It's been 22 long years since Senseless Things last played on the same stage, they announced recently that they are to play a show at Shepherds Bush Empire in London on Saturday March 25th. I was keen to chat to them about as much as I could squeeze into my two hour slot, I packed my bag, set my alarm and got my head down early as it was going to be a very long day!
The 4am alarm stirred my bones, an unearthly hour on any day but this day was special. Dare I hit the 'snooze' button and grab another 10 minutes kip? I flung back the duvet and commenced my daily ritual albeit 2 hours earlier than usual.
I was heading to London to chat to a couple of members of Senseless Things, four urban upstarts who helped me to 'see the light' and move away from the mainstream acts that were dominating the late 80's pop/rock scene. Whilst I initially pined for the polished production values of Simple Minds and U2, churning out their stadium sized offerings, I yearned for something different, something I could relate to and something that, as a spotty 19 year old, I could immerse myself in.
It wasn't long until my record collection resembled the cutting room floor of Radio 6 Music (had it existed in 1991). I was falling in love with acts such as Neds Atomic Dustbin, Mega City Four, SNUFF and many more. Having passed my driving test when I was 17, I had the freedom to travel far and wide to see these guys peddle their wares. I fondly recall travelling to Bristol to see Senseless Things perform at the Anson Rooms (part of Bristol University) one cold, foggy winters evening. So thick was the fog that I joined the M5 after the show and a couple of hours later, ended up in Reading. Not too bad you say - the problem being that I should have been in Exeter!
Back to present day, it's 6:45am and as I trundled up the M5, I wondered where the time had gone. It had been a good 20 years since I last saw Senseless Things perform together (as the original line-up). I did see 75% of them at a show in Islington in 2007 to celebrate the life of Wiz (RIP) from Mega City Four and spent a good few hours after the show, chatting to Cass and Mark about days of old - but even that was 10 years ago so you could imagine how excited I was to meet them today and talk about all of the things that I wished I had asked back then but somehow never did.
The meeting place was a members only club, situated a stones throw from Shaftesbury Avenue. I imagined it would be a bustling activity of 'theatre types', thespians and 'Luvvie Darlings' complementing each other on how great their new play is but I was surprised to find it remarkably quiet given it was Friday lunchtime - perfect for us to chat and remember the good old days!
Cass arrived first, it'd be hard not to miss him, he looks exactly the same as he did back in the day, just....more experienced! (Okay older - but I didn’t want to upset him!) We exchanged pleasantries and made our way through to a reserved area at the back of the venue where we could chat.
A very close friend of mine who used to play in an indie pop band called Resque asked me to remind him of a time when he and Cass were trapped in a toilet in a venue in Islington during the early 90's. It was a Carter show that Resque were providing support and Cass had made his way down to catch up with the gang. After a few minutes of not being able to escape the toilets, they decided that the only thing that they could do was to kick the door off its hinges in order to safely exit. This they did and the next day, they were plastered over the music press owing to a journalist being at the venue to cover the show. It also came to light that the guy who played the character 'Norm' from American hit 80's show CHEERS was at the bar that night. Being a massive fan of Husker Du, he had come across to check out the offerings in London and stumbled upon the show. Not very often this sort of thing happens! A broad smile broke out across Cass's face as I regaled this tale and he admitted that he vaguely remembered the whole evening and added that this was the first time that he realised that some ‘celebrities’ were genuinely into their music. Nowadays, this type of thing is commonplace.
Before Mark arrived, we chatted briefly about Deadcuts, the band that Mark and Cass are currently in alongside guitarist Jerome Alexandre and bass-player Aaron Scars. Their new album Hit on All Sixes is due to land in April (on Record Store Day) and I will be catching up with them again ahead of the release date. It was interesting to hear Cass talking about how he and Mark had reconnected after spending 7 years apart and this was initially due mainly to their mutual love of Bengal cats and horror films. He went on to tell me about the time when they played the Marquee Club in London, supporting The Replacements in 1991 at their last ever UK concert. Senseless Things were probably at their biggest around this time so, as not to upstage the headline act, a condition of Senseless Things playing was that they changed their name to ‘The Stand Ins’ for the evening. The Replacements reformed in 2015 and played The Roundhouse in Camden and Cass had bought two tickets to the show and went about tracking down Mark to be his +1. This led on to their friendship being rekindled and Mark asking Cass to stand in for the drummer of Deadcuts who was unable to do a show – a secret gig supporting The Libertines at The Dublin Castle, post their Reading headline set. Cass had reservations about playing the show, as he and Mark had just come back together as friends, and he was happy with that for then.
