A Quietus Interview – Bleak Psychedelia: Michael Gira Of Swans’ Favourite Albums (November 13th, 2012)

Michael Gira and Swans have cast long shadows over 2012, via two critically hailed albums (one live, the other the monumental The Seer) and an extensive series of tours and gigs. Whether appearing solo or with the full backing of his near-legendary band, Gira projects an incomparable aura onstage, an intensity so potent it transfixes the imagination.

As we discovered while quizzing the man on his thirteen favourite albums (or the thirteen he thought of when contacted – he’s keen to stress this isn’t a definitive top thirteen) on the eve of Swans’ performance at OFF Festival in Poland, that intensity doesn’t just apply to his shows or records, but to interviews as well. It’s rare that talking about music is this scary…

You can go here to listen to a Spotify playlist from the 13.

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Miles Davis – On The Corner

I didn’t discover that until ten years ago but I love the grooves on it and it’s interesting in that there’s no melodies. It’s sounds like electronic music, except it has the fortunate aspect of being played by humans. It’s influenced obviously by James Brown, one of my favourite artists. James Brown is like the Bach of modern music, a fantastic composer, so complicated and yet so much below the hips as well. I love On the Corner because it’s kind of abstract but also so compulsive. I guess it’s uncharacteristic for Miles, and it caused a lot of controversy at the time. I’m not so fond of, say, Bitches Brew, with the electric guitar, but I also love Sketches of Spain, with the great arranger, Gil Evans, who also did Out Of The Cool. I like really arranged and cinematic jazz. That’s enough on that one!

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Kraftwerk – The Man-Machine

Well, this is one of any I could have chosen. I’m not fond of when they started using computers, like on Computer World. I found it interesting to learn in a recent biopic that those drum sounds were actually played with chopsticks. In the punk days – when did this come out, like ’78? – I listened to it obsessively, not for any reason, I just thought the songs were beautiful and that it was a new way of making music. But that was just secondary to how beautiful the songs were.

Did any of those sounds filter into how you made music?

I would say that it influenced the early way of making music with Swans. It’s changed, obviously, considerably over the years, but in the early days it was very diverse and ranged from The Stooges to Throbbing Gristle to Brian Eno, and Kraftwerk. Just people using sound as a way of making music. Obviously, I was a bit more visceral, but that was inspirational to me. It was very liberating, the idea of abandoning structures and making something immediate.

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David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

That’s just a brilliant work of art.

He’s one of the only living people to have a blue plaque up in London, where the cover photo was taken.

He deserves it. He had ten really good years. The rest has been really dismal, unfortunately, in my opinion. But that album is a masterpiece in terms of arrangements and songwriting, everything. It manages to sort of rock, but at that same time it has this sort of cabaret song aspect to it, and from a producer’s point of view, which I suppose you could call me, it’s impeccable: no sound gets in the way of another sound, it’s always changing with every four to eight bars. It’s to me as good as, if not better than, Sgt Pepper’s. One of the best rock albums ever made.

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Throbbing Gristle – 20 Jazz Funk Greats

It’s a sort of pop album, some of it, although ‘Discipline’ is hardly a pop song! That was something I looked up to at the time, and it was inspirational, I guess. I wasn’t really thinking of it that way, I was just a fan and enjoyed it. Their single, ‘United’, was very beautiful, and I’ve always admired Gen [Genesis P-Orridge] from the early days of COUM Transmissions.

I was a fortunate art student, in that I knew about COUM Transmissions. I followed him the whole way, and I was so fortunate to meet him about ten years ago. He remains a hero to me, in the way he lives his life as an act of imagination. He seems to have immense courage and dedication to living life as a magical act. I don’t care about it being groundbreaking electronic music or anything, that doesn’t matter to me at all. I just find the atmosphere, the will and the intent behind it to be really beautiful.

Were you drawn to the confrontational aspect of their music?

I don’t think it was confrontational, I think it was insistent upon making something happen at the moment, and if people liked it, they did, and if not, fuck them. It’s a simple notion that Swans has always had. People have always assumed it was confrontational, but it wasn’t really that. It was extreme, but not an attack on anyone.

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The Stooges – The Stooges

That’s another one I listen to constantly. I heard that when it came out. I didn’t know anything about them. I was in a bar in Germany, where I was living, very young to be in a bar – I was 14 – and the bartender was a kind of hippie guy who knew music and he’d play that. I didn’t hear it again until the punk days, and it always resonated with me because of the song ‘We Will Fall’. It’s fantastic, what can I say? Iggy’s a brilliant lyricist in his own way and the production on that album by John Cale is stellar. It doesn’t get any better than that and, again, I don’t care about them being the forefathers of anything, I just enjoy the music.

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The Doors –  Strange Days

Another one that shaped my DNA with the aid of illicit substances! Just a beautiful voice, beautiful production and it has ‘When the Music’s Over’ on it, which is a masterpiece. A great performance – I don’t know how many overdubs it has on it, probably none! There’s a very early use of synthesiser on there at one point. In retrospect, I think Jim Morrison’s pretty corny, but it works with the music, and to be blessed with a voice like that is an act of God.

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The Mothers of Invention – Freak Out!

That I listen to, again, contemporaneously. When I was 12 or 13, and with the aid of various substances, it implanted itself in my mind and I obsessed over that record. I had an instinct: I didn’t gravitate towards the light pop music of the day, I liked the really unwholesome aspect of the Mothers. They were much more an affront than punk ever was to modern consumer society, they were just outrageous. America was very conservative at the time. It was very outrageous, but the music was there too. ‘Help I’m A Rock’ is a fantastic piece – it’s as freaky as Can, for sure, with a fantastic groove and tape sounds coming in and out. A brilliant piece of music, and I guess that whole double album was an influence on the Beatles making Sgt Pepper’s, which would have rankled Zappa! So he did We’re All In It For The Money, another great album. I like Zappa for the first three albums and then I don’t care one bit about him.

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Nick Drake – Pink Moon

I didn’t know about that until Jarboe introduced me to Nick Drake in the 80s. I was blown away, I listened to him constantly, for a long time. For better or for worse, I’d be hearing him and revisiting early Dylan convinced me that it was time for me to start trying to write songs on acoustic guitar. It took a long, long time to figure out how to do it. Unfortunately many early attempts ended up on record [laughs].

Drake was inspirational to me in thinking about the simplicity and about creating something that has genuine power and truth in it, with very simple means, as opposed to Swans, which relied on volume. There’s nothing wrong with that – we still do it! – but at that time I wanted to venture into doing things in a very simple way. As far as Nick Drake goes, he was an absolutely amazing guitarist and singer, totally genuine and lacking in irony or solipsism. Truly beautiful and honest. That’s what I look for – I don’t like cynicism.

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Henryk Górecki – Symphonie No.2

I just found about that recently. As opposed to the “pop hit”, Symphonie No.3, which is very beautiful as well. Symphonie No.2 is an apocalypse, with a series of percussive stabs in real odd time signatures that really, in a way, sound like Swans, in retrospect because I didn’t hear this in the early days. It sounds like the end of the world, but at the same time it’s very compelling and uplifting, with a very beautiful lament at the end of the symphony. Like Penderecki and Ligeti, it just speaks to me in a very natural way.

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Bob Dylan – Blood On The Tracks

That’s an album that I come back to every five years I guess, and listen to obsessively, and then don’t listen to for a long time. I haven’t listened to it for quite some time right now but it’s been important to me throughout my life. I can’t pontificate on its value, culturally, but to me it’s just had a lot of resonance in personal situations I’ve been in.

I recall listening to that album when I was peripatetic at one time, driving around in my van across America, sleeping in state parks -this was in the mid-to-late 90s – just driving around. I’d escaped where I was and just spent several months by myself, cooking food on my propane burner at night, drinking a six pack, going to bed and then driving again in the morning. I remember driving through Montana in a pretty torrential rain, listening to this album and just crying, weeping. It was one of those moments where an album just kind of conjoins exactly to the circumstances of your life. Does it give you hope? I don’t know, but it’s just such a beautiful record. It’s so extreme and heartfelt, so I guess it gives you hope in that way.

Of course, it has really quiet, beautiful moments like ‘Buckets of Rain’ and ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’. ‘Idiot Wind’ is the infamous one because it has this really wonderful line “We’re idiots babe/It’s a wonder we even know how to breathe”. It’s a break-up song. I don’t think you can get any better than that, I think it’s one of Dylan’s best. It’s not really groundbreaking in any way, because it’s a work of art, except for that stupid-ass song ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’. It’s like this goofy moment that ruins the whole album! [laughs]. I try to edit out the fact that it’s his “most personal record”, because I don’t really care about his personal. It has to some meaning to other people too. Maybe because it’s so personal is why it’s so universal. I don’t know.

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Arvo Pärt – Tabula Rasa

Again, I discovered that with Jarboe in the 80s. We were in a record store and just liked the cover. I just gravitated towards it naturally. There’s a piece on there called ‘Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten’ with these shifting time signatures, and it keeps cascading over itself and never seems to rise. It’s very deep and emotional, I suppose, it goes to the back of your head. Arvo Pärt’s music is really important, I think. It’s a little tedious sometimes when it’s only the vocal pieces but, some of the big symphonic efforts go to the deepest place possible. I guess he’s very spiritual, but all of us hopefully are.

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Howlin’ Wolf – The Chess Box

Well, that’s my hero!

When I saw you solo at Cafe Oto, I was thinking of him.

Well sure, he’s a true inspiration for me. Let’s just say he’s my demon, the guy that lives with me always. He’s a sort of litmus test: does what I’m doing hold up to the Wolf? People talk about the blues being dark, and he has that aspect, but it’s really visceral and fun at the same time. It’s just great music. His voice is operatic, as far as I’m concerned: he goes from this deep, low growl to a falsetto, which I just found out was inspired by Jimmy Rodgers, the yodeling cowboy. Any black man in those days had to find a schtick, you had to stand out from other people, and that was one of his ways. He worked it as much as possible, as well as getting down on his knees and shaking his ass in the air with a tail hanging out.

He was very crude, but also like an angel and he, to me, having grown in the rural South, is like a titan. He didn’t have his first pair of shoes until he was 13, he pushed a mule around like a deadbeat, learned to sing by banging a can or stones – it’s inspiring. I guess it’s the same as prison work songs. He could never play guitar that well, ‘cos his hands were like catcher’s mitts in baseball, huge, but he was a showman and by dint of will and raw talent. He managed, along with Muddy Waters and a few other, to change the face of modern music and culture. That’s magic if there ever was.

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Pink Floyd – Ummagumma

That’s very meaningful to me. The live part, particularly, because of the ever-ascending song structures. Things just keep building and building, to the heart of the sun, really. It’s psychedelic rock at its best. They were always looking for transcendence, and this was them at their height. I like that era better, in some ways, than the one with Syd Barrett. I lost interest in Pink Floyd pretty much after Meddle. I had the good fortune to be a runaway kid in Europe and I went to this rock festival in Belgium and saw them playing then.  And it was transcendent. It’s stuck with me throughout the years, and it’s another piece of music I hold up as a litmus test. It’s an experience, something really profound. Pink Floyd was the best psychedelic rock band ever.

I’ve heard Pink Floyd described as “bleak psychedelia”, and that’s something that comes to mind with Swans, particularly The Seer

Well, at times, we have the same dynamics. I don’t want to be pretentious, but we’re going for an epiphany. The electric guitars and sounds are amplified to something extreme and played repetitiously and just slowly grow. I liken it to stacking up strings in a symphony. Electric guitars have the possibility for total self-immolation and simultaneous actualisation.

A Quietus Interview – Intricate Shadows: An Interview With Raime (November 5th, 2012)

Raime are a London-based electronic duo who have painstakingly built up a reputation for distilling uniquely bleak and oppressive post-dub music that seems to perfectly reflect the gritty atmospheres of urban life, as well as the despondent and cynical political climate of our times. Live, their repetitive, mesmerising beats are allied to gloomy, haunted synth lines and unexpected textures, often to a backdrop of uneasy, abstract vocals. It’s dark music, sure, but you can dance to it (albeit very slowly), making Raime the most interesting and successful fusion of industrial ethos and club culture since Burial first appeared on the dubstep scene.

After three EPs/12″s on the Blackest Ever Black label, this month sees the release of their first full-length album, Quarter Turns Over A Living Line, which has already received emphatic reviews. It’s a slower-burning and more spacious listen than their earlier EPs, and finds them incorporating a greater amount of live instrumentation into their working process than ever before.

In the wake of Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead’s appearance at Ether on London’s Southbank, and before they jetted off to Krakow for Unsound, the Quietus caught up with them at Andrews’ flat to discuss the album, performing live and how they create their singular music.

I was surprised you didn’t actually perform at the Blackest Ever Black showcase [at Corsica Studios, 13th of October]. How come? Did you stay to the end, though?

Joe Andrews: No. We had a show at the Southbank, and had a really long day. I think I kept on until 4am. [to Tom] How about you?

Tom Halstead: About 5, I think. I lasted until just before Source Direct [laughs].

I don’t actually remember Source Direct! It seems like quite a tight-knit circle of bands around Blackest Ever Black…

JA: It’s interesting because it’s become a tight-knit circle, mainly because of Blackest, obviously – there’s a focal point which is Blackest, but actually, since our beginnings, we’ve never had a way for people to contact us. The Facebook that’s up is not ours, someone did it for us. So every contact there’s ever been, apart from live stuff, has always been through Kiran [Sande, head of BEB]. To begin with, it was just us, and Kiran putting out our record, and in the communications, others would be cc’ed, like Karl [O’Connor, aka Regis]. Blackest has just become the hub, and over time we just met all these amazing artists, man.

TH: And doing live shows…

JA: It’s amazing to think that two years ago no-one could have expected this.

I’ve seen you perform three or four times, so was disappointed not to see you on Saturday. Do you enjoy performing live?

JA: Yeah, it’s bloody great, but there are times when you don’t enjoy it so much. It’s the other level, I think, but hopefully the records work on both levels.

Do you find it hard to adapt your music to a live setting?

TH: Recently we’ve recorded a lot more live instrumentation, and that’s really helped in terms of how it works when we play if live. Our early stuff was a lot more sample-based and now we’ve moved towards live instrumentation.

JA: Live, it’s always been a sort of mix of live editing and live structuring, loops, etc. You’re not making a drum pattern live, you’re playing a loop. We love it, and for the last show we did we had friends make a video especially for us to use. They got in touch with quite a famous modern dancer, who’s got a quite extraordinary body, and went to a disused warehouse in Portugal to film for three days and night. They created this fucking bonkers visual element, and now it really feels like the two are working together. We’re really aesthetically led anyway, and now it feels like a real show, rather than just a couple of dudes behind laptops.

