Category Archive: Editor’s Pick
  1. Rebecca Lucy Taylor: “I had no fucking self-esteem at all and that was what was wrong in my life.”

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    Felten Ink recently had the pleasure, the privilege of speaking with Rebecca Lucy Taylor, the former Slow Club musician and now ‘front’ for her own solo project, Self Esteem. Her first record as Self Esteem, ‘Compliments, Please’, was released in 2018 and now Taylor is back and gaining more huge and rightly deserved applause for ‘I Do This All The Time’, as well as her latest single, ‘Prioritise Pleasure’. Both tracks are a tremendous affirmation and example of Taylor’s own attitude to her own self-esteem and her rampant individuality. The former is also an uplifting ode to spoken word pop (and self-help analysis). But please, do keep your Baz Lurhman comparisons to yourself.

    In our conversation we discuss her attitudes and career as a solo artist so far, multi-tasking to the extreme,  dealing with the world online, Self Esteem as an art as well as therapeutic project, and how one deals with their own sexual desires for a muppet.

     

    Rebecca, forgive me. When I first heard your solo material as Self Esteem I had no idea you used to be in the wonderful Slow Club? 

     

    Yeah, remember that slag from Slow Club? That’s the year’s tagline. A lot of people don’t realize that. 

     

    How is it for you, in terms of going from being part of a band to now working and thriving on your own solo project?

     

    Self Esteem is a direct sort of solution to things I was unhappy about in a band. Obviously, I’m really proud of what we did, it’s 10 years of my life, I toured the world, really learned a lot, you know? I didn’t go to university, I went straight out of school into a band and had a really weird but amazing time. But I think creatively I found it very difficult to compromise. So that’s why Self Esteem is quite like… there’s the music but then also I’m hyper-focused on the aesthetic and the look and the direction of everything. And the show and just all these other parts that it, that is the art of making. Whereas in a band you’re having to sort of compromise and there are other people’s tastes and things like that. I don’t think I faired very well, mentally. Like I find it really difficult to not be, as a creative, ‘totally seen’. So Self Esteem is all about that really and that’s why I look like I’m having just the fucking time of my life all the time. I loved the band and I love the people I made music with but, fitting into someone else’s idea is, was pretty bad for me (laughs).

     

    I tend to be more drawn towards artists who are perhaps egocentric but definitely like to have control. How do you feel about that in relation to being an artist? 

     

    Well, you see that’s the thing, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think like you’re almost told your whole life, especially as a woman, to be like ‘stay in your lane, don’t show off, don’t think your idea is the best one’. Whereas actually, it’s like sometimes it was and is, do you know what I mean? And it’s society’s structure that made me go, ‘Oh sorry, excuse me, do you mind if I…’ etc. And it stifled me creatively. And I’m not saying what I’m doing now is better, I feel much more realized. Yeah, I guess it’s egocentric but I don’t believe that’s as bad as we’ve been made to believe it is. I think if we all put ourselves first a bit more everyone would be a bit (laughs) happier. 

     

    Now it feels like you really own your own output. Does that make sense and how have you evolved?

     

    I think like just the natural way, like when you’re like 16 and you love bands and you want to just copy it. It’s very different, like learning what your actual  ‘art practice’ is and what’s important to you. I mean, it was very much when I started making music I wanted to be like Tilly and the Wall or Bright Eyes or things like that. And over time I’ve learned what I like to do is fucking sing, rather than just being sweet. I like to perform. I like to move an audience, I like things that feel a little bit like there’s so much music. To my mind, if you’re going to bother making any more, it needs to either say or be something completely new or say something new, or at least take you on a journey. That’s what I’m into. A lot of people like to hear the same kind of thing over and over again and that’s fine as well. To keep myself entertained is the thing I focus on really.

     

    I guess being in a band so young helps you learn these things?

     

    What I learned from being in a band as well is like, you write all these songs and you make all these records and then you’re touring them for like two years and the tour is not as cool and fun as it sounds. It’s really boring and hard and uncomfortable, and you make piss all money for how much time it takes out of your life and how much it disrupts your life. For me, Self Esteem has been about making sure that when I’m doing all this work of touring, and as we all know making not much money, it’s got to be fulfilling. And all this is a bit more interesting for an audience, I believe. 

     

    Prior to this interview, my wife saw me on my laptop watching you get intimate with Kermit. Can you clear this up?

     

    (laughs) And she was like, “Not again. Not with the frog porn again!”

    That was quite a while ago now I shot that. When I was a kid,  when people asked me who I fancied, I would say a frog. I’m bisexual. It was obviously a way of me kind of hiding what I was feeling. But all the way through my life, all the greatest loves of my life have had long arms and legs. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence but yeah the idea was that I can’t put a label on what I am, I’m just attracted to Kermit (laughs). That’s the first thing I took my own initiative and wrote and directed something myself. And it’s weird as fuck, but I love it. 

     

     

    I’ve always had a thing for Miss Piggy so I totally identify. 

    I’ve been following you on social media for a while and you’re admirably very vocal about the amount of crap you get sent to you and call it out often. What’s it like having to put up with all the stupidity and garbage the internet (especially some men) can throw? 

     

    Well, the internet is just a faceless version of what life is like for me as a woman who performs I guess.  I remember turning 14 and the world got weirder and scarier because men started looking at me in that way.  It was a real shift, but I was still a child. So what I get, what gets said to me on the internet is often…. I actually don’t fare too badly. Like, it happens but I think it’s probably way worse if you’re Rita Ora or whatever. I’m not very famous so I think I get away with a lot but men love to sort of comment on my appearance.

