Skip to main content

Punk Legends Form Rock Band Carbon/Silicon

Old friends Mick Jones, former lead guitarist of The Clash, and Tony James, once of the Billy Idol-fronted Generation X, have teamed up in a band called Carbon/Silicon. They've been giving away songs for free on their Web site, but their new album, The Last Post, is an official hard-copy CD.




Related Topics

Other segments from the episode on January 30, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 29, 2008: Interview with Mick Jones and Tony James; Review of the album "Look directly into the sun."


DATE January 29, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Tony James and Mick Jones discuss their careers and
forming the band Carbon/Silicon

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The band Carbon/Silicon isn't nearly as well known as the bands the two
co-founders came from. Mick Jones, Carbon/Silicon's lead guitarist and
singer, was the lead guitarist of the seminal British punk band The Clash and
co-wrote many of the band's songs with Joe Strummer. In fact, in Rolling
Stone's list of the 10 best songwriting duos ever, Strummer and Jones were
number three after Lennon and McCartney and Jagger and Richards.
Carbon/Silicon's Tony James was the bass player in Generation X, the band that
introduced singer Billy Idol. James and Jones formed Carbon/Silicon in 2002.
They've released a lot of music on the Internet but they've just released
their first full-length CD. It's called "The Last Post." Let's start with the
opening tract, which is called "The News."

(Soundbite of music)

People started caring about what they eat
And people started smiling at everyone they meet
and people started looking for good instead of bad
Realize what they could lose and what they always had

People started growing instead of being crushed
And people start slowing down instead of being rushed
And people started looking with very different eyes
And this information now comes as a surprise
Good morning, here's the news and all of it is good
Good evening, here's the news and all of it is good
and the weather's good

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's "The News" from the new Carbon/Silicon recording, "The Last
Post." Mick Jones, Tony James, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. TONY JAMES: Hello.

Mr. MICK JONES: Hi there.

GROSS: What you're playing on this new CD is so catchy. How would you
describe what you're going for musically and lyrically?

Mr. JAMES: Old doing new.

Mr. JONES: Yeah.

Mr. JAMES: I mean, I hope we're trying to put a cross a positive attitude.
You know, we're still playing the music that we love, you know, and I hope
we're finding that vitality and positivity.

Mr. JONES: I don't think it's vitality. It's Vitalis, I think is what we

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

GROSS: Mick, your voice has such warmth and it's a different sound than I
associate with the more confrontational style of The Clash.

Mr. JONES: Well, it's the same voice, obviously. You know, I mean, I used
to sing more backup vocals and Joe used to do the main singing. And now I
sort of do the main singing and some of the backup vocals on the record. So
that has obviously changed. But as far as being non--we're still--we're not
quite as confrontational in terms of horribleness; but in a nice way, I still
feel we are.

Mr. JAMES: We've got something to say.

GROSS: Well, you first played together in the pre-Clash days in a band called
London SS.

Mr. JAMES: We...

GROSS: What brought you back together?

Mr. JAMES: Well, we've been best friends for 30-something years, you know,
and we never set out to form a band, you know. We just started out with one
song called "MP3" about giving music away on the Internet. This was five
years ago. And you know, we didn't sit down and go, `Let's form a band.' We
just sat down and went, `Let's write a song together.' You know?

Mr. JAMES: We sort of ended up doing it really more than anything.

Mr. JONES: Yeah, and it grew into a band because we wrote a lot of songs
together, and then we thought maybe we'd go and play live, and then maybe we'd
put a record out, you know, so...

Mr. JAMES: It still came out from other things because we'd been talking
about, before we even started playing together again, we'd been talking about
how can you do music if you're our age with any meaning, and we were looking
for some meaning in everything that we were trying to do in order to bring
some value to it.

Mr. JONES: Yeah.

Mr. JAMES: And so we started like, you know, `We could just do this and we
had to get over a lot of horrible truths about ourselves and stuff. But we
managed it and so like that stuff doesn't matter.

GROSS: Well, let's hear another track from the new Carbon/Silicon CD called
"The Last Post," and I thought we'd hear "Caesar's Palace." Before we hear it,
why don't you talk about your approach to writing songs together, specifically
to writing this song together?

Mr. JONES: I just write on the bus and things like that, when I'm sitting
upstairs in my room.

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

Mr. JONES: I'm trying not to get happy slapped.

Mr. JAMES: I even write a lot of stuff while I'm driving. I sit there with
that--dangerous though that is. I sit there with a notepad on my nap--on my
lap like a...

Mr. JONES: That could be dangerous too.

Mr. JAMES: I know.

Mr. JONES: Especially if you're on the phone with the other hand.

Mr. JAMES: Yeah. I've perfected this way of just scribbling on big sheets
of paper on my lap, something about the rhythm of driving at 70 miles an hour.

Mr. JONES: Well, that's the same with the bus. It's like ga-din ga-din
ga-din ga-din...

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

Mr. JONES: ...and that's the way you first get--you get the rhythm. It's
actually in the air.

GROSS: Well, let's hear "Caesar's Palace" from the new Carbon/Silicon CD...

Mr. JONES: We like this one.

GROSS: And this is Mick Jones and Tony James.

(Soundbite of music)

I wish we could see where the dreams all went
I wish we could see where the money got spent
I wish we could see that the greatest crime
was to fool all other people to spend all their time
I wish we could see why we need so much stuff
I wish we could see that enough is enough
I wish we could see that the going's got tough
Cause my living room's crammed and my passion's backed off

Value what is necessary, leave what is not
And tell me what I'm doing in another shop

I wish we could see that we're outta control
I wish we could see that...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's "Caesar's Palace" from the new Carbon/Silicon CD and
Carbon/Silicon features Mick Jones and Tony James.

