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Interview: PAUL COOK (Manraze)

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With a line-up of Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen, Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook and former Girl bassist Simon Laffy, Manraze might not quite have the same super group clout as say Them Crooked Vultures or Black Country Communion. But with the combined talents of Collen's song writing and guitar skills, Cook's indefatigable energy and Laffy technical know-how, Manraze pack a potentially powerful punch.

So far there's been more anticipation than end results, mainly because of the extraneous Def Leppard and Sex Pistols commitments, but now some 6 years after their 'Surreal' debut album comes the self explanatory 'Punkfunkrootsrock on earMusic.

Pete Feenstra talks to Paul Cook about the band, the album and the little matter of the enduring Sex Pistols legacy.


So how did Paul Cook the Punk Rocker and Sex Pistols drummer become a stadium rocker?

It's weird (laughs) and kind of bizarre really. Firstly I've never been so busy with the Pistols. And up until about three years ago it was getting bigger and bigger.

It might be that some people never saw the band at all in the first place and we're sort of carrying forward the legacy that still means a lot to people. But my own influences were always generally speaking in rock, so when the Manraze gig came along I was delighted to do it.

You've enjoyed a wide ranging career from the Sex Pistols to Manraze, via bands like The Professionals, recording with Johnny Thunders and discovering and producing Bananarama. Did you always have an open mind as to the kind of music you were going to be involved in?

Yeah I guess so, but the great thing for me is that I've been fortunate enough to be in a position where I've never had to play anything I didn't like.

I've always been in the position to be able to turn things down and maybe I have been a bit choosy, but that's been a good thing.

But the great thing about Manraze is that we explore all sorts of directions and some of the styles and influences from when we were growing up.

Is Manraze a conscious effort to tap into the current upswing in rock music?

No not really because it's what we've all always done and that is particularly so for Phil of course. We're all into rock in general and we all bring different influences to the band, but the day job has always been rock.

People get funny sometimes about music, they think you do just the one thing, but my influences started with things like Ska, Glam, Motown, Rock and Punk. And this band allows us to bring in what we want.


How did your musical background sit with the Pistols era?

Well I guess I was always into rock. Back in the early 70's we all listened to Glam, rock bands, it was huge at the time, things like Bowie, Bolan, Mott The Hoople etc. That's really where we came from. It wasn't what the Pistols was about but it was just another part of rock music.

'PunkFunkRootsRock' has a very energetic and live feel. Do you think the fact you recorded it quickly helped distil your style?

Not so much distil our style, but I think the album is the end result of us all wanting to work in that way. I mean when you finish a song or a record, you always have a feeling about something, maybe a part or a song that you would want to do again.

But with an album like this we just can't dwell on it. We don't have the time or the budget and besides we enjoy working fast.

I'm sure Phil for example, loves this approach rather than having to spend a year on an album like he did in the past with Def Leppard.

It's certainly more of a direct album than 'Surreal? How did that come about?

Well you learn as you go along, I think we probably tried to do too much on 'Surreal'. We maybe tried to be too clever.

We know more about what we are doing now and about who we are, as a band. So when it comes down to the material for example, we would know which songs to discard and which ideas to pursue.


Manraze appears to be a successful balance between Punk energy and stadium rock hooks. Was that the idea on 'Punkfunkrootsrock?

Well it's all down to the songs at the end of the day. And since Phil is the main songwriter in the band there is always going to be some of his style in there.

I mean we all did our tuppence worth and the big thing was we got the songs down pretty quickly and mixed them etc. And the result is as much due to spontaneity and what went down as much as anything.

Were the songs mostly written before you recorded or did some of them come together in the studio?

We'd got the basic ideas down before we went into the studio and then we sent each other our input and ideas over the internet etc.

But I think we all went into the studio with an open mind and that made the session very spontaneous. I think that's why it all worked so well.

We all did different things, like I played on some backing tracks for example or me and Simon might work on a general track and be ready for Phil to do his thing.

Paul Cook, photo by Lee Millward
Photo: Lee Millward/GRTR!

Given the fact that you can only tour when both you and Phil are available, does that hinder the development of the band at all?

Well I must admit it is a bit difficult. I mean it took a while to do this album as it's quite some time since out first album 'Surreal' (2005).

But none of us forgot about the band and it was something that we all really wanted to come back to and make it happen. But I'm clear with the Pistols now and I think Phil will be at the end of the autumn so hopefully we can do some more work. .

Manraze is essentially a side project, have any of you discussed what might happen if it took off?

Well yeah and if it did happen we'd have to deal with it. Yes it is still a side project but this is the first time I've made it a second album and I think that's testament to our serious approach to this band.

Why didn't The Professionals make it to a second album?

Well there were a number of things including the fact that Steve (Jones) was fucked up when we toured the US and we came back without him and it just fizzled out.

Then I was in the Chiefs of Relief with Matthew Ashman (who sadly died) and then in the Pistols there was Sid…so none of it lasted. But we're all committed to this

Does the fact you are a totally new band contribute significantly to the creative process? I mean presumably there are no specific expectations from Pistols or Leppard fans?

Yes it does because there are no particular expectations from outside, no egos in the band and there's not the rut of being in something that you can't change.

We've got a lot of different influences that we bring to the band and a lot more freedom to explore our ideas.

Also Phil and Simon are great guys to work with and we're not tied down by anything really. That's not what this band is about and if anything we're a vehicle for going off on a tangent, but within reason.


