Interview with John Lydon
'Oh you poor thing', quips John Lydon, a matter of seconds after picking up the phone as I attempt to explain about covering music in Northamptonshire. 'It's just as well I'm coming through isn't it'.
After a 20 year break, Public Image Limited returned in 2012 with a new album.
The seminal post-punk band then released What The World Needs Now last year and in June, bring their UK tour to an end at the Roadmender.
“I’m back by popular demand,” explains Lydon,
“It’s going to be extremely excellent and you’re all going to be eternally grateful. Live performance is what PiL is.
“It’s our cycle of life and we like it a lots, especially playing intimate clubs and smaller rooms.
“That’s the pure PiL atmosphere – although I’ll admit 200,000 in a field is occasionally inspiring.”
Formed following the demise of the Sex Pistols, PiL pioneered a post-punk sound, mixing experimental, electronic and avant garde influences with elements of punk.
After playing across the UK last year, PiL embarked on a US tour, with Lydon explaining the only thing which separates people on either side of the Atlantic is “cultural fun, occasional assassinations and religious bias”.
Lydon has spent much of his career in the public eye, be it as the frontman of PiL, as Johnny Rotten in the Sex Pistols, as a TV host or as a contestant on reality TV.
More than 40 years on, he explains ‘eyeballing’ his audience is what he enjoys most about being on stage.
“Eyeball to eyeball. Knowing what I’m doing means something to someone out there,” he explains.
“When performing live, you communicate with your fellow human beings in the most intimate way.
“The PiL audience are a very serious part of the live shows.
“We’re church without religion – or bingo where everyone wins.
“It’s about leaving the enemy or problems of the world outside and mixing with people of all race, creeds and colours, class divides. We have an enormous verity of fans and for me, that’s the ultimate reward.”
While considered an icon by many, Lydon claims to have “shirked off” the mantle of pop star decades ago.
“It’s a very small part of me, but whatever that figurehead is, he never wanted to be no pop star.
“Never was at the time and still isn’t. I don’t like false representation. I sink or swim by the strength of my songs, not the clothes on my back or the colour of my hair.
“Those are just fun distractions. We have a very loyal fan base that understands that.”
While Sex Pistols’ confrontational punk rock sound and style may have painted Lydon as a snarling, ferocious frontman, he admits having suffered with panic attacks and stage fright throughout his career and it’s something he still feels before every show.
“I’m always fearful of letting people down and not giving it my ultimate best,” he explains.
“Stage fright is an essential part of it. It took me a long time to come to grips with it.
“It’s like enjoying your depression. You can’t be complacent.
“You can’t take anything for granted when you’re up there.
“You open your heart, your mind, your body and your soul. If you make mistakes and screw up, you’re gonna suffer the slings and arrows but that’s the enjoyment. That’s the tightrope.
“Our songs are very initiate with great many emotions, some are painful to bring up and that is part of being human.
“You can see a sense of loss or tragedy in certain songs and that is directly understood by many in the audience.”
Lydon describes the 20 years between 2012’s This is PiL and 1992’s That What Is Not was a “terrible period” for the band.
While he pursued other areas of work and took part in Sex Pistols reunion shows, he maintains he was almost pushed out of the music industry.
“The obligations of major record contacts are painful. The pressure they put on you is unendurable.
“I don’t know why they signed me or why they wouldn’t let me go. I was in ‘Catch 22’ and it took money to get out of it.”
For the first time in PiL’s history, Lydon has been able to keep the same band of Bruce Smith, Lu Edwards and Scott Firth together for two albums and is happier than he ever has been with the band.
“In the past I’ve always had to smile in the face of adversity,” he explains.
“I thought being in band was about not really liking each other but somehow learning to use it as a powerful ‘plus’.
“Turns out if you like the people you work with you get better results.
“All my songs are about life experiences, things that if not directly, connect me everyone around me - my family, my friends, my class, my culture, my understanding of my position of my place in the world and everyone else’s.
“You cannot run out of inspiration. I enjoying being a human being and enjoy the company of humans - even the miserable ones.”
Following PiL’s UK tour the band will continue working on new material as well as hoping to tour in Europe.
“I became very isolated in vast territories. I want to open those doors up again,” he explains.
“Places like Germany have always been a problem to get into because of promoters.
“Hopefully it’ll pay off and be to the benefit of mankind. Merkel lets everyone in, why not PiL?”
In an interview with the BBC following the death of David Bowie, former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr talked about artists who had been either directly or indirectly influenced by the singer – naming Lydon in the latter category. Although disputing the claim, he paid tribute to Bowie.
“I don’t know if that’s true at all,” he says. “However, I thought the way he planned his death, the discretion, showed a great deal of class.
“He didn’t want no pomp and circumstance. That’s how I will fondly remember him forever.
“I met him a few times, I always found him to be someone who was ferreting for new ideas.
“He was very open and honest about that.”
While synonymous with British culture, Lydon currently resides in LA, moving there for the weather and to maintain his health.
“I can’t take any more upper respiratory diseases or illnesses,” he jokes.
“Physical aliments dictate my movements. No more damp mouldy basements in London thank you.”
Commenting on living in America and primaries ahead of this year’s presidential election, he said: “You have ridiculous, preposterous situation of a businessman buying his way into the White House.
“Republication politics have always indicated that was possible but now, following in the footsteps of Mitt Romney, Trump is making the same moves but more aggressively and rudely.
“A bag of bile. It’s interesting his tax situation is now being discussed because he doesn’t think it’s any ones business but he wants to run the country - if not the world.
“I’m very far removed from a communist, but that’s a proclamation of excessive greed and ego. It’s very hard to take. It’s a dangerous world we live in. Most people are basically stupid.”
This transatlantic conversion with Lydon took place the day after the Brit Awards in February.
Quizzing him about the state of popular music in 2016, Lydon was quick to criticise the current crop of acts winning awards.
“We (the Sex Pistols) were the frustrated and disenfranchised and that’s the voice of expression we chose. I’m still doing it. I don’t know about the rest of them out there
“The current crop of idiots with beards in beanie caps don’t seem to, but they don’t have much going for them anyway.
“There will always be beige and beige seems to be highly popular.”
When asked about what he still hopes to achieve, Lydon instantly replies “Heaps. I’m relentless with boundless energy.
“I’m never going to run out of ideas. I’m never going to run out of anything.
“I constantly have to fight my patience.
“Not until the day I die will I be able to say ‘Cor, that was exhausting’.”
PiL play the Northampton Roadmender on June 18.
Tickets cost £26.50 before fees. For more details visit here.