English rock band is nervous about its unexpected success.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, April 17, 1995
To hear Geoff Barrow tell it, things aren't going well for his
The group's debut album, ``Dummy,'' reportedly has sold more
than 300,000 copies in the United States. And the initial single,
``Sour Times,'' has become a staple on alternative rock and adult
album alternative stations.
Not only that, but Portishead _ named after the band's hometown
near Bristol, England _ has received a rapturous critical reception
from underground and mainstream media outlets such as as The New
York Times, People and Rolling Stone.
To top it off, the duo _ composer/arranger Barrow and singer
Beth Gibbons _ have been hailed as being at the forefront of a
new musical movement dubbed trip-hop, a languid, jazzy and cinematic
brand of malaise and melancholy. In Portishead's case, it's the
torched soul of prime-era Peggy Lee dressed in spy movie, spaghetti
Western and '90s urban cool. Perhaps the best description appeared
in Mixmag: ``Beth Gibbons sounds like a chain-smoking Joni Mitchell
hanging out with Cypress Hill.''
But Barrow, 23, is not altogether happy, and he's not even sure
how long Portishead will survive.
``We didn't expect to sell more than 30,000 copies in England,''
he said by telephone on the eve of the band's first-ever U.S.
dates. ``I wanted to release three albums before we crossed the
channel, and it's all gone wrong. And I think it will finish us,
to be absolutely honest.''
Later, Barrow backs down a bit.
``We will do a second album,'' he conceded. ``We'll most probably
survive, but the second album will be damned in England. There
are trendier people out than us now.
``I don't want to come across as ungrateful. I'm very pleased
with what's happened. I feel incredibly lucky, because it never
happens to some bands. But I was working to a plan, and things
break open and that's very dangerous _ unless you've got a backup
plan, which I've not got.''
The plan began in 1991, when Barrow, a disc jockey and recording-studio
employee in search of a singer for a collaborative project, met
Gibbons in an unemployment office.
Barrow already had started on various recordings but wasn't happy
with any of it until Gibbons wrote ``Sour Times.'' ``(That song)
saved it all, really,'' he recalled.
And that's the song that caught the ear of alternative America.
Many critics have remarked on Gibbons' dazed depression and noir
nightmares, her sense of spiraling ever deeper into a pitiless
purgatory. Barrow says even he's not sure where all this sorrow
comes from and has been quoted as saying he doesn't care.
``I care if it's going to be mentally damaging to her, but, on
the other hand, I'm not a great lyrical person,'' he said. ``I
don't get involved. I just make sure it works sonically. The melody
lines are what I care about. Lyrically, I trust her. She is being
honest. She's not writing a song just to make money or sound distressed.''
But he says what's been written about Gibbons isn't always true.
For instance, it's been said she doesn't do interviews, but Barrow
maintains that only applies to the British press.
``She was nervous to do interviews,'' he admitted. ``But she
found doing European and American interviews, they seemed to be
a lot more honest and to the point.''
As for his own musical influences, Barrow admits he has listened
to many soundtracks.
``I'm more into soundtrack music as music than actually the films
or the images,'' he said. ``I've never seen the films for most
of the soundtracks I've owned. I just collect records I like:
ones from the late '60s and '70s, Italian, French and American
spy movies and thrillers.''
Though Barrow started off sampling, he says the current tour
will feature live instruments, even though the group has performed
only occasional concerts.
``Hopefully, it will still keep the same air about it,'' he said.
``It's not going to sound exactly like the album, but I wanted
it to be a live thing rather than a computerized event.''
When he gets back to England after Portishead's brief U.S. swing,
Barrow is going to start the second album _ and wait for the P-head
backlash to start.
``Someone's already written that they want the Portishead backlash
to start now,'' he said with a laugh. ``It just cracks me up.
People will believe it, and then people will start slagging our