The stage is set for the return of THE THE, one of the most intriguing bands ever to emerge from England, armed with such classic songs as “This Is The Day,” “Uncertain Smile,” “Heartland,” “Love Is Stronger Than Death,” “Armageddon Days (Are Here Again)” and “Dogs of Lust,” from albums released between the early 1980’s to 2000.
Helmed by singer and songwriter Matt Johnson, THE THE have announced their first live shows in 16 years. The post-punk iconoclasts will first tour the UK and Europe starting in late May, with many shows already sold out including London’s Royal Albert Hall and Brixton Academy, before launching their North American tour in September. Tickets for the North American tour go on sale Friday, April 6 at 12 noon local time. *Read an interview with Johnson below.
Kicking off September 14 in Boston at the Orpheum Theatre, THE THE’s eight-date North American headlining tour will include two stops in the New York area (September 16 at Brooklyn Steel and September 17 at the Beacon Theatre) and then make its way to Toronto, Detroit and Chicago before reaching Los Angeles September 24 to perform at the Ford Theatre and wrapping September 27 in San Francisco. These dates will mark the band’s first North American concerts in 18 years. See below for all dates and details.
As a singer and songwriter, Johnson has been silent for many years, with the last THE THE album, 2000’s NakedSelf, capping off a remarkable run of records–from his solo debut Burning Blue Soul (1981), through THE THE’s Soul Mining (1983), Infected (1986), Mind Bomb (1989) and Dusk (1993)–which earned him an enduring reputation as a brave and uncompromising artist dealing with both the dark matters of the heart and prescient sociopolitical commentary.
In 2017, THE THE released a new single, ”We Can’t Stop What’s Coming,” as part of 2017’s Record Store Day, their first new song in 15 years, with Matt Johnson joined by former THE THE members, Zeke Manyika on percussion, James Eller on bass and Johnny Marr on guitar. The track was taken from The Inertia Variations, an 84-minute documentary film, which premiered at the 2017 Edinburgh International Film Festival, and forms part of a wider multimedia project inspired by the poem of the same name by John Tottenham. Additionally in October 2017, THE THE released the Radio Cineola: Trilogy box set.
The first biography of THE THE, “Long Shadows, High Hopes,” written by Neil Fraser and fully authorized by Johnson, will be published by Omnibus Press on June 7, 2018.
Q&A WITH MATT JOHNSON
Beginning in late May, THE THE are returning with a run of UK and European comeback shows, including already sold-out shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall, Brixton Academy and Troxy, among others. These are to be followed by a tour of North America in September. Are these your first shows in 16 years and what inspired the return?
Apart from a one-off performance as a guest of David Bowie at his ‘Meltdown’ festival at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2002 these will be the first THE THE concerts since 2000, which is nearly two decades. My decision to come out of ‘retirement’ was triggered by personal events in my life. My older brother and long time collaborator Andy “Dog” Johnson, who created many of the distinctive THE THE record sleeves over the years, passed away in January 2016. His death came in the middle of the filming of The Inertia Variations, a Swedish feature length documentary that was being made about me (view trailer here). Andrew’s illness and subsequent death became a central part of the film and inspired me to write my first new song in many years, “We Can’t Stop What’s Coming.” The whole situation caused me to reflect deeply about what I want to do with my life and so I decided to put a toe back in the water to feel the temperature.
THE THE last album’s was in 2000, with the single, “We Can’t Stop What’s Coming,” your first new song in 15 years, released in 2017 on Record Store Day UK. Can you talk about the buzz the song (on which you were joined by former THE THE members Zeke Manyika on percussion, James Eller on bass and Johnny Marr on guitar) created and how it set the stage for the return to live concerts?
The director of The Inertia Variations, Johanna St Michaels, was trying to persuade me to write a new song for the documentary from the moment we began filming it. As the film is based around Radio Cineola, a 12 hour live radio broadcast I was hosting from my London studios, she felt it would make a great climax to the film if I was to perform a new song during a live broadcast. I had resisted this idea but in the end personal events overtook the documentary and after Andy’s illness and subsequent death I felt compelled to write a song for him, just as I had written “Love Is Stronger Than Death” for my younger brother Eugene when he passed away in 1989. My former bandmates, James Eller, Johnny Marr and Zeke Manyika were all very fond of Andrew and came together with me to pay tribute to him. ‘”We Can’t Stop What’s Coming” created such a buzz when it was released on Record Store Day ‘17 that it actually crashed our website for many hours as we were unable to keep up with demand.
The Inertia Variations premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in the summer of 2017 and forms part of a wider multimedia project inspired by the poem of the same name by John Tottenham. There’s also the Radio Cineola: Trilogy box set you released, and THE THE’s Infected: The Movie. Can you talk about these projects?
This is one of the most ambitious projects I’ve ever attempted as it encompasses music, spoken word and poetry, politics, sculpture, photography and film. It involved many collaborators across the UK, Europe and the US. The project was initially inspired by the poem The Inertia Variations, which was written by John Tottenham, an Englishman living in Los Angeles. John and his poem were introduced to me by our mutual friend, the Brooklyn-based composer JG Thirlwell. It was this poem that inspired the making of the feature length documentary, with which it shares its name. But the project just kept growing and merged with Radio Cineola, my conceptual shortwave radio station that is broadcast from my London studios. There were also a couple of art installations, Roda Sten Konsthall in Goteborg and Summerhall in Edinburgh, which featured the 9-meter-tall Radio Cineola Tower we commissioned for the project. Lastly, there was the release of the Radio Cineola: Trilogy boxset on vinyl, CD and download and which featured exclusive photography and narration from the project.
Are you able to reveal which musicians will join you on the North American tour?
All I can say for now is that I have chosen one musician from each of the three band line-ups from my three world tours. Plus, there will be one new face. Stay tuned!
Since you’re known as a unique artist who tackles complex emotions and sociopolitical topics, can you talk about your current mindset and the state of the world?
Well, my views tend to be out of step with the mainstream narrative but I’ve often had people tell me that when they look back at things I said or wrote decades ago they seem to make more sense now. So, all I will say is that I think we’re living through very dangerous times and that the governments and intelligence services of the West are pulling us into perilous waters with their McCarthy-era hysteria and witch hunts. The prevailing mood appears to be argument by assertion where someone continually argues a point by merely asserting that it is true, regardless of contradiction. As Goebbels said, “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” When you start to look into these allegations the truth is often not what is being portrayed. It reminds me of the continual lies that were spread by our own governments and intelligence services in the UK and US that dragged us into the disastrous Iraq war and its aftermath. It seems few lessons have been learnt by the general public and I find it dispiriting how many people are content to be passively spoon fed information by their government, the corporate media and the intelligence services without doing their own research and making up their own minds.
Can you talk about which songs from THE THE’s albums—from your debut Burning Blue Soul (1981), through Soul Mining (’83), Infected (’86), Mind Bomb (’89) and Dusk (1993)—will be in the set list?
Obviously I’m not going to give away the set list, but songs from every album of THE THE’s catalogue will be represented.
Are you planning to record a new album?
Yes, I’m feeling inspired and have already started writing it. I’m hoping to begin recording sessions later this year but this all depends on our touring schedule.
What has surprised you most in your career?
The loyalty of many members of my audience has been a pleasant surprise.
Can you describe your best gig ever—and your worst one?
Not really (maybe it’s age?), but all the hundreds of shows I’ve performed have tended to merge into one giant concert in my mind, albeit one with its own highs, lows and maybes.
Have you had a Spinal Tap moment in your career? Care to share it?
Not yet, but I’m sure there’s always time for that!