It all started with The Sex Pistols, of course. But John Lydon makes it clear: “Public Image Limited is my heart and soul. Me and PiL: it’s interchangeable.”
It has now been forty years since Lydon jumped ship from Pistols to strike out for new territory with PiL, the great, scarred, mutant vessel that has become something like his Tardis in reverse: while he remains constant, PiL keeps changing, shifting shape around him, an experimental lab exploding through countless styles, internal arguments and umpteen line-ups. (Factoring in studio musicians and live accomplices, over 50 people have passed through the group.)
But if PiL has never been quite the same thing twice, as he looks back across the decades, Lydon has no difficulty pinpointing a unifying element: “Honesty. When I got the opportunity to join the Pistols, I made a promise to myself that I would tell it like it is, and not fuck about. This was a gift, and I wasn’t gonna look it in the mouth and punch it. I determined to be as transparent as I possibly could, and write songs that really meant something to me, that affect me deeply. That remains the ongoing theme.”
Music is what John Lydon is about. But it sometimes seems the last thing anyone wants to ask him about. In Britain especially, it often feels as though the media simply wants him to replay the Pistols’ Bill Grundy interview on infinite loop: the moment Grundy goaded, “Say something outrageous.” Since he first appeared, Lydon has been held up as monster, or provocateur, or cartoon – all roles he’s been willing to play, of course. But the deeply personal nature of PiL gets discounted, overlooked. Here, though, he looks back over the music he’s made, album by album.
This piece is assembled from a number of separate interviews I did with John Lydon between 2009–2015
for features that ran in The Herald newspaper and Uncut magazine
NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS, HERE’S THE SEX PISTOLS
[The splitting of the punk atom. Amid the filth, fury and hype of a media maelstrom, four young men from London find themselves in Virgin’s shining studios trying to make their first album, with the help of seasoned Roxy Music producer Chris Thomas.]
JOHN LYDON: Alright. Album by album, then. It’s a bit pedantic but okay. So. Where do I begin to tell the story of [sings] ‘How great a love can beeeee…’
Well, I guess we can’t get to PiL and First Issue without mentioning the Pistols and Never Mind The Bollocks…
JL: Yeah. That was a very, very good beginning for me. I came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. It’s a shame they didn’t have a band that backs me up, but it doesn’t matter. At that time, we were all deeply confused about what it was we wanted out of music. And all our conflicting plans and dreams, I suppose, is what made it. Conflict is a very useful tool. Although it’s not one I would recommend all the time. But when those are the cards on the table and that’s the hand you’ve been dealt: make sure you win it.
Conflict is a bit of a running theme across your recording career
JL: Actually, of late, with this current PiL, I’ve finally found a way for it not to be like that. And it’s not so much because it’s handpicked members, as because these people, by their very behaviour, it becomes obvious that those are the people to work with. You have to have a mutual respect society going on in a band really. And we do. Well, at least for now we do. I’ll give it a go.
You’ve been asked about it to death. But if I say “recording Never Mind The Bollocks,” what’s the first thing that comes into your mind, like, what’s the sense-memory?
JL: Well, it was at Wessex studios, and the Pistols, we’d been in studios before, thanks to doing demos with Chris Spedding, and some of the road crew had little bits of equipment. But not at that kind of level. Doing that album was getting thrown in at the deep end. Wessex was a very impressive studio to me – it had enormous tannoy speakers, which were my favourite design of speakers at that time, because they were so potent in reggae. And then just this enormous desk with everything glittering on it and…wow. What do we do here? And for quite a bit of the time the answer to that question was: not a lot, because of the state Sid was in. He had hepatitis, so that kind of fucked things up.
Then there were endless guitar dubs, the producer Chris Thomas and Steve Jones got on really well with each other, and that was good in many ways, because it was encouraging Steve to play more according to the talents that he was trying to hide, or was shy of, and it really brought out the best in him, I thought. But it left no space for vocals: it was two takes, then, “Thank you, John. See-ya!”
And I wasn’t used to headphones, and I still to this day don’t like them. I can’t pitch to headphones, it’s a difficult thing in a studio – I have to get into this thing of putting speakers out of phase with each other, so that it doesn’t layer onto the vocal track. It’s annoying, because I’m still in that I-hate-headphones phase, going all the way back to then. Every time I put them on, I just have that vivid memory of not being able to deal with this. It’s like wearing a helmet on a motorbike, you’re cutting off the outside world, and for me that’s a very unpleasant feeling. Like drowning in mud.
But that album, at the time I thought: well, that’s a good start. Now: let’s rev up for Round Two! But there were too many personal issues going on, and rows with the management, and the management not speaking to any of us, or selecting what bits of truth he’d pass out, which created enormous tensions, and started a rivalry between all four of us, in very stupid and childish terms. I mean, there were we, these young lads – and all these adults were conspiring this nonsense around us. Some of us survived. That’s all I can tell you. Others didn’t.
The influence of adults can be extremely negative, as well as positive, but we never saw any positive at that time. To be notorious and infamous but not have a penny in your pocket and still have to go home alone on the bus and the tube: that was a life-threatening situation. The physical attacks didn’t relent, and at the same time there was thing of Teds Versus Punks, and all of this nonsense, and you’re caught like piggy in the middle. And then you try to write a song about it, ha-ha…
[Leaving the Pistols in a shower of acrimony, headlines and lawsuits, Lydon recruits his old mucker Jah Wobble on bass and former Clash guitarist Keith Levene to form PiL: “We’re not a band, we’re a company.” An instant classic, their chiming debut single “Public Image” trounces all expectations. The album that follows establishes the post-punk blueprint.]
The first PiL album, First Issue, seems to come directly out of the situation you were in with the Pistols.
JL: They’re all related, it’s all different pieces of a bigger jigsaw puzzle, all so closely intertwined. It’s a complicated string bag I’ve got there. And you know what happens with a string bag when you put it down – you can’t pick it up properly.
You’d already started writing some of the songs that wound up on First Issue while in the Pistols, right?
