While their name may say differently, pioneering post-punkers Gang of Four have spent most of their career as a two-man mob. Until 2012, singer-guitarist Andy Gill and lead vocalist Jon King were the only constant members of the politically minded English quartet, as well as the pair responsible for most of the band’s creative output.
So when King and the band parted ways three years ago, it took Gill some time to recalibrate.
“I was trying to figure all of these things out,” he recently told DiscoverSD from his London home studio. “It’s a project that I have to steer now. I write the stuff, produce it, and all the rest. And to a certain extent, I always did - other than Jon bringing in the vocals. But the obvious point is that from the old guard, I’m the remaining standard bearer. It took a while, but now it’s here.”
Gang of Four released the Gill-helmed and appropriately titled “What Happens Next” LP in February. John “Gaoler” Sterry has taken over lead vocal duties from King. The new album also incorporates additional guest vocals from the likes of The Kills/Dead Weather front woman Alison Mosshart.
“At the start,” Gill said, “I had no idea who the singer was going to be. And in the back of my mind, I was thinking I might have to do auditions or something. But I’d also thought for a long time that doing some creative collaboration was a good idea. I had done some studio work with The Kills fairly recently, so seeing if Alison was up for it popped into my head. She was.”
Gill also ended up enlisting The Big Pink’s Robbie Furze and Germany’s biggest selling artist of all time, Herbert Grönemeyer, to round out vocals. He even went so far as to record versions of the Mosshart track, “Broken Talk,” with different artists in Portuguese and Chinese. If he was going to take Gang of Four in a new direction, he wanted to go all the way.
“About half way through,” Gill said, “I really started thinking that I had made things difficult for myself. Was it all going to feel really disparate? But as things progressed, I knew it was coming from the same place. I don’t think there’s a set of rules by which you have to play. It’s OK to go where your imagination leads you.”
And that is the mantra carrying Gill’s Gang of Four into a new era.
“It makes sense,” he said. “This record is not looking back or trying to replicate whatever we imagine the signature sound to be. If you compare all of the Gang of Four albums, every one of them has a different thing going on. But the last thing I want is for people to turn up to a gig expecting one thing and getting another. I’ve been very keen on shouting about this new project from the rooftops.”
Gang of Four plays the Belly Up on March 25.
Scott McDonald is a writer, on-air personality and consultant with 15 years of experience in the San Diego music scene. He has interviewed hundreds of artists, from the legendary to the underground, for print and television. Follow McDonald and his melodic musings on Twitter @eight24_ or Instagram @scotteight24. Send your music musts to firstname.lastname@example.org.