FANTASTIC TOILES – OFFERINGS VOLUME 2
Interview with Jonty Mellmann – February 2023
How are you?
All good thanks. I CAN complain, but I won’t… just yet.
Many interviews have interrogated your deep interest in hard-rock, horror soundtracks and the noise(?) genres; yet much of your work is IDM, electro, perhaps even flashcore/breakcore adjacent. Can you name some electronic albums that you cherish?
In the early to late 90s I had a keen interest in dance music. I’d argue that it wasn’t really ‘dance’ music though. In a way a lot of the stuff issued by Warp, Apollo Records, R&S and Rephlex, the labels I was collecting, were really experimental electronic music. My interest in that field has pretty much waned to nothing. I think it is a genre that in many respects is highly stylised by the dictates of technology and in general has become dated and more commercial.
Stand out albums for me would be Selected Ambient Works Volume II by Aphex Twin.
I also really love elseq 1–5 by Autechre. I’m always intrigued by Autechre’s output. It’s pretty outstanding that they are such a popular band considering how abstract and utterly uncompromising they are.
More recently, I’ve enjoyed Jlin’s work, she creates some amazing complex beats and has a modern abstract sensibility. Gazelle Twin is fantastic as well, but maybe she doesn’t quite fall into that category.
You have previously stated you create in a flow of consciousness- which I believe is much the same for most creative endeavours. Do you feel that music is inherently better when made in this sort of state with the risks, chance and luck it involves?
I think all creative pursuits start from some kind of improvisation. I don’t feel there are any real risks involved, after all I’m making music not walking a tightrope.
Some projects just flow out of me. They just come together quickly and easily. Others are a lot more pre-planned. With Bandcamp I can literally put something up straight away and not have time to mull over it, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. It stands or it falls on its own merits.
I don’t really think about the creative process, for me it just happens. There is no single formula. I work on 10 or more projects at once. Some take years, others weeks. Some are highly theoretical, others easy, just 3 loud chords. I don’t think the listener can tell the difference. Some of the recordings that have been the most complex and time consuming are some of the least popular!
Do you have formal training; and do you think this is a necessary step in the creation of music, yet alone anything?
Nope. I’ve never had a single music lesson and would struggle to show you any significant chords. I’m really not a natural musician, I have to work at it. When I try to play someone else’s song I add extra notes or can’t hear the right note. My timing is pretty atrocious and I struggle with musical terminology. I am far from pitch perfect.
That said, I don’t think you need any formal musical training to make a decent record. I actively encourage anyone to make music by any means necessary. Never played a trumpet? Fuck it, pick one up and record it – see what happens.
I’d like to know more about composition and music theory, but maybe that would be a hindrance to my creativity and my lack of virtuosity has hardly been an impediment so far. I’ve met accomplished classical musicians who have told me ‘you can’t do that’. Of course I can. I can do anything I want.
In the creative arts, visual, fashion or otherwise I don’t think you need any kind of tutoring. Do what you like. There are no rules.
Do you have any religious, spiritual or supernatural beliefs that inform your work? Or do you just die and that’s it?
I have consistently mocked all belief systems, both fringe and mainstream. The eternal quest of humans to find ‘reason’ in the abstract meaningless universe is so… funny. So in a way yes they have informed my work, but only in as far as me belittling them. Yeah, sorry to say you die, you’re dead, it’s over. END OF GAME.
You often create music in an ordered, numerologically significant way with concepts informing the process; yet on the other-side there seem to be some works, still composed, but more life and organic in their nature. What is this dichotomy all about?
I release so much music there has to be different processes, theoretically, structurally and sonically. It sets me new challenges and new goals. Much of my work is compartmentalised. For instance, Moral Nihilist fits in to the metal genre, the new project, Koschmider’s Logbuch, is a drone piece, and the Monster releases are cartoonish or cinematic horror.
On the surface they may seem like contradictions and tangents, but it all adds up into one huge body of work. It’s my diary, notebook and development as an artist. It probably won’t mean anything or be in anyway decipherable to anyone else. The Andrew Liles ‘vehicle’, my total output, is probably one colossal autobiography. One very long track. Maybe it is similar to what Zappa termed ‘conceptual continuity’. The recordings are interlinked and cross referenced. The projects run on different levels and at different speeds. But they are all heading to the same destination.
Their seems to be a fairly common urge for a very organised collection of records, but perhaps not quite like your impressive collection of Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Diary of a Madman’ vinyls? How many copies do you actually have? And how has this record inspired you?
I think I have over 40. About 43. The collection came about when I was pretty ill with an idiopathic allergy. I was going to the hospital every now and then for about 18 months with anaphylactic shock. Something was triggered in me one day and I decided to treat myself to a Japanese original pressing of the album. Then I just fell into an eBay vortex which spiralled out of control.
I first got the album when it came out. When I was twelve, impressionable and naïve and it meant so much to me. I probably wouldn’t be doing this interview without its existence.
The whole theory and pursuit of the collection is complex and has a far deeper meaning than it may first appear. I could probably write an essay about it all. I think I best sum it up on the website with ‘is the collection a form of nostalgia or just antique hunting? A Statement? Escapism? A catalogue, a library? A gallery and exhibition? An art installation? A cultural investigation? The historical study of vinyl manufacturing and international record distribution? A fixation, a compulsion? The pursuit of order and control in reaction to an increasingly shambolic world? Yes! It’s all of that and more…’
GO HERE TO SEE THE DIARY COLLECTION – DIARY
Is there any other record for you like this (which you collect every version of), or has had such an impact on you?
Hole by Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel. I collect every vinyl version of it. It’s a hugely important record to me. Primarily it’s the record that inspired me to take up making music. It’s funny, it’s sick, it’s immensely listenable, totally unique and has just one guy making all the music. So in many respects it was the inspiration for me to start making my own music.
Another record would be The Reptile House by The Sisters of Mercy. Sarcasm, vitriol, wit and intelligence personified in one perfect record. I think the Sisters are a completely misunderstood band, unfairly judged by a few mainstream hits. They are a far more complex and original band than the goth tag they are plagued with.
GO HERE TO SEE THE HOLE COLLECITON – HOLE
Was there any piece of band merchandise that has a special place in your heart?
The earliest merch I still have is the programme for the first gig I ever went to – Michael Schenker Group in 1981.
I don’t think I have a special place in my heart for one object per se. Over the years I have amassed all kinds of books, objects and art. The older I get the more I’m beginning to feel that they have no real value and that we only borrow these things. We never truly own anything. I’m beginning to value my own time and life experiences over possessions.
Your work sometimes verges on comedy in a way, with ridiculous sounds mixed in consistently throughout otherwise ‘serious’ tracks. Is this a conceptual choice as part of the monster series? What is it all about? I find it is a fairly rare quality in most music.
I guess it’s a subjective interpretation. It may at first seem an incongruous juxtaposition, but was the serious section of the piece part of the joke as well? I think you’d have to be specific about the track you’re thinking of. In all certainty it’s not accidental, almost all the sounds are there for a conceptual or aesthetic reason.
I also think in the genres I am pigeonholed into there is very little or no humour whatsoever. I don’t think humour sits well in ‘serious’ music. But it comes back to the ‘conceptual continuity’ of my releases and the autobiographical nature of what I do, I like a laugh, so that’s part of who I am and consequently part of my music.
There is often an scary, eerie, empty quality to your music, whether that be hypnotic beats, mundane vocal samples (‘I just told you my life is an empty place’) or sparse melodies with loads of echo and delay. Sometimes even sonic jump-scares. Where does that come from?
Life can be empty and hollow so why not covey that? I love simple slow beats. Stripped back with very little happening. Mogadon music if you like. It can go on for hours.
The jump scares are a technique I stole from Nurse With Wound. I like to throw in necessary and unnecessary frights. It keeps the listener on their toes. I like unexpected events and weird contrasts and changes.
Do you think your ‘God Can’t Save’ album predicted the Queen’s death?
I think the queen could have dropped dead anytime over the past 20 years. She was ancient. So I don’t think I was being especially like Nostradamus. The release came out for the platinum jubilee. It was fortuitous that she dropped dead a little while after so more people heard it. Surprisingly I even got hate mail about it, which I quite enjoyed. I mean, who the fuck gives a shit about the monarchy in the 21st century?
I was being childish with the release but also seriously questioning why we should finance the privileged. My main problem is with the people that support such an archaic ludicrous institution. The subservient bow and curtsy mentality really fucking winds me up. Why would you respect anyone just because they are rich? I’d never call anyone ‘Sir, Lord, Lady, your honour’, go fuck yourself. Kings and queens are for Disney films and children’s parties, not the real world.
What equipment do you currently use? Any fun new favourite items?
I use Adobe Audition, Reaper and a huge array of plugins. Arturia are probably my favourite developers and Kontakt. I also use a lot of guitars. My latest and most fun item is a Gretsch baritone guitar. I’ve never used a baritone before. It’s a pretty unique and versatile guitar. I love it.
What is the benefit of being a largely independent artist, self-releasing music or working with smaller labels? Any down sides?
I’ve pretty much reverted to being solely independent, back to how I started by releasing small runs of CDRs. I finance it all myself and can release as many albums a year as I like. I’m pretty sure most labels wouldn’t be able or afford to keep up with my release schedule. It works for me at the moment. I think the days of releasing albums pressed in thousands of copies or even hundreds are over for me.
Downsides are that most of my releases don’t get into shops. There is no significant international distribution. Also there is no promotion or advertising which probably limits my potential audience growth. But in the modern world I’m not sure that matters. I’m a marginal artist with little commercial appeal. I’m fine out here in the wilderness, sitting on the fringes.
What is the appeal of working for yourself as a solo musician versus in larger groups?
I enjoy both in different ways. It’s much more enjoyable to play live with a band than solo. It’s always a challenge to make an album with a band. But often, even putting together a ‘band’ album is largely a solo affair. I do the main ‘architecture’ and arrangements, then the rest is debated and mixed with the bands I work with.
What direction do you think the music industry is going, and how do you think that is affecting the impact or abilities of smaller artists?
Am I even part of the music industry? I’m so underground I’ve never really been part of it.
Brexit has totally fucked up my sales to the EU, they’ve dropped by over 70%. So for UK artists it’s tougher.
I think smaller artists are more original and resourceful so they will survive. The mainstream always looks at what we do and highjacks our innovation. They’re fucking vile and unimaginative. Morons chasing the dollar for yet another nostalgic deluxe reissue.
In terms of success and earning a living from music I’d say that is pretty impossible for a new young original band these days and that’s a real shame. There should be some youngsters putting me to shame. They deserve the opportunity to flourish and be creative and be in the EU.
Did you ever write that thesis on the anthropological nature of rock to a teenager? If not, could you give us a quick blurb?
I never got to it. The more I thought about it the more expansive it became. It’s far too big a project to take on. I thought it was inextricably linked to working class culture, but it’s not. It has a universal appeal. It covers such a broad spectrum I don’t think I could do it justice. I was recently asked if I was going to write an autobiography. So I might do that one day when I feel suitably narcissistic. The title is going to be ‘You’ve not been to Egypt’.
Which was your original mission upon deciding to compose music?
Like most people when they started making music I was a teenager, so there was no mission or message for the world. I was fumbling in the dark. My original mission was to become a rock god. I’m probably still fumbling in the dark, I’m definitely not a rock god. Everyday is a learning process. There is no message, no grand plan. I just want to make original and interesting music for myself and my listeners. Many of my releases are deeply theorised or reference my own life and the wider world, but I don’t tend to advertise that.
What type of music gear do you use for your recordings and live recordings?
Guitars: Jackson RR7, Gibson Explorer, Epiphone Les Paul, Gibson Flying V, BC Rich Warlock, Tanglewood Warload, Danelectro ’59 12 string, Kimbara 12 string, Tokai Thunderbird.
Hardware: Violin, Mandolin, Banjo, Saxophone, Cymbals, Gongs, Alesis Sample Pad Pro, DOD guitar pedals, HX Stomp, Numark NDX 400, Korg Controller. SH101, Sirius, prepared piano, 4 track tape recorder, various radios.
Software: Korg, Adobe Audition, Arutria, Kontakt, East West, Urgitone, UVI, Reaper, Bias FX, Amplitude.
IDIOPATHIC RENAISSANCE is your latest music album, which was the influence behind its recording?
I have a fascination for antiquated and obsolete recording devices and formats. This recording is based on Polyphon discs.
A Polyphon is a disc-playing music box, a mechanical device first manufactured by the Polyphon Musikwerke. I also have a fondness for tinkling chiming sounds – the Polyphon tinkles with a special charm.
Does the dark atmosphere of the album IDIOPATHIC RENAISSANCE reflect your feelings during the recordings?
I don’t think it is especially dark. I guess my music is abstract in its design and tone, which could be interpreted as ‘dark’. That said, I am not about to make a happy-go-lucky love song.
Which is the meaning behind the title IDIOPATHIC RENAISSANCE?
I had an idiopathic allergy some years ago. It was pretty bad, anaphylactic shock and hives all over my body. I had it for about 2 years then it went. It disappeared for about 7 years, but returned briefly in early 2021 when I was making this recording. So that’s where the title comes from, it was idiopathic and a return. Thankfully it has gone again now.
How did you manage to create the strange percussion sounds in your album?
It is probably a technique I have developed using ideas of hocketing – which, if mixed right, gives the sounds a unique degree of separation. This stuff just flows out of me using techniques and tricks I have developed over the last 35 years, I never really remember how I construct sounds, it’s a flow of consciousness. So in short, it’s a culmination of practice, luck and technique. I wouldn’t be able to give you a specific tool or VST or plugin that I used, as I use many, sometimes all at once and I generally never ever use a preset sound.
Have you ever thought of any lyrics that would represent each track of this album?
No. I tend to create instrumental music. When I do use voices it is narration and generally in a language I don’t understand. I see voices and singing as sound palettes rather than lyrics or poetry with a message. Even songs I have known all my life I still don’t know the words. I focus on the overall sonic design rather than what anyone has to say.
How did you decide to collaborate with Sakis Tolis (Rotting Christ)?
I’m a BIG fan of Rotting Christ and Sakis and I were in touch through a mutual friend, and from that initial contact it just evolved. I appear on his new solo album narrating. So I think there is some mutual respect for one another’s art. Hopefully we will continue working together in many different capacities.
Do you prefer working as a remixer or as a musician and how each role changes your perspective about music?
I approach all elements of making music the same way, I try to create the best thing I can. Most of my remixes contain little or none of the original recording and are primarily my compositions anyway. So it’s kind of like making my own song.
When did you start writing/producing music – and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started recording when I was about 9 – using a portable tape machine with a built in microphone, kids stuff. I heard a radio play that was broadcast in binaural and wanted to emulate it. So I narrated a story adding sound FX. Then I got a little more serious when I was 16, using drum machine and guitar.
My main influence when I was 10 was Mike Oldfield, then later JG Thirlwell (Foetus) and Steven Stapleton. I was always intrigued and fascinated with the idea that one person could make ALL the music, without having a band.
I wasn’t good enough a musician to be in a band and my ideas were too leftfield to fit in with any band. They generally wanted to be the latest ‘punk band’. I was into something different, but I wasn’t sure what that was. I’m still not that sure.
I was fascinated with multi track recording and I still find it magical. The first time I overdubbed a sound it felt like magic at work.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Firstly I wanted to sound like The Sisters of Mercy or Foetus. But failed miserably. I wanted to sound like my musical heroes, everyone does I think.
I don’t think I am searching to find my own voice, I still copy and I still learn. To me there is no point finding a singular voice, I want to be many things, Rock Star, Modern composer, Technical genius, Electronic pioneer. I have probably failed at all of those things, maybe it is impossible to accomplish the definitive ‘Liles Sound’. I try to be many things and usually wind up a million miles from where I started or where I wanted to be. Creating is a continual process of learning and evolving, trials, errors, flukes and luck. I hope it stays that way for me, it’s good to be a student all one’s life.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I don’t really have a strong identity of ‘self’. I am not overtly political or have a ‘message’ to convey in my art. I would struggle to establish what my personal identity is in any meaningful way, so I don’t think it influences my creativity so much.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
It was always money. Money to pay for recording gear. I always had very rudimentary equipment. Then it was having to work long hours to pay for the gear. So, as with all walks of life, the enemies to my creativity were time and money.
I have never really had any creative problems, I always had ideas and the means to put them together but I was held back by not affording the right technology. Luckily by the late 90’s, recording technologies became affordable. The CDR and Cool Pro Edit changed everything for me.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I have always wanted everything, every conceivable instrument. Over the years I have picked up dozens of ‘real’ instruments, but modern technology has furnished me with almost every sound I could ever dream of. The choices I made were always driven by finances.
In terms of a time line –
70’s: Voice and tape recorder
80’s: Guitars: Westone Electric, Nylon Acoustic, Kimbara 12 string acoustic. Amstrad tape to tape machine. Mattel Synsonics drum machine, Boss Dr Rhythm DR-110, Casio SK-1, Roland SH101, DOD guitar pedals. Various percussion instruments.
90’s: Alesis HR16, Alesis HR16B, Alesis MMT 8, Cheetah MQ8, Akai X700, Tascam 424, Sirius Quasimidi, Sony MDM-X4 MiniDisc Multitrack Recorder, Guitar: Epihone Les Paul.
2000’s: Cool Pro Edit, Guitars: Gibson Explorer, Tokai Thunderbird
2010’s to the present: Guitars: Jackson RR7, Gibson Flying V, BC Rich Warlock, Tanglewood Warload, Danelectro ’59 12 string
Alesis Sample Pad Pro, HX Stomp, Numark NDX 400, Korg Controller. Software: Korg, Adobe Audition, Arutria V, Kontakt, East West, Urgitone, UVI, Reaper, Bias FX
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Sampling changed everything for me and everyone else. Later it would have been affordable home recording using computers.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
There is no ‘one’ way. It is usually file sharing and talking about ideas. They tend to evolve organically. Some are fast, others very slow. They are different every time.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other – do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I have a fairly regimented day –
‘Admin’ emails etc from about 8-9:00
Work on music work until 9 -11:00
Work out on my rowing machine 11 – 11:30
Go for a walk to meet my wife 12:00 – 13:00
14:00 recording until about 16:00 – 18:00
TV until about 21:30
Sometimes if I am busy or inspired, more recording 22:00 – to 1
Then do it all again…
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I don’t think I have a breakthrough album, I am too obscure to determine if that even applies to me. The most popular selling albums are All Closed Doors, My Long Accumulating, and Dying Submariner.
