Category Archive: Interviews
  1. Shilpa Ray: “I’m an introvert so I spend a lot of time by myself when I can.”

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    I first took notice of Shilpa Ray when Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds invited her to support them on tour, a few brief moons ago. Back then she was with her band of ‘Happy Hookers’ and immediately struck me as an artist worth gushing over. She has an iconic voice and range, not to mention lyrics which will make you shiver and crack up with laughter at the same time. 

    She released her latest solo record Portrait Of A Lady earlier this year, an almost concept-type album which one can safely say is her most personal, dealing with issues as it does like abusive relationships, violence against women, and of course, feelings towards the former U.S ‘Commander in Chief’, Donald Trump.  Portrait Of A Lady is an interesting side step for Shilpa Ray as for the first time in her career, brings in moments of synth and electronica mixed with her usual love of crunching guitar and pop melody. It also encapsulates her own very brilliant dry, witty sense of humor.

    I had the pleasure of interviewing Shilpa Ray about her new record, what brought it on, and the various influences on her as an artist. 

     

    Ms. Ray, I understand you currently/recently had COVID – just at a time when I think the world was at least starting to move on slightly. How are you feeling at this point in time, I hope it’s not hit you too badly and how has this affected your touring and live shows? 

     

    I’m fine. I’m twice vaxxed so my worst ailments were fatigue and brain fog. I did get a sore throat and slight fever but only in the beginning. I thought I had allergies since every time I got tested they would say it was allergies. This time the results came in different. A lot of touring musicians are getting it actually and it’s wreaked havoc on Spring touring for sure. You have to be out in public a lot in different environments, not in your own town or bubble, so the risk is high. The risk was always high to get sick on tour anyway and now you get this illness where you’re canceling/rescheduling constantly and it’s unpredictable.

     

    How are you spending your time – does this kind of situation allow you to do things you might not have time for otherwise? 

     

    I’m an introvert so I spend a lot of time by myself when I can anyway. I love quarantine! I realize that’s kinda nuts to say since so many people died and the amount of death and panic in NYC in March/April 2020 was pretty scary.  However, I needed the pause. People are unbelievably exhausting and Americans, in general, are overdramatic and talk too much, so when they smell the empath in you, you will get used up. I was definitely feeling used up, so retreating felt like a dream. I picked up a guitar, mixed an album, worked on some videos, did some live streams, cooked a lot, worked at a mask factory, redecorated, chain-smoked then quit smoking, read books, and watched TV. Everything was simple. I’ve been desperately trying to hold on to that simplicity. I’m at my best when no one is breathing down my neck haha – in New York, living like that is impossible.

     

    The press notes which accompany ‘Portrait of A Lady’ mention Nan Goldin’s “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” –  You’ve talked about the influence that had on you and this record and how it made you want to dig deep into yourself and your own work. How do you as an artist go about channeling that kind of thing into a pop record – where do you start, and do you ever run certain risks about giving more away about yourself than you may wish to? 

     

    The process of writing this album was incredibly hard.  I wanted to musically capture the impact Nan Goldin’s work had on me.  I am an abuse survivor but had rarely expressed it cause it comes with a lot of embarrassment and shame. I also rank really low on the totem pole of public sympathy – A brown punk rock woman of small stature, sometimes broke/sometimes not broke is not the heroine of the #metoo movement. I grew up in an environment that informed me I had to be unbreakable in order to survive. I related to Nan Goldin in the sense that she’s an artist drawn to the artist’s world of anarchy only to find that the anarchy is patriarchal and being curious and intelligent other was gonna cause problems and by problems I mean problems that could be fatal. I found that out in my mid to late 20s during the bro culture of the aughts. This bro culture still exists now, by the way, I just learned how to spot the flags faster. The moment I saw her work I had that “aha”  moment. No other artwork has impacted me that way. She’s the ultimate badass.