How did you come to start making music together and to found Raime?

TH: We’ve known each other for a long time, since we were teens, and had been making music independently. It wasn’t until four or five years ago that we realised we had kind of shared visions and that actually we wanted to get closer to a voice and to express ourselves through music. And it was five years ago that we started to join the dots from UK industrial stuff and contemporary things…

JA: We’d shared records with each other ever since we first met, and I think that exchange always gives you a level of trust, man. You obviously have your own things that you’re into, and sometimes you part, for a year or whatever but we always come back to one another. There’s always been a sort of mutual respect for one another, musically, so you join a few dots, as he said, and you start to get a great deal of inspiration. Also, there’s a level of desire about what you want to hear and see happen in music. We’re obsessive record collectors, and so there’s a huge amount of time when you’re a fan, where people are creating and you’re consuming. And a lot of that time you’re waiting for someone to make the next thing, and I think there came a point when were like, “Fuck man, I’m not quite hearing what I want to hear”, or “That’s incredible – maybe that vibe or acoustic idea has been lost. Why don’t we feel confident enough to join some dots?” Which is such a terrific feeling.

Your album was preceded by, I think, three 12″s and several mixes and mix tapes. How do you feel you’ve evolved from the first release up until now?

JA: I think we’ve evolved quite a lot, but stylistically I don’t necessarily think we have. We’ve just refined it… Obviously, the first EP was kind of a stab at doing something and then as you go through you’re trying to hone it, and I think that’s what we’ve done.

TH: You’re trying to get your idea across more clearly.

JA: Yes, just communicate better! You have got something to communicate, so you’re literally trying to say it as succinctly as possible. With us, we’ve got quite a few reference points that are dear to us, but at the same time we have this intention not to just ape something. It’s almost like a Rubik’s cube attitude where we piece it all together. In terms of understanding what you want out of something, we have had times where that Rubik’s cube has lasted for months and months! [laughs] The record was more fluid because, hopefully, we were a bit more in control.

That ties into my next question – do you see Quarter Turns Over A Living Line as a culmination of all those previous records, and that you’ve been building up to this point?

TH: I think it gave us a bit more freedom to open up a bit more. The previous record, Hennail, was a lot more percussion-driven, a lot more clenched. We felt with this, there’s less percussion, more space and more tracks to get different sentiments across. When you’re putting out two tracks, you’re trying to say a lot in those two pieces of work.

JA: We tried to squeeze everything in there! You feel like you’ve got something to say, and you haven’t said it all. With an album, we could plot it, and it was such a great freedom. We thought it’d be the opposite, actually, we always thought we’d do 12″s; I don’t know why it took us so long to work it out [laughs]. We realised we could develop a coherent piece of work. It was never meant to be a collection of tracks, it was always meant to be a piece of work, you know what I mean? I don’t know if it’s achieved that, but having that idea in it made the creative process a lot more interesting.

As you say, Hennail and other previous releases were very beat-driven, but the album features more atmospheric and experimental tracks. Was there a conscious effort to push the boundaries of your sound?

JA: Absolutely. We grew up with Detroit techno, jungle, all the sort of dance-based musics, so that’s really part of us, and we’ll always have rhythm in there somewhere, but actually, in the last five to ten years, we’ve been opening out into drone, doom metal, noise, early industrial, more experimental stuff, and that’s become just as integral, and we wanted to include those influences. The way that we learn about music is by listening to that. And we wanted to have a go at that, to see if we could do it.

TH: We didn’t want to be restricted. Hennail was difficult, in that sense. And we didn’t want to get caught in that snare.

JA: Percussion in the way we use it is sort of in a dance music format, and because we’ve grown up with that music, you’re pre-programmed to understand those structures in a 4/4 structure. When you’ve got a beat going, your brain is already waiting for that snare or hi-hat to come in, and you know when that’s going to happen. One of the points for us was to try and change the listeners’ knowledge of when that’s going to happen, so they feel a little lost in it, but without losing the security that that structure gives you.

TH: That’s the hardest part, finding the balance between being contrary to how you expect rhythmic things to work, and actually making a coherent work.

JA: Yeah, and that balance and trade off is one of the things that interests us. Security and non-security.

Your music has often been lumped in with ambient dub or dubstep, but that seems a tad reductive. Would you agree?

JA: I don’t ever want to say to any journalist, or anyone, that they can’t call it what they like, because I’ve been doing the very same thing, as a fan and a record collector, and that’s the condition in which you work. Those genres are certainly part of our musical heritage, but I’d hope they weren’t the only parts. I’m glad you feel that they aren’t the whole picture.

Well, I think that when you guys first emerged, dubstep was pretty much on everyone’s lips, so it was an easy connection to make, but to my mind you always seemed closer to industrial music and jungle, as you’ve mentioned.

JA: It’s difficult, because dubstep has now become a little bit passe as a term and if you go back to the beginnings, to those iconic labels like DMZ, the music was absolutely incredible. We’d never say that it wasn’t an important part of electronic music, it’s just that at this moment in time, it feels almost like a negative thing.

TH: It’s become so branched out that it’s become a blanket term, so it’s not really pinning anything down.

JA: Our first influence was probably Mo’Wax, you know, DJ Shadow and trip-hop. When I was 15, I bought my first Mo’Wax record and was absolutely sold on it, man. It was just the coolest fucking thing I’d ever heard. And then we’ve just gone through everything: Detroit techno, jungle, house music… And then there’s the flip side, which is all the sort of avant-garde, industrial and doom stuff.

TH: Those things kind of came a bit later for us.

JA: I think we’re just hungry, and we get obsessed. Record collecting is still a massive part of our lives.

How did you go about creating and recording the tracks on Quarter Turns Over A Living Line?

TH: We did a lot of recordings, by ourselves and with other musicians. We did recordings with cellists, drummers, some guitar stuff. There’s quite a lot guitar on the album, actually, but then you go through it with a fine-toothed comb to pick out those interesting inflections or textures and start constructing them. We get a big archive of things that excite us and start putting things together to see if there’s synergy between the sounds or interesting juxtapositions. Track by track, we begin with the material we each have and work on sketches before bringing them to the table and looking at whether we can work them up. It’s been a healthy way of working.

JA: For example, Tom will put a guitar through some effects, make half an hour’s worth of sound and then we go through it and pick out bits. A nice sound can be patched to a drum patterns and what’s exciting is you get certain points or textures that match. There’s an element of chance in that match, and as soon as we’ve got it, we’ll throttle the hell out of it!

It sounds very intricate…

JA: It takes hours [laughs]. It’s an amazing process to do with someone else. You’ve always got someone to discuss it with. The other person kind of limits you.

TH: It’s really important to have that discourse, because it’s really hard to have it with yourself.

JA: There’s a core of what we’re doing that we both know we’re trying to reach. There’s an absolute specific idea. And you’ve got the reassurance that the other person shares that idea.

Going back to Blackest Ever Black, the label is noted for its somewhat bleak aesthetic, which runs through their artwork and the music of most of their acts. Do you have a particularly gloomy outlook on life? Could you say Quarter Turns Over A Living Line is a reflection of these somewhat depressing socio-political times?

JA: Um, I’d never describe myself as chirpy [laughs]. I definitely can take things quite seriously…

TH: This is a difficult question…

JA: A loaded gun! We are definitely pretty serious when it comes to music and the sentiments within that music. But everybody has a laugh sometimes, it’s not like we go around in a continual state of depression. But we’re pretty serious. I think there’s a natural instinct to hone in on the darkest elements of life when you’re being creative.

You can read this interview, and listen to a Soundcloud playlist of the album, here

A Quietus Interview – Voices From The Heathen North: Hexvessel Interviewed (October 22nd, 2012)

Mathew McNerney is a British singer and musician currently residing in Finland, from whence he has launched his excellent folk-rock outfit Hexvessel. After a solo release in 2011, Dawnbearer, this year has seen the arrival of a stunning second album, No Holier Temple, recorded with a full band of local musicians, and which connects the dots between McNerney’s background in black metal, a touch of jazz and, most importantly, the pagan psychedelic folk scene of late-sixties Britain. With more recordings already locked down, and a potential UK tour on the horizon, The Quietus caught up with Mathew to discuss how he ended up in Finland, the music of Hexvessel, and the importance of pagan religion and magick in his music.

I know you’re a British singer and musician, so how did you come to found Hexvessel over in Finland?

Mathew McNerney: I’ve always had a real love for Finland and used to live in Lapland, just across the border from Finland. I recorded an album there with my past band Code, spending three weeks in the winter up there. When I moved there after getting married, I got really inspired again, by the countryside and the local interest in Paganism. I think Finnish people in general are quite interested in that, and go out into the forests a lot, which reminded me of when I was younger and going camping down in Cornwall. There were places in England I was really interested in, so I got this kind of rebirth of all that stuff [after moving to Finland], as well as making music again. I’d been making music, my own stuff, for a long time, but I never had the courage or the inspiration to put it together, finish it and release the album. Moving to Finland was the catalyst for that.

How did the sound of Hexvessel come together?

MM: I’ve always been really interested in and excited about the fifties and late-sixties English folk, the Canterbury folk scene and things like that. I sort of had this idea to do something very honest and down to earth, in terms of sound. I was interested in taking things back to that kind of sound. I really like the soundtrack to The Wicker Man, that kind of thing, so wanted to get some folk roots in there. So I guess that’s how it happened, and working with the musicians that I worked with on the first Hexvessel album (Dawnbearer) also helped achieve that.

Equally, Finland has produced quite a few good folk bands, such as Tenhi. Do you feel that you’re part of a particular scene?

MM: I think I feel akin to the scene, but more the underground psychedelic scene. I don’t have any relationship with Tenhi or those groups, but I definitely have one with the psychedelic scene, which is really strong right now, bands like Dark Buddha Rising, Circle, Pharaoh Overlord and so on. There’s a really great psychedelic experimental scene in Finland and I feel more a part of that than anything else, but at the same time, what I’m trying to do with Hexvessel is very much out on its own. I know every musician likes to say that, but I do feel we’re very different.

Was folk music always something you wanted to do, or have done?

MM: I think it’s something I’ve brought into my other bands. Before, I’d done some metal bands, that’s my past, and I think I’ve always brought those influences in there, that psychedelic folk. I like that the music at the time wasn’t strictly folk, even though they were doing revival. It was like taking the folk music of the past and doing it in a more psychedelic way, and we’re like that as well. I don’t feel that we’re just doing revival music.

You can definitely hear that on No Holier Temple. You feel the influence of Comus or Current 93, but equally, maybe, European acts like Sergius Golowin or Amon Duul II…

MM: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s something that’s in the Finnish psychedelic scene too. If you listen to bands like Circle, they’re really following along those lines. From the first album to the second one, we’re progressing towards a more kind of psychedelic side, and I think a lot of bands back then did the same thing, it’s kind of like a journey.

What I found interesting about No Holier Temple was the integration of elements that went beyond folk, as you’ve alluded to already, with hints of jazz in the use of trumpet, and psychedelia. Is that a fair reflection?

MM: Yes, definitely. If you want Message to Love, that film about the Isle of Wight Festival, that was, I think, like a musical awakening back then. You had Miles Davis playing in the same arena as the doors, and stuff like that. I think people were expanding their mind, and this is another time of awakening in music, people are really switching on to other things. You get people listening to metal who are now listening to all kinds of avant-garde, weird music, and it’s thanks to all these different bands, like Sunn O))), who have gone out to open and break the genres. And I think that’s what we’re trying to do by bringing in these jazzier elements. It was very normal back [in the late sixties], and I think it’s becoming a bit more normal now. You can mix up without being classed as “experimental”. In black metal, when people used to experiment, listeners weren’t ready and so you’d get classed as “experimental black metal”. Nowadays, a lot of stuff that would have been classed as experimental is accepted.

There are songs where it seems like there’s a lot going on, but are equally quite open, which to me reflects nature, or the outdoors.

MM: That was really intentional, and it’s good if it comes across that way, because working with the musicians I work with, I wanted to get their personalities into the sound. The guys in the band were as influential and inspirational for the music as anything I was listening to or reading. They’re quite special people, and, as I said, Finnish people seem to be quite close to nature and spend a lot of time in the forest, y’know? I wanted to get some their ethos into the record, and I think that comes across.

Was it a smooth recording process, and was the album easy to put together?

MM: Yeah, I think so, because it was very natural. Before, I was very young, and didn’t have total control over what happened, but where we rehearsed [for No Holier Temple], I really had a feeling of where it could go, and I owe a lot to the musicians, because they were able to take my ideas in the ways we discussed. We would jam a lot together, so things feel like they follow natural rhythms. It felt really organic and so nice to record live and follow our hearts with it.

How do you go about writing the lyrics? Was it a natural process or did you work a lot on researching the themes you were approaching?

MM: On this album it was really natural. I was relying on experiences and things we’d discussed in rituals or just in being together as a band. All the themes feel very natural, I don’t feel it’s in any way contrived. I’m not trying to get something across, I’m getting it out there and can feel very proud of those lyrics. There’s no bullshit there, it was a case of beating away the chaff and getting to the wheat, the core of it. I try to keep things really simple. People who are interested in my lyrics have always thought they were quite poetic but over-the-top, using a lot of words; but I’m really trying to strip things down and just get to the basics of trying to create something interesting and that people can relate to. I’m quite interested in songwriting in general. When I’m listening to music, I think it’s quite important that there’s a song there, and a message.

The album feels like a meditation on old religion and magick, which you’ve mentioned are things that interest you – are you a practitioner of either?

MM: Well, yeah… I was brought up a Catholic, so I know about organised religion. I’ve always been interested in the occult and magick. I don’t know how much you can say about practising magick, because I think it’s something that’s very personal and very subjective and I think this album is about that. It’s about “When does magick become objective? When does religion become an objective thing? What does it mean to be holy?” It’s all connected with nature and how we see ourselves in relation to the world around us. It’s definitely the theme of the album, and I believe that we’re creating and practising magick all the time. If you study a lot of magick, you realise that there’s a red line that goes through all types of magick and it’s all about willpower and about what you will decide to turn into reality. It’s a subjective thing that becomes objective. A dream you dream together becomes reality, and I think that’s the power of magick. It’s something I’ve been exploring with the band as well, this idea of belief and the natural things.

Nature being something that was central to pagan religions, of course…

MM: Absolutely! I believe it’s very important to associate God and deities with the natural world, because it means you create the natural world as holy. Natural things are what feed us, and keep us going, so we need to worship them and keep our relationship with the earth in balance. We need to treat it with respect. It doesn’t matter if you believe gods are these beings or not, what’s important is that you do believe that nature is sacred. That’s also the theme of this album: putting the godhead back into nature and worshipping it.

In a way, could you not therefore tie the music of Hexvessel back into the tradition of protest folk? Is your music political?

