Melody Maker | Sidelines | 6 August 1988 | Photo: Mark Baker
"I dunno really. We just looked at a pot of jam on the table and thought, 'Let's call it Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine'. No, actually, we opened a phone book and picked the first name we saw. It was in the London L to R section. That's not true either. It's a secret and I'm not telling. These are dangerous times. It's all to do with sponsorship and contraceptives. Yeah, that's it."
Jim Bob is rambling. He's the vocal and acoustic half of Carter USM. His partner, Johnny "Guitar" Fruitbat, is grinning. Sort of. They say I've caught them on a bad day. But that's okay. They write all their songs on bad days.
Carter's debut single, "A Sheltered Life", is released in a couple of weeks. The guitars are thrashed, the lyrics spat and screamed, and the additional sounds – a bruising rhythm and snippets of dialogue – are provided by a tape machine.
The duo say the poles of reference for "A Sheltered Life" are the Pet Shop Boys and World Domination Enterprises. The song is about never giving head, taking drugs or stealing for a meal, about not playing chicken on a railway line or having a tattoo or a scar that won't heal. On the B-side is "Granny Farming In The UK", a harrowing story of the spoon-feeding of old people with cruel medicine.
"Yeah, the granny business. All these dodgy people are setting up private care homes and making money, while God only know what's happening to the residents."
Subjects like war, drugs, urban deprivation, inner city violence, abuse, tower blocks and other places that are no place like home recur throughout Carter's songs.
"But we don't live in squalor," they insist. "Not now. That's why we wrote 'A Sheltered Life'. A lot of our songs are observations, things picked up from TV and newspapers. Writing from personal experience isn't always possible, especially when you're dealing with suicide or being burnt to death. But we're optimistic too. In 'Every Time A Church Bell Rings', which is about suicide, the guy doesn't go through with it."
The pair also appear to possess a savage sense of humour. They'd spent the night before our meeting placing stickers saying things like "Sexy Blonde Carter" and "Carter The Unstoppable Spanking Machine" in telephone boxes throughout central London, alongside those of prostitutes advertising their services. The phone numbers beneath Carter's enticing phrases are for record companies. The band hope one or two executives may find themselves dialling their own offices.
"We can be humourous but we're not like The Housemartins, seriously depressing songs sung in a jolly, happy, cheery chappy way. What Carter are can be told in either two minutes or three days. We're nothing and everything. We're not trying to convert anyone to any philosophy. The whole point is we haven't got a clue what we're doing. We're manic depressives with another A thrown in – maniacal – and strong circles around however many A's that makes it."