JL: Yep. Well, things like “Religion,” I had written in the Pistols, but much later, after the Wessex sessions. It was in America, I think. And I was trying to get Sid involved in it, but he just couldn’t comprehend it at all. And there was just no point with Steve and Paul, because the animosity at that point was so deeply rooted. And the song “Religion,” it was a tuneless barb, and that’s how I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be aggressive and to take a serious stance against religion
I tell you one thing I think was an advanced song on Bollocks was “Problems” I loved that song, and still do, I might do it live again, I really like it. That’s a song where I was definitely thinking of wider ranges and formats at that time – but they were still hammering away at verse-chorus-verse-chorus ideology. Didn’t bode well. So when it all fell apart, it was upsetting, but at the same time it was like, “Fucking hell – what a relief.”
And then I got in people who I knew. Some of them couldn’t really play, but were learning, just like the rest of us in life, and some had overblown ideas about themselves. But it was a refreshing, different concoction of influences, and led into First Issue, an album I was very proud of. I loved its aggressive stance and jarring, metallic edge. But the record label, of course, didn’t like it, and they held up its release, to the point where, shockingly, it was available on bootlegs around the corner at Rough Trade in Notting Hill from Virgin’s offices. That was a bitter pill to swallow.
The song, “Public Image” sounded a real declaration of intent
JL: I think “Public Image,” states the case absolutely clearly. I do love a sentence that tells you exactly what it is, although I can verbalise from time to time, but on certain songs, the more direct approach is better. I had somewhat of the feeling that I’d been dumped from the Pistols, and I wanted this thing to do much, much better than I’d ever done before, and I think I did that. In a weird way I was competing with myself.
And I love pop music, so the whole thing fitted rather lovely. And the way we used the verse-chorus format in such an unusable way, paid off dividends. And a lovely jangly guitar, which was later to feature heavily in U2 and all the rest. And a big open drum sound, which I’ve always wanted from day one. I love that to death, just bi-i-i-g, echoey, spacious drums, a thunderous racket, which is now par for the course in modern music, but before then it was all fuddled down in the mix.
What other songs stand out for you?
JL: There’s some great tough things on that album. I look back and think, “How the fuck did I ever do ‘Annalisa’”? It’s so challenging vocally. I was in a different frame of mind, I suppose, unlike any other for that particular song. It’s the aggression of a young girl in Germany being murdered because they thought she was possessed by the devil, and so they starved her to death. This was appalling to me, it really drove me nuts, and the song is full of that: that hatred for the stupidity of these franchises.
And I love “Theme” very much – to me that was a refreshing reprieve from the doom and gloom brigade. I’d been to New York and met Lester Bangs and the like, and I didn’t like their approach, that attitude “Everything’s fucked, so why bother?” “Theme” is using despair in a positive way, that’s the general gist of it.
You’ve said a couple of times how refreshing this environment was, a new band. But was it not also quite a high pressure situation? The weight of expectations post-Pistols?
JL: It was murderous on me. Even to procure a contract for PiL – Virgin were obliged to take me on because of the Pistols’ contract, but it wasn’t the great heap of money that would have come in very useful. Working on a tight budget, with a band that just wanted more and more money all the time, it was painful, and very, very hard to keep on the rails. I had to bring in all kinds of friends to keep this running properly. Egos got in there. But egos can be a very good thing, they can be a useful tool, it creates a you-better-do-your-best environment. So you use that.
But there were interplays between, for example, Wobble and Jim Walker, the drummer, that I wasn’t quite aware of, and that later on caused terrible frictions. And it was a shame, because Jim’s one of the finest drummers I’ve ever known. The way he plays “Public Image” is really quite excellent, and no drummer I’ve played with since can quite grasp the way he does that: the slowness of one of the cymbals, that just creates a whole different agenda inside the song, just lovely.
It’s ironic with Pil, the drums have always been so important, really central, to the sound, but you’ve had a murderous time keeping a drummer.
JL: Well, they’ve had murderous times with me, too, no doubt. Let’s be fair. In the world of creativity, you’re gonna get battles. But I always try to look on the positive side, I’m not one for despondency and looking back and saying “Oh what if…” That’s how it is, and how the chips fell, and I had to deal with it.
Looking back to that first record, was there something you did there that has remained constant throughout PiL?
JL: Honesty. I made a promise to myself when I got the opportunity to join the Pistols that I would tell it like it is, and not fuck about – this was a gift, and I wasn’t gonna look it in the mouth and punch it. I determined to be as absolutely transparent as I possibly could, and write songs that really, really meant something to me, that affect me deeply, and personally. And that’s the ongoing theme.
[PiL leave Pistols-punk far behind, casting off and moving out into a claustrophobic deep space of their own. Containing distant traces of Krautrock and a heavy dub influence, yet sounding nothing like either, Metal Box is a staggering thing in itself, yet also throws off implications other bands continue to explore to this day. Tracks like “Death Disco,” about the death of his mother, offer a harrowing reminder of how personal Lydon’s writing can be.]
That idea: writing things that mean something to you, leads us on to Metal Box. You’ve got “Death Disco” on there. I’ve seen you perform a few times, and, to this day, there’s still no barrier between you and that song.
JL: No. That’s a full-on war with the problem of death, and how do you deal with that. And I suppose shout-therapy would be something similar. I like the way that song is so adaptable live. I don’t think there’s any two nights live when we’ve played that song that it’s ever been the same, to this day. It can’t be, because there are so many painful emotions that swish through my head while I’m doing it. The theme from Swan Lake is constantly reverberating in there because my mother loved that, she loved that melody. I even went to the ballet to hear Swan Lake played by an orchestra – I hated it. I thought it was mediocre, and I’ll never listen to an orchestra again in a ballet situation. But, regardless of that, that was a good beginning, and to take that and absolutely destroy the tune and riddle it pain, proper pain, and come to the basic conclusion that words are useless – even though words are everything that I rely on. There are certain points where you cannot fully describe the emotion that you’re going through with words alone.
But, somehow, when you put those words with the right music, the two kick off wonderfully. For me it’s always been that the voice should lead the band, and not the band lead the voice. Don’t tell a singer he’s out of tune: look at the fools behind him! Because the first instrument in human nature is the voice. And everything else follows.
It strikes me that a lot of people still don’t get how personal much of your writing actually is – you’re seen as a provocateur, which, of course, you are also.
JL: Well, the English are – I’ll say the English, because you’re Scottish – are still so embedded in this idea of “The British Eccentric,” and that creates a real problem. Some of us are not just eccentric for the sake of it: it’s just how it is. This is what I am, and I will tell it most truthfully in my own way, and I don’t feel the need to fit into any format or schism that exists out there in order to get my message across in a weaker way. I want it to be the 100 per cent truth, and that’s the blood and guts right there on the table.
