Prolapse are the band of your dreams. They’ve come to save us from dreary guitar boy band conformity. Their third album, Italian Flag, is FINALLY out in the United States on Jetset. How long has it been out in Europe? Forever. They also have two other albums out and a hundred billion singles on various labels. Live, they’re scary and chaotic and thrilling. The new album is nearing completion — if they don’t kill each other first. I had the honor of conversing and gossiping with “Scottish” Mick Derrick and Linda Steelyard, Prolapse’s vocal self-destruct mechanisms. Prolapse has the best rock star anecdotes of any band in the world. Pavement love them. Stereolab love them. The Butthole Surfers love them. Hurry up and worship them, so guitar music can finally evolve into the glorious Tourrette-ridden, ear-bleeding mess it was always supposed to be. Of course, Prolapse absolutely do not require silly hack writers to pen long-winded self-referential “me me me” introductions, and with that in mind…
Hello. So how are you doing?
Mick: I’m doing fine, aye, just fine. I’m working away doing archaeology, aye. I’m just pissing around really. [Laughs]
Linda: Kind of — it’s my birthday today. I keep forgetting…
Happy Birthday! (Did I sound insincere?) Today is also the American release date for the Italian Flag, are you excited about that?
Linda: Oh, right. Excellent. It’s nice to know that it’s going to be available.
Mick: Definitely, aye. I love America. I’ve been there before, so any excuse to go over there is pretty good. I’m looking forward to how it goes down.
It’s also the release date for the new Marilyn Manson, are you up for it?
Linda: No, not too excited about that. Nevermind, I’m sure we’ll sell millions more than them.
Mick: Oh brilliant! I saw the video on TV last night, it was rubbish. Marilyn Manson is just totally funny. Oh god, he’ll kill us all. [loudly] I’M JOKING OF COURSE!! Marilyn Manson is a joke, total Lords of the New Church or some really crap band like that. Are people beginning to take him seriously as a real rock star? There’s no way that it’s frightening. Fucking hell, if you want frightening music you should go listen to Cradle of Filth or some terrible band like that. That’s just rubbish. Terrible music. Do you listen to that?
Uh, they’re really… Moving on. Do you think you’re going to come over soon to promote the record?
Mick: Well, we talk about coming over sometime in November. But if I’m to come over, it’ll have to be after the archaeological dig in Libya. I don’t know what it will be like at the airport, I may get strip-searched in New York or something. I don’t know, because I’ll have my Libyan stamp on my passport. It should be strange. Hopefully it will be CMJ, or failing that, just doing a tour.
Linda: The plan is for us to come over at the end of the year. I suppose we have to see what happens with the album first of all.
Have you been over to America before?
Linda: Yeah, we’ve been over three times, The first time we came over with Stereolab on the West Coast and then we came over to New York to do a few gigs — CMJ and things like that. Then we came over again, I can’t remember why. We probably played some gigs.
Do you have any glamorous recollections from past American tours?
Linda: I’m sure there’s loads… When we toured the West Coast, we stayed in an old house in the Hollywood Hills, so I guess that’s quite glamorous. At least it seemed glamorous at the time. There were orange trees in the garden, which is a real novelty for us. Oh, Drew Barrymore came to one of our shows in L.A.
Mick: This summer we came to America. We went to the West Coast for Terrastock and we did the big tourist trip. We went to L.A. and Las Vegas and San Diego all there. Had a brilliant summer. We went to Spain and played this festival over there. We stole Bernard Butler’s (ex-Suede boy) wine. But Bernard Butler was crap as well, he deserved it.
How did you like Las Vegas?
Mick: Las Vegas was great. Brilliant. We stayed there for a couple of nights and we just kept going out to casinos and I was playing blackjack. We met this guy there called Mr. Lucky. That was the only name he would answer to. And this Mr. Lucky guy started telling us all about Vietnam. He was the biggest American cliché ever, but he was really nice. He said that he was really rich and he got us really drunk. About seven in the morning he got us cocktails and he gave us money! It was great! Best time ever! Then this one time I was walking down the Vegas strip and these guys in the back of a pickup type van kept shouting “Kramer! Kraaaamer!!!” It was when I had longer hair, every time I went to America, people would say that I looked like Kramer from Seinfeld. And these guys, we’ve got it on video, just keep going “Kramer!!” I just waved at them.
I was over in England and I heard some of the tour diaries you did for the radio. They were absolutely hilarious.
