Extract taken from an article and interview in issue 53 of The Big Takeover by Jack Rabid.
THE ORIGINAL PUNK KING ROCKER WHO UNWITTINGLY HELPED IGNITE EMO...
Derwood Andrews of Generation X and Empire.
When the band you led only played a grand total of four gigs in 1981, and your LP sold less than ice cream in Antarctica, it’s hard to imagine that your music could have influence on anyone in the future- let alone unwittingly help ignite an entire indie rock ‘ n’ roll movement 10-20 years later that you didn’t even know about!
And when you’d quit a previous, actually ‘successful’ (four Top 50 U.K. hits!) band as a kid after only three years, 1976-1979- because you couldn’t stand the two older leaders of the band and wanted to do your own thing- it must be nearly as surprising to find worldwide interest in that band continuing a quarter century later.
And to make it all the more odd; that earlier, far more popular band soon broke up without you in 1981, but both leaders achieved widespread fame playing simply awful music afterwards; and you find you still revile them when the group reforms briefly for a one- off reunion show sixteen years ago!
Who could this mystery man be? None other than Derwood Andrews, super hot guitarist of late ‘70s punk rock sensations Generation X (a group he joined as a teenager), and later founder of early 1980s post- punk greats Empire. Indeed, many recall the former group quite fondly ( with help from numerous reissues, best- of’s, a box set, and their inclusion on prominent punk rock anthologies, with "featuring Billy Idol" stickers added).
Empire evolved quickly after Andrews quit Generation X in 1979 and Laff (the drummer) was fired six months later in 1980. Their LP Expensive Sound released only on British import, on tiny Dinosaur Discs in 1981, all but sank without a trace upon release; the band fired their record company/ manager almost immediately, and dissolved after, yes, only four forays onto the stages- in other words, not the sort of band or LP that is ever remembered again.
And doubtlessly, this would have been the undeserved end of this underrated group, except that a generation of punk rock fans in the U.S. remained interested in the works of original ex-punks. Empire’s LP may have barely been imported, but with not one but two ex-Gen X members playing on it, it was easily slotted into Gen X’s bins (with a sticker to boot). So if this writer and others of similar bent bought it, and found it so unique, it’s because we were also grooving to other great post-punk records made by original ex-punks that were also slipping under the radar, from Rut’s D.C’s torrid ‘Animal Now’, to Steve Diggle of Buzzcocks’ original Flag of Convenience singles, to the ex- Rezillos’ EP’s as Shake, to Pauline Murray of Penetration’s wonderful ‘Pauline Murray & the Invisible Girls’. That Andrews and Laff, rather than rehashing Generation X’s punk and glam, struck out into fresh territory that paired Killing Joke’s giant guitar sounds with a little (just a little) of the bass-driven undercurrents of new bands such as The Cure and Joy Division (if not as well recorded, perhaps) made them doubly interesting.
Most interestingly, a few members of Minor Threat, Faith, and a few other D.C. hardcore thrash bands recording for Minor Threat’s Dischord Records at the same time were just the sort of punk record hounds that frequented these same bins and discovered these records so criminally ignored. And these kids were just the sort of people who would soon make the same jump from straight and simple (if onrushing) punk to something a little more subtle and more intricate, while trying to retain much of the music’s original power.
So when the Dischord bands, now in their early 20s, began to evolve into new groups such as Embrace, Rites of Spring, Dag Nasty, Marginal Man, Gray Matter, the later Government Issue, and later Fugazi, these classic mid-‘80s postpunk groups took inspiration from a lot of previous British post-punk that otherwise went unknown to indie rock fans. Thus, in the years since, it’s become more apparent how important Empire were to the classic Dischord scene. In particular, a close listening to well respected post- Minor Threat/ Faith amalgamation Embrace’s particularly influential self-titled LP from 1987 reveals a batch of riffs and sounds that sound an awful lot like Andrews from six years prior. When asked about it, Andrews of coarse had no idea of any of this; that is, until D.C. (naturally) label Poorly Packaged Products tracked him down in his adopted home of the Mojave Desert in California and got him to agree to their reissue on CD-for which a pleased and amused Andrews scrounged up outtakes and live recordings for bonus tracks.
Lastly, just for the smoking leads he pulled off on ‘Generation X’ (‘Youth Youth Youth’ in particular, but really throughout), let alone the oddly affecting tunes he wrote and sung for ‘Expensive Sound’, it was further an honor to get a chance to talk to him for a while.
JR: Take us through your musical activities since Empire’s demise, including what records each group might have released and what they’re like. I’m sorry to say I’ve never heard any of them, but I’m curious, as I’m sure others are.
DERWOOD: OK, since Empire morphed into New Empire and stopped around ’83 with no releases apart from a white label 12’’; I spent most of my time sneaking into a studio, which my mate had the keys to, and doing a lot of recording and experimenting; which by ’85 started to become my band Westworld. America wouldn’t of heard of us, but in Europe we had a few Top 40 hits and a brilliant few years touring around playing perfect pop to the masses. Westworld changed personnel in the early ‘90s and moved to Arizona, where we were to base our American campaign. Then the record company dropped us, so we stayed on in the desert and morphed into a thing called Moondogg. So between ’94 up to the present day, Moondogg puts out music every now and then, albums, film soundtracks, and other stuff. Around ’98 I got involved in a kind of country punk band called Speedtwinn, which I left in ’02 as I wanted to concentrate on making music rather than playing gigs. As you notice, it doesn’t seem like much in 20 years or so, but you’ve got to realize that every new thing you get involved with takes at least five years of your time to see it through. I don’t think people realize that. For every band that you hear of, there’s a million that you never will, but it’s real time consuming. It was good talking with you. I would like to say that music is very underrated on what an influence it is to our everyday lives. Without it, life would be cold and meaningless. It marks time, it changes your mood, it makes good times better and bad times bearable. It’s a fucking great thing to be able to create something from thin air that can change people’s lives. And to have made a tiny dent in that world has been a total pleasure!