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Interview with MUSICSERVER.CZ, 11/2007
How long have Fatal Shore been together? How long has your band existed, and how did you first meet the other members of the group?
Fatal Shore started in April 1996. Once Upon A Time, the band that Bruno Adams and Chris Hughes were in, played one of their final concerts at the Roxy club in Prague. I’d known Bruno’s sister Bronwyn in London before I moved to Prague – she was the violin player with one of my favourite ever bands, Crime & The City Solution. Bruno and I got talking and found we had a lot in common, both musically and personally. I was just about to set off on a tour of Bosnia as part of the People In Need Foundation’s cultural package tour to former Yugoslavia. My Czech band, Southern Cross, were a bit worried that we’d get blown up or shot, so I invited Bruno to go with me instead. He was into it, and we worked up a set of cover songs in about a week. Songs like Lee Hazlewood’s Friday’s Child, Jacque Brel’s My Death, and Preachin Blues by Robert Johnson. Bosnia was nuts. We went with the Czech band Dunaj, and the whole tour was chaos. We got stoned (literally!) by mujahadeen in Delnice, shot at by Bosnian Serb snipers as we travelled in the UN convoy to Gorazda, and stayed in hotels where the staff looked like they might have been working in concentration camps till a few weeks before. We played mainly in bombed out culture centres to teenagers who hadn’t had any music, or anything except war and death, for the previous five or six years. But the atmosphere was great. A desperate wild energy at all the gigs, which is hardly surprising after all the shit those people had been through. Presumably that’s why the mujahadeen didn’t like us: decadent western rock music corrupting the muslim youth, and all that. Later, Chris Hughes joined on drums, and we started playing a lot in Berlin and Czech Republic. So that was the genesis of Fatal Shore.
How did Fatal Shore make their way into the Czech music scene?
Fatal Shore got signed to Rachot/Behemot Records for the first CD, so we started touring a lot in Czech Republic and Slovakia. On the first tour, in spring 1997, we’d played in Lucanec, Slovakia, and discovered a good cheap studio there. So we decided to record the CD in Lucanec. Because Bruno and Chris live in Berlin, and I live in Prague, it means we never get to practice. So we reckoned that if we booked a first class compartment on the train, we could practice all the songs for the CD as we travelled. It sounded good in theory, but things didn’t work out that way. It was right in the middle of the Moravian floods, and the train got diverted at every little station on the way. Imagine two Australian guys and an Englishman, none of whom could speak any Czech, trying to find out where the hell the train was going! No one knew anyway, they sent us all over the place, trying to find a direction where the train tracks weren’t submerged under a metre of water. I remember waiting on the station platform at some god-forsaken border town for about six hours, looking out across flooded fields as far as the eye could see. We had all our equipment with us too, drums and guitars and combos and all that shit, and we had to carry it each time we had to change trains. Not only that. The train was full of Slovakian migrant workers returning home for the weekend, and when they heard us practising the songs they’d come with bottles of vodka and slivovice, thinking that a big party was in progress. At one point we had about 40 of them crowded into the corridor outside the compartment. We told them to fuck off, but they wouldn’t listen. Just insisted that we play some Slovakian folk songs and drink with them. One guy even pulled out a pistol and started waving it around, saying he’d shoot us if we didn’t play some more! I think he was joking, but I wasn’t sure – everybody was completely drunk and things were getting a little out of hand. Luckily, some cops arrived and took him off the train at the next station. Finally we arrived in Lucanec after about 18 hours, and began the recording two days later than we had planned. After the CD came out, we did another Czech-Slovakian tour during which the car kept breaking down, so again we had to travel by train across Slovakia, to Kosice and back to Bratislava. Then we got beaten up by skinheads in Brno, and Bruno Adams was in hospital with concussion for three days. Things are always a little wild with Fatal Shore, but usually not quite so extreme!
Can you compare the new record, REAL WORLD, with your previous CDs?
With Real World we had a little more time to experiment than on the first two CDs. On the first CD we lost time because of the floods, and we had a pretty small budget anyway. Because of this we couldn’t afford to pay for that much studio time, and had to record and mix quickly. The second CD was recorded in Kentucky USA with a bunch of redneck fascists who didn’t want to work, just party and bullshit around. So those first two CDs are pretty raw and live. Real World was recorded in Berlin at the studio of our ex-bass player, Yoyo Röhm. Yoyo works with people like Alexander Hacke from Einstürzende Neubauten, and has had a lot of experience in the studio. He injected a lot of his own ideas. He organised a string section to play on some of the songs, and like I say we had time to think about the instrumentation and arrangements. Because of this, Real World is more worked out, and the production is a lot deeper than on the first two CDs.
