Almost four decades since their inception, post-punk legends Gang of Four are continuing their trajectory as one of the most influential bands of the era. Birthed in Leeds in 1977, Gang of Four quickly established a reputation with their fiery, stripped-back sound and politically motivated drive. Their debut, Entertainment!, was a masterpiece that combined weighty, almost-funk basslines  with brash guitars and intelligent, poignant lyricism.

The gang has been known to form numerous member constellations over the years. After the recent departure of vocalist and lyricist Jon King, however, guitarist Andy Gill remains the only original member still playing with the band. With the release of new record What Happens Next? waiting in the wings, NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION sat down with Gill to discuss his creative vision, the continual metamorphosis of Gang of Four  and what lies in store for the path of his musical ship.

What’s the conception story behind the new record, ‘What Happens Next’?

We were working on it for quite a while. Obviously there’s been some changes, you know, we made the record Content which came out in 2011, we did a few gigs and then Jon King was like ‘Okay, I think that’s me out of here.’ I felt very much that it was actually quite a liberating situation. I mean, with Gang of Four, I’ve always liked to be responsible for all of the music, and lyrically it’s always been me and Jon together. Sometimes Jon on his own, but most of the time it’s me and him together. So it felt absolutely natural to carry on. All of these songs are my own songwriting; I also thought it would be a great time do some collaborations, something which I’m quite sure would not have been possible previously. It’s something to open up a bit, to work with other people and not be too precious. For example, I worked with Alison from The Kills.

She’s on the track ‘Broken Talk’, right?

Yeah, she is. She’s also on the track England In My Bones. HERBERT GRÖNEMEYER, who is Germany’s biggest rockstar I guess, is an old friend of mine and he just offered out of the blue. I don’t know if you’re familiar with him, but everybody in Germany and Austria and Switzerland know exactly who he is. There’s a particular thing he does, a kind of angst, an almost Wagnerian thing with his incredible voice. I had a couple of songs for which I thought I could use him, but then I thought no, I’ve got to write something that really specifically works that way. I ended up with the song The Dying Rays, which was a lot of work; I wasn’t just writing for myself, it wasn’t like just writing a Gang of Four song. I had to write a Gang of Four song which played to the best of his voice. Really tailor-making it for his voice.

It was a fantastic feeling, because he flew over to London from Berlin, walked into the studio in the morning – he’d never heard it. He’d asked me, ‘Do you want me to listen to it and practice it?’, but I said no, just turn up in the studio and sing it. So he walked in, I gave him the words, he listened to the melody a few times and then he sang it a few times and it was incredible to hear this perfect thing, it was exactly how I hoped it would be. Then I said well, now we’ve done the English version, now we’re gonna do the German version!

Oh wow! You did a German version as well?

Yeah [laughs]. Herbert was like ‘Ha ha ha Andy, very funny’, and I said no, I’m serious. I pulled out a sheet of paper and my friend who is a German translator and poet had translated it the night before. Herbert was looking at it in German and said that it was amazing, so special. And then he sang it in German. I almost prefer the German version.

You were going to record ‘Broken Talk’ in Chinese, weren’t you?

Yeah, we’ve got a Chinese version with Hua Dong, who’s the lead singer of the Chinese band REBUILDING THE RIGHTS OF STATUES. So we have a Chinese version of that track, but also a Brazilian Portugese version.

‘I’ve always been the driving force in the band’

Really! How did that come about?

There’s a band called LEGIAO URBANA from Brazil, who were like Brazil’s biggest band in the 1980s. The singer died, but they did a couple of big concerts in Sao Paulo and they had an actor standing in on the vocals, and they got me over to come and play guitar with them. This was also in 2012. So I became very friendly with them and the guitarist, Dado, he sung a Portugese version. So we’ve got lots of different versions of Broken Talk. It’s a very international record.

Do you speak any other languages yourself?

No [laughs].

If you were to learn one, what would you learn?

Hmm… Probably Chinese!


I don’t know. It’s a funny thing, isn’t it? English has sort of become the language of the world, in a way. You can be quite lazy and communicate most of the time with it.

It’s a bit of a shame sometimes…

Exactly. It’d just be interesting. I found it so interesting being in China and working with Chinese people, because there’s been so many years of mistrust, which operates on a sort of government to government level. Meeting people and working together on a personal level makes such an amazing difference, doesn’t it?

It does, yeah. What were Jon’s reasons for parting ways this time around, do you know?

