Hot Press - Oscar Bravo! - February 5 1997
Leslie Keye of THE Wilde Oscars on his long,
strange swim upstream.
Fishing for details: Peter Murphy.
Rock'n'roll dreams have been known to expire in a variety of grisly ways, be it at the hands of drug indulgence, airplane crashes, disease or insanity. Wilde Oscars mainman Leslie Keye can add the US Immigration to that list. Back in 1991 the singer was happily playing Los Angeles coffee houses with the likes of Beck and on the verge of a bidding war between several major labels, when his career came a cropper on the horns of bureaucracy.
I was starting to get a little bit freaked out because I'd heard all the horror stories about people making the wrong deals and I didn't know who to sign with, relates the 25-year-old songwriter. My visa was up for renewal anyway, so what I decided to do was go back to Ireland with a copy of the contracts and ask a few people I knew about what would be the smartest move. Then I rang up to tell Mark (Keye's manager at the time) which one I wanted to go with and reapplied for my visa but it wasn't renewed. I'd already three months of gigs booked out in Los Angeles at the time and Mark was gong mad, he lost quite a bit of money invested in me.
The company themselves didn't want to help me out. Once they knew there was a problem they were like If you were in the country we might be able to do something about it, but the fact that you re not here now makes it difficult for us. I felt pissed off, big time. I was kicking myself because maybe if I'd signed the deal first, any deal at all, then there might have been more of an option to have stayed there, I would've had more clout. But in retrospect now, I'm really glad about it.
And well he might be, with his band's debut album Fish just released to some critical acclaim and public support. Licensed to companies all over Europe, the album sold a thousand copies in the first week of release with Ireland accounting for only a quarter of the sales. Not bad going for a low-budget, self-financed venture. The Fish sessions were produced by LA legend and ex-Runaways svengali Kim Fowley, a man whose exploits over the last three decades have earned him something of a reputation as the Russ Meyer of rock'n'roll. So Lesley, what was it like working with a veteran explorer of the rock n roll underbelly?
He's an absolute madman. Brilliant in the studio. He was promising us the earth, moon and stars. This was about the summer of 95. He'd just arrived in Ireland and he listened to every single one of our songs that we'd ever written, wrote everything down in a little book and decided which songs he wanted to record. He brought us into the studio and we recorded the bones of an album very quickly, I was really impressed with that. Then he gave us this contract which was absolutely ludicrous. He wanted sixty percent of publishing, ten thousand dollars for every song he produced, and if the money wasn't available from the first advance he'd get it from the second or third or fourth advance. Absolute nonsense!
Our lawyer said to us Don't even address this. So Kim got really upset and we all fell out and he says I'm not allowing you to use my recordings because I paid for them. So I worked out a deal that at some point in the future I'd buy back the recordings. Then Pat Dunne said, This album is really good, it deserves to be released. I will mix if on credit if you can guarantee a release of the album. So I figured the only way I could do that was if I formed my own record label (Keyenote Records) and released it myself.
One of the songs on the album, The Day Before The War, deals with the consequences of religious fanaticism. Being half-Jewish, I wondered if Lesley had ever been the victim of racism here in calm, undogmatic, unfanatical Ireland?
It's very strange you mention this, he replies. Me and this friend of mine were at dinner last week, I've known her for a while, I've always thought she was very intelligent. She presents a programme on RTE, she's fairly copped on, y'know? I was telling her about my father, who left home in March of this year and I was saying about how he's a very mean man in general. And she turns around and says Well, what do you expect? He's Jewish! And that really shocked me, especially when it s coming from someone I was having dinner with.
Most of the songs on Fish concern themselves with love and relationships. Are you an ould romantic?
I'm a getting-older romantic. Sex was always a really, really important thing for me growing up. Or the absence of it, the constant looking-for-it, y know? And you suddenly reach a point where, without bragging, it s a lot easier to come by now than when I was really looking for it. So you find different values. I guess underneath it all I am a hopeless romantic, yeah. I do have all these stupid, outdated ideas like bringing flowers to girls and bringing them out to dinner and wooing them that way.
Do you think that can last?
No. I think that s just in the very initial stages when I m trying to impress myself as much as her. It s like Look how great I am! And then after a while you settle for not being in love but just for loving. And at that point you start getting narky again like Aw fuck off, I want to go out and get pissed with my friends !
And this man considers himself a romantic! I'd hate to see his version of an embittered old cynic!
The Wilde Oscars debut album Fish is out now on Keyenote Records (distributed nationwide by Gael-Linn and Chart). They play the Da Club on Saturday 30th November and Eamonn Doran s on Thursday 5th December.