A Certain Ratio’s Jez Kerr, New Album, and an Announcment

Jez Kerr of A Certain Ratio

New Wave Royalty from Manchester England, A Certain Ratio have been making music since the late ’70s, as the flipside to their friends Joy Division and New Order they are still making music. I got to talk to Jez (Jeremy) Kerr the volcalist/bassist about their history, the new album and his recent coming out (almost co-inciding with the new album). They are a historical act that once you hear them, you KNOW them. They are on MUTE records with New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, and Depeche Mode, you get the idea.

A Certain Ratio: one of the coolest bands ever.

Jeremy Hinks: Hey Jez thanks for taking the time.

Jez Kerr: Glad to be here.

JH: SO, I’ll describe you guys as the dancier poppy version, but still avant-garde, B-side single of New Order.

Jez: Yeah, I could go with that description.


JH: For all the combined time I spent listening to your work, combined would be weeks, probably months, there is plenty written about your music, but very little written about A Certain Ratio, the band itself. I know that Peter Hook speaks very highly of you in his book, but still very little actually about you out there.

Jez: I haven’t read any of the books about Factory.

JH: Well, in his book, he mentions touring with you and that it was always great to do so. I have the 8×10 flier for that gig you played with New Order at the Utah State Fairgrounds in ’86. I’ll eventually have it blown up into a poster.


Jez: Yeah that was the tour they were flying everywhere and we had to drive. I remember a particular drive from Chicago to Washington 9:30 club.

JH: That’s a long drive but you can do it in about 14 hours.

Jez: We got to a place that was called “Town of Motels” but there was some sort of convention going on, so we had to keep going, so Martin was driving and I was navigating while everyone else slept in the back.

JH: I got the new album several months ago, and they asked if I wanted to talk to you and give it a listen. I jumped into it like a kid in the candy store. So, what was the significance of “1982”?


Jez: Well, how we make our music is that we just go into the studio and play around, with no real definite idea of what we are going to do. And after a while, we got this “Sound” off something we were working on, like it was from “Sextet” and Martin said through the vocoder “1982”, and we thought “Oh yeah that’s great, and that was the case. So when he said “1982” that became the chorus of the tune. And I liked the title because we were working off the framework of “Sextet” which was one of the peaks of our career. We had a month to record it in the studio, and it was the first time we produced it ourselves. And we only had about 4 tunes in mind when we went into the studio. And that’s how we are working now, think of the progression from “LOCO” to 1982. Loco was our first album in 10 years, and we were trying to get everything in there. And on “1982” we decided to go back to like where on “1982”, we had come back from that, and gone back to where we started like “Graveyard in the Ballroom” and the early days where it was pretty minimal. We have recorded the next album after “1982” and we are getting a bit starker, darker, and a bit harder.

JH: Well that song “1982” that one captured the whole vibe of that year.

Jez: Well, some people might have thought it was a compilation of our work from that year 1982, but when people hear the album, they will realize it’s quite modern but still has the same vibe as “Sextet” with a lot of jazz.

JH: Yeah, you cut a slice of the zeitgeist of 1982, you guys would have packed the dance floor with that one in 82. I mean, I was 8 in 1982, and I didn’t get into you til 86. I heard “Force”, and right next to “Low Life”, (the greatest New Order album ever, produced in 1984), and I felt such nostalgia happiness listening to that song. And I thought “I missed it didn’t I?” but you gave it back to me in that album. Please tell me you guys had fun making that record.


Jez: Of course we had fun, that’s how we do it, if you’re having fun you’re gonna produce good music, when it becomes too analytical and it becomes serious, then it goes to pot. If you’re thinking about it too much, you spend too much time thinking while making a record. That’s how we do it, like from Loco, to 1982, to the new album, having fun and stripping down. Kind of go out the way we came in.

JH: Well, I hope there is more in you and it’s not over.

Lifted from his Instagram page, Jez Kerr doing what he does best

Jez: Oh yeah we got plenty left in us, but if you listen to the earlier records, they have this darkness to them. I think the way the world is now, didn’t turn out the way we expected.


JH: Yeah, I remember when the “Peel Sessions” recordings were finally released, and the song “Flight” was right next to “Movement” (The first album by New Order in 1981). And it was like the “Twin Brothers”, and then the new album is very “Happy”.

Jez: For us, being able to make an album, for any musician the key thing is to record and get it out there. Like Bandcamp, it’s great for musicians to get their music out there. There are platforms for musicians to get their music out there and get paid for it. There are platforms out there to help musicians realize their dreams.

JH: Yeah, it doesn’t pay like it used to.

Jez: It’s not like that anymore, and it shouldn’t be, it’s about getting your music out there and playing live. If you are doing that, it will make you happy.


JH: Oh yeah, that show you did at the Town and Country Club, in ’90, was some of the rawest, and in your face, that video was so good, I think that was when you were on your pinnacle of what you had to offer. That show was one of the best shows of that era. But in that video, you are in your sleeveless shirt and sweating. Then these recent pictures of you wearing that heavy jacket, I think you must be cooking on that stage.

