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Interview with Tom Komarek for HOUSER magazine, 2007
The new Fatal Shore album is out, the tour is finished. How do you reflect the record and the tour?
I’m really happy with the new CD, Real World. For me, it’s the best Fatal Shore CD to date. Yoyo Röhm, who also works with Alex Hacke and Jochen Arbeit from Einstürzende Neubauten, was the producer, and he added a whole new dimension of string arrangements and ambient sounds. We wanted to do this before, but because of one chaotic situation or another we weren’t able to accomplish it. This time we had lots of freedom to experiment in Yoyo’s Berlin studio, and I think we came up with something quite original: music that crosses the boundaries of several different genres, while staying true to the Fatal Shore sound and feeling. The tour was quite arduous: 5000 Kms in three weeks, starting in Denmark, crossing Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria, before ending with the CD release party at White Trash, Berlin. I was pretty destroyed by the end of it, what with one thing or another, but I think you could say it was successful.
Touring with such personalities as Chris and Bruno must be a hell of a trip. Did this time happen any accidents and strange situacions?
Well, Bruno has some problems with his health at the moment, so he was being quite responsible and well-behaved. Normally he drinks like a fish, but this time he was a good boy and went to bed early each night! Chris Hughes took over the role of band „beast“ and I must say he excelled himself! John Barry, our new bass player, is very much the „correct Englishman“ and he was quite shocked at some of our antics, but I think he secretly enjoyed the madness. Anyway, he’s already looking forward to the next dates, which begin with Fatal Shore appearing at Sazava Festival on August 3rd. There were no major catastrophes this time, though. No Serbian snipers, Moravian floods, or insane neo-nazis in Kentucky!
You been touring for a quite long time. Can you see any diference betwen audience in each country? Like in Prague, in small towns, in Hungary, in Germany, Scandinavia, USA etc….?
I always find it quite cold playing in Germany. Berlin is different, it’s always great there. But Berlin isn’t Germany in the same way that New York City isn’t really the USA. In Czech Republic, people already know us a little, and it’s always a pleasure to play here. We seem to attract the kind of audience that genuinely cares about music, not just meatheads and followers of what is on commercial radio or MTV. Our typical audience here is people of all ages, from college students right up to people in their fifties (like me!). This audience is pretty smart and cool, the type of people who are looking for something different from the commercial mainstream, or even from what I’d call the commercial underground. Individuals, in other words, not just followers of the latest musical trend. Hungary is fun too. There is quite a large and well-informed underground scene there, it’s just a question of making contact with it. The same in Denmark. The first time we played Copenhagen, there were about three people at the concert. Now, about 100 show up, and it’s always pretty wild and debauched. Austria is different again. I used to think it was similar to Germany, but now I’ve played there many times I can see that the audience there is really quite different – warmer and more relaxed, and usually very knowledgeable about independent music.
You are very familliar with the czech scene. Did it change a lot from the 90´? I mean like the promoters get more bitchy and no one come to gigs… Too much stupid hype around fuckheads like Prostitutes …. this kind of shit…
Well, when I first played here in the early 1990’s the scene was much more open. There weren’t so many bands, and it was still quite a novelty for a band or singer from the west to play here. Now, in Prague at least, everyone is jaded – you can see 30 bands a night, if you want, and it’s on the main European tour circuit, so everyone plays here. It’s getting to be like London or Berlin, with so many competing events that people are probably suffering from information fatigue. Then, as you say, there is a lot of hype and media sensationalism taking over, and many people fall for the advertising gimmicks and promotional tactics that certain bands and their managements employ. In the end, music ends up being marketed in much the same way as soft drinks, cars and holidays in the sun. Personally, I try to ignore all that shit and I just follow my own musical instincts. Of course, it’s necessary to promote your music, but there are different ways of doing it – like playing lots of concerts, for example. Or what Einsturzende Neubaten did with their neubaten.com project. Fatal Shore don’t look like teenage male models, and can’t be sold like lollipops to pubescent girls. We don’t pretend to be „Satanists“ either (though of course, we are!), so we don’t appeal to teenage boys who need a Death Metal soundtrack to beat their brains out to. The thing is, that if you are doing a „genre“ type of music like Punk/Techno/Ska/Electro-Clash/Heavy Metal, or whatever, there is a ready-made audience that you can tap into. That’s what I mean by the commercial underground. Fatal Shore doesn’t fit into any kind of marketing category, so in some ways it’s more difficult because of this. Our audience tends to be people who want something more emotionally intense, more real, and they tend to find us by word of mouth, not so much through magazines and video clips. And if we play in some small Czech town, and half a dozen people buy CDs, I always encourage them to burn copies for their friends (they do anyway!). That way, more people come to the next gig and are already familiar with our music.
What kind of stuff inspire you while you are (actually) writing songs?
Usually, emotionally-charged situations that I’m going through, or powerful situations that I went through in the past. Not so much listening to other music. I prefer to dig into my own feelings for inspiration, rather than doing a pastiche of other people’s songs. Maybe this personal element is why my songs have a melancholy tinge, but they also work as high-energy rock & roll. I feel best when I manage to encapsulate complex emotions within the confines of a rock song, which in its essence is, and in my opinion should be, quite simple and immediate – like the best Blues songs and Country songs are simple and immediate.