When I look back over the years… Sometimes he’s all up for it and he’s gung-ho, and then sometimes his mind is elsewhere, he wants to do something else, whereas I’m much more consistent. I’d put a lot of work in the last album, Content, and we’d done a few dates and he was clearly not sure if he wanted to do this anymore. I said okay, fine. So we parted ways. To me, I think I saw it as an opportunity. I’ve always written all of the music and I’ve always done half or nearly half of the lyrics. So I thought, I can get on with this now, whichever way I want to go. It was quite an empowering, liberating situation. I’d often thought in the past that it would be nice to have some involvement with other people, to open it up a bit…

Do you think that’s something that wasn’t possible before?

Correct. So one door closes, and another bunch of doors open up.

Seeing as you’re the only member that’s been with Gang of Four throughout its entire trajectory…

Yeah, Gang Of One [laughs].

…what do you think the thread is that holds Gang of Four together over that whole time? Is it you, or something more than that?

I think it’s me. I don’t want to sound immodest, but I’ve always been the driving force in the band, you know? I put together the songs and the music. I’m the musical director and producer. It’s always been my baby.


In a past interview I’ve read that the interaction between the music and its packaging is always key to you. I got to thinking about how the idea of packaging itself has changed so much since you guys started out, since ‘Entertainment!’ was released. When you look at something like ‘Content’, in comparison, which you crowdfunded in exchange for things like vials of your own blood…

Yeah [laughs]. The whole thing with Content was fairly over the top. I think partly because we did the crowdfunding through Pledge, and they said we needed to do things that were really distinct to our fans; but my god, that was so much work, putting that together.

I’ve got a bit of a phobia of needles, I don’t think I’d be giving away my own blood too eagerly… That was brave.

It was diluted! We watered it down a lot. It was like 0.01%.

Like a blood cordial.

Somewhere in there, there’s a little bit. It was kind of a joke; it’s like saying, what do you want, blood?

And the cover art, what’s the story behind that?

Okay, well there’s a building in London called The Shard. It’s very a much a sort of new London landmark. It’s like a very tall pyramid, and it’s the tallest building in London, I think. There’s a picture of that, but times two; a mirror image of it, and they’re pulling apart. It’s a disconcerting thing, in black and white. On the back there’s an aerial photograph of the Thames River stretching out to the east at sunrise, which is not disconcerting.

So you can flip it over and feel calm again…

On the inside it’s got some photographs that I took in the seventies; of a contact lens and a watch and stuff. It’s also got some photographs that I took recently, this year. An asthma inhaler and stuff like that. In a sense it’s almost autobiographical. But the record is kind of a London record, although it’s also a very international record. That’s what London is now. It’s a very international place. If you’re in the middle of London you can hear any language you can imagine, probably more than you’ll hear English.

‘What’s the mechanism that makes us do what we do?’

Is London your home at the moment?

Yeah, yeah it is. It’s many things. It’s this hub of capitalism with vast amounts of money floating through it. It’s very stimulating, very interesting subject matter comes up through it. So the artwork reflects that, to a certain extent.

How far ahead do you like to daydream, in terms of concepts for new albums? Have you started working on anything to come after this album?

Yeah. I mean, when you eventually stop there’s always a bunch of stuff hanging around that you’re working on, and I continue to work on those things. I’ve got some ideas. There’s a band in Glasgow called The Young Fathers, I think they just won the Mercury Prize. I’m fans of theirs and they’re fans of Gang of Four so we’ve actually been talking about a collaboration, in which we write the songs together. We’ll do a gig further down the line together. So yeah, there are a few ideas on the go.

Okay, so I’ve always wanted to ask this. I saw you guys in 2011 in San Francisco, and I remember you were smashing a microwave on stage. Was this an onstage antic that you guys did on a regular basis or was it a once-off? What’s the deal there?

Well, that song is called He’d Send In The Army. When we first did it, in the eighties, it used to just be a bit of metal piping that was hit, to keep that pulse of the song. We found that if you hit a metal box you got a much, much better sound. So we tried it with a microwave and to begin with, we used to get our crew to reinforce the microwave with metal so that it wouldn’t smash. But then we discovered that it was kind of cool if we just hit the microwave because it’s got the sound, and then just carried on hitting it until it was destroyed. So it’s not a one-off, it’s something that we quite often do.

Ha! I’m glad to lay that one to rest. One last question; in terms of the intention behind Gang of Four, you’ve said that you’d rather ask the same question multiple times than ask fifty different questions just for the sake of it. What do you think the Gang of Four question is?

I think if you were going to reduce it, what’s the mechanism that makes us do what we do? Why do we act the way we do? A lot of it is to do with things that we invent for ourselves. We like to think that certain things are natural, that they don’t need explanation. But that’s kind of not true. And many of the rules that we live by are things that we’ve made up ourselves, or that the rest of humanity has made up, through whatever it may be. Economics, ideology, sociology – it’s manmade stuff. Questions related to that are central to the band.