One of the standout tracks on Echo & the Bunnymen’s excellent new record, The Fountain, finds Ian “Mac the Mouth” McCulloch enjoying a rather tongue-in-cheek conversation with Jesus Christ. That Mac would place himself in this situation on “Shroud of Turin” is no surprise, given the singer’s infamous ego, wit and penchant for snark. How he handles the tête-à-tête, musing back and forth with Christ, “I love the sack that you’re in/I love your saccharine” is just one highlight on an album that finds the Bunnymen more believably fired up than they have been in years. Returning from their creative Siberia, Mac feels the legendary post-punk masters have been reborn, even going so far as to describe The Fountain as “a debut album.”

As I sit across a small table from Mac at the Bunnymen’s management headquarters in Manhattan with MTV lights all around us and news correspondent John Norris milling about, McCulloch, dressed in a black hoodie, and speaking under his ever-present shades, is enjoying tea and melon as I sip on a very strong margarita. Over the course of the 30 minutes that I spend with the man Mac—the myth, the legendary wit—we will touch upon how he feels about the 25th anniversary of Ocean Rain, The Fountain, reality TV and how to quickly prevent a sneeze.

You and Will Sergeant have been working and writing together since the beginning. How do you keep the dynamic going and find new ways to keep the passion for the band going?
It’s what I do. For me, and there’s always this thing that [sports] fans [and] managers would say: when you put that shirt on, it should do everything for you, you know?

This year is, of course, the 25th anniversary Ocean Rain. Can you believe it’s been 25 years? What are your thoughts on the album now?
I love it, I mean, it’s [been called] the greatest album ever made, but I probably didn’t believe it because I prefer Hunky Dory, you know? It stands on its own along with other things we’ve done, but I like playing it live, actually! When we did the Radio City Music Hall, and it’s funny to say this because it was one of our greatest gigs, but, it was my favorite being on stage. I maybe prefer different clothes that I’ve done in the past, or my hair was better in the past, but just being onstage singing…not just the Ocean Rain stuff, which was fantastic, but I’ve never felt that quite at ease onstage. It was like I was lifted or I was outside of me self, not in a mystical kind of way, it just felt like I was watching. I always said I would love to watch the Bunnymen, and it was as close as I ever got to it, doing that show.

Which songs have found a deeper resonance for you now as you play the album in its entirety?
“Ocean Rain,” and it always has been, but it’s great to do [it]. We’ve done it in the past as the last encore, but still, with the orchestra and the end with the waves and stuff, that stands out more. “Nocturnal Me,” because that’s a lot of people’s favorite. “Thorn of Crowns,” that was another one of those songs that I thought would be weird to see because it began as a really rough ad-lib thing, and wasn’t meant to be about much at all, just a kind of funny, jerky rock song, and when we came to play it live, and even with the orchestra, I still felt a bit reticent about singing it. “Crystal Days” as well, and “My Kingdom.” The songs that we haven’t played live much through the years, I suppose. At the Liverpool show, there were so many mistakes! I couldn’t remember the words and was just going ‘rrorrr rorrrorrrr!’ But it keeps you on your toes doing stuff that you don’t remember [very well]!

What does The Fountain, as a title, signify to you symbolically and to your band?
Well, it’s almost ‘the fountain of youth,’ or I just like the idea that the fountains keep on ‘reswindling’ the water and all that. But fountains are also pretty peaceful, and they have stuff in thrown in them a lot, but there’s something sad about fountains as well, I think. All the wishes that don’t come true… which makes the fountain even more beautiful.

Right, right. You never know what they were thinking when they put them there.
Maybe they keep the fountains going.

Working with John McLaughlin. How’d that go? Interesting choice!
I’ve known John for years. He’s a very good friend and we have a laugh together, and talked about doing stuff together over the years. John invited me down to London to listen to some tracks that he was writing with Simon and Dave and he played them to me. I can tell now, but, he wanted this to happen! I listened to some backing tracks and said, ‘God, these sound great!’ The melodies came very quickly and the lyrics as well. I sang on them, and said, ‘These sound like Bunnymen songs!’ And John said, ‘Aye, that’s what we were intendin’!’ And it just developed from there. The first on the album was ‘Everlasting Neverendless,’ and the second one was ‘Think I Need It Too.’ So I just thought, ‘This is already the foundation for The Fountain,’ and it just went from there.

During my first listen of the album, the sentiment I kept coming back to is how romantic, yet vital it sounds. In a warm, mature, lived-in sort of way. How does the album feel to you?
thefountaincover11Yeah! That’s the intention. I mean, I always strive to do that. I wanted it to blast out and I wanted to feel it all over. With Siberia, as good as it is, it’s jingle jangle. I didn’t want the jingle-jangle stuff; I just wanted it to pummel people. Well, not pummel… but I wanted the drums and the bass to be tough. John was key to the album; he would come in and say, ‘Oy! That sounds great, man! That sounds great!’ and just agree with everything I was saying. Which was good, because I was right…on most things. With Dave and Sam, they started in London and moved to New York, which is why, initially, it took more time. It didn’t really take that long; it’s just that we sat on the album for 12-13 months.