    My life has just been people commenting on my appearance. I don’t let it affect me because it sort of proves my point and what I’m trying to say all the time. I don’t hate men at all, I really love loads of them. But that is in the zeitgeist now, isn’t it? The way that I think a lot of men don’t understand the fear that you live in every single fucking day as a woman. You’ve got to make allowances for the fact that some people are just fucking sad. And this gets them really going, and I just think, ‘honey if you need to tell me I look like a slag on the internet, then go for it’. If that’s gonna make you feel better, go for it, because I want to be kind (laughs).

     

    You do still seem to remain positive regardless when it would wear other people down. 

     

    I sometimes get angry and I try not to because you’ve just got to wait for these people to learn themselves and I do think like, you know, with my best mate’s kid, a little girl, I think the world will be a bit different by the time she hits a certain age. The conversations we’re having now and the kind of move, there’s a shift, you know, feminists, or just even fucking awareness of the inequality that’s been happening, you know shit that happens in the news… at least these things are finally being spoken about.

    You only get so far with positivity on the internet, and you give so much of it and what you get back just makes you, or it makes many vindictive and hateful. But it also depends on where I’m at, like if I’m feeling a bit shit anyway or whatever like it sometimes can hit me a bit worse. It’ll be interesting because obviously with the new songs there’s a bit more buzz going on for me than usual. And you know, I’m getting a lot more followers, things are happening more than usual so I’m just gonna see how it goes. My mental health is something that I’ve absolutely devoted my life sorting out.

     

     

     

    I’m no analyst or psychologist but the name in itself, Self Esteem, it does appear you’ve made a very conscious decision to focus on positivity, ’empowerment’, call it what you will,  with this project?

     

    Oh no. You’re totally right. When I was in Slow Club, we used to tour a lot and we spent a lot of time in LA. And I was friends with this band who were these like, real sort of authentic fucking psychedelic punks that made music for making music’s sake. Everyone had these cool names for their projects and I remember being like really wanted to do one myself and I was either gonna call it Sex Appeal or Self Esteem. So, I’ve carried that with me for like, nine years. I needed an outlet so I started just making art under the name Self Esteem and then it just carried on.

    But yeah to answer your question, I had no fucking self-esteem at all and that was what was wrong in my life. But I called it that because I thought it was a cool project name. And it’s actually become really self-fulfilling. In the sort of beautiful way that will be great, you know, in the documentary. I would say three years ago I sort of started with a new therapist who was like, ‘you have no self-esteem, you really don’t love yourself’. And I was like, ‘oh, okay. I don’t know how I deal with that, but let’s try’. I have figured quite a lot of that out and it’s really revolutionized my life personally and also my work.  So it’s hilarious, but yeah, it’s self-fulfilling. But I will still make some music under the name Sex Appeal and see what happens with that. In some format.

     

    Along with the music for Self Esteem I understand you’re also in charge of the choreography and shooting in the videos? How do you manage to juggle all of those (‘I Do This All The Time’ and ‘Prioritize Pleasure’)? 

     

    I lose my shit, I find it very difficult. I do a lot of prep, I’ve sort of learned over the years. It’s often for very fucking little budget. I’m really used to sort of making something good out of not a lot but learned that if you’ve got no money, you need the prep and the time. But if you’ve got loads of money you can whip something together and it’ll have the same result. I pulled all the money that I got from the label to make videos into one and I shot three videos on that one day. So there’s two more videos to come that I shot that day. But I did just a ton of prep. I did not stop thinking about it. I planned it within an inch of its life. I’ve done a few videos that I directed for other people and really enjoyed that experience because I’d had fuck all to do with me on camera and I could like focus. But it’s another one of those things, I think Self Esteem is unfortunately this … I’ve worked with other people, I’ve tried to do other things, I tried to collaborate but think it all just has to come from me and have that really concentrated vision being communicated, really on the nose. And it makes you know, job a bit harder but I’m, I’m also like work’s more fun than fun. I don’t really like relaxing so I’m fine with it. 

     

     

     

     

    You sound like you have a million things you want to do at once and it must be tough?

     

    I’ve always been like this. When I was in Slow Club, it was like I had to wait. My life was waiting to be in the studio, waiting to record, waiting to rehearse, waiting to tour. So all that downtime, I was misplaced in a way and became me just fucking about my twenties, basically. I like to structure my time, I like to have projects. Genuinely, there’s nothing more fun. Like, going to the pub and getting pissed up and coming home, eating a takeaway and falling asleep and feeling shit the next day is like, don’t get me wrong, something I do a lot of. But I don’t love that as much as I love working on something I’ll record or, or create. I guess I’m kind of lucky that at the moment everything I create has a small audience. I could just be shouting into the void and I don’t know what. I think I would still always do it though, do you know what I mean? I think that’s just my lot. And it’s frustrating, I can’t hold a relationship down and I’m a bad friend. I’m really shit, I’ll not remember your kid’s christening. But I can’t help it.

     

    I’m fascinated by artists who treat their work like a normal job, like a discipline. Like I’ve heard Nick Cave say he goes to his office in the morning and just writes till whenever. Whatever works I suppose. I don’t suspect that’s how the process works for you?

     

    I’ve worked with people that treat it like a day job. Sit with the guitar all day. I used to try and be like that, I think I thought that meant you were a real musician or whatever. But again, it’s just another thing, I am 34 now, it’s like I know what works, what doesn’t. I am open to trying new things, but for the most part, I get how I am. And Self Esteem, as a, I think of it as more than the music, it’s an art practice and that is what I hope you get as an audience member or a consumer. It’s like performance art. I think that constant sort of stream of consciousness, to me is interesting and helps you have a fully realized idea of me. I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with making sure everyone sees me, but that’s what this is. I don’t sit and go write. But, you know, if, some company said I need a song like this, we’ll pay you this much, can you write it? I’d be like, “Yeah, fuck yeah I love that.” I am still just finding it all out.

