Phone interview with Legendary Pink Dots, Wednesday May 12, 1993.
Locations: Madison Wisconsin (Ka-Spel) Montreal, Quebec (Elnuaimy and Ezust)
E: Edward Ka-Spel
M: Mo Elnuaimy
A: Alan Ezust
M: So I heard you just got back from Vancouver. Were you recording a new Tear Garden during your visit?
E: No, I didn’t have time, you know we were only there for 2 days.
M: I thought that was all the time you were there for last time.
E: Yeah, we were there for at least 6 weeks. It was a full month of recordings – we brought 2 CDs together. Tear Garden certainly goes on.
M: Both Tear Garden and Shadow Weaver were recorded at once and released over two CDs over the course of a year.
E: That’s right, and there was about 5 hours of material recorded during that run. Basically, the studio was there, we were all extremely excited, getting back together after some years – to actually play together, I mean we see each other a lot, Kevin and the guys, but, yeah, it’s like, we all just totally celebrated in style, and just went for it. A hell of a lot of material was recorded. Shadow weaver though, was conceived as a double CD.
M: Why were the CDs released almost a year apart?
E: Basically one half of it was finished earlier than the second half and Play It Again Sam really wanted to put it out quite quickly, so there was no other way around it at the time. We wanted to take our time on finishing it, so Malachai was a couple of months longer to work on, even though it started at the same time as Shadow Weaver, it finished way after.
M: There is a considerable difference in styles between the two of them.
E: Yeah, we put them together according to the feel. Like Shadow Weaver, what we selected for that, it all seemed to accent a certain mood. Everybody agreed that it worked as an album in itself. Malachai was the same. Kind of like, the Pink Dots never tend to record in a straight line. Like, while we would work on some really set ideas which were fully constructed, we would also the next day, like, maybe completely improvise for the whole day and see what would come up. A lot of those fully realized tracks appeared on Shadow Weaver. That’s why you got the contrast – one type of work got on one CD, one type of work ended up on the other.
M: So you’d say Shadow Weaver was more “thought out” and Malachai was more “experimental”?
E: In a way, yeah, I would say so. Though both are of course experimental. Something we really wanted to do, stretch the boundaries a little bit on this project.
M: Shadow Weaver’s actually a bit of a comeback for you guys, after The Maria Dimension. I don’t know if you guys perceive it the same way as I do, but it seemed to be a major flop.
E: Yeah, you thought so?
M: Yeah, I’ve heard a few people comment that they don’t really like the Maria Dimension.
E: That’s so strange; it’s our most popular album (laughs) – seriously, it outsold everything else we’ve done before, and after, unfortunately for us.
M: Maybe it’s just those people who considered you their own personal discovery getting grouchy about your success.
E: In a way, it’s very heartening for me to hear that, because an awful lot was said about the Maria Dimension, and we thought about the Shadow Weaver “It was a flop compared to the Maria Dimension” that’s generally what people have said to us, not the fans, but the record companies for sure.
M: So what do you think?
E: Well, (pause) I think the Pink Dots weaves in its own peculiar way.
M: That’s rather an obscure comment…
E: It is true – it’s all according to the mood at the time. And y’know There are only two albums in our history that I would say, “I do not like those albums.”
M: Which ones are those?
E: Island of Jewels. I think it’s a mess. I think – you can take a track in isolation, and it’s fine, but to listen to it as an album, (sighs) it’s tough! The other one is The Lovers – I really can’t stand the live side. The live side sounds too clean – I like it a little rougher around the edges than that. It’s also too rushed – we had to do it in 3 days.
M: So what are you looking for in the perfect album? What’s the difference between The Lovers, Island Of Jewels, and say Shadow Weaver. What is that subtle difference between them, that makes Shadow Weaver, or The Maria Dimension, a “Good Album” in your eyes? And Island Of Jewels or The Lovers bad albums?
E: It touches the soul, and is a rich and colourful journey – that’s why I personally like The Maria Dimension – I must admit, ’cause I think it’s a rich and colourful journey.
M: But it’s a little bit loose, that’s the trouble with it, and there’s not much structure to it… Unless you’re actually concentrating on it, where you made the time for it, it doesn’t really grab you. You actually have to sit down and want to listen to it, as opposed to a lot of the other material I’ve heard, that seduces you into listening to it.
E: Yeah, see I think a good album is never something you can listen to while dusting the house, or wandering around, or… hoovering the plants.
M: Maybe my own personal bias comes in here – I am a music critic so have to listen to a lot of music while dusting the house and watering the plants…
E: That’s a lot of the criticism of the Shadow Weaver I’ve heard; was actually what you were saying, that basically it wasn’t instant enough, but The Maria Dimension was considered extremely instant!
