Glen Matlock,
The TVD Interview

Glen Matlock’s rock cred begins early, as a founding member of the Sex Pistols, co-writer of nine of the 11 songs on the band’s single studio album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, and first to part company with the punk pioneers.

The famous story circulated is that he was booted for being a Beatles fan (false!), but he was arguably the most musically adept Pistol (only to be replaced by the least, Sid Vicious).

But apart from Johnny Rotten & Co., Matlock went on to form the high-profile Rich Kids before appearing in a number of projects—on the 1980 Soldier LP with Iggy Pop, a Damned stab, a reunited Faces, and for one more go round the Pistols again for their various tours this century.

But he’s also fronted his own bands and solo albums, the latest of which, Good to Go, which he recorded with Earl Slick and Slim Jim Phantom, was issued late last year, in a year that saw him opening a European Tour with Dropkick Murphys and playing the DMZ Peace Festival on the border of North and South Korea.

Matlock, 62, was just back from South America when he chatted The Vinyl District from London via Skype about his latest single which has already been named “Coolest Song in the World” on Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel on Sirius XM.

Tell me what’s behind the new single, “Keep on Pushing.”

It’s kind of Shakespearean really. You’re kicking against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. At this stage in life, as a musician, that means just keeps doing it anyway, carrying on regardless. You have ideas for things, you see something in the paper and you say, no, you can’t do that. And I say, why not just do it?

It gets to be a frustration and it’s a general sort of yardstick for life, really. I mean the refrain is, “Keep on pushing, it might just be enough.” And one day that little straw will break the camel’s back. Whether you’re railing against government, or your personal life and the girl who won’t go out with you. If you ask her one more time, she might. All those kinds of things.

You don’t want to be specific, so it can refer to a lot of different things.

I tend to write esoteric a little bit. Even a song from years ago, “Pretty Vacant,” it’s not a particularly specific song. It’s more of a primal scream.

It seems like “Keep on Pushing” is a little more optimistic than saying “No future” in a song.

That’s John’s lyric, that one, but I believe even then he wasn’t saying there’s no future, he wasn’t saying it’s great that there’s no future; there’s no future unless you do something about it for yourself. Same kind of vibe. You know, there’s only supposed to be seven story lines in the art world. You know, tragedy, love, murder, I don’t know exactly what they are. So you tend to retread the same ground, a little bit, in your song writing, but you just have to put a different slant on it.

Musically, it goes back to one night at David Gilmour of Pink Floyd’s house. I was helping the Pretty Things out and one song had a kind of a ’60s beat group kind of thing and there was this riff going through this song in the background. I was thinking the next day that the guitar line reminded me of “Price of Love,” by the Everly Brothers. But I actually know the song from Bryan Ferry’s version, first and foremost.

So I went online and it came on YouTube and the guy playing guitar on that was Chris Spedding, who is a mate of mine, so I called up Chris and said I’ve got this guitar line it might be right for you, will you come down, and he said right, and came down the next day and did it. I like things like that.

Nice. I guess some people have interpreted the song to be about Brexit. Or I could apply it to things going on in the States. I guess there’s always some political thing to rail against.

I’m vehemently anti-Brexit, and I actually went on a march in the summer in London and there were like 70,000 or more there, at Piccadilly in London and somebody was playing club music from a float and it was Bryan Ferry again, “Let’s Stick Together.” And you know, it’s a love song but it seemed to pick up the mood. So you only need a little catch phrase that people can pick up on that gets the hackles going.

People could apply it to different situations.

Yeah, and I suppose the pro-Brexit people could adapt it too, or the pro-Trump people could say yeah, we got to keep on pushing to keep him inside.

When did the album come out?

The tail end of September, start of October. It’s not really out in States properly. It’s out on the internet, on Amazon and things like that. I haven’t really got my head around physical releases in America at the moment. But Little Steven’s Underground Garage were playing it quite heavily. Just before Christmas it got “Coolest Song in the World” for one week. I found out from Clem Burke who was driving around LA. He lives in Studio City and took a picture of his Sirius radio he’s got in his car.

What’s the effect of being featured in something like that? Could you see there were more downloads?

