Utah, Utah, Utah Saints…
Back in the summer of 1993 ‘Believe in Me’ was the soundtrack for my GCSE years. They provided anthems for the rave generation and sampled much-loved songs that even music purists can’t deny are really something good, described as “the first true stadium house band” by the KLF’s Bill Drummond, Who are they? Hype spoke to Jez Willis one half of the Utah Saints.
Hype: Utah Saints have held onto the respect they earned back in the 90’s, do you think that was because your music was slightly more challenging than a lot of the dance music that was available at the time?
JW: What you just described is right, it’s a kind of transitional thing, music can be quite potent, I think sometimes… I think the whole thing has always freaked us out, to be honest, purist as it sounds we just wanted to make music that we thought was A) good and B) we wanted to cross a lot of genres, that’s what we tried to do and confuse people. No, not confuse but make them think about what defines stuff: whether a haircut defines a sort of person because of the way they look. It’s Ok, you can be into dance music and your metal music I think that was what we were trying to do so it’s really nice to hear where we have achieved that. The reason it worked against us a bit is that at that point we weren’t falling heavily into any one camp, so people were never sure where to put us.
“We basically nicked that idea of the KLF”
Hype: You played live as well which was unusual for that time because back in the early 90’s you were either a DJ or a live band, you did both? JW: Yeh we did, we were trying to put the DJ in the place of the lead guitarist which is where Tim stood on the stage all the time (behind the decks) and partly for America because even over here you can’t get away with just DJing. Later it was Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers who kind of trail blazed that, so we thought ‘right!’, at the time we set off doing lots and lots of raves. We did a big one at Kings Lynn dog track of all the places! So we thought ‘ok we’re going to stop doing this right now cos we’re playing live now’, all these places were semi-legitimate and the whole rave thing became a bit of a dirty word overnight so we said ‘right, let’s try and do it live’ and we did… we ended up supporting U2. That said, we were still an electronic dance band so often people were a bit worried about how the music was going to define them and whether they should like us or not, they were a bit worried about liking us.
Like you just mentioned, people who know music liked us and they know what music they like other sorts and that is a massive compliment to us and it’s always really nice to hear because you are never sure what’s going forward and for us what usually for us is ‘Utah Saints, Utah Saints’! Hype: Where did that come from? Nobody can say Utah Saints without saying it twice.
JW: We basically nicked that idea of the KLF because the KLF kept name-checking themselves and if we get played on the radio it advertises the name of the band. It’s funny because music has gone right round in a circle and now there’s stuff that I still don’t fully understand like Grime but a lot of the house music I do understand as its doing a very similar thing as it did originally.
Hype: Thing for me is Hip Hop, for example, has changed from your old school hip hop rappers to Drake, Kanye, and JZ calling themselves hip-hop artists? Where did the genres change?
JW: It is very confusing but the good thing watching the kids listening to music is they seem a lot less bothered about stuff like that, they’re less genre driven and more kind of media-driven I guess?
JW: You used to use music in a completely different way, you get a bit of music and put it on and listen to it over and over again, listen to it at a lot of different times. You start to connect with it a little bit more. Today there are so many other distractions. Jarvis Cocker described it really well, ‘Music has become like the scented candle that’s in the room’ I suppose, as opposed to the driving force.
HYPE: In July you did a small tour, how does that work with a family?
JW: A lot of the time we used to take the family to festivals and throw them in at the deep end and out of the three kids I’ve got, two of them are totally into the festivals but one not so much. I kind of try to bring them along and pick and choose which ones but I’ve always been a touring musician. There was a Christmas when we were touring Australia over Christmas and New Year and I was away from the whole of that time. But the upside is it’s flexible so you balance it out but it’s tricky earning a living from music and being a family person. It is for anyone working and who is a parent Hype: Who got you into music? Who were your influences?
JW: The Sex Pistols and Giorgio Moroda. Those records were the first ones, I’m sure I bought some records before that, probably some comedy records! The two that shaped me was ‘God Save The Queen’ and ‘I Feel Love’, and I found both equally exciting and I can remember when I first heard both and I guess both were kind of anti-establishment and groundbreaking at the time, so that got me into the whole synthesizer thing and also the power of punk.
