I’ve just asked The Smiths’ bassist Andy Rourke if there will ever be a reunion.
“I would say no right now. My stock answer used to be, ‘No, not right now; but never say never.’ I think everyone is busy right now doing their own thing.”
Rourke’s noncommittal response was to be expected. So, I rephrased and asked him if he would like it to happen. That seemed to catch him off guard but he recovered and answered thoughtfully.
“I really can’t answer that. I’m not sure. Obviously, it wouldn’t be the same. I think that’s everybody in the band’s feeling too. Reunions always tend to be a bit of a letdown … for the audience as well as the members of the band.”
We chat about the possibility of critics calling it a cash grab, should a reunion ever happen. And Rourke agrees.
“Of course. I would say everybody would say that (cash grab) and you run the risk of ruining your legacy and your respect.”
I press further, armed with YouTube and social media references confirming he’s joined various members of the band through the years in the studio or on stage; wondering if there’s a chance that he, drummer Mike Joyce and guitarist Johnny Marr might ever consider doing something together. It’s with that question that the brittle nature of the band’s current relationship was revealed.
“I don’t think so because Johnny and Mike have had some legal issues over the years. They don’t really talk to each other. I’m the only one who talks to Johnny and Mike. I haven’t had contact with Morrissey in two or three years. His choice, I think.”
Again, not a surprising answer, just a tad too honest for the fans.
Rourke began playing guitar at age eight. Somewhat of a prodigy, he gravitated towards another musical whiz, a classmate, and at age 11 they formed a band. His mate and lead guitarist was John Maher (the future Johnny Marr). Rourke played rhythm guitar. As the group started to gel the bass player quit. Johnny suggested Rourke switch instruments.
“At first I was a little put out because I thought, ‘bass player?!’ But I picked it up and I really enjoyed it and it went from there really.”
Rourke, with his newly assumed duties, started paying attention and learning. He calls out The Who’s John Entwistle, The Beatles’ Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones Bill Wyman (“Who nobody ever mentions, but is a great bass player”) as influences. He discovered funk and maintains Stanley Clarke helped him develop his style. And then there was the self-study.
“I used to listen to a lot of Motown tracks and I learned to play along with the radio, which taught me a lot. I’d play along with records I didn’t even like just out of curiosity to see how they were played. That taught me a lot and put in good stead.”
He found himself driven by challenges, little riddles that he worked to solve.
“Nailing down the drums, as you know, bass and drums as a rhythm section; I find that quite a challenge. I listened to a lot of funky stuff and it (the bass) gave me a lot more freedom than as a guitarist because I could do what the hell I wanted and I realized you could change the whole feel of a song by the bass line.”
Over the next seven years, Rourke developed his style, his technique. He and Marr remained friends but headed off to different groups, reuniting briefly in a funk band called Freak Party. At age 18, in 1982, Marr called Rourke to join the band he’d formed with Steven Morrissey. They called themselves The Smiths and they had just played their first show. Rourke remained with them for pretty much the duration of the band. Throughout, Rourke brought an interesting and unique approach where his bass lines acted as a counter melody to the song. Coupled with Marr’s fantastic guitar playing and arrangements, Rourke’s bass lines made for an engaging and riveting listen. I’ve often wondered how he developed his approach.
“That’s a good question. I don’t really know. I didn’t have any master plan. I used to just play a lot and listen to a lot of music. I suppose because I’d been a guitarist before that affected my style of bass playing, if that makes sense. It was definitely feel over training.”
Of course one could argue that the feel and training go hand in hand. Faced with the challenges of growing up in a dystopian community such as Manchester was in the late ’70s/early ’80s, for many the only way was music.
“It was quite bleak, you know. Unemployment was at its highest ever. There was the miner’s strike and it was raining, obviously. Constantly. I think that kind of shaped Manchester band’s sounds. Bands like Joy Division, Magazine and The Smiths. The Buzzcocks, they were great but they were quite poppy and upbeat for a Manchester band. It brought us closer together. None of us were working. We could spend a lot of time rehearsing. We could spend a lot of time as a gang. We definitely viewed ourselves as a gang and as a bunch of people who stuck together and had each other’s backs.”
The Smiths lasted five years, breaking up in 1987. Following, Rourke played on Morrissey solo tracks and participated in several musical projects; one more interesting than the next … all driven by his need to offer a solution.
“I have to like the band or the person. Again, we’re back to that word curiosity. To me it’s a challenge to make something work, especially if it’s short term. If you’ve just met in the studio for the first time it’s probably the last time. I don’t do it so much but I used to love the challenge of doing that and coming up with something on the fly.”
And now, his latest project is poised to stir those feelings of nostalgia of the early/mid ’80s when electronic pop ruled the alternative airwaves. Rourke, with Cranberries frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan and New York City-based songwriter and producer Olé Koretsky have formed D.A.R.K.
“Me and Ole (Koretsky), the other member of the band, we already had this band called Jetlag. We didn’t know quite what to do with it and had a whole bunch of songs. Then, through collective management and publishers BMG, we were told Dolores (O’Riordan) was looking for a new project or at least some new songs, she was in between Cranberries at that time. We sent what we had and she really loved it and that was that really, and we got to work.”
The 10-song album came together quickly. ‘Science Agrees’ will be released on Cooking Vinyl on September 9. And, at the time of this interview, the band was embarking on rehearsals for a short introductory tour also to kick off this month.
“We’re doing 10 dates in September in Europe. We haven’t really made any plans after that, but I’m hoping that there will be some (tour dates) in the fall in America, North America, maybe South America. I’m excited to see people’s response to it, obviously. Curious.”