But he agreed to the Libertines one-off. Which then lead to another concert the very next night. Then a few dates where Deadcuts were supporting Sebadoh who were over from America. By this stage Deadcuts with Cass were writing new tracks in rehearsals, which he offered to record the drums on. Before he knew it – a photo had been taken and uploaded to the Internet, which meant and now he was ‘officially’ in the band. Cass explained that it wasn’t because of the link with Senseless Things that he agreed to play with them, it was purely the quality of the tracks that they were putting out, the tone of the writing, and the strength of the vision that Mark and Deadcuts guitar Jerome Alexandre had. It was something Cass was keen to be a part of anyway. “Being that it was fairly witchy too…”
Often, they were asked to play Senseless Things songs at gigs and they politely refused as this formed no part of the artistic approach that Deadcuts had chosen to take. Playing Senseless Things tracks would be akin to “two actors in a movie who had been in a different film years ago taking parts from that and shoe-horning them into the new movie. It just wouldn’t work. We’d both lived several lifetimes since then anyway.”
I started off by asking about how the gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire on March 25th had come about? Mark suggested, “I should ask the promoter”, whilst Cass added “I don’t know the answer to that. I think it evolved out of re-viewing those tracks, and where me and Mark had come from. And the fairly persuasive fact that none of us ever fell out with each other – we all stayed in touch, but just hadn’t connected all together for a while. So there was never really a reason for us NOT to get back together. It just felt that the work ethos we shared, the song-writing and effort that we’d put into it warranted a re-contextualization. There isn’t going to be any ‘cruise-ship’ gigs where we all look back at the time when this song was a hit etc. but I think that all four of us, we all shared the same view and when we played, we played great. Morgan recently unearthed about 30 hours of us playing live and touring, and condensed it down to a couple of hours. He had arranged for us to be filmed watching this material for the first time ever and I noticed that we do seem to be constantly smiling, laughing, drinking and smoking and despite all that - playing really well! This really made us think that we could do it, and that it could be fun”.
I mentioned that I saw 75% of Senseless Things at the ‘4 For Wiz’ gig at the Islington Academy in 2007 and reminded them that this would be the first time in 22 years that the band had played together on the same stage. Mark added that when they went into the rehearsal studio, there wasn’t that feeling of “wow, has it really been 22 years” because they have played in bands and acts with each other since they stopped putting out music. He did reflect on the fact that it’s been 10 years since that show in Islington and Cass chipped in that “The Beatles whole career was less than that”
Mark continued, “Senseless Things managed 8-9 years and there were so many memories from that period it somehow seems a lot longer than that.” Mark commented that a lot has happened during the last 22 years but on the other hand, he looks back and it seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. Recent rehearsals proved that the Senseless Things material that was written back in the late 80’s and early 90’s still feels so current, it could have actually been written now. It hasn’t aged as much as others’ material has over the years. When they play the show in March, they want it to be as immediate and vital as it was back in the day - as real and present as they can make it. There’ll certainly be no sly winks that say “ooh look, aren’t we old men” as they don’t feel like that at all! Mark added, “We were stupidly young, I remember when we decided to give it up back in the mid 90’s, I felt old, despite only being in our mid 20’s!”
Cass explained that they wouldn’t be doing the March show if any one member couldn’t have been involved. The 4forWiz gig in 2007 came about from Mark doing it on his own and seeing as he was so tight with Wiz, he didn’t have to think twice about it. He really wanted to do something special and that’s how Cass & Ben got involved - it was never billed as a ‘Senseless Things’ thing at all. They got together for one 20 minute rehearsal and that was all it took! Mark recalled, “We had the room booked for 4 hours to cover the 4 songs that we were gonna play and after one run through, we realised that none of us had forgotten anything and it sounded great”. Morgan was with Muse in China at the time of the show so we used a bass player Micky Wyle (ex-Hitechjet), he had to do the ‘Too Much Kissing’ solo and there was a moment just before it came along when the room was just waiting for him to do it and thankfully he pulled it off!” I reminded Cass about the after show party, sat in the Jury’s inn reception until 5am, drinking and smoking all night. Cass gave his cymbal away as he couldn’t be arsed to carry it home. Now THAT’S proper rock n’ roll! Cass commented, “I was chatting to Danny (Brown from Mega City Four) after the show and he told me how touched he was that we’d do this for Wiz. That everyone had come together for his brother. Just then, JimBob from Carter asked if we would play at a similar tribute gig if he were to die. There was an awkward pause – then a slow shake of the head. “It’s not gonna happen mate. Sorry”. We all fell about laughing in the end. You should never ask in advance, y’know.”
Mark went on to say, “Playing for 20 minutes is a little different from playing for 90 minutes. We’ll need all the stamina and energy that we can muster!” Cass agreed, “The biggest thing that I need to work on is being able to do it for that long! My chops are good, but an hour and a half is a fair marathon.” Mark added, “We never did sets that long. The albums were always quite short and I guess we were used to doing 50-minute sets but nothing more. 90 mins is going to be tough. With Deadcuts we have done some pretty long sets and I’m sure that we can do it, but look at the material - it’s all fast and lively and we all want it to be as good as it was before. We’re all better musicians now, so the songs SHOULD sound better!”