Lifted politely from his instagram page

Jez: Yeah, that’s the way to stay thin. (laughing).

JH: So the song on the new album “The Ballad of ACR” has the lyrics “We flew to LA just for the day, but came back to Hulme to stay”.


Jez: Yeah Hulme is an area of Manchester where we lived in 1982. We never left Manchester, we stayed and didn’t move to London when we got the deal. A lot of people did but we were like New Order, we were very close to Joy Division and New Order in the fact that we come from the same place. I mean that also musically, we shared a rehearsal room with them. You find that with bands whose fans love them, it’s cause the music is close to them.

JH: Like in “24 Hour Party People” I mean, how real was it with Tony (Wilson) still standing, and he let them make him out to be such a prick?

Jez: It’s a very funny film and a lot of inaccuracies, but it still had the spirit of the whole story.

JH: Well that part when he said “I refuse to take the boys to London, I stayed because I’m in love with Manchester.”


Jez: I agreed with him on that.

JH: Well, he said, “I allowed them to tell the story about me that I would rather not, but I had to be honest”. So you all stayed, but you are just as much Manchester as New Order, or The Smiths, or The Chameleons. When you said in that song “Coming back to the road, and our thoughts are free, we played to the moon and played to the sea” I guess that was it. The song also had this late Love & Rockets vibe, then it went into this Lou Reed bit, this whole Jazz Cabaret…

Jez: That was my idea, I had seen this movie “Basquiat 96”, when he was in the studio, listening to that laid back Jazz by Miles Davis, so I had this idea of going from Lou Reed, we are influenced by The Velvet Underground. And like they said Two Chords is ok, three Chords is Jazz. So I thought of going into a crazy little Jazz bit, then going back to the Lou Reed tune.

JH: See, I caught that, but when you are jogging to a song, and you got this groove of the song going, then it threw me off when a song is having an identity crisis like that.


Jez: When I played it to the guys, and they heard it, they said “Are you crazy?” but then a bit into playing it, like Martin and “1982” they said “Yeah, that’s great”, and I got that first verse, I didn’t want a chorus, so I copied the groove of the tune, and they developed it.

JH: Well, everyone knows the story of Joy Division, how they went to the Sex Pistols show and were going to form a band like that. You were the guys who said, “We are NOT going to sound like the Sex Pistols”.

Jez: Exactly, for the first year as a band, we didn’t have a drummer, and we were all listening to Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and WIRE, and Throbbing Gristle and all that industrial-sounding synth stuff. And because of the band we are, the vocals are not the centerpiece of the tune, it’s the overall sound, instead of having a “Star” in the band.

JH: Ok, that plays into the track “Afro Dizzy”, with Ellen on vocals, can you talk about her?


Jez: Yeah she has a great voice Ellen Beth Abde, plays flute and is in a few bands, her boyfriend is in a band called Worker. They are going on tour with us in April. She has a formidable personality and is a very mature musician.

JH: Ok, so when you said you felt cornered into becoming the vocalist, and working with Corinne, and even there on “Afro Dizzy” I saw all of that as you guys just not being afraid to take any chances. I viewed it as you doing what you felt like doing.

Jez: Yeah, the sound of an album comes from the people writing it, if the personnel changes, that’s going to change the sound. Like when Andy was on keys, and then he left, that changed the sound. Now we got Matt Steele from the “Brand New Heavies”, which dictates what you do, and the sound of the album.

JH: So, I’m the guy who will listen to a record, and I end up with a million questions about it. So I love this. There is so much written about the music, but NOTHING is written about you as people, so this is a great moment for me.


Jez: I think the mysteriousness comes from, in the early days like with Joy Division and that great album “Unknown Pleasures” got a lot of attention, and then “Closer” and then Ian’s death, and we were kind of second fiddle to that. So we didn’t get a lot of attention, and I think that adds a lot of pressure when you have that kind of attention. If you can go under the radar, which is what we have done, and we have played for 40 years, and people in Manchester still don’t know who we are.

JH: Yeah, I remember at the clubs, they played your song “Lucinda” between Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” and the Dylans’ “Planet Love”. And they packed the floor, but still, people didn’t know who you were, but they still danced to it, people just needed to hear you. There is much more to Manchester than just New Order, I mean, I still applaud you, James, and The Chameleons for just continuing to go and make great music. It’s a crying shame you never got out of that shadow.

Jez: There is still time.

JH: You explained it in the song “Trip to Hulme”, that was about the most “A CERTAIN RATIO” track ever done. It captured EVERYTHING about you guys, the basslines, the beat, and even the lyrics “I saw myself, the same old shit” If I wanted to showcase you guys I would play that song. The lyrics were simple “We’re here, playing our music, everyone else FUCK OFF”.


Jez: I think we’ve always had that attitude where we do what we do whether people like it or not.

JH: Well, I saw you guys as the fun version of what came out of Manchester. Not to mention that Teddy Boy Vegan Prick is hated by the other 4 members of his band.

