Throbbing Gristle, with Genesis on the right
Interview by Billy Hell, Part 2
PSF: An interesting thing about Ian Curtis' lyrics is that living in Manchester and knowing Unknown Pleasures inside out, when I walk around the city, that album, especially "Interzone" and "Disorder," describes the psychogeography of Manchester perfectly.
Well that's what I was trying to do with Throbbing Gristle at the start, because I come from Manchester originally. It's a strange town. I've often tried to understand why it's so strong in its impact. I think it's probably because of the industrial revolution, being a port with all the mills. It's linked with Africa and slavery and the cotton fields and so on. Manchester was really integrated into the explosion of commerce and materialism in the West. It also started to decline almost quicker than everywhere else, so it's on the edge of the curve of what's happening to civilisation generally I think. That's why it has this interesting edge that affects people so psychologically. It's always struck me that it was very symbolic of the decay of the pre-war idea of the happy family and the benign government and the generous capitalist. I think a lot of those things were revealed as empty in the early fifties. I remember when I used to go to school on the bus I'd see all these empty mills and abandoned steam engines and thinking that really sums up what's going on behind the surface.
PSF: Like everywhere now it is changing faster.
Yes, but I think Manchester got hit sooner. In Britain, the North got hit sooner. That's why you've got Liverpool and Manchester supplying some of the most influential music anywhere, out of all proportion to geography. So there's something there, it's a hotspot, and I think that might be what you mean, that Ian picked up on some invisible sense of what was happening there. He was able to vocalise and articulate in a metaphorical way that still works.
PSF: To be crass, he was a very good lyricist!
Oh yes, certainly. I wish we could do a book of his poetry.
PSF: You said that just before he died he was planning to leave Joy Division.
Yes, that's true.
PSF: And he was going to collaborate with you on a project?
It was a close run thing, but he always said he'd rather be dead than go to America. That was the final crunch that weekend. They were meant to leave on the Monday and he killed himself on the Saturday night. I was the last person he rang up. We were planning to do a project together. We were going to go to Paris and set up a gig for Throbbing Gristle and Joy Division and at the end we were going to do a jam on "Sister Ray" because they liked doing that. Then, we were going to be really mean spirited and both announce we were leaving our respective bands, but it never happened. He didn't quite make it through. It was very sad. Do you think sometimes people just have to leave when they're young? Do you think they just leave everything in a big explosion or is there always more they could've done?
PSF: I guess there is always more they could've done but aside from suicide, you don't know when you're going to die, do you?
Well, sometimes they say you do.
PSF: I suppose as you get older you get more of a sense of your own mortality simply because the older you get, the closer you are to death. When you're younger, you feel almost invincible but I've got to an age where I'm becoming much more aware of mortality. There might not be much time left to get everything done! When I was younger, I didn't even really consider it.
Yeah and so you do really reckless things that later on you think, "Oh my god, I couldn't do that now!"
PSF: And you more than a lot of people have done things that many would be considered reckless!
I would agree with that! But now, I try not to because I'm highly aware not just of mortality but the innate treasure of being here and having a physical existence, or appearing to have one - I'm never sure if it's real - but it's a fantastic place to explore, this planet, whatever it is, and I want to stay as long as possible now and see what happens. I'm very interested to see what we do as a species in the next twenty or thirty years. I think it's going to be a very critical time. It's going to be fascinating, don't you think?
PSF: A time of chaos, evolution and change.
Yes, hopefully a lot of evolution. Some of the things that we're seeing are just so old and tired. These fundamentalist positions and these polarised attitudes people have towards one another are just medieval! It's a tragedy that people are falling for it. They're being hypnotised into these ludicrous attitudes again. Just when everyone finally began to wake up, they're been put back to sleep. But there's always the rebels, isn't there? The young soul rebels!
PSF: Those are the people who usually move things forward, aren't they?
I think so, for better or worse. They just can't sit back and observe- they have to get involved. It sounds like you are too!
PSF: Yeah, I guess so.
How old are you?
PSF: Nearly 37.
I'm 57 and still out there doing my best to wake everyone up and ask them to take a moment to reconsider. Reconsider your attitudes and your behaviour, please. You see before, I never used to say 'please.'