What I am working on becomes the most important ‘work’, I don’t really think about its merits or what the audience may think. It either stands on its own or fails. I don’t feel any special attachment to any of my creations, I am not that self indulgent or narcissistic to say ‘oh this is wonderful’ about myself. Some are better than others but the listener should make that decision.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I don’t have an ideal state of mind, I am in a continual state of flux. Some days are better than others, but I have a very mechanical approach to what I do. I need to be in a calm and controlled state. There is nothing worse than a hangover or being wrapped up in personal problems. The things that distract me are worry and personal neurosis, they really kill my creative energy.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I’m not sure I can get into the ‘hippy’ mindset of healing with music. But in terms of life and living, music has always been cathartic for me and made me the person I am, defining me culturally and personally.
The best thing music can do is to entertain people, make them happy and escape the world for an hour or so. It’s the best thing that music can achieve, it’s what I want people to get from my music, escapism.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think everything is up for grabs and all cultural exchange should be explored. I think the more society highlights our differences whether it be gender or ethnicity, the more complex things have become, defining what can be evaluated as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is becoming abstract and to some extent absurd. Art should be evaluated on its own merits not by why it was created or by whom.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses – and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I’m very mechanical in my experience of music. I don’t see colours or have otherworldly experiences. In simple terms, if it sounds good to me that is enough. I’m not really seeking or, have I ever found, alternative experiences from listening to music.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I try to create something that doesn’t exist, that maybe be something impossibly complex or as original as I can make it. If I achieve that on a personal level that is all that matters. I don’t have a social or political message in my work, I think most people recognise that the world is a complex, cruel and unfair place, I don’t need to remind them.
There are elements of some of my feelings that seep in to the music, but the older I get, the less I understand the world and the more hopeless and emasculated I feel within it. It’s totally futile to wave a flag when you know nothing will ever change. My art is apolitical, a solitary pursuit for personal satisfaction.
Making music is an obsession and focus in my life that takes me away from the turmoil of the real world. It’s a compulsion that masks my feelings and desire to take part in the real life.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music can easily express life, love, death and everything in-between, and in many respects I can’t give you a reason why – because the answer is in the question itself – words alone cannot express that.
John Wisniewski: 20 June 2021
When did you begin playing music, Andrew?
When I was about 12 or 13. I wanted to play guitar like Eddie Van Halen. I’m still trying. I’m still failing. I’m still learning.
What attracts you to dark ambient music?
I’m not attracted to it at all. The phrase, in my mind, conjures up a guy who collects Batman figurines and has found two notes on his keyboard that he puts through lots and lots of reverb. Not that I have a problem with that. It also has connotations of the occult and post apocalypse desolation. I’m not that person at all.
I guess the earlier recordings would fit into that realm. I was learning my craft and, in some respects, that type of music is fairly simple to make. But now I’d like to think my compositions have a far wider scope and complexity.
Of course, I can’t deny that there are elements of that genre in some recordings, but my output is so vast, it touches on many styles, from dub reggae and rock, through to novelty songs and highbrow theorised modern composition.
But I guess it’s still fairly dark, I’m pretty pessimistic and that comes through my creations. I’m not about to write an anthemic love song any time soon.
What was it like collaborating with members of Nurse with Wound and Current 93?
I’d been in contact with and a fan of both bands since the mid 80s. So at first it was a little intimidating. But the advantage of being a fan and knowing their back catalogue enabled me to work with them quite easily, it seems quite natural to work with them.
I’ve worked with both artists for over 15 years now and I’ve enjoyed every day of it… almost. My affiliation has opened a lot of doors, doors that would have remained closed, and for that I am eternally thankful
Could you tell us about recording “An Un world”?
I’d been self releasing music since 1987. But this was the first proper pressed CD through a ‘real’ label so it was pretty significant for me. Jason at Infraction Records had the bravery to release it, so I am forever in his debt for taking that leap of faith.
It was also the first album where I used digital technology and a computer.
In a lot of ways it was the release that laid the foundations artistically and commercially for where I am now.
I think musically, 20 years on, it has stood the test of time. There is nothing gimmicky or technologically that locks it to a specific era.
So I have a fond affection for the record although I haven’t heard it in years or would create anything like it now.
Any current and future projects you could tell us about?
There is a mountain of stuff already completed and coming out over the next 18 months. Covid has afforded me to make more material than ever.
Just out is –
THE ORACLES by NEKPΩN IAXEΣ which is an experimental spoken word project formed by myself and Sakis Tolis of Rotting Christ.
Then over the coming months there are some Nurse With Wound reissues and at least two new albums, a new Current 93 album and at least 10 new solo projects and a few reissues.
Do you still speak with David Tibet?
Yes, of course. We have yet to work out a way of communicating telepathically. So talking is still an inconvenient necessity.
Any favourite music artists?
I become very fixated with a single artist. For instance, some years ago I listened to nothing but the Beatles… for a whole year.
I also listen to music from my childhood which is a lot of classic rock and heavy metal.
Listening at the moment for me is Buckethead. This has been going on for about 3 or 4 years. I’m obsessed with him. I buy his paintings and have every download, and there are a lot, 346 releases. I’d love to sit down and talk with him about why we feel the necessity to make SO MUCH music.
I feel an affinity with Buckethead. We are the same age, overly and ceaselessly productive, and he will always be that guy from Guns N’ Roses and I will always be that guy from Current 93 and Nurse With Wound, yet our own work is far broader and more extensive than the artists we are associated with and overshadowed by.
He has so many releases it’s daunting to know where to begin. Some of it’s amazing, some not so good, some I will never listen to again and some I listen to all the time. I’m sure people feel that about my catalogue.
So, everyday I listen to a little bit of Buckethead, an artist who has released even more albums than me! I’m amazed by his virtuosity, it’s totally supernatural to be that good at playing the guitar. I’d love to work with him, I’ve made some attempts but all my correspondence has gone unanswered, but as a friend eloquently said to me recently “Sometimes the stars should be left in the sky, to be admired from afar”.
How do you combine many different sounds, to create your music?
Patience, accident, fluke, time and 40 years of practice.
Roger Batty: The Monster-Maker – 19th April 2015
Andrew Liles is one of the most prolific & respected figures working in British experimental music & sound. Over the years he’s worked with the likes of: Nurse With Wound, Current 93, Faust, Tony Wakeford, The Hafler Trio, and many others. One of his most sonically varied series of solo works comes in the form of the Monster series- this started in 2010, and so far they have been 15 releases under this banner- the releases have moved through various different sonic & musical styles, but one of the most recent releases has really seen him push the genre boat out. And that release is the Snuff Box- which takes in three CD’s, and finds him authentically recreating various types of different horror movie scores. Andrew kindly agreed to give us a email interview discussing the Snuff Box, and the Monster series in general. This is the third time we’ve interviewed him at M[m].
m[m]:Tell us a little bit about how the idea for the Monster series of release first came about & what do you see as the main sonic & theme elements that tie all the series together?
Andrew: The Monster series probably stems from a lifetime of collecting, from Star Wars figures and cigarette cards when I was a kid to records when I was older. They all tie together thematically and artistically, for me there is a compulsion to collect everything part of the same series. If I get into a band or author I want everything by them. It just appeals to my slightly autistic personality. I like collections, I like continuity, I like things to have a collectable and organised quality, the use of the same visual theme, the same fonts. I like a recognisable identity, I love the font Shlop, the Monster font that I use throughout the releases.
There are no musical or sonic themes, the idea is to make each record totally different, there is a spoken word /jazz album in there, a metal album and a dub one. There are a few sounds or motifs that run through several of the records but the principal idea is to explore far reaching and diverse musical styles. I guess that the Monster motif is my signature to let my audience know that they should expect something entirely unexpected. If you buy a new Iron Maiden, AC/DC or a Leonard Cohen album you pretty much know what it is going to sound like. If you buy a Monster record you probably and hopefully don’t know what to expect. That’s why I will never be a commercially successful artist, I’m too unpredictable, too random. Most people want the same record again and again, if you throw them a curve ball they generally don’t like it.
I’d like to think my audience is similar to me with a wide, varied and open mind to all kinds of music and art. They are an amazingly loyal following who thankfully keep on buying the releases and supporting my idiosyncratic excursions, and I am eternally thankful to them for that.
I have compartmentalised Monster – it’s almost like having another band, Monster is random, tongue in cheek, eccentric… to be honest it is so large now I don’t know what it is or what it has become.
I also think another element as to why I created the Monster thing is in part to challenge the musical genre that I am often attached to. It’s a very self conscious and austere genre, quasi intellectual, often times with minimal artwork and a highbrow aesthetic. It has very little if any sense of fun or irony, it’s pretty joyless really, I don’t want to be pigeon holed into that world, the beard stroking world. I think a lot of what I do doesn’t fit into the experimental ‘scene’ or any genre really.
m[m]: Seemingly 2010’s Ep Monster Munch was the first release to appear in the series- what did this sound like & how does it compare to later works in the series?
Andrew: Monster Munch plays at 33 and 45, the basic principal was to experiment with the format of the 7″. It’s a structured rhythmical song that works at both speeds. Its not just some random noises that you can easily play at any speed. It was created to sound musical at both speeds. It doesn’t compare to any other of the releases, as I say I want them all to be very different from one another.
m[m]: So far the series has taken in 15 releases- please select a few of your personal high points & explain why they are?
Andrew: On a personal level I think they all have their own merits, but I would say that wouldn’t I?. I have enjoyed writing the stories – at least 4 of them have a narrative or a story written by myself. The quality of the packaging has been astounding thanks to the record labels that kindly indulge my requests. Another highlight was having the legendary horror illustrator Graham Humphreys paint two of the album covers. I also enjoyed the fact that 3 printers refused to print the Dreamy Gorgeous Monster book, a personal triumph…of sorts.
m[m]:One of the most recent additions to the series is the Snuff Box Set- which finds you over three CD’s trying to create the feel & vibe of various different types of horror movie sound tracks. The scope of the set sees you covering a lot of different sonic & instrumental ground, moving from orchestra full scores, onto sinister 70s/80’s synth scape-ing, through to taut yet terrifying jazz tinged dramatics, onto creepy music box & horror sound work-outs. Through to bone chilling piano urgency, and beyond. Please tell us about how the idea for a release of such scope came about, and how long did it take to compose & create?
Andrew: In 2011 to 2013 I decide to collate a huge database of sounds. I acquired 100 DVD’s of quite literally half a million sounds, of sound effects and snyths. I also was collating a lot of source material to build upon the existing database. I bought a violin and recorded nasty scratchy sounds. Made my piano into a ‘prepared piano’, used fishing wire on guitar strings, made my own instruments from metal poles and guitar strings which I bowed and plucked. I recorded all of them over a period of 3 months. I built a vast library which I can now call up instantly. An impossibly vast database of unique and found sounds many of which have a horrific or scary quality.
Added to this I bought an iPad and downloaded an array of software. There are some extremely good and authentic sounding Mellotrons and Hammonds and old synths for the iPad. I was just messing about one day with one of the horrible 80’s sounding synths on the iPad and thought that sounds like John Carpenter. Then it just dawned on me why not make an album of horror music. It just exploded from there and I decided to try my hand at all the horror musical styles. I’m a workaholic so I just dived straight in. Once I get an idea I don’t stop until it’s all done.
It took about 8 months of 10 hour days to record the album, with about 3 years of collecting and collating sounds to make it so diverse.
m[m]: Where there any types of soundtrack types that were more difficult than others to get right?
Andrew: The more ‘classical’ orientated tracks I found to be more difficult. To make a song sound with a more traditional structure I find more challenging. Abstract pieces are a lot easier for me to do.
m[m]: The Snuff Box is clearly using a whole host of different sonic instrumentation- who plays what on the release?
Andrew: Me, myself and I. The voices are supplied by friends. All the instrumentation, recording engineering and mastering, as with the vast majority of my releases is entirely by myself. I generally only work with other people for their voices.
m[m]:Wow that is most impressive you played everything?! Considering the scope of the release ..I imagined you had got people in to play different elements- so how many instruments do you play on the release, and how many can you play?
Andrew: Primarily I use keyboards on this release. I have an amazing array of keyboard sounds that can emulate a wide variety of instruments. That said I am not a musician in any way. I couldn’t tell you what a single note is on the piano. I play by ear, trial and error. I have no formal training in music whatsoever, I guess I have a good idea of how things work and there is a lot of studio trickery that can hide my lack of musical skills. I am a firm believer that if one can get a sound out of an instrument you can play it. I’m not great at playing any one thing but try my hand at everything. I have all kinds of instruments, guitars, a saxophone, wind instruments and all kinds of xylophones and stringed instruments. A jack of all trades but a master of none, except maybe the studio, which I think I’m pretty good at. The studio is the main instrument for me.
m[m]:The Snuff Box had a very ltd pressing of just 151 copies, which are now all sold out- do you have any thoughts of re-releasing the material again either in a less limited physical form or digitally?
Andrew: I have no idea, I doubt it. It seems a little bit of a disservice to the people who have paid for the box to then release it cut price digitally. But maybe I will put it on the download site in a few years time. I use the download site primarily to issue stuff that is long out of print or to promote forthcoming material. The ratio of listeners to purchases shows me that less than 1% of people pay for music, so there is very little incentive to make material available in that form.
m[m]: you mentioned early about texts/ stories running through the monster releases- a few tracks on the Snuff box feature spoken word elements( mainly in none English languages). Is there any interlocking story behind these? Or are they just purely for effect?
Andrew: The languages are Italian, Russian and Japanese. They are all translations of the same words, the words were taken from the spines of a collection of Bizarre magazines I have. A kind of DaDa – cut-up approach. They are all nasty phrases and random. I love using foreign languages, I have used them throughout all my releases. They sound exotic to my ears.
m[m]: The outer covers of each of the three discs in the snuff box were done by highly respected horror artists Graham Humphreys( who was responsible for iconic 80’s horror poster like Evil Dead & Nightmare on Elm Street). How did he come onboard the project, and how tighter spec did you give him on the designs?
Andrew: Graham is a friend of a friend so I had an in-road to contact him. I gave him a fairly loose idea of what I wanted. I wanted 3 of my own head so they could be divided up into the 3 separate discs, then it was pretty much up to him how he executed it.
m[m]: Another one of your recent additions to the Monster series is “First Monster Last Monster Always Monster”- which sees you doing an instrumental, electronic adaptation of The Sister Of Mercy’s 1985 debut album “First and Last and Always”- what can people expect from your version of the release? And are they any other classic slices of Goth rock you’d like to Reinterpretation? Or for that matter any other albums from other genres you’d like to record your version of?
Andrew: I always loved the album, and in a small way it was my gateway into more abstract music, independent labels and the like. I never ever considered The Sisters as a Goth band, I always considered them as an alternative Rock band…with a drum machine. I think the Goth tag came later, just another ‘catch all’ journalistic construct. In terms of what it sounds like, it’s pretty odd, a kind of pop album to my ears. I can’t be that objective really, kind of IDM meets Jean-Jaques Perrey. It’s meant to be tongue in cheek, something to do the washing up to… maybe. Like all good music I guess you are not really meant to listen to it with any kind of depth.
It would be extremely unlikely that I will be recording a Christian Death album anytime soon…..but maybe Diary of a Madman…maybe.
m[m]:You mention possible doing your version of Ozzy Osborne’s second album 1982’s Diary Of A Madman- what attracts you to this? And what would be your sonic take on it?
Andrew: I’m a big fan of DOAM – I collect every vinyl version on it. Here’s a link to my page about the reasons why. http://www.andrewliles.com/info/diary-of-a-madman/
I don’t know how I would have it sound, I don’t think it would be anything I would do anytime soon.
m[m]: Please selected ten of your all time favourite horror soundtracks & explain why you enjoy them so much?
George Crumb – The Exorcist soundtrack
Krzysztof Penderecki – Again on The Exorcist soundtrack
John Carpenter – Halloween Theme
Pino Donaggio – Carrie – especially the song ‘Devil Come Home’, it has some very beautiful organ and brass .
AC/DC – If you Want Blood – used in the last of the Final Destination movies – perfect backing track for the compilation of all the deaths in all the movies.
Isla Cameron – Oh, Willow Waly – The Innocents
Paul Giovanni – The Wicker Man
Brian Reitzell – Hannibal – (Original Television Soundtrack)
Bernard Herrmann – Psycho
And a mountain of stuff by Morricone
I’m sure there are a ton I have missed out or overlooked it’s really difficult off the top of my head to name them. I can’t really tell you why I like them so much, I just do. Truly remarkable music.
m[m]:What was the first horror movie that truly terrified you?
Andrew: Without hesitation whatsoever it has to be The Exorcist. I saw it when I was 11 or 12, and I was also bought up in a household where demonic possession was considered ‘real’. My father had performed a couple of exorcisms and had had some ‘supernatural’ experiences in doing so. I think the thing that scared me about The Exorcist is that it seems very ‘real’, it is shot in a very unique way, very little happens in the first three quarters of the film, it is pure tension and made in a fly-on-the-wall documentary style. Even at the time I considered it to be more of an examination of religious guilt, religious fervency and mental illness rather than anything supernatural.
There is something incredibly unique about The Exorcist, amazing artistry, the sound design, those amazing voices and incredible music. There is an eternal drip drip drip of shockingly poor Exorcist type movies. The lazy film industry must say “Call the movie something to do with ‘Exorcism’ and the punters will watch it no matter how shit it is”. No one has even come near the genius of the original, one and only Exorcist. It is certainly one of my favourite films. I met William Friedkin once and wanted to talk to him at length, shyness overwhelmed me, but I did get him to sign my Exorcist book.
m[m]: Are you able to talk in more detail about your fathers exorcisms? I take he’s a catholic priest then?
