I was asked recently to answer some questions for the regular Under the Influence feature in the Leeds freebie music mag Vibrations. The gist of it all was to pick one song that I felt had shaped my entire musical/artistic world in some way.
Well, songs are OK I suppose, but they’re merely vessels for something much more mysterious and powerful – obviously it’s sounds that are the important things. That was my first thought anyway… Then I thought it’d be fun to talk about early Half Japanese, for no other reason than I’ve not thought about them for a while, and their first 7″ was my most played record 25 or more years ago … still sounds great now too.
So, for the benefit of anyone unable to pick up free mags from record shops in Leeds, here’s the interview, in its unedited form:
So, the question is: which one song has had the biggest influence on your music making? And at this stage, it has to be ONE song.
I thought about this for a while, and realised one of the main things that put me on the path I’m on was hearing the first ½ Japanese 7″, and my favourite song from the nine fantastic songs on there has always been “School of love”.
Do you remember when and where you were when you first heard it?
Yes. It was right at the end of 1984. I was 18, had just left my parents’ house and was living in the dirtiest most run-down little house in Kettering, Northants, sharing with a couple of flamboyant homosexuals. We’d all grouped together, flying the small-town freak-flag, throwing crazy parties, revelling the moral and physical squalor. I was also in a ridiculous band called ESP Kinetic – we wore dresses and made a hellish angry racket on vocals, synthesizers and scrap metal, so had a lot of fun baiting the lumpen local punk audiences. When you live in a small town in the middle of nowhere, unusual and creative people seek each other out, so I was approached at the end of a particularly tense live show by a guy called Mark Turner, who I quickly became fast friends and artistic collaborator with. He was perhaps the first person I’d met that I thought was possessed by some sort of genius, and that he was dead a couple of years later is something that makes less and less sense to me the older I get.
Anyway, one of the first times Mark came to visit us he brought the first ½ Japanese 7” ep with him, saying he loved it, but that everyone else he’d ever played it to absolutely hated it. The record ended up living at our house, Mark seeing how much joy it brought me and being famously generous with his possessions.
Do you remember what went through your mind when you first heard it?
“Jesus Christ! What the bloody hell was THAT?” I probably laughed out loud, as I often do when I hear something that floors me. I’d heard descriptions of ½ Japanese, knew they were “weird americans” who had made a supposedly-unlistenable triple-LP (!), but nothing prepared me for just how raucously FUN and unlike anything I’d ever heard before they were.
Had you already started making music when you first heard the song? If so, did it change your approach in any way? If not, how significant was it in making you want to make music?
I’d been making music for 4 or 5 years when I heard this, had already had various listening epiphanies with the likes of Throbbing Gristle andd The Velvet Underground, but Half Japanese had all of those beat for sheer primitive gonzo excitement. No overdubs, no studio, no effects – just a beat up old drum-kit, untuned electric guitar, their fantastic voices and a shitload of lunatic swagger and good-time attitude. So what if they couldn’t play, had no money for equipment or studio time and their songs were bent out of any regular shape? It affirmed for me that the most important thing to do when making music (or any other art, or anything in life, really) is to stick to your guns, keep it simple and don’t worry too much if it doesn’t correspond to anything anyone’s ever done before.
Have your feelings about the song changed over the years?
Only in as much as it being something I loved at a formative age that still sounds vibrant and inspiring to me now in middle age. There are loads of things I obsessed on in the late 70s/early 80s that have completely lost their lustre for me, so I’d surmise that early ½ Japanese is a solidly built piece of kit, fit for the long-run. I look forward to dusting it off for my grandchildren, and even my great grand-children.
Can you pick out any other individual songs, pieces of music or musical experiences that have significantly influenced what you do over the years?
I have very fond memories of zoning out to shortwave radio and chasing the fade into vinyl crackle on 60s pop records when I was a kid. Then the relentless piano and ostrich guitar solos on “All Tomorrow’s parties” by the Velvets blew my 15 year old mind right open. And hearing Thomas Tallis’s “Spem in Alium”, where renaissance polyphony goes wild and morphs into something beyond psychedelic, did the same to me 20 years later. I’m still open and ready for new ideas, always.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Lots of Nerve Net Noise, this Japanese band who build their own oscillators and set them off with minimal human intervention, pretty much no effects, to create these little slices of gorgeous repetitive parallel universe pop music. I recently rediscovered what a great and audacious pop band The Associates were too, especially the singles collected on “Fourth Drawer Down”. And I’ve been loving the ridiculously lush orchestrations on Canteloube’s “Chants D’Auvergne”. Apart from that, when I can find enough space for listening I listen to a lot of Ornette Coleman, Florian Hecker and The Fall.
Any advice for young noise makers struggling against indifference and hostility?
Under no circumstances learn to do anything “properly” or try to copy anyone.
What’s next for Astral Social Club?
I’m always working up music at home, and even take it out on the road from time to time, but recently I’ve not been fully concentrating on ASC. Instead, I’ve been doing more disparate things like playing in a duo with my old Vibracathedral pal Mick Flower and recording internet collaborations with Robert Horton, Sean McCann and Iibiis Rooge. There are a few ASC records ready to be pressed by various labels, but I’d like the next big release I do to be a substantial departure from what has gone before, so I’m gathering sounds and ideas for that. No idea how it’ll pan out, mind, which is always a good thing.