PSF: You get a little more polite as you get older.
Just a little bit! Not too much!
PSF: You've had all this cosmetic surgery which from what I read it seemed you and Lady Jaye were trying to become completely identical physically. Is that right?
Not completely - it wouldn't work. We're different body types. Enough to make the point that we don't believe in the binary way of looking at the world - male/female, left/right, black/white, good/bad. That is one of the key problems in the way people perceive themselves and behave and in the current era, it's one of the things holding us back from evolution. We try to propose the idea of the two of us becoming one being when we're together. Its more like the William Burroughs and Brion Gysin idea of the third mind where they would say (that) when they collaborated on cut-ups, neither of them was the author. The author was a third mind which was a combination of the two of them - both of their creativities and imaginations combined. Lady Jaye and I have essentially taken that further and said, "We'll use our bodies as well as a collaborative cut-up." And when we're together, the pandrogyne is a third entity, a third being that's created by the combination of both of us. That hopefully is another creative entity, a hyper-creative entity perhaps. That's more the emphasis rather than gender or looking alike. We do that as much as we can just to make the point.
PSF: Gender-wise, you're referred to as "her" now but as a hermaphrodite, surely you're neither he nor she?
Absolutely, but sadly we live in a rather banal society in the West where people want to have things simplified, at least initially. When we meet people, we don't know (that) they tend to perceive me as female and it just makes life a lot simpler. It also disciplines people to remember what we're doing. It's a form of reminding discipline that people have to accept and recognise that we're doing something that transgresses and is very modern I guess. We're doing it very thoughtfully. And we want people to give some respect by making a change in their vocabulary. Does that help?
This is fun! I'm enjoying this!
PSF: I wonder if you have any thoughts about the supposed alien visitors, "the greys," in relation to pandrogyny? I read quite a long time ago a theory that these entities that a lot of people encounter in UFO abductions are time-travelling humans from the future in which we've evolved into a race of physically identical beings.
From the future? And they've all become like machines?
PSF: I don't know if they'd all become like machines but they're supposedly physically identical as far as anyone can tell.
Supposedly, they don't eat and they don't have genitals and they don't speak with their mouths. They're like extruded humanoid entities that are more like machine entities than thoughtful, perceptual entities. There's some discussion now that what they're trying to do is create emotional stress in humans they abduct because they're trying to relearn emotional language because they've taken their whole trip too far and got stuck in an evolutionary dead end.
I don't really have a lot of thoughts about "the greys." I've read about them but I don't really have a lot of speculation. I know people seem to have what seems like real experiences with them but the most likely explanation I've seen is that it's a sort of pre-REM sleep situation where people have this little moment where they experience... I've met people who've had abduction experiences and they were very convinced that it was as real as everything else happening around them. So for them it's real. Whatever you believe is what's true, so it's absolutely real for the people who experience it. Who am I to deny them that sense? Who knows who's come? I imagine that this planet is, in a way, an intersection of how many infinite dimensions and ways of existing and being and all kind of possibilities. So maybe we see all sorts of things every now and then through little windows that appear. They're all happening simultaneously and sometimes they're curious about each other. When you take psychedelics, who knows if you're really on someone else's planet? Maybe they're really pissed off to have you suddenly pop up in the middle of their life! Leaving your psychedelic rubbish behind when you go again. You never know! Who knows which end is which? Who is dreaming who?
PSF: You probably didn't need to dream of them before you met them, but maybe you did? You've got Nick Zinner the guitarist of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Gibby Haynes of Butthole Surfers on the PTV3 album Hell Is Invisible / Heaven Is Her/e. How did you end up asking them to collaborate?
Gibby Haynes I met way back in the early eighties, touring with Psychic TV. He came up on stage in Austin and we became friends. Also, we did some of the films for the Butthole Surfers. They used to project all those films of operations and stuff. Sleazy and I did all that for them. So we've known Gibby for ages and he now lives in New York and we bumped into him in New York and we said, "Hey, do you want to come down and have a go at something?" He said, "Sure." And he just turned up. Lady Jaye and I met Nick Zinner here at the Columbia Hotel. He was with Mick Rock and he came up and said, "Hi, can I take your photograph? I'm a fan." And we became really good friends. He lives in Brooklyn too so we started to have dinner and barbecues and hang out. I'd go to their gigs and vice versa so it was an obvious choice. I like his guitar playing. I think he's one of the best new guitarists that I've seen, ever.
