Author Archives: Ray Jackson
  1. Elio Mascolo: “The subjects of my paintings are often characters whose ‘impositions’ offend my intellectual dignity.”

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    You may want to have a pen and notepad ready for this one, such is the gargantuan level of artistic reference points cited by Italian lawyer and polarizing artist Elio Mascolo. Mascolo’s art brutally and brilliantly takes aim at such seemingly untouchable public figures that it makes one wonder how the Italian law system hasn’t already had him *gasp* cancelled. Mascolo is an interviewer’s wet dream and full of tremendous statements that make him instantly quotable. In this lengthy exchange, we cover modern-day threats to artistic freedom, his career as a painter-lawyer, cancel culture, the EU, public sector bureaucracy, Greta Thunberg, the Pope, Mascolo’s ‘vintage’ heterosexuality as well as a whole load of his own and well-known others’ philosophy that demands to be reread, noted and preserved.

     

    Mr Mascolo, I’ve never spoken to nevermind interviewed a lawyer who is also creative. How do both vocations affect each other? 

     

    Yes, I’m a lawyer but I’m a teacher too – I teach the history of the Byzantine Empire and history of the Balkan countries in Sancti Cyrilli Universitas in Malta and in the public Universiti of Valona in Albania. Both of these commitments provide me with many hints and ideas, but they do not ‘technically’ affect what I paint. Hardly any one of my paintings was induced by the object of my profession. I have often (and happen) to meet good characters for a painting or colleagues who paid well for a portrait. Strangely, none of them wanted a portrait wearing a toga or discussing a trial. Sometimes I have a female subject, but then I almost always paint her naked or with clothes that inspired more agreeable instincts than those induced by a toga. You always have to dig to find something. 

     

    What kind of law do you practice? 

     

    I am an administrative lawyer. My opponent is always the public administration and I hate it with all my soul. 

     

    I’ve read you say you are a lawyer for ‘pleasure’. What kind of pleasure does that profession give you? 

     

    Like I say, I deeply despise the public administration, obtuse laws and bureaucrats. I began to be a lawyer for the pleasure of opposing all this and, often, to beat them. But I’ve been a lawyer for 20 years. After the first ten I thought that the public administration and the state bureaucracy are a relentless Moloch. You can win against him a thousand times, but the day after he will pass new laws against which what you have obtained up to then will no longer have any value. Over the following ten years I became more and more convinced that my clients are no better than the administration I despise. Most of them are just people who don’t want to pay taxes or cover up illegal activities; they are the two sides of the same coin. Now I don’t enjoy it anymore. So, at the end of this year, I decided to return the toga … another cycle is over.

     

    How do you find time to be creative?

     

    Every moment of one’s existence is a creative moment, you just need to have enough attentive eyes and enough rich, intense dreams but also a mind capable of creating infinite rhizomes. In fact, I think that the relationship that a painter has with reality has a thousand facets and presupposes a particular quality of the gaze. Faced with a gesture or a landscape, the painter must bring out the conscience details, fragments, reflections and sensations they are generally unaware of and that normally escape. The expression with the mechanism of the real becomes universal, pronounced on behalf of everyone and elaborated on an articulated cultural background: a network of references, unusual combinations, revealing symmetries. It feeds on relationships, cultivated for years or burned in a few meetings, and above all, born from the constant confrontation with the society of its time, in all its aspects, even the most superficial and ephemeral. My ‘inspiration’ is nourished by this reality, by producing ‘surrealist’ observations on human existence. The red thread of my paintings flow from the teeming movement of life itself.

     

     

    Why or do you think it’s important for art to reflect the artist; authenticity is obviously essential? 

     

    I believe that the art expressed and produced by an artist (painter, musician, poet or scammer) can only be the reflection of his skills and ideas. If you don’t express yourself authentically, if you have to strive to be authentic, then you are just an imitator, and you don’t have much to say. So in art (but also in other fields), there are ‘talents’ and ‘geniuses’. The talented man paints, composes verses or music or novels and his works are welcomed by the public. The talented man knows how to please and is rewarded by success, he gets honours and money (the original meaning of the word talent) but his work will not be independent of public consent. He will be successful but he will not have created anything important. The man of genius, on the other hand, creates without caring about the public. Generally, his works are rejected or are imposed by their authority, not by their power of seduction. The future belongs to the man of genius, but the present usually rejects him, often with violence.

    Jean-August Ingres stated, “…with talent you do what you want…with genius you do what you can…” 

     

    How did you become a lawyer and as a quick follow-up, is painting more of a hobby?

     

    I became a lawyer because my father, who was a lawyer. My older brother is a lawyer, my younger brother is a lawyer, my uncles are lawyers or judges ….in exchange I asked him to be able to study something else as well. So, graduating in law in Bari, I also graduated in history in Rome and in the restoration of paintings on canvas, wood, and frescoes in Florence. After my studies, with a high school friend of mine, I opened a painting restoration company and for seven years I worked for the church and the superintendency of artistic heritage of my city (Bari), then due to a malignant carcinoma caused by organic solvents I had to leave this business. So I started being a lawyer. It was January 2000 (my father’s dream was fulfilled …) but the courts are sad, grey and boring. With my degree in history (obtained at the Pontifical Lateran University), I first obtained a professorship in a Catholic university in Tirana, after one year I was called to the St. Cyrilli University of Malta and two years ago they offered me a professorship in Valona.