     

    You would appear to speak to the outsider, which I love, but is that a fair comment?

     

    As soon as I hit like eight or something I was louder, weirder or my imagination got stranger. There are all these things, especially as a woman, that you’re like ‘oh’. I never had boyfriends. I’ve just felt like an alien the whole time but the difference now is I don’t think that’s a bad thing, and I really, really celebrate that. I think there’s a fuck ton more people than you realize that feel like that. But, many go through the system, and especially as a woman if you’re sort of polite, quiet, pretty, clever, but not too clever, like all these things. I just can’t be asked to conform when it just doesn’t naturally happen. But if it does, nice one. After me trying to reform the system. (laughs)

     

    Rebecca Lucy Taylor, thank you!

     

    The new album by Self Esteem ‘Prioritise Pleasure’ will be available later this year. 

    Self Esteem are also playing live. Find tour dates and venues here

     

     

  2. 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 

  3. Blanche Gardin: “Why should you trust a machine?”

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    Delete History (Effacer l’historique) takes place in a provincial French suburb, where three neighbours are overtaken by the emergence of new technologies and the horrors of social media. Actor, writer and comedian Blanche Gardin plays Marie, one of the neighbours whose own world is overturned by the emergence of a sex tape and those consequences. In this Q+A, we chat with Blanche about her new movie, what it’s like to work with the team of Delepine-Kervern, and the overall implications of new technology on us humans.

     

    Do you believe new technologies and new forms of poverty or loneliness are connected?

     

    I do. This film takes aim at progress, and that’s fine by me. Whatever you may think, we need to criticize progress, which isn’t necessarily a reactionary attitude. We could really act differently: we could progress in human terms instead of only technologically. We’re so convinced we’re the best because we’re the most recent version of humankind, but truth be told, not necessarily – it doesn’t have to work like this. The fact of the matter is, if you talk to geeks, they’ll tell you the best iPhone isn’t necessarily the latest version. Progress isn’t always linear. I’m totally unapologetic about criticizing progress and this film epitomizes it perfectly – technological progress involves disrupting human connection. And then it leads to the most depressing standardization you can find. In bars, people only talk about the latest TV show – it’s become the sole topic of conversation.

     

    You come from a stand-up comedy background. How different – even challenging – was it for you to play a role and speak lines you hadn’t written?

     

    What happened with Kervern and Delépine is quite unique. I don’t think I’ll experience it again. We were like soulmates, we understood each other to a degree that most humans never reach. There was a good deal of me in the part and I don’t think it was a shoot like any other. I didn’t feel like I was acting or portraying a role – I was both an audience member and immersed in the KervernDelépine cauldron where a kind of magic potion was simmering. I came out of the shoot feeling worn out, but for the right reasons. So, I can’t really make an overall comparison between film and stand-up comedy. On stage, you get the impression you can control what you’re doing, you can’t see yourself, whereas on the shoot, I could see myself. And I could see both guys coming on set in the morning, looking at the scene we were supposed to do and saying: “That’s no good, that’s crap!” and then tearing up their own screenplay and racking their brains, with or without me… But all the while, they remained the sweetest guys, generous and kind to everyone. They film in long sequence shots and let the actors breathe and flesh out their characters. I came up with a lot of ideas because I have a hard time speaking dialogue I haven’t written. It was awesome.

     

    You’re used to being alone on stage. How did you feel playing opposite other actors?

     

    It’s different, but then again not so much, as the audience at a show is also a character with whom you have a dialogue. You play with the audience, and it’s no figure of speech, it’s a fact. It’s a different audience every night and you play to what they respond to. In film, there’s also an audience – the crew. You want to please them, to make them laugh… But it’s awesome to act with great actors and discover them, and on this film I was so lucky to act alongside incredible people… Corinne Masiero, Denis Podalydès, Houellebecq, Poelvoorde, Lacoste… greats only, I was on top of the world!

     

    Were you familiar with Benoit Delépine’s and Gustave Kervern’s work, prior to doing the film?

     

    I’ve been a distant admirer of their work for a long time. I secretly hoped we’d actually meet one day. Meetings are weird: when you know ahead that it’s going to work out, well, it does! Every time I saw their films, I thought I had a very strong connection to them, that we were brothers and sister. When I met them, I was very intimidated, I spent a lot of time studying them, like Jane Goodall with her gorillas. I had to find my way in to actually being with them. The magic eventually happened. I’m not sure whether I adapted to them, or they to me, but there was such a wonderful union between us. I’d never experienced anything like that artistically speaking.

     

    Were you ready to work with them whatever the material or did you make your decision based on the script? 

     

    I related to the issues addressed in the script and I recognized their social, poetic touch that moves me deeply. And it was funny. I guess I relate to all of Kervern’s and Delépine’s characters! To Depardieu in Mammuth, to Yolande Moreau in Mammuth and Louise-Michel… I relate to what we all have in common and we can all agree on. It’s not easy to like what you see every morning when you look at yourself in the mirror, but there’s always a respectable place deep down, and that place is our humanity. There’s always that place in Kervern’s and Delépine’s characters. They don’t write entirely unpleasant characters – they always reconnect us to a decent version of ourselves. I embraced Marie 100%.

     

    Marie appears to be more of a slacker than you, since your career involves much hard work and determination.

     

    Well, I haven’t always been a hard worker. I used to be a slacker, I was lost and my bearings in all senses of the word. Phones have replaced our offices and the people we ask for directions. One day in Lille, I had drunk too much and I smashed my phone, saying to myself: “Down with consumer society!” The next day, I woke up and realized that my train tickets were on my phone! I was lost, I didn’t know what time my train was leaving, or even where the station was. I stayed there, stranded like a beached whale. I didn’t even feel like asking the people around me for directions. With cell phones, you lose touch with reality. So, from that perspective, I relate to the film.

