[Part 2 of 2] Here is the second part of the interview with the Libertines’ Gary Powell …
Prefix Magazine: Let’s just jump back briefly to the band’s beginning. There’s been much made about how Carl and Pete met as squatters in East London. How did you and bassist John Hassall fall into the picture?
The Libertines: Well, John joined the band before I did. … [Pete and Carl] met because Carl knew Pete’s sister and Pete knew Carl’s sister, and they both kind of fancied each other’s sisters. That’s how they actually met. Peter was actually interested in someone giving him guitar lessons, and he heard Carl could teach ’em how to play. They started banding around and they met a guy called Scarborough Steve. Scarborough Steve, he knew John — John was living with his mum at that point and had lots of equipment in his basement. So Scarborough Steve told Pete and Carl, “You’ve gotta meet this kid John.” So Pete went down to meet John, and he hung out with John for a while and then John joined the band. They added a cellist and a drummer called Mr. Razzcocks.
That was the original line-up of the Libertines, and that continued for about three or four years. But at that point it wasn’t really going anywhere, nobody was really interested in picking them up as a viable commercial entity. So Pete and Carl … were living in squats, and John and Mr. Razzcocks and the cellist got a little [discouraged] with the direction the band was going and that it wasn’t really going anywhere, so they left.
Then Pete and Carl [found a manager], and I was doing session work for Eddy Grant [a reggae artist based in England]. [Pete and Carl’s manager] found out I was actually looking for work, and she gave me a call. I met her outside of Angel tube station in Islington and then we went back to this pub called Filthy McNasty’s. That’s where I met Pete and Carl, and we kind of hung out for a while. It was kinda cool because we were all in similar circumstances. … We were both looking for other opportunities, so that’s kind of how we got together. And then four months later, after they allowed me to beat them into shape [laughs], we got signed. And then John came back.
PM: I’m sure you’ve heard this, but one of the more interesting things about the new album is how autobiographical it is, particularly regarding the relationship between Carl and Pete and Pete’s drug problems. Do you see the album that way?
The Libertines: To be honest, I don’t. I mean, maybe I do now, but only because it’s been asked so many times that I’ve had no choice but to actually listen to the album again to see there’s actually very autobiographical content to the album. But initially, no, because we were recording over such a short time frame and we had so little details to work with anyway, that it was just really about getting it done as quickly as possible. … For the songs that they had worked on in [their] entirety … Peter would come up with a guitar line, sing a line of a song and then we’d work on the arranging of the song and putting the whole thing together. That’s where I came in. … My whole thing was really concentrating on the song in its entirety — the bass part, the guitar part, the drum part, listening the mixes and all that type of stuff. I never really, up until we started getting interviewed, ever once considered this to be an autobiographical album.
PM: It seems like it would be a pretty harrowing experience for the two of them to be writing that stuff together in the studio. Was there a lot of tension between them?
The Libertines: There was a little bit a tension between them, but we’ve gotta remember that we are really talking about sibling rivalry; that’s all that it is, really. It’s just Peter and Carl. If something of the least topical nature was to occur between the two of them, sometimes it could actually bring about some kind of conflict. But it never really lasted particularly long. Between brothers or sisters, they never usually do anyway. Generally the atmosphere in the studio was really, really good, simply because we were back again playing music together, listening to music together, eating together, drinking together — we were doing everything as one. It was like a band of brothers all over again … So there would be a bit of sibling rivalry, which is fair enough I guess, but everyone else ignored it.
PM: So they way the songs tended to come about would be that Carl or Pete would present a riff or a lyric and then you and John would help with arranging it?
The Libertines: Yeah, exactly.
PM: You guys only had this past March to get this album done? Is that correct?
The Libertines: Yes, [it was] a very short amount of time. I mean, it wasn’t all fresh and new. There were some tracks we had played beforehand. “Can’t Stand Me Now” and “Saga” [we played] a couple weeks beforehand. So we had those two tracks. And we had played “Arbeit Macht Frei” and “Narcissist” the year before that, so we had those tracks done as well. But the rest of the album was completely new to everyone else, apart from “Don’t Be Shy” and “Campaign of Hate,” which me and Pete were working on in November the year before.
PM: One of my favorite things about your music is how endearingly sloppy it is. My favorite press quote was from a review of Up the Bracket in which Chuck Klosterman wrote that the Libertines “play like they just woke up ten minutes ago.” And I think the new album is even looser. I find that your music really works well presented that way. Do you find that quality comes about just from the chemistry in the band? What’s your take on that?
The Libertines: We’re a very organic band. I think there’s a natural progression with everything we do. So like the recording of the album, it is quite sloppy. But then again, it’s also very emotional for us. What you’re actually getting is a picture of us on a day-to-day basis — some things will be tighter than others depending on what day we recorded, what frame of mind we were in, how much we drank the day before.
We weren’t out there to try to create the “Mona Lisa” or repaint the Sistine Chapel. All we wanted to do was give the public us. And in giving us, we couldn’t really go and start using ProTools [and sounding] like Queen or … Linkin Park. That’s fine for Linkin Park, but it isn’t for us, because we’re not Linkin Park. We’ve never had to be as talented as those guys; we’re as talented as we are. So that’s what you get: us, which is a little bit sloppy. Saying that, when you go see us live, you get a completely different picture all together because we are tight and we can play.