3. Eternally and Ever Ermine Street
While Fuzzy Warbles may have effectively cleaned out the closet for older material, and hopefully achieved its goal of thwarting bootleggers from capitalizing on Partridge’s work, the present and future remain busy for Partridge as he continues his work building APE House into an artist-friendly home for new acts. Currently developing the Milk and Honey Band and singer-songwriter Veda Hille, Partridge’s goal is to use the intensely negative experiences that XTC went through in the Virgin years to reverse the relationship of ownership and provide a label that works positively to the benefit of bands.
“Most record companies give artists very poor deals. That’s one thing with APE, that taking on other artists at APE, I wanted to give them the best deal possible. In fact, the artists make a lot more than we do, which is, you know, that’s completely brobdingnag of an idea. Swift would be proud of that. It’s completely upside down of an idea, because most record companies, they’re grasping and grabbing, and the artists are the last ones to see any money.”
In addition to his work as an independent label head, Partridge remains an active songwriter on his own. Recent years have found him in a primarily collaborative role, working and recording with a number of artists. With Peter Blegvad, he co-wrote and recorded the synesthetic Orpheus: The Lowdown in 2004. He’s also co-written songs appearing on a number of discs, working with Mitch Friedman, Dave Yazbek, Pugwash, and the Nines. Most recently, Partridge worked on a song collaboration for Robyn Hitchcock’s new album Olé! Tarantula, a pairing that seemed particularly fruitful and was unfortunately cut short by a sound engineer’s studio mistake that left Partridge battling a severe case of tinnitus.
Partridge reports that Hitchcock sent him word that “when he comes off tour, he’d very much like to get back with me and carry on writing. Which I’d like to do as well, because we came up with about half a dozen things. A couple of them I thought were pretty damned good, actually.”
Partridge seems the most excited about a new project that’s just wrapping up and nearing a release date. Labeled Monstrance, this project brought him back into the recording studio with founding XTC member Barry Andrews, who quit the band after its second album, Go 2, following some creative differences with Partridge in particular, and went on to form Shriekback. Having long since patched up old wounds, Partridge even adding his guitar to last year’s Shriekback release, Partridge approached Andrews about working on a non-pop album, scratching the itch he’d long suppressed to explore jazz-influenced improv music.
“This is something I’ve wanted to do forever. A lot of my background is a bit of a schizoid split thing. As a kid I loved pretty much straight pop music. I mean, my real love was slightly psychedelic pop music. But it would be thing like Beatles, Stones, Small Faces, Kinks, early Floyd. Pretty straight pop music. And then, just a year or two after that, a friend of mine who was like two years older than me, he was really big on avant-garde jazz music and he used to get these import records from New York and Scandinavia and he kept inflicting them on me.”
“At first I resisted, ‘cuz I had a very straight sort of background. And then suddenly something kind of snapped where I became as addicted to these things as he did,” Partridge explains. “I’ve always wanted to make albums of purely improvised music.”
This project promises to be a new direction for Partridge, whose reputation has always been recognized as musically diverse, yet still based squarely in the pop tradition. Such free-form experimentation requires an entirely different set of sensibilities, and Partridge laughs about the effect it might have on his core fan base.
“It’s probably going to piss off a lot of XTC fans. Because they can be a bit conservative, you know.”
Unfortunately, a larger question mark hangs in the air as to the precise status of XTC. While Partridge is quick to say that XTC’s long journey isn’t over, he explains that Moulding’s heart is no longer in music.
“He’s going through the change. He said to me a couple of months back, he’s not interested in writing any more songs. And he’s, in fact, not interested in listening to music full stop. He’s stopped listening to music and stopped wanting to write it.” Partridge encouraged Moulding to view it as a potential writer’s block, and not treat it as final, but rather to wait and see if the urge to write surprises him in the next few years, and to put things on hold until it does.
It’s certain that fans hope, along with Partridge, that Moulding finds his muse once more, and connects with Partridge in the studio once more. Partridge acknowledges that XTC is not, and should not be, a moniker being exploited for a Partridge solo show. “It’s no good making a record and calling it XTC, certainly, if Colin isn’t involved. I wouldn’t want to do that; he wouldn’t want me doing that.” However, he remains hopeful that the situation is indeed temporary, and is unwilling to say that XTC the band is done for good.
“We’ve not killed off the XTC head. I mean, we still have the head cryogenically frozen. It’s up next to Walt on the shelf.”
But for the immediate future, Partridge will continue to work in his quiet, semi-hermetic way. Partridge notes that working on Monstrance has been an invigorating process, and that if successful enough, he’d like to repeat it. Additionally, having spent the last several months recuperating from a series of injuries, Partridge seems to be itching to return to his garden shed recording studio, hit record, and play some new material.
“I think I’m gonna have to make a solo record just to get rid of all these songs I’m amassing. And, also, lots of other projects, things that I fancy trying, and areas I would like to go into,” Partridge asserts. “But it’s difficult to stop music. Not being able to play the guitar for six months, and not being able to hear any loud noises or put on headphones and stuff with my hearing, that’s been tough. It’s sort of made me want to do it even more now.”
With the completion of the Fuzzy Warbles series, another layer has been added to the ziggurat of Partridge’s monument in music history. The role XTC has played in defining pop excellence and inspiring other musicians to pick up instruments and attempt to write songs of their own seems to have become clearer over each passing year, and Partridge is finally being given the respect that he has earned. And while modest by some standards, Partridge’s life affords him the opportunity to continue to explore new avenues and write more songs. Partridge says that his only rule as a songwriter has been to better himself continuously. If he succeeds at this, then the future has a rich tapestry yet to offer. So if chalkhills and children truly do anchor Andy Partridge’s feet, he seems content with it.
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