Kevin Godley, co-founder of 10cc: Something Else! Interview

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Kevin Godley, as a co-founder of 10cc, helped propel “I’m Not In Love” to No. 2 on the U.S. charts in the summer of 1975, before leaving the band with fellow co-founder Lol Creme. They scored a Top 20 hit in the mid-1980s, even while starting a brilliant career together as video directors. More recently, Godley has paired with fellow 10cc alum Graham Gouldman, performing as GG/06.

Working with Creme in the earliest days of MTV, Godley co-directed a number of memorable video shoots such as the Police’s Synchronicity videos, for which they were Grammy nominated; Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit”; Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” with Kate Bush; George Harrison’s “When We Was Fab”; and Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film.” On his own into the 1990s, Godley also helmed U2’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me”; Bono’s video with Frank Sinatra, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” Sting’s “Fields of Gold”; Paul McCartney’s Paul Is Live DVD; Eric Clapton’s “My Father’s Eyes” and the mid-1990s Beatles reunion track “Real Love,” among many others.

In the latest SER Sitdown, Godley talks about 10cc, those subsequent projects with Creme and Gouldman, his lost musical experiment with something called the Gizmo and the overlooked dangers — from fires, to flying hammers — of working as a video director.

Nick DeRiso: Tell me more about the new band GG/06, a pairing with Graham Gouldman that works as a 10cc reunion of sorts. Will there be more new music?
Kevin Godley: GG/06 was Graham and I picking up where we left off. I suddenly felt the need to write again. After a break of 10 or so years, ideas were kicking around in my head and I didn’t want to waste time trying out new writing partners. I wanted to sail back in without having to circle anybody. We only wrote maybe three songs together during the 10cc years, so it was kind of unfinished business. Initially, we came together and anticipated maybe writing for other people but whatever chemicals combine to make music work, combined to make these 6 rather sad songs. Maybe one of them is coverable. The rest sound like … us. There will definitely be more — nine or so bits and pieces awaiting completion and, of course, they’ll sound more like us than ever. Can’t escape your musical DNA, I guess. When cogs mesh, they mesh. Be thankful.

DeRiso: Your contribution to 10cc’s biggest hit, “I’m Not In Love,” was the rhythmic choral backing. How’d you get that effect, which sounds like hundreds of voices?
Godley: It is hundreds of voices — about 250, I believe. All four of us gathered ‘round a mic and sang a single note, in unison, for about 20 seconds. Actually, we sang every note in every chord of the song onto every track of a 16-track machine — one note at a time, of course. The resulting choral ‘super notes’ were then mixed to a stereo pair and trimmed into tape loops. Each loop was then spun and recorded back onto the multi-track tape where a very basic keyboard/Moog-bass-drum version of the song lived. The choral notes were then routed to faders on the mixing desk in groups that made up the appropriate chords for the song. (Fellow 10cc co-founders) Lol (Creme) and Eric (Stewart) then took turns at ‘playing’ the faders to the basic track and recording each pass to another stereo pair. Essentially, we’d created an enormous high-end Mellotron, using faders instead of keys. The tech was a little weak in the spillage department, though, so all the notes can be vaguely heard underneath — adding a ghostly atonal wash. It took a while, but it was one of those experiments that if it were medical, would’ve cured cancer. They don’t come along that often.

DeRiso: That song sort of encapsulates the band dynamic, where Stewart and Gouldman brought in mainstream pop influences and you and Creme were more arty. Was that what ultimately tore 10cc apart?
Godley: You got the creative dynamic right. Godley and Creme were The Counterintuitive Brothers. We thrived on experiment and accident so, from our perspective, it was more about signs that 10cc were beginning to become formulaic. Pre-production meetings for (10cc’s 1976 release) How Dare You! suggested too much planning for our liking. It was subtly proposed that we should aim to include, on the record, a long complicated song, a couple of fast ones, two or three humorous ones, a ballad or three, a few weird ones, etc., etc. Every album prior to that contained what we managed to write and record in the time allotted. No plan, no remit. What came out, went in. Now we were successful, and that meant an uncomfortable need to quantify and duplicate came into play. Godley and Creme needed the element of surprise to function well, so it really was thin-end-of-the-wedge time. Other stuff like the Gizmo, (Godley and Creme’s 1977 debut) Consequences and diverging taste buds widened the gap but it definitely started right there and then.

DeRiso: Explain the idea behind the Gizmo, a piece of guitar technology meant to add texture which appeared on several tracks for 10cc and then was the focal point of that first project after leaving the band. Weren’t you presupposing the synthesized sounds and digital sampling that would become such a big part of music? Do you still have any of them?
Godley: The Gizmo, actually six electric motor-driven nylon wheels that lower onto guitar strings to simulate a violin’s bowing action, was invented before 10cc even existed. The idea was to give us access to orchestral-string sounds without hiring an orchestra. Orchestras are expensive. They read charts. They don’t work intuitively. They take long tea breaks. They take forever to mic correctly and, back then, they were miserable c–nts who didn’t like rock music. We just wanted the sound without the hassle — so we figured the guitar, being a stringed instrument, should be able to reproduce something similar with our expert help. Prototype GIZ Mark 1A was an electric drill with a rubber eraser taped to the drill bit, held against Lol’s Strat — like a chainsaw meets Stockhausen. Sound minus the complication of people? Hmmm. I suppose we did predate the sampling aesthetic, to some degree but the lumbering Mellotron predated even us. Lol probably has the original prototype, and I see one on YouTube or eBay every hundred years or so.

