June 20, 2018 Interview – Boy George of Culture Club
Truly unique to anything else happening at the time, Culture Club exploded onto the musical canvas of the 1980s with bright, vivid color. A mixture of the 4 different musical personalities, each having their own heritage and roots, Boy George led Culture Club with a passionately soulful voice matched with an androgynous appearance. Selling over 50 million albums as Culture Club, when things were going right, it seemed nothing could stop the band from taking over the world.
Fortunately, this exclusive club has remained active through a few bumps in the road. Now, after much anticipation, they are set to return with their first studio album in nearly 2 decades. Long overdue, yet carefully plotted, Culture Club have also devoted themselves to the live performance in recent years, touring the world various times, with their most recent USA engagement set for this summer alongside The B-52s. Recently we caught up with Boy George himself to talk his growth as a musician, the work behind their new album, Life, the chemistry that makes Culture Club work, plus more.
CrypticRock.com – Culture Club came together over three decades ago and became one of the most compelling and successful bands of the 1980s. Through it all, briefly tell us, what has the musical journey been like?
Boy George – I think that obviously initially when I started the band I had an idea and vision of what we were going to be. Once we put together the 4 kind of characters in the band it was clear we ended up creating a sort of noise that was a mix of everything we individually brought to the situation. One of the reasons why we called ourselves Culture Club is because we were such a kind of weird mix of cultural identities and personalities.
You have Mikey with a Jamaican background, me with a sort of Irish background, Jon Jewish, Roy, your typical kind of Anglos-Saxon Essex boy. We all just brought such individual things to the songs.
To be honest, when we first started, I wasn’t even sure if I liked what we were doing. (Laughs) Suddenly, over a period of time it became our sound. It’s funny now when we are recording to say, “It sounds very Culture Club.” When we say that, I think we mean it’s very eclectic, it has a kind of World music quality. Obviously my voice is my voice, and it adds a kind of uniqueness to what we do. Yeah, there is definitely a Culture Club sound, I am not sure how easy it is to define. I definitely think kind of World music with I guess a little bit of queerness. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – It certainly is unique and all your own, that is why the band’s music has stood the test of time. The band’s first three studio records all achieved multi-platinum sales, and of them 1983’s Colour by Numbers is now celebrating its 35th anniversary. Looking back, what do you think attributed to that record’s magic?
Boy George – I think it was the second album, you do the first album, Kissing to Be Clever (1982), it is full of nativity and urgency, then you have your first hit record, then you go on to make our defining album, which was Colour by Numbers. I think Colour by Numbers was made at a time when we began to be successful.
There was a confidence in that record that perhaps there wasn’t in Kissing to Be Clever. We still had so much to say at that point, it was just before fame took us by the throat and started to control what we were doing. There was also a slight youthful naivety in that record. I think for us it is quite a masterpiece, a perfect Pop record, but I just think we just made a better one. (Laughs) I think the new album is less self-conscious.
From my point of view as a writer, my songwriting now isn’t so obvious; it’s much more metaphorical, I use a lot of magic realism. I guess a song like “Karma Chameleon” has a certain amount of magic realism in it. (Laughs) I don’t necessarily only write about my experiences. My songs as a young writer were all about heartbreak, being disappointed, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” victims, “Time (Clock of the Heart),” there is a lot of woe is me. That definitely changed because I’m not that person anymore.
CrypticRock.com – Right, as we get older we change as do our opinions; we change as people.
Boy George – Yes, well not everybody changes. (Laughs) I think life changes. What’s that saying? “Change is the only constant.” You can fight against change, but it kind of happens whether you like it or not. It’s really about how you adapt to that change and what you allow it to teach you. When I see a song like “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” I still love singing it, but it’s a different song now, it has a different meaning to me now. Strangely, songs do change, they may not change to the listener, but the relation I have as the writer, and the person behind the story, it definitely changes. When I perform it now, it just has a different frequency than it did in 1983.
CrypticRock.com – Right, that makes perfect sense. You mentioned the new album, which had been known as Tribes, but now will be called Life. It is one fans have been waiting for, and now excitingly it is coming out! That in mind, what was the writing and recording process like for this record?
Boy George – It was interesting because a lot of the writing was done quite recently. There were a lot of tracks that were on Tribes that we re-recorded. We started working with these guys in London called Future Cut. When I heard what they were doing, I was like, “Anything we are going to put on this record, let’s redo with these guys, because it will have a sound.”