What does Carbon/Silicon mean to you?

Mr. JAMES: Well, you know, it's two things. I mean, we both have different
views of it, you know. I like the idea that it was the combination of carbon,
meaning soul and silicon meaning computers, and it was like old and modern
together, you know. And in a way it represented our two different
personalities. You know, Mick comes from a sort of organic, regular life type
stuff, and I like computers and the technology stuff. So it was a combination
of those two things, I thought, suited what we were about.

Mr. JONES: For it's like a carbon ashtray, like a charcoal ashtray with a
diamond in the middle of it.

Mr. JAMES: See, that totally illustrates what I'm talking about.

GROSS: When you first started playing together in the '70s in a band called
London SS...

Mr. JONES: Yes.

GROSS: What was that band like?



Mr. JONES: We did MC5 numbers and Flaming Guru's numbers and got a Stones'
number and numbers off Lenny Kaye's Nuggets. It was all just copied...

Mr. JAMES: Garage rock.

Mr. JONES: Copied stuff.

GROSS: It seems like garage rock, hard rock, and a political edge...

Mr. JONES: It was a tribute to the Standells.

Mr. JAMES: Yeah. Kind of very garage rock. Not especially political at
that stage.

Mr. JONES: We always wanted to be in a band and also that was a very bad
name that we had as well, and so obviously...(unintelligible)...

GROSS: Well, yes, let me just say, I mean, SS, you know, implies Nazi

Mr. JONES: I--definitely.

Mr. JAMES: Really, especially we're very ashamed of that. That was like
when we were young and stupid, you know.

Mr. JONES: You know, I have this theory about this band because it never
really worked out, that band.

Mr. JAMES: We never played a date or recorded anything or anything like

Mr. JONES: Somehow I believe a sort of karma stopped that group being a
success because it would have been a very negative thing to be propagating.

Mr. JAMES: And it was a load of old rubbish anyway, so fine.

Mr. JONES: You look back at sort of, you know, your youthful excesses and
you go this, `Was a stupid idea, guys.' But you know, you look back at that
with the experience of being 50-year-olds now.

Mr. JAMES: And that's especially funny cause we're back together again, and
every person who ever asks a question, everybody brings that up.

Mr. JONES: Yes.

Mr. JAMES: So it's our shame that we have to bear.

Mr. JONES: It's our cross.

Mr. JAMES: Every time we bear it, and we bear it and we try, and we feel
shame--how shameful it is; and we try, well, you know, just try and give us a
break on that, really, because we were really young.

Mr. JONES: Yeah.

GROSS: Well, let me just enhance the shame by asking why did you call
yourself that in the first place?

Mr. JONES: Well, you know, when you're 18...

Mr. JAMES: It was like the London SS. We were trying to say, oh, `It's the
Social Security.' And also it was like the New York Dolls.

Mr. JONES: It scanned like New York Dolls.

Mr. JAMES: And we loved the New York Dolls and so we thought we could be
shocking like that.

Mr. JONES: That's right.

Mr. JAMES: It was like pre-punk stupidity.

Mr. JONES: You know, it went New York Dolls, London SS. It was kind of
a--it scanned nicely.

Mr. JAMES: We shouldn't really be talking, making a big deal about it.

Mr. JONES: Yes.

Mr. JAMES: So fed up with it.

Mr. JONES: I know. See now we've talked five minutes about it.

GROSS: Before you got into a more punk side of things, you were both into
glam rock, right?

Mr. JONES: We liked the New York Dolls...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. JONES: ...and the Johnny Thunders and those kind of things.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. JAMES: And The Stooges.

Mr. JONES: And The Stooges.

GROSS: So can you talk about like were there two different styles that early
in your career you inhabited on stage, both in terms of...

Mr. JONES: No not at all really.


Mr. JONES: I mean, I think, you know, we came out of--remember the New York
Dolls was '73.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. JONES: So the glam rock period was was '72-'3...

Mr. JAMES: Yeah, I...

Mr. JONES: So, you know, it was 75 before we were playing.

Mr. JAMES: And by that time the platforms had dropped lower.

Mr. JONES: Yes.

Mr. JAMES: Serious like, because they was so difficult. You could have
time, I used to go dow--I had big platforms on and I would go head first down
the stairs. So I was glad all that stopped.

Mr. JONES: It was an uncomfortable look.

GROSS: So you did the platform thing and the glitter and the eye makeup.

Mr. JONES: Before, before.

Mr. JAMES: Before. Definitely, yes.

GROSS: Before.

Mr. JONES: Seventy-four, 75. It was never popular with our parents.

GROSS: So what...

Mr. JAMES: We went to Beaver's and we bought a load of ocelot-type material,
and then we stitched--we got someone to do us a pair of really tight trousers

Mr. JONES: Yeah.

Mr. JAMES: Do you remember?

Mr. JONES: Yeah. I know.

Mr. JAMES: We wore--we kind of almost had to be stitched into these

Mr. JONES: Well, Beaver's T-shirts only came in size zero so you had to be
really thin to get them on.

GROSS: Now the Sex Pistols were the first like really famous punk band. You
were already playing when they...

Mr. JONES: Well, The Clash were already playing, right?

Mr. JAMES: Well no...

Mr. JONES: The Clash were playing...

Mr. JAMES: Well, the Pistols were like about a few months. They were
already going and there were top levels groups that were going...

Mr. JONES: That's true.

