The Like Totally 80’s Festival Interviews with Jay Aston and James Stevenson of Gene Loves Jezebel with Jay Aston
The Third Annual Like Totally 80’s Festival took place at Huntington State Beach on a brisk Saturday in Southern California, headlined by The Human League and The Motels. And even though rain was in the forecast, the bright and shining sun made an appearance anyway, making this a classic day at the beach listening to some of your favorite bands from the 80’s. One such collective who made their way to the Like Totally 80’s stage was Gene Loves Jezebel with Jay Aston, whose performed their 80’s classics with imagination and flair.
Highwire Daze Online caught up with vocals Jay Aston and guitarist James Stevenson backstage at the Like Totally 80’s Festival for separate interviews. Discussions included their dynamic new album Dance Underwater – now available from Westworld Recordings! Incidentally James was also performing with The Alarm on the memorable day at the beach, and make quite a cross country trek, arriving just in time to take the stage for the earlier set with Gene Loves! Read on…
Part One – Jay Aston
What were you looking forward to the most about performing at today’s totally 80s fest?
Jay Aston: It’s nice to be by the beach. We had just been in winter in England, so to come over as we all did from different spots, it was awesome. We haven’t played here for so long. It was just fun. We played some songs we hadn’t played for a long time, which we recorded in the 80s. It was fun to do. Very fun.
When was the last time you played LA and what was the experience like?
I played on my own. I’ve done some solo things, which have been amazing. Stuff I do on my own is very free form – it was a different kind of experience altogether. I loved it. I got encores, just didn’t expect the reaction I got. It was amazing. Gene Loves Jezebel – we haven’t played here for such a long time, I can’t remember the last time we played here.
Well congratulations on the new album Dance Underwater, it’s phenomenal.
Thank you. We’re proud of it.
Dance Underwater, what’s the story behind that title?
It’s an odd thing, really, Peter Rizzo is the bass player in the band but he’s also an amazing guitarist and I taught him how to sing too, because we work on another project called Ugly Buggs. It’s very theatrical and we just developed all these songs together. Basically, Peter and I started writing songs together – I used to write most of the songs – but we really collaborated a lot on this album.
One of the songs, Dance Underwater, I won’t go into too much detail but Peter has had some rare tragedies in his life and the lyrics reflect that a little. The experience, it’s like dancing underwater, a very difficult thing to do. Trying to survive, rising above all the bad stuff that happened to him. I don’t want to go into too much detail because it’s his story, really. So he wrote most of the lyrics and I kind of clean them up, some of them were quite dark and I thought, that’s a bit too hard. We did this sleeve and we thought – the jacket as you guys say. We thought it fit the cover as well. Because Pete became so involved with songwriting with me on the album, I thought – you can have the title of the album, because I always title the albums. I thought, yeah let’s call it Dance Underwater.
What is your personal favorite song on the album?
“Twist The Knife” is my favorite, well actually we call it “How Do You Say Goodbye to Someone You Love.” The working title is “Twist The Knife.” It’s my favorite because it’s another one of those songs that were dark – Pete had written this music and I just came in with all the lyrics, it makes me want to sing this. That’s what music does for me. I just hear it and go, oh – this sounds like this kind of song. I like the drama of it.
It’s been 14 years since the last album. Are you going to do another one and are we going to have to wait 14 years?
Well we just did a tour. Some gigs in England and Europe. We ended up playing half the album and it was great. We’d love to do the album here today, but there’s not enough time.
You didn’t play any of it.
Because it’s an 80s festival and they asked us to do Jealous, Heartache, Desire – those songs. We hadn’t played some of those songs for years! It was weird, and fun to do really but that music is not sophisticated as this album, obviously. We’ll see. We’ll do a tour, we got a new agent so hopefully, we come back later in the year, maybe midsummer and start doing some gigs throughout the U.S.
With new songs?
We always write – Pete writes, James writes, Chris starts playing and I start writing to whatever rhythms. Drums are so important. They’re lyrical, drums. So yeah, that’s never been a problem, writing. We’ll see what happens. We’re still friends, we’ve been together a long time and were still great friends, so you never know. We all lose friends, brother’s and sisters – life is precious. We probably should make another album. We want to get Dance Underwater underway.
What was the experience like performing with Smashing Pumpkins?
I was flattered they liked my music so much. They wanted to do Steven, which is one of my songs. It was amazing because they’re obviously a brilliant band and brilliant musicians. It was weird to meet someone who’s loved your music and becomes a fan. I wrote the lyrics to Steven down because I hadn’t sang them for so long and he just grabbed them straight away. It was amazing. He was a fan, the others didn’t really know who I was but he did. That was cool.
What’s up next?
We got gigs in July, we’ve got stuff in Europe to do in July. But James is doing stuff with The Alarm for next month or two. We gotta find new pockets, we got a new agent we gotta see. U.S. probably in a couple of months time, we always have to give them notice and advertise and all this stuff.
Do you think The Alarm and Gene Loves Jezebel would want to tour together or would that be a nightmare for James?
It’d be hard for James but he could do it. The music’s different enough that it’d be flattering. I like playing with bands that we don’t sound like and visa versa. They’re different experiences so they’re good. We’re both Welsh. He’s north Wales, I’m south Wales.
Part Two – James Stevenson
Tell me about your night last night.
James Stevenson: About my brutal 24 hours?
So I was in The Alarm last night, we played at The Gramercy Theater in New York, and it was actually an amazing show. Then we went straight from the gig in Manhattan to Newark Airport, hung out there, got on a plane – slept for 2 hours, 6-hour flight to LAX. Came down here, I got here – I literally got to the venue 4 minutes before Gene Loves Jezebel was due to go on stage. So I was kind of stressed. And I’m not being funny but the hotel, the yellow cab didn’t come so I got an Uber and the Uber driver was deaf and mute, so he couldn’t speak or hear – I’m not kidding! I was trying to tell them where to go, it was stressful. Anyway, we came here and had a great show.