Cass remembered chatting to someone who admired them for how they split up, saying that it was so good that they never issued a big press statement and the music media never made a big thing of it. He added, “We never did split up, really. The way we dealt with that was primarily down to the fact that we were all busy with other projects and by the time it was a real thing – that Senseless Things were over - it just passed us by”.
Cass was really affected by the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994 and as a result, steered clear of guitar led ‘self-depreciating’ music for a long time choosing instead to noodle with samplers instead. He added’ “Everyone had followed the band (Nirvana) from their early ‘underdog’ status to the behemoth that they grew into (whether they liked it or not!) and it felt to me that if this is what becomes of a band at the height of their career - I just couldn’t listen to guitar music for a long time after that. With Senseless Things over, especially so. I got heavily into soul music; Curtis Mayfield for one, Sly & The Family Stone, more James Brown, Funkadelic. Jimmy Cliff. The Studio One catalogue. Sunshine music, really. I got into lots of Hip Hop. I guess it was me trying to stay away from anything that sounded self-depreciating. Kurt really took that to the nth degree and it really made me want to stay well back from it for the time being. I just needed a complete internal re-invention. I wanted to feel positive.”
Cass added, “Also, being in a band absorbs every waking thought. You want to give your all to that band, you think of the music, the art, the presentation, images, the sound, the production, shit that NOBODY is going to notice all of - but if you allow any of it to slip, it feels false. I was completely absorbed in all of it with Senseless Things and when we ceased to exist, it just hit me like a train. I remember my brother saying that there’s no way that I could have been ‘washed up’ by the age of 23, when Senseless Things ended. He was just trying to liven me up, but it did take a while to come out of that”.
Mark and Morgan had been playing together since the age of 10 and Cass was immediately on the back foot as he joined them when he was 12 and knew that there was no way that he was ever going to catch them up as he was already a year or two behind them, at the age of 12. Talk about commitment and dedication!
Mark added, “Age is a funny thing. I recall all the way through my teens, looking up to older kids and thinking that when I’m 16, I’ll be able to do this and the same again when I was 16, looking to the 18 year olds and being excited about what I could do when I turned 18 and at the end of the day, it’s all false, it’s myths!”
Cass commented on being over the age of 40, the generation-gap myth created in the 50’s and the invention of the teenager. Cass still hangs out with his daughter, attending gigs and festivals together, going to the cinema and has never thought twice about doing so. “And anyway – there’s certain writing that can only really be made after long life-experiences. Y’know, I haven’t read much of the YOUNG William Burroughs or the YOUNG Bukowski? I think though that – once it’s down – it can be picked up by anyone from any age. I certainly feel that with Deadcuts. I think that we are in a place where I don’t feel pressured by age and I just want to keep on delivering the goods. I think nowadays we’ve all got so much access to music, art, books, films – old and new – I think the age thing, and the * generation gap * is a fading myth anyway. Everyone’s got access to everything – so the good stuff’s out there if you look for it. The age thing’s irrelevant. The quality and resonance is a different and more defining matter.”
Mark added, “Cultures change, we moved from a monthly music press to a weekly music press to nowadays where it’s a minute by minute music press, I think we live in a fantastic time now. It’s never affected me in the past, I’ve just done what I’ve always done and got on with my life!”
We chatted at length about the bands that Influenced the foursome. You could see a natural change in direction as time progressed. In the early days, it was acts such as Buzzcocks, Magazine, Wire, Blondie, The Ramones, The Replacements, The Specials, Squeeze, The Only Ones, New York Dolls - especially Johnny Thunders. From here, they immersed themselves in the output of the bands that came across the Atlantic from America - the likes of Mudhoney, Sonic Youth, TAD, Nirvana, Soul Asylum, The Lemonheads and Fugazi. Sharing the same press agent as Nirvana, they managed to play alongside Mudhoney (who were dubbed 'The Senseless Things of the sonic Seattle scene' read more about this HERE. This really opened their eyes and helped to put the stateside newcomers on British soil and it wasn’t long until they started making a name for themselves in the UK. It was acts such as Mega City Four and SNUFF that helped them shape their sound. These were bands that they toured with up and down the country and formed strong bonds with, especially the lads from MC4 whom they are still in contact with to this day.
Mark, a classic songwriter said that it was never about dance-styled indie hits for him. Cass continued, “It was much more of a violent punk spirit - hints of The Damned, The Stranglers and Buzzcocks really coming through in our sound. Live, Senseless Things were a fierce proposition and we always gave 100% at every show we did, no matter where it was or how many people had come to see us. We ALWAYS served it up, no matter if there’s 2 people or 2 thousand people there. How I feel about it, depends on my own performance and how the band play together in that moment. I feel shit if I know that I haven’t given it my all!” Mark added, “Same for me. No matter how many people are there to watch us, we always put on a great show for them. I think it has something to do with the perfectionists that we are and it really annoys Cass and I when people play badly, there’s just no excuse for that at all…ever! I think that sometimes, fans turn up and expect a drunken performance that they may have remembered from the olden days, those days are gone!”
