Ian McCulloch‘s manager, Peasy (as in easy-peasy), sounds worried about me.
“Are you okay, mate?” he asks when he calls to tell me that Mac will be ready for our phone interview after he makes tea for his daughter and before he goes to watch his team (Liverpool!) play a match against Monaco. And the truth is he should be a little worried. I’m not at my best today. McCulloch’s fault, really.
I tied one on a bit too tight the night before while watching the Killers, and the Killers wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for a little band called Echo & the Bunnymen, who have helped define what it means to play stylish, atmospheric pop music for the past 25 years. And McCulloch would agree—he takes a lot of pride in having influenced a new generation of young popsters, including the Killers.
“It’s great,” he says over the phone before heading out to cheer on Liverpool’s coming victory over Monaco. “If there’s a new band that’s doing well and they’re influenced by us, it proves to me that we’re just as contemporary now as we were then.”
And the nod toward his brand of moody-yet-lovely alternative music is particularly sweet, as McCulloch acknowledges that trends are fickle and pop went out of vogue there for a little while.
“It always goes in cycles, and the fact that it’s 25 years on since we started and we’re affecting, in a way, what’s going on in the charts or in modern music, it’s great,” he says. “It’s proof that if you listen to ‘The Cutter’ now, it’s still—to be fair, even if not modest—it blows most of the new stuff away, and it still sounds vibrant and like a new thing.”
But while there was a time when grunge and rap metal ruled the roost and those more sensitive souls out there listened to their Echo & the Bunnymen cassettes in obscurity, McCulloch has no doubts about why his band has returned to prominence since releasing their comeback album Flowers in 2001 or why they were worth emulating in the first place.
They did, after all, write the best song. Ever.
You see, McCulloch has been known to claim that “The Killing Moon” (off 1984’s Ocean Rain) is the preeminent tune in the history of pop music. (Hear that? That’s the sound of two Beatles and two Beach Boys grave-rolling in perfect syncopation!)
“Somebody asked me why I thought it’s the greatest song of all time, and I said because it’s more than a song,” he says. “And they said, ‘What’s it about?’ And I said, ‘Everything.'”
But McCulloch isn’t an old codger who sits in his rocking chair, telling tales about the glorious good old days—he is more interested in looking forward to the songs he and Bunnymen guitaristWill Sergeant are writing for their new album, which they plan to record in October and release next spring. In fact, when Rhino Records released a bunch of their classic albums with additional goodies, including live and unreleased tracks, last year to celebrate the band’s 25th anniversary, McCulloch didn’t contribute to their selection. He found he just wasn’t interested in wading through all of that old stuff.
“I don’t like to go back,” he says. “I’m always looking forward, and I’m writing loads of songs for the next album, and they’re the tunes that go round me head. It’s always the next batch for me.”
And McCulloch has good reason to be excited as he looks ahead to the new material. He and Sergeant have a legendarily vibrant partnership that feeds the band’s songwriting. And Sergeant’s guitar work is what really defines the Echo & the Bunnymen sound, according to McCulloch.
“He’s my favorite guitarist since Mick Ronson, who played with Bowie,” he says. “It’s as lyrical, almost, as the words. And that’s what I love. I don’t just like guitarists who think it’s all about rock & roll.”
But while McCulloch credits the elegant riffs Sergeant lays down under his own rich, smoky vocals, he’s also confident he’s got a few new tricks. Oh, and the NEW best song ever. Coming soon, he says.
“I was saying to someone a few months ago, there’s another ‘Killing Moon,'” he says. “Like a brother or a sister to, or a son or a daughter of. You kind of have touchstone kind of songs that you always think, ‘This one is actually as good as or better’ . . . and there are quite a few new songs that are just some of the best things that I’ve ever done.”