Born May 5, 1959; married; wife's name, Lorraine; one child, a daughter, born in the early 1990s. Addresses: Record company-London Records, 825 8th Ave., New York, NY 10019.
Ian McCulloch has had a difficult time separating himself from the band he fronted for most of the Eighties, Echo and the Bunnymen. The Liverpool post-punkers achieved phenomenal success as a pop band in England in the 1980s and simultaneously as a proto-alternative band on North American shores; their music was often compared to U2. McCulloch, however, emerged as the classic new wave sex symbol, adored for his big messy haircut and pouty lips as much as his bewitching voice. His talent for penning arty, pensive lyrics also brought renown but McCulloch became known for his excess of words in his dealings with the press; he often launched diatribes against other bands-most notably U2. In 1997, McCulloch reunited with his band after several years as a solo artist for the first Echo and the Bunnymen studio album in almost a decade and he used the occasion to revisit the topic of U2: "I said that they appealed to the lowest-common-denominator emotions and were flag-waving born-agains, and now they're the born-again Village People," he told Billboard writer Craig Rosen.
McCulloch was born in 1959 and grew up around the Liverpool area. He knew fellow alternative musician Julian Cope as a teen and at one point was in a band called the Crucial Three with him; later McCulloch would say that Cope-whom many in the music industry despise-took songs of his and put them on later solo albums. McCulloch went on to form a band with a local guitarist, Will Sergeant, and a bass player named Les Pattinson; they took their name from the "Echo" label on their drum machine, but later replaced it with actual drummer Pete DeFreita. By 1980, they had a contract with Sire and had released Crocodiles, which brought them extraordinary acclaim. A string of other commercially successful and critically lauded releases followed, such as 1983's Porcupine and Songs to Learn and Sing from 1985. As with other British acts such as the Smiths, U2, and the Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen were well received on American shores and acquired a loyal fan base during the 1980s-though few American radio stations during this era had playlists that accommodated such "alternative" acts.
From these early days, McCulloch emerged as the photogenic, talkative, sometimes inebriated lead singer whom some compared to the late Doors singer Jim Morrison. McCulloch would later admit to using his looks to his advantage, after only becoming narcissistic and conceited as self-defense against his own insecurity in the first place. He sometimes endured criticism from his bandmates, who, as he recalled in an interview with Melody Maker's Simon Reynolds, would say "'Oh, look at the state of you.' I'd sit back and think, 'If it wasn't for my haircut and my lips, we wouldn't have the houses that we've got.'"
Ian v. Liam
Still, though Echo and the Bunnymen never achieved the mainstream, international success that U2 or Simple Minds did during the Eighties, McCulloch and his bandmates would later be termed, by New York Times writer Ann Powers, as "leaders in the early-80s romanticization of punk that became New Wave." She also noted that "Echo and the Bunnymen's appeal always rested in its ability to mix a certain loutish charm with an artier aura," and found their Nineties heirs in Oasis; McCulloch professed in another interview to admire that band's lead singer, the similarly loutish, handsome, opinionated, and unabashed substance abuser Liam Gallagher.
Yet as the Eighties neared to a close, McCulloch grew dispirited with the lack of creative progression in Echo and the Bunnymen. Songs such as "Bring on the Dancing Horses," from 1985, and "Lips Like Sugar, a single released two years later, achieved Top 40 success but were not considered representative of the band's talents. In 1989, McCulloch went into the studio alone to record a solo effort, Candleland. Released that same year, its making was interrupted by two tragedies: the death of McCulloch's father and the fatal motorcycle accident that killed Echo and the Bunnymen drummer Pete DeFreita. Not surprisingly, Candleland had some somber moments. Melody Maker reviewer Ted Mico found praise for McCulloch's lyrics, but faulted the songs and delivery he tagged with words such as "lugubrious" and "insufferable." Guest musicians McCulloch invited to help out on Candleland included the drummer for Cure and Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. "The good news for McCulloch fans is that a sizeable chunk of his solo album sounds like a fair facsimile of the Bunnymen," opined Mico-but added, "the bad news for McCulloch fans is that a sizeable chunk of his solo album sounds like a fair facsimile of the Bunnymen."
The following year, Sergeant, Pattinson, and a new drummer released an album under the Echo and the Bunnymen name, an act that was met with rancor by the outspoken McCulloch. He recalled in a 1995 interview with Rosen of Billboard that the betrayal hurt. "I felt let down. It was the worst idea possible." Not surprisingly, the McCulloch-less Reverberation! was largely ignored, and McCulloch himself fared better with his second solo effort, 1992's Mysterio. Melody Maker writers the Stud Brothers termed it "a far cry from the morbid excesses of his first solo venture." One track, "Lover Lover Lover," did well on the charts and on newly-emergent alternative radio in North America, but it was actually a cover of a Leonard Cohen song. The legendary Canadian songwriter, along with Lou Reed and David Bowie, are usually cited by McCulloch as the most profound influences on his own efforts.