Mr. JAMES: ...but didn't have the direction under the label of Concourse,
something like that. The bands like--The Stranglers were around before.

Mr. JONES: Yeah.

Mr. JAMES: Eddie and the Hot Rods. The Jam was sort of...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. JONES: Death Skull.

Mr. JAMES: ...playing. There were a lot of bands but they hadn't quite made
the proper transition; but the Sex Pistols, when you see them, it was like all
over a completely different thing.

GROSS: And did...

Mr. JAMES: And they were the first of that.

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

GROSS: Did those bands have an influence on you or did you already feel
formed by the time they came along?

Mr. JONES: Who?

Mr. JAMES: Who? The bands we just mentioned?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. JAMES: The pop--well, not as much as the Sex Pistols. You know, I

Mr. JONES: The Pistols definitely changed things.

Mr. JAMES: They changed things and that...

Mr. JONES: Yeah.

Mr. JAMES: ...was like the new thing that came in after the Pistols. All
punk groups that had come before it, they sort of weren't keyed up...

Mr. JONES: Yeah.

Mr. JAMES: ...if you know what I mean, and then the groups that came after
the Pistols. But there was like a few of them... of them...

Mr. JONES: Yeah.

Mr. JAMES: ...that were like kind of good. But we were always saying that
everybody can do it, but you still needed to have a bit of an idea or

Mr. JONES: Because the ironic thing was that that look was so powerful, yet
people were able to change overnight because if you had long hair it was
really easy to just go and cut if all off and rip the arms out of your
T-shirt, and then you were on it. You know what I mean?

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

Mr. JONES: If they'd been the other way around and you had to grow your

Mr. JAMES: It would have taken...

Mr. JONES: would have taken years.

Mr. JAMES: ...a longer process.

Mr. JONES: Right?

Mr. JAMES: It did actually--because England's only a small place, you know,
Britain's a pretty small place, it spread like wildfire around the country.

Mr. JONES: And it had taken a while to understand that to be different.
Suddenly you could have short hair and ripped T-shirts and tight trousers
instead of long hair...

Mr. JAMES: All that stuff...

Mr. JONES: ...and flares.

Mr. JAMES: ...was really important because everybody had flares, right?

Mr. JONES: Yeah, so it...

Mr. JAMES: They looked at you and went like, `Bloody hell,' if you had
straight trousers. It was like...

Mr. JONES: That's right.

Mr. JAMES: ...outrageous.


GROSS: My guests are the founders of the band Carbon/Silicon, Mick Jones and
Tony James. James used to play in the band Generation X. Jones was the lead
guitarist for The Clash and co-wrote many of their songs.

The punk ethic was kind of you didn't need technique. You needed passion and

Mr. JONES: Yes.

GROSS: What did that mean for you both in terms of how you presented
yourselves and what your attitude and style was as performers?

Mr. JONES: Well, I just wanted to play a few tunes and have a few laughs

Mr. JAMES: Yeah. I mean, by this time, you know...

Mr. JONES: ....go and play places and...

Mr. JAMES: ...we'd one our separate ways. Mick was in The Clash. I was in
Generation X with Billy Idol.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. JAMES: You know? These were in a similar scene but slightly different
in terms of the music, I mean, we were a bit more--Generation X was a bit more
like more an early Who, whereas you were more like a sort of a early Kinks,
Rolling Stone, wouldn't you describe it?

Mr. JONES: I don't know. Early paleontogal...

GROSS: I still hear a Kinks' influence in Carbon/Silicon.

Mr. JONES: Well, we still like them.

Mr. JAMES: Love the Kinks. I honestly like, you know...

Mr. JONES: Those staccato riffs almost....

Mr. JAMES: One of the all-time greats.

Mr. JONES: ...became part of your repertoire as well, those classic Clash
tracks that you did.

GROSS: Wait, wait. Should we hear "The Whole Truth" as we're talking about
the Kinks?

Mr. JONES: Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah. OK. Do you want to say something about writing this?

Mr. JAMES: This is Mick's thing.

GROSS: Mick, you want to say something about writing "The Whole Truth"?

Mr. JONES: No, not really, if that's OK.

GROSS: OK. I will just introduce it then.

Mr. JONES: Make up your own mind and listen.

GROSS: This is "The Whole Truth" from the new Carbon/Silicon CD.

(Soundbite of music)

The truth. the whole truth
nothing but the truth

The truth, the whole truth
nothing but the truth
So help me

The truth, the whole truth
nothing but the truth
The truth, the whole truth
nothing but the truth

Through the blacked out windows of the police van
You can see your last flash moments as a free man
What did they expect you to say
When you was hoping it would go away

The truth, the whole truth
nothing but the truth
The truth, the whole truth
nothing but the truth
So help me
The truth, the whole truth
nothing but the truth
The truth, the whole truth
nothing but the truth

Got involved by mischance ended up in grief
Cleared out the house then phoned up your brief
All this stress is making me ill
I've had enough so do what you will
In your dreams, in your fantasy
the judge and jury and the court agree
You should go free, you should go free

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's "The Whole Truth" from the new Carbon/Silicon CD "The Last
Post," and Carbon/Silicon is made up of Mick Jones, who used to be with The
Clash, and Tony James, who was with Generation X.

Mick, can I ask you how you first met Joe Strummer?

Mr. JONES: Well, Joe was playing in this group, the 101.

Mr. JAMES: I mean, we used to go and see them together, didn't we...

Mr. JONES: That's right. So...

Mr. JAMES: ...all the time.

GROSS: And 101 was like the address of the squat...

