Andy Gill was relaxing at a relative’s home Sunday, recovering from a long trek from London to Los Angeles and resting up for the first night of his band’s brief American tour.
“We had a journey from hell yesterday,” Gill said. “We finally got in and the line for visas took hours. Finally, I got to the agent and he said 'you haven’t filled out your customs form correctly.' Our tour manager was walking by just then and I said ‘it’s his fault, he’s the one who filled it out wrong.'
“The agent said ‘you’re in a band?’ Then he looked again and said ‘You’re the Gang of Four, I’ve seen you, I guess, five times.’ He was a total fan. He said ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ll fill it all out for you.’ And I made it out of the airport.”
Monday night, Gill and his three band mates in the pioneering English post-punk band were to play the first show of a monthlong U.S. tour that will bring them to Omaha’s Slowdown Tuesday.
That West Coast to East Coast journey could be a commemoration of “Entertainment!,” the Gang of Four's bracing 1979 debut that’s been proclaimed as one of the best punk albums ever.
“Anniversaries, what are they? They’re just kind of random aren’t they?,” Gill asked. “I guess 40 is big. It’s a record a lot of people have. But I don’t think that way. I want to keep moving forward, not look back or get nostalgic."
So, Gang of Four is set to release “Happy Now,” its first record in four years.
Like its predecessors, “Happy Now” is made of 10 taut, dark, funky, punky songs, driven by Gill’s spiky, angular guitar -- along with some electronic bass, drums and other contemporary synthesized sounds, which have pricked some longtime Gang of Four fans who have heard advance copies of the album.
“Sometimes with my generation, you get people saying ‘it’s not enough like ‘Entertainment!’” Gill said. “My feeling is, we did 'Entertainment!' we don’t need to do it again. We play those songs live. When I get into the studio and creative, that’s not where my mind goes. I take what I want from wherever and make the record.”
The new sounds, that come from trap and grime, in fact, make “Happy Now” sound like a Gang of Four album for 2019. So do the lyrics for songs like “Alpha Male,” about the misadventures of President Trump and, most notably, “Ivanka: My Name’s On It.”
“I don’t particularly want to be that specific about the time we live in and current affairs,” Gill said. “That’s not usually what I do. But it’s hard to ignore the almost Shakespearean drama that’s been playing over the last couple years in the White House. Getting this apparently pleasant young woman, his daughter, installed in the White House and her getting wheeled out to explain the ideology of Trump is gripping.
“I didn’t have to do very much with that song. Most of that song is her own words. I didn’t need to do anything with them. I probably owe her royalties. I should write to her and ask if she’s registered with a songwriter’s organization.”
While Gill’s take on the Trumps is unmistakable, his lyrical views on political issues from feminism and socialism to international relations have never been polemic.
“I don’t want to try to persuade people one way or the other,” Gill said. “I just want to put a few ideas out there, a few descriptions, make some noise and let people decide for themselves.”
“Happy Now” was slated for release on March 1. But it’s likely the album won’t get out on that day.
“We’ve had a major setback,” Gill said. “Pledge Music, which was going to be releasing the record and some other stuff, it seems like they’re having financial troubles. We may have to have everybody get refunds and take it to another service like it. So it probably will be delayed. We’ll work it out.”
Gill, the remaining original member of the Gang, is now joined on tour by singer John “Gaoler” Sterry, bassist Thomas McNeice and drummer Tobias Humble -- a version of the band that’s been together since Humble came on board three years ago.
As has been the case since Gang of Four was formed in 1977 in Leeds, England, its sound, live and on recordings, is dominated by Gill’s rhythmically driving, noisy guitar.
“With me, I think of Steve Cropper (of Booker T and the M.G.s and Stax Records) and James Brown’s guitarist Jimmy Nolen, those guys playing tight and rhythmic on one side and on the other side, you’ve got Hendrix and the Velvet Underground making the noise,” Gill said of his guitar work. “I like to be between those two.”
As we wound down our Sunday afternoon conversation, Gill was preparing to take part in an American holiday of sorts -- one that left the Englishman baffled.
"I guess I’ll be dragged into watching the Super Bowl, even though I don’t understand it,” he said.