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.
“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’.
‘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.
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 thatI 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
The Specials emerged from an era of British music like few others; one that combined the influences of both homegrown political dissidence and Jamaican dance-house music. In the late 1970s, The Specials produced the first and finest combination of multi-racial (and also collaborative) music that the UK had ever seen, inventing the term ‘Two Tone’ in the process. Many since then have tried to hold the cue, but few have managed to do so or execute with such originality. I do doff my hat to those who have tried. In terms of being related to the quality of ‘ska’ music The Specials dealt (and continue to deal) in, I can only raise the name of the Fat White Family, a band who seldom sound in the same genre, but do very much carry the energy, wave of originality, popular tunes, humour, and indeed political messages of The Specials. The common political message can be left up to the reader to decide.
Horace Panter was in the Specials and played Bass in their original and current line up. These days, he’s very eager to get The Specials back touring (COVID forgiving) and also spends his time working with his own Pop-Art, adapting to being a ‘technophobe’, whilst also on the verge of being a grandfather. Felten Ink caught up with Mr Panter to discuss such matters.
Horace, what is the difference between being a ‘musician’ and an ‘artist’?
Being a musician gives instant feedback. If you’re doing good, an audience applauds or your bandmates acknowledge you. If you’re doing bad, you know about it pretty quickly too. There is a lot of adrenaline involved! With painting, the satisfaction and contentment is something internal. I guess, to use a pop psychology word, it’s ‘mindful’. The validation from an audience comes more slowly but it is there. I get a kick every time someone buys one of my paintings.
To me your own artwork looks like it would come under the term ‘pop art’?
Yes, I’d say I follow the Pop tradition. I take everyday objects and paint them, elevating the mundane. Andy Warhol had his soup cans, I have my cassettes, Japanese Vending Machines, American diners. I don’t mind people putting structure around my work – it doesn’t affect how or what I paint.
Do you look at everyday things and feel the need to make something?
I look at all genres of art (which is why I miss being able to go to galleries/exhibitions). Everything inspires me: it could be a colour or a shape or an object that suddenly takes on a specific meaning that I think could be transferred to a painting. A fellow artist once said to me ‘lots of people can draw/paint to a level that is extraordinarily but, as an artist, you have to have an idea’. I’d say it’s far harder to have an idea than it is to be technically brilliant. I don’t want to follow trends in art though I’m aware of them. I guess my strongest influences come from Pop Art, given that I was a child of the 60s when everything ‘cool’ came from across the pond: pop music, art, fashion. I love Peter Blake’s work but he was also influenced by American Pop culture.
What has being a musician taught you (if anything) about your own exploration into making your own art – to me your artwork doesn’t seem too personal?
As a musician, I’m a team player. I need a drummer and other musicians to create my music; it’s collaborative. I always refer to my art as ‘my solo album’. The work stands or falls on its own merit and by my own efforts. I have done a few pieces of ‘personal’ art but I keep them for myself!
I would love you to share some… I’ll keep it a secret, I promise. When is the best time for you to work, create, and why?
I prefer to paint in the daylight (natural light) which has been difficult with the short winter days. After walking the dog I spend most of the day in the studio but I do go out to see my printer or framer a couple of times a week. I try to take a break at weekends but if I’m on a roll, that often goes out of the window. The painting itself dictates how I work I guess.
It seems to me there are perhaps few other modern bands continuing the work of The Specials. Do they exist?
Where are the new Specials? I think various aspects of The Specials are observable in a lot of British music – the reggae/ska influence, the dance style, but nothing has come that close. Jerry (Dammers) once said he thought that Galliano were like The Specials. There are, of course, bands that, lyrically, resemble the band, but I think our USP was the message and the dance. Our message was serious but our music was uplifting.
I once read you saying nice things about Sleaford Mods (not my bag, to be honest). Personally, I think Fat White Family are one of the greatest bands currently on earth who at least share the attitude of a band like The Specials. What else is are you into musically?
I’m not familiar with Fat White Family – I’ll look them up – but Terry thinks highly of them. I thought the Sleaford Mods were mesmeric performers and it was great to have them on tour with us. I don’t listen to too many new acts (where do you find them these days if you don’t have Spotify… I don’t because I’m a bit of a technophobe!). I think my vast knowledge of rock’n’roll is something of a millstone around my neck. Everything I hear seems to sound like something else – spot the influence if you will. I have tickets to see The Drive By Truckers in June in London, re-scheduled from last year… I hope they play. Bands send me stuff on social media and, now and again, I prick up my ears and listen to a song all the way through. These days I’m quite impatient, if it sounds generic in the first few bars, I’m gone. I’m not cynical, maybe just have too many tunes in my head already!
I first got into the Specials in the days of indie dance floors back in my late teens/ early 20s (a long time ago now). Why do you think The Specials continue to be so important for newer generations?