Jez: Yeah, we weren’t always making music, we were on Rob Grettons label doing a couple of albums, but when he died then a big break from 94-2002. So when someone put out a Jazz compilation and asked us to play a gig, we just … started making music again. It led to us making an album in 2009, another 10 years, then we decided there was more music in us when we made “Loco” and we got loads of stuff in there, it was the last album with Denise, and to “1982” and we have the next album already done.

JH: So, a few months ago, talking to your publicist, I got the “Announcement” She said, “Jez Kerr just came out as bisexual”. And then I saw the link and the article in NME, and first of all, I’m happy for you. I think people say “Why did he wait so long?”, but then I think your explanation of “It might not matter much to anyone now, but I hope it’s easier for the next guy”. That was powerful, and kudos to you for your reason.


Jez: I think a lot of people struggle throughout their life like I have, keeping a part of your personality secret. My family knew about it, I wanted to say that, and I think a lot of people like you just said who struggle with it, it might help them to be open about themselves. I spent my life not being open about myself, which didn’t really affect my life. I have had a long relationship, I have 3 kids, and I was quite happy. It was a friend of mine on Instagram that came out, I thought what is the point in keeping it secret? I wanted to put it out there, I thought “Why not say who I am”. It doesn’t feel much different, but I feel better, it was a side of my personality I felt I wanted to share. It’s a terrible thing that people can’t be open about themselves, and so much hatred towards people. It’s worse in some places, you get put in prison or killed for it.

JH: Where I live, it’s just the shame the local religion puts on you.

Jez: I think the younger generation is more accepting of it, now, as when I was a teenager. It’s easier now for people to get help.


JH: Well, you got a lot of great queer artists on your label, you are in good company, you got Erasure, and you also have Rowetta in your court.

Jez: Yeah, it’s quite vicious how people can be, I think that is one of the reasons why I decided to say it, because the more people who do say it, and shout down the people who are homophobic, it needs to be said.

JH: Well, my hat is off to you, and for your reasons. Did Tony and Rob know?

Jez: No, they didn’t, they might have thought that about me, I wasn’t out, I was fearful, I didn’t have the courage to be out. I had a Catholic upbringing, I was also a footballer, I played football (Soccer, if you haven’t been watching Ted Lasso) for Manchester United as a teen, and at 17 I broke my ankle so which derailed my football career. But back then, there was no room for it, then I got straight into music after that, and kept that part of myself private and secret. I regret it, but it didn’t affect me much cause I got used to being that.


JH: Well, I hope that people, fans, whoever saw it, and said they could come out. But, most of the guys I knew listening to your music growing up were gay. The guy who got me all the tapes was gay actually. Most “A Certain Ratio” fans I knew in the dance clubs were gay.

Jez: I think most music is about freedom and uplifting, people play music to be free, it’s a language in itself, it trying to convey universal feelings.

JH: Well, if you had gone on to be a footballer, you would have ended that career long ago. You are still making music so I think you did alright.

Jez: I didn’t start off as a musician, I couldn’t really play, I picked it up quickly. Most of us in the band started like that. But we came to a point where we got our own sound and developed along the way. I’m still sort of doing that, my bass playing is simple.


JH: Well, I would describe your bass playing as “Peter Hook and Mick Karn fought it out to make a jazz record”.

Jez: Well, I play loud, off the base drum and the snare. I hit fewer notes but I hit them harder.

JH: Well, you have a very distinct sound, that stands out. It was when I saw Hooky playing, and loved that sound, you were the same, not just to be the rhythm section.

Jez: Yeah, it’s in conjunction with the drum kit, and the guitar not being the main instrument.


JH: Well, I would probably go on to bore everyone just talking about your music. But this has been great to talk to you. When you did “Houses in Motion”, you recorded that back in 1980?

Jez: An A and R guy from Island wanted us to do a track with Grace Jones, and she came to the studio, and that recording was done in the afternoon when we were learning to play the tune. So the vocal I put on it was the guide to let the band know where to lay it down. So that recording you heard, is the demo that Martin Hannet recorded. The guys loved it, and I don’t get the lyrics right, but it sounded really modern. But if Grace had sung on the Martin Hannet version it would have been incredible. But Chris Blackwell found out about it and said “NO WAY” because Grace Jones was his star over on Island Records.

JH: So, to address the young gay kid who is afraid, what your message be to that person?


Jez: I’d say if you can’t look to your family and friends, there are people out there to help that you can talk to. I think it is all about being able to talk to someone about it. If you can talk to your family about it, that makes it so much easier, or friends. The more people you let know about it, the better. Don’t bottle it up, there are phone numbers you can call for advice. I got help from the LGBTQ community in Manchester, a couple of phone calls, and, well, it’s no big deal. You can be content with it, it doesn’t stop you from developing as a person.

JH: Well, Jez thank you so much for your time, and the conversation, all the best.

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Full audio of this interview can be heard here.

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