Andrew: He’s not even Catholic. He was heavily into the church when I was kid. I don’t know how he got into the exorcism thing, it wasn’t ordained by the Vatican or anything. He was involved in some weird Christian shit, I remember going around to someones house to a prayer meeting and they had a huge crucifix in the living room, which everyone kissed. But with the exorcisms I guess it was more of an ad hoc thing that he used to do with the local vicar, DIY exorcism, this was way before the Exorcist came out. He told me a story of holding a woman’s hand and reading the lords prayer and getting an electric shock, and how the same woman set alight to her face with a box of matches, but the next day she showed no signs of burns. I’m totally cynical of anything like that tho, I’ve been at ‘occult’ masses and traditional belief things, temples of all kinds…to me it’s all a bunch of superstition for socially inadequate people.
m[m]: What are your thoughts on the Sequels & pre- Sequels to The Exorcist?
Andrew: They are all rubbish….
m[m]: As your such a fan of the original Exorcist- have you ever thought of theming a release round it?
Andrew: Absolutely not. That would be pretty awful. The whole Monster thing is a homage to great movies and great music, but I also think most of the movies that I have referenced or make a nod towards are pretty camp and funny. I think some of those bands that present themselves as ‘serious’ occult practitioners and use all kinds of arcane symbols are seriously lacking in artistic originality. Can you imagine meeting someone who says they are a Satanist? I have – it’s hilarious.
m[m]:Have you ever considered recording an alternative soundtrack to a horror movie? And if so are they any that come to mind?
Andrew: I’m not sure if I’m that interested. Myself and Steve Stapleton done a Murnau soundtrack some years back which was fun. But I’m not so sure, invariably those live soundtrack films back very old films which don’t interest me at all and I think it would be a bit incongruous to soundtrack a contemporary film as they usually already have their own distinct soundtrack, it could be a disaster. Think of Zane Lowe pointlessly and arrogantly ‘re-scoring’ Drive, that was a fucking car crash – pun intended.
m[m]:What’s next for the Monster series?
Andrew: A 7″ – Monster Raving Loony – to come out, fittingly on UK election day. May 7th. After that I have a few planned but nothing concrete yet. Maybe a 3 CD set that compiles all the vinyl releases with some extra material.
m[m]:When was the last time you were truly terrified?
Andrew: I can’t say that I have ever been ‘truly terrified’, the word terrified seems to imply paralysis due to abject fear, I don’t think I have ever had that. That’s not to say I don’t get scared, I do and very often. There is nothing in an esoteric, spooky, ghostly or supernatural way that terrifies me, I don’t believe in any of that kind of thing. I found out at a very young age through some experiences using brain bending chemicals that it was all in the mind, purely a man made construct. My fears are very much earth bound.
A few years ago I was rushed to hospital several times with anaphylactic shock, I was fairly ill for 18 months and the cause was never determined. The thought that it could come back at any given moment is fairly scary, but not terrifying, something amazing happens to our psychology when shit like that occurs. Our quest for survival far outweighs anything else.
To see my neighbour waste away from cancer last year was scary, in purely selfish terms it makes you consider your own mortality, unimaginable emotional anguish, pain, the frailty of the human body and the brevity of existence. It makes you think “Fuck, what am I doing with my life”, it took him 6 weeks from diagnosis to death, that could be me or you or anyone, that’s very scary. I think I would be truly terrified if I was given that final prognosis. I guess that’s why horror is such a popular and important genre. In some way it helps deal with our real world demons and monsters in a controlled way. The real world is far more terrifying than any musical piece or horror film.
PREPARED GUITAR – 13 QUESTIONS
8th June 2014
Which was the first and the last record you bought with your own money? What were other early records you bought?
The first record I bought was ‘Bright Eyes’ by Art Garfunkel, I loved the film Watership Down. The last one I bought was ‘Thank Christ for the Groundhogs’ by the Groundhogs because I had been working with Tony McPhee and I am ashamed to say didn’t know much about his music.
The early records in my collection were hard rock and new wave of British heavy metal, I had quite a large collection from a very young age, it branched out into many different areas by the time I was 16.
What is your relationship with the guitar?
When I was 12 my brother bought an electric guitar. It was off limits to even touch it, it was his and his alone – not to share. He saved up long and hard to buy it. Guitars were really expensive back in those days and he didn’t want his kid brother playing on it. When he went out in the evenings I would sneak into his room and play it. He gave up playing – I continued and adopted his guitar.
This guitar was the first instrument I had ever played, I still have it. Its an early 80’s Westone.
I had no idea about tuning or guitar technique, and I couldn’t play the chords I had been shown as my fingers were so small, I was a diminutive child. So without reading about tunings I figured out how to tune it ‘my way’. I figured out how to play ‘Smoke on the Water’ on one string, so then I began to experiment and detuned all the strings so they in some way complemented one another in one strum, basically tuning the guitar to one big power chord. Then I barred the strings. I applied what I had learnt to play on one string to the whole guitar.
Over my teenage years I spent all my spare hours playing the guitar, I wouldn’t say that I was good in any shape or form, even to this day I’m pretty mediocre.
I have never read a guitar tuition book, I learnt stuff intuitively, how to pick harmonics, tap, solo and all about effects boxes. I discovered with a couple of effect units you could sound extremely good without much skill and do incredible things with echo and delay. I found a fast track way to sounding ‘good’ without all the trouble of studiously learning an instrument. I also experimented with feedback and ‘prepared’ guitar long before I had any knowledge of Cage or the avant garde.
I played guitar like this up until about 7 years ago. I then bought an expensive guitar (Gibson Explorer) and thought to myself if I am going to invest good money in a guitar I want to be able to play ‘Rock Bottom’ by UFO, so I decided to tune the guitar in a traditional way, to E. I started religiously playing the guitar for about 2 hours a day, learning guitar tabs from the internet, but even now I couldn’t show a chord on the guitar. I wanted to improve my playing, not to integrate into my music but for fun, as a hobby, as an education.
I have no interest in being perfect on the guitar, I just love playing, and discovering new possibilities and new structures. I love learning guitar tabs and sitting down playing some of my favourite riffs. I wish the internet had been about when I was a youngster, I think I would have been a far more accomplished guitarist if I had the internet to learn from. Maybe it was good that I never become that accomplished on the guitar as I would have probably wound up being another mediocre guitar player in another pub covers band. I learnt how to convincingly ‘cheat’ rather than play ‘correctly’.
I have never had a guide book on how to play, I just found my own way and continue to discover new patterns of playing on the fret board. I have never picked up the rudiments or the basics of the guitar and in some respects the guitar will always be a mystery to me. I am an accidental guitarist, I can play some things great – but only the once! A few very accomplished and respected guitarists have told me I am good, but I think most guitarists would be horrified by my playing and lack of formality.
I would describe my playing as a three year old playing Eddie Van Halen. Or as the Australian Guardian newspaper put it this year ‘…licks that could uncurl Jimi Hendrix’s afro’. I’m not sure if they meant that in a good or bad way.
In short I would say my relationship with the guitar is healthy, it is fun and I still enjoy playing it after 33 years. I’m not a an aficionado, or expert or a guitar snob, it is just something to play with, to while away the hours doing something constructive. Not a way of life or something to be worshipped. I know I’m never gonna be Michael Schenker and except my limitations as a guitarist, but I can still bang out a tune or pleasant noise to a reasonable standard.
What guitar gear do you use?
I use some pedals that I bought in the 80’s, an American Metal and EQ from DOD, a Cry Baby and lately a Digitech RP355 multi FX unit. I seldom if ever use amps in the studio and DI straight into the desk. The Digitech has some great amp models and a fantastic Fender twin verb.
The feel of the neck is the most important to me, tone can be artificially created, for the me the guitar needs to have a nice slim neck and low action.
I have an array of guitars, a 12 string acoustic, a Fender 6 string acoustic, a Gibson Explorer, a Tokai Thunderbird bass, a BC Rich Warlock, a very good Epiphone Les Paul gold top, a Flying V copy (which for a very cheap guitar sounds great and is a treat to play) and a strat copy which I have cut in half and shaved off the frets.
Which work of your own are you most surprised by, and why?
I’m never surprised by my own music, I spend so many months and years making it, I’m not really going to shock myself by what I do. What surprises me most is that I have made so many records and that I still have hundreds more to make. Also the hours and hours I invested in creating music way before digital technology came along, I find it difficult to remember how I achieved some of the results.
What do you need from music?
Originality, intrigue and accessibility. I like to listen to music that I want to hear again and again and again. I also like music with a ‘how the fuck did they do that?’ quality, I like to dissect recordings and figure out how they were made. I also like music that I would never be able to make intellectually, psychically or otherwise, for instance the choral works of Krzysztof Penderecki or the piano works of Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji.
Where are your roots? What are your influences?
My roots are firmly in hard rock and metal, I wouldn’t be making music today if I wasn’t raised on a diet of rock. It made me want to create my own music. Some people laugh when they think of rock posturing and guitar heroes, but for me it was my gateway into music, and I am not ashamed to acknowledge that in any way.
I can’t pretend to or tolerate fake pretentiousness and pseudo intellectualism. I think there is a lot of people who listen to music in the field that I am pigeonholed into that only enjoy music that is challenging, it’s a badge of honour to claim to like incomprehensibly difficult music. I like original innovative music, not noise.
My four main influences are Heavy Rock/Metal and the producers Steven Stapleton, J.G Thirlwell and Martin Birch.
What’s the role of technique in your work: playing, production, recording, internet sharing…
I storyboard my ‘conceptual’ music, writing down the phases of how the music will evolve and where it will go. Sometimes I start by improvising from an idea based on something I have read, or has made me laugh or inspired me in some way. I start with a concept – for instance the new recordings are all based on horror films and soundtracks. I usually improvise something on the piano or find a noise or rhythm and build everything around that. It just grows organically and creates itself, most of the time I find it very easy.
Everything after the recording is studio technique and editing which I have been trying to perfect for the last 30 years. I work alone generally and invite people to contribute if I feel I need something else, this is generally voices as I play almost all the instruments myself.
What are the challenges and benefits of today’s digital music scene?
The benefits of digital technology are immeasurable. They are amazing and something we could have only dreamt of 20 years ago. Home recording, i-Pads and i-Pods and are just incredible in what they can do and store.
Musicians generally moan about file sharing and how much more money they would make if people didn’t. That really doesn’t worry that much as I have a pretty dedicated fan base who much prefer the real product to downloads. I am a record collector and I think I know what genuine lovers of music want from a release.
I have had close to 100,000 plays on my download site, this in no way reflects the sales I have had, unsurprisingly the most popular downloads are the free ones. If you buy CD’s and records you are a music fan, you like artwork and liner notes, you have invested in the artist and your collection. If you stream music on-line you generally hear it on insufficient speakers and don’t really care about quality.
I would argue that a download is only half of the creation, artwork and notes and lyrics are the other half of the story, it is an incomplete picture just to own a digital file. If anything is free there is no investment, emotionally or financially, so you take it for granted, it ceases to have any value.
Depict the sound you’re still looking for. (With an image, a metaphor, a dream, a poem…)
It hasn’t been created… yet
Not in my imagination… yet
Or by anyone else.. yet
It may never exist
Which do you translate into music from other disciplines such as theatre, painting, architecture, ballet…?
My music has been used in dance, film and art. I have made 4 albums of fake soundtracks for horror movies and also released an album based on the art of Hans Bellmer. Film is something I would like to do more.
What is some valuable advice that someone has given to you in the past?
I have never really been given advice from anyone. When I started recording my music as a teenager the people I played it to, friends and family were completely dismissive, disinterested and ridiculed it. I wasn’t supported in any shape or form by anyone at all. So I created my own inner voice, I don’t really need any judgement or words of wisdom from anyone. The testament to your worth is almost certainly not from friends, it is from strangers who write to you and whom you meet who say “that was amazing”, but even then I don’t believe them!
My wife is really good at giving me advice these days, she is the only person who hears the records before they go to press. She has no technical knowledge but has an amazing clarity and honesty a musician would never have, she listens to the music on its own merits not on its technical prowess. If a ‘song’ is technically amazing yet a boring piece of music she will be the first to tell me, being competent at creating a complex and intricate song doesn’t necessarily mean they are good, and she brings that levity and clarity to the situation.
My advice would be do what you like regardless of how good at it you are or whoever likes or hates it. Create your own path. Never make anything for an audience, your achievements should be measured by your own standards – no one else’s.
Tell me one musical work which has provoked a change in your music. Why?
‘Hole’ by Scarping Foetus Off the Wheel, aka J.G. Thirwell. It is an album of exquisite studio technique and editing. It is also very funny lyrically and sounds amazing. I was inspired by it as it was all played and mixed by one man. It taught me you didn’t need a band or to be a virtuoso on any one instrument to make a record. It also taught me to be original and use the studio as your instrument. Along with this it also showed me that you could make a conceptually difficult and confrontational album with awkward and aggressive instrumentation yet still sound commercial and catchy.
What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?
I am massively productive and this year alone I have completed dozens of records, both solo and with Nurse With Wound and Current 93. Currently I am remixing a bunch of stuff for an assortment of bands and have a dozen releases to come out over the coming months.
Russell Cuzner: Between Hard Rock & An Art Space – 7th December 2011
Over the course of the two decades he’s been operating, Andrew Liles’ music has been a volatile, shapeshifting thing, both solo and in his work with Nurse With Wound and Current 93. Russell Cuzner speaks to him about his career so far and new album Schmetaling Monster Of Rock
Despite a career spanning over two decades and over 40 solo releases, Andrew Liles’ sound has remained elusive a surreal journey through dreamstates, childhood memories, perverse juxtapositions and perverted narratives. The combination of Liles’ highly personal vision and a work ethic bordering on the monastic produces unique excursions at once both familiar and unfamiliar as they confuse samples of reality (from circus music to nursery rhymes read by the Marquess of Bath) with queasy electronics and prepared instruments. Although this renders his releases defiantly unclassifiable, the work is united through an extraordinarily vivid reproduction that illuminates the elegance in the most unmusical of sounds. This is perhaps why Andrew has been a regular fixture in both Nurse With Wound and Current 93’s output for several years now.
And yet some of his recent work has started to reveal his long held passion for the guitar and the more conventional charms of heavy rock. This is due to become more overt with the imminent release of Schmetaling Monster of Rock. A continuation in his ‘Monster’ series of recordings that also includes the acid-frazzled Mind Mangled Trip Monster and Muldjewangk, Morgawr & Other Monsters, it’s a metal-based concept album that returns Liles to his musical first love.
Here, he speaks candidly about the album and its wider context, revealing some unexpected influences and explaining why he blames Bon Jovi for usurping the genre, along with discussing his new project, Art Error Ist, with Faust’s Jean Hervé Peron and Nurse With Wound’s Steven Stapleton.
You played as part of Art Error Ist at the weekend – how did it go? Are there plans to play further concerts or release anything together?
AL: It was great. I really enjoyed it. Total chaos and mayhem, chainsaws and madness. I blew up an amp and we are banned from playing the venue for an assortment of health and safety issues and excessive volume. So I consider it that a success… of sorts. ??We intend to play a few shows next year. We would like to make it an on-going concern as we all enjoy the freedom it allows, i.e. not being Nurse With Wound or Faust… Something quite different. We are all very different people and personalities within the group but also kindred spirits.
There is an idea for an album that we discussed at the weekend, whether it happens or not is another issue but I hope it does.
You were on electric guitar for much of the show. Guitar has also started to feature more in your solo work, particularly on last year’s Mind Mangled Trip Monster. What’s provoked this return to a more traditional sound source?
AL: I have always used guitar on almost all my recordings, though you would find it hard to determine that it was a guitar. I have played the guitar since I was 12 but never in a traditional way. I always detuned and played it the way I thought it should be played. I wasn’t deliberately detuning and being ‘avant garde’ as I knew nothing of that world; I just wanted to sound like Eddie Van Halen without having any lessons or trying to work out difficult chord shapes. When I was a little older and was messing around with teenage bands they didn’t really like my tuning. Although I could play most things they soon determined that I couldn’t play ‘properly’. So I thought fuck you and I went solo from the outset, no one wanted me anyway. In recent years I have taught myself how to play ‘properly’ and have found an intense enjoyment from playing. Mind Mangled… wasn’t a concerted effort to make a more traditional sounding record, it was just because I was playing the guitar a lot at the time, so that in turn lent itself to the making of that record.
It focuses on full-bodied acid folk songs, albeit sculpted with your customary surreal approach – even allowing a wood pigeon to join in at one point. What inspired you to explore this style of music?
AL: I had wanted to make a psych album for quite sometime. My idea of psych has always been different to what really is considered psych. Back to the guitar, I wanted to use that and I wanted to create an album where regular listeners went ‘Well I didn’t expect that!’ I have very diverse tastes in music and figure that my audience do as well, so I hope they can enjoy my flights of fancy, whims and musical departures.
The next instalment in your current ‘Monster’- themed collection, Schmetaling Monster of Rock, is set to be released later this year. Is the album going to be true to its title and feature heavy rock songs?
AL: Oh yeah, for sure it’s a metal/rock album of sorts! I don’t know what people are going to make of it. I have been working on it for years and years, at least four. But I think it is suitably ‘out there’ for people who like my music. It’s pretty far removed from a traditional sounding metal album. Part tongue-in-cheek, part serious, part homage to my love of rock and metal. I have Matthew Waldron on there, Maniac and Attila Csihar. Ian Paice was on there as well, albeit in a sampled form, but has since been replaced for fear of legal action. Michael Schencker’s management wanted £4,000 for a guitar solo, which of course was way out of my budget, but if I had the money I would have paid that. That was a shame for me as MSG was the first band I ever saw and it changed my life. Funnily enough both Michael Schenker and Ian Plaice appear on the new William Shatner album. I guess he had the four grand and more to pay them!
I also approached a lot of very well known rock stars to be on this one, and not one of the fuckers or their management replied. I was warned though from a friend who is pretty connected in that world that mainstream ROCK stars would not ‘get it’ at all. By all accounts boys in ROCK only do ROCK, anything else is pretty much off limits. It’s a crying shame really, a strange twist of irony that I am an outsider in the world that made me an outsider in the first place. C’est la vie.?
You’ve observed that “Bon Jovi systematically destroyed the values of heavy rock”. What is it about the music that has kept you listening all this time and how do you think Bon Jovi managed such a feat?
AL: I have been into rock and metal since I was a kid, from the age of 12. It inspired me to want to become a musician; flash bombs and super loud rock & roll and dry ice were the catalyst for me. If it wasn’t for Judas Priest or Black Sabbath there would be no Andrew Liles music, and maybe some people would think the world a better place without us!