Well, firstly: The tunes are great. The lyrics are easy to sing and are still relevant. The rhythms are irresistible. The live shows are full on – 100% full tilt celebration. Got your ticket for the 2021 gig yet?
Not yet, but… How has this ongoing lockdown treated you and have you been able to develop or at least maintain yourself as an artist, i.e. your own artwork and with the band?
All the Specials’ work for 2020 was rescheduled for 2021. Then, even our 2021 tour was put back from March/April to September/October. Between the lockdowns I did three small gigs, two with a Cajun/Zydeco outfit and one with a Blues band. They were all great and made me realise how dependent I am on performing as a release. During this current lockdown I’m one miserable mother-fucker. There’s only so much you can practice playing the bass! Art-wise, I’ve never been busier. There are new projects and new opportunities, making it an exciting time. Counter-intuitively, people have still been buying art, which is great for me. I’ve managed to paint a whole new series of cassettes which will be exhibited in the next couple of months. Obviously, the exhibition will be virtual which takes some of the fun out of it as it’s nice to build up to a physical exhibition and to meet people at the opening. Nothing is as usual though is it? I stay home, walk my dog in the countryside twice a day and do everything I can to stay sane!
What has this current situation given you that normal life would have restricted?
We (my wife and I) moved house a week before the first lockdown, from Coventry to a small village in Warwickshire. Love it. We have spent our time since then exploring the area, finding remote places to walk the dog (border terrier called Mijj!), had builders in, who have been great company… builders always are aren’t they! As well as concentrating on painting, I’ve had lots of time to read and think. Our son and daughter-in-law moved from South London to Warwick just before Christmas. It is a huge frustration that we can only see them in a socially-distanced situation, so no long boozy dinners together! I miss playing Blues/Cajun/Zydeco in pubs. Socialising in general. Visiting museums and art galleries. I was planning a road to trip to visit friends in the USA so god knows when that will be possible!
I don’t want to spend too much time on COVID but as it’s affecting everyone – what are your own thoughts on how the UK is dealing with it? Will we get back to normal (I tend to think aside from pubs and gigs, normality was overrated)?
I don’t think there was a single country in the world that was prepared for the virus (except perhaps Taiwan). We had to make it up as we went along didn’t we. There were always going to be conflicting interpretations of scientific data and weighing up the economic consequences. I don’t think we’ve felt those consequences fully yet. The performing arts industry has been decimated. The current debacle about musicians/performers needing permits to perform in Europe is a farce that needs to be fixed. Maybe bands like The Specials can take that on the chin, given they have a management structure capable of sorting all that out. It is young bands and musicians (including choirs, small opera companies, etc) that will feel it as they often go out on a shoestring budget and they won’t be able to absorb the extra costs. I’m just hoping to play in pubs again!
I’m now in my mid-30s and feel it – does one chill out more as they get older – You’re 67 now so what does age do to you?
Haha! It makes me jealous of anyone who is 30 years younger! Stuart Copeland once said to me “musicians stay younger longer” – I hold to that thought constantly!!Less angry, sure. More chilled, sure. Without the mist of anger I have been able to think more deeply about things like politics… I’m less reactive and more contemplative. I look for context in everything, despite the fact that context is often obscured. I see that MSM and social media are designed to make me angry so I back off. I’m going to be a grandfather this year and that gives me a deep sense of joy. The personal stuff, family, friends, etc., is the important stuff.
In terms of your artwork, I love your cassette art in particular – how do you choose who to stick on there. I was thinking you should do a mixtape version and link to a playlist on Spotify… with the help of the one they call ‘Alexa’?
With the cassettes there are self-imposed boundaries. Circa 1970 – Circa 1995 are the boundaries. Having said that, more bands are recording and releasing cassettes as they have achieved a kind of iconic status. All the cassettes are the same dimensions. The interesting bits are small, overlooked factors like the screws (do they have screws?), or the window. Are there numbers folded into the front place under the window? (what use were these anyway?). These small factors inform how the cassette looks. Yes, I only do bands I like. No way would I do an Abba cassette – or Queen! Don’t even mention Queen! Having said that, my new series doesn’t feature bands/songs; it celebrates the object alone and I’ve concentrated on design/colour. The idea of Alexa scares me shitless!
I agree with you on ABBA, God forbid Alexa decided to play me that. Are you ever bored with making music?
Never! Music is such a wonderful thing to be able to perform. I can’t possibly imagine my life without it. Now and again I get fed up with a painting I’m doing so I’ll put it aside or scrap it. I never get fed up playing music!
Are you cynical about older bands getting back together to tour or make new music? I don’t wish to be crude, but making money is important – thoughts?
Well, at my age, I ain’t in it for the travel and I do have a family to support. I would by lying to you if I said that the money didn’t matter. You might be surprised that I still have a mortgage and I don’t have a pension plan, or even a new (or old) BMW! I have never been close to being a millionaire, more’s the pity haha! My accountant says that in a good year I make about the same as the average builder. The Specials is a big band with a large crew, the cost of doing a tour is eye-watering. Regardless, I love it! Being with Terry (Hall) and Lynval (Golding) and the gang is like being with family… we have decades of history!
