It’s My Life, and it’s my unpublished 1984 interview with Mark Hollis of Talk Talk

By Steve Newton

Back in early 1984 I did an interview with Mark Hollis of British synth-pop band Talk Talk. 

I wasn’t really into synth-pop–I was more into Iron Maiden, Scorpions, and Van Halen–but I took the assignment because Talk Talk was promoting its new album, It’s My Life, and was planning to visit my city, Vancouver, while touring behind it.

That gig never happened, though, and my interview got shelved–until now. (Thanks to huge Talk Talk fan Angela Kim for the transcription.)

Hi Mark? How you doing?

Yeah. Okay, thanks.

Where are you calling from?

Toronto.

Toronto, eh? What’s happening with the band right now?

Well, what they are at the minute they’re back in London rehearsing for a tour that we’ll start. We start our British tour in about three weeks’ time. And then hopefully we would be over here about June or July. I mean, one of the purposes of this visit is actually to go down and sort the touring arrangements out.

So are you going to be touring Canada?

Yes. Definitely.

Making it out to Vancouver?

Well, we’d certainly hope so, yeah.

Alright. Talk Talk. Did it use to be a guitar-less band?

Yes. That’s right.

With just three of you?

Yeah. it was just vocals, keyboards, bass, and drums.

Why the change?

Well, you see the original premise for that was–I’m sure you won’t see a direct comparison–but you know like with John Coltrane, when he’s in his quartet?

Uh-huh.

That was the initial idea for that actual lineup, so that it was like, you know, a bass that could be sort of melodic at some points and could be rhythmic at other points. And then keyboards and drums and the vocals to actually state the melody. The other thing about it, you see, was, being a lineup like that it was an easy one to actually increase upon because it immediately made everything sort of keyboard-orientated.

It’s My Life, is that your second album?

Yes, that’s right.

And Robbie McIntosh plays guitar.

That’s right. He plays acoustic, yes.

Is that the same Robbie as in Pretenders?

Yes, yes.

How did you happen to get into him?

Well, he’s someone that Tim Friese-Greene has worked with in the past. And when we were talking about getting an acoustic guitar player on, he just said, ‘How ‘bout trying Robbie?’ And I mean the bloke’s great; he’s very sharp.

How many tracks does he play on, approximately?

If I think through the album… Let me think. Um. One… Two… Uh… Three… Four… Oh, I’ll guess. Say about six or seven.

So more than half anyway.

Yes.

What about your touring band? Will you have a guitar player with you then?

Yeah. We’re actually going to tour as a six-piece, which would be two keyboard players, one specifically for acoustic piano, and then one for synthesizer. A guitarist, bass, drums, and maybe on a couple of things I would pick up an acoustic myself.

I saw your video the other day. I don’t know if it’s the new one or not; I forget which song it was. How many videos do you have out now, Mark?

Well, did the video you saw the other day have a lot of animals in it?

I forget. I only saw it once.

Well, I mean, if it was the new video, you see, virtually the whole of the video are animals.

I think I saw a monkey in there.

Oh. No, no. You see, with the new video we’ve actually done two videos for “It’s My Life”. Have you heard the whole album?

Yeah. I’m listening to it right now.

Well you know there are quite a few animal noises that crop up during the album.

Oh yeah.

We just wanted to take a different approach to videos, you see. I think they’ve become so cliched in their ideas and everything in terms of expecting the girls and the fast cars and all this sort of stuff, where the storyline is so esoteric no one at the end of the day has a clue what it’s even about anyway. So we got together with Tim Pope and we’ve done two videos for “It’s My Life”.

You see, with one of the videos, what it is it spends about 95% of the time with animals. Of the other 5%, the band aren’t in it anywhere, and in this other 5%, when I’m in it, I actually have my mouth taped so I can’t sing or anything. Now, what happens is at the same time you see there is a small graphic that runs along the bottom of the screen which moves from say a little sperm into like zebra stripes, you know, and into an egg and then into like a third eye and all that sort of business. Into cell division and stuff. So that is meant to be a sort of subtitle, to an extent, in terms of a theory of evolution.

