The Legendary Pink Dot’s Edward Ka-Spel
Interview by Matt Heilman
Introduction Courtesy of Edward Ka-Spel
If myths have substance then it would be possible to believe that LPDs change their line-up every week. Not true at all..The line-up changed once in the last 9 years.Right now it looks like this…….
RYAN MOORE /drums, bass
EDWIN VON TRIPPENHOF/guitars
NIELS VAN HOORNBLOWER/horns,flute
FRANK VERSCHUUREN/Sound wizardry
It wasn’t always so stable. In the early 80s people came and went so fast that for about a month or so there were actually 2 versions of the Legendary Pink Dots with the same lead vocalist. A troubled merger occurred in 1981 and the peculiarly unified results can be heard on LPDs first official album “Brighter Now” released at the end of ’82. LPDs first appeared live in October 1980 at a local folk club in East London.
Unfortunately half of the audience retreated to the back wall, interpreting the bands nervous state as a bad attitude. This attitude problem seemed attractive to the rest of the 100 strong crowd, but alas the band was never invited back.The Dots were paid 5 English pounds for this spectacle.
For some years during the 80s The Dots enjoyed a strong 6 person line-up (all English) and recorded albums such as “Island of Jewels”, “Any Day Now”, and “The Golden Age”. They also toured Europe seriously and signed with the then small independent label, Play it Again Sam Records.
Perhaps a little prematurely 4 people left the band in 1988, and Niels Van Hoornblower stepped in as horn player while Bob Pistoor took over the guitarists role.
With this line-up “The Crushed Velvet Apocalypse” and “The Maria Dimension” were recorded, and the success of these albums led to Warner Bros. USA approaching the band with a view to making a deal. A little naively, the Dots never followed up this approach and remained under the wing of PIAS.
Tragedy struck in 1992 when Bob Pistoor died from cancer. Martyn de Kleer took over on guitar while Ryan Moore stepped into the band on bass after meeting them in his native Vancouver during LPDs second USA tour.
A protracted battle with Play it Again Sam dominated the next years, and the band quit the label in 1994, deciding to take over their own affairs.
A fruitful partnership began with USA label, Soleilmoon in 1995 and the bands popularity steadily began to grow again on the other side of the Atlantic.
The year ended in spectacular fashion when the Dots played to the biggest ever audience in Mexico city (around 2,500 people). It meant that The Dots focus switched from Europe to America and the band returned there for a 30 show tour in 1997, and followed up with 36 dates one year later.
THE PHILOSOPHY Sing While you May. The band’s catchword since the start…it is an OPTIMISTIC statement in these disturbing times.
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Starvox: There is such a long history to absorb in regards to your work and the Legendary Pink Dots. And I have to be honest, I am a relatively new fan, and I am not too familiar with the extensive history of the band and many of the releases. What I have heard, I absolutely LOVE and ADORE. So if you can, please discuss how/when/where the band formed, and what were the initial goals and intents of the project?
Ka-Spel: LPDs were formed in 1980 (August) by myself, The Silverman and April Iliffe (the only one of us who could actually play an instrument). It was a time when bands were popping up out of the woodwork all over Britain. They’d make a cassette, duplicate a few, give them a cover and hand their work off to NME where it was miraculously often reviewed. I used to buy some of these cassettes, and regrettably normally had to find ear protection fast. Even so, the climate was healthy, and we bought a synth (Korg MS10), a drum machine and an amplifier…all on credit because we were broke. Songwriting began almost straight away and we cobbled our first cassette release together in around 3 months (Only Dreaming). I think 10 were made, each with hand-made cover (a pop-up messiah figure).
Bored with duplicating, we simply moved on to the next release, and the next until DDAA (a great little band in France) offered to release something properly (“Atomic Roses”). Again a cassette, but so beautifully made. The first record came out at the end of ’82 (Brighter Now) in an edition of 1990. Our initial goal? As obscure as it is now…we do it because we HAVE to…
Starvox: I know that most artists despise labels. I know myself that sometimes a particular tag seems to limit things and spark an unjust comparison. But inevitably, people seem to feel the need to label things. Do you prefer any labels to your art? Are you comfortable with the Gothic tag or do you prefer perhaps experimental or psychedelic? Genius perhaps?
Ka-Spel: Just Legendary Pink Dots. Like others, I hate categories… but I’ve nothing against those who label themselves gothic, experimental or psychedelic.
Starvox: I have found it increasingly difficult to find many LPD releases, unless of course I go through mail order and I always feel like I am getting majorly ripped off with the shipping and prices. Nonetheless, it seems that when a bands discography is hard to find it adds a deeper mystery to them. Do you enjoy this cult-like status of your music? And also, are there many plans to make some of the older releases more readily available?