    I have been painting and drawing since I was three years old. My mother gave me a box of colors and a sketchbook. I never stopped. Now through painting, I focus and ‘live’ in the world, transforming it with the utmost freedom of spirit and with the most prolific and boundless imagination that the world itself inspires in me. Painting enabled me to completely abolish common logic in favor of an imaginative, surreal and subconscious expression. With painting, I can reproduce mental traces built on associative mechanisms and generated by unexpressed sublimated realities. So painting is not a hobby, painting is the air I breathe.

     

    When looking at your works, it seems that you firmly believe in the need for free speech and the right to offend… 

     

    Pablo Picasso said: “Painting was not invented to decorate apartments, it is a weapon of offense and defense from the enemy”. 

    Art is a very powerful means of expression. Now, I don’t think art can kill like a weapon but I believe deeply in freedom of expression and thought. Only art can make you say what you want about what you see exactly as you would like, then, everyone is free to take offense as they see fit. Today, more and more, it is becoming difficult to express oneself without someone not feeling offended. It has become easier to feel offended than to be able to offend. An example: I have portrayed dozens of times the woman with whom I lived 16 years of my life, for me she was the most beautiful living being on this world. I often painted her little dressed, more often absolutely naked. When our story was wrecked, she took all the pictures of the paintings I had taken of her to court and accused me of being a sex maniac (given my status as a lawyer, it was a terrible problem). Then she destroyed them all. So, how many men every day are ‘destroyed’ or ‘brutalized’ even only psychologically by companions to whom they had completely trusted? I hate and despise the rampant concept for which any form of ‘approach’ to the other is now criminalized, of any sex. According to the dominant thought currently, art giants such as Picasso, Balthus, Schiele, Bacon, Freud and many others, would have been arrested immediately because of their ‘stormy’ relationships with their partners, models or muses.

     

    In your work you appear to be making a mockery, satirizing, even insulting ‘important’ people – politicians, social activists, the Pope. I do tend to applaud those you pillory. 

    How do you choose who you paint or ‘take aim’ at?

     

    I do not choose the subjects of my paintings. It is they who offer themselves to my observation, it is they who ‘knock’ at my studio crowding behind the door. The whole of Western society is the primary source of inspiration … its ever-lower level of cultural, ethical, aesthetic misery. The unstoppable decline into which our culture is precipitating without even bothering to die elegantly. In a society that is incredibly suffocating itself with the noose of his paucity. In reality, I don’t think I offend anyone; I oppose with all my strength the imposition of being ‘politically correct’, the most monumental form of sinister hypocrisy that is pulverizing freedom of expression and thought. It is reducing everything to a single thought that a sane person with a shred of cultural and mental dignity cannot possibly bear. Here, often the subjects of my paintings are characters whose ‘impositions’ offend my intellectual dignity.

     

     

    Do you consider yourself a polemista?

     

    I don’t think I’m a ‘polemicist’. Perhaps a cynic (of the school of Diogenes), at least in the way of seeing and facing the things of life. And a heretic in the way of thinking and expressing my ideas with painting. [I’m the] child crying: “THE KING IS NAKED!”

     

    What kind of freedom does art give you? 

     

    I don’t know if being an artist makes you more free, I think there are more narrow-minded and obtuse artists than people who have never picked up a brush in their hand but have freedom in their eyes, in their minds, in their souls. I am sure however that a gifted artist knows how to give a more ‘acute’ voice to his libertarian essence. Slaves are born, free you die. The satirical cartoonist Stephan Charbonnier (the director of Charlie Hebdo), 48 hours before his death, published a book whose incipit was a quote from Emiliano Zapata: “It is much better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.” I think exactly the same thing. 

     

     

    Do you consider yourself a ‘political’ artist?

     

    I am not ‘very political’. I am absolutely anarchist, neither right nor left. My political reference is Buenaventura Durruti. Unfortunately, however, politics, directly or indirectly, alters and manipulates the daily existence of every human being. The total submission of politics to finance. The absolute detachment between politics and people’s real life is the thing I hate and fight most and it is the thing I fear the most; what really frightens me about politics is the silent but unstoppable destruction of social freedom. I wonder if ours is still a free society? By now it is evident that all the conditions for a new “different” dictatorship are being fulfilled. Freedom is being destroyed, language is being increasingly impoverished, truth is being abolished, history is being suppressed, nature is denied, while hatred spreads. Our age has lost all reference. What awaits us beyond the ‘nice’ media?

     

    How does the media affect your creative or artistic work, social versions, or elsewhere?

     

    I’m not (and I don’t care) the influence of the media. At most I get ideas. Basically, I think media is a giant steamroller that flattens everything in its path; a form of total democracy in which everyone can say everything regardless of the value of what they say and who says it. It is a huge cauldron into which millions and millions of ingredients are poured that gives an absolutely indefinable flavor and final shape. Like when mixing all the colors of the palette in one container, the result is a non-color. The media, however, frighteningly influence those who look at art, they ‘suffer’ it. The viewer is absolutely subservient to this neo-language which is now a system of power. Even though the spectator does not understand, he pretends to understand for fear of not being ‘admitted’ to the assembly of the ‘intelligent’, so he appears dramatically more idiotic than he is, and queues up, in silence, to cheer those who mock him …

     

     

    Is it possible to judge art objectively?