Mick: Oh right [laughs]. But the really strange one was the one I did for Radio One here, and they keep repeating it all the time. It’s been on like five times now. It’s just ridiculous. We were just kind of like on this tour and everywhere we went we just kept seeing famous people, famous British people walking down the street. We’ve seen Captain Sensible coming by in a van. He just started singing “Happy Talking.” We were telling him we were doing this thing for Radio One and he takes the mic and starts singing. And we saw this guy with the biggest, uh, like the biggest “packet” (I’ll leave it up to you) in the world basically. He looked like he had a football shoved down his trousers. And they keep repeating that bit all the time. I don’t know why. It was funny.
For the benefit of the less medically inclined, could you tell us what Prolapse means?
Mick: Basically its when all your organs fall out your arse. It’s a name we just thought up years and years ago, and now we’re stuck with it. There was actually an American death metal named Prolapse, when we first started, that we didn’t know about. And they had to change their name. It was great, making a death metal band change their name.
Do you like death metal?
Mick: Never. I used to have a few tapes of Morbid Angel. We did this interview once, I think it was for the NME in Britain, and they asked us how big we wanted to be and I said as big as Morbid Angel. I think they believed us.
Clarification for the adoring public. Do you want to talk about how the band got started?
Linda: Now there’s six or seven people but that sort of changes, but initially there were four, and they were friends and they got together one night at this really horrid disco in Leicester. They were saying how they wanted to form the most miserable band that was ever invented. And what was the worst name you could ever, the most miserable name you could give to a band, and they decided on Prolapse. So then they started gigging and one day, they asked me if my friend and I would stand at the side of the stage peeling oranges during a gig. Just looking completely mad. So I said yeah. The night came and my friend never showed up, so they just stuck me in front of a microphone and said go on, you know, just do something. That was it, then I was part of the band. [laughs] That’s pretty good… If my friend had turned up that night, it probably never would’ve happened. It’s mad.
Mick: We started off just making up things, I wore a balaclava and we just made up anything as we went along. That’s one thing that’s kept going, I make up things as I go along and all. I used to smash up things on stage. I’d smash up TVs and things with hammers. Then Linda joined, and we used to smash things up on stage and fight each other and fall about onstage. I met Calvin [Johnson, of Beat Happening and K Records] when we played a gig with Stereolab and he was like [adopts frighteningly authentic weedy American voice], “Hey, that was really good man. But you should stop all that fighting, it’s like bad karma.” We were just laughing like oh, aye, okay then…
The most miserable band on the planet?
Mick: Aye. For our first ever gig we got these plastic bags from Eastern Bloc, this record shop in Manchester, where Joy Division used to go. We came onstage with long black jackets on as stage clothes, and all carrying a Joy Division record in an Eastern Bloc carrier bag. We all walked onstage and took out our Joy Division records and put them in front of the amps and then started playing. Talk about laboring the point a bit much. But, aye, we wanted to be depressing.
Italian Flag has been out for quite some time in Europe. Was it well received?
Mick: Aye it was, it was. It seemed to be the one that sold the most. We got loads of fan mail, from all over the world as usual. And they’re all complete nutters as well. Every single person. They’re all male and they’re all mad, every single one. And they’re all about to kill themselves. And they like to tell us about it. We like to look at it and go, “oh no.”
To me, Italian Flag was much more melodic and song-ish than past efforts. Was that conscious?
Linda: All our albums have completely different births. Our first album, Pointless Walks to Dismal Places, was a normal studio-based recording. We knew the songs and went in and did them. Then the second one, Backsaturday, was just supposed to be the recording for a single. But we went into the studio and didn’t stop playing for two days. At the end, we had an album that was completely improvised except for one song. The Italian Flag was back to songs that we knew already. The new album that we’re working on is similar in format to Backsaturday, less structured. I like the way that we can prove we can do proper melodic sing-a-long albums — well, not sing-a-long — and then we can do an album of complete experimental strangeness. I don’t think a lot of bands would do it that way, really. So I’m pleased that we did a proper album that was all nice and expensive. And I’m glad that we did an album that was at absolute rock bottom cost, it probably cost about 50 pounds or something like that. Nobody can predict which way we’re going to go. We can do a really swish album and then we’ll just do twenty minutes of somebody blowing a hair dryer or something. I quite like the unpredictability of it.
