On Singing, Leeds, and Tater Tots
An interview with Sally Timms
From the Bloodshot Records web site: Sally
was born in Leeds, England. She grew up in the Yorkshire dales, sang in
the church choir and performed in poetry recitals as a child. In 1985
she joined the Mekons as a full-time member and has regretted it ever
since. Unfortunately, the only way out of the Mekons is in a box, so she's
still there. Known as one of the laziest women in show business, she frequently
calls in favors from her more talented and successful friends so that
she can dedicate more time to watching television and eating bananas.
She has blonde hair, grey eyes, and appalling mood swings.
From a glam youth straight to the punk life of
the Mekons to becoming Americas favorite English country star to
the lush pop of the Aluminum Group. Does Sally Timms the performer reflect
Sally Timms the listener? How much of your recorded career reflects what
you were listening to as a fan at the time?
I think my tastes in music haven't really mirrored
the kind of music I've made, although they've informed my recordings.
I tend to listen to a lot of crappy contemporary pop music or more left-field
older stuff. I was always a big Yoko Ono fan, so I think there's a closet
avant-gardeist trying to get out but not succeeding very well.
Is there anyone youve not worked with that
youd like to, any inspirations who youd like to have a goat
collaborating with? Anyone youre listening to right now whos
become a big influence on you, or just that you'd like the world to know
I'd quite like to work with John Cale. I think
he still has some interesting ideas left in him. I could be his new Nico,
which would be fine since a friend of mine used to call me "Little
Nico" due to my persistent homelessness/rootlessness and my
liking for odd Germanic ballads. I'd like more people to know about Azita's
new record Enantiodromia. I think it's one of the best things I've heard
in a while. Also, I wish more people would love Johnny Dowd's material
the way I do.
Youve described the northern punk scene as
less about sex-drugs-and-bad-behavior and more about making tea
and staying up all night listening to Jean-Michel Jarre records.
How deep is the disconnect between the perception of that period and the
That's not strictly true. My experiences in Manchester
with Pete Shelley were of the tea-making variety but plenty of people
were doing crazy things. When you're younger, crazy behavior seems more
acceptable than it does later in life. It also looks far less attractive
now. However, the scene in Leeds was full of sex and drugs, or at least
drink, and was a permanent round of partner-swapping. Punk rock was never
really comparable to the earlier rock movements. It was a lot more asexual
and politically informed.
Talk about Hangahar, your collaboration with Pete
Shelley. Ive heard it described as improvised percussive pots-and-pans
noise-rock, and the moment I heard you talk about it I instantly and desperately
wanted to hear it. Any chance itll ever get re-released, and how
did you come to make a record so removed from what were used to
hearing from you? Is that style something youd ever want to return
I don't think any of us had any aspirations
to become rich and famous, so we just did what we did and enjoyed that.
I hope it will get re-released. I've been trying
to find a label who would put it out, but I only have a vinyl copy left.
That was a concept that came about purely as a result of being stoned
on pot with my friend Kay in Newcastle. Pete had pretty left-field sensibilities,
so he liked the idea of someone howling in an imaginary language over
synths and kitchen percussion. I think I've always wanted to make another
record like that, but I also like to make records that at least a few
people will buy.
While were still back in time, tell me about
the Shee-Hees, your pre-Mekons all-female glam-punk band.
well, the Shee-Hees weren't really glam-punk.
God knows what we were... basically a reaction to the somewhat stifling
Leeds P.C. punk rock scene. We wore silly costumes, couldn't play to save
our lives and sang covers of Lionel Ritchie songs. Maybe we were more
punk rock than the punks
I don't know.
Youve been part of the Mekons for over 15
years now. How has being with them compared with how you thought it would
be when you joined up? Did you have any notion back then what it might
be like and where it might end up?
I didn't even think about where it would end up.
Who does, really? I mean, at that age, you just do things. I don't think
any of us had any aspirations to become rich and famous, so we just did
what we did and enjoyed that. All you can see in looking back is how much
you've changed over the years, but whatever "The Mekons"
is seems to have remained strangely static, at least conceptually if not
You had some choice words to say recently about the turgid country-rock
of a certain performer that will remain nameless in case we might want
to suck up to her for an interview one day. Whats country to you?
What appeals to you about the form, and what can happen with it that turns
I can't remember who I was referring to. I don't
really have a strong relationship to country music in the way some of
my friends do; it's just another form of music with its plusses and minuses.
I like singing well-written songs that tend toward the depressive, so
country can be a mine of those. I don't like what passes as Nashville
country, but I'm so removed from it that it hardly matters any more than
Britney Spears does.
Your voice isnt that of a traditional female
country singer, and yet youve said that the reason you sing country
is that your voice is particularly suited to it. Why country and not straight
pop or torchy jazz? What about your voice makes it so well-suited to the
American country style?
Well, it could have been pop or torchy jazz, I
suppose, but that doesn't sound so enticing to me. Plenty of people have
called me a torch singer, but there's not much demand for those nowadays.
I would have loved to sing with a big band in some old-fashioned nightclub
and dress up like Veronica Lake, but I was born too late. I think there's
some kind of misconception that I just sing country, which I don't. One
of my next releases will sound nothing like a country record, and one
will. Mekons songs aren't country, or at least not for the most part.
The editor of this publication is in a band named
for a Mekons song. When you hang it up, what other tributes would you
like to have paid to you? What can the Sally Timms fan do to make you
think its all been worth it?
So many ways I can go with this answer! But I
shall try not to be smart-ass or rude... I suppose when I hang it
up I shall be too old to care about tributes. Fans, if they are
wealthy and so inclined, can send cash. Cash tributes would be gratefully
received... or fruit. Bananas. I don't really care whether it's all worth
it. What does that mean? If I don't think it's worth it now, in my interior
world, then why bother doing it at all? The validation is okay, I suppose,
but we do these things for far more complex reasons.
Youre set to do some recording here in beautiful
Chicago. What are you working on, and when do we get to hear it?
I am working on two new releases. One is being
recorded in Ithaca with Johnny Dowd and his band, and one here in Chicago
for Bloodshot in a similar vein to the last one. They may have simultaneous
release dates, but neither will be out before early next year.
I am reliably informed that you are not familiar
with Tater Tots. It is my opinion that a full appreciation of American
country music is difficult, if not impossible, without having sampled
this staple of downscale cuisine. If I bought you a bag of Tater Tots,
would you cook them, top them with cheese, and eat them with a toothpick?