Machine Power- The Silver Man

Machine Power, Number Two. Winter 1992.
Interview with Silverman (Phillip Knight) by David Faris

Keyboardist and programmer Phil Knight, better known as “the Silver Man”, has been collaborating with Edward Ka-spel and an evolving lineup of musicians for over a decade, producing progressive/expressive music under the group name The Legendary Pink Dots. A wide range of musical styles have been explored and integrated into the Dots’ distinctive sound, a dark modern psychadelia where innovative electronics meet Ka-Spel’s brooding lyrics, where bursts of noise collide with pop melodies and tribal rhythms, where the unexpected is in turn shocking and pleasantly surprising. The Legendary Pink Dots embarked on their second North American tour as a group in July of 1991. David S. Faris spoke with Phil Knight by phone prior to the Dots’ spectacular Toronto show about Pink Dots, crop circles, and the apocalypse….

DSF: Edward Ka-Spel’s solo tour with Skinny Puppy back in 1987 was the first exposure that North Americans got to the Legendary Pink Dots live. Why did Edward perform solo, rather than having the Pink Dots come over?

PK: That was due to the connection with Cevin Key from Skinny Puppy, really. Cevin was a great fan of what we did, and he made it possible to get Edward over for a few shows, and also to work with Skinny Puppy. That in turn helped introduce audiences in North America to the music of Legendary Pink Dots, and made it possible for the Pink Dots to tour as a unit in 1989.

DSF: The LPDs are often associated with the “industrial music” category, maybe because of your work with Skinny Puppy, and the fact that you operated in that field. Do you think that’s very accurate?

PS: There are of course elements of industrial music in what we do, because we work quite heavily with electronic, but I think it’s actually rather difficult to put the Pink Dots into any one box. People find it very difficult to describe our music, you know… we tend to bleed over between a number of boxes, whether it’s industrial, psychadelic, avante-garde, pop music, whatever. There are elements of all that in what we do, and I think that’s healthy. In a way, it’s the trend for the nineties, which is more of a synthesis, you know; the nineties are very much a sign of people synthesizing all the different types of music together.

DSF: “The Maria Dimension” seems to have Eastern Influences incorporated with the earlier electronic sound, and you’re using more traditional acoustic instruments.

PK: Yah. Well, we recorded “The Maria Dimension” in a very different way. Quite often, Edward and I do a lot of pre-composition work before we record albums, but in the earlier days of the Pink Dots, we used to leave much more to chance, and sort of really get into band compositions that were spontaneous in the studio, but there’ve been so many lineup changes in the Pink Dots over the years that Edward and I had to, in a sense, fall back into more sort of pre-compositional work. With “The Maria Dimension”, however, we purposely didn’t do the pre-composition work. We just wanted to do it spontaneously, and get the other members really working on the compositions with us as we recorded them. It provided for a wonderful atmosphere, and we had a great time, and we really think that the music came out great because of that.

DSF: One of the most powerful tracks on the album is “The Grain Kings”. It mentions on the sleeve that the lyrics are influenced by author Keith Roberts. Are they very directly related, or are they more spontaneously composed as well?

Pk: It wasn’t such a literal influence. I think just in general Edward enjoys the work of Keith Roberts, and… I mean “The Grain Kings” has a lot to do with a phenomenon that’s happening all over the world at the moment, and it’s happening particularly in England, where these strange circles have been appearing in the corn fields, and nobody knows how they’re created. It seems to be some sort of energy vortex or link from another dimension that’s creating these circles that in the last year have been getting more and more complicated, turning into very complicated piktograms, and it’s obviously an intelligence working behind these pictograms. I think that it’s one of the most interesting phenomenon that’s happening right at this moment in the world, and it’s something that, you know, you can’t say it’s a hoax, and you can’t say it’s UFO’s landing, or something like that. It’s really some sort of intelligence trying to come through, and I think it’s trying to shake us up, the human race, and to say, “Look, you know, there are things greater than you”, and I think it’s very relevant to the times, very important.

DSF: The lyrics of the Pink Dots are usually very tragic, dealing with themes of desperation and the apocalypse. There are also references to altered states of perception and dream-like experiences.

