by Nick Kent

Taken from Frendz Magazine ~ issue 24, 31st March 1972


NICK: Firstly, why the move to Europe?
WAYNE: Basically there are some people we want to work with over here like Ronan O'Rahilly, we have a few projects going with him.

There seem to be quite a few acts coming over here at the moment - Iggy Stooge for example. What's the scene in Detroit at the moment?
Well, Detroit's a really heavy place to live in - it is so dangerous, like there were 700 people killed last year, and the kids have nothing to do so they just pick up on the music thing to escape the factories. That's where the high energy comes from - the environment. The way the band came to the concept of a higher energy music is quite simple. If you take everything in the universe and break it down to a common denominator all you've got is energy - it's the level we communicate from - that's the essence of the urban sound.

"Kick Out The Jams" was a raw electronic rock music, very like the Velvet Underground "White light - White heat" period.
But "Back In The U.S.A." had a much cleaner sound and a concept scene. Then "High Time" went back to the raw sound but in the studio context.
Yeah, we have been through a lot of changes and that's the way it should be. We've got to expand.

Are you still very much influenced by people like Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders?
That ties in with what I was saying about the urban sound and energy level. In a sense, the black jazz musicians have the same life style and experience as we have. They're shooting for the same thing and there is a parallel in our urban vision. Like the 'Skunk' track (on "High Time") in which we use Detroit jazz musicians - it was a really fine synthesis - urban rock and urban black jazz.

John Sinclair started out as a spiritual Father and Manager of the Band and then he was busted. Now he's out, do you have any contact with him?
No, I haven't talked to him at all. I think he feels a little bit guilty over the things he said about us when he was in jail. I'd really like to see him again, there's a lot of things I'd like to talk about.

Well could you put the picture straight from your side about the conflict which seemed to arise.
All the time he was in jail he was making accusations about us wanting to be rich and famous and not caring about the revolution which is totally untrue. I think his statement reflects his state of mind at that time - you know there was incredible paranoia and the whole thing was total madness anyway - 10 years for 2 joints, no-one believed it would happen. I've read letters he sent to friends and they were crazy and paranoid - it was madness.
There was a definite philosophical/political split and it came at that point. We were getting more and more militant in our rhetoric: "Off the pigs" etc., you know. "The black panthers have guns, so the White Panthers must have guns. We've got all sorts of machismo - dig me, I'm bad". But around that time we were developing our own ideas and John was articulating our ideas but putting his own slant on them. Before we'd met John we weren't very articulate about politics.

But was the basic discontent there?
Of course. We were brought up in America and you can't be in that situation without asking why the country's so fucked up. Vietnam was just peaking when we were about 18 so there was the army hassle. We were radicalised by our own environment. But the split came around the militancy point. We just realised that violence wasn't the answer - that's the old way. The revolution is a revolution of communication. Getting guns is not the way - and when John told the kids to arm themselves we just said 'forget it' because that wasn't what we were talking about. Now John's out I think he's reviewed the situation and has modified his ideas a little.

Was he on an ego-trip towards the end?
Well, the tension just got higher and higher and he just got more and more repressed and had to act really tough. That was it.

How heavy a communal scene were the White Panthers into in Detroit?
It was like a constant party, but not a political party though we were using all the words. 25 and 30 people lived there and the MC5 set-up paid for everyone - it was an interesting experiment - that band lived together a year before and a year after the whole thing and I really dug it. It was like a laboratory - you've got to deal with people, communication is the keyword behind the whole concept.

Do you regret the way things turned out? You seem to have constantly been fighting off the pretentious hype that went with your image.
Well , yeah, when you're putting over an alien vibration on a high energy level you've got to be tough to that kind of backlash. But it's the only way for us, we can't do anything else and it's too late to stop now. We're totally committed to our thing - it's a highly emotional thing and in that respect it's always a calculated risk.

What's happening with the White Panthers in Detroit now?
The White Panthers don't exist any more. I think they realise that the "White" had racist overtones and the "Panthers" had violent overtones, so overall it didn't work because they weren't racist or really violent. All that is essentially John Sinclair's organisation - it's his house and all the people stay with him there.