Mr. JONES: 101 was...

GROSS: ...that he was living in at the time?

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

Mr. JONES: 101 Walterton Road.

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

Mr. JONES: Anyway, so they were quite a happening group really, and he was
really good. And so one day the rest of us, we approached him--like the
manager and the managers went to one of his gigs. We all went to one of his
gigs and we went around back and said, `Do you want to--I want you to meet
these guys.' And that was us. And so we kind of like--we arranged that he
would come around to meet us, and we were all in this squat in Shepherd's Bush
and he came round, and that was when we first properly met him. Although we'd
seen him in the dole office beforehand and also down Portobello Road, as you
do, you know, sort of nodding all right, but nothing more. Then he came
around to where we were. And then that was it. And we said, `Do you want to
join this group with these guys?' And Joe could already see the way things
were going and he went, `Yeah, I'm in.'

GROSS: So I guess, you know, hearing you sing on Carbon/Silicon, I'm
wondering like why didn't you see yourself as the lead singer of the band.

Mr. JONES: Oh, you know why? Because I started on like a stylophone, you
know, this kind of an electronic organ that you hear on David Bowie's "Space
Oddity," and I moved up to drums, and then I moved up to bass. And then I
thought, `I can handle a couple more strings here.' And then I started playing
guitar. And so I always wanted to--I thought it was always cooler just to
play the guitar and just like you didn't have to work so hard and pressure
wasn't on you. And then after Joe went, sort of stepped up and started doing
it; but I always wanted to just do guitar and sing a few backups.

GROSS: You didn't want the pressure of being the front man?

Mr. JONES: Oh, anything--no.

Mr. JAMES: See, now you know.

GROSS: And did, I mean, this will sound like a stupid question since The
Clash is such a great band, but did Joe Strummer always take the band in the
direction you wanted it to go in?

Mr. JONES: Well, a lot of the time we were just intuitively doing what we
did. We never thought about it all the time, you know? We just did things
instinctively, so I know that he was quite scared that I was leading it down
the drain so.

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

GROSS: You mentioned that he was afraid--Strummer was afraid you were leading
the band down the drain...

Mr. JONES: That--well that's like, you know...

GROSS: You were actually forced out of the band and...

Mr. JONES: Yeah, imagine that. That's your own band, you get chucked out
of. Being chucked out a band ain't a big deal. You get hit. It took years
to get over though, traumatically, but it was--it used to happen all the time.
It was called, "Can we take you for a drink?" And that meant we'd go for a
drink and then it means you're getting fired. If you're in a band, it used to
happen all the time, you know. So just we got fed up with each other

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

Mr. JONES: But we had--it was loads of fun. But in the end, you know, I
mean, I think the bigger we got, the more screwed up we became, you know, I
mean, because we couldn't--we were trying really hard and we couldn't handle
it. It was just too much for us. And the bigger we got, the worse we felt.

GROSS: How much of like a crisis, an identity crisis even was it for you...

Mr. JONES: It was very bad for me.

GROSS: ...when you got pushed out of The Crash?

Mr. JONES: It was very bad for me. It was so bad, and it was right around
the time of the Notting Hill Carnival and so I couldn't walk around without
seeing somebody I knew.

Mr. JAMES: And naturally my phone's ringing

(Soundbite of telephone ringing)

Mr. JONES: And then I kind of tried disguises for a while. I died my hair,
put glasses on.

Mr. JAMES: You looked like Manson.

Mr. JONES: Grew a beard. I looked like Manson. I went to Paris. I was--I
was afraid to see anybody. It was a messed up period, yeah.

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

Mr. JONES: And then we soon become friends again. But we just never...

Mr. JAMES: That's right.

Mr. JONES: back together again as a group.

Mr. JAMES: I mean, you were help...

Mr. JONES: But we were close friends after.

Mr. JAMES: You were--you were putting B-A-D together pretty quickly, weren't
you, and you were helping me to put...

Mr. JONES: Almost straight away. But that was like a small...

Mr. JAMES: Helping me to put together Sigue Sigue Sputnik.

Mr. JONES: There was that period where we did Topper...

Mr. JAMES: That's right, Topper Plate for a while.

Mr. JONES: Topper, Leo was in that group, as well, and that was that all
sporty, that group.

Mr. JAMES: We all used to play football together.

Mr. JONES: It didn't last that long. Yeah, it was...

Mr. JAMES: Remember every Tuesday, B-A-D vs. Sigue Sigue Sputnik, football.

Mr. JONES: That's good.

Mr. JAMES: And we were called Rail Westway.

GROSS: Well, I just want to play one really classic Clash record while you're
here, so I thought we'd play "London Calling." And, Mick Jones, you co-wrote
this. Would you talk a little bit about the song, like getting the song

Mr. JONES: Well it was a time of writing, there was this map that they
showed you. If the Thames Barrier ever burst its banks, they showed you what
part of London would be underwater, and it was like completely all around, all
the West End and everywhere where we lived...

Mr. JAMES: Everywhere we lived.

Mr. JONES: ..and everything like that. If it ever broke its banks, we'd all
be flooded. And that was like the original kind of Apocalyptic...

Mr. JAMES: ...message of the soul.

Mr. JONES: Yeah.