I keep using gambling references, but, in life, everything you do is a fucking gamble, it’s a risk, every song you go into creating, it can either fail horribly or shine like a beacon. Six of one, half a dozen of the other –but if you really mean what you’re writing, it’s irrelevant how other people perceive it, because you know that you’ve scored in your own mind, you’ve sorted a problem out. That’s what I do. It’s self-analysis, really. I think that’s how most bands start out to approach it, but by the time the record companies have dictated to them, all that gets washed aside.
Metal Box has a very distinct atmosphere. Kind of a sense of space and yet a claustrophobic feeling at once.
JL: It was a very difficult album to make, because of the lack of studio time. We were all very dissipated. We’d hang around my house where most people stayed, and just make noise, or have arguments and discussions, and that would be generally it. Then a phone call would come in that a studio was empty for, say, six hours, and off we’d go – we’d whizz in there after some other band had closed down for the night, and go to work while we could. And so monitor-mixing became the order of the day, and to this day, I still love monitor mixes rather than a full production job. I think you get a brighter, more deliberate and yet more rough-edged sound. And the instrumentation is distinctive because of that, and, on Metal Box, there we have it. And you can get more bass.
A lot of people today hold up Metal Box as THE PiL album, the masterpiece…
JL: Yeah– well they weren’t saying so at the time, let me tell ya. Fucking hell! Did I have to go through a wringer for that. Both of the first two albums, actually, really took a slamming.
THE FLOWERS OF ROMANCE
[Accused of appropriating PiL backing tapes for his own debut album, Jah Wobble is suddenly gone. In the magnificently foreboding, enigmatic LP that follows, bass itself is almost absent as PiL become all about percussion and tape loops. And Lydon picks up a couple instruments himself…]
Next came Flowers Of Romance
JL: Well, to continue the point, Flowers Of Romance – it really got, just nasty comments when it was released. I mean, there were a few positives floating around, I’ve got to say, but sometimes the negatives could be really hurtful, because they could be so far off the mark about what they were complaining about, and didn’t quite understand what it was that they thought I was doing here. It’s a real problem that most people think they know me better than they know me – but if they’d just listen to the songs I write, then they would really know me, rather than judging them in advance.
I mean, Flowers, that album was judged and reviewed before it was even heard. “Oh, it’s all over: there’s no Wobble!” I mean, fuck’s sake, man: I’m Johnny of The Sex Pistols! How quickly you forget! I don’t need no-one, and I thought the Flowers album, there’s just some stunning great things on it. Seriously underrated. By just about everybody except Germany and Japan. Japan loved it. So it was a huge hit in Japan, while the record label in Britain is telling me that “it wasn’t what people wanted to hear.” Well, fuck that, thinks I.
If anything, what that made me do was just batten down the hatches from that point onwards, and just do what I wanted and not listen to that kind of interference, label or not, spending their money or not – I’m also making their money back for them. In all fairness, Virgin owe me a lot, I’ve done many thing that have earned small fortunes for them over the years – I’ve set up reggae labels and all kinds of things, introduced them to new bands and concepts, and got very little fucking thanks for it. And I’ve watched them over the years sign up groups that are clearly, blatantly imitating me, y’know, and when I say me, I mean PiL. It’s very frustrating. But you can’t let it turn to resentment and self-pity. Mum and dad raised that in me. If you get a smack across the back, there’s no point in crying about it, because no one’s sympathetic, because you did wrong.
Flowers, of course, is the album where you unexpectedly unveil yourself to the world as a multi-instrumentalist.
JL: Yeah, got no thanks for it, neither! “Put that away!” was the loud yell. When I pick up a violin: run. And I wasn’t half bad on a broken saxophone, either. I picked that up because of the Captain Beefheart influence lurking around. I thought, “Bloody hell, that’s so mad. Can anyone do that?” And it turns out the answer is – no! It’s easier just to play basic tunes, but there we have it. I love experimenting with things. I can do these things, but I don’t like doing them live. I put too much effort into what it is I do as the man out front, that I don’t want any distraction, not for me or the audience. That’s the band’s area, and I’m not there to compete with them in their different zones. Later on, when I did a solo album, I played a lot of things on that, I really went to town on it. And, in fact, I play a lot of things on Flowers, bits of bass, bits of drums, because most of the drumming on Flowers comes from loops, messing about with loops. And thank god for Nick Launay at the time, as a young engineer, he was bloody great to work with, that man. I’d really like to work with him again in the future, and we have discussed it, but it’s about finding the right time. And the money, lest we forget.
You mentioned that, with Flowers Of Romance, Jah Wobble is no longer there…
JL: Well, he wasn’t around for too long anyway, was he? He was my mate, and I gave him a big chance in the world, and he decided to fuck about, and because of that we had to kick him out.
How much of that fed into there being almost no bass on Flowers?
JL: Fantastically. I put the whole focus back onto my favourite of all topics: drums. And, accidentally, when I toured Japan for the first time, a lot of people there were connecting me up with Kodō drummers, and I had really interesting conversations with these chaps who were telling me what it was they thought I was doing.
What do you remember about the recording?
JL: For Flowers, we were working in Townhouse Studios, Virgin’s old thing off Goldhawk Road, and Phil Collins was booked to go in after us. And the studio wasn’t quite complete when we went in – there was a drum pit, a big hole underneath where the drum kit would go over, but they hadn’t quite put a door across it, so all it had was bare boards with the drum kit on top – but I loved that sound, that resonance, and we made the most of it. And I thought that Mr Phil Collins, when he went in after, definitely gave a nod and a wink to us, because I was quite amazed by his drum sound. Because he never sounded like that before.
How much was the album’s title a reference to the band that Sid Vicious used to be in?
JL: Well, I named that band. So it was a reference point. You’ll find songs over the years where I will refer back, because the loss of any human being is a great tragedy to me, and every now and then it will pop into my head, and so I do that, out of total respect, and a fondness for the memory of. And if you’d ever heard The Flowers Of Romance play, the band, I mean, you’d know what I mean –very discordant! They were a better name than any action. But there were some good people in The Flowers.
You’ve got Jeanette Lee on the cover of the Flowers album. Could you sum up her role in PiL?
