November 27, 2018 Interview – Will Sergeant of Echo & the Bunnymen
Of the many bands that emerged from the Post-Punk era, Liverpool England’s Echo & the Bunnymen are one that continue to stand out thanks to an ever distinctive sound. Easily recognizable due to the unique voice of Ian McCulloch, coupled with textured guitar work of Will Sergeant, withstanding twists and turns over the past four decades, the band continues to come out on top.
Today led by co-founding members, McCulloch and Sergeant, they actively tour the world to tremendous fanfare, and most recently, returned with their new album The Stars, The Oceans & The Moon. Their first studio record since 2014’s Meteorites, the latest collection is a re-imagining of classic Bunnymen tunes while also featuring two new songs, creating hope for a possible full LP of new material in the future. Now returning to the North American region for more shows to wrap up 2018, Sergeant took the time to chat about the history of Echo & the Bunnymen, the potential of more new music, life on the road, plus much more.
Cryptic Rock – Echo & the Bunnymen has a rich history that dates back four decades now. Attaining a great deal of success through the ’80s, the band has continued strongly into the new millennium with new music and touring. First, briefly tell us, what has the musical journey of the band been like for you?
Will Sergeant – When we started there were four of us, so it’s changed; obviously people have left and Pete (de Freitas) got killed on his motorbike. The whole thing has changed radically from what it was, but nothing ever stays the same.
Cryptic Rock – It is very unfortunate that sometimes things change. As you stated, obviously there has been some changes with Echo & the Bunnymen, and through it all, you have remained the foundation and driving forces of it all. Through most of it, Ian has also been with you leading the band. How would you describe the chemistry you two share as songwriting partners?
Will Sergeant – There is not really a lot of partnership going on. (Laughs) I will come up with something, Ian will hear it, maybe like it. He will come up with something, and say “Come in the studio to put some guitar on this.” It’s not really like we sit down and thrash stuff out anymore – that hasn’t happened for years.
Cryptic Rock – Interesting. As mentioned, Echo & the Bunnymen have remained very active in recent years, releasing the strong album Meteorites in 2014 and, most recently, this compilation of re-recorded tracks for The Stars, The Oceans & The Moon. What lead to the decision for yourself and Ian to go back into the studio and re-record these classic Bunnymen tunes?
Will Sergeant – We had a meeting with the BMG label when we joined. They said we want you to make a record of all your old songs, but in a different way – so that’s what we did. I went to the meeting after: we didn’t go together, so it was kind of already agreed on.
Cryptic Rock – Well the new translations are really quite enjoyable and, amidst it all, you sneak in two new songs, as well. Are these two new tracks a sample of some other Bunnymen recording sessions that can lead to another new full-length album in the future?
Will Sergeant – Yeah, there are some ideas floating around; I have loads of ideas. The two new songs were ones I created in my little studio. I gave them to Ian, he changed them around a bit to mold in some vocals.
Cryptic Rock – Hopefully we can hear some more new music in the future.
Will Sergeant – It’s a funny situation: we don’t sit down, we hardly ever talk; we don’t talk about anything. It’s a very odd situation, it’s just that way. It’s always been a bit weird, but it’s not really old mates together making records; it’s not like that anymore.
Cryptic Rock – As you said, things change as time goes on. Echo & the Bunnymen always put on a wonderful live show that is lively yet moody. You are now back in North America for more shows. This is a relatively quick return for the band, seeing you were here in the summer of 2017 with Violent Femmes. How excited are you to be back for this run?
Will Sergeant – Yeah, for me, the live show is what it’s all about now – that is where I get the most enjoyment. The studio is kind of a bit weird now, so it’s the live show that makes it worth doing it for me – the crowd are good and people get into it.
Cryptic Rock – The live shows are really always great. Since you were just in North America, are these shows a little different?
Will Sergeant – They are a bit longer. We are doing one of the new songs, “The Somnambulist.” The shows have been great. We love coming to America, it is like our second home now.
Cryptic Rock – It’s always great to see you come back to the U.S. to play. Beyond Echo & the Bunnymen, you have worked with several other projects, including solo work. That said, your solo material is rather different than Bunnymen’s work. What is it like for you to have two different creative outlets like that?
Will Sergeant – I purposely tried to make it different over the years; it’s a different thing, it’s not the Bunnymen. It has always been more of an instrumental thing. The Poltergeist album, Your Mind Is A Box (Let Us Fill It With Wonder), was more a Rock thing; some of that could have been construed as an early Bunnymen sound. Generally, I shy away from sounding like Rock, so I will go off into an electronic, acoustic, or experimental world. It just keeps me sane: it’s like a creative edge that you can’t stop, and the Bunnymen creative edge is not the same as it used to be so I need other outlets. I’ve actually made another Glide record and I haven’t even put it out because I can’t be bothered. It’s the creative process that keeps me going – going into the studio and creating new things. The enjoyment is making it.
Cryptic Rock – Hopefully we will get to hear it someday. The Poltergeist record actually recently turned five-years-old.
Will Sergeant – Time seems to be accelerated: five years is nothing now. I think as you get older time seems to be rushing toward you, especially when you’ve got a limited amount.
Cryptic Rock – Time is a strange thing: in some instances it can feel like it is going by very fast, and others it can drag.
Will Sergeant – Yeah, recently we sat in the airport for six hours waiting for a plane to take over. (Laughs) That went by a bit slow, but we are back to normal speed now – you have to be at the sound check and gig.
Cryptic Rock – One can imagine you have been doing touring so long you have it down to a science. What would you say are some of the more important things you have learned from life on the road?
Will Sergeant – Don’t take a load of clothes with you, you don’t need them. (Laughs) Roll everything up like pilots do and put that in your bag. Also, make sure you have tea bags, American tea is horrible. These are the important things. The gigs look after themselves – we have a great crew and everyone knows exactly what to do.
The gigs are the most important thing; all the other stuff, like the traveling and schlepping around, is horrible. I am traveling independently, so it’s not as bad. I feel sorry for them on the bus. It’s great and fast when you are eighteen – 11 or 12 blokes on a bus getting piss drunk and all of the rest of it. I’m just driving across America and enjoying it; I love America.
Cryptic Rock – In the end, the best part is being on-stage and playing the music. Last question. Beyond music, Cryptic Rock covers movies, particularly Horror and Sci-Fi. If you are a fan of either genre, do you have any favorites?
Will Sergeant – Totally, I am a massive Science Fiction fan. I like classic Horror like The Shining (1980). I am not too into anything with ghosts, that doesn’t scare me. I went to see the new Halloween the other day and I thought it was rubbish; I thought it was the least scary thing I’ve seen in my life. All this waiting for something to jump out, it’s just corny and doesn’t fill me with any fear. I live in the woods and it’s pitch black, so nothing scares me; I’m not worried about being in the dark. The Shining was good because it had a psychological element to it.
Science Fiction wise, I was a massive Star Trek fan. I like Dune (1984) too. I like Star Wars, but it’s the same story every time – somebody has to find someone on a planet where the rebels are at. It’s the same old crap every time, they need to get some proper stories in it. They will have stupid things like the Ewok things, what the fuck was that? Then that other thing you had Jar Jar Binks. Star Wars was brilliant and then do something like that – what were they thinking? That doesn’t work. Things like Jabba the Hutt, big bunch of flubber – flapping around – it doesn’t work.
I like Silent Running (1972) and Dark Star (1974), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the original Solaris (1971), Stalker (1979), that sort of thing.