An interview with Edward Ka-spel of THE LEGENDARY PINK DOTS
at the 9:30 Club Washington, D.C. November 2, 1995
Edward Ka-spel cast his spell on the audience with a two-hour emotion-packed set of songs from his extremely prolific history with The Legendary Pink Dots, focussing mainly on songs from the new album, From Here You’ll Watch the World Go By, and ending on a fever pitch with “Premonition 13” from The Legendary Pink Box (1989). Edward Ka-spel’s discography is 37 pages in length, divided into 5 major categories: (1) The Legendary Pink Dots (2) Edward Ka-spel solo material (3) The Tear Garden (4) Mimir (5) other projects. The new album appears to be their 19th major album, not counting cassette-only releases and material that was re-released later as part of other albums. They had completed the European leg of the tour, and were now embarking on the North American part, to end in Vancouver right at Christmas time, where they would be joining cEvin Key (ex-Skinny Puppy/Download) to work on their side project collaboration, The Tear Garden, only to be off on another tour (Download/The Tear Garden). A long-time vegetarian, he was finishing off a slice of pizza as I began by reading him an excerpt from his own liner notes from Island of Jewels (1986). Composed nine years ago, he visibly enjoyed hearing his words again. And what a bit of synchronicity that at that very moment there was but one slice of pizza remaining on that tray…
And God said, “I’m sick of fucking harps.” She sipped her apple juice, visibly agitated, clouds of steam funnelling out from her ears.
“You sit on those clouds day in, day out plucking those things….endlessly chirping on about how glorious I am. The same fucking songs, the same boring trite little poems, the same bland, cherubic expression on your faces – I am sick of it. I want passion! I want noise! God damn it, I want something with a bit of SOUL!”
And lo, the Angel Gabriel placed The Legendary Pink Dots hot new platter, Island of Jewels on the holy turntable.
“Yowza!” said God.
She was clearly excited; she furiously tied knots in her invisible beard; her head rocked back and forth with the irresistible beat.
“Who are these gods? Who is responsible for those neat little melodies, those infectious rhythms, those splendid words?”
Gabriel whispered the answer, and God rose from her throne, raised an infinite number of arms and roared – causing the very fabric of heaven to quake, earthly cries to crumble, tides to rise like writhing green cliffs advancing on the twitching tower flames.
And God said, “The Legendary Pink Dots alone will bring my message to the wretched Earth. They alone will tell of the cataclysm to come. They alone will show the way to a new Eden!”
And a messenger of God materialized in an untidy, squalid squatted house in Amsterdam where The Legendary Pink Dots were drawing straws to find out who had the right to eat the last portion of a takeaway pizza.
Reverently the messenger delivered his tidings, and the six heads looked upward, and as one, they said “We’ll think about it…”
When did you first become interested in music?
Early in the 70’s, really… when there was a lot of interesting German bands around making extremely freaky, psychedelic music.
What did you listen to back then?
Mostly bands like Can, Faust, Magma. Very obscure, eccentric European bands.
What do you listen to now?
Same thing, really (laughs). There’s a lot of nice, new bands – best band I’ve heard recently, which is completely new, is a band called Tortoise from Chicago. Really impressed me, very much…
What books do you like to read?
I don’t get to read very much – not as much as I’d wish. My favorite author is probably Harlan Ellison.
Can you describe the evolution of The Legendary Pink Dots?
A kind of directed chaos…
From the beginning?
From the beginning.
Have there been changes?
Masses of changes, yeah… in the personnel. There’s been like 20 people run through the Pink Dots. The current band has been together for the last four years… playing very solidly together.
How has the change in people coming in and out of the Pink Dots affected the music?
Some of the people have affected it more than others. Like Patrick, our old violin player, left and obviously created quite a strong change in the music. We didn’t want to replace Patrick with another violin player, because Patrick wasn’t any violin player. And then Niels joined with horns and flute and added a new element to the music that really gave a nice breath of fresh air. As recently as last year we changed everything again, even though the lineup was very stable then, in that we started using live drums for the first time, but we kept it within the band as well – Martijn and Ryan both play the drums and both play the bass, given times when one of them is on the drums and Martijn also plays the guitar – so it’s like a revolving instrumentation, which makes life a lot more interesting and very untraditional in the ways of bands.
What made you decide to bring in certain people with other instruments? Is it based on chemistry you had with the people, or were you looking for a different musical texture?
You connect with people as you meet them, you like them, you understand what they’re doing…
…and then whatever instrument they happen to play becomes part of the Pink Dots?
Sure. I mean everybody tends to put in their own vision to make it a united one.
So are you the thread that binds it all together?
Tell me about the Premonition pieces… how are they connected?
Only in the way the mood tends to be in the Premonition pieces. Again, it’s a thing of intuition – what is a Premonition piece and what is not.
So a song evolves – it has a certain feeling or mood to it and becomes a Premonition piece?
That’s right… yeah.
Are you currently involved with The Tear Garden?
Yes. Recording a new one in December. Vancouver. Probably tour it as well this time.
Were you very close to Dwayne (Goettel/recently deceased member of The Tear Garden and ex-Skinny Puppy)?
Yeah. He was a great friend. A really great friend. And a good guy as well.
Any personal recollections of Dwayne you’d like to share?
Just that he was one of the most sunniest, funniest and most intelligent and sensitive human beings I’ve come acrossed. The world’s a much sadder place without him…
Where in the Universe do you see The Legendary Pink Dots?
Probably in a remote outpost on the Planet Sponge.
The Planet Sponge?
It’s very hard to walk on the Planet Sponge because you sink into it and water tends to spurt out into the atmosphere and form dense violet clouds. Everything is kind of violet on the Planet Sponge.
Anything else about the Planet Sponge you’d like to share with us?