We talked about how they started to pull together the set list for the March show, Mark said “You’ve got the hits, the B-Sides and the stuff that sounds great live…. You’ve also got a lot of stuff from the early days too, mix it all together and you’ve got yourself a show!”. Cass added, “I think there’s LOADS of stuff on the last album that has mileage; Scapegoats, Page 3 Valentine (which Mark thinks is a dreadful song) but despite this, I’m adamant that it’ll make the cut for the SBE show in March”.
Cass had created a list of tracks that were his personal favourites, drawing from early demos and unreleased material, initially as the sketches for a “Best Of…” compilation. It was this he sent out to Morgan, Mark & Ben which was drawn on for the initial ideas for the set and the basis to start rehearsing from.
Had they considered doing the set list in chronological order? Mark said, “There’s a bit of that - certain songs work well when you pair them up so yeah - ‘Back to Nowhere’ leads nicely into ‘Teenage’, so I guess we’ll be doing those two!”. Cass commented that instead of working through it chronologically, “It’s better to approach it to see musically what runs into each other. From playing Deadcuts material, I know if you switch two tracks, then the end of one song will dictate the speed at which the next track will start. The feel of the set has to be right. We want it to start strong and build it up, have a mid section where we drop things down before bringing it right back up to the boil for the ending. We’ll need to save ‘Too Much Kissing’ until nearer the end otherwise we’ll blow all our cache at the start!”. He added, “We want to play all of it, we want to do a LONG set. It has to be long ‘cos the next time we all play together isn’t gonna be until 2047. After they’ve worked out how to re-animate our corpses.” From this, Mark said that he’ll have the final say in curating the set list and once happy, he’d book a studio where they could run through the material and take time to perfect anything tricky.
I enquired how the rehearsals were going, this bought on a bout of schoolboy sniggering and Cass admitted that they’d only had one so far, claiming that’s all they needed! I understand that more have been booked since.
I read on social media that they are planning a warm up show for the main event in London. Mark commented, ”We wanted to do a warm up show and we are currently looking at a number of places up North that would be easily able to accommodate us. Nothing’s set in stone at the moment but I am sure that we’ll be doing it North of the border to allow fans there to catch the show”. Cass mentioned that they were thinking of a few smaller warm up shows, maybe using venues in London but admitted that this would appear rather rude if they were to do that. They have fans all over the UK and Europe and they had even had a suggestion from a fan from Berlin suggesting that they do the warm up show over there and they were seriously giving it some thought. They owe a lot to the North of England and feel that doing a warm up there would satisfy the fans who maybe weren’t able to get to London for the gig in March.
I asked if it would be known as ‘The Farewell Show’? Mark was quick to comment, “I think you’re proper fucking yourself if you call it that. You never know what’s around the corner so we won’t be calling it that”. Cass added, “We did toy with calling it “Goodbye”. A fairly petulant move to wait 22 years in order to do a one-off gig with that name.”
For anyone who recalls the late 80’s and early 90’s will remember the rise of the band T-Shirt, there were often weird and wonderful designs on offer. Limited runs were produced for shows and festivals and to this day, they fetch a very good price via online auction sites all over the world. I recall being at Reading Festival in where I met a couple of Japanese girls - one was sporting a lovely Neds Atomic Dustbin shirt that she had acquired when they played in Japan (Osaka I think). I was sporting a Neds shirt that a friend had sent over to me from a tour of North America they did, after speaking to her, she agreed to do a straight swap. I was in heaven - a Japanese Neds shirt. Who would have thought it!
I asked Mark and Cass if they were planning any special merchandise that would be available at the SBE show in March. Mark said, “There will be some merch available, there’ll be some clothing. No decisions have been made as yet to exactly what but whatever we do settle on, it will be really nice. We took part in a 6 way conversation recently which is still ongoing! The artwork will have to be good to match the stuff that Jamie (Hewlett) did for us in the early 90’s!” I asked if they had enlisted the assistance of Jamie for the artwork for the merch. Cass responded, “You know what, I had a text from Jamie only last night asking if he could attend the show and I’m going to meet up and have a chat with him shortly so we’ll leave things where they are for the time being!”
On the topic of the song that they were most looking forward to playing at the SBE show, Mark suggested “Any that I don’t need to play guitar on…. “Hold it Down” sounds pretty good with me just on the microphone, “Easy to Smile” maybe? though that might be quite tricky…. Cass added, “Homophobic Asshole” is still one of the best to play, to this day it’s still very present. I remember doing interviews around the time the song was released, people were making such a big deal of the title. Those two words. I guess it was quite political at the time, but the funny thing was that nobody was talking about how good it ‘sounded’! We sampled loads of great stuff and everyone just overlooked that element and was totally wrapped up in the title!…..I’m glad we said what we said though. And I’m glad that we sounded like a cross between Sonic Youth and the Sex Pistols on that record.”