PSF: He's got a good sound with that double amp.
Piles of weird amps and sound effects. He's amazing, especially live- he keeps the sound just the same. He was great. He came down and listened to the tracks and just jammed straight down two or three times.
PSF: Do you know if Gibby's up to anything musically these days?
He's up to something. I know he had Gibby Haynes' Problem. He's definitely working on something but I can't remember what.
PSF: I haven't really heard anything he's done between Electric Larryland and the PTV3 album. The last Butthole Surfers album was almost impossible to find over here. I only ever saw a copy in Germany.
Then the record label started trying to tell them they should try to do more commercial songs.
PSF: But they don't put the record out in England!
PSF: One of the main lyrical themes on the PTV3 album is "Love in the light of fear" - it's almost like another theme for the album, isn't it?
Definitely. This particular line up of PTV3 is truly the most enjoyable that I've ever had for doing music. They're all people that we love hanging out with anyway. When we're on tour, we never squabble- it's incredible. Everybody is really supportive of each other in every way and they really listen because I go off at tangents on stage as you know. I get excited and I start improvising and I go off. Even though they rehearse and they're really tight on one level, because they're so tight, they can follow me wherever I go, no matter how I stress or stretch. So, it's really exhilarating. I can actually make things sound exactly as I hear them in my imagination for the first time. It's the most perfect version of what I've been hearing for all these years so it's exciting, nice. We'll be back soon, we'll be touring soon. Coming to your town!
PSF: Are there any plans for Throbbing Gristle to tour? I know you're doing some performances at the ICA in London.
We're doing the Tate Modern in two weeks (May) to celebrate Derek Jarman's Super 8 movies. We're doing a live soundtrack to a collage of his Super 8 movies that Sleazy edited. Then at the ICA, we'll be recording what may be a final album? I don't know! Another album! And letting the public watch a recreation of the "Heathen Earth" experience. Sleazy had this idea that my vocals get more edgy when there are people watching me. So he wants to push me, push my limits, putting me under stress!
PSF: Which is always what Throbbing Gristle were about really?
Yes, it's always a tried and tested technique.
PSF: How did you feel about the Throbbing Gristle performance at All Tomorrow's Parties? I saw that and was quite impressed.
I had a few technical problems, but apart from that...
PSF: I didn't notice but I was quite drunk!
That was probably perfect! It was very physical. It worked in a very physical way. It was very instinctive, rather than considered, but that's OK.
PSF: Can you remember how much of the material from The Endless Not was performed that night?
I think just three maybe? I did "Almost A Kiss," didn't I? I never remember. I have to say, I go into a trance on stage and I often have no idea what we've done. We just played in Vienna this weekend and I didn't remember anything. I was saying to Sleazy, "I wrote two new songs - have you got recordings so I know what I sang?" I didn't remember any of the words at all, but it just came out in these nice flows as if it was all prepared. That's one of the reasons we started recording it all of the time, to capture those moments we otherwise would lose. We always incorporated that into the whole modality of what we did and how we did it and I still do it with PTV3 too- it's very similar. In a way, it's just more refined and for once, I've finally just confessed that I love the rock'n'roll aesthetic. It's got an exciting, simple, fun structure that I've discovered I actually like working with. So it's been quite a revelation to surrender to my secret fetish. It's OK to do rock songs, fuck it!
PSF: Of course it's alright. The problem is a just that a lot of bands do it badly or stay in the middle of the road.
They really don't put enough intellect and thought into the reasoning for it. They don't work as hard as they should, probably. Or they take a simple formula and just accept it rather than analyse why it works or how it might be mutated a little bit to make it more interesting. All the important bands take that form and put it through some kind of mangler to reanimate it. That's what all the interesting bands do.
PSF: So they end up with something unique?
For more Genesis related fun, see his website, the Pyschic TV website and the Throbbing Gristle website.
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