What is your inspiration for writing new songs? Do you find any fascination in today‘s world?
Usually my songs are quite personal and biographical. I like to create an atmosphere, and because I’m inspired by literature too, my lyrics tend to be quite poetic and personal. But on Real World I started to write in role, or write songs that were more like short stories. Vivi The Flea is about a striptease dancer I used to know when I lived in New York. Blind Jesus is like a story by Flannery O’Connor or Harry Crews, mixed with the mythology of the Deep South. Elvis Presley, rock & roll, faith-healing and the like. Regarding the second part of your question, I think I’m quite informed about what’s happening in today’s world – Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan etc – having studied International Relations at university. Recently I’ve been reading a great book by Noam Chomsky called Hegemony Or Survival, which is about American imperialist ambitions and the way the CIA interferes behind the scenes in different parts of the world. Supporting dictators, repressive regimes, terrorist groups etc, in order to maintain America’s number one position as the only superpower on the planet. All under cover of promoting so-called democracy, of course. Really it’s about controlling energy resources in the Middle East and strategic positioning, nothing to do with democracy as we’ve been led to understand it. It’s also about maintaining a climate of fear, so that domestic populations can be controlled more effectively. If you create such a climate, people will accept reductions in civil liberties as the price to pay for fighting the "War On Terror“. This is exactly what is happening in the USA and the UK right now. By the way, if there’s a referendum here about this stupid radar tracking system, vote NO! It’s not about protecting Europe and America from nuclear attack by so-called terrorist states, none of whom have rockets with a long enough range to reach that far. I think it’s more like a warning to Russia, to let them know that central and eastern Europe is now firmly within the US sphere of influence. Not to mention the central Asian oilfields, that are becoming increasingly important. And of course, with all the technological research and development involved, it will be very profitable for the American military-industrial complex. Putin has threatened to target Warsaw and Prague if this goes ahead, so it’s our ass that is on the line if there’s some mistake, not America’s! Why do we need a multi-billion dollar "anti-nuclear bomb shield“, when 19 guys with knives can get on a couple of aeroplanes and crash them into the Twin Towers? Or a few fucked up kids can buy the ingredients to make home-made explosives in any shopping centre, then blow up tube trains and buses like they did in London? But I tend not to write about this stuff in my songs. My old New York band, Khmer Rouge, was much more political in this way. These days I prefer to write songs about things closer to home
What do you think about Czech cultural scene? Where do you regard as the main problems of this scene?
I don’t know so much about the general culture scene here, like art and dance etc. But I do know quite a lot about the music scene, just from personal experience. There’s actually quite a good live music scene happening here, compared with other countries I’ve played in. England is just overloaded with bands, it’s really too much, nobody cares unless you’re on MTV, and if you’re not you just disappear. The same in the USA, which is really empty and apathetic unless you’re a successful stadium band. Greece is cool, but there aren’t so many places to play, just Athens and Thessaloniki really. Berlin is great, but Berlin ain’t Germany in the same way that New York isn’t the USA. Austria is good, and so is Denmark, but again not so many places to play. Switzerland is just plain boring. There are some excellent rock clubs here in Prague, and many little towns across the Czech Republic have a pub or culture centre where live music is a regular thing. Of course, the money isn’t very good, but at least you can play. And I think it’s great how all these promoters in the small Czech towns make a big effort to keep live music a happening thing. Having said that, the mainstream media is just horrible (as it is everywhere). The big record companies like Bonton and Sony-BMG are only looking for commercial bands that 16 year old girls will fall in love with. Like Krystof, Chinaski, Divokej Bill etc. Either that, or some safe ambient-techno-dance thing copied from what was happening in the UK ten or fifteen years ago. But high-energy Rock & Roll, indie-rock, forget it! Apparently, it’s too „old fashioned“. It’s like a mafia, the way the big record companies, TV and radio stations operate here. It’s a closed shop, impossible to break into unless you sell your soul to managers and agents and do exactly what you’re told. Not that I’d want to break into that kiss-ass scene anyway. I already had enough of it in New York with Khmer Rouge. It’s the same with the summer festivals here. Impossible to break into, unless you’re part of some little clique. Which means that you (or your manager) have to be part of the clique, or be willing to offer something in return. Like, you book the band that I manage, and I’ll book the band that you manage. I actually hate playing big festivals anyway, so it doesn’t bother me personally. But the people who book the bands for them seem like real idiots. It’s always the same groups playing every festival – Sunshine, Nihilists, Gaia Messiah, Tata Bojs, Sto