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Echo & The Bunnymen
Interview with Pete DeFreitas

by Kevin Hardiman
published in Artist Magazine (U.S.)

Pete DeFreitas/Echo & The Bunnymen c Alanna Alberts/Artist Publications

Pete DeFreitas of Echo & The Bunnymen
The Warfield Theater, San Francisco, 3/17/84

Photo © Alanna Alberts/Artist Publications
digital art © Joy Williams/Artist Publications

“That was the atmosphere in Liverpool—an idea was as good as a finished thing.”

--Pete DeFreitas

Our story begins when I spoke to drummer Pete DeFreitas at his hotel in San Francisco shortly before the show. [The interview with Ian McCulloch followed a day later.]

DeFreitas offered a unique perspective, as he's neither a Liverpool native [Liverpudlian] nor an original Bunnyman. He was raised in Oxfordshire, in the south of England, and became part of the band shortly after their first single was released. He joined bassist Les Pattinson, guitarist Will Sergeant and singer/guitarist Ian "Mac" McCulloch, he replaced the now-retired Echo, the band's drum machine.

Q: Did you know the band well before you joined?

PETE: Not at all. I saw them play [at] a YMCA with The Teardrop Explodes but I didn't think they were particularly good, just weird—and weird-looking—that's all. Dave Balfe [The Teardrop's keyboardist and The Bunnymen's first producer] called me a while later and said they needed a drummer, so I saw them at Eric's in Liverpool—and they were just brilliant. We rehearsed the next day, and it worked out.

I was quite freaked out by the three of them. They were very different from anyone I'd ever dealt with. I'd come from the south of England, from a middle class, Catholic school background, and they were all from Liverpool, all working class and with very different attitudes. But they made me laugh all the time, and for the first year I'd just sit there and soak in the three of them. Will was the funniest—very cynical. He made me laugh a lot, though now that I know him, it annoys me. I've lived in Liverpool since, and I suppose I know the Liverpool way of life, which is very different from the rest of the world.

Q: The impression we got here, 5,000 miles away, is that Liverpool in 1980 was a teeming place, a musical capital. Was that a correct impression?

PETE: From an outsider's point of view, which is probably more honest than an insider's, I'd say "teeming" wasn't the word. It was very competitive. Everyone wanted to be better and different, so that's why so much good stuff came out of it.

But before any of the bands came about, there was Eric's, one of the best punk clubs in England, really easygoing. People would meet and invent names for fictitious bands. Lots of people wanted to be involved with music, and many never got beyond the concept. There were so many concepts flying around and so many interesting things. People had everything set up except for the band and the equipment. They'd tell everyone about it. That's why Mac will never talk about The Crucial Three [Ian McCulloch, Julian Cope and Pete Wiley], because it was nothing but a name.

That's how the Bunnymen started, in fact. Ian and Will happened to meet Les. They said, "We're opening for the The Teardrop [Explodes] at Eric's. Do you fancy playing bass?" And Les turned up with a bass and they played. They did one song for 15 minutes and everyone thought it was brilliant. That was the atmosphere in Liverpool—an idea was as good as a finished thing.

There wasn't a lot of swapping around, and it wasn't incestuous. People just happened to know each other. Once bands form, they hate who came before them. The new bands in Liverpool probably slag us off. It's funny, people go on about the Liverpool scene, but it was much more creative before any of the bands became famous.

Q: Why so long between U.S. tours? It's been three years.

Pete DeFreitas and fans c Alanna Alberts/Artist Publications

Pete DeFreitas of Echo & The Bunnymen
The Warfield Theater, San Francisco, 3/17/84

Photo © Alanna Alberts/Artist Publications
digital art © Joy Williams/Artist Publications

PETE: Porcupine was tricky. Lots of plans were cancelled, and we recorded and re-recorded the songs several times over. The whole process took about a year and a half. Also, things started to happen a bit more in Britain and Europe, and things weren't happening here [in the U.S.]. We were skimping on budgets [but] we did gigs in New York and Boston as part of a ridiculous tour which also included the Scottish Hebrides and Iceland.

The Hebrides were great, except for having to drive the van up those ridiculously small roads, and having to catch the only boat. It was a nice change, and about 200 fans came along for all the gigs. Iceland was weird, though. For young people, entertainment seems to be the bottom of the bottle of very strong spirits. I've never seen so many people as drunk as at that gig. The culmination of that tour was the show at London's Royal Albert Hall. [A live recording from the show, of "Do It Clean" became the B-side of "Killing Moon."]

For this tour, it's back to the four of us. Actually, Jake, our stage manager, throws in a few keyboard bits here and there. It's always strange when you go to a new place with a new record recorded but not released. In England we do radio sessions, so a lot of our fans already know the new songs. The title song, "Ocean Rain," is a bit off-putting to perform here because the beginning is very quiet and the audience just keeps talking through it. Ian doesn't want to do it anymore but I think we should.

Q: Were you satisfied with Porcupine in the long run?

PETE: It's always hard, when things get confused like they did in the recording of that LP, to separate the bad times and the finished product, but when I listen to it, I really love it—every single track. "Back of Love" is one of my favorite hard, straight-forward songs of all time.

Q: I'm curious about Shine So Hard and other films you've been involved with.

PETE: Shine So Hard marked the culmination of the "camouflage" stage show we used around the time of Crocodiles, with extreme lighting and smoke, and we wanted to capture that. Bill Butt, the guy who designed the stage set and did the film, wanted to add some extra things. It's about a thirty-minute film in which about 20 minutes is live footage and the rest is "arty" stuff, for want of a better description. It's hard for me—in fact, for any of us—to comment on it because a lot of it is us having a cup of tea or wandering around. It was a bit embarrassing—I had a shaved head at the time—to see ourselves on screen. I think it's a good film, and somewhat funny.

La Via Longa is another film Bill Butt made—in Italy. He just rode this bike down the road and met up with us in Florence at the end of a tour. Will did the soundtrack to it. I really like La Via Longa. Will's stuff is real atmospheric, and much of the film is just footage of the bike riding through town. We did a six-song film of songs from Porcupine as well.

Q: Yes, they've been showing that lately in a package with the "Killing Moon" video.

PETE: That's very different. We did that with Brian Griffin, a photographer who'd never done a video before. It's very abstract, and it makes us look pretty. People say you can tell a photographer did it. I don't know whether I like it or not.

Q: Does "Killing Moon" represent a new, ballad-like direction for the band?

PETE: The whole new album is very different from Porcupine. We wanted to avoid the standard English and American studio sound. You go into a studio in England and you feel instantly restricted by the engineer. This [album] we recorded in Paris and let the instruments control the sound. We produced it ourselves as we've always had problems with producers since we're very opinionated about everything in the studio. We wanted to do it simply. A lot of people spend too much time on sounds, and they get things too "perfect."

Interview with Ian McCulloch
Backstage with Echo & The Bunnymen


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