GROSS: Mick Jones and Tony James will be back in the second half of the show.
Their band Carbon/Silicon has a new CD called "The Last Post." Here's the
Clash with "London Calling," co-written by Jones, who's also on guitar.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

THE CLASH: (Singing)
London calling to the faraway towns
Now that war is declared and battle come down
London is calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard, all you boys and girls
London is calling, now don't look at us
Phoney beatlemania has bitten the dust
London calling, see we ain't got no swing
Except for the ring of that truncheon thing

The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Meltdown expected, the weakness within
Engines stop running but I have no fear
Because London is drowning, and I live by the river

London calling to the imitation zone
Forget it, brother, you can go it alone
London calling to the zombies of death
Quit holding out and draw another breath
London calling and I don't wanna shout
But while we were talking, I saw you nodding out
London calling, see we ain't got no highs
Except fro that one with the yellowy eyes

The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in

(End of soundbite)


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Mick Jones, who was the
lead guitarist of The Clash and co-wrote many of their songs, and Tony James,
who played bass in Generation X and Sigue Sigue Sputnik. In 2002, James and
Jones co-founded the band Carbon/Silicon. They have a new CD called "The Last
Post." Earlier in the interview, I talked with Mick Jones about The Clash.
Let's hear a couple of the bands Tony James was in before Carbon/Silicon.
Here's James playing bass with Generation X, featuring Billy Idol singing lead
on "Your Generation," recorded in 1977.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BILLY IDOL: (Singing)
Trying to forget your generation
You know all the ways when in what I see
Well, the ends must justify the means
I say your generation don't mean a thing to me
I say your generation don't mean a thing to me
I say your generation don't mean a thing to me

Might take...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Tony James changed his look and sound for the band Sigue Sigue
Sputnik. He had a tower of pink hair with black highlights. He has a really
good story to tell us about that hair. But first, let's hear the band. From
1986, this is "21st Century Boy," featuring James on synth "space" bass

(Soundbite of music)

Oh, oh, stereo, video, sci-fi sex
Let's go go go, let's go

Go, go, go, go

Saturn dreams, laser beams
21st century sex machines

Unidentified Woman: This is the new age of television

Can the Cartier, toss the Tissot
Timex Kid time to go go
I'm a space cowboy
I'm a 21st century whoopee boy

Unidentified Voice: Thank you for your trip to...(unintelligible)
Thank you. Thank you.

Siamese, Lebanese...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Tony James and Mick Jones, who
now play together in the band Carbon/Silicon.

Tony, I have a question for you about...


GROSS: ...Sigue Sigue Sputnik and this is going to be about how you looked in

Mr. JAMES: Yes.

GROSS: You know, you had talked before about how during punk hair got shorter
and you could change your look. You could just like cut your hair...

Mr. JAMES: Yes.

GROSS: ....and make it short. But in Sigue Sigue Sputnik you had these like
really long spikey things...

Mr. JAMES: Yes.

GROSS: ...piled up high on your head.

Mr. JAMES: Yes.

GROSS: Was that your real hair?

Mr. JAMES: Well, that's why that band took five years to get together.

Mr. JONES: It took five years in

Mr. JAMES: Yeah. Five years in makeup. Yeah. You know...

GROSS: Why did you head in that direction?

Mr. JAMES: You know what? The colored hair were extensions. They were tied
into our real hair.


Mr. JAMES: And actually the singer--it was Degville's idea because, you
know, he had a--shared an apartment with Boy George at the time, and they both
had this freaky superextended hair. You know, and it was actually made of
bits of fur like how they used to buy these goats hair rugs, cut it into
little pieces, dye it pink, and tie it into your own hair with pipe cleaners.

Mr. JONES: Hence the word rug.

Mr. JAMES: Hence the word rug, slang for wigs in English. So all those
extensions were tied into my hair, which was long, with pipe cleaners. So it
was possible to take the extensions out, you know, on a weekend, if you were
having a day off...

Mr. JONES: You'll be joining us for hair tips.

Mr. JAMES: Yeah. But generally having two meters of pink hair hanging down
your back was a pain in the ass. As were...

Mr. JONES: And not...

Mr. JAMES: As were walking around in girls' high-heeled shoes. So it was a
bit of a sort of glam rock revisited. But it was a startling look, you know;
and again, set it aside from everything else at the time.

GROSS: How did it feel to go into that look after coming out of punk?

Mr. JAMES: Well, it was, you know, again, it was shocking because suddenly
everybody had short hair and everybody looked normal, so to suddenly look like
this space monster was totally fresh, you know. So it was a startling look
around London. Not so popular with getting girlfriends, I have to tell you,

GROSS: Why do you think that was?

Mr. JAMES: Because we looked ridiculous.

GROSS: So now you're on stage looking just like...

Mr. JAMES: Also, I'd have to say, you end up...

GROSS: ...yourselves. You know. Yeah?

Mr. JAMES: You end up having sex and then you get out of bed and there's
half a pile of pink hair still in the bed. You know what I mean? So it was a

GROSS: You wouldn't take it off for your intimate moments?

Mr. JONES: It was a real hazard look for groupies, I'll tell you.

GROSS: You wouldn't take all that stuff off?

Mr. JAMES: Well, no. Well, that would be really disappointing.

Mr. JONES: It would take too long.

Mr. JAMES: Take too long.

GROSS: They liked it.

Mr. JONES: Put it over the side of the bed...

Mr. JAMES: In moments of...

Mr. JONES: a clump.

Mr. JAMES: In moments of extreme passion...

Mr. JONES: In a glass at the side of your bed.

Mr. JAMES: ...girls would pull your hair and it would come out in their
hands. This was before I was married, I have to tell you.

GROSS: Oh, of course. So now on stage, you look like yourselves?

Mr. JAMES: We do, we look like ourselves.

Mr. JONES: As eventually we found ourselves.

Mr. JAMES: Yes.

GROSS: Is it a more...