     

    The scene where you store your passwords in the fridge is very funny and telling about the absurdity of our times. 

     

    Sometimes computers generate a password. It’s actually the computers that know your passwords. So you tend to feel safe as if your computer was a loyal friend, with a moral compass… but the truth is, it’s not at all! Why should you trust a machine?

     

    Christine is hooked on TV shows and she’s played by Corinne Masiero, who’s famous for her role in a TV show, Bertrand has issues with the internet but he owns a giant TV screen and has subscribed to several online services… The film highlights the contradiction you were talking about – we long for technology while fearing in it a new type of willing slavery.

     

    It’s more and more difficult to live according to your own ideas – you’re facing unprecedented contradictions. People have never made so little sense. The greatest environmentalists switch on their cell phones in the morning although we all know that high tech pollution is a fact. We don’t know where all this is taking us but for the time being, it’s no fun at all. I believe we all are at some stages in our lives. None of us is a single person, we are many throughout our lives. Even today, I have moments when I feel like Marie, when I say to myself: “What’s the point?”. Especially when dealing with the new values the world came up with that are – let’s face it – ugly. I’m thinking of the gross economic Darwinism where you can either adapt or die. You’re forced to relate to that, even if you’re part of the game’s winners. You could just as well find yourself on the losers’ side, or even wake up in the morning to go help people instead of making money… I guess we all entertain that relationship to a world that’s gone very wrong, where you feel cut off from future and past generations.

     

    The film deals with economic – and digital – Darwinism. Do you relate to the complex relationship with new technologies the film speaks about?

     

    Like many people, I feel left behind and compelled to use them. It’s a slavery of sorts. You don’t feel so lonely when you have your cell phone handy but you know it’s not true – you’re just as lonely as ever. You call people less and less, you text them to keep a connection that’s not really a connection. Those new tools bring about a kind of human laziness.

     

    The film also addresses the digital surveillance that we are all subject to – behind our backs – and that Marie falls victim to with the sex tape blackmail.

     

    Yes, it will end up making us “model” citizens so that we can’t be confronted with stuff we did ten years ago. We’re moving towards a kind of social control that will be more and more handled by people themselves – we won’t leave any trace that may be held against us, we’ll lie low. It’s all well-organized.

     

    In the virtual world, you don’t know who to turn to when a problem comes along. That’s exemplified by Marie’s and Bertrand’s failure to solve their problems – they either deal with security guards or robots.

     

    Marie goes to visit Google as though Google was a person. But it’s a losing battle. The tech giants’ power is intangible and untraceable. We’re all outraged at how powerful the digital corporations are but we know all the same that we can’t do otherwise – that we need to adapt. There’s also something playful about digital services and yet it’s extremely perverse. You can’t possibly tell people: “Let’s do away with cell phones” – we’re way too addicted, including me, even if I’m not a big user.

     

    In the end, will you take from this film the comedy or the terrifying comment on our times?

     

    Today, you often hear the term “dramedy” and I think that’s the right word. A comedy involves too much relativism: “Come on, that’s not such a big deal, why not laugh about it?” That’s not this film’s take at all, it’s much more desperate than that. DELETE HISTORY says we’ve lost the battle to some degree, but it remains hopeful about people and their humanity, about what we keep carrying inside, despite everything. The film is tragic when it comes to the problems of the system, but cheerful about people. There’s a part in everyone that keeps hoping other people mean them well.

     

    Thank you to Wild Bunch for interview.

    Delete History is out now.

  4. ‘I Am Not A Dog On A Chain’ – Morrissey’s best album (since his last)

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    ‘I Am Not A Dog On A Chain’ – Morrissey. Released 20 March. 

    There’s always been a huge element of​ mainstream isolation throughout Morrissey’s career, both with The Smiths and then into his solo years. He’s always been a willing outsider, it’s part of the charm. However recent times in particular have seen him alienate some of the more sensitive among his  ‘fans’, and these days, indeed any new comment or badge is likely to inspire the now standard placed media outpouring of vitriol. God forbid anyone dare give an opinion at odds with the latest status quo.

    The important thing to remember is that Morrissey has always remained true to himself, never willing to self-censor for the sake of what society of the time deems kosher. He’s also remained true to those of us willing or even able to think for ourselves. ​The fact remains that for alot of people, every new Morrissey record, every upcoming gig, every *gasp* new opinion is an event to take notice of, none more so in the age of the eagerly ‘offended’.

    Alas, ‘I Am Not A Dog On A Chain’, Morrissey’s 13th solo album, is required now more than ever. His last, ‘California Son’, was an impressive and an interesting look at how a man so rich in originality can transform his personally favourite songs and make them his own. With this, Morrissey manages to take the listener to far-off places like never before. It’s arguably the most powered and adventurous of his career.

    Opening song ’Jim Jim Falls’ is the most alarming start to any Morrissey record I’ve ever heard, and will immediately throw first time listeners off guard. It begins with unnerving yet bombastic 90’s electro thrusts before turning into an indie-rock call for attention seekers to get off their arses and into action. With lines like “If you’re gonna kill yourself, then to save face, get on with it”, we get a harsh, unsentimental narrator fed up with talk. Next comes the brilliant ’Love Is On The Way Out’, which again appears slightly off the mark at first, but like it’s predecessor, grows, grows and blossoms with further listens. ‘Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know?’, the albums lead single, comes complete with Motown Legend Thelma Houston on backing vocals, and the results are like Gospel; a call from heaven for the secular among us. Lines like “You’re tortured down below!” is pure signature Morrissey, and the song as a whole sets the album at one of its highest bars.