JL: She was going to bring in cameras and stuff and get into all that, but that never unfolded properly. It was more about orchestration – to coordinate us, basically. Because we had no one to keep a time limit on us, or a detail of events or a calendar that needs to be enforced – there was none of that, it was just a kind of chaotic confusion, it was very unhealthy. And so she was gonna help with that, and so was a chap called Dave Crow, who was gonna take care of the finances and things, but that all fell by the wayside eventually, it just became too many people digging into the pot.
It was an incredibly expensive thing to keep PiL running, and the way that we do things – there was no record company backing that you could speak of, no great sponsorship deals floating around, we were basically just left out there in the wilderness… to be harshly judged. And 98 per cent of the bad reviews, particularly in those times, were down to the lack of record company support. It was an important part of the industry back there. You know: the labels, if any of their acts were badly judged, advertisments would be pulled from the papers. And I was watching that happen most of my early life, but I never seen it happen for me. And good thing an’all, because I’m all for a free market and honest opinions. But don’t stick the knife in just because you can, that’s a great act of cowardice, and a huge lack of empathy for what I’m having to deal with here.
THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT… THIS IS WHAT YOU GET
[Containing the brilliantly unlikely Top 5 hit “This Is Not A Love Song,” this was an album so strange PiL made it twice. Largely because, in what seemed a curious replay of the Jah Wobble affair, Keith Levene apparently decided to abscond taking the original tapes with him, which he subsequently released first as the semi-bootleg LP Commercial Zone.]
Your declaration of love for the free market leads us onto This Is What You Want…
JL: Strange record. I got very close to Martin Atkins for a while there, the drummer, and it was such a strange relationship, because he never wanted to be a drummer, and this drove me crazy, because he had such a natural talent for it. When we were doing the Flowers album, Martin was already booked to go off on to America with his band Brian Brain, and so all he had was a couple of days to spare. So he laid down some basic backing tracks, and from there I was off into tape editing. But I kept with Martin, and I liked the way we did things: it was strange and somehow the wrong way music is perceived, and much more interesting to me because of that.
You recorded this album twice – do you want to say anything about the Commercial Zone episode?
JL: Well, again, you know: this is what happens when band members get above themselves and think it’s all about them. The simple question is: what fucking drugs were you on, Mr Levene, thinking you could run off and do that? And the thing is – Wobble had tried something similar years before, and we had put the mockers on that. So Keith should have known from experience that Johnny don’t take that. I don’t like shifty moves and underhanded or secretive moves, or moves in opposition, because everything I’m about is unification and working together, and stopping the wars.
So Keith Levene has gone, Jah Wobble has gone – did you feel out on your own again?
JL: Well, Keith never bloody turned up much for Flowers, fucking hell. But, still, the loyalty in me, I don’t like to let people down. But I should have made a more powerful move and ditched him right at that point, but it dragged on, and it dragged us down. And it dragged us down into the Commercial Zone nonsense, a snide release behind my back. C’est la vie. That’s my constant lesson in life: I will make the absolute mistake, and I do it willingly, of trusting someone implicitly, until they let me down. And there’ll be two or three chances there, but on the third: no way, mate, learn, move on. But if I didn’t have that openmindedness and trust, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.
Were you delighted when “This Is Not A Love Song” became a bit of a hit single?
JL: Hilarious, yeah. Shocked! Because, yet again, the record company just refused to release it as a single, Virgin Records yet again declaring that it’s not what the people want. Well: hello. It’s in the German charts! Now argue with me. So it was round about routes that I had to take, and challenge my own contract, and put myself in a position almost where I was in breach – because, I thought, in a law court, they could do me for something here. But then the bigger truth will out. I took the gamble Virgin would release it, but they did it way too late, and in a very self-defeating way I thought.
That album has very strange instrumentation
JL: Course it’s strange, because we were into strange things. It’s basically just me and Atkins, and I miss working with Martin – but I don’t ever want to repeat it, it’s hard to explain but it’s a time that came and went. All of these people I mention, they’re all very, very intriguing people, and it’s good to work with them, in short spells like I did. If you can call three years short. But I’m around to reach the full century in my life, so, yeah, three or four years, say, is a short period. But you can learn things and you can achieve things, and you definitely come to grips with what humanity is all about. Wonderful songwriting material: you can’t help it, even acts of hate and aggression can turn into a piece of literature.
[An extraordinary thing. Left without a group, Lydon hooks up with producer Bill Laswell (with whom he’d just collaborated on the epochal “World Destruction” single with Afrika Bambaataa under the Time Zone banner), who assembled around him a head-spinningly unexpected all-star PiL, including Steve Vai, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Parliament veteran Bernie Worrell and Cream’s Ginger Baker.]
After the This Is What You Want album, you jumped out of PiL for a moment to hook up with Afrika Bambaataa and Bill Laswell for the Timezone single “World Destruction.” Looking back, it seems like that was a fairly hectic year for you
JL: Well, I was going through lots of personal changes – and lots of personnel changes, in the PiL line-up, yet again. Public Image is a very volatile outfit, I’ll tell you, because we push each other to such extremes, that you tend to wear each other out. I’d only really worked with two bands in my life, The Pistols and PiL, and both were epic adventures. And so, going into a studio with an apparent bunch of strangers for Timezone, I mean, y’know, completely raw, that was quite a challenge. I didn’t know if I could pull that off. But as soon as the tape started rolling, I thought: Great. Now I know – right. And the first thing that came into my mind was that the song hadn’t got a plangent point to it. It didn’t have a hookline. So I buzzed in the “Timezone” refrain. And – bingo – it worked.
It wasn’t the trendy music New York scene, which I loathe, hate and despise. These were people who cared about what they were doing, but weren’t music snobs – what you could truly later call independent. I’ve always lived outside of the box, I don’t fit very well into categories, and I’ve always really, really been drawn to people that don’t fit into categories also. And, you know, old Afrika Bambaataa there, what category is he in? It’s Mr T with a Kraftwerk 12”. I’d seen him deejaying at the Roxy roller rink, and I loved what he would do live. As a DJ, I thought he got music just about exactly right, his approach was like mine, it was an amalgamation of everything. It wasn’t just “black music” or just “white music,” he would mix it all up, and he’d quite happily put heavy metal in there with Kraftwerk with some deep soul record. The combination of beats made for incredibly interesting sounds. And in a very PiL way, I thought.
Bill Laswell was producing on World Destruction. Did that collaboration lead directly to Album, then?
