By stu

On the final night of their fourth and final U.S. tour of 1998, I spoke with Ross, Will, and Wojciech from Symposium. The band were in a good spirits, having just come offstage, and knowing that they would by flying back to London the next morning. The previous time they had been through the Metro, James Iha was in the house, and Ross had seemed a little bit starstruck at the sight of one of Chicago's best known pop stars milling about. He probably expected Michael Jordan to waltz by next. So I began by asking them who else they've gotten a chance to meet while touring....

Interview by Stuart Forrest ReidRoss: We've done a few festivals, where we met the Foo Fighters, and then we supported them. It's pretty cool when you play festivals and get to meet other bands.

Will: The singer for Rancid, he was spot-on. Ross: It was pretty good on the Warped tour, it was a lot of bands that we liked, Deftones and stuff like that.

EO: I saw you guys listed on that tour, and I could kind of see how you fit in, but not entirely.

Ross: They had us on a really little stage, the bus stage.

Will: It was a bus, and one side of it opened out.

Ross: A lot of the bands on that stage really sounded the same, really hard-core and buzzy. I think we stuck out quite a lot. A lot of the kids that came to see us really got into it, so it was really cool.

EO: So many times when British bands come to the U.S., if they get to come over at all, it's four days on the east coast and two days on the west coast. You guys have been through here four times this year. How have you gotten to play so much in the United States?

Ross: Well, we've got a label that is really into us. Everyone seems to think that America will be really good for us, so we just came and worked it.

Wojceich: When we were growing up, it was all about listening to American rock bands. A lot of that more hardcore scene, bands like Nirvana, whereas all the other British bands were growing up on Echo and the Bunnymen. So it just kind of seems a bit more obvious for us to be out here than, say, Shed 7.

Ross: It's good for us, because, coming from England, where we're quite well known, but [in the U.S.] playing small venues again, and playing to people who don't know what you're like and trying to win them over, it's good to see that. We're doing it all over again. It's really good fun.

EO: So it doesn't get you down when you're used to playing with the crowd going crazy at your shows?

Ross: No, no. I love it, it's a challenge. Sometimes though, when you've been in the van for eight hours, and you're going somewhere like- where did we play the other night... Asbury Park, and there was less than ten people there. Sometimes it pisses you off a bit, but we still put a hundred and one percent into our work. It's funny, we played in Birmingham, Alabama. There was this redneck band on before us, playing in front of all these old, country- type people, and I'm thinking Jesus, we're going to go down reeeeally badly. I was watching him and he was like [in a ridiculous southern account] 'Well we've got one more song to play, and then Symposium are comin' on,' and everyone was saying 'more, more, more'. And I was like, 'play as many songs as you want'. It was like The Blues Brothers.

EO: Exactly.

Ross: And so he played on, and I was dreading going on. Once he finished, everyone left except these two old blokes who sat at the bar, and we went on and went crazy, and we filmed it. You see us playing and then turn around to see this empty bar with these two old blokes.

EO: So what are your favorite songs to play live?

Ross: I like "Obsessive Compulsive Disorder" and "The End". The bit where it goes quiet, I enjoy that bit, just stopping and looking at everyone. Everyone thinks it's done, and then -bang- we go back into it.

EO: You guys finish your set with "A Hard Day's Night", sort of like Oasis finishing with "I Am the Walrus"...

Ross: We started it before they did. We've been around for a while. We did that from our first little gigs.

EO: My opinion on that whole thing is that it is relatively cool when you're a new band, but that eventually bands should say 'our songs are the best' and finish with their own material. Do you do it just because you love playing it or...

Wojciech: I think we do it because whenever we start playing it, all the audience, especially around England, just starts smiling. They love it, they get into it, and it's something to remember us by. I think we do it for the fans back home because they love it and they expect it as well.

