Rewind about 8 years or so. It’s 1989. You’re a 19 yr-old goth who has only recently been told that’s what you are. The shoe fits: you wear the same uniform of black, love the same dark music, sleep until 4 p.m. and never go outside without black eyeliner and whiteface. Until recently, you thought you were the only one who’d ever heard of Bauhaus or the Sisters of Mercy.
Still, despite this new moniker of “Gothic” that you’ve been given, you just can’t seem to shake your illicit appreciation for such sounds as (shhhhh) Pink Floyd. Sometimes the dark and beautiful music just seems to lack, well, a certain quirkiness that you can’t shake the yearning for no matter how hard you try.
So here you are, this 19 year old “goth,” and you’re riding in the passenger seat of a friend’s car. He’s driving you down this huge big city boulevard and you’re looking around at all the paper garbage and all the human garbage littering the street and you’re thinking how, despite the fact you’ve just apparently found your”niche” in society, you still can’t shake this uncanny feeling of detachment, of exile. It doesn’t make you particularly sad, but it does make you… thoughtful.
Then your friend does this incredible thing which turns out to be completely cathartic for you. He plays this bootleg live tape which was sent to him by a friend in Europe. You hear this voice speaking quietly yet firmly, barely reaching above the din of crowd noise. You can just make out a few words here and there, something about a “terminal kaleidoscope” and how things seem to change and yet remain fundamentally the same. And you think, or more accurately, realize, that the words you’re hearing are, well, true.
Then the song starts – this soft, lilting, melodic kind of magic happens and you’re completely mezmerized. You hear the voice, telling you, quite truthfully that,”Fifteen storeys high, the black curtains drawn, and the sun is just a brat that spits then goes away.” You find yourself nodding, smiling, nodding, smiling, all very very slowly, thinking, “Yes, the more it changes, the more it stays the same,” again again and again.
You’ve just experienced my first introduction to the Legendary Pink Dots. Now, some 8 years and a whole lot of LPs and CDs later, that magic is repeated with every new release, every blessed tour, and indeed, every time I play one of those older albums which first captured me. During that time, the LPDs have countless times inspired me, terrified me, saddened me, entranced me, made me laugh and cry, helped me sleep and stay awake, and seen me through a kaleidoscope of emotional variations of love, anger, hate, pain, fear, lonliness, happiness, and ecstasy. What’s more, they hold a prominent position on the soundtrack of my dreams.
Now that the Internet has connected hundreds of people with similar experiences via the LPD appreciation list known as “Cloud-Zero,” I hear stories like this one almost every week. Indeed, the reason I’m giving in to the self-indulgent desire to share this experience with you is precisely because this kind of thing is still happening. Somewhere a young and innocent deviant is today experiencing complete catharsis because an enlightened individual is playing them a bootleg copy of “Destined to Repeat” from this year’s show. I admit, a small part of me is hoping that you might be the next.
For their fans, the Legendary Pink Dots represent an essential combination of the other-worldly romance for which we yearn, and the sensitivity of the human being within which we are so deeply rooted.
Interview with Edward Ka-Spel
AsYlem: The LPDs have been recording for 17 years now?
Edward KaSpel: Yeah, I mean we started recording straightaway really. 17 years is how long the band has physically existed from the time the first note was struck.
AY: During that time, your music has evolved incredibly – You dropped the drum machine quite a few years back, dropping a lot of the 80s electronic sound, then you dropped the violin and gained the horns, went through kind of an acoustic thing for the past couple years and now it seems to be back more toward the electronic again.
EKS: Yeah, that’s quite a conscious decision. We just wanted to expand it. It’s very purposeful, this last album. We spent a long time on it. We wanted something that in a way encapsulated what the band is really about. To be honest, I thought it was slipping a little bit back into something from the 70s or something like that, which I didn’t really go for so much. But I liked From Here You’ll Watch The World Go By, I thought it was the best of the style that we were developing then, but ultimately we needed a big change.
AY: You’re in this constant state of evolution. Do you have any idea what the next step will be?
EKS: We’re going to expand what we’re doing on Hallway and Chemical Playschool 10 because they’re both in the same kind of vein. Chemical Playschool 10 gives a few pointers to where it’s going to go next ‘cos there’s some tracks that are even after Hallway of the Gods on that. Yeah, just some more colours.