What's the core musical influence that binds the three of you together in this band?

Just getting back to rock really, as it's what we've all done in the past and still want to do. So the other important thing is gig-ing, as we haven't started to gig behind the album yet, we're just trying to build up a head of steam behind it and then tour, and that's our goal up until to the end of the year. We're going over to LA in a few weeks for some shows to see how it all shapes up.

Is this a project that you might not have been able to do some years ago? I'm thinking of the fact there are more rock festivals now and media outlets for rock than say ten years ago?

Yeah I see what you mean. I think musical styles seem to go in cycles and a few years ago this might have been seen as being cool, what with Brit pop and indie or whatever the latest thing happens to be. But we've always played rock and it's come round again and Manzraze is the perfect band to be in.

How were you received on the Alice Cooper tour for you in 2009?

It was great actually, especially as it was our first string of dates. Alice was also great, he really looked after us. It can be difficult opening for someone else's crowd, particularly when they don't know you, you know, it's like, who's this? But it went down well and it's something to build on.

Going back to the album, there's a big production sound, some great bv's and a big hook on songs like 'Over My Dead Body' and 'I C U In Everything'. There's a real Def Leppard feel to 'Body' in particular, which is also the first single. Were you hedging your bets a little with that?

Yeah it's funny really but it was one of those situations that was decided by the label. There's nothing wrong with that, as there's classic rock among a number of influences on the album But you know, what is a single nowadays? I just focus on the fact it s a good song.

It's also got a bit of a Lemmy (Motorhead) vocal sound to it?

Yeah (laughs) Phil put a bit of a growl on that, I told him in the studio, that 'I can't hear a fucking thing you're singing on that' (laughs). It's a good trad rocker, but I'm more into the rockier stuff like 'Get Action' and I like the Reggae feel of 'Closer'

'Get Action' is a rocker and presumably something you would play live?

Yeah as I said it's one of my favourites, but it's all a bit open ended at the moment as to what we are going to do when we gig. I mean we've got two albums to choose from now and I guess after we come back from the States we'll have a better idea of what went down well and what didn't.

Your daughter Holly guests on the dub Reggae song 'Closer To Me'. She's also done her own Reggae album, and I wondered if that's why you chose that song for her to be on?

Partly yeah, but a lot of it was down to chance really. It was literally what happened at the time. She'd come to pick me up from the studio and I sort of said, 'get in there and have a go on the song'.

It was a real spur of the moment thing. Actually I was also recording with Edwyn Collins at the time and went in the next day to do this.

Was it difficult switching from the high energy feel of Manraze to working with Edwyn who is known a song craftsman?

Well he is a craftsman as you say, but it was really easy working with him. He's a talented songwriter and has continued to be so even after his stroke. It all fitted well.

He's not fussy and gets everything down very quickly, so there's the same sort of spontaneity that has carried over into this Manraze record.

Have you worked with Edwyn long?

About 15 years, going right back to when I was working with Vic Goddard & the Subway Sect. Ed was the producer and I think that's when we met. So my way of working didn't essentially change when I started on the Manraze record.

Whose idea was it to do Jimi Hendrix's 'Fire' on 'Punkfunkrootsrock?

Well we're a three piece for a start and we all loved Jimi. We also rehearsed around a few covers including Hendrix. And I guess Phil being the guitarist was especially into it, we thought it might be a bit cheeky being a bit of a sacrosanct song, but it worked well

Was the instrumental 'Dogbite' specifically written to finish the album?

It was the result of another vibe in the studio that we had going. No one does instrumentals much, we could have put a vocal on it, but it just worked out that way and we liked it. I didn't drum much on it; I think I just put a few beats over it. And when it was done it seemed to be the right track to finish on.

Thinking back to the Pistols, were you frustrated by the number of times you were unable to play? Or was the whole thing a laugh?

It's a bit of a blur now, but I do know we were all caught up in the moment. But there was frustration in the band, particularly when you consider we only got to play 3 shows out of a possible 25 on that 'Anarchy in the UK' tour. And we genuinely wanted to make a great album and maybe even another one.

Was there a real difference between the band as such and Malcolm Mclaren's media hype?

I think Malcolm re-wrote the story for his own ends really, especially all the business about trying to get us not to play.

But as regards the controversy surrounding the band and everything, it just evolved around us, none of it was contrived or a set up. We were caught up in it all.

When it all fell apart, did you have anything else in mind at all?

Nothing at all really. It was a big come down after what had happened before. Eventually I did play with The Professionals, of course, but it's a pity we never got the chance to do another album.

Are you surprised by the durability of Punk and the Pistols legend?

Well there's an undoubted legacy but am I surprised in some ways. I guess it was a moment in time that has influenced a lot of people and generations of kids. I can see it now but probably didn't see it at the time.

Going back to Manraze, what do you think is the band's potential audience?

Well I hope we're not just playing to a bunch of sad 50 year olds and hopefully there will be some younger kids there, but as with any new band, it really depends whether we get the album out there and who gets to hear it.

You've made promo vids etc to support both albums?

Yes we've done the proper job from 'live in the studio' to gig stuff and interviews. It's all out there out and youtube.


'Punkfunkrootsrock' is released via earMUSIC

Interview © September 2011 Pete Feenstra

Photos by Ash Newell except where stated

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