PSA Marcia Schofield

Marcia Schofield issue 9, April/May 2006. Questions by Martin Peters




What was your early musical background? Were you self-taught or did you have classes? Who were your early musical influences?

I started playing the piano after my family got given an old Ellington that was sitting in someone's basement. It was never in tune to concert pitch - hence my subsequent career favouring atonal music probably started there. I used to bash about on it until my parents got sick of it and got me some proper lessons. I studied formally from the age of 4 and could read music before i could read words. I was supposed to audition for the Julliard School of Music, but failed to attend the audition as I had discovered more fun ways of spending my time- i.e. wasting time with boys, playing in local bands, sneaking into Max's Kansas City and CBGB's. It was 1977, you know. My earliest influences- I remember sitting at the piano trying to learn the entirety of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album by putting the album cover on the music stand and listening to the the album about 300 times. My first ever purchase was David Bowie's Pin Ups album - I tried to learn all the songs on that too! It was hard before you were able to download tabs- you had to figure it out for yourself hearing it or sneak into a music store and use your photographic recall to try and remember the harder chords...once I saw Patti Smith, though I was a goner. thought she was the coolest person who had ever lived (still think she's near the top, musically speaking).  My first bands weren't ones that I particularly liked the music of -  it was mostly bluesy or punk- just ones who needed a keyboard player.

What sort of memories do you have of Khmer Rouge? Do you ever play any of your old stuff or is revisiting the past a no-go area?

When I met Phil (Schofield) I think it was the first time I had ever met anyone who I thought - wow, I really like this guy's music and his lyrics and I would love to play with him. I was playing in about 4 or 5 bands at the time- anything to keep in practice and get better at playing. I was really into electronic music though, and experimental - I discovered Suicide through hanging out with Alan Vega-at the time, my absolute favourite band. In fact, I didn't even know Alan was in a band until we'd known each other about 6 months! Phil wasn't really interested in that kind of music, but I thought we could work together. The bass player had strong objections, though, because Phil and I were married and he didn't want to be in a band with a couple. So it took a year before we finally got to practice together. It still wasn't ideal, and I felt I had to make a lot of compromises in the music in terms of how I wanted to sound. But we did some great gigs and had some wild times. I recently got sent a CD of some of our old stuff - it sounded pretty demo-y and it reminded me of all the compromises you had to make back in the day because you had no money to do it properly. I still think Phil is one of the best lyricists in the world, and a fantastic poet and writer - his books are incredibly well-written. I also think no one has ever recorded him properly, and it looks like no one ever will. Sad, really. Some of the songs are really catchy. But it all seems really fast. 

What was your impression when you saw The Fall for the first time in 1985? Had you had much exposure to the group before this?

Yeah, Phil had played with them at a gig in NYC in '81 at the White Columns Gallery - it was the beginning of that New York No-Wave era that saw the birth of lots of bands like Sonic Youth, ESG, The Del-Byzanteens, later, the Swans...everyone was some kind of artist, or sculptor who also played music on the side. I thought the Fall were interesting and liked the ideas in Mark's lyrics-like word-photographs in black and white. Before that, there used to be the one punk station in NYC (no John Peel for us!) that played Rebellious Jukebox all the time- which I loved, especially the Woolworth's
-sounding organ. Later, when Claus started painting for them, I re-visited the sound and thought they were doing something really interesting and different. I always liked that era - the Perverted-Wonderful/Frightening era stuff with the powerful Burns/Hanley/Hanley rhythm section.

What is your opinion now, looking back, of the albums you appeared on: The Frenz Experiment, I Am Kurious, Oranj, Seminal Live and Extricate?

Can I just say now that Seminal Live is the worst piece of shit I have ever worked on? What was that about? Talk about exhausted and out of ideas. It was one of those-we've just come off tour and have to make a record so what shit covers can we bung on it?-album. Absolute crap.

