Name: World Party
Progress Report: Karl Wallinger chats about the new World Party retrospective, Arkeology, and the illness that nearly derailed his entire career.
If you came of age in the early ’90s — the golden age of 120 Minutes and Alternative Nation — then it’s fairly certain that you had more than a passing knowledge of World Party. Founded by Karl Wallinger in 1986 after he left the Waterboys, World Party had a string of college rock hits in the late 80’s and early 90’s with the albums Private Revolution and Goodbye Jumbo. In 2001, at a time when Wallinger was poised to make a commercial comeback, he suffered an aneurysm that left him unable to speak or walk. His rehabilitation would take over five long years, and it would be another 11 years before Wallinger would be ready to release another World Party album. This month finally sees the release of Arkeology — a five CD collection of over 70 songs that span the band’s 25-year career, all wrapped up in a unique, usable diary. I had to chance to sit down and talk to Wallinger about the new compilation and his tumultuous life in and out of the music business.
STEREOGUM: How did this first begin to take shape? What was the genesis of it?
KARL WALLINGER: Well, I guess it was that the box set syndrome. It had reared its ugly head and I just wasn’t into it, ya know? So I thought, it would be nice to do something else but I just didn’t quite know what it was. And back at home we have this line of diaries called The Red Stone Diaries and I’d look at them, and they are kind of like art diaries, like pictures of Picasso at work or him getting out of the car and looking at the camera with these big eyes. Images where you’d be writing something in the diary like “take the dog for a walk” or whatever and there would be this picture and you’d be interested in it. And I thought, “Make this for the package –- something you use” one thing about box sets is you never know quite where to put them because they are a funny shape –- they don’t quite go with CDs and you don’t really want them with the books. Or you get a book with an album and it’s all an intricate design but it’s not really a book and it’s not really an album. I just thought this would be a great way and it’s quite a personal thing with a diary. I don’t know why it was just like, week one-track one, side one just seemed to lock in and as you go through it you get all these different images for different tracks. It was just a fun thing and calling it “Archeology” came about just in a middle of a phone conversation about “What do we want to call it?” And then theology again reared its ugly head. And it was like a process, and I spelled it wrong because it’s “pop” and it’s not intellectual –- it’s like the book side binding is held on with gaffer, and it looks like an ancient book but it has gaffers tape all over it. Literally, a dog designed this book. It’s like our address book at home; it’s scanned in. Our dog had actually ripped out a part when he was a puppy and we still had it because it had so many addresses in it we kept it as a book. So this ripped-up book is on the table and it was quite amusing to put our address book from our coffee table as the book in our compilation. I sat in the living room and just put together the whole thing, doing the images and I think my family thought I had gone a bit mad. I was in there all hours. There is a listing inside of everybody that has worked on the thing — that’s all our crew and musicians and graphics people over the years. And it is to say thank you for whatever I’ve had over the 25, or 26 past years.
STEREOGUM: I like it that it is something you can actually live with. It’s also a really nice object to have sitting on your desk.
KARL WALLINGER: Yeah, and also when you put the CDs in your machine or whatever you want to do with them, you can put them away in their white packets if you need to reinstall them or whatever. But you know, all that’s left is the book, you throw away the CD inserts and the rest is kind of useful. You know I just didn’t want to do a piece of junk, like pictures of me sort of looking out or something. Hopefully it’s an entertaining thing. I don’t know what to say. I quite like the fact that it’s a useful product — maybe the next album comes with a vacuum cleaner or something, or a collection of shirts? Maybe the next thing will be a cookbook. 12 tracks and 12 recipes.
STEREOGUM: This collection includes so much material from such a long period of time. Were you always a good archivist? Or was it hard to dig all this stuff up?
KARL WALLINGER: Well, you know, other people wouldn’t believe it but I do know where lots of things are, but it’s a very personal form of filing. If someone comes in and tidies the room up I don’t know where anything is. It’s that sort of thing. I’m pretty good and at the studio which has a lot of stuff, a lot of clutter in there I can find a nut, something that is 2 millimeters in diameter and people sort of go “What?!” It looks like a bomb has gone off but it’s actually quite organized.
STEREOGUM: How was the experience of going back and having to closely examine all this material?
KARL WALLINGER: Well I supposed it was such a long time I was able to be quite detached about it and quite entertained really. I couldn’t really do it at first and Mike, who just left actually, I don’t know whether you met him. He’s our label manager and he helped me get it straight. We got it down from some ridiculous number of hours — amounting to several weeks in iTunes — to five and a half days of music. He put together four CDs and then he came back to England and we sat and talked and listened to them and I was like “Yeah, this is OK. Maybe we can do something with this” and that was mostly from cassette transfers that we did. We got all the cassettes out and put them into iTunes — it was like 900 cassettes or something — and it was amazing to get that done because suddenly we have access to it all. All the session’s tapes and all that were on cassette back in those days. And then I went through their DATs–100s of those as well –- and put another CD together from that. And then I actually was working on new songs as well, so I included some of them. It was right up to date from the very beginning. Quite a nice thing. I quite like that Mike had chosen the majority of them -– it made me feel a bit more like it was it’s own thing because I maybe wouldn’t have picked the same things, you know? There has been some great finds as well –- “Words” -– that was a great find, I hadn’t heard that since I’d recorded it and that was like, 1991 or something. It’s been a good way or sort of rounding off things up until now and allowing me to move forward.
STEREOGUM: It’s interesting, I’ve done several interviews with people about these types of projects –- I remember, I interviewed Robert Smith when he was doing reissues of all the Cure albums, much of which were cassettes that were in his mother’s attic, and he was saying what a weird experience it was but that it made you take stock of what you’d done. It was humbling.
