Love Puppets / Wall Purges Night / Lisa’s Party / Arzhklahh Olgevezh / Pruumptje Kurss
Waving At Aeroplanes / Hiding / Doll’s House / The Palace Of Love / Stoned Obituary
Sounding somewhere between Robyn Hitchcock’s Soft Boys, Wire and the Television Personalities (all with extra synths) this third Legendary Pink Dot’s LP released on the In Phaze record label has bag loads of charm and some interesting material stuffed within both sides of the grooves cut into the vinyl. An absolute gem of a record.
The incredible and informative text below is a transcript of long hours’ passionate talking with Edward Ka-spel and I, one of Dots’ keyboard-players, in an Amsterdam cafe courtesy of Snowdonia fanzine from 1987. The text is translated from the original Italian for the legendarypinkdots.org site.
Sn: Initially, when did you first get into making music, and were you a writer/poet before making music?
E. I was a poet who used to put his poems in a drawer for years and years, and it was in 1980 I kind of thought that, it was a time of Throbbing Gristle and people who couldn’t play were making music, but it still sounded great. I thought, well if those guys can do it, and they were encouraging other people to do it, I could do it too. Myself and Phil, our keyboard player, went to Stonehenge Free Festival and saw a little band playing at two o’clock in the morning at the end of a field. We were the only audience and that was probably the second that the Legendary Pink Dots were conceived. As soon as we got back from the festival, I bought a very cheap synthesizer on hire purchase, and an old drum machine and amplifier, and suddenly there was a band there. We were quite obsessive, right from the start, playing about 15 hours, improvising night after night. It was a time when many people were making cassettes, selling themselves, designing the covers themselves. This all really appealed to me, basically, that’s how we started.
Sn: Why the name ‘The Legendary Pink Dots’?
E. It was to do with these mysterious blobs of pink nail varnish on the keys of the piano, and we were talking about those `legendary pink dots’, and nobody actually christened the band at any time – we were just stuck with it.
Sn: That was the first band you were in?
E. Oh yeah
Sn: Was it ‘industrial’ music, like Throbbing Gristle, that was the influence on the band’s sound initially ?
E. No, not so much musically. It was quite ‘industrial’ but more like industrial…nursery rhymes! Very much our own kind of sound, we never wanted to sound particularly like anybody else. We Just basically improvised all the time.
Sn: So the first album was Brighter Now on In Phaze. Was In Phaze your own label?
E. Oh no, it was run by a guy called Pat Birmingham. Actually, we got dreadfully ripped off, right through the In Phaze years.
Sn; So, how long was it between that and being picked up by Play It Again Sam, as they are now re-releasing all the old material?
E. Well, there’s been four labels, in fact. We went from In Phaze to this little Dutch label called Ding-Dong who absolutely murdered us as well. We quickly got out of that and went to another small label in Holland. and they weren’t so good, and then it was Play It Again Sam who actually signed us, although we’d already had two albums out on PIAS.
Sn: In 1985, the band emigrated to Holland. What were the reasons behind the move and why choose Holland?
E. Well, it was the first country which acknowledged our music properly, you know. We’d just brought out The Tower in England, which was a really important album to me, because it was all about England. It was about a trend that I saw in England, like this growing fascism type of thing – it was a real scream against it, and it was ignored! Apart from David Tibet, who did a review in Sounds, but even that was six months after the album came out. I just thought, well, ‘Damn You, but it was praised in countries like Holland and Germany and countries like that. Holland seemed a good country to live, and l had a girlfriend at the time who was Dutch so there were all sorts of reasons to go. It also forced me to try to make a living out of music without any kind of jobs.
Sn: I’ve always wondered about the many reviews Legendary Pink Dots have had in the past, going on about a psychedelic side to your music and I could never fathom really how deep that was.
E. There IS a psychedelic side to it …
I. It’s quite natural, though…
E. I mean, not by design. I do like a lot of early psychedelic music, sure, but we just want to go our own way, the way it started, really, we just followed our own kind of paths. There is an overall concept which is “Terminal Kaleidoscope”. The Psychedelic references are mainly something the press dubbed onto us, not ourselves; people always go on about how apparently Legendary Pink Dots was a form of acid, which is like there are rumours of how much acid we take, and in fact nobody takes any kind of … y’know smoke the odd joint but that’s as far as it goes. No one is into drugs, not that we could afford them, for a start!
