CARTER USM FEATURE
hey write songs about alcoholism, wife-beating, child abuse, AIDS and army bullying, patch them together with puns. movie samples and lines from other people’s songs, then charge up their drum machine, turn the guitars up full and let rip. It’s like watching an ungainly B-52. held together with Sellotape and safety pins. pulling itself into the sky against all the odds. And, as that slightly pathetic image suggests, Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine kindle a great warmth in their fans. However piecemeal their songs may be, the band’s lack of sophistication works for them; large numbers of pe0ple are responding to their ordinary-blokeishness by buying their records in impressive quantities.
Their detractors are legion — and surprisingly vicious with it — but are drowned out by a growing fan-base who strongly identify with the image ofJim Bob and Fruitbat as a pair of lovable, uncorrupted underdogs establishing a beachhead in a rotten industry. Last year, Jonathan King raised eyebrows by raving about the duo and choosing them to play The Great British Music Weekend. Carter are now Top Of The Pops regulars. Not only that. they attacked Philip Schofield on TV and made it into Smash Hits.
On an overcast day in London. Fruitbat (real name Leslie Carter) muses over his band’s place in the scheme ofthings. We’ve already established that they represent some kind of rock’n’roll rebellion — ‘but not, you know, smashing up hotel rooms and driving your Rolls Royces into pools, that Spinal Tap kind of stuff’ — and are on to discussing whether their music can’t exist without that rebellious streak.
‘Well, yeah,’ he ponders, ‘the lyrics express that too. It’s not just sticking to the same safe formula: there’s something contentious in there. We write songs about things that maybe people shouldn’t write songs about. Taboo subjects.‘
Because they’re taboo?
‘Because we want to write them. We don’t think to ourselves. “Oh no, we can’t write a song about that, that’s not done.” The idea comes first. We just get inspired or whatever to write these songs. It’s just that where some people might say, “Oh no, we can’t do that”, we say, ‘Oh yes, we can”.’
Fruitbat met Jim Bob. as far as he can remember, in 1978, when both were in their late teens, and since then they have worked single-mindedly towards a musical career, Fruitbat enduring spells as an office clerk and librarian on the way. ‘It’s real tunnel vision. We haven’t really thought about doing anything else.
‘My parents were really against it, but they’re both not with us now, so I don’t
know what they’d think about it. They both died when we were still struggling, they never really saw the fruit of any of it, they just saw the eight years on the dole. But Jim’s mum is well made-up about it, and my brother as well. It’s made him a minor celebrity. He’s a gasman, and everyone in the Gas Board knows that he’s my brother and they all call him Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine. He’s got loads of stickers on his van. he’s a real big fan. When we were in previous groups. he was never all that keen, but since we started Carter he’s really got into it.‘
Eeeh, it’s a different world from the one brother Leslie inhabits now — or at least has the chance to examine up close.
‘I’ve met quite a few pop stars, I suppose,’ he tells me with a minimum of prompting.
Where some people might say, "Oh no, we can't do that', we say, "Oh yes, we can“.
‘and realised that they’re normal people as well. I met Kylie, she was really nice, I met Morrissey the other day, he was a bit stand-offish. I met David Bowie and felt very sorry for him, because he’s a very sad figure. He used to be my ultimate hero when I was a teenager, saviour of the Universe and all that, but when I met him he was very sad indeed. He seems to have no life in him at all, his skin was a horrible yellow colour. I don’t know what he’s been doing. Too much good living, I reckon.’
Their sudden fame, says Fruitbat, has ‘actually made me less shy than I was, that’s the main thing. I’ve got a lot more courage to speak out against . . . I don’t know, injustices. Especially ones that happen to me. I was very meek and mild-mannered, and people used to walk over me quite a lot, but they don’t do that so much any more. As long as it’s not going to end up with me being beaten up or something. Mind you, I’m even like that now. I’m a bit reckless. Jim’s a lot calmer than I am. He’s more likely to store things up and explode one day, but I’m very short-tempered.’
The nation was treated to a glimpse of Fruitbat’s short fuse during the recent televised Smash Hits Awards, when he impulsively hurled himselfat presenter Philip Schofield, incensed by the latter’s sarcastic remarks on-air. Luckily, both saw the funny side, and Carter got another headline for their bulging scrapbook. To that, they could add the fuss over their song ‘After The Watershed’, which openly pinched a line from The Rolling Stones’ ‘Ruby Tuesday’. The publishers of the song,
ABKCO, run by the infamous Allen Klein, demanded 100 per cent of ‘Watershed”s royalties. brushing aside Carter’s offer of a conciliatory twenty per cent. Despite initial hopes that Mick Jagger himself might bring pressure to bear on the publishers, it looks as though Carter USM will be forced to give in to ABKCO’s demands.
From incurring the wrath of the T-shirt sellers at the Town and Country Club to being forced to sell copies of the current single, ‘The Only Living Boy In New Cross’ in brown paper bags because of the cartoon condom figure on its sleeve, they are rarely out of the papers.
‘We’ve never actually done a publicity stunt in our lives,’ Fruitbat insists. 'Things just happen to us all the time. I suppose we’re quite lucky in that way. We don’t have to think of all these scams like other bands do. Things just naturally happen to us. Although we did tell everyone that we were supporting U2 on their American tour, which was a complete lie. We wanted to see how far it would go.’
It could go very far indeed. The success of their last album, 30 Something (despite its unavailability for several months last year when Rough Trade Distribution collapsed), and the band’s current prominence, mean that high sales for their new record, 1992: The Love Album, are assured — for obvious reasons. though, ‘After The Watershed’ is absent. The Love Album marks no great leap for Carter, unless it’s that they’re going a little easier on listeners’ pounding heads this time, and maybe letting their fondness for big West Side Story-style numbers show a little more.
‘It’s a progression on the last one, but I’m not exactly sure why it’s a progression. It’s probably a bit more straightforward than the other albums. There’s more of us in there, of our true feelings, rather than just ranting on about things. Quite difficult to describe.’
‘We do it all at the last minute,’ he says later. ‘We tend to work best that way. under extreme pressure. We managed to finish the LP in 21 days, start to finish, including the songwriting, which is one day longer than it took us to make the previous one.
However, he refuses to accept any suggestion that the quality might suffer because of their methods. Not only that, but ‘you get the added spontaneity. The first
time I play guitar to a song is usually the time it goes on to the tape, which is our defence against people saying. “Oh, you use all electronic stuff, how can you get the spontanaiety?” That’s how we get it, mistakes and all.’
Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine play The Barrowland, Glasgow on Fri 8 and Sat 9.
The List 8— 21 May-i992 9