Finding the Right Balance: An interview with Mclusky

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Welsh trio Mclusky should have gone out with a bang. They certainly played loud and enough and with enough bile dripping from their tongues that it seemed the most likely course of action. Their 2002 album Mclusky Do Dallas, which turned 20 earlier this year, stacked 14 anthems of antagonism, abrasion and post-hardcore hooks with titles like “Fuck This Band” and singer Andrew Falkous’ declarations that “We take more drugs than a touring funk band.” One way or another, Mclusky left an impression and maybe a lingering bout with tinnitus.

Their 2004 breakup wasn’t so climactic. The band, on a tour of the U.S. in support of their third album The Difference Between You and Me Is I’m Not on Fire, had the misfortune of being the victim of theft, their van and gear stolen just as the United States had re-elected George W. Bush as president, leaving them saddled with a five-figure debt. That, coupled with long-simmering interpersonal tensions, led to the eventual dissolution of Mclusky, with Falkous and drummer Jack Egglestone forming Future of the Left shortly thereafter.

Yet when the opportunity came up for Mclusky to reform, in part, for a benefit show for a venue in Cardiff, Wales, ten years later, Falkous, Egglestone and Future of the Left bassist Julia Ruzicka brought the smirk and ire of the band’s first act back to a crowd that missed them more than the band realized. And since then, Mclusky—now featuring Damien Sayell on bass and singing Jon Chapple’s vocal parts—have continued to add more and more live dates, eventually returning to the U.S., which hasn’t seen a Mclusky show in 18 years. The warm reception that the band receives still catches Falkous off guard.

“At times I say, ‘These people do realize who we are?’ Not in a self-deprecating way. We’ve played in Detroit just to the bar staff,” he says from his home via Zoom. “The band is bigger in legend than reality. For us it is a huge, amazing novelty to play not just to a sold-out room, but to a watchful room of enthusiastic people. That’s an incredible feeling and we’ve never taken it for granted.”

Ahead of Mclusky’s return to the states for another lap to close out 2022, we spoke to Falkous about where they left off, reissuing Mclusky Do Dallas, and why you should never tell him how far you’ve traveled to see them until after they play.

Treble: This year is mclusky’s first tour in the U.S. since 2004. How was that last tour—it wasn’t long before the band broke up?

AF: Yeah, two or three months. It wasn’t great. There were some good shows, but we had all of our stuff stolen in Phoenix, and I was carrying that 25,000-dollar debt for eight years until I paid it off. There were some good shows, we had some not-well-attended shows. The agent at the time had a bit of a fucking nightmare. We were there for a month, and I don’t think we played any shows on a Friday or Saturday night, which is counterintuitive of the idea of ticket sales. But while it didn’t help it wasn’t the reason we split up. Undoubtedly when things aren’t going well, small crowds, the claustrophobia of the van, definitely not a recipe for insane levels of happiness. The reasons the band broke up are far more profound and personally based.

Treble: You’ve done more tours and played in more bands since then. Do you find that you’re just better equipped now?

AF: I think the main difference is that, partly because we’re all human, it’s difficult when you’re younger to not take part in some activity which has some connection to professional aims, without thinking, if I do this and it goes well, another opportunity will come off the back of it. What I’m saying now is that, even though we’d like to do more stuff, we’re writing for a record, everything is completely in the moment. There’s no expectation of anything else. There’s a hope buried in the back of your head behind the tinnitus. But there’s no stupid dream. There’s just the moment where you stand there and the audience is there and your bandmates are there and you’re breathing it all in. I was never the biggest drinker in the world but I’ve gone on stage tipsy before, but now I’ll just have a beer and make sure I’m present. I mean, I’m always present otherwise people would ask for a refund. But now I’m entirely present every time. Pretty much everything that’s gone wrong has gone wrong. We’ve got a live album of Future of the Left where there’s 20 minutes of talking because the bass amp broke straightaway. So you can take most things in stride. I should add that it’s not a challenge to the universe, in any way.

But I’ve always enjoyed it. Making music has always just made me feel alive. But touring with such nice people as well. And “nice” is often used as a synonym for boring, but not in this head. There’s no destructive wild-card. Not that I’ve ever been on tour with former members of Queens of the Stone Age or whatever. But everyone’s motives are transparent and everyone’s that bit older as well. In the days of Mclusky, there was one member who had to be motivated to go on stage, like managing a professional athlete who’s not fully committed to the team. It’s annoying at first, and then it’s exhausting. Touring especially. If you don’t enjoy the fundamentals of it, then you’re certainly not going to enjoy the trappings. 