I. I think we would all prefer to live with a clearer perception
E. But that’s how I’d like it to stay. I think drugs seem to cloud the mind rather than expand it or suppress things and I don’t want to suppress anything, all I want to do is expand them
I. If people want to expand their minds, they should be doing it by discipline, you know, meditation, yoga and things like that. That’s the best way if you want to expand your vision and search out new things, not via artificial substances, really. We are psychedelic I think in the true sense of the word in that we are many-coloured and that comes very naturally, everyone likes to put in as many different colours as possible into our pieces of music.
E. I’ve tried various things in the past but it was a decision by me to stop. I wasn’t actually getting the benefit by the drugs (nothing particularly heavy), so I found, yeah, the most open state you can get, you can get naturally just by simply process of brightening.
Sn: Musically, do you feel close to any sixties’ groups?
E. No, probably the closest for me – although every member of the band would cite different influences – are the early German bands, Can, Amon Duul, Faust …
Sn: Sometimes you can hear a cosmic resonance or a feeling of wide spaces in the Dots’ music …
E. It should be like a kind of movie for the ears where anything can happen, one of those most wild pictures and the wildest are outside reality, and yet grounded in reality
I. The music forms pictures in the hearers’ minds
E. Without a doubt the idea is to create altered states in other people. What we are involved with is this dividing line between reality and fantasy, which is a very thin dividing line anyway! I don’t know if you’ve ever had recollections of things you’re certain you’ve done, really vivid memories, and in actual fact you’re not remembering something you have done, you’re remembering a dream! That dividing line has gone then, and that happens to me all the time
I. It’s transcending the different levels of consciousness, if you see as levels in a building, as some writers have described the human being. It’s like, in certain states even if you are not someone who has trained himself to do so, well in certain states of mind you can accidentally climb up the stairs to those other levels and find yourself there …
Sn: You might get frightened!
I. You can get frightened, very easily
E. But you become frightened of less the more you go through each particular barrier
I. Just becoming aware that there’s more to the world than initially meets the eye!
E. I’ve never wanted anything to be a closed book to me, my life I want to keep on discovering things, I want the edge to be kept, just wandering naively into this experience and that, that’s what makes life great. And once you think you’ve seen it all, you know it all, you’ve heard it all, then the life’s finished; and that’s why Pink Dots’ music tends to change all the time as well, it’s always expanding and once it’s stopped expanding that’s the time to stop altogether. But I don’t see that for quite a while … we are on a long trip at the moment!
I. Coming back to our influences, the essential thing for me is finding your own path and steering to your own goals so that you are creating a unique vision and something that will eventually stand up amongst other things
Sn: Do you thing an album is going to be stronger if it lets itself be obsessed be a single idea that runs through it, I mean, are you bothered at all by ‘concept albums’, like “The Tower” seemed to be?
E. Every album is actually a part of same concept, which is a different thing. If you go back to the earlier albums or the earlier cassettes and there are characters, situations that will occur later and that will be developed (characters like Lisa, the Captain, Monkey, Astrid); lots and lots of different strands in the same massive story that starts in our first cassette and continues right through to “Island of Jewels”. And all the “China Dolls” works are tied up to the same concept and so it “The Tear Garden” (a collaboration between me and Kevin [sic] of Skinny Puppy); lyrically, there are references throughout: we are building our own reality.
I. If the concept is big enough, then there is no problem. I mean, if you’re limited to a very narrow concept, then of course you’re gonna have big problems. I see it in slightly different terms to Edward, although basically we are on the same wavelength, in terms of the philosophy behind the band
E. Terminal Kaleidoscope is a philosophy!
I. I agree with you, but I think I tend to see slightly more of that aspect, than you do. I am not so much involved in the characters and that, in the finer details, which you obviously are, as lyricist.
Sn: What did the Terminal Kaleidoscope stand for?
E. It takes the premise that the planet is rather like a drowning man, and like a drowning man sees his life flash before his eyes, you take it on a planetary level in that the one thing that is for sure is that everything around us is accelerating; we take the premise that eventually we’ll reach overload, saturation, which will be a time of cataclysm, and that is the Terminal Kaleidoscope, when you are being bombarded all the time by images … I do believe you come out the other side of this cataclysm, because that’s the other basic concept: everything is eternal. Yeah, you can’t do anything to prevent this, you can’t slow it down, you can’t change the world, all you can do is cherish it and embrace it, feel lucky that you are approaching this time of cataclysm. It may be a thousand years before overload time, it may also be happening in eight seconds’ time …
I. I personally hope, I sort of agree with Edward in that it’s very difficult to do something to arrest the approach to this cataclysm because there are so few people who realise it and the majority of people are part of it, careering on towards it, but I think possibly you can make it more possible for us to survive AFTER it, by creating some kind of groundwork now. I think some people do an excellent work, pan-national groups like Greenpeace and that, which have realised that they transcend politics now because politics is too individualistic, too nationalistic to have any real meaning in the long term, according to basically ecological grounds, coz either we help this planet live or we help it to die
E. It can’t die, it just transforms because that’s the eternal law ‘Nothing will be created or destroyed’, just simply takes another form, human life can become entirely different!