Mr. JAMES: Hair's not an issue now for us.

GROSS: Is it--do you feel any more...

Mr. JONES: No good issue.

Mr. JAMES: No longer an issue.

GROSS: Do you feel any more vulnerable or naked just performing as yourselves
without any special clothes...

Mr. JAMES: You know what?

GROSS: ...or persona on stage?

Mr. JAMES: Actually, actually I find it now more comfortable going on stage
than ever because actually I'm getting up and I'm being really me, and it's
just about the guitar playing and the singing and the songs. It's not about
the image suddenly, although I suppose you could say there is an image, an
image of 50-year-old guys being themselves; but this is not pantomime like
Sputnik, and it's not an aggressive look like punk was. It's us being just
ourselves. I mean, do you find it--do you find it comfortable just doing

Mr. JONES: Yeah, I look at every gig we play as an opportunity just to take
command of the stage and do shooting with it, do something good. You know?
Not, totally, `OK, I been--made my...(unintelligible)...with everything.' So
I'm just cool. So I'm just happy with what--just to be here.

GROSS: How about your musicianship? How would you say-- have there been like
new influences that have changed your...

Mr. JAMES: Well, it has definitely for me...

GROSS: ...playing? Mm-hmm.

Mr. JAMES: ...because I never played guitar before.

Mr. JONES: That's right. You just started.

Mr. JAMES: I always played bass in Generation X and with Sigue Sigue
Sputnik. I was the bass player.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. JAMES: Whereas now I'm playing six-string guitar, you know, so for me
over the last five years, I've had to have a massive learning curve to...

GROSS: Why would you want to make that change and learn something new...

Mr. JAMES: Because...

GROSS: ...later in life?

Mr. JAMES: ...funny enough, it was Mick's idea. He went, `You know, why
don't you play guitar and not bass?' But actually, you know what? It's been
such a positive because...

Mr. JONES: That's a good thing, huh?

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

Mr. JONES: Because it makes us sound fresh again.

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

Mr. JONES: Because it's like a new person taking it on, not like...

Mr. JAMES: Yeah. So suddenly...

Mr. JONES: ...someone, you know, jaded.

Mr. JAMES: Yeah. So suddenly for me at 50 learning "Johnny Be Good" is
like, `Whoa! This is so exciting today.' Whereas if I've been playing it for
30 years, you get jaded. And, you know, so a lot of that--I hope that
excitement that I have about playing guitar, that comes out in the record,
because it's a guy playing it just as if I was an 18-year-old playing it for
the first time. And I...

GROSS: There's something very punk about that, you know, the whole,
do-it-yourself thing.

Mr. JAMES: Yeah, well I think all of those things, you know.

Mr. JONES: Ourselves, we haven't forgotten what we learned then. I think we
still apply it...

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

Mr. JONES: most things that we do. You know?

Mr. JAMES: There's so much that we're doing, you know, we do our own
artwork. We're recording the records ourselves, you know? We produce the

Mr. JONES: We like to try--the only thing we like to do is we like to try
and do it before we like to talk about it.

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

Mr. JONES: And so we don't like, seem like--if it doesn't happen, then we
seem like fakes or something.

Mr. JAMES: So it's been fantastic learning all this new stuff. It keeps
you--I don't say keeps you young, but it keeps your attitude fresh and


GROSS: My guests are the founders of the band Carbon/Silicon, Mick Jones and
Tony James. James used to play bass in Generation X. Jones was the lead
guitarist for The Clash and co-wrote many of their songs. Joe Strummer was
The Clash's lead singer, but Jones sang lead on several of their tracks,
including their biggest hit "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" Here it is.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JONES: (Singing)
Darling, you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go
If you say that you are mine
I'll be here till the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go

It's always tease tease tease
You're happy when I'm on my knees
One day it's fine and next it's black
So if you want me off your back
Well come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go

Should I stay or should I go now
Should I stay or should I go now
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
This indecision is bugging me

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Mick, another question from an earlier part of your life. You were
largely raised by your grandmother.

Mr. JONES: That's right.

GROSS: And when you were in The Clash and The Clash was really big, you were
still going home to your grandmother's place for...

Mr. JONES: Very, very often, yeah. I would sometimes get myself a flat for
a few months and then I ended up going back to the...

GROSS: You know, for so many people...

Mr. JONES: ...our council home.

GROSS: For some people it's so peculiar when you go back to like the bedroom
that you grew up in after you're an adult.

Mr. JONES: Oh, I know. I know.

GROSS: And it makes you feel like a child again? So what was it like after
being on the road with The Clash to then go home to the bedroom you grew up in
at your grandmother's place?

Mr. JONES: Well, it was very--it was great actually. It was sort of where I
learned to play guitar, in the same room. Do you know what I'm saying?

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. JONES: I was like spent a year solid in there, playing the old Beatles
records first. And so it was like very good. And then before that I lived
with my grandmother, her sister, and sister-in-law, so it was like I grew up
by three old ladies, so I suppose it does sound quite peculiar. But I don't

Mr. JAMES: Hm. What about when you signed your first record deal and you
paid for your gran to go to America to see you your mother because your
mother's in America.

Mr. JONES: Yeah, that's right.

Mr. JAMES: And we pretended your grandmother's flat was our flat for three

Mr. JONES: Yeah. That's right.

Mr. JAMES: And moved all the furniture out.

Mr. JONES: It was great. We had our rat pack housed and it was fantastic.

Mr. JAMES: We'd go clubbing and bring...

Mr. JONES: We were telling them it was our flat.