Interview with Horace Panter – January 2021. To be continued…
Samir Guesmi’s directorial feature debut is described as being a ‘rites of passage’ in which a father and son will slowly grow to know and understand each other when ‘botched robbery’ and the need to satisfy older friends offer no end of conflict. Newcomer Abdel Bendaher plays Ibrahim, a youth hell-bent on finding himself and others at the same time. Here, Abdel Bendaher answers some questions about the role itself, working with director Samir Guesmi and finding his own feet in when dipping his toes into the world of filmmaking.
Abdel, How did you end up being a part of this project?
It was a bit of an eventful Sunday for me and my friends: we went to watch a friend – totally outclassed by older players – play a football match. At half time we dropped our ball near the spot where Samir Guesmi was. I felt he was staring at me. With his motorcycle helmet in hand and big as he is, we thought he was a cop! He introduced himself, and explained he was a director and actor. We didn’t believe him. He had to show us his Wikipedia page with a photo before we took him seriously. Then he asked if he could film us. Weeks went by and Christel Baras, the casting director, contacted me. I did a test with her first, then more casting sessions. I gave myself completely each time, because I felt the pressure mounting and I wanted to believe in this. When I found out I’d got the part I was really happy!
What was your relationship with cinema before this experience?
I only went to the cinema to watch American blockbusters. But with my best friend we often fantasied about making a film about our friendship and the bullshit we used to come up with together. Now I’ve started to watch French cult films, I’m opening myself up to cinema and it fascinates me.
Do you remember your reaction when you read the script of IBRAHIM
I remember feeling it was really alive. I was immersed and I believed in everything I was reading. I quickly identified with Ibrahim, who is a high school student like me. He’s shy and reserved too. It was easy to project myself into this role. I liked the friendship between Ibrahim and Achilles as I much as his relationship with his father and the connection he develops with Louisa.
What did you tell yourself about Ibrahim? The truth?
Nothing! I told myself I was going to play Ibrahim as I am. I understood that’s why I had been chosen, that I should stay as close to who I am in life to play the role of Ibrahim. I just thought he was an unlucky boy, not a victim. He wants to do things right and avoid problems, but his mate Achilles involves him in his bullshit and exerts a big influence on him. I also think he and his father love each other very much, but don’t dare tell each other. Ibrahim is a very observant character… Like me! I tend to observe a lot and am careful to not be noticed. I’m a champion at looking away if someone I’m looking at turns his head towards me. So I had no trouble finding the right attitude for Ibrahim, and Samir helped me a lot too. He guided my gaze, sometimes even during scenes.
How did Samir direct you, in other respects?
He told me to not act, to be natural. The fact that he himself is an actor helped me. During the first weeks we shot the scenes in Ibrahim’s and his father’s apartment. They were complicated scenes, because their relationship is complicated. The first days, Samir didn’t want to talk to me. He had warned me that the beginning of the shoot would be tough, and he piled the pressure on me. That’s how I felt about it anyhow, and it did help me to find the right emotions for the film. At first I concentrated on my character; I was in my corner and repeated the lines to myself, I was hunched up, like Ibrahim. I quickly felt I was the character. Bit by bit I understood this was Samir’s strategy, but I didn’t hold it against him. All the more so since at the end of the first week he came to talk to me and explained why he had talked to me so little at first. Little by little I started to feel more at ease with everyone.
Did you manage to forget the camera?
Only after several days. I got used to it gradually. I also had to get used to the crew, I was a bit overwhelmed by all these people around me. What helped me was being invited to participate in the location scouting. I got to know some technicians and quickly felt accepted. But on set, I was intimidated. It was really intense, and I felt there was no room for mistakes. I didn’t know that films were made like that. I thought you shot in front of a green screen with dialogues written on cards! Those first days were crazy – hallucinated the first few days: no comparison!
How did you find your character physically? Did the wardrobe help… the chapka hat for example?
Yes, even if at the beginning I thought that the shoes I had to wear were lousy! These must have dated from the time of Louis XVI, these trainers! I swear to God! I wore a chapka hat, a coat, had a green bag… At first when we shot the scenes at the high school, with kids around us who hadn’t necessarily understood we were shooting a film, I was a little ashamed in these ugly clothes! But it allowed me to feel like Ibrahim. The chapka hat physically defines his character. He wears it all the time, he’s attached to it. When Ibrahim takes it off the people who look at him feel they are discovering a new face.
Did you see Samir’s short film, C’EST DIMANCHE! before the shoot?
This short film helped me. It doesn’t describe the same father-son relationship but it gave me clues.
How did you work with the other actors?
They were all older than me and had experience on films. They acted like big brothers and sisters to me. They helped me a lot and made me feel at ease, by rehearsing my lines with me between takes, for example.