I. Yeah, but you would agree that we can turn it into a wasteland!
E. Of course, but there’s always a way out of the wasteland. I do believe in spiritual life, and that’s another thing: you cannot kill the spirit.
I. That harks back to the different levels of consciousness.
E. I mean, we are no Psychic TV, or sort of some religion. The idea is that we are simply providing a soundtrack in the terminal kaleidoscope. We tend to do no more than present it to the world: we don’t give listening instructions, we don’t tell people to go to rituals, nothing like that. Just: be aware.
Sn: I think most people are aware of this acceleration in the change, the information that is coming to us with greater and greater speed, but perhaps most people would agree that’s a positive thing! We live in the information age, everything is becoming global … you start with the premise that you can’t arrest this and you think of it as a negative thing, don’t you?
E. I don’t say it’s a negative thing, or a positive thing. I say it’s inevitable, it’s something that’s happening that can’t be slowed down. But there is obviously … where is there peace anymore? We’re sitting in a cafe in Amsterdam, there’s a radio playing over there, people are talking there, clattering of glasses, and the noise level is going to get higher, and all other levels with it, the radiation levels are gonna get higher in the air, it’s just the natural development!
I. There is a large negative aspect to it, though, because these new developments are in the hands of people who believe in the current systems that we have and think they are never-ending. And they aren’t. There’s an ‘n’ number of factors involved, they don’t even know, and the holes and pitfalls of this capitalist system we have generally in this world are getting larger and larger…
E. Isn’t it true that a lot of the real beneficial developments have actually come as a result of weapons research, like sidelines, as if they managed to build the weapons first and the found a beneficial sideline. We’re going to have a bomb that can actually crack the planet in half, that’s for sure. I don’t say they’ll ever use it, I don’t think that will ever happen. I don’t think there’ll be an atomic war, simply because thankfully I think the awareness is high enough to know what it would mean. But still, when the breakdown comes I believe it will do in a natural way, something like this thing that happened in Cameroun: poisonous gas, mountains and heavens blowing up, or some geological changes suddenly coming to the surface…
I. It’s like a little boy playing with dynamite, man cannot control nature. What we have to do is learn how to work in harmony with it, trying to control it is ludicrous. Irrigation schemes and massive dam building in California, in China have actually backfired, because man hasn’t been able to foresee the outcome
Sn: I was thinking, there’s another aspect, they say that Legendary Pink Dots have got ‘black humour’. How does this tie in with this realisation of what the world is coming to?
E. If you look around, you laugh, you really laugh!
I. You need humour to survive!
E. This world is so bizarre: it just amuses me incredibly. There is lot of dark humour, and there is a lot of very emotional things as well. Part of it is very very personal, may be a love song or a lost love song, and it’s real.
I. I think people when they listen should be prepared, there’s a very light side to the band, some light humour as well…
E. Light humour? Where?
I. I think so. Well, take “Fifteen Flies in the Marmalade” [off "Asylum" double LP], that has to be one of the most humourous tracks the band’s ever done, and I can’t see anyone taking that very seriously!
E. That was meant to be a song rather like Marlene Dietrich. I’ve always liked Marlene Dietrich. I thought ‘Well, what’d she sing about?’ and the I thought she’d sing of fifteen flies in the marmalade. I wanted to sing it in German originally, but my German isn’t good enough.
I. But you can’t really call that heavy dark humour!
E. No, but that’s the only one I can think of that fits into that category …
I. Also in the musical side, though, there’s a lot of humour in music, like “Glory Glory Hallelujah”, that cut-up at the end of…
E. That’s cynical!
Sn: Also like wordplay, in the track called “Rope and Glory”…
I. I agree that’s slightly heavy!
Sn: Do you write all the lyrics?
E. In “Asylum”, “The Hill” was written by Patrick, Julie wrote the one she sings on “Femme Mirage”, otherwise, yeah.
Sn: One of my favorite records is “The Tower”, as I got hold of the lyric sheet. I was impressed. I wanted to know whether your coming away from England, the fact you particularly view England in such a bad state, whereas the situation we were talking about before is actually happening all over the world, so why is Britain particularly singled out to represent today’s evil?
