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Cope's Scope

Julian Cope

After The Sun's "Is Jacko Whacko?" expose, Making Music asks "Is Copey Dopey?" Apparently not, reports cub journo Jon Lewin, after his meet with Britain's top psychedelic.

"And the reason I'm self-obsessive is... er... that I find a lot of other people quite boring..."

I FIRST met Julian Cope three years ago, while he was recording his last solo album. "It's called "Fried"," he told me, "because that's what my wife says I've done to my brain". At the time I spoke to him, he was wearing a long nightshirt, a Sam Browne belt, and ray bans. This was not Julian's sanest period, and the music press was rife with stories of his peculiar antics.

"Fried" came out in November 1984. By Christmas, Julian had written another whole album, which he called "Skellington".

"It was very "Fried", very down," Julian says now. "None of that stuff came out... songs like 'SPQR', which was about this woman being the Roman Empire, and me being Anglo-Saxon man. There were about 12 songs in all. It was a very lonely time..."

Is "Skellington" going to become one of rock's Great Lost Albums?

"Like the Teardrops' third album? But most of that was absolute garbage. A lot of the "World Shut Your Mouth" was going to be the third Teardrops album, till Dave Balfe came along and decided why should I write all the songs."

"It's very exhausting being seen as somebody who's off their tree all the time! y'know? A lot of people thought I couldn't speak..."

Happily, as recent successes testify, things have changed for the better for Julian Cope — he's got a new deal with Island, a new band, a new album (called "St. Julian") out, and he's changed his nightshirt for a much more becoming set of leathers. So what's happened to bring about this renaissance?

"Well, I exercised, I improved my attitude to things... and I lost 20 pounds. And as my physical attitude improved, my mental attitude improved."

His wife Dorian, and Donald 'Ross' Skinner, his guitarist, both helped curb Julian's famed excesses, and it was Donald who encouraged Julian to start writing again, "coaxing" the songs out of him.

"I don't apologise so much for being an arsehole now... I used to prefix everything with 'I'm sorry about this, but..."

After "Fried", Julian parted company with Phonogram Records. They rejected the song 'World Shut Your Mouth', and told him to go away and write more material. The newly invigorated Cope responded in kind, by telling them to "fuck off'. It took manager Cally eight months to extricate his man from that deal, and sign him to Island.

While record industry giants grappled over the Cope contract, the man himself carried on writing new material. Most of the songs themselves started in Julian's music room, at home in Tamworth, either on a Casio MT40, his Gibson 335/12, (strung as a 9 string, with high notes doubled), or his newish Hohner Clavinet.

"I wrote a whole load of stuff on that — the clavinet sound makes you use rhythms differently. I also used my Fender bass piano, like the one The Doors had. That changes bass lines — you use a lot more thirds and fifths.

"I stick everything through my Vox AC30, and record it onto a Pro Walkman. I sing while playing, then play the tape back through a ghetto blaster, recording it onto the Walkman again with an overdub on top. After that I have to go into a studio. I'm still not technically minded enough to record on portastudios and things, either I overload it to fuck, or under-record, and it sounds so wimpy. With a portastudio you spend ages getting these wonderful sounds, and a lot of it sounds very antiseptic if you're not very good..."

Proper demoing took place on 24-track in UB40's studio in Birmingham, with Donald. "Since Donald plays drums really well, I play the song acoustically to him, and he learns a drum part in 15 minutes. I go in and do a guide guitar and vocal with him drumming along, very basic. I do most of the guitar, but he ends up doing the solo. We build up from there."

Some of these demos have been released on the most recent Cope 12in releases.

"I guess the only real difference between the Teardrops and this band is that there isn't anybody in this group that I dislike - there was always somebody in the Teardrops whose trip was completely wrong..."

The fact that he now has a band he can trust is obviously very important to Julian. 'It's great because now I can back off, as I never had the people or the confidence before. But there's no muso element at all — if it was like that, I wouldn't allow it — I'm probably closer to my punk ethics than I was a couple of years ago."

The members of the group, apart from the aforementioned Donald Ross Skinner, are Chris Whitten — who's played with Julian for several years — on drums, and James Eller on bass.

James (apart from producing Carlene Carter, and running the Making Music canteen — honest!) played on "Wilder", the second and last Teardrop Explodes LP.

"We didn't even broach the subject of that until we were playing the Tube, and James said 'I remember doing "Wilder", you know.' And I said, 'What was it like, because I can't?' He said he remembered being scared stiff. Apparently, there was Clive Langer, Dave Balfe, Gary Dwyer, Troy Tate, and Alan Winstanley, all sitting in Air Studio 3, looking out at him through the control room window; and I was sitting on the floor cross-legged, looking up at him, saying, 'Can you play it with more irony — it's too sarcastic at the moment?'"

The fifth member of the group is Double De Harrison, an imaginary American keyboard player that Julian invented to disguise the fact that he was playing keyboards himself. Richard Frost does the job live.

"Some of the music press seem to be angry because I appear to be getting my act together - 'aha, so Copey must be a Straight after all'..."

"St. Julian" was recorded mainly in Livingstone 3 in London, with Warne Livesey producing. "It's really exciting trying to hone things down. Where I used to have a minute's guitar solo, Donald now has eight bars. There's a four minute version of 'Spacehopper', but on the album, it'll be down to three minutes, two seconds — fade it when you can..."

Julian seems much more involved in the technology of playing and recording than he used to be. "We used a lot of samples, mainly the Akai — we did guitar solos where Donald would play acoustic and electric; we'd sample it, then we'd put the Akai through a little Gallien-Krueger amp."

He's also come up with a solution to the problems of making studio work exciting. "I've got it down better now — you write the song in a euphoria, blam it out, like blowing your nose. Then you look at your beautiful white hankie and say this snot has got be turned into something. But rather than make that process boring, what you have to do is imbue your time in the studio with a certain legend, or greatness, and the way you do it is by getting into various trips...

"Like, I did some of the vocals on "Fried" in the nude... and for "St. Julian", I did all my vocals standing on a very high cabinet with the microphone stand right up. That way I felt a bit more grand — being 6ft up in the air, you're physically going to feel a bit more snotty than if you were on the ground..."

"I don't really change, for all the people who veer between 'Cope is off his box', and 'Cope is selling out' (depending upon where I'm at at the time). Look, I'm still wearing the same motorcycle boots that I was wearing on the inside of the "Kilimanjaro" sleeve."

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Akai MG614 Recorder

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Secondhand Synths

Making Music - Copyright: Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.


Making Music - Apr 1987

Interview by Jon Lewin

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> Akai MG614 Recorder

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> Secondhand Synths

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