Paul Simonon says he and his Clash bandmates are proud of their new "Sound System" box set for one simple reason.
"The band have actively been involved in this creation," the bassist tells Billboard. "It hasn't been put together by a record company or somebody that was paid to design it. It was put together by the band itself. That doesn't happen often."
Simonon says he and guitarist Mick Jones divided up responsibilities for "Sound System," an 11-CD, one DVD collection that came out this week alongside the two-CD compilation "The Clash Hits Back" and "The Clash -- 5 Album Studio Set" box. Jones handled the musical end of the project, diving into the group`s vaults to remaster the group's five studio albums and select wealth of rarities, B-sides, non-album singles and demos. Simonon, meanwhile, designed the boom-box shaped "Sound System" package, which also contains an "owner's manual" booklet, reprints of the Armagideon Times fanzine as well as a new issue edited by Simonon and an assortment of stickers, buttons, dog tags and other memorabilia.
"The whole time the Clash was in existence we used to carry these (boom box) cassette machines around all the time," Simonon recalls, "playing our music wherever we were -- backstage, in airports, anywhere -- and not necessarily Clash music but music we loved. It could be reggae, rockabilly, Woody Guthrie, any real music, good music. As each member of the band had one of these, I thought that was the common link for all of us and why I thought the boom box would be a good idea for a template to put everything inside. They were amazing things; it was the first time, really, people were able to carry music about and play it to other people. These days everybody's got headphones and they're not sharing music in the same way -- mind you, some people might be pleased by that."
Simonon adds that he and Jones tend to be "very cautious about just packaging everything and sending it out there again." But noting that "there's always new generations coming forward that are interested," he says the band had an interest in "giving them more of an overall picture of really what happened then. You hope to go on a journey where you're trying to get past the limitations so you have to keep exploring and going forward. Musically it was always like that for the Clash; we didn't like to stay in one style or pithole. We were always trying to explore and go further. I'm still quite like that and I know Mick's like that, so we wanted the content of ('Sound System') to reflect that, which is a big job."
Simonon says he and Jones kept each other abreast of their ends of the project, while drummer Topper Headon came in later. "We figured he would have a more objective viewpoint on all of it because he wasn't involved in the construction of everything," Simonon says. "He seemed pretty happy with it. And there's no replacement for Joe (Strummer, the Clash's late frontman). There's nobody really who can speak on his behalf, but I think he'd be very proud of it."
And, not surprisingly, Simonon and Jones have no plans for any sort of Clash live performances to celebrate the archival releases.
"No, not at all. It wouldn't be the same without Joe," says Simonon, who along with Jones played with Gorillaz on the troupe's Escape to Plastic Beach Tour in 2010. "Each member of the band played an important part and made a unique contribution to what the Clash means to us and possibly means to other people. If you take one of those components out, any one, it's not going to be the same, so what's the point. I know other bands have different ways of approaching it that suit them, but this is our band and this is how we approach it."