Next, McCulloch collaborated with former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, but the tapes from their studio hours were supposedly stolen; there were rumors that the pair simply argued so badly that little came of it. Yet McCulloch told Rosen in the 1995 Billboard interview that the experience "showed me again that writing with someone is more enjoyable." It led McCulloch back to Sergeant and a reconciliation-the two had not spoken to one another in four years-and they created a new band they called Electrafixion. It debuted in 1995 with the Zephyr EP and then the full- length Burned. "Far funkier than anything the Bunnymen had attempted," opined Addicted to Noise writer Johnny Walker, "this fine effort features a new, more lyrically down-to-earth Mac and a more prominent, and a more wildly inventive than ever Sergeant." Billboard's Rosen asserted that "the album rocks harder than most of the Bunnymen's recordings."
Bunnymen Returned to Studio
McCulloch came full circle in 1997 with a regrouping of the surviving Bunnymen. He and Sergeant invited Pattinson back into the fold and borrowed drummer Michael Lee from the Jimmy Page and Robert Plant tour. The first new Echo and the Bunnymen album in nine years, Evergreen was released that same year. Their new corporate home, London Records, allowed them full reign in the studio to produce it themselves. The label switch was the result of perhaps a too-long relationship with Sire -part of the Warner/Elektra family-as McCulloch explained to Rosen in Billboard, "when you're with someone like that for that long, they kind of lose the sense of what they are supposed to do with you." Evergreen was well received. Rosen declared it "evokes the lush atmospherics of late-period Bunnymen," and in a review of a live performance in support of the record later that year, New York Times writer Powers found the stage show lacking, but McCulloch's voice the best part--"a still compelling, hearty working man's tenor."
McCulloch's ill-fated collaboration with Johnny Marr did result in one unusual release-one song, "How Does It Feel (To Be on Top of the World)," was selected as England's theme song for the World Cup '98 soccer games. McCulloch recorded it under the name "England United" along with the Spice Girls. He apparently has little desire to retire. "Music gives me a reason to handle everyday life," McCulloch said in the 1992 interview with the Stud Brothers in Melody Maker. "It gives me a position, and it lets me feel like I did when I was 13, when I felt apart from all my mates who were into Queen. So I can't seem myself stopping, really ... not ever."
by Carol Brennan
Ian McCulloch's Career
Member of the Crucial Three with Julian Cope in the late 1970s; became lead singer for Echo and the Bunnymen, released debut album Crocodiles on Sire, 1980; released first solo LP, Candleland on Reprise, 1989; reunited with former Echo and the Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant to form Electrafixion, 1995; reunited with Sergeant and a third Echo bandmate to re-form the Bunnymen, 1997.
- Selected Discography
- Candleland , Reprise, 1989.
- Mysterio , Sire, 1992.
- with Sergeant as Electrafixion
- Zephyr (EP), Spacejunk/WEA, 1995.
- Burned , Sire/EEG, 1995.
- with Echo & the Bunnymen
- Crocodiles , Sire, 1980.
- Heaven Up Here , Sire, 1981.
- Porcupine , Sire, 1983.
- Echo and the Bunnymen (EP), Sire, 1983.
- Ocean Rain , Sire, 1984.
- Songs to Learn and Sing , Sire, 1985.
- Echo & the Bunnymen , Sire, 1987.
- Evergreen , London Records, 1997.
- (With England United; co-written with Johnny Marr) "How Does It Feel (To Be on Top of the World"), London Records, 1998.
- Weisbard, Eric with Craig Marks, eds., Spin Alternative Record Guide, Vintage Books, 1995.
- Billboard, April 4, 1992, p. 46; August 12, 1995, p. 9; June 14, 1997, pp. 11, 14.
- Guitar Player, July 1995, p. 23.
- Melody Maker, July 30, 1983, p. 24; September 29, 1984, pp. 24-26; September 23, 1989, p. 33; September 30, 1989, pp. 32-34; January 25, 1992, pp. 30-31.
- New York Times, October 29, 1997, p. E5.
- An Addicted to Noise feature interview with McCulloch; Mac the Mouth is Back, http://atn.addict.com/issues/2.01/Features/Electrafixion/, (June 1, 1998).
- A June 1996 interview with McCulloch published in the Vancouver-based magazine Dropd at http://www.dropd.com/issue/12/Electrafixion/index.html, (June 1, 1998).
- The official Echo and the Bunnymen site at http://www.bunnymen.com, (June 1, 1998).