     

    I don’t know if art (except for some very evident cases) can be judged in another way that is not absolutely subjective. Certainly, for me, a good part (most of) contemporary art, the conceptual one, the hard one, the one we look at without absolutely understanding anything and inside us we say ‘I could have done it too and even better’, the one that needs thousands of abstruse words to be explained and eyes are no longer enough to admire it, well that art is just a huge hole with something (not much really) around it. And yet, this art of senselessness, of provocation, often of horror, has a history and causes that should be known both by those who adore it and by those who would like to protect themselves from the ugliness inherent in it.

     

    I like your illustration of Greta Thunberg. What’s your personal opinion on her?

     

    She is a little girl unaware of her role, a tiny wheel of a gigantic economic gear artfully built around her,  good for any situation. After her performance on the environment, she also ventured into the sea of the Covid pandemic. [ She is] a not too cute puppet well trained. In Italy, if a child, even sick, does not go to school for weeks and remains, like Andersen’s little match girl, exposed to the elements with a sign hanging from her neck on a sidewalk, a judge would have the parents arrested and would order the intervention of social services… I prefer Severn Cullis Suzuky (the girl who silenced the world). Remember the UN Environment Summit in 1992? Little Severn, in absolute autonomy and without mega-organization behind her, said better and earlier the same things repeated by the Swedes.

     

    And then there’s the painting of Pope Francis… which was also funny. 

     

    I am an atheist, but I also studied in a Christian and Catholic university, a true institution of the church of Rome. I have an education and a culture deeply imbued with the history of our Judeo-Christian society, with full knowledge of the facts I can therefore say that this Bergoglio is ‘a nice person’ and not much more. Theologically, he is an absolute nullity, he’s managed to do more damage to the church in 7 years than the secular world in 2000 years… perhaps because he looks a lot like Stan Laurel, he tells a lot of nonsense without substance and depth. With him, faith and doctrine have disappeared. He is so Jesuit that he took the name of the first of the Franciscans!

     

    As you know now, I have a Greek wife, but regardless of that fact, it seems to me, quite a healthy thing to lampoon Turkish President Erdogan… a vile character. Your painting insults him brilliantly. 

     

    The painting depicting Erdogan humping the Von Der Leyen was painted almost 2 years ago. It is a hymn to the uselessness of the EU in the face of the incredible maneuvers and blackmail of an unscrupulous dictator like Erdogan and the needs dictated by the markets. Turkey is however an excellent economic and strategic partner of Germany and the EU is a foolish servant. It would be useless to list the monstrosities perpetrated by the ‘sultan’ against his own people and many others, ignoring (I don’t want to take a history lesson) the total manipulation of basic civil rights.

     

    What do you see as the current biggest threat to artistic freedom? 

     

    I believe that a truly dangerous threat to art can only come from itself. Since Duchamp’s exhibition of his urinal 100 years ago changed the destiny of art forever, art has since begun to expand its competencies with excessive prodigality; it has lent its guarantees to an infinite number of ‘projects’ that have turned out to be totally unsuccessful, inconsistent, pretentious and all too often insignificant. For a long time now, art has to be seen with the ears and no longer just with the eyes; its existence is only assured if it is supported by a robust theory, i.e. by the most important, sophisticated and grandiloquent terms and adjectives possible that illustrate its meaning to a gullible and good-for-everything public.

    Having completely lost sight of the primordial concept that was at the basis of art, that of beauty, which it has evidently long since renounced, and having lost the backbone of aesthetics, art has ended up by flattening itself on vacuous and increasingly disturbing concepts. However, the most insidious danger for the freedom to create and, in my opinion, always more serious, derives (as I have already mentioned) from the unstoppable spread of two monstrous phenomena; the ‘politically correct’ and  ‘cancel culture’, two real abominable ogres, those who in my opinion are the armed wing of progressivism, which, find very fertile ground in our now completely anesthetized web society… A society in which freedom has been severely but inexorably restricted; a society in which progress means being constantly monitored and spied on; it means not having a private life, an intimate life, a personal life; it means having to ignore calm, silence, and solitude; it means being repertoire and filed in order to be able to satisfy the markets more effectively.

     

    I enjoy listening to your overall outlook; you cite Emile Cioran for example and many others who I adore.

    What inspires you the most, what gives you the strength to create, past living artists, filmmakers, musicians or present? 

     

    I certainly love various artists whose way of approaching things I have perhaps assimilated more than their way of painting. Of course, the paintings of Dali and Magritte fascinates me a great deal, the style and line of Schiele and Klimt are absolutely inimitable, as is the unsurpassed technique of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites, or the genius of Picasso, Caravaggio or Masaccio, but they already had intuitions and ideas that they realised wonderfully. It is in my reading, in my music, and in what surrounds me and crowds my daily life and, no less important, in the female body,  that I find cues, images, ideas and topics that I then translate into frames of imagination. For example, when I’m in Albania for university and experience the chaotic and varied everyday life of the streets of Vlora or the markets of Tirana, I feel like I’m immersed in a screenplay by E. Kusturiza. But when I talk to the people who live and animate those places, I feel as if I were dipping my hands into the ink that flows from the pen of Milan Kundera, all set to music by Bregovic and Satie! So in my memory, images are indelibly printed that will come in handy, sooner or later, in some painting.

    As for women’s bodies as inspiration and passion, apart from my now ‘vintage’ heterosexuality (I am white and heterosexual and this makes me an animal in extinction), I believe that only in them is it possible (not always, of course) to merge the beautiful and the sublime. But from Rimbaud, Baudelaire to Rilke, from Garcia Marquez, Orwell or Borges, to Tournier, Houellebecq, Calvino or Camus, from Cioran, Agamben to Onfray, it is among them that I look for emotions and the commotion capable of ‘moistening’ my soul so that it doesn’t dry up too much in contact with the ugliness or paucity that assails reality. Reading and listening to music are my drug. Knowing, feeling and wanting to know and see more and more is my incurable disease. Curiosity is my sea.