M: Was it?
E: Mostly, yes, that’s the reaction we’ve had… It’s peculiar – what people say about the Shadow Weaver is what you said about The Maria Dimension – it’s like a weird twist on it… I’m personally very fond of The Maria Dimension and Shadow Weaver, but I think Shadow Weaver is a particular mood; I think it’s a lonely album.
A: I was just speaking to a few people who work for WZBC in Boston – they’re the ones that give you the most airplay in Boston.
E: Oh they’re great people.
A: They do tend to agree with you more on The Maria Dimension – I was speaking to one of the DJs and he was saying that the problem with Shadow Weaver was that there weren’t any particular “hit songs” as he put it, while The Maria Dimension did have some.
E: It had Pennies For Heaven, Grain Kings, Belladonna. Shadow Weaver is a mood, from beginning to end, it’s a very precise mood.
A: I believe it’s what most of your older fans are looking for in your releases – a mood, rather than the hit songs, and so that may be why you have some die hard fans who really like the older albums, or also Shadow Weaver who are a bit disappointed by The Maria Dimension.
E: It’s interesting because the whole Shadow Weaver project, most comparisons that have been made, a lot of people said it was a return to The Asylum, and I can actually see that, I guess. I think it’s a little more realized than Asylum, but yeah, it’s definitely got the feel of Asylum a little bit.
A: There were some things in Shadow Weaver Part 2 which started to remind me of perhaps Controlled Bleeding or SPK; it got quite noisy at times.
E: Oh Sure, I think SPK, the early days, they were a really wonderful band. Actually we were listening to a lot of jazz during the time of Shadow Weaver, like Sun-Ra and Miles’ “On the corner”.
A: Yes, it was an interesting blend of a lot of different styles.
E: It was another adventure for us. We were going to try to do things we have not done before, y’know we always want to try new things and to put the pieces together in a like, unusual way and see what comes out.
M: Moving off the comparison of albums thing… I was wondering where you get your inspiration for this material – you mentioned earlier, you say some of it is structured and some of it is improvisation but, is there any particular process you use for inspiration or does it just come out from the air?
E: It’s always a variety of processes. I mean Shadow Weaver was very much 5 people putting in their ideas, and I think the band is richer. More people actually, putting in their own personal contributions, or coming out with an original thought, which they hand over to the band, but it’s not out of the question for someone to have a fully realized concept as well, that is to put into operation by the band wither… There shouldn’t be any chains on creation.
M: Do you have any stories of inspirational moments, like walking down the street and seeing something or hearing something that inspires a song?
E: Dreams are very important. Whole tracks have appeared in dreams before, and attempts have been made to recreate the dreams, Crushed Velvet a little bit, and Maria, and Lisa’s party, for sure, the whole track was dreamed before it was recorded.
M: So basically, you go to sleep and wake up with these concepts which you scribble down into songs. Are there any particular dreams you can tell of, or are they all basically in the song?
E: A recording walkman helps… Like Lisa’s party for instance sort of basically the little hook line was playing over and over in this dream. I was lucky enough to have a recording walkman by the bed, sort of like I’d wake up for like a minute, sing the hook line into it, and crash back to sleep again, play it back the next morning and say, “Aaah- that’s neat.” I’d hear “Lisa’s party, lisa’s party” like that, because that was the line that was going on in the dreams, this the hook line… And it brought the dream back.
M: back to the Tear Garden stuff – what is it like recording them?
E: It’s absolutely wonderful.
M: What’s a typical recording session like with these people? How is it different from your own recording sessions?
E: With Pink Dots recording sessions, we’re just using a little 8 track recording studio in a barn. It’s like very primitive equipment, we got a couple of effects, things and we make the best of what we got – it’s not much, but we try. Tear Garden is like a 40-track studio in Vancouver. You got these really ideal situations where you don’t have to think of the technical side of it – our own engineers as well, generally. In Mushroom Studios there is an engineer who really loves what he’s doing. There’s Cevin who is an absolute dynamo, brings the best out of everybody. It really works, the combination of personalities on the Tear Garden – it turns the whole month into a party, and it’s something that’s worth repeating again and again.
M: Now tell what happened with this last set of Tear Garden releases, because, I mean, Tired Eyes Slowly Burning had a lot of edge, and was very a hard-focused album, with a lot of songs that stand alone very strongly, and they also seem to flow together very well. It was that combination that seemed to work well and I noticed with Last Man To Fly, I was expecting a Tired Eyes Slowly Burning kind of feel and it was completely different.
