Bad Blood Is Only an Echo : With Electrafixion, Onetime Bunnymen Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant Are Rockin’ Again
Those ex-rock ‘n’ roll chums from England who parted so acrimoniously are back together, singing again for the first time in years. No, it’s not the electronic reunion of the Beatles coming to television this month.
It’s former Echo & the Bunnymen singer Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant, who have buried the hatchet with the formation of Electrafixion and are touring together for the first time since Echo went down in flames.
On the new group’s “Burned” album, the band--consisting of McCulloch, Sergeant, drummer Tony McGuigan and new bassist Jules Phillips--sounds inspired and unforced on new material that gamely recaptures the old McCulloch-Sergeant chemistry.
Electrafixion, which performs tonight at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, unveils the kind of urgent, edgy, vibrant guitar-driven rock that often stems from having something to prove.
That’s precisely the point, says the outspoken McCulloch.
“I am the king of rock ‘n’ roll,” he asserted during a recent phone interview from the Tulip Inn in Amsterdam. “What you have to prove is that you can be as vital today as you were 10 years ago. That’s what it’s all about. You have to keep that torch on fire.”
Never one to be timid, McCulloch, 36, has uncorked a barrelful of boasts and barbs since Echo & the Bunnymen emerged nearly 17 years ago. From insisting that his former group was “the only band worth spending money on” to publicly bad-mouthing Smiths’ singer Morrissey, McCulloch earned the nickname Mac the Mouth in the British press.
With his infamous Jagger-like lips and once-puffy hairdo, McCulloch’s surly stance and image often gained as much notoriety as his band’s stark and vital music. Along with the Teardrop Explodes and early Psychedelic Furs, the Bunnymen were leaders of the New Psychedelia, a sound that blended ‘60s musical textures with a punk-like anger and independence.
On the strength of the band’s introspective lyrics and instrumental prowess, “Porcupine” (1983) and “Ocean Rain” (1984) captured a trend-setting group in peak form. With McCulloch’s Jim Morrison-influenced vocals often playing against Sergeant’s scorching guitar lines, an undeniable chemistry blossomed between them.
But internal tensions surfaced and eventually tore apart the original Bunnymen in 1988. Sergeant and two other band members decided to carry on while still using the Echo & the Bunnymen moniker, which didn’t sit well with McCulloch. (The reconstituted group put out just one album, 1990’s ill-advised “Reverberation.”)
“I was [teed] off,” McCulloch recalled. “To me, it was like being married to someone, getting divorced . . . and then your ex-wife marries again but still carries on using your name. I mean, I felt hurt and disappointed, mate. My feelings were hurt--I thought I meant more to the band than that.”
Around this time, McCulloch released two inconsequential solo albums and admits he was drinking too much. Suddenly, Mac the Mouth was reduced to a mere whimper.
“I wasn’t comfortable solo, and I didn’t feel like I had any direction,” he said. “I had big holes in my life, and I was basically lost.”
But two unlikely catalysts emerged to pull the sullen McCulloch out of his self-pitying slumber.
After several social get-togethers, McCulloch and Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr collaborated for some rejuvenating music-making.
“I was never a big Smiths fan, but Johnny was obviously a talented bloke and I knew from various friends that he was impressed by my singing,” McCulloch explained. “So after watching some football [games] and hanging out, we started working on some songs together, and just connected almost instantly.
“He came up with some weird chords that I would bend vocal lines around . . . stuff I never would have used with the Bunnymen. Working with Johnny taught me how to stretch myself lyrically and melodically and helped me to regain my confidence.”
Two of their collaborative songs that are included on “Burned"--the smoldering “Lowdown” and confessional pleas of “Too Far Gone"--exemplify Electrafixion’s sketches of personal struggles.
The renewed self-esteem he gained from his sessions with Marr was what he needed to reunite with Sergeant, he said, “because there was nobody around who could get me rockin’ again like Will could.”
Now the two are peacefully coexisting despite their past bad blood.
Is there any fear, though, of sounding like Echo & the Bunnymen, the Sequel?
“We’ve always been instinctive, naive songwriters, and that helps you learn new things while avoiding formulas and traps,” McCulloch said. “We’re both driven by what we do, and it’s truly a great partnership. I don’t quite know how or why, but as long as it works, I don’t really want to, mate.”
* Electrafixion, Echobelly and Dandy Warhol play tonight at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. 8 p.m. $15. (714) 957-0600.