“We’re going to party like it’s 1699,” sings Nina Persson on Colonia, the second album the Cardigans frontwoman has released under the A Camp name with husband Nathan Larson (Shudder To Think) and Niclas Frisk. As the lyric and album title imply, the ornate Colonia is loosely based on the theme of love in the time of colonialism and is inspired by cabaret and musicals from the ’40s. Larson and Persson—king and queen of Colonia—are guest editing magnetmagazine.com all this week. Read our Q&A with them.
Nathan And Nina: Despite—or, perhaps, because of—the worldwide success of pop hits “I Want Candy” and “Antmusic,” the genre we like to call “pirate rock” has gotten a horrible rap in our estimation. Snobby critics dismiss it as trashy, contrived, throwaway. Rock people don’t dig it because it doesn’t rock hard enough. Pop people think it’s too weird, silly. We’re here to tell you it rules, and we demand a re-evaluation of this excellent subgenre. So let’s define our terms: Pirate rock includes British bands from 1978-1984 that utilized a combo of pseudo Burundi drumming (usually with two drum kits), sort of no-wave-y/super-busy slap bass, dusty Morricone guitar sounds, general punk energy, plus some early hip hop thrown in for good measure. This was combined with a specific look, a sort of ’50s greaser/transsexual buccaneer meets Native American vibe; the warpaint is done up in lipstick. It’s genius, really. Actually, we’re hard-pressed to think of more than two bands that really did this thing all the way, those being Adam And The Ants and Bow Wow Wow. Both bands were in some sense related to Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, especially Bow Wow Wow, who are said to have been put together as a vehicle to promote Westwood’s “New Romantic” fashion line. This relationship is a distinction, of course, shared with the Sex Pistols. However much negative press McLaren has gotten, most of it profoundly deserved for sure, the dude obviously has a fair bit going on upstairs. This is some clever shit. Westwood’s role in all this has gotten less play, but as she continues to this day to demonstrate herself to be no less than a genius in the world of fashion, you imagine she had as much to do with the creation of the pirate-rock look as she did the original bondage pantaloons.
(A sidebar on Westwood: We’d put her up there with Coco Chanel in terms of the most influential women in 20th-century fashion. Certainly her accomplishments far outweigh most anything accomplished by the Lagerfelds or the Donatellas of the world. When we’re in London, we always go to her shop. Just to look, mind you, because the shit is too expensive. Though Nina is the proud owner of a pair of “Prostitute Sex Shoes” by the great Westwood, and they certainly live up to their name. Nina’s are solid black, though. Whaddya think, she’s trashy like that??? Pink snakeskin indeed, c’mon. These shoes saw a lot of action on our recent European tour. But in the end, it doesn’t matter who came up with this look. It only matters that this look came to be, and it’s hot.)
Back to the rock. When Germs frontman Darby Crash returned to L.A. from his 1980-ish trip to London, he was deeply impressed with Adam And The Ants, for which he got no end of shit from his local punky pals. At the time, the Ants were considered pussy nonsense within punk circles, which follows because this was a band that had evolved into something totally new. It was poncey, ridiculous music, but that was kind of the point. The punk attitude was still very much in evidence, if not in the actual sound of things, in the look, in the approach. Both Annabella Lwin and Adam Ant were absolute superstars, no doubt. Both of them gorgeous, both with mad charisma. Plus, they generated smart, super-catchy pop songs that still sound great. Of course, they got Top Of The Pops huge. This makes them no less vital from an artistic standpoint. Listen to these bands; they absolutely slay. In addition to slamming rhythm sections unlike any in pop music before or since, they lay claim to two of Nathan’s all-time fave guitarists: BWW’s gorgeous Matthew Ashman (with his smoking Gretsch White Falcon; forget the Bo Diddley beat, just listen to the snaky guitar line from “I Want Candy” and you know this guy is on point) and AATA’s Marco Pirroni (whose guitar skills and sound are unmatched by anybody at the time; he took risks and did some very unusual things).
The nerve of these people: The stunning Lwin was 14 at the height of her fame and made frequent references to that fact. To quote a line from one of BWW’s finest songs, “Louis Quatorze”: “With his gun in my back, I start to undress/You just don’t mess with Louis Quatorze/He’s my partner in this crime of happiness/’Cause I’m just 14! Woo!” Hmm. Say what you want about this; if you think about it, it’s a lot more straight-up than, say, Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby” video, in which she crawls around in a schoolgirl outfit without an acknowledgment of the taboo involved. Spears wants it both ways; she can always claim the pedophile suggestion lies only in the mind of the viewer. With Bow Wow Wow, they owned it, and they threw it up in your face, made you deal with it, like it or not. Nathan bought Kings Of The Wild Frontier at the tender age of 12, mostly because the cover looked cool. Turns out that this record is still one of his top 20 albums of all time, and he still cannot get over the sound of the record. Plus, as a producer and musician, he just can’t figure out how they did certain things. He still hasn’t been able to replicate the massive drum thing properly in the studio, and he has tried for years. (Listen to Shudder To Think’s “She’s A Skull” off of 50,000 BC.) Nathan still has that vinyl and the poster that came with it hanging in his studio.
We loved these bands when they were popular, and we love them no less today. One of the first tracks written for A Camp’s latest album was “Here Are Many Wild Animals.” In concept at least, we were very heavily entranced with the pirate rockers and made use of the double-drum kit and twangy baritone guitars. We think the resemblance ends there in terms of sound, but certainly that odd combo of instruments, the ballsy/campy juxtaposition of style and time periods on display in the make-up and costume, the sense of humor and the utter lack of concern for what others might call “pretentiousness”—these aspects of this thing we call pirate rock continue to be a source of great inspiration for our band and many others.
Pirate Rock Essentials:
Adam And The Ants’ Kings Of The Wild Frontier (1981)
Bow Wow Wow’s The Last Of The Mohicans (1982)
Adam And The Ants’ “Stand And Deliver”
Adam And The Ants’ “Dog Eat Dog”
Bow Wow Wow’s “Aphrodisiac”
Bow Wow Wow’s “C30, C60, C90, Go”