Was the songwriting process for Italian Flag more, structured? There’s this legend in every article I read about how you spent most of the sessions for Backsaturday down at the pub, and then stumbled in to do vocals.
Mick: With this one, we spent even more time at the pub, because we spent even more time on the album. The songs that have got lyrics, the ones that are really fast like “Slash/Oblique,” I wrote those maybe ten minutes before I went in to record them. But the ones that sound really disjointed, I just completely made up on the spot. It was just ideas really, and drink helps with ideas. In that way it was the same as Backsaturday.
Linda: That’s a very good question actually. I think every song starts in a very improvised way. Everybody writes their own bit, so they’ll be in the studio and, like, maybe one of the guitarists will start playing and then everyone will join in. Then when the song is done on tape in a rough form, myself and Mick will come in and add vocals. So, some of the songs on the Italian Flag we had been playing up to a year, and some of the songs had only been in existence for a couple of days. So it’s difficult to say really. We don’t like to work on things again and again and again. We’re not like that. We like to keep an element of rawness or whatever in the songs.
Do you contribute music as well as lyrics to the songs?
Linda: Sometimes. There’s a song on the new album that we’re working on where I’m playing guitar. I’m not playing the guitar properly, I’m sort of… I don’t know what I was doing really. I think I was plucking the string with a fork or something ridiculous like that. Mick sometimes plays bagpipes on songs.
Do you take pride in your finished lyrics?
Mick: Aye, aye. I like to see what I come out with. Because if I’m just doing it, then I do it out of my head completely. And it’s good to listen to the crap that comes out. Sometimes it can be brilliant, and sometimes it can be complete crap. But, no. I do, I do. It’s just as much of a surprise to me as it is to anybody else – what comes out. I don’t really think about them (lyrics) when they come out. I usually get really drunk and then write lyrics, so there you go.
Linda: I am too bothered about committing something to plastic that I think is complete crap. So I always try and write something before I get to the studio. But what usually happens is, I start writing about ten minutes before I go in to record. I’m not one of those people who spends two weeks trying to get a good rhyme for flower or anything. Absolutely nothing like that. I do try to be prepared, but there’s still a lot of improvisation. I do a lot of reading out of books and that kind of thing. I don’t know what the lyrics are until they come out of my mouth.
Is there any attempt to communicate with your audience through lyrics?
Linda: I don’t try to make sense really, I wouldn’t say that I try to communicate with anybody. But I do love the thought that people might listen to our songs and interpret the lyrics into something that means something to them. That’s fantastic if people do that. I’ve had people come up to me and quote lines and say, “Oh it was amazing when you said whatever.” And they’ll put it into a completely different context then how I made it in the first place. That’s fantastic you know, if someone listens to something and thinks “oh that’s me,” that’s brilliant.
Favorite songs on Italian Flag?
Mick: I like “Slash/Oblique” and I like “Bruxelles.” I’ve not listened to the album for ages, and even if I had, I wouldn’t remember the names of the songs. They’ve always got nothing to do with what’s in the songs. I don’t like “Autocade.” I didn’t like it, so I didn’t go on it. I thought it was rubbish. And then they did a video, and I didn’t appear in the video either. I just thought fuck it, I’m not going to do anything. I hate it. And that caused a bit of friction, but I just didn’t like the song. And Linda will tell you that she doesn’t like songs that I do. That’s just the way it goes.
“Bruxelles” tears me to bits, how did you do it?
Linda: I played the piano on that one, so there’s the musical thing for you. Is that the one where Mick says a word and I say a word? I thought it would be really excellent if we had two lists of words, one list being shorter than the other one. And if we sort of said one word at a time, all the way through the song there would be different pairs of words that just came together. Occasionally, it got very difficult to record. We had to do it at different times. Because if we did it side by side against a microphone we just kept laughing because there were things that aren’t even funny like “pavement trousers,” or I can’t even remember the words. But these pairings would just make us crack up laughing. I don’t know why. It’s like a big cog and a small cog, the teeth that come together are always different. You get different images and different sounds, just from the same list of words repeated. An interesting experiment.
Would you describe the Prolapse live extravaganza? I’ve tried and failed miserably.
Mick: God, it must be a complete mish-mash. Chaos. God, I’m into cliches now. It’s organized chaos. I suppose there’s a bit of drama in it as well, a bit of acting. A bit of really being pissed off with people. There are a lot of negative feelings going about within the band as well. We each get pissed off with each other, and that shows in the music sometimes. And on what we do on stage. Total chaos and vindictive bitchiness, that’s the only way I can describe what we do onstage. Horrible. Getting out all our little grudges on each other. Everyone writes their own part anyway, so everyone’s just playing their own thing. Until we decide we’re going to keep it together for a few bits, and that’s what keeps us together.
