When Gang of Four burst onto the scene in the late 1970s, England was in the middle of political swing to the right. High unemployment and a sluggish economy combined with growing wealth inequality and public sector cutbacks led to the rise of Margaret Thatcher and modern conservatism. Gang of Four, formed at Leeds University in 1977, embodied the newly-minted punk rock ethos of resistance.
Forty years later, as Gang of Four’s only remaining original member, guitarist Andy Gill, readies a new album and tour, he once again finds himself as political truth teller in a new era of fake news.
“I think the thing to remember with Gang of Four was it was never a question of espousing a particular party line, and never telling people what they should be thinking,” Gill said in a call from his home in London. “It wasn’t like banging the drum for socialism. It was never that. It was much more observational and descriptive. … [People] recognize that.”
Happy Now will be released March 1. Gill wrote and produced the album with a team of collaborators from his home studio in London. While making the album, he got in the habit of rising early in the morning to work.
“I would just get a cup of tea and go down to my studio and start working on lyrics, start working on the songs, and then whoever was co-producing with me would turn up around 10:30, 11 and then we’d do a day’s work so we were really putting the hours in,” Gill said.
First single “Change the Locks” is much more electronic sounding than early Gang of Four records, and more closely resembles the band’s recent work, including last year’s Complicit EP and 2015’s What Happens Next. Gill said he incorporated a mix of electronic percussion as well as traditional drumming. Bassist Thomas McNeice, who’s played with Gang of Four since 2008, recorded the original bass parts, some of which Gill later swapped out for electronic bass influenced by the likes of trap and grime music.
“There’s some of those wobbly bass sounds that I quite like,” he said.
Andy Gill and Gang of Four aren’t shying away from politics in 2019. They tackle the nepotism and cronyism of the Trump administration on “Ivanka: ‘My Name’s On It,’” a funky electronica track with strangely processed lyrics that include the line “She says I don’t know what it means to be complicit.” Gill came up with the song after watching a press conference in which she had been questioned whether she was complicit in the president’s dealings, only to reply, infamously, “I don’t know what it means to be complicit.”
“I’m going a bit too far here, but you could imagine that at the Nuremberg trials after the second world war,” Gill said. “She’s got her brand, most of which is apparently made in China, which is hilarious and so she comes out with this speech. Tt’s like, ‘Ivanka, thank you. You just wrote this song for me.’ Maybe I should just share some royalties with her. I didn’t need to say much; she said it for me.”
From its very first days at Leeds, Gang of Four integrated political rhetoric into its music. Gill said he wrote “Why Theory?” after looking at a feminist pamphlet in college, and pulled lines from for the song. In addition to feminism, Gill was also inspired by the postmodern philosophy of the Frankfurt School.
“One of the main ideas, especially in early Gang of Four, is the idea that things are not natural,” Gill said. “When someone says the woman should stay at home in the kitchen and maybe give birth to some kids because that’s natural, the idea is that, ‘No, it’s not natural, it’s a human construction.’ That was a very important idea and I suppose to a certain extent, that comes from the Frankfurt School of thought.”
Gang of Four kicks off a month-long tour in Orange County tonight. It will be the band’s first time in America since Trump was elected. While Gang of Four has experienced increased difficulty in obtaining visas to come to America, Gill remains optimistic about the people of this country, the majority of whom disapprove of the current administration; at least those expected to come to Gang of Four concerts.
“We always have to make a distinction between the administrations in countries and the people who live there and want to come and talk to you and to celebrate the music with you,” he said. “That applies in China, America, Brazil.”