     

    I associate with your take that music is a drug – can you talk more about its importance to you?

     

    I believe that music is the breath of the world. I think life without music would be very miserable and I personally listen to music all the time. When I’m working in the studio and if I have a particularly challenging act to prepare, I listen to music appropriate to the difficulty of the moment; as well as when I’m preparing lectures for university or doing research or when I’m painting; and when I’m driving, all the time. I can whistle every note of an infinite number of tunes. One day in court, while walking down one of its huge corridors, I whistled ‘The Man I Love’. A judge looked at me with disgust and said, “Remember you are a lawyer!”

    “I remind you that this is Ghershwin”, I replied, “…a little more than most lawyers”. He told me I was crazy and other things I didn’t understand. Every moment of my life clings to a note, a melody.

    When my son was born I learnt by heart the notes of ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ by Mozart. When the little one cried at night, in order not to wake up his mother and make him fall asleep again, I whistled ‘My Favourite Things’ – the version by D. Brubeck, or ‘Riders On The Storm’ by The Doors (maybe that’s why he hates me today). When his mother left with him, I sat on an armchair and played at full volume Chopin’s ‘Farewell Waltz’ and E.L.P.’s ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’.When I’m painting I listen to Bach played by G. Gould, the Goldberg Variations usually or the Concerto No.7 in G minor.… Anyway, I haven’t seen that wonderful child for years now, but every night before I go to sleep I still listen to “My Favourite Things”.

     

    Can you tell me about any upcoming projects or works? 

     

    At the moment, apart from a couple of portraits that have been commissioned, I am working on several projects. The first is a small, short exhibition that I have been organising every summer for the last four years in the law firm of a friend and colleague of mine, who opens to art and people his beautiful studio in the centre of a beautiful old village in a small, characteristic town in the ‘Itria valley’, Cisternino. I am also working on three series of themed paintings.

    The first one is entitled: “Al più peggio non c’è mai fine”. In the Italian language, to say “Al più peggio non c’è mai fine” is a frightening grammatical error, but these words came out of the mouth of our Minister of Education (F. Fedeli), who was later found to have lied about her qualifications and her entire curriculum. For a country whose Minister of Foreign Affairs (and almost all of its MPs and Senators) does not speak a word of English, it is absolutely normal to have a Minister of Education who does not know his own language. It, therefore, seemed to be a good title for an exhibition on the level of absolute incompetence and inadequacy of some individuals who, however, due to circumstances completely unrelated to their merits, find themselves tragically deciding the fate and lives of many other unfortunate and unwitting people. To each of these characters I have matched a person of completely opposite thickness and value or even worse, for example, to the former President of the Republic, Napolitano, an ambiguous, factious, and instrumentally opportunistic character, I have matched Vaclav Havel, a true Martian compared to ours; to a well-known and influential judge who believes that it is enough to enter a court to be guilty, I have matched R. Freisler, “the Hitler judge”, who thought like ours and condemned to death all the members of the White Rose (as well as thousands of other innocents), just by applying the law.

    The second series is entitled “Me Tooooo”. Obviously, I am referring to the well-known Hollywood movement according to which a great many artists (I am obviously referring to painters) who have made the history of universal art, for what had been their relationships with the opposite sex or their partners, would certainly have been tried, arrested and ‘erased’, with the result that today we would not have Guernica or the Deemoiselle d’Avignon or Guitar Lessons or the Lovers or Three Studies for a Crucifixion or Standing by the rags or many others.

    The third series is entitled ‘Red Shoes’. 

    Granted that for me all forms of murder are absolutely unacceptable, regardless of the gender and tendencies of the victims (except for the killing of children which is an even more inconceivable monstrosity), I am quite skeptical about the current emphasis and narrative that a man who kills a woman is worse than any other murderer and a woman killed by a man (regardless of the circumstances) is more of a victim than another murdered person. For me, every death is equally heinous without excuse.

    As a male, however, I claim with all my might the right to dignity and truth for the thousands of men who, although not killed by their partners, have been reduced to human wrecks deprived of any presentability and honour, thrown into the most devastating misery and instability imaginable by the very woman to whom they had entrusted (given) their lives without asking for any guarantee. How many men have had everything taken away from them, but above all their lives as fathers? The courts are full of fathers ‘orphaned of their children’ (I know something about it). Living with the ghost of a living child is a daily death that cannot be described, but I have never seen men in red shoes or women condemned for having reduced their unfortunate ex-partner to a non-life. And this for the simple fact that, even under secular law, motherhood is a given while fatherhood is a privilege. I think I’m going to have a hard time finding a gallery owner willing to host and show these works… If you know one, suggest it to me.

     

    Elio, thank you for your time. Grazie. 

    www.eliomascolo.com

    Elio on Instagram 

  2. “Bonfire of Teenagers” – New Morrissey album is imminent

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    “The worst year of my life concludes with the best album of my
    life.” – Morrissey.

    Morrissey is back, thank God (or whichever higher power does his bidding).

    Morrissey has announced that a new record is on its way, and it will be entitled “Bonfire of Teenagers”. While no release date has been announced, Moz published a list of the album tracks via his website.