KARL WALLINGER: Yeah, it was great to go back over it. There are a few things that i’m glad have seen the light of day, so that’s good. Even if it’s “When Did You Leave Heaven” -– something I did with Dominick Miller who’s a guitarist and friend of mine. We just played opposite each other all night and recorded it. You know, there’s no reason for it to come out but it’s a nice version, it’s a nice song so, I don’t know really. After 10 or 11 years not releasing something that’s actually new it’s nice to put something out that actually contains new things, so that’s good. I’m happy about that.
STEREOGUM: Often, these projects are a line in the sand for people: Here is this definitive statement …
KARL WALLINGER: Yeah, very much. It’s like, five albums in 25 years? Not exactly a prodigious output. It’s funny; there was a long gap and then its like boom! Here are 75 songs for you.
STEREOGUM: So what do you anticipate happening now?
KARL WALLINGER: God knows. I’d like to come and do some shows, really. I think this is just umm, some way of sort saying, “Nope I’m still around and here is a load of stuff.” And see where the tents get pitched and see where it goes. It’s a bit difficult coming back from a standing start ya know? Very much see how it goes and I’d really like to come back and play some dates. I think we are going to be doing something like a radio tour and hopefully by the end of the year we’ll be doing some shows.
STEREOGUM: Do you miss doing that?
KARL WALLINGER: I definitely want to get back up there. It’s great to have a lot of stuff to choose from as well, so that’s good. Have to back on the horse at some point, do you know what I mean?
STEREOGUM: (laughs) Well, probably a lot of people have no idea of all the things that have happened to you in the interim …
KARL WALLINGER: Yeah, well here we are, the aneurysm and all that stuff. I don’t mind talking about that. Its something that actually happened so I might as well talk about it. I played a wind instrument since I was a kid and I always told myself that the aneurysm had nothing to do with smoking but something to do with my having played a wind instrument … though, I might be deluding myself a bit there, who knows. I played the oboe for years up till my late teens, until I did my exams and all that kind of stuff. I was an oboist really as far as my education was concerned. That’s a really high-pressure instrument and a lot of people that play those kinds of instruments have hemorrhages and this sort of thing…
KARL WALLINGER: Yeah, quite a few trumpet players and oboists have had an eruption or some sort of brain explosion. Its a really high pressure thing, I think that probably weakened it and I was just suddenly an unfit dad, cycling around in the cold with my 15 year old kid and he was going like hell and was chasing him around in this cold weather after sitting in the studio chain smoking for six months previously and I just came in and sort of said, “I have a bit of a headache I’m gonna lie down” and then I came out a half hour later and said, “Please phone an ambulance” and then I passed out. It was so weird though because it was so normal, I never sort of freaked out and thought “Oh my god!” or whatever. After it happened, Susy still has some of the things I said written down, these amazing sentences –- like, how did you come up with that? I don’t have any of them with me but they are hilarious, some of them. They said to my wife that when I got home from the hospital that I’d have to live on the same floor of the house as the bathroom because I’d need to be wheeled to the loo by someone else. I tried to make light of it. I get to watch television all day and someone else will take me to the bathroom? It’s a dream coming true! But fortunately that wasn’t the dream. I recovered.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, that takes a long time to come back from…
KARL WALLINGER: It’s a weird thing, ya know? You don’t really know why it’s happened and it’s not a particular thing. I mean, there is a visible thing, if I shave my head, I have a pretty spectacular Pirates Of The Caribbean-style head arrangement that would freak people out probably … but it’s weird. I don’t have any right hand vision and that is the main problem. I had to sort of relearn my familiarity of instruments -– I used to look at the shape of my right hand with the keyboards but now I can only see my left hand so god knows what the right hand is doing these days. And all the sudden I started playing a lot more with my left hand, you know? On the guitar I can’t see where my hand is on the neck -– so its been a challenge getting ready to play, getting ready to work, but I feel pretty much up to scratch now.
STEREOGUM: Was there a point when all of that was happening when you thought perhaps you wouldn’t play music again?
KARL WALLINGER: When I came out of the hospital I went straight out and did a gig -– it was a benefit for an art workshop for people recovering from traumatic brain injuries. There were a few other people doing it, Mark Thomas, this comedian, and Edwyn Collins, who is a fellow aneurysm sufferer. I think he came off a little worse than me. I’m thankful I wasn’t in the same boat, but he’s done pretty well and he’s done some gigs. I just did it really to see that I could and then went away for like four years. I sat around and got better. By the time I got back into the studio it was a bit like tumbleweeds blowing down the street. There was a chalk mark on the desk from some bass drum level that was from 1998 or something.
STEREOGUM: Also, the development in technology with a four year gap.
KARL WALLINGER: It’s like a forty year gap these days. I pretty quickly jumped in to get caught up. We have the board done at the studio and everything is rocking there. So that’s good and I’m actually looking forward to getting back in there and doing a new album, which will be great. That will be good fun. Got lots of stuff -– I’ve got about 80 hours of music that i’ve done that haven’t released with this either. It’s a bit crazy.
STEREOGUM: Well, Arkeology is really beautiful and for those of us who sort of came of age with your early records, it’s great to hear all these extra songs from that time. And the new songs are great as well.
KARL WALLINGER: It’s good fun. I mean all that sort of perfection stuff. I don’t know. It’s like everything is almost too perfect these days with its quantization and auto-tuning you almost feel like you’re listening to sort of like a machine most of the time, you know? And I’ve used machines and computers and the whole thing on this but hopefully it still sounds like humans are involved. I don’t know really. It’s a personal thing, a personal taste and not to overwrite or replace whatever kind of music there is but its just another take on things, from a different time.
World Party’s Arkeology is out now on Seaview Records.