Could you give any reference point bands for the whole of Prolapse?
Mick: We all like different stuff in the band. For me, I love stuff like the Residents. I love stuff like Throbbing Gristle. I like more tuneful bands then like Galaxie 500 and Stereolab. Geordie Mick likes his crap jazz, he only likes rubbish jazz. Tim likes the Fall and Bogshed and Stump. Linda likes nice music that girls sing, like Brigitte Bardot. And then Dave likes Branca and all that. Pat likes Krautrock and folk things. So it’s a big mixture, a bit melting pot of crap.
In a lot of the articles I read, they present you both as kinds of cartoon characters, does that bother you at all?
Mick: Oh aye, they all do. I just think if you’re trying to do something different on stage, and if you don’t just stand about… If I were to just stand about and be enigmatic, I’d be lying anyway, I’d just be a big posing cunt. I’m just doing my own kind of thing, what comes natural. And if people think “oh ho, that’s different, oh ho, look at him, he’s doing that he’s doing this,” then they’ve got something to write about. It does not bother me one wee bit, as long as it provokes some reaction in them. Some, either revulsion or, I don’t know, lust. I don’t mind. (Pause) Usually revulsion. I don’t mind.
Linda: I guess it is. It was very frustrating for the first few years, and even now sometimes, when we step out onstage to do a soundcheck. The sound engineers automatically categorize me as a backing singer just because I am a small female onstage with a large male. And that absolutely infuriates me. It’s awful. But it is a fact that I am a small female, so if people want to say that I am like an elf or whatever… as long as they’re not being too derogatory. They usually end up calling Scottish Mick a big smelly drunk this that and the other. I don’t really mind as long as people are not making assumptions about my personality that they can’t qualify.
Do you enjoy playing live most of the time?
Linda: Most of the time? Yessss. It’s kind of difficult because I can be in the best mood or the worst mood before I step onstage, but actually being onstage is such a mad experience compared to the rest of life that within the first couple of songs I know whether I’m going to have a bad time or a good time. But generally, it’s pretty good, but you can’t really predict, even if the place is packed. If the crowd is really good then we tend to have a good time.
Could you name for me five bands that you love, or five influences?
Mick: Aye, well, Neutral Milk Hotel at the moment, I love. I love Hank Williams. I listen to Novac a lot. There’s a band called Yeah Yeah No, have you heard of them? They’re an old band from 1986, an English band. Funnily enough they were from Leicester, but they used to write songs about Joe Orton, the playwright, and things like that. They were a strange band, kind of a psychedelic type band. I love the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack. Lots of old stuff. Galaxie 500 I love. Very good band. Aye, fantastic.
Linda: Oh god, off the top of my head. I love the Byrds and I’m desperately looking at my CD’s. I love Nick Drake. Oh!! Abba. I’ve liked Stereolab for awhile, they’re pretty good. Um, the Smiths. Is that four? I’m not being very inspiring here am I? What about Sandy Shaw? Is she too old, should I choose someone newer?
Could you name five bands that you hate?
Mick: There’s really obvious ones like the ones in the chart, but I’m trying to think of the bands that l don’t like that we’ve played with. I hate Ultrasound. The worst thing I’ve ever seen is that guy out of Flying Saucer Attack at the Terrastock festival, worst gig I think I’ve ever seen. The Beatles. I can’t stand the Beatles. They’re at the top of my list. I really can’t stand them. I’ve never liked them. Every time I get in an argument, it’s over how much I hate the Beatles. I can’t stand anything to do with them. Loads and loads of stuff that I hate. I do like disco. I like hip hop.
Linda, are there any specific women performers that you admire?
Linda: I’m dreadful at answering these questions off the top of me head, me mind just goes blank. I love strong female vocalists from the Sixties. I mean obviously what I do is nothing like that, but as I said earlier, people like Sandy Shaw and that, it’s pretty cool. As for modern bands, I think if I’m as cool as Kim Gordon is when I’m her age, I’ll be fine. But I’ll probably have some boring office job and lots of children. Then again maybe not.
Many of your lyrics in particular tend to follow disjointed story lines. Would you ever plan on writing a book?
