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Echo & the Bunnymen’s Curmudgeonly Guitarist Will Sergeant on His Band’s Long Second Life: ‘It’s Not Horrible. It’s All Right’

Photo: Ebet Roberts/Redferns
Photo: Ebet Roberts/Redferns

Echo & the Bunnymen are one of the greatest bands to emerge from Britain’s eighties post-punk scene — but it’s okay if you only know them from that song “The Killing Moon” that plays while Jake Gyllenhaal is riding his bike at the beginning of Donnie Darko. As this type of thing goes, their lack of commercial success on this side of the Atlantic has meant an influential and fervent cult following; after breaking up in 1988, the band reformed in 1997 and has now seen its second act last longer than its first. On their current tour, Echo are revisiting a few of their classic albums, Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here, in full. Ahead of their New York shows this weekend, Vulture chatted with guitarist Will Sergeant, whose hilariously curmudgeonly life view is not to be missed.

Why’d you decide to play these two albums?
It’s one of those ideas that sort of floats around awhile. Heaven Up Here, that’s my favorite album. Mac [lead singer Ian McCulloch] said, ‘Let’s do Heaven Up Here and Crocodiles, as they’re quite short.’

How has reaction been?
Well, we’re sort of preaching to the converted, aren’t we? People have grown up with these albums. The people who come to see it know what they’re going to get. I guess there are loads of people doing it.

Does having a set list that everyone already knows make it hard to build energy? You’re not really surprising anyone.

Yeah, but you know life has downbeat moments, doesn’t it? Every song doesn’t have to be 200 miles an hour. The albums were put in an order for a reason. Doesn’t matter if there are downbeat bits.

The people who like you [do so] because they like your songs. A lot of them like the whole album. You used to play [an album] to death, every single section of it, like I used to do. It’s like an old friend. You do know what’s coming, but that’s kind of comforting in a way. Our songs have a bit of looseness to them anyway. It’s not Wings doing it exactly the same every night. It’s a slightly different drift off here and there. That’s something that’s always been built into our sets anyway, room to maneuver.

So Heaven Up Here is your favorite album?

For fuck’s sake, I never ever play them. It was like me favorite time of being in a band, because we had a great experience in the studio. It’s probably more colored by that. We were recording until three or four o’clock in the morning, then getting up at ten to start again. Everybody was getting delirious. Our eyes were kind of starting to be opened up quite a lot. It’s like we were still learning. We weren’t really musicians, just punks who wanted to be in a band really.

How different have things been during the band’s second run?
The weird thing is time accelerates. It’s like up to 30 or whatever, it’s like you’re trying to get up the hill, then as soon as you get to the top of the hill, it’s all downhill. There’s never enough time to do everything you want to do. But yeah, it’s weird that we’ve been doing it longer now than we did before. It’s not like the four of us anymore. It’s me and Mac. We have like regular band members for ages, but it’s a different sort of dynamic now. Whereas before it was like four people with almost equal ideas, now it’s not really like that. It’s inevitable when somebody leaves, and somebody else gets killed, you know? It’s not like this is horrible. It’s all right.

Do you enjoy the fact that, by playing the album in full, you’re forcing people to listen to your music the way that they used to?
[People] don’t even listen to the whole song half the time. They flick on their iPods. My kids do it, they listen to a bit and flick to the next song and listen to a bit of that then flick to the next. Nobody has any time or patience anymore. Everybody wants everything now. It’s not frustrating, it’s just the way it is. When I first got into music, I had a paper route and used to go around delivering papers, and saving up for weeks and weeks before I had enough to get an album. To buy an album was a major thing and it kept you going for ages. You’d just play it, play it, play it, and scrutinize every section of it, the cover art, read all the credits, look at the label. Now you’ve got this music, ‘it’s nice and pleasant, hold on here’s a dog playing a trumpet, I’m going to have to delete that album and get this on me iPhone.’ It’s like disposable now. It’s like toilet paper. That’s just the way it is.

Echo & the Bunnymen’s Curmudgeonly Guitarist Will Sergeant on His Band’s Long Second Life: ‘It’s Not Horrible. It’s All Right’