“I didn’t think I would enjoy this,” Ian McCulloch said, sneeringly, a few songs into a recent secret show at the Mercury Lounge. “But it’s going to be a fantastic evening. I’m going to pick you off one by one.” The Echo & the Bunnymen front man is famous for his eviscerating wit, showcased on his band’s eleventh album, The Fountain. He also may or may not be God. Mac, as he calls himself, spoke to Lizzy Goodman.
I like the new album more than I thought I would.
So do I. The power of it surprised me. And the last song, “The Idolness of Gods,” is one of the best I’ve written. It’s poetic, but that wasn’t the plan when I wrote the lyrics. It’s similar to when I wrote “The Killing Moon,” where I felt like the chorus was given to me by divine inspiration. With “Idolness” it’s God saying to me, “Would you write me a song, one that I can sing? Because I’ve gotten lazy.” It’s a bit like Faustus; God obviously helped me write “The Killing Moon,” and then I had to write a song for God somewhere down the line.
So you’re all paid up?
Yeah, all is good. Unless I’m God, in which case …
You weren’t raised in a religious house, but are you religious?
Yeah. I’ve always felt this innate guilt. I love putting people in their place, but I hate making them feel sad. Unless it’s through a song. I had this feeling recently that I might become a Catholic. I do like the idea of the confessional box. But maybe my songs are like a confessional box—most of them are explaining or hinting at my frailties and faults or romanticizing them.
In some of the interviews you’ve done for this record, you’ve talked about two versions of yourself, sort of like a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality.
I’m writing my memoirs, and out of the mad stream-of-consciousness bonkers crap I write, I’ll do a page that makes you tingle. One of the chapter titles is “Hiding From Jekyll.” I’ve had all these voices in my head my whole life. I used to say that there were at least eight different versions of me. One was Mac 8, who my manager and best friend experienced. People have said he’s the scariest thing they’ve ever seen. Mac 3 is the best—he’s the sexiest, the funniest, and the most confident.
A popular opinion about the Bunnymen is that, big as you are, you could have been as big as U2.
Bands all say they want to be as big as U2, but weirdly no one ever says they’re influenced by them. That’s because there’s nothing there, really. They’ve got good tunes, and you can see that it works on 14-year-olds. But I can’t see mature people or kids who are looking for something, something deep—something that you just know it’s art and it’s going to change your life—caring. For U2 it’s always flag-waving and “Yippee.” That’s a failing of Springsteen as well. I saw him at Glastonbury and it’s like, What are you doing, climbing into the crowd? It’s not a football match, it’s about making someone see the light—a proper inside light.
Ocean Rain Records.