Bon Jovi, to me, is homogenised rock/metal. They made it saccharine. The rock world all of a sudden had a pretty poster boy, a commodity that appealed to a wider audience. Rock for me is ugly, beer drinking, hell raising, adolescent acne faced misfits, not perms and pursed lips.
Rock to me has a cultural, class and social importance that has largely been ignored. Rock and metal is widely regarded as a bit of a joke, a cliché and with mocking irony, but to me it is (or was) very much a working class genre that fulfilled a role between being a kid and being a man. I would one day like to write an anthropological and cultural thesis about the subject, but maybe I shouldn’t, as that would negate the whole principle of ROCK.
So what was it that diverted you away from rock onto the left-hand path of more wayward electronic and post-Industrial sounds?
AL: The Sisters of Mercy. They were a ‘rock’ band when I first heard them; the term ‘Goth’ hadn’t really been invented then. So I used to listen to John Peel on the off chance that there might be a session by them. Whilst listening I heard ‘Sick Man’ by Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel, which blew my mind, and from there I found out all the bands that Jim Thirlwell was involved with…Coil, Nurse With Wound, etc, which in turn opened other musical doors for me.
Your work with Current 93 and Nurse With Wound has steadily increased over the past few years seeing both bands performing more than ever, but your solo shows seem to have ceased. Do you prefer playing in a band?
AL: I do much prefer to play live with bands. That is for a number of reasons really. The onus is not on me, I don’t like being the centre of attention, I’m not a front man. I also like the camaraderie of being in a band, hanging out and having fun. Doing solo shows is a pretty lonely occupation and to coax me to come and play solo is usually an expensive proposition, maybe too expensive.
After Schmetaling Monster… you have two CDs named Sideways Through Time in the works featuring just piano, gongs and cymbals. Is there a concept behind this release and what made you restrict yourself to just three acoustic instruments?
AL: Yes there is a concept behind the record. It is pretty complex to explain. I think the best analogy is thus: if you imagine your life as a pack of cards numbered 1 to 80, then you shuffled them. So one moment you could be two years old then the next day you could be 54 then 72 then 13 then one so on and so forth. So effectively you could be cutting sideways through time, the linear plodding journey that of course we all know on a daily and hourly basis is shattered. It’s just a tripped out idea, one day you’re on your deathbed, the next six years old on holiday.? Basically it is a recording about time, memory and mortality… Lost opportunity, sadness and forgetting. It’s not a fun packed ride at all. It is another of my personal audio representations… Essentially designed by me, for me, and if other people enjoy what I create that is pretty special.
I have restricted the instrumentation so that I can be more creative with less equipment. It is quite liberating to record this way; if you give yourself too much scope you can make a clouded and muddy record. When I first started recording in 1984 I had very little equipment, and when I listen to some of the stuff I recorded in the 80’s I think about the hours of effort I put into my recordings and how innovative I had to be. The clichés ring true… Less is more.
You’ve been remastering some of your earlier releases. What’s it been like re-listening to music you created years before?
AL: Generally I never ever listen to a record I have made ever again. I listened so much whilst creating the piece that I have exhausted all recreational possibilities. The creative process is over so it holds little interest for me.
If do listen to something again for remastering or re-release I just listen to it in a purely technical way, not for any kind of enjoyment. When I do go through recordings I am often surprised and marvelled how I made some of them, I have totally forgotten some of the processes and try to unravel them again. But like I say it is purely a technical thing. I consider listening to your own records for entertainment a bit like wanking off whilst looking at yourself in front of the mirror; it’s more than a little narcissistic. I’d much prefer to be carving myself a new hole to fill.
Mindaugas Peleckis: 14th August 2012
Could you please remember Your first encounters with music?
The first record I owned when I was a small child was ‘Do you Wanna Touch’ by Gary Glitter. I still love the song. My father played a lot of classical music and instrumental music, but I think the first piece of music that my father played and I really liked was ‘Tubular Bells’ by Mike Oldfield. Then when I was 12 I was very much into Heavy Rock and Heavy Metal, which I still love. In my teenage years I began to discover alternative and experimental music.
When did You begin to create Your music? What was the first piece?
I started making tape cut ups when I was about 13. I would record spoken word from the radio then edit those recordings on a tape-to-tape machine. Some of those experiments can be heard on ‘Miscellany Deluxe’. Notably ‘Find a New Husband’ – http://andrewliles.com/discography/miscellany.php.
You work(ed) in lots of bands and projects. Could You name those? With what band/project Your work as a composer is the most interesting?
I have worked with a lot of bands, too many to mention. You can find those out on my website in the discography section – http://andrewliles.com/discography/index.php.
I don’t find working with one band better than working with any other band. I invest the same time, dedication and enthusiasm on every piece of music on which I work. They are all fun and different and have their own induvidual challenges. I especially enjoy working with Steven Stapleton in the studio, we have a great working relationship.
You are one of the main Current 93 musicians. How is it to play in this cult band? How did You begin Your playing in Current 93?
I love playing and working with C93, I have always been a fan so it seemed a natural progression to work with them. I have known David for a fairly long time, and from working with him live at Nurse With Wound shows we became good friends, and from that we began to work on C93 projects.
What inspires You?
Anything and everything. People, places, books, films, jokes, concepts, philosophies, food, death, life, disaster, animals, insects, art, food, music…everything.
Could You tell a little bit about Your philosophy, religion?
I don’t believe in a god or higher being. I understand people’s need for it in their lives, to answer questions but it is not for me. I think the big three religions Islam, Christianity and Judaism to be divisive, invariably misogynist and homophobic. I think ALL other belief systems to oppose any form of rational thought. I think every individual is accountable for his or her actions and religion gives people a banner to hide behind and not think for themselves.
The sooner people learn to look after themselves, the people around them, their environment and stop living their lives by ludicrous medieval ideologies we can progress, until such time we will carry on living in the dark ages, a superstitious cul-de-sac based on fear.
What do You think about possible “end of the world”, apocalypse? Will it happen? When? How? Is now WWIII beginning?
I think the human condition likes to think it has everything worked out. We want to quantify everything and the ‘apocalypse’ is a part of this. People want an end chapter, an ending to the story; people want a ‘comic book’ ending, a great explosive catastrophe. They have watched too many disaster movies, read too many newspapers and believe too much media hysteria.
No, I don’t think we are in the ‘end times’, many environmental disasters and wars have happened on earth for hundreds of years and it has not ended yet.
Human life on earth will come to end at some point, it is an inevitability as all species become extinct, but I can’t see it happening just now.
But if the bombs do start dropping tomorrow there is not a lot I can do or say to prevent them, I will just open a beer and watch it all melt before my very eyes, I live high up on a hill so I will have a pretty good view.
Russell Cuzner: 11th June 2010
In the four years that have passed since Musique Machine last interviewed Andrew Liles, he has arguably become one of the UK’s leading explorers in experimental electronic music and is certainly among the most prolific. Inspired by popular science as much as the arts, his wayward imagination and technical flair guide his listeners through a highly-personalised sideshow of obscure and exotic sonic delights that are unconstrained by any school or set of styles yet somehow remain uniquely identifiable despite the diversity of his many, many releases. This has lead to him becoming collaborator of choice for many other pioneering musicians choosing the left hand paths of perception including both Current 93 and Nurse With Wound, where Andrew has been a consistent component of their recent live and recorded work. We caught up with him just following Current 93’s 25th birthday, celebrated by the release of their new album, Baalstorm, Sing Omega, (which Liles recorded, co-mixed and contributed guitar, bass and electronics) and just before the release of the first LP in his new solo, conceptual series ‘Monster’.
m[m]: Since your last interview with Musique Machine in 2006, you have released over 13 solo albums and possibly even more in the way of collaborative releases not to mention working on all of Nurse With Wound?s and most of Current 93’s albums and live shows since then. How do you find the time to accommodate all these activities?
AL: Is it that many? I didn’t realise. I have an obsessive compulsive nature and probably am a workaholic of sorts, but I don’t consider it work in any shape or form as I love what I do. Some records can take months if not years to complete, others sometimes are a lot quicker to do. Basically I work between 10 and 14 hours practically every day. I have breakfast and start creating.
I always have thousands of ideas, some that I work on for a given project that may come to fruition several years later so I am constantly working on six or seven ideas for different albums, singles or whatever comes into my mind. it’s a very schizophrenic way of working, sometimes I sit down and make a conceptual piece over a couple of months, other times I have a collection of folders that correlate with different projects I?m working on. I may do two or three tracks for a given project that may be completed in a couple of years time. There is always something I am working on? usually a whim.
m[m] ‘Monster’ is your new theme that spans your latest release (Monster Munch EP) and will continue onto two further albums and one mini LP, along with a book and an unusual amount of merchandise (obscene T-Shirts, wristbands, badges). What’s the background to this new multi-media project?
AL It’s in my nature to prefer collections rather than singular pieces. For instance I’ve always liked the idea of Volumes 1, 2, 3 etc which again appeals to my obsessive compulsive nature, but with the Monster idea I have been listening to a lot of The Cramps, I love horror movies and I wanted to make something extreme, gaudy and schlock horror. I thought this could be expanded to different types of media so eventually when I have completed the ideas, if I complete the ideas as it may run forever, it will be a huge body of work that interrelates and cross references both musically and visually to each release.
It also is great to have a project that incorporates everything I love creating, music, art and I have even written a long poem to be included in a book for the series.
Lately I have also been reading about world wide traditions relating to monsters, African cultures, Aboriginal cultures and cultures outside the west. I specifically wanted to make music around ideas of ‘exotic’ myths and legends and creatures. What I didn’t want to do is create something clich?d like Little Red Riding Hood or anything twee.
m[m]When will the next instalments become available?
AL ‘The Miraculous Mechanical Monster’ will be released in early July followed by a 12″ mini LP in August /September, then another LP in December or early 2011. Miraculous Mechanical Monster is the first LP in the Monster series. It is very very fucked up, it’s a story that I have written about a guy who falls in love with a ‘sex android’, and it all goes wrong. There is a lot of narrative in it and a lot of swearing. All of the text is written on the back of the LP so you can follow the story. I really don’t know what people are going to make of it. It is kind of sci-fi meets hard core pornography with a dollop of mental illness and a tiny bit of Phillip Glass.
m[m] Your previous series, the Vortex Vault, comprised twelve albums released once a month between 2006 and 2007. How much of the music on these releases was conceived for the series and how much was unreleased tracks needing a home?
AL Probably 70% was made for it, the other 30% was reworked to fit in both musically and aesthetically to the series so in reality the whole of the Vortex Vault was in many respects entirely new material.
m[m] I was fascinated to hear that you start a new piece by ‘conceptualising’ and ‘storyboarding’ a new piece of work, literally writing down a plan of attack before creating and combining any sounds. Is this still always the case? Have you ever started a track without a blueprint? And would you ever consider publishing these storyboards (either to accompany the corresponding release or as a tome in itself)?
AL I’d say 80% of my music is pre-planned, some extensively, some with just a word that I’ve read or a phrase or a story that I’ve read, whether that be pop science or in the newspaper or a joke. More complex material is written down, sometimes with a chart or just a series of words. To say the song is entirely structured from a storyboard is not strictly true because the ideas expand and elaborate and different instrumentation is used, so 50% of a song is adapted around the initial ideas and bears no semblance to the original concept.
I’ve started many songs without a blueprint but then I’ll read a word or a phrase and add that to the song. Which is a way of doing it backwards, the song written for the word or a title that came later.
As for showing people my storyboards, they would make no sense and would have no artistic or aesthetic value to anyone. Sometimes they are a bunch of post it notes with words written on them, sometimes they are large pieces of paper with diagrams drawn on them and without exception they wind up in the bin after the track has been made so they don’t exist even if I wanted to publish them.
m[m] You’ve politely declined invitations to reveal where specific ideas behind some of your solo work come from and suggested that any attempts to unravel their meanings would prove futile mainly due to an abundance of personal references within – do you think this deliberately unsolvable conundrum is part of the appeal, or just a by-product of your working methods, Do you enjoy a degree of the arcane in other’s work?
AL I like the idea of people investigating what some of the words and phrases mean in my work, and with the internet it’s not that difficult to find out anymore. For instance my recent 7, ‘Monster Munch’ has a series of numbers for track titles on side B, all these numbers, if you look them up on the internet, may reveal that they are the dates of the deaths of several rock stars. It strikes me most people don’t really investigate my song titles although they have specific personal or wider meanings. But I guess this is a problem with primarily instrumental music, that it does not give up a distinct and obvious narrative.
Many times the track titles relate to events and occurrences in my life, dreams that I have dreamt, in jokes with friends, so in a way the titles represent a kind of personal diary that remind me of things that have happened to me.
There are other things I incorporate as well, like length of songs, for instance all the Current 93 remixes are 39:39 in length, 93:93 backwards of course. The new ‘Haunted Waves’ LP is two sides 25 minutes in length, both representing 25 years of Current 93 and both tracks added together make 50 – David’s age. So there is a lot of thought that goes into most all releases that people do not notice. I did allude to this on the sleeve notes of ‘New York Doll’ – by writing ‘This recording is numerologically accurate’, but nobody has ever asked me why. But the devil is in the detail, I like that kind of anal retentiveness and ?completeness? to all the releases I work on.
I love the arcane in other peoples, work, after all I work with Current 93 and Nurse with Wound, they don’t come much more arcane than them!
m[m] Is the ‘numerologically accurate’ aspect to ‘New York Doll’ something to do with the track lengths mirroring the local time when the field recordings from the various locations were originally captured?
AL Not in the least. I think it was more to do with numbers that related to me. Dates of birth etc.but the exact reason is lost to me now. But I know it was important to me at the time and it was imperative that the album came out when it did. Nonsensical to me now though.
m[m] Research into the psychological processes involved when listening to music has, sadly but predictably, tended to focus on the effects of western classical music and more recently pop, but nothing as far as I’m aware that focuses on what happens when exposed to the more experimental side of sound. As much of your work disregards tonal music in favour of a more musique concrete approach (or contrasts the two) what do you think (or hope) happens in the mind of your listeners when experiencing this? And what, then, do you feel is the ideal listening environment for your work?
AL I’d like people to be entertained by my music, as regards its metaphysical and psychological effect on people, I’d be interested to hear what people would say. It is, of course, entirely open to personal interpretation, there are no right or wrong answers. There is no deliberate attempt to tap into the psyche of people, only in as far as to entertain them and enhance their day to day lives. I would be a liar to both myself and my listeners if I were to claim that my music has a profound physiological and psychological dimension. It is fundamentally entertainment, which of course in itself has a psychological effect.
I think a lot of musicians in the ‘underground’ music world pitch their releases as something they are not, for instance with occult references and pseudo science. It is generally a thinly veiled marketing ploy. So to make a serious academic study of the effects of ‘experimental’ music on the body and mind would entail wading through a mountain of horseshit.
I create music with no market in mind, only myself, I sit down and create some music that is disorientating or has a curious dizzying effect on me, sometimes I create music to relax to, sometimes I create music as background music, sometimes I create what I would call rock music, sometimes I try and get the bass levels to the absolute maximum and sometimes I try to get the treble to feel like broken glass but essentially it’s music made for me.
The ideal listening environment is entirely up to the listener but I would say very late at night in a very dark room with headphones on. You can hear more in the music when all the other senses are dulled and you can have the volume as loud as you like with headphones.
m[m] As youv’e been recording music for over two decades, are there any particular developments in computer technology over this time that have significantly modified the way you work?
AL Computers have revolutionised making music, but I have used the same programme for editing for 12 years! I am pretty low-fi when it comes to recording technology. Half the things I can do now would have been impossible when I first started recording. It works for me to use both old methods of recording as well as digital technology. There are many things that I can do in the studio that I wouldn’t know how to do or wouldn’t be any way near as good if I didn’t have the knowledge that I learnt many years ago on analog equipment.
m[m] How do you approach remix work? Is it largely computer-based or are other tools involved? Particularly, youv’e remixed an extensive amount of early Current 93 that?s just been consolidated into the huge box set, Like Swallowing Eclipses ? did you work from the original multi track tapes or are they remixes of the finished work?
AL Remixes, It depends what I am remixing. Sometimes it is a subtle enhancement, sometimes it is re-recording huge tracts to the way I think they should sound or be played, other times it is stripping back everything. It really depends on what I am remixing.
The Current 93 remixes are constructed from an amalgamation of both multi tracks and finished work. Some of the masters to the early albums do not exist anymore. So in part it was finding isolated parts from the final album mix and adapting them to sound like they were taken from the masters. The Current mixes were a very engaged process, adaptations of the final original mixes and adding a great deal of new material both digitally on the computer and recording fresh parts. David supplied me with some of the original music he had used on the albums, some of the Gregorian chant etc and I added a lot of subliminal voices, new musical pieces recorded by myself and Tibetan chant. It was a massive undertaking that I enjoyed immensely. Remixes to me are like solving a huge mathematical equation or putting together a jigsaw. It appeals to a part of me that desires fervent and precise organisation
m[m] Youv’e hinted on your website that youv’e been doing loads of new remixes ? can you tell us a little more about any of these?
AL Well the first one to come out, and the one I am most excited about should be by Voice of the Seven Thunders. I heard their album and begged to remix it. I think the album is so great. Really the kind of thing I listen to – kinda psych rock, fantastic. So I have had great fun messing with this one. it’s all very exciting because it is a bit out of my usual field, which is exactly what I wanted to do, something very different, something that people won’t expect. The remix is something that I am very proud to have done, I am very very pleased with the final result. Rick Tomlinson (of VOTST) also recently joined NWW on stage playing trumpet at our London show, so it was great to have him join our world and me join his, a great cross fertilisation. I would like to get involved with more diverse acts and make unpredictable remixes for unlikely artists who exist outside of the world that I am often pigeonholed into.
m[m] Like who?
AL Lady GaGa would be fun, but maybe a little improbable?.
m[m] All of your work is characterised by extremely vivid sounds that can come into an exceptionally sharp focus, be it melodious, discordant or ambient. Is this partly a symptom of the mastering skills that youv’e acquired over the years that others (including Bill Fay and Pantaleimon) are now employing?