They’ve chosen two female acts to support them at the SBE show, Skinny Girl Diet and The Tuts. Mark said that The Tuts had played with Deadcuts before and they got on really well. They’re also big fans of SGD. He recalled touring with Mambo Taxi in 92’-93’ and having two female groups with them now would allow things to balance out nicely. I think with the current world events, they couldn’t have chosen two better fitting bands!
I asked if they considered choosing bands that they had toured with in the past. Cass chipped in, “We don’t want it to be a total nostalgia thing, really. I think both those bands are really fresh and their energy’s current. It’s really great to have them join us for the night. They feel like the right bands for the moment”.
Mark added, “One thing I’ve noticed, and it perplexes me to this day, when bands and artists resurrect their former careers and do so only because they depend on it for income. I say this as I’ve suffered to stay true to my word and always moved forwards, working on new material with new bands and I can honestly say that I have suffered for that, even in my 30’s and 40’s. Have I ever thought about just doing a Senseless Things tour and milk the cash cow? Not really…. it feels too uncomfortable. My career is what it is and I intend it to stay that way.” Cass commented, “I think it’s down to the individual person or artist. I’ve seen many bands that on the outside look like they have it all but on the inside they’re really miserable because it’s NOT what they want. Not at all. They kinda resent that they feel shackled to their past, or even their present. Which is their choice really. But, then, other artists really enjoy it, which is great and also fantastic for the audience. I went to see Glen Campbell a while back. I think that we were by far the youngest people in the room that night. He was great, full of humour and by just watching him, you could see that it was what he wanted to do!”
Mark commented, “I’m confused as how people carry it on despite being really miserable about it. Why don’t they just throw in the towel and move on? I guess that they might be generally miserable people anyway and it wouldn’t make a great deal of difference whatever they were doing”.
I mentioned the day when I first put ‘Postcard CV’ onto my turntable and after just 22 minutes, it was all over. Cass said that the entire record was recorded in just one day and mixed the next! It does clock in at a little over 22 minutes. The reason why the next album was called The First of Too Many (which Cass had come up with) was because he wanted that to be referred to as their debut album. “I mean who would take a 22 minute record and class that as an album? It was more like an EP in length but it WAS our first record. Albeit a very short and fast one!”
I asked them both if they have any plans to re-master the back catalogue in the future? Mark said, “We would like to - (based on the very flaky ‘Best of’ compilation that was put out without our knowledge) - honour our career with something more befitting and we are talking about re-recording some of the earlier tracks and the unreleased material that we won’t be able to get hold of from the label. After playing the tracks recently, we’re going to sound REALLY tight on the night and it would be such a nice thing to do. There are so many good songs, it would be great to do that”.
I probed deeper around the ‘Best of’ compilation CD that was put out by the label and Cass commented, “We weren’t even asked about it. Y’know, I’m proud of what we’ve done. If we WERE asked to input, we would have all curated it properly - packaged it properly, created decent artwork, liner notes etc. Make something beautiful. Looking at what they did, they just grabbed stuff from each album and threw it all together. It looks really bad - the cover art was an out-take from a photo session that none of us liked, the font is awful. Shit like that really matters to me!”
Mark added, “I noticed that there are ‘extended versions’ on the compilation. That just means that the label had edited the track to make it radio friendly (under 3 mins) and then they had just put the original versions on the compilation CD. As Cass said, we had nothing to do with it! As a writer, it riles me - what’s the point in doing what you do if someone is going to come along and do that to your music? Arrangement is a massive part of the process and it just feels to me that they’ve put no thought into it whatsoever.”
On the subject of artwork, Cass added, “When I was involved in writing the Gorillaz book, (Rise Of The Ogre) Jamie (Hewlett) took care of the art as always but where I was involved, we sat with the designer Kate McLauchlan, helped to choose the paper stock, we made sure nothing fell into the gutter. It’s GOT to be right! To many people, they might think that shit like that doesn’t matter and I dare say that some are right but to me, you don’t take the piss out of your audience. That compilation CD makes it looks like WE didn’t care! If we’d been involved, the artwork would have looked great and the information on the CD would be correct. When bands defer the artwork to the record label, most of the time it just appears loveless. It’s a part of the whole art. Why would you spend all that time, writing and recording music and then making it look like you don’t give a shit at all?”