Were you able to leave this role easily? How did you emerge from this first film experience?
When I went back to school after filming, I was shyer than before, as if Ibrahim had rubbed off on me. But that changed quickly, particularly when I was back with my friends. It’s funny, because at the beginning, I was in a hurry for this shoot to be over with. But at the end, I was sad and wanted to start again as soon as possible. I really want to carry on acting. I know how lucky I was to have met Samir. I’ve always loved the idea of trusting my destiny. Samir arrived at the right time: I had bad grades in third grade, I wasn’t sure which way to head. This film has changed everything for me. I’m like a new person, in a way, thanks to this film. It is also the first step towards the professional world. When I finished the shoot, I was a bit proud of myself, without having become big-headed. Just proud to have taken on a challenge and to have been able to play a part in a beautiful film.
For some, mainly Matt Morgan Appreciation Society members (like myself), Matt Morgan will be best known as Russell Brand’s sidekick on the hugely popular XFM and Radio 2 shows. Those familiar will also know he’s the man who as a school-boy suffered a horrid but hilarious ‘pin-pinning’ (thus becoming the original victim), he who as a child believed he had a crow living in his bedroom wall, and the man who, by his own admission here, sometimes thinks about going back ‘into the shadows’.
For everyone else, these days Matt is better known for his work as a writer for TV (‘Mr Winner’ and ‘The Mimic’), broadcaster, and now the host of his own regular show. On Patreon he hosts Q+A’s with himself, publishes videos of his extreme camping trips, and broadcasts interviews with his ‘mates’. Thankfully these happen to include the likes of outdoor survival expert Paul Hayes aka Hazes Outdoors, comedian Rob Beckket, and my favorite, the often curmudgeon but always funny and frank singer-songwriter Mr. Noel Gallagher.
Here, we chat about the future of his Patreon show, the decision to make the move to paid-for media, what it’s like to be friends with and piss off the most talented Gallagher brother, and why going into baby-mode is so comforting, among other things…
Matt, on your Instagram there are some videos of you dressed as a baby. What’s that about?
That came from when I was with John Noel who was the agent Russell was with at the time. It came from was a sketch with my friend Kieron Hawkes, he directed shows like the The Mimic and Power. It was from the idea of ‘immersive’ documentaries, so it was one step on in telly evolution from Louis Theroux going somewhere. At the beginning, it was like, “I wondered if I could live as a baby. I used to do it without thinking, but as a man, can I do it now?” The point of the joke was how utterly stupid those immersive docs were. So I did one where I was an adult baby, and I went and had an adult baby experience, which is like, basically not sexual, but she [the lady providing the service] changed my nappy, she gave me a bath.
It’s pretty funny
I think I’ve always had an interest in adult babies. It’s just really funny to me. The oversized babygrows and stuff, it’s very visual. We stayed the night with her. She was saying how it’s very rarely sexual, a lot of is men with powerful jobs who get to switch off and go into infantilization. They get to go there, she puts a babygrow on them, she reads them stories, she gives them warm milk, they sleep in a big cot and then the next day, they get dressed and go back to their normal life. It wasn’t completely immersive because we were filming it but I did just let myself go and have the experience. The bit where she was reading me a story and I had warm almond milk in a thing, and the bit where she was changing my nappy, that was just a bit awkward. There was no poo involved, but I’d wee in this nappy and she changed it. Honestly, when she was reading me the story and I slept in this cozy little cot… there was something about it that was really nice.
I’m still not trying it
*laughs* At the time I remember saying to Kieron, “They should do this at spa hotels. Instead of having a massage and then some face peel or something, you should have a big nursery, where you put on a babygrow, you play with Lego, and someone reads you a story and they give you warm milk.” Like honestly, it would revolutionize the world. You’d make so much money.
The comedy world is changing in terms of what’s deemed acceptable. I remember Russell Brand comparing you to one of the men dressed as women on the old Bounty kitchen towel adverts. How do you feel about the fact that some stuff wouldn’t be acceptable these days, in comedy terms, with ‘cancel culture’ and the trans debate which is in full flow (on Twitter at least)?
Well, it depends. There’s context. I think as I remember that Bounty ad, it was part of the joke; don’t men with beards, you know, big fat men with beards look silly dressed up as women. So that was their joke. You have to be careful. You wouldn’t get away with that now, because people are so much more aware. I remember, when I was a kid and I worked in a shop as a teenager, there was a woman who came in who I previously would have said, “Oh, a bloke dressed as a woman.” But who was trans back then. I remember seeing what I think people called transvestites at the time, which was just something else. People didn’t understand did they? So transvestites are someone who has dressed up as a woman for a kink? I think it’s really important to be caring about it because imagine the shit they get. I wasa once actually writing something with a transgender character in it and I don’t think I would now, because I think…
You’re straight and male?
