Though he says he's cleaned up his act these days, Black Grape leader Shaun Ryder isn't
exactly going out of his way to prove the point.
In fact, the former Happy Mondays head loon and self-proclaimed "slightly more clean and
sober" singer doesn't seem at all concerned by his reputation as something of a drug
advocate. Take a few samples on the opening track of his band's upcoming (early
February) sophomore release, Stupid Stupid Stupid, for instance.
The song "Get Higher" features an, ahem, Ronald Reagan "sound-alike" admitting "from
the early days of our administration ... Nancy has been using marijuana on a daily basis,"
over a classic Ryder beat: fat, heavy, rolling and, above all, stoned. "That's a Reagan
impersonator," chuckled Ryder, over the phone from New York. "Yeah, definitely an
impersonator," seconded producer/programmer Danny Saber.
If the two are somewhat circumspect about the voice of reason that admits "Nancy and I are
hooked on heroin," over a booming beat, falsetto backing vocals and Ryder's rap-like thug
vocals, the infectious song itself leaves no doubt that Ryder has again captured his
signature brand of shambling Manchester sample rock. "Yeah, an impersonator," Ryder re-
iterates. Stupid Stupid Stupid is packed with all of the elements that Ryder fans have come
to know and love from their chubby-faced favorite ex-mad raver: sex, drugs, dodgy
behavior and plenty of pre-millennial fun.
"We just wanted to make an entertaining album," said Ryder, 35, who's been sharing his
mad musical vision for over 15 years. "We checked our styles from all sorts of different
music and put our own individual stamp on it." With Saber (Marilyn Manson, U2, David
Bowie), who also produced the band's 1995 debut It's Great When You're
Straight ... Yeah and officially joined its lineup with this album, lining up the beats, the
10-track CD bounces from the cheeky (safe) sex rap of "Squeaky" to the Happy
Mondays-ish electronic house party of "Marbles" and "Rubber Band," which marries
Saber's more guitar-heavy rock proclivities and distorted vocals with deep massive bass
lines and acid house headiness.
But in talking about the album, Ryder kept coming back to "Get Higher," half-heartedly
fighting a battle for his good name. "All that stuff about my intake," he said. "What people
forget is that I've been in the business for 16 years. When I started in the Mondays I was
18, I did what people that age love to do. Now I'm 35 and still labeled with that. I still like
to go out and have a drink, but I'm mostly at home watching the telly with my three kids."
Not only did Ryder say he'd cleaned-up his act, but he also raved about his acting, hyping
a guest spot in the movie re-make of the '60s British spy show The Avengers, in
which he plays a baddie, "Bully Boy." "I met the guy who's the producer on a plane and he
recognized my face from a magazine, this ugly, big-nosed motherfucker," Ryder said,
describing himself on the cover. "There have always been these English baddies, tall ones
with big ears and small ones with big noses. I'm the tall kind with big ears."
Adding that he so enjoyed the shoot for the movie, which stars Uma Thurman and Ralph
Fiennes, Ryder said he'd have done it even if "they'd have just given me a big banana at
the end of the day."
Also soon scheduled for release is The Grape Tapes (already released theatrically in
England), an hour-and-a-half documentary on the band that chronicles the past five years of
Ryder's musical escapades. "After the Mondays split up, Tom, this pal of mine, started
following me around shooting movies of us on the road. It's about how we live," said
Ryder, cautioning, however, that the movie makes it look like it's all fun and games. "I had to
censor everything," Ryder said. "We said things, right?, that sounded really serious when
we're saying them, but we're joking. You have to be careful of what ends up on tape," he
said, punctuating the maxim with a phlegmy, hacking laugh.
The full track listing for the album is: "Get Higher," "Squeaky," "Marbles," "Dadi Waz A
Badi," "Rubber Band," "Spotlight," "Tell Me Something," "Money Back Guaranteed,"
"Lonely" and "Words." [Tues., Nov. 25, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]