An interview with singer/guitarist Jake Evans of Bad Lieutenant
By David Chiu
Upon first listening to British band Bad Lieutenant’s recent album, Never Cry Another Tear, without even knowing its history, one could have sworn this was New Order. After all, the lead vocal is unmistakably familiar because it’s from New Order guitarist Bernard Sumner. While that and the music present recognizable elements for old fans, Bad Lieutenant a group that also has its own identity. That’s because Bad Lieutenant sound is more rooted in organic guitar rock, with a few electronic flourishes, compared to New Order’s ‘80s dance-oriented-music. To put it more diplomatically, it’s the sound of both a familiar group and a new band.
Bad Lieutenant was formed by Sumner, Phil Cunningham (who was also in New Order’s last lineup) and Jake Evans. (New Order drummer Stephen Morris guested on a few tracks). Evans, who is also in the group Rambo and Leroy, was an old friend of Cunningham, and that connection later led him to Sumner and Bad Lieutenant. In November the band released Never Cry Another Tear, an album highlighted by some strong tracks like “Twist of Fate” and “Sink or Swim.” While Sumner may be more recognizable of the core three given his track record, Evans also makes his presence known as a singer on a couple of the tracks, reflecting a certain group democracy.
So far the group has performed live mainly in their native UK, including this past December as the opening act for the Pet Shop Boys. A tour of the U.S. opening for the Pixies was originally scheduled late last year but never materialized because of visa issues.
NewBeats had a chance to speak with Jake Evans to talk about how the group came to be, their music, and working with Sumner and Morris.
1. Bad Lieutenant is still kind of relatively new to us folks here in the States. Can you tell us how you ended up in the group. And did you know Bernard and Stephen previously?
Me and Phil have been friends for a long time. We grew up in the same town of Macclesfield. Being musicians, inevitably you end up working together or just chatting about music at some point, so our friendship kind of grew from there really. Later on I did a stint with him in [the group] Marion when they reformed.
As far as meeting Bernard goes, I was at a mutual friend’s birthday party when we first met. I was convinced into getting up and doing a song. I think that was how Bernard came to bear me in mind when he wanted to form this new group. I also supported New Order with my own band Rambo and Leroy on their final UK show in Wolverhampton. Bernard and Phil came out to watch our set and they were impressed I think.
I got a call on New Years Day I think or the day after from Carl Jackson ( Carl plays drums on some of the tracks on the album )asking if I fancied playing some guitar and singing in this new band Bernard was thinking of doing with himself, Alex [James] from Blur and Phil. We started just getting together and jamming really in the early days, just to see what stuck you know? After that we decided to take it all a bit more seriously and the writing core just naturally started to center around myself, Bernard and Phil. The album head a real collective feel, which added to its distinct sound I think.
I didn’t meet Steve until towards the end of the making of the album, when we asked him to play on a couple of tracks, to which he added his own inimitable style. We finally drafted in Tom on bass guitar towards the end of the album, and after he played on a track or two, we knew he was the right guy for the job.
2. When you’re playing with Bernard (and to some degree with Stephen), did you ever think sometimes “Oh my God, I’m in the same band with someone I grew up listening to and admired” or were you indifferent to that?
It is a real pleasure to work with these guys for sure. It takes a while to get comfortable working with anyone new no matter who they are to be honest, but you’ve got to get past any of that if you want to be a real band. It’s a buzz to say the least to play some of the songs from their back catalogue that inspired and influenced so many. At times it can feel a little surreal but in the best possible way.
The idea to share the vocals was kind of our ethos from the start to tell the truth. It was great to be asked to collaborate with musicians I hold in high regard. When it came to deciding which of us would write/sing the vocals on which tracks, it either felt obvious instinctually, or we would collaborate by bringing different lyrical/melodic ideas to the song and use and develop whichever we felt were the best.
3. The one thing I noticed about this album is how guitar-rock oriented the sound is. And it also sounds very organic, rich and natural–was that something that was conscientious on the part of the band?
Although a lot of the songs are underscored with synths and programming, this is predominantly a very guitary album. The electronic influence is still there though, all be it to a lesser extent than bands previously associated with Bernard and Steve perhaps. It just happened that way very naturally. This is a new band, with a new sound, and a new outlook.
I personally love using electronics in music. The only thing for me is the song rules, end of story. Perhaps our next album will be very synthy, or less so than this one. Who knows. I like being able to do what we want. Which is what we did with this album. And besides, any fan of Bernard’s and Steve’s will know that they like to surprise people. I like the fact that while so many bands at the moment are trying to ape the sound they had 20 years ago, Bernard’s just released his most guitar driven work for years! Ha.
5. There are a lot of really good songs on the album in my opinion like “Twist of Fate” and “Shine Like the Sun.” Is there one track or a few particular ones that stick out for you and why?
Thanks. Yes those are great tunes. I like them all for different reasons to tell you the truth. Which is probably why we had a bit of a stress when it came to the tracklisting!! I would have to say that one of my favourites would have to be “This Is Home.” It embodies what we’re about I think and was one of the songs even from early on that just seemed to work.
6. Having never seen you guys perform live on stage, do you also perform New Order songs as well? And do you think have people now accepted Bad Lieutenant as a band within itself as opposed to being constantly compared to New Order?
We do play some of Bernard and Steve’s back catalogue, which is a pleasure to play for me anyway. The gigs are predominantly our own material but we do throw some of their classics as well. And why not? People want to hear them. Having said that the last thing I would want to come across as is a New Order cover band, so its a delicate balance. I think the message about the new band is still getting out there, particularly in the US.
7. How disappointed were you that your U.S. tour was canceled because of the visa problems? Are there future plans on coming back once that is corrected?
We were gutted when we had to pull the initial gigs over there. Rest assured we’re working on getting back over for a full-scale tour soon. It always takes time to be accepted as a new band but forming our own identity is something we’re committed to doing.
8. Has there been a personal or professional highlight so far that has happened to this band, whether it is a funny or poignant moment in the studio, during a tour, or a gig? What has been the overall experience in being in Bad Lieutenant?
I think I would have to say that the first sold out night we played in Manchester was pretty special. Everything just came together. We had a blast. The overall feeling of being in this band is great. We work well together. We have a laugh. We make good music. That’s enough for me.
Band press photos from MySpace.
For information on Bad Lieutenant, visit http://badlieutenant.net/