Perhaps you remember a few years back when every U.K. band was ripping off British post-punk icons Gang of Four’s sharp, searing riffs—albeit sans Go4’s singular gusto or their fiery sociopolitical agenda. Now, nearly 35 years after first forming (and then splitting up and reuniting two or three times) Gang of Four is back to show ’em all how it’s done with the great new Content, their first studio LP in 16 years. Frontman Jon King and guitarist Andy Gill remain from the original lineup; the rhythm section is new, but highly capable of anchoring Go4’s signature attack. We caught up with the affable King over the phone for a “Fill in the Blanks” session.
The last time I was in Philadelphia I ... Got drunk. At a number of places.
My fondest memory of Philadelphia is ... Seeing the Arensberg Collection at the art museum when I was 18.
The thing we’re most looking forward to about our upcoming show in Philly is ... Playing the new stuff to a fantastic crowd.
I love playing with Andy Gill because ... Andy is one of the greatest guitarists in the world. It’s absolute musical admiration. Andy and I have been lifelong friends, but I can’t add that as a reason to wanna play with him, even if it may be true.
The one thing that must be provided for us backstage is ... Very nice California wine. I remember when we did our first U.S. tour—we both supported the Buzzcocks and played our own club shows—we suddenly learned that promoters are expected to give you stuff, because we didn’t get anything in England. The first thing that most excited me was getting a whole pitcher of White Russians. Andy said, “You know what? They just said that as soon as that’s finished, they’ll give us another one!” That was quite cool.
The thing I’ll always remember the most about making Content is ... Writing [first single] “You’ll Never Pay for the Farm.” That was the track where we thought, “Yeah, that works.” And then a month later was the great global financial collapse of 2008 and we were like, “We predicted the future!”
When I think back on our 32-year career I ... Am amazed that we’re still around. Planning isn’t my strong suit.
The nicest thing a critic ever wrote about Gang of Four is ... “Gang of Four sounds like a train derailing at Grand Central Station.” I thought that was so flattering.
The meanest thing a critic ever wrote about Gang of Four is ... Very, very early on we had a song called “Call Me Wanker” and we got one tiny review that said “‘Call Me Wanker’—you said it, meatball.”
The most surreal thing that ever happened to me on stage is ... We were playing in L.A. some years ago, and in the middle of a song this naked guy jumped out of the audience and embraced me. We all stopped and we pissed ourselves laughing while this naked man was gently eased off stage. And about six months later we met the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who had just formed—they were big Gang of Four fans. And it turned out the naked guy was Flea.
My most treasured possession is ... A 2b pencil. I write all my lyrics in pencil.
The first record I bought with my own money was ... “Space Oddity,” by David Bowie. My family, we were quite poor and we didn’t have a record player. So when I was 12 I entered a cartoon competition sponsored by Snickers bars, and my cartoon peanut won first prize and I won a record player. I saved up and saved up and I was desperate to buy anything, so I bought the “Space Oddity” single. Can’t say I really treasure it now, though. Haven’t listened to it for 20 years.
The strangest question a fan has ever asked me is ... “Are you related to Mao Tse-tung?” And I said, “No, my name’s Jon King. I come from England. I’m not Chinese.”
Sat., Feb. 5, 8:30pm. $25. With Hollerado, Moon Women + DJ Robert Drake. TLA, 334 South St.
PW's Music Issue 2014