E. I believe in England it is worse. I don’t like the way England is turning into a kind of Nazi Germany, and you are getting all the signs: first the decay, a hard sort of government that is there, that is gradually becoming harder and harder, much more subtle than the way Hitler did, for sure, but the racist laws, the fact that if you come from India you now need a visa. And they have such a huge backing even among working-class people; firebombs against immigrants’ homes, families are known to have been killed by sort of equivalent of Nazi stormtroopers.
Sn: Is that what “Vigilantes” is about?
E. Yes. I detest that. I am totally apolitical. I don’t go for any particular party that exists, or has ever existed, but for me there are degrees. Fascism is like the lowest of the low. There’s a lot of aspects to what is called Communism that I detest, too. In fact, if I’m honest I think the only politician I could say I ever really respected is Gandhi. I can’t relate to any others I can think of, at all.
Sn: I remember those words at the end of “Tower One”: “No one has the key to the Tower”
E. The Tower is one of the oldest political prisons in the world: the Tower of London. We’re taking the premise that if you take things to their logical conclusion of the trends in England: they are going to be saying ‘why don’t we open the Tower?’ But it will be for the deviant, and the deviant can be any colour other than the white, the deviant can think in any angle except the straight line, the deviant can be just plain ugly. They will reopen the Tower and they will turn it into Tower Town, the Tower Complex. “The Tower” itself musically as well as lyrically reaches back to the time when the Tower was a political prison, in the Middle Ages. But it’s mixed with futuristic overtones; ultimately you get something which is timeless, ‘cos that was always another thing about the Pink Dots: we destroy the concept of time, I suppose in a way like the surrealist paintings. “Island of Jewels” goes even further, lyrically it is set 5 years on from “The Tower”, when it is turned into Tower World, that’s actually when the cataclysm comes.
Sn: Are there any books that you had in mind when describing this sort of ‘science-fiction’ vision? I have read some SF books that depict a future political society where everybody is going to be confined…
E. No. It was a reaction to a particular occurrence. When I was living in England, the Conservative government had been in for 4-5 years and there was a general election. For the first time in my life ever I voted, for Labour. And the Conservatives just got in again. I couldn’t believe it. “The Tower” was written in anger, and that’s why we say “you chose your grave. Now lie there”.
Sn: In what way is it better in Holland?
E. I moved here specifically because my girlfriend lives here. I mean, I have to eat, I have to live, and I want to live on the music alone. I couldn’t keep up this double life, going to boring jobs during the day and trying to work during the evening. I wanted to make a step and if I’d made a step in England then the whole thing would have fallen flat on its face, ‘cos I couldn’t play anywhere, couldn’t survive, and here I can.
Sn: Do you think also that in Europe you fit in with what Tuxedo Moon have been doing? I’d say perhaps in England you are considered a bit too ‘arty’, whereas in Europe we are more used to this kind of music as well…
E. That’s very true, actually. I mean, Tuxedo Moon are as big as we are in England.
I. As SMALL as we are!
E. We certainly don’t follow Tuxedo Moon musically, they go their way, we go ours. I enjoy their music very very much and they enjoy ours. That’s the only kind of band I respect. I don’t care in a way how well they do it, as long as a band follows its own path. And there are a lot of good bands and people like this: Steve of Nurse with Wound, for a start. It’s just purely personal, pure self-indulgence, he does it ‘cos he loves it and a lot of the time he’s laughing, it’s full of humour right from the start, which people have missed. But the guy’s also a genius, he does things that if he wasn’t Steve Stapleton he would be a respected avant-garde classical composer. I think he’s brilliant, there’s never been a bad Nurse with Wound album as far as I’m concerned, they’re always different and if you knew him you’d love the music even more. I mean, Laibach, another band that really intrigues and fascinates me, ‘cos people always think “Are they fascists, are they not?”, I think they’re obviously not. They’re very very clever, in that they use the words of Tito, who’s one of the ‘good guys’, but it sounds like fascism, they could also be Buddhism!
Sn: Pink Dots have done a lot of recordings, but they’ve also embarked in solo projects and collaborations with other people. Weren’t the Legendary Pink Dots enough to convey everything you wanted to do?
E. Not exactly. Partly, it ties in with the concept: the acceleration means an acceleration for me too, you must continue, you can’t slow down. It was also during a particular time in the band when I was coming up with new numbers that the rest of the band didn’t necessarily think they fitted into the Pink Dots…
Sn: Well, it doesn’t seem to me that the music of your solo records is that different, that’s because I was wondering.