"Back In The U.S.A.". How strong was Jon Landau (rock writer for Rolling Stone and part-time record producer) 's influence?
Very strong. It was Sinclair's idea to hire him ; we weren't too keen on the idea but it worked out OK We'd always wanted to make a rock and roll album that was perfect - clean and neat. It was just one phase, one dimension in the whole construction. One time we were going to make a really weird album - maybe the next one which we're working on under the tentative title "MC5 Live on Saturn".

Will "Black to Comm" be on that?
Maybe. We've been playing it for six years and it's probably at the forefront of whatever we're into - it's an energy chant - it must have been through a thousand evolutions in character. We've all changed so much working over here - working with Ronan and everything - that I don't know what direction our music will take, we'll just have to wait and see.

What do you think of the more decadent aspects appearing in rock, like the Stones' current music and Alice Cooper?
The Stones' credibility is suffering for me at the moment but Alice Cooper really gets to me. Their theatrical aspect is really fine though the music doesn't quite hit me. They're all good friends of mine.

This idea of 'a total performance' seems to be the way that rock music is going now. After all the progressive crap and the country rock period we're finally getting back to the real thing. What's the music scene like in Detroit now?
There's a band called the Brat - 3 black guys and 2 white guys - they've got it. There was a really fine band called the Rationals. They were superb and they've now reformed into a band, The Guardian angel, which is promising. There's Bob Seger - he's written some classics, and there's Mitch Ryder, of course. The real music seems to be coming from the big cities now - Detroit and New York.

Yeah, the west coast scene seems to be dying. The music has got very complacent of late.
I was never into that scene on any real level. I was hearing these great reports about this band Jefferson Airplane, how they were burning up all the halls they played at. But when I heard their record "Somebody to Love" - it's a great lyrical thing but there was no real drive going for it. The music that made it for us had this characteristic called "drive": Chuck Berry's music has got it and Tamla Motown had it too - things like "Dancing in the street" and "Fingertips" - they were unbelievable. There are still some really creative people at Tamla: the house bassman James Jameson and Tony Newton and the drummer Pistol Allen - they've really developed their own expression.
Things are loosening up - the white cats are jamming with the black session cats and vice versa. We've done 2 or 3 different projects with black jazz musicians. We've built up orchestras and done all sorts of material, Coltrane stuff and MC5 stuff. It was fantastic. Personally I think I'm light years away from coming into my full strength as a musician and an artist. The band has come nowhere near to getting into its real strange. It hasn't happened yet. The thing about Trane's music which at this point I am concerned with is the melody. The rhythm we have - being a rock group, and rock is 2 or 3 chords with lots of beat but we're starting to explore melody - expand our harmonic sense and get away from traditional western music forms to a melodic emotional sound. Not necessarily a musical phrase - it's hard to discuss, doing it is one thing but talking about it is another.

What's the immediate direction your music is going in?
You can't really foretell things like that - that would be defeating the purpose. I think an important aspect of this direction is a concept that Ronan has been hipping us to called "Loving awareness" as opposed to a defensive awareness. When you're born you love everyone but then your parents and your environment place all these structures and values on your capacity to love and so it works down you just can't put restrictions on a thing like that, because if you do by the time you are 20 or 30 you won't know how to love any more.

This whole thing with Ronan O'Rahilly, how strong is it?
Oh incredibly strong.

Stronger than your relationship with Sinclair?
I don't think you can put a value on it. The relationship we have with Ronan is, like, "artist to artist" as opposed to "artist to manager" or anything like that.

How did you meet?
At Phun City. He was just there and there were all sorts of hassles about getting groups to play. Like that band Free. They wouldn't even get out of the car unless they were given money which is ironic seeing as they're called Free in the first place. But it was a great gig - we just went on and played, and Ronan dug it. We communicated by transatlantic phone for 18 months and now we're working on a few different things. We're doing the sound track to a movie he is producing as well as working with some other guys on a concert series which could work out to be a free music thing this summer.