     

     

    You’ve said her work “shook me to my core and made me reflect on my own experiences with sexual assault and abuse.” – I understand you probably won’t want to divulge your own experiences of these matters, but have you ever addressed them in your art prior?  

     

    My goal, in writing this album was to be as honest as possible and to finish it. It was important to me to be real and not fall into the traps of speaking for others or pushing generalized agendas. Every survivor deals w/ surviving in their own way. I could never express myself in an op-ed. First off, I’m not important or academic enough to write one, so I wrote a ‘traumopera’. Lydia Lunch helped me coin that term btw.  She’s a gem. Talk about meeting someone and having the “aha” moment. I have boundaries for sure. My experiences also happened 15 years ago so they are not as raw as they would’ve been had I written them a few years after the fact. That would’ve been a completely different record.  I wrote about my experience as a 20-something while I was in my late 30s. I had already gone through therapy, time, and establishing my lifelong friends and support system. Not bad for an introvert. I’m in my 40s now, still experiencing giant man-babies, red in the face screaming over me, when they don’t get their way and I have zero tolerance for that. The world might still think they’re precious but I don’t. I would never want to live in a head like that. I could never love that.

     

    In terms of this record’s themes (Trump, abusive relationships, #MeToo, it ran the risk of being an angry album, but you managed to not make it so which is a huge credit to you. 

     

    Yeah. As I mentioned before, time molded my anger in a different way but seriously compared to all the sad girl music out there this album is incredibly pissed off. I don’t have any puritanical views of expressing anger. I was raised a Kali-worshipping Hindu. Rage can go off the rails for sure but is not expressed enough in art. It’s a very real part of human emotion. There’s hypocrisy in the Western world when expressing rage.

     

    Before even hearing a note or lyric on this album, I was drawn to the song titles which made me smile e.g. ‘Charm School for Damaged Boys’, Male Feminist’, ‘Cry for The Cameras’. You seem to have a good sense of humor. 

     

    What other choices do we have when we’re forced into being pacifists? I have always had a dry biting sense of humor and it comes out when it needs to. It developed from being bullied at school. Some big white kid would come mess with me and my ego would be like “I’m too smart for this shit”. Then I’d use my words and they would cry. You learn a lot about survival being the first generation in an American school. It’s exhausting though, which is why I mostly keep to myself. I would like to enjoy my life.

     

    How much do you think about the future in terms of your creative process and what your output may be like, in terms of with another band or otherwise?

     

    I’ve actually enjoyed being a side player in other people’s projects cause you learn about music in a completely different way. It’s more technical and the pressure’s off cause all you are responsible for is listening to the bandleader and playing your part the best you can. When it’s your own project you have to wear so many hats, make no money, and be perfect all the time, while everyone else shits on you. It’s a sad existence.

    I am getting older and I find that music belongs to a different generation now, so it’s time for me to try other things that fit my age. It would be different if I was in some kind of Radiohead-type band where we’re making money, therefore I can continue touring till whenever, but unfortunately for me, that’s not the case. You can only be a poor “up and coming” act for so long till you have to change how you are incorporating music into your life. That said, I never compromised and always made the albums I wanted to make, mistakes and all. I’m really proud of that, but yeah switching gears and making old people art like films and writing has crossed my mind.

     

     

    I first came to love your music through hearing The Happy Hookers and specifically, touring with Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. You must get asked about this a lot, I presume so I apologize for being another lazy interviewer. What was it like being a part of his tour?  

     

    It was amazing! I have very fond memories of my time with them. I learned a lot and became a stronger performer cause he was just throwing me out there alone in front of an arena full of people who were only there to see them. What a challenge! He is definitely one of the kindest most generous artists I’ve ever met. I’m lucky they took a chance on me.

     

    What are your thoughts on musical influences? 