MM: The album is about that. Every track has its own story, so we’re not preaching, and not every track is about nature, but when you put everything together, it’s a celebration and a discourse on these matters, everything can be tied back into our relationship with our ancient understanding of who we are and the planet. No Holier Temple isn’t a concept album, but everything revolves around that discourse around holiness. I think it’s very important that people get that back again and that’s why I’m sort of associating with that period around the late-sixties. The whole feeling back then was the same, and we need to get that back a bit. There’s a lot of retro revival going on, but there’s nobody doing it with heart or standing for something. I think everybody should believe in this stuff.

I was also interested by references to the female figure in nature that comes out of the album, something that reflects the pagan attitudes instead of monotheistic religious ones.

MM: Yes, and you can reflect on the band members we have as well. It’s no mistake that we have a good balance and I don’t see why there aren’t more bands like that. I think it’s kind of a shame when bands do try to address that, they put the women to the front and present them in a sexual way, and we don’t do that in the band. It’s very revolutionary [to look at women as central to holiness], because we could redress the balance and have a different way of acting as a culture and as people if we put the female back as the apex of our religious thought. On a Freudian level, it would just make much more sense.

Given how we’ve discussed how dense and varied the album is, how do you go about reproducing the songs from No Holier Temple live?

MM: We’ve been playing the songs from the album for quite a while, from when I first started playing live with the band. The album was almost a recreation of how we play live, which was an important thing for me. We’ve had an idea of performance in mind the whole time, and you only really get the band once you see us live, I think. I’ve always wanted live performance to be a sort of life-changing experience and the most important thing when it comes to playing music. It should be like a mass, or a ritual. The recording is just a reminder of that, in a way.

What are your future plans? Will you be bringing Hexvessel to the UK?

MM: We’d really like to go to England and play lots of different places. We’d like to come and do a proper tour. We’ll do our best to do a proper UK tour, because it’s not all about London. We’ve already recorded another album. We’ve got to produce it and get it together, but I expect that to come out in spring or autumn next year, depending on the time we get between playing live. I’m really inspired by this line-up!

A Quietus Interview – Love & Art: Genesis Breyer P-Orridge Interviewed (October 8th, 2012)

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s definition of a quiet week differs very much from most people’s. After a couple of delays, we finally catch up on the phone, and apparently this is down time for the former Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV singer. “I’ve been so busy all year that I actually have a couple of weeks doing very little,” he explains. “Just chilling out, which for me will involve two DJ gigs, a talk, a poetry reading, etc. But for me that’s quiet!” For most people, that would constitute a busy schedule, but if P-Orridge was in anyway put out by having to add an interview to the to-do list, it didn’t show, and the supposedly prickly singer was friendly and outgoing throughout.

It’s easy to imagine how the above would constitute an easy-going time for P-Orridge, given he’s spent most of the last year working on his writing, performing with the latest incarnation of PTV and travelling the world promoting the wonderful documentary The Ballad Of Genesis And Lady Jaye, directed by Marie Losier, a surprisingly intimate glimpse into the world of this most controversial of icons. “I had to bail after four months of doing [the promotions] every week, because it was making me sick, actually sick. Every night, we were reliving losing Jaye and even the dog in the film died of cancer a year later, and I lost the house because we couldn’t pay the mortgage without Jaye’s income. So it was like, you lose the house again and again, you lose Jaye everyday and I just got really worn out, emotionally worn out.”

The death of Genesis’ wife, Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge, forms a central and tragic part of The Ballad Of Genesis And Lady Jaye, and, after going through such a trauma, it’s only natural he would find revisiting it so difficult, especially given the nature of their uniquely symbiotic love. I refer to Pandrogyny, where the couple famously underwent extensive plastic surgery to resemble each other, becoming, in a way, one soul in two bodies (as well as a living work of art), and which was the initial focus of the movie. “2003 was the year Lady Jaye and I decided to get breast implants,” he says, explaining how the film came about, “and make the Pandrogyny project a public project. Jaye said to me ‘It would be really great if we had someone around who filmed everything, like Warhol at the Factory, and just documented all the process we’re going to go through’. There was no idea of it becoming a film at all, it was documentation, mainly for ourselves. Within a week, we were playing a show at The Knitting Factory, and Marie was in the audience and was really touched by my poetry. She didn’t know us at all, but she said she was a filmmaker and Jaye offered for her to come on tour with Psychic TV for two weeks. She filmed the entire tour and became a really special friend, and [from there] it just kept on going. She just started documenting our lives. At some point, just before Jaye dropped her body, it started to be a case of making it into a documentary, something we decided much more earnestly after Jaye dropped her body. Primarily in honour of Lady Jaye, to maintain her memory”.

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, beyond its welcome – for TG or PTV fans – footage of Genesis, acts as an elegy to Lady Jaye, who is probably less well-known than her other half, but who subtly becomes the focus of the film. This was clearly P-Orridge’s intention. “When it comes out on DVD there’s going to be a bonus disc with a lot more of Lady Jaye. There’s a part in the film where she looks at the camera and says ‘I’ve got everything I need to be happy because I’ve got Gen.’ Well, we’ve got the whole 14-minute talk, the speech she was making about Pandrogyny, ethics and what we were doing, and why we were so in love. That unedited speech will be on the bonus DVD, as well as Sleazy [the late, great Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson, who founded both Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV with Genesis] talking about us too.

“Those bits weren’t in the original film because we didn’t have anything to do with the editing, we left it to Marie and didn’t want to interfere. We wanted it to be what she saw, and the editing job she did – which she spent a whole year on – is amazing. But at some point in the editing process, she decided to not have any talking heads. She approached it as a collage, an ‘elegy collage’, as you said. And it worked – she made an amazing film! One of the things that’s happened with the film is that the media has become much more friendly towards me. In some ways, it’s humanised me where in the past the media has tended to demonise me. People see my mischievous side, as when I’m sitting on the keyboard, and they see how much Jaye and I loved each other.”

Given Breyer P-Orridge’s past interest in “extreme” art and music, perhaps such a personal project should come as little surprise, but it’s still remarkable that he would allow such close access to what must have been a harrowing period after Lady Jaye passed away. “Like we said, the level of intimacy is gruelling, emotionally, for me. Jaye’s way of explaining life and experience is that it’s consciousness of who we are, and the body is just a cheap suitcase that we carry around. It’s a philosophical way of dealing with the human body – she was always dissatisfied with the human body, and felt trapped in her body, in fact, [she felt this way] from being a child.

“It was difficult to allow someone that much access after Lady Jaye dropped her body. We don’t remember the first year after the funeral, we don’t remember doing anything, or seeing anyone. Luckily for me, our extended family took care of me. We were catatonic, basically, it was a trauma. The way it happened, out of the blue, with her breathing her last breath into me, was traumatic. It took maybe 18 months, and we were with Marie and we said ‘Let’s finish it’. It was really important to finish it, because it was Lady Jaye’s idea. We had to finish it, as a matter of pride and respect of Lady Jaye’s wishes.”

Despite all the aforementioned sadness, The Ballad Of Genesis And Lady Jaye remains an uplifting experience, and you come out of it aware that you’ve experienced a celebration of love, something P-Orridge is keen to underline. “When we’ve been at screenings and Q&As, the most common reaction of people who’ve come up to speak to me is almost always, even if they’re crying, ‘I’ve always been afraid to really commit myself 100% to a relationship because I’ve been scared of being hurt. But now I’ve seen this film, I’m not afraid anymore. I realise how much love I’ve wasted that I could have had.’ Isn’t that a great thing to have happen from a movie? That people would not be afraid to be in love, and to be different?”

‘Not afraid to be different’… I saw The Ballad Of Genesis And Lady Jaye at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, and was initially surprised at the choice because, for all his idiosyncrasies, P-Orridge never struck me as being an LGBT figure, even with the Pandrogyny. In that respect, it was a real eye-opener, not just about him, but about the ways in which “alternative” sexual identities can be expressed, by anyone. It felt like a true work of “queer” art.

“We’re not traditional LGBT people, are we?,” says Breyer P-Orridge. “Derek Jarman, for me, is a queer filmmaker. ‘Queer’, to me, includes eccentric and being prepared to push through any stereotypes, even gay stereotypes. The people who have been the most puzzled by us have actually been the more ‘traditional’, neo-conservative gay people, who – and this is not in any way a criticism – really want to be accepted as normal and treated just like everyone else, as they absolutely should be. But sometimes they maybe become stereotypes of everything they were rejecting and, for us, we don’t want to become just another stereotype. It’s not about me becoming a woman, or Jaye becoming a man, it’s about the divine hermaphrodite, and the potential of the human species to evolve in the most amazing ways, having no limit on what their body can be or what they imagine is a way of being. It’s much more philosophical, magickal and evolutionary. We did an interview for ABC over here, because we’d been banned from Phoenix on account of me being transgender, and we knew they wanted ‘bumper stickers’, you know? So we said ‘Transsexuals are the stormtroopers of the future!’ [laughs]. In a way, we do believe that. Certain people in our species are waking up to the potential to have a different future to the one we’ve been offered.”

In this context, the Pandrogyny is crucial, and in the way it bridges art and life, it seems unique. In the wake of Lady Jaye’s passing, one could assume that Genesis would put the experience on hold, but that seems to be far from his mind. “It’s our ultimate project,” he says. “It’s a process and a project. With everything that we decide to make public, that’s when it becomes a project. On the very first day we met Lady Jaye, she took me to her apartment and dressed me in her clothes. She intuitively knew the trajectory of our relationship, and we kept on exploring that, privately, together – becoming two halves of the same whole. We wanted to blur together; if it had been medically possible, we would have had a vagina and a penis each. That would have been our maximum choice. Why should we submit to the programme [of DNA]? That’s how we got back to the Burroughs/Gysin cut-up, and thought about cutting up DNA like literature or music. Can you edit biology and generate the third being? That’s how we got to the revolutionary part: DNA has come to symbolise a deep sense of control; it’s something most people just accept. It got more complex as the years went by, but we’re still doing exhibitions and creating sculptures. We’ve been commissioned to do a book called Creating Sex and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh have confirmed that they’re going to do a retrospective of Breyer P-Orridge and Pandrogyny next summer.”

In an era when so much art is being commodified, P-Orridge’s commitment to the ultimate realisation of this unique project is refreshing.

Genesis makes it clear that recognition by the Andy Warhol Museum is a source of personal pride and gratification, and he is quick to reference his debt of influence to The Factory and Warhol stars like Candy Darling. As someone so notorious for his musical performances, notably with Throbbing Gristle, you get the feeling that it’s been an uphill struggle for him to be recognised also as a major visual artist – he uses the word “vindication”.

“Certainly in America, we’re getting a lot more serious attention to our ideas,” he says. “The word ‘Pandrogyny’, which we created – ‘positive androgyny’- has started to filter into the language, as a new word with a lot less baggage. We can all define what this word might be, it’s not meant to have a fixed definition. It’s a form of freedom from the past. The art world started to accept COUM Transmissions towards the end, in ’75-76, when we started doing museum shows, but the art world didn’t want us to do music [as Throbbing Gristle]! They didn’t think we were doing art, because we were doing music. We were always in the wrong camp, but we always wanted to do everything. We’ve never stopped making art, or writing essays [even during TG and PTV]. In the last two or three years, things have really changed. Lady Jaye and I started doing exhibitions together, and we were surprised that people loved our approach and were listening to what we were saying. The Tate recently bought our archives, so the art world has really started to take us seriously as the whole package. Life and art can be the same thing. Artists have been saying this for 100-odd years!”

After so many years of struggling against the establishment, touring, exploring every facet of art and life, you could forgive Breyer P-Orridge for being jaded, but far from it, and the supreme energy that inhabits him remains anchored in his relationship with Lady Jaye, something that comes up when I mention Yoko Ono’s own struggles with the public and the establishment’s perceptions: “The reason that we adopted Breyer P-Orridge was to say ‘Jaye is equally as important. She’s not doing this just because she’s with me, she was already doing stuff before we met and a lot of the ideas are her ideas.’ We’re insistent: don’t dismiss her because she’s female! And don’t dismiss this because her body’s not here anymore. She’s still vital to the project”. It seems clear, then, that Pandrogyny may be one of the major artistic expressions of feminism in the last few years.

But, of course, it’s impossible to interview Genesis P-Orridge without honing in on the music, and a chat about a DJ set where he spun Amon Duul II and Hawkwind records emphasises that, for all the ‘industrial’ reputation of TG, Genesis at heart is a bit of a psychedelic hippy. “Oh, absolutely. And it’s been missed. The new line-up of Psychic TV that we have are the best musicians we’ve ever played with. We’ve done some singles: the first was Funkadelic’s ‘Maggot Brain’ b/w ‘Alien Brain’, the second was ‘Mother Sky’ by Can, and the B-side was ‘Alien Sky’. Next will be a Hawkwind cover! We take the structures of the songs and rework them [on the B-sides], so the ‘Alien Brain’ features vocal, and lasts 15 minutes. It was done in one take, with the whole band in the studio. We don’t rehearse, we just go straight into the studio and lay it down. It’s a fascinating project. We’re trying to tell people not to dismiss this era just because there’s been so much propaganda about hippies. Never be biased or prejudiced, and then you can make it your own. There are always more doors you can go through”

This ethos of constant exploration even extends to language, and throughout the interview Genesis substitutes “I” for “We”.

“When we first met Burroughs back in 1971,” he says, “we were hanging out in his apartment, somewhat in awe of him, we said to him, ‘Do you still do cut-ups?’. He said, ‘No, I don’t really have to any more, because my brain has been rewired so it does them automatically!’ That’s kind of what’s happened to me. Burroughs told me to always write every day, so that when you have a sudden revelation of meaning, in language, you’re ready to document it and expand it. At this point, after 50 years of writing, it’s become second nature to see words and break them down and reassemble them automatically. It’s why I can improvise vocals on the spot. With ‘we’, it obviously means me and Jaye, but then, can we use ‘we’ when talking about before we met? In 1968, we started using ‘E’ for ‘I’. Should we use that? Someone suggested we should just use ‘they’!”

I’m uneasy to approach the subject of Throbbing Gristle, given everything that’s been written about them, not to mention their various break-ups and Sleazy’s tragic passing, but Genesis welcomes the chance to go over the band’s legacy, especially when we start discussing the lyrics he wrote for the band, which he showcased marvelously at their last-ever concert in London.