     ‘I Am Not A Dog On A Chain’, however, is from another planet altogether. For the most part, better or worse, it sounds like something from a whimsical musical, like a Moz cameo in ‘La La Land’, playing to the crowd with lines like ‘I see no point in being nice!’… believe me, by now, we know. 

    We’re brought back to more familiar territory with ‘What Kind of People Live In These Houses?’, a blissfully light and airy pop tune most comparable to things like ‘Jeane’, and certainly the most Smiths-esque song that Moz has done in a while. “Bedsitter, bedwetter, or penthouse go getter? What carpet chewer lights up this sewer?” he ponders, bringing us back to the days when ‘kitchen sink drama’ was still a tag he was synonymous with.

    The second half of ‘I Am Not A Dog On A Chain’ is just as impressive as the first. There is a brief stray into misplaced electronica, coming and going with ‘Once I Saw The River Clean’, fascinating itself in how it managed to meet the final album cut. In stark contrast, Morrissey seems so at ease to produce a track like ‘Knockabout World’, another pop gem in which he seems to be addressing himself (“You’re ok by me!”). It’s in these moments in the final section where the record really ‘arrives’.

    ‘Darling, I Hug A Pillow’ is a triumphant plea to a potentially better half to hand over some ‘physical love’, ending with results like almost every other Morrissey love story. “Why can’t you give me some physical love?” he asks, to no reply, but in true Morrissey style, the sign off is one of defiance: “Darling, you will cry out for me for years to come!”

    ‘The Truth About Ruth’ is a multi-layered piano ballad which evolves into an almost Italian rock-opera, with what sounds like a cameo backing vocal from Klaus Nomi. The truth is, Ruth is actually called John, doing what he and we all can ‘to just get along’.

    ‘The Secret of Music’ is a place to become lost in, and it gives us a breather for reflection. It meanders along, slowly and steady, guided by a booming bass firmly in control while Morrissey, comfortable to appear as a passenger here, comes in and out to offer his mind: “Glockenspiel could never feel the way I feel tonight”. As strange a lyric that is, you believe him. You could stay here forever, just to think about everything that’s came before, as we’re drawn ever closer to the album’s finale. 

    With the horrors of time and ‘Mama, mama and teddybear’, ‘My Hurling Days Are Gone’ is a sincere, tearjerking beauty, and a breathtaking end to a truly complex record made by the most complex of living treasures. And lest Morrissey to be one to leave us bereft, he sums up the final song, and album as a whole, so hilariously with: 

    “Time will mould you and craft you, when you’re looking away it will slide up and shaft you…”

    Say no more.

    At 60, time may be no longer be a friend of Morrissey, but with output like this, time is showing no signs of slowing his abilities down. Maybe the world won’t listen. But then, the world has never deserved Morrissey. 

    ‘I Am Not A Dog On A Chain’ is out now. 

    Order on MPORIUM

  5. Will Self: “Writing definitely became my drug of choice…”

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    Writer Will Self’s periods of drug addiction are well documented for anyone keen enough to use Google. And anyone familiar with the author should know the best and most public anecdote.

    That’s the one about getting caught taking smack on John Major’s private jet.

     

    His ‘official’, as I’ll call it, ‘addiction’ memoir only came out at the back end of 2019. ‘Will’, while explicit in it’s account of the writers early life as a heroin addict, is also as darkly comic as the aforementioned incident regarding the then leader of the Tories.

    ‘Gallows humour’ only ever really works when the subject fights back with guns blazing, which, as the conversation below demonstrates, is certainly the case for the ‘Will’ the modern day Self details so brilliantly within his memoir.

    In a lengthy conversation, we discuss the young, educated, pretentious bohemian he ‘lets loose’ in this book, the nature of addiction and recovery, rehab, the recent general election, as well as many other less spoon burning issues. Even our dogs get a mention.

    We’re now entering a new year with another Conservative Government. Were you surprised Labour weren’t able to ‘get in’? 

     

    No, not at all. I’ve been out and about in the country. I went through some of the so-called ‘red wall’ constituencies when I was writing my diary piece on Brexit for the New European in March. I could tell the mood then was inclined to get behind anyone who’d ‘get Brexit done’, while the Bojo brand remained a vote-winner. His psychic profile perfectly conforms to what the English like to believe about themselves: that they’re insouciant superficially, but contain an inner core of patriotic steel. Also, people really do hate being patronised by a hypocritical metropolitan liberal elite, for whom the downside of globalisation is too much choice at the cheese counter.

     

    Are Labour fucked?

     

     I think liberalism is fucked – and the Labour Party is only the outlier of a much more comprehensive ideological collapse as the climate emergency begins to bite, and the internal contradictions of liberalism. How can you have a viable culture if all sub-cultures, and their values are equally ‘valid’ – become more salient. 

     

    Am I right in thinking you didn’t vote?

     

    No – it’s true, I didn’t vote in the general election, the first time I haven’t in forty years. I’m in a safe seat, so my vote really wouldn’t count in a meaningful way. Moreover, I found that when I came to consider not voting, and so stopped having to suspend disbelief in the capacity of our electoral system to factor an myriad little autonomies into one big people’s will, I discovered that I was able to see far more clearly the real limits of my autonomy. In a nutshell: I felt freer.

     

    Will

     

    On writing your memoir – ‘Will’ – where did the need to do so come from?

     

     Well, I’m not saying I did it for the money, but I was conscious when working on my ‘Umbrella’ trilogy of novels, that it was proving difficult to retain readers in this age of almost criminal distraction. I thought the events of my young life, between 17 and 26, actually made a paradoxically gripping – if not ripping – yarn. So I offered the prospect of the memoir to my publishers, who were beginning to look a little askance at the great cascade of fiction emerging from my pen. [So] I was contractually obliged. I’ve been a professional writer, full time, since my late twenties. I’m disciplined, innit.