AL The production and the mastering that I’ve done are skills that I’ve learnt since I began making music and are basically a result of, in my opinion, listening skills rather than technical skills. I assume there is a certain amount of technical knowledge required but my methodology is very simple – listen, EQ and be careful with the compression. I’ve learnt a lot of skills from Colin Potter and Steven Stapleton when it comes to studio technique and technology.
m[m] You do all your own artwork for your releases ? what media and methods do you use and would you like to develop this side of things independently of your music releases?
AL I don’t do all of my artwork, I have done about 90% of it. I use Photoshop and my vast collection of images that I find here there and everywhere. I wouldn’t call myself an artist, more of a ?sampler? of images. I would like to develop this further and am doing in a book that I currently have in production which again will be part of the Monster series. I would like to develop this in conjunction with my music and other ideas and productions that may or may not happen.
m[m] Youv’e been playing as part of Nurse With Wound now for over five years and have co-written the last four or so albums. Why do you think Steven Stapleton chose your good self (as well as Matt Waldron and Colin Potter) to help sail his ship?
AL Myself and Steve are very good friends, we have similar world views and come from similar backgrounds. We also have the same sense of humour. Steve, similar to David Tibet, invites people to work with him more on a personal and friendship level rather than musical capability. Myself, Steve, Colin and Matt have a very good sense of space and intuitively work together really well live. We have a similar musical aesthetic within Nurse With Wound and understand the music that we want to make. I have been a lifelong fan of NWW and understand the parameters and overall sound of Nurse, so in many respects it makes good sense for me to work with Steve.
m[m] Youv’e also become increasingly involved with Current 93, appearing on every release over the past three years or so. How different is the experience compared to your role with Nurse With Wound?
AL Working with Current 93 is surprisingly similar to working with NWW as myself and David are very good friends. David has a very specific idea of how he wants a record to sound and when we set about making a record we usually reference something visual or something that relates to a film or just a feeling. The parameters of working with Current 93 are a lot more controlled than working with NWW but as with NWW there are no hard and fast rules, anything is possible.
Both being non-musicians in the classical sense myself and David communicate on a level that is completely unmusical but we know entirely what the other person is trying to convey. For instance with the new album Baalstorm, we wanted to create an air of eastern mysticism for certain parts and instantly knew how to achieve this.
m[m] Since youv’e been involved with Current 93 there’s been a distinct hint of heavy metal on some recent works (particularly on Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain). Was this in any way your influence, being a young metal fan yourself in the eighties?
AL David specifically wanted to create a heavy rock record with Aleph. It wasn’t my idea to create a heavy record but I was more than happy to be involved. Both David and I have a huge love and affection for heavy rock, especially Judas Priest.
As a footnote to the rock question I would like to add that I personally do not view heavy rock or metal in a post modern ironic way. I think it is so often marginalised as pathetic or discredited as juvenile. I view metal and rock as a powerful and emotive working class form of escapism, a lot more culturally significant than it is given credit. It irritates me that so many people immediately associate rock with hair metal and ac/dc t-shirts. It is head and shoulders above the cliches and tongue in cheek derision given to it by writers at The Guardian.
m[m] Indeed, you named a track from the ‘Black Panther’ volume of the ‘Vortex Vault’ ‘Bon Jovi Systematically Destroyed The Values of Heavy Rock’, and it’s easy to see why. But do you hold anyone else responsible, maybe Spinal Tap (or at least the incredibly widespread popularity of the film that extended far further than those with an interest in heavy rock), Or maybe the likes of papped celebrities such as David Beckham or Miley Cyrus wearing Iron Maiden t-shirts more recently?
AL I guess there has always been bands that have chipped away at the monolith of real rock. Def Leppard, Europe, Stryper, Van Halen, Guns and Roses, they should all be held accountable, and none more so than Aerosmith, a fucking despicable stomach churning sack of shit, I hate them almost as much as I do Bon Jovi. As soon as highlights and perms came in to rock it was the beginning of the end. Look what happened to Whitesnake who started out as a really great blues rock band, what the fuck went wrong?. AOR and MOR, a watered down radio friendly approach to worship at the altar of the Yankee dollar. Also the likes of Stevie Vai and Yngwie Malestrom had a hand in the decimation of rock, virtuosity over good song writing.
As regards to Spinal Tap, it is one of my favourite movies. I am not saying rock and metal are not ridiculous and clich?d, they are of course. I guess what I am trying to say is that rock is much more culturally significant than it is given credit for. It can also be very sophisticated. When you look at the lyrics of say Phil Mogg from UFO they can be very clever, and Bon Scott was an amazing lyricist and extremely funny: ‘It was one of those nights, when you turn out the lights and everything comes into view’, from a ‘Touch too Much’ never ceases to make me laugh.
I have met many ‘experimental’ artists who have a huge knowledge and appreciation of rock. I guess it is in some ways an introduction to music for many teenage kids, it was for me. I wouldn’t be making music today if I had not seen Judas Priest when I was 12. I guess metal is viewed by the teenage mind as a bit outsider, a bit edgy, a bit antisocial or aggressive, something that you need when you are a kid, maybe it gives you an identity of sorts in the playground. All the sporty and trendy kids, well they can keep their pop music, I?m an outsider, a bit Columbine, a freak, you know – a bit occult, guns and bombs – don’t fuck with me. So in many ways it’s a great introduction and gateway to discover more ‘extreme’, obscure and ‘out there’ art.
As regards to David Beckham?well he is an icon for the modern age. People just want to be him – rich, attractive, vacuous, shallow and FUCKING STUPID. People aspire to that, yeah he is undoubtedly very talented at kicking a ball, maybe a genius at ball control, what the fuck do I know I have no interest in sport at all. But when these people become talking heads about politics, culture or social issues we are all fucking doomed. I have no problem with David Beckham, Leona Lewis, or all the other Pop Idol, X-Factor made up superstars? just the masses of fucking morons who have an interest in their every fashion move, cunts. I remember when David Beckham wore that sarong, how many fucking idiots did you see copying him, utterly fucking remarkable yet impressive, one man can get many thousands of men to wear a dress and look utter fucking dicks, remarkable.
m[m] You seem to be picking up the guitar more often these days, particularly in Nurse With Wound’s recent live sets and rocking out on parts of your collaboration with Diana Rogerson (No Birds Do Sing), is this something you’d like to develop further? Are your heavy metal influences coming further to the fore?
AL I try to play the guitar every other day and am beginning to learn it properly after decades of just messing around. I really enjoy playing the guitar but don’t feel the necessity to incorporate it into my recordings, but saying that, I am working on a heavy metal record in my Monster series.
m[m] Youv’e also been working recently with Maniac of Skitliv (and formerly of black metallers, Mayhem) on a couple of projects (Sehnsucht and Maniac/Liles/Czral) are there further plans in this vein?
AL Nothing at the moment although Attila and Maniac appear on the forthcoming Monster album mentioned above.
m[m] You have recently released a track on wax cylinder and have previously released a business card CD and a ringtone, as well as never neglecting vinyl releases. Do you enjoy experimenting with formats? Are there any other formats you?d like to explore?
AL I think I’ve done pretty much every format. I would never ever ever do a cassette release but would consider a symphonium star wheel!
m[m] Cassettes seem to be rising in popularity of late (maybe because they’re not so easy to rip to a computer), what don’t you like about them?
AL Yeah I have seen a rise in popularity, I have even been asked to release one. My problem is they sound like utter shit, look terrible and there is no real space for art. Ugly stupid things that you have to rewind. I have always hated them. They were the free MP3 download culture of yesteryear,’ the album isn’t that good but I will tape it for you’
I really don’t think it would prevent the work being downloaded either. All my vinyl only releases have been transferred to digital files and put up for free download by a bunch of utter cunts out there.
m[m] Jnana Records has set up a download site for some of your releases. How do you feel about digital formats?
AL I have just got my first I-pod and had great fun filling it up. I think digital formats are great in their portability but know that the vast majority of my listeners have never bought a record by me and have illegally downloaded all of my material. I’d rather two people bought a disc from me than 20,000 download it for free. Without sounding too Lars Ulrich I think to share files and give away free music is a real lack of appreciation of the music people create. To get something for free is often to take it for granted, it shows no devotion or investment in ideas or art. MP3s usually are a collection of meaningless, formless and uncontextualised data rather than any kind of appreciation or belief in music or art.
Digital, it’s not a format I care for much because I am a record collector, I like the physical product, gatefold sleeves, coloured vinyl etc. I need a tangible object rather than just the music alone. I think my cover designs and text are almost half the concept behind the release. To have just the music is to have only half of my ‘message’, half of my art. Some of my favourite records are for the cover alone, I really think people are missing out with just a download
m[m] Youv’e expressed a fascination for scientific innovations and eccentricities of the 19th century, is there much in contemporary life that tickles you in a similar way?
AL Erotic shops fascinate me. I always go in them when I am on tour, they seem a lot more prevalent in Europe. They really make me laugh. Some of the contraptions are shockingly amusing and sometimes disturbed, sometimes elegant. Regardless of their purpose some of the vibrators are amazing in their design and construction. I am especially fascinated by some of the licensed and officially sanctioned synthetic porn star rubber vaginas you can buy, they are a cross between cheap and nasty and very sophisticated. The length that people go to just to have sex with themselves is hilarious. It is a never ending source of amusement that appeals to my inner teenager.
m[m] What’s made you laugh recently?
AL The ‘Travel Pussy’ that Steven Stapleton bought for me from a vending machine in Germany. Really very funny indeed.
Richard Johnson: Adverse Effect (Volume III) #2: Winter 2004/2005
Æ: Can you start by telling us something about your recent collaboration album with Tony Wakeford, The Wardrobe’s Cups in Cupboard, please? How did this come about? I personally wouldn’t have thought Sol Invictus’ work slots comfortably alongside your own…
AL: The Wardrobe album was a vehicle for myself and Tony to do something that is neither Andrew Liles nor Sol Invictus. We have got a band name as we want it to be a rolling project and not just a one-off, as so many collaborations are. The Wardrobe came about through Karl Blake, who said Tony was looking for a new member for Sol Invictus. I met up with Tony and discussed a few ideas and projects. The conversation evolved into a talk about the Selfish Shellfish album Tony made with Steven Stapleton. So we decided to make a recording in that fashion. I’m really not competent enough on any instrument to play ‘proper’ songs in a band. I was in bands when I was a teenager and was never entirely comfortable with that set-up, so decided to work alone, and do to this day even when I collaborate.
As for Sol Invictus not fitting in with what I do? Well, what do I do? I think I am pretty diverse and appreciate pretty much all musical genres. Trees in Winter is a great album and parts of Against the Modern World appeal to my world outlook, so it seemed a reasonable avenue for me to take a walk down.
Æ: I was thinking more along the lines of their often-deemed-dubious political connotations actually, but I guess that’s either irrelevant or not a consideration? I don’t know how true they are, anyway…
AL: I think its irrespective. I know my political angle. If i thought for one moment that Tony was active in ANY political movement I wouldn’t be part of it.
Æ: More generally, you’ve been becoming increasing prolific during the past year or so. You must be constantly sweating it out in the studio in order to both avoid stagnating and keep moving forward. Where do the ideas keep coming from?
AL: Well, this isn’t necessarily true. The way record labels work, or so it appears, is they are slow, very slow, and they can take time to release everything. I have a lot of older recordings that are just appearing. The last year or so has seen my popularity (if you can call it that) gain a little ground, so a lot of labels are approaching me to do stuff – I find it hard to turn down a lot of the time as I spent so many years in the wilderness. Also, it takes anything from a year to 2 years to make one of my albums, and I tend to work on 3 or 4 albums at once.
I am always in the studio and have for the last 3 months spent 12-14 hours a day, every day, working on material, ideas and artwork. It is the headspace I am happiest with – maybe I am running away from the ‘real’ world and I’m creating my own little universe in my dingy little studio? Who wants to engage with it all ‘out there’? I certainly don’t want a part of it. More and more, I find people that I have known and met are drifting into a world that I really don’t have any interest in. They seem to have careers, embrace the modern work ethic, populist culture and ideals that are increasingly at loggerheads with my own. I think they see me as the little man with the music ‘hobby’ and give me a metaphorical pat on the head and a sarcastic grin. They tend to only measure things by finance and ‘success’. I guess if I made a fortune and hung out with Justin Timberlake they would consider me to be a real ‘artist’ a real success…
Æ: I know what you mean. I can’t believe Lydon’s using that imbecile to play him in a forthcoming biopic…
AL: Really? That’s just…well insane. As for ideas, fortunately they never ever stop. I am thinking constantly about the next thing, the next big idea. Invariably, all my recordings are conceptual and all but a few have significant numerological equations in there. I get my ideas from books and art, everyday events and the arseholes I meet. I seldom read fiction and have little interest in other people’s imaginary tales so I find a lot of my source material in popular science books, the occult, ancient history, British comedy, biographies and I have a great interest in wildlife, exotic animals and marine life. That’s where I source all my ideas and song titles. There is a lot more research and investigation into each track than people realise. Unfortunately, it would take a learned ear to hear all the animals in the recordings and a genius to unravel all the numerological and linguistic equations of any given recording.
Æ: Have you known anybody to try, though?
AL: No one has really tried, to my knowledge – I think they treat the music as sonic entertainment rather than a conceptual puzzle. I think as the vast majority of my music is instrumental people don’t really consider there to be a theme or message in there…but there is – but mainly just for me to relocate and remember or laugh. They have many hidden references only I could unravel.
Æ: Given the nature of your music, when do you know that any one piece is actually ready? I mean, you weave in a lot of ideas, so I presume it can become difficult to determine a point at which to stop…?
AL: My wife is the executive producer (although I overrule her quite often). I play her some stuff and she says what works and when to stop. She has no real interest in ‘experimental’ music, which is perfect because she has no preconceived ideas about the technique or how things should sound. She will come into the studio and I will play her stuff and she will say, “That’s too long”, “That sound is great”, “That is embarrassing”, “Keep that” and “Stop it there”. I can create something technically and musically elaborate and intricate, but she might come in and say it’s boring, and a lot of the time she has a point. So what if a song is well put together or masterful in a technical way? If a song doesn’t ‘entertain’ or engage the listener, it doesn’t work.
More and more, I am trying to create something that sounds deliberately nothing like anyone else. I want to bring in musical elements and structures but in a really odd way. I’m drifting away from the long monolithic drone tracks and want to write 3 minute ‘pop’ songs. I think a lot of people both as consumers and artists stay in a safe zone and don’t want to add anything new or different. Maybe that’s part of my downfall; if I stayed within the parameters of what people expect and know I would be commercially a lot more successful. Talking about shorter tracks, though, I have just finished The Dying Submariner, which is 4 tracks in 72 minutes and is a piano concerto. I guess I’m schizophrenic and want do everything all at once. Knowing when to stop comes with what I want to hear and what entertains me. Being inventive, original and continually doing totally different projects and styles is what is important to me. I want people to say, ‘I really haven’t heard anything like that before,” and that is the toughest thing to do.
Æ: In this same sense, would you consider yourself a perfectionist?
AL: Without doubt. I listen to every sound in microscopic detail. If one tiny sound ruins the track for me I will do it all again. There is no point in the ‘make do and mend’ approach. Everything has to be spot on. I paid hundreds of pounds for Mother Goose to be mastered in a professional and expensive studio. I didn’t like the results so I personally mastered it all again. Although the professional mastering cost me about half of what I will make out of the recording it taught me a valuable lesson – never release anything you aren’t 100% happy with and do everything yourself.
Æ: You have been known for all manner of other collaborative work and, indeed, have a number of other such recordings pending. Is it an area you will continue to explore? What’s the biggest attraction with it for you?
AL: All the people I have worked with have been people I admire or who have influenced me some way or who are friends. The biggest attraction is to have these wonderful people, people that I listened to and admired artistically for years and years to be part of something I create. It can be quite a disconcerting position to be in, to find yourself making a cup of tea in the kitchen for one of your teenage heroes.
I love having other people on my records and when I am creating a track I listen back to it and go, “That would be good if so-and-so could sing on this or so-and-so adds his mark to it.” Then I write to them and I am in a fortunate position to have the majority of people say yes. But now I think it’s time for me to do solo work – and I have with The Dying Submariner, so I think the collaborative stuff will fade a little. Contradicting that statement, though, there is talk of working on a Nurse With Wound album, work with David (Late) Tibet and possibly more work with Danielle Dax and Karl Blake.
Æ: Are there any other artists you’d like to collaborate with that you’ve yet to approach?
AL: I want to work with Marilyn Manson (honestly!) – anybody who can contact him for me, I would much appreciate it. I also have an idea for an album; the working title of which is Corrosive Alkaloids. It will be another ‘concept’ album. The concept is based on my theory that the bands Europe and Bon Jovi systematically destroyed Heavy Metal. English heavy metal and particularly NWOBHM is a very close thing to my heart. I think metal has a very poignant and powerful cultural and social significance. Metal gives the alienated teenage boy meaning, dreams, freedom and a voice, and I think the fluffy pop rockers took away some of the magic/mystery of it all . A teenage boy needs a place to conjure dragons and go “hot rockin’” in an insular, lonely way – not the cotton candy pop-rock of Van Halen or Skid Row. Anyway, maybe I am out of time or sync with the modern world of metal but I want to invite some old classic metal singers onto the recording to do some narration. I have some people on the case, trying to set up contacts for me.
Æ: That could be interesting. Can you name who you’ve got in mind, or is it too early to say? What’s the appeal of Marilyn Manson for you, too…?
AL: Too early to say, as it might just all fall through. Marilyn Manson? I like his music, the glam, the showmanship, the iconic status – it would be funny to dabble in the rock world.
Æ: Can you explain the preoccupation with dolls and suchlike that frequently adorn your albums’ artwork?
AL: It’s not really a conscious thing. Maybe in a subconscious way it’s something to do with things being lifelike but not quite real? A fascination with security in the facsimile as opposed to the real? Safety with automatons rather than the real human form? After all, most humans are terribly disappointing. Besides, dolls and mannequins are pretty fascinating things. I have a collection of them about the house. I think it’s more to do with aesthetics than any deep-seated concept.
Æ: Recently, you seem to have become somewhat embraced by the world that’s spawned NWW, C93 and The Hafler Trio, etc. Is this something you are comfortable with? Surely, whether by default or design, being so associated with these groups now must be both good and bad…?