“Most of the TG songs were originally improvised on stage,” he reveals. “‘Persuasion’ was improvised on stage, ‘Convincing People’ was improvised on stage… On the other hand, ‘Hamburger Lady’, for example, was improvised in the studio. ‘Discipline’ was made up on the stage in Berlin, when Sleazy and Chris [Carter] came up with that amazing rhythm. We said to Sleazy, ‘What shall we sing about tonight?’ and he said, ‘Discipline!’. And it became a classic! It varies… We’re just doing the first Thee Majesty album in eleven years, and we go in with poems we’ve written at home. It’s about looking at which words fit the span of the music and then seeing what happens. We’re always looking not to simplify the words for the music, but to fit the words into the music.”

Unlike some early industrial artists, Genesis is more than happy to talk about the genre TG helped name, never mind initiate, and he talks enthusiastically about more recent artists, such as Prurient, who are clearly indebted to Throbbing Gristle’s legacy. “We didn’t know [the industrial scene] was going to happen, we just knew that we wanted what we were doing to have a very clear separation from everything else,” he explains. “The birth of something new, a new approach, something that was more contemporary and more modern. You can’t plan those things, but then sometimes you can feel the zeitgeist. TG was four very exceptional people. You couldn’t take any of those four out. Sometimes those things happen, and the right people are in the right place at the right time together.”

As much as talking about writing inspires him, it’s clear that TG’s reputation for controversy is a wearisome subject. “It’s been something that always frustrated me: people didn’t even ask about the lyrics and take the songs in as being songs. They just focused on one or two that were more abrasive, and the shock value, and ignored the rest. It’s one of the downsides of notoriety: the powers that be utilise anything like that as an excuse to dismiss what you do. But you just have to believe in what you do and, in my case, be patient.”

Does he feel more satisfied now? “Actually, yes! PTV3 is far and away the most exciting group of musicians that we’ve ever worked with. They’re all capable of playing technically but also of experimenting and improvising. Our live shows are never less than two hours and we have videos, light shows. Everyone’s hyper-aware of each others’ body language, and they can all tell the timbre of my voice. No matter how odd it is, the band is always there, totally with me.” It’s an osmosis that at times evokes Neil Young & Crazy Horse (a comparison that pleases Breyer P-Orridge no end), and listening to recent PTV3 releases certainly contains the mixture of beauty and chaos that defines The Horse at their best.

Through all the tumult of the last few years, from personal tragedies to his numerous artistic and musical heights, including recent performances, an album with Tony Conrad and a book of his life in pictures he’ll be supplying texts for, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge remains a strong and unique person who constantly looks to follow his boundlessly creative impulses as far as he can. “We’ve always had a very long-term view of everything, and kept in mind the perspective of looking back at things from our death bed. Will we have achieved everything we hoped for by then or, at least, will it be as pure as we hoped it to be?”

The DVD and CD soundtrack of The Ballad Of Genesis And Lady Jaye are both out now

A Liminal Interview – Rock from the bottom of the world: An interview with Michael Morley (September 19th, 2012)

For over 20 years, New Zealand’s Michael Morley has forged a distinctive style on both vocals and guitar, with legendary avant-rock trio The Dead C and his solo project Gate. After a silence of nearly ten years, Morley released A Republic of Sadness to great acclaim, whilst 2012 has seen seminal Gate album The Dew Line (1993) lavishly reissued on MIE Music, complete with never-heard-before bonus tracks. With two more of his legendary albums –The Monolake and The Wisher Table – set to follow suite, and with Morley travelling to the UK to appear at the upcoming TUSK festival in October, The Liminal caught up with him to discuss his musical background, the impact of The Dead C and Gate on modern rock, and how he plans to perform at TUSK.

Could you please give me a bit of background on how you got into music? How did you come to form The Dead C, and later Gate? 

I have been listening to music for as long as I can remember. There would be songs that I would hear on the radio and I would become obsessed with their melodies and the words. When I was 9 years old I started using a cassette tape machine to make sound collages, very basic sound on sound stuff, no internal inputs, just microphones and speakers and timing. In 1980 I met Richard Ram at High School, and we had a shared passion for punk rock, so we started Wreck Small Speakers On Expensive Stereos as a response to our interest in the music of Robert Rental and The Normal, Toy Love, The Builders, Eyeless in Gaza, Cabaret Voltaire, Josef K, The Fire Engines, Throbbing Gristle, The Residents, Talking Heads, Pop Group, The Stooges, The Ramones, etc. We made cassette tapes of our sound-making, which are really rudimentary and primitive. At the time they seemed completely alien to anything that we were listening to, and our natural incompetence helped. The Dead C was formed in 1987 as a result of me not playing with anybody at the time and not being interested in pop music as a genre, having extended my listening to John Cage, Tony Conrad, Faust, J.S. Bach, Douglas Lilburn, Meredith Monk, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Sonic Youth, Big Black, The Swans, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, etc. Gate was started when I was living in Auckland and working as a librarian in 1988. It’s a convenient moniker under which I can play, record and perform either solo or with a group of people that doesn’t have to be a band, but a co-operative.

Bruce Russell has just written a book about the small but vibrant New Zealand scene that The Dead C evolved out of – it must have been a very exciting time… 

Bruce Russell, Richard Francis, and Zoe Drayton have edited the recently published book “Erewhon Calling: Experimental Sound in New Zealand “, but there are many contributing writers examining diverse sound practices across New Zealand. I remember playing as always being exciting but don’t remember the period as being particularly exciting. I remember it as grim and brutal. It seems to be very similar to the current period.

The Dead C were often compared to Sonic Youth, but to my mind are both more experimental and more psychedelic than Sonic Youth, with acts like Les Rallizes Denudes and Tony Conrad seeming more of an influence than punk. Would you agree? 

I first heard Les Rallizes Denudes in 2010. Tony Conrad I heard in 1982 when I found a copy of the LP Outside the Dream Syndicate by Tony Conrad and Faust. Late 1960s psychedelic music is something that I grew up with and was inspired by. It would seem that it is something that I refer to in my own music making in an oblique fashion. I was also heavily influenced by punk rock as a teenager and still listen to variants of the genre.

Was the decision to form Gate a reaction to what you were doing with The Dead C? Did you feel there were things you could do solo that you couldn’t do in the band? 

I started Gate as a project because I wasn’t living in Dunedin from 1988-1990, so I was only playing with Robbie and Bruce on rare occasions. Gate allows me to record, play and perform in an ongoing capacity. I spend a lot of time either painting or playing the guitar. When I play the guitar I tend to record and I use these recordings as material for an experimental audio studio practice. A lot of this material is for my own listening and is not intended for release, it forms the basis of my experiments in sound.

How do you go about creating a Gate album? Is the music mostly improvised, or do you compose each track? 

Most Gate recordings are improvised and then built around particular themes. The continuous recording practice allows for an archive that can be assessed for compositional purposes. I would say that the most recent LP A Republic of Sadness was a very different approach for me: as with The Lavender Head series, it examines dance music troupes which I developed from commercially available music software. The initial period of making the music for A Republic of Sadness was short, maybe a month at the most, and then two years of listening and making decisions about the compositions.

Your vocal style is pretty much unique in the rock world. How did you develop it? In most cases, it is subsumed in the mix – do you treat vocals as just another instrument, with the lyrics being a secondary concern to how the voice fits with the guitar and other instruments?

I have no idea about my vocal style, I don’t hear it as being unique. Some people have made disparaging remarks about my voice, which I don’t understand. Maybe it’s my accent… Vocals to me are another aspect of the soundscape. I am not particularly interested in telling stories so the vocal has to have another reason for being, and I think that it is as another instrument. Of course the words are very important to me and I will spend a lot of time getting that right, for me. When I have attempted to make the vocals more prominent in the mix I tend to attract rude comments concerning my voice from people I don’t know, and who perhaps don’t appreciate the context.

How do you come up with your lyrics? Do you work to a specific theme or concept when writing lyrics for an album?

I write a lot when I feel inclined to create lyrics, so there are files and folders of words generated over several years, and I use these if I need them. Or sometimes I am able to write as I am listening to the recordings. Sometimes the words come really easily, sometimes it’s an ordeal. Sometimes indeed there is an overarching concept that may capture me. The lyrics for the tracks for the new Gate LP The Numbers, were all written within the week that I made the recordings – it was a concentrated and focused effort.

2010’s A Republic of Sadness was the first Gate album in nine years. What made you decide to return to the project? 

I hadn’t released anything as Gate for 10 years, and it seemed impossible that I had ignored Gate releases for a decade, but I hadn’t been interested in releasing anything. I had been recording a lot, and had not been convinced by any of it and so ditched various projects in favour of nothing. A Republic of Sadness took me two years to finish, and I spent that time listening to the tracks and rearranging them and essentially having a really good time playing with the material. I didn’t play the material to anybody, as I thought it was very strange stuff, and that nobody would like it, so the whole project just sat in my studio. After a year, I began playing it to a number of people to start testing the results. I was surprised by the positive comments and as I allowed more people to hear it I thought that maybe I could release it. Ben Goldberg was very kind in agreeing to release it on Ba Da Bing. I then spent another year remixing the material in a fastidious fashion, trying out arrangements, time lengths and track sequences. It also took about a year to make the cover art. It was the most intense recording project I have ever made in that it was focused on a particular aesthetic, sustained over such a long period of time, with many interruptions, and I almost threw the whole thing away.

You will be appearing at Tusk Festival in October. How have you prepared for this concert?

Replacing the electronics in the guitar so that it works, and a new set of strings maybe? I recently purchased a lap steel, so have been playing that a lot, although I don’t think I am ready to present that material in a public forum.

Do you approach a live Gate performance differently to when you perform with The Dead C? Do you find it more difficult to perform solo, or when you have to interact with other people?

There is more to think about when I approach a Gate performance. With the Dead C, I know the other two can take up the slack should I lose my way. Solo can be more of a challenge in some ways. The frequency of playing and performing as both means there are a lot of risks in the activity. If I played more I guess I might get better, but then I don’t know what that would mean.

Finally, are you working on new material? Can we expect to see a new Gate or Dead C album in the near future?

I have just finished a new Gate LP The Numbers, recorded in August this year, the final mixes and the cover art were completed in the last week, and I’m happy with the results. I have allowed three people to hear it so far, and had positive responses to my efforts. I know Ben is happy with the recordings and the cover art so I think it will be released on Ba Da Bing sometime in the near future. I have other Gate projects coming out this month/next month: an LP, Damned Revolutions, will be released by Ultramarine Records (Italy), and another Gate LP, Moths, recorded with Nina Canal (from Ut) and Sara Stephenson (from Doramaar) in Rotterdam with be released by Dilletante Curiosite (France). There are some Dead C recordings ongoing at present, plus some recordings with Pete Swanson made in August of this year, and some recordings made with Kim Gordon and Bill Nace from last year.

You can also read this interview, complete with videos, here

A Quietus Interview – Not Intimidated: Antony Hegarty Interviewed (July 26th, 2012)

2012 is shaping up to be a massive year for Antony Hegarty, who first shot to prominence through the success of his second album (with his band, The Johnsons), I Am A Bird Now, which won the Mercury Prize. In August, he will be curating London’s prestigious Meltdown Festival on the South Bank, bringing together artists such as Diamanda Galas, Lou Reed and William Basinski. He’s also about to release a live album, Cut The World, and has worked recently with Marina Abramovic on her much-lauded Robert Wilson production The Life And Death Of Marina Abramovic.

After several years of touring with an orchestra, and with four Antony & The Johnsons albums behind him (not to mention collaborations with Hercules And Love Affair and Cocorosie), Hegarty shows no sign of slowing down, and The Quietus was delighted to have the chance to sit down with him at London’s Bloomsbury Hotel to discuss Meltdown, his upcoming album and his views on modern society.

You are curating the Meltdown Festival this year. How did that come about, and were you daunted by the prospect?

Antony Hegarty: It’s simply that they called me and I was interested. I was excited by the idea. It’s quite an honour, I’ve always admired Meltdown, as a festival, and the concept of an artist curating the festival. It’s the chance to put something strong forward, so I thought, “I’d love to do it.”

How did you go about selecting the artists you’ve chosen to appear? Did you get everyone you wanted?

AH: I wrote the list very quickly, impulsively, of the people whose work was the most resonant to me, the people I thought were most beautiful, and together they formed a sort of unified front, in some way. It ended up being a lot of female singers, a lot of people who concentrated strongly on the voice, with tremendous emotional expression. They’re people who have forged very distinctive paths through music and in their lives. I got almost everyone, I’d say about 80% of the people I asked said yes, and there are only a couple of examples of people I asked who couldn’t do it. A lot of them are people I know, a lot of my friends and community, and then a few exceptions to that as well.

Are they artists you have previously worked with, or essentially ones you have admired over the years?

AH: I think a third of them are people I’ve worked with in the past, another third are people I know, and the final third are people I’ve admired.

The artists appearing make for a quite eclectic ensemble – was that a deliberate choice, or more a reflection of your musical tastes? Basinski, Galas…

AH: Do you it find it to be eclectic? It’s certainly a reflection of my musical taste. But I don’t see it as eclectic. I mean, I first met Billy Basinski when he gave me a flier to a concert of Diamanda Galas that he was hosting at his house! Many of the people in the show are just a stone’s throw away from each other. Diamanda and Billy are both very much underground New York artists. I’ve admired Diamanda since I was a kid and I’ve known Billy for almost twenty years…

Have you always been drawn to singers with distinctive voices?

AH: Yeah, I was so influenced by expressive singers, that was what I was drawn to as a child. What drew me to music was this possibility of a form in which you could express yourself more vividly and expansively than in pedestrian life, especially in a form where emotion was validated or even heralded within the realm of music, whereas in pedestrian life and in patriarchal society in general, emotion tends to be disregarded or looked down upon, subjugated as a system of perceiving. So, emotion was always important to me, as a kid, and I’ve fought for the right to express my emotions.That’s probably why I went into music, because when you sing, you’re taking up more space that has been allotted to you in the pedestrian world, but I think it’s the most natural thing in the world to sing. Every animal cries out. I think of it as a birthright: everyone has the right to feel and to cry out.

That brings me to Marc Almond, who will be appearing at Meltdown, and is a very expressive singer…

AH: Well, you’re probably too young to remember Marc in his first incarnation! When he came out in 1982, when I was a pre-teen, his work was very aggressive. I consider him to be one of a sort of group of young, in-your-face, effeminate artists who used effeminacy as a form of punk, in the same way that Rozz Williams did in Christian Death. I remember going to see Rozz Williams singing, and he’d be in front of this writhing mass of hardcore pitbull punks smashing into each other, and he’d be this 5’5” queen painted so heavily and wielding so much authority. And spitting at the audience!

With Marc, when he first emerged with Soft Cell, he was told, “If you go on Top of the Pops you can’t wear all those bracelets, you’ve got to wash off that eyeline”, which they wouldn’t have said to Duran Duran! But they said it to Marc, because they perceived him as more effeminate and somehow too much. So he would wear three times the bracelets and put on more eyeliner, and he’d hiss and shake his wrists at the camera. And it was very hardcore. Hardcore in the way Leigh Bowery was hardcore, it was more of a kind of declaration of war, and that was always something that appealed to me.

