This durable, hilarious double-act have been around for some six years now. Who’d have thought it, wonders Michael Wylie-Harris as he meets Carbon/Silicon
by Michael Wylie-Harris, first published in LondonTourdates #024 ,13th June 2008
Earlier in the year Tourdates went to Lynchburg, Tennessee. Why? To watch two old-timers play rock n’ roll on a hill above a distillery…
With The Clash and Generation X on their CV (we won’t mention Sigue Sigue Sputnik) Mick Jones and Tony James are already punk rock royalty.
And with recent production credits on The Libertines’ generation-defining debut album for Jones, and James remaining very much up to speed with technological developments in music and record distribution, it can’t be said that either is by any means over the hill.
But over 30 years after first performing together – with early punk band, London SS - the thought of a debut album and US tour with new band Carbon/Silicon must have had even them counting their marbles.
And by the look on his face, the sheer weirdness of the situation was not lost on Mick Jones – though it may have just been the booze. In Nashville and Lynchburg for the JD Legendary Mash (a three-day bender sponsored by Jack Daniel’s that saw Jones and James face the world’s media at Nashville’s Mercury Lounge before playing live on BBQ Hill above the JD Distillery in Lynchburg), Mick Jones was on the kind of magnetic form that proved why the likes of Pete Doherty and Richard Archer have been so keen to work with him in the last few years.
“It is a trip,” he told us, laughing… Eyes slightly glazed as he explained the band’s arrival into the States in the most surreal of terms.
“It’s a trip by wagon train. We’ve got the horses. We were going along trying to control them and then we got turned back from Canada because some of the horses didn’t have the right accreditation. They’re so fussy.
“Anyway, Tony rides shot gun with me – up the front – so we were all riding along… It’s been a wonderful trip. There’s been some Native American attacks but they’ve been very occasional.”
Err, okay… And how did the collaboration come about this time? “We got together by accident. I ran in to him… with my hummer!
“We don’t talk to each other off-stage. It’s all fake. Nothing’s actually real. When you get to be men of our age nothing’s actually real.
“We’ve figured out how to make money now. We’re gonna make money out of parking and hotdogs. We’re just gonna shift our emphasis a little bit from music.”
Mick Jones has the kind of comic presence you’d associate with someone like Peter Cook. He exists in another – less serious - reality. Everything’s a joke and he seems to talk only for the purpose of his own amusement. In short, he’s a bit pissed.
Tony James – though clearly amused by Jones’ ramblings (and also slightly boozy) - takes things a bit more seriously…
“We started with just one song really,” he says. “We didn’t set out to form a group like this. You know, you kind of think can we still do it sort of, so we just thought rather than form a group and it’s all gonna be great, we just started writing some songs and it kind of grew out of the writing of those songs.
Jones interjects… “We talked for ages about whether we could still do it before we did it… For ages we just went ‘can we do it’, ‘d’you reckon we can do it’, and then just sort of ended up doing it”.
Before the first Carbon/Silicon record, The Last Post, came out last year, Jones and James had been writing and recording together but releasing everything as free MP3s.
The popularity of the music on the internet made the release of the record on CD a reality; but it was the lack of label interference that free downloads made possible that initially inspired Tony James.
“We didn’t even really think about it,” he says. “We had a song and we just thought we could put it on the internet site and people could hear it. We didn’t think we were doing anything different or revolutionary, we just wrote the song and put it on the web.
“The great thing was that you didn’t need a record company, or managers, or the press, or anything or TV and you didn’t have to wait for any of that stuff you normally have to wait for. You could just do your songs and get them out there.
“Always when we give the record away for free, people say ‘oh we love the music, when’s the proper record coming out?’. At this time people still wanna go to the store and buy something and bring it home.
“They want that cohesive record of the tracks in the right order. In ten years time, I don’t know. Is a kid who lives in an apartment that’s the size of a refrigerator gonna look back on us and think ‘that’s really weird, my mum and dad used to go to shops buy things, bring them home and put them on the shelf… they were crazy’. Because he might say my whole life’s in my pocket… On my I-Pod or whatever.”
There’s a rare dynamic between Tony James and Mick Jones. It’s evident on the record, but it’s most prevalent on stage. Carbon/Silicon come across as exactly what they are – two old mates having fun.
While James provides logical reasoning behind the band’s decision, Jones is happier launching into bizarre analogies about The Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo, where the pope represents record companies and Charlton Heston is somehow involved.
There’s an endearing kind of ‘odd couple’ thing going on as the pair bounce off each other during the interview, and you get the impression it’s also at work in the band’s songwriting – with the Jones creative flair complementing James’s technical mastery.
In typical fashion – as the interview draws to a close - the perhaps more deep-thinking Tony James begins to speculate on future generations’ changing relationship with music, but Mick Jones seems to have a brainwave that just has to be expressed…
“That’s a big thing actually,” he says. “Storage is a big thing at the moment. People have so much stuff that they can’t fit it in their house. They have to put it in storage and go and visit it at the weekend.
“It’s the number three pastime in Britain at the moment… Storage. It comes behind D.I.Y and cooking. We’re gonna move into storage I think to make money. Storage, hot-dogs and parking. All those things that make up the modern world, we’re gonna go with them.”
Carbon/Silicon play Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park on 29 June and Guilfest on 4 July.