Trevor Horn has come a long way since playing bass guitar in the Gary Glitter band, by way of musical director for Tina Charles and then lead singer with the Buggles, before turning his attention to producing such acts as Dollar, Malcolm McLaren, Yes and the phenomenally successful Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
Relax was first of the records produced by Zang Tuum Tumb in their West London studio off the Portobello Road. ZTT was formed by Trevor and his wife Jill Sinclair, very much the business driving force behind both her husband and the company. The third part of the trio is Paul Morley, former rock journalist who has made the unlikely transition to record company executive with surprising ease.
Paul Morley: “I don’t think I know one rock critic who actually understands the mechanics of the industry and how difficult it is to retain any sense of intelligence and detachment. You know you can criticise it because it is a shambles. Even as a critic, even though you’re not really involved in it, you’re on the outside, you can see that it’s a shambles. But when you’re inside you’re immediately aware that you belong to something that isn’t just commercially orientated, it’s commercial orientated and very banal. It’s not even making money in an intelligent manner as we can see elsewhere is possible. It’s run by people have forgotten really why they’re even making money out of it.”
Trevor Horn: “I realised that Paul actually cared about music. And he understood certain things about music. And I though it would be really interesting if someone like him had the power to actually decide how a record was marketed and what kind of video was done for it. I thought it might prove interesting. I thought all kind of crazy things might happen, he might upset all sorts of people and he has.”
Paul Morley: “I invent the label, like the Walt Disney fantasy of what a record label should be. Highly glamorous, slightly distant, slightly mysterious, and Trevor makes the records. Which really is ‘the thing’ and Jill lubricates the business side of it. It’s the perfect balance. We go from left to right.”
Jill Sinclair: “Music to Paul is desperately important. Desperately important! And it really isn’t desperately important to me. He truly feels it and, you know, believes in it. Trevor will sometimes say ‘Have you read what the music press has said about…’ and I said who reads the music press? If everybody who read the music press went out and bought a record it still probably wouldn’t be a hit. So who cares?”
Paul Morley: “I kind of look at what I’m bring to show business and pop music, in a root sense of those words, almost root sense of what surrealism means which is being comical. I think there’s a way to be a little comical within the structure of the record industry. Playful, I think that’s all you can be. Playful. And I think if you come through the record industry with a certain sense of detachment and irony, because of the surroundings, the environment is so pitifully unimaginative, then you only have to be slightly different. You appear to be wonderfully glamorous.”
Paul Morley: “I think all the, so called, intellectuals that criticise Relax for its content and saying it was a ‘fuss over nothing’ missed the point. We weren’t actually claiming anything radical outside the chart context. We just wanted to play around with the idea of getting to number one, or we thought getting into the top five, with a cheeky record. Everybody else makes the fuss. We were quite cool and calm about it. We just thought it was funny. We had a few giggles.”
Trevor Horn: “The trouble is when you get big record labels like CBS interested in somebody, they never originate anything, all they ever do is, you see they buy things that look pretty solid. Nobody was really interested in Frankie because their demo tape was a bit dodgy and because they were going around wearing leather jockstraps and showing very close up… you know they had a video which was just a close up of a groin pumping up and down and I think that frightened a lot of the record labels off.”
Paul Morley: “With Propaganda, they sent a tape to me when I was a writer of them, two of them, doing a very strange pop version of Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Dizcipline’. And its sense of rhythm and its power, it reminded me that for Germans, for Europeans, pop music is still quite new. You know they haven’t been diseased by its monstrosity.”
Jill Sinclair: “Well I’ll be quite honest, when Paul played, when I heard Propaganda the first time, I thought he had a screw loose. I thought my God we’re meant to be selling records. And I must say this is one point that Paul and I do agree on totally, and Trevor, this is our on unifying fact, that we all believe that in ZTT there is no point in doing it unless the records are hits.”
Paul Morley: “You have to sell records for this kind of playfulness to make sense. It is the chart context. That’s why sometimes I get disappointed with, say, Factory. What they’re doing doesn’t make any sense because no one is really aware of it, except for a very obscure few. We can probably number ourselves in that obscure few.”
Trevor Horn: “What you have to do is pick up the music week and see how many records come out every week. It must be in the region of one hundred and fifty. And you look at them all the only ones that ever mean anything to you are the ones that are the hits. So if you don’t have a hit your record didn’t exist.”
The feeling at ZTT is very much that of a small and committed family enjoying their early impact on the music industry. But their link with Island Records and the pressure on them to repeat the success of Relax is such that ZTT will surely have to bow to commercial pressure somewhere along the line and relinquish their air of independence.
Trevor Horn: “I really think you only independent when you’re selling records out of the back of a van, that when you’re really independent and pressing them up yourself in your own pressing plant. We worked in a studio when we were doing the McLaren album out in Tennessee where they had a pressing plant that was hand operated ‘round the back of the studio. So they used to make gospel albums in the studio, they’d take a day to make a gospel album, they’d go ‘round the back and they’d press up a thousand and go out and sell them the day after. That’s being independent.”Continue »
Jill Sinclair: “I think that a lot of record companies are big for the wrong reasons. I think if record companies had… If I five act on my label that sold like Supertramp, Foreigner, I would be enormous but I wouldn’t be big, if you know what I mean and I think that’s what we want to do with ZTT.”
Paul Morley: “I have a great belief in the beauty of the pop single. Not that it’s important or that it’s good or bad. Just, there it is, it’s beautiful. I think maybe that’s why the record industry is a little bit lost at the moment. It’s forgotten what a beautiful thing a pop single can be, what a strange thing, very odd, all time can be in there, all its done well, all life, it’s a very beautiful thing!”