And yet, at the same time, even from within that defensive mode of self-expression, at the core of what Marc was doing was forcing a space in culture, forcing open a space in which he could express his emotions. He sang with flagrant abandon and such emotion, and he would say to the press, “I don’t care if I hit the notes, it’s the feeling that matters”, which is something I later heard echoed by Nina Simone. It’s one of the central tenets of singing, and here it was coming from this kid, 20 or 21. He was a warrior, and very inspiring to me as a kid, because life for me at that age was a war, and Marc represented a frontier and a response from a perspective that I could recognise as my own.

That seems to me to be reflected in your own approach to music, even if you don’t immediately come across as a “warrior”…

AH: Well, the music itself was soul-bearing. Torment And Toreros, the Marc And The Mambas record he’s doing [at Meltdown], was the definitive record of my adolescence. It’s ferociously expressive and he just took up space. As a young kid, it was very inspiring to see someone dare to occupy that space. That’s why I got into music. I was never particularly musical, I even have a report card from the second-grade that says, “If only Antony’s prowess matched his enthusiasm in music!” [laughs]

I believe you are only doing one show yourself, the film with Charles Atlas. How have you prepared for that?

AH: Actually, I’ll probably be appearing a few times, in bits and pieces. Everyone’s trying to recruit me to do a number here and there, but I’m very hesitant to do that, because I want to present their pure work and not scoop out a space for me to do a cameo, y’know? In the case of the film, it’s one I’m making with Charlie and my group [the Johnsons], Turning, and we’re very excited to premiere it.

Cut The World is a live album. What made you decide to release a live record at this stage of your career?

AH: It’s been cumulative, because I’ve been performing with symphonies and developing a body of arrangements from my catalogue, and I’ve been touring that for three years now. In a way, the culmination of that was to release the highlights of that. On the last two records I did, The Crying Light and Swanlights, I incorporated a lot of symphonic elements in the studio recording, so I didn’t include as many of those songs on this album, I really wanted to collect recordings of the songs that had the scope to be transformed by the symphonic arrangements and exhibit them on this record.

Was it a challenge to rearrange the tracks in this way?

AH: We did it over time. Initially, I was approached by Nico Muhly and he asked me if he could arrange a few of my songs, way back when he used to come see me perform at Joe’s Pub ten years ago. He really transformed the songs and they took on a new life, so I was able to collect some of those songs and some of the arrangements. One track, ‘Cut the World’, is a studio recording from the work I’ve been doing with Marina Abramovic and Robert Wilson.

The performance with an orchestra somehow makes some tracks seem sparser and more immediate, with a focus on your voice. Was this your intention?

AH: It could be partly the mix. I wasn’t as involved in mixing Cut The World as I was previous records, because it was a collaboration with the Danish National Orchestra. They were really keen to control the sound of the record. Also, because they’re live recordings, they’re more spacious, in a way, than my studio recordings, and there’s more a sense of the air around the instruments. So probably you can see the outline of each piece more clearly than if it were a studio recording. It’s funny: when you’re doing a recording with a symphony, the tendency is to get into something quite grandiose and to sweep in, as it were. You’re riding a big river of sound, propelled by the momentum of 40 or 60 musicians behind you. It’s a different sensation to playing with an intimate ensemble, which has been my history. So it was always an interesting and delicate negotiation to create enough space within the arrangements to still retain a sense of intimacy, which was so important to the emotional aspect of the work. We had to use the symphonies in a subtle way… Sometimes, like on ‘Cripple And The Starfish’, it’s still a bombastic arrangement, but a lot of the others are quite subtle, and it wasn’t so much a matter of creating a thicker wall of sound as it was of creating a much wider palette of sound to draw on.

You mention ‘Cripple And The Starfish’, where the symphonic arrangements convey a lushness that is nearly cinematic. Would you agree, and do you consider your songs and albums to have a narrative element?

AH: That song is particularly narrative, and it’s episodic: it goes through three separate stages. I wrote it 20 years ago. It has a sense of a bomb ticking towards its final, terrible inevitability, so I always direct it that way. Those early songs, like ‘I Fell In Love With a Dead Boy’ and ‘Cripple And The Starfish’ move in tiers. They’re chapters. It’s more storytelling, whereas later songs I wrote tend to be more like tableaux, a bit more abstract. They’re more descriptions of a situation.

How do you approach performing live, as opposed to recording in the studio?

AH: I’ve never really harnessed studio recording. I’m a live singer. For me the pleasure of singing was always to be with people and sing. Doing studio recording is always very difficult for me…

As you mentioned, the album features a new song, ‘Cut The World’ which was composed for The Life And Death Of Marina Abramovic. How did you become involved with that, and was your focus purely on the musical side of the production?

AH: Marina kind of courted me. She came and met me, and befriended me, and before I knew it I’d been hoodwinked into doing the musical tracks! [laughs] Working on The Life And Death Of Marina Abramovic has been one of the most incredible experiences. Robert Wilson is really inspiring, and Marina’s just an incredible person to be around and learn from, as is Willem. He’s an incredibly inspiring actor. I’ve never really seen acting like that before, I’ve never been close to it in a process like that before.

My role was to write and assemble the score for the piece, and by doing that I brought in my friends whose music I love, like Billy Basinski, Matmos, Gaël Rakotondrabe – who’s the pianist from Cocorosie – and some of the instrumentalists on my records. I did a mixture, assembling and inviting these musicians and using their music, and wrote about ten singing songs.

Do you ever find that the popularity of your music can sometimes overshadow your work in other art spheres, especially here in the UK, where I Am A Bird Now was such a success?

AH: It’s certainly true. I Am A Bird Now was sort of thrust into every kitchen in the UK one morning, and it certainly wouldn’t have happened that way if it hadn’t been for the Mercury Prize. There was so much visibility to that initial project, and it was so helpful. Even more than just in the UK, it was helpful across Europe in validating me as an artist that people continue to engage on some level. But certainly not through the media channels that initially supported me before the Mercury Prize.

I often find with LGBT artists, that portrayals in the press, even from sympathetic journalists, tend to always be centred on notions of “conflict”…

AH: Supposedly sympathetic journalists. Even gay ones. Sometimes gay journalists are the worst. It depends on which country you’re in, and how far along they are in the dialogue about whether a gay or transgender person should be offered a dignified platform in culture, so often the article betrays that underlying conflict, which is one between the critic and himself. Even if the writer believes in the thoughts [of LGBT artists], they can be betraying their own underlying homophobia or self-loathing. I’ve certainly experienced that with gay writers who somehow couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea that someone like me could be given a platform. You’d be so surprised.

And on the other hand you get people who have already moved through that and are just interested to find out what I have to say, or to have a dialogue with me as an artist. It’s amazing to see how it varies from country to country. Did you read the Guardian article?

Yes, I did. I actually read it before I saw your response, and it felt like the author was probing to try and get a sense of conflict, as I said, asking about bullying, the relationship you had with your parents and so on…

AH: It’s the same nauseating questions that they’ve been asking me for ten years and it reveals more about the writer than it does about me. It’s the incredulity that someone like me could have passed through the pearly gates and actually have some sort of a seat in culture, and they’re grappling with it.

Unfortunately, at a first reading, someone might think it’s a reflection on me, but if it you look at twice you realise that it’s a reflection on the writer. You can sense it from the third sentence that there’s a nasty residue to his tone that asphyxiates me and coats it. It’s just a few turns of phrase, a cynicism and sarcasm with which he approaches the material, even though he might support and believe in the material, deep down, if he was asked, and often times they do, but they’re not willing to take the risk. They’re not willing to take the fall. Because in their old systems of operation, someone like me should not be supported. It’s an internal thing for them, usually straight men, but sometimes gay guys as well. It’s just a culture’s shame investigating itself.

That makes me thinks that there’s a lot of internalised homophobia in how society approaches “queer culture”, in that it has to be seen as separate.

AH: It’s just the fact that we’re still dialoguing about the issue. It divides and undermines my ability to participate in the greater culture. If I can only be framed as a gay artist, then my work is contained, it’s quarantined, and 90% of the time it’s dismissed by people outside that interest group. But that’s never really been the scope of my work, especially in the last five years, where most of my work has been about the environment. And issues of gender, but not necessarily in the way of I Am A Bird Now, which was obviously very personal, an exploration of the internal role of gender. In the last five or six years, I’ve more been interested in archetypes of gender as they relate to much bigger panoramas. As I say, it goes from country to country: in Scandinavia they don’t even ask you about that stuff, they just want to know what I’m thinking as an artist. Every country has its threshold.

Have your views on gender in art, and in general, evolved over the years?

AH: I don’t know if I’ve ever had views on gender in art, particularly. I’ve always leaned, as you can see in my Meltdown line-up, especially towards women artists, with some exceptions. Increasingly in my thinking, unless a male artist has been willing to examine or deconstruct their seat of privilege, as a man, in society, then I’m not really interested in what they have to say. It’s like if I was a black artists before the civil rights movement, I probably wouldn’t have had any interest in the work of slavers, unless they’d made an effort to reach out to the rest of the world and discuss their identity. Because there’s too much going on, the world needs too much help. I’m not one for business as usual. And a lot of the music scene is just a wanking, self-congratulatory boys’ club, it’s just so fucking boring and not useful. It’s such a waste of our time. More than that, it’s catastrophic in a way. It’s another reflection of how astray we are, as a civilisation.

It’s very interesting to see you include ‘Future Feminism’ on the album. It’s a fascinating monologue, but what prompted you to include it? Do you perhaps see it as something of a manifesto or ideology?

AH: You know, we thought, “Oh that’s so off, you can’t do that, it’s too much”, but then I always like a challenge like that, when it seems like too much or it’s too embarrassing. That can indicate a threshold to cross. Sometimes in concerts I’m too winded to carry on singing, so I prattle on for a while, and we just edited it down from my prattlings. Increasingly, I’ve wanted to provide a lens through which to perceive the songs, something to frame them more provocatively within some of my ideas about the world and the way I see the world. It makes things more dynamic, and I’ve also been afforded this platform, so I wanted to take as much advantage of it as I could and try to participate as vividly as I could and do the best I can. And the things I say might seem naive or clumsy, but they’re the points of view of an artist, not necessarily an intellectual and yet artists – and the rest of the world- have the right to participate, and to give voice to what they see and what they think has gone wrong. You often hear that artists shouldn’t talk about things, because they’re not the experts, but in fact it’s our world and we should all be talking about it. We shouldn’t be intimidated.

A Quietus Interview – Distant Echoes: An Interview With kandodo (July 18th, 2012)

kandodo is the solo project of Simon Price, guitarist for renowned and seminal UK heavy-psychers The Heads. But where his parent band are known for their raucous, high-octane take on psychedelic rock’n’roll, kandodo is a much more restrained and delicate creature, with Price’s eponymous debut consisting of a series of beautiful ambient sketches inspired by his childhood in sub-Saharan Africa, with the project’s name lifted from a chain of Malawian supermarkets and each track echoing the vast spaces of the continent’s endless savannas or the mysterious, heavy darkness of African nights. From this foundation, Price slowly builds up his tunes around elegant guitar melodies, discreet synth lines and wide-open, cinematic atmospheres, transcending concepts, borders and genre. The Quietus caught up with Simon to discuss his decision to make a solo album, his relationship with the continent he grew up in, Africa (which permeates kandodo), and the oblique and tentative emotions conjured up across the album’s nine songs.

Could you please give me a bit of background on kandodo? How long has it been going and what prompted you to release the album now?

Simon Price: I’d messed around at home, recording the odd thing for years, in between playing with The Heads. Two or three years back, I started using my laptop for recordings, before that it had been an ancient four track or walkman. Eventually I finished three tracks, burnt a couple of copies, and passed one on to Ripley [Johnson] of Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo, as he had previously given me encouragement. I thought little of it, but when we met up again 6 months later he said how much he liked it and how he’d passed it onto Bettina at Thrill Jockey. I’d mixed the rest of my tracks by then and compiled them into an album, pressed to 100 copies. I did a fancy package, with paper bags and hand stamping, and sold them to fans, a bunch of which were picked up by Rough Trade. Thrill Jockey then heard the completed album and said they’d like to release it.

How did you go about composing the tracks? Were they mostly improvised?

SP: If I was in the mood, I’d set my guitar up and play, pressing record when I thought something sounded ok. I might start with a tambourine loop and play along to that, or a guitar loop and add to that, or nothing at all. Some tracks were recorded straight to my walkman and then I added extras. Going digital was so much more convenient than the 4-track (I use the walkman to add some analogue warmth and hiss). I could record a rough track, leave it and come back to it months later, add some more and then leave it again. I could then ditch it or eventually mix it. There was a lot of improvisation – I’ve always valued feel over technique, so wouldn’t want to get too tight (no worries there!) Mistakes also played a significant part. I’m a firm believer in first takes too.

In comparison to your work in The Heads, the music on kandodo is quite stripped down and minimal. Would you say that it was partly a reaction to The Heads’ volume and energy? Or did you feel that the ideas you wanted to explore were best approached in this way?

SP: I love the noise of The Heads, but maybe after 20 years I just wanted to try something more laid back. Recording alone, you don’t have the energy to feed off but you do have time and spaces, to either fill or leave empty. I had no specific ideas, just the desire to make noises that I might like to listen to. With a band there has to be some compromise. On my own, I was free to explore however I liked, coming back to tracks as the mood hit me.

Thrill Jockey’s website mentions your childhood in Africa as an inspiration behind this album. Could you please give me some more detail about that, and how you approached integrating it into the album?

SP: I lived in Africa from the age of three – Zambia and Malawi – and left at 20. Africa is full of big open spaces, endless bush, rock and sands. The land, people and animals seem to take life slow, and I spent an awful lot of time staring at horizons, water, plants, insects and animals. There is a place called Lion Rock in Kasungu, Malawi, it’s in a vast plain. There’s an iron age kiln at the base of it, a tree on the top has scratches from some cat, trees stretch to the horizon. Epic, endless, in my dreams. I guess kandodo is a distant echo of experiences from my life.

Would you therefore consider kandodo to be more personal and intimate than The Heads, given these references to your past and the fact that it’s a solo record?

SP: Yeah, completely. With a band there has to be some compromise. The Heads is a democracy, whereas I could be a benign dictator on my own, and I was free to explore however I liked.

