People

Forever young

Armed with a bottle of Lagavulin 16 years Old and a bag of records, Neil J. Ridley caught up with influential music producer Youth to discuss a cyclical life, recording bands in the nude and why he's finally discovered Jazz at the age of 48
By Neil Ridley
Renowned for his 'vibesmanship' in the recording studio, Martin Glover, AKA Youth, has lived a hugely varied yet uncompromising career. As bass player and one of the founding members of seminal '70s rockers Killing Joke, he pioneered a sound which, would go on to heavily influence the likes of Nirvana and Metallica. As a record producer he has worked his magic with countless multiplatinum artists including Primal Scream, The Verve and Crowded House, as well as recently completing his third collaborative 'Fireman' project with Sir Paul McCartney.

With a CV that charts a dazzling array of successful bands from the last 20 years, it’s hard not to feel slightly intimidated
when meeting the man responsible for a large proportion of your record collection. Highly revered in the music business for his irrepressible work rate and insatiable appetite for discovering new music, I wonder how Youth actually manages to find any time at all for just…being himself.

The first thing I learn as I arrive at his impressively gothic-looking Wandsworth home is that he has just become an honorary Professor at Kingston University – does yet another career path beckon? “Well, not quite”, he laughs, “but it’s great that I get to work with a load of up-and-coming engineers and musicians.” “They’ve also got a great studio space there, which I’ve got the run of, so it’s perfect for working on brand new projects.” This is the first indication that Youth is a man driven by constant discovery and re-invention, yet his career has also recently seen him returning to his roots, with a re-formed and re-energised Killing Joke currently at the top of his recording and performing agenda.

I ask him what it’s like being back in the studio with your old band mates. “As amazing as it sounds, not a great deal has changed. We’re now into recording our 13th album together and we’ve still got the same neuroticism!” he beams. “But when it all locks in and the chemistry kicks off, it’s just a real joy to play together again- it’s almost like it affects my physical cellular structure- at the end of the sessions in the studio, I feel totally adrenalised.”

It must feel slightly cyclical then, to be performing again to your original fans and a new younger audience?

“It certainly is. At the time we started the band back in 1978, we were quite a cult group, but over time we’ve had the likes of Kurt Cobain referencing the tracks and Metallica ‘borrowing’ some of the riffs and it’s like we feel relevant and fashionable again. The details might change, but the dynamic remains the same.”

Taking a swig of Lagavulin, he explains that “It is something of a paradox though. Sometimes it feels like we’ve gone back to our core manifesto again, but on the other hand, it’s almost got that ‘Anvil Effect’ and you’re constantly battling a fine line between feeling great and a never-ending Spinal Tap moment!!”

What do you feel made Killing Joke different to other bands in the beginning?

“When we first formed the band as teenagers back in 1978, we were aware of what was happening in the punk movement, but there were all these new groups like PIL, Joy Division and Wire, who really broke out of the three-chord, sub-Ramones sound. That led us to start thinking differently. We started developing a manifesto of what we believed in: To be non-American sounding, no solos, no egos and no band photos on the album sleeves. We managed it for 3 albums until it all went out the window!”

What went wrong? “We pretty much imploded around 1982. Over night, Jazz (Coleman, singer with Killing Joke) just upped sticks and moved to Iceland, with literally a pound in his pocket. I was sharing a flat with his girlfriend at the time and the first we heard of it was in the following week’s NME. We started auditioning for a new singer. Iggy Pop rang us up for an audition, but we couldn’t face meeting him!!

“A few days later, the guitarist left, mysteriously seen boarding a ferry to Iceland. So the drummer and I started a new outfit- and before I knew it” he laughs, “he’d left for Iceland too! So I was in the noble position of having the band leave me.”

So I suppose that, as one door closed, another opened? “Yeah, that’s right. It paved the way for me to start producing bands and working with a wide range of musicians and writer’s, which has definitely kept me from burning out. I’m fairly obsessive in my approach to production, in that I recognise that mortal fear of never being asked to work again certainly keeps you on your toes.”

