Thursday, August 11, 2011

Duff Interview: Pauline Black of The Selecter

The Duff Guide to Ska is thrilled to present the following interview with Pauline Black of The Selecter. Frequent readers of this blog know that the latest incarnation of the band with Pauline and Gaps Hendrickson in the lead have released two fantastic singles ("Big in the Body, Small in the Mind" and a cover of Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black"--which I've reviewed here and here) in advance of their new album, "Made in Britain," which comes out this September. In addition, Ms. Black has written her autobiography, "Black by Design," which is out now in the UK and will be available in the US soon.

Duff Guide to Ska: How did the reunion with Gaps Hendrickson come about--and what led you to bring back The Selecter now?

Pauline Black: In early 2010, a Belgian agent asked me if The Selecter would like to do the “Sinner’s Day Festival” in Hasselt, Belgium on October 31st. A few days later I was asked by a British promoter to do a Selecter show in London at the Bloomsbury Ballroom on November 13th. I thought it might be a good opportunity to try--once more--to ask the original members of The Selecter to do a couple of shows and then see where we went from there. The first person I approached was Gaps Hendrickson. He and I have always got along well and enjoy singing together. I had my own band at this time, the Pauline Black Band, and I had just finished recording a solo album, Pigment Of My Imagination, and had got a publishing deal for my book “Black By Design” with Serpent’s Tail, so I was circumspect about taking on extra work, but Gaps immediately said yes and I felt buoyed by his enthusiasm for the idea. We decided to wait a few months before we announced our intentions and hoped that once the shows were announced, that we might persuade Neol Davies and others to join us. Unfortunately, due to serendipity, or more likely “sod’s law,” the day our London show was announced (June 1st, 2010), Neol Davies also announced his intention to perform with a band under the name of The Selecter. I will not share what has happened privately between some original band members since then, but suffice to say that it would seem unlikely that there is any possibility of reconciliation in the near or long term future. Besides Gaps and I are very happy with our current Selecter band personnel and are looking to the future with new music, while also preserving the best of the past.

DGTS: The first single off The Selecter's upcoming album "Made in Britain" is a terrific ska version of Woody Guthrie's brilliant "All You Fascists." In terms of its lyrical content, it's definitely in line with 2 Tone's great legacy of promoting racial tolerance/harmony--yet it still seems like a bit of an unusual choice of cover (an American folk song from the 1940s) for a ska band. What's the story behind its selection?

PB: We like to occasionally “think outside the ska box.” I think we did a good job with the song “Big In the Body, Small In The Mind.” Fans enjoyed it and understood what we were trying to say with our choice of material. Considering what has just happened in Norway with the massacre of so many young people by a deranged fascist, I think the record was timely in pointing out that there is a big problem developing during these current economically challenging times--the rise of fascism in Europe and many parts of the world. Perhaps we had better all start thinking about what the hell we are going to do about it!

DGTS: I've read that one of the main points that people should take away from your new album is that multiculturalism is a vital part of British society. Recently, I came across a disturbing article in The New Yorker about the rise of the EDL (English Defense League)--which claims to be just against radical Islam, but seems like the same old bunch of BNP and NF-types dolled up in new clothing. Is your album, in part, a response to this new wave of bigotry? Is the album title Made in Britain more of an affirmation/declaration that British citizens come in all colors than pride in where the music's been made?

PB: Exactly. The title is an affirmation of multiculturalism. David Cameron, the current British Prime Minister, deemed the idea of multiculturalism dead in February on the very day that the odious EDL were marching in Luton. We thought he was wrong and misguided to announce such a notion, particularly on the day that he chose to make his thoughts public. Again, in the light of what has recently happened in Norway with Breivik’s alleged attempted affiliation to the EDL, I think our assertion was correct. Multiculturalism is alive and well and, we believe, the only way forward for the future prosperity of humankind. The Selecter is and always has been a multi-racial band--it has not always been easy to make it work, but it is still functioning after 31 years. This 2 Tone idea of striving for unity rather than divisiveness between cultures was made in Britain.

DGTS: "Made in Britain" was produced by Neil Pyzer--could you give us a little background on him--and how you came to work with him? Is Vocaphone Records his label?

PB: I first met Neil Pyzer on the "Just Soul" Tour 2007 that I performed on alongside Geno Washington and Eddie Floyd. After the tour finished, I worked with him on my solo album Pigment Of My Imagination and it was a no-brainer to work with him when it came time to record Made in Britain. He also blows a mean sax in the band.

DGTS: Could you talk a bit about the songwriting process for this record? The songs retain The Selecter sound, yet still seem quite contemporary...