AY: Is the movement toward more electronics again purely intentional or was that an effect of Martijn leaving the band?
EKS: No, it wasn’t really because of Martijn leaving the band. It was always going to go that way. It was a bit of a long talk between me and Phil – Why aren’t there tracks like Green Gang anymore? And we’ve really gotta pull it in another direction. Myself and Phil actually began this album together alone in the studio. Then Ryan came back from his tour with Download and he got into the whole way the album was going as well and came up with the music for Lucifer Landed and a few tracks, actually All Sides. Edwin joined the band and his style of guitar is actually very different to Martijn’s.
AY: I noticed that the set seems very intentional and focused in aparticular direction.
EKS: It’s very intentional. Yes, it’s like the premillenium set. That was the idea behind it. There’s a bit of a theme running through the whole thing. These are the years leading up to 2000 and what it all means and finding the right parts to sort of paint this picture.
AY: How does the Sirius story fit in? Where did that come from?
EKS: It was a true story. It’s just a story that really shocked me. This couple in Toronto, they sent their son into the garden shed while they committed suicide with a whole bunch of other people in this Solar Lodge cult. And it happened I think about 6 months ago. And it just really shocked me. It’s very close to when that thing happened in San Diego. These are absolutely pre-millenium actions – apparently similar things happened before the year 1000. It has to happen, because that’s what happens when sort of all the numbers change.
AY: Do you think the Terminal Kaleidoscope is going faster?
EKS: Yeah. Absolutely.
AY: What’s going to happen?
EKS: I can’t say. I don’t know. I know as much as anybody else really.
AY: What do you think, though? What is your vision of the future?
EKS: Well, I don’t believe in the end of the world or something that simple. I think there will be a general raising of consciousness. I think maybe we will our angel wings. I think it will be drastic, it will not be subtle.
AY: Yeah, things are getting scary. Are they scary in Holland right now?
EKS: Oh, absolutely yeah. Holland is a very strange country. Incredibly tolerant country, sometimes too tolerant. I’d say even more so than any city in America, even here. In Amsterdam everything goes very very far, right to the limit.
AY: Has that changed a lot over the last few years?
EKS: It’s accelerating. Like everything accelerates.
AY: What made you decide to move to Holland?
EKS: I had a Dutch girlfriend at the time and that was reason enough. I also was sick of England. I’m not now actually.
AY: Really? Are you sick of Holland?
EKS: I’m not sick of Holland. I miss England here and there. I wouldn’t live there again. I’m too rooted in Holland at the moment. If I moved anywhere, I’d probably move to America.
AY: What city in America?
EKS: I don’t know. Northern California. Somewhere remote.
AY: You would miss the city after a while, though.
EKS: Yeah, probably. I need a shot of the city once in a while. I live in a very small place. I’m not even in the city of Nijmegen anymore, I’m in very tiny village.
AY: Tell us about the tour. How has it been going?
EKS: Really gone up for us incredibly this tour. There are some places where we got 100 people last time and we got 4 or 500 people this time. And it’s been consistent, totally consistent. The biggest crowd for us so far was, believe it or not, in Dallas. Why Dallas? We never did well in Dallas before. A lot of travellers this tour as well. They tend to do it in blocks. People would follow us right down the east coast and they actually gathered more and more people as we went on. Then we did a Texas block and people followed us around Texas. There’s one girl who did the Texas block and has come to Tempe, San Diego and here. There seems to be a rallying for the Denver shows as well.
AY: You’re playing a lot of much older material. Is it kind of cathartic for you to go back to songs like Love in a Plain Brown Envelope?
EKS: Yeah, and it’s also nice to reinterpret these songs. It’s something we hadn’t done in America before and a lot of people were asking and we said, well it fits in with what we want to do at the moment, so it’s absolutely the time to do it.
AY: I heard there was a flasher at one show?
EKS: Oh yeah! She didn’t flash to me.
AY: What was that about?
EKS: I have no idea. I didn’t see it.
AY: Was it Ryan that got the excitement on that one?
EKS: I think it was Neils, actually.
AY: (To Neils) So tell us about the flasher?