AL: It’s good in the sense these are artists that I admire. I don’t think I sound particularly like any of them. I assume it’s because I have worked with a lot of people in this field. I think people want to have an instant pigeonhole to put you in and I guess that’s where they put me. It’s bad in the fact that I would like to be recognised as a valid and worthy artist independently of my connections to other groups. It’s also a promotional thing by record labels and suchlike to say, “Andrew Liles has worked with blah blah blah,” so they can get more people to buy records. It’s nothing to do with me and completely out of my control. I don’t really want to stay in a ‘post-industrial’ genre, or be bracketed into any genre at all…I just want to be me.
Æ: It’s inevitable that such pigeonholes arise, but at least this one doesn’t conjure any particular music. As pigeonholes go, it’s a healthily diverse one, don’t you think?
AL: It’s okay. I don’t know. It doesn’t really trouble me especially.
Æ: Which of your releases are you most proud of?
AL: The one that I am currently working on is always the best. I think My Long Accumulating Discontent is probably the most musically accomplished. But all of them have parts or elements that make me think, “That bit is good.” It’s probably easiest to tell you the worst – but I wont do that.
Æ: Oh, go on! Or, at least, tell us which album you’re least happy with. It’s usually an artist’s early work that leaves such an aftertaste, I find…
Æ: You’ve played live on a number of occasions. How do you feel about that when compared to the greater control you must have in the studio?
AL: Um…live – I am not entirely comfortable with playing live. But sometimes it can be fun. The reason playing live is good is because there are a lot of chance elements that I use. I use a sawn down guitar and some fridge trays that I bow and CD players on random play. I can pick and choose what is going to happen and every show is different as there is so much improvisation. It can be a lot more fun than the studio because you can go over-the-top and can be really loud and do stupid, unnecessary things. I never use a computer live and always use visuals, so it’s (I hope) entertaining for the listener and me. It has to be a lot different from the studio, and has to have a distinct entertainment value. I see little point in recreating what I have done on CD live, so it has to be different.
Æ: Did you enjoy the dates in Poland? Any stories…?
AL: In Warsaw I thought they were going to kill me. Some drunken undesirable types turned up and threatened me before and after the show. Krakow was a great and intimate little show. All in all, I think it made me think about what I am doing live and now I have specific notion of what, where and how I want to do things in the future.
Æ: So, you’ll play live again, then…?
AL: Yeah, if the location and time and other factors meet my new criteria.
Æ: Prior to recording in your own name, were you involved with any other music or groups?
AL: A number of years back, myself and a gentleman called Will Foster had a little jazz combo called The Width/The Girth. I sung. It was [based around] humourous jazz numbers and blues songs with disturbing lyrics; I have the album we recorded somewhere [and] it might be nice to get it out one day. We had some label interest at one point but it fizzled out. Will went on to travel the world as a session musician and now is a fully paid up member of The Tears with Bernard Butler and Brett Anderson. Last I saw of him, he was on the Jonathan Ross show hanging out with Pamela Anderson. He went into the world of the glitter and went back to the inspiring world of the gutter. I did dabble with a pop artiste not so long ago, but never again – another lesson learnt. I think I will stick to my subterranean environs.
Æ: Your own background is in more rock-orientated music, isn’t it? How does this correlate to the music you now make…? Was there a particular point where you discovered you enjoyed other forms of music apparently far removed from rock…?
AL: I like rock music as recreational music. It bears no semblance to what I do in any aspect. I was never an accomplished enough a guitarist to be in a stadium rock band. There was no sudden realisation that I enjoyed other music other than metal; it just evolved as I grew up – a natural progression, if you will. The interests that metal provoked in me, demons and the occult, led me down different paths and onto different music.
Æ: Whose music are you enjoying at the moment?
AL: AC/DC, Judas Priest, Andrew Chalk, Johnny Cash and Goldfrapp.
Æ: Quite a mixture! I trust that a few of these are longtime favourites anyway…?
AL: Yeah, Judas Priest are [and I have] got really into them again of late. Also, I have been listening to Aranos and a lot of French pop (ye ye) music, Bridgette Bardot and UFO – it swings wildly, my taste!
Æ: Going back to your music, some of your releases have been issued as very limited editions. What are you views on such items, though? A good strategy to gain attention…?!
AL: Limited Editions? Um…I am in two schools, really. On the one hand, I am a collector and know the importance of owning a unique and interesting release; it has a magic of its own and is an integral part of being a record collector. Market forces drive limited editions in some respects; you can sell out of a limited item and have albums sitting on the shelves for years. I have never released a limited edition to gain attention. It has been guided by supply and demand. I have a limited audience and think I know what they want. In some respects, they are made out of necessity rather than a quick cash-in, and I try to make mine as special as financially possible.
On the other hand, I feel that I can release something in a tiny edition and have it sell out in minutes, but my more personal, important and more engaging works, i.e. the albums, are far slower to go. I would love to see my CDs mass marketed and in every shop, but along with that you lose the intimacy and personal touch. It’s a tough call. On the one hand a CD is completely disposable and a pretty uninspired product, yet is the most sonically accurate and unfortunately the easiest to bootleg, whereas vinyl is fetishist, fragile and needs taking care of. It is the devotees’ format so, in some respects, I would prefer an audience of people who cherish and care than those who throw the CD box in the back of the car and let it get covered in dirt.
I really think there are two kinds of people: those who collect and lovingly look after artefacts and treat them as more ‘art’ than data storage, and those who don’t really care and want to hear the music regardless of the box it comes in. The strategy is to cater for both parties. I also think it’s a dying art; a lot people now seem to be just into downloading music and don’t seem to be bothered about the artwork. By a quick search on Soulseek I can see far more people are stealing my music than buying it. In fact, if they actually bought my music I would be able to earn a reasonable income from my art. I think people don’t actually realise how poor most artists are. So, maybe this is part of the reason for the limited edition phenomenon.
Æ: Graphic or visual art appears equally as important to you as the music. I mean, your releases generally feel as though a lot of consideration has gone into every aspect. Would you agree?
AL: Everything relates – the art, the music, and ideas. The art and imagery are an integral part of what it’s all about. Without the art the piece seems half done.
Æ: You also collect art as well, right? Which pieces do you cherish the most?
AL: Yeah, I have quite a large collection of art. In many respects, I prefer the visuals arts and comedy to music. I have some art by Hans Bellmer; I think that is probably the most cherished. I also have some letters from Eric Stanton (the fetish artist) that he sent me just before he died which I hold dear. I have a few Trevor Brown pieces and an assortment of Jan Svankmajer’s. I cherish pretty much all of it; it’s a collection that makes up a whole rather than one unique work that stands alone.
Æ: Who else’s work do you admire in this field?
AL: Oh, far to many to mention…Todd Schorr, Paul McCarthy, who has a great exhibition on in London at the moment…oh, too many to say…
Æ: You also mentioned an interest in comedy, and I’m completely with you on it. Anything that can make us look at the human condition differently or that can laugh at the absurdity of everything tends to win my support. However, what do you personally enjoy watching?
AL: Right now, I have just picked up the boxed set of Curb your Enthusiasm, which is the funniest thing I’ve seen in years; a true work of genius. I also really need to pick up The League of Gentleman box and am a a big fan of Ronnie Barker. Barker released a lot of books of saucy postcards in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, with great titles such as Ohh La La – the Ladies of Paris and Gentleman’s Relish. I think he was a lot more controversial than people realise. I collect all kinds of stuff about uniquely British comedy. I love Bob Monkhouse, Ealing Comedies, Dick Emery and Tommy Cooper.
Æ: To bring things to a close, can you just go through some of the current or imminent releases, please. Looking at your website, it forever appears that there any number of new releases due at any given time. It’s hard to keep up with what’s going on…!
AL: Coming up there is the latest album, Mother Goose’s Melody: Or Sonnets For The Cradle, which should be out by the time this article appears. I recorded Lord Bath at his penthouse in Longleat in October 2003 [and] the Mother Goose sessions grew out of these spoken word pieces and evolved into what I consider a very idiosyncratic and innately ‘English’ album. Also, there is In My Father’s House Are Many Mansions. This is basically a lot of people remixing my material, people such as Nurse With Wound, H30, Aranos, Colin Potter and many many others. Then, Auto Manipulator, a 15 track concept album of short songs about an imaginary sex machine; much like an orgasmatron. Then there’s Ouarda (The Subtle Art of Phyllorhodomancy), which has contributions from Karl Blake and Danielle Dax. And, finally, The Dying Submariner: (A Concerto for Piano and Reverberation in Four Movements), appeared in late 2006.
Since this interview was conducted, many other releases have either been released or at least been announced via Andrew Liles’ website. In my earnest opinion, he’s creating some of the most fascinating and personal music around at the moment, which never fails to either surprise or stir the senses.
Tobias Fischer: 1st February 2007
According to an influential internet gazette, Andrew Liles has now been officially introduced to the upper eschelon of electronic artists and to the pantheon of drone music so to speak – a place he shares with artists like William Basinski, Mirror and Nurse with Wounds (with whom he is currently touring). But his journey has never been an eayy or obvious one and he has acchieved his status through patience, a more than fair amount of talent and especially hard work. While his composing activities started in the early 80s, it took him until 1997 to publish his first record and then another four years, until he made the step from self-released CDRs to professionnaly printed and distributed albums on various renowned labels. With the announcement that Beta Lactam Ring Records will publish a different new album of his over the entire next twelve months, Liles has reached the achme of a long and winding road, which has introduced a highly private and intimate music to a remarkly varied audience. Not obviously dark, but rather nostalgic and touching like an old picture of someone you once loved mery much, his pieces seem to loose themselves inside an embryonic time gap, where nothing matters but the passing of this very moment. When it comes to playing live, though, Andrew holds an entirely different philosophy, admiring the aesthetics and power of rock events. If his vision should once turn into a reality, he would certainly be the first to present dreamy soundscapes as played by an Iron Maiden and Judas Priest cover band.
Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Me? I’m okay – and I am… under the stairs
What’s on your schedule right now?
Insanely busy, planned over the next few months and years are possible recordings with the following people – Nurse With Wound, Andrew McKenzie and Colin Potter. Recordings already completed and coming out in October include the new ‘The Wardrobe’ album (a project between myself and Tony Wakeford), a double vinyl release on Die Stadt with Jonathan Coleclough and further down the line a remix for Paul Bradley. On top of all that coming out on Raash Records in March 2007 is ‘Ourada’ which is a solo release with a dozen guests. Also more live shows with Nurse With Wound. Then throughout 2007 I have the improbable and all consuming ‘Vortex Vault’, a series of 12 CDs released every month for Beta-lactam Ring Records. Then maybe I should retire.
What or who was your biggest influence as an artist? Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?
Influences are far and wide but currently my main influence is my personal experiences, both present and historical. I don’t see myself as part of any movement. My music is what it is and I don’t feel the need to be attached to any scene or club. I am bracketed and placed where reviewers and music people put me, its not something I have much of a control of.
What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
I‘m sorry to say I don‘t really get involved with any music scenes. The crisis I think you are referring to is downloading music, its only a problem in the fact that people don‘t earn as much as they used to, but its good thing for people who want free music. I think ‘real’ music collectors will always want an artefact not a cold machine with a load of files that you will never listen to. Music is in a state of flux it is a changing landscape we will see what evolves. I think recordings in 5.1 with visuals is the way forward, people want more than just music these days in connection with music?
What does the term „new“ mean to you in connection with music?
New would mean something that totally blew me away, something I have never heard before, something engaging, unique and special, I’m still looking for it.
How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
They are one and the same. Ideas are sometimes more important than the music, a sentiment can go a lot further than any musicianship.
How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
They are, again one and the same. All music is improvisation. Even composing for a regimented instrument like the piano initially starts with messing around and seeing what sounds good.
What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
Good live performance? In short something that entertains, I like showmanship. I love rock concerts, flash bombs, pyrotechnics, strobe lights, I’m quite base like that. My approach to live music? um tentative… I am working on ideas to make it more of a multi-media experience – but it will take time. I think that to watch a not entirely attractive balding man twiddle knobs can be a bit dull so I like to use visuals
A lot of people feel that some of the radical experiments of modern compositions can no longer be qualified as “music”. Would you draw a border – and if so, where?
If you like it I really don’t think it matters. I think a lot of modern composition is just unlistenable nonsense, as regards to if it’s music or not I don’t really think I am qualified to say. Again it is what it is, if people like it who am I to judge.
Are “serious” and “popular” really two different types of music or just empty words without a meaning?
‘Serious’ denotes complex ideas and the ‘difficult’ with a limited market, ‘popular’ denotes mass appeal and transitory, both have really good practioners, equally both have really terrible qualities. I like both.
Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
For me personally it is a purely personal pursuit. There are politics in there but too personal and abstract for people to decipher. I don’t want to change the world, I’m not looking for a new England…ho ho ho.
True or false: People need to be educated about music, before they can really appreciate it.
Rubbish, anyone can enjoy any music regardless of their knowledge. Generally people with no preconceived ideas about how things should or shouldn’t sound make the best critics and the best musicians.
Imagine a situation in which there’d be no such thing as copyright and everybody were free to use musical material as a basis for their own compositions – would that be an improvement to the current situation?
No, it lacks imagination. Create your own music, why repeat what exists already. Anyway I don’t think we are far from that now. It is the end already.
You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
Tricky, I really don’t know, but my festival would certainly be impossible as the people I would like are all dead Raymond Scott, Blind Willie Johnson and Ivor Cutler. If it was a 3 day event I would have a heavy metal night, a big band night and a night of abstract and innovative music and it would also have to have a comedy tent.
Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
It always sounds like the latest thing I am working on, I guess its unachievable. The new album is always going to be the best its what keeps you going – you want to achieve bigger and better every time and it getting hard. Some things get better with age some sound terrible, at the end of the day I guess someone out there will tell you what it is as and when I get there!
Lucas Schleicher: Reporting the Hideous – 4th February 2007
Andrew Liles took time out of his increasingly busy schedule to answer some questions for Brainwashed. His massive Vortex Vault project, many of his past albums, his work with everyone from Steve Stapleton to Jonathan Coleclough and Daniel Padden, and future releases in the making are discussed, as well as roses, electronic voice phenomenon, eroticism, anagrams, Hans Bellmer, and covert recordings in Egypt.
Lucas Schleicher: You’ve told me that the first thing you ever made a recording on was a tape recorder your dad owned. How much did your early experience with music affect the way you record now and in what ways were you affected?
Andrew Liles: My father always played music every day and all the time, either the radio or records: he had and still does have quite eclectic tastes. I remember many, many years ago he got out a pair of headphones and sat me down to listen to a programme on BBC radio that was solely based on the utilisation of stereo. Basically the radio show was a programme dedicated to what, at the time, was the relatively new world of FM stereo radio. The radio programme featured a recording of man running through fields and across various terrains whilst being pursued by some other people with dogs, the details are sketchy: after all it was over 30 years ago, but this has stayed with [me] since. I was fascinated from then on with how things could spin around your head or how you felt like you were right there. I assume a lot of my music to this day is based on this single experience, on how you can manipulate sound to create tension and space and alter the senses.
[LS] There are distinctly turn-of-the-century American, English, and maybe even Victorian themes in some of your music. I’m thinking principally of the My Long Accumulating Discontent and Aural Anagram/Anal Aura Gram albums. Do you have a particular preoccupation or interest with these periods and why?
[AL] I love the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I love the fussiness of everything. I assume it appeals to the anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive in me. I also like the notion of Dickensian London, old clocks, over complicated clothing etc. It’s an idea more than anything, I am sure the reality was horrible. I also like the idea of a society on the edge of new horizons, a time that saw great changes in politics and industry, the threshold of scientific discovery.
I also love those films like the The Time Machine that represent this world of intellectual gentlemen debating in cigar drenched drawing rooms. Other romantic notions of laudanum and Byronic debauchery appeal to certain facets in my nature as well.
The title My Long Accumulating Discontent is the name of a chapter in a book about the life of Victoria Woodhull who was a devotee and practitioner of ‘other powers’, table turning and spiritualism. She was also a campaigner for women’s rights and a ‘heretical high priestess for free love’. So yes I do have a preoccupation with the era on a romantic basis and a fondness for bleached out photographs, intriguing scientific instruments and suchlike.
[LS] Other recordings I’ve heard from you remind me of H.P. Lovecraft and the patient, slowly spreading madness he often constructed in his writing. What is your interest in horror authors, horror fiction, and the terrifying in general, if any? And in what way has that informed the way you record or the things you choose to record?
[AL] I don’t really have any interests in fiction or horror writers: I think the day-to-day world is horrific enough. Much of my music is based on my experiences in the real world and a longing for a time when things fascinated me, when I was scared, when things were terrifying, when things that went bump in the night had a distinct reality. Now I feel I have lost touch with who I really am and how I should really feel. The bills come and the daily chores need attending to, real life has got in the way of what we all should be seeking, wonderment and enchanting experiences. In the 21st century we seem confident that we have all the answers for everything that was once inexplicable—it’s sad we live in such a conservative time. So in short my music is about a longing for the ethereal and a reportage of the hideousness in real life.
[LS] Tell me a little bit about the part of the UK you are from. How much has the place you are from affected your music?
[AL] I was bought up in the south of England, lived in London for many years and now I live on the south coast in the UK—Brighton to be exact. I resent being billed so often as a ‘Brighton based artist’ I feel no great affinity to the place and see no relevance in what I do being in any way linked to the what town I live in, I could do this from anywhere. In some respects billing me as ‘Brighton based’ suggests I personally endorse the town and its inhabitants; that in itself couldn’t be further from the truth. I despise any form of patriotism whether it is on a national or local level, it’s repellent nonsense.
Of course the UK has influenced a great deal of what I do. A lot of the titles and undercurrent themes are about my life here, its politics, its faded empire, its surly misery, its eccentric characters, its great history of comedy, the ‘talk about the weather’ culture – they are all repetitive themes in my work.