    “Bonfire of Teenagers” tracks will go as:

    1. ‘I Am Veronica’
    2. ‘Rebels Without Applause’
    3. ‘Kerouac Crack’
    4. ‘Ha Ha Harlem’
    5. ‘I Live In Oblivion’
    6. ‘Bonfire Of Teenagers’
    7. ‘My Funeral’
    8. ‘Diana Dors’
    9. ‘I Ex-Love You’
    10. ‘Sure Enough, The Telephone Rings’
    11. ‘Saint In A Stained Glass Window’

    As stated on his site, “Morrissey is unsigned. The album is available to the highest (or lowest)
    bidder.” 

    Lets get saving.

    And for now, let us rejoice in a recent Moz classic:

     

     

  3. Blixa Bargeld: “If everything is possible, then you don’t get very far…”

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    “Yeah, I like Billie Eilish. I can see why she is successful and why people are into it.” – Blixa Bargeld.

    I did not approach my interview with Einstürzende Neubauten frontman Blixa Bargeld expecting to find common ground when it came to the subject of Billie Eilish, nor that she would even come up. The former Bad Seed guitarist, industrial music (and Patreon) pioneer, and straight-faced straight-talking German didn’t seem like the type who’d go for that kind of thing, but there you go.

    Last year, in the midst of a pandemic, Neubauten released their 12th studio album, the brilliant and eerily listenable Alles in Allem (All in All), the band’s first since 2014’s ‘Lament’. Around that time, Blixa and his family left their home in Berlin and upped ‘temporary’ sticks to Portugal, as ‘Corona-refugees’, as he puts it.

    In another lengthy exclusive interview for Felten Ink (what else do you expect?), Blixa discussed his current life in the Algarve, cooking with a live online audience, his innovative methods of creating new material with Neubauten, his long-time relationship with crowdfunding, and his fears about more traditional forms of writing and working in general. The small matter of Blixa’s time with, and indeed departure from Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds was another topic I couldn’t resist but broach.

     

     

    The current worldly situation with regards to tiresome viruses has obviously been hard on performing artists (no touring etc) but has it had any positives for you, in terms of being able to create new music?

     

    Create music? With what? With the swimming pool?

     

    (This is from a guy who started his career making music with drills and concrete – but my courage to point  out, so early in this interview, deserted me)

    Yes, but surely you have some means of musical instruments to work with?

     

    I rented a piano. So I have a grand piano standing in the main room and I have my microphone with me for if there’s anything that just requires some vocal work. I do work remotely with my engineer in Berlin. There are technical means, which is complicated, but possible. And I think since I came in August [to Portugal], I think I’ve done three or four recordings for other artists who wanted my vocal services. Some of them require that I actually write, and some of them just want me to read some texts or sing some texts that they supply for various different projects around the world. 

    One person actually asked me to arrange the pieces of music to record things. But I have to tell them, “Look, I am in the Algarve, I have no instruments here, I have nothing… I can’t do anything like that.”

     

     

    What about new writing projects… is there an autobiography in the works?

     

    It’s not necessarily new. I had a contract with a German publisher about 10 years ago to write an autobiography and I skipped out of that a couple of years later because I simply didn’t do it. Since I have no real possibility to play music or to have any interaction with other musicians or other artists I decided, okay, what is a solitary activity that I can do? And I write but don’t necessarily write with a focus on one book or one output. I write in parallel, and I’ve been compiling all the lyrics that I have written since the last book of lyrics that I released. I’m compiling all the notes of my times between 1993 and now. 

    But it’s a pastime. I find the process of writing, as in literal literature, in writing and sitting down, kind of frightening. It’s not really a place that I want to go to. It’s because I know the last time I had writing a book, it took me a long time to get into it, and then once I was in there, I was so involved in it that it wasn’t necessarily much fun to be around me. So, I don’t think it’s necessarily a place I want to go to.

    It’s like, ‘I don’t know where this is leading me, I don’t even know what to do with this’. I don’t know if I have much more interest in actually releasing something on an international level than rather just having a German publisher. If you release something in German, it rarely gets translated into other languages, simply, that’s how the literature world is built, it’s very Anglo-Americancentric. So, I’d rather have an international publisher, and see that there is a German edition of it too, rather than having a German publisher that has absolutely no experience in exporting their products. So, I might end up doing the whole thing myself.

     

    I was very surprised to find you on social media and you broadcasting online. I don’t know why – as it does make sense given you’ve been a pioneer in terms of things like crowdfunding, Patreon, etc.

     

    Oh, yeah, I know, but my wife is running all that for me. I have never seen my Facebook page.  She’s the one filming me, she’s also the one taking care that it gets out there. She was, you know, an internet pioneer of the first hour. She invented crowdfunding. It wasn’t called crowdfunding back then. We just called it a supporter model, but she did all that. Obviously, she’s good with these things.

    Like, when was that, the late 90’s or 2000s – with Napster, when the whole digital world suddenly shook people up from their sleep. At that point, I think in 2001, we did our last record for which we had a recording contract; a classical, old-style recording contract. And after that, no record company, even for an established band, would offer you the same conditions any longer. It was all uncertain and we thought, “Well, how do we do this kind of, like, a supporter model.” You know? You start working and we film, we offer something that the porn industry offered already on the internet, fake intimacy. As for a ‘paid model’, we were all very skeptical about that, but once we had the first 500 people signing up, we realised, “Hey, this is actually working”.