PB: The original songs were written and recorded in April and May of 2011. Overdubs and mixing were completed during June and July. We wanted to incorporate the new into the old. For our live set, we took “They Make Me Mad” from the ‘Too Much Pressure’ album as a blueprint of how we wanted the album to sound. We wanted an urgency mixed with a big, bouncy sound--a tough brief--but all the songs have that contradictory approach and it works very well for The Selecter--edgy, but accessible; danceable, but thought-provoking. Neil Pyzer, as producer, has realized that dialectical approach beautifully.

DGTS: Are there any plans for The Selecter to tour the US and/or internationally in the coming year?

PB: We are always open to exploring new territories. If an agent approaches us with a planned tour, then we will always do our utmost to oblige. We want to get our music across to as wide an audience as possible.

DGTS: With the traditional major label "music industry" in complete shambles these days, what are some of the challenges you’re facing as you promote your new record? The internet has been such a double-edged sword--it has allowed bands to circumvent the music press/radio/MTV, etc. and directly connect with fans, but it has also decentralized and segmented everything to such a degree that it's very difficult to break through all the noise and competition (sometimes it seems like the only bands still making lots of money from tours and records are those that were superstars before the rise of the internet). And then there is all of the music file-sharing that has decimated the sales of recorded music...

PB: The biggest challenge is the same for all bands, marketing, letting people know that there is a record out there. Doesn’t matter if you have your own FB, Twitter account or website--what matters is if anybody else knows that you have it! These days marketing budgets have to be huge. We don’t have access to that kind of money, so we are at the mercy of the music industry, just like everybody else. File-sharing and illegal downloading just makes it harder to make a living out of recorded material. The resurgence in audience interest for live gigs has helped immensely in recent years and gives an outlet for bands to get their music across to both old and new audiences. We do everything in-house, recording, videos and marketing. It is The Selecter way of doing things.

DGTS: Which current ska bands are you following as a fan?

PB: Hugo Lobo’s Dancing Mood.

DGTS: Your forthcoming autobiography "Black by Design" recounts, in part, your growing up as a bi-racial child adopted by a white family. As an adoptee myself (who struggles with the lack of any biological family history--I have no familial backstory), I'm curious to know what your experience was in terms of not only dealing with questions about your familial identity, but also your racial identity in an overtly racist society? (I have always felt like a bit of an outsider within my extended adopted family, but didn't have another, larger societal issue to deal with in terms of my identity and status...) Did you find/feel acceptance as a part of the 2 Tone movement (or were you still a bit of an outsider as a female)?

PB: I’ve felt like an outsider all my life--neither my upbringing nor 2 Tone did much to put that right, but it forged a strength in me and gave me a platform with which to express my ideas and thoughts and feelings, which I carried with me when I chose to work in other areas of the entertainment industry. All I can say is that a notion of identity is paramount to everybody--without it we are not fully-functioning human beings. In my opinion, adoption is akin to legalized identity theft. Adoption may be a necessary evil, but more attention has to be paid to the child’s needs. Adopted children need their own familial back story, however awkward that may be for the adults involved in their lives--otherwise it is like having their soul removed.

DGTS: How can Selecter fans not able to get to your shows in the UK pick up vinyl copies of your single and LP?

Purchases can be made online at

DGTS: Lastly, here's a chance to plug anything Selecter or Pauline Black-related that you'd like--what should fans be on the look out for in the coming months that we might not be aware of?

PB: My solo album Pigment Of My Imagination will be released later in the year--still deciding on a date. The Selecter may just release a ‘Christmas single’ for December 2011! We have started work on the next album already--to be released in 2012.

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Much thanks to Pauline Black for taking the time to do this interview with The Duff Guide to Ska!

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Miles said...

Great interview! I've especially liked your previous coverage of Selecter, and this interview was icing on the cake.

Can't wait for the new album. I'll probably need to pick up a copy of Pauline's book, too...

Like I said, great interview. Huge fan of the site. Thanks!

Steve from Moon said...

Thanks, Miles! I really appreciate your comments.

I have Pauline's book coming in the mail from Amazon (and will probably write up a review)...and am looking forward to hearing the entire new album, too (which I will definitely review).




Hi, have you got Pauline Black's solo album called - Pigment Of My Imagination? If so, would you be willing to sell it or maybe share it with me as MP3? I've been trying to find this album for quite a while.

Steve from Moon said...

Skaville City,

Thanks for your comment. Sorry to say that as far as I know this album was never issued. It seems like she was going to release it soon after her autobiography was published, but then things really started to pick up with this latest iteration of The Selecter (and they haven't stopped since!).