Will: The difference between us and Oasis doing it, is that when we do it, it fits into our set, because it's the Symposium sound. "I Am the Walrus" fits into the Oasis set because their whole sound is The Beatles. They're not changing it, it's just coming out of a massive PA system. that's the only difference.

EO: Who does most of the lyrics and songwriting?

Wojciech: That would be me.

EO: For all the songs?

Wojciech: All the ones that we did tonight.

EO: It seems like a lot of the songs seem to be in two categories lyrically- the "happy" ones like "Drink the Sunshine" and the angry ones like "Bury You" and "The End". But when I heard "Wall of Silence", the new song you're playing in your set, it seemed to be a different kind of song. I know you are thinking about your next album, are you trying to do different kinds of songwriting?

Wojciech: Yeah, you can't help it - well, I can't help it, because it's really boring to do the same old thing. So, yeah. People even say our mini-album is different than our main album.

EO: Have you gotten much done for the next album?

Wojciech: Just demos of some stuff.

EO: Do you have ideas in mind of what you want to do on the next record?

Wojciech: Not really, I think it's a mistake to sit down and say 'this is what it's going to be like'. I think it just naturally grows and turns out to be whatever it's going to be, like if you plant a tree and just watch it grow. [Laughs.]

EO: Where did "Wall of Silence" come from, lyrically?

Wojciech: Lyrically... I dunno. Hagop and I really like Eastern things and Egypt and Hagop himself is from Armenia. I love all that kind of stuff, so that's what I did for that song, and then I just wanted the lyrics to go with that music. Also, there's that PlayStation game, "Exhumed", it's all to do with pyramids and scarabs and things, and it's really scary. When there's a door, you have to open it and go through and that's where "doors open/leading blindly" came from - and I made up the rest of it from things to do with Eastern imagery. Last time I was here, I said it was about the conflict in the middle east, but that was just a joke.

EO: How much of the lyrics of your songs are actually personal experiences and how much is just 'that's what I want the lyrics to sound like on this song'?

Wojciech: Probably pretty much all of them have some element of personal things, but then I go off on a tangent and use poetic license. I think in songs to ring true, they have to come from that, for people to really believe in what you're writing about. You can't just pretend. That's a thing I try to do, write from personal experience all the time.

EO: In a way, your songs remind me of Ride, in that they are really loud but still very melodic, and also, they were very young when they got going. Also, as a band, they seemed really together, at least at the start.

Will: They always seemed like sort of a gang, know what I mean? Towards the end it got really bad, and now they're not talking to each other. Me and Ross used to really listen to them a lot. My favorite one is "Going Blank Again".

EO: So you've heard other people compare you to Ride a little bit?

Ross: When we first came out, everyone was saying that.

EO: Do you think that's a bad comparison?

Wojciech: I've never seen Ride or heard that albums, so I don't know.

EO: How important is the ska element to what you're doing? There's "Puddles" and then a few other Symposium tracks have at least a hint of it.

Wojciech: On our main album... the U.S. album is a combination of our mini-album and the main album back home... on the main album, there was no ska stuff on it. I don't think we'll be doing much more of it, it just doesn't seem nice to do it when there's this whole big ska thing going on.

EO: A lot of the music press is talking about this being a really bad time for music with not much going on. Do you think that's true?

Will: What, with British music? Well, the British press is always getting worked up about the latest band to put together a four-chord progression that sounds a little bit like The Smiths or whatever, so it's stupid. As far as new bands go, I do think Idlewild are really good. They've got this incredible energy live, although I don't think on record they're anything special.

EO: So are you anxious to get home tomorrow?

Ross: Yeah, everyone's a bit scared, everyone thinks the plane's gonna blow up because it's the same plane that our manager was on. It went up and it hard to land because there was something wrong with it.

EO: So are you going to get to come back again next year?

Ross: Hopefully, yeah. I think next time we come back, we'll be supporting someone, I don't know who. Maybe January or February. We're going back to England tomorrow and we have a gig on Friday.