An Interview with Drummer Paul Cook of Sex Pistols and Manraze
When speaking about the band Manraze — a power rock trio comprised of himself, Phil Collen, and bassist Simon Laffy of British Glam rockers, Girl — Paul Cook will tell you how people think it’s downright odd for the former Sex Pistols drummer to be making music with the current guitarist for Def Leppard. Cook doesn’t get what the big deal is. As far as he’s concerned, it’s just Rock ‘n’ Roll! “We’ve got a lot of different styles on this CD,” he says of the band’s recently released sophomore disc, PunkFunkRootsRock. “This music is just based on the music that influenced us when we were growing up, really, and our influences come through.” Cook continues, “as you know, Phil’s been in Def Leppard for however many years and I’ve been playing rock with the Pistols and various other outfits. You can tend to get stuck in your ways, in that style of music, and forget where you came from. It’s really pretty good to branch out. Phil’s a rock guitarist and I’m a rock drummer and this is how we feel.”
PunkFunkRootsRock lives up to its name, with a solid mix of cohesive styles that range from glam to garage to punk rock, plus an instrumental (“Dogbite”) that goes off on its own little journey and a dabbling into reggae (“Closer to Me”) — a genre of music that all three members of Manraze grew up listening to. The anthemic lead track, “Over My Dead Body” channels Motorhead, and you can’t miss Collen’s Hendrix influence in the laid back vibe of “All I Wanna Do.” Definitely one of my favorite CDs of 2011, Manraze’s music sounds vibrant and fresh but also undeniably old-school. It’s no accident that Manraze put the words “roots” and “rock” in the album title.
While on an extended visit to Los Angeles to perform a one-off show at The Roxy and do a ton of press for the album, Paul Cook spoke with Ink 19 about the artistic freedom afforded by his involvement in Manraze, revealed what he’s been up to musically the for the past thirty years, and waxed nostalgic about the glory days of punk rock and his place in its colorful history as a member of Sex Pistols.
I know you’ve worked steadily for the past 30 years, but your projects haven’t really had the “household name” recognition of Def Leppard. People might think that you haven’t been involved in music to the degree you have, but if you just dig a little bit you find out you’ve never taken a break, really.
Yeah, that’s right. I played with various bands, as you probably know. There were The Professionals, and the Chiefs of Relief with Matthew Ashman from Bow Wow Wow [Ashman died of diabetes-related complications in 1995]. We had a band together for a few years. Then I’ve played with Edwyn Collins [as a session drummer and in his touring band] for over 15 years, on and off. I’ve been steadily keeping my hands in it, as it were.
When I found out that you had worked with Edwyn Collins — it was right before he had that stroke — it was because I was interviewing a drummer with one of the bands Edwyn produced, Little Barrie. Do you remember them?
Oh, yeah I know Barrie [Cadogan]. Edwyn is a great songwriter, and he’s worked with loads of people. When we toured, Barrie was in the band, actually. Boz [Boorer] was there as well, from Morrissey’s band. Edwyn gets a good band together and it’s really cool playing with him, because he’s got such a great bunch of songs. He’s a great songwriter still, even after his stroke, and he’s put out a great album this year [Losing Sleep], which we played on. That’s out at the moment, and I toured with him this year. That was really cool as well.
Going back to the Manraze album, I love how diverse and creative your drumming is. You do these amazing fills on “I C U in Everything” plus you work with a lot of feels including the reggae beats on “Closer to Me,” and on “Dogbite” your drumming gets sort of tribal. Do you think that drumming with Edwyn has allowed you to become more versatile as a player?
Yeah, definitely. After the Pistols and The Professionals, it was just full steam ahead really. I really enjoyed playing with Edwyn because, like you say, it improves you as a drummer, playing different styles. His music is all over the place, and it’s the same with Manraze as well. Our songs are different, so it pushes you a little bit further. You’re not stuck [in one style] and you’ll improve if you’re doing different stuff all the time. I enjoy doing that.
The Sex Pistols wasn’t your first band, but I wanted to ask you how much experience you had on the kit before the Pistols came together?
Hardly any, really, to tell you the truth. We were quite late starters, the Pistols. We just started playing in our late teens, like age 17 or 18. By the time we got the Pistols together we were 20, so it was only a couple of years. It took off straight away, so we didn’t have much time, really, to get the technique together, as it were. It was all a learning process as we were going along, with the Pistols.
I think that a lot of the perception is — and this might possibly be because of Sid being notoriously inept on the bass — that the Pistols were just a bunch of guys that really couldn’t play, but somehow you guys made this amazing album. The point being, somebody was doing something right.
