Pete Wilkinson is part of Psyc-Rock band Aviator. Having recently released the bands latest album ‘Omni’ Mark Millar catches up with Pete to talk about the record and his time in legendary bands Shack, Cast and Echo & The Bunnymen.
Hi, Pete what inspired you to pick up a bass guitar?
My inspiration was my brother. It was a case of him saying to me “I’m playing the guitar you cant play guitar you are going to have to play bass.” And because I was the youngest I kind of thought “Well alright then ill play bass.” So I was slightly bullied into it. (laughs) We are talking around 1978-79, and I was just blown away by Jean-Jacques Burnel of the Stranglers, and I thought “Well I’ve lucked out here you can carry on playing the guitar I’m going to play bass like him.” So he was my inspiration when I was a kid. I thought I wanted to look like him and I wanted to be him. And that bass sound particularly on stuff like Nice N Sleazy and Peaches he was like nobody else. It sounded like a motorbike starting up – it was just incredible. So my early influences were my brother and Jean-Jacques Burnel – definitely without a doubt.
In 1990 you joined Shack with whom he worked on the brilliant Waterpistol album what was it like being part of that album?
I hadn’t been in a band before so Shack was my first band. I went back to college because I didn’t know what else to do. I wanted to study Jazz, but I couldn’t read music. I had already learned to play bass and did a first-year diploma course where everybody on their third and fourth years was asking me to play bass on their final pieces, so I was kind of up to scratch anyway with the playing and I thought to myself “I cant learn anymore here.” Luckily enough I was introduced to Mick Head by a friend who was on the same course as me, and he asked me if I wanted to play bass with Shack – I had no idea who Shack was. I knew who the Pale Fountains were because Echo and the Bunnymen very much influenced me as well as other Liverpool bands. To say I didn’t take any notice of the Pale Fountains is wrong because I did notice them, but I was more of a Bunnymen fan until I met Mick Head. And within a couple of weeks, I was recording Waterpistol with them from joining the band.
I went from not having a life to this craziness of Shack – so I completely changed within about two weeks. (Laughs) Mick Head was probably the most significant influence in my life because of his attitude towards playing music. He would play a song and say “What do you think of this have you got any ideas?” and we would jam. It was very inclusive he might have a few ideas of what the bass should be but he would never tell me what to play he would say “What do you want to play on my songs?” and it was brilliant it felt so unique working in that way. Within a couple of months, we were starting to write songs like Time Machine and Als Vacation. Mick would write the songs and then we would write our pieces to the songs. I was there for songs like Stranger and I Know You Well which was a jam with a bassline and a drum part and Mick wrote the chords and the lyrics over the top of it. So to be a nineteen-year-old and asked to be in Shack for my first band. It couldn’t get any better.
Waterpistol is a brilliant album one of my favourites.
What an album yeah – I think I got two hundred quid for that album. (laughs)
The album, however, would not be released until 1995, due to problems with the loss of the master tapes and the original record label folding. Did you worry about that at the time?
I had the same attitude very much as Mick and John. We thought it was a real shame that it didn’t get released and I felt left out because The Stone Roses had their album out and The La’s had their debut album. In my mind I thought we should have been up there with them and yet there was an element of being unlucky. We made our destiny that band was great but dysfunctional at times. We could have easily shopped that album around for someone else, but that’s not Mick. He records an album and wants to move on he is continuously writing. The guys got forty or fifty songs on the go at once, and he’ll rake up songs he wrote when he was eighteen and go “What do you think of this?” its an unusual process and it was an unusual process being in that band.
And you have still continued to work with Mick Head over the years.
I do yeah and I was there at the very beginning of the Red Elastic band, but I haven’t worked with him for the last two years not for any reason other than probably location because I’m down in London and he’s still up in Liverpool. I think it made it easier for him to have somebody local to play bass on the album. I played on the Artorious Revisited and Velvets in the Dark EP’s. If you were to ask Mick about Shack, he would say “Shack’s still going we just haven’t done anything.”
In 1992, you co-founded Cast with former La’s bassist John Power. Can you remember your first meeting with John?