     

    The book focuses on your early years as an addict. How did you gather material (presumably it wasn’t left to pure memory) to help you write about that time?

     

     I’m a paper maven, and had saved a lot of diaries and correspondence. Coincidentally, I sold all my papers – MSs, letters, notebooks – to the British Library, who kindly indexed them. So had I wanted, I could’ve obtained a wealth of the actualité. In practice, I knew this wouldn’t get me closer to the emotional reality of my life at this time – only estrange me further, hiding it all behind internal arguments about what was verifiable. So I stuck to the feelings and built the scenes around them. My ex-girlfriend, who was with me throughout this period, and who’s also a sort of ‘super-rememberer’, read the text first in typescript, and pronounced herself satisfied with its truth quotient. That was good enough for me.

     

    Did you ever consider writing as a more standard format, more of a ’confessional’, rather than in the third person?

     

    Well, I don’t feel I have anything much to ‘confess’. It was all mostly in the public domain already, and besides, a confessional implies [there’s] someone to confess to. Those who believe they should shrive themselves in front of the reading public are almost as misguided – in my view – as those who believe the entire universe to be a sort of giant real-time moral computer game, in which a bizarre entity creates myriad avatars to see if they can fulfil his creepy ethical programme. As to objectivity – every piece of writing requires a healthy dose, if it’s available. I feared that if I identified too strongly with my young self, I would be dragged into the same pathological mind sets as characterised that lethal period of addiction.

     

    As you say, you ’created this character’ and ‘set him running’. What did writing like this bring to what you were trying to say? 

     

     A different kind of sympathy, actually, more empathy: an ability to intellectually appreciate the sate this young man was in. I hope that high-toned realism has translated to the page, and the readers do, paradoxically, experience this memoir as being more real than those written using more conventional structures and stratagems.

     

    I would say, for any writer, there are no places you shouldn’t try to go to. Is that fair for you?

     

    Absolutely. Like the Beast himself, do what you will has to be the law of the serious writer.

     

    On revisiting the darkest moments in ‘Will’ – did going through this process have any effect on you or at least take you back to places you’d rather bury?

     

    I think it’s always a mistake to write with any kind of catharsis in view and I certainly didn’t sit down to write this book believing it would make me feel any better about anything. In truth, I’ve been reconciled to my addictive illness for years now and yes, as I’ve said elsewhere, there may not be anything funny about heroin addiction, but quite a lot of the things junkies get up to are funny, albeit in a very dark way.

     

    Back to ‘The Beast’. You start ‘Will’ with a quote from Aleistar Crowley. He’s someone who I’ve always regarded as a dull, spoiled, and generally overrated so-called poet. You were reading about smack addiction before you lifted a needle. Presumably as an impressionable, young, pretentious type as you admit you were, this was a guy who you wanted to emulate? or William Burroughs…

     

    Not Crowley in particular – much more Burroughs. The episode in the memoir is intended to underscore the strange feeling we had in the early 1980s that this heroin culture pre-existed us by a long time. In fact, I rather agree with you about Crowley – who was faintly ridiculous, as much as anything else. I’ve never actually read the whole of his ‘Diary of a Drug Fiend’. From what I have, on sag-bags in squats, over the years, it’s deadly boring. But I did read his ‘Autohagiography’ and found that rather amusing. He’s really a heterodox late Romantic like Augustus John or Eric Gill, rather than some great necromancer. But apropos the latter: addicts, since they feel themselves to be the puppets of numinous forces, often indulge in a great deal of magical thought, so it’s Crowley the magician they reverence, quite as much as Crowley the junky. 

     

    “Self is a perpetually rewritten story”. Is it fair to say that, more or less, it’s impossible to really recall one’s own earlier moments, that writing about the past is just the current ‘self’s’ own version? I suppose I’m thinking about Milan Kundera’s own writing.

     

    Kundera certainly says something like this and it also seems confirmed by recent studies in neuroscience, that appears to show the human mind/brain as being equivalent to Theseus’s proverbial ship. I’m sure I haven’t really managed to avoid this problem – how could I? But I do feel my monoperspectival narration of ‘Will’ may have allowed me to sidestep the more egregious examples of this – simply by not basing the memoir on incidents that I believe I recall, but rather on the emotional atmosphere surrounding my quotidian life during this period. 

     

    My greatest vice is a liking for alcohol rather than the full ‘ism’ (others may disagree). What does an addict do to prevent relapse and has this changed from when you first quit to getting older? 

     

    It’s hard to say. It’s not a one-size-fits-all. Certainly, the underlying assumption found in the 12 Step Anonymous fellowships, and which also lies behind the Hazelden school of rehabilitation that was practiced at Broadway Lodge in Weston-Super-Mare (where Will attends rehab), has it’s core the idea that complete recovery is never possible.  That’s why the denizens of ‘the programme’ as it’s known, always refer to themselves as ‘recovering addicts’ and ‘recovering alcoholics’. They also – apropos your own issues – make no distinction between any form of chemical dependency – booze, smack, it’s all the same: their credo is that the addiction resides in the individual, not the substance. I think things are a little more complex, and that neither a reduction to the chemistry, or an elevation to some medicalised psychiatric model will suffice. Nor again, do I find the 12 Step programmes’ characterisation of addiction or alcoholism as a ‘spiritual’ malaise altogether satisfying. Rather, it seems to me that lasting recovery,  just like not falling into addiction or alcoholism in the first place, probably rests on a sort of tripartite relationship between social, psychological and existential forms of security. Some of this – for addicts who’ve fallen right through the nets of society – can be reconfigured in the fellowships, but ultimately long term recovery rests on a new calibration of self and society. 

