Status Quo has enough space for humour on its rock

If status Quo is where it is today, with a career that stretches over five decades, it is not thanks to their talent. They are neither a legend like other British rock bands that were also born within the 60’s, from The Who to Led Zeppelin. No member died from an overdose at the peak of his glory, nobody bought a magician’s manor… Well, there is nothing to add sulphur to their story. So if you are wondering why we still speak of Status Quo in 2013, why there are still fans to see them play live with stars in their eyes, all you need to do is ask Francis Rossi, eternal frontman of the Quo, who will explain that they were above all “very, very lucky”.

Having never been the first in their musical genre, they can fairly well do their “Hard Day’s Night” fifty years after The Beatles with their movie Bula Quo! released last summer… It is not serious, they are perfectly aware of that, and that’s what is good about it. Rock’n’roll itself is not such a serious matter and considering what Status Quo does as an art is a joke topic according to Rossi. That he stresses in this interview: the one who some may nickname the “Grumpy Old Man of Rock and Roll” shows a sense of humour and a very British self-derision and even speaks about offering a sequel to this movie. No doubt that if he had to do everything all over again, he would do it exactly the same.

« And we’re not very good musicians anyway, so… [laughs] »

Radio Metal: First of all, how are you doing?

Francis Rossi (lead guitar, singer): Good, pretty good. I’m having a cup of tea, a cup of coffee, I’ve been having the dogs out for a play, the dogs are here with me, I’ve got these two little dogs… Everything’s good!

OK, and how do you drink your coffee?

With a bit of milk and quite a lot of sugar. It’s quite strong. I didn’t drink coffee until 5 or 6 years ago, and suddenly I went crazy about coffee.

First question: the 1966-76 line-up reunited in March 2013 for a series of shows in Wolverhampton, Manchester, Glasgow, and London: those are pretty nostalgic and historic shows. How was it?

It was nostalgic to say the least. I think we could’ve played better, we could’ve rehearsed better, but seeing the people’s reaction was just… I didn’t think it would be like that. I thought they didn’t care what we did, it’s very hard to explain. There were people who were crying, I’d never felt such an audience, it’s just weird… It was kind of beautiful that people feel that way, but it was very much a nostalgic thing. I can’t judge any other way than saying people loved it. And that what it was for, for these people who really loved the band as it was then. They were reliving their teenage years perhaps, and I suppose that’s OK, but… We may do some more next year I think, then maybe others, maybe just 12 shows next year, I don’t know. We’re just talking about that.

In December 2012, Matt Letley took the decision to leave the band. Still, he toured with you this year due to the limited time you had to find a new drummer. Can you tell us how is the search for the new drummer going on?

Initially when Matthew went, we didn’t wanted to do anything in the early half of the year because that’s when we rest. So we didn’t need a drummer at that time, but I already had in mind Leon Cave who did my solo album. He had done some other stuff for me in the studio, and also did a couple of shows as a drummer with me a couple of years ago. He’s very, very good, he did his first show last week-end, and I think he’s gonna be great. He’s a very talented man. If you look him up on YouTube, he’s Leon Cave if anyone wants to, he’s a very good guitar player also, and a singer as well as a drummer! So I think you’d better watch him.

« The band, the movie is supposed to be humorous. People have a problem with that, with rock and humor. I don’t know why but there we are. »

You’re releasing your first film, an action comedy entitled Bula Quo!. Last year you released Hello Quo, a cinematic documentary. Where does this recent interest for making movies come from?

Ever since 68, I would read in the papers around here that somebody wanted to do a the movie with different stars and different ideas. This has always come up, things come up, we hear we’re going to do it something and then we don’t, we do and then we don’t… When we did a British show called Coronation Street which is been on since I was 11, 10 years old, somebody asked us to do that and we did… We met a guy who was the stunt coordinator and he wanted Status Quo on TV. He said: “I want to do a movie with you” and we were like: “Yeah, yeah…”, and maybe two years later a script came up where we would be in Bangkok and that was quite fun. Then they wanted to make it more like a family entertainment or a children thing and it went away. It came back in January last year and we said we were going to do it. I didn’t wanted to do it in the first place because I’m not good outside of my concerts, I need pushing sometimes, and once we had done the first couple of things, then it became quite easy. If someone directs you, if someone tells you: “I want you to walk across that room, pick up that cup, look at the window, come back, smile at me, and sit down again”, you just do that, and then you do it a second time or maybe more, and at some point he says: “Yeah it’s good” and that’s it, the child in me is like: “Oh good, I did it good! So tell me what you want me to do next and I’ll do it next!” We decided as I said to make it a family thing, we call it silly English humor. It’s mainly a children and family thing. Children between age 7 and 12 think it’s fantastic. It’s a project we came up with, let’s finish the project, hope that it works, and maybe it will be good, maybe not. Maybe we could talk in two years and you could say: “Wow, that was a very good move!”, or you could say to me: “No, that went wrong, didn’t it?” You don’t know these things, whether it’s an album or a movie, a tour, a show, anything. Things can belong in the whole thing or not. I think some people get very frightened about what they should and shouldn’t do, and at the end you don’t do anything at all. Over the year, you’ll see that you have made big mistakes and things that have been really good, and you never know how things are going to turn out. But hopefully people will like the movie because we are already talking about doing a second one. It’s fun! It’s a spoof, fun movie, it isn’t serious.

