Last Sigh Magazine- Edward Ka-Spel

Edward Ka-Spel of The Legendary Pink Dots
Conducted by Michael Lund and Kim Alexander
at The Lounge Ax, Chicago, Illinois
August, 1997


Kim and I drove down to the Lounge Ax — located on Lincoln Ave in the middle of Chicago’s Yuppie-sports bar-hell district, across the street from the old Biograph, where in a different age, Dillinger was gunned down. We had not purchased tickets in advance, and had scheduled no interview with the Pink Dots. We found ourselves parked in Kim’s van — a block or two from the club — eating an improvised lunch at about three in the afternoon, when suddenly a rather large mobile home stopped in front of Lounge Ax, and began inching it’s way into a none too large parking spot. We quickly swallowed the last bites of our meal, locked up the van, and hurried down the street, concluding, (correctly as it turned out), that the mobile-home harbored the Legendary Pink Dots.

Nils Hornblower and Phil Silverman [sic] disappeared through the entrance of the club with their instruments as we walked up to them. Kim introduced herself to the tour manager — Paul, a young guy from Montreal with reddish dreadlocks and a friendly way about him. Kim and I had not prepared an interview, and neither of us had a tape-recorder with us, but we asked Paul anyway if it would be possible to interview Edward Ka-Spel, and his answer: “It shouldn’t be a problem”.

We entered the cramped space of the Lounge Ax, and watched as the roadies and band members rapidly unloaded the Pink Dots equipment. Everyone was busy and paid us very little attention, as we leaned ourselves against the bar in anticipation of Edward’s entrance to the club. The waiting was short — like a Holy Man drifting in from some desert — Edward almost seemed to levitate ever so slowly through the door and down the walkway. He wore an outfit reminiscent of the late 60s, had short black hair, and his eyes looked at us from behind dark sunglasses. “Hello” he said in his soft and unmistakable voice, and as if nothing in the whole world concerned him, he stopped and conversed with us. Upon our request for an interview, he immediately consented, and when we told him that we had to run home and get a tape-recorder first, he generously offered us to use his own — it would “be better to do the interview right away”, he said as a number of other people were scheduled to come and talk with him.

Still in need of a tape, I ran more than walked down to the nearest Tower Records and purchased one, hurried back to the club, and shortly found myself and Kim sitting on either side of Edward in one of the faded old couches located opposite the bar in the Lounge Ax. Kim thanked Edward for taking the time to talk with us, and from there we started our chat.


[after some discussion about who we are and why the interview… ]

Kim: Are you computer literate?

Edward: I am not so computer literate… ..just on a very basic level.

Kim: Any access [to internet]?

Edward: We don’t have access to the Internet… not yet. We’re thinking of getting on there… someone just gave us a computer, and…

Michael: You’re a big letter-writer, right? I know people who have received hand-written letters from you…

Edward: Yeaah… I’m a bit slow… but…

Michael: They are beautiful letters… little works of art in themselves… But anyway, since some of the people on Last Sigh may not have heard Legendary Pink Dots music… could you describe, what you are trying to achieve in your music… I know you can’t really label it, because it is really unique and spans very wide… but, if you could give us a brief description of what youare trying to do…

Edward: I suppose in a way we are trying to create our own little universe… you know, something that is constantly expanding, and sort of like will one day… sort of like will draw a full circle, but when that day is, I have no idea…We’ve been going for sometime now… Uhmmm… you know, it sounds a bit grand…(chuckles)… but, maybe the most colorful psychedelic music ever made is what we’re trying [to create] I don’t say we’ve succeeded — but we’re trying.

Michael: So, does that have any influence on the sort of instrumentation you use, because your CD’s vary incredibly in sound and texture from oneto the other…

Edward: That’s true…

Michael: … although I admit that I have by no means heard all of your releases.

Edward: No… that’s very true… Um… you know, often our CD’s are dictated by the mood within the band at the time… now, we’ve just released a new CD, The Hallway Of The Gods , which is almost the antithesis of the CD before it, which has… you know, this one has quite a very large sound… lots of, you know, sort of like effects, and very peculiar sounds going on in there… its unpredictable which way we turn… we are already busy with ideas for the CD following this, ’cause it’s always the case that once you’ve made something, it quickly becomes old… because, of course, you finish recording it two months ago… and the band just moves on constantly… it’s something that never stays still.

Michael: We’ve often wondered–my friends and I– do you live in the studio?

Edward: [Laughs]… No, no… I’ve got a private life, you know…girlfriend… Ahem… [Chuckles].

Michael: You’re still in Amsterdam, right?