     

    I wasn’t around in the 1970s, for only a few years in the 80s, in oblivious infancy, and I was alarmed to find out about the existence of a group such as the Paedophile Information Exchange. Tell me about them and the overall ethics of that time.

     

    The 1970s were a wild and woolly time in terms of public ethics and private morality. The cultural revolutions of the 1960s seemed to many to’ve torn up the rule book (and arguably, behind this lies the reevaluation of all values implied in the Holocaust and the atom bombing of Japan – something I’ve explored extensively in my fiction). There wasn’t just that ‘goggle-eyed loom’ Jimmy Savile hiding in plain site on Top of the Pops, there were also, at left wing fringe meetings, the Paedophile Information Exchange, who’d set up their trestle table like the vegans and the hunt saboteurs, and lay out their leaflets. These had titles like ‘The Case for Man-Boy Love’. We did at least consider it potentially that people should be allowed to have sex with children, but then we were children! What the adults were up to in all of this is neglect. My brother and I ran wild in childhood and adolescence and we certainly weren’t the only ones. It’s out there in the wilds that the noncing takes place. 

     

     How much did that time generally influence your path?

     

    I certainly think the great brown wave of smack that engulfed our island nation was understandably congenial to psyches already strung out on the great glaucous wave of amphetamines (yellow sulphate mixed with blues) that preceded it. But I suspect there was a great capacity for self-destructive behaviour in me already. Will, in the memoir, is self-harming by slashing his arms with razors by the time he’s ten, and graduates to burning himself with cigarette ends as soon as he starts smoking, around twelve.

     

    Am I correct in detecting your distain for the ‘Will’ character? (descriptions like ‘snivelling smackhead’)

     

    I think you’re committing one of the fundamental misreading of my book – in line with those critics who sought to conflate me, now, with a third person impersonal narrator that doesn’t really exist within the text. It’s ‘Will’ who labels ‘Will’ a ‘snivelling smackhead’. What I wanted to try and do with the book was express the sheer amount of self-hatred the very average addict experiences in any given day. I was – relatively speaking – well brought up, and had a decent conscience. Inasmuch as I embraced the junky life, I was equally repelled by my own deformations of character.

     

    Apologies if I’m way off the mark, but to me, the character ‘Will’ come across to be something of a Cunt. 

     

    Again, I strongly dispute the idea that the Will described in the text is a cunt. Unless you subscribe to the idea of original sin, what you’re looking at here is a child – yes, at seventeen you’re still a child – falling victim to mental illness. What does he do that’s so cuntish? Two time a girlfriend? Drive dangerously? Deal drugs a bit? Have envious thoughts? I suggest you examine your own conscience and behaviour a little more strenuously before you chuck such aspersions about so liberally. Freud observes that everyone feels OK about having done bad things they’ve got away with – perhaps my real crime here is not to let my younger self get away with it?

     

    In the spirit of ‘What would you say to young Willy should you meet him now’ – Does being lecturer go any way in helping others avoid the mistakes you’ve made?

     

    I’ve lectured at Brunel University for the past decade – but it’s also bringing up four children that hopefully might help me to be a steady, consistent and emotionally intuitive enough presence in young people’s lives to help them avoid the very real pitfalls of drug use. However, I wouldn’t bet on it. Some young people are so lost, so unhappy – I was one – that short of physically interposing yourself between them and the substances they’re abusing, there’s little you can do. Of course, I used to wish my own parents had done just this – rather than being so dégagée.

     

    And the ‘seamless and Sisyphean go around’ of addiction. Is addiction itself a mental illness which one must ‘break out of’?

     

    Again – it’s the Will in the book who describes it as a ‘Sisyphean go round’, but I’d agree with him. There’s a certain point in true drug addiction when you cannot break the cycle, and that is the true point of madness, after which recovery becomes a slow and elusive business.

     

    You’ve spoken about your obsession over sanity. Do you think sanity is subjective?

     

    ‘Subjective’ is a lazy ascription in this context but I’m enough of a Laingian, still, to believe that the line between sanity and insanity is defined by social convention as much as objective reality. Nonetheless, as someone who’s shared houses with flamboyant schizophrenics, I can tell you that madness does very much exist. I certainly feel myself to be someone who’s recovered – to some extent – from quite severe mental health problems, but as I’ve intimated above, there’s no simple way of explaining how to do this.

     

    In ‘Will’ you talk about yourself being a ‘A badly designed robot’, ‘On the job’ as a working junkie at IBM. It’s not in keeping with the typical view of junkies being permanently ‘on the dole’…

     

    I came from a family with a strong work ethic. I only signed on for about a month during my first period of active heroin addiction – and during my second (1989-99) I wrote and published ten books. Not all addicts are unproductive, and in my second phase of addiction, writing definitely became my drug of choice!

     

    Talk a little about the criticism or praise as you’ve had a lot of both through your years as a writer.

     

    Praise and criticism are always about the ego – inflating it, deflating it, paradoxically inflating again (for those of us who’re masochists); none of this is of any use to a writer who aims to be original – and, to perform acts of creation akin to parthenogenesis. In all honesty, I’ve never read a single thing in a review of one of my books that told me either how to write better, or how to be a better person.

     

    The Cuckoos Nest

     

    I thought I’d lost something as I listened to this book rather than reading but in truth, I would have lost something by reading it. Mainly, the comic theatrics in your voice on the audio is very funny throughout…

     

    The comedy is intentional – and I’ve always ‘done the police in different voices’. I’m glad you enjoyed the audiobook version – as people read less and less, it’s back to the oral in order to reach any kind of future for the novel.

     

    Can you speak more about your time in rehab?