Yeah, I do I remember it well, and it’s funny because there is a thread running through it all. Shack did a gig at the legendary Picket around 1990 or 1991. John Power came along to that gig, and in true John fashion he said: “I didn’t like it much, but the bass player was cool.” (Laughs) He somehow sent a message to a friend to pass onto me say he was starting a band and wanted me to meet up with him for a coffee and a chat. I was a massive La’s fan. I thought Lee Mavers and John Power were the coolest people in Liverpool at that time. John looked very much like a young Bob Dylan, and Lee just had the charisma. The La’s were very special they were unbelievably unique times – you just felt something magical was happening, and it was, but John left and asked if id start Cast with him. He already had songs like Fine time, Sandstorm and Two of a Kind written when he was in The La’s – The La’s even did a version of Alright. John had quite a lot of the Cast debut album written when we formed the band but boy yeah that was exciting to start a band it was an extraordinary time.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since All Change was released. The record had a string of top ten hits immediately; there isn’t a guitar band that could do that nowadays with their debut album.
I think the climate has completely changed for guitar bands they seem a bit insignificant now. I think the current music scene is terrible, but then I would say that because we are twenty years on and I sound like an old man. When Fine Time went into the top twenty chart, I can’t begin to explain how exciting that was with it being our first single. We did Top of the Pops which was another dream come true. There were four top twenty songs on that album. I remember Walk Away went down the charts and then it went back up again.
Cast went on to release Mother Nature Calls and Magic Hour which were well received, but it went downhill for Cast when Beetroot was met by a poor critical and commercial reaction and contributed to the band’s split two weeks after its release.
I think we were on burnout at that point. I believe there are some brilliant songs on Beetroot, but it was dressed up wrong. The guy who produced it for me really fucked those songs and the album up, but I don’t think Cast had a choice other than to try and reinvent ourselves. I don’t think it worked – there’s nobody to blame for that it just didn’t work. We went from selling 60,000 copies of Magic Hour to Beetroot selling something like 2000 copies. The difference was vast, and I think the scene for bands like us unless you were Blur or Pulp had indeed disappeared. Our fan base had grown up and had moved on and was listening to different things. All of the band thought it seemed time to let it go. In some ways, it was sad because we had a real work hard ethic for eight years.
When Cast band split did you wonder what you would do next?
A week after Cast split I was offered the job with Echo and the Bunnymen which was also another dream come true because I loved the Bunnymen in my teens I had all their records and thought they were just fucking magnificent so getting to play with them was terrific. I joined the Bunnymen, but then Ian McCulloch wanted to do his solo album, so I played on that then I played on the Bunnymen album Siberia. To this day the Bunnymen still tour endlessly I went and toured America with Ian McCulloch, and I can’t remember how many times I went with the Bunnymen – we did a world tour it was brilliant. I really miss that band and would love to play with them again. That period of my life in the nineties and the noughties was very special for me.
You released a solo album in October 2002 Huxley Pig Part 1 under the guise of Aviator. How did it feel putting your songs out with you singing for the first time?
The genesis of Aviator began when I befriended Paul Hemmings, the guitarist from The La’s and the Lightning Seeds. He had his Viper label. One day I was chatting to him in the Penny Lane wine bar, and he said;“Why don’t you come round for a chat, I would like to hear some of your songs.” And I said, “Well I don’t play them for people they are just for me.” And he said, “Come on let’s hear them.” So I went around and played him few tunes, and he said; “Do you want to do an album and put it out on Viper?” and I thought “Yeah sure why not?” It was terrifying because I hadn’t sung and that’s why on those first two albums the vocals are drenched in bass echo and delay because I didn’t have any confidence in my voice. I was a bass played so to take on a new role was unknown territory. It has taken a long time for me to feel comfortable and still to this day I don’t. (Laughs)
Cast re-formed in November 2010 and released their fifth album Troubled Times in November 2011. And then you left the band in March 2015. Can you talk about why you went?
It was a mutual parting I was not in good shape I was drinking a bit too much, and the darkness of my moods was getting in the way of the others enjoying the band. On the eve of the tour I did one show, and the group said “Do you think you should go home?” and I agreed. I wasn’t enjoying it anymore, and I didn’t have the balls to tell the band so they could get someone else in. Cast is dear to me, and the friendships are dear to me, so it was a very confusing time and when you add alcohol and whatever to that its a toxic ball of confusion and nonsense so that’s the reason I left Cast.