Yes… So I guess you are better musicians than actors, right?

… And we’re not very good musicians anyway, so… [laughs] We don’t act, I reckon we’re supposed to play ourselves. I’m Francis Rossi, we appear in Fiji, we’re supposed to play a concert and we see this criminal gangster, Jon Lovitz who plays a guy called Wilson. He get some of these people off the streets, plays Russian roulette, most of them die, and he takes them into his place to steal their kidneys, liver and heart. We see that, so he starts chasing us and it starts getting silly [laughs]. Like I said, it’s silly British humor, kinda like: “Hohohoho”.

Can we expect you getting involved in another form of art?

When people use the words “art” and “Status Quo” in the same sentence, I think there’s possibly a grammatical error laying somewhere [laughs]… I don’t see it as art. It sounds like you try to elevate it. I’m very happy with how Status Quo has worked, and in this we are very lucky, but as I said we’re playing ourselves… One of my favorite things on TV has been, and still is The West Wing series which is about The West Wing and the president in America. I watched that probably four times through, and when you see these people truly act, they know their lines etc., that’s acting, whereas Rick and I, we’re using the face of Rick and I and we say some stuff. For us, to pretend that we’re gonna become actors… I turned 64 that year, I can’t live long enough to be an actor. As I said, it’s a project that has come along, we’ve done it, and hopefully it’ll be good. If it’s not, then we’ll just get up, do something else and carry on. It’s how it has always been, with records that didn’t work etc. You just get up and carry on! You can’t lie down and drown, so to speak. So we get up and carry on. Hopefully it will be good for everybody, I don’t know.

« I think we try and may intellectualize music and rock’n’roll too much, we try to elevate it… I don’t care about that, I don’t care if it’s shit, I like it!

You just said that you find it weird when people use “art” and “Status Quo” in the same sentence. Then what is Status Quo for you? Is it entertainment?

It’s a bunch of guys who’ve been very, very lucky. I think we try and may intellectualize music and rock’n’roll too much, we try to elevate it… I don’t care about that, I don’t care if it’s shit, I like it! I think that was the original spirit behind rock’n’roll, that’s why the entire world during the 50s’ was saying it’s the Devil’s music. People try to elevate it, maybe sometimes it’s an art form perhaps, but there’s so many people and musicians that are far, far better than Status Quo or any famous act… Most of the really really good musicians aren’t famous, because they’re still busy studying music. People in the show business, in rock’n’roll, whoever you think it is think: “It’s great, we wanna go on stage and show off, we don’t wanna sit, study music, stay at home, and be truly brilliant. We wanna go out in front of people and say ‘Look at me everyone!’”. When we say “art”, it should be art for the sake of the art, not art that actually means: “Look at me, I’m fabulous doing this out!” And that’s where I have that problem. I’m not justifying it by saying it’s art or it’s this or it’s great; I like it, some people like it, the rest of the world don’t like it, so… That’s the same with everything, otherwise I would get all suicidal, saying: “Why everybody doesn’t love us?!” When I was very young, I saw the Beatles, and it seemed to me everybody loved the Beatles. Escaping from a black and white world post World War II, when I was 11 years old, I thought: “Everybody will like you if you’re famous!” That’s a myth. It’s not true. I was making a joke about using “Status Quo” and “art” in the same sentence because I think that’s funny, but we’ve been very lucky and so is everybody else in that business we’re in. We’re all insecure show-offs. There’s a contradiction there, all the time. Otherwise we would stay at home and just keep our music to ourselves. But something in you wants to show people: “Look how clever I am!”, or “Look how lovely I am!” or whatever it is we do by walking out on stage. But I’ve been very successful, very lucky since I was about 17 or 18, and to be honest you just hang on to it because you don’t know what else to do! And that’s the insecurity I think. I believe nearly everybody in the show business is like that, even actors. We’re insecure show-offs.

You are releasing a double album as the soundtrack to the movie. It’s mostly Status Quo classics, but there are also nine new songs. Were those songs written before you got the idea of the movie or did the movie influence those songs?

There’s been about 3 or 4 different scripts for the movie that kept changing and kept getting softer, and we didn’t really started writing anything until probably a week before we started shooting. After we started shooting, it became apparent that I didn’t wanted to do a soundtrack album, because soundtracks album are usually two songs and then [he hums something sounding like cliché background music], and after a while I’m not interested in that, it’s not my department. I started the song which is now called “Looking Out To Caroline” – Caroline is a girl we meet there. I started the song with this part and then goes “GoGoGo”. One of the best thing is that it wasn’t necessary Status Quo, it had to do with the film so that means there were no boundaries, you just do as you wish, and that was quite liberating. John [Edwards] has done a song that is some sort of cross between reggae and « The Madness » maybe, and the sound is a bit like Queens Of The Stone Age… There were no limits to how you did it. And then there’s “Kua Ni Lega/Bula Quo”, which is again more jingly drums. It was quite liberating from that point of view, because I’ve always been having issues when people are like: “Ah, that’s not Quo.” I always think: “If I sing it, play it, and write it, then it’s Quo!” People have these ideas like: “Oh, that’s not Quo.” Yes it is, we played it! That’s the same with the film. I didn’t wanted the album to have 20-something tracks on it, it’s like two separate pieces of product in the same package. For the old stuff, some of it is live, some of it has been re-recorded, and there is the stuff that is the soundtrack for the album, so it has a beginning, and an end. The other album is kind of incidental to me, it’s Status Quo classic tracks.