Neils: Flasher? What’s that? (Edward demonstrates the act of breastbaring) Oh, Ryan had it! There was one girl in Milwaukee – She climbed on the bar and showed her tits to the band. Then later he signed them.
EKS: We tend to get more girl fans than boy fans. A really interesting development.
AY: Is that fairly new? I think it was pretty much 50/50 before wasn’t it?
EKS: It was 50/50, but now it’s swinging towards 60/40.
AY: I wonder if that has anything to do with the way the music is changing.
EKS: I like it. They’re usually much more sensitive audiences and you feel that. I actually thrive on that.
AY: A lot of your audience is also the gothic scene.
EKS: Quite a few, but there is a mix. There are quite a few space cadets as well coming along.
AY: Besides the flasher, do you have any good stories from this tour?
EKS: There was a tour of strange venues before this tour. We played in a circus tent in Germany with a temperature around 40 degrees. We played a destroyed in Poland which had never been built up since the second world war and the wind was blowing through the cracks in the walls. That was a great show. It was really like a sermon almost. And there was a medieval dungeon in Poland.
AY: Which one was your favorite?
EKS: The church.
AY: Have you ever written anything besides lyrics?
EKS: Short stories. They probably will, some of them, come out. Some ofthem already have surfaced as press releases. I’ve never really tried a novel. I haven’t had the time yet. I’ve got to learn to pace myself better. Too much happens to soon.
AY: Speaking of pacing yourself – you guys seem to never slow down. It’s like you go straight from recording an album, to touring Europe, to touring America and straight into recording an album again. That must be horrendous on your health, not to mention your personal life.
EKS🙁Laughs) Oh, it can be. Yeah, that’s true. It goes up and down. Both.
AY: When do you take breaks?
EKS: Um.. we do. Uh… Yeah, there was a break. There just hasn’t been one for a while. After the last U.S. tour there was a break.
AY: Are you going to be taking a break after this tour?
EKS: Absolutely. My girlfriend is having a baby. I’ve got to have abreak.
AY: Wow. When is the baby due?
AY: And she got a new cat didn’t she?
EKS: Yeah… hey, how did you know that?
AY: Cloud-Zero. It’s amazing how fast news travels. I think they knew about the new cat before you did actually. Are you hoping for a girl or a boy? (baby,that is, not cat)
EKS: No, I don’t mind.
AY: During the last tour you did a show in Mexico. What kind of an audience did you get?
EKS: It was the biggest crowd in our history. 2,500 people turned up and they knew the music.
AY: Were they from Mexico?
EKS: They were from Mexico, yeah. We couldn’t believe it.
AY: One of the reasons you wanted to play there was because you’d never been, right?
EKS: Yeah, it was a big adventure. I loved it. Great people. They treated us amazingly well. They put us up in a 5 star hotel for a week. I’d never even seen a 5 star hotel before.
AY: What did you do while you were there?
EKS: Went to see the pyramids. That was just amazing. Visited thevillage of Tzepatzelan. Looked around Mexico city a bit. Drank lots of margaritas.
AY: What was your impression of the pyramids?
EKS: The pyramids didn’t blow me away so much, but Tepazelan did. You have to walk up a mountain to this old, I think Mayan, temple at the top. It was one ofthe most stunning places I’ve ever been to. Absolutely peaceful. At the pyramids there were too many tourists. It was like when I saw the Acropolis in Greece. I had pictures of it in my head and it could never live up to what it was in my head. Too many people.
AY: I have some significance questions for you because people are always looking for significance in everything you guys do. The changes in your appearance onstage. The first one, of course, is the lines on your face. We notice you don’t do that anymore.
EKS: Yeah, that was a conscious decision.
AY: What was the significance of that?
EKS: They were a mask. I came to this idea that I couldn’t go on stage without them and that was the time to get rid of them. And in a strange way it became even more intense after I got rid of them. I felt more vulnerable.
AY: The other one is the robe.
EKS: The robe? I still wear it. I’ll probably wear it tonight.
AY: Oh. People were noticing a lot during the tour that you were wearing the shirt and the jeans like you were last night (at the San Diego show).
EKS: The sack, yeah.
AY: What’s the shirt?
EKS: Oh, it’s my favorite sack.