Yeah, because I think now it’s like, “Well, you can’t speak for them.” Which, I mean, that’s a whole other thing to get into, because then you get into, well, can men write female characters? and could an adult write a child? And that’s mental. Of course they can.
Do you think it’s important not to be going after the more vulnerable, punching down etc like to be more wary and compassionate?
Yeah, I mean, I’ve done stuff… Everyone in comedy has done stuff where you’re wearing women’s clothes if your a man or the other way round. But I’ve never blacked up, I think I would always known, “No way. Not doing that.” But that was common on our TVs not that long ago really. I think it’s good that things are changing because I’m very aware, you don’t want to make anyone feel excluded, like the idea of punching up and punching down. I think comedy’s better when it punches up because you should be attacking the people in power, not the disempowered. But then, to go back to your original point, I think that you’ve got to have compassion and I think, punch up. In the context of a stand-up gig, someone like Frankie Boyleor Jimmy Carr, you know what you’ll get when you buy a ticket. It’s not like, “Oh someone called Jimmy Carr’s on, I think I’ll go and check it out. It sounds like a light entertainment evening.” But when you get there, you know what they’re going to do. And also Louis C.K. I know he’s canceled for being a creepy sex pest, but any comedian, they stand on stage and they pick through things, do you know what I mean? They’re not making blanket statements.
You can’t stop people from being honest and going through things. Even Jimmy Carr, who’s not doing that sort of conversational comedy, he’s doing one-liners, right? But it’s in the context of his Jimmy Carr gig, and it almost goes with it that you go, “If he’s saying this joke, then he knows the power of what he’s saying, and why it’s funny is because “Oh you’re not allowed to say that.'”
You’re removed in that sense because you write for screen?
Well, thankfully I don’t have to worry about this particularly because I don’t do that sort of comedy. Everything I’ve ever written is pretty mainstream, really. And also, I’m not a stand-up, so I’m not up there saying stuff. That’s the thing. I think it’s good that people are much more aware of the idea of “who’s this hurting?” Because I think that’s important, but of course you can’t police people’s honest thoughts.
When did you start doing that whole survival type thing as a hobby? What’s the attraction to that?
One night, for some reason, I was watching this Ed Stafford show, where he goes somewhere and he’s got nothing. He’s basically naked, but as a survival expert, he quite quickly finds water, then he does shelter. And depending on the environment, basically, if it’s cold, then fire is a priority, if it’s warm, then shelter is a priority. So I was learning all this stuff. But I used to be a Scout and what I liked about Scouts was lighting fires, playing with axes, knives, but it was also controlled. It awakened something in me that was basically put away at the end of my teens. And then I think I spoke about that with Russell [Brand] – “Oh, I want to do this. I want to go camping and stuff.” And the idea of camping in this country is obviously at a campsite where there’s a shower block and toilets and all that stuff. And I was like, “Well, how do you get away from that?” And then when you look into it, wild camping in this country in illegal. In Scotland, it’s legal because you’ve got ‘Right to Roam’. But here, I mean, England’s not massive, It’s not like America where you’ve got vast fucking national parks where you could literally get lost in and die. I was like, “Oh, I want to go somewhere that’s not like, ‘Oh hello, here’s your pitch.”
Which brings us to you and Hazes Outdoors…
Yeah, he said, if you’re interested in this, I’ll send you some stuff, because he basically… Well, It can get expensive actually, because you start buying all this kit. But he sent me some stuff he didn’t need anymore. It was basically everything I needed. Sleeping bag, a folding saw, like a knife with a fire steel so you can start fires and all that stuff. Somebody else, through listening to the radio show sent me a message and said, “I’ve got a small woodland on my farm in Essex that you’re welcome to come and camp in.” So I went. I was quite to keen to do it when it was cold. I’ve been camping in Summer enough to know that it’s not very difficult. You’re not even cold at night if you’ve got a sleeping bag. So I wanted to be cold. What I was craving was the simplicity of, “I’m cold, I need to light a fire, I’m hungry, I need to cook my food.” That sort of thing, as opposed to the stresses of everyday life which are so often abstract.
It must be difficult getting used to long hours in the darkness (sorry if I sound like a therapist)?
I remember Hazes Outdoors said, “Be careful in Winter because the sun can go down very quickly.” When the sun goes down and you’re in woods especially, it’s even darker than the fields, it’s pitch black, so you’ve got your head torch on but the world shrinks down. You’ve got your little glow of your head torch, and that’s it. The first couple of times I did it I did get freaked out. You’re so freaked out by noises, and just the vulnerability that you’re out there and you think, “God, what if someone just saw my fire and my tent and came up and just fucking stabbed me through my tent.” You start thinking such mad shit. Because usually, you go to sleep thinking, “Right, the doors are all locked, I’m pretty good, I’m pretty safe.” I don’t know, it’s just really good. And it’s not survival, survival, I’ve always taken food with me, I’ve had 4G. You’re not really looking at your phone, but you can. You don’t feel like, “Oh shit. I’m in the middle of nowhere.” But it’s still good to do it. It’s still quite extreme compared to what most people would call camping.