E: “Chyekk China Doll” is very much a sort of Pink Dots album, without a doubt. The others maybe not so. Once I started it, I enjoyed doing this, so I keep it going, too. There are also a lot of projects: the “Tear Garden” is an ongoing project with Kevin of Skinny Puppy, there’s supposed to be an album with members of Minimal Compact and Tuxedo Moon, there’s an album with Steve planned …
I. Patrick, the violinist is recording a solo album, and I should be doing at first just small performances, maybe just piano recitals or keyboards, and then working with Patrick. Soon we’ll all be together here in Holland; Phil Harmonix, the other keyboard player, will be moving shortly from London.
Sn: Why such exhilarating names?
E. They’re all extensions of our own characters, they’re not just made up for the sake of it. When somebody asks me, what are your real names? I say ‘These are our real names, it’s the old ones that are false’. It’s who you are at the time, which changes all the time, and we can change our names with it.
Sn: All part of the creation, isn’t it, you assume new names, a new language … Gralnezh khazh ….
E. It comes out basically when you scat-sing, you’re just improvising vocal sounds and it sounds rather like a language, it goes beyond, the pure language of emotions. I like the sound of it, sounds like Russian, we aren’t the first who have done these things, it’s just for the pleasure given by the sounds…
I. Some of them, it’s strange, tend to mean something emotional: those words that I like have a strange correlation with your brain.
E. It’s the equivalent to ‘speaking in tongues’, which no one ever explains, but that’s what it is. It’s the language of the trance state and oddly enough it does have meaning. You can’t explain exactly how you feel, all you can do even with your rational, day-to-day language is give some vague reference.
Sn: Some of the tracks do have some religious connotations, references to rituals, like “Lisa’s Baptism” in Edward’s “Chyekk” solo album….
E. I am fascinated by witchcraft, the old religion which is the pre-Christian religion…
I. … nature worship…
E. It’s not something I’ve actually practiced, a way of tapping other deeper forces, which you do all the time and often you do not realise it.
Sn: You think that the ‘official’ religion, by turning it into an institution has lost a very important link with these elementary forces?
I. I’ve been to some Christian services, and it’s undoubtedly true that some people get something out of it, but, you know, I can’t really agree with most organized religions just because to present them to the people they have to water them down so much and include so many rituals to the point where the ritual becomes more important than the message, and therefore totally meaningless. I mean, one of the religions I have a lot of time for is buddhism, which undoubtedly has some rituals in it but they’re generally for the adepts and not for the average person. The average person who is a Buddhist has virtually no rules he has to follow, he can do it in his own time, it’s totally up to him how much he wants to put into it. That’s something I can identify with, without, say, having to appear every day at the same time somewhere, or every week. A lot of religions are coming from the old religion, nature worship, of the forces that ran along ley lines, and the moon and the sun… I don’t know a lot about it, I’m personally embarking on a study of these; I’m reading a very interesting book by Robert Graves called “The White Goddess” which is about mythology and the presence of these associations between mythology and poetry. I mean, there are so many forces that float around in the air that the ancient people were aware of because they didn’t have this general noise level which obliterated them all. But you can feel ley lines … you go to churches, and most old churches do feel very holy and the reason most of them do is, especially in England, that they’re actually built on the old sites of nature worship which were specifically along ley lines, at the crossing of ley lines. Modern churches which haven’t been placed without that in mind at all, they just don’t have the same feel, they feel very cold, they are just a building. I want to explore all that because I don’t like living on the skin of this earth, I want to understand. You’ll never understand it all, but you can expand your knowledge. We livein a multicoloured planet, we may as well make use of it, try to gain all the pleasure we can from it.
Sn: I was thinking of people like Psychic TV, they do exploit these religious themes. On the surface, I suppose they go back to the basics, to destroy what Catholic Church has superimposed, and corrupted. But this kind of ‘anti-religion’ may well conceal a fascination for those aspects they would like to undermine, so that in a way they’re trapped within it. What do you think?
E. I try to strike a balance. Some of my things are very religious, but it’s my own religion. I don’t feel bound to any existing philosophy or religion, it’s just what I feel and what I live. OK. I do occasionally attack other religions, like “The Price of Salvation”, I don’t like money-grubbing Bill Grahams. A lot of it has to do, again, with my own personality and imperfections, yes, I do have sometimes messianic illusions. I am aware that I’m really an imperfect human being …
I. Listening to a great piece of music, the best way I can describe it is like ‘being a very religious feeling’, it’s the right word to use. It just takes you out of yourself, it frees you, you become less aware of yourself and more aware of the whole.