JL: No…Yes! Yes, actually. Well, No – because, that’s not where I got the idea of making a record. But Yes, because that’s where I knew I wanted to work with Bill in the future, I thought that that could be a good thing. I’ve always enjoyed working with people who know what they’re doing. You know, many people say that I’m very difficult in the studio. I’m not! I just don’t like people clumping around without knowing what they’re pressing, because it takes time away, and it absolutely destroys free thought. Y’know, the machinery side is vital, to be explicitly detailed on, and Bill knows his chops, there’s no doubt about that.
And he definitely has a rock sensibility Bill, he totally understands the tones of guitars. Which I must say I was trying to fight against and get away from, but he kept introducing that to me. So Album is that kind of far-fetched stretch, where you’ve got Steve Vai being the most twiddly ridiculous, and me being my most insane, far leftfield of it. And the two combining rather well. It’s an experiment, and the people that allow you to experiment… it’s like the four enclosed walls, and you ricochet like a lunatic inside them, but you do need the confines of a distinct set of ideas. Freedom is a very fine thing, but it’s utterly pointless unless it’s restrained – that’s not freedom, it’s chaos. And chaos is alright, but only in short bursts, thank you, and always keep attached to a tether.
Is that a motto to live by?
JL: Yes, it is. Keep yourself grounded. Remember, you’re just a human being, like those you’re yelling at. Or about, or with. All the same foibles, all the same flaws.
Album was, yet again, an entirely different set of circumstances for PiL.
JL: Yeah. Well, originally I’d got together a very young band in LA, and I really liked them. They weren’t the greatest players, but they had a good raw energy about it. And we kind of put the songs together and then it came up with Bill Laswell, and so of course we went into an enormous studio, a whopper, in New York, and that’s what turned the heads of these four young fellows – they couldn’t cope in that environment. I’d been imagining it might be for them like it was for me when I first went into Wessex with the Pistols – they’d just hop on it. But no, they panicked and fell apart, and couldn’t record anything at all. It became a real waste. After three or four days of that, I had to knock that on the head, and, with Laswell’s help, find replacement players, and get them basically to learn the songs off an old cassette, which everybody did – amazingly, very quickly.
And, the thing was, the musicians we got together for that record showed me a great deal of respect for what I’d done up to that point. I wasn’t really aware that anyone at all in the music industry respected me in any way, shape or form, so this was quite an eye-opener. From there on in, I started to think, you know – I shouldn’t be quite so shy of my own voice, I should start stretching my boundaries here, my self-imposed limitations. Even though I’d been doing that, but not to my liking. So that’s what I learned from that album. And they were great wonderful, mad people to work with. Quite a bunch. And you know – when you look at that line-up on paper, you think, “Uuuurgh, I know what that’s gonna sound like, it’s gonna be like Bob Geldof’s Band Aid album.” And it didn’t. It was a pretty severe swipe at heavy metal.
Ginger Baker, whose idea was that?
JL: That was because he was around at the time, and there were conversations going on through other people to other people, and in he came. There were other drummers too, Tony Williams. But Ginger is the one, you can’t get him out of your mind – because he’s out of his mind. But I liked him. The first time I met him, I thought, “God he reminds me of me.” I hope I don’t grow old like that though. But the energy and the fearlessness I really liked, and of course his working class background which doesn’t hurt anybody. Because you don’t believe in self-pity, that’s the one major thing really being working class gives you. And the Irish side of me is the storyteller. I am a storyteller, but I can’t wax on lyrical in that making up things way – I do that when I’m social, but when I’m songwriting, it has to be honed in on the truth. I do love to spin a yarn when I’m drinking.
Has your method of songwriting changed over the years?
JL: I don’t know if there is a method at all. You know Robin Williams, in his early stand up, he would just improvise, and just words, sentences, structures would be constantly flowing – that’s how it is inside my head. And that’s how songs come about, somehow, from all that menagerie, what seems like chaos and confusion is how I cope with the world. It’s all internal. Sometimes I’ll just sit down and I’ll write it all out, what I’ve been thinking for a long time, in one set piece, and I’ll stick rigidly to that, because I know that’s when I’m in one of those lucid moments of actuality. Other times, songs are more predetermined by the intellect. So there are different ways it happens.
But I don’t take the time to sit down and say, “This is songwriting moment.” And there’s a very good explanation for that: it was something Joe Strummer did once, years and years back, when we used to hang out. He’d come over to Jeanette’s place, because they were friendly at the time, and he’d go, “Oh, it’s the Six O’Clock News, I’ve gotta watch it, Bernie wants me to write a new song.” And he was rigidly sitting there, trying to write out sentences he could grab off the newscaster. And I thought: “That won’t work for me…!” It worked for Joe, and I can understand the discipline in it, but everybody to their own way. But that’s not the way I’ll ever do it, that’s too unsentimental and unsympathetic to reality to me.
You’ve had some lineups of PiL where it’s been quite a volatile mix of people. And some where it’s been even more volatile…
JL: You make it sound such fun!
…So, with Album, was the idea of going in and it just being you and a bunch of musicians for hire refreshing?
JL: I never wanted PiL to be a dictatorship. But, oddly enough it can end up kind of like that. And in this situation with Album – what you’ve got is some very, very talented blokes, who could take over in a heartbeat, and suddenly it could become not your record anymore. And it’s a horrible position to be put in, but it’s one you have to face up to. You have to at some point say, “Look. I’m the boss, I’m paying for it, that ain’t gonna happen.” And I don’t like that, I like a much more friendly situation. But I’ve got to say, that didn’t happen at all too much on Album. Most of the rows, actually, were between me and Bill Laswell when we’d socialise afterwards – y’know, after a session. We’d absolutely slam the vodkas back, and really yell at each other – and then go back to work the next day. Not as if nothing had happened, but not being bitter or twisted about it. Differences of opinion are a wonderful thing, and, believe me, if you can get an argument out of someone, you’re doing well in life.
THAT WHAT IS NOT
(Virgin, 1987, 1989, 1992)
[Yet another iteration of PiL as Lydon drafts in former Magazine and Siouxsie And The Banshees guitarist John McGeoch. For all the post-punk credentials on display, however, the three somewhat neglected albums that result see PiL at their poppest.]
Next we’re onto Happy, 9, and That What Is Not – I thought I’d maybe take the three together, as kind of the John McGeoch years.