I haven’t really been checking. I’ve got some sort of app to track it all down, but I haven’t really set it up yet. And to be honest, I’ve been really busy. I was playing in South America and just got back, so I’m just starting to feel London time now. I did some shows in Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay, which was very interesting, especially in January as far as England is concerned. They said, “Do you want to come?” I said, “When?” They said January; I said yes.

What kind of band do you have with you when you travel to places like South America?

When I went and did that one, I played with some guys I played with a couple of years ago, most of them from a band called Los Violadores, that are like the Sex Pistols of Argentina. But they’re actually quite good rock and roll musicians as well. So I play with them, they learn all my stuff and we have a jolly well go.

When I play abroad this year, I’m going to be touring over here and we’ve just been asked to do the Fuji Festival in Japan and the band will be Chris Musto playing drums, a guy called Jim Lowe, who plays bass with me—he’s actually a record producer in his own right, he does all the Stereophonics’ records. I play rhythm guitar, and on lead we have Earl Slick, who plays on the album, so I’m quite chuffed about that.

Where else are you playing this year?

I’m talking to some people about playing over [in the US] later on in this year. But we’ve got a UK tour in May and I’ve got some solo things, because I do a lot of solo acoustic shows in Sweden in April. And then I have a little thing in the Middle East that I’m going to be doing. It’s just the start of the year, everything’s just coming in really now. I’d really like to come and play in the States. I’m talking to people about it at the moment and we’ll see.

And all these international pickup musicians know your songs?

No, I’m not scared. You get in a room with these guys, and they’ve been learning your songs and they might not get a little bit right, and they’re not speaking the language. And you say it’s A there and it goes to B, and show ’em, and you go like that, and you pull the right shape, and they wink at you and they’ve got it. It’s a universal language.

Everywhere you go, it seems like everyone knows your music.

Yeah, wherever I go. You know, punk rock is a very good, common denominating yardstick all around the world. It thrives. It’s the last sort of remaining outpost of a slightly left field dissent, you know? But everybody’s not like that. Everybody wants to have a laugh and have a good time, not be imposed on, not be told what to do; to let off a little steam if they want to. And having traveled around the world, that’s pretty much what everybody wants to do—you know, China, Russia, it’s still the same thing.

Your original time in the Sex Pistols was quite short, right?

It was about two years from the inception. I was in the band even before John joined. But it was long enough to be involved with most of the writing of the songs that came out on the album.

It’s kind of an irony that you seemed to be the most accomplished musician and you were replaced by a guy who didn’t really know any music at all, right?

Pretty much, yeah.

Was that insulting to you that Sid Vicious was brought in to replace you?

Well, I didn’t like how Malcolm McLaren was pitching it. When I was in the band, and I think it was for the other guys as well, it was a rock band akin to the early Who—you now, a band by the kids for the kids. Then it became this kind of media exercise cartoon strip with a built-in shelf life. There’s a silly comedy show over here, Harry Enfield, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him. There’s a scene in this pub where a bloke asks him something, and he says “If that’s what you want that’s what going to happen.” That’s the catch phrase. And I just thought, if that’s what they want, that’s what’s going to happen to me. And it did. But I would say that. But I think I had the last laugh because when we reformed in subsequent years, they could have asked any other bass player in the world to do it, but they asked me.

And you played probably quite a lot more with them in the reunion than you did in the early days, right?

Well, the first one was the best part of a year. We did almost 100 gigs around the world. And then we did several tours since then—which I don’t think will happen again. It was a good chance to get it out of our system really.

It was a good chance for a lot of people to see you who didn’t have a chance before. I saw you up near Boston when you closed with “Roadrunner” because Jonathan Richman was from up there.

The reason we did that song was, there was a guy in England named Nick Kent, he used to write for the NME. He was like the Lester Bangs of England. He was mates with Malcolm and he used to float between Malcolm McLaren’s shop and a shop called Granny Takes a Trip, where like the Rolling Stones would get their dandy fashions. But Nick was mates with us, even before John was in the band, and he gave us this cassette that his mate had been involved in that had “Roadrunner” on it. It was about a year or more before the record came out—and his mate was John Cale.

Who produced The Modern Lovers, right?

