Well, this took awhile to nail down, but...after watching the Vibrators burn through that great gig in Grand Rapids, I had to come up and shake singer-guitarist Ian "Knox" Carnochran's hand -- by now, a sweaty blur, to be sure, from racing across the fretboard at such blinding speed! -- have him sign my BBC PUNK SESSIONS CD, tell him how much I enjoyed the proceedings (minus that you-were-the-soundtrack-of-my-generation-blah-blah-blah-blather, I'm too straightforward for all that), and thank him for answering the first round of questions that I emailed (now posted in the "Band Interviews" section.)
Then I had to drop the proverbial Big One: "Hey, you know, if the mood takes me, I might send over a few more!"
To which Knox smiled, and said, "Oh, and after that, I'm a free man, then?"
Now, it's my turn to smile (NOTE TO SELF: I'M SURE HE HEARS THIS STUFF ALL THE TIME!), and respond, "Scout's honor"...or something along those lines, can't forget how much beer flowed that night between Don, Tim and yours truly here...anyway, I did want to tie up a few loose ends, so I sent another round of questions, and here they are! Thanks to Knox for taking the time to email back; Don, and Tim, for the company, and the drinks; and also, to Jari Kaariainen, of Finland, for letting me use some of his killer photos -- documenting last year's four-piece Vibes lineup...far more appealing than a standard promo shot, right?
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): Half the fun of listening to your PURE PUNK CD is hearing songs that wouldn't readily be associated with you, such as "Get A Grip (On Yourself), or "I'm Stranded". As you probably know, too many covers albums fall between two chairs (too studied, or too slapdash). How did you end up picking the songs that you did? What were the guidelines?
KNOX: Brian at Cleopatra Records thought up the idea. He’s big on that sort of thing and it sounded interesting to us. He came up with the main songs, and we changed or added some. He knows us and what would suit us. I’ve heard some dreadful covers by punk bands who seem to not care much for quality, but we care about that even though we’re always on a tight budget.
CR: UNDER THE RADAR: Tell me about how you recorded this album, and the strategy that you approached when doing it...being that it broke a seven-year gap between albums, what got you back in the studio again?
KNOX: We should have been in the studio a lot more I think, but some of the time Eddie was busy with his divorce. It wasn’t a plan to leave it so long. Also there was the feeling that the record companies didn’t want a new Vibrators’ album, they preferred repackaging an old album, it was cheaper for them as there were no recording costs.
I had a lot of songs, we suddenly had the opportunity to make a studio album of new songs and off we went. It was made during the period after I’d been injured and my heart had all gone wrong, so on the album we had Nigel Bennett playing nearly all the guitar as I wasn’t that strong and it was important to have my vocal on the album so I saved up my energy for that. Also it was interesting directing the guitar playing a bit rather than playing it. When we go in the studio I have the songs demo’d up pretty well, (the band have had them earlier on CDR) and we use the demo’s as a blueprint for the finished songs. I would have liked to have had some rehearsal but it didn’t happen.
CR: ...and, alog the same tack: Pat Collier has made quite a name for himself as a producer, hasn't he? What did you get from working with him?
KNOX: He knows us very well so he takes a lot of the hard work out of making the album. Him and the computer technology. The band, Pat Collier and the computer are a very powerful team.
CR: I know you address this on the [official Vibrators] site, but how do you determine what songs to do live -- and how you handle the old-versus-new number conflict that so many artists struggle to reconcile?
KNOX: We’re quite lazy, I don’t think we’ve had a rehearsal for 15 years except for half a one when I returned to the band. We change the set a bit at a time, learning songs at home and then at sound checks. We’re about to change the set for Europe. I think over the years we’ve got quite good at balancing the new and the old, while at the same time moving songs around. There are songs you always have to play like “Troops of Tomorrow” and “Baby Baby”.....
CR: Several years back, you also did an unplugged album (UNPUNKED), and I know you do the odd acoustic gig from time to time...how do you approach that situation? What makes going unplugged more difficult and/or exciting than plugging in?
KNOX: I think a good thing is you get to have a new go at doing old songs. The actual way they get done is a mixture of ideas and luck. I like doing the solo acoustic gigs as you sort of only have the song, there’s not much room for anything else.
CR: As a guitar player, this one should be easy...what's your favourite solo that you've ever done on record, and why?
KNOX: I liked on one “She’s Bringing You Down”, maybe on a demo, that Eddie described as sounding like a refrigerator being dragged along behind the van. I like guitar solos to be a bit over the top when appropriate, but there’s no time to really do that in the studio on the budget we’re on which I think is a pity.
CR: "Bad Time"/"No Heart" has got to be among the rarest entries in your discography...tell me why that one never made it past the acetate stage, as I'm sure that there's a good story in there, somewhere!
KNOX: We recorded it with Mickey Most who had RAK Records. The problem was that he wasn’t paying very good money. Our manager Dave Wenham sorted out a better deal with Epic (part of CBS, now Sony) and we signed to them and the Mickey Most single never came out.
CR: From the fans' standpoint, the rockiest period in the band's history was probably your exit in '78 -- what prompted you to take the solo route, and how did it feel when you came back? What did you learn from the experience?
KNOX: I was concerned that with the musicians we had in the band the band was playing inconsistently. It got sort of messed up, not entirely my fault but I took the blame for it and left the band. I did a patchy solo thing which I quite enjoyed and I think was almost successful. I got airplay on radio One, I was asked to do the Eurovision Song Contest at one time but pointed out that I couldn’t go from being in a punk band to doing that, that sort of thing. The Fallen Angels album that band made is really good and that came out of that period. The Vibrators happened to get back together as Pat Collier noticed there was renewed interest in punk so we reformed principally to make one album, but then continued.
CR: As you know, the music industry is experiencing some tough times. How do you feel about things like file-sharing, which many critics claim hits indie-level bands harder than their big-label counterparts? What would you tell someone starting up in this climate of smaller album sales and shaky concert sales?
KNOX: It’s a different market and you just have to go with it. Maybe you’ve got to be a bit more inventive, think of things the fans might want to buy, that sort of thing. I always thought that albums of alternative mixes might help, though it might confuse things a bit. Also the climate didn’t seem to deter Lady Gaga.
CR: As you mentioned in our last email exchange: playing music is a job, and the years roll by before you realize how long it's been. The Vibrators are one of the original '77-era survivors still plugging away, which not many of your counterparts can say...what is the secret to the band's longevity, if there is one? What's kept you going after all this time?
KNOX: If you enjoy it you carry on with it. Also don’t forget you need to earn a living.
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