The post Joe Strummer’s Widow Lucinda Tait Discusses the New Mescaleros Box Set: Interview + Stream appeared first on Consequence.
A new box set celebrating Joe Strummer’s work with his post-Clash band The Mescaleros has just arrived. To mark the occasion, Heavy Consequence caught up with the late punk legend’s widow, Lucinda Tait, to discuss the collection.
Joe Strummer 002: The Mescaleros Years includes all three of the band’s studio albums — Rock Art and the X-Ray Style (1999), Global A Go-Go (2001), and Streetcore (2003) — along with a brand-new compilation of 15 B-sides and rarities titled Vibes Compass. It’s available as a 4-CD set with a 72-page book or a 7-LP set with a 32-page book. Strummer’s sketches and handwritten lyrics appear in both the book and on the album sleeves.
Tait, who was married to Strummer from 1995 until his passing in December 2002, worked with Dark Horse Records’ David Zonshine to sort through the late musician’s extensive archives in order to cull the material presented on Joe Strummer 002: The Mescaleros Years. The collection follows 2018’s Joe Strummer 001, which compiled tracks from throughout the punk icon’s post-Clash career.
During our conversation with Tait, she spoke about the process of putting together Joe Strummer 002: The Mescaleros Years, while also offering a glimpse into Strummer’s life during the time in between the Clash and the Mescaleros known as his “wilderness years.”
As the executive producer of the box set, can you discuss the process of putting it together?
Well, I have to be honest, and say that the majority of the work was done by David Zonshine and everybody at Dark Horse, because the archive is so vast and so scattered, and it just keeps growing, as well. It’s very hard for me to see the woods through the trees, if you see what I mean. I kind of really needed somebody with David’s vision and David’s thought process to go through everything and to pick out the gems. Because there’s so many drawings, there’s so many notes, there’s so many scribbles, there’s so many … everything. And it was important that it wasn’t just about the music, it was about the imagery. And about Joe’s creative process … it shows the fact that he was very involved in the artwork of the records and everything when they came out, as well. And there was just so much of it.
So, I have to really bow to David and his team, who were very good at sorting through all of it, and putting it together in that way. I was more of a person kind of fumbling around in the archives …. And of course, we have so many photographs, and there were so many people that he’d worked with that had so much to contribute, as well. So it’s been a process of elimination, should we say.
In addition to the three Mescaleros studio albums, the box set contains a fourth disc (Vibes Compass) that compiles outtakes and previously unreleased demos. What was it like sorting through those recordings?
For me, a lot of it has still been very emotional. And when you’re listening to the outtakes, and you can hear Joe’s actual voice talking back to the desk or talking to the other band members, it gets quite emotional. And, again, it was just a question of finding out what was interesting to other people, not just to me, so I think again, that sort of question is really more directed to David because I just found myself dissolving [while I was] listening to some of them. But I think it was just [determining] what is interesting for the fans, what’s worth putting out there, really.
The box set features a number of Joe’s sketches and doodles, both in the included book and on the album sleeves. Did you often find Joe doodling and sketching during your marriage?
Yes. Always. He was always always doodling and sketching. And every morning I’d come down and there was a note with a funny drawing. And, it wasn’t just, you know, ‘Hey, babe, can you send this fax for me,’ because he was an owl and I was a lark, so he would be working into my night. … He was very visual. He was very sort of almost tactile in his writing, as well as in his music, and as a person. It was very physical. Everything was very physical. And so there are lots of these notes and they’re very precious, really precious and because they say so much about him.
There’s a scene in the documentary Let’s Rock Again! where Joe is on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, approaching random people as he tries to drum up business for a Mescaleros show that night. It was an oddly endearing scene, as we see this punk legend hitting the ground like an up-and-coming artist trying to make a name for himself. Is it fair to say there was a labor of love aspect to Joe’s time in the Mescaleros?
That that film was made by Dick Rude, who is a very, very old and dear friend of his. And I think that [scene] was obviously done with a certain amount of tongue in cheek, as well. But at the same time, it was very much Joe. He was drumming up support, because he was fully aware that he’d been out of the limelight for a long time. And a lot of people knew the Clash, but not that many people knew the Mescaleros. He just felt that he had to do his bit to promote it. But I think there was a certain amount of tongue in cheek and humor about it. But he was very proud of the work that he did with the Mescaleros. And he really enjoyed playing, touring, writing and creating with them.
As you just mentioned, after the Clash and before the Mescaleros, Joe remained out of the limelight, other than a few projects here and there. And that’s the time you met and eventually married him. Can you describe what his life was during that time?
Well, they call it the “wilderness years,” because he wasn’t physically putting out a record. And I think what happened was, he put out [his 1989 solo album] Earthquake Weather. And he felt at the time that he didn’t get much support from the record company. He didn’t do any tour support. And I think he was very disappointed by that. So, he spent a lot of time in America. He appeared in movies, he was in Walker, and he scored incredible music for the film. I didn’t think the film was that great, but the music is really quite extraordinary. And a few other films: Permanent Record, Sid & Nancy. He wasn’t twiddling his thumbs. But what he was doing, which has come to light going through the archive, was he was writing, writing, writing, writing. And what’s been interesting is that a lot of the bits of paper and everything that he wrote on whether it was a kitchen roll [paper towel], or a matchbook or a napkin from the restaurant, a lot of these lines that were just scribbled on had then made it into songs at a later date.
That was what was interesting going through the archive was seeing the process — that he could scribble something down in 1990 on a piece of paper and put it away, and then in 1996 when he’s writing a song, you then see that verse come alive in that song. So his writing process, which I always thought was Joe sitting in the vocal booth with a sharpie pen and a pad of paper as he bashed the lyrics out as the band threw down chords and melodies and things while he was writing was actually not really true. But it seems that he had a lot of those lyrics already written down and festering, if you like, in the back of his mind for many years. And that’s really what the archive showed us, was that it was very, very extensive, and it wasn’t as random as we first thought. You could follow trails.
And you mentioned that the archive is very extensive. With this current box set numbered 002, is it fair that we will see a third one, and possibly more in the future?
Yes, of course. There’s still music, there’s his live music. Yes, there’s lots of things.
Our thanks to Lucinda Tait for taking the time to speak with us. Stream Joe Strummer 002: The Mescaleros Years via the Spotify player below.