Looking back at the records that Youth has produced or collaborated on, it becomes apparent that this ‘obsession’ can manifest itself in a wide range of relatively ‘unconventional’ tactics to get the best performance from an artist, either new or established. One such technique notoriously involved Crowded House recording a song in the nude for their Together Alone album, as part of a ‘bonding psychology’. Youth points out that they ‘fearlessly took up that challenge without blinking’. So was the process any different when working with a legend like Sir Paul McCartney?

“Well, I have always been a huge fan of Paul McCartney and The Fireman project was difficult to approach. It’s a very personal event, producing a record - you’re effectively putting the artist on a private stage. I’m expected to get the performance of a lifetime, but when someone knows they’re being recorded, they sound different. With someone as revered as him, you have to treat them with huge respect whilst not being patronising –artist’s that successful certainly have heightened senses to detect b******t.”

But with the last Fireman record, you obviously nailed the work ethic between you and McCartney? “Sometimes established artists need a bit of challenge or some space and encouragement to experiment, that’s what the Fireman project was about”, he points out. “On the last album I pushed Paul to work on the vocals (the previous records were mostly instrumental) which there was resistance to do. My vibe was ‘how long can you keep doing the same kind of thing’- we’d already done two albums, so this time round we should put some ‘songs’ (with vocals) on the album and do something radical”.

And he trusted you? “To his credit, he was totally fearless about tackling a challenging situation- some artists I’ve worked with like Axel Rose (Youth produced the original sessions for the hugely delayed Chinese Democracy) are the master of avoiding situations where they’re going to be judged and they use clever tactics to avoid judgement” he explains. “I’ve always tried to be ruthlessly and fearlessly honest and open with artists. With Paul, it’s also been about taking a ‘sideways’ approach, rather than going straight to the front door and saying give me your best piece of work since Yesterday!”

With the Lagavulin slipping down nicely, our chat soon comes round to whisky, which Youth confesses he loves, but is no connoisseur of. “I’ve not always been a whisky drinker. My father used to drink a bottle a day and as a result, I avoided it for years until I learned that that kind of repression can only be dangerous. It’s like a homeopathic approach- you take a bit of the poison for the cure.”

Any particular tipple that you’re particularly fond of?

“I’m definitely a Jameson’s man, but when I’m working in the US I enjoy a good bourbon and there’s usually something decent like a Laphroaig shared around at the end of a recording session, but it’s very subjective what mood you’re in, too much peat can have a very strange effect on the mind…!”

As I refill our glasses, I press Youth further on his current musical influences, which seem to be at the very heart of his continued success as a producer. What’s been your latest discovery?

“Well I’ve just started to discover a lot of new scenes. I’m always keeping my ear to the ground and buying records religiously. I’ve just started getting into Jazz for the first time on a modern level and there are a lot of kids out there discovering it too. In Manchester, there’s a lot happening with Jazz- it’s like the new Acid House scene!”

“It’s easy to laugh, but young people are doing some great stuff there. I’m also currently going back over a lot of Krautrock as more and more young bands I’m working with are referencing it- bands like Can, Neu!, Cluster, all of their sounds seep through into the productions one way or another.”

As the last strains of Jazz trumpet legend Don Ellis pour from the stereo in Youth’s study, we finish our whiskies and I ask him to try and sum up his hugely varied career so far. “The key” he explains “is to let the music resonate and speak for itself. I’ve been lucky to have some success with a few records, but I can’t profess to know all the secrets to it. I’ve had my fair share of failures too. What I love about the job is that every day is different –some times it feels like life or death or that it could go either way, but any piece of music has the possibility to connect in a big way and for me, that possibility is enough of a buzz to keep me going and giving it all I’ve got.”

Long may this Youth stay young at heart.