On your video you posted recently on Patreon, Hazey sleeps on the ground?
Fuck that. I’ve got a Hennessy hammock with a bug sheet net and stuff. Honestly, I sleep in that as comfortably, if not more than I do at home. Because you’re slightly swaying and it’s like being a baby. It’s just like hanging in the air.
There’s that baby thing coming up again.
Haha – all it does is just give a bit of a reset, to go outside. You’re away from your troubles for a bit. It’s masculine in a non-toxic way, do you know what I mean? It’s not, “Oh, I’ve got loads of stress, I’m going to go and get absolutely fucking pissed and I’ll be fine.” It’s not that.
Onto the podcast and your Patreon site where you now post your content.
You’ve spoken on the Pod how Noel Gallagher was pissed off when you joked that Morrissey had died (It was, in fact, Russell Brand’s cat, Morrissey, RIP). Was he genuinely angry with you?
Yeah, he was.
What’s he like when he’s pissed off?
He swears loads. He’s up for a laugh. So I just thought, “Fuck it, this will be funny.” So I text him: “Fucking hell, Morrissey’s dead.” And he text me: “What the fuck, what, what?” Like that. He was freaking out and then he called me and he went, “Are you fucking serious, what the fuck, he’s fucking dead, he’s fucking dead?”. I went, “Yeah, he’s dead mate, he died this morning.” And he went, “Fucking what?” And I went, “Yeah, yeah.” He goes, “What? Morrissey’s dead?” I went, “Yeah, yeah, Russell’s cat Morrissey’s dead.” And he just went, “You fucking prick… Oh, you wanker… You fucking idiot, you fucking cunt, you fucking…” He just went like that and hung up. I was like, “Oh god.” And then he text me loads more swear words.
You’ve used up all your prank points on that.
I know. Afterward, I was desperately trying to think of some other famous pet. I was thinking, “God, is there anyone else I could do this to”. Like I’ll just leave it a week, and then do it again. Noel said to me later, “It really freaked me out because I had been listening to The Smiths so much. And thinking about Morrissey a lot. And then when you said that….” And then I felt really bad. I knew he’d be all right. He’s had a go at enough people over the years.
The stuff with you and Noel is all gold, really, it’s amazing to sit and listen to.
He’s good, isn’t he?
You both are. It’s purely unguarded, no PR, no bullshit, none of the usual pre-prepared answers you get with a lot of Podcasts and interviews.
Well, that’s the thing I found. The thing is, it’s like normally, and I did try and do this with the Podcast in its first iteration, which was to be like “I’m talking to people about what they find funny, and whatever.” Which was great and then, Coronavirus happened, and it was like, “I’m not going into London to do the interview.” I can’t remember who was lined up, but any stand-up comedian who’s a pro isn’t going to be totally unguarded and have a chat. They’re going to be like, “Oh yes, the first gig and, oh, worst gig of my life.” And all that shit, and I just thought, “I’m bored by that just thinking about it.”
So I just reverted to calling people I’d already spoken to and people I actually know, like Jo Lycett, Rob Becket, Noel Gallagher, and that seemed to work. And I think now actually having moved to Patreon, I’m going to impose a bit more format on it going forward, because I’ve got this little squad of people that I call… this is exclusive to some extent.
*Semi sarcastic* Ooooooooh!
It’s only me, so it’s nothing great. In the future it’ll be more like, “What have I been doing this week?” That’s the format. And in the way that a stand-up comedian will tell you a story, but then relate it to bigger things, like, “Oh, I wonder what that says about me?” And just investigate things a bit. Basically, if Noel was on that week, I’d have four things that I’m going to be talking to him about. “Oh, I got my patio done, and I had to talk to the builders. And how do you feel, like being working class? And then, when a builder’s around your house, what do say? Hello, mate, do you want a cup of tea?” Or are you awkward or whatever. That sort of thing really interests me. What I hate is artifice. You know like these podcasts where, and I’m not judging them, but if it’s like… I don’t know, they’ve got such a format, the person is a slave to the format.
Like I was saying, so many other Podcasts have that banal nature…
Yeah and also, that a lot of those things, you can only have that guest on once because you’ve applied the format to them. “What are your favorite sporting moments in your life, or whatever?” And then you can’t come back on in three weeks’ time and say, “Oh, I’ve got seven different ones.” I could think of formats, but if it was like, “Okay, you’re allowed to pick one footballer, one musician…” All those variations on parlor games. It’s your ideal dinner party or whatever. And I just think that won’t work because it will just fall apart so quickly. So that’s what I’m going to do. Like, ‘What have I been up to, what have I been thinking about this week, what have we done this week?’ and if there’s a guest or not, because I quite enjoy doing them on my own and it seems to work.
They do work, even the ones on you do on your own.