    Back then, I think, if you’d say the word ‘streaming’, nobody would know what you were talking about. So, we did web shows and everything and we didn’t do streaming back then. We had USB cables running, so soon you’d end up with a wrong cable running over the courtyard because there was no internet in the backyard where our studio was. And that’s the first thing we did with all this money that came in from the people, we actually bought equipment to build a studio.

    We bought a mixing desk from German television and we brought microphones, stands, we bought all these essential things that we didn’t have before because Neubauten was very much a band that never spent any of their money on anything. We built a studio, we made a ton of records and we did Patreon. Patreon was enormously happy that we were working with them because we were the biggest selling musical act on the whole platform. So, obviously what we did back then had and does have a resonance to people nowadays, and people (laughs) in, in this, like, confinement situation, even more so.

     

    Do you think that in, say, 10 years or so time, there’ll almost be a lack of need for a record company or a studio? Everybody now is doing it themselves… 

     

    I can very much live without a record company and I could actually very much live without making a record but, I can’t really live without playing. I can’t really live without playing live. I miss that more than being able to go to a studio. But certainly of these three elements: concerts, studio, record company, I can without the last one. Studios, I mean, the way technology has influenced the output of music is obvious. The general format nowadays is a duo that sits in front of two computers, because that’s accessible to everybody. I don’t try to value that, but it’s just accessible and possible to everybody.

    You have your music program in that, you work with a computer, you produce electronic music and when you’re finished you send it out and it’s gonna be a record or it’s gonna be on Bandcamp or you actually press CDs or vinyl with it. But that’s not a way that I like to work. For me, it is necessary to work with a band in one room, playing instruments that are mainly acoustic or electroacoustic, even singing automatically makes it necessary to have a room.

     

    Indeed. So no matter what evolves in the future, the need for a group, a band setting, together, will always be a necessity… 

    I remember when I first worked with Alva Noto who is of course a big, big number in electronics and electronic music. It was almost a shock for him to realise that once you have a singer, that you actually need a room, that you actually need to have a microphone, that you have to have a recording studio, and that you can just sit on a headphone with a microphone and sing into a computer. That’s not working for me and for the whole process of composing for me, it is necessary to work with a band. The band is my tool to compose. I don’t come with a fixed thing, I come with ideas and I am unable to sing them to their final stage without the input of other people.

    That’s usually in the way we play together, I’d rather feel like I’m directing a play than being responsible for the whole music… I direct something.

     

    Am I right in thinking you don’t put in too much preparation before entering a studio?

     

    Since I bought my first laptop in late ’93, I made it a habit and a duty to write something everyday. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I write lyrics for songs. I write or I collect ideas, I make notes. So, I do come [to the studio] with something and I always have particular things that interested me in that I would like to try out.

     

    And this will have been the case with the latest album, ‘Alles in Allem’?

     

    With ‘Alles in Allem’ – the whole album is very, very dear to my heart. I have, with that album, deeper satisfaction with anything else I’ve done before. And I think that goes for everybody in the band. It just feels really like we’ve done the most uncompromising, beautiful thing that we haven’t done for a very long time.

     

    Tell me about your card system, a way of working with Neubauten? 

     

    Yeah, we have this one way that we like to work with which is called Dave. It’s a card system that I devised that is specific to Neubauten, specific to the people in Neubauten and it’s specific to our instruments and strategies. And usually, there are no rules, but we usually play it like everybody’s taking a couple of cards and he keeps them for himself and trying to make sense out of them, you know? Then everybody is building their station, mise en scene so to speak, and then we play and we’re all completely surprised by what everybody else is doing.

    There was one particular afternoon that we webcast where we drew the cards and started playing. And it took a very unfortunate direction, the direction was very much into, you know, ‘Music for Airports’ kind of ambiance.  And I said, “This is ridiculous, we can’t make a three and a half minute seven-inch single ambient piece!”

    That’s just contrary to the whole idea of ambient, you know, a double album, a whole CD. But what do you want? These three and a half minutes of wobbling, nice sounds? It justifies itself in, in a different format, but not in a three and a half for a single. So, I couldn’t sleep. I went home and I was really embarrassed and angry about that. So, the next morning, when I went to the studio, there was only Alex and I said, “Look, uh, I thought about this. We can’t – I, with your permission, I will try something else of that.” And then I sat down and played ‘Alles in Allem’.

     

    Video for Alles in Allem

     

    ‘Alles in Allem’ was the one song I heard which really stood out for me, quite profound. And I’ve read you saying it took some madness to compete?

     

    Yeah, that took madness to write that (laughs). 

     

    So how did you set about getting it to a place where you wanted it to be?

     

    I kept the key. I didn’t wanna go completely rogue, sort of overboard. I thought maybe this can work as an intro. As I said, I wasn’t sleeping, I was kind of, like, hypersensitive and I really came with an idea, and when I recorded, it suddenly, it was necessary for the sound engineer to readjust my headphones. So, I went out into the courtyard, outside of the studio because of my mental state. Pictures were breaking in on me, basically.

    I looked at the wall and I looked at the floor and the pictures just threw in and I stood there, writing, and I think I had it within 15 minutes. In that time I had written about 10 verses, just from the floor and the wall and what I’d seen. And then I went back in and just sorted them out and I left in the six best ones and that’s it… that’s why you have in the video also they show the floor, because that’s the lyrics. Yeah, it took a certain amount of madness to actually write that. 

     

    One thing I was really interested in about your approach in the studio is the restrictions that you place upon yourself (we’ve touched on the card system approach) – not rules as you say, but parameters to help the process? 