PK: It’s all a sign of the times, it’s not… ok, a lot of people say it’s the new age, and you can put whatever label on that you want, but the fact is is that there is some expanding consciousness going on, and either you’re going to go with it, or you’re not, you know. The term apocalypse, I think people always look at that in a very black sense, and think of maybe nuclear holocaust scenes and things like that, but you know, it’s not necessarily so. I think there’s movements happening all over the world, the old ways are breaking down, like in Europe, the East European countries are now really shifting, and things are shifting and coming back together in different ways. We’re a bunch of people that like to read the signs of the times, and I think that for a lot of people who also are going through similar things, and changing their lives, the Pink Dots provides a connection and a comfort for them, that there’s other people out there who are also taking an interest and are aware of the same sort of things going on. Maybe the leaders of the world aren’t aware of it at the moment, but they’re gonna be very soon.

DSF: Do you find that you make much more contact with people through your music, and make much change at all, or do you think it’s missing the mark, if that’s what you’re trying to do?

PK: Well, we get alot of mail, and I think people do sort of understand us, you know. Of course, there are people who misunderstand us. I mean there’s always people that are going to want to put you up on a pedestal and make you into some big cult thing, you know, like the Temple of Psychick Youth or something, and I think those people miss the point. We don’t want to be put up there. We may use names like “The Prophet Qa’sepel”, and stuff like that, but I mean that’s our sense of humour, and I think there are people that misinterpret us who don’t realize that we have a sense of humour.

DSF: What’s the origin of the Silver Man persona? Is it from your stage makeup?

PK: Yah.. I mean, I’m not going to be going ’round with my stage makeup, wearing a silver face on this tour. Its not something I want to do for the rest of my life. The name “The Silver Man” came from a song on “The Lovers” album, called “Flowers for the Silver Man” and it’s sort of a character that I felt empathy with when we made that song, and that’s how I took on that name, but well, I’m not going to go around wearing a silver face for the rest of my life, you know… I’m me. The stage show can still be very dramatic, and I think there’s always a theatrical element to what we do. Edward is a very charismatic performer, I think, and uh.. you know, he still wears his cracks, and he’s still pretty intense on stage. It’s still a pretty intense stage show.

DSF: I’ve heard that there are plans for another Tear Garden album, as well as a for a collaboration with members of Front Line Assembly.

PK: Yeah, there are in fact. The tour’s arranged in quite a neat way, where we sort of start off in Canada, go into North America, around North America, and then end up in Canada at Vancouver, and Edward and I will be staying in Vancouver, because we’re both going to be working on a new Tear Garden project with Cevin and Dwayne. Edward was also planning a collaboration with Bill Leeb (FLA) but unfortunately in the end there just wasn’t the time, so that’s not going to be happening now.

DSF: There’s also a collaborative project with members of HNAS.

PK: That’s right, the MIMIR project. That’s also a very special project for us. I mean, we’re very close friends too with the HNAS guys, and it was a very interesting project. It’s music that I think people will be quite surprised by. It’s really something that’s totally different from the Pink Dots. It’s totally different from HNAS too, but you know, I would have to warn people that if they’re expecting to hear Edward’s voice, well, they can forget it, because it has no vocals on it. It’s purely instrumental music, and it’s quite intuitive music, and it has quite a dream-like atmosphere to it, but if people are expecting the Pink Dots, you know, don’t, because Mimir is something that’s totally outside of what we do with the Pink Dots, or with Tear Garden.

DSF: Have the Pink Dots released any video work, or documentation of their live shows on video?

PK: We have never done a video yet. We’ve never found, up to now, the right people that we feel have got the imagination to match our work. Sometimes I wonder whether video work might spoil that for people, because at the moment we get people to use their own imaginations, and I think that’s very important. I think, you know, there’s always a chance that we’re going to try some video work in the future, but we’re not in a hurry. If the right people come along and we think it could enhance what we do, then we’ll go for it.

DSF: After over ten years of recording and so many albums and side projects coming out, is there a chance that you’ll slow down in your output, or do you think that you’re going to be continuously inspired to produce more work?

PK: Oh yah, I mean, we never run out of ideas. There’s always fresh ideas coming up, and there’s always so much happening around to fuel new ideas. I think that our music, the music styles that we use in our music, you know, it ensures that we never get stale. We’re never in any one style or form of music, a formula that we get stuck in, because we always like to pull in so many different influences. They’re not conscious influences, I don’t think. I think we just like good music, and we like good sounds, and you know, we’ll use sounds and aspects from anywhere, whether it’s opening a window and sticking a microphone outside to get environmental sounds, or whether it’s using elements of ethnic rhythms and things, or just really going far out into the electronics sphere, or just beautiful simple pop melodies. I mean, it’s so wide for us, and that ensures that we never get stale with what we do.


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