It’s weird, isn’t it? Because it doesn’t bring the mood down if you’re having a laugh. I think that stuff needs to be handled properly, you can’t just be flippant about it. So that’s the weekly podcast. And Noel can fit into that, because I can just tell him what I’ve been up to and he’s… the thing with Noel is, he never… he’s similar to Russell in the way that he’ll never dry up. He’ll always have something to say about a subject. And also, to be honest, his fucking anecdotes are star-studded, because of the life he’s led. So he’ll just be like, “Oh, I was with Paul Weller and McCartney.” and you think, ‘Fucking hell’.
You were talking a few weeks ago about the chance of you and Noel doing a regular thing together. Is that still a possibility – like a co-host situation on a show?
Yeah we have been talking about it, because he’s got his studio, so he’s got a brand new studio that he’s built himself, it’s just for him basically, and he was like, “Oh we should do something regularly.” So I guess he meant we should sell a podcast, do it for someone, like Spotify or something. And that would be a regular podcast. So I’ll carry on doing my Patreon podcast and that would be a second thing. What’s been interesting about it, what everyone seems to have realized, like even doing this call, it’s like, we don’t need to be in the same place to record. Or to do anything really. I’ve been amazed. That’s why I’ve moved really, because it’s like, “Oh shit, I don’t need a studio. I don’t need to go in and use a studio, I don’t need to even go to meetings.” Me and Noel could potentially do something where we’re at our houses, but we do something regularly.
On your move from the ‘Funny How?’ podcast and taking your content over to Patreon, you obviously did it to make more money which is common sense. On the original setup, did you try to sell it in any way, or was it just not a viable option really?
I was doing it with Global so then it’s on Spotify, iTunes, and all the main places. Basically, you do it and then they sort out the advertising and they sell advertising if they can, and then the ad split is negotiable but basically starts at 50/50. So you provide the content, they provide the advertising and you take half the money each. And so it makes some money like that. But I think Coronavirus did affect things because people weren’t buying new cars, people weren’t going on holiday, people weren’t buying high street fashion stuff, because they couldn’t and so I think a lot of advertisers just pulled their ad campaigns. So that didn’t help. I don’t think that was the complete problem. With podcasts you have to accept that it won’t make much money for the first six months or a year. I was sort of okay with that at the beginning, but then when I saw how much it was… I was just like, “Really? This is almost not worth doing for the hassle.” And I’d quite happily just disappear back into the shadows and do my writing and stuff, but I was quite enjoying doing it and it was going down well. I didn’t want to just walk away from it. I looked at different options and found you could use Patreon to boost your income by doing extras. I just thought I should take the risk and just go completely on Patreon. You do lose people. You lose numbers, but the people who are left are actually paying you instead of going for advertisers, so in terms of how much of my income it takes to do it, it’s much better.
Maybe more work or expectation?
I think it’s a little bit more work because I feel like I’ve got to provide, not just podcasts, I’ve got to do… I’m doing extra bits and video and stuff. Yeah there’s more expectation, and also, you go, “Well, these people are customers now, they’re not just getting it for free.” So I’ve bought some equipment now and I realize it’s not just audio. It will include video as part of it.
You seem like quite a laid back person. Is that a fair comment?
I suppose I am laid back in some ways. But I can get really fucking angry.
I’ve been listening to you for a while, going back to the radio show days with Russell Brand. You’ve always seemed like the kind of calm, quiet voice of reason?
Yeah, I suppose, but then you’re forced into certain roles aren’t you, by the person you’re with? With Russell, I’m naturally going to become the straight man to someone that mental. When I say mental, now he would look at me and think, “Fucking hell, you’re mental.” He’s extreme in whatever he does, so now he’s an extremely spiritual person. He’s weird, Russell, he’s not just like, “Oh, shall we have a cup of tea and a sit-down?” It’s like he’s always intensely up for something. And he’s on this big sort of journey to work out what this all means, this life and stuff like that.
I just think I’m sort of vaguely interested in spiritual stuff and whatever, but I don’t have that yearning that Russell has to understand the universe and stuff. I sort of feel like I’ve worked my version of it out when I was about four. And I’m just coasting on whatever I took life to be at that stage. I think I’m much more practical. Like now I’ve moved house, I’ve been camping, I’m swimming in the sea, I just think that’s enough for me. I don’t need to sort out the mysteries of the universe.
Onto Withnail and I. Allow me to self indulge.I adore that film, and you’ve spoken of your own love of it on your shows. Do you remember when you first watched it?
I remember when me and a mate Rich were around 15, in the days of VHS. Back then, there was basically four channels. And I used to stay up late to find boobs in a film. It would be like quick, record them, yeah, Channel 4, late at night, usually some sort of vaguely artistic thing. We were really bored, I think my parents were on holiday and I’d been allowed to stay in the house.Rich went through tapes desperately looking for something to watch. And my mum and dad had accidentally recorded it… So we fast-forwarded to the end of this film hoping there would some boobs, so tragic, and then that music starts, King Curtis. We hadn’t tuned into the comedy at all, we thought it was a serious film, and we were watching a bit going, “This is fucking mental.” And then the bit that really, really made me laugh was when they sit a chicken on a brick in the oven. And also the line, when he says, “Kill it before it starts making friends with us.” It’s so ludicrous, that idea. It’s a clever idea but worded like a child, ‘making friends with us’.