You're just finishing you new book called Stripped. What the subject of this book?
Stripped is a fictionalised autobiography of the five years I lived in New York – from 1979 until 1984. It’s really the prequel to Junkie Love (published in Czech as „Fetacka Laska“). Junkie Love was set in London, 1985-88, and is about the last few of years of my addiction to heroin. Stripped concerns the downtown music and arts scene in NYC at the end of the 70’s and in the early 1980’s. It’s very much a „street-level“ book, and it takes in the punk scene around CBGB’s where my band Khmer Rouge used to play very often. As in Junkie Love, I don’t write about my own musical activities (I hate those „rock star“ journals!). It’s really an impressionistic (and sometimes surrealistic) overview of the NYC scene at that time, set against a backdrop of sex, drugs and rock & roll. Basically, it’s the story of a young British guy who goes to NYC for a two week holiday, and ends up staying there for five years. During that time he lives with a succession of striptease dancers and gets totally fucked up on drugs. But there’s a lot more in it than just this. Maybe it’s something like Henry Miller’s Tropic Of Cancer, with hard drugs and rock music instead of alcohol and literature…
How do you feel when you go to NYC now? It must be like a Proust madelaine, no? Ghost and shadows everywhere. And on the other hand all this clean Starbuck shit and you can smoke in bars…
Actually, I haven’t visited New York for several years now. I’ve heard all about the changes, though – sushi bars and art galleries down by Avenue B on the Lower East Side, Yuppies moving in. When I lived in that neighbourhood there used to be „shooting galleries“ on every block (rooms in derelict buildings where you could rent a hypodermic syringe for a dollar and shoot up there), and gangs of muggers waiting to attack you. Life was more dangerous and interesting back in the late seventies! I don’t want to return there until I’ve finished writing Stripped, or at least Part 1. I’ve got that whole time and place fixed in my mind, and I don’t want to blur the focus by seeing it as it is now.
You just sign with some british label to releae your first book Junkie Love. Must be interesting dealing with those big time people…
I don’t know, I’ve only communicated with this company by e-mail. They sent me a long questionnaire to help with marketing the book, which seems pretty bizarre to me. I guess with hundreds of books released released each week in the UK, they feel the need to do a „hard sell“. Otherwise nobody notices (information fatigue again…). But yeah, it’s a little strange and very different to what I’m used to.
There is a big thing happing now. All this reunion gigs. Everyone, from the Stooges, NY dolls, JAMRC, to the Zombies are making Come backs. What do you thing about this?
I think if a band reforms and makes great new music, then why not? Unfortunately, the quality isn’t always what it should be. I saw The Stooges play live in Berlin a couple of years back, and they were absolutely great, but the new CD isn’t so good. The New York Dolls CD is much better. Even though it’s more than 30 years since that band split, the recent live shows and the new CD show that they can still rock better than just about anyone else. They blew their chances first time around by being gloriously fucked up, so not so many people got to hear them. They were hugely influential on the Sex Pistols and the UK punk that came later, and I think it’s a good thing that a new, young audience can have the chance to listen to them now.
I suppose that we can't expect a reuninon gig from Khmer Rouge, huh?
Ha ha, no chance! Personally, I don’t believe in looking backwards. That band said all it had to say, and when it split, that was it, end of story. I’m doing very different music now, both with Fatal Shore and Southern Cross, and I’m more interested in exploring this than in digging up corpses.
You are now writing new songs for Southern Gross . Is it hard to switch from writing prose, writing for Fatal Shore to your (let's say that) solo stuff?
No real problems switching between writing for Fatal Shore and Southern Cross (now called simply Shoenfelt for the sake of brevity). But yes, it’s a big problem for me to switch between writing songs and playing music, and writing books. Songs are much more immediate, they either happen or they don’t. Sometimes I complete a song in twenty minutes, other times I can work on it for weeks. But if it’s not happening, I just record what I’ve written and come back to it later, when I feel more inspired. You can’t do this with a 400 page book. You’ve got to push yourself to work even when you don’t feel like it, otherwise it simply never gets written. That’s why there are so many people around who keep promising themselves that they’ll write a book „one day“! If you don’t work at it several hours a day, that book will never happen, so there is a certain amount of self-discipline involved. Then there is the problem of flow. When I’ve been away for days, or weeks, playing music, it’s hard to pick up the threads of the book and get back into the dynamic. So yes, this is quite difficult.
Are there any new stuff (in music, film, or books) that you just discover and that you would like to recomend for our readers?
Two great CDs that I’m sure nobody here has heard of: I knew Jeffrey Lee, a tribute to the legendary singer of The Gun Club who died in 1995, by the Italian band Circo Fantasma. And A Tribute to Rowland S. Howard by various artists on Stagger Records from France. Both CDs are great, but of course nobody would bother to distribute them here. If they did, they’d probably sell about 50 copies, because of course Chinaski or Kabat are much more important to the history of popular culture! I’m reading a good book at the moment: London, The Biography by Peter Ackroyd. It’s an 800 page history of that city, from the time of the Celts, through the Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Danish and Norman-French invasions, right up to the present day. A lot of magic, blood, fire, death, pestilence and weirdness: a fascinating read.