By Claudia Wedeleit

Latin Quarter are touring Germany with a new CD. With new songs and a new band, Steve Skaith and Richard Wright are trying to make new friends and connections. Claudia Wedeleit talked with singer and lyricist Steve Skaith.

After the break-up of Latin Quarter in 1990, it was only a matter of time until the core members Steve Skaith, Richard Wright and lyricist Mike Jones came up with a new project. In 1993 the time had come: with the album ‘Long Pig’, the newly reformed band offered up a new masterpiece. With the addition of violin and accordion, composer and singer Steve Skaith has given his music a further irresistible appeal, while Mike Jones’ lyrics have kept their usual high quality. Steve Skaith told GOOD TIMES about his band and music.

CLAUDIA: Your first album, ‘Modern Times’ was marketed as “the thinking man’s pop record” by your record company. Later it seemed like you were trying to develop a sparser, more guitar-oriented sound. At the same time, you took over more of the lead vocals. Did you have the fear that your harmonious-melodic sounding messages might be ignored by the public?
STEVE: No, not really. I mean, despite the success of the first album in Germany, it wasn’t in actually a very successful project. And we also had the feeling that it was too incohesive. It wasn’t clear who Latin Quarter were with three lead singers. It was great for live shows, but on records a band needs a sound, just like REM or The Cure have a sound. On ‘Swimming Against The Stream’ especially, we tried to develop a sound with which we felt happier, that was more cohesive. I think the problem went right back to the beginning of the band, because we didn’t come together naturally. There were too many different musical concepts, it didn’t quite fit 100%. I think that now, with this new album, is the first time that we’ve had a central idea, around which everything is organised.

CLAUDIA: In my view, in a very subtle way you often paint black and white pictures with your lyrics (e.g. the “good” third world and the “bad” first). Is it really that simple? And how does it stand with Socialism after the collapse of Communism in Europe?
STEVE: Thank you for the easy questions (laughs)! It’s obviously not easy. I don’t think that we’re attempting to deal with themes like, for example, black politicians on the album. This isn’t a manifesto, those are songs. And the songs are full of impressions, feelings and ideas, that somehow paint a frightening picture in the end, but there’s no clear manifesto. It’s true that it’s a theme that always recurs, but we choose the songs for an album for musical rather than lyrical reasons. We never think ‘We really have to include these songs on the album because of the lyrics’. But naturally in the end, the lyrics do paint a picture and it is nearly one of despair versus optimism. And that answers your question, I mean, what is possible? Is humanity in the position to do something? Is it in the position to build an Utopia, is it in the position to improve itself? In Europe we’ve got the situation in Yugoslavia. But still I don’t feel despair, I don’t want to despair about humanity.

CLAUDIA: But sometimes when I listen to the lyrics, it seems like it. And in ‘It Makes My Heart Stop Speaking’, from ’89, you sing that you wanted to write “anthems for the people”, but that in the end your message went unnoticed.
STEVE: There’s no doubt that I hold Mike Jones to be an interesting personality, because he thinks about the world just like he is in life. If you put him to the test, if you pressure him and ask what he thinks, then you get to hear despair and pessimism. But, if you really get to know him, he’s actually very humorous, very funny, very spiritual and that is the conflict. Even with a song like ‘It Makes My Heart Stop Speaking’, you get a melody at the end that’s really strong and so powerful, that one can ask oneself, where is the despair in that? Or take ‘Like A Miracle’, that also starts in the most cynical way; “The wine you spill, the bread you steal… It’s a miracle from the manger to the abattoir.” But if you concentrate on the music and the gospel singers, everything changes. You have two things: The despair and the joy, the powerlessness and the vigour. I like that about the album. ‘Come Down And Pray’ is my favourite lyric, it says: “I give up. I give up trying to understand the world, I give up Socialism, I give up…” But still there’s so much humour in the lyric.

CLAUDIA: ‘Come Down and Pray’ is that the last…
STEVE: Yes, we’ve come so far. It’s a joke. But like all jokes it has a core of truth. The main message of the song is humorous. He (the singer) uses all these funny concepts, like Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir coming to the conclusion that one should leave thinking to the birds. That would mean giving up thinking. But the third verse has the final line, “There’s this faint hope that we cling to, the worst of us will pay”. In other words, that there is a moral, that somehow people, who are guilty of doing evil against other people… that there will be a morality that deals with them.

CLAUDIA: Cloud Nine seems to be a German company. Did you have more success in Germany than in England all these years? If yes – what, in your opinion, are the reasons for this?
STEVE: Not always, but certainly since 1986. It’s difficult in England… I can’t quite say why we had more success in Germany. But partly because we weren’t very cohesive in the beginning. In England our first three singles were sung by three different people. People never knew who we were, for very simple reasons. They thought we were three different bands: ‘New Millionaires’, ‘Radio Africa’ and ‘Toulouse’ were completely different songs. And England is also very strongly ruled by trends and images. And I think that we didn’t have a strong enough image to excite the interest of the British press. ‘Modern Times’ got good reviews, ‘Radio Africa’ was a hit – but we were always somehow outsiders. We never became a band about which people thought that it was an important rock band for British culture. It simply never happened for us.

© Good Times, Issue 10, March 1994. Translated by Maja Grings
Latin Quarter 1993 photo © James Swinson. Steve Skaith (in Saarbrücken) photo by Claudia Wedeleit