CATHAL COUGHLAN INTERVIEW- APRIL 2003

Exclusive Microdisney Fansite interview live from the streets of Cyberspace. I hope to get Sean to do one- now he knows the answers all he has to do is crib.


 


1. Where did the name Microdisney come from?

I always tend to deal in verbal distortions - this was an early one. Could never get away with it now - last time I looked, the .com in this name belonged to a certain Orange County fascist leisure combine.

2. What are your feelings these days towards the songs
Microdisney produced?

The lyrics are scrappy, the music well-realised but not possessed of too much urge to sum anything up, by and large, but when they work they really do work - my judgement is clouded by factual recollection, but my overwhelming impression is one of confusion and indolence.
Lately, I've begun to be able to play a couple of them, which I do for fun- cover versions where I don't have to rethink the vocal style if I don't feel like it. But this is a sideshow from my main concerns.


3. Do you have a favourite period or set of songs that you felt summed up what Microdisney were about and in the way you wanted it to?

Not really - there are patches everywhere except on the first couple of records, which are just awkward, but it's obviously not something I go to pains to analyse. The Clock Comes Down The Stairs was the best-realised album, though. Even though it's not the kind of thing I tend to listen to...


4. How did life in Microdisney compare to your life now?

I work a lot harder. I only tolerate condescension if I'm getting paid to be condescended to, and the topic comes from a certain list. In those days, being passive-aggressive seemed like an existential obligation. And I didn't exactly set the world ablaze with my work-rate. It's the fact that I personally tried too little which sticks with me.
I'd like to say here that I think that if Sean or I is remembered by posterity,
it will be for the work which we did after Microdisney, since in both our cases it had far more sense of fun, assuredness and immediacy.


5. How did your relationship with Virgin compare to that of Rough Trade? (Did Virgin give you artistic control? Did they give you financial security?)

A record company is a record company. You have to sign off in perpetuity, and the big guy won't like it if you speak your mind out of turn, even about food or horticulture. As for the cash side of it - we were not making a living when we were on RT, but that was not the point of RT. We built up debts all over the place, owing to one person (non-RT) who stole from us, and we owed the government, due to not writing things down. We had to get some money fast - hence Virgin.

No record company gives financial security - it's not their purpose. Virgin allowed us to start the ball rolling, artistically, after we signed, but when they didn't much like what we recorded, things became a struggle for the rest of the time. You always could be fairly sure that the studio bill would be paid when we were on Virgin - with RT, nothing was ever taken for granted- including the completion of the work. But RT never refused to allow us to record anything for artistic reasons. At the time RT first financed us to record, nobody else would have encouraged such an activity Involving such people. If the year had been 15-20 years later, not even they would have done that.


6. Why did Microdisney split up?

We were at a crossroads, for what seemed like the umpteenth time (looking back, this seems like a stupid attitude, as it really hadn't been *that* long a struggle - but you are no more than what you know at a given time). It was clear that the only way forward was to agree a new consensus on the music, its style and function, and it was also clear that there was no way for that to happen. I generated the trauma of a final disastrous gig, and to this day I feel bad about that.

7. Was the band very much you and Sean or were the other members having much of a say in the songwriting and attitude/direction.

Everyone influenced the general atmosphere, in terms of the extremities of what was acceptable or achievable, and Jon and Tom, especially, put a lot of work into developing everything from 1984 onwards, but, yes, Sean and I totally kept the songwriting to ourselves, and exercised power of veto over most other things.


8. What were the biggest problems in dealing with the music industry?

We were always completely out of step with it, even when, as for the final 3 years or so, we were operating close to the heart of it. But things were a lot different then to the way they are now - disorderliness and dissent were not so easily nipped in the bud. And of course, to cap it all off, we weren't even conventionally 'rebellious'...:-)
If we'd been the Mary Chain or something, they might at least have had some idea how to react to us - but I know life was no bed of roses for those people either. It was just a shit time for music, period - seems even worse with hindsight.

9. How do you think politics has changed since the things you were singing about in the Microdisney days and is there any more awareness of those issues?

Short version: that period marked the death of certain ideas, such as the possibility that the UK could ever fully accept the kind of European-style social-democratic principles which most of us imagined were embodied in the post-WWII settlement. Instead, the UK has, as a result of a process which ran at its speediest from 1984-90 and from 1997 to the present, opted for a consumerist cross between the unabashedly callous and philistinic spectacle-hunger of the mainstream US, and the deferential dullness of its own pre-WWII history. The culture reflects this change. The issues which mattered in 1983-87 are considered not worth addressing, and, even to the likes of me, their manifestations from that time now appear anachronistic. I still believe that people's lives are being made unbearable for no reason- the mechanics and parameters are different now.

10. The political content in your songs seems fairly easy to follow, but were the more personal references about your life or were they more observational?

They were observational, to a degree, but it must be added that I had trouble either admitting or understanding what was going on in my personal life, so it's natural, I think, that my pronouncements on that score were choked-off and lacking in conclusion. The dominant themes were separation, dislocation, promiscuity. Again, I think I was making something aggrieved-sounding out of something which was not really as horrible or as traumatic as I thought it was - later on, I knew better, that's partly why the later work is better also.

11. What was Soul Boy about?

Some sort of agglomeration of images to do with an erstwhile dictator living in a slum in a distant foreign land, pining for his erstwhile ignominy as being preferable to the anonymity which characterises his everyday life now. The laughable and pompous nature of youth culture is in there also - at least that's what I think: in 15 years, I think I've probably heard it once.

Many thanks to Cathal for this interview. I know Microdisney is not a subject that is much in his heart these days. Risking the grave offence of journalistic spin (getting in the last word), perhaps his views on Microdisney have a lot to do with wanting to look to the present rather than to the past. I think maybe also, the feelings and circumstances that led to those Microdisney songs are ones that have little relevance to him now. Knowing what emotions those songs came from maybe clouds the judgement of those songs. For me though those songs will always be special and as good as anything that anyone has produced.

   

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