JL: John McGeoch. John was a difficult character, wouldn’t you know. I loved him in Magazine, and I probably over-credited him, actually. But he was a great friend. A great friend. It’s just that the drinking kind of got in the way with him, very seriously, and it became very painful. There would be times on stage where John would forget where he was in a song, and he’d stop, expecting us all to stop with him and start the song again. That don’t happen with me. Once on stage, that’s it, it’s full on, warts and all, and if mistakes are made, you absorb them into the general melange. Because that’s what life is. Live music is riddled with mistakes. It’s the way they’re dealt with that can be the making or breaking of the band.
It was very difficult, for instance, to get John to understand rhythm guitar in any way. And he was definitely going off into experimenting with heavy metal licks, so there were many issues.
I can’t ever say one album is better than the other, because they were all approached in very different ways. With Happy, I wanted to hone into just sound song structures, because I had been de-structuring things for so long, and so I just wanted to basically practice the skill of containing things inside regimented boxes. So that was great fun, because of what you can do inside those limits – that’s why I called myself Rick O’Shay, because I can bounce off the four walls – not bad for an Irishman.
On 9 – “Disappointed.” I love that song, I think it’s a most excellent song, and a very friendly song, about dealing with the high expectations that you can have of your friends, and at the same time forgiving them, because they are your friends, and, warts and all, they’re still human beings, as I am myself. It’s basically all self-analysis, really. And juxtaposing myself in other people’s frameworks.
And “Warrior” was a great thing to do, we even got Sakamoto in to do a computer-like drum rhythm for the back of it. But I didn’t get enough time or money to finish it properly. It was a lovely single, but under-promoted, and America were humming and hawing that it wasn’t the kind of thing people wanted to hear. It’s one of those tunes that’s still in my head. Doing it live today is the way I probably wanted it to be back then. It’s a song now that we improvise greatly on, and find other little pockets inside that song that we never researched previously. A thrilling thing to do – it’s a knife edge up there on a stage, you’re improvising, and you don’t know if you can hit that next note. And you fucking well better. Although it’s not the note that’s important, it’s the sentiment in that note –that’s what improvising is. The songs are great foundation stones to improvise on.
Do you think that period of PiL gets overlooked now?
JL: Well it’s never been looked at at all. I had to deal with first the monstrosity and nonsense of the Pistols, and “aw, you’ll never work again.” So I start PiL, and first it’s “Oh those two albums are crap.” And then I get on into other stuff and it’s “Oh, those first two PiL albums were the best, you’re never gonna beat that…” It’s constantly having to read this vomit that keeps holding people back, and creates this element of suspicion about “What am I up to really…”
There was a very bad time there, we’ll call it the 20 years in the wilderness, where the record company had strangled me to the point I wasn’t allowed, basically, to record or do anything, until the outstanding debt was paid back. But in that period, I get all these journalists putting in their spiky little nonsenses, saying it’s all some kind of elaborate joke on my part. Well, that’s an expensive joke, isn’t it? And it’s a terrible, spiteful thing to say, because this is no joke to me. Never ever has been. And the implications of them saying that are a bit earthquake: because, if I’m a joker, then all the people who have been influenced by this stuff must be bigger fools than I am.
[Having stepped out under his own name for his collaboration on Leftfield’s “Open Up” single, Lydon goes the whole hog and records his debut solo album, which continues in a similarly electro zone. The album was released in the wake of the Sex Pistols reunion tour.]
Going into this “wilderness” period, you bring out a solo album, Psycho’s Path
JL: That’s an album I was promised that Virgin would fully support. And then along came the Sex Pistols tour, and suddenly it’s, “Well, we will fully support your solo album – but only if you do the Pistols tour.” Fine, says I: a chance to get back and bond properly with me original fellas! Then one thing led to another, and by the time the Pistols tour ended, the people that were responsible for handling the Psycho’s Path project had decided to quit Virgin without informing me, or passing any details on to anyone else there. So it was basically left abandoned. Fucking great. That was really the beginning of the 20 years in the wilderness. And the basic bottom line of my argument with them is: how can you recoup the money if you don’t promote the record? If nobody knows it’s available, it’s definitely not going to sell.
Why did you decide to put that out under your name, rather than release it as PiL?
JL: Because it is me. It’s all me. There was no one else about. I couldn’t afford a band. Over the years, I’d bought bits and pieces to make my own little studio at home, and that’s what I did. I worked with my brother Martin. And a producer chappie who I never got on with.
Did it feel a risk, doing it under your name?
JL: Yeah, total. There was a lot of fear in doing that. I was comfortable always in a band situation. But I thought, well, fuck it: Put your head in the noose, John, yet again. It’s an album, like all of them. I wouldn’t release them if I wasn’t proud of what goes on inside them. But the lack of promotion can kill a record, or a career, utterly and totally. At that time, I had no real management, I couldn’t get any set of interviews together to promote it, because there was no record company backing or management to orchestrate these things – other than myself ringing up magazines and getting negative responses. At the time, that was par for the course. I’d call up the NME: “It can’t really be you,” and the phone would get put down. That’s what those days were like. Y’know everything is procedure, and if you’re not going through “proper channels,” whatever they might be, nobody lifts their finger.
I’m trying to make light of it here, but it was a really, really heavy, desperate bad situation. Very painful. The lack of money – I had to sell off bits of my Sex Pistol publishing, just to survive. Just to get through another month or so. Very difficult. But I came through, and I came through without any spite or resentment, and I’m proud of myself for that.
THIS IS PIL
(PiL Official, 2012)
[20 years after That What Is Not, Lydon unexpectedly reactivates PiL, using the money raised by his TV work – and those butter ads – to fund a tour featuring guitarist Lu Edmonds and drummer Bruce Smith, both veterans of the late-1980s PiL, plus multi-instrumentalist Scott Firth. (Smith’s previous bands include The Pop Group and The Slits – the fantastic femme punks fronted by the late Ari Up, daughter of Lydon’s wife, Nora – while Edmonds played in The Damned and The Mekons; Firth, meanwhile, has played with everyone from John Martyn to, as Lydon delights in pointing out, The Spice Girls.) Proceeds from the tour finance a return to the studio, to record what Lydon names “probably the greatest PiL album,” released on the band’s own label.]
And so, fifteen years go by without a record, and then, suddenly you return with This Is Pil…
JL: Finally, we raised enough money to put some against that outstanding debt, which put us in the position of being able to buy our way out of the label. And embarrassed them so much that they just had to let us go. And it’s a shame, because in a way it’s probably the greatest PiL album of all, and Virgin missed it.
