Feature / Interviews
Ted Leo

Words: Matt • October 16, 2010

Scene Point Blank: I read recently that Red Star Records are re-releasing some Chisel demos.

Ted Leo: What?

Scene Point Blank: Er?haven't you heard?

Ted Leo: No I haven't. Who's Red Star Records?

Scene Point Blank: Um? I read it on Punknews.org... It said they're re-releasing demos and stuff from Chisel... have you literally heard nothing about this?

Ted Leo: I have literally heard nothing about this. Alright... I remember this Red Star Records thing, I think I told them that I would give them a song for a comp, but if they're releasing Chisel stuff they better fuckin' tell me about it, for the record.

Scene Point Blank: I guess that changes that question...

Ted Leo: Way to drop a bomb on me. (Laughs)

Scene Point Blank: So moving on? what does the typical Ted Leo fan look like for you? Has it changed?

Ted Leo: You know, it hasn't changed. But it's also impossible to pin down. Another thing that we're really lucky about is crossing a lot of lines that get drawn in the punk and indie world. It's the same in the States, but I think a really good example is our show in Dublin the other night. There were kids there with Crass patches and Zounds t-shirts, and then there were also normal hair gel looking' dudes who had obviously just come from work who were fans, who were singing along. That's a joy man; that's great. It's impossible to pin down what our fans look like because you do have that spectrum at most of our shows. I'm very glad for that. That makes you feel good.

Scene Point Blank: How do you reconcile Ted the activist with Ted the pacifist?

Ted Leo: Well, I'm not necessarily a pacifist to be honest with you. I think that war on a grand scale is... pointless and evil. But honestly, it's not like I won't personally fight if I have to (Laughs). It's a matter of degrees I guess, abuse, who's being used and by whom. While I would always seek to find the non-confrontational out of a situation, sometimes people literally won't let you find a non-confrontational way out. I'm a) not going to let my face get kicked in the dirt, and b) not going to let my friends' faces get kicked in the dirt. That's on a very personal level. On anything that moves into any sort of societal realm, yes, I would generally come down on the pacifist side of things.

Scene Point Blank: It seems like Living With the Living was written during a time of political stagnation. With the current elections going on now, has that acted like fuel for the fire and inspired you?

Ted Leo: Honestly, not so much. I wish that it was inspiring me more, but the level of dialogue that has gone on - with the exception of Barack Obama's pointed speeches that he's given - the level of dialogue that has gone on surrounding all of the same fuckin' issues that are always on the table in the States: war, healthcare and taxes. War, work, healthcare, taxes. War, work, healthcare, taxes. When he gives a stump speech, he treats these things in the grander, visionary way that I wish they would get treated when we're actually having debate about it. When debate goes on so far in this election cycle, it becomes mired down in exactly the kind of political discussions that everybody I think is... well, I shouldn't say everybody, but I am actually sick of. Which is this very personal kind of 'what are you going to do for me?' politics. We wind up spinning the same wheels over and over and over again, and I haven't been particularly inspired. At the same time, on a street level, there's still nothing going on. We're getting constantly and consistently lied to about what's happening in Iraq... it's off the front of the news cycle at this point, we barely even hear about it when a bomb goes off or whatever anymore. It's defeating. It's not inspiring. My hope is that with a new administration, things can get inspiring again. But the lead-up to it winds up being just as defeating to me as the last couple of years have been.

Scene Point Blank: Last summer you cancelled half of your U.K. tour. In terms of your personal life, is it difficult to discuss issues in a dialogue to a crowd as opposed to in a song? Does it feel like it's expected of you?

Ted Leo: Yeah. It depends on what kind of mood I'm in. What happened to me last year, what actually happened to somebody else last year that I needed to rush home to... it was of a nature that I really am not super comfortable laying out publicly. Nor do I think that the person who's involved would appreciate it if I did. Yeah, it really just depends on the circumstances, you know. It's interesting because you draw the distinction between putting something in a song and speaking something or writing something on a website or whatever about it, in a direct way, and, it's rare that I've felt like I've had to draw that distinction before. I don't really know that I'm drawing that distinction about it right now, like I'm not really writing songs about this. I guess it just depends on the circumstances.

