Interview By John B. Moore
The term legend gets tossed around with so much casual abandon it seems to have lost all meaning.
That being said, there are few figures in the punk rock world who live up to that moniker like Glen Matlock. As original bassist for Sex Pistols, he wrote the punk rock musical touchstones “God Save the Queen” and “Pretty Vacant.” After leaving the band, he went on to cofound Rich Kids alongside Midge Ure and eventually play bass for everyone from Iggy Pop to The Damned.
Since the mid ‘90s, Matlock has switched to guitar and fronted his own group, Glen Matlock & The Philistines. Now totally solo, his latest, Good To Go, released in 2018 via Peppermint Records, features one-time Bowie guitarist Earl Slick and Stray Cats drummer Slim Jim Phantom on a dozen brilliant tracks that blend everything from rockabilly to rowdy rock that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Faces or Mott The Hoople setlist.
Matlock is back in the U.S. in June for just three solo shows: June 11 at Joe’s Pub in New York, June 13 at Hotel Café in Los Angeles, and June 15 at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach, California.
While prepping for a tour of Sweden, he shares a bit about the new album, his upcoming New York and California shows, and the promise of more.
You’re about to perform a few shows in the U.S., right?
Yeah, I’m doing a show in New York, I’ve got one in Los Angeles, and one in Long Beach. I’m going to do them, and if all goes well, I’ll be back.
How long has it been since you last played your solo songs in the U.S.?
It’s been a few years now. I think the last time I was there doing solo stuff it was with [former New York Dolls guitarist] Sylvain [Sylvain] up the East Coast, Canada, and Chicago, but just over a year ago, I did the L.A.M.F. tour, [a 40th anniversary tribute to Johnny Thunders And The Heartbreakers’ lone studio album, L.A.M.F., from 1977], which was good actually. But now, I’m concentrating on this record that I’ve not long had out.
Good To Go has a strong rockabilly feel to it. Is that because of Slim Jim Phantom drumming on the record?
Yeah, I think it is. Tomorrow morning, I’m off to Sweden, and I’ve got five acoustic shows—I do a lot of them. I’ve been doing that for about 10 years or more. I thought, “Well, I’m going to make an album with a band, and I don’t want it to be too overbearing.” When you think of Bob Dylan, while I can appreciate his songwriting, when you see him live, I don’t know why he bothers—you can’t understand the words, he doesn’t look like he wants to be there, but the band he had was fantastic. I’ve been mates with Slim Jim for ages and thought maybe I can get him involved, and I needed a guitar player, and he suggested Earl Slick. I knew Earl, but I didn’t know Slim Jim knew him. We went to Upstate New York and recorded most of it there, and then, I came back to London and added a few things.
But, yes, it’s got a bit of a rockabilly thing, and that’s probably because of Slim Jim. I don’t even play bass on the album. I like playing acoustic [guitar], because you get it across easier. I’ve always been a fan of The Spiders From Mars album where Bowie played his acoustic guitar. It allowed more of the guitar to come through.
You’ve been playing guitar for years, but you’re probably best known as a bass player. Was it difficult for you to make that switch to fronting the band, playing guitar instead of bass?
Even the infancy of the Pistols songs that I wrote was always on guitar. I like playing bass, and it’s doable, but something has to give when you’re singing and playing bass at the same time. I’m 62, and I’ve written loads of songs over the years, and I just want to be able to sing them.
When you play these shows in New York and California, will Earl and Slim Jim be playing with you, or do you have a different band for these shows?
Well, those shows will be solo. It will be like An Evening With Glen. I’ll come out and play for two hours and tell stories. Bruce Springsteen did that thing on Broadway. This will be Glen Matlock doing that.
You had mentioned, depending on how those show go, you might come back in the fall and play more dates in the U.S.?
Yeah, those will be with a full band. I’ve got a British show going, but then I’ll hopefully be back.
Last year, you played at [the DMZ Peace Train Music Festival] near the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea. What was that experience like? Not a lot of people have experienced that.
It was interesting. It wasn’t all doom and gloom like I thought it would be. It was a lot like Tokyo, just filled with a lot of people looking toward the future. I met with some of the local bands and went up to the demilitarized zone. We were there to try to show solidarity and raise awareness. Nobody is allowed to live there, and you have to leave when the sun goes down, because there are still unexploded mines nearby. It’s also a natural habitat for a rare species of birds. It’s all a bit mixed up really, but it was an experience. I recently got back from Palestine as well. It was a similar kind of thing, but that’s another story.
One question about the Sex Pistols: When the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced they were going to induct the band, John Lydon famously sent in a pretty harsh letter declining the honor. Were you in agreement on that stance?
No, I wasn’t, actually. I would have fancied going. There’s this big debate about the corporate rock world, but so what, once in a while? I wasn’t desperate to go, but I would have liked to. But I think John was annoyed, because he’s got loads of chums he’s always going everywhere with, and I think they wanted to charge him, like, a grand for a table, so I think that’s what it was about more than anything else.
When you look at a lot of the uncertainty in both the U.S. and in England, with all of Donald Trump’s policies and Brexit, do you see parallels between now and when Sex Pistols started making music?
Yeah, I do. Margaret Thatcher came along well after we did, but we had the IRA bombings and the general strikes, and that’s where a song like “God Save the Queen” comes from. It seemed like there was no future unless you did something about it yourself.
As someone who writes songs now, is it difficult to not let all of that political uncertainty take over everything you write?
Yeah, but even when you look at the Sex Pistols, I don’t think any of us were ever really that political. I think the problem with writing too-political songs is that you end up just preaching to the converted. So, there you go. I like Smokey Robinson, myself. There’s no better lyric than “[The] Tears of a Clown.”
You published your book, “I Was a Teenage Sex Pistol,” in 1990. A lot has happened with you since then. Have you thought about writing another book that takes off from that point and covers what you’ve been through since?
I have, actually. It’s just finding the time to do it. There’s always one more song to write or gig to go to.