E. You should drink it, you should achieve nirvana.
Sn: You yourself were saying that your live concerts are a sort of church experience…
E. They are.
Sn: You were holding a candle in a photo I’ve seen! Does it help your concentration?
E. Everybody who is present at a gig, they should not be merely observing a spectacle, they should not be merely entertained, they should feel the emotion, feel the laughter, the sadness … everything as one. The perfect gig is where the audience to a man flies out of himself and watches it from the ceiling! The band will never just go onstage and just play, for the money, ‘Ah, let’s get this gig done’. You have a spare atom of energy, well, the audience gets the lot. Some people – you can tell when you’re looking at the audience – they have to look away, they get really frightened. In Germany it was happening, ‘cos I always stare into the audience, a lot of people can’t take that, so they went a bit to the back, and we’re not gonna do anything, attack them! But they felt this extraordinary energy emanating from the music.
Sn: Doesn’t it often happen, tho’, that part of the audience may be puzzled by the variety of styles you play?
E. I think they’re hit by the emotions, not just by the music. People tend to be scared by very intense emotions.
I. When we’re playing we’re not just standing there, we’re actually thumping instruments, or even laughing … giving our all! Any good gig, there’s so much emotion and energy in it! I’m a really great believer in giving the audience everything.
Sn: How did the critics back in England use to treat you? I think, you got not so many reviews, but the ones you did get were quite good.
E. Pathetic. It’s not worth talking about it. I mean, the concept of what is ‘experimental’ in England is laughable: the Smiths are highly respected as a band because they’re considered to be breaking new ground!
Sn: Of course now there’s a wide street-credibility connected with renewed pop-attitude….
E: The best guitar ‘psychedelia’ band, the ones I really enjoy are totally ignored, ‘cos they have their own albums out for their own little label are The Deep Freezed Mice. I really enjoy their music because it’s done from the heart. A lovely band.
Sn: What exactly do you have against all the old rock’n'roll ‘ethics’?
E. It’s down to personal tastes, really. It doesn’t take me anywhere. I like to be affected emotionally or spiritually by something and rock’n'roll doesn’t do it, apart from some of the Velvet Underground, sort of like “Sister Ray”. I do like Pink Floyd right through to “The Wall” ‘cos I always thought they had a sound of their own, and it’s dishonest the way people looked upon them especially after 1976 as though they were big dinosaurs; they weren’t dinosaurs, they just carried on going their own way!
I. It was just a big reaction against complex music, which although some bands did overdo it and there were bands that came up which were copying the Genesis, you can’t take away the fact that there were an awful lot of bands doing that kind of stuff extremely well, with their own sound, and their own individuality. And to sort of slag it off as all pompous or as three chord wonders really gets right up my gullet.
E. I mean, I like quite a wide range of things, I do like the early Genesis, also some of the P.I.L. (not now, but something like “Metal Box”). As Pink Dots we came out actually of new wave industrial music. I wasn’t moved to do anything by the Clash, the Damned, but when the Cabaret Voltaires, the Throbbing Gristles came on, I was interested again, even though I think Cabaret Voltaire have always been a second-hand band and never went as far, always stayed roughly within safe limits while other bands were bounding all outside those limits, but they did at least spark something in me. Originally our music was a fusion of industrial music but with a heavy melodic side to it which nobody else was doing in 1980.
Sn: Were those the very first cassettes you were releasing?
E. Yes, it was that kind of fusion. Some of it was very beautiful, but it could be very hard! We used to mix those two sides together and what everybody said was ‘it was psychedelic!’ which is crazy, but there again I don’t mind. I like psychedelic music if it means a mind-expanding music.
I. It really depresses me, the general musical atmosphere in England. I can’t help thinking that all these guitar-bands … I mean, the Beatles were great, so were the Stones, and the Kinks, but for a start they don’t even approach their simple yet complex music of those bands, they’re just boys playing with toys, they might be having fun but I can’t see what they’re doing as having any relevance, really.
E. That happens in so many fields. You take industrial music. I was always interested in that; Throbbing Gristle really affected me and “Second Annual Report” would send shivers down my spine, their lyrical content and overall philosophy. But there are so many sub-TG who just say ‘let’s get in a bedroom, let’s make a noise and let’s call it art’ and it’s garbage! I think industrial music should have stopped completely after SPK made “Leichenschrei” because that was the ultimate, it was a brilliant album that nobody could make a better, more definitive work in industrial music.
