FAT EAR, a program guide/zine of sorts put out by the happy folks at KSJS radio for San Jose State University.
PINK and LEGENDARY: Interview with Edward Ka-Spell of the LPDs
By: Hans Dresden
HANS: The group’s popularity here has grown since WaxTrax! started putting out the stuff domestically. Do you get the same impression?
EDWARD: Yeah, we’re rather surprised at the size of the crowds we’ve been having, which, I mean, it’s not been earth-shattering, but it’s bigger than we expected.
HANS: How does the reaction compare with Europe?
EDWARD: Um, we have our really good countries in Europe and we have our lukewarm countries in Europe, and we have our terrible ones. The north of Germany tends to be the best area, and France. There it’s absolutely great for us to play. We play to a thousand or more people in some places. England, which is the country we originate from, basically we can’t even play there at all, you know. It’s just terrible there: no publicity, no press, no concerts.
HANS: Is that because there’s no British label pushing your you, or be- cause the British press is just being snobby?
EDWARD: I think it’s a bit of both, actually. I mean, Play It Again Sam, our label, now has a British base as well. It’s grown quite a bit in the last years–but, it just seems to be… England is very much a country where money talks, and to get into the music press there, generally the space is bought by domestic (U.K.) labels. It’s something we can’t com- pete with; we have no money!
HANS: I was actually under the impression that you were a European band. It’s hard to tell without any information. You’ve had releases on Toros Records (Netherlands), and of course, Play It Again Sam releases. Are you the only band on PIAS?
EDWARD: There’s others. Chris and Cosey (Nettwerk in the US) and The Sound are on PIAS.
HANS: Aren’t they from Australia?
EDWARD: The Sound? No, Adrian Borland is from Liverpool…
HANS: Do you live in Europe, or are you still in England?
EDWARD: No, I live in Nimegen, which is a small town in Holland. Half the band is actually Dutch, cause we went through a huge lineup change last year, in which we’re using saxophones and flutes, now. There’s three of us on stage, but we’re entirely Dutch based now. Two members are English, two are Dutch.
HANS: Some of the names that are used as credits on the albums… It’s a bit hard to distinguish whom they’re referring to. You go by the Prophet Qa’Spell and various other names, for instance. Whom did you start with, and what are these people doing now? Why did they leave the band?
EDWARD: The first LPDs lineup was also a three-piece. There was myself, Phil the Silverman, who stayed in the band with me, and a girl called April, who’s still a good friend, but she just simply wanted to settle down. There’s been thriteen people in and out of the Pink Dots over the years. It’s never been exactly the most stable lineup in the world and usually people have parted on an amicable level. We’ve stayed friends. It’s just an old thing of wanting to settle down and finding the band very hard to survive from, because in Holland, music is all we have, and we have to live from it, and that isn’t easy for a band that sells maybe 10,000 records.
HANS: The Dutch have some sort of a state system for supporting artists. Does that extend to music or just to painting?
EDWARD: We’ve actually never seen any of it! Holland has this image of being the extremely social country, and we’ve found it to be actually quite the opposite.
HANS: Why did you move there?
EDWARD: Lots of reasons. It’s the first country that picked up on the Pink Dots. We played Amsterdam a couple of times, two of our first shows, and they went very well, had lots of radio support. We built up lots of friends and contacts there. It seemed logical to get out of England where we couldn’t play at all, and set up a European base, and it was a risk, but it still proved to be a worthwhile risk for me.
HANS: You seem to have certain themes that continue over the scope of several albums, one of them being this “Lisa” person. Who is Lisa?
EDWARD: Lisa is a closely guarded secret about which I reveal to no one!
HANS: But you must reveal something in the songs…
EDWARD: Yeah, but that’s for the listener to decide…
HANS: That’s all you reveal?
HANS: Is it a real person?
EDWARD: Lisa’s a real person.
HANS: A friend of yours, or just someone you know?
EDWARD: Um, sometimes Lisa’s a friend of mine…
HANS: What about some of the other themes? “The Hill”, for instance, the theme of insanity, a lot of the songs have very bizarre twists of progression, maybe similar in a way, to Robyn Hitchcock songs. Is that something that just comes from your nature or something that you’re interested in?
EDWARD: It’s basically, I mean, all the songs are written from an emotional base, sort of… Things I feel… Things I fantasize about… Even the darkest fantasies… You know, the things that maybe embarrass me at a later date. I’ll scream them out and put them on paper. It can be at a certain time, you listen to these lyrics, and you’re curled up in an armchair, blushing profusely because you think, “Oh my God! Is that ME saying that?” But, you know, at least it’s honest.
HANS: Some of the stuff is very hard to decipher, if it’s decipherable at all; but it’s quite interesting and shows a certain ammount of thought going into it.
EDWARD: I take the lyrics very seriously indeed.
HANS: How did you meet up with cEVIN kEY of sKINNY pUPPY and decide to work together as the Tear Garden Project?
EDWARD: cEVIN had actually been a good friend by mail for years. He collected all the Pink Dots releases right from the start. He wrote to me, actually before sKINNY pUPPY began, and I was invited to Vancouver for a few solo shows and we met then. It was just and idea: let’s go into the studio to record. He had a whole piece of music, which was “The Center Bullet”, which was ready, but he couldn’t think of the vocals for it, and he asked me to sort of produce some lyrics for this piece. It went really really well and as a result we carried on and started recording music and words to produce a mini-LP. Then we followed up with “Tired Eyes Slowly Burning” and I came over for a whole tour with sKINNY pUPPY. Now we’re talking about the third one.