Yeah, he produced it, and we had it even before it came out. It just seemed like the weirdest song ever. We had no idea what it was about, and now, obviously, it’s a car, we found out. And it had things in it like driving past—we thought it was the Stopping Shop, but having been to New England we know it as the Stop & Shop. And it just seemed so exotic from what was going on with us. In fact I remember Vivian Westwood saying, “Oh, it’s about a car? Well I don’t know if I like it then.”

I don’t think Jonathan Richman even plays it any more. He’s gone on to other things.

He’s a weird and wacky guy. In fact, I remember when that was a hit, I went to see him at this place called the Hammersmith Odeon. He was big for about five minutes. And I got there, just a tiny bit late and he was just finishing “Roadrunner” as the first song of the set to get it out of the way. He was set up in the middle of the stage like he was doing a little club gig. The bass player had a tiny little 30 watt amp. It was great and it was so quiet; everybody was going “sssh!” It got everybody’s attention, and it was great. I’d seen him since then many times. I saw him in San Francisco and he came out, he’s got this guy Tommy and he plays drums, and he’s got this classical guitar which, half the set, he was playing the wrong way round, banging on the back of it. And he said to the sound guy, “Before I start, is it still set on that crazy low volume we did at the sound check?” and the guy said, “Yes, Jonathan.” And he said, “I don’t believe it,” and he walks off the stage to go there to turn it down.

But anyway, this gig at the Hammersmith Odeon [chronicled on the album Modern Lovers Live!], it wore a bit thin after he did “Ice Cream Man” for the sixth time. I went down with Mick Jones and Joe Strummer and people like that, we were a bit fed up, and it was a Sunday night and the pubs shut down about half past 10, so we went to this pub across the road. And while we were in there, these Teddy Girls come up, you know dressed like the ’50s. They were quite good looking and they came up and said, “Are you punks?” And we said, yeah, I guess we are. And they said, wait here, we’ll get our friends. We thought they were going to come back with some more girls. Next thing, all these six-foot Teddy Boys come back and they started in, and there’s this big punch-up and everybody’s legging it. It was quite heavy actually. There was a lot of funny things going on in the punk days, for sure.

Well, you got your next band started up pretty quickly, the Rich Kids, and there were a lot of great players in it—Midge Ure, Rusty Egan, Mick Jones.

Yeah, I’ve had some people come to me. Once you do one thing, you get a bit of standing. One of the best things I got to do was to work with Mick Ronson to produce an album. I got to be quite good friends with Mick and his family and am still.

Was it gratifying for you to do that Faces reunion several years ago? It never even got to the States did it?

No. We only did about 10 or 12 shows altogether, in the end. But Ronnie [Wood] got a phone call from the Rolling Stones, so you really can’t argue with that. But they were the band—when I was 14 and I had a guitar and I hadn’t learned to play it properly and “Stay With Me” was out, I’d stand in front of the mirror and pretend I was in the band. Then old Ronnie Lane passed away.

I got that gig because I was friends with Ian McLagan—he actually played on the Rich Kids album. But I lost touch with him, he was back in England after he had moved to Austin and I said, what are you doing? And he said, I’m doing this, that and the other thing. I did some stuff with Springsteen—nothing came of it but it paid well; Dylan. that was all right. I asked him, “What do you really want to do?” And he said, “I want to reform the Faces.” So I said, “Well, look, I know that you know that I’m the best bloke for the job.” And I did. Not immediately, but it was great. You know, we didn’t do that many shows. Rod didn’t want to do it, we got a guy called Mick Hucknall, and he was fantastic. It was Ronnie Wood, Kenny Jones, Ian McLagan, and me. The last gig, I think, we played was in front of 50,000 people at the Fuji Festival [in 2011]. It wasn’t too shabby.

And those guys—that’s what got me the gig in the Pistols in the first place. When I heard Steve [Jones] and Paul [Cook] talking that they needed a bass player and I said, “I play bass.” And they said, “Who’s your favorite band?” And I said, “The Faces.” And they said, “All right!”

Because they was the only band before punk, it seemed like that had a laugh about everything, all the time always, and didn’t give a toss about what other people thought about. So that got me to the show, and it opened the doors. I started to listen to Bobby Womack and the blues, and taking the Temptations seriously. So it was a pleasure playing with them, and it was fun. And it paid great as well.