Edward: I’m in Nijmegen… in South Holland, Southeast Holland.

Michael: I read that you are of English origin…

Edward: I’m of English origin, yeah… two of us are…

Michael: What precipitated the move to Holland?

Edward: At the time it was a Dutch girlfriend, who had a big influence on me moving, [smiles]… Uhmmm… It was also the case that at that time, people didn’t pay any attention much to Pink Dots in England and we decided…Ehh… you know, to sort of like go to the country that appreciated us the most at the time… Ironically, it’s changed now, England does quite well for us… and Holland is a disaster, [laughs]… but, Ahhh… .you know, it’s just the way it goes, you tend to go down in one country and go up in another… at the moment it’s America and Poland… we found that we are Pop Stars in Poland… very strange, [laughs]

Michael: Hmmm… So, would you say that Holland has influenced the sound of your music?

Edward: Not really… Holland is quite a neutral sort of country…

Michael: You would have been creating the same music, had you stayed in England?

Edward: I think so, Yeah…

Michael: What kind of influences do you have?

Edward: … it’s hard to talk about, you know,… I mean I think everything you like… probably filters its way in there somehow, I mean… most music, really, myself and Phil listen to, a lot, was actually… [laughs]…Krautrock…  bands like Can and Faust… Ummm, and that’s what kind of started the desire to make music… but, you know, we didn’t really attempt it until…the experiments of Throbbing Gristle in the late 70s… because, what they were doing, they were showing that you didn’t need a high degree of technical skill to actually create something that was very special… and, we had no technical skill in the beginning of the 80s, you know… we just really wanted to create…

Michael: So… you had no musical training before starting Pinkdots, at all?

Edward: NO… no… no… someone taught me what an A was on the keyboard, you know… and, it went from there…

Michael: I was thinking… some of the Pink Dots material, I have heard, has to my ear a strong literary influence… are you a big reader?

Edward: I don’t get the time really… Ummm, I mean, there are a lot of authors, I really enjoy…

Michael: Could you tell me some of them?

Edward: Hermann Hesse is a favourite of mine… Keith Roberts…which is something so deeply English in a way, right… Ummm, Robert [Silbert ?]… many Sci-fi writers, I suppose…

Michael: How about film… have you ever done music for film?..is that an area you would like to get into?

Edward: I’d enjoy it… we haven’t actually, specifically made anything for film that has ever been released… Ummm, our music has been used for  acouple of movies, but we were not told about it, we just found out about it afterwards, watching the TV.

Michael: That’s sad…

Edward: [chuckles]

Michael: Because I think your music is extremely visual… that is what I really like about it…

Edward: I mean, it’s a shame… I mean… we did have ideas of, like, trying to make, you know, sort of like videos… not clips… but something that really related to what we do… but, we were on Play It Again Sam Records, and they never… haven’t spent a cent on us… so it just never worked out, really.

Michael: Would you ever be interested in doing something, if someone was willing to dedicate their time and effort, and do it on a semi-amateur basis?

Edward: We’d love to… really… our problem is money… we have no money, really… we’re just too poor, [laughs]…

Michael: Yeah, money is always difficult in the creative fields…but, I believe in your attitude… I mean, just doing it. I am sure you couldn’t imagine anything except music…

Edward: Nooo… No, it’s been going too long now… we wouldn’t know anything else, really.

Michael: Would it be indecent to ask your age?

Edward: Yes… [laughs]…

Michael: I remember two years ago, when I saw Pink Dots at the Dome Room [Chicago]… you had some grey hairs?

Edward: And indeed it’s black now isn’t it? [laughs]

Michael: I have a question relating to a song you played at the Dome Room. You had some lines in there saying something like: “It’s a long way to Andromeda,but I know I’ll meet you there someday.”

Edward: Ohhhh… it’s: “Sure we’ll marry in the Spring.”

Michael: I’ve been trying to find that. What CD is that from?

Edward: Chemical Playschool #8 & #9.

Michael: Ok… I’ll get that. You understand, imported CD’s are extremely expensive here, so…

Edward: Really? How much do they cost?

Michael: You know… they can run as high as $25.

Edward: Oh, that’s crazy!

Michael: So, I’ve been lucky — and I know that this doesn’t benefit you at all — but I have found a few of your things used, which, of course, makes me very happy.

Edward: Ohhh… I mean, why not? People hearing the music is what counts… we’ve got a great record company in America now [Soleilmoon Recordings], and we really like them.