Sn: But then it dragged on and on and on …
I. The trouble is in some fields some people put themselves in a box and then they can’t get out of it. I don’t see the point. Music is about melody, rhythm, harmony, sound and space and you should be free to use any of those, and I’m for anyone who can do that with a bit of imagination, or the awareness of their own individuality and originality. Young people or “in” pop-writers are all into ‘well-crafted pieces of pop’ and I hate the idea of disposable music. If I write a piece of music, I want it to be heard in a hundred years; it’s not for now, then next year this is it, this stuff is old, it’s no good anymore. It’s not how we work! I’d like to see musical barriers broken down more, because there’s so much snobbishness in the music world, you get classical or serious music, and there are people working in what they loosely term the avantgarde … and they won’t accept anything unless that person has a certain history, a certain background. And there’s people outside that, what they call ‘experimental’, a term I hate. We are dubbed ‘experimentalists’, we are not experimenting, we know what we are doing! we’re not just throwing things into a pot and hopefully they will come out OK. We’ve learnt an awful lot of things and we know if we wanna create something we’ll do it.
Sn: I think you play a very structured music, although there are some moments that seem more improvised. Do you actually do that?
E. There have been totally improvised gigs! and you don’t know what you’re going to do: all the words were improvised, the structures, the combinations, but it’s only recently we reckon we are able to improvise well in that the level of skill within the band has to reach a certain point before you can do it well. Technique IS important, because the more technique the more freedom …
Sn: On the other hand one could argue that what you call pop music or punk was a necessary outlet for young people to go and do something, without saying ‘I’ve got to go to school first and learn music’, no, just as a spontaneous expression. Of course it is restricted in a way, but that first impulse …
I. I agree with that totally. What I don’t like is the general attitude that that is totally where it’s at, 16-17 year-olds make music but when you’ve reached 23 you should hang up your guitar and go onto something else because you’re an old hat, and you shouldn’t be cluttering up the ground so that the new youths can get in.
E. When somebody decides to CREATE, that’s brilliant; I don’t care what they’re creating as long as it’s done with the thought in mind ‘yeah, I’m doing it because I wanna create something, not because it’s an easy way of making money. Do it because you wanna create something and don’t stop! Just keep this going, finding new things about yourself and what you can do with things. Keep moving; if you wanna keep it in a channel and say ‘I hate that, I hate everything else apart from what I’m doing’, then forget it. A lot of people just build their own little tunnel and stay in it; I like people that want to create WORLDS!
Sn: How do you stand within the music market, because I’m sure you realise that no matter what kind of music you do, you are in a sense a part of the music business. Does that get in the way …
E. It’s caused us more problems than anything else. We’ve been cheated, robbed right throughout our history. Four of our first five albums we didn’t receive a penny. The music business continues and will always disgust us; it’s not about music at all, it’s about money. But unfortunately it’s a necessary evil. We are lucky now in that finally after years of trying we found an honest record company, who actually treat us fairly, that’s all we ask. We got to a point where “Asylum” nearly became our last album, because we had been cheated so badly by Ding Dong… They pressed 2000 of “The Lovers” and we got a copy each! It’s a very long involved story, but they almost split the band up. “Asylum” was waiting to be recorded and that was like a scream, that’s what we felt we were in at the time, the thing we were witnessing: an asylum. It took longer than any other Pink Dots album to record: over two months’ recording sessions. We would sort of begin and then stop before we’d even started because somebody was becoming emotional and he would run out, almost at breaking point. But we came out the other side.
Sn: Are you satisfied with that?
E. Yeah, I’m very fond of “Asylum” because it represents very purely the emotional state of the band. Very little bad blood around because of the type of band it is, because of the struggling involved, and the poverty!
Sn: I bet you become very close!
E. … sometimes people can’t take it, all the emotion. I mean, we’re all very close friends. I could never be in a band where I hated everybody, or everybody went their own way. A lot of these bands exist, you know, but it’s not for me.
I. There is tension in the band. I think it’s kind of healthy tension. Out of that comes a blend …
E. A six piece band, six people whose ideas all sort of try to find their space, but the one thing nobody would tolerate is compromise … It sounds really like an impossible situation, but somehow it works!
Sn: What about this new album, why is it called “Island of Jewels”?
