Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – EMF - NME interview

In 2020, which former American Idol singer covered EMF’s 1990 US chart-topper ‘Unbelievable’?

“[Laughs] I’ve got no idea. Sorry!”

WRONG. It was Kelly Clarkson.

“Honestly?! I’ve not seen this. I must live under a rock. I’m going to check that out – it’s probably better than our version!”

Your cover of The Monkees’ ‘I’m a Believer’ with Reeves and Mortimer reached Number 3 in the charts in 1995. But it wasn’t the first time EMF had appeared on a CD alongside Vic Reeves. In 1992, you both covered songs for NME’s famous Ruby Trax compilation. EMF covered Joe Dolce’s novelty song ‘Shaddap You Face’, but what track did Vic Reeves tackle?

“I’ve got no idea. I vaguely remember us doing ‘Shaddap You Face’ – although if you hadn’t mentioned it, I wouldn’t have recalled it in my life!”

WRONG. Vic Reeves sang Ultravox’s 1980 song ‘Vienna’ – which was famously kept off the Number One spot for three weeks straight by none other than Shaddap You Face’!

“I got the feeling Vic Reeves always wanted to be a pop star. Vic Reeves had covered ‘Dizzy’ with The Wonder Stuff before us [in 1991]. Ian [Dench, EMF guitarist and songwriter] was hanging around The Ivy and The Groucho Club in London and got friendly with Vic and it came about that way. Miles Hunt, frontman of The Wonder Stuff, said there’s a curse that when you do a song with Vic and Bob, your band splits up shortly afterwards – it happened with them and it happened with us in ‘95! Vic and Bob were great in the studio though. Bob turned up with a carrier bag full of really weak lager, just so he could drink all day.”

How did the ‘Shaddap You Face’ cover come about?

“Zac Foley, who was our original bass player [who died in 2002], used to sing it all the time in rehearsals as a joke. So we just thought ‘Right, we’re going to do this!’ and banged it out in one day. Did Joe Dolce ever hear it? I don’t think so! The only feedback we ever got about any of our covers was Iggy Pop told us our version of ‘Search and Destroy’ was one of his favourite covers ever, and Gary Numan liked what we did with ‘We Are Glass’”.

EMF appeared on the BBC show Juke Box Jury (where panellists judged the hit potential of record releases) in 1990 as the mystery guests after ‘Unbelievable’ was reviewed. But who was the only panellist to vote that the song was a “miss” rather than a “hit”?

“Oh man! I think Robert Smith said it’d be a hit, but let’s see what they’re like on their third single. Then he voted it a miss. Which led to all sorts of trouble with him!”


“I only know this because what happened after it has consumed me for a lifetime. Derry [Brownson, EMF keyboardist] called him a fat c-word in the press, Then we did the BRIT Awards [in 1991] and Robert angrily came up to me and said: ‘What’s this about you calling me a fat c-word?!’ And it got really nasty. He had all of The Cure lined up behind him and I was there on my own. I was mortified because I’m the biggest Robert Smith fan ever – all I ever wanted to be growing up was him, and then he’s coming up and accusing me of dissing him. I’ve often wanted to write him an apology letter and say it wasn’t me. I wanted to tell him it was Derry – who in the meantime at the BRITs was having a fight with The Beautiful South on the dodgems! Can I apologise to Robert Smith now?”

Go for it…

“Robert Smith, if you’re reading this, I’m very sorry. It was a despicable thing to say and out of order. Pop stars shouldn’t talk to each other like that – especially to a god like you.”

What was the ruckus with The Beautiful South about then?

“I don’t know! For some reason, Derry and DJ Milf were kicking off with The Beautiful South, who had a reputation. They sing lovely pop songs, but they were quite handy northern lads! [Laughs]”

Which musician achieved an injunction to modify a sample in the track ‘Lies’ from EMF’s 1991 debut album ‘Schubert Dip’?

“I know this one! Was it Yoko Ono?”


“At the start, we sampled [John Lennon’s assassin] Mark Chapman – another really bad idea! – reciting some John Lennon lyrics and they were copyrighted, so Yoko was within her right to kick up a fuss. We had to recall all the records, pay around £40,000, and remake the record!”

According to Vice, how many pound coins raised for Princess Diana’s landmine fund did your late bassist Zac Foley once allegedly insert into his remarkably-stretchy foreskin?

[Laughs] Oh God, that was quite a party trick of his! I’m going to say £8?”

WRONG. Apparently it was £33!

“[Uproarious laughter] He did have a rather baggy foreskin, I must admit! He used to stick a lime down it. When you turned up a venue, the rule was you’d never touch the rider if Zac had been in the dressing room before you, because you don’t know where that fruit had been!”

Limes aside, what were the craziest moments of being in EMF?

“It was all a haze. We got arrested in Louisiana which was scary. We turned up to do some radio promotion and were told we’d be miming to a CD. We couldn’t get our own equipment there, so they told us we’d hired some guitars for us. Midway through our performance, the CD started jumping so we didn’t bother playing and gave all these instruments away to the audience. It turned out the instruments belonged to the local sheriff! It got nasty and there were punches thrown. The next thing, the police marched us out of the dressing room, and made us sit in the car park with our hands above our heads with their guns drawn on us. We’d just been paid and our tour manager had to count out $100 bills on the police car bonnet to get us un-arrested. We were scared we’d get lynched.”

You duetted with Tom Jones on his TV show The Right Time in 1991. Who were the other two musical guests on your episode?

“I have no idea!”

WRONG. You appeared alongside Erasure and Shakespears Sister.