     

    I still love the feeling of discovering something and becoming obsessed with it. I’m very much a listener and consumer of art who needs to develop my own relationship with what I’m consuming. I think that’s why I don’t automatically listen to new music. I’m not susceptible to marketing campaigns or doing what everyone else is doing. I remember being obsessed with Gun Club in my early 20s when everyone else was listening to whatever generic brand of NYC/Brooklyn indie music that was being released at the time. It took me 6 years after Is This It came out to genuinely dig the Strokes.  I was at a New Year’s Party w/o my abusive partner at the time. Someone turned on Hard To Explain and I was high and dancing and everyone there was so rad and happy. I felt so young and free. I hadn’t felt that way in a really long time. It also gave me so much joy to love something I knew “he” had hated so much. I’ll never forget that moment.

     

    What kind of influence of being a New Yorker have on you?

     

    A lot of problem-solving, a lot of noise, and a lot of keeping it short. New York doesn’t have time for one’s 8 min opus and I love that. Take the fillers out. I’ve always been a creative person but didn’t really try it publicly till my early 20s. I studied music as a kid, bombed many recitals, and was always thought of as an unfocused, lazy underachiever throughout my childhood. For a while, I believed it, until I found myself hauling a baby-sized coffin with my heavy ass harmonium on a hand truck over the Williamsburg Bridge just to play an open mic. I didn’t see myself as being lazy after that.

     

    How has that changed in the years since you started?

     

     It’s tough to keep the same momentum. There’s so much negative in the music industry, you can really lose why you do it in the first place. Every time I put out an album I ask myself “why am I still doing this?” then I forget I felt that way, get back into my zone, and start writing again.

     

    ‘Portrait Of A Lady’ is out now

  2. Gaspar Noe: “I feel that I’m more serene with these two concepts we call life and death.”

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    Gaspar Noe is a dangerously provocative and mind-bending filmmaker who has the ability to combine almost every element of what makes truly great cinema. In his own words, he’s already made many films that have, “scared people, turned them on, or made them laugh.”

    I would also add that he’s also managed to bore us, or maybe just I, to tears (his 3-D porno ‘Love’), induce horrifying and at times euphoric anxiety (‘Climax’), make most of us switch off at notable and world-famous rape scenes (‘Irreversable’) and in his first and one of my favorite film of his, (I Stand Alone), create an extreme and brilliantly nihilistic tale where even he himself appears to recommend that viewers watch at their own discretion. 

    With his new film ‘Vortex’, Noe evolves further. He suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2019 and published images of his time in hospital on his Instagram profile – which I initially thought of as a hoax, such is his (apparent) dark sense of humour. The result of recent trauma is  ‘Vortex’, a film about an aging couple in decline which stars legendary horror director Dario Argento in the main role of a man dealing with dementia.  Here, Gaspar Noe discusses themes of ‘Vortex’, where it came from, and his own sense of decline. 

     

     

    Mr Noe, what was the origin of Vortex? 

     

    I’ve been wanting to make a film with elderly people for several years. With my grandparents, then with my mother, I realized that old age involves very complex survival issues. It generates overwhelming situations in which those who have protected you most revert in turn to their childhood. So I imagined a film with an extremely simple narrative, with one person in a state of mental deterioration losing the use of language, and her grandson who has not yet mastered it, as two extremes of this brief experience that is human life. 

     

    I would say that it’s your least provocative, least violent film to date. Fair comment?

     

    That’s not for me to judge. While it’s my first feature film for all audiences, I’m also told that – due to the very common situation it describes, which most people are or will become familiar with – it’s the toughest. I’ve already made films that scared people, turned them on, or made them laugh. This time I wanted to make a film that made them cry as hard as I could cry, in life as at the cinema. Tears really do have a sedative effect when they come into contact with the membranes of the eyelids, which makes them one of the most pleasurable substances there is. Also, this isn’t the first time that I’ve filmed with the greatest love people older than me: it was the case with Philippe Nahon with whom I made Carne and I Stand Alone. But this time, Vortex is really inspired by recent experiences in my life, and all those ultra-brilliant loved ones whose powers of thought I saw decay and then die before my eyes. The film probably refers to the emptiness that surrounds us and in which we float. I’ve also been told that it recalls Enter the Void in the sense that its subject is the great emptiness that is life and not death. 