Could you see yourself playing with Cast again in the future?
I think they are settled with Jay Lewis he slotted in really well. John Power has got a relationship with Jay that goes back to The La’s, so they are very tight. The answer is I don’t know I don’t think there is any space for me now. Does that make me sad? Yes and no. Of course I would like to play with them because they are my friends. I’m not sitting at home thinking “oh man I wish they would let me play.” Things have moved on they have moved on friendships are different but its Jays job now.
Aviator works with its loose collective of floating members who record and gig with you which has also included some members of Cast.
With Aviator I still get to play with the members of Cast apart from John he’s not going to join Aviator, is he? (Laughs) The idea of Aviator is the one constant is me and people can come along and play. Mike Moore has played who is now with Liam Gallagher and we have had Patrick Walden who played with Babyshambles on some tracks. There’s Mark Neary he played in the Hours and produced the last couple of albums, so Mark is a regular member of Aviator. Paul Hemming from the La’s played on the first two albums and John Head has performed on a couple of tracks on the second Aviator album. I released No Friend of Mind and the latest album Omni, but I want to do something different next time. Mark Neary who is in the band produced them and mixed them, so they seem his albums very much as well. Maybe I want to take full control for the next album (Laughs)
You mentioned your latest album Omni Did you go into the recording with any preconceived ideas how it sounds and what you wanted to write about?
Yeah, I wanted to make it more live and more up sounding. My favourite drummer is Pete De Freitas I thought him and Les Patterson and the Bunnymen always created brilliant bass lines and drum parts particularly with a song like The Gift I was trying to create the Bunnymen basically but don’t think it worked because Liam Tyson (Skin) is playing on it and there were other influences such as Brian Jonestown Massacre although I don’t think it sounds anything like them. It’s funny when you are listening to something and think you are doing a version of them but it doesn’t sound anything like them because it becomes Aviator. I wanted it to sound more robust but I’m not entirely sure it is because Mark played a massive part in it. Somehow it feels more his album than mine.
What was the songwriting process between you and Mark?
It was similar to Mick and Shack. I would write the song and take it to Mark, and we’d put it down as a guide track in the studio, and then he would work on it. A lot of it is his ideas and his album – definitely his sound which is probably what I would want to change. Not that I don’t like it but I think the last two albums sound similar so I think its time for a change next time. It was a difficult album to make it took over two years, and I don’t think I want to do that again.
Do you have an idea of what musical direction you want to go down next?
I want to get back to playing and recording in Liverpool with the musicians there and people I love and try and make a Liverpool sounding album – whatever that is. A more live and rehearsed album I want to get into the studio and bash it out.
Do you have a record that you always return to?
I can list a few. Heres the obvious one Forever Changes by Love which I haven’t listened to for about six months. When they give you your birth certificate in Liverpool, they should also hand out a copy of Forever Changes. (Laughs) This might seem bonkers, but I love Faith by the Cure I got it for my birthday when I was about twelve or thirteen. I love that record its really dark and moody and the sound of it is like no other record I’ve heard. I always think that the XX first album is like Faith – I often listen to that. Another is Ocean Rain by Echo and the Bunnymen I guess that’s easily their best album I never get bored of that album. I think the sound of it is terrific and they took it up a gear with the songs on Ocean Rain.
What have you been listening to recently that you could recommend?
Courtney Barnett’s album it is brilliant I love it I can’t stop playing that. I bought the Spiritualized single the other day. I love Spiritualized he has made a career of doing the same song for the last twenty years with the same lyrical content, but I’m still a big fan. I like the Brian Jonestown Massacre I always listen to them. Anton Newcombe has so many albums out he’s always an endless source of inspiration.
You have been involved in some great records over the years what is the one album you feel you did your best work on?
The one I will always listen to will probably be Waterpistol by Shack. Songs like Stranger and Hey Mama were all done in one take. I remember sleeping in the studio when we were recording Stranger, and Mick woke me up and said; “Do you wanna record the bass line now?” he gave me a line of Coke, and I did it in one take. I listen back to that album with real fondness and love.
Click the link below for a free download of ‘The Electrician’ from Aviators latest album ‘Omni’.