Michael: The new things are not so expensive… but the older releases…

Edward: I know, it’s to do with the fact… I mean, they should have been released in America… Uhmmm… You know, they were not or they were around for a while, and then they disappeared. Now we are trying to get them all out in America. I don’t know how that will go ’cause… unfortunately, again we have to deal with Play It Again Sam, which, actually, was a terrible record company for us… we found out a bit late…

Michael: It’s always tough with the bigger labels.

Edward: Yeah… I prefer the smaller ones by far.

Michael: I live at one — SkinGraft — all their music is released independently of larger labels, and in very limited quantities… their bands play here at Lounge Ax from time to time, actually — a lot of experimental noise music; they have a number of Japanese and local Chicago bands on their label…

Edward: Yeah, there’s a lot of good stuff from Japan, yeah.

Michael: Zeni Geva has released on SkinGraft in the past…

Edward: Yeah… yeah…

Michael: Melt Banana… Space Streakings.

[Kim offers Edward an Everlasting Gobstopper… ]

Edward: Oh please…

[A couple of Gobstoppers trickle out of the box into Edward’s hand]

Kim: Help yourself. Pick a color. They change colors…[laughs]…

Michael: Ehhh…

Kim: I just wondered if you have ever had these? They are WillyWonka’s.

Edward: Ehhh… No, no, this is a new one, [laughs]…

Kim: They are jawbreakers, but the middle collapses… kinda… maybe like the universe… I don’t know… [laughs]… Who knows?…

Michael: That’s very profound…

[laughs all around]

Michael: If you had to recommend one or two CDs from your catalog that you would say someone should start with, if they didn’t know your music already, and they wanted to check out The Legendary Pink Dots…

Edward: To start with… well there’s a good Best Of… it’s agood introduction to the band… personal favourites, though …kinda hard…

Michael: Four Days? If you could find it?

Edward: It wouldn’t be Four Days.  I like Four Days, butit’s very, very much a home-made CD that we had a lot of fun making…

Michael: It’s beautiful… I found that one used… I was very lucky…

Edward: You’re very lucky to find it used, Yeah… It’s gone at the moment… maybe we’ll repress it one of these days… you know… it’s technically gone.

Michael: Yeah… it says in the liner notes…

Edward: That’s not strictly true… the liner notes… we ended up repressing… there’s 2300.

Michael: There are a lot of Skinny Puppy fans on LastSigh and we should ask you something about Tear Garden… What is the future of the Tear Garden project?

Edward: Tear Garden’s future has already begun,…[chuckles]… when Cevin came over to Europe just a few weeks ago, in fact… and we had a just one day session… and it was some of the greatest stuff we ever did… very electronic again this time… quite hard music that we produced from this session, but weare very excited about it… in some ways, I think it was the best session, we’ve had forsome years… Cevin took the tapes back with him to Vancouver, and we’ll see, where it goes from there… but you could say a new Tear Garden started from there.

Michael: Is there any chance, Tear Garden might tour in the future?

Edward: I mean, if it was possible to tour in an RV or something like that, sure we’d do it… and, Cevin really likes to tour, and I’d like to do it,and, you know, why not, we are all friends, and, I’m sure it can work out one of these days, but, we just couldn’t do it the way… that Skinny Puppy always did it…that is a bit out of our league.

Michael: Are you working with any other musicians on side projects…or considering anything like that?

Edward: I’ve been invited to a couple of projects, which would be interesting… trip-hop actually, but, I’d like to put my own mark on it some way…ummm… I don’t know, just thinking about that, you know… I’d want some say in what happens.

Michael: Oh, definitely…

Edward: (chuckles)… uhm…

Michael: I’m always interested in knowing about the work process when you compose music. Who contributes what?… at what point do the lyrics enter into the music, or, is it a matter of writing sound tracks for the lyrics sometimes?

Edward: It works both ways, sometimes there are lyrics there first…sometimes there are lyrics written for the piece… If we take Hallway Of The Gods… the new album… as an example… it began with Phil having a lot of musical ideas… I had a lot of musical ideas… Ryan had a lot of musical ideas… and some things we also improvised… and, uhm… there’s always too much material with the Pink Dots, that’s why there are so many releases, there’s so much materialal the time.

Michael: And always a high level of quality, as far as I can tell…

Edward: We’re very happy at the moment, because we like the new album… and we just today got the Chemical Playschool Vol. 10, which we’ve all been waiting for… we’re selling it on the tour, and later in the year, it goes in the stores, but for the tour, it’s only on sale at the shows, and I’m so totally proud of this CD, and I’m hoping it’s gonna really surprise people this one…

Michael: How long are you on tour, when are you heading back to Europe?