DeRiso: You’ve made a successful second career out of directing music videos — everything from U2 and the surviving Beatles to Frank Sinatra and Sting. Before that, along with Creme, you were behind the camera for a number of early MTV staples, including Herbie Hancock’s legendary “Rockit” video. What’s it like on the other side? There are stories of you getting hit in the forehead with a hammer, of a fire on the set of a Police video.
Godley: We were 60s art-college kids who got lucky in music but still had a desire to create pictures as well as sound. Video provided that opportunity. We were in the right place at the right time and we were definitely in the mood for change. We got to help invent a brand new medium at the record business’ expense. How cool is that? Having a musician behind the camera can make the musician in front of it feel more at ease. The fact that you understand the nature of performance means you know, better than some, what buttons to press to get it. Yes, I got smacked in the head with a hammer during the prison shoot for the Godley and Creme song “Save a Mountain for Me. It was blood, hospital, the works. Yes, the set caught fire on The Police’s “Synchronicity 2” shoot. Litter and hot lights — not a totally safe combo. Neither were Jim Whiting’s hydraulic robots for Herbie’s “Rockit,” but we loved them to bits.

DeRiso: Godley and Creme’s “Cry,” though a No. 16 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1985, was probably more famous for its video than for the song itself. It seemed like you were recording less and less, having become more interested in the visual side of things by then.
Godley: True but not true. We thrived on both, and each somehow fed interest in the other. Perhaps the world of film suggested more distance left to travel than music. The finished “Cry” video was Plan B. Plan A was Torville and Dean, two UK ice skaters doing a choreographed routine to the song — but their diaries wouldn’t synch with ours. Damn! Bunch of boring faces instead.

DeRiso: Your later connection McCartney, Harrison and the Beatles’ mid-1990s reunion project was interesting since their boutique label Apple Records actually rejected 10cc as not sounding commercial enough. Later efforts like Consequences suggest you were never that concerned with the pop charts anyway.
Godley: Making art, commercial or otherwise is a 100 percent selfish activity. I don’t care if you’re hired to do it, you can’t bring the hiring to the creative process. The most important person to please first is yourself. Why? Because if you’re a fan of music, film, art, sculpture, architecture, whatever, you’re probably the most difficult fan to impress with your own efforts. Impress yourself and you’re halfway there. I still believe, although it gets harder to prove, that if you make something as good as it can possibly be, it will rise to the surface and shine. Am I deluding myself?

DeRiso: You seemed to have gotten there with (10cc’s second album, 1974’s) Sheet Music, though it remains an underrated triumph for the band. What do you remember about putting that album together?
Godley: 10cc was born with the first album. We recorded it in about three weeks and it didn’t sound like anybody else — but despite its oddness, it sold unexpectedly well. So when we went into Sheet Music, we had the confidence of knowing what we did worked. We could do this on our own terms. We had a huge appetite to make better, richer, more exciting and challenging music — and a mandate to go for it. So we did, on every level and the chemistry was spot on. The planets were aligned. We were as one. Interestingly, Paul McCartney was producing his brother’s album at Strawberry (Studios in Stockport, England, named after Stewart’s favorite Beatles track) at the time. We worked in the day. He worked at night. We compared notes on the switch over. A very inspiring three months. No fat on Sheet Music, either.

DeRiso: The “Une Nuit A Paris” operetta (from 10cc’s 1975 release The Original Soundtrack) became an inspiration both for Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 Phantom of the Opera. Do you feel like those more complex efforts never got their due?
Godley: Sounds cheesy but writing and recording it was reward enough — very fulfilling. Actually, don’t forget, it was on Original Soundtrack, a pretty big album for us. “Une Nuit A Paris” sums up the Godley and Creme attitude of push, push, push. It still pisses me off, however, that Queen had the balls to release “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a single but our label put out ‘Life Is A Minestrone’. How long was “Bohemian Rhapsody” at No. 1? (Eds note: Nine weeks atop the UK charts in 1975.) Sh–t!

DeRiso: The new music with Gouldman is darker, more adult. Nothing like the pop-meets-art-rock recordings of the 10cc heyday. Is that the direct result of these times, or growing older — or both?
Godley: Both and more. We’re not trying to compete or impress so much. We’re just doing what we feel. The world seems to be more troubled than ever and, as a lyricist, I can’t help but be drawn to the complexity of that. It’s the balance of light and dark and how each infects the other that fascinates me. Actually, this is the first batch of songs with 100 percent Kevin Godley lyrics, so what’s there must be me and my favorite songs have always been the sad ones. You can’t escape your musical DNA I guess. When cogs mesh, they mesh. Be thankful … again.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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