Chumbawamba – Alice Nutter

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Interview by Kris Griffiths

TUBTHUMPING. John Prescott. Ask anyone off the street to discuss the career of Chumbawamba and you’d be lucky to receive any more information than that. With its annoyingly catchy pop melody and shouty chorus, TUBTHUMPING managed to reach number one in no less than twenty-two countries including the U S of A, but then before you could say “he drinks a whisky drink” the group had vanished from our TV screens. At the moment the Chumbas are putting finishing touches to the soundtrack for upcoming British film REVENGER’S TRAGEDY starring Eddie Izzard and Derek Jacobi, and their own new album READYMADE – a mellow mixture of folk samples and break beats, significantly departing from their usual musical formula. I had a lengthy chinwag with vocalist Alice Nutter about smoking, shoplifting and Shirley Manson. Most amusing.

Did you see in the new year in style?

Yeah, it was fantastic. I went to Dunstan’s and was off my face till half past 5 in the morning, but I had to get up at eight for my daughter.

Have you stuck to any resolutions you’ve made?

Yes. What was your’s?

To give up smoking.

And have you stuck to it?

Nope. I’m going to an anti-smoking clinic though and they’re gonna give me some nicotine gum and an inhaler cos I can’t do cold turkey.

(After lots of sound advice) I was a smoker all my life but I haven’t smoked for three years now, apart from about three weeks ago when I got absolutely pissed and had a fag and then threw up in my handbag.

So your lungs rejected it then?

(Laughs) No it weren’t that, it was just that my partner was trying to wrestle it out of my hands while I was smoking it and I was sucking really hard… but when I finished it I felt really ill and I puked in my handbag in the cab home.

Lovely. So it’s been quite hard then?

I tell you what, on the first new year’s eve after giving up I was obviously off my face but all night I was so desperate for a cigarette that I sobered up and was straight for the rest of the night. I ended up smoking pure grass joints and they still didn’t do anything but I made it through the whole new year’s eve without a fag and after doing that I knew I could give it up completely.

I’m very happy for you. How old are you now, may I ask?

I’m 39.

Well it’ll take at least twenty years for your lungs to completely rid itself of cancerous stuff.

What? Who told you that?

My doctor. Anyway that’s enough about smoking now. What’s the score with the new album?

Well we decided to make an album that didn’t sound like a Chumbawamba album, so there’s no guitars, no shouty bits and no brass sections. There’s a lot of old folk samples which we decided to combine with dance music and I really think it works.

Er, I’ve listened to some of it and there were definitely some guitars in there.

Yeah, there are but I meant there weren’t any (makes loud growling noise), that kind of guitar. We know that for what we do we’ve always had a formula – big chanting choruses with loud guitars – but then we thought “right, this is stupid, we’re just boring ourselves as well as other people”. So what we’ve decided to do now, rather than end up in the situation we were in before with EMI, is to set up our own record company now that we’ve got the money to do it.

I did think that the new stuff was a lot more mellow.

It’s definitely more melancholy, but I don’t think that lyrically it’s mellow. You know when people say that as you get old you get a lot mellower, well I don’t think that’s true. If anything you get more astute and more pissed off.

How come there’s no London gig scheduled in your European tour?

Well part of it was cos we thought “right, lets go to Scotland” cos we haven’t been there for years so we’re doing three shows there and three in England rather than doing any big gigs. We’ll sort something out in London when we release the album in June.

What albums have you got on rotation at home at the moment?

Er… Jim White, The Strokes, The White Stripes, Pulp, all that Trojan dub stuff and The Hives.

There’s something I want to clear up with you – the pronunciation of ‘Chumbawamba’. It’s ‘wamba’ with an ‘a’ isn’t it, so why does everyone pronounce it as ‘wumba’?

Oh I know… it’s just so annoying. It’s because we’re from up north and people think we have to spell everything phonetically.

Do you think there will ever be another TUBTHUMPING?

No, probably not…it was a complete fluke. I never thought it would be that big in the first place so it was all very surreal. It’d be nice to have another one but I won’t hold my breath for it.

