September 18, 2015 Interview – Roy Hay & Jon Moss of Culture Club
Diversity is the spice of life so they say. Often confined by the restrictions of everyday life, music can be the liberation of the soul in many ways. For English band Culture Club, this free-thinking outlook landed them as one of the most influential and successful bands of the ’80s era. Led by colorful vocalist Boy George, the assorted background that makes up Culture Club helped create a sound that married a variety of styles that broke barriers, peaking in North America with the four-times platinum Colour by Numbers in 1983. Through ups and downs, false starts, and everything in between – Culture Club return in 2015 touring to a swarm of excitement. A nicely-wrapped up package, with the bow on top being the band’s first new record in over fifteen years, Tribes, due out in 2016. Recently we caught up with founding guitarist Roy Hay and drummer Jon Moss for an in-depth look at the band’s history, their love for music, writing new songs, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Culture Club came together over three decades ago and rose to be one of the most popular New Wave bands during the 1980’s. What were those early years like for the band?
Roy Hay – I always say the ’80s were a bit like the ’60s, if you really lived them, you do not remember them too well (laughs). This band was really a life changing event. We were kids in London making music. “Do You Want to Hurt Me” came out and we went from playing small clubs to playing arenas in New York. We thought, “Did that just happen? Yes, it did, great, off we go!”
Jon Moss – I think we all wanted to be in a band. My father said to me, “One in a million make it,” and I said, “Well I am the one.” It was that kind of thing. All of a sudden you did it. The ’80s were times where you thought anything was possible. From an impossible beginning, we thought we were going to do it. To experience that success and to be in the right place in the right time, you never forget it. Once we experienced that, and you have a feel of how great success is achievable, then you can achieve it again. You have an incline, most people do not though, but if you do, then you can achieve it again.
CrypticRock.com – Totally agreed. Culture Club certainly mix a variety of genres from New Wave, to Soul, to Reggae, and Rock. Was that the band’s initial objective to be this hybrid, or did it happen naturally?
Jon Moss – We are an eclectic band. That is the thing I loved. I played in Punk Rock bands and Jazz bands. Roy was a part of the Soul scene, Mikey the Reggae scene, and George the Pop scene. The great liberating thing that brought us all together was to be eclectic. We did not have to define ourselves, so we were Culture Club. In America, you have very distinctive genres. You have Heavy Metal, Death Metal, Light Pop, etc. When we came into The States, it was very interesting, because obviously with George, it was going to be a shocker. We released the first single, when you had singles in that day, in a plain bag.
What was strange was the first tour we did was 80% African American. It was a complete R & B audience, which was very odd because they thought he sounded like Smokey Robinson. Then when we released it with George on the front, they all thought George was a woman. What was great about it was we would never had a chance in the country, but the time everyone figured out what was going on, it was too late (laughs). It really broke the mold, that was a great sense of relief. When Culture Club happened in America, I think it made a big difference in America quietly on a social level. It was a very different country than it is now.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, often in music, especially in the United States, labels are essentially for people to understand something. What is great about Culture Club is the band really never fit any of those labels.
Roy Hay – It is interesting. Not only musical, but culturally and image wise, our political statement was our music and our look, we did not really have to say anything. I think our legacy is for people who grew up and had Culture Club in their lives while they were teenagers, thirty years later, these are people running the media. Without Culture Club, there is no Glee, there is no Lady Gaga. I think we really broke a lot of barriers down, but we did not do it by hammering away with a political message. We were just were who we are. That is what is great about George, but it is not just George. It is also the fact that we had the symbolism, ourselves, and our music. I still do not know what “Karma Chameleon” is. We play it live, I do not know what it is (laughs). It has a bit of Country, a bit of Abba, and Rock in it at the same time. It is like “Hound Dog” meets “Dancing Queen.” I do not know what it is, it is a very strange record.
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) That is what makes the track so endearing, even after all these years. That is a great point how Culture Club was one of the leading bands to really pave the way for the musical culture we have today.
Jon Moss – We were recently out for dinner and I was just saying how we all come from completely different backgrounds. Not class wise, but just different backgrounds. We actually come from different points of London. Jon from North London, I am from East London, Mikey from West London, and George is from South London. It is quite amazing how it is an eclectic mix. The great thing about Culture Club is we would never have probably known each other or been social with one another. I think music, especially in Britain in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, really broke down barriers. If you were in a band, you could really meet people from different walks of life which you would probably never meet otherwise. I think that difference translated into the sound of the band.