HANS: Have you been on the PIAS label for the entire career of the LPDs?
EDWARD: No, we’ve actually been around a few labels. We began with a small English label called In Phaze, who treated us appallingly.
HANS: They released “The Tower” album, right?
EDWARD: That’s right. It’s re-issued on PIAS.
HANS: That accounts for the two different covers, then…
EDWARD: That’s right. In Phaze released three of the first four Pink Dots albums and the first two solo records, and basically burned us and ran off with the money, laughing, you know. It was an awful experience. PIAS, on the other hand, has been just the other side of that. They’ve been very fair to us.
HANS: Have all those records on In Phaze been re-released, like those on Terminal Kaleidoscope?
EDWARD: “The Curse”, “Brighter Now” and “The Tower”. The first two solo records, though unfortunately have completely vanished.
HANS: What were they called?
EDWARD: “Dance China Doll” and “Laugh China Doll”…
HANS: I’ve seen a few of your solo records, at least one of them, on Torso. I think one of them doesn’t even list a label on it… What one would that be?
EDWARD: That will be “Khataclimici China Doll” on Dom Records in Germany, a small, very nice company.
HANS: Are they readily available?
EDWARD: They are, yeah. It’s only the first two that, uh, they kind of just totally vanished now everywhere.
HANS: Was there anything for you before LPDs? Any other bands?
EDWARD: No, Pink Dots was the first…
HANS: How did you form?
EDWARD: Just out of friendship, really. Phil was a childhood friend. We’d lost contact with each other for a couple of years. We came back together, and one day we went to this free festival at Stonehenge, and it was quite a magical occaision. There were small bands playing right through the night, with maybe five people watching them at the end of this field, and there was such a special feeling to it that we actually wanted to get a band together in hope of maybe playing this festival. I bought a synthesizer and a twelve track drum machine. We had a piano, um, that’s the piano that actually gave the band it’s name. It had sort of like, blotches of pink nail varnish on the keys, and that was the birth of the Pink Dots who sort of played 15 hours at a time. People popped their heads around the doors and laughed. I mean we did make noise in those days, but that was how it began.
HANS: So Phil is the one who calls himself “The Silverman”?
EDWARD: Yeah, that’s Phil…
HANS: And on “The Curse” would that be you who is “Archangel” or “D’Archangel”?
EDWARD: “D’Archangel”, yeah.
HANS: How do you select these names?
EDWARD: Oh, there’s usually a meaning behind it, depending on the persona I assume for the album, but a lot of people miss the humour in it as wel. I sometimes get people at gigs, sort of yell out, especially in France, going, “Ze Prophet! Ze Prophet!” and they don’t see that it’s actually meant to be funny.
HANS: There are quite a few religious themes in the songs. Do you take religion seriously? Is it a serious subject for you?
EDWARD: It’s a serious subject in that I pretty much detest most religions. I mean, to me religion is just a way of taking spirituality and formulating it, putting it into a box. I mean, spirituality is fine, sort of. A need to try and find higher things, higher states of mind. But religion has just given it sort of like a hundred, a thousand and one rules, and spirituality and rules don’t go together.
HANS: The album, “Chyekk China Doll”, what does that mean, by the way?
EDWARD: Chyekk? It’s just a… for the game. It’s the game we all play, the game we’re all a part of.
HANS: Each of those China Doll albums has a strange name at the beginning, except the In Phaze ones you mentioned…
EDWARD: Yeah, these obviously are not English words, or words of any particular language. It just reflects a kind of overall feeling. You can’t actually select an English word that conveys the feeling that is behind it, especially Khataclimici. Yeah, there is sort of, it, um, kind of a very personal word. That sounds extremely pretentious, but it’s not meant to be. Partly, there’s a bit of fun in there in that I like strange words, but sort of it feels like Khataclimici to me, sort of the meaning and the ominous side of the music.
HANS: The CD release on Torso Records, “Chyekk China Doll” says on the cover, “bonus tracks” and it lists two bonus tracks which are not on the CD. Do you know the story behind that?
EDWARD: Ah, the record company basically, I mean, there WERE two bonus tracks. I submitted two bonus tracks. I was even told that they were on it as they handed over the CDs, because nobody at the record company had actually bothered to listen to the CD, and um, I was just totally shocked, you know, those tracks have got lost now. They just basically made it wrong, and there’s nothing I could do about it at all, except complain and scream a bit, but what do you do? The record company has the power, I don’t.
HANS: Are the tapes gone too?
EDWARD: The tapes still exist. I’m gonna try and release those tracks somewhere else.
HANS: DO you have a whole repertoire of songs that maybe haven’t been released or haven’t even been recorded?
EDWARD: Masses of them! We’re playing songs in our set at the moment that haven’t been released or haven’t been recorded yet, at least four of them.
HANS: What can people expect in your shows, as far as material?
EDWARD: It’s a cross section of old and new. It’s a very emotional set. It varies from night to night, depending on how I feel. For me, I think my favourite show show so far, is Montreal. There’s such an excitement in the place. Los Angeles, in some ways, cause there’s such a scary atmosphere around the whole city and where we played. It just sort of seemed to bring the best out of us.
HANS: So you don’t actually go in with a plan of what to play?
EDWARD: There’s a plan in that there’s a set list, and the set list tends to stand. But, in the encore section, which sometimes can be as long as the set itself, that changes and changes and changes, and we extend our repertoire every few shows just by bringing in a new song.