     

    If everything is possible, then you don’t get very far… or at least you don’t get very far quickly. I remember a very good example was, ‘Die Befindlichkeit des Landes’, a wonderful song, a great song that we rehearsed before we actually recorded. But in the rehearsal, Alex said, “No sixteenths..”.

     I don’t know why he said it, but no sixteenths. You know, whenever you sing, you, now you go, ‘da, da, da, da, no, no sixteenths’. Okay, so we kept the no sixteenths rule, and it’s a rule. But that rule actually got us through and to a point much quicker than if we would have allowed everything to happen that is possible. I don’t think I’m telling any news here, other people have found out that before me.

    But I think I have a general rule for anything connected with creativity. It’s that you first make up rules, then you follow these rules, and at some point, you break rules. You make some rules and you’re gonna be quicker. Even if you break them at some point, it doesn’t matter, you’re gonna be quicker.

    There’s a funny story that I can tell you from working with Teho [Teardo]. Teho, as a film music composer, he had lunch with Ennio Morricone. And he [Morricone] told him, “You know, you know what the trick is? The chord following. The cadence basically, doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. It’s the arranger. So, you just give a chord following and they arrange it.” And that’s great, I like that. You just make up whatever stupid chord following. If you go, “that, that’s an odd one”, and then you give it to an arranger who has to make sense out of it.

    Because a chord following itself is… everybody thinks that’s where the idea is, the idea is not in that. The idea is in what you make out of it. So, if I say, “Look, we write something in C-sharp, it’s gonna go C-sharp, D-sharp, F, F, G, C-sharp,”… anything goes, and then you give that to an arranger, you give it to other people and say, “This is it,” and, uh, then they put their teeth into it and suddenly you find out, “oh, yeah, something can be done with that stupid cadenza I just wrote”.

     

    I’ve heard you say in the past that that art has to come from when you have to do something. 

     

    No, that’s not me, that’s Arnold Schoenberg who said that. Arnold Schoenberg said it in German. It’s translatable: art doesn’t come from ability, art comes from necessity. You don’t do it because you can, you do it because you have to.

     

    And has there been any period in your life when you went without ‘having to do something’? Perhaps when you felt you couldn’t or maybe it wasn’t right?

     

    Oh, yeah, I did not do a record since, well, since we did ‘Lament’ in 2014. Of course, the rest of the band kept asking me if we should continue working and do something else, and I didn’t feel like it. At the time I didn’t know if I had another record in me, I didn’t know if I wanted to do another record. In all the time we were playing, we were playing greatest hits, we were playing ‘Lament’, we were playing shows, but I didn’t feel like it. So that, it came to me one morning, in jet lag, coming back from Hong Kong and being in Berlin in bed and I just realised, I have to make another record, and I started making another record. Every now and then, I feel very much that I don’t have to do anything.

     

    Did you feel the need for a break as such?

     

    I don’t call it taking a break. I can’t really work if I don’t have the feeling that I have to. And not because of money, no. If I have to, it’s because there’s something that I need to do.

     

    Back to the latest record. I love ‘Ten Grand Goldie’, the video’s very funny. Your daughter makes a great cameo…

     

    Oh, in the video? Yeah, that’s my daughter.

     

    Does she have any opinion on your music or give you feedback?

     

    Yes, there are some things that she likes better than other things. She loves ‘Nargony Karabach’ and there are some other things that she likes, but she is like everybody that age, more into Billie Eilish than she is Neubauten.

     

    I like Billie Eilish…

     

    Yeah, I like Billie Eilish too. I can see why she is successful and why people are into it. And it’s extremely well made and extremely well produced.

     

    My wife has been playing the last Taylor Swift album nonstop to the point where I think I know most of the lyrics and it’s driving me absolutely crazy.

     

    Oh, my daughter can sing them all too. That’s fine. I would prefer her if she would do that, but unfortunately, she sings also a lot of really stupid songs that are really annoying. I remember that I asked my daughter, five or six years ago, that on one particular song that I was writing for Teho, I asked her, “So, what should I do?” And she said, “A tiger is approaching.” 

     

    Well put. You’ve said, and it seems, that on the latest album you dropped your defences a little bit, ‘becoming non-hermetic’? 

     

    Well, yeah, it’s a bit of a strategy in writing, and in terms of the, ‘to rather be cryptic and hermetic’,  I just kind of realised that I’m untouchable anyway, so… I am in a position where it really doesn’t matter anymore.

     

    Does that come with age or just experience?

     

    It comes with age, with age and resonance. People in my profession, a lot of 62-year-old working musicians would rather behave like they’re 30.

     

    I’m also keen to know more about ‘Google Monster’.

     

    Oh, in the first lockdown, I did a lot of private shows for the supporters and to one of them, I explained my technique called ‘Google monster’ which is basically Google-supported writing. So, I would write, in that case, what I explained is, I describe a creature, head to toe, with very generic, open sentences. And then I Google using these, um, roots. And, out come like, four, five solutions and then I end up with… five different monsters that from head to two are very well described. But that would be just making Google monsters.

     

     

    Werner Herzog once said that he was convinced that cooking is the only alternative to filmmaking. Do you agree? I love the fact that you’re a long-time active chef and actually do ‘shows’ for your website subscribers? 

     

    Erm, no. I think I came up with the idea of a synchronised cook, because that’s the difference to a normal cooking show. In 2002, we had one event for the supporters where we cooked together, the band and all the supporters. We made a recipe from The River Café in London which is a vegetarian pasta with tomato ginger sauce, which contains enormous amounts of ginger. But really delicious, really good. Neubauten have all worked in the kitchen and some of the supporters did the same thing and then we ate like Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper style on a long thing with the cameras in front of us so that they can eat with us.

