Andy Rourke of the Smiths: "I hate it when people say, 'Oh, you're a DJ now'"
Andy Rourke (due at Lipgloss this Friday, January 24, at Beauty Bar) came to the attention of the world as the gifted bass player of the Smiths. Alongside drummer Mike Joyce, Rourke, with his eclectic and creative style, provided a subtle but unmistakable backbone to Johnny Marr's inspired jangle and Morrissey's neo-decadent poetry and theatrically melodramatic vocals.
After the Smiths split in 1987, Rourke has guested on numerous records and contributed to the bass player supergroup Freebass. Beginning with a gig at Lipgloss in 2004, Rourke has also deejayed across the globe -- well, deejayed in the sense of choosing songs from his collection of music to play. Ahead of his return engagement playing some of his favorite music at the classic Denver club night, we spoke with the drily humorous and engaging Rourke about what drew him to the bass in the beginning, his current projects and how in the late '70s most of the Manchester bands practiced in the same run down building.
Westword: What was it about bass that attracted you to playing it?
Andy Rourke: Interesting question, and I'll give you an interesting answer. Me and Johnny [Marr] met at school when we were eleven or twelve and started playing together at that time. We started a band, and at that point, I was on rhythm guitar, and the bass player was terrible. He went on to become a very famous actor on a television show called Coronation Street.
So one day Johnny said, "Why don't you try the bass and let him play the guitar." I said, "Okay, I'll give it a whirl and see what happens." I liked it, and here I am. It was just a new challenge. Something completely different. I had learned classical guitar when I was a kid, and I embraced it, and apparently I got good at it.
When you were playing with Freebass, you were doing the more mid-range-y thing in that band. Do you feel your style gravitated toward those frequencies?
With Freebass, there were no rules really. It was all rather chaotic. Obviously Hooky was playing the high end stuff, which he always does, Mani was doing the bottom end, and I thought I'd go midway and meet everyone in the middle.
You and Johnny were in what has been described as a funk band before The Smiths. How did you get interested in playing that style of music then?
When I started playing the bass, I became kind of fascinated by it and started investigating various styles of bass playing, and I was really struck with funk music, mainly American funk music -- Stanley Clarke, Funkadelic and that kind of stuff. That comes out in a couple of songs like "Barbarism Begins at Home." It's just a style I like. I found it easy to express myself in that way.
Do you feel you continued playing in that style, or do you feel you changed things up considerably later on?
I became more adaptable, put it that way. You don't want to be a one-trick pony. On a lot of Smiths songs, I used a pick or a plectrum, and for some of the slow songs, I used my thumbs and my fingers. That's why I love the bass -- it's adaptable, and you can express yourself so well with it.
You did an interview with The Daily Beast where you said that in New York people don't ask you to play in their projects as much as you were used to in Manchester. Have you been asked to play on any records recently?
I've got a few things on the boil. I've got my personal project with Olé Koretsky, Jetlag. [Our album has taken] a long time to finish, but we're almost there. I've also had a collaboration with a talented musician called Timothy O'Keefe. I got a random call from his manager and the [project, Daddy, includes the actor James Franco]. I'm helping him with those songs and it should be out in April. It sounds really good so far. I'm also working with a record label called French Kiss and I'm jamming with [two guys at the label including Syd Butler], so we're working on some material. I've done a few remixes here and there, and I DJ all over the place, not so much in New York.
What got you started doing the DJ thing?
Probably about eight years ago. The first time I think Michael Trundle actually booked me and Mike Joyce to play at Lipgloss. And then, I don't know, I think it was just born out of frustration, really, because I wanted to hear the songs that I wanted to hear in night clubs instead of all this shitty music. I enjoy it, and I get to meet people and travel the world.
Is there a particular era of music you focus upon?
I play a lot of classics like, I suppose, indie classics and rock and roll classics. Beatles, Stones, a lot of English music. The Kinks. And more up-to-date stuff. I try to keep up with that, which can be difficult, but I try. I hate it when people say, "Oh, you're a DJ now." No, I'm not a DJ. I will always be a musician. Deejaying is my play time.
Are there particular new artists you enjoy? Probably a lot.
I like Parquet Courts, the Allah Las. I never have set list, I just grab things randomly. I like the Palma Violets, too, as well as Ty Segall. He's a bit laid back. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, I like that stuff. There's so many new bands. In Manchester, when I was growing up, there were five bands in the whole of Manchester:
There was The Fall, there was Joy Division and a couple of others, and that was about it. There was one rehearsal space, and you could hear each other and actually see each other because the walls were rotten. That place was called TJ Davidson. It was right behind Deansgate Station. I think it's demolished now because it was an unsafe building.