Mr. JAMES: We'd go clubbing and bring girls back and say we had this really
cool penthouse flat.

Mr. JONES: We got this flat.

Mr. JAMES: It's really his grandmother's house.

GROSS: How did your grandmother react when she came home?

Mr. JONES: She...

Mr. JAMES: Well, we moved it all back again when she got back.

Mr. JONES: We moved it all back. We knew she was coming back, and we moved
it and she didn't know.

Mr. JAMES: Moved it all back.

GROSS: Now, Tony, when you were young, like in your college days, or right
after that, you were a computer programmer?

Mr. JAMES: Yes.

GROSS: What was computer programming like then?

Mr. JAMES: Oh, it was like...

Mr. JONES: Those big cards...

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

Mr. JONES: ... and they punched them.

Mr. JAMES: I used to work at a place called the National Physical Laboratory
in England and this was this sort of secret government laboratory. It was
where they designed the bouncing ball...(unintelligible)...

Mr. JONES: Well, you shouldn't--obviously, you probably signed the official
secrets. You get into trouble.

Mr. JAMES: When I worked there, I worked in this entire building full of
boffins, and they had this whole room full of equipment and the bloke would be
talking into a microphone going, `Hello, one, two,' trying to get the machine
to respond.

Mr. JONES: He's like a roadie.

Mr. JAMES: Yeah. Early roadie. But, you know, so I had this early kind of
start with computers. But obviously it wasn't until 20 years later you could
buy one and have it in your pocket.

GROSS: So your band Carbon/Silicon has been making music for five years and
you've been putting it...

Mr. JAMES: Yes.

Mr. JONES: Over five years now.

Mr. JAMES: Over five years.

GROSS: Over five years.

Mr. JONES: Yeah.

GROSS: And you've been putting it on the Internet.

Mr. JAMES: Yes.

GROSS: But now you have like a genuine CD.

Mr. JAMES: A conventional record.

Mr. JONES: Well...

GROSS: Conventional CD. So, like, what do you like about a CD that singles
on an Internet won't provide you?

Mr. JAMES: Well, I mean, for me as a fan...

GROSS: Did I say "an Internet"?

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

GROSS: On the Internet.

Mr. JAMES: For me--for me as a fan, look, when we bought records when I was
young at school, you walked through the schoolyard with an Alice Cooper album
under your arm, it sort of said what you were about. It defined the cultural
reference, the things that you liked.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. JAMES: So CDs are not quite as good because they're smaller, but there's
still something about having that tangible product in your hand because it
has--you know, when you're playing the records, you're leafing through the
artwork and reading all the things on the sleeve...

Mr. JONES: I think it can all peacefully co-exist together.

Mr. JAMES: Yeah. So that's great. But you can have--we believe you can
have them both. You can give the record away for free on the Internet, but
you can also give people the choice to walk into a store and buy a CD, which
people seem to want to do.

GROSS: And what do you like about having a CD of a bunch of tracks as opposed
to people listening to you one track at a time?

Mr. JAMES: Well, a lot of people have said that often you see the music as a
hole on a CD and there is something about ordering the track.

Mr. JONES: Especially our album is really, it's like a whole one continuity
of ideas...

Mr. JAMES: Yes.

Mr. JONES: ...that goes on the whole thing. Even the gaps between the
tracks are worked out and everything.

Mr. JAMES: That's right. I mean, that's the biggest problem that artists
have at the moment, it's the fact that if you buy the record on iTunes, you
could buy just two or three tracks...

Mr. JONES: It...

Mr. JAMES: ...and put them in a different order.

Mr. JONES: Yeah, and I don't like the taking out of context.

Mr. JAMES: You don't get...

Mr. JONES: That's why I don't even like that shuffle thing so much because I
like to hear the whole album...

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

Mr. JONES: its context.

Mr. JAMES: Yeah. So that's the best...

Mr. JONES: It gives you the best sense of it. I hate this fractured world
we live in.

Mr. JAMES: That's the biggest problem, you know. It would be like going to
see a painting and only getting a little corner of it for the moment...

Mr. JONES: Just a piece of it.

Mr. JAMES: You know what I mean? And then buying, you knowing, buying the
Mona Lisa and only buying the eyeball because that was the bit you liked. You
know what I mean? It's not going to be ultimately be the complete experience
that you had in mind. You know?

GROSS: But some of the tracks on the CD were already on the Internet, right?

Mr. JAMES: What? Loads of our tracks are on the Internet.

Mr. JONES: Loads.

Mr. JAMES: And if you look on the Internet, you can pick up...

Mr. JONES: You can get everything.

Mr. JAMES: Everything.

Mr. JONES: Everything.

GROSS: So you let people do it either way.

Mr. JAMES: We're happy for people...

Mr. JONES: It's fine.

Mr. JAMES: We're happy for people do that.

Mr. JONES: That's fine. It's good for the culture. Let's move things

Mr. JAMES: Yeah. Good for the culture. You know?

GROSS: it must be really fulfilling for you both, having been together in a
band in the '70s...

Mr. JAMES: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...when you were first getting started and to be together again. I
mean, one of the great things about an old friends, among other things, is
that you can corroborate each other's memories...

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

GROSS: ...because it's so hard to tell sometimes what really happened and
what didn't...

Mr. JONES: That's right.

Mr. JAMES: Yes. But you know what, this time around, you know, three weeks
ago we're sitting in New York playing a gig, a sold-out gig to loads of people
who were all loving our new songs. How lucky are we to get to do it, this
time, again around with my best friend? What a great--how lucky is that?

