Mick Jones – Clashing To Carbon/Silicon

Mick Jones, former Clash lead guitarist and vocalist, would never have imagined that he would be considered a punk icon, no less a major part of a legendary band.  The whole concept is overwhelming as he says, “I try to ignore all of that otherwise my head will explode.”  Almost six years ago, Jones teamed up with his old bandmate and fellow punk legend, Tony James (Sigue Sigue Sputnik/Generation X) to create Carbon/Silicon.  These days, Jones seems fulfilled to the point where just making music is enough.  Getting there though, has been a trip and a half…

In the early ‘70’s, Mick Jones and Tony James formed the proto-punk band, London SS.  By l976, Jones and bassist Paul Simonon were seeking a new direction.  They found it with Joe Strummer singing in a pub –they named it The Clash.  They made their way from the U.K. to the U.S. and by the early ‘80’s The Clash was completely infiltrated into our sound system…spending only moments underground before surfacing into dorm rooms, out of car windows and in every bar or club.  London was calling and we were listening.
The ride was short but sweet.  In 1983, Jones was unceremoniously dismissed by Strummer and Simonon.  Although Strummer was considered the frontman, Jones was a large part of its creative engine and the voice on legendary tracks, “Train In Vain” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”   The Clash made only one more album after Jones’ exodus and the LP sank – leaving Strummer to regret his rash decision.    

Jones went on to form Big Audio Dynamite (B.A.D.) in ‘84 with film director Don Letts who directed various Clash videos and their documentary, “Westway to the World”.  With B.A.D., Jones was able to continue what he started with The Clash – merging funk,  dance and hip-hop with rock n’ roll and editing snippets of film dialogue into his songs.  The band successfully continued through the ‘90’s and so did Jones’ relationship with former Clashmates (Strummer co-produced and sang on B.A.D.’s second album, while Simonon did the cover art for the third ).

In 2002, Strummer’s untimely death shocked the world – depriving Clash fans of their one hope – a reunion tour.  Jones was equally devastated as he sadly states, “We were  just sowing the seeds of a possible rejuvenation.”  Perhaps this was the impetus to another reunion, as Jones rejoined forces with fellow SS mate, Tony James to create Carbon/Silicon.  Inspired by the ability to burn their own CD’s and share MP3’s, they launched www.carbonsiliconinc.com and gave away their music through the website.  An unprecedented move in the music industry (five years before Thom Yorke), their ‘free communications center’ encouraged supporters to bring videocameras to shows and share the wealth.  Almost instantly, fan sites started to appear and by 2007, C/S released their debut CD, The Last Post on Caroline Records.  Produced by Jones and James and mixed by Bill Price (The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Pretenders), they are joined by Leo ‘EezyKill’ Williams (Big Audio Dynamite) on bass and Dominic Greensmith (Reef) on drums.
The Last Post rollicks with Clashbacks:  the same not-gonna-get-me-down durability and the usual suspects rearing their ugly heads (war, destruction and the absurdity of modern culture).  But somehow there’s a light at the end of each track.  “The News” is a feel-good forecast – right down to the weather.  “Oil Well” speaks of the never-ending mideast turmoil, yet optimistically wraps it up with, “We’ll try to make a humanitarian case/ For dropping some love on the human race.”