I guess we were kind of tapped into what we were doing. Me and Steve Jones grew up together, so we were really connected and that came through in the music. We kept it simple, as we had to, because we were just learning our instruments. That was the beauty of it, really. It was going back to Rock ‘n’ Roll roots and keeping things simple and just really powerful, starting with great songwriters in the band, as well. That’s where the sound came from, really: us being not technically great at the time, so it was very tribal, like you said. That’s where the power comes from.
What bands did you like growing up and as a teenager?
When I was really young I was listening to a lot of early Ska music, which was popular due to the West Indian connection with the UK. Motown was massive as well, so it was all stuff like that. When we were teenagers in the UK the big thing that was happening was glam rock. We grew up all around that, bands like T. Rex, Roxy Music, Slade, and all that kind of stuff, which was huge in the UK. We liked all of the other rock as well, that we grew up listening to, such as Jimi Hendrix and the harder rocking stuff as well. But mainly in the UK it was glam rock. We were passionate about music, and we soaked it up. We had all of the stuff coming over from America as well; all of the soul music was on the radio all the time when we were kids and teenagers. That’s kind of where a lot of the influence comes from on the Manraze album as well.
Were there specific drummers that influenced you at the time that the Pistols started?
Well, the bands that I liked, I liked the drummers in them also. In The Faces I liked Kenny Jones and Roxy Music’s drummer, Paul Thompson. I was also checking out drummers like Al Jackson, who was a great favorite of mine — he played with Otis Redding and all of the great soul artists. Of course, I loved Mitch Mitchell. But when you start getting your basics down [as a drummer] then you start delving more specifically into what kind of styles you like.
Speaking of Mitch Mitchell, I really like Manraze’s cover of “Fire” on PunkFunkRootsRock. How did the band choose to record such an iconic song?
That was fun! We were knocking around ideas for a few cover versions and, Phil being a big Hendrix fan, we just tried “Fire” and it worked great. We rehearsed it a lot and then started playing it live and it went down well. So, we thought let’s try recording it to see how it turns out, and it turned out good. It’s one of our favorites now. Not a lot of people do [Hendrix covers] because I guess it’s a bit sacrosanct, Hendrix, so a lot of people don’t play it, but that was a really fun one to do. It’s a really good, hard rocking number.
Plus Phil is an excellent guitarist, so he’s very respectful, obviously, and can play the song.
Yeah, for sure. He knows his Hendrix.
While you’ve been in Los Angeles have you been on Steve Jones’ radio show?
I have done that in the past, but he doesn’t have his everyday show anymore. He’s only on just once a week now, on K-Rock (KROQ). I haven’t been on the show since it’s been on K-Rock but I was on the show when he was on Indie 103. It was a great show, and it’s a shame that it finished. But that was fun and he used to get all full manner of guests in there and just have a blast.
It’s great to see you both doing well. You look at some bands, even, say, The Ramones, and realize that three out of four of the original members are dead now, even though some of them died from ill health rather than misadventure. But one might think, all things considered, that the guys in the Sex Pistols have got to be underground by now.
It’s a shame when you realize how many of our contemporaries from the punk era have gone… even Joe Strummer… but you come out the other side. You learn along the way and you either go under or you sort yourself out. A lot of people don’t sort themselves out and end up a bit fucked up. It’s one thing or the other, really. You see and hear a lot of stories about guys in bands and some of them are really terrible stories.
I know you had the band The Professionals with Steve, as well as recording the Johnny Thunders album, So Alone, with him. Do you have any special memories you’d like to share about working on the sessions for that record?
Oh wow, there are some memories, yeah. That was good fun, actually. We used to play with Thunders a lot really, going back, on and off. We done a lot of live shows with him and played on that album, as you said, and that was great, you know. One of the memories I’ve got of that is really one night when we played [The Who’s] “Daddy Rolling Stone” and Phil Lynott came down along with Steve Marriott and we had a real blast putting that down. It was hard work with Thunders at the time, sometimes, because as you know he was a bit “out there.” But he made a great album and got lots of friends in to play on it. I was playing that album a while ago and it still sounds good. Steve Jones and I have played together over the years, on and off. Obviously, with the Pistols as well, we’ll tour for long periods. We still keep in touch and we’re still good mates.
Considering the volatile way in which the Sex Pistols flamed out and disbanded, did you expect that there would be such a demand for the band to reunite, and in fact that you guys would still tour quite extensively, 30 years after originally breaking up?
