Interview in Spiral Scratch Magazine (a UK record collectors magazine) September 1991.
After some months of overcoming the difficulties of planning a virtual world tour, the Legendary Pink Dots finally landed in the UK to perform the fourth concert of nearly 7O across Europe and America, promoting the wonderful new album The Maria Dimension on Play It Again Sam Records. I caught up with Edward Ka-Spel, singer and Lyricist with the group, at the first of only two UK shows on the tour, the second being some time this June.
J Initially, when did you first get into making music, and were you a writer/poet before making music?
E: I was a poet who used to put his poems in a drawer for years and years, and it was in 1980 I kind of thought that, it was a time of Throbbing Gristle and people who couldn’t play were making music, but it still sounded great. I thought, well if those guys can do it, and they were encouraging other people to do it, I could do it too. Myself and Phil, our keyboard player, went to Stonehenge Free Festival and saw a little band playing at two o’clock in the morning at the end of a field. We were the only audience and that was probably the second that the Legendary Pink Dots were conceived. As soon as we got back from the festival, I bought a very cheap synthesizer on hire purchase, and an old drum machine and amplifier, and suddenly there was a band there. We were quite obsessive, right from the start, playing about 15 hours, improvising night after night. It was a time when many people were making cassettes, selling themselves, designing the covers themselves. This all really appealed to me, basically, that’s how we started.
J Why the name ‘The Legendary Pink Dots’?
E: It was to do with these mysterious blobs of pink nail varnish on the keys of the piano, and we were talking about those `legendary pink dots’, and nobody actually christened the band at any time – we were just stuck with it.
J That was the first band you were in?
E: Oh yeah
J Was it ‘industrial’ music, like Throbbing Gristle, that was the influence on the band’s sound initially ?
E No, not so much musically. It was quite ‘industrial’ but more like industrial…nursery rhymes! Very much our own kind of sound, we never wanted to sound particularly like anybody else. We just basically improvised all the time.
J So the first album was Brighter Now on In Phaze. Was In Phaze your own label?
E: Oh no, it was run by a guy called Pat Birmingham. Actually, we got dreadfully ripped off, right through the In Phaze years.
J So, how long was it between that and being picked up by Play It Again Sam, as they are now re-releasing all the old material?
E: Well, there’s been four labels, in fact. We went from In Phaze to this little Dutch label called Ding-Dong who absolutely murdered us as well. We quickly got out of that and went to another small label in Holland. and they weren’t so good, and then it was Play It Again Sam who actually signed us, although we’d already had two albums out on PIAS.
J In 1985, the band emigrated to Holland. What were the reasons behind the move and why choose Holland?
E: Well, it was the first country which acknowledged our music properly, you know. We’d just brought out The Tower in England, which was a really important album to me, because it was all about England. It was about a trend that I saw in England, like this growing fascism type of thing – it was a real scream against it, and it was ignored! Apart from David Tibet, who did a review in Sounds, but even that was six months after the album came out. I just thought, well, ‘Damn You, but it was praised in countries like Holland and Germany and countries like that. Holland seemed a good country to live, and l had a girlfriend at the time who was Dutch so there were all sorts of reasons to go. It also forced me to try to make a living out of music without any kind of jobs.
J Is this something you’ve achieved now?
E: Yeah, it’s very important.
J What is the significance of the sub-title ‘China Doll’ that appears on so many tapes and records?
E: In a way, I think it outlasted it’s welcome (laughs). It’s just basically to do with a mental state, you know. I touch you and you start to dance, push you and you fall to pieces, I lived that sort of, life, really. They are very personal songs, especially on things like Laugh China Doll. A very, very personal album. I’m still extremely fond of that record, though it’s extremely primitive, it was done in four days, you know. I’ve dropped the China Doll’ prefix on solo albums, the next one won’t be called ‘China doll’.
J is this the one with Steve Stapleton of Nurse With Wound?
E No, that’s another one (laughs). There’s a solo album coming out in a month, with Third Mind Records, Tanith And the Lion Tree, which is alone. I’m working on one with Steve Stapleton, during the course of the year, working on the third Tear Garden LP in August
J What is it like working with Skinny Puppy? Their use of electronics is a lot more extreme, directed towards hard, dance music. Is it difficult working with people whose ideas may be such a contrast?
E: No, because there is a great deal of respect going on and a great deal friendship as well with Cevin for many years. Cevin was into the Pink Dots before Skinny Puppy existed, that’s how the whole thing happened. I just played some solo shows in Vancouver and he came to see them, and just said, ‘We should go into the studio together”. That’s how it worked out, and we liked it so much, we want to carry it on whenever it is possible. It’s very open. We work well.
J How do you feel about The Maria Dimension as a part of the Ka-Spel career?
E. I’m totally proud of it. I’m not wild about every-thing we’ve done, and we’ve done an awful lot in our time. There are things I can look back on and think ‘that was a mistake, maybe’. But the last two albums, I’ve really felt very close to and I think Crushed Velvet Apocalypse was aiming for what we’ve achieved on Maria Dimension, very swirling, very colourful. It has an atmosphere that drags you in and drowns you, in a way.
J What other Music and Art inspires you?
E: Other bands – I like a lot of the German psychedelics, like Brainticket, and groups like that. I like a lot of avant garde music, musique concrete, not from an intellectual point of view, I just enjoy the sounds that are used and the textures that are employed.
J What about writers?
E I don’t really read so much, I’m so busy all the time (laughs). My favourite author is, probably, Harlan Ellison, an American sci-fi writer, well, it’s not really sci-fi, more psychological. Robert Sheckley I also enjoy.
J. What is the point of the imagery of The Maria Dimension, the Madonna with child in those snowflake things… ?
E: That was a dream, actually We were looking for a title for the album. We knew it had a certain feeling to it, but we couldn’t t think of a title at all and I was in Greece with Elke my girlfriend and I had this dream of Six Virgin Mary’s waving and smiling, inside these like, soap machines. I woke up and “This has to be the cover of the album!!” “Sounds great, but what do you call that scene?” – well, it’s the… “The Maria Dimension” (laughs). A dimension where Virgin Mary’s smiles and waves from soap machines…
“So it goes, we stand alone by standing stones, and we turn them into circles… ‘
Since the dawn of time, we’ve looked for answers, and merely unearthed a myriad of questions. Circles within circles. The root of our insanity, on a global scale, in our daily shuffle around the supermarket. The answers simply aren’t there – we re all pawns in a game that we don’t understand the rules of. Hyekk! And now time accelerates and the insanity grows and the millennium approaches and the whisper is ‘apocalypse’. Fact is, the world is as likely to end by turning into a cornflakes as it is by war or ecological disaster. How arrogant of the human race to think it could honestly bite the hand that feeds it. Isn’t it better to embrace the game, enjoy this time of change? Sing while you may
These are exciting times for us all – maybe it is the most exciting time in the whole history of the planet. Legendary Pink Dots are offering a soundtrack of this process. We do it in our own peculiar way – and respect others who are also playing their part. But if anyone is really looking for THE ANSWER, we suggest they look inside themselves and start exploring those circles. It’s a fascinating practice.
Edward Ka-Spel, Nijmegen.