I liked Frenz -  it was terrific to work in Abbey Road for me - mostly cause I used to duck out and listen to the orchestras recording in studio A! -and nice to finally make a record with enough money to make it sound good. Simon Rogers had a good, clear vision of what he wanted and Mark wrote some good lyrics - there are some really classic Fall songs on there. I still think Hit The North was as close as the Fall ever got to a pop song-but it still was identifiably the Fall.

Kurious Oranj- well I have talked about that before. It was an experiment.

Extricate was the closest album to my heart and the most difficult one to make. We were falling apart, arguing all the time - there were enormous pressures on Mark. I think Martin came back and put a whole new lease of life into the band -  he is just a stunning musician, one of the most naturally talented people I know. But he and Mark are like fire and ice and they just have too much history to ever work together in the way Mark needs to work. I thought Craig Leon was an unsuitable producer for the band -  Mark worked better with people like Ade Sherwood and Coldcut- who he respected and was a bit intimidated by. He thought Craig Leon was a rockist dinosaur and argued with him all the time. But Sherwood was awesome -  he just turned everything up to 11 and distorted the hell out of it- you should hear "Arms Control Poseur" through some really big speakers sometime. I thought that incarnation of the band was pretty great -  not the same as the Hanley/Burns/Hanley years, but with tremendous energy; and of course, Martin wrote terrific songs. It's amazing how Mark used to be able to do that - completely re-invent the band with major line-up changes- in the case of Extricate, he'd lost the main songwriter-and still manage to sound like The Fall. Of course, all the musicians really liked each other and liked playing together, so that helped. I guess that's why Mark sabotaged it...he never liked things too comfortable. It would have been interesting to see another album by the Extricate line-up-I think it would have been amazing.

You say in the Ford book that “everyone added their little bits and pieces...Brix was the only one who wrote songs from start to finish.” Were you ever annoyed at not getting more songwriting credits and did you in fact write more than is credited officially to you, that is to say, the following songs:

Acid Priest 2088
Big New Priest
Big New Prinz
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Well, I was being very unfair to Craig, Simon and Steve when I said that. They pretty much wrote the whole of Kurious Oranj, and if there's anyone who should have got more writing credit, it was those lads. No, I was invoved pretty heavily in the structuring and arrangement of the songs -  I'm not much of a writer of music, but I can pretty much whip into shape even the most skeletal idea. Some people I've worked with have given me credit for this- some people haven't. Yes, there was stuff I wrote that I didn't get credit for, but I mean, most musicians write their own bits- is that worth a credit? I never bothered with fighting about the writing side, probably wrongly, and I once had a dispute about royalties with Mark, but you can't fight city hall as they say. What can you say about someone who credits Jerusalem as: “W.Blake, M.E.Smith”? That's just cheeky.

What were the recording sessions for the records like? Very disciplined and timetabled or looser, more informal? Were the songs mostly worked out before the group hit the studio or was there lots of experimentation while actually recording?

I'd say both. Some were songs we'd worked out on tour and then got to record. Some started as soundcheck jams that Mark'd record and then write lyrics to. Then we'd try and reconstruct what we'd done inthe studio. Don't forget we were touring insanely in those years, like 7-8 months a year. Then we'd have to record. It was a punishing schedule. Luckily, we all had a great sense of humour and liked different music, so we all brought something different into these long musical jams. Zagreb started out as me and Simon jamming to Higher Ground because I hated the Chilis version of it (you should check out the original Stevie Wonder one, kids!). Simon and I always played funk and soul stuff in soundcheck for fun- the lads would sort of humour us and put more rocky stuff on top of it. But Mark is a musical encyclopadia and he always came up with something fun and funny and appropriate lyrically. We used to laugh a lot in those days.

Studio IS stressful. You're under a lot of pressure. But we still used to have fun. Sometimes, we'd put some scratch-vocals on it to amuse ourselves and then be surprised when Mark used those tracks on the final cut. I'd say it was like 40% worked out and 60% experimental-but we did have the advantage of playing together ALL THE TIME like 200 nights a year. Mark is amazing- he's like this lyrical magpie - always listening to people's conversations, CNN, the news, whatever. He just collages all this stuff into very interesting patterns. But he should seriously consider his lifestyle-none of us are getting any younger...