AY: The necklaces. Is there any special significance?
EKS: Oh! Lots. (holding big silver pentagram) This one I was given inCharlotte. (silver world necklace) This is from Ninka. The crystal is from Ninka.(multicolored lego resembling piece of plastic) Calyxx found this in the street.
AY: What’s he like?
EKS: Great looking little boy. Very blond, big blue eyes. Speaks two languages very fluently and a bit of a third. I get to see quite a lot of him.
AY: Is he going to be a musician?
EKS: He started playing the drums a bit and trying to sing.
AY: What is Elke doing?
EKS: Elke is trying to set up her own art studios, very busy with computer art. She’s still designing all the covers.
AY: So it looks like Calyxx is gravitating more toward the music?
AY: He’s taking after his father a lot as far as profession is concerned?
EKS: I think so. Well, I think he’s got a bit of both of us really. It’s quite a creative environment that he’s living in, whether he’s in Holland or in Germany.
AY: Back to the significance questions. This is another Premonition question – I know you get a lot of those – It seems like the Premonition song numbers always ascend, but there are gaps between them. Why are the particular numbers chosen?
EKS: It’s purely some numbers I like more than others. I’ve always had great suspicion about the number 7. I finally called it Premonition 7 just thinking, oh this is ridiculous, but as soon as I did it bad things happened in my life. I have more affinity with the number 13 actually. 7s are bad for me – I’d been with Elke for 7 years when we split. My childhood was spent in a house number 17. I had a lot of bad times in that house and was relieved to get away from it. So, I avoid it and multiples of it.
AY: What was your childhood like?
EKS: I grew up in basically London’s answer to Detroit. It’s dominatedby a car factory. A lot of people work there. There wasn’t anything really to do. It’s quite a violent place. Not a place you’d ever want to go to really.
AY: Did you run into violence?
EKS: Oh, a lot, yeah. At schools. You know, there were bad schools.
AY: Was it like it is today where they’re bringing guns to school?
EKS: Not guns, knives. There were quite a few knives floating around. Even like at the age of 6 there were kids fighting with knives in the playground. I just tried to keep out of the way and not always successfully.
AY: Do you have any battle scars from that.
EKS: Well, yeah, one. My tooth was knocked out. I got hit. It was just the place.
AY: How is your relationship with your parents?
EKS: Oh, my mum’s great. I don’t know my father at all. He left when I was a year old. Yeah, I mean she doesn’t really understand what I’m doing but she sort of stands behind it despite it all.
AY: So you sort of had her support dealing with growing up in a bad area?
EKS: Yeah, she was always there. She’s great.
AY: I would imagine that you get a little bit scared having a child, and now that you’re going to have two. Do you ever get scared about the environment that they’re going to be in in school?
EKS: Absolutely. Especially Calyxx because he’s living in Berlin. Parts of it are really really heavy.
AY: Did you have a lot of friends growing up or were you pretty much an outcast in school?
EKS: I was a total outcast in school actually.
AY: How has having a child affected your life?
EKS: Imagine having all this love that you didn’t know you had. Incredible. Absolutely worthwhile. When Elke left a couple years ago, you know, you can’t imagine how far down you can go, and it was a lot because of that little guy.
AY: Was there a lot of fear of what the relationship was going to be like, how you were going to be able to maintain the father/son relationship?
EKS: Yeah, but Elke’s very very keen for me to stay a part of his life. It kind of worked out.
AY: I imagine you guys don’t have to have day jobs anymore?
EKS: No, not for years.
AY: When you did, though, what did you do?
EKS: I did a whole bunch of things. I worked for a newspaper for awhile. That was gross. I hated it. I got into it because I thought, “Oh, writing!” you know. And I just was completely at odds with the whole rationale behind being a journalist. You know, there’s a lot of talk about the paparazzi, that paparazzi sort of mentality runs right through the biggest to the smallest newspaper. Everything is a story. There is no sympathy. There is no care. It is just a story for selling. I want nothing to do with that.
AY: Since you mention paparazzi, any thoughts on the whole Princess Di thing?
EKS: I was never a fan of Princess Di at any time, but I thought it was one of the most tragic things that I’ve heard. Someone gets hounded to death.