Ka-spel: Older releases will become much easier to find in 2000 when Soleilmoon assumes responsibility for the back catalogue. LPDs is unashamedly a cult band…it always will be.
Starvox: The quote ‘Sing While You May’ is a said to be personal philosophy of the band. Obviously, I can gather that it has an optimistic carpe diem vibe to it, but is there a deeper scheme of thought behind it? What exactly does this quote mean to you on a personal level and what are you trying to express to your fans?
Ka-Spel: More my personal philosophy… we can argue about this within the group. It’s meant to be positive at a strange time when (in my view) events are accelerating towards saturation point and systems we rely upon are likely to collapse. Not the end of the world, but a dramatic transformation when excess will no longer be possible. Enjoy this exciting time. Be glad you live now. Sing while you may.
Starvox: It was actually the Tear Garden that sparked my interest in the LPDs. I was thoroughly enthralled with the first record and I quickly got a copy of ….Crippled Soul Divide, and it is by far one of my favourite records. Can you tell us a little bit about how the Tear Garden project came into being and your relationship with cEvin Key?
Ka-Spel: cEvin first wrote me in 1982…he collected our early cassettes and we stayed in touch by mail. In ’86 I was invited to play some solo shows in Vancouver and he asked to engineer. Before I came he sent a cassette of Center Bullet and asked if I could sing with it. I wrote the lyrics on the plane…and TG was born.
Starvox: I have heard that there is a new Tear Garden CD soon to be released. Can you tell us a bit about that? Any particular concept behind the album or any new musical direction? How does it compare to the other material?
Ka-Spel: New TG (Crystal Mass) bears closest relationship with the first TG (Tired Eyes) in that it is more electronic than its predecessors. A deliberate move, as we felt LPD and TG were becoming a little too similar.
Starvox: You seem to be quite a busy man. Is there any particular reason why you surround yourself in so much music, and any reason for the many side projects? How do you think they all differ? Do they represent a certain personality of yours or specific mindset/idea?
Ka-Spel: I enjoy new approaches, different inputs from people…so collaborations are exciting if I have time. But there’s also a side of me which wants to have complete control..so that’s why there are solo CDs (a new one is due soon- “Red Letters”)
Starvox: To me, the music of LPD seems to be so eclectic and open, that basically any style of music could be performed on a LPD record and it would sound right, it would have the signature LPD sound. From what I have heard, the music of Tear Garden and LPD seem almost interchangeable and compliment each other.
Ka-Spel: Its a particularly feeling about a piece that sees it end up on an LPD album…an intuitive thing.
Starvox: I had the pleasure of seeing you guys live a couple of years ago in Pittsburgh. I went to the show because I try to attend all dark music shows in the area and I had never even heard you guys before. I just heard, They are really cool and very trippy! LOL! So I went and I was absolutely spellbound. I love the effects that were used on the brass instruments and just the stage performance itself was hypnotic. So do you plan to return to the US any time soon? How have the responses to your shows been overall in the US? What do you think of the US and the music scene over here?
Ka-Spel: That Pittsburgh show was actually one of our lesser ones, honestly. Normally USA is much better for us to play than almost anywhere in western Europe. Bigger and more open crowds (especially on the west coast)…the whole continent just seems to care more about music. The plan is to return in June.
Starvox: I know this is sort of a worn out question, but every time it is posed unto a different artist, a unique response is given, so I will ask you. Where do you draw your inspiration for your art?
Ka-Spel: Radio Zophquiscuo, a pirate sender emanating from the Planet Erg, operated by a race of utterly oppressed, but supremely gifted stick insects who sing about their tragic history in high pitched Finnish (backwards). I record it , slow it down and translate it into English. I ensure that they get part of the royalties.
Starvox: If you dont mind me asking, what are some of your personal hobbies besides music? What other musicians, writers, artists, or filmmakers do you admire or enjoy? What do you like to do in your spare time?
Ka-Spel: Harlan Ellison,Robert Sheckley are great writers…mostly I read when I have the chance.
Starvox: What is your fondest memory as a musician? Any particular tour or time spent in the studio for a particular album?
Ka-Spel: Recording of Maria Dimension. A glorious summer..lots of inspiration, playing Mexico City for the first time. That solo tour of USA with Skinny Puppy.
Starvox: Since I am not all that familiar with a lot of your material, in closing I would like to ask on behalf of people who may never have heard ANY of your material: what releases would you most recommend as introductions to LPD, Tear Garden, or any of your other projects? What were your favourite recordings and why?
Ka-Spel: Maybe “Maria Dimension”, “9 Lives to Wonder”, “The Last Man to Fly” or..for the complete depressive….”The Golden Age”.
Starvox: I appreciate you taking the time out to participate in this interview. I hope to see you on tour soon!!! On behalf of Starvox Music Zine, we thank you for your time.
Ka-Spel: All the best