Do you think that if you and Martin Bramah hadn’t been presented with those plane tickets in Australia you would have remained in the group for a good while longer or do you think you would have quit in any case quite soon? Were you disillusioned?

I think I'd have gone and Martin would have stayed. The Fall started out as much Martin's as Mark's, but when Martin left, he never had the authority as a frontman. I think Mark has always been Martin's ideal frontman, and Martin has written some damn good songs for Mark. of course, I get bored easily and the stress of touring, fighting with Mark and other personal issues just meant I couldn't put up with the whole thing anymore. It's hard to be the only girl on tour with 17 Northern guys, even if one of them is your boyfriend. I wanted to do other things, I felt it wasn't experimental for me anymore, and I felt Mark identified me with Brix and just wanted all things to do with her out of his life (understandable). I loved the boys - the saddest thing for me was losing touch with them - I just felt like crying, like I'd lost my family or something. That was silly. We should have kept in touch. Martin, of course, was completely devastated and blamed me. He wasn't able to move on, I was. I feel bad about that, getting him fired.

What was it like working with Barry Adamson on “The Swinging Detective”. On this you played the saxophone which I never knew before doing the research for this interview: did you learn this instrument as a kid?

Oh, that was Barry's idea of a joke. I played sax sample, not sax. It was about the Hit The North sample, an in-joke. I loved working with Barry. He's a genius. And a funny, funny man. He has a strong work ethic, and he sees soundscapes like one of the great composers from the golden age of cinema-Nelson Riddle or something. I am a bit embarassed about the video from Man With The Golden Arm, at the time it seemed ironic, now it looks a bit Page 3. In fact, it was working with Barry and Kid Congo that probably ended my relationship with Mark. He hated the idea of Fall members doing anything on the side-and in NYC< where I grew up, it was considered normal to be doing lots of projects with your friends.

Acting as an Israeli commando and doing the spoken word news report on “Soul Murder” suggests a frustrated acting career: any truth in this?

Absolutely none. I hated every night of the dreadful "Haf Found Bormann" song, and he used to be delighted that it wound me up so much and he'd destroy my keyboard every night while I sung it. The spoken word was me helping out Barry- he needed an American accent and he'd always envisioned me reading it. I've done other spoken word stuff -  the City Primaeval poem on Khmer Rouge's CD is me reading something I wrote, I've always written poetry and prose.

What made you eventually decide to leave music completely? Do you still play from time to time for your family? Do you think you’ll ever record again? And why did you decide to study to be a doctor? Did you have a vocation and/or was there a family background of any kind in medicine?

I felt that when I went into music, I wanted to play all over the world, make records I loved and be on the front page of the the NME. Having accomplished that, I felt there weren't any opportunities to do new things that I really wanted to, and I'd achieved all I'd ever wanted. I thought about going into production or into A+R, but it was much harder for women to do things like that in those days. So I had no qualifications, despite my brainy upbringing, and it was basically go back to school or work in a petrol station. So I figured at least medicine had a job at the end of it, and a transferrable skill. No vocation, no nothing like that. If I only knew then what I know now....yes I do play, for my daughter and sometimes with a bunch of other doctors from the hospital for charity gigs - all frustrated musicians, the lot of them, and most just as good as any professionals I've played with. We have a laugh. It's not serious. I'm 'post-cool' now, as my teenage stepchildren say.

What do you listen to nowadays? Have you kept up with The Fall’s output?