Are you bothered by the ‘one-hit-wonder’ indictment?

No, not at all. You’d have to be a lot more brittle and prickly than we are to be bothered by it. People say “oh, they’re always going on about politics – they must take themselves really seriously”, but we don’t at all. You know, what’s the point? I don’t care if anyone slags us off. It comes with the territory.

I read somewhere about Shirley Manson labelling TUBTHUMPING as a curse on humanity and then singling you out as being the worst singer in the world.

(laughs) Oooh… Shirley Manson. No, that was Lou she was on about. We played with Garbage once at a festival in Germany after she’d said that, and we tunnelled into their dressing room, which was a tent and stole all their lager so when they got back they didn’t have one drop of alcohol to drink (much laughter). And they didn’t dare come and ask us about it.

What do you think about Shirley’s new image?

I saw her recently on the Jools Holland show actually. The thing about Garbage is that she’s supposed be this vixen fronting a wild band but they just look like a load of boring old men… and it all hinges on her. She looks great and has a great voice but it doesn’t always work and I think they’ve got too much of a formula. The first Garbage album I thought was great but then every other Garbage album was just another Garbage album. Then there’s all that whole thing about “I’m a bad girl! I hate myself!” and how many different ways of saying it (laughs).

Well, she’s a ‘stupid girl’, she’s ‘only happy when it rains’ and she thinks she’s ‘paranoid’. While we’re on the subject, I also read with interest about Nicky Wire from the Manic Street Preachers calling you the worst band in history and then going off on one like he usually does. Now I’ve always liked the Manics but I’ve never really liked Nicky Wire…

Yeah, but at least he’s interesting. A lot of what comes out of his mouth is complete guff but I don’t think journalists are rigorous enough with him cos he gets away with talking complete bollocks. I like a lot of what the Manics have done although I think that lately they’ve become a bit like Simple Minds. Then there was that trip to Cuba, which was hilarious. It was like James and Nicky doing all the talking and then fat Sean just shuffling around behind them (laughs). He looks like a darts player. I’ve never seen anybody looking less revolutionary in my whole life!

What was all that about you inciting fans to shoplift CD’s on an American TV show?

I didn’t incite anything. All I did was tell the truth about shoplifting: that we didn’t have a problem with it, that why should we care if someone steals our records, that we don’t consider shoplifting to be a major crime. Big businesses steal all the time – they steal people’s labour. Most people work forty hours a week doing something they absolutely hate for not much reward – that’s much more of a crime than stealing a record from a record shop or going into Tesco’s and stealing some instant coffee. I’m not gonna pretend to be moral about it. If people steal our records then that’s fine as long as it’s from big chain stores and not local independent record shops. The whole thing was a classic case of over-reaction…

Like Prince Harry, the raving junkie going into rehab?

(laughs) It’s like the 1950’s isn’t it? Reefer madness.

REEFER MADNESS? Wasn’t that an old movie about people having a few tokes on a spliff and going mental?

Yeah, that’s the one. And today we’ve got Charles taking Harry to go and talk to some heroin addicts just cos he was smoking some dope (laughs).

You can’t beat our Royals. Would you say that you’re patriotic?

No… I’m not patriotic at all. I go along with that Emma Goldman quote: “My friends are my country”.

Well do you support England when they play international football?

Oh God yeah, of course I do. I love sitting in bars and watching football with other people… I love the crowd mentality. I think supporting England is different from thinking you’re patriotic, cos when I think of being patriotic I think of being uncritical and I’m not uncritical. Whereas with sport it’s different cos you can just enjoy the spectacle of it and being with other people who all want the same thing… I love that. But apart from internationals I don’t really like football… I can’t be arsed pretending that I’m a devotee.

Well there are a lot of girls out there who do just that.

Oooh, they’re liars… they’re all liars! They’re trying to impress you but you shouldn’t take any notice of them.

And on that piece of advice the interview concludes. CHUMBAWAMBA kicked off their 2002 European tour in Germany on the 16 January. Their first British tour date will take place in Leeds on the 7 February. The new album READYMADE will be released on Universal in the US in March and in Europe and the UK in June.