Did the Phun City gig have the same atmosphere as those early performances you gave at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit?
Well, those gigs were incredible. We used to have what we called "Spectaculars". Robert Kennedy had just been assassinated and there was this incredible paranoia we used to play on. We used to burn the American flag and erect this new flag with "Freak" written on it. One time,we got a friend of ours to run on stage with a pistol and shoot Rob who had this bag of blood he'd throw in his face. Unfortunately the gun didn't go off (laughter).

You had all sorts of problems with the cops in the States. Were you lucky not to be busted like Sinclair was?
The thing is that the authorities just don't understand the power of rock music. It's a dead system that doesn't realise that what's happening in communication - people are opening up to each other, that's the basic thing.

The whole rock concept is a live performance ; when there are very strong flashes going on between the audience and musician - it seems the music is feeding on the chaos which arises from the situation. Jim Morrison built his act around taking this situation to its extremes. Is that what the MC5 are into?
I think the keyword is anarchy. In that kind of setting, people can bust out of all the structures placed on them. The way we build up a song in concert is very anarchistic. I never saw Morrison live but he was into a very good flow, a very strong direction.
When you are into something really creative and you're expanding constantly, soon you start to leave the earth. I really believe that one of the ways to save the planet is through space travel. If we could really play on Saturn.....but then you reach a point where you do go beyond everything. I don't believe Trane could have lived any longer. He just had to die when he did - he had to get beyond this thing to a more spiritual level - greater space.

Are there any rock bands that hitting the level that Trane was into?
No, definitely not.

I agree. Coltrane's music is very spiritual whereas rock is very physical. But surely the whole coming together of a really inspired rock concert is in a way a spiritual event.
Oh definitively. Absolutely. But on musical terms, there are no bands hitting the note like Trane did.

What do you think of the Grateful Dead? They're the only band I can think of who got near to the feel of free jazz in their more innovative days. The music on 'Live Dead' for example.
Oh yeah, the Dead were into some very heavy territory at one time

The original Quicksilver too....
I never really listened to them mainly because they refused to play a gig with us at one the Fillmores. There was always conflict between our scene and the west coast scene. Bill Graham was very wary of the MC5.

I've read reports that stated that Rob Tyner doesn't carry the MC5 in the way that Jagger carries the Stones or Iggy carried the Stooges.
Well in those case the lead singer's flow is the strongest in the group, but the MC5 is more of a unit. The creative flows run crossways instead of forwards ; the band works on a very anarchistic level.

How do your numbers come together, 'Sister Anne' ( on 'High Time' ) for example?
Fred (Smith) wrote it, arranged it, and produced it. The two numbers I wrote I completely arranged one and partly arranged the other. Dennis' song ('Gotta keep movin') we all arranged that. I wish we could do that one live on stage but it doesn't quite work. It's a little too hot to handle.

I really like the idea of the 2 guitar line-up you have. A single guitarist is usually on an ego trip but 2 guitars working together can really be creative.
It was a natural situation to begin with. Fred and I function perfectly - I push him and he pushes me and we run the entire gamut of our knowledge. We've been playing music together for about ten years. At the moment I am studying music ; some jazz musicians have been teaching me new stuff because I need that information for a composition thing, to give me another perspective in order to work in a linear context.

What are your immediate plans then?
After touring England, we're going to Germany for a few dates. Then we are going back to the States for 5 weeks to clear out our apartments and to get rid of our cars and all that shit. All these fucking possessions, man - I've got more stuff than I need right now on the road. We've also got to clear up some business with a former manager of ours. We were almost declared bankrupt but we seem to have gotten over that into the black.

Is there anything you would like to add to what you have said already?
Well I just want to stress this thing about communication. The whole reason for having this interview in the first place is to get some sort of communication going. In terms of revolution Marx and Lenin came up with the best idea they could at the time to keep the people together. They tore off the top strata - you've got the bourgeoisie and the proletariat - but now that situation doesn't work any more. Young people can relate to those figures emotionally but in terms of revolution those concepts are no longer applicable. Then, there was no TV, no rock bands, no real media to talk about. The terms of the culture are different now and everything is much more supersonic. Now we're talking about telepathy whereas the old revolutionaries were talking about machine guns.

NICK KENT © Frendz-1972