For what it's worth, I reckon there should be a royal decree stating that all interviews with JJ Burnel (bassist, lead songwriter and frontman of the Stranglers) must begin with : How on earth are you so goddamn awesome?
"Ha. In truth, I think it's because I don't care a fuck."
And that's why. The king of intelligent art punk has toured the globe, made some of the finest records ever to grace a turntable (Golden Brown, Peaches, No More Heroes) and, impressively, remained as much a badass now as he was in his 70s heyday. For instance: what are you up to today? "Oh, just flew in from Japan, taught karate. Later on I'm fixing my motorbike, then we're off on tour."
More? He was born in the same hospital Jimi Hendrix died in. More? At a gig in his youth he had the pubescent, pre-Clash Joe Strummer "crying on my shoulder, saying he wished he was in a band like mine." Not long before that particular episode the Stranglers had been the first UK band to support The Ramones and Patti Smith, "which was kind of cool to be fair."
From their debut album (1977's Rattus Norvegicus) to the imminent release of Giants, the Stranglers have managed to nail a colourful fusion of gritty garage guitar licks to crowd pleasing beats and inflammatory rabble-rousing lyrics. Listen deeper though and it's all about Burnel's bass playing. Like a rocket-propelled runaway freight train it drags you by the earlobes on a joyride through hell. I ask him why he thinks so few bassists bother striking for the limelight. "Dunno, because it's hard probably, to play it in that sort of way. In my case, if I'm honest, it's most likely an ego thing. I just love playing bass."
He certainly gets plenty of practice. "We've played hundreds of gigs, almost all of which we loved. A lot of the important gigs, too - Glastonbury, T in the Park, Isle of Wight. Those were an amazing feeling." How have you managed to stay close as a band while adjusting to, uh, getting on a bit? "There are no rules with the Stranglers. We make the music we want to make and, on a personal level as well, evolve with the changing circumstances."
On new album Giants, he says, "the band have come full circle, in terms of method. I have the initial idea for a song, then we all put it together in the studio and share all the writing credit. I've seen loads of bands, great mates, split up 'cos one's taken the credit, and all for money."
Cool, right? So finally, why the name 'Stranglers'?
"Back when we started, we didn't really have a name. We'd play these poxy little pub gigs in London, doing punk, and the landlord would always pull the plug on our gear. Soon as he was back behind the bar though we'd just plug in again and keep going. The crowd loved it, but there was normally a ruckus of some kind with the staff. One such night I'd been to see "The Boston Strangler" at the movies, so just blurted out after the gig 'looks like the stranglers have done it again lads'. It seemed to stick. I always say if it works, don't muck with it."
Get your hands on the new record - he's right, y'know.
The Stranglers are playing Sheffield 02 Academy on March 23. Get tickets here.
Words by Andy Hill