Colin Newman – Figure Out How To Make Something

That same DIY ethic comes with a downside that Newman is more than aware of. If you have to do it yourself, then anyone can do it. “The problem then is there’s just a clamour of so many voices all wanting to be heard,” he says. “You’ve got to figure out a way to make it stand out from the background noise when you don’t have the money to spend on making something a massive success. It’s happening now in football – not that I’m a massive football fan or anything – and it’s been going on in music and art for ever, but someone decides that this is going to be the next big thing and they just make sure all the bases are covered and sure enough, it is.”

Still, after thirty-five years of living the indie lifestyle, Newman knows it’s not all about money. Of course, he also knows how useful it is. “There are many levels underneath,” he says. “There’s a real ground floor level of people who simply are not interested at all in making money from it. They just have jobs and they do it for the pure love of it or pure fun. In some ways, that’s very admirable but it’s very hard to develop anything over a period of time if you’re only doing it in your spare time. So the idea that somehow, an artist can figure out a way they can make a living out of it so that they are able invest that time and energy into doing the art, I think that’s really important. It’s a very thin line to skate, it really is.”

It’s a conundrum that many of the finest minds in the industry have spent years trying to get answers for, to no conclusive avail. Newman is no different in that regard, but any doubt about the system is offset by an unshakeable belief in his own work and the work he loves. “All the systems are really imperfect and you just have to, from an artist’s point of view, feel strongly enough about what you do, that you’re right and you are deserving. Then you have to make it work for yourself.”

Where Swim once released the work of others, it has become a strictly in-house operation in recent times, releasing only records by Newman and Spigel’s personal projects. It’s a change that Newman is not entirely pleased about, but he accepts it as the way it has to be, for now at least. “In a way, it makes it easier because you’re not in a situation where you’re A&R-ing all the time,” he says. “It was fun doing it but I don’t have a lot of time to do it any more. I’d love to have more time to do it, I’d love to be able to release more stuff. You can’t say to an artist, “I want to put out your record but I don’t have any time to do any work on it, do anything about it or care about it.” That’s not a very nice thing to do, you need to have the integrity and you’ve got to have the time to follow it through.”

Following through is something that Newman and the rest of Wire have been doing for their whole careers and nothing is likely to change there. With everything kept in-house, Newman, Lewis and Grey have been able to bring their ideas directly to their fans and they are loving the lack of a middle-man. “You have an idea, a purely artistic idea, and you make it work and people like it and people buy your records or come see you live, that’s a fantastic feeling”, says Newman. “Nobody had that idea for you. Nothing comes between you and the person receiving it. It’s a process everyone involved in it can understand. Everyone in the band can see the whole process. You’ve taken ownership of the process, which makes it all that much stronger. It’s a virtuous circle because in taking ownership of the process, you are gathering strength which makes you better. It makes you more confident and more able. It’s a fantastic thing. Obviously over-confidence and arrogance are the traps to be avoided. I really don’t think any of the entities I work with really suffer from that because there’s enough stuff that happens to knock you down to earth and make sure you keep your feet on the ground.”

As things continue in this vein, Newman sees the band getting stronger and stronger, with their last record Red Barked Tree being just another step in the right direction for them and the will to improve is not dissipating but growing ever stronger. “It gains a kind of power, kind of believing in the process and that what you’re doing is good,” he says. “It seems to work. It’s a band that people have always thought were amazing so it’s not like it’s coming from nowhere. We have the confidence from people thinking we’re good but you still have to follow through. You have to live up to people’s expectations of you. Especially with a band that has been around a while and has a fearsome reputation, you can’t just be average. You have to put the time and the energy into it to make it good and you have to have the vision to be doing the right thing. I can’t really say it simply in words, I just know that it is a fact.”

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