Mick: I would love to. I think I’m just too lazy. I would never get around to it. It would be like a completely bizarre, completely depressing book. But I don’t know, I feel the pull of going out and getting drunk and meeting people more than sitting in and writing a book. Maybe when I’m in Libya, in the middle of the desert. I don’t know how I’d begin though. That would be weird. I don’t know, I suppose you would have to begin with an idea. But I don’t have any time to think up an idea. Maybe I’ll just have to go in and like write the book really fast in like three hours or something. Shout it all into a Dictaphone, then type it up, I don’t know. That would be great, aye. Next time, you see me, I’ll be down in Tallahassee at some college doing a reading. And it’ll be the most depressing reading ever. I hope.
Do you have any glittery pop star stories to tell us?
Mick: Let me think… Jarvis Cocker got his mum a fossil for Christmas two years ago. We played with Pulp a few times and got to know them. Pulp like, me and Linda used to be in this soap opera in Leicester that was on cable TV, and it ran for two years and Pulp have got lots of copies of it on their tour bus. So we’d watch that. Let me think, exciting top gigantic stories. We met Kylie Minogue. We played with Kylie at the ICA in London. [ringing in background] There’s the ice cream van, listen. Nope, missed it. We played with Kylie and I met her and tried to talk to her but I was drunk and I kept going like, “Uhhh, I’ve seen you in Delinquents, it was rubbish.” Things like that. Funnily enough, when I seen it I was about twenty and I’d just bought the twelve cans of lager and gone to the cinema with my friends. I was trying to give these wee girls of about twelve cans of lager, and that’s all I can remember of the film. How big of pop stars do you want? The bigger the better? Jim Foetus is a wanker. We met him at this party and he was just a big-headed fucker. Do you just want one-liners on how crap everybody is or something? Eric from Hole. I was talking to Eric from Hole and he was going [another terrifyingly-on nerdy American accent] “I plugged you guys on radio in Belgium. I put you at Number One on my chart.” And I didn’t have a fucking clue who he was, I just went, “Oh thanks, thanks, great, brilliant.” Then I had to go ask somebody who he was. But I’d have to say that meeting Drew Barrymore was the biggest thing, having a few drinks with her. And I signed a couple of the album for her as well.
Is she a fan?
Mick: Well, no, I forced it on her. And then I went up to her with a Prolapse album and got her to sign one for me. Now I’ve got this Prolapse album that says “Love, Drew Barrymore.”
Any side projects to fill the time?
Linda: Okay, well, Geordie Mick the bass player has just started up a new band called Sound Subway which I’m working on as well. At the moment that’s all I’m doing.
How close is this new album to completion?
Linda: Myself and Mick are recording the vocals over the weekend. If it goes well, it’ll be finished at the weekend, if it goes really really badly, then… I wouldn’t like to say.
Mick: Aye, I’m dreading this weekend. I’ve not even listened to the tape. I’ve been promising myself that I’m going to stay in tonight and listen to it. I’ve got to come up with 14 songs and I’ve not even listened to them. So tonight I’m just going to have to keep listening to them over and over, I think. It’ll be a laugh.
Could you give us any preview at all of what the new album will be like?
Mick: Uh, no. I’ve not even listened to it yet and I don’t even know what I’m going to be singing. I haven’t got a clue. I just know two songs that we were recording up in Wales. And on one I was kind of singing and then I couldn’t think up any more words, so I just kept going “oh fucking hell,” but I kept at it anyway. So you just hear all these words and then “oh fucking hell,” and then it starts up again and then “oh fucking hell.” But they kept that in the song. We record a bunch of kind of improvised stuff in case there’s anything good in it, and there’s one that sounds totally like, well, the provisional title of it is “Prolapse Bloody Prolapse.” It’s total Black Sabbath. But I don’t know if we’ll be using that one. We’re either going to end up sounding like Black Sabbath or Belle and Sebastian. Hopefully not Belle and Sebastian. They’re horrible.
Any advice for the teeming masses?
Linda: Leave it to Scottish Mick, he’s a good parting thoughts kind of man.
Mick: Any advice? God. Go and buy our fucking record (laughs). There’s good advice for you. [laughs] I could give you some advice on how you tackle a prehistoric site. Don’t do it in England. Do it someplace where it’s really sunny, because you end up getting completely soaking wet and freezing. Never do archaeology in England, for anyone in Archaeology out there. It’s fucking freezing.