No, and it’s weird. Every time we’ve played, as time goes by, it seems to get stronger. We got back together in 1996 for the big reunion tour and that was great. Since then, we’ve done a few tours along the way, every few years, and it just seems to get bigger and bigger. It’s amazing! I guess it just meant so much for a lot of people, and the influences are still there today, with bands that have come along that were influenced by the punk thing back then. Nirvana, for instance, who is one of the biggest bands ever, plus the entire American punk scene that came along in the late ’80s, and then the grunge thing, that was all heavily influenced by the punks.
Do people ever say things to you along the lines of the Sex Pistols having been as influential to modern music as, say, The Beatles? What are your thoughts on that?
It’s pretty amazing, really, the number of times people have come up to me and said, “wow man, you helped change our lives.” It wasn’t even just in music, either, really. It was just generally right across the board. I don’t know how it was over here, but in England the punk scene as it were influenced music, fashion, the writing, artwork to… everything, really. The whole lot, and that was good. It was such a simple message really, at the end of the day. It was like, if you want to do something, just get out there and do it. Don’t accept what’s been going on beforehand. If you’ve got something to say, try and say it in a constructive way, and get up and have a go. That was the message and it struck a chord with an entire nation of young kids.
I was thinking about when punk was fresh and everyone was so passionate about it (and in the UK of course it was very politically driven, not so much in the States). If you liked punk bands, you lived a punk lifestyle: you dressed like a punk and only hung out with punks and only listened to punk bands — otherwise, you were a poseur or a “part time punk,” so it got very cliquey and exclusionary, to an extent. It was “unpunk” to have long hair or to like, say, Led Zeppelin or any of the “dinosaur bands,” as they were called. Did that attitude grow from within the fans or did the punk bands themselves perpetuate it also? What are your thoughts?
Well… it did get a bit tribal. It was kind of a ground zero type of thing. I mean, we were partly to blame for that, I guess, because we were saying that (adopts angry voice) “all your rock heroes are crap” and “tear it up and start again” and all of these messages were coming out. So you’re right, it did get a bit tribal like that. But I guess things always start like that, but now, as time went on I think things got a bit more diverse and there was all the crossover stuff and people felt free to do different types of music. I don’t think it was healthy, really, but I guess it had to happen like that. It soon moved on and people diversified a bit and branched out. So, I guess it’s a good thing that it’s not like that anymore but, you know, people like being in cliques, you know what I mean? It gives you a feeling like you’ve got something to belong to.
We did have something to scream about, if you like, because it was pretty grim at the end of the ’70s — some of it, not all of it — growing up in the UK. There was a lot of social strife, power outages and there were strikes everywhere. It seemed like the system was going to come crashing down, you know. There was a lot of violence in the streets. I guess that’s what we came out of. The American side of things was slightly different, I guess, but New York had a lot of parallels with London as well. You know, New York wasn’t a great place at that time: the same sort of thing was going on.
That reminds me of how I read, kind of recently actually, that the Clash – one of the seminal British punk bands – were actually most influenced by The Ramones, a New York band. When I re-visited their first album it was just so obvious and made perfect sense.
The Ramones were the first punk band to make an album, I guess. They got their album out just ahead of everyone else. It’s weird, the parallels between New York and London. There’s always this argument that New York created punk and London followed, or whatever. But it kind of grew up at same time and evolved out of the same sort of environment. I mean, we didn’t sit around listening to The Ramones, we had our own thing going, and so did New York.
I guess it’s related to how certain things, certain movements or forms of expression, sort of “get in the air” if you know what I mean, and then they just spread from one place to another.
Yes, it was that moment in time. Socially, they were different places but it evolved at the same time.
Among the bands perceived as being peers of the Sex Pistols at the time the band was first active, what were some of your favorite Punk bands?
There were a lot of good bands that came out of the punk thing. There were a lot of different types of bands as well that grew out of it. I liked bits and pieces of all of it. I thought the Buzzcocks were a great band and The Damned had some great singles, and The Clash as well. I think that most of what you would’ve called the mainstream punk bands have all done some great stuff and made some great music. There was also a thriving 45 RPM, 7-inch vinyl single thing that was going on, and there were hits coming out of probably a lot of bands that people haven’t heard of, that did really well and had hit singles. And then they disappeared. It’s amazing really. There were loads of those kinds of bands.
There used to be a little record store in Long Beach, California called Zed Records, back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. My friends and I used to go there at least a couple times a month and pick up all the newest punk singles on 7-inch vinyl, coming out of the UK but also from New York and local LA bands. I probably have a lot of singles by some of those bands you’re talking about. One of my favorites is the single release of the song “Silly Thing” that you and Steve recorded for the soundtrack of The Great Rock ‘n Roll Swindle. The B- side is “Who Killed Bambi?” by with vocals by Eddie Tenpole Tudor.
