This article originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on March 5, 2015.
Edinburgh day-glo pop mob The Rezillos were light years away from other punk bands. They eschewed nihilism for flying saucers; shunned irascible bile for trashy b-movies; and while The Clash would issue six long players, and The Ramones would double that number (and then some), The Rezillos issued just the one album – 1978’s Can’t Stand The Rezillos, starring their biggest hit, Top Of The Pops – and then self-imploded four months later. But now, almost four decades hence, they’re defying convention again: they’re set to launch a follow-up record.
Said new LP is a full-throttle rock ‘n’ roll blast through neon punk and cosmic grrrl-pop, and it finds the band – Fay Fife (vocals, theremin), Eugene Reynolds (vocals), Angel Paterson (drums), Jim Brady (guitar) and Chris Agnew (bass) – in stellar form. The album is a consequence of a gradual return to life for The Rezillos, who split after the departure of co-founder Jo Callis (he went off to join the Human League, and co-wrote Don’t You Want Me Baby, among other hits). Original members Fife and Reynolds formed The Revillos shortly thereafter, but since 2001 they’ve operated under The Rezillos banner. One reunion gig led to another – and eventually to a brand new album.“It’s quite bizarre, doing a record after all this time, I know,” says Fife. “But we’ve always just gone about things in our own way.”
The new album (and central track) is called Zero, for countless reasons, as Fife explains. “The idea with Zero is that it could mean infinity, or complete nihilism – you just don’t know which way it’ll go. That feels like a punk philosophy,” she says. “And then there’s the idea of liminality – that you’re right in the middle of nothing, right in the middle of a space where anything could happen. Also, psychologically, we were zoning in on how meaningless people can feel sometimes, which is quite a common experience, and there’s something quite heroic about that,” she adds. “So it’s personal, psychological and social at the same time. Plus, if you look at the word Zero, the letters in it are also in The Rezillos. We liked that. We wanted something of our essence. Eugene and I have a really dynamic creative partnership, and we also have quite obscure ways of thinking about things.”
Obscure, perhaps, but original too, and endlessly thrilling. “We’ve always been aware that we were different,” Fife nods. “I’m still aware to this very day. I’m aware of the unique aspect of this band. And it would be a mistake to see what we do – what I do – as something that’s just entertainment, because it’s not. Some things might come across as being quite light, but they’ve got a dark edge. And some things might come across as pop, but they’re referencing lots of [issues] and they’re intentionally like that. The Rezillos aren’t an overtly political band by any stretch of the imagination, but social consciousness and a strong conceptual perspective underpins what we do,” she continues. “It comes out in a very peculiar fashion – like it’s gone through an art school masher and come out the other end – but picking up things that are there in the real world definitely informs us. There’s never been anything banal about what we do.”
They’ve also been hugely influential, and Fife remains an incendiary role model in rock and pop (counter) culture. You can discern her agitated femme-punk voice in Garbage’s Shirley Manson and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O, among myriad others. “To hear that I’ve influenced people – particularly women – is flattering, and gratifying and really affirming,” Fife enthuses. “Long may it continue.”
Pop music has historically cast women in a passive role, and it’s a (mis)representation that Fife has long railed against, both as the band’s fired-up, hollering vocalist – wreaking PVC-clad havoc all over the stage and all over the male-dominated punk landscape – and via the band’s unruly titles and badass characters: witness Animal from the new album. Or She’s The Bad One, or the annihilative Spike Heel Assassin.
“That’s really really important to me,” says Fife. “And it’s getting more important as I get older – God knows what I’m going to be like when I’m 90 – because at this time in my career, this time in my life, I’m more interested in female identity than ever. Not only do you pick up the projections of what people want you to be as a woman, but you also pick up a whole host of other projections about what people want you to be as a slightly older woman – I’m not 20 any more and I don’t want to come across as if I am – and I’m also the front-person in a rock ‘n’ roll band. I think there’s always a fight to try and find your own identity within these different projections and ideas of what you ought to be,” she suggests. “That creates an interesting artistic dynamic. Interesting things come out of that.”
Zero is a case in point. “Absolutely,” nods Fife. “Take She’s The Bad One, for example – that references lots of things to do with rock ‘n’ roll, and female images, and real women as well.” Indeed, it bears noting Fife’s brilliant and wry punk-rock moniker (she’s so-called because she hails from the kingdom) has its roots in her youth, and its mining-village matriarchy. “Women were the powerful ones when I was growing up,” she recalls. “They all wore these great tweed skirts and they were just extraordinary. And it was quite a powerful, dark image as well – it wasn’t all light and fun – they were pretty indomitable. That’s really important to me, that side of Fife, and even though I left a long, long time ago, it still comes through you.
“So yeah, She’s The Bad One references all of that,” Fife continues. “And it draws on The Ronettes and The Shangri-Las and the biker girl image, and what all that is about, which is: the power of being different. You’re not in the mainstream culture, you’re standing slightly outside it, almost as an artistic onlooker in a way. There’s a a sense of alienation.”
The Rezillos have always been preoccupied with alien nations, from their debut album’s kitsch-punk opener, Flying Saucer Attack and 1978’s Destination Venus, to Zero’s Out Of This World and martian serenade Tiny Boy From Outer Space. The cosmos and its imagined inhabitants play a vivid role in the band’s lyrical vocabulary and vintage comic-book aesthetic. “Yeah, the space thing has always been there, from the start of The Rezillos,” Fife nods.
“But I don’t think our interest is really in things like science fiction – at least, mine isn’t. It’s more that the idea of space provides an interesting metaphor to talk about other things. Because with The Rezillos, it’s real, but it’s one step outside reality at the same time. And that’s something we still want to explore,” she ventures. “We’re planning another album soon, much sooner than the years and years we waited between the last album and Zero.” The 21st Century Rezillos have lift-off.
The Rezillos tour with The Stranglers at Aberdeen Beach Ballroom (March 26), Kilmarnock Grand Hall (March 27) and Glasgow 02 Academy (March 28)
Footnotes: Fay Fife and I reviewed Kim Gordon’s memoir, GIRL IN A BAND, on BBC Radio Scotland’s Culture Studio with the fabulous Janice Forsyth – you can listen again (and hear a new Rezillos song!) here.
Also, I sat in for Vic Galloway on BBC Radio Scotland a few weeks back and played a brand new Rezillos track, Sorry About Tomorrow – you can listen again here.