It’s, in a way, a return to the original concept of PiL as a…
JL: Oh, it’s not a return, or anything like that. It’s the songs and the subjects that we were dealing with, and the sound that was appropriate for them. Done very instinctively. We’d been touring for, like two years, before we went into the studio. So we knew each other, intimately.
…To rewind slightly, when I said a return to original concepts, I didn’t mean musically. I meant the idea of PiL being an organisation, one that would take care of every aspect of itself…
JL: Right. Well we had to. We were forced into it. I mean, it would never have been my idea to set up our own label, unless that was what we had to do, in order to survive. We did tout it around. We even visited EMI and played the album to them, but they all kind of balked at us – they were impressed by the product, but still stuck in this nonsense of “am I reliable?” Me!
And so, it was like, well, we’ve been civil about it, we’ve shown them what’s there, we’ve made it available to them – if they wanted it, they could have had it. But none of them did. So we put our own label together, and believe me, it’s a joy in one way, yes: the freedom of nobody telling us what we should and shouldn’t be doing any more. But the financial burden and the time-consumption of it – that’s the biggest thing, I get very little time to relax, it’s on the go from wake up to fall asleep. I have to be up at 6 every morning, just to deal with phonecalls from Britain. But this is it. If you want to be in this industry, you have to be prepared for hard, hard work. And it is hard work. To mean what you do and mean what you say and live by those words, that’s a lifetime commitment, and it’s a commitment I’m not shy of.
A lot of PiL albums came out of some kind of high-pressure atmosphere…
JL: All of them.
But with this one, it strikes me the actual recording of this one maybe wasn’t quite as volatile as it has been in the past, but the way you did it –coming off the road, setting out to make a new record after such a long time, forming your own label, using your own money – was a bigger gamble.
JL: Oh, it was a terrible gamble. To plonk ourselves in there –we’d written nothing together as a band, we’d been too busy touring, but we’re all eager, from conversations on the tour bus, to get in there and do something. But that first day, once everything was set up and we looked at each other: “What the fuck are we gonna do now?”
From there on in, we improvised. And it flowed really, really well. The laugh was, yeah, I’d written a lot of material over the years. But there was an accident in my home, where Nora set fire to the kitchen, and that destroyed everything. Fucking hell! But there you go. You realise: well, did those song ideas matter half as much as the fact that she survived a major fire? No! You put human beings first. And so new songs evolved, naturally, and they didn’t have any reference point to any old ideas at all at that point. I had such faith and trust in my fellow human beings – this PiL is a great band to be in. A great band. These are really, really decent, great, interesting people.
Did you feel like you were picking up where you’d left off, or did you feel like you were starting over again?
JL: I don’t think about it like that. Nearly 20 years had whizzed by, and I’d done so much. But everything I had done – the TV stuff, all those things I did on animals and stuff, they all felt to me like I was writing songs as I was doing them. You know, when I was talking to a camera about different subjects, it felt as though I was in songwriting mode. I never skipped a beat in that way. And the approach I’ve had right from the beinning with the Pistols was take a truth, tell the truth, and that won’t ever change. I don’t think there’s a better way. It’s all too easy to write a song that’s about fantasies and lies, but I’d rather it be about problem-solving.
Were you surprised at what came out of those sessions for This Is PiL?
JL: Yeah, thrilled beyond belief. One of the most amazing days was the day we invited all the press down. We’d fiddled about for about 20 minutes beforehand with no real emphasis on anything, and then in walks all these journalists, and we start up with “Deeper Water,” something that Lu was playing, and just slammed into it. That song is almost totally freeform, and I love it to bits because of that. It sends shivers down my spine when I play it back, I really love the place we’re in as people. It’s a very complicated song, and the subject matter it deals with is so deeply personal, a lot of separate issues, including issues that refer to Lu’s life and background, as well as Bruce and Scott. I tried to encompass all of their pain and put it into these lyrics, and my own too, and make a joyous song. A celebration of life.
“Human” has a curious nostalgia to it…
JL: It’s not nostalgic, but it is a look back to my childhood. It’s specifically, albeit in a rambly folk-story way, telling the experiences of my early childhood, because – shock horror – I was actually a human before the Pistols. I wasn’t sure if I could get that across quite well. But – I did. I spent a lot of time thinking about those words, and cutting out the unnecessary frills of it, and left it down to just the basic…chill of it. As a British person, raised, not born, I’ve seen our country stolen off of us, totally. They’ve left us with nothing. That’s not nostalgia, that’s empathy.
WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW
(PiL Official, 2015)
[Funding themselves by touring, the new PiL strikes while the iron is hot, delivering another album in quick sucession. Work on the record coincided with a particularly busy period in Lydon’s life. For one thing, there was the matter of his becoming an American citizen, late in 2013, over 30 years after he first moved to the USA. For another, he was working on a second volume of autobiography, Anger Is An Energy, at the same time as making the LP.]
You were working on the songs for the latest album around the same time as writing your second volume of autobiography, Anger Is An Energy. Did one bleed into the other?
JL: Yeah, they’re bound to, because they’re both important parts of my life, and so one will always cross over into the other. There are many, many references in the songs which just happened instinctively and intuitively.
As you discuss in the book, one of your formative experiences was when you contracted meningitis aged seven, and fell into a six-month coma. And then you woke to discover you had no memory of who your parents were. Is that the memory that resurfaces in the song “I’m Not Satisfied”?
JL: Yeah. “I’m Not Satisfied,” that’s completely me as a young child, just screaming in pain: “Why don’t I remember your name?” That whole time, that lasted nearly four years, and that’s a very painful lesson in life that is: that complete sense of isolation. And the nurses saying to me, “Well, you must belong to someone…” Hardly awe-inspiring, is it? But, look, I don’t have self-pity, and I got through it, and it’s made me what I am today, resilience.
But it’s still your biggest fear, that happening again?
JL: Yeah. When I go to sleep at night, I’m always thinking: What if I get into that condition again? Would I be able to handle it as an adult? As a child I think you’re better equipped in many ways.
I was struck elsewhere on the album by the wonderful time you’re having reacquainting yourself with the word “bollocks..”