Mr. JONES: Yeah. It's so great. Or just to even survive, to be alive, is

Mr. JAMES: That's right. How...

Mr. JONES: Without even anything.

GROSS: Well, you two survived...(unintelligible). Didn't--may I say...

Mr. JAMES: How blessed are we?

GROSS: ...didn't you come pretty close to death?

Mr. JONES: I did in 1988, yes. That was true. Yes. I did. I nearly died.

GROSS: From?

Mr. JAMES: Pneumonia.

Mr. JONES: I had pneumonia, chicken pox pneumonia. Actually. It was very
serious if you're older. I got it off my daughter. But luckily I survived,
and that's sincere, by the way.

Mr. JAMES: Yeah.

Mr. JONES: Seriously. And it's like it was a big change in my life and now
I'm going for another one.

Mr. JAMES: Maybe that teaches you as well that nothing really matters, it's
just being alive...

Mr. JONES: This one second now, right now, this one.

GROSS: How did you emerge differently after that experience?

Mr. JONES: Well, I crawled in and I was determined to walk out, proudly. So
that was quite an achievement. And I don't know. I realized--I was like on a
life support machine. We call it a ventilator for...


Mr. JONES: ...about 21 days. And...

GROSS: That always looks like it would just hurt so much.

Mr. JONES: Well, it was very hard to breathe, yes. But also my view, when I
started to--I was actually unconscious for about two weeks. They made me
unconscious because I had chicken pox and so I would get--I would have
scratched all the spots and stuff if I had been--so they kind of immobilized
me for--also I was not being able to breathe. And so and then when I started
to come around, they bring you around really slowly so--and my view was very
limited to this pipe. All I could see was this tube of pipe. It said "Made
in Sweden," and that was all I could see.

Mr. JAMES: I mean, being older, we've all experience almost life changing
experience, whether that's death of parents or people that we know, you know.
And maybe, you know, it sounds corny, but it really makes you appreciate the
moment that we've been given.

GROSS: Well, it's really been great to talk with you both. I love the new
CD. Thank you so much.

Mr. JONES: Thank you very much.

Mr. JAMES: Thank you. I hope people get some positivity from it.

GROSS: Mick Jones and Tony James co-founded the band Carbon/Silicon. The
band's new CD is called "The Last Post." Here's another track from it, "Tell
It Like It Is."

(Soundbite of music)

Tell it like it is
We've got to stop going so fast and figure out what's going on

Tell it how it is
I know there's lots wrong, but we gotta try to be together

Tell it like it is
We're like a ship barely afloat, and we can't go on
Tell it how it is
I want to be around for the good things, I want to come along

Tell it like it is
We're in a race against time that we should have never run
Tell it how it is...

(End of soundbite)


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Milo Miles on "Look Directly Into the Sun"

British drummer and producer Martin Atkins got his start in the late '70s
playing with John Lydon's post Sex Pistols group Public Image Limited. Atkins
went on to work with industrial rockers like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry, as
well as his own group Pigface. During a trip to China in 2006, he was
surprised to find many underground bands that reminded him of New York and
London in the late '70s and early '80s. He went on to compile an anthology of
Chinese pop music called "Look Directly Into the Sun." Critic Milo Miles has a

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing)
I always want you to
I always want you to
I always want you to
I always want you to
Close your cold eyes
Close your cold eyes
Close your cold eyes
Close your...

(End of soundbite)

Mr. MILO MILES: Until now, China seemed far from a hotbed of underground
rock. Way back when punk first broke, there was a captivating but very
derivative outfit called The Dragons. Starting in the mid-'80s, there was
Queeg John, who released some potent Springsteenian protest numbers, but he's
been much lower profile of late and one man does not a movement make.

So hearing that Martin Atkins was putting together a sampler of underground
players he heard in China, you would expect a novelty with maybe a couple of
bright, snarly moments. Instead, "Look Directly Into the Sun: China Pop
2007" is one of those increasingly rare rock surprises: a collection with
enough wit, sass, and smart noise to belong with the post-punk classics from
25 years ago. Here's the group Carsick Cars running wild with some
traditional Chinese string instruments. No wonder they just had a gig opening
for Sonic Youth.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MILES: The anthology of performers show they grasp punk anarchy with
names like Voodoo KungFu and Queen Sea Big Shark. Some bands on "Look
Directly Into the Sun" have obvious inspirations: Iggy Pop, Ramones, Clash,
New Order. But every time these are completely assimilated, heard, and
internalized in fresh ways. Here the band The Scoff put the shock back into
the shock of recognition with "Nasty."

(Soundbite of "Nasty" by The Scoff)

Mr. MILES: A companion CD to "Look Directly Into the Sun" is called "Made in
China: Martin Atkins' China-Dubbed Sound Systems." The prominence of Atkins'
name is the giveaway. While it involves a number of the players from the
anthology, it's mostly an Atkins mash-up collage that suggests a weak exotica
release from his band Pigface. Besides, it's artsy, unlike all the China
bands. On "Look Directly Into the Sun," anybody can feel the crude eager
appeal of Rococo's "We Just Free."

(Soundbite of Rococo's "We Just Free")

Mr. MILES: In an era in the West when the risk and rebellion once synonymous
with rock are either empty or ironic gestures, "Look Directly Into the Sun"
belongs with the punk samplers of yore because this underground has something
at stake. There may be a Beijing Pop Festival nowadays, but Big Brother is
still in the audience, always listening. And every performer on "Look
Directly Into the Sun" knows that.

GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Boston. He reviewed "Look Directly Into the Sun"
on the Invisible China imprint.

You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site,

I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue