The Big Pink’s first unofficial show in NYC, a VIP night at Mercury Lounge last June, was almost their last on American soil.  Though main members Robbie Furze and Milo Cordell had just spent time in the city producing A Brief History of Love at Electric Lady Studios, due to issues with their working visa, they ran into a bit of a snag when returning to NYC.  Keyboardist/c0-writer Cordell recalls, “The show that nearly got us thrown in prison for ten years.  We got nailed at the border.”

They may laugh about it now, but at the time, the episode seemed as if it would end on a grim note.  Cordell explains, “We’d just been in and out of the country so many times… two of us were taken to some holding room… then they grilled me, grilled me, grilled me.  I said ‘I’ve never played a show here, I’ve never done anything.’ Then they showed me their computer and said, ‘What’s this, then?’ They had pictures of me on stage.  I still held out and said, ‘yeah, that wasn’t me.’ I wouldn’t break. Then they showed me that they had an English photo of me, a close up.  And they said, ‘you lied, you’re in big trouble.’  Cordell couldn’t deny it any more.  There were pictures of him as well as an interview that had taken place in the Mercury Lounge.  He finally said, ‘okay, we played a show.’  They were severe, saying, ‘You’ve lied to a federal officer, so you’re looking at eight years in prison.”

It seems a miracle that the band got off scott free, but as Cordell insists, he “just flicked on the English charm” and somehow was able to talk the police out of sending The Big Pink to a life behind bars.  Though this tale seems good fodder for a future song, the two are quick to dismiss the idea.  Furze says, “That’d be a really bad song. It was terrifying actually, they were so mean, so angry.  I asked, ‘why do you guys hate us so much?’”  Cordell agrees, insisting, “I’m still absolutely petrified about coming into America.”

After that saga of what could have been, Cordell, Furze and I sat down to relax over some wine on an overcast November afternoon during their next U.S. stint, before a show at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

Since your album came out a while ago, how do you make it fresh for yourself every night?
Furze: We change some things up and play a couple of covers.
Cordell: I think everyone gets so much enjoyment out of playing because it’s so freeing.  It’s a bit like Sonic Youth. We just go out there and do it.  We’re real pedal geeks too.  We just like to play with all our toys.

There’s a good place here in Brooklyn you should check out then, Death By Audio.  It’s the singer from A Place to Bury Strangers’ company that makes pedals, called things like “Total Sonic Annihilation.”
We’re going to be touring with them.
Cordell: We’ve got some of their stuff, but but I’m sure we’ll be getting some more of their pedals on the tour… We’ll have to come up with The Big Pink/Place to Bury Strangers combo pedal.  I imagine there will be times we’ll all get very drunk and talk about the best pedal in the world, and how it’s going to work.

I know you’re still touring for the current album, but have you begun working on any new songs?
Cordell: I’ve been compiling CDs and playlists, making one big, long list of music we’re going to rip off [laughs].
Furze: He could talk you through your arm!

Ah, no wonder how you got where you are today [laughs].
You say you’re influenced by bands like Einsturzende as well as old soul stuff.  There’s definitely a lot of cross-genre influences in your songs.
Cordell: That’s what we love, but we never wanted to be an industrial band or a puff band or whatever.
Furze: We just want to be an amalgam of all that we like.
Cordell: We wouldn’t want to be a kind of gimmick.  Like when the guy in Quadrophenia, Phil Daniels, is talking to his mate, who’s a rocker, and says, “But that’s why I wanted to be a mod.  I didn’t want to be like everyone else.”  There’s just such a contradiction.

You never want to have to define yourself with one type of music.
Cordell: Or by a haircut [laughs].
Furze: I don’t even know what the look we’re rockin’ would be considered… black and greasy.

Hey, you wore a white shirt last night (at the Bowery Ballroom show) didn’t you?
Furze: I did wear a white shirt. [smiles]
Cordell: I like how America is.  In England, there’s that thing about showing your colors.  If you’re into hip-hop, you wear hip-hop clothing.  Everyone is quite tribe-y.  Here, everyone listens to hip hop, but they don’t have to dress that way.  We’d met these normal looking, college guys but they were totally into industrial.  Loved it.  They didn’t wear black or have tattoos of Neubauten on their foreheads [laughs].  There’s much less of a tribe mentality here.

Do you pre-plan your set list or show at all? Does your mind ever drift off in the middle of a show?
Furze: In the beginning, a lot of thought goes into it.  But then it’s mainly on the spot.
Cordell: I think of the most menial things sometimes, like walking my dog.  I get zoned out once in a while.
Furze: “Visions,” that’s the point where everything gets into a certain zone, it’s nice and slow and kind of like meditation.  Feels good.  The song “Dominos,” though, gets tiring.
Cordell: I like how “Velvet” and “Dominos” splits the crowd.  You get the “Velvet” people, and the “Dominos” people over here.
Furze: Yeah, I think the “Velvet” people are a lot cooler than the “Dominos” people.

Oh, yeah?  I think I’m a cool “Velvet” person then [laughs].
Furze: Yeah, I thought that [laughs].
There’s a lot of backwards baseball hats in the crowd lately.  Maybe we should split the crowds like at a hip-hop show.  “Velvet” crowd on one side, “Dominos” on the other… But I love American crowds and I think they’re so refreshing.  It makes me hate places like France.

How was your Boston show?  There may have been a lot of backwards baseball hat guys there, being that it’s such a college town.
It was a really good show, actually.  But I made the mistake of going out for a cigarette when everyone was leaving.  So it was kind of like being at the end of a party when you’re shaking everyones’ hands!  I think I basically shook hands with most of the people who’d been at the gig.

How was it recording in Electric Lady?  That’s a famous little studio.
Furze: I loved Electric Lady, it was incredible, but I think it was a little excessive for what we needed.  We’ll see how much we want to spoil ourselves next time.
Cordell: I have this idea that we would have this massive house to record in, just live there and have a different sound for each room.
Furze: I think the sound of the city is very important to us though.

You’re not the country bumpkin types.
Furze: No jamming in the fields or on top of mountains.  I think that urban feel, and concrete, is very important to us.  We were born in cities and I think when we go to the countryside…(we were in a little hut in Scotland on the coast doing some writing), we try to get a lot done.  But we were there for about a month, and to tell you the truth, it just made me want to go fishing and hang out with our dogs. We did some good stuff, but it was as if work became a hassle.  That’s not how I want the (next) record to feel.–Madeline Virbasius/photos by Scott Irvine

  1. Didn’t read the whole thing *yet* because the intro isterrifying. Lots and lots of people tour and yet their status is usually somewhere a bit above terrorist (ya punks!) and definitely below a bumbling tourist. I’d want an article or at least a well compiled set of references that would detail what the fuck is going on with U.S. border laws when it comes to traveling in and out for shows.

    I mean understandable if you’re boarding with a crack pipe in your hand it’s one thing but for the most part there seems to be a need for more information and ways to play a paying gig without being fucked over by taxes giving everything away at the border. (I’m thinking a bit of how people working for a home country on foreign soil avoid paying foreign taxes).

    We need a guide!