Lawrence, the indie enigma: 'my neighbours know nothing about me'
In the first of a new series Clive Martin meets pop culture's outsiders. This month he visits the indie auteur of Felt and Denim in his London council flat
Clive Martin, march 2014
"I can't bear it when people say, 'I wanna be part of the everyday world'," muses Lawrence, the surname-less enigma behind cult bands Felt, Denim and Go Kart-Mozart. "I don't. They don't, either, they're just saying it. It's horrible being stuck on a tube at rush hour. I don't need to experience that to make better music." Yet meeting Lawrence in a smart cafe near London's Silicon Roundabout, where he brings his own mug every day, it's hard to think of a British musician who keeps it more "real" than Lawrence, even if that may be more by accident than design.
Much to his disappointment,
mainstream success has all but eluded Lawrence's brand of dark, abstract, lyrical
indie pop for over 30 years now. He's had a few close shaves (a duet with Cocteau
Twins' Liz Frazer and an appearance on The One Show spring to mind) but the
idea of maintaining a fanbase, even a cult one, is alien to Lawrence. "I
haven't got any fans!" he laughs. "We tried to organise a tour last
year, but nobody bought any tickets."
Since 1979, Lawrence has fronted three bands, released 15 albums, and been the subject of a celebrated documentary (2011's Lawrence Of Belgravia). His eccentricities have become legendary (he sacked a drummer for having curly hair, he won't eat vegetables, he felt "let down" by Glastonbury for not getting his own cottage). Alan McGee, who was briefly Lawrence's label boss when he released a couple of Felt albums on Creation, described him as "Britain's best undiscovered pop star". MGMT love him and Christopher Owens of Girls wrote a song about him. Yet he's struggling to eke out a living from music.
Back at his council flat, Lawrence tells me of his ongoing battle to take all of the "horrible, bobbly artex stuff" off the ceilings. His current domestic obsession is understandable. He's made no secret of his battle with drugs, money and mental health. And like many people who've been through hard times, it seems to me that Lawrence's current obsession with doing up his flat is a way to regain normality after a lifetime of chaos.
I wonder what this unusual, childlike man was like when he was a child, and if he always felt like an outsider. He grew up in Birmingham and retains a strong Midlands accent, but when I ask how the enivonment he grew up in shaped his worldview, he replies: "Not at all. Shabby, grubby Birmingham? Nah, I was anti-Birmingham, anti-grubbiness. I lived in a world in my head".
Does he still feels that way. "Oh God, absolutely. But it's a hindrance now. When you're younger, you can kind of revel in it. But now I'm on the outside of normal life. When I'm in this flat I can be me, but when I walk out the door my neighbours know nothing about me. None of them know I was in a group or I write songs. I live apart. I'm like one of those mad hairy guys on a desert island, like Robinson Crusoe. But I don't like on a desert island. I live in a tower block in Central London." Does he still want to be a full-blown pop star? "Of course I do. I think that if I reach the end of my life and have never really made it as that, then I've failed."
Looking around his flat, and noticing its abundance of pop culture ephemera but apparent lack of musical or recording equipment, it strikes me that Lawrence's predicament may be linked to his unwillingness to get bogged down in the nuts and bolts of making music. I can't really imagine him sitting down with a guitar trying to perfect a riff, or nailing a snare sound on Logic. He believes in the magic of the product rather than the process.
I tell Lawrence that I think a song like Penelope Tree or Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow deserved to be radio hits, when a spate of bands with far weaker tunes ended up becoming much bigger than Felt ever were. "Well, we were the predecessors weren't we? We paved the way for a lot of bands and suffered for that. Had we come along in the 90s, we could've been a lot bigger."
It's hard to say why Felt and Denim never enjoyed the success of many of their peers, or why Go Kart Mozart haven't been included in the pantheon of XL-approved heritage acts. I can't help but wonder if his eccentricities aren't part of the problem. Most artists start behaving like Lawrence when they've sold a few million albums, but Lawrence came pre-packaged with ready-made pretensions, insecurities, delusions and legends. The music business prefers its artists to be a blank slate. Ironically, its seems that Lawrence's pop star sensibilities prevented him from being a pop star, which has in turn made him view himself as a failure.
But on the other hand, Lawrence seems relatively content with his current situation. Go-Kart Mozart have a new album out this year (he says it's one of his best), more and more young musicians are discovering Felt, and his bookshelves are nearly done. He loves living in London and listening to new bands.
So how does Lawrence feel about being tagged as an 'outsider'? Does he view it as a patronising dig at his lack of success? "I'll take it," he says bittersweetly, sipping on his mug of tea.
taken from http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/mar/01/lawrence-felt-denim-go-kart-mozart