“Am I Dead Yet?” – The new musical project from Pop Will Eat Itself & Gaye Bykers On Acid frontman, Mary Byker, and Apollo 440 founder-member, Magazine guitarist & long-time collaborator, Noko. The soundscape is wide-screen retro-cinematic. The mood is distinctly glass-half-empty, with songs lamenting the failure of technology to save us from ourselves. For the first time, Mary sings over a lush David Lynchian laptop orchestra, replete with the sweet vocal harmonies and the sumptuous twang of Noko’s vintage Gretsch ‘White Falcon’, buried deep in a canyon of spring reverb. Like you’ve never quite heard them before… Well, if that doesn’t deserve further investigation than nothing does! Cue Take 5…
When did you realise that you wanted to do what you do? What or who has inspired you ?
Mary – I realised at a very early age I wanted to be a performer, I grew up in a post punk era when anybody could be in a band so that was it really. And now with this project, we both had some history and always enjoyed working together it seemed logical to make music again.
I was inspired musically initially by Big Band jazz music my dad used to play, then by my older brother playing Led Zeppelin,Pink Floyd, and David Bowie.I then discovered punk and post punk,The Clash and The Bad Seeds, as I got older my taste matured and found the joy in stuff like Loenard Choen and Scott Walker. I spent the last 10 years living in Brazil so that’s also made a bit of an impression musically on me.
Noko – My most formative influence : there was another kid in our street who could play gtr – his dad was quite a successful comedian in the clubs in Liverpool and he got to borrow his dad’s gear which was pretty flash for the time and there were 2 more of our mates who had gtrs…even though I couldn’t play anything, I realised if I bought myself a bass I’d end up in a band straight away…..I mean, it only had 4 strings…how difficult could it be? Of course, I pretty soon realised that lead gtr was pretty much the same moves, but higher up and learning chords seemed so dull compared with the glory of showing off, so I quickly progressed to playing solos. Around the same time I was messing around with reel-to-reel tape recorders and building fuzz boxes from Practical Electronics, so I was effectively a producer before I was a musician. I’m actually still not a musician really!
Who, living or dead, would you dream of collaborating with?
Mary – There are so many but Vinicuis de Moraes, Leonard Cohen and Quentin Tarrantino would be up there.
Noko – When I was very young, I was an obsessive bird watcher – I’ve been a member of the RSPB since I was 10 years old.
A few years ago I found out that Chris Packham was an Apollo 440 fan, so it’d be great to collaborate with him and maybe score one of his excellent bird shows on TV!
Tell us about your album ‘Am I Dead Yet’– what’s it all about?
Mary – It’s all about asking the questions we all constantly ask, like what is our purpose here? why are we fucking things up so badly as a species? why is technology not being used to save us from drudgery but being used to divide and alienate us. What effect is Social Media having on us for good or for bad, fun stuff like that! It’s Musical balm to soothe us in these crazy times we’re living in.
Noko – Yeah, that’s about the top and bottom of it.
Tell us five interesting or exciting things about the city in which you are based (or your hometowns if you prefer):
Mary – I live in Brighton So fact Number 1: Abba won the Eurovision Song contest with the song Waterloo performed at the Brighton Dome in 1974
Mary – As there is a Cinematic element to our Music, Brighton also is home to the UK’s Oldest Cinema still in continuous use “the Duke of York”
Mary – Outside of the City of York, it is also claimed that Brighton is the most Haunted City in England
Mary – Brighton has lots of pubs with a ratio of 1.4 pubs for every 320 people
Mary – During World war 2 Hitler gave his bombers specific instructions not to bomb the Brighton Pavilion as he wanted to use it as a holiday home after he had conquered Great Britain
Noko – Even though I was born in Bootle, near the Liverpool docks (My Grandad and Dad were both sailors), I grew up in Maghull, which is a suburb in North Liverpool
Noko – Maghull is mentioned in the list of towns Bill Drummond recites over “It’s Grim Up North” by the KLF.
Noko –The Beatles once played what later became the local cinema in my time there – it’s now a Lidl
Noko –The blonde one in the Sugarbabes used to go to the Catholic school in Maghull
Noko- A couple of famous footballers came from Maghull. That’s about it… As Lou Reed sang in “Small Town” from the “Songs For Drella” album he and John Cale made in tribute to Andy Warhol…… “the only good thing about a small town, is that you know you have to leave”.
What are you most looking forward to this year?
Mary – Getting out on the road and playing live with Aidy? We have some dates in London and Leicester in May and hopefully lots more at the end of the summer into Autumn. Recording more material.
Noko – getting to the end of it in one piece. I’m looking forward to writing “2020” as the date – I was always very disappointed that I was never going to be alive in 2112 like the Rush album.