“No way! I’d like to meet them now. Back then you’d meet people like David Bowie and shake his hand – he was a decent bloke with a really tight handshake – and it seemed normal. But now you think: fucking hell, I met David Bowie!”

What was performing with Tom Jones like?

“It was funny. The way he was wailing ‘Unbelievable’ in that Tom Jones voice was pure comedy. You see as I’m singing with him that I’m laughing quite a lot. Because he was taking it really seriously and giving it some whoops. We invited some fans up and they invaded the stage. One of them jumped on Tom’s back and you could see him getting his fist out ready to give the kid the elbow [Laughs].”

Apart from ‘Unbelievable’, what song that bandmate Ian Dench wrote scored the highest position in the charts?

“Ooh lemme think – did he write that ‘Beautiful Liar’ song?”

CORRECT. He co-wrote the 2007 duet between Beyoncé and Shakira, which peaked at Number 7.

“Good song! He went to America to do it and was hanging out with Jay-Z and Beyoncé in their inner circle for a little bit.”

Are Beyoncé and Shakira partial to some EMF?

“I haven’t got a clue! I remember when we were in AIR Studios London, Tina Turner was downstairs and came and asked us to write a song for her. Nothing came of it, though. We started writing a song, but it didn’t really work.”

Reviewing EMF’s 1995 single ‘Bleeding You Dry’ in Select magazine, which pop star said: “I don’t know why kids bother with Take That when there’s bands like EMF around. They’re much sexier.”

“Ooh! I don’t know – was it Gary Barlow? [Laughs]”

WRONG. It was Boy George.

“That makes sense! Ian used to hang around with celebrities like Boy George in London, and probably asked him to be nice about us! [Laughs]”

Who’s the most unexpected person who’s turned out to be a EMF fan?

“I like that Stephen Fry still loves the band and mentions us in interviews. On our [1995] album ‘Cha Cha Cha’, we had a track called ‘Glass Smash Jack‘, which we got Stephen Fry to recite a poem at the end of. When we came into the studio, he said: ‘Oh, I’ve just been with Lady Diana!’ [Laughs] Then he was slumming it in the studio with us.”

EMF are on the 1992 AIDS/HIV charity album ‘Red Hot + Dance’. Name any three other artists/bands who also appear.  

“Are the Red Hot Chili Peppers on that? Sinead O’Connor? Elton John? No?”

WRONG. Among others, you could have had: George Michael, Madonna, Seal, PM Dawn, Lisa Stansfield, Sly & The Family Stone or Crystal Waters.

“That’s some big names! I’ve been at school all day doing my day-job of teaching kids and now I feel like a pop star again!”

Do the kids at school know about your band?

“Sometimes the kids in the class go: ‘What does EMF stand for?’ Which is embarrassing. I say: ‘Whatever you do, don’t Google it!’ In hindsight, calling your band Ecstasy Mother Fuckers and now being a school teacher wasn’t the best idea! [Laughs] My own youngest kid loves walking around with EMF merch on shouting ‘Ecstasy Mother Fucker!’ at me!”

Brian Eno remixed ‘Unbelievable’ for Red Hot + Dance…

“There’s also a connection because he used the drum loop from ‘Unbelievable’ on one of his own records [‘All Click’] and credited us for it: ‘Thanks to EMF for the drum loop’. But we only got it off of some dodgy samples CD anyway so it wasn’t even ours!”

Back onto the subject of ecstasy, you were all massive New Order fans. Did you ever hang out at The Haçienda?

“No, the only time I went to the Haçienda was after finishing a soundcheck in Manchester and then the Inspiral Carpets’ roadie, who was Noel Gallagher, came and got me and walked me through the city and walked me around the club, which wasn’t open, just so I could see it. Noel had a rock star presence even then.”

“But I adored New Order. I went to Bernard Sumner’s 40th birthday party, and Derry told me: ‘You should offer Bernard some drugs in the toilets’. Bernard declined, but invited us back to his hotel room where it was me, him, Derry, [Pet Shop Boy] Neil Tennant and one of Kraftwerk sat around a table as I’m thinking: ‘Is this really happening?!’.

“We used to see the Pet Shop Boys all the time at EMI conferences – where all their artists would be invited down –  which would get quite messy. We’d get into trouble. We once stole all of Cliff Richard’s Gold Discs they were going to hand out to him the next day. One of our band put them in his car and started driving back to Gloucestershire with them. That was the night we also got into trouble for egging on violinist Nigel Kennedy – who was pissed in his room – to throw his telly out of the window.”

In the 2011 film The Zookeeper, EMF soundtracks a scene of Kevin James taking which animal (voiced by Nick Nolte) to a TGI Fridays?

The Zookeeper? No, I’ve never heard of that. I don’t know!”

WRONG. It’s a gorilla.

“I’ll have to get that out on DVD! [Laughs] Ian must have signed that one off – I don’t remember seeing the paperwork for that one!”

Tell us about EMF’s new album ‘Go Go Sapiens’…

“Me and Ian have been writing songs non-stop for 30 years, even when the band wasn’t active, but our problem was getting them finished and recorded with the band. After EMF’s 30th anniversary last year, we got together and did 11 tunes together ourselves in the studio, which felt liberating to write, produce, and mix it ourselves without outside influence. It feels like a true EMF album; our essence is there. The first single, ‘Sister Sandinista’, is celebrating strong women – revolutionary women fighting against the odds for what they believe in.”

The verdict: 3/10 

“So my brains aren’t completely shot then? [Laughs] I’m pretty damn happy with that!”

EMF’s brand new single ‘Sister Sandinista’ is available now. ‘Go Go Sapiens’, their first new album since 1995, is released on 1 April. The band are performing live throughout April.

The post Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – EMF appeared first on NME.


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