Treble: You once said that Mclusky is “very hard on the throat.” What do you do to keep your voice in good shape?

AF: Well, the thing is, with me, I gave up smoking years ago for that reason. I was a smoker of cigarettes. I could only do half an hour a night. And I gave up smoking and then within two weeks, I could do an hour and 15 minutes. There are lots of people I’ve asked for advice about singing, and then they ask, “do you smoke?” And I say, “yeah.” They say, “give up smoking, that’s my advice.” I warm up, I drink water all the time, I use all the remedies known to man, but sometimes, for me, as long as the monitoring is good, I can control my voice, I can make it sound like my voice is going crazy when I’m probably only going 60 or 70 percent. What damages your voice more is being at the merch table, talking over the music and you’re not in control of your music. Which basically means that apart from playing the show you have to hermit it in the dressing room. Which is good because it gives me an excuse not to talk to someone I don’t want to talk to, but also you sometimes just want to have a beer and talk to people.

I actually have a bit of a policy about that. For example, when we did a show in Newcastle, someone said “hey, I came over from Chicago,” and absolutely do not tell me that before a show. If you enjoyed the show, and you came from Chicago, great, that’s amazing. But I put enough pressure on myself. We did a Future of the Left show in 2008 at a venue called Debaser in Stockholm. We traveled 2,000 kilometers from Zagreb, Croatia. There were 60 people there, but 56 of them were there for indie disco, and four people in the front. So I said to the boys, “OK, take it easy tonight, we’re flying to America two days later.” We’ll play, but we’ll do 40 minutes instead of the usual hour. But after we soundcheck, a girl comes up to us and says hey, we came from Finland to see you, it’s a 32-hour roundtrip, so we can’t play a truncated set in those circumstances. So don’t tell me in advance. 

Treble: Having been playing and revisiting these songs for a few years now, how do they hold up for you now?

AF: It’s very difficult because those songs have a lot of memories attached to them and they’re familiar because people know them and people sing them back. For example, it’s always hilarious and heartwarming to hear people sing the riff of “Without MSG I Am Nothing.” It’s ridiculous but it works, and it makes everyone in the band smile. I like them, they’re very much the product of a time and place. Even though I was the main person involved in crafting them and writing the words and everything, they’re definitely the result of the three people in the band. As much as I have negative thoughts about Jon and Matt, the first two people in the band, I also have positive thoughts and acknowledge the contributions they made, sometimes just by the act of turning up, but also because they have talents which made the thing what it was. They’re very simple songs, simple almost to the point of satire. When I showed the songs to Julia and Damien, I said it won’t take you very long to learn the songs. The set’s about an hour ten and it’ll take you a half hour to learn them. There are dynamics to those songs—drop in, drop out—which maybe don’t seem complex to me just because of the way my brain works. When I play other people’s songs I’m just astounded by how complicated they are. It’s very different to get to a balance between what Mclusky was and what it is now. But we’ve found the right balance. There’s one or two songs that kind of get on my tits. I don’t like playing “whoyouknow.” And “That Man Will Not Hang,” is kind of hard to sing and I’d rather not, but the other members of the band bully me. 

Treble: You did a campaign to reissue Mclusky Do Dallas. How did that work, logistically? Do you own the masters?

AF: Beggars Banquet still own the masters. I think I get the masters in a few years? When I say I, I mean the band. They were very forthcoming with that. It took a while because the incomplete materials were sent to Bob Weston. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just what happened. There have been numerous delays. There was a clicking sound on the test pressing on “Fuck This Band,” which is literally the only quiet song on the record. That’s sorted now, but I’m not 100 percent sure if they’ll be ready by the end of the month. Which is a shame, because that’s 10,000 dollars. I’m trying not to get too down about it. What can I do? I can’t fly over and walk around the pressing plant demanding everything’s pressed in time. The artwork was really hard to get because it was in a format that isn’t used now. There have just been countless delays. Some of them self-imposed, but mostly imposed by the worldwide machinations of what is now the vinyl industry. It was meant to be ready in April and it’s lunacy that I’m saying maybe it’ll be ready November 30th. Listening to the album, Bob’s done a great job mastering it. Obviously I’m very proud of the record. The new version is just a tiny bit brighter, without sacrificing any of the low end which makes it right. But it sounds fantastic. It should, after all the work that’s been done.

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