I asked if Cass had considered a ‘Senseless Things’ book and he added, “We’re currently really busy scanning in loads of old artwork, posters and flyers that nobody ever saw. They’re like curios from the time, very evocative of the period. We’ve also been chatting to Alan Martin (co-creator of Tank Girl with Jamie Hewlett). He designed ‘The Cream of Tank Girl’ book, which is a beautiful creation and really well laid-out piece. It really captures the spirit of the era that Tank Girl and Deadline were created in. All the intricacies and details other designers would’ve missed. I’d love for him to do something special for us! Not a book though. There’s another idea…”
On the topic of song writing, Cass explained, “Mark was and I guess is still the main songwriter. He would have his chords, rough melodies and to be honest – unlike a lot of songwriters - Mark started with the lyrics and formed the music around them. Morgan and I would create rhythms and basslines and Mark would then mould them into what he wanted to achieve with the song, get the tempo right before Ben came in with the guitar lines. It’d all be replayed and rehearsed until it felt right, one of our own…They we’d usually tour the tracks, before recording them. Which is the other way round to how a lot of bands release records now too.”
We chatted about whether they were ever asked by the record label to adopt a different approach to their sound or song-writing or had a producer forced upon them. Cass said that this never happened and because of that, they felt that they were more in control. Mark admitted that he was told to ‘Yank it up’, which basically meant to sound more American and if he did, they would sell more records and “they were right!”
On the topic of success, Cass took things very seriously. He knew that if he were to play a drumbeat in a certain way, then that would make the band sound like (insert name of band who were doing well at the time) and he was adamant that this wasn’t going to happen. This was something that he really suffered from and it was fascinating hearing it from the horse’s mouth. Mark agreed that it really did consume Cass at times and made for interesting conversations back in the day. Cass admits that he’d be looking at the playing styles of Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) and Joey Kramer (Aerosmith) and he’d work their techniques into Senseless Things songs, “Anyone who tells you they’ve never done this is a fucking liar.” he stated. Mark added that whilst he was asked to, and did agree to ‘yank it up’, there was a line drawn at going “all Steven Tyler”. Cass jokingly commented that there was no way he’d be able to do that anyway….
I asked them both if they preferred the struggle of the early days where they’d have to fight to win fans or what’s about to happen in March where they’d walk on stage to a packed room – Mark commented, “For the Northern warm up show, it’s looking like it’s going to be on a Sunday evening, which for us is great as everyone in the room will be a fan, coming to see us for what we are, what they remember! If we do the same on a Friday or Saturday night, there will be people just out for a drink which is fair enough but I think playing to a room full of proper fans is going to be so much better! So for me it’s the latter that is going to be more enjoyable. I hope we don’t miss anything!” Cass added, “I know I had a great time in the early days cos Morgan filmed it (as mentioned earlier on) so in answer to your question, of course, it doesn’t make much difference really, but yeah - I’d rather go out to a packed room every time!”
I asked the guys to go back 30 years to 1987, armed with the knowledge they have now and asked them what they’d tell their younger selves….Mark suggested, “That drugs are a bad idea!” Cass added, “I think I would have told myself that we were doing okay. We were constantly evolving as a band and were very autonomous - we signed a major deal, we really had it all on a plate and at the time I guess we did that cos we needed the money to get by. We needed to pay the crew, to be able to record and eat! We were ridiculously young when we signed and I guess we could have all benefitted from some extra knowledge but you know, it is what it is!”
Cass went on to say that in the early days, he never really thought about money. It wasn’t until he had a kid that he did, “I thought that as long as I can make music, I’ll be okay. When it ended and I was in Delakota, living on £30 a week, laughing my ass off the whole time, drunk and high and really enjoying it! Then I realised I needed to buy more gear as it was getting difficult to make music and, without the money, I couldn’t get this or that piece of equipment. I still only look at money to facilitate the next thing that I want to do, there’s never been a ‘pension fund’ discussed in the board meetings.”
We spent a good 15 minutes chatting about the various music scenes that were happening at the time of and after Senseless Things and I asked each to comment on them.
Mark, “I lived through the rave scene, warehouse parties etc. It was the music that we grew up with and it was all important…” Cass added, “I remember post Senseless Things (1996) I’d been drumming for so long, I wanted to teach myself guitar. I’m no natural in playing a guitar by a long stretch, so instead, I went out and purchased an AKAI sampler. So I could just cheat it really. And put whole tracks together myself. And from there, I got heavily into the Drum n’ Bass scene, visited lots of clubs and was sold the story that this scene was as important and creatively fresh and liberating as punk rock. I bought loads of stuff by the likes of LTJ Bukem, Photek… Alex Reece and really immersed myself in the scene. Photek I still think is amazing. But really when I sat down and thought about it, for me, punk created some real personalities, proper art, singles, lyrics and attitude, influence whole different streams of creatively and thought, and with bands like The Slits and The Clash and P.I.L. incorporating styles like reggae into their own sound. I just noticed that a lot of the D&B scene seem to come with its own internal – and fairly restrictive – rules. There seemed to be this snobbish attitude to the music. But I took loads from that period. Delakota emerged from that period, so despite it not quite standing up to the effect that Punk Rock had on me in the early days, it was a really exciting moment. I wouldn’t say that ‘scene’ itself stayed with me that long - but what I learned from using technology then, and that moment when sequencers and samplers, and Logic really became affordable fire-power for the average user, and where you could take it - yeah – that’s been the biggest leap for me. That’s probably what affected me the most. And I don’t think I’m alone in that at all.”.