E: Completely threw everything on its head, didn’t it?
M: There were a couple of interesting songs, but in general it was more of a mood album the sort of thing you would play as one continuous run, rather than anything you could – there were only a couple of tracks you could lift off and they could stand on their own.
E: It’s is a mood album. You hear Last Man To Fly in the very order that it was recorded. I questioned that at the time, like, “Ya can’t make the order of the album simply the chronological order of recording”, but actually now I couldn’t hear it any other way. There are a lot of loose pieces, like the Running Man, was one glorious jam, with a little bit of structure in there, like chord progression was obviously written before. There were a lot of other things which were almost live onto tape, like, the two acoustic songs. There were pieces where Cevin and Dwayne had the music prepared before we got into the studio and basically said, “write some lyrics for that” and try to fit the melody into that, like R&V. There were a lot of different approaches for Last Man To Fly.
M: what about Sheila Liked The Rodeo?
E: Sheila Liked The Rodeo, you’re getting the hard jams live onto 2-track – the second half of it. we improvised an awful lot of it – just straight live everything, vocals, everything. Whereas the first half of it, the music was prepared by Cevin and Dwayne, mostly, apart from Sybil the Spider, and all I had to do was write the lyrics and sing.
M: so you’re saying that for Sheila Liked The Rodeo, that’s basically all you did. You had lyrics written before you came in?
E: No I wrote them on the spot.
M: You wrote them as you were jamming?
E: I wrote them as I was either jamming, or sort of in the studio… The whole Tear Garden project was done like that. It was a very creative time.
M: You guys going to do be doing another project soon?
E: Don’t know when. We will, cause we’re extremely fond of Last Man To Fly.
M: Speaking of another project, you were supposed to do something with Bill Leeb.
E: Time in a way didn’t permit it, and I must admit, he sent me some basic material which is good, for sure, but if I actually added my own contribution to it, in the way Bill wanted me to add it, it would have sounded exactly like Tear Garden, and I don’t think it is right. Tear Garden is Tear Garden, y’know.
M: Which Tear Garden? They’re so different.
E: Oh true… Well, like the mini-album, Centre Bullet. That kind of thing, which I didn’t think it is such a positive thing – you gotta move on…
M: Do you think it’s because Leeb actually wanted to produce a Tear Garden type of thing, or was it accidental?
E: I don’t know – that’s something you’d have to ask Bill.
M: So basically that’s not likely to happen? That was three years ago, now.
E: I don’t really know… I don’t have so much contact with Bill. I have much more contact with Skinny Puppy as a whole, they’ve been close friends for many years now. There’s a good chemistry there between the Dots and Puppy.
M: Here is another question regarding projects, what exactly is the difference between Dots material and your solo work?
E: Well, the solo stuff is absolutely conceived. The Pink Dots, it is very much 5 people who are putting in their ideas, and it’s better that way. It wouldn’t be a band if it was “I want it done this way, right down to the letter.”
M: But you used to do that in the beginning with the first couple of albums…
E: There were elements of it, not quite as hard as that, but certainly they played their parts. But you see, I do have that side to me, and the only way I can reasonably realize that need is to make solo albums as well.
M: So basically the solo album is your opportunity to do what YOU want, without anybody else meddling with it.
E: That’s true, ad they’re highly constructive…
M: None of this improvisation stuff?
E: Not really, well, there are elements of it at times but there is a very good idea of what I want to do before I record it.
M: In 1986 you were singing ’89s a good year. Was that 1889 or 1989?
E: 1789, actually. The year of the French Revolution…
M: Why did you move out of London’s east end?
E: Basically I had a dutch girlfriend at the time, and I never felt particularly comfortable in the East End of London. It was a tough childhood. I’d never seem to be able to completely shake that off, the only way to really do it was to get the hell out of the country.
M: That was what, 10 years ago?
E: 9 years ago.
M: And, you ever look back on that decision?
E: London’s a nice place to visit now. We play there every year, maybe I go back there at x-mas, to see my mum. It’s great for about 10 days, but I wouldn’t live there.
M: Whereabouts in Holland are you living?
E: A little town called Nijmegen, on the German border.
M: Why? Most artists seem to flock to Amsterdam…
E: A Long complicated story, really. We lived in Amsterdam for 5 years, but we were squatting, and they knocked the house down. Our friend, Niels, who is in the band, had a farm close to Nijmegen, and we stayed in the caravan for 6 months because we couldn’t get a place to live, at all. Basically the people who deal out the houses say that you don’t earn enough. Eventually with a few well-chosen lies, we convinced someone to let us hire a flat, and Nijmegen was the closest city.