Why was that?
I wanted to make sure it was right and come back to it. It just feels right with the Ocean Rain shows that we can go to cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco and say, ‘Here’s the Ocean Rain stuff, but we also have an album out.’ [It] feels important. It’s not about making a better album; it’s about the turning of the tides. There’s a lot of bands out there who say we’ve been a main influence on them, like Glasvegas. We haven’t been out for a few years, but it seems that people are hatin’ in and lovin’ it. The NME thinks it’s incredible.

It really feels like the Bunnymen are firing on all cylinders again.
Exactly! As I was saying to John, this feels like a debut album! It does come out straight away, especially with ‘Think I Need it Too.’

I want draw a contrast for a moment, if possible. Tell me about the man who wrote these lyrics:
Burning my bridges
And smashing my mirrors
Turning to see if you’re cowardly
Burning the witches with mother religious
You’ll strike the matches and shower me.
(–“Seven Seas,” Ocean Rain, 1984)

Yeah! [laughs] That’s still the same bloke! Just…full of troubles, and trying to find a way to poeticize it and make sense of it. It’s one of the moments in a Bunnymen song, when we’re doing it live, that it just goes off. Yeah, same bloke, different clothes.

And now tell me about the man who wrote these:
If I’m just half the man I was
I’d say that’s just because
I must have gotten lazy.
For duty and for love
And beauty wearing off
Beware, be weary of the idolness of gods.
(–“The Idolness of Gods,” The Fountain, 2009)

Same bloke, different clothes.

What were you thinking when you wrote that?
It just came into me head, and I thought, ‘That’s fantastic!’ I don’t always want to write the same thing over and over. I want to be able to smirk.

‘Do You Know Who I Am?’ is a great example of your tongue-in-cheek humor.
That song’s more about the person I’m talking to, singing to…it’s the last thing you say, even if you’re the King of Cool, or whatever. It’s the thing you don’t say, and that’s why I used it, because I’m the King of Cool [smirking laugh]. But it was more about disposability and the way that everything kind of, love it, hate it, need it, got it.

That’s a great takedown of current popular culture, and especially reality TV.
Oh God, I know! I don’t even have it on! Click, off. All of those things, like [with] Big Brother, I felt if people would just go the other way ‘round on the dial so that they wouldn’t have to pass Channel 4, it would mean that Channel 4 would have less ratings! I mean, what a mind-numbing thing, and there are intelligent people behind it! There’s no privacy in the world anyway, but was almost with them, they were invading my house, and my privacy.

They’re polluting the air.
It’s disgusting.

Goodness has just gone out the window.
It hasn’t, but it’s just hiding behind all the bad stuff.

“Think I Need It Too” is the perfect intro song for the album. Everything sounds so energized and alive.
Yes! I went through so many… With this, I don’t know what it is. There was an eleventh song and that was the problem. As soon as we got rid of that one…it just wasn’t up to the standard. It was okay, but I didn’t quite believe it. Just thought, ‘Get rid of that.’ But even then, the order, we tried so many different ones and I kind of went back to the initial thinking of ‘Think I Need It Too’ then ‘Forgotten Fields,’ where were both more or less completely written in London. I always saw them together as I did ‘Everlasting Neverendless’ and ‘Drivetime,’ even though they’re not together. ‘Life of 1,000 Crimes’ and ‘Shroud of Turin,’ they went together. Andre, who’s the engineer, a really good friend of mine, used to call them the ‘terrible twins.’ They were almost brasher than the others or cheekier than all the other tracks. I just went back to that, and that’s how it came together. Part of me wanted ‘The Idolness of Gods,’ because it’s actually the best thing I’ve ever written.

It does feel very personal. Was it difficult to put it on the record?
‘The Fountain’ is actually more personal. Because I’ve maybe made other people cry, I thought I’d take all the tears [this time]. Something to be absolved or at least forgiven for maybe not being…

Are you apologizing for something?
A bit, but I’m not romanticizing the fact that everything lasts forever, but the journey and the fountain. But yeah, there’s elements of self-criticism. Never self-defeat. Never. Don’t agree with that, because I’m the most resilient person that I know of. Oooh. Sorry, I have to sneeze.

Oh, well, if you tug on your earlobe, the pressure should go away.
Really? Ha. [tugs on earlobe] It’s gone! I’ll have to remember that. [chuckles] Thanks.

…And a resilient band.
Yeah, that’s what we’re…the ups and downs and different kinds of tactics we’ve used over the years and lyrical things, to me, it’s much better now, particularly with lyrics. People can go on and on about ‘The Killing Moon’ or whatever, but I think ‘The Fountain,’ just as a lyric, is just, whew. Because every time I hear it on the album… I mean, ‘Killing Moon’ is still the greatest song ever written, but all the bands seem to just repeat themselves or sing about kinky boots or whatever, all of that crap! It’s like, grow up! I just think it’s got to take you somewhere, because, every year that my life passes, so does every year of theirs. And I do imagine the people out there waiting to hear my next lyrics. The approval does matter, and that’s why I write. I sit down, and I want the people who love my lyrics to love them more than any lyrics, and that’s kind of my inspiration. Well, I think of one person, like an imaginary amalgamation. I said something to someone yesterday that I think the person I imagine is me when I was 13, and it’s the same bloke. As we ramble along, I think we all tend to revert back to…when we go to sleep at night or whatever, that’s who it is, and always will be. People change, but not that much. Not me though! [laughs] –Carrie Alison, Photo by Carrie Alison

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