Out and About
“The The” returns to the stage after nearly two decades – Sept 19, 2018 (Toronto)
The The are one of those underground bands that received seminal success with music buffs. For those who know and follow this band, it’s a rare treat to have them adding Toronto as the only Canadian tour stop on their current North American tour. Even more so that it’s been 18 years since this English band last toured on this side of the Atlantic.
The stage was set for the return of THE THE, one of the most intriguing bands ever to emerge from England, armed with such classic songs as “This Is The Day,” “Uncertain Smile,” “Heartland,” “Love Is Stronger Than Death,” “Armageddon Days (Are Here Again)” and “Dogs of Lust,” from albums released between the early 1980’s to 2000. Helmed by singer and songwriter Matt Johnson, THE THE, the post-punk iconoclasts will play only nine North American dates, with Toronto being one of the stops.
As a singer and songwriter, Johnson has been silent for many years, with the last THE THE album, 2000’s NakedSelf, capping off a remarkable run of records, from his solo debut Burning Blue Soul (1981), through THE THE’s Soul Mining(1983), Infected (1986), Mind Bomb (1989) and Dusk (1993), which earned him an enduring reputation as a brave and uncompromising artist dealing with both the dark matters of the heart and prescient sociopolitical commentary.
In 2017, THE THE released a new single, “We Can’t Stop What’s Coming,” as part of 2017’s Record Store Day, their first new song in 15 years, with Matt Johnson joined by former THE THE members, Zeke Manyika on percussion, James Eller on bass and Johnny Marr on guitar. The track was taken from The Inertia Variations, an 84-minute documentary film, which premiered at the 2017 Edinburgh International Film Festival, and forms part of a wider multimedia project inspired by the poem of the same name by John Tottenham. Additionally in October 2017, THE THE released the Radio Cineola: Trilogy box set. As well, the first biography of THE THE, “Long Shadows, High Hopes,” written by Neil Fraser and fully authorized by Johnson, was published by Omnibus Press on June 7, 2018.
For this current tour, alongside singer and songwriter Matt Johnson, the line-up features a member from each of the three previous THE THE world tours:James Eller on bass (representing the ‘Versus The World’ tour),DC Collard on keyboards (representing the ‘Lonely Planet’ tour) and Earl Harvin on drums (representing the ‘Naked’ tour). They are joined by ‘new’ member Barrie Cadoganon guitar, who has played with his own band Little Barrie as well as Primal Scream, Edwyn Collins, Thee Hypnotics, Damo Suzuki, Spiritualized and The Chemical Brothers among others.
Talking about the line-up and forthcoming shows, Johnson said, “For this tour I wanted to strip down many of the songs and actually reduce the sonic palette. We won’t be using any samplers, click-tracks, sequencers or synthesizers. It’s just five musicians performing reinterpretations of my catalogue. The songs are not supposed to be reproductions of the album versions and many of them don’t sound like they do on the old recordings.”
In addition to the tour dates, the film Inertia Variations will be screened prior to the concert in each of the cities. This critically acclaimed feature-length documentary, directed by Johanna St Michaels, tells the story of THE THE’s disappearance 16 years ago and re-emergence for 2018’s “Comeback Special” tour. It is essential viewing for all THE THE fans. The Toronto screening will be at the Revue Cinema on September 18, 2018 at 6:45 PM. Tickets
See below for Q&A with Matt Johnson
THE THE – Wednesday September 19, 2018 with opener Agnes Obel
Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front Street East, Toronto
Q&A WITH MATT JOHNSON
These are your first shows in 16 years. What inspired the return?
Apart from a one-off performance as a guest of David Bowie at his ‘Meltdown’ festival at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2002 these will be the first THE THE concerts since 2000, which is nearly two decades. My decision to come out of ‘retirement’ was triggered by personal events in my life. My older brother and long time collaborator Andy “Dog” Johnson, who created many of the distinctive THE THE record sleeves over the years, passed away in January 2016. His death came in the middle of the filming of The Inertia Variations, a Swedish feature length documentary that was being made about me (view trailer here). Andrew’s illness and subsequent death became a central part of the film and inspired me to write my first new song in many years, “We Can’t Stop What’s Coming.” The whole situation caused me to reflect deeply about what I want to do with my life and so I decided to put a toe back in the water to feel the temperature.