     

    Perhaps it’s also your most radical, desperate film? 

     

    Maybe, in any case not very Manichean. It’s just the story of a genetically programmed disintegration when the whole house of cards collapses. As we wrote for the Cannes Film Festival synopsis: Life is a short party that will soon be forgotten. 

     

    Did you write this film following your sudden brain hemorrhage? 

     

    No, not at all. I’d already thought about the subject for this film long before. On the other hand, with this stroke, from which there was very little chance that I would emerge alive or unscathed, I was catapulted onto the dark side of the moon. While I was on morphine for three weeks, I thought about my death and its consequences for all those around me, the mess I would have left behind. That’s death: the objects of a life you leave to others and that disappear in a garbage truck as quickly as memories that rot along with the brain. In any case, since the hand of destiny gave me some joyful extra time, I feel that I’m more serene with these two concepts we call life and death. In addition, the convalescence that was imposed on me, followed by this fabulous collective experience of confinement linked to a virus, allowed me to spend months discovering the greatest melodramas of Mizoguchi, Naruse and the unjustly forgotten Kinoshita, whose melancholy, cruelty and aesthetic inventiveness reminded me what truly great cinema could be. 

     

    Was it a commando shoot? 

     

    I wrote a 10-page text, that grew to 14 pages when I expanded the bodies of the characters to deposit it at the CNC (laughs). Canal + committed and I got the ‘avance sur recettes’ (advance on receipts) for the first time. I shot in April, over 25 days, and finished on May 8th. I had an editing room on set and, since we didn’t have very long shooting days, I started editing right away, in the evenings, on weekends. It was very fast, especially the post-production before Cannes, but I love speed. It worked well for Fassbinder, it worked well for all the great Japanese directors in the 60s. Why do slowly what you can do quickly? 

     

    When did you have the idea for the split-screen? 

     

    The story of the film is very commonplace, it’s just something that happens quite naturally for people aged 80 and over that their children must manage. And these situations are so heavy day-to-day that most of those over 50 carry them like individual curses that they’re almost ashamed to talk about. For the form, I envisaged something almost documentary, without written dialogue, and on a single set, as realistic as possible. The only aesthetic position I took was to film some scenes in split-screen to emphasize the shared loneliness of this couple, but I hadn’t planned to do so over the entire duration of the film. The first week I only shot a few sequences with two cameras, but in the editing room I realized that when one of the characters left the frame, leaving us alone with the other, I really wanted to continue to see what he or she was doing at the same time. Reality is the sum of the perceptions of those who make it. And since there’s nothing more boring in cinema than this artificial tv movie language that almost everyone uses I thought, as long as we’re making something as contrived as a film, why not have fun with the split-screen? So I timed the shots and filmed the missing parts to complete the sequences. The process then imposed itself from the second week of filming. It feels like we’re following two tunnels that evolve in parallel but never meet, two characters irrevocably separated by their paths in life and by the image. The camera language was a bit complex, and, as usual, I hadn’t made storyboards. It requires a good spatial logic and I was constantly solving a mental Rubik’s cube. Once again, I slept very badly at night. 

     

    And your actors? 

     

    My three actors were the most beautiful RollsRoyces of improvisation that I could have dreamt of. But by working with Françoise and Dario, given my admiration for them, I put myself under a lot of pressure, joyful and constructive as it was. I didn’t want to screw up, to do a lazy directing job in front of a master of the image like Dario Argento, nor dare to miss a single performance by anyone with Françoise in the film. I’ve idolized Françoise since discovering her in The Mother and the Whore, even though Jean Eustache’s use of ultra-precisely written dialogues is the exact opposite of what I try to do. When Dario agreed to act in the film, I had less than a fortnight to find his son. I thumbtacked photos of Françoise and Dario on a wall and asked myself who could be physically credible as their child. Then I thought of Alex Lutz. I’d seen Guy by chance and was blown away by his performance. I stuck his photo next to his parents’ and it worked perfectly. We met, and he was available. And when he told me he had himself directed Guy from a 10-page screenplay, I figured we were well suited! 

