Plenty of punk purists think they know about Glen Matlock. However, most of their knowledge is confined to his time as the original bassist the Sex Pistols, pre-Sid Vicious. Unlike Sid, who made his mark by looking the part, you could say Matlock actually played the part–having both the technical ability and songwriting skill to write the bulk of the bands seminal Never Mind the Bollocks album only to leave the band before its release in 1977.
The average punk fan has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to Matlock’s resume as a guitarist, lead singer and songwriter for the last four decades. Going on to play with The Rich Kids, Iggy Pop, The Damned, and Glen Matlock & The Philistines, he’s had a pretty solid resume post-Pistols and plenty of stories to tell about his tunes and travels. This weekend, Matlock makes a rare appearance in LA and Long Beach playing Hotel Cafe and Alex’s Bar. We spoke with him about his latest album Good to Go, his past songwriting with rock legends and the things that still inspire him as a songwriter.
What brings you on tour in LA this time around?
I released an album toward the tail end of last year called Good to Go and I met a guy named John Halperin who asked if I’d come to the States and he said he’d like to put some dates together…on this album I don’t play bass. Every song I’ve ever written started on acoustic guitar and it’s taken me all around the world and there’s a story behind every song that I’ve done so I’m looking forward to sharing those stories for this solo set. Hopefully if it goes well I’ll do it more with a band after the summer…But I think I’ve written some songs of quite high consequence in my lifetime and there’s a few more where that came from and I’ve come to share that with you good people of America.
Will you also be performing songs from Rich Kids, the band you started after The Sex Pistols?
Yes, and I’m doing a few songs from every project I’ve ever worked on. But we did actually just reform the Rich Kids for a one off performance for a magazine called Viva La Rock and we did a few numbers for that and everyone was in the right place at the right time. A guy called Neil X sat in for Steve New who sadly passed away a few years back but it all went well and the songs still sound good. So for this tour I’m doing some songs from the albums I’ve been putting out over the past decade and a lot of the classics and because I wrote them all on acoustic guitar they all seem to hang together.
What continues to inspire you as a songwriter?
I was born in the mid-‘50s and there was a fantastic thing that came about in the ‘60s when I started listening to music called Pirate Radio and all the bands like The Kinks, The Who, The Yardbirds and the Small Faces came out and it was the zenith of the three-and-a-half-minute pop song. That’s still my yardstick today. If I can be mentioned in the same breath as Ray Davies, I’d be a happy man. One of the songs on the new album is a cover of a Scott Walker song, a cover of “Montague Terrace” but it’s my version of it. For the album, I asked Slim Jim Phantom to play drums on it and give it a different feel and he suggested putting Earl Slick on it.
What inspired you to cover that song?
We weren’t even gonna do it but we were in the studio laying stuff down and then Slim Jim broke his snare and he was fiddling around with that, then I started playing [“Montague Terrace”] song which I usually play live and Earl Slick said to me “What’s that?” I said “It’s a Scott Walker song.” He asked if we could do it, he said he had a good part for it. And by that time Slim Jim fixed his snare and in the corner of the studio there was a pair of timpani drums and Jim was looking at them and I just said “Go on then.” And so we overdubbed those on top so it was quite funny to see the drummer for the Stray Cats playing kettle drums. So I’ve been continuing to do just what I do really. Any success I’ve had in my lifetime came from music that was totally different from what was going on at the time. You can only really have some success by sticking your neck out somehow.
How has age and maturity helped strengthen relationships with members of your past bandmates?
I’m 62 now and I’ve worked with many good singers over the years but you never get to sing all the songs you’ve written and I think if I don’t do it now, I’m never gonna do it. I don’t claim to be the greatest singer but I know I have a way of getting my point across and the more you do it the better you get at it. Many years ago, I was recording with Iggy Pop and we were in the studio sitting around having dinner, I played on the album Soldier, which not many people know was originally called Onward Christian Soldiers but Iggy thought that title was too much–we were sitting around and he asked me “What are you up to?” And I said, “I’m recording with you but then I’m also getting together a bunch of my own material to record but I haven’t got the voice. You’re lucky you have a good voice.” And he got really annoyed and said “Lucky?! I’m not lucky, I’m worked damn hard to get this voice, I worked damn, damn hard!” So I thought okay, perhaps I’ll work a bit harder to try to sing.
Is it satisfying taking ownership over the lyrics you’ve written for other people now as a solo artist?
You might be the best singer in the world but you’re never gonna mean it as much as it does to the person who wrote the lyrics…I’ve been fortunate to play with great players who bring something to the table and I get to bring something as well.
What are some stories we can look forward to at the show?
I’m not gonna tell you all of them but if you come to the show you’ll probably hear one about me, Iggy Pop and a redheaded transvestite in Berlin in 1979.