Edward: In about six weeks time from now… it’s a thirty show tour… we just heard that the last show now is gonna be two shows in Denver, which is very exciting for us… we are gonna do something special… there’ll be a solo show from myself, and then a different Pink Dots set from the night before… Denver is usually a good city for us, but, you know, we are gonna make it very special with this occasion… I think…

Michael: One thing thing I thought was very special, when I saw you last time, was the story you did as an encore… and, I couldn’t help wondering how much of that was impromptu?

Edward: It was all improvised…

Michael: It was all improvised???

Edward: Yeah… it changed every night…

Michael: That was amazing… it was like 20 minutes long…

Edward: I think it was 20 minutes, (laughs)… No, it was a bit of a challenge, really… making the ends of the circle meet… uhm, a couple of years ago I wanted to experiment with improvised lyrics… where I got the freedom to improvise words, and take it somewhere at that time… you know… it’s not only a great challenge, but it’s absolutely satisfying…

Michael: I’m sure… it was great… and, I remember Nil’s Hornblower going off into the audience and playing his saxophone…

Edward: Yup, he still does that now… (laughs)

Michael: Will he do that tonight, you think?

Edward: (chuckles)… He… it depends… (laughs)… I think it’s gonna be hard tonight… there’s gonna be so many people…

Michael: Maybe he can get up on the bar…

Edward: (laughs)… I think he’ll need a crane…

Michael: Yeah… It will be very packed in here… One more thing…the slide show you had for your last show was very powerful, and I was wondering to what extent that was done by yourselves, and, how it was synchronized to the music?

Edward: Was that in Copenhagen?

Michael: No, this was at the Dome Room here in Chicago … there was the image of a galaxy, and the silhouette of a man falling…

Edward: It wasn’t our slideshow… it must have belonged to the DomeRoom…

Michael: Really!?

Edward: Yup…

Michael: ‘Cause it was just amazing how it would fit the music attimes… like “Andromeda Suite”… it had that silhouette of the man falling superimposed on the image of the galaxy…

Edward: Ohhh… that’s great… No, it’s something we’d love to do one of these days, to take our own lights production with us, but… we are not quite well off enough yet…

Michael: I’d love to work with you on that some day… or, have you compose music for a film of mine, if I ever have the chance… who knows…

Edward: We’d be interested, that’s for sure… we can always supply music, that’s never a problem…

Michael: That would be wonderful… I spoke briefly with Michael Giraof Swans about an idea I had–because his music has a lot of autobiographical elements, and he is very interested in the idea of documenting moments in time through his music — so, I thought it would be great to do a documentary in that vein, where it would be aimed at preserving a moment in time — which would be Gira’s setting out on his own solo career, he just disbanded Swans, you know…

Edward: Ohhhh, I know… it’s kind of a shame…

Michael: He’s a very genuine and kind person, if you ever have a chance to meet him…

Edward: I’d like to meet Michael one of these days… I always liked his music…

Michael: But I thought maybe something like that could be done, if you were to take one of the new Hi-8 cameras that are out — that are really of high enough quality that you could shoot footage — and then go into computer editing lab and create something on a very small scale that would still be good enough to present to an audience…

Edward: That would be great, you know…Best is to keep in touch…and, you know — as I said, we can always provide music… and, you know, for me it’s another thing that we haven’t really tried successfully… the only video we made was…(laughs)… a disaster… (laughs)…

Michael: Really… which song was that for?

Edward: [Siren]… uhm… it was really well meant… it was a friend of ours — worked for the Austrian TV — and, it cost virtually nothing to do… shot in a day, and things like that… but, the editing of the video just… I don’t know… just didn’t work… not for me anyway…

Michael: It’s always hard… you gotta understand… for someone else to set images to your music… I think if anything, it should be a documentary type thing, or something where someone supplied you with images, and you composed the music…that would be better…

Edward: Yeah… there wasn’t enough fantasy in that video somehow, and there was too much of your cheap horror tricks…

Michael: Ah, that’s too bad…

Edward: Which I think is a shame… but, there again, it had to be made in a day, and we just kinda went along with the idea of the storyboard and…maybe we shouldn’t have done that…

Michael: I don’t really like videos much to be honest… not many of them are very good… . not many of them are very imaginative… .