We chatted about the 90’s in general and Cass mentioned that you look back now and think of the bands that made their mark around that time and you instantly think of Neds Atomic Dustbin, The Wonderstuff, EMF and Jesus Jones and they were often asked to do interviews about that time and they regularly turned them down as these bands weren’t really of the same ilk. Nothing snobbish intended but Senseless Things were a 4-piece punk band who were playing 200 gigs a year and it wasn’t as if the bands used to hang out together. The only thing that we really had in common was that we all released music in the same year.
I then dropped the topic of ‘Brit Pop’ on the table for them to tear apart….. Cass – “Pfft. No good ever came out of Brit Pop. Other than Supergrass. It’s left a fairly empty legacy. I said it then and I say it now. I really wasn’t the right demographic though. (I was too old by the time it came along). For me it sounded like the primary colours version of the 60’s”. Mark suggested that surely Senseless Things were part of the Britpop scene? This was soon quashed by Cass, adding, “No we weren’t. We would probably be the antithesis of that movement because we drew most of our influences from American bands…. We still hung out with a few of the bands and there were many people that I enjoyed spending time with, but we were never a part of that scene. I think we might have even been something some of those bands were pushing against at the time. Still, a long time ago and a lot of those people became good friends”.
Mark added, “We were living it, we were there but it’s when I watch TV shows about ‘Brit Pop’ and it perplexes me as the bands that they select to cover it are quite odd. We were around before, during and after the scene and I guess we did live through it all….”. Cass – “Yeah, we were the dinosaurs then and the cockroaches now! I remember thinking (and still do) that the first Oasis album was fucking great though. It sounded brilliant booming out of the speakers. But y’know - on the other hand, I did physically return my copy of ‘Be Here Now’ to the store that gave it me (as did many people). I had a box set and it was taking up 7 spaces on my shelf and I was more than happy to fill that void with something else!”. “PULP’s ‘This is Hardcore’, documented the demise of the scene so well. It was apparent that people had been duped in a similar way that they were with Punk Rock (watch ‘The Great Rock n’ Roll swindle if you need evidence!), Jarvis Cocker is such a great writer and I always liked Supergrass. Danny’s a fabulous drummer and Gaz Coombe’s new solo material is right up there too. As is Vangoffey, Danny’s new band.”
As a cultural movement, I thought that Brit Pop was vacuous at the time. The YBA (Young British Artists) stuff was very hit-or-miss. I really liked the work of The Chapman Brothers, but for some it just ended up being all about the price tag and less about the actual art or artists. It just seemed to evolve into some sneering 'cokey leer' at their audience and the vulgarity of the cash pieces were being sold for. I am genuinely into a lot of art, it means so much to me. The thing is that these YBA’s were going out there and selling work for an obscene amount of money and that to me wasn’t what it’s about at all.” He smirked. “Some of them can’t even draw.”
Mark added, “Real art connects, the hype doesn’t really come into it, and there is good stuff that came out of the scene….” Cass added, “There is, f’sure. But I think the fact that kind of notion, and that whole Brit Pop naïve inflated-ego, led to that government to thinking that “Hmmm… Britain is doing rather well here, let’s take that bit and get these people to do this, appear to back this” and before you know it, you have a Government apparently ‘popular with the youth and its culture’, taking huge arrogant aggressive risks. Then you have 2 million people marching through Hyde Park against a war – totally ignored in Parliament - and that was the death of democracy! I’ve never liked the Britpop scene or that period. Cheap thrills. And it just seemed that a lot of the bands that are synonymous for it were just lumped together as they just happened to release records at the same time. They aren’t influenced by each other at all in terms of any focus, and that to me is not the basis of a ‘scene’.”
I asked them to tell me how they managed to work with Jamie Hewlett, Mark explained, “The bass played from CUD (Will Potter) was a friend of Jamie’s, he mentioned that Jamie was a fan of our music after watching us play on the same TV show as CUD (an episode of the music show ‘Transmission’) and that he’d like to work with us. At the time, he was working for ‘Deadline’. We got together and he created some of the most amazing work for us.”
I raised the topic of recording new material and dropped the big question right there on the table in front of them both. After a few sly sideways glances, Mark said, “Yes, we’re actually recording next week. New material will be coming - nothing massive initially - just a single for now and we’ll see where it goes. But yes we’re recording and will be putting something out in the future.” I asked if they would be approaching the new music as they had done previously or whether they’d be using 21 century technology to create a new sound, Cass answered, “Our preference is that having done what we’ve done, it would be good to stick with the same model. There’s no trickery involved, it’s how we play when we’re together…. I prefer a much more open, honest sound with this band - and don’t really want to use samplers and drum machines at the moment. We’ll keep it stripped back and raw”. Mark added, “Think of the early Who, when they were stripped down they still sounded amazing. We hope to emulate that”.
