Bang! and instead had to make do with B-side status. Do you look back and think, maybe I should have put that on the album and left another off, or are you happy with the decisions you made along the way?

KW: I’ve always been pretty self-governing – I’ve fairly much put the records together myself, so whatever has happened has been my fault in the end. My view is that those are the decisions that you made, and I could probably write something better in place of every track when you look back, but those decisions just made sense at the time. It’s the same with Mystery Girl (CD two and five) – these little tracks seemed to have had the potential but got passed over. I don’t know why, but they have their day in the end, and in this case it’s on Arkeology!

SDE: The more recent tracks on the box set like Everybody’s Falling In Love and Photograph (both CD 1) are quite strong. Weren’t you tempted to save them for the next World Party album?

KW: No I wasn’t. I just wanted to put something from 2011 on there. I was listening to some stuff last night and since 2001 when Dumbing Up came out, there is a lot of stuff in the can. So that’s pretty crazy – I could put another box set out from that lot. But getting back to writing has been a long road and there is one track I was kicking myself for not putting on called The Twentieth Century which is a kind of run down of the decades. I do like that, it would have been great on Arkeology, but I will save that for the next record.

SDE: Talking of which are you planning to release a new World Party record any time soon?

KW: Yes, hopefully some time next year. I was working on a new record when I got stopped to do this. And we’ve been in America a lot doing radio stations, in-store appearances, that kind of thing. The roof of my studio fell in after a heavy downpour so that was another incentive to abandon ship and and go off and work on this (laughs). We’ve just found out that we’ve got a gig on 1 November at the Royal Albert Hall, so that will be our ‘welcome back to England’ gig, since it will be the first time we’ve played here for twelve years. I’m really looking forward to it.

SDE: You have been touring since 2006, but mainly in the US – why haven’t you performed in the UK?

KW: No particular reason. We just decided to do things over there. We set up the label Seaview Records in the US, although recently we now secured UK distribution. It was quite strange – Where do you work? America. Where do you live? London. But I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve spend more time over there doing nothing in between engagements and I really like hanging in America and have been in New York a lot. It’s really nice that side of it because normally you’re on the road and you stay in once place for a day and you’re gone the next day – but it’s been really nice to spend time in LA and New York. I’ve always liked America. It’s got some crap bits, but hey, we haven’t got any crap bits in the UK? You must be joking!

SDE: You toured with Steely Dan – what was that like?

KW: That was in Australia and New Zealand. That was pretty funny. They were nice but I remember looking at their shows on Whistle Test years ago and it was anarchy on stage, but on our tour Donald Fagen would be virtually taped to his organ seat and sit and sing all night and that was it. It was very strange when the lights in the audience went on because everybody looked how I look now. Grey hair, glasses and a beard! Strange to see a whole audience like that. We weren’t really like them, we were like the naughty kids on their tour. It was good fun to do but not exactly heavy duty. It was a gig every two or three days because of the travelling and we did really nice places where we would play outside like vineyards where there would be a wine festival on.

SDE: Sounds very relaxing!

KW: It was a very nice tour to do, and we played for 45 minutes and it was like, can we please go and do another gig somewhere now? But we didn’t have anywhere to play. The tours I’ve enjoyed have been where we’ve done a support and then gone into the town afterwards and played in a little club somewhere the same night. You can’t really advertise it, but it’s a great thing to do.

SDE: Back in 2006 you released that greatest hits in the US – Best In Show – but it struck me that you haven’t had a greatest hits compilation out in the UK…

KW: Well I was told, “you gotta have a greatest hits, buddy”. So I rang someone up and asked them for the iTunes figures for downloads that week, and the running order is based entirely on that list! (laughs). Just put it on there and stick it out. Because I hate all those things, I don’t know why.

SDE: If you’re going to release a new album next year, you should really do a Greatest Hits at Christmas and reintroduce everybody to World Party again…

KW: The gig’s only in November, so we’ll still be plugging this Arkeology Diary – the perfect Christmas present! (laughs). Anyway the idea of a greatest hits, that really does make me laugh… (Karl does indeed laugh loudly at this point).