Scene Point Blank: I guess what I'm saying is, and I cringe to use the word, it's almost like you're a celebrity, and suddenly personal life becomes a factor.

Ted Leo: I know what you mean. Yeah, because the audience is going to take that for what it is, which is a song, and however literally they take it, there are places you're 'allowed' to go that don't feel as awkward. We don't cancel shows unless we absolutely have to, and in situations like that I feel we owe people an explanation. I'm not enough of a celebrity to keep that distance from the people that we're playing for, I mean, physically, not even conceptually. I do feel compelled to give explanations but it doesn't feel invasive, it hasn't gotten to that point. I don't feel like anything's creepy or invasive, people that I think know who we are and appreciate what we do, it's fun and they enjoy it, but they kind of take it as seriously as we do so I feel like they deserve some explanation. But nobody bugs me about stuff like that.

Scene Point Blank: You guys play quite a few covers: how do you choose them?

Ted Leo: Yeah, generally it's just songs that I at one point in my life, or like yesterday just thought it'd be fun to cover and we just do it, as simple as that. Sometimes for example, with The Mekons song that we're going to do tonight, that just came about because we were listening to The Mekons in the van and we were like, "You know, we should fuckin' cover this song. It'll be fun to play!" and we take a sound check or two to learn it then do it.

Scene Point Blank: I saw recently that The Specials are re-uniting. I know you're a fan (Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone? pays homage) but where do you stand on older bands getting back together? The Sex Pistols are notorious for it?

Ted Leo: I have mixed feelings and I think it goes case-by-case. I would never begrudge anyone the right to play their music at any point in their life. I dread to think about if I stopped playing music for a certain period of time, then I decided I wanted to again, I would hope that I wouldn't have to feel awkward about doing that. But of course, cynically, you always have suspicions about why people are doing it, and that can color your impression of whatever given reunion. I try to give everybody the benefit of the doubt because they deserve it, and who am I to judge, you know? (Laughs)

Scene Point Blank: Do you think you'll you go see them?

Ted Leo: I don't know, honestly. I'm assuming they'll come to the States later, so I'll probably read some reviews first. (laughs). Inform my opinion.

Scene Point Blank: What sort of stuff are you listening to currently?

Ted Leo: Let's see... the last few weeks, The Nazz, Todd Rundgren's old really psyche band, kind of like The Who but a little more psychedelic going on. They were from Philadelphia, 60's... I've recently been working with Kristeen Young; she toured with Morrissey for years. She's got a new record coming out that I played some percussion on and helped mix and stuff, and I've been listening to that and I think it's great. Listening to Daft Punk [playing in the club as we speak]... Ohhh, yeah, I just recently got a bunch of old stuff that had been missing from my collection, this old U.K. punk band called Crisis, a lot of that... a lot of Rich Kids, late 70's/early 80's punk stuff. But that's always on deck, you know.

Scene Point Blank: One last question: in terms of your music, if I had to pick one adjective to describe it, it would be "hopeful." What are you hopeful for?

Ted Leo: Honestly man... I'm glad that you say that because I try to keep it that way, but I'm in a particularly hopeless state of mind right now, to be honest with you. I don't mean to bum you out. (Laughs) I'm hoping that I'll come out of this tunnel, but I don't see things going all that well in a lot of areas of life right now. I'm nervous about how the US elections are going to go, and that's going to affect the whole world for the next fifty fuckin' years. My personal life is a shambles. (Laughs), I'm having trouble writing lyrics... Ask me again next year and I might give you a better answer.

Scene Point Blank: Thanks a lot for the interview Ted.

Words and Graphics: Matt | Wonderful photography by: Owen Richards (http://www.owenrichards.co.uk is featuring a Ted Leo tour photo zine - check it out)

Special thanks to Alison at Hermana and Sarah for questions!

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Matt • October 16, 2010

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