You see, what I think’s happened a lot with videos is you’ve been given the song and then the videos have to sort of fit around the song. Now what I think should be happening with videos and what we’ve tried to actually implement here is that what you actually do in the video is a film and the music actually becomes a soundtrack to that film.

Oh I see.

But we like reverse it, so with one of these videos for “It’s My Life” what you can actually do is watch the video and have someone else’s record playing to it, if you wanted to.

Oh. That’s interesting.

Do you see what I mean?

Yeah.

It isn’t restricted to anything.

That’s a good idea.

But you see, why we’ve done two of these is this second video that you can play to anything is actually… you know like if you’re watching TV and on the TV that you’re watching you’ve got people watching TV, and they’re watching a film and you think, ‘Well, I’d rather see that film than this film.’ So this animal video is that film within the film. Do you see what I mean? So in our other video you will see us and then this sort of animal thing with me without a mouth and everything is almost like a surrealist film within our performance that then we’ve removed it a stage further so that it is actually a video within its own right as well.

Excellent. Talk Talk toured with Duran Duran, an extensive tour of England there. How did that go?

Well, that was very early days. That was when we very first signed to EMI in England, about two and a half years ago.

Oh, I see. So I guess Duran Duran weren’t as popular then as they are now. They’re huge now.

Yes, that’s right. And when we tour England now we do our own tours, so I don’t think it really has much relevance to us.

How would you describe Talk Talk musically?

The track or the band?

The band.

Oh. We just say we’re concerned about everything with songwriting and then trying to be as diverse as possible in terms of influences that we bring into it.

Your older brother, Ed Hollis. Was he in Eddie and the Hot Rods?

No, what he used to do was produce and manage them. I mean, he’s been very influential to me because, I’m sure if you’ve got an older brother, you’ll know. The age difference between him and me is slightly over three years. So at a stage when I was ten and he was 13 he was starting to listen to music that was slightly more off the track, than… do you know what I mean? It’s like you start hearing other input coming.

So what he’s done all the way through–I mean he still does it now as well–he just listens to a phenomenal amount of records. I mean his collection is extremely extensive. And what he does is just sort of guides me into things that I should be listening to, you know. So maybe when I was ten he started playing me Traffic stuff, you know, and the Doors and all that sort of thing, the Floyd and everything. And then he’d say ‘Well, start listening to this,’ and it would be all this early blues stuff like Howlin’ Wolf and that, early Hooker and stuff.

It’s nice to have someone turn you on to that stuff.

Then he’d sort of go, ‘Well, now start listening to this,’ and it’d be like Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, you know, and then he’d go ‘Listen to this’ and it’d be like Carl Orff and, you know, Shostakovich. People who were sort of quite intense. This has just been like that all the way down the line, you know. You could say he’s like a mentor to me in a way ‘cause he’s just always trying to give me new ideas in terms of things I should be listening to basically.

Great. How is the album selling, do you know?

Well, in its first three days I think it’s done 50,000.

In Britain that is?

No. That’s in America.

Is that right, eh?

Yes.

Alright! That’s not bad.

Oh, I think it’s wonderful.

What’s the single out right now?

“It’s My Life”

“It’s My Life”… right. Okay! Well, when you get to Vancouver here I’ll try to get backstage and say ‘hi’ Mark.

Sure! That’d be great.

Thanks for calling.

Ok. Thank you.

Take care, eh.

Ok.

Bye.

Bye.

Although I wasn’t a big Talk Talk fan at the time of this chat, I have come to appreciate Mark Hollis as a visionary songwriter with a distinctive voice who played by his own rules and wasn’t swayed by commercial tendencies. Sadly, he died in 2019 after a short, undisclosed illness at the age of 64.

To hear the full audio of my 1984 interview with Mark Hollis subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on nearly 300 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

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…with hundreds more to come

 

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