AY: When you did have day jobs, it must have been very difficult to keep your creative juices flowing and to be able to maintain the energy.
EKS: It became… I mean, I quit the day job, I suppose, about 1984. It was not very long after the Pink Dots began. It was just impossible. It meant very hard times. I not only quit the day job, but I moved straight to Holland and I’d saved up enough money to keep me going for about 4 months. Then it got really hard for a while. I was living on about the equivalent of $3000 a year.
AY: How did you do it?
EKS: I ate every other day. I had to then. Every other day it would besomething really small.
AY: What contemporary bands do you like? We talked a little bit about this last time as far as Current 93 and things like that, but what are the more mainstream bands?
EKS: Oh, there’s a lot at the moment. Spiritualized I really like. A band I always thought I hated that absolutely blew me away with their new album is Primal Scream. I think it’s great. Nice to have that, you know, you’ve sort of made up your mind about this band, you’re standing in a shop, there’s an album playing and, “Wow, what is this?” You walk over to the counter, you know, “What is this?” And they say, “Primal Scream.” Ah, but I hate Primal Scream. I’ll buy it! Um… I like Tricky. I think Tricky’s great.
AY: How has your spirituality changed over the past few years?
EKS: I think I’ve learned to be a bit more tolerant of religions. I used to be so anti-religion and made very grand statements about it all. Personally, I think that people should be allowed to follow what they want to and not be judged for it, and not be judged by me for it.
AY: You seem to have a bit of spirituality yourself, your own form ofspirituality, is that true?
EKS: Sure. I can’t sign up for any established religion. But I’m certainly not an atheist and I’m certainly not even an agnostic.
AY: Do you believe in God?
EKS: Yeah. But it depends how you define God.
AY: Do you believe in the Christian ideal of the masculine God?
EKS: No. I often play tricks with that. I don’t believe in the sex of God at all, but you know, I always make God a She anyway.
AY: There seems to be a lot of Indian religious symbolism in your music. Like the Island of Jewels is an Indian religious symbol. Is that incidental?
EKS: It’s incidental. A lot of things happened that way. There’s other things that have happened, some of them recently. I didn’t know that Terence McKenna, for instance, basically is getting quite famous with a theory that absolutely seems to be the same as the Terminal Kaleidoscope. So someone was telling me. Because he said, “Have you read Terence McKenna? He says this…” Yeah, but it’s just the Terminal Kaleidoscope. So it’s really surprising. But that’s the time we live in too. I don’t think Terence McKenna listened to the Pink Dots and said, “Yes! Right!” You know, he’s come to that himself absolutely.
AY: Premonition 23. Is 23 significant by it’s age old significance for that?
EKS: No. I was born on the 23rd.
AY: Oh? When’s your birthday?
EKS: January 23rd.
AY: What do you look forward to in life? What makes you happy?
EKS: Every day that comes.
AY: What hobbies do you have?
EKS: I don’t really have any hobbies, because it seems to be fulfilled in what I create. I’ve also become so… I don’t know… I’m not so into possessions anymore. I find them less and less attractive.
AY: Did you used to be?
EKS: I used to be really proud of my record collection and stuff like that. But it’s not important anymore. I like good music and I like to have it around but,you know, I could never be anal retentive about it. There’s nothing that I really want. Nothing material.
AY: What immaterial thing do you want?
AY: Do you have happiness? (interviewer does not realize that she’s beginning to sound like a shrink…)
EKS: It goes up and down, but mostly.
AY: But you don’t feel that you’ve attained contentment or whatever it is that you’re needing to accomplish with your life?
EKS: Not yet.
AY: What needs to happen to make the world a better place?
EKS: People being a bit more aware on a holistic level. Rather than looking at their own and their own sort of like, small place, just sort of looking across the world, across the universe, in fact, not just the world, thinking not one-dimensionally, but multi-dimensionally.
AY: Do you think that’s going to happen?
AY: Is that part of the Terminal Kaleidoscope?
EKS: Yeah. That’s the drastic change. Because I think all the answers are absolutely there.
AY: Anything else you would like to say?
EKS: I also don’t believe that romance is dead. In some ways, that is the feeling you often get these days and I don’t believe it. I just think it’s sleeping a little.