I really do think that the UK has turned into a place based solely on the principles of capitalism, cable television, celebrity, shopping malls, the facile and accessible. I guess the UK is like any Western country, maybe even the whole world, now; we are all living in a world based on Hollywood ideals. More and more I find it unacceptable—people’s selfish behaviour, people’s ill founded self importance, the imposing of their belief systems on me by their antisocial behaviour and other demons like spam or junk mail. It’s the ME generation at the expense of everything and everyone. Without trying to sound like Billy Bragg (heaven forbid) or a Marxist zealot I think everyone is becoming an automaton, a robot for the corporate machine, a machine that will own, govern and dictate their every move, a monster that will devour the very fabric of their lives, their homes, their possessions and their children, ultimately a system that will destroy as all.
People now seem to be living vicariously through TV magazines, Hello magazine, and the world of soap star actors and the latest imbecile in Big Brother. It’s what I call ‘The Diana Syndrome’ where people feel a closer affinity to a princess that they never met, who had a totally alien life to them and yet they don’t address their own lives and own problems or care for the immediate well being of themselves or people around them. It’s insane how people emulate and worship the likes of David Beckham and J-Lo, essentially intellectually challenged super rich gods of consumerism. It marvels me how the majority of people don’t feel any impetus to discover more about themselves or the fascinating world both natural and scientific around them.
I’m not pining for an idyllic, imaginary England of yesteryear. I just want people to take a look at what is important and this is an integral part of the conceptually based element in my music.
[LS] You’ve told me before that you like to stay away from computers, but sometimes it’s difficult for me to imagine how your music comes together live before you edit, arrange, or change it in any way. Why do you dislike working with computers and how do you feel it affects your writing and recording process?
[AL] I write down all my ideas down then collate them. I always have a fixed idea about what I am going to do and an axis on which the whole project will turn. I write all the music in my head and on paper, then record the sounds and mix it on a computer. I am not opposed to using computers at all, I multi-track and record on the computer. I detest computer ‘instruments’ and never use them. Most of the music is 85% done outside the computer; I only use the computer as an editing and mastering tool, really. I think to make music purely on the computer is just number crunching, it has its place but it’s not for me.
[LS] Much of your music seems very organic to me, each piece on a record informing the next and naturally implying the next movement. The Dying Submariner perhaps more so than any other record. To what extent is this organic sound intentional? Is this a result of how you see the music in your head, before it is recorded, or is it somehow a result of how you compose music?
[AL] It is both, that and a keen ear and sense of direction. I can’t say it is purely intentional of course! There are a lot of flukes and random elements flowing that seem to find the right niche at the right time. I have made a lot of records now and know (well, at least I think I know) how to mould a piece and help it find its natural progression.
[LS] What is the strangest instrument you’ve ever used in recording your albums? Are there any strange accidents or incidents you’d like to talk about that ended in a happy way (finding sounds, melodies, ideas accidentally, etc.)?
[AL] I haven’t really used anything that I consider extremely interesting on any of my recordings, they are all pretty generic instruments plus quite a few homemade instruments. There is a guy who lives down the road from me who has invented an instrument called the X –Piano, which is essentially two upright pianos made into dulcimers that I would love to make a recording on.
Generally the most interesting sound sources I use are the field recordings I have made over the years. There is stuff in there including a girl screaming who had just tried to stab some friends of mine, lots of stuff friends have stolen for me from their jobs in call centres and sales calling. There is also a recording I have of myself being fired from a job I had, my wife’s stomach rumbling, and unbeknown to them the rhythms of my next door neighbours having sex. They were really quite loud so it was no problem to record them by holding a microphone to the wall. Probably the most dangerous was recording the Call to Prayer in Egypt where I was almost arrested by an undercover policeman—you may or may not know it is illegal to record ‘the call to prayer:’ they are unique to each mosque, and each mosque is fiercely protective over their particular version.
[LS] Your website features a number of links to other websites, some of them including sleep related websites, some of them other musicians, and there are a number of links to artists like Edward Gorey, Joel Peter Witkin, pop artist Coop, and the infamous Trevor Brown; Aural Anagram was based on the erotic works of Hans Bellmer. Is your music related to these artists and how is it related? Also, is there anyone you are particularly fond of that you feel most connected to artistically? Who is it and in what way do you engage their works in your own?
[AL] The list on the site is really quite simply a list of artists I like, I don’t think any of them have influenced me directly; I think it would be very hard to make an aural representation of many of the artists. Saying that I dread to think what Bellmer would have made of my album based on his works.
The only artist out of the list I would say that I feel connected to would be Bellmer, when I first saw his art I thought I have had these images in my head for years, it was in some respects a visual representation of some of the images in my mind.
[LS] I noticed that the news section of your site features a scrolling message that repeats “Sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep.” Do you have problems sleeping? Or is there an interest beyond personal that is responsible for the presence of this topic on your website?
[AL] I have had problems sleeping, but my interests are around ideas of hibernation. I am into a lot of popular science so it’s just another interest of my mine. I must say that sleeping for the duration of the winter does appeal to me.
[LS] Dolls and other gadgets have been featured prominently in your artwork (New York Doll and All Closed Doors) and Mother Goose’s Melody: or Sonnets from the Cradle is an obvious reference to childhood. In what ways do you see these figures and references to adolescence as part of your music? Is there a reason behind the somewhat tenebrous approach you take to this topic in your work and what is that reason if it exists?
[AL] It’s not really a conscious decision at all. I like dolls, something almost human but not quite. There is no schematic or grand message: it is as simple as liking dolls, robots, toys, and automatons. I’m sure you could psycho-analyze me and get to the root of it all but as I say, on a conscious level [there is] no real reason other than personal aesthetics.
[LS] Both New York Doll and Aural Anagram exhibited a focus on anagrams themselves. In what way do you see your own music as being anagrammatical? If you have an interest in anagrams, where does it come from? Also, the second disc’s title on New York Doll appears to be one enormous anagram. I’ve tried in vain to find a number of sentences or phrases in it, but can never come up with a complete translation. Is there something specific to be found in that long anagram and if so care to give us some clues as to how to find it?
[AL] I love anagrams. Aural Anagram was based on Bellmer’s notion of the body as an anagram. I see everything as an anagram, time, places, and events: they are all interrelated. The track you are referring to is the longest place name in the UK and the longest place name in the world put together. There is no real anagram as such to unravel, the voice on the recording is a Polynesian poem translated into Welsh, which I consider not necessarily an anagram but a little quiz. Basically my recordings are references for myself, documents of times, places, people, events and littered with jokes and things that amuse me. To unravel their elaborate meanings would be impossible: mainly they are for me and would mean little if anything to anyone else.
Sometimes people do e-mail [me] and have the conundrums solved which astounds me, only one person ever has latched on that all the titles of New York Doll are names of M.O.R. and rock bands as well, which I thought was obvious. That was another concept of the album; a thing that really interests me is why on earth you would call your band after a city? It seems unique to America: maybe it’s a patriotic thing. Needless to say it’s a very curious pride in the town they come from, it just wouldn’t happen here in the UK . If you transposed it to the UK it really wouldn’t wash: ‘Good evening we are Barnsley let me hear yer say yeah!’ I don’t know, though, some might work: Blackpool could be the name of a death metal band.
[LS] Tell me about how you view New York Doll as an album and as a series of “transcontinental audio anagrams.” Where did the idea for this album come from and how did you conceptualize it before you began recording?
[AL] Almost all the recordings I make are conceptualised before I even play a note. I write down everything and draw a chart of how everything should be. I keep a book that looks like a book of lyrics more than anything; it’s an array of words and ideas that appeal to me. The whole of New York Doll was story-boarded before a single note was recorded. The idea came to me on tour in the USA in 2003; basically it was based on place names. After all, America has many city names that are the same as the UK. So field recordings were made in New York, USA and York, Yorkshire in the UK, Boston, MA and Boston, Lincolnshire in the UK. It stretched further by recording the likes of traffic lights changing in Gothenburg mixed with the sounds of the pedestrian crossing sounds in Prague, mixed with the street sounds of Paris: basically working on the notion that in many respects we are all the same country. So sounds became anagrams, city soundscapes merging into different cities. Every place name becomes a sound and those different sounds are edited together to make an anagram of time and space. Every town and city, every airport and subway becomes just one city and it becomes increasingly difficult to define which place is where. It may sound a little pretentious but it was basically an exercise for me and a historical travelogue of music to remind me of the places I have visited and the sounds and sights I saw: it’s my holiday album if you like.
[LS] Aural Anagram has an erotic focus to it (the remix album was perhaps even more erotically and sexually charged), not only musically but also in the places it takes its inspiration from. You’ve participated in projects with names like The Sexecutioner and All Pink Inside and the artwork on releases like New York Doll and Love Song (the CDR) either implies sexuality and eroticism or directly suggests reproduction and clinical sex. On your website the Love Song (1-100) releases are situated next to a recommended reading list that features authors like Marquis de Sade, Charles Bukowski, Laurence O’Toole, and the infamous pseudo-philosopher, erotic author Georges Bataille. It also features more “academic” studies edited by doctors and historians. What is your interest in eroticism? Is there an academic as well as a visceral interest? What do you hope to communicate by using it as a theme or a point of reference in your music?
[AL] Doesn’t everyone have an interest in eroticism? I do have both an academic and visceral interest. I think with some of the authors you mention and some of the art I love, it’s the imagination and detail and lengths of intricacy they explore that really inspires me. It’s not necessarily a ‘saucy’ picture or a taboo subject that I enjoy, it’s more to do with the creative minds of people. After all 9/10ths of sex is in the head is it not? In short I can be a dirty old man and a pseudo intellectual on the subject.
I have a vast collection of books on the subject at hand (as it were). There is an amazing glossary of words and bizarre ritual practices that have inspired songs in my catalogue. It’s a fascinating and huge anthropological area, from infibulation to swinging. It’s outstanding what lengths people go to just to have sex with someone, or indeed with themselves. In its rudimentary form it is what we all want: to be desired, loved, wanked off in the bushes or whatever. I think eroticism, sex, and pornography, whatever you want to call it, serves as a huge influence for much of modern recorded music. From James Brown to Justin Timberlake, there is a huge catalogue of music out there that says, “Hey look how many girls love me” or, “Hey baby I’m gonna love you all night long.” It’s what music was made for, from the primordial beat to Beyonce: it’s a chant to sex .
I don’t really want to communicate anything through creating erotically based music; it’s for my own pleasure, like all of my recordings. It’s not for a ‘market’, it is quite self-indulgent. I had a fan write to me about how he can only play Love Song when his girlfriend is out. She thought it was disgusting. It’s a fascinating concept to think that I can revolt someone I have never met just through something as simple as a song. It’s mind-boggling to think what people might be doing whilst listening to my music but I can’t imagine that either Aural Anagram or Love Song would inspire a couple into the ‘act.’ But it’s amusing to think what it might do.
[LS] Your remix of Bass Communion’s Ghosts on Magnetic Tape album added a weight to an album already thematically loaded with tension and apprehension. How did these remixes come about and what about the original drew you to the task of working with that material? Did you find it difficult to work with and why? Also, what do you think about the subject matter of the original and the existence of these electrical, spectral voices?
[AL] Steven Wilson had been buying my music for some time and he sent me the album. I really liked it and said if one day you are going to do a remix I want to be involved. I started work on a track and sent him the results, more as an exercise and for our amusement rather then any intention to release the recording. Steven rang me up and said he really enjoyed what I had done and why don’t I reconstruct the whole album… so I did.
I found it pretty easy to reconstruct the original as it has many elements of my own music in there, and the album was based on a concept I was very familiar with. I was working on a new way of making music at the time that involved playing the original source at twice the speed backwards and twice as slow forwards at the same time, so it was a bit of an experiment and an aural exercise. I filled the recording with some of the EVP recordings I used on my own EVP inspired release ‘Viva Raudive’ and a lot of recordings I made in a cemetery near my house here in Brighton. The cemetery is vast: Aleister Crowley was cremated there and Count Stenbock is buried there, so I thought it made sense to go down a ‘goth’ route and incorporate some kind of ‘validity.’ Not that I have any concrete beliefs in the occult or supernatural.
With regards to EVP, I am extremely sceptical of there being ‘voices of the dead’, and completely dismiss a two-way conversation with the living and the ‘other side’. I do have certain beliefs and ideas when it comes to such phenomenon, electrical foot prints and some inexplicable memories left like dust particles, but I won’t elaborate too much for fear of making myself look idiotic.
[LS] Ghosts on Magnetic Tape marked the beginning of a series of very productive and interesting collaborations with other artists. In 2005 you released music with Nigel Ayers, Frans de Waard and Freek Kinkelaar, Tony Wakeford (as The Wardrobe), and Darren Tate. So far in 2006 you’ve worked with Steven Stapleton, released a record with Colin Potter and The Hafler Trio, and continued your work with Wakeford on another The Wardrobe album. What do you enjoy the most about working with other musicians and artists? What sort of difficulties have you encountered when working with someone else that surprised you or perhaps ended up informing the way you view the process of making music? Do you have any humorous stories about your work with these individuals?
[AL] It is always great to work with other people: people I meet, friends, people whose work I admire and fellow weary travellers. All the collaborations generally have reasons behind them. Either jokes between us or just working with friends really – people that share a lot of the same interests and worldview. Generally all my solo recordings are conceptually based and have a theme throughout, but when working with other people half the fun is not knowing where the recording will go and where it will wind up. In many respects it is light relief and interesting and inspiring. I can both learn something from it and discover different ways of making music. I always like to make something different and unique. I have never experienced any difficulties working with anyone, thankfully. There have been no hissy fits or artistic differences: mostly everyone are friends of mine or I have known them for a number of years. They are all decent, kind, selfless and generous people in m! any, many respects.
There are plenty more in the making, some completed, some half finished, some just started and others in the pipeline. Myself and Colin Potter have been working on an album for years and years, there is also a possible project with David Tibet, two or three secret missions planned with the wonderful Matt Waldron/Irr. App. (Ext.), an excursion into ‘sinister whimsy’ with Nurse With Wound: this is a recording that myself and Mr. Stapleton have been discussing and working on and off for sometime now.
There is an album called Black Paper with narration from Japanese author Kenji Siratori (this is the first instalment of a massive 12 CD collection, www.myspace.com/vortexvault ). The Vortex Vault is a CD a month for a whole year for Beta-lactam Ring Records). There are a lot of people involved with the Vortex Vault. I have amazing and outstanding opera from a gentleman called Ernesto Tomasini who has a stunning range of 4 and a half octaves. I have a lot of translations coming for it as well in Norwegian, Urdu, Persian, Finnish, Italian and Hungarian and a death metal track with Wolfgang Weiss from Cadaverous Condition doing what he does best.
Also there is an album with Jonathan Coleclough called Torch Songs that will be out on double vinyl for Die Stadt in early February, and a remix for Paul Bradley. There is talk, yet no real confirmation of a possible recording with Thurston Moore for Blossoming Noise, a very cryptic and absurd recording half made utilising the language skills of Andrew McKenzie (he speaks something ridiculous like 30 languages), an album with Daniel Menche, another with Edward Ka-Spel and an even stranger project that myself and Clodagh Simonds have been discussing for a number of months that I’m really looking forward to: the list will grow… or shrink! Hopefully they will all come to fruition but of course they are all liable to change alteration and cancellation.
[LS] More specifically, what was it like working with Lord Bath and Sion Orgon? How did the opportunity to work with Lord Bath come about and what drove you to work with him on Mother Goose’s Melody…? Did the album exist before he was involved or did you intend to recruit him from the beginning?
[AL] The album came about as a kind of joke between my self and Beequeen. We were going to make a recording based on the theme of the ‘Great British Eccentric`, so I approached Lord Bath (neither Frans nor Freek have heard of him although he is pretty much a household name here in the UK). So they weren’t sure about getting involved [and] I pursued the project on my own. As with many things it picked up its own momentum and just fell together. The album was made around Alex’s voice and built its own character. I did have a specific notion of where I wanted to take it before we met and… well it just evolved – I haven’t heard from Lord Bath since and have never been invited back to his mansion!
I have never met Sion in person; we had shared a couple of emails and shared a mutual acquaintance. I invited him on board as a couple of tracks needed a little something extra and he was the man for the job at the time.
[LS] Your website lists Ouarda: The Subtle Art of Phyllorhodomancy as a forthcoming release featuring the collaborations with Danielle Dax, Karl Blake, Darius Akashic and Miriam Chivers, Edward Ka-Spel, Daniel Padden, Maja Elliot, and Rose McDowall. What can we expect from this release? Perhaps you can tell me a little bit about how these artists worked with you on this album? I suspect this means we’ll be hearing some more vocal/singing work on this album? Also, your website says this release will include an edition featuring a DVD disc. Can you tell me a little about this DVD and what might be on it?
[AL] Ouarda is about roses, flowers and other stories that the listener will have to work out. Those who know will know, those who don’t won’t: puzzling I know – but necessary.
The recording got out of hand, really. Initially I approached Karl Blake about adding some narration for one track. I told Karl about the theme of the album which is essentially about roses and he suggested I get Rose McDowall involved – I suppose it made sense in an obvious type way. So Rose came down and we spent a day or so recording. Then Karl somehow got Danielle Dax into some of my music so I invited her to do a few tracks, which wound up being a lot more. Maja Elliot was staying with me for a few days so I got her to narrate a piece that I had written. Edward approached me as he was a fan of My Long Accumulating… so I invited him to do a track that incidentally is a really amazing story. Then I approached Daniel Padden as I have always been a fan of his voice. And my friend Darius, being a radio presenter, has a great radio voice, so he was invited into the fold. It all just fell together and has taken over 3 years to make. It has been recorded all over the place: London, Paris and Sicily. I really think it has been worth the effort and consider it my most important and accomplished recording to date. There is a little bit of singing but mainly it is stories and narrative. I think it’s my ‘commercial’ record. The album really would be nothing without the wonderful people involved. It will be out in Spring / Summer of 2007 on Raash Records.
The DVD? Well you have to wait and see but it has some great visuals by a gentleman who approached me called Michael Tang: go to www.whatdoyousee.co.uk to get an idea of what it might be like. Some other filmmakers will possibly be involved as well.
[LS] Also, what is “phyllorhodomancy?”
[AL] It’s an ancient method of divination. It involves slapping a rose in the hand; the sound the rose makes denotes what your future holds… apparently.
[LS] You’ve released a massive 13-CD box set featuring a large portion of your previous CDR releases called Miscellany – Deluxe. How did you choose what material to include in this box set? Where did the extra, unreleased material come from?