I remember I went to one band; I had a Ringo drum kit, and they were triplets, it was the weirdest thing, they were brutal musicians, they were horrible. I walked to the Ringo drum kit and they said, “Where is the rest of the kit?” I said, “I don’t need any more kit, I can perfectly get everything you want out of this.” They said, “No, no, we want a huge drum kit.” I just got so fed up with it in the end. Then I met George, Mikey, and Roy came along, and it was great. You could say, “Let’s do a Motown song,” and everyone said, “Yes, fine.” That is so liberating. I think that is one of the reasons Culture Club was so successful inadvertently. We meant so many different things to so many different people. As Roy said, we were not trying to spread a political message. What we were trying to do, I suppose when looking back at it, was do what we wanted to do and not be confined by any kind of rules or regulations that the music business might put on us. We had a lot of trouble getting a deal at first, because people did not know what the hell we were. We were a Pop group with a black member, which is very unusual. We played all different kinds of music. We have an androgynous singer. I think from that point, I think what Roy said is right, without Culture Club, Duran Duran and all the other bands from the ’80s, there would not be Lady Gaga and all these TV shows.
The great thing we are sorry about is, we had such an influence, and that has been forgotten with George’s trials and tribulations with the band. You look at Duran Duran, they have been working consistently the entire time. They are like a well-oiled machine. Culture Club just is not like that.
CrypticRock.com – Well it is great to see Culture Club back, and fans are really enjoying it.
Roy Hay – What George has been saying, and I agree with it, I think one of the reasons we were getting back together is to rewrite the ending. To write the last chapter if you like. Just the opportunity to get out there and make music again is a great thing in our lives.
CrypticRock.com – As we have been speaking of, there have been a few breaks for Culture Club over the band’s time, but now the band is reformed, touring, and are ready to release a new record. Tell us more of what inspired this reunion?
Jon Moss – We are sitting around, doing whatever else we do, and we say, “What are we going to do?” This is what we love doing. You can do other stuff, but this is what we love doing. You can do other stuff, but you cannot find another passion in your life when you have one that is so great.” That is it really. Forget the divorces, rehabs, and all the shit everyone has been through. This has always been something we have wanted to do, it was just when it was the right time. It has always been like that. It has nothing to do with a new moon. It is just when it is right, it is right.
Roy Hay – Yes, we tried to get this off the road three years ago, it was quite obvious we were not gelling yet. George went off and did his own thing. Funny enough, the thing that worked the most with the new record was our producer put us in a room in the middle of nowhere and let us be a band. It took us back to that Dave Grohl mentality of just grab your instruments and bash it out. That is when we get back to the core of what we were and forgot about all the fame, money, drugs, and decadence. We find that in the time we had been apart, we had something to say again. I think that thing is you get that third album syndrome as a band. This almost feels like our first album because it has been so long since we did anything.
CrypticRock.com – Speaking of new material, the new record Tribes is set for release in 2016. What can fans expect from this new record?
Roy Hay – It is interesting actually because we slotted a few of the songs into our recent live set. By the second chorus, the crowd is singing along. They are a little more mature lyrically, but they are still very distinctively Culture Club songs. We have one song that is a tribute to Sly Stone, another one to Johnny Cash. It is really just a classic Culture Club album. It is Colour by Numbers (1983) part 2 in a way. We just go from Salsa, to African, to Rock, but they are all great song. It is a tough room with Culture Club, if the ideas are not good, then they do not get through the process. Only the cream rises to the top, I hope. I certainly feel that way. I feel it is a really good piece of work I am very proud of. That probably has not been said for a couple of albums over the years. It is quite exciting.
Jon Moss – I totally agree. I think it is very true. We tried writing three or four years ago and it was drivel and none of us were really gelling or know what we were doing. This, we all discussed it and we had this wonderful producer who was in a Punk band and he said, “Great guys, whatever you want to do.” We just wanted to keep it simple. When it is happening, it just came out. We wrote twenty songs in two weeks, I am not saying they are all brilliant, but they were songs. After that, we needed to slim that down. A typical Culture Club album is all over the place. As Roy said, you have Sly Stone, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, then you have a The Temptations type track. It really is a great album. This album, I have played to people in the car, and they said, “This is great, what is this?” I tell them, “It is a new band I found,” just to really draw it out. I was quite sure they had no incline it was Culture Club, and then I said, “It is the new Culture Club,” and they just look at me amazed.