I think it’s important for a record to have a feel and not be completely disjointed. It can have a lot of elements, but it has to have a kind of thread. I saw what they were doing was really cool. I said to Roy, “Let’s just get them to do the whole record,” and that’s what we’ve done. There are songs that were going to be on Tribes that are completely changed.
There is a song called “The Truth is a Runaway Train” that was like a tribute to Johnny Cash and now it’s gone from one extreme to the other. It’s quite hard to do that, sometimes you start and try and change a molecular structure it just loses its kind of flavor. For this one, I think it really has changed for the better. I am very excited about this record! I know everybody says that when they make a record, but I think this record is really going to surprise people.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent and from our last interview with Culture Club, Roy Hay and everyone else seemed excited about the new songs. Culture Club has reformed in recent years and are really firing on all cylinders touring the world. Returning to the USA this time around with The B-52s and Tom Bailey of Thompson Twins, how excited are you for this forthcoming tour?
Boy George – Very excited about the tour! You know what, people in this band are always threatening to leave, it is one of the conditions of fitting in Culture Club. (Laughs) Every so often someone says they are going to quit or whatever, but we keep it together. The live thing, for me personally, is a lot of fun these days.
When I first used to go out on the road, I found the live situation pretty intimidating. Now the audience is so warm and with you, you walk out on stage and there is so much love there, you just feed off that. Whereas, I used to kind of avoid eye contact, I now look into people’s eyes; I try to engage with them, talk about what they are wearing, or if they look a little bit bored, I tell them. I have fun with them!
I would say to all performers, the audience wants you to be good, they don’t want you to be bad. They are on your side, you just have to keep them on your side. The live situation for me is probably the most fun thing because you really get to express who you are as a person and to play with the audience. Sometimes you get an audience who is a little bit stiff, maybe they don’t want to dance, and you win them over! That’s the fun, when you get to the end of the show and everyone is up on their feet all going crazy, and they all go home with a big smile on their faces and hearts. Then you know you’ve done a good job, and that’s what I love about live.
CrypticRock.com – The band always puts on a wonderful live show and each member’s personality shines through night in and night out. You said years ago you used to feel a little intimidated by the live performance. We always focus on what fans feel, but what do you feel at this point live on stage?
Boy George – Well, each place has its own frequency. It is almost as if you are full of expectation, “What’s this audience going to be like?,” particularly the people in the front, they are always the biggest concern. (Laughs) Sometimes you get on stage and the front row is like, “He’s really close!” and you also feel very close. That’s the first thing you have to deal with, the ones who are closest. Sometimes you get people who are really drunk, and they think the concert is all about them. (Laughs)
It’s always interesting, it’s kind of a therapy session playing live. You might get someone who’s dancing and they are in the way of everybody else, there’s a lot to deal with in a live show. It’s so unpredictable and I think that’s what I quite like about it and appeals to my Gemini spirit. You really don’t know what’s going to happen when you walk on stage anywhere.
CrpticRock.com – Yes, and that is what makes it exciting for the audience as well. It will be exciting to see you and the band back in the USA.
Boy George – Yes, and also, sometimes things go wrong and sometimes the audience doesn’t even know they have gone wrong. (Laughs) I just really love that experience of live music; if you can play live, it’s just the best experience.
CrypticRock.com – There is no doubt, nothing beats a live performance. Last question. Beyond music we also cover movies, particularly Horror and Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of either genre, do you have any favorites?
Boy George – The closest I got to Horror recently was Red Sparrow, that was pretty horrifying. (Laughs) Weirdly, my mother, whose in her ’70s, went with my sister and her family to see Red Sparrow. My mother had said, “Oh my god, I got taken to this film, there is full-frontal nudity, it’s really violent.” So I thought, I’ll check it out. (Laughs) I actually surprisingly enjoyed it; I thought it was quite good, quite violent as my mother had said.
I am always open-minded to all films. Sometimes I take recommendations, sometimes I ignore what people say because people dislike things for different reasons. I love all movies. We watched Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) recently and that was really fun, it was really well made and entertaining. I got lost at the end of it, I didn’t know who was who. I watched both Blade Runners recently; I went back and watched the original and then watched the second one. I would say the original is better.