[AL] The box is all the CDRs that sold out years ago collated into one concise document. The extra material is live shows and lost and forgotten tracks: anomalies that didn’t fit into to the theme of an album, odd [and] ends. Something borrowed, something new, and etc. It was just a way of collating all the material as one huge document and to make it available to those people who had missed out first time around. It is one of my most popular releases.
[LS] The Dying Submariner came in a limited edition that featured a second disc, The Dead Submariner (A Concerto for Bowed Guitar and Reverberation in Three Movements). Any chance we will see the music on that disc elsewhere? Why did you choose to accompany the piano record with a disc of bowed guitar?
[AL] The Dead Submariner is unlikely to appear again. I chose to make a record using a bowed guitar to emulate and compliment the piano piece, as it was a ‘live’ stringed instrument: it made sense to me. I thought it would be more fitting and I didn’t want to include a throw away item as many limited editions can be a bit slap-dash. I didn’t want to cut corners with a remix of the piano versions or some extra, unrelated piece of music.
[LS] Where did The Dying Submariner come from? Many of your records are conceptually focused and I do not think this one is any different. While the artwork is very dark and perhaps meant to relate a sense of fear or even claustrophobia, for me some of the music was quite playful. Was this juxtaposition intentional?
[AL] I don’t really want to advertise where the idea came from on The Dying Submariner, but again I think it is pretty obvious what it’s about. The music is in part meant to be quite playful but never humorous or frivolous.
[LS] There was, for a time, some hope that you’d be touring with Colin Potter and The Hafler Trio in the United States. That tour was, sadly, canceled. Can you tell me a little bit about what you had planned of this tour? Also, can you tell us a little bit about why it was canceled?
[AL] I’d rather not go into the details, but the financing of the tour was a stumbling block and it was quite an ambitious tour in the timescale and financial constraints we had.
[LS] What difficulties have you found in performing your own work live? What kind of equipment do you use? Is it still possible that fans in the US will be able to see you perform?
[AL] I use an assortment of tools live – CD players, keyboards, bric-a-brac: anything at hand really. Guitars and anything really that takes my fancy on the night: a vast majority of the set is improvised and is different every time. I would love to tour extensively in the US but again it’s about money and time. Maybe this year or the year after. But hopefully I will tour more in the future.
[LS] Tell me a little bit about your work with Steven Stapleton both in relation to the material recorded and performed for Soundpooling and as part of his live performances. What sort of influence did you have on these performances and what were your responsibilities?
[AL] Responsibilities? That’s a novel turn of phrase for Nurse with Wound. Yes, Steve has given us very loose direction when playing live, but it’s very loose and very freeform. It is in many respects completely improvised. Thankfully every time so far it has produced really interesting results, but the live experience does involve the talents of maestro Colin Potter and whiz kid Matt Waldron, both are key components in holding it altogether. In short, live it IS very much sound pooling, we all have a good rapport and bounce from one another live: it seems to flow quite on its own.
Steve and myself are working on a new Nurse album that is slowly evolving. It has no time scale; I guess it will just come together one day. But so far it is very different from what you might expect. Who knows where it will wind up but it’s shaping up. We have a great title for it and we are both really dedicated to the task.
[LS] Describe your solo sets to me. How did your performances in Vienna go? In July you announced you might be performing in London during a Hans Bellmer exhibition. Is there any new news on that end? What kind of performance could we expect given the subject matter?
[AL] Live sets? Well it’s very difficult to ‘entertain’ without using a visual element so I always try to project interesting images, which are in further development right now.
The Bellmer show has fallen through, according to the gallery it was to do with the sheer volume of works (of which they are many, almost too many, which I can vouch for as I saw the show earlier this year in Paris) and fire exits… so it goes.
TJ Norris: Miles of Liles
Andrew Liles has been recording since the mid 80’s. His music, which is both eclectic and diverse, is often minimalist, surrealistic, experimental and hypnotic, and attempts to transcend any obvious style. Liles’ music has been described as “thoroughly chilling” with “incredible sonic depths of dark ambience.” and by industrial.org as “foreboding and at times [a] truly unsettling aural examination, a Rorschact rain cloud streaming out blurred images and tangled memories…”
TJ Norris: How are things in “Jolly Old”?
Andrew Liles: Jolly old? Jolly Old England? Most people here are pretty miserable, I’m afraid…
TJN: When I read that, for you, “creating music is my way to unravel my own neuroses and general discontents… “ I was intrigued. Perspective is everything and sometimes helps the viewer/listener – the general audience – to get into the artist’s brain, even if briefly. Do you care to expound on that statement, maybe with regard to a recent project?
AL: I think anyone who creates ‘serious’ music is constructing a message, an image of themselves for themselves. It’s up to the listener to identify with it or reject it – it doesn’t really matter to me what people take away from it. I want people to like what I do, in fact I would like to see it stocked in every Walmart, the number one best seller in 39 countries, but the music I create is not for any given market per se. It is a platform for expression and emotions that can’t be realized in my ‘normal’ world, the real world.
I think with the general uneasy sounds I create there is an underlying malaise and obvious discontent with the world that comes across in my music – I think it reads quite easily – here is someone who doesn’t really glean a lot from the modern world. So the creation of these tracks is a way of airing my discontents and recordings such as Aviatophobia are methods of dealing with my fears and phobias – though I can’t say they have helped.
I think ‘experimental’ music does talk largely to outsiders, people who have alternative visions and philosophies, lonely people isolated emotionally or philosophically detached from the vast majority of ‘normal’ people. I think experimental music is a space in which people can unravel their minds, indulge their melancholia or develop a fantasy world in which to escape. Essentially, I think my music is my own little utopia, my little realm to exorcise my fear and loathing, a place formed of little worlds and spheres and orbs that reject the ‘real’ world – who wants to be of the real world anyway? People can take from the music what they like and I hope they do but I don’t regard myself as a messenger or a prophet in any way. It’s introspective and idiosyncratic, as I assume most of my listeners are.
TJN: Aural Anagram seems like a very serious project in that sense – to me, it was one of the more unusual projects of 2003. It had an incredible psychological context and shone a dramatic life into one of the most bizarre artists of the twentieth century, Hans Bellmer. How did you come up with the idea? Were you exposed much to his work in the past? What link(s) do you see between the visual and sound arts?
AL: I have loved Bellmer’s work for many years. It was extremely radical in its day and is executed with a precision that is amazing – perverse technical drawing, taboo and strange, an amazing imagination. I think Bellmer was such a proficient draftsman he could articulate his ideas and execute what was in his mind’s eye directly on to the page – a rare ability indeed.
I liked the idea that Bellmer saw the body as an anagram and tried to apply this notion to Aural – I started off cutting up the sentences read by various friends and acquaintances of mine in a style not too dissimilar to Burroughs’ ‘cut up’ theory – this didn’t work so I just left the random sentences. I think the album might have worked better if it was put to an exhibition of Bellmer’s work, I think people were listening to it as purely a piece of sound art and had limited knowledge of Bellmer’s work – it’s very hard to articulate what I wanted to achieve through sound alone – The pieces are about a series of over printed etchings by Bellmer and in general not the whole of his work. I think I naively expected that people would have a certain amount of knowledge about Bellmer already, so I don’t think you can link the visual arts to sound arts too easily.
There is talk of me playing Aural live to an exhibition of Bellmer’s work in France later this year – whether it comes to fruition remains to be seen. I think people don’t really want to mix both art forms as one distracts from the other – for me it works – but I think it’s very rare that the two worlds can work in a way that is successful, i.e., having a profound effect on the listener/viewer. I think people can only really concentrate on one thing at a time – they either go for the art or for the music – one form has a greater presence over the other.
TJN: Will the box set you have coming out soon be a collection of all your output to date? How did it come together?
AL: The box is a collection of CDRs that I have released since 1997 – it’s not the complete works – it’s the complete collection of CDRs that I released for various live shows and whims and follies. I thought I would release it all again because my ‘fan’ base has grown and a lot of people missed out the first time round. I think it has come out quite well with a lot of forgotten material that didn’t appear on the original CDRs. I think it’s a collection that should be heard and not forgotten, as it is unlikely that I will be making music in this way again or in the form of CDR. It’s a relatively cheap way of getting loads of music out to those who wanted the complete back catalogue. It would have been a shame to let some of this music just slide into oblivion and be forgotten, I think there are some really nice pieces hidden amongst the hours and hours of music here. It looks good and is a document of pretty much everything I have recorded since 1984.
TJN: That’s really almost a service to your audience and at the same time – a chance to hear material that may have been scrapped on the editing room floor – almost like a special behind-the-scenes director’s uncut version. Talk some about your feelings around self-produced work such as this, its freedoms, drawbacks, costs….
AL: I think a lot of people have the opportunity to create and release their own music now with the advance of consumer electronics getting cheaper and easier to use. It’s a good thing and a bad thing as it gives those a voice who wouldn’t have had one 10 years ago but it has flooded the market with a lot of mediocre output and cluttered the shelves with poor music, it’s hard to make a discerning choice on what to buy these days because there is far too much choice. I think there are too many people fighting for a really small market – in all honesty how many people are into ‘experimental’ music worldwide? – I guess about 10,000 people at the very most and at times it seems 9,000 of those are also ‘musicans’. I think a lot of music has become judged on how good the packaging is these days as well. Releasing your own music is tough, no two ways about it. It’s expensive and hard work. Distributors seldom want to know you and those that do seldom pay you. But if you are confident in what you do and genuinely passionate about what you are trying to say, it can be immensely rewarding. You meet some of the nicest people in the world who always stay in touch and look forward to what you are going to release next. I have only self released one ‘proper’ CD – Aural Anagram. The other two albums have been through Infraction. I have released all of the CDRs myself and they, rather surprisingly as most people seem to distrust or discredit the format, have always sold really well.
TJN: What are your primary sources of inspiration in music? And/or are there other incidentals that reaffirm your creativity, maybe even subconsciously, on a daily basis?
AL: Reading is probably the primary source of inspiration or finding found objects or images. Seldom, if ever, am I influenced by other people’s music and rarely do I watch any films. I will find a sentence in a book, or a strange phrase or witty line and adapt a song around that using the line or phrase as the title and inspiration for the song. I also find old Edwardian and Victorian postcards and photographs that inspire artwork or other song titles and create fictitious auditory tales that I find talk to me, manifest and emanate from these forgotten, out of time and place timeless images – every picture has a story.
I think I approach making music as a form of chance and improvisation. I seldom if ever can recreate the piece again and I suppose I create it at a subconscious level – but the message is blurred at times even for me who has created it. A lot of chance, random elements and luck go to making an Andrew Liles song. Each song is a one off in a way and could never be created again partly because I am not a proficient enough musician, partly because I would have forgotten how I made it and partly because what’s the point? I have deleted all the masters of the albums so there is no real chance of remixing or readapting the original – what’s done is done. I think it’s healthy to let things go.
TJN: Have you traveled much? Where have you been and when you have played live – are there certain international audiences or cities that stick out in your mind for some reason?
AL: Yes, I have been to quite a few places around the world. The next album for Infraction is about travel and anagrams (again), there are recordings that I made in assorted locations last year, a kind of auditory travelogue. For instance, I have mixed the sound of a pedestrian crossing from Prague against the sound of a pedestrian crossing in Gothenburg, likewise London underground with Prague metro, New York USA mixed with field recordings made in York, Yorkshire UK. I enjoy playing live abroad more so than the UK and find small, intimate audiences at universities or suchlike far more receptive than, say, rock venues.
TJN: Can you talk about the role that experimental music has in the larger sense of sound/music/noise as we know it in 2004? Do you feel part of this long legacy of sound art that has developed since Kurt Schwitters, John Cage, Iannis Xenakis and others? Do you feel in any way connected to your contemporary soundmaking peers in this light?
AL: I think it would undermine the great leaps and innovation set by the likes of Xenakis and Cage to say I was any part of that. The likes of Cage, etc., are true innovators that made a path I can safely say I have had no part in carving. In fact, pretty much everything that has evolved from Stockhausen, Cage, and Ligeti is generic and I think it will take something unimaginable to supercede what they have done. I wouldn’t consider myself a pioneer of any kind – then again there is nothing new under the sun.
TJN: I cracked up reading your top ten records – most were either hard rock or noisy, edgy works. I hear the attitude in your own work but the finished outcome is truly deeper, more cerebral, perhaps a filtration of some of these fused ideas? Nurse With Wound’s Soliloquy for Lilith would certainly make it to the top of my list of favorites for its depth, character, and haunting air of solitude. How do mysterious cults, paganism or secret societies play into your practice of making music if at all?
AL: I don’t think I like any noise music. I think it depends on how you define ‘noisy.’ But I do love metal; I think it’s great. It has an energy and honesty that avant-garde or experimental music can often lack with its often sedentary approach. I also think it’s healthy to have wide [-ranging] interests in music. I think to listen to experimental music all day can be dull, like reading philosophy all your life. I think everyone needs a little pulp fiction. I even approached Rob Halford of Judas Priest fame to sing on a track; obviously, I haven’t had a reply!
With regard to Soliloquy for Lilith, I also think it one of my all time favorite albums. When it was originally released, it came with a flyer saying something along the lines of ‘Music for meditation, relaxation, blah blah blah and breakfast’. I think it truly is a recording that has many, many functions, it can be listened to intently with headphones, listening out for every nuance and change, but it can be great for reading, relaxing in the bath, ironing, cooking and indeed breakfast. It really is a great recording; I don’t think I can think of an adequate analogy, maybe it is the aural equivalent of a Swiss army knife, a tool for every job. I love all those minimal recordings, it would be nice to have Coil’s Time Machines, Salt Marie Celeste, a few things by Eliane Radigue, Colin Potter and H3O just playing continually everywhere. I could never tire of them.
With regard to mysterious cults, I think in part early ‘industrial’ culture has steered a lot of artists down this well trodden path. In the twenty-first century the world of science and technology, hustle and bustle… people can easily become enthused with notions of the old gods and mystical beings because they are seeking a more earthy or simple existence, trying to escape mundane everyday life or the troubles and responsibilities they have. I guess all music stems from the primordial drum beater calling upon the gods, but I certainly don’t sit about in the studio with a copy of Magick in Theory and Practice trying to think of a way I could invoke Choronzon into people’s sitting rooms, in part because I don’t believe in the stuff and because I don’t think it’s possible. If my music can entertain someone and involve his or her attention for a given amount of time, that in itself, for me, is a magical act. I have dabbled with occult ideas and periphery ideas such as EVP because I find them fascinating, but as to engaging either myself or my music into esoterical equations or incorporating secret sigils – no. That aside, in a recent review I was described as ‘The last alchemist of experimental music…’ which was very nice – hahahahaha. Also, the latest B side of the 6” lathe cut record (titled after Marilyn Monroe’s vital statistics) was initially going to be called ‘The Kabalistic Properties of Marilyn Monroe’s Vital Statistics’… so maybe I do have more than a soft spot for these things.
TJN: How do you work? Do you sample sounds, use sequencers, laptop, tape machines…..what are your favorite tools in the studio?
AL: For the core of my music, I use two pretty beaten up cheap old synths, slowed down tapes, old records and my voice processed, pretty rudimentary stuff – nothing elaborate. I write the ‘songs’, record them live, tweaking as I go using an FX unit. Then [I] edit the mess through the computer adding anything and everything on the way really, live instrumentation, guitars, recorder, piano, field recordings, old pots and pans, anything that makes a nice click, fizz or hum then just alter those core sounds sometimes beyond recognition. I often wind up a million miles away from where I originally started and my initial concept.
I don’t know much about computers and haven’t really got the inclination to learn, and I don’t have a sampler, but [I] loop stuff either on tape or using the PC. I never use sequencers or a laptop. I think it’s important to have a range of ways of creating music and not to forget how versatile tape is and the complex, fractured warm sounds that can be created using old technology. I think computers lack the random possibilities of tape but do things better in different ways, it’s good to have both options and utilize both to their full advantage.
I wouldn’t ever limit myself [in] the way I work or what style of music I create – if I wanted to do a rock song or an acoustic number I would/ I wouldn’t consider myself a strict ‘electronic’ artist and I wouldn’t tie myself to any genre.
TJN: Are there any collaborators you have been interested in – or even in discussions with – to record with in the future?
AL: One of the next albums coming up has Aaron Moore and Nick Mott from Volcano the Bear, another album for Infraction has Freek Kinkelaar and Frans de Waard of Beequeen who appear on a collaborative track that was improvised at a show on the US tour last year. Yet another album that should be out this year has narration by a maverick, nonconformist and genuine aristocrat, Lord Bath. I recorded him in his penthouse at his estate – it’s a very English and distinctive album. Lord Bath’s name probably means very little in the US but he is practically a household name here in the UK, renowned not for only having one wife but many of what he calls wifelets. Also, Colin Potter and I should have something sorted before the year is through, what format this will take is as yet undecided. And Nigel Ayers from Nocturnal Emissions and myself should be working on a track or a piece about legendary performance artist John Fare.
TJN: What are your upcoming plans for touring live or presenting your work in other contexts? Do you create sound for installations? What do you think of this type of practice that seems to be evolving, opening up to new audiences….
AL: This year so far I have nothing planned as to live shows – I played quite a bit last year – and I am still unsure as to whether my music works live at all. I would love to do music for film or an installation. Going back to the Bellmer thing I’m not entirely sure if installations can break new audiences or if it has evolved – as I said before I think people can only really concentrate on one thing at a time. They either go for the art or for the music – one form has a greater presence over the other. On top of that I really don’t know enough about installation art/music to give an educated answer. As for tours I am always open to the right kind of offer.
TJN: I am going to play the wayward Barbara Walters for a moment, if you don’t mind….What are you reading these days? Do you cook? Have a favorite radio station or program or internet broadcast?
AL: Rather bizarrely, I can combine two questions at once. I am reading a biography about the cook Antonin Careme – Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Careme – The First Celebrity Chef by Ian Kelly. It’s fascinating stuff, full of the most exotic and decadent recipes imaginable. And I’m a terrible cook.
Also, I have been reading several short books published by Shire Books, about the history of sweets and sweet shops and follies, I solemnly recommend you go to their website and discover some of the fascinating titles available.