Despite this context, the African atmospheres on the album are quite vague, more a sense of mood than stereotypical musical elements such as percussion or voices. Was this a deliberate choice, to keep things loose, in terms of concept? It feels as if this album could also have been composed with the American Far West or the Yorkshire moors in mind rather than Africa…

SP: I love going to remote places, it’s just that in England they’re not every day sights or experiences due to living in the city. I’ve not been back to Africa for a while so get my wilderness fix wherever I can. I was up in Northumberland over Easter, on an empty beach on Holy Island. It’s not the wild tropics, but the vastness of nature vibe is definitely there. In fact, the ‘kandodo’ video was put together with clips from that trip. Anywhere wild and wooly is good! It seems that only in places like that can the eternity of our planet be felt.

In many ways, kandodo feels like a soundtrack, such as Neil Young’s one for Dead Man. Do you consider the tracks to have a narrative strain within them, or perhaps across the album in its entirety?

SP: I consciously put ‘Dawn Harmonix’ first and ‘Lord Hyena 3am’ at the end, to bookend the album. I also tried to make the tracks flow but there was no overall concept, just a collection of work from a similar time and with similar instrumentation. The art and titles give a hint of a narrative. Because it’s all instrumental, I guess that gives the listener a broader scope for interpretation, to conjure up their own images. I do love soundtracks though, setting the vibe is so important.

The main instrument on the album is the guitar, although the style is markedly different to how you play in The Heads, to these ears. Did you have to completely re-appraise how you approached playing the guitar for kandodo? Did you use similar pedals and effects to what you employ in The Heads?

SP: I guess there aren’t many riffs on kandodo, that’d be the most obvious difference. Tempo, too: The Heads can be quite fast as well as slow, kandodo is just slow and slower! With The Heads, it’s a bit of a psyche whirlwind, whereas with kandodo there’s much more time and space for me to roam, kinda like the difference of a raging river flowing into the calmer open sea. I could touch the strings instead of wrenching them.

I used totally different rigs for kandodo. A Magnatone Typhoon and a Jaguar were the main guitars, a small Fender tube amp for that twang, a Microkorg for the keyboards, and pedals – a lot of them! – Electro Harmonix Hazarai delay, phasers, fuzz, wah, ebow and repeater. Really though, I went for anything that sounded good at a lowish volume, as I recorded it all at home in the lounge. I used a tambourine as my main rhythm. I mixed it on headphones, as I wanted to make it sound good for anyone at 30,000 feet, one of my favourite listening places.

kandodo takes the listener through a range of moods and emotion, and some of the tracks are notably darker than others, such as ‘Witchdoctor’ and ‘Shangri Last’. Do the tracks reflect emotions you were feeling at the time of composition or, to come back to my earlier question, is it more to do with a concept you were adhering to throughout the album’s creation?

SP: I guess some tracks are quite dark, or sombre, in vibe, maybe I wasn’t overjoyed at the time, or had the blues. Maybe I was missing something, or pondering the past, present and future… If there’s any concept, it would be for a time and land that’s lost and the slow sad demise of too many beautiful creatures.

I’m also interested in the two track titles that reference the hyena in their titles and are also two of the best (and darkest!) on the album. Could you please give me a bit of background on these tracks and the reference to hyenas? They’re fascinating animals, and their inclusion in these track titles seems to add even greater potency to the latter. Would you agree?

SP: I love hyenas, they are amazing animals but seem to have a bad press, kind of like the Great White shark too, though the shark’s tale is the sadder. Hyenas were always fascinating to me, especially at night in Africa when their calls can be heard rippling through the night – weird noises they make too! They are the top land predator in Africa (responsible for more kills than lions due to the declining lion numbers), and as such they play a vital role in the balance of grazers and their land. They have a very matriarchal society, because female hyenas are bigger and have external genitalia, another weird aspect to them. They live in very supportive family groups and can eat/crush most things. Hyenas will be there at the end, lumbering dog/cat creatures, triumphs of evolution. Caught a whiff of one once too, when it investigated a car I was sat in late one night: it’s ripe to say the least! They’re not to be messed with, a magnificent beast all round.

‘Laud the Hyena’ was the first track I recorded, I did it one evening. I played the same thing, just with different guitars and effects. Then thought it needed some drums, so recorded some bad tambourine. I messed around with the tempo, and my walkman has a handy pitch control, and decided to do another version, slowed and duplicated, and this became ‘Lord Hyena 3am’ (if it was good enough for Neu!), the late night wasted cousin of the original track. Some of my guitar on this track sounded very vaguely like a hyena too.

Descriptions of kandodo have often included references to ambient and drone acts such as Brian Eno and Neu!. Do you feel it is part of an ambient drone tradition, and was that something you wanted to channel and expand upon?

SP: In my dreams! I’m a big fan of Eno and Neu! and can’t help but be influenced by them and many others in that vague field. I’d be happy to be a part of that tradition of psych soundscapes, music to get lost in, but might need to record a bit more though. New stuff I’ve been doing is a bit more up tempo, perhaps more confident, but equally repetitive and indulgent, obviously. There’s always the Graceland concept album, The King… I’m not going to go all highlife.

Are you planning to tour this music? How will you go about adapting kandodo for live performances, if so?

SP: I hadn’t intended to play live but I think I will, and I have vague plans to do the odd gig. Trying to replicate tracks in a live setting would be hard due to the layered guitar aspect. Too many instruments, not enough hands. I don’t want to play to a backing track either, so I might get someone to help out live. It would be different though, as I can’t remember all of what I played anyway. I could play the odd track and go off on one from there, but I guess I’ll have to give it some thought and time.

kandodo is out now on Thrill Jockey. You can read this interview, with videos, here

A Quietus Interview – Thought Into Sound: Motion Sickness Of Time Travel Interviewed (June 27th, 2012)

US-based composer and musician Rachel Evans has been operating under the name Motion Sickness Of Time Travel since the late 2000s, releasing a series of tapes, LPs and CD-Rs of hazy, droney, semi-ambient bliss that saw her associated – perhaps hastily – with the much-heralded ‘hypnagogic pop’ scene.

In 2011, the vinyl reissue of her Seeping Through the Veil of Unconsciousness album garnered hugely-deserved critical praise for its tentative, ghostly atmospheres and Evans’ graceful vocals. This year saw her release a striking eponymous double LP set on Spectrum Spools, the Editions Mego imprint curated by Emeralds’ John Elliott, and it already stands as one of the imprint’s finest releases to date, building up elegant, achingly beautiful synth patterns over four side-long pieces that evoke the best of Cluster or Emeralds.

The Quietus caught up with Evans to discuss how she got into music, the genesis of Motion Sickness of Time Travel, and the genesis of this colossal album.

Could you please give me some background on how you got into music? Have you always been a musician?

Rachel Evans: Though I hate to admit it, I initially got into music through church. I was born in a small Georgia town and when I was young my mum sang solos at church and in choir, and my dad ran the soundboard. Neither of them were musicians themselves, but they always encouraged me to be.

I was never very good at sight-reading – great at reading music and dissecting it in theory class, but not so great at playing it correctly and on the spot. I’ve always felt the most at home with keyboard instruments, which has evolved into my love for electronics and synths without keys. Somewhere along the way my mediocre musician abilities led me to be much more comfortable with improvising than I was with actually ‘composing’ music in the traditional sense.

What led you to start Motion Sickness of Time Travel? Do you find working solo preferable to collaborating with other musicians?

RE: Well, I’d been in a few bands in high school, and in late high school / early college I tried to do the solo music thing but always with more traditional instruments… it was more singer-songwriter than anything else. Up until that time I hadn’t been exposed to a lot of types of music outside of my family’s tastes (which were always religious), and some early classical music. When I met my husband Grant in college he started introducing me to wider varieties of music, and I started listening to music differently and appreciating different things about sound.

At the same time my music theory professor was introducing me to early electronic composers. I ended up falling in love with Stockhausen, Reich, Satie, and the like while at the same time listening to krautrock for the first time, and Grant introducing me to the music of Valet around that time too. One piece in particular by Berio, titled ‘Visage’, was a huge influence for me, and really opened my ears to the possibilities of using the voice in wordless ways as a key ingredient. About that time I also started using Pure Data and Max/MSP a bit, and creating my own effects and computer-synthesizers. All of that is really what led me to want to give my music a new name and to take a new approach to creating sounds myself. And that’s how Motion Sickness of Time Travel came to be.

I wouldn’t say I prefer working solo. It’s just kind of an exercise for me. It’s how I get out stress, worry, emotions of all kinds. Even before it was called MSOTT, my music has always been a place of refuge, and a diary of sorts. I really love collaborating with other people, but especially with Grant as Quiet Evenings. I really feel like my music is only half-whole on its own, and it becomes something much more beautiful and complete when he and I do music together.

Motion Sickness of Time Travel is a very distinctive name. How did you come up with it?

RE: I actually didn’t come up with the name myself! Grant suggested it to me when I was searching for titles to call my new project, and stumbled across the phrase in William S. Burroughs’ The Soft Machine. I thought it was perfect, and have used it ever since.

And it does seem to resonate within your work. Is exploring notions of time passing and looping over itself key to your work? Where does this interest in time stem from?

RE: I guess my interest in time comes from my first experiments with trying to make music like this. I wasn’t sure how to begin, so I started by seeing what kinds of things I could do to my voice. Some of the first MSOTT recordings are actually me remixing my older music and just exploring the possibilities of all the ways I could change and affect the sounds I had been used to making. Time is such a funny thing and time passing has always been something that fascinates me. Sound itself is nothing without time, even a completely silent piece has a duration. Looping also quickly became one of my favorite things to do and play with, something I had never really explored until I started recording as MSOTT.

Do you think this interest in time can explain some of the off-kilter atmospheres in your work? A journalist once used the term “queasy” to describe some of your work (as a positive thing) – would you agree with that description?

RE: I suppose queasy could be appropriate… I wouldn’t necessarily define the atmospheres I create as ‘off-kilter’, but my interest in time can definitely explain the feelings and sonic environments it creates, despite the wording used to describe it. Describing my music has always been difficult for me.  I just record what I feel at a particular moment in time, and it just naturally takes on an atmosphere all its own, which I guess is just a reflection of my mind and my surroundings; how I see things, I guess you could say. Maybe it also has something to do with being from the South. Things are pretty slow down here.

Do you view your music, particularly on Seeping Through the Veil of Unconsciousness, as channeling something spiritual, or otherworldly?

RE: I wouldn’t call it spiritual. The word spiritual makes me think of ‘religion’ and that’s not what I’m after or trying to convey. In fact it’s the opposite of that. Maybe otherworldly is a better word for it, though I’m not sure that’s the best way to say it either. I’m not trying to channel anything in particular, just myself and my inner thoughts and ideas about the world I guess.

Seeping… was an exploration of basic magic for me, and in a way coming to the realization that I am my own ‘god’, or something like that. I’d been reading a certain book about the history of magic, ceremonies and the like. And although a lot of that can be considered spiritual I guess, for me it’s more human than that, more ‘real’ than that. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not much more than a diary for me. There’s no need to read into it any more than that. It’s just me conveying what I’m feeling, thinking, reading and learning at a certain moment in time, just instead of writing things down it’s recorded as music. Improvised thoughts documented as sounds.

One of the most distinctive and powerful aspects of your music has been your use of vocals. How do you approach the application of singing in your music? Do you write lyrics?

RE: As I mentioned earlier, my voice was one of the first things I felt comfortable experimenting with. It’s the most natural instrument at my disposal to use and manipulate. As I grew more comfortable using my voice in different ways, I grew more comfortable using other instruments in those same ways. Though it’s difficult to keep the human voice from being the centerpiece. It’s something I’ve struggled with on and off again for a while. Music certainly doesn’t need a voice in there to make it music, but the human ear is so strangely attracted to the human voice, which is very fascinating to me.

Beyond my first MSOTT pieces, the rest of my music under that name always starts out with other sounds as a base, and voice is the very last thing I’ll add. I don’t write lyrics. This goes back to one of the previous questions: in the same way the music is recorded improvised, so are the vocal parts. It’s all stream-of-conscious. I can remember some words and phrases from various recording sessions, just because they stick with me. It also depends on how much mixing I do afterward and how much I listen to the music myself once it’s done. Even I don’t know what I’m saying most of the time, it just flows and whatever happens, happens.

How do you know when it’s the right moment to include vocals on a piece?

RE: I generally record layers and layers of synth on top of one another until it feels right. If it still feels like it’s missing something, I’ll do a vocal take or two. I always record from beginning to end until it feels thick enough to my ears. Usually all of this happens in one sitting over the course of an hour or so. More and more often I’ve found myself getting more comfortable with leaving vocals out of pieces completely. Not every piece needs it if there are enough interesting textures already.

Could you tell me about the recording process for the new self-titled album? I imagine working almost exclusively with synths can be difficult!

RE: Ha! I personally find that working mostly with one type of instrument, like synths, is easier for me than combining different instrument textures that don’t always jive in the same way. I essentially explained the process above, there’s not much to it. I sit down with my synths, some pedals and a few other synth/electronics and my laptop and just hit record. For the new album, everything except the C-side was recorded direct-in, one instrument/sound at a time and layering on top of myself until it felt right. I’ll do a little bit of mixing, mostly playing with the stereo-field and adjusting reverb or delay before I bounce the audio and save it. I did that same process several times… I can’t even count how many.

For this album I started work on the material in early 2011 and finished the last piece in January 2012. About mid-way through that period of time, I did a few “live” one-takes. One of those became the C-side. The other sides were compiled from all those various recording sessions. I had so much material for the album come January that I had to cut a lot of it, but still wanted to include as much as possible from all those sessions. So I ended up dragging all of the ‘finished’ pieces back into my audio program and arranging them into side-long tracks as well. It’s the first time I’ve ever gone back in and connected pieces in that way. I really liked the idea of side-long listens and being in control of that space between ‘tracks’. The A, B and D side are more ‘suites’ than they are side-long tracks, but I wanted them to be digested by listeners as side-long tracks, which is why I gave them only one title per side.

I’ve seen Motion Sickness of Time Travel described as being ‘futuristic’, something one could argue is enhanced by its release on Spectrum Spools. Are you influenced by science fiction?

RE: I’m certainly influenced by science fiction to a degree. One of the biggest influences for this album when I first started recording it was Alan Moore’s Promethea series of books. I’d say it’s equal parts science fiction and magic, at least for me. The album is sort of my soundtrack for my own personal Promethea-esque epic. I was also reading Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore when I was finishing the final recordings and arranging them into suites. I wouldn’t call it science fiction, but more metaphysical fiction. I even pulled the titles for the sides from those readings.

Finally, do you have plans to tour with this album or release any new albums?

RE: I don’t have any plans to tour the album. Grant and I have several festival dates set up for our duo Quiet Evenings to play this fall, which will coincide nicely with the next Quiet Evenings LP release on Belgium’s Aguirre Records later this summer.