     

    With this more ‘grown-up’ film, you may even risk getting good reviews. 

     

    Most great films are massacred when they’re released, and the worst ones are venerated…So I don’t care. To paraphrase Pasolini, what we do is more important than what we say. Vortex might be more ‘adult’ than my other films. But, I Stand Alone and my short SIDA aside, I feel as if I’ve only really made films about teenagers for teenagers. Today, at 57, perhaps I’m finally entering adulthood a little. I am getting into an unkown world.

     

    Thank you.

     

    Photograph: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

  3. Julia Ducournau: “I wanted light to spring from the shadows…”

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    Julia Ducournau first gained attention as writer/ director in 2011 when her short film ‘Junior’ was selected at the critics’ week in Cannes. The film would also win the Audience Award at the Festival Premiers Plans in Angers. She first came to my attention in 2016 with the release of ‘Raw’, a brilliantly witty yet horrifying (especially for vegetarians) twist on the flesh-eating horror genre which reportedly had some fainting in the cinema aisles. So it goes. The film would go on to win a host of awards at various international film festivals (Sundance, Sitges, Toronto) and her latest and second feature, ‘Titane’ recently won the Palm d’Or at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Here, in a shorter interview than I’d like, Ducournau discusses her latest film, it’s relationship with ‘Raw’, and divulges some insight into her methodology. 

     

    Ms Ducournau, can you tell me about the writing in Titane and how it took shape?

     

    I sensed I was facing a very complex puzzle, with dense matter that I clearly needed to simplify. But I had to be careful or I’d risk losing the existential scope I was aiming for. It was a real balancing act. To give TITANE its definitive shape, I honed in on the character of Vincent [Vincent Lindon] and his fantasy: this idea that through a lie, you can bring love and humanity to life. I wanted to make a film that initially may seem unlovable because of its violence, but then we grow deeply attached to the characters, and ultimately we receive the film as a love story. Or rather, a story about the birth of love because here, everything is a question of election.

     

    Can you talk about the post title sequence where we’re introduced to Agathe Rousselle (Alexia) as an adult?

     

    That sequence is there to impose a certain vision – not my vision – of Alexia, or more accurately, who others want her to be. This vision idealizes her, forcefully iconizes and sexualizes her, makes her obey a whole series of clichés. I see it as a decoy: we’re exploring a surface layer that hints at the ocean we’re about to plunge into, where we’ll discover a femininity with very blurry contours. I wanted this sequence to be both extremely organic and totally disconnected from reality. The Alexia presented to us here does not align with the truth of the character. 

     

     

     

    What was the casting process like for the part of Alexia?

     

    I knew right away she’d have to be an unknown face. As she goes through her mutations I didn’t want people thinking they’re watching the transformation of a physically familiar actress. I mention above a ‘femininity with blurry contours’. I needed an unknown to embody that. Someone the audience couldn’t project any expectations onto. Someone they could watch transform as the story plays out without being conscious of the artifice. So I went straight to non-professional young women. I had a certain androgynous physique in mind, one that could endure the various transformational states that playout for the camera. I wanted a face that would change with the angle of the shot. A face that could make us believe anything. So the casting was both vast and precise. I knew there’d be a lot of work for whoever I chose. Not so much rehearsing lines (Alexia is practically mute) but in the acting itself. I’d have to go digging for something inside her, push her to places she wasn’t used to going, and obviously that takes time. When I saw Agathe [Rousselle] for the first time at a casting session, she really stood out. She had the right physique and a fascinating face, but also a presence. She commanded the screen, and that’s exactly what I wanted. 