Two great shows just now. What were you looking forward to the most about playing this festival today?
We haven’t played live for a year, so I mean, obviously we’ve been playing together for so long and I’ve been playing those songs for 30 years and so. No rehearsal because I’m on tour with The Alarm. Everyone lives in different parts of the world. To be honest I was really looking forward to playing with Gene Loves Jezebel because there’s so much for me in those songs. I wrote a lot of the riffs, “Jealous,” “20 Killer Hurts” I’ve been playing with Jay and Pete for 30 years! More! It’s a long time, so I love those guys.
Dancing Underwater is such a cool album. How do you think it compares to the back catalog?
I think it’s kind of a logical progression. Some of the songs are old, some of them are – he and Jay and Pete have a side project called The Ugly Buggs. And a couple of the songs they’ve made one album and they kind of did it – Pete at home. Pete’s place, he’s got his own studio. I heard a couple of the songs and there’s this one it’s called Twist The Knife by The Ugly Buggs but it’s called “How Do You Say Goodbye to Someone You Love”?
And I heard that song and I’m like, this is incredible! It sounds like Gene Loves Jezebel and then – because I’ve been working with Tony Visconti in this thing called Holy Holy with Woody Woodmansey and he was from the Spiders from Mars. I love it, I get to be Mick Ronson, who’s my hero with the people that played on the record.
So, I said to Tony, look I’m doing this Gene Loves Jezebel album, we’ve got no budget but there’s this one song called How Do You Say Goodbye that is crying out for a string arrangement. He said, well send me the song and see if I like it. So I sent it and he said he loved the song and was going to do it. He did a phenomenal string arrangement.
You’re in another side project called The International Swinger? Tell me about that project. I think you guys played Ultimate Jam Night at The Whisky last year.
Yeah we’ve done that. The thing is, because we’re all in other bands because Glenn was playing bass, but now we’ve got a guy named John Carlucci. Clem Burke is always super busy with Blondie and I’m in 6 fucking bands. But I love playing in that band, and Clem is incredible. He’s one of the greatest drummers of all time. I love the record that we made but it just came together by accident. Gary Twinn the singer had a huge hit in Australia back in the day with a band called Supernaut and he knew some promoters there and they said, why don’t you just get some friends to come out – do a set of like, songs from all the band’s you’ve all been in and so he asked me, Clem, we all knew each other and we were friends and Glenn Matlock, so we went to Australia and did this tour. This was around 5 years ago. Then we just started writing together and it just comes in the spare time really. Were doing some shows, actually. We’re playing Thursday, Friday, Saturday in LA. Friday at Farmers Market.
If The Alarm and Gene Loves Jezebel toured together, how would you feel about that?
That has been put forward by a few people. The Alarm did this thing called The Gathering every year in North Wales, which is like a whole weekend of Alarm music. It sells out and about 2000 capacity and Mike Peters was really wanting Gene Loves Jezebel to play there as well. I’ve done it with Glen Matlock & The Philistines when I was playing with Glenn a few years ago. It’s an interesting concept. Doing two sets a night gets kind of tiring, I’m not as young as I was.
You did it today with Gene Loves Jezebel and The Alarm.
But they were only 30 minute sets. Sometimes The Alarm does 4 hours, you know. So I wouldn’t really want to do an hour with Gene Loves Jezebel, 4 hours with The Alarm, I might be getting a little bit old for that.
What was the experience for you to play Warped Tour with The Alarm?
I fucking hated it. We all did, [laughs]. Nah it was fine. But call me old fashioned, and this is going to sound terrible and I’m going to sound like some old bitter rock star but (not that I’m a rockstar). I like songs that have a tune. Every singer thinks the way [SCREAMS] to me, that’s – where’s the tune? I want to sing along and I can’t sing along to that. So I didn’t really like it, I didn’t like a lot of the bands that were on it. There were some really cool people. I prefer doing our own shows to doing that.
Did you guys ever get stuck with the 11:30AM time slot?
No, I think the worst – we got like a 2:30 a couple of times and it’s funny the way they tell you on the day. I think that’s cool. But we didn’t really enjoy the experience, I gotta say. We were like, we’re not as young as we were 30 years ago. You did feel a bit older than the rest of the bands. We had our fans there, it was fun, I think we sucked in some of the younger people too. It was an experience, I don’t know if I’d be dying to do it again, to be honest.
This is the last year for Warped Tour now. What was Kevin Lyman like?
Oh he’s a really nice guy. You can talk to him because he’s on his phone all the time, rides around on a cycle with his phone and you just see him cycling around. He’s cool. He in fact treated us really, really well on the tour.
So what’s up next for you in the future? A lot of Alarm stuff I’m sure.
A lot of Alarm stuff. Trying to get more Gene Loves Jezebel stuff because not enough people have heard Dance Underwater and I’m really proud of that album. We want as many people to hear that as possible. I’ve got some European stuff with The Alarm. I’ve got some gigs in Europe. Portugal in particular with Gene Loves Jezebel, trying to set up a London show and then we have The Alarm for the whole of August in the U.S. And for the whole of October and November and then I have this Holy Holy band I do, that’s next February – we’ll be in the UK. Gotta work ahead.
No rest for the wicked.
My favorite thing to do is walk on stage and play my guitar, so I’m not complaining…
By the way, The Alarm has a new album entitled Equals – out June 29th!!!
(Interview by Ken Morton – Photos by Joe Schaeffer)