M: So you still making the rent?
E: Oh we always made the rent, but in Holland officially, it’s supposed to be a 5th of your income. Our reality, it was more like half of our income, and it’s either lie and get somewhere to live, or try and go back to England, which would also be impossible now, because how the hell can you get a place there? It’s a very tough time.
M: Alan tells me that Xymox is also based in Nijmegen. Is there any connection between the two of you?
E: We don’t know Xymox at all.
M: Really? How big is Nijmegen?
E: Nijmegen is a city of 100,000 people.
M: And you don’t know their music at all? You must have been asked this question several times…
E: I know their first 12″, but I didn’t get along with their stuff later. I thought it was a little programmed for my own personal tastes. There is one other great band in Nijmegen which who hardly anybody knows called U-Slashes, there used to be a band called Mechanic Commando… They are wonderful, but not so many people know them over here.
M: What label are they on?
E: Their own.
M: That’s probably why they’re not getting very much international distribution…
E: It’s true, but they deserve to really.
M: what kind of stuff is it?
E: Nowadays, it’s quite folky mysterious, a little like current-93.
M: I’m not familiar with Current 93.
E: Ohh, it’s a good band.
M: Ok, here’s another one…The press release goes on about…
E: Oh the cult in Tucson Arizona! [the 4th secret]
M: I spoke to you two years ago when you played the Foufounnes show, I asked you about “The Prophet” monniker, and you said yeah it’s a bunch of baloney, a bit of humour. And you start off in this press release with the cult in Arizona thing..
E: I must explain about this Tucson, Arizona thing, it’s not our story – it’s a story concocted by a very imaginative spokesperson at Caroline.
M: So it is actually fiction?
E: There isn’t a cult in Tucson, Arizona at all… I’m actually quite thankful for that.
M: The last question I got for you is one from one of your fans – are you going to be touring Israel soon?
E: We already played there.
M: You did? Did you like it?
E: It was fascinating. We played two shows, we were a bit wary of it, before we went, but when we got there it was like the reality of the place isn’t anything like it’s presented to you on the news, y’know? Two sold-out shows, a lot of very friendly people, be them Israeli or Palestinian. Tel-aviv is actually a very relaxed city; I won’t say the same for Jerusalem. We didn’t play in Jerusalem, we can’t play in Jerusalem, actually. It’s a very divided city; fascinating, but by God I wouldn’t [undecipherable]…
M: There is also a Hebrew connection with the Shadow Weaver. The press release says that the title is a translation from ancient Hebrew, but it doesn’t say that the story is a Hebrew story. Is it something you came up with yourself, or what?
E: Malachai? It’s “The angel stands in the shadow of god.”
M: There is also an inscription in Shadow Weaver, “Mezhkal Zhaveeda”
E: That’s another bunch of baloney…
M: What is the Shadow Weaver story?
E: It’s not so much a story – it’s a quest for enlightenment. It’s the all-powerful being is just outside the corner of your eye. He who weaves the shadows, he who is in between the dimensions, but is absolutely there, but where?
M: Is this a concept of yours, or is it a mythological concept that is…
E: Just a passing thought, really, but a really big passing thought.
M: So that’s the idea behind the Shadow Weaver title. Does that continue, is that a theme for the albums?
E: It’s an ongoing theme that started with Crushed Velvet Apocalypse, went through The Maria Dimension, and sort of crystallized in Shadow Weaver. Where it will go from here, I don’t know. I’m busy writing for the next album already.
M: What is that theme, can you quantify it in better words than I’ve used?
E: Tentatively, the next album is “The Politics of Agony”. But it’s tentative.
M: What’s the concept with that? Is it the same theme you’ve been running with for the past 4 albums?
E: I don’t know, they tend to take shape with passing of time. It’s very early to say more about it at this particular time. It makes sense when we’re actually recording it, all the minds are focused on it. At the moment all the minds are focused on the tour but the first steps have been taken towards that next record.
M: You seem to be doing a sort of hopscotch tour.. All over the country…
E: All over the world, actually.
M: How is it going so far?
E: Fairly well, in America. It seems quite remarkable. We’ve sold out in a few places already over here. Biggest shot was Los Angeles, 500 people turned up at the Roxy, on Sunday night; nobody expected it – the club or us. It goes better here than in Europe these days..
M: Is it? It used to be that you had your success in Europe and the North America was a flash in the pan for you…
E: Europe is a patchwork. France is always a great country for the LPDs. Germany, it’s like little pockets of fanatics. Holland is by nature, a very trendy country, and you’re either in favour or not in favour, and I’d say we’re not particularly in favour in Holland at the moment, although there’s a loyal bunch. England it goes well now, where it never used to. And Eastern Europe is like the big blossoming flower.
