JOHN Lydon’s Public Image Limited have never been a band to rest on their laurels or stick to the tried and trusted.
Over the 32 years of their existence, they’ve explored a multitude of musical genres while still sounding unique.
As soon as Lydon starts singing, you know this is PiL, which, aptly enough, is the name of their new album.
This Is PiL sees the band return after a lengthy lay off during which its members had to sit and wait until an unsympathetic record contract had expired.
I asked John if he had found having no outlet for his creativity a frustrating experience.
“Yeah, terrible. It’s the kind of thing that could drive you insane. And I know many people who have record contracts and just about all of them have nothing but horror stories to tell me, some far worse than whatever I had to go through, so God bless them all.
“In a clearer way, from my point of view, I understand why some of them end up alcoholics and junkies, and it’s because you’re continuously frustrated that you can’t create any longer, because you’re constantly bombarded with pressure where pressure shouldn’t come.
“The original idea of companies like Virgin is that they would remove that pressure and make making music a wonderful fun thing and, for me, when Richard Branson left, that was it. It was done, over.”
PiL’s point-blank refusal to play the game and become The Sex Pistols II frustrated record company executives and many of their earlier fans alike.
I asked John if he felt that when PiL became a more dance-orientated outfit and enjoyed US chart success with tracks like Rise and This Is Not A Love Song, it had brought resentment from some of that first wave of fans.
“Oh, there’s been an awful lot of stupidity said about this, and the charge began with the record companies resenting my independence. When I put the first two PiL albums together, they bitterly resented that.
“But then I wanted to change the musical format again and again and again, because that’s what John does, you know. I don’t believe in finding a comfort zone and sticking with it. So every time I altered the game plan, according to them, out would come the negativity. So when you receive no back up or support from your record label, it leaves you wide open to the savage pens, you know?
“And there’s a cottage industry of scribes that can’t wait to stick the knife in. It doesn’t matter who or what or for what reason, it’s just the need to be vindictive, and that leads to this schism of thoughts.
“But it’s an unfortunate one. You won’t understand the work I’ve been involved with if you just take one little piece of the jigsaw. It’s all of the pieces put together that paint a proper picture.
“Also, the major music magazines at the time were very, very, very wicked.
“But it’s record companies who pay for the adverts, therefore those music magazines, that was their bread and butter, so they were basically saying ‘screw the band, support the label, we’ll go along with this’.
“But to be more accurate, I’ve never made or turned PiL into a dance-orientated band. We do everything. We evolve and involve our own musical creations, which of course later were picked up by the dance crowd, which led into wonderful things like rave, things that I really love.
“There’s an awful lot of labelling and misunderstanding of what I do, but basically, bottom line, I’ve never done anything to hurt anyone my whole life and I’ve never stolen an idea or a penny from anybody.
“That’s my value system and if I’m un-liked for that, that’s a strange world indeed.”
Three years in the making, This Is PiL is self-financed and released independently, on the band’s own label.
I asked John whether there had been record company interest in a new PiL album. “No, no, we had to wait until the contracts expired. And unfortunately, of course, there’s still something called an outstanding debt. So rather than go back into that Catch 22 scenario, we decided to set up our own label and we earned the money to do that by touring almost continuously for two years.
“It paid off in dividends for us because we became, as a band, very, very close to each other, very tight as friends, and the making of a new record was, I wouldn’t say easy, but it was something that we were all very much looking forward to.
“There’s no animosity between us. We have the ethos of ‘don’t lie’. If you need to lie then there’s no point in doing it. And I’ve learnt that lesson over the years. You know, I’ve had to work with many people who just lie as if it was a career move.
“And a lot of them punk books, too, people who set themselves up as experts in those situations, I find they don’t know what they’re talking about. They get it so wrong and it’s usually people who weren’t there from the start, rewriting history to give themselves a better place in it.”
These days, it seems like every time there’s a significant milestone for the royal family, it’s accompanied by an internet campaign to get the Sex Pistols’ version of God Save The Queen to number one, but this constant revisiting of his former band’s glory days doesn’t sit easy with John Lydon.
“Ah, that’s nothing to do me with me, it truly is bollocks. It’s very strange that they decide to do that, hopping on the back of a new PiL release.
“Odd, truly. They’ve almost put me in competition with myself, but it’s a fake thing. Whenever did my first band ever, ever shout for a number one? We never did anything for chart positions. It isn’t about that. So, in a weird way, they’re trying to commercialise a band that went beyond those boundaries, and this is the trouble with large record company thinking. They’re not actually thinking.
“They’re trying very unsubtly to corrupt what is really pure and, in many ways, innocent. And I can tell you that, as a Sex Pistol.
“So, me and the label that’s putting that out at the moment, we do not see eye to eye and never, ever will.”
PiL play Newcastle 02 Academy on August 6. Tickets from www.ticketweb.co.uk. This Is PiL is out now.