I don’t see any need to ‘tour’ MSOTT at this point since the music does very well for itself regardless of playing shows. I also just prefer playing live shows with Grant. It’s much more enjoyable and way less stressful than trying to recreate my solo music (which is next to impossible given the recording process for most of my MSOTT releases). That being said, Grant and I have both agreed to do solo performances at legendary venue The Stone in New York on February 1, 2013. I’ve decided not to arrange any solo shows before that date, and hopefully that will make that performance that much more significant and special. But who knows what the future will hold…

As far as new albums, Grant and I just released my most recent cassette tape on our own label, Hooker Vision. It’s called Chinaberry and contains a track that was cut from the 2xLP material, as well as the newest music I’ve recorded post-Spectrum Spools. I also have a cassette tape to be released soon on the label Sacred Phrases, which also features some outtakes from the Spectrum Spools LP. And I’m almost done with a new cassette tape of all brand new material for the Canadian label Old Frontiers. Beyond that I don’t have any plans for MSOTT releases which is actually a nice feeling. I’m looking forward to taking just as much time with the next big release and I did with this 2xLP, and working on more Quiet Evenings music and other new projects.

A Quietus Interview – Extreme Language: An Interview With Justin K. Broadrick (May 9th, 2012)

If you’re a metal fan, Justin K. Broadrick stands as a figure as important and valuable as Stephen O’Malley or Aaron Turner: someone who has traversed the decades at the forefront of the genre’s constant and fascinating evolutions. Born in the decaying industrial belt of Britain’s West Midlands, JKB, as he’s affectionately known, first rose to prominence as singer and guitarist in seminal industrial metal outfit Godflesh, who re-drew the metal map by expertly melding Black Sabbath riff-tastic crunch with the brutal textures and bleak atmospheres of Throbbing Gristle and SPK.

After Godflesh dissolved, JKB would continue to reinvent the wheel, dabbling in industrial techno, hip-hop and free metal alongside future Bug Kevin Martin (as part of God, Techno Animal and Ice) before relaxing the harshness to focus on beatific post-shoegaze bliss as Jesu. More recently, he’s teamed up with Turner to form what may be his heaviest project yet, Greymachine, whilst exploring ambient drone and power electronics in his solo outfit White Static Demon.

It seems there’s no end to Broadrick’s inspiration and ability to expand on his already prodigious discography. JK Flesh is his latest solo project, one that’s been ongoing for some time but which he’d long delayed in committing to tape. With a focus once again on techno beats, but submerged under waves of guitar, JK Flesh’s debut Posthuman feels like Broadrick returning to his 90s dabblings in techno and hip-hop, whilst also expanding the scope of what a metal artist can do alone with the right equipment. the Quietus caught up with Broadrick over the phone to discuss this latest adventure, and to brush up on the man’s remarkable contribution to modern metal music.

Could you please give me a bit of background on JK Flesh? Am I right in thinking it’s a project that’s been going for a while now?

Justin K Broadrick: Relatively. It was the pseudonym I used when I was working with Kevin Martin. He and I spent many years working together, firstly in a band that he used to do called God – that’s going back to the late-eighties, early-nineties. I started producing them and doing some guitar, and then we started this project called Techno Animal in the very early nineties: we did our first album in about 1991. Shortly after that, we did an album for Virgin called Re-Entry, which got a lot of hype and attention, and he laughingly started to call me JK Flesh, because we were working on a mutation of hip-hop. He was politely taking the piss and I took the piss out of him by calling him K-Mart [laughs]. And those names stuck in the end.

The JK Flesh pseudonym was intended for everything he and I did together, which was basically anything we did in the realm of electronica, loosely-speaking. Anything that had beats and was electronic-based. Since we stopped working on these projects together, I’d always quite privately recorded material, but never did anything with it because I just concentrated on stuff like Jesu. Steve from Cloaks, who actually came to me from Kevin, was quite interested in my Greymachine project, which was me with a lot of other guys, and that paved the way for JK Flesh, because he came over and asked me if I did anything solo that was similar to Greymachine. It’s just sort of gone from there, really…

So now just seemed the right time to get it out?

JKB: Yes, reasonably. I think I’d been sending him what could be considered tracks probably about two years ago, but because shortly after the release of the Greymachine album I’d been doing so many things and I’d just had my first child, I had to slow everything down a bit. But Steve was particularly struck on a certain area that I was hitting with this material, because it’s fairly diverse but rooted in beats, literally-speaking. It’s essentially in the area of electronica, observing everything from drum & bass to grime or dubstep – anything that could be considered dancefloor, but then of course I’ve mutilated it by bringing in electric guitars and fucked-up layers of psychedelia and so on.

With its electronica approach, it certainly harks back to, say, Techno Animal. What was it that initially drew you to techno music and electronics, away from metal?

JKB: I think for me you could draw it back to the eighties and when I got into industrial music. I come from a punk background and metal was just a by-product of punk for me. I only got interested in it because I was into stuff like Crass and Discharge as a kid, and by way of stuff like Discharge I got into stuff like Motorhead, purely by accident, just because they were referred to by school friends. And I was always interested in this minimalist approach to music, with no care for technical ability and a focus on emotional impact.

But outside of things like that, I was also listening to things like Throbbing Gristle and had a real soft spot for a lot of eighties synth stuff like early Human League, DAF, Kraftwerk – I was already really fascinated by synth sounds and sequenced synthesizer stuff. Arguably, you could call it primitive techno, so when the techno explosion happened, and I got into that acid house stuff (and was taking the right drugs!), I was very obsessive about that culture. That was absorbed by Godflesh in the very early nineties and at the same time, in ‘85 or so, I got exposed to Public Enemy, Beastie Boys and Run DMC, and became fascinated with hip-hop culture. So it’s all just one big melting pot to me, and metal is just one of the things I’m interested in.

Industrial is possibly what you’re most associated with, with a lot of people crediting Godflesh for launching industrial metal. Do you see JK Flesh as using electronics to expand on the industrial scene you were part of?

JKB: I think I’m a little lost with the whole industrial scene, to be honest. Godflesh is obviously seen as an innovator to the industrial metal scene, but I just saw Godflesh as making a sort of minimalist, extreme form of rock or metal. But I was completely influenced by TG, SPK, Test Dept. and Whitehouse – all that early, loosely-speaking industrial music. For me, industrial became associated with some fairly odd things in the nineties and I wanted to distance myself from the very smooth-sounding electronic body music, which I wasn’t interested in. I’m fairly purist about what I consider industrial music, I guess, and the impact it had upon me was to sort of abuse it. This JK Flesh thing is genuinely industrial, I think – but not seen in that context, more that of the artists I mentioned, as well as certain drum & bass ones from the nineties. JK Flesh is as informed by Throbbing Gristle as is it by what Dillinjah or the Renegade Hardware label or No-U-Turn were doing.

You’ve mentioned dubstep and drum & bass – do you think it would be easy to align JK Flesh with those genres? Could you see yourself playing this material in a club space?

JKB: It’s too leftfield and too far gone for that stuff. I used to go to drum & bass events all the time in the nineties, but they were very one dimensional, although that was the thrill: it was a very singular experience. JK Flesh is way too expansive and fucked-up for that dancefloor scene. It’s funny because at first some of this material that’s on the album didn’t have guitar and vocals, and it was arguably much more dancefloor-oriented and it could have been mixed in by DJs, particularly at dubstep events, because I’m using that 140bpm tempo. But no, even Steve from Cloaks said that if I put more guitar and vocals on it, it’d become even more far out, which is probably a good thing. And that was the intention. The stuff I was originally doing was probably too… not conservative, it was still confrontational and really fucking heavy, but it needed to go further, like the Greymachine project. I needed it to be that extreme. I did a lot of stuff in the nineties that was straight-up drum & bass, where I had records that were played by the likes of Grooverider on Radio 1 and people wouldn’t know it was me! JK Flesh wouldn’t exist without drum & bass, but it’s a complete mutation of those styles.

Do you play all the instruments yourself on Posthuman? How did you go about putting together each track?

JKB: I played everything, yeah. Everything in its bare bones is pretty much a minimal dancefloor tune. And then I start throwing guitar and real drums on top, layers of vocals put through bank-loads of effects. It’s about layering extremity upon extremity, and then mixing it as extreme as well, but keeping it so it’s not just a wall of noise, and you can still feel the beats and bass. It’s an organic thing as well. The tracks start off as being pretty machine-like dancefloor tunes, to some extent, but then I’m looking in the layers for that sort of extremity, when things really take off. Which is what Kevin Martin and I were doing towards the end of working together in projects like Curse of the Golden Vampire, using conventional but very heavy dancefloor tools, but then making it organic and throwing yourself into it as a human being. It’s painstaking, although it’s somewhat easy-ish, initially, because I’ve spent so many years making things for dancefloors under different pseudonyms. The hard work is making it truly fucked up and truly psychedelic.

You’re incredibly prolific, even by modern standards. How do you find the inspiration to do such diverse projects?

JKB: Obviously I’ve got an extreme passion for music, and it’s pretty much the only language that I’m in any way – debatably! – adept at. I listen to such a wide range of music, and it gives me so much pleasure, that I find nearly everything inspirational. I’m just one of those sponge characters. Oddly, it takes me a long time to digest things. But by the time I’ve digested all these things, they come out in many different ways, you know? I have to be very focused on what I’m working on and what my goals are, which is quite hard when you’re mostly working by yourself, because holding your own reins is a difficult enough job anyway! But even though I’m quite prolific, I do work this material an awful lot, day-in, day-out. But I have to hold the reins nearly every month to not create yet another project! [laughs].

Do you have to sit down and commit to a project, or do you move between each one organically?

JKB: It depends on whatever’s grabbing me at the moment. I could have a couple of weeks of listening to a lot of song-based stuff that spans any number of decades and a lot of what results from that could be stuff that influences Jesu, for example. Then I might have a mad listening session of stuff from the seventies, some form of krautrock I loved when I was a kid and I’ll hear something that I could maybe re-interpret as a beat. I often switch modes – I’ll listen to, say, an old CAN record and I’ll hear a syncopated rhythm and think “that could be a beat that I’ll use!”

Also, I get bored fairly quickly! If I immerse myself in something so deeply, I’ll go straight into something fairly opposing to that. I’ve been working on the JK Flesh album this last year, mixing it that is, and I’ve been almost exclusively immersed in that, so that towards the end of mixing Posthuman, I started listening to a lot of stuff that was influencing me to do some Jesu stuff. So now I’m demoing some Jesu tracks, but I’ve also got this other project, Pale Sketcher, and some of it just blurs between the two. Certain projects will bleed into one another. Some of the JK Flesh stuff came from writing bits for a new Godflesh album. But I wanted Godflesh to be more riff-based, and this stuff was more electronic-based. It all makes sense to me, but rarely makes sense to anyone else.

As a fan of Jesu, I feel there’s a bit of a contrast between the expansiveness of that project and the claustrophobic atmosphere of JK Flesh. Do you see the latter as a bit of a reaction to what you’d been doing in Jesu?

JKB: I think I concentrated on JK Flesh a lot after doing the Godflesh reformation shows, because I hadn’t played as Godflesh in so many years. And Godflesh is a completely different performance to Jesu, live. Jesu is much more meditative and immersive, whereas Godflesh has that element of attack and confrontation. It makes you want to contort or twist up. Jesu is much more… I want to hide when I perform that stuff. It’s all extreme, but Jesu is still born from a lot of pop music, and there’s a lot of debate around that. For me, if Jesu could have barely had my name associated with it, and just be seen for what it is, I’d be a lot happier. Everything I do has name-association, which sometimes can be a bit stifling. I wish that each project of mine could be seen as what it is, purely, and not the person behind it.

I can understand that. I started out as a big fan of Jesu -and still am – then got into Godflesh and White Static Demon and Greymachine, and I can see how people keep comparing each project, often negatively. So I can imagine your frustration.

JKB: People will discuss each project’s merits versus another’s ad infinitum, and it’s just really boring. I like to take music for what it is. Being negative about music is really boring. Right and wrong is purely subjective.

When Godflesh’s Streetcleaner came out, people were very quick to draw parallels between the music on the album and the West Midlands, industrial, landscape where you’re from. Do you think that was a relevant point at the time, and that it’s still a factor in music if so?

JKB: Early Godflesh was absolutely a product of my own environment, but it wasn’t entirely the landscape outside the window, the concrete and the council estate; it was also to do with my childhood background, the way my mother’s was when I was young and what I was exposed to. I was exposed to drug-taking at an early age and a lot of intense partying. As often these things are, it was about the family relationship I had: very angsty. When we formed Godflesh, I was only 18 or something and still learning to deal with a lot of frustration, anger, love, hate… and I still am [laughs].

I don’t live in those environments anymore, I live in a very peaceful place, but whenever I go back to the city, I still feel the same way I did the whole time I was growing up, and JK Flesh is urban. It is not remotely inspired by the environment I exist in now. It’s inspired by when I go back to the city. Jesu is more pastoral, and about being at peace, but in the city I never feel at peace. When I make JK Flesh material, all I think of is the concrete I was brought up around.

One constant across all your projects is the dark atmosphere. Even on Jesu’s first album, you have tracks like ‘Tired of Me’ and ‘Friends are Evil’, which are very bleak. Do you naturally gravitate towards the darker side of the human condition?

JKB: Yes. I’ve often been told by people I know that I’m really fucking hypersensitive! It’s a desperate need for expression, although obviously it’s an ego thing I guess. Whatever I absorb, I don’t take things lightly, they seem to have an impact on me. A lot of the music is autobiographical: that first Jesu album was made after I’d just come out of a 13-year relationship, badly, and I just seemed to learn a lot of bad things about people. So Jesu was born from a lot of loss and bad feeling and it was the only way of sort of transcending the state I was in. Fortunately for me, music was the light, it was all I could use. It’s a sort of contradiction – music is the light but it ends up being this sort of bleak, depressing thing. But it was the only way I could express it, you know? But I think the first Jesu album kind of stands alone in that respect. Each record since has been a different examination of the same emotion, but not as completely at a loss as that record. ‘Tired of Me’ was literal, you know, I was absolutely at the end of my tether.

It’s an absolutely beautiful song, and one of my all-time favourites.

JKB: I’m glad you say that! That song is still really resonant to me and it’s one of my favourite songs I’ve written. It destroyed me when I was writing it, and that was the whole intention.

For all the emphasis on electronics on Posthuman, there’s a definite physicality and corporeality. Was that a deliberate theme?

JKB: A lot of the themes were associated with this whole body horror concept, but the context is pretty ambiguous, as it generally is with a lot of my stuff. It was about seeing the cities in Britain as these darkly-lit places full of alleys and shadows and cut-throats. It’s an extreme, hypersensitive way of viewing life, with the body being so weak – similar things that fit with Godflesh, to some extent. A lot of the same bio-mechanoid stuff, like the first time I saw Geiger’s paintings when on acid! I don’t do drugs anymore, but they had a massive impact on my music and my vision of things.

