Now called "Hanky Panky", The The's latest recording is scheduled for release in the US on February 14th and features
A full eleven Hank Williams compositions have been "The The-ized" by Matt Johnson and his musicians. The tracks are :
If you received the previous newsletter you would have read about "The The Play Hank." Very soon you will be able to. Matt has related his thoughts on the project in the liner notes. Here is an excerpt:
"There are few songwriters in this century who have expressed the deep ache of loneliness and the longing for love as darkly and sweetly as Hank Williams. He was one of those rare talents in any art form that either transcend or change the course of their genre. Although dead by the age of 29, in a recording career of just under six years, he had already achieved what most artists would be proud to accomplish in a lifetime."
Three additional tracks, "I'm Free At Last", "Someday You'll Call My Name", and "There's No Room In My Heart For the Blues", will accompany the single release of "I Saw the Light." This will only be available commercially in the UK but the same tracks come on the US radio CD Pro. These were recorded after the original sessions, live and acoustic in Matt's New York City flat with Eric Schermerhorn.
Matt Johnson wrote the following piece for Musician Magazine, but you get it here first.
What the hell am I doing recording an entire album of Hank Williams songs? I'm not really a country music fan. I've never been to Nashville. I'm a couple of generations younger than Hank and though I hate categories, I guess I'm what you might loosely term "alternative". And finally (and worst of all), I'm English! I'll try and explain.
To me, Hank Williams was to country music what Bob Marley was to reggae and, stretching the analogy a bit, what Muhammad Ail was to boxing. That is, bigger than the genre that spawned him. Williams was American music's first great "pop culture" icon. Before Presley, Hendrix, Morrison, etc., there was Hank Williams, dying young before it was fashionable to die young...at 29, in fact. By drawing upon the universal human themes of longing, love, loss and loneliness, Williams' songs transcended time and space, crossing national and cultural borders in the process. He was one of the first great confessional singer/songwriters in a lineage that I feel also includes Robert Johnson, Neil Young and John Lennon at different points, among a few others.
It's difficult from our viewpoint to appreciate the impact he must have had in an age when singers tended to sing other people's songs and songwriters tended to write songs for other people to sing. Here was an intense young outsider who not only brilliantly performed his own songs to huge and mesmerized audiences, but also turned them into classics that hundreds of other singers would be performing for decades to come. In fact, he was the first country artist whose songs consistently "crossed over" into the parallel universe of pop (albeit often via the mouths of other singers.)
Like most people of my generation, I was aware of songs such as "Hey, Good Lookin", "Your Cheatin' Heart", "Jambalaya", "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry", but it was only in the last four or five years that I really began listening to them in earnest with a view to covering them. I can't remember how the initial idea appeared in my head, but I think it probably had something to do with wanting to simplify my own writing style after the "Mind Bomb" album. I decided to trace back through the great singer/song-writers and 2 names that kept coming up again and again were Robert Johnson and Hank Williams. As a way of getting into their work and trying to learn from them, I decided to record an E.P. of four or five songs of each of theirs. I then got tangled up in Hank Williams' completely and found that I couldn't cut his entire body of work down to four tracks. It was a time-consuming yet fascinating process watching his songs almost select themselves. "Lovesick Blues" and "Lost Highway", two of his best known hits, were out straight away by virtue of the fact that he didn't write them. Other well-known tunes, such as "Kaw-Liga" and "Jambalaya" were out because I found them a bit twee. Others like "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" just didn't suit my voice and The Residents did such a wild rendition of "Hey, Good Lookin'" that I decided not even try to top that. I loved the title of "I'll Never Get Out of this World Alive" but I didn't much care for the rest of the lyrics, so out that went. My version of "I Ain't Got Nothin' But Time" turned into a ska track somewhere along the pre-production line, and the band and myself couldn't seem to turn it around in time which was a shame because that is one of my favorites.
So all of that left me digging deeper and deeper into his catalogue to find songs that I felt would be more suitable to be "The-The-ized." I knew they were in there somewhere, and though I did include "Your Cheatin' Heart", "I Saw The Light", "There's A Tear In My Beer" and "Honky Tonkin", it was almost as if a lot of his lesser-known songs were crying out to be heard. "Weary Blues From Waitin'", "I Can't Escape from You", "Six More Miles", "My Heart Would Know, " "I Can't Get You off Of My Mind" among others were all songs which I felt stood shoulder-to-shoulder with his best known hits. but I always felt most of the covers that people had done in the past tended to sentimentalize songs which were originally passionate, raw, and blue.
Like Buddy Holly, James Dean, Kurt Cobain and other members of that illustrious and tragic group who are united by youth in death, it's hard to know what would have happened to Hank if had he lived, or maybe it is if one looks at Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando and Bob Dylan to see evidence of time taming even the fiercest talent. Maybe he would've been blown away by the coming storm of rock n' roll as many of his contemporaries were. Maybe the death of Fred Rose, his publisher, producer, mentor, surrogate father and all round guiding light (approximately two years after the actual death of Hank), would've proved more catastrophic than the arrival of Chuck Barry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Co. More likely, he probably would have degenerated artistically into a ridiculous parody of himself, a man unable to change in changing times a kind of skinny, drunken Elvis in a threadbare Nudie suit. But...die he did, and in many ways death has been kinder to Hank than life ever was, instantly bestowing legendary status upon him while all the interested parties he left behind squabbled and scrambled to rewrite history. In spite of all the biographies, stories, myths and lies about him, still the best way to get to the truth about Hank Williams is to listen to his music and read his words.
Matt Johnson appears on the new record by Orang called Herd of Instinct. Orang features founding members of Talk Talk, one of which is Matt's running partner in London, Paul Webb.
If you are part of the growing number of on-line computer users, you may know about the America On-Line The The folder, where Matt Johnson himself is rumored to have made a posting or two. On February 14th Matt will be officially on-line for a group chat session on America On-Line. He will answer as many questions as we can field in the hour we have available. If you don't know what we are talking about, get a computer, a modem, and join the information super highway. Electronic bulletin boards are a great place for music fans to share their thoughts, trade info on hard to get recordings, and make new friends. You can find the The The folder on American On-Line in the Entertain-ment/Music/Music Message Center under Alternative Rock Bands. Check it out.
Getting letters to our P.O. box is great, but its even better when the computer says "You've Got Mail." E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll keep you informed electronically. Information on The The and hundreds of other bands is available on the Internet at the Sony Music WWW site. Let us know what you think.
Matt continues his fascination with the grit and history that is New York City and will shoot a video for "I Saw the Light" in the Big Apple. Scheduled to be filmed in January by acclaimed director Sam Bayer, the shoot will take place on various roof tops, bridges, and gargoyle covered cathedrals. Players from the album will be along side Matt. Look for the video to air in mid February.
The The has seen some ink of late. A recent interview with Matt Johnson appears in the book "The Right to Imagination and Madness" by Martin Roach. Published by Independent Press in the UK, the book includes all sorts of info on English musicians. The exhaustive volume "The History of Punk" by George Girmarc examines the rise of punk / new wave in a day-by-day chronology and makes numerous references to The The.
If you can' t get on-line to talk about the band, a list of The The fans interested in corresponding with each other by mail went out after the last newsletter. We'd like to keep the list growing, so if you would like to be on and receive the list, let us know.
Matt has started work on Gun Sluts to be released in the winter of 1995. Look for Eric Schermerhorn, D.C Collard, and Jim Fitting to return to the ranks of The The.