SDE: Come on, you did have some hits. Bang! was pretty successful in the UK with three (almost) top 40 hits. You were on Top Of The Pops and all the rest of it. Did you actually enjoy all of that or do you prefer keeping under the radar, so to speak.

KW: No I’d love to have been a multi-number one band, but I found the music business such a weird industry. Yes, I have been quite insular, I have been locked away in a studio, I do have all the masters up there, and I am my own boss, but in the same way that this Arkeology project is so personal, back then it was always these record companies pulling you into this de-personalised zone. I’m much happier now, I’m able to do my own thing.

SDE: It’s often been said that you were a few years ahead of your time with your music preempting that whole period of Britpop. Do you regret the fact that you didn’t release an album during the height of that period, say in 1995 or ’96

KW: No. I’ve just carried on on my own course. I don’t want to market myself in one particular way and in a way that’s been great because I’ve been outside of any kind of timestamp. I mean, even people who know me don’t know when some of the tracks were recorded on this Arkeology set. Chris Sharrock (World Party drummer for years, who now plays with Liam Gallagher) was ’round the other night – he’s a great friend, and I gave him a copy and he listened to it and said Words is a new one isn’t it?”, and I told him “No, it’s 1991!”

SDE: You’ve included a cover of Man We Was Lonely [originally from McCartney, Macca’s solo debut from 1970] on disc two of Arkeology. Do you have a favourite post-Beatles McCartney album?

KW: (Immediately) McCartney, with the cherries on the cover. It’s miles away. For me that McCartney album was just superb. Somebody just in a room, making music. And it was someone of his ability as well. That was really inspiring for doing a record on your own. And he made it sound like a band. I didn’t really like (sings in Macca-esque voice) “..C Moon..” and the idea of Wings, and the mullet hairdo and all that…

SDE: Do you still buy music? Do you go into a record shops?

KW: Yes, I probably buy a mixture of CDs from Amazon or iTunes downloads. I very rarely go into record shops, to be honest. I hate the CD as a thing. I just hate it. I hate the format, I hate the disc itself, I hate the artwork – it’s just a horrible thing, isn’t it? I’d love to do Arkeology on vinyl. It would have to be a twelve album set or something like that. It would be fantastic, with a big book of photos. I still love the album format.

SDE: Do you still believe in the album as an art form?

KW: Yes, I believe in the album as an art form totally. I believe in a collection of songs rather than one computerised piece of crap that’s got lots of auto-tune on it!

SDE: But what about what Pink Floyd did where they have stopped people being able to download individual tracks from their albums?

KW: That’s up to the artist. If the artist wants you to have it like that and doesn’t want you to have it any other way, then that’s it. You either respect the artists’ idea or you don’t buy it. I think people should be fine about that. I hate the way that people think that music is something that should be free. I think that’s really crap. It’s a mad idea – I wish everything else was free then! People’s attitudes to music was that it was just this stuff you could download (for free) and I think a lot of respect has gone because of that. Musicians are just regarded as desperate people who want money from any source and all this Simon Cowell stuff, I can’t stand it.

SDE: If you were starting out today, would things be any easier than they were in the 1980s?

KW: It’s the technology that’s different really, it hasn’t really changed that much. But there’s no counter-culture right now. You’re either in the system or you’re out of the system. What would be great was if there was some way of people releasing records and selling records while being outside the system. But there’s not really a way that happens at the moment, it’s all very official, very company controlled and very budget oriented. I’ve always wanted to write the soundtrack to a social revolution, or something like that – I don’t know how you’d define it, but songs like Ship Of Fools and Is It Like Today in some ways are even more meaningful now than when I wrote them. It’s a very strange world right now… people asking “what can I get for myself?”, “how can I get everyone loving me?”. Although I’ve always had an ego, I’ve never been the kind of artist where it’s all about me, everybody get out of the way – I’d rather be involved in something that was bigger than me. Something that was going somewhere, gently dismantling things and making things right.

Arkeology is out now and can be ordered here (UK) or here (US).

We have a copy to giveaway SIGNED by Karl Wallinger. For details click here.


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