Edward: No… that’s very true…

Michael: I think there’s a lot more interesting things that could be done… I have done a little bit with with SkinGraft — the record label I told you about– it’s fun… fun stuff…

Edward: There was a Tear Garden video, actually… just a video clip — “Sheila Like The Rodeo” — which I thought was very good…

Michael: I’d like to see that… that’s a good song, I can see how that could translate into a nice video…

Edward: Yeah… that was very good…

Michael: My favourite is probably still the first one, though… I really like that album very much…

Edward: Tired Eyes Slowly Burning… I mean… it’s still got my favourite Tear Garden track on it…

Michael: Which is that?

Edward: Ehh… “You and Me and Rainbows”…

Michael: Oh, really, that’s the one where Ogre comes in and does a cameo…

Edward: Yeah… Yeah…

Michael: Yeah… that’s a fantastic song, an it is probably the most Legendary Pink Dots sounding track on the album…

Edward: Yeah… that’s true…

Michael: That’s how I got introduced to Pink Dots, too… I really liked your vocals on that album… And, I thought your accent was Dutch...

Edward: Oh… no… no… [laughs]… that’s London…

Michael: Your voice has a very distinct flavour that isn’t like a lot of other English musicians… I just thought you were Dutch…

Edward: [laughs]

Michael: So how many years is it anyway?… fifteen, twenty years…

Edward: What… for the Pink Dots?… seventeen, uh…although, that’s right from striking the first note… the first CD was at the end of’82… we’ve not been around as long as some bands… Einsturzende Neubauten have been around actually five years longer than us… but, yeah, it’s been a while…

Michael: I still see you as a part of that wave, though… withThrobbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, which are great favourites of mine…

Edward: In a way… the friends we made were groups like… NurseWith Wound… Current 93…

Michael: No kidding!

Edward: And… they are close friends still…

Michael: Their music is so different and exciting…

Edward: I love Nurse With Wound… they really are the best… [laughs]

Michael: I’d like to hear more of their music… I’ve only heard fiveor six of their releases… it’s just amazing music…

Edward: You know… there’s a lot of good things around actually…it’s a good time for music… .there’s a ton of bands out there…

Michael: Another favourite, you might like too–Tuxedomoon.

Edward: Yeah… yeah… And again old friends…

Michael: Oh, really…

Edward: Yeah…

Michael: I heard that the one guy is now leader of the Mexican ballet, or something like that…

Edward: Steven?… he is living in Mexico now… Yeah… and we met him two years ago… we went down his way…

Michael: Oh, yeah…

Edward: And… we actually played with him… one very private show… yeah, I’ve known Steven quite a few years…

Michael: I wish they’d still be doing music…

Edward: Yeah… but, Steven’s new band is really good…

Michael: What is the name of it?

Edward: Ninerain…

Michael: Ok… I’ll check that out.

Edward: And it really reminds me a lot of the old Tuxedomoon,actually… Yeah, they were a very special band, actually… Tuxedomoon…

Michael: Someone just gave me a tape yesterday, actually… with some hard to find tracks by Tuxedomoon, and, as a matter of fact, his music is going to be released by Subrosa… he is a local artist doing synth-based music, and he is going to Austria in a couple weeks to play a gig at some festival with one of his bands… he’s just starting out… but, anyway, he likes Tuxedomoon a lot too…

Edward: Which band is it? Do you know?

Michael: He’s got one called: Lilith, and the other is called:Orbitronik…

Edward: Oh… I don’t know…

Michael: I guess Subrosa is waiting to release some of his music right now, and World Domination is going to release another of his CD’s…

Edward: Oh… that’s good… that’s good…

Michael: He’s getting out there… I think he’ll make it, he’s got alot of enthusiasm… all he wants to do is make music… he might not make a lot of money, though, but that is secondary…

Edward: yeah… it’s not about making a lot of money, it’s just about being able to do what you do, and not to have to… [laughs]… tremble when the rent is due to be paid… [laughs]… you know.

[The soundcheck begins in the background, partially drowning our conversation]

Michael: That’s pretty much it, I guess… Thanks very much Edward…

Edward: Oh… it was a pleasure Michael…

Michael: It was great meeting you… good luck with the show.

Kim: Thanks so much for coming on tour to Chicago, the USA.

Edward: Thank you… Ohh… I better give you your tape…[Click]

Later in the evening, before the show started, Michael and I were fortunate to go upstairs to the dressing room wherethe Pink Dots were getting ready for the show. We chatted with them for another hour about their tour, their lives, their children and families and life in Holland. I found the entire entourage to have a wonderfully hospitable air about them, friendly and quite personable. Silverman told me how the Legendary Pink Dots decided their name… a whimsical story indeed. Perhaps I will amend this interview with the story in the near future… but for now, that’s “quite all”.

Kim Alexander/Editor ©

 

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