JL: On “Shoom,” right. Well, let me tell you the story of that. That’s really from my old man’s point of view, and from me fondly remembering him while we were in the studio. I wanted to write a song for him, specifically for him, because his death was still in my mind, and I just remembered the way he used to sit in the pub, with that very dry, brilliant sense of timing and humour that was always brittle, but deeply, deeply funny. And so, that’s it, that song, it’s there, for me: that’s the personality I remember, it’s everything about him. Except his Irish accent. So, it’s me dad in me own voice.
I was wondering whether also you’re tipping the hat to the history you’ve had with that word, bollocks
JL: It’s a common enough word. We don’t hold no negatives on words, when they’re used correctly and for maximum emphasis, they become very, very powerful.
Yeah: but not many of us have had to sit in a court with John Mortimer defending our right to use it on an album sleeve…
JL: Well, there you go: I’ve earned the right. It’s up to me to wear out its welcome! And as long as I’ve got a pair, it will be there.
Another thing that came up recently, you’d been living in the States a long time, but you went through US Citizenship. I’d been wondering if becoming an American had fed into the album – songs like “Bettie Page,” say.
JL: It really just popped in my head with the melody in the studio, “Bettie Page,” it was there, and “Mae West, way out west…” Hello? But these are people I do admire, because they were groundbreaking. They went through hell, but they achieved great things. They created the idea of American society being more open-minded. My natural revulsion is always toward anything with a religious-dictatorial nature to it. So, anything that fights the evangelists is yippee-ay-o to me. To make the human body seem like a thing of disgust… what kind of religion is that? Hello? But then again, fair play: when I look at myself nude in the mirror, I’m fairly disgusted. Better tuck my chair in…
You seem to be enjoying being in the band with the guys who make up PiL now…
JL: Very much. More so than ever. In particular the making of this album was really terrific, I ran at the studio every chance I could get, I loved it. The atmosphere, camaraderie of it, the overall sense of fun and pointed purpose to it.
But we talked before about the volatility of previous incarnations of PiL, and the way that negativity can sometimes push you to create…
JL: To quote: I learned to smile in the face of adversity. When I started out, I presumed that that was what making music was like, and was always going to be like: that being in a band meant you all hated each other. And it’s taken a long time, it’s been a long journey to get to this stage. And this stage might not last very long, who knows with the way human beings are? But it’s good enough for me to know that this is something I’ve always strived for and have now achieved – a healthy working place. And, no matter what, I will always want to maintain that sense of dignigty about it.
I mean, listen – we’re all childish. Everyone who’s in “the entertainment business” is. But we can also be innocent, and so you leave the seven deadly signs outside in your personal life, don’t bring it into the workplace. Unless, of course, it’s good song material.
I asked you before about “Death Disco,” how there’s no distance between you and that song. When you go out and play live today, do other songs take you back to where you were when you wrote them?
JL: Yes. They’re all about specific scenarios in my life, or things that struck me, and so I never forget that. That’s my photograph album, my audio tapestry, shall we say. And that’s really what my work is: it’s representations of situations that have had a great effect on me, and some of them – “Death Disco” being an obvious example – are sometimes overwhelming on stage to perform them to the utmost fullest integrity. Because that really hurts.
But it is essential, and, oddly enough, there is a reward in the pain of going through it again and again. It’s actually different every time. And sometimes I clue into something that helps relieve the pain and stress of it. And I can sometimes see this in people’s faces in the audience – I like an audience to be lit, I like to see them. And I can gauge if they’re understanding what it is I’m trying to translate here, and that sense of empathy between audience and band, that’s dramatic, and achieves amazing results.
That’s really what this, music, is supposed to be about. It’s not Us and Them. It’s Us, all of us. And that philosophy I carry into life. I don’t like having enemies. People can pretend they’re my enemy. But to me they’re not. I just view Us. We’re one species, and why would we want to destroy Us? I view every human being in life as a family member. Although, mind you: you know how families row. None of this is covered in fairy dust.
How do you feel in the moment before you go on stage these days?
JL: Terror. The nerves shaking. Feeling like I really, really could heave. And just trying to control that. But it’s an important thing, stage fright or whatever it is. It’s when the adrenaline is building, and you can hardly contain it. And then once out there – well, that’s different. That tension is released, and I can be myself. I think what it’s all from, though, is the ego, before you go on. And then you leave the ego in the dressing room, and you just be yourself. And it’s a frightening thing to let go of that, because, over the years, I’ve used various personas to protect myself. And now I find that I’m going on stage with a completely open heart, and that’s begging for someone to cause me some mental pain there, with a negative judgement, or with me making a fool of myself. But I wouldn’t be worth tuppence if I didn’t face up to my own flaws and weaknesses.
JL: When I come off: drained. And then impossible to sleep, because you’re still vibrating with the tension of it. Aaaaaand… then it all starts again at around 6.30am the next morning.
How do you judge when a show has been good, for you?
JL: That’s very, very difficult. You hardly ever know. You’ve really got to rely on the audience for that. What I like to do after a gig is I go out and there’s always people who want autographs signed or whatever, and that’s the best conversations I’ll ever have on any of this – they’ll relate to me what they though was good, bad, highs, lows, and that’s almost like study when I’m in that mode. And it’s good, the audience become friends, and surely that’s what we’re living for, that’s supposed to be what this is all about.
Are you writing all the time? Do you always have a notebook on the go?
JL: I can’t help it, yeah. Always. The best stuff is when I’m not actually thinking about it, and it just comes and I just automatically write it down. There’s a lot of dreamscape in me, and I’ve learned to think in my dreams, and I can wake myself up and write it down. I keep a notebook by the bed, or sometimes a cellphone, modern cell phones are great for that, with the little microphone on it. And that can be quite amazing – when that happens, when you do that, you go back to sleep feeling quite content. And then you surprise yourself when you wake up hours later and you find it – you surprise yourself with what was going on inside of you that you’re kind of not aware of anymore. It’s an interesting way of looking at yourself.
When you started in the Pistols, music was never something you had been looking to get into.
JL: No. It was something that I’d always liked, but I never thought that I’d actually be in it.
And, like we’ve discussed, you’ve used it as a place to explore feelings
JL: I’ve used it to find myself, yeah
So, if it hadn’t happened?
JL: I’ve no idea what the alternatives would have been. Nobody does. But, when an opportunity comes along, you have to be fully prepared and see it for what it is and grab it. And if it’s an opportunity you’re not interested in, well, then you’ll ignore it.