    It was the car crash described in the memoir that got me into rehab. I’d literally as well as metaphorically hit the buffers, with too many debts and no means of paying them. I had no great hopes for recovery at the time and I felt completely eaten up by my addiction and hollowed out. But I also loved my mother and I could see that my addiction was killing her. I went to rehab for her, really.

     

    And on the subject of extreme onanism? 17 times in one day is remarkable.

     

    Yes, well, people wank… people over-work… people get fat… people smoke too many cigarettes… people become addicts of just about everything once their drug of choice is denied to them, but they haven’t managed to resolve the issues that made them compulsively use in the first place. I certainly fell victim to all of these secondary addictions and more during the two years I stayed clean in my late twenties. When I got clean again in my late thirties, things were different. 

     

    Were you always against the notion to write a ‘Cukoos Nest’ type novel about your time in the rehab? But then you don’t have much time for the autobiographical novel?

     

    Yes, I never wanted to write a rehab’ book like that – and I didn’t have much time for an autobiographical novel; I think there’s something disingenuous about not admitting to being your own protagonist. Anyway, no one needs to write an autobiographical novel if they’re true to their own psychic experience – because that’s where the truth is, not in mere facticity.

     

    ‘Will’ ends when you’re still in your mid 20s. Presumably there will be a part 2, ‘Self’?

     

    I have a couple of other books I want to write just now, but who knows.

     

    You end the book with: “The Will of the future is a ghost… and you can see right through him.”

     

    It was partly a joke about the fact that the text is very obviously written by me but yet I’m absent from it. Really it built off the serious point about my relationship to my dead friend, Hughie. The world – as Wittgenstein said – is ‘everything that is the case’; and it’s certainly the case that I’ve thought about poor dead Hughie far more and for far longer than he ever thought about me, and I do think this makes him – in an objective sense – realer than I am.

     

    The Internet, Kafka, Shooting Stars and Morrissey: A Post-Christmas tale of ‘Will-Self’ Indulgence

     

    What was Christmas look like for you – you don’t strike me as a man who would be festive?

     

    As the father of four recently bereaved young adults, it was never going to be a great one this year  and I’ve never held a candle (!) for the festival overall, but nonetheless, as a family minded man, I can see both the virtue of the occasion – and it’s horrors. I’m not too bothered by material gifts. If the entire British population could promise not to make mobile phone calls on public transport for a year that would be… nice.

     

    I don’t have kids, only an eight-month-old King Charles Spaniel who does require walks and cuddles, that was Christmas for me.. 

     

    I, too, have a dog… but an elderly and cantankerous Jack Russell. Curiously, though, he also requires cuddles, although not as many walks as formerly due to bad arthritis.

     

    For a writer, I’ve heard you say there needs to be a level of anonymity. How is that possible in a world like today, the constant presence of the internet, being online etc.

     

    You can still sit a café and eavesdrop on the conversations of people sitting behind you – this is an exercise I always encourage tyro writers to undertake. It puts them back in touch with the immediacy of reportage (which good fiction always is), and with the incredible disjunction that occurs when people try and turn ordinary speech into ‘dialogue’; of course, an analogous process occurs with descriptive prose. All of which is by way of saying: the art of writing is unaffected by the internet – it’s the novel and the novelist as cultural institutions that have inevitably lost their centrality.

     

    Will the internet destroy us eventually? 

     

    In a sense, it already has. It’s inverted human social formations more than ever heretofore has been done by exiting mass pressures. It’s created Marshall McLuhan’s global village, but it’s turned out to be a village of the damned. It’s allowing for classical liberalism to accelerate to it’s logical end point of full contradiction between individual autonomy, and the rights of others, and of course the infrastructure alone is estimated to account for 6% of current global heating – with no obvious dividend in terms of greater production. But then again, for our current perilous situation, we could just as well blame cars or trains or planes or coal fires. 

     

    Which brings us to the real ‘unbearable lightness’ of being a prawn cracker. What is your immediate memories of being on Shooting Stars?

     

    I enjoyed doing the show a lot. It was amazing to work with proper comedians, especially physical ones like Jim Moir and Bob Mortimer. I learned a lot from them, not least that if you want to look brilliantly on television, make sure your fellow performers’ best bits end up on the cutting room floor. I also enjoyed working with Matt Lucas and Johnny Vegas – both lovely men, and brilliant performers who’d start riffing off the studio audience long before the cameras rolled. And as I’m sure you realise: inside the breast of every true Englishman beats the heart of someone who rejects the crude equation between sex and gender – so I hugely enjoyed dressing up as Britney Spears. 

     

    I first became interested by yourself in an old documentary called ‘The Importance of Being Morrissey’. As someone who has been subject to unfavourable criticism, how do you feel about the levels of vitriol thrown Morrissey’s way in the press?

     

    Well, he has gone quite hard to the right – and he doesn’t seem to feel the need to modulate his remarks in anyway. While I don’t really agree with much of what he says – I do have a grudging admiration for anyone prepared to outrage public opinion in these conformist-populist times.  

     

    Finally… Franz Kafka, with whom I share a long standing admiration. What maintains your own interest? 

     

    He’s one of the greats – no question. And as with the true greats, I find I discover more and more in him the more I reread. Recently, on a train ride, I began rereading the Zurau aphorisms, and found myself laughing out loud. For years I struggled to find the humour in Kafka at all – but now I see it: it’s a kind of sublime comedy of psychic slapstick. As Michael Hofmann puts it in his brilliant ‘Introduction to The Metamorphosis’, Kafka specialises in identifying the calibration of events, and displaying the almost infinitely infinitesimal rates of change that typify the involutions of human thought and being. As Kafka puts it ‘the decisive moment for all humanity is always to hand…’. Which is tragic – but also… ridiculous!