Hype: I guess you combined both of those? JW: We tried to Hype: A lot of remixes have been done by Utah Saints that people might not realise you’ve done JW: Yes, we did say no to a couple of things and I wish we’d said yes now as the money used to be a bit stupid, but we took things that we thought were interesting, we took pop things and we take metal and rock things as well. Just because we always thought those were interesting things to remix and we didn’t see the point in doing just a run of the mill kind of house thing, we’ve always tried to do an interesting thing. I think that was the key to it, we always tried to do something that everyone would like.
JW: We are continually making music and doing lots of different things, we are trying to move into a bit of film music and film trailer music.
Hype: You did the Fifa soundtrack a little while ago didn’t you? JW: We had a few things on Fifa 98 which my kids don’t believe existed and Fifa 2001, we’ve done a few things for games and that’s quite interesting. Most recently we’ve done something for something called Radio G which came out on VR last year and also came out for PlayStation and Xbox. I think for us we need to do things together and I think we’ve got one more push in us for music. The kind of good thing about the internet is it’s throwing up so much music now that you can go 11deep into the internet and find samples that still no one else has used yet and we think that’s interesting. There’s a lot of new music out there and that’s quite exciting, a huge surge of new bands.
JW: Yeh, there is a lot of new music and its moving very quickly and that’s the great thing. We’re still excited by music and still finding stuff that I think wow, that’s really good. This morning I was watching this thing on Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes playing a metal festival and I was watching MotorHead as well… the internet is really good for that, you can usually bounce into something that you’ve never heard of before, which is always exciting. So I think we’ve got one more push of singles in us and we’ll try and do probably next year, but more singles.
Hype: Don’t just say one more! Look at the Rolling Stones?!
JW: The problem is when you start music you don’t really have a plan and at school, I always wanted to be in a band. One of the first bands I saw was Thin Lizzy at Newcastle City Hall and that made me want to be in a band and on stage and make music. I really hadn’t planned it after forty and I’m north of forty! So I’ve had to constantly reassess my plan, acknowledge I haven’t got one and sort out the next year or so!
So that’s the beginning of fake news right there.
HYPE: One of my first gigs was at Riverside in Newcastle when I was 14. A lot of the small venues are gone now. All the best gigs I’ve been to were in small venues and they were big names who would go to these places too. Where can the live scene go from here?
JW: I think it’s a symptom of overload in every area, people are moving towards festivals and instead of having to think about wanting to go to a gig here, a gig there and a gig here. You think oh I can go to a festival and I can tick that box and see all the bands. I think that’s why people go up that route and it’s a shame. Hopefully, the live venue thing would level out or have some sort of resurgence, I don’t know… but people can experience or think they’re experiencing something by watching it live on the computer.
They’ve bought in this change in legislation because what was happening for a while was they were building flats net door to venues, people complained about the noise and the venue got shut down and they’re now trying to change that so the onus goes back on to the builders.
When people start going back to gigs they’ll realise what they’re missing out on when a small venue was overwhelming like a rave in a club!
Hype: Speaking of raves, Castlemorton. It was a fantastic event but was it that that killed the rave scene?
JW: The whole rave thing and where it went wrong at the time was a shame, there’s footage online, Kelvin Mackenzie had someone from the Sun (?) go undercover at that rave and the headline hit two different demographics you know, you’ve got the older market who were more conservative with a small c who were saying this thing should not be happening and then you’ve got the younger generation who were saying this sounds exciting I want to go along . One of the reporters said they found loads of tin foil, similar to what you would wrap drugs in and this got reported and the promoter (this was in a documentary) was on camera saying we had all these foil cannons at the end so that explains the tin foil, then it goes back to Kelvin Mackenzie saying that he had just discovered that ‘Ecstasy doesn’t come in tin foil wraps but what I do know is that if The Sun says it was true, it was true’. So that’s the beginning of fake news right there.
There were many reasons why it went wrong and people were concerned that with so many moving in that direction that if that ever got made a bigger movement it could be dangerous to the establishment and also drinks companies were getting involved and they weren’t selling drink. So who knows, it was an exciting movement and we haven’t seen anything of that size, it would be interesting if we do. Hype: Maybe you could be the instigators?
JW: We still have opinions on stuff but our days of trying to mobilise a movement are long gone, it would be good to mobilise a lot of people to do something, especially in the current climate. Watch this space…