Did you see the Faces when you were growing up?

I saw them three times. But one of the times I saw them—I saw them twice with Ronnie Lane and once with Tetsu [Yamauchi] which wasn’t quite the same. But I actually saw them once at Wembley Stadium which holds about 50,000 people and it was a very seminal gig for me.

I saved up all my pocket money took my girlfriend and had a seat way in the back. The band on first was the Pink Fairies, a band whose time had come and gone but never really arrived anyway. And then the band right after them was the New York Dolls. Now I’d just about heard of them, or seen the name or something else. And then the Faces, and the Faces were great but the Dolls. That was a real kind of sea change. And this was the original Dolls with Billy [Ficca]. It was about a week before he died.

You eventually worked with the Dolls’ Sylvain Sylvain, right?

Yeah, Sylvain’s a mate of mine. We’ve done a few things together. I did a few double headlining solo shows on the East Coast and up into Canada. We’ve done that a couple of times. And a few band things. The last time I saw him he had his book launch, so I went down to that.

And the Dolls inspired Malcolm to get the Pistols going?

A lot of things just happened to be happening at the same time. I said to Sylvain once, “How did you meet Malcolm?” Malcolm used to go to America and buy up old clothing, so Sylvain said “I met him at a second-hand clothing fair.” I said, “How did you get talking to him?” He said, “He was going out to see the band that night, and we invited him. He was an interesting guy from England.” I said, what were you doing at the second-hand shop? He said, I used to have a denim shop. I once sold a pair of dungarees to Janis Joplin!” He said, “Really?”

Everybody’s got to start somewhere. It was all these things going on around about the same time, and we were just trying to get this band thing together and the Dolls split up and Malcolm helped them with something, and that coincided with the Dolls breaking up again, and then the Heartbreakers started. And Malcolm being in New York and hearing about Richard Hell.

But nobody had made any records then! And Malcolm brought back some pictures and some things. There was one that was kind of a list of song titles. Now, looking back it was probably a set list, but on it, the first song on it was “(In the Arms of) Venus de Milo,” which I thought was a bit weird. I was in art school by then and everybody knew Venus de Milo didn’t have any arms, cause they fell off the statue.

And the next song was “Blank Generation.” And I thought, that’s an interesting idea. Because what was going in London with job cuts and a hung Parliament and rubbish piled up, it gave me the idea of “Pretty Vacant.” But I had never heard the song because it hadn’t been recorded.

It was the same with the Ramones — we’d heard about them, and their short songs. But until they come to London, we never heard them and we were really quite surprised how similar they were to us in a kind of way. I think it’s because everyone had become fed up with long-haired, progressive rock, down home Alabama and “The Six Wives of Henry VIII.”

What are your earliest memories of vinyl?

My very first connection with vinyl was actually shellac. When I was a young kid, my Uncle Colin, who lived up the road and was about 10 years older than me, he gave me, because he was moving on, his old rock ’n’ roll records—his Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Earl Bostic—I don’t know if you know him in the States; he did a version of “Raunchy.”

I used to put these big old 78s on when I was five years old on the Radiogram. And they went around so fast, it was like lighting a firework. You put it on and then had to stand on the other side of the room in case it came off and slashed your head off. A big old valve Radiogram, that was cool.

My first vinyl record I bought about the same time I had pocket-money and there were shops—not record stores—but electrical shops which didn’t sell but rented TVs and washing machines, and they would also have the top 20 in a little pegboard partitions.

And I bought the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” and also around the same time, The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” EP—one of the first records I bought. And the first album I got as a Christmas present was Sgt. Pepper, which I actually found the other day on the other side of the room. I pulled it out and still has the cardboard thing in it with the mustache you can cut out.

But I like vinyl. It’s a real tangible piece of something you can have and hold. And the artwork is better on it, and it’s better than a CD. But I think it might have died out a little bit, everybody got those clean living rooms these days. Maybe if your alcoves aren’t too deep. CDs come in because the people’s alcoves fit them, then people knock their fireplaces out, and then there’s not even room to put a private shelf in, so that’s why digitals, as I call them, have come in.

“Keep on Pushing,” the new single from Glen Matloack’s Good to Go is in stores now—on vinyl.

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