–THE THE’s last album was in 2000, with the single, “We Can’t Stop What’s Coming,” your first new song in 15 years, released in 2017 on Record Store Day UK. Can you talk about the buzz the song (on which you were joined by former THE THE members Zeke Manyika on percussion, James Eller on bass and Johnny Marr on guitar) created and how it set the stage for the return to live concerts?
The director of The Inertia Variations, Johanna St Michaels, was trying to persuade me to write a new song for the documentary from the moment we began filming it. As the film is based around Radio Cineola, a 12 hour live radio broadcast I was hosting from my London studios, she felt it would make a great climax to the film if I was to perform a new song during a live broadcast. I had resisted this idea but in the end personal events overtook the documentary and after Andy’s illness and subsequent death I felt compelled to write a song for him, just as I had written “Love Is Stronger Than Death” for my younger brother Eugene when he passed away in 1989. My former bandmates, James Eller, Johnny Marr and Zeke Manyika were all very fond of Andrew and came together with me to pay tribute to him. ‘”We Can’t Stop What’s Coming” created such a buzz when it was released on Record Store Day ’17 that it actually crashed our website for many hours as we were unable to keep up with demand.
—The Inertia Variations premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in the summer of 2017 and forms part of a wider multimedia project inspired by the poem of the same name by John Tottenham. There’s also the Radio Cineola: Trilogy box set you released, and THE THE‘s Infected: The Movie. Can you talk about these projects?
This is one of the most ambitious projects I’ve ever attempted as it encompasses music, spoken word and poetry, politics, sculpture, photography and film. It involved many collaborators across the UK, Europe and the US. The project was initially inspired by the poem The Inertia Variations, which was written by John Tottenham, an Englishman living in Los Angeles. John and his poem were introduced to me by our mutual friend, the Brooklyn-based composer JG Thirlwell. It was this poem that inspired the making of the feature length documentary, with which it shares its name. But the project just kept growing and merged with Radio Cineola, my conceptual shortwave radio station that is broadcast from my London studios. There were also a couple of art installations, Roda Sten Konsthall in Goteborg and Summerhall in Edinburgh, which featured the 9-meter-tall Radio Cineola Tower we commissioned for the project. Lastly, there was the release of the Radio Cineola: Trilogy boxset on vinyl, CD and download and which featured exclusive photography and narration from the project.
–Since you’re known as a unique artist who tackles complex emotions and sociopolitical topics, can you talk about your current mindset and the state of the world?
Well, my views tend to be out of step with the mainstream narrative but I’ve often had people tell me that when they look back at things I said or wrote decades ago they seem to make more sense now. So, all I will say is that I think we’re living through very dangerous times and that the governments and intelligence services of the West are pulling us into perilous waters with their McCarthy-era hysteria and witch hunts. The prevailing mood appears to be argument by assertion where someone continually argues a point by merely asserting that it is true, regardless of contradiction. As Goebbels said, “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” When you start to look into these allegations the truth is often not what is being portrayed. It reminds me of the continual lies that were spread by our own governments and intelligence services in the UK and US that dragged us into the disastrous Iraq war and its aftermath. It seems few lessons have been learnt by the general public and I find it dispiriting how many people are content to be passively spoon fed information by their government, the corporate media and the intelligence services without doing their own research and making up their own minds.
–Can you talk about which songs from THE THE’s albums–from your debut Burning Blue Soul (1981), through Soul Mining (’83), Infected (’86), Mind Bomb (’89) and Dusk (1993)–will be in the set list?
Obviously I’m not going to give away the set list, but songs from every album of THE THE’s catalogue will be represented.
–Are you planning to record a new album?
Yes, I’m feeling inspired and have already started writing it. I’m hoping to begin recording sessions later this year but this all depends on our touring schedule.
–What has surprised you most in your career?
The loyalty of many members of my audience has been a pleasant surprise.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.