Photo by Graeme Oxby, from November 2011
Howard Devoto interview
by Robert Pally
After 30 years, the influential English post-punk band Magazine (which existed from 1977-1981) finally returned recently with a new, fifth album called No Thyself. In this interview, singer Howard Devoto (who also happened to be a co-founder of punk legends Buzzcocks) gives sharp answers to questions about monsters, being influential, success and talking to yourself.
PSF: Give me a reason to buy a CD with one-eyed monster on the cover (which is No Thyself)?
HD: Robert, you're obviously a cheeky bugger so you're bound to love it.
PSF: How much of this monster is in you?
HD: All of it. And a tiny, particularly obscure bit more.
PSF: What inspired the album title "No thyself"?
HD: Mortality. And the little homily usually credited to the Oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece: "know thyself."
PSF: What triggered the reunion of Magazine?
HD: Dave Formula telling me it was my last chance to be venerable.
PSF: What is Magazine version 2011 about?
HD: Pornography, sacrilege and an awful lot of bluster.
PSF: Some of the songs sound like they developed out of jamming. What was the writing process?
HD: A few songs developed that way. Others developed out of editing around.
PSF: What does success mean to you?
HD: Peace of mind.
PSF: Is there something you regret from your past with Magazine?
HD: No. I don't do regret, I do philosophy instead.
PSF: How was it to talk to yourself in the song "Of course Howard (1979)"?
HD: Quite extraordinary. The words are derived from my written introduction to 'Thirty Lyrics,' a booklet of my lyrics published in 1979.
PSF: What inspired the song "Hello Mister Curtis"?
HD: The suicidal feelings I enjoyed as a younger man.
PSF: What are the pros and cons of being named as influence by Radiohead, U2, Muse or Morrissey?
HD: I think I like all of those acts, so it's all pros. There are no cons.
PSF: What inspires you?
HD: My sort of survival inspires me.
PSF: How come you worked with Pete Shelley again?
HD: Are you referring to the lyrics for the song "Do The Meaning"? If so, I didn't work with Pete on them. I simply found (it) on the Internet- something he'd said about Linder Sterling and the process of making a montage: "it gets a meaning, then you do the meaning." I built my lyric for the song around this phrase.
PSF: Looking back what do you think about the songs you did with the Buzzcocks and their material afterwards?
HD: The songs I did with Buzzcocks were a long time ago and sometimes had a bit too much testosterone. But some of them are good.
PSF: Jeremy Vine wrote "Howard Devoto was a total pop genius, but he was a slightly misshaped pop star and I think nobody got him." Is there a way that leads to your universe (through the lyrics for example) or are any explanations useless?
HD: I can't help trying to make the songs mean as much as possible, but sometimes it seems this isn't always helpful to other people.
PSF: Looking back, what do you think made Manchester such a hot-bed of musical activity in the late '70's and early '80's?
HD: Musicologists know the answer to this. Unfortunately, I'm not a musicologist.
PSF: Any plans for the future?
HD: Not really. Stop and smell the flowers today.
Magazine's No Thyself is available from Wire-Sound
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