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INTERVIEW: The Black Flag meets Tony Mayo of Naked Lunch

Back in the early 80’s rising from the ashes of Punk, electronic bands began to take the stage, often, like their Punk before them to very mixed reviews. One...

Back in the early 80’s rising from the ashes of Punk, electronic bands began to take the stage, often, like their Punk before them to very mixed reviews. One of the bands that stood on the forefront of this new musical revolution revolution was Naked Lunch, led by the enigmatic Tony Mayo, the band were like nothing the UK music press had ever seen at the time.

Now 30 years later Naked Lunch have returned and are playing their first London gig since the eighties on the 14th December at the 333 Club in Shoreditch. We were luck enough to meet up with Tony and have a chat about the upcoming gig, the modern music industry and the birth of electronic music….

The Black Flag: So tell us about your history growing up. What led to you becoming a musician?

Tony Mayo: My step father was in the army and we moved about a lot so I tended to have to keep on making new friends. I also got used to my own company and would listen to the radio, initially to classical music and later on to contemorary music. At that time I started piano and quitar lessons and i was top in my music theory class but due to the moving this was not continued although my passion for music remained. Later on I started DJing in the late 70’s and then progressed into forming a Punk band followed by Naked Lunch . The ethos being to try to do something different and new.

TBF: OK thats an interesting jump classical to punk and then to New Romantic. Would you say this was because of the Sex Pistols initially?

Tony: No, I was allready a punk going to the Lacy lady in seven kings right at the start and knew a lot of the bromley crew. I was bored with music fashion etc and we were not impressed with hippies etc..we wanted something different and interesting….

TBF: Which is where Naked Lunch came in. How did the band come about?

Tony: I grew bored of being in a Punk band and wanted to do something new and i was listening to Neu, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwek etc and thought why not take these ideas and change them. Then through the power of melody maker ads the members met up and we formed the band.

TBF: Do you consider your selves pioneers of electronic music, as you were often compared with Spandau Ballet and Soft Cell and were part of the whole ‘futurist Movement’…

Tony: We were around at the same time and were headling venues before Soft Cell moved to London in late 1980. We helped to get bands on the Some Bizzare album, toured England in 1980 with Stevo as the DJ promoting electronic music and were in music papers etc. Plus we also headlined the first futurist all dayer.

Naked Lunch – ‘La Femme’

TBF: I’ve noticed that you weren’t very keen on being labelled a futurist band. Why was that?

Tony: It was a term the media came up with just like New Romantic. We considered ourselves electronic…

TBF: Were you the only UK band that defined yourselves that way?

Tony: No I think quite a few did and then the media came up with names to clump us under…

TBF: You were quite controversial at times as well, wasn’t you? What did the media make of this?

Tony: At times they likes us and at other times they did not. Often they did not know where we were coming from and missed the point.

TBF: Ìts better to be slightly out there though isn’t it?

Tony: YUP it is good being out there but it meant we had to be thick skinned and be able to put up with hostility. In 1980 not everyone appreciated electronic music and some could be quite nasty.

TBF: Do you think thats because it wasn’t created, in what was, at the time, classed as the convention way of creating music?

Tony: Yes, everyone was into guitar based music. Yes we had a guitar but did not allways use it in the same way although some of our stuff was electronic punk cross over

TBF: Doesn’t it happen with every style of music though, it shocks and scares the older generation while being totally embraced by their kids?

Tony: It was not just the older generation a lot of the younger ones too could not tell where it was coming from. How do you go from Punk to synths and not have confusion? If not for the early bands like us taking the flack out there how would of the synth pop acts have coped on the live circuit?

Naked Lunch – ‘Slipping Again’ 

TBF: Is this where your ant-elitish sentiments come from? You say in a few interviews for instance you’d never not let someone in because of their fashion sense. In a way you were starting a whole new scene, did you think it was important to appeal to the masses?

Tony: We felt that people should dress up for going out etc but that not everyone had lots of monet and if someone wanted to come and find out what it was all about it seemed a bit daft to turn them away jsut because of their shoes etc.

TBF: Is it true that Softcell refused to share a bill with you?

Tony: I cant remember but possibly , we used to all be friends but fell out one night in a club. Funnily though I am mentioned in Marc Almonds Biography.