They play golf a lot on the Planet Sponge. But I never much cared for golf.
Kind of a natural thing to do there.
Yeah…with all those holes.
Do people live there?
No. They just visit there for golfing holidays.
So it’s a tourist trap?
It is a tourist trap. Especially if you get sucked into one of the BIG holes.
And you’re the local band?
Oh, we are the local band… yeah. We inhabit the innermost chamber of the Planet Sponge.
So are YOU the official lounge lizard for the golf tournament crowd?
Like it or not, we probably are. But I don’t think the tourists like us very much. They why we keep directing them to the BIG holes.
So tell me about your own personal spiritual journey.
You’ve got to find out about that through the music, really. Best to listen, rather than ask me about it, because it’s all there.
Would you say that that’s the “anchor” for your music?
I suppose it is for me, yeah. You know, it’s all quite personal. Especially the new album, it’s very personal… the lyrics…
Tell me about your most interesting show.
I think that for me, the most interesting show was in Victoria on the island of Vancouver. It began in a very bizarre way, in that we were all enjoying a day off in Vancouver thinking that the show was actually the next day. And they the agent phoned and said, “No, it’s not tomorrow, it’s today – we made a mistake!” Various Pink Dots were in the park, various Pink Dots were off shopping, but somehow, we all managed to get together at about 6:00 in the evening, and then the club was phoning, “Please come, please come…” We got on the ferry at around 8:00 and eventually we got there at 11:30 at night when the opening band was already playing. There were about 70 or 80 people in the club. It was like a restaurant. Instead of a stage, I had a whole floor to enjoy. And everybody was sitting at tables quite far away from the stage. So I tended to irritate them as I usually do, like Frank Sinatra on acid or something like that. But there was one guy who decided to sit right in front of the stage, dressed as a lumberjack, who would sometimes roll over on his back laughing, kicking his feet in the air. I think he’d been allowed out from the local asylum. But he was great – really, really great. It totally felt like we were the house band in Twin Peaks, which appealed to me very, very much. That was certainly the most interesting show we’ve played, I think. There’s been others. But usually it’s great glories or great disasters, but this one was certainly great interest. I liked being the house band in Twin Peaks. Somehow, there is a poetic logic to that.
So the lumberjack part of his attire contributed to that?
Absolutely. It wouldn’t have been the same show without him.
Did you thank him at the end?
Oh, absolutely. I talked to him quite frequently during the show.
Tell me about your absolute worst show.
Northhampton. Horrible. It was a festival. There was Attrition, who are great friends of ours, In The Nursery, Meat Beat Manifesto and us. It was really nice with Attrition – I can honestly say they are good friends – we hung out together, but I wish I could say the same of the other bands. We ended up being reduced from being allowed to play for 1 1/2 hours, which we normally play, to 45 minutes. After 35 minutes, members of the crew of Meat Beat Manifesto started running onto the stage telling us to stop while another guy ran to the mixing desk to pull down the slides. And we went kind of berserk and tried to assassinate the audience and just about anybody that was there. It ended up very, very insane.
…and The Meat Beat people?
The band was really okay – it was the crew. We didn’t fit, actually, we didn’t fit at all. We were way too freaky for the audience. There were a few hard core Pink Dots people but most of the people just looked like, “What’s going on – don’t understand – let’s get as far to the back as possible.” We could have come from a different planet.
There was another show I can think of, back in ’88 or’87. We played in a place called Ravensburg in Germany. It had been a time of incredible hell. Some members of the band were going kind of insane, doing very strange things. We got to Ravensburg at 9:00 in the evening, having driven from Italy and the entire crowd was of course there because we were due to play at 8:00.
The club owner was a very mellow, nice guy, and he said, “well, although the whole crowd’s here, take it easy – have a coffee first.” We had a coffee and then he said, “Now it’s time to unload.” The keys were still in the van. We had to break open the van to get the gear out. We ended up setting up in front of an audience in which everybody stood quite a few rows away from us, keeping a distance from the stage, apart from one girl, who sat RIGHT IN FRONT of the microphone, away from everybody else and sort of STARING AT ME right through the show, which is very disturbing, because she looked very psychotic, and she turned out to be later.
And we still played like hell, and at the end, the audience just went, “YAH”, and then it was complete silence. And we came off thinking, “Well, they hated it.” And then the promoter ran up to us and said, “They loved it.” We said, “Yeah, but they’re not making any sounds…” He said, “But they haven’t left yet. That means they love it.” So we went back, did an encore, and the audience went, “YAH.” And then they left. That was a very strange show.
So you just couldn’t relate?
No. But sometimes you get audiences like that. Not quite as extreme as that. Swedish audiences can be a real problem. They get incredibly drunk and they tend to turn into Vikings. And MEAN Vikings as well. You know – just sailed to your show, intent on pillaging the club including the band. But it’s better these days.
What about American audiences?
Usually very appreciative. You always get the odd heckler. I don’t mind the odd heckler.
The American odd heckler is nothing compared to the European Psycho.
Yeah. The European Psycho can be a real problem sometimes. I’ve been attacked on stage once by someone shouting my own lyrics back at me.
Where was this?
Norway. And there was a show in North Germany where a guy was hammering his fists on the front of the stage, shouting about how much he hated me. And I have no idea why – I’ve never quite worked it out. There’s quite a few obsessive people around as well. They send some very strange letters and follow us around a lot.
So do you attract weirdos?
I think we attract more weirdos than the average band. Some of them can be kind of charming as well. Quite a degree of quite obsessive girls, which is kind of nice.
I’ve always kind of liked insane girls (laughter). They’re delightful and colorful. Not if they’re completely insane, like the girl in Ravensburg… she found out my address…
And did she show up at your house?
…she showed up at my house…I was there… But I’m not going to go into that story…