When singer Jon King decided to leave Gang of Four in 2012, there was a fleeting thought that there might not be a next for the British group. But the resolve of guitarist Andy Gill, its sole remaining founding member, made sure there was a “What Happens Next.”
“I felt pretty committed to doing more stuff, doing a new album,” Gill tells Billboard. “It was almost like doing your first album again because it was a completely new situation and I didn’t really have a plan about how I was going to go about doing it. I didn’t know who was going to take over in the kind of vocal role or anything like that.”
Gill actually did have some long-held wishes as Gang of Four began making What Happens Next, which comes out Feb. 24. “I’d been interested in the idea of some collaborations for a long time,” he says, and those surfaced in the form of Alison Mosshart (the Kills, the Dead Weather) singing on the first single, “What Happens Next,” with additional contributions from Gail Ann Dorsey, Robbie Furze from the Big Pink, Japanese star Hotei and German icon Herbert Gronemeyer. “From my point of view there weren’t going to be any rules about how things sound,” Gill explains. “I was going to be completely open to wherever the muse takes me. That’s the way I approached the new record. I just got on with it, and I can only make something I think is creatively good. And I like that situation.”
Gill started out recording the guide vocals for his demos but eventually brought in John “Gaoler” Sterry, who was “almost like a session singer for me,” to do the job — and inadvertently found a new singer for Gang of Four. “He came in for a day and a half and I paid him and I thought, ‘This guy’s really good,’ ” Gill recalls. “Auditions are a pain in the ass, you know, and I thought he was really good and a nice guy and I got on with him. I said, ‘Should we do a semi-secret little gig in London and see how it goes?’ So that’s what he did and then he started doing the lead vocals on maybe half the record.”
The track “Stranded,” meanwhile, finds Gill and Sterry alternating lead lines. “That’s a real Gang of Four thing,” Gill notes. “For me a lot of the songs were like little mini-dramas, little theatrical things where there’s a couple of characters and maybe a narrator, that kind of thing. So in (‘Stranded’), because there were these two people talking to each other about someone else, I’m kind of like the narrator person and John is kind of like one of those people who are sneering at someone else he doesn’t think has any fashion sense. It’s kind of a back-and-forth thing between us, which I really liked.”
Gang of Four returns to the road shortly after What Happens Next‘s release, kicking off a 16-date North American tour on March 3 in Washington, D.C. Gill expects to play “four, five tracks from the new album — particularly “stranded,” “Obey the Ghost,” “Where the Nightingale Sings” — as well as “some of the classics and things from the older Gang of Four ouvre. I think the vibe will be energetic and powerful and strong and atmospheric. The group plans to return to North America later in the year while concentrating on Europe during the spring and summer.
“It’s busy times, that’s for sure,” Gill says. “Sometimes it’s kinda hard to catch your breath, there’s so much to do. But that’s alright; it’s better than not having anything to do.”