As you said, it’s quite unusual to have such an extreme guitar sound in electronic music, as you do on Posthuman. Did you have to adapt your playing style to accommodate the beats?

JKB: It is a specific side of my style that I implemented on this stuff. Again, it’s rooted in the Godflesh aesthetic, to some extent. It’s mostly about texture, like most of my music. I don’t consider myself a technical musician in any respect at all. It’s another means to an end – I just abuse guitars, really. With JK Flesh, I’m to some extent using the guitar to try and articulate the electronics. I was trying to do something that was just minimal and dissonant, and I just added texture. As I said, a lot of these tracks are, at the heart of them, dancefloor tracks, but it’s the layers that I put on top that made the album speak another language. It could be considered more conventional without those layers.

What I’m interested in with guitar is either having a lot of emotion or a melancholic aspect – which is Jesu – or with things like Godflesh, JK Flesh and Greymachine it’s abstraction. It’s informed by the first time I heard Killing Joke in 1980, and the way they used guitar, and the first Public Image. I was really influenced the way guitars were so much more abused and non-conventional with those guys. Non-rock! Dissonance! It does something to me physically that I find fascinating. I become so immersed that I can’t see outside of it. And then it gets close to meditation or astral projection.

What are your future projects? Any plans to take JK Flesh on tour?

JKB: There will definitely be one-off shows. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to present it yet, but I have some ideas, but I think it’s going to be fairly minimal, with projections. Not confrontational, but I think it will be a fairly angry experience, somewhat similar to Godflesh in some respects, but also a little bit outside of that. It’ll be kinda geared towards making people move as well as contort! [laughs] I doubt I’ll tour, because I don’t really tour anymore with any project.

Once again, there’s a number of extremely important projects I’m working on, all fighting for attention. I want to work on a new Godflesh album more, I’ve got lots of new Jesu stuff, the JK Flesh material is just as important. I’ve also accumulated a lot of White Static Demon material, and then there’s the Pale Sketcher project which has become noticed. I’ve being doing a lot of angry music lately, so now I’ve got to immerse myself in the opposite. And then I’ll want to go back to something more hateful and more fucked again!

You can also read this article, complete with video, here

A Quietus Interview – It’s A Family Affair: Rufus Wainwright Interviewed (April 3rd, 2012)

 Rufus Wainwright is one of the most popular and critically-celebrated singer-songwriters of his generation. Born into a musical family (his father is legendary folk singer Loudon Wainwright III and his mother was the equally-influential Canadian singer Kate McGarrigle, famous for duetting with her sister Anna, and Rufus’ sister and half-sister Martha and Lucy are also singers), he exploded onto the scene in the late-nineties with both his debut self-titled album and its follow-up, Poses.

Famous for his distinctive, deeply emotional voice and mastery of the piano, Wainwright has built up a vast following, and his prolific output includes a much-celebrated series of albums (Want I & II, 2003-2004), an opera (Prima Donna, 2009), seven studio and two live records. In addition he has collaborated with Burt Bacharach and Antony Hegarty, and headlined venues like Carnegie Hall and The Royal Albert Hall. Not to mention appearing at festivals like Glastonbury and The Hop Farm.

This year sees the release of Wainwright’s latest album, Out Of The Game, and a highly-anticipated world tour. In anticipation of both, The Quietus sat down with Rufus to discuss his latest album, the impact of his mother’s tragic death and the birth of his daughter on his work, and what it means to be a politically-minded singer-songwriter in today’s world.

Could you please give me a bit of background on your new album, Out Of The Game? When did you write these songs?

Rufus Wainwright: Well, the majority of them were written recently, after my mother’s death and the birth of my daughter. It was a pretty creatively fruitful environment, for the tragi-comedian that I am [laughs], so that was the main thrust. But we also had a bunch of demos and songs that were left over from previous albums. Mark Ronson perused them and ended up choosing a couple of tracks from them. ‘Welcome to the Ball’ and ‘Perfect Man’ were quite old songs. It kind of spans the gamut. But most of them are very, very new.

What was the thought process behind bringing in Mark Ronson to produce?

RW: Besides him being one of the most handsome men on Earth [laughs] and charming to boot, he’s also a genius in terms of capturing a certain vibe, a depth of sound and warmth of tone with his production team. He’s the full package and like any kind of decent pop venture it happened really fast: we went in and two months later the record was finished, and I think that’s a good omen for the record. There weren’t much adjustments that had to be made. We both wanted something from each other, and I think we both got it.

What was he like to work with?

RW: He’s so easy! He’s no pushover, by any means, he’ll be brutally honest if he’s not getting something; but on the other hand, it’s always with a kind of charming smile and you can’t help having a crush on him [laughs]. But that being said, I think he has, as he should, a lot of respect for me, as an artist, and for what I’ve done over the years, and he in no way wanted to efface that or quasi-modernise it. He just wanted it to be something that the kids would be more likely to understand or feel was more approachable. Arguably, I’ve made some very good albums, but one could also say that they were a little bit too elitist for the common listener. I think he wanted to bridge that gap, which is always good.

You have described Out Of The Game as your most “pop” album…

RW: I’ve also done that for four other albums, so I’m a little bit weary about throwing that exclamation around! But I guess so…

It’s a little bit lighter and warmer. Do you think the decision to make something a bit more upbeat was a reaction to some of your darker records like All Days Are Night and the recent passing of your mother?

RW: Oh definitely. Definitely. Whether it’s the concerts about my mom, or All Days Are Nights, or the opera, or even Rufus Does Judy At Carnegie Hall to a certain degree, which was an athletic kind of exercise; it was time to just have fun and relax and, um, have a party. And that for me is the main gist of this record: it’s an album you can put on at a party and people will sit around [laughs].

I suppose you’re also in a better place than you were before…

RW: Somewhat. I’m still very much dealing with my mother’s death. It’s been two years now, and I thought that after one year I’d be past a certain point, but I seem to have reverted back again, a little bit. Which is ok, it’s not as bad as it first was, but that for me is still the big issue that I’m coming to terms with. Certainly with my beautiful boyfriend and gorgeous daughter, and all that positive energy surrounding me, there’s a net there that I can depend on. But still, it’s so hard to get used to someone who’s not there that you were so close to. But when I made the album, I wasn’t thinking so much about my mom’s passing. I was just thinking about Mark’s hair!

It is quite incredible! You cited the likes of Elton John, Freddie Mercury and David Bowie as influences on this album. What was it about their sound that attracted you?

RW: There was this idea that there would be more of a glam theme on this record, which people have pointed out is not actually the case. One song, ‘Rashida’, is definitely glammy, but the rest is almost more related to earlier Elton John and there’s also some Fleetwood Mac and Harry Nilsson in there. But we just wanted it to be… good and kind of a journey, something that people could get lost in. That’s maybe where my expertise comes in and why Mark enjoyed working with me: the songs that I have to offer are these pretty epic journeys in themselves, whether it’s in terms of tempos or subject matter or grooves. There’s a lot of variety there, and he was able to string it all together and make it whole. But you need the different stones to make a necklace, you know?

One of the most remarkable songs on the album is ‘Montauk’, written for your daughter. Has becoming a parent impacted on your songwriting and recording?

RW: Well, I’ve written three songs about my daughter. One of them is on the album, I kinda thought I wanted to go lightly in that department, for the sake of my poor daughter [laughs]. It has [had an impact]. I’ve seen my daughter a dozen or so times, and she’s only a year old, so that’s actually quite a bit, but I do also know that once this tour gears up, which has started, it’s going to be a whole different story. I’m going to be working all the time, on the road traveling, and I won’t see her as much as I would like and perhaps as much as she would like, depending on what she wants. So there’s a little sadness there, but on the other hand, I grew up that way, Lorca [Cohen, daughter of Leonard, and the mother of Wainwright’s daughter] grew up that way, it’s just part of the family business: the men go out there and bring home the bacon [laughs].

So no decision to scale back a little bit?

RW: We’ll see what she wants. It’s hard for me to divine what will happen or her emotions at this point, because it’s so mysterious, what children go through. But I will say that the minute she says “Daddy I need you to come here”, I will oblige.

Can you tell me a bit about the title track? Given your increasing popularity and that you are quite a big name now, it’s hard to think of you as being “out of the game”!

RW: The title track is two things. One is that it’s tongue-in-cheek in this whole concept of, “I’m out of the game, but before I leave, here is what you’ve always wanted.” That’s a bit of reverse psychology: “I don’t need you, you’re all I’ve ever wanted” [laughs]. That idea. The other, more literal, meaning is that it’s out of the game, that this product and my life, my songwriting and my performances it is from this game that I have created and that I’ve sprung. And whether it’s like “out of the closet” or “out of the gate”, y’know, it is about a departure, a kind of flowering.

Does it perhaps also relate to how your life has changed, how you’re not necessarily partying as much anymore, and so forth?

RW: I don’t think it’s as serious as all that. ‘Candles’, ‘Song Of You’, maybe even ‘Sometimes You Need’ and the last song have a lot of heavy messages, but aside from that I wanted it to be more playful. I didn’t want to be judging my life or others with big statements.

This kind of comes back to my earlier question, but would you consider Out Of The Game to be a more settled and mature album than previous works?

RW: Yes, very much so. I think it’s the first album I’ve made where I’ve been able to relax and do what I do, and it’s been properly kind of encapsulated and not too long and overbearing. I’m not going out on any huge limbs necessarily [on the album], but still there’s a vastness to what I’m trying to say and there’s a certain foundation which has taken many, many years to create, so I’m happy here to be able to do that.

Is there a theme running through the album, as there was on Want?

RW: I wouldn’t really say there’s a literal theme, no, but there is a sonic theme, which is arguably more important for a pop record. People are really listening more to the groove and the essence of the song when they’re in a pop frame of mind. I think we did accomplish that, the sonic theme. But no, you can’t [put a literal theme] because there’s two songs I wrote when I was 25 years old and then there are all these new songs. But it’s definitely a slice of my life.

Some of the musical elements on Out Of The Game are familiar from traditional American music like country, soul, gospel and rock & roll. Did that come from Mark Ronson, who is very much into those musics, or were you keen to draw on those things yourself?

RW: I brought the country element and the rock & roll, for sure. But a lot of it was just what the band brought to it. We had these amazing musicians, who were all members of the Dap-Kings at one point and had all played with Amy (Winehouse) a lot. But I don’t think, though they were well-versed in r&b and sixties pop and stuff, they had really that kind of curveball I was throwing, and they relished every moment of it and really worked on creating a really good support of sound. I think both Mark and I would credit the musicians with a lot of those directions that were taken.

You’ve teamed up with your sister Martha on this album, as you’ve done on record and live in the past. What does she bring to your music, apart from the fraternal bond?

RW: Well, she’s one of the greatest singers on the planet, first of all, and she’s also one of my favourite people in the world. Arguably my most favourite person, with Jörn, my boyfriend. But, especially since my mother died, Martha and I have grown exceedingly close, and really share this sadness together and therefore also a certain amount of happiness that we’ve been able to grow together as well. It’s the real deal, Martha and I.

She only came in for one day [on the album]. She has her own albums to make and her own songs to write. We’ve luckily been able to establish that difference between our careers. But every time we get together, it’s pretty magical.

Being part of a big musical dynasty, do you ever feel that there’s pressure on you to carry on a legacy?

RW: Oh yeah, there’s a pressure. But look at the Queen [laughs]! She’s done quite well, with what’s been thrown at her in terms of pressure. She’s a pretty steely woman. So, I’ll be fine [laughs].

By today’s standards, you’re remarkably prolific. Do you find that the inspiration for songs comes naturally, or do you have a process where you have to sit down at the piano and force yourself to write?

RW: Well, my dad had made maybe 30 albums by this point! Songs just come to me, whether I like it or not, and I do like it, so it’s a good thing. I very rarely have to sit down and say, “Now I have to write a song.” I’m usually working on some little idea that has availed itself. I’m very fortunate with that. If I couldn’t write a song, it would be pretty traumatising. I’ve never had a huge massive hit, so I never have any record company pressure. If this all works out, who knows? But it’s been pretty easy-going so far.

Do you generally feel that each new album is your best, or do you have favourites among past works?

RW: No, there’s no way I can hold one child above the others! These albums are my first children; now that I have a child, it’s a bit confusing, because I really do regard them as my offspring. I think that with each album, and with each project, I kind of become another person myself and there’s a kind of cast of characters that’s forming around me with all these different experiences and existences that I’ve been fortunate to explore, so I look at it more of a group effort, shall we say, and this is the latest arrival. One day there will be a huge parade! [laughs].

In the past, you’ve kind of shied away from political statements, even if songs like ‘Gay Messiah’ can be seen as very political, but you’ve recently spoken of your desire to get married and have an ecological project [Blackoutsabbath]. Do these political views seep into your music?

RW: It’s very hard to live in America and not have a political stance, there’s such a kind of rampant right wing there that’s so vocal and given so much attention when they don’t really have that much power. Therefore, you have to speak up for your beliefs and for sanity, so I don’t want to be this way, but when you’ve got things like CNN giving so much air time to, like, the Tea Party, you’ve no choice.

As a singer-songwriter, do you think the era of the protest song could come back?

RW: A lot of it depends on this next election, because if, for some ungodly reason, the Republicans win the Presidency – and you really don’t know, with money and influence, how things might pan out – after all the things they’ve said and legislated, like blocking health care and union rights, I think we’ll all be out on the streets because we’ll have to be.

How are preparations for the tour you mentioned coming along? Will it be a full band?

RW: Full band, and there will definitely be a more relaxed, party atmosphere, and a celebration of existence. It’s a world tour, I think for a good year-and-a-half. This is a year of work and toil, but we will be rewarded.

Now you’ve completed Out Of The Game, and it’s coming out, are you working on any future projects, and will they be like this one, a reaction to what’s gone before?

RW: No, no more albums for a while. What I’m working on a lot are collections of my mother’s material, and we have a film that’s coming out on April 29th that’s gonna be at Sundance and here in London. So my sister and I are compiling her work and singing a lot of that material. It’s pretty amazing.

Will the arrangements be similar to the originals, or will you put your own stamp on them?

RW: They’ll be very different. We’ll figure out our own way to do it, but it’ll be very intimate. Very intimate. My mother’s catalogue is my great secret weapon and ulterior motive, because I really think it’s one of the most important of the last century, for sure. My mom was the real deal. I want to celebrate all of us, as much as I can. Martha, my sister Lucy: we’re all still here and we all still have something to say, and we should all just listen to each other. And then scream. [laughs]