Yeah, that’s right… I sang on the album version of [“Silly Thing”] but we did the single version with Steve singing on that.
It’s such a great song, probably my favorite Sex Pistols’ song, along with “I Wanna Be Me.”
Oh really, cool, yeah that’s good. Yeah, that was kind of… after we split up, with the Rock ‘n Roll Swindle coming out, we recorded a bunch of songs for that [soundtrack]. Out of the songs that me and Steve wrote, we used to play “Silly Thing” with The Professionals. Another thing that came out of punk was the revival of the picture cover. It was quite vibrant and you’d get these great singles with great cover sleeves on them. You know, I just went to this exhibition by this guy who collected all kinds of punk memorabilia, posters, artwork and stuff in the UK. When you looked at it all you thought, “Wow, this is so exciting and vibrant and creative, what was going on!” It just summed it all up, really: it was colorful and in-your-face and bright. So much stuff came out of it.
I think we had that same exhibit here in New York, I think it was called Rude and Reckless, if we’re talking about the same thing, which it sounds like we are. I saw it and I was also blown away by there being such a comprehensive collection of record sleeves, posters, magazines and punk badges and stuff like that. It sort of reminded me of the walls of my teenage bedroom!
Yeah, [Punk] created a whole art scene, if you like. It was a very creative time, really good times, when you look back on it now and you realize what was going on then. It takes a while sometimes, you have to step back, look and see what was going on, because you don’t realize what’s going on at the time. You’re so wrapped up in the moment.
Also, so much time has passed. You’ve really seen a huge change in just the way that music is done. I mean, it used to be that a band played live, got a record deal, put out a record, the album was sold in record stores and played on the radio and that’s how you got known. Now, it’s very grassroots. For example, Manraze has this great CD out and how you get people to hear it is you have to go directly to the fans through the Internet.
It is difficult now. The Internet has really opened it up. With Manraze, it was like going back to our roots anyway. The album wasn’t a big production job. We went in there and recorded it really fast, got the album recorded quickly and just tried to keep as much energy there as we could. It turned out great, and that’s the way we like to work. We got the songs down in a couple of takes and then just worked on them and got it out, which is a good thing. But it is difficult letting people even know that you’re around. I mean, we have this album out and people will say to me, “oh, I didn’t even know you were together and had made an album before.” It’s hard. You’ve got to work at it.
Yeah, I think so, too. I mean, think of how things used to be: when bands like the Beatles and Led Zeppelin were according they went into the studio and recorded it live for the most part. It was certainly a much more organic process than now. These days I think you can kind of lose the vibe because the recording process has become so convoluted.
I agree. Phil was just saying that with Def Leppard they can take forever to make an album and he really enjoys working this way with Manraze: getting in there, making it quickly and keeping it emotional and lively. It’s a real eye-opener, he says.
Phil is really a talented guy. I’m a huge Def Leppard fan and, I mean, he can sing, he can write, he can play guitar and he still looks good.
He’s a good, fun guy and, like you say, he has all those things going for him. Doing the Manraze stuff has been a release for him. He’s working on stuff that he can’t do in the Def Leppard environment. He has all these ideas flying about all over the place, nonstop.
It’s funny, but when you hear the vocals on the new CD you realize how much Phil sings on Def Leppard songs, because the Def Leppard sound is definitely there.
Yeah, I think he does a hell of a lot of vocals with Def Leppard, so like you say, you can pick out his voice.
I understand that your daughter Hollie Cook has a new record out. Did you encourage her to go into music?
That was her own choice, but yes, she’s released a sort of reggae, lover’s rock – flavored album, which is the type of music she likes. I don’t know if you know that she was in the Slits for a little while. She was doing backing vocals and playing a bit of keyboards when they got back together a few years ago. So, she’d been touring, doing that and that was a big influence on her. It’s a shame that Ari (Up, Slits’ vocalist) died last year. But she’s doing really well. She’s touring around and playing. But of course she grew up around music, obviously. I guess that’s where that came from (laughs). She’s done it all off her own bank as well. She didn’t ask me for any help, she went out there and done it. It’s great.
Do you collect anything, such as memorabilia or types of drums?
I don’t, actually. I’m not a really big collector; I’m more of a thrower outer. I wish I had a collection of all our old punk stuff now. It’s worth a lot of money, all that artwork and all the original posters. I’ve got a few bits and pieces from around those times, but not a lot. You’ve got to move on, you know. You can’t live in the past, can you? We’ve got to get on with things. But I’ve got a good memory, actually. I should write a book.
Paul Cook splits his time living between homes in England and Spain, which he says is a nice warm place to head to when it gets cold in the UK.