     

    What about Vincent Lindon’s character? 

     

    For the character of Vincent it was far simpler: I wrote the role for Vincent Lindon. We’ve known each other for a long time. I wanted to film him and show him to everyone the way I see him. His character required a range of emotions that, in my eyes, only he is capable of: at once scary and vulnerable, childlike and dark, deeply human yet monstrous… especially with that impressive hulk of a body. In preparation for the role he did serious weightlifting for a year. I wanted him beefy like an ox, reminding us of Harvey Keitel’s massiveness in Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant. We got along beautifully during the shoot and I’m very proud of that. Vincent trusted me. He accepted the idea of surrendering to the character without necessarily holding all the keys to my cinema. He was exceptionally generous in what he gave to the role and to me. I think I got something from him that he himself was looking for at this stage in his career. I came along at the right time, if you will. 

     

    Can you say how you achieved the many special effects in TITANE?

     

    The biggest challenge by far were the prosthetics Agathe [Rousselle] had to wear. She spent long, laborious hours in makeup every day, which was exhausting for her and stressful for us, as every little touchup obviously takes time. The prosthetics were a central part of our daily schedules. It’s funny, because I’ve been using them since Junior and every time I say to myself, ‘Never again, too much hassle!’ Then I go right back and do it again on the next film! (laughter) But the thing is, for actors, prosthetics are true companions in the acting process. And they’re so organic on screen. 

     

    And you again teamed up with Rubens Impens who worked on RAW. What did brief did you provide for this film?

     

    I often used the word ‘malfunction’ to evoke the film’s transformations. ‘Derailment’ too, because the story is peppered with machines and metal. Ruben and I worked hand in hand. We did the shot list together, the lighting chart together, we were practically joined at the hip on set… We started by figuring out what machinery we’d need on the film, because we shared frustration from not having played on that more in RAW. And we discussed how to do something graphic without losing the characters in the process. When it comes to lighting, I work a lot within a cold/hot dichotomy. TITANE is concerned with metal and fire, so the cold/ hot relationship had to be ever-present. Ruben and I wanted to take a deep dive into contrast. We were constantly flirting with the limit, the limit being the cartoon: one step further and we could fall into cartoonish. We had to stay in the reality of the film. Push the shadow/light envelope as far as we could, without getting lost in an ultra-stylization that would suck the blood out of the characters and the action. We focused more on pictorial references than film references, the paintings of Caravaggio in particular. I also showed Ruben Summer Night by Winslow Homer and THE EMPIRE OF LIGHT series by René Magritte to give him an idea of what I was looking for in the contrasts. I wanted light to spring from the shadows in the same way emotion gushes after an initial shock. I also wanted lots of colors, to break with the darkness of the story and avoid an impression of inescapable sordidness. For the many nude scenes, which I wanted as non-sexualized as possible, I tried to use lighting to reinvent the skin each time. Our work with color made it possible to bring new textures, meanings, and emotions to the skin itself. 

     

    Another thing which struck me is the music. Where you again work with Jim Williams, what spec did you give him?

     

    I asked him to use percussions and bells. And I insisted on the bells. Why? Because I absolutely wanted to incorporate metal into the score. I wanted music that sounded metallic while still being melodic. As with RAW, I wanted a memorable recurring theme that would vary according to my characters’ trajectories. TITANE goes from animal to impulsive to sacred. To help us feel that progression, the music must also fluctuate, hybridize, transform. We go from percussion to bells to electric guitar and sometimes everything combined. Then voices come in, bringing a liturgical dimension to the film. I asked Jim [Williams] to work on creating a momentum towards the sacred. His music also needed to be like bursts of light in the shadows. 

     

    Julia Docournau, thank you.

    And thank you to Wild Bunch International. 

     

     

     

  4. 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

     

     

  5. 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 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