    I cook something in real-time including the cutting and the whole preparation, and whoever wants to do it with me can do it with me. And, yeah, some people do. So, then I make a caldo verde, the basic national dish of Portugal, basically kale and potato soup. I do it in real-time and in the end, we can eat the soup together. And then of course the other element is whatever else I talk about, because I have the iPad in front of me, I see the comments, I see the questions and I play music at the same time.

     

    I’ll try and join next time.

     

    Yeah, well, you have to join my website. It’s cheap, it’s only 10 euros, so (laughs).

     

    I am a fully paid-up member now! 

    Do you have any beliefs in vegetarianism, a diet that you seem to still follow but gave up when living in China?

     

    I’m mostly vegetarian, yep. But I eat fish. But, no, people would ask, “Why are you vegetarian?” and I’d reply “Because I hate animals.” But I had no ethical background in that. I basically became vegetarian because I didn’t want to eat with my parents anymore. But it’s not that easy to go back. When I was living in China I started eating meat again because I didn’t want to deprive my wife of all the wonders of Chinese cooking. Chinese don’t eat in a way that you say, ‘okay, I order this and you order that’. You order for the whole table and then you all eat together. So, surprisingly, especially living in Beijing, it was surprisingly difficult sometimes getting things that are really vegetarian, things that are made without soup stock or made without ham, or things like that. So, well, I ate Chinese while I was in China but my body didn’t like it. So, I scrapped it again. I had developed some kind of nephritis that was gone once I stopped eating meat again.

     

    Nick Cave and Blixa Bargeld circa 1985

     

    The last time I saw you on film was a documentary, you were sitting in a car with Nick Cave. Did you like the result of 20,000 Days On Earth? 

     

    I never saw that film. There are about, like, three films that I appear in every year and I never watch them.

     

    I’m a huge admirer of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, and came to know you through your time in that band. How do you look back on the experience in the group? 

     

    Oh, it’s a very long ago part of my life, but the strange thing is that since I came here, I systematically went through all my daily notes – 68 volumes of notes. And I played with Nick Cave for 20 or so years and knew him before but I played with him for 20 years and so The Bad Seeds appears surprisingly little in all these notes. It almost seems to me like I was still leading a parallel life, one when I was playing with The Bad Seeds and the other one. But it was a big part of my life, that’s for sure. I’m sure it has left its scars and its traces. 

     

    And you leaving the band was unfortunate, but I suppose you had your reasons? 

     

    When I joined The Bad Seeds, I was 23 and I left the year after I got married. I had no personal difficulties with anyone in the band and artistically, I would say it was becoming more and more important to me. But I had the very clear feeling that I would be unable to balance The Bad Seeds and Einstürzende Neubauten and my marriage. There are a lot of rock star wives, they’re always the unnecessary fifth wheel in the band bus. I was in London recording ‘Nocturama’ and my wife was in an apartment that we rented in London, but she had nothing to do and I knew that  I wouldn’t be able to balance two tours, and records a year, together with my marriage.

    I was very, very unhappy with the management. After the death of that so-called manager, everybody realised that he was ripping us off, for years. Now, I can say so. But, you know, back then, I didn’t give any, explanation, I just said, “I can’t balance these things…” which is true, the management thing was very, very unsatisfactory. In the end, they found money everywhere hidden in his office, in plastic bags, so I was not paranoid, he was ripping us off.

     

    Do you still keep in touch with Nick or anyone else in the band (living, obviously)?

     

    Nick contacts me. Well, I’m meant to get a parcel today of records from Australia which I’m meant to sign and then they’re gonna get picked up by DHL again, they’re gonna be auctioned for supporting The Bad Seeds crew. But, I am still… we didn’t leave on bad terms. I didn’t leave on bad terms, it’s all fine. I still think it was the right decision for me because.. it would have been really bad for my marriage mainly. And giving up Neubauten was not an option for me.

     

    Blixa Bargeld, thank you. 

     

    Interview by Henry Jackson.

     

    If you want to join Blixa’s official ‘cook’, you can sign up via his website 

  4. The worst (or best) of interviews according to.. well, us

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    For reasons I won’t bother you with right now, I recently was propelled to search for a Kurt Cobain interview where he spoke about British music and in particular, Blur’s horrendous ‘There’s No Other Way’ record. What I came across was a video where all three members of Nirvana do their best to answer the most banal and as I soon realized, shittest questions I’ve ever heard posed. The atrocity in question is embedded below. It’s interesting to me of course, because, the main part of this site deals with interviews with artists and GOD FORBID I should ever show myself up for being the amateur I am with any similar line of questioning. You, dear reader, can be the judge of that. In short, I thought why not publish a list of the cringiest and most pathetic attempts of journalistic interviews that YouTube has to offer, or at least the ones I could find and remember as being my personal favorites. Enjoy.. or at least endure the many times when journalists are awful… or in some cases, the interviewee is being abnormally difficult. Again, for you to decide.

     

    Nirvana Interview

     

    Jordan Peterson VS Cathy ‘so what you’re saying is’ Newman

     

     

    Lou Reed

    The complete saga of Harmony Korine on Letterman (and why he got banned for life)

     

    Brian May has had enough, before things get started (What’s that in Dutch?)

    Oliver Reed Interview – Saving the greatest interview of all time till last.