Jones found the time to reflect, reminisce and share his great sense of humor with Glide.  He’s older and wiser and every bit as wide-eyed and willing as he was in the ‘80’s…
In the early ‘80’s I used to rip down your posters all over New York City at ridiculous hours of the night.  One time,  I nearly got killed doing it.  Then I would bring them back to my dorm room half shredded up to hang on the walls…
I did the same thing.  In the early days, we played at The Hunger Club at the punk festival and it was this very traditional jazz place before we performed there.  It was like Chris Barber and his jazz band and then all of the sudden, The Sex Pistols and The Clash were there! (laughs)  Afterwards, I took our poster off the wall.  I ended up giving it to The Museum of Popular Culture in Sheffield, which was short-lived.  I sort of loaned it to them and they framed it and all.  But I never got it back.  When the museum closed down, it went conveniently missing (laughs).  It was a great artifact.
Punk had that whole negative vibe…but The Clash would come onstage so upbeat, with such great energy.  I sense that same enthusiasm with The Last Post
I think music should do that job.  Things are bad enough for people anyway.  We learned from Woody Guthrie.   He said this really incredible thing… “Never make someone feel inferior…the song should never be about putting down somebody or looking down at someone”… and it really stuck with us.  Add to life’s good things, ya’ know?  Be a good person.  Joe actually called himself Woody for a while before he was Joe Strummer.
Would you agree that The Last Post has glimmers of The Clash in it?
Yes, there’s obviously going to be a part of that in it because that’s my bit.  So it can’t be that far away.  But I always like to try and do it differently every time out.  I feel like we’ve moved on…we’re still developing and learning, I hope.
With The Clash you were the driving force behind the music.  How does it feel to be up front now?
I would say I was actually the destructive force (laughs).  I never really wanted to be up front.  I wanted to be somewhere between up front and behind.  My first instrument was a stylophone and then I went onto drums, then bass and I thought, “I could handle a couple more strings here” and that’s how I ended up playing guitar.   I never wanted to go any further than that.  But I’m a bloke who sees someone playing something and I then I have to learn that.
Tony James has been described as a laptop musician…
I would say a lap dog actually (laughs).  I think too much has been made of that.  Tony was actually a bass player before we started playing together again.  We are a very traditional group – two guitars, bass and drums.  Our rhythm section is really  contemporary taking into consideration all of the things that have led up to this point – in their traditional outlay.
And your name?  You’re the carbon (soul) and he’s the silicon (computer)…any truth to that?
Oh, I don’t know …that’s been said, but I kind of visualized the name.  We didn’t want a big name.  I imagined a charcoal ashtray with a diamond in the middle of it.  So, if I’m  the carbon, I guess I’m the ashtray.  I don’t know how I feel about that (laughs)…
Yeah, could be a low self-esteem issue, the fact that you’re absorbent or a chain-smoker perhaps…
Self-loathing…maybe.  Absorbent…definitely.  The thing about music is it’s good to listen, really listen to it.  I try to absorb all sorts of music.  As for the chain-smoker… I am definitely a smoker.
Wow, it hasn’t affected your voice at all.  You still sound so young…
Well, that’s the monkey gland injections I get in Switzerland every year.  It’s obviously really payin’ off (laughs)…
I read that one of you was quoted in the London Times as saying, “We’ve been in cyberspace for the last 5 years…like Carbon/Silicon experimentation camp…”
That sounds like Tony, I’ve got to be honest.  We have been in an experimental way for a long time.  One of the things we’ve been looking at is a presentation outside of the normal routes.  We’ve found the internet to be a really immediate media.  We can finish a track and go straight over to the other side of the studio and start uploading it and receive playback of peoples’ responses.  It’s so amazing.  We don’t have to wait 10 weeks …it’s great for the arts, so liberating.
You’re running laps around Radiohead …
Well, no…everybody’s doing it and that’s really good too.  You can’t start moaning because it should be free.  We should peacefully coexist and work together.  As far as we’re concerned, it’s not the main issue, it’s only the delivery.  The main issue is what the music is about.  We’re trying to emotionally connect with people out there and we’re able to express ourselves as the people we are now…not pretending to be anything else.   There’s a lot of people like us who can relate to what we’re saying on the level that we’re saying it.
Is that the reason for the record release?
Yes, because people said they loved what we were doing, but they wanted a proper record out.  It’s grown organically, really.  We just responded to what the fans wanted. If a fan is really into something, they’ll want to get everything of it.  But, it’s interesting what Radiohead did…paying what you want for the CD.
Does it dissolve the importance of records, though?
Well, a record used to be a passport…now maybe it’s just more of a promotional tour for the rest of it in a way.  I think if you’re into a group, you want everything – records included.  I know for the groups I’m into I want a libretto in front of me so I can go over every little detail of the music.  So the record is important, as well.
Tell me about some of the tracks on the CD…
“Oil Well” is my favorite.  That’s where it’s at to me. “Caesar’s Palace” is about how we’ve all ‘slipped’.  I can feel it myself.  When I’m in a  shop and I look over and I see another guy and we look kinda sickly at eachother. (laughs)  That look of recognition.  It’s a modern day version of “Lost In The Supermarket”.
You and Tony work so well together…
We go back before neanderthal times.  As SS, were a band that didn’t play –only rehearsed.  Maybe only auditioned, really.  Hardly got beyond that.  We were just idiots.  It was rubbish!  But, we met a lot of interesting people through it.  Fate took its hand and we went our separate ways.  We talked about making music before we actually got back together.  We said, ‘How would we make music as real men?  About the things that concerned us”.
 What do you miss most about Joe Strummer?
Oh, there’s so many things I miss about him.  We remained such close friends even after we split up.   Let’s see, he was very good at counseling (laughs)…ya know, when you go ‘on the couch’?  He always seemed to know what to do when we didn’t.  He was a wise guy and I learned a lot from him.  Wild, but wise.
The name, The Last Post ?
You know when you have to send a check off for something and you miss the last post?  Tony would probably tell you something different.  He’d say, “Ah yes, it’s the last blogging”. (laughs)
The CD cover?
We built that wall of books ourselves.  You can actually look into that picture and take a magnifying glass and read each of those covers.  We made sure it was clear because listening to the music and looking at the cover at the same time is a symbiotic event, isn’t it?
 Big Audio Dynamite –was that a good time musically for you?
Mostly.  It was a learning experience…we were responding to what was going on.  I wanted to make music that crossed over and it did that – it  brought together dance music with rock n’roll and guitar.
I thought you already crossed over in The Clash, especially with “Rock The Casbah”…
Oh, sure.  And definitely when a New York radio station took the instrumental version of  “The Magnificent Seven” and started putting little bits of Clint Eastwood and Bugs Bunny on it.  All those remixes were really inspiring.  Funny thing is a lot of those radio stations didn’t even know we were a punk group until it was too late.
Well, you’re legendary…inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 and now Sony’s release of The Clash The Singles CD box set…
It’s been really surprising for me.  I would never have imagined this would happen…that people would still recognize and be listening to us.  I must admit that every year it seems like more and more.  It does your head in…
You’re just getting better and better with age…
I guess with age comes knowledge…it has to come, ya’ know what I mean?   I would hope our fans who liked what we did before would be interested in what we’re up to now.  The record is quite triumphant, really.

Joanne Schenker lives in New York and is a contributing writer for Glide and music columnist for Canvas Magazine.  She can be reached at [email protected].  or at her blog: www.jocoschenker.typepad.com.

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