E. Originally it had to be called “After the Tower” ‘cos it’s the sequel to “The Tower”. Really coincidentally all the albums have actually taken up tarot cards, like “Curse”, “The Tower”, “The Lovers”, “Asylum” (that was our first deliberate tarot card reference). So we wondered ‘What’s the card that comes after the Tower?’ and we came up with “Island of Jewels”…
I. Which was perfect!
Sn: Have you ever thought of Legendary Pink Dots as having a potentially commercial crossover? Have you tried even to pursue that? Like “Curse” was perhaps ‘poppier’ …
I. I think that was done naturally.
E. I mean, if we had a hit, then it would’ve happened by accident. As long as we retain the total freedom, and we’ve done a catchy song and some people like it and then it’s bought in their millions, we’d reserve the right to make a follow-up single with a 15-minute piece of backward running tapes with a slowed down cello!
Sn: Given your following a strictly individual path, you don’t have a particular relationship with the punk or squatters movement, the social centres here in Amsterdam…?
E. I don’t believe in following movements. You follow a movement or a trend, then you have to accept certain st rules and I’m not going to accept any rules other than the rules that I make myself.
Sn: You wouldn’t describe yourself as an anarchist…?
E. I suppose I am, in a way. In the true sense: anarchist as one who lives by his own rules. The thing that makes me laugh is when you get someone who calls himself an anarchist and immediately join up with other so-called anarchists and draw up a set of rules, which isn’t anarchy! Even though they are not anarchists, one set of people that I really admire is Crass, and they are not anarchists, nor communists: they are ‘Christians’! Early Christians, even though they deny the whole concept of Christianity, they’re living by those rules, and they live it as a group. The Pink Dots don’t do that, we are a group, but everybody is such an individualist!
I. There are basic set of ideals which I would like to think were common, just compassion, helping someone when they need it, respect … the very early Christian principles, people like Jesus Christ, Gandhi, I can’t argue against those kind of principles at all!
E. But you don’t need to read them in a book. If you are aware of them, you should feel it rather naturally!
Sn: Do you feel strongly on issues such as vegetarianism?
E. Vegetarianism is right for particular persons, they’re right following it. Four of us are.
Sn: Well, your way out is eating less and less!
E. It’s true. I forget to eat, mainly when I’m making music. I sort of become a bit entrenched in it, totally obsessed by it.
Sn: Do you respect your body, or you just think it’s an accessory to your mind?
E. I think it’s an accessory to my mind. Its use is functional. I dwell too much, in a way, on higher things and forget the day-to-day living. It’s just my way, I don’t say it’s right or it’s wrong, but it’s right for me.
Sn: It seems to me that the spiritual side to your music is quite important…
E. Everything revolves on music. I look at it as a form of art, not because we feel superior, but because we care for it, we put all our better energies into it, to turn it into an emotional soundscape, something with its own perfected shape, its own depth, the bitter and tragic beauty of a work of art.
Sn: Tell me that ‘story’ of the statues, the myth of the statues as symbols of perfection.
E. Imagine a deserted wasteland, ravaged by destruction, at a time when the memory of the human race had been cancelled by the lapse of time. On that planet, only a ghostly shade of the former Earth, there land a group of visitors from other worlds. The only thing they can see (books, films, records will have crumbled into dust by then) is these gigantic statues, like an avenue lined by collapsing temples, where these sculpted images of men, women, and gods, are still standing, untouched. It may well happen that the aliens will take this people of statues, motionless but nonetheless perfect, for the original inhabitants of the Earth, and that they will say: This is really a divine race! The irony is that we’ve never been a divine race, we had been the first and foremost cause of our own destruction; but these monumental statues will remain, retaining for a long time, even ‘afterwards’, the idea, the ideals. Because the ideas don’t die so easily, they are turned into cold stone, long after our bodies have stopped leaving traces. The statues will be our spiritual heritage, a spirit embodied in matter, apparently dead, in reality the only living thing left of us. And music, I think, creates this emotional landscape, surreal if you like, of statues, of memories. There’s also another version of this tale: the sculptures will hold within themselves something of our vital spark, like the bleeding religious icons, these statues will perhaps still show our mortal wounds, and one day the statues will shine in the daylight, the sunrays will shed light on the stigmata inflicted on them overnight.
Sn: And the dolls in the “China Doll” series are like replicas of those statues …
E. They are the statues of our childhood!
This post is respectfully dedicated to the adorable Tinsel on the day of her birthday. Originally from the parish of Welwyn Garden City, Tinsel eventually ended up in the same places and spaces as members of the the Kill Your Pet Puppy collective. All at KYPP online wish you a nice relaxing and happy day today. x