Both Cass and Mark are deeply into Deadcuts. Outside of the new album, they are writing with a bunch of Hip Hop artists in the US and they’re really proud of the output so far. Cass added, “It’s really vital and immediate music. Powerful, vitriolic…lyrical.” Mark commented, “Deadcuts is pretty much a full time job at the moment, there’s so much to do from the artistic side…”
Expanding on this, Cass explained, “To channel your mind into something, to gather all of the aesthetics and re-contextualise it, make it live and resonate truthfully and to create something new is really difficult if you’re running two things concurrently, that have quite polar opposite aesthetics, different time-lines, but contain similar members. It’s almost schizophrenic. Deadcuts and everything surrounding it is at its peak at the moment. This Senseless Things concert was always more of a ‘hit and run’ approach and it was meant to be fun. If it became a chore, and we didn’t enjoy this trip - that would be a pretty pointless exercise after 22 years! Waiting that long to do something that you weren’t into would be a complete shame for everyone involved!”
I asked Mark if Senseless Things was fun, he replied, “I personally had a fucking great time. I toured Japan, The States, Canada, Europe, places we’d have never ever seen before and probably never would had it not been for the band”. “Come the end, around the time of the Christine Keeler stuff, we felt less into things like the cover art and it made me feel that it wasn’t expressing anything, we had lost our way somewhat…. Cass agreed, “There were times later on when we looked bored in photos, when we would let someone else do the artwork. Why did I let that slip? Bad habits I guess!”.
Mark: “We spent a lot of time in studios, it was all over the place, proper topsy-turvy. We weren’t rehearsing much despite having the room booked. I didn’t spend much time writing. We would book in for a long time and spend a LOT of money. Compare that to what we’ve already achieved with Deadcuts on a very small budget and the difference is amazing. I guess we’re now in a place to be more creative, we’re more talented and we really do have the desire to do it”.
On the subject of Deadcuts, Cass brightens, “Morgan has actually played bass on a new Deadcuts track. The song demanded a certain style of playing, to get it to swing properly, but still with the right amount of dirt in there and what he put down just ticked all the boxes. When I was in Delakota, we used ‘floating musicians’. That way, we could work with whoever we wanted to, when we wanted to, but put it through our own filter. Even now, Deadcuts have been working with Arthur Jeffes from Penguin Cafe to create something new. I always try to go where the music goes, where it thrives and comes to life. That bit’s limitless!”
I wanted to close the conversation with a big question. I paused for effect before asking would the band be touring or appearing at any festivals anytime soon? This was answered with a synchronized ‘No’ from both Mark and Cass. Mark added, “No plans at all at the moment for touring, if we can get some new material out there, maybe. You never know, if a new chemistry came out of this, then there’s every likelihood that we would tour again. Never say never!”
I’d like to thank Cass and Mark for sparing two hours of their afternoon, sitting in a members club in London, chatting to me about the past (and the future). I look forward to seeing them in March at the Shepherds Bush Empire and am excited about the fact that new material is on its way!
Postcard CV - 1989
The First of Too Many – 1991
Empire of the Senseless – 1992
Peel Sessions – 1994
Taking Care of Business – 1995
Postcard CV – 2010 (re-issue with tracks from Up & Coming 12” and Girlfriend 7”)
I’m Moving (7” flexi) – 1988
Up & Coming EP (12”) – 1988
Senseless Things rehearsals bootleg 7” – 1989
Girlfriend (7”) – 1989
Too Much Kissing (7”) – 1990
Andy in a Karmann EP (12” Promo) – 1990
Is It Too Late? – 1990
Can’t Do Anything – 1990
Everybody’s Gone – 1991
Got it at the Delmar – 1991
Easy to Smile – 1991
Hold it Down – 1992
Homophobic Asshole – 1992
Primary Instinct – 1993
Too Much Kissing (remixed with new artwork and B-Sides) – 1993
Christine Keeler – 1994
Something to Miss – 1995
"Sniffin' Rock #6" - split 7" w/ Crazyhead, The Birdhouse – 1988
1989 - "Pssst" EP - split 7" w/ Snuff, Sink, Perfect Daze - 1989
"The Shape Of Things to Humm" - split 7" w/ Perfect Daze, Playground, Exit Condition - 1989
Underground Rockers Volume 2 - LP (reissued on CD, 1992) w/ Manic Street Preachers, HDQ, The Price, etc - 1989
"Submerge #3" - split 7" flexi w/ Bugeyes - 1991
Post Senseless Things bands
Gallery (in no particular order)
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