The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart has always been a larger than life figure and now on the eve of their first album in 35 years he is positively chafing at the bit as he talks with Chris Familton about the creative forces that continue to drive the group.
“It’s mental. I’m pinching myself and can’t believe it. We’ve just started rehearsing for the tour and I’m not blowing my trumpet but some of these songs are the best things we’ve ever done. We were playing and I started thinking “Where is this coming from, how is this coming out of us, we’re not worthy”. I can’t even connect that we’ve actually made that record. I’m still that 14 year old kid in my mum’s bedroom so it’s all a bit weird at the moment.”
That expanse of time between recordings can signal quantum changes in a band’s sound or the things they sing about and though Stewart sees each member returning with new skills and approaches to the music, the essence and modus operandi of The Pop Group remains the same.
“I had an epiphany when I was 13 or 14, that wellspring of energy and that attack-dog approach of New York Dolls and Iggy Pop. It was a nutrient for me that I constantly draw on. Iggy created this ball of energy that he passed onto other bands and we passed onto other bands, like a ball of lightning. That primal energy is there but it only comes up if you don’t look for it. If you experiment and stay naive then something appears. I have this concept that music can be a magical doorway into the other but you can’t make that happen. If you impose a logic like “OK, today we’re going to try and make magic happen in the laboratory” then it ain’t gonna happen. if you mess about and just act like kids and make jokes and push things that shouldn’t be in there then a weird mutation might appear but when it does don’t cage it, let it free and chase after it.”
That determination to chase the new and discover different and unpredictable musical blends is still alive on the new album Citizen Zombie and is a perfect fit for it’s themes of how many people live their lives in contemporary society.
“I feel that people I get on with are mad scientists, poets, internet pioneers or activists. I get on with people who are alive. This Citizen Zombie stuff is about being alive, we’re all 360 degrees alive. I’m alive from 6am in the morning until whenever I go to sleep. I can see the world as a much more exciting, hopeful, joyous and amazing place and I can’t see why other people want to slug through their lives in a Kafkaesque kind of nothingness and then die. We’ve only got one bloody life.”
“What you can do as a human being is to be as honest to yourself, even if it feels a bit weird, and not rub off the rough edges. We saw the first wave of punk and that gave us the confidence to step forward and break out of our shackles and have the nerve to get up on stage. That inspires others and as part of the circle I’m constantly inspired by new bands and new forms of music. It’s a moveable feast. It’s a position you take like “I can do this and who’s to tell me I can’t mix this with that?”
this interview was first published in The Music