God, I have never stopped listening to music! I love music. These days, I am limited by what I hear,and there's no more Peel to help us find cool stuff. However, I have discovered a show on Friday Night on Radio 3 that's genius and there's Zane Lowe and Jo Whiley; and my friends and acquaintances (including my one music soulmate-another doctor) to who still care enough to turn me on to cool music- like Symphony Fantastique. I can say I love Death From Above 1979, Anthony and the Johnsons, Elbow, The Doves, Lemonjelly, Arcade Fire, brother (Dave Sardy  -  the record producer) and I are constantly discovering new bands to turn each other on to. I just turned him on to Arizona Ant and the Alternators- a side-prject of one of the Granddaddy mob. And I drive the people who work on my operating lists crazy by playing my ipod at top volume in theatre...there's only a few of them that'll work with me now...they get to sometimes hear what they want, but then I'll be like- have you ever heard this brilliant Gang of Four track? Or how about some Beefheart? Or what about this experimental brazillian jazz-classical fision composer? They go nuts. Then, I have to play Jet or Von Bondies to calm them down. And by the way, all you parents out there? Try Magic Numbers or Kings of Leon's first album instead of nursery rhymes-that way you don't go insane in the car. I loved the mercuries this year- I ran right out and got the Seth Lakeman album, which is genius. And Maximo have some good songs -  there's a lot of good, nerd-kid songwriters out there just now, Killers, Kaisers, Snow Patrol - time for some good pop instead of manufactured crap. What I heard of the Fall on the BBC docu I really liked, it was back to the Perverted-era lads-band. But I think Mark's not what he was. He's still a legend though.

Did you keep in touch with any other ex-band members?

Yeah, Martin and I saw each other pretty regularly for years, but I haven't seen him for a bit. Tried to get in touch with the others-I was up in Manchester for a conference last year-spoke to Marc Riley and managed to track down Simon and saw him, which was really really great. But I still haven't seen Steve and Craig, which is a real shame. I'd love to hear from them. They were very important to me. I see Brix from time to time - Simon Ford put us back in touch. She's doing great - and she's got a lovely shop and a really wonderful husband. But I don't get to London much.

Do you see Mark E Smith as a tyrannical diva, a lost soul, a misunderstood genius, or none or all of these?

Tyrannical diva? No, just an artist with a strong vision who knows what he wants. Lost Soul? Nope, not at all. Mark's not one of life's victims. Misunderstood genius? No, not that either. He's just good at being a screen onto which people project their ideas. But he's perfectly capable of setting them straight -  this is who I am, not who you think I am.

To me, he will always be that boss that you have to look busy for when he comes into the office, like when Simon, Craig, Steve and Brix or Martin and I would be doing the musical equivalent of goofing off - throwing paper airplanes and photocopying our bottoms- and then he comes in and we're all typing away furiously...I have a great deal of respect for him artistically. And he gave me a chance to fulfil a lot of ambitions.

Would it be possible for you to tell us something about how you see your future: is it in England ?

Well to me, I see my future as a pretty happy one - to be useful, help my patients if I can. I have a whole new set of ambitions - medicine is like music in a way - there's a lot of art to it, and having talent doesn't necessariliy predict who will be successful. It's easy to have various different kinds of success in medicine, though. Personally, although I love seeing patients and helping them, I also love teaching and research- which is mainly what I do now. And yes, there's a lot of hype in medicine- a lot of press who don't understand what they are reporting on. I think people like Shipman are a one-off and we shouldn't deny access to medicines that could be really useful to people on the off-chance that one psychopath will misbehave - in that case, alcohol should be banned! I try and use my many years as a non-medic to talk to patients in a non-doctor-y kind of way- the highest compliment I can receive is when someone says "Thank you
for taking the time to explain it to me-you really don't seem like a doctor!" Which, after 9 years in practice is pretty good going.

I still do artistic stuff- at the moment I'm finishing a lot of research, but I am also writing a novel about Intensive Care, where I worked for 4 years. Who knows, maybe someone will overlook the extreme sex, violence and cynicism in the book and publish it. I hope I've lived long enough out of the limelight to have over-come the "Used to be in the Fall" syndrome. My family think it's quite funny - my husband has no idea who the Fall are, my stepkids all think I'm pretty cool for an old person, and my daughter is
a bit too young to know, but is hopefully having her musical tastes shaped in a good way.

As far as England goes, who knows? I came close to moving back to the USA after I qualified, but there a great things about the NHS that I really respect and love working in that culture. But I do miss my family back home, and friends. But I'm not sure about living there if it's going to be Neo-Con land. I think it'd make me too angry to see people without insurance denied health care.