M: What kind of shows are you playing in Eastern Europe?
E: It’s still to come on this tour – we’re going to do a little of Czechoslovakia and Poland, and probably Moscow. We’ve been invited. Maybe we’ll go to Japan for the first time as well.
M: You have significant sales in Japan to justify that?
E: I have no idea what our sales are like there. We’ve just been invited. If we’ve been invited, sure we’re going to go to Japan!
M: Why not… The Australia, New Zealand tour comes next, ay?
E: We haven’t been invited there yet, but who knows, I’m sure there is a bunch of people who know us there, but you get surprised all the time.
M: How many Canadian dates have you played so far?
E: Just the one in Vancouver.
M: And how was that one?
E: For me, personally, I thought it was the worst show of the whole tour. It was one of those seminars with 4 bands… All these bands perform “for the industry” kind of thing, We just kinda wandered into it, not knowing what it was all about, and it was a 4-band bill. It was a disastrous sound on stage, and we were only allowed to play for 40 minutes. The whole band tends to hate those things. If we can avoid them, we will avoid them, but there was no choice. It was just the time we arrived in Vancouver and this is going on all over the city for that week, and you can’t afford to wait until the festival is past and then play, you have to play when you arrive, and we had little choice in the matter. I mean, the people liked it; I just didn’t personally like it.
M: Is Montreal the second and only Canadian stop, or are you going to do other ones?
E: At the moment it looks like it. It doesn’t look like we’re going to play Toronto. It’s still in the wind a little bit, but Montreal looks like probably the main show of Canada. It’s always a place that we love to go to.
E: The crowd.. The audience, yeah, it’s like playing Paris.
M: Really? How is it different from the rest of North America then?
E: Well, the fact that the audience is French, really makes a big difference, sort of – for some reason we really connect with French people. LIke in Paris, the next time we play in Paris, we have to do three shows in a row, it’s sold out in Paris whenever we play there. It’s a special connection.
M: And you’d say Montreal is one of the best responses in North America, or one of the best crowds?
E: It’s both really. The two Foufounnes shows were pretty full, but the reaction is what counts more. If 100 people reacted like that, it would really make us feel good. It’s on par, sizewise with a lot of crowds we’re playing to these days. All up the west coast you get 400 – 500 people, that seems more to be more the rule rather than the exception these days, which is quite good for us.
A: I suppose the only lingering question I have is, if you are disappointed by the recording quality of the Lovers, have you ever thought of re-recording it in the studio, at least those first four songs?
E: I wouldn’t… Yeah, that smacks too much of going back. I’ve always been allergic to going back.
A: Why is that?
E: I don’t know why. It’s just a thing of me, really. It’s like Laugh China Doll, if I re-recorded Laugh China Doll, I’d do it completely differently, because I’m quite fond of the songs, i’m not very fond of the arrangements or the sounds I used. But I couldn’t go back.
A: Does going back, for example, bring back unpleasant memories associated with the songs?
E: No, it’s just a need to move forward all the time, to sort of like, we’ve re-recorded a lot of songs which were on the very old cassettes, y’know. I would say around only half of them improved the originals. Like, Light in My Little Girls eyes was less than the original. Plasma Twins was WAY less than the original! That’s why the original appeared on the pink box, because I *LOVED* the original. Some with drastic re-interpretations, like The Blessing, I thought that was good, and Tanz Der China Dolls is certainly good, but y’know it’s a question of, if you got so many new songs that are just waiting there to be recorded, why go back to old ones?
A: I see your point… If it’s any consolation, however, I should mention that I’m in contact with about 70 fans around the world through the computer internet –
E: Yeah – that’s great!
A: I can tell you more about that when I see you, but there are quite a few of them that are longing, hoping and praying for another album that is sort of the same style as Tired Eyes Slowly Burning, and if you THINK that it’s likely that something might turn out like that if you do this collaboration with Bill Leeb, then you’ll get the appreciation of the masses with that! It’s something to think about, anyway.
E: Well we’re not desiring the appreciation of the masses, y’know.
A: It seems to be that that was your goal with The Maria Dimension though –
E: Oh no, no, it’s just the way it worked out. No – it’s just the mood of the moment in the studio that produced The Maria Dimension and coincidentally it seemed to catch the mood of the masses; we don’t know why y’know. It’s never even considered. It’s quite possible there will be something along the lines of Tired Eyes Slowly Burning, something from the Dots, or from the Tear Garden, again, but it won’t be planned – we never make a commercial career move – it’s completely alien to us.