You declared about the movie that you had no plans to write and release a new album, it just happened. Can we say that the movie gave you some musical inspiration?

Well, you can but that word “inspiration” makes it again kind of elevated. We weren’t inspired; what inspired me was that we wanted songs on the album and we needed them! It wasn’t like I sat there one day and the sun came to the clouds and I was inspired. It was like: “Right, I need a song!” Most of the inspiration came from when I met the director and the girl who plays Caroline whom I really like in the first few days. I said to the director: “What kind of girl is Caroline?” The lyrics are that “she’d read a good book” like the Bible, that she’s good but “she loves her rock’n’roll”. Then she takes over and so on, she’s got Dad’s credit card, and this is all these things you need to know to have the inspiration to write the lyrics. But generally, it was like it was written for anybody. We got a movie, it needs tracks, either those tracks go to somebody else and we still have to do research to find them, or we write them. I’m not knocking the idea that it’s been an inspiration, but again, it kinda keeps it an elevated thing: [he whispers] “Oh I’m inspired!” No. I need a song. That’s the inspiration: “I neeeed a track, we need a track, what are we gonna do?” We’ve been doing this thing on the record for when Rick and I keep coming out of the water, and there’s all these Fijians playing drums, and that’s part of the thing, you know [he imitates the Fijians, mumbling]. I knew I had an idea where I knew it was a part of the song, which is the Bula Quo song, and I kept [he mumbles again] and everybody in Fiji was like “Bula! Bula!”, and then “Bula bula quo” [he sings]. That’s what we got from being there, the stuff we needed… I’m not sure about the world inspiration, that’s all [laughs].

« I think. I believe nearly everybody in the show business is like that, even actors. We’re insecure show-offs. »

By the way, we can hear a melody that’s very close to the James Bond theme on the song “GoGoGo”. Is it a coincidence or was it intentional?

No, it was on purpose. It’s at the end that it goes in [he sings]. When Rick said: “I’m not sure what you think”, initially you’re like: “Whoops”, but it makes you smile because it’s cheeky, it sounds like something you did 30 years ago and you stick it in this… It has quite made me smile, you see. I think if the rest of the track wasn’t very good, then it wouldn’t be very good, but the track is a really good track I think, and with this thing of Bond [he sings], it’s very good! And again, it’s humorous. The band, the movie is supposed to be humorous. People have a problem with that, with rock and humor. I don’t know why but there we are.

Do you like James Bond movies?

I like the very recent ones. Since Daniel Craig has taken over I think it has gone to new levels. I don’t hate the previous ones but it seems these have more credibility. Perhaps they were more tongue in cheek before and now they’re more serious. I always maintain I’ve never seen one on the cinema, and whenever they came up on TV for Christmas I think they’re kind of easy to watch. You know he’s going to win, you know he’s going to jump out of an airplane but all will be fine, he’s going to jump through the propellers but he won’t get cut to pieces… I can sometimes like that when I’m sitting in a room and it’s playing, then I can watch TV, and not have to know what’s going on. So I like Bond from that point of view. But the recent ones are very, very good I think.

The album features re-recordings of some old songs. How did you feel while recording again those songs? Did you feel you were giving it a new youth?

Maybe… If we hadn’t played them for many years, yeah, but they’re kind of current, so… Yeah, maybe, but they still feel like kinda current, if you see what I mean. And some were taken from different places and situation where we played and so on so forth. To me – it’s going to sound like I’m dismissive – that takes care of itself. I was more interested in the new ones, because again as I said there were no limits, no “Noooo that’s not a Status Quo song”, so we did songs that perhaps we wouldn’t have done normally since it’s for the movie. I quite like the ones from the movie.

How were these songs chosen, by the way? Was it shows you did with the original line-up?

No, because the movie was done last year, not this January but the January before. I think we made it until the 12th of April, and then we didn’t tour with the Frantic Four tour until this year, so not really, no. They’re two separate entities, it’s quite unique, a reforming band but nobody’s dead in it, most bands reform and someone’s dead. It’s quite unique that both sets of tickets went on sale at the same time last year, at the end of the year, for this Status Quo and that Status Quo, everyone was confused about which one they wanted to see… It’s quite unique in that respect but I’d say that nostalgia is special.

Interview conducted by phone on March, 30th 2013 by Metal’O Phil
Transcription: Chloé
Introduction: Animal

Status Quo’s official website: www.statusquo.co.uk
Francis Rossi’s official website: www.francisrossi.com

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