On October 12th, Echo and the Bunnymen will release their 11th studio album, The Fountain, and as a recent Q&A with Rolling Stone demonstrates, irreverent frontman Ian McCulloch’s humor is aging as well as their landmark 1980 debut:
It’s been nearly 30 years since the band’s debut Crocodiles — are you thinking about that milestone?
It’s funny you should say that because to me, the new album sounds like a debut album. It’s thumping and cheeky and there’s a lot of spite and condescension too. “The Idolness Of Gods” is a poem with a tune and it’s possibly the greatest song I’ve ever written. It’s our best album since What Are You Gonna Do With Your Life? No actually, I’m gonna say it’s the best album since Ocean Rain.
Do you ever think that “The Killing Moon” is bigger than the band itself?
“The Killing Moon” is more than a song, it’s about everything. It’s up there with “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen, “Blowin In the Wind,” “In My Life.” Every time I sing it I feel like —[looks perplexed] whoa, something just happened there. I let the crowd sing along with it now too. It used to put me off — like being in Glasgow something they’d all sound like “och aye, da dee dee.” But now I really enjoy it. It’s hard enough to get a band to agree and say ‘that’s the one.’ But with “The Killing Moon,” everyone gets it.”
How do you think Echo and the Bunnymen have become such a festival mainstay?
I used to hate festivals. But we got good at it by having the attitude that “no one’s heard of us, but we will convince them.” I’m not a great mingler — I think most bands are rubbish — but it’s nice to be at a festival with bands you actually like, like MGMT. They’ve got a great glam-Roxy-Bowie thing. Nifty look hooks and lyrics. I like bands that have got taste and intelligence.
Echo and the Bunnymen were once touted to be as big as U2 — why didn’t it happen that way? We’ve never had that gimmicky “how you doing!” attitude to playing live because to be honest, I’m not that arsed. I’m more concerned with how I’m doing. There was always talk of us being the biggest band in the world but I think that’s why it could never happen for us. We’re from Liverpool and our mates would have been like “who the fuck do you think you are?” It’s obvious when you fake something. It’s embarrassing. But I don’t regret it. What other bands have stood out for you in the past 30 years?
Joy Division — they were always much better live that on record. They were the only band that I thought, fucking hell. They blew us away in terms of stage presence and putting on a great rock & roll show. There was no sucking up to the crowd. There was that sense that you were watching something that was it’s own thing and there was a barrier between them and the crowd. Some bands are too willing to let the audience to believe that they could be like the band. And it’s usually bollocks because those bands are usually the ones with the helicopters. I was a huge New Order fan too. Hooky [Peter Hook, New Order/Joy Division bassist] suggested that we do a tour together in 1987 in South America where we flip-flop and they headline one night and we did the next. But our agent said fuck South America, let’s do it North America. it was a great tour. There was no other band around then that I really liked apart from the Fall.
How did it feel to turn 50 this year?
Being 50 means nothing to me. The idea of being dead, now that’ll be fucking weird.