Years later I thought about it and I never knew what it was called. I just remember this mad fucking film, with a chicken sat on a brick and these two blokes. And years later when I went to university, somebody said, “Withnail and I.” And it was like, “Oh my god, I watched it. Oh, fucking hell.” And then when I watched it then, I was like, “Oh this is a comedy, this is hilarious.” I thought it was some mad thing on a VHS video, with no boobs.
“I mean to have you even if it must be burglary!”– What’s your favorite line from the film?
Let me think, best line? Well, there’s a couple, God there’s so many. Once you start thinking, you go, “Fucking hell.” But like I really liked the bit where he [Richard E. Grant] says, “There must and shall be Asprin.” Because it’s perfect for his attitude to life. He’s so entitled that because he wants it so badly, he can will it into being. “There must, and shall be Asprin.” And I love those sort of characters. I like it when he’s talking to his agent: “How dare you, fuck you.” He’s such an arsehole. I do think about the line, when he goes, “This is really a rather groovy long white hat.” Or whatever he says, and they go, “It’s a wig.”
Yeah. They were talking about a judge and some hat, and Danny the dealer says, “No, man, this was more like a long white hat.”
Fucking brilliant. I’ve watched it so many times, but by talking about it now, because I couldn’t remember the lines around that, so I clearly need to watch it again. But, fucking hell, it’s just so good.
Lest there’s anyone reading this who would like tips on becoming a writer or at least practicing as such, what are your own regimes in terms of working. I myself find sitting up really late with some wine as the only good time to work.
Well, my natural instinct is like you said, same as you, stay up really late. It feels like in the daytime, not just because the doorbell’s going and stuff… It just feels like the world is alive. And then once you get into the evening and the night, it feels like the world shrinks down, and you can think clearly. That’s how I am. A lot of writers, like the majority of writers, when you read books about how to write or you read articles about the process, honestly 90%, will say “I get up at five, I’ll be at my desk, and I do four rounds of writing before…”. What the fuck? I’ll never be like that. I’m never good in the morning.And I come alive at night. So I don’t go to bed until late, and I could never get up early. But there’s other people who stay up late, but then the thing that fucked that up was having kids.
Of course, your wife must be great in that sense?
Well, she is pretty understanding, but then one of the reasons we’ve moved is because I need an office. I need a room to work in. Before it was in our bedroom, and then we had two children, so they all end up needing a bed, a bedroom obviously. So I’d sort of out-bred myself office wise. I get up for 8.00, 8.30, 9.00 o’clock now, which is fucking way better than 11 or 12 like I used to. And I haven’t tested it since we’ve been here, I haven’t had a real deadline where I’ve got to get something done, but I’m much more comfortable at night. My wife’s understanding. She can get up with the kids, and if I get up later on, I’ll do the end of the day with the kids, like bath time, bedtime, and stuff like that. It imposes structure, and I think structure is actually quite useful but I’ve not mastered it. I don’t think I ever will. I’m really bad at being my own boss.
People can impose structure on themselves, but the problem with me is, I am me. I don’t know how people act like, “Come on, back to work, you” to themselves, because then I’m just like, “Fuck it, I’m not feeling well, I’m just going to sit down.” I’ll keep going back to it and there’s nothing happening, and then suddenly I’ll hit the theme of something, and you look up and it’s like four hours later, and you’ve done loads of work. With writing there’s deadlines, there’s money involved, there’s people saying, “Did you get that thing?” So I can’t’ just float around and go, “No, no, the sun is too low. I can’t write today” because I wouldn’t get paid ever.
If it’s not happening, it’s not happening and then when you try and force it, you just make a mess…
Yeah. I actually thought that I would pay for a service where you tell someone what your deadlines are, what work you’ve got to do, and then they basically call you in the morning and say, “Get up.” And then they say, “At the end of the day, send us what you’ve done.” You could make millions from self-employed people just running a self-boss service where you phone them up and say, “Right, can you email us everything you’ve done today?”… because then at least I’d fucking think, “Oh shit, I better do this.”
Yeah, there would be pressure on you to things done.
It would probably work for a week and then I’d think, “Hang on, I’m paying them to do this. Fuck off. They’ve got no power.” Do you know what? It should work like you’ve given them your credit card details and if you don’t hit your deadline, they charge you. Because then you’d be like, “Fuck.”
That might actually work.
Mate, you can have that.
So I’ve got a man-baby pamper business in hotel spas and I’ve got another one where you get charged if you don’t meet deadlines…