TBF: Band rivalry?

Tony: Not sure, I dont think we viewed things like that then , i think it was just one of those things really

TBF: I found it really interesting that you were quite unwilling to put out a single initially, why was this?

Tony: Everyone was throwing out records but not playing live. How can you tell if people like it or even develop the track if you dont play it to people. This was part of our punk heritage.

TBF: I always think that a great live band always makes an excellent record but a great studio band doesn’t always make a great live act. Is it important to have a crowd in front of you, do you build off the energy?

Tony: Yes we are influenced by the crowd it effects what you put into the gig, how you play etc. It is good to see a reaction and helps you to put more into it. That is why it is taking us so long to record our album , we have not played the tracks enough and we are still feeling our way around the new ideas and tracks. Once you record them that is it and it is hard to tweak them

TBF: Tell us a bit about the album?

Tony: We have written a lot of new tracks. But for the album, we are updating some of the old tracks ,as technology has improved so that we can present them as we wanted them to be but did not have the technology to do what we wanted years back. Plus some new tracks which so far we are quite pleased with.

TBF: It’s interesting that you say that, as I think creating electronic music is accessable to everybody now. What do you make of the latest tech and software. What changes has it had on your sound and how you play?

Tony: Music is about ideas, originality, and challenging perception and not about the piece of kits you are using and with electronic music it is how you adjust and adapt sounds to fit your track. We treat all synths the same as when we had monophonic analogue ones, adjust adapt don’t accept what someone else has done create your own identity.

TBF: Do you think it’s a good thing that it’s so accessible now?

Tony: Yes it is good that it is available for so many people to hear but how many of them know its history or that it was not fragmented into different genres, it was all one collective scene.

TBF: You’ve got a gig coming up on the 14th December (2012). Tell us about that?

Tony: We were approached by Flag Promotions and asked if we would play at the newly reopened Club Noir and headline the night. We used to headline in London all the time in the early 80’s and pull in over 1000 people, and this is our first London gig in decades, so it will be intersting. We did play at BAS II in May and agreed to open the event, thinking the place would be empty but it was packed and we had a hard time getting to the stage. So we hope we get a good turn out for this gig and a supportive crowd to hear some of our old trax like rabies and la Femme plus new ones. And the address is 333 old St London.

TBF: How has the music industry changed in the time that you’ve working in it?

Tony: Yes everyone know seems to want to be a star and thinks it is easy and also that all music is free. Resulting in every one trying to be careful and make music for the masses and to make money rather than being creative for its own sake. Where is the feeling in that?

TBF: has the heart been taken out of it? Do you think it’s almost been franchised?

Tony: It feels clean and fragmented. Where are the protest songs? We have a recession etc and yet where is the music and culture to reflect that? All we seem to get is corporate delivered musak and anything else is sidle lined and lost in the flotsam of the electronic media. Too much choice, not enough focus.

TBF: I have a theory that there could never be another PUNK, another Blues, another Hippy movement and another Rock N Roll because the music buying public is generally fed the latest X-Factor contestants or similar drivel. Would you agree with that?

Tony: I don’t think TV can give you a music movement it purely uses what is there and packages it for mass consumption.

TBF: You’ve just launched a truly amazing website as well, which is one of the best sites I’ve seen in a while. Tell us about that?

Tony: The Guys who did it for us Kevin and Richard did the VJ’ing at our BASII gig and we asked them to do the website. We said we did not want a boring corporate looking one or one  where the information was just laid out for you. We wanted something unusual and Kevin came up with the platform game idea and we loved it. The way that you need to find clues to open doors etc. Plus it fits in with our post-apocalyptic art work and anarchy.

TBF: Isn’t Black Flag fan favourite Jet Noir on level 7?

Tony: We like Jet’s music and her approach to it and Naked Lunch are into liaising with others and as Jet does not have a website of her own we offered her a page on our site with her links etc. I think she quite like’s the page.

TBF: OK last question. What’s in store for 2013 and beyond?

Tony: In 2013 we intend completing our album, doing some more live performances and all being well be involved in the opening of a new club night in London.

TBF: Hopefully we’ll see you there

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Naked Lunch Play Club Noir  at 333 Old Street, London, EC1V 9LE

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