Zvirat, Prostitutes, JAR – so the whole thing just gets repetitious. And the foreign acts that are brought over are the most predictable type of MTV dreck imaginable. Why don’t these bookers use a bit of initiative and bring the real bands over? New York Dolls, Rowland S. Howard, Sky Saxon, Beasts Of Bourbon, Roky Erikson, Angels Of Light, Woven Hand, The Stooges, Wayne Kramer, Suicide, Jesus & Mary Chain, Primal Scream… Imagine a festival with a line-up like that. It would be brilliant! I can only imagine it’s because the promoters are too lazy to do any serious research into who are the originators and who are the copyists. Easier to just switch on MTV or Očko, and see who is fashionable at the moment. I prefer to play the smaller one day festivals than these big three day events, where everybody is so drunk and wasted they can’t remember who played anyway! It’s like a mass-production line in a factory: 15 minutes to changeover, and 40 minutes to play, then get off quick before the next band comes on. I used to quite enjoy playing Trutnov, but these days it’s so bloody conservative. The "Czech Woodstock“ indeed! Woodstock itself was horrible to begin with, just a big business opportunity for those hip capitalists to get rich on. Half a million stoned idiots in a muddy field, and so what? All this peace and love thing was just a con, like punk rock ended up being too. Yet people fall for this media bullshit time and time again. I guess they’re all looking for something to cling onto, to give their lives some kind of meaning. But I don’t think they’ll find it at the "Czech Woodstock“, or in any of these empty-hearted bands you see on MTV.
How would you describe Fatal Shore‘s music?
Hopefully I won’t sound too arrogant, but I’d say it’s original, imaginative, underground music that has a lot of soul and emotion. It’s a very collaborative affair between the four of us, even though Bruno and I do most of the songwriting. Chris Hughes is a one-off, a real original drummer, and he and Bruno come from the same Melbourne avant garde Blues scene that spawned The Birthday Party, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Beasts Of Bourbon and Crime & The City Solution. The Dirty Three used to rehearse at Bruno’s parent’s house! So there is the Melbourne influence, and as I’m very much into that too, I bring my UK indie sensibility and adapt it accordingly. But basically it’s song-based music with a lot of noise elements and free-form improvisation. We have these tight song structures, and try to explode them with psychotic feedback and noise. And Bruno is one of the best live performers I’ve seen, extremely charismatic and commanding to watch.
Can you talk about your lyrics? Are there any literary influences? Who are your favourite authors?
Like I said before, there are a lot of literary influences in my lyrics. Mainly from dark, "decadent“ writers such as Lautreamont, Huysmans, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Hermann Ungar, Paul Leppin, Ladislav Klima. But also crime writers like Jim Thompson and James Ellroy, and gothic writers such as Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. And, of course, William Burroughs, Celine and Henry Miller.
Which era of music fascinates you the most? Can you explain why?
I like music from many different eras, and different genres too. I love old Blues records by Robert Johnson, Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Son House and Charlie Patton. I like 70’s soul music like James Brown and Curtis Mayfield, and songwriters such as Tim Rose, Leonard Cohen, David Ackles and Lee Hazlewood. Then, of course, there are the original US punk bands like The Stooges and MC5. Probably my favourite era of music is New York in the early to mid 1970’s. The period when all those fantastic bands like the New York Dolls, Television, Richard Hell & The Voidoids, Suicide and The Ramones were breaking new ground. That was a real golden era for underground music, and most of those bands never sold out and went commercial. Of course, you had a few like Blondie and Talking Heads who did, and while Blondie’s first album was great, I always hated Talking Heads. David Byrne – what a lame fucking poseur that guy is! Other cool bands were Pere Ubu, The Dead Boys, Wayne County, Rocket From The Tombs – lots of them really. And then there were UK bands such as The Pop Group, Joy Division, Gang Of Four and The Fall. They were making great music too, but a little bit later. Where are the bands doing stuff like this today? Well they exist, but they don’t get any media attention because they’re not likely to sell millions of records. The mid-1970’s was a real aberration. There was a big groundswell of fans who were sick of dinosaur bands like Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull. The time was right for something new, and so the media sat up and took notice for once. Instead of trying to create an artificial hype, which is what they do most of the time.
You wrote excellent autobiographical novel, JUNKIE LOVE. Are you working on a follow up to this book?
I’ve just finished writing a book called Stripped, which is much longer than Junkie Love, approximately 450 pages. It’s about my time living in New York, from 1979 to 1984, and is set on the Lower East Side of NYC. The action revolves around the heroin scene, which I was into at that time, as were half the other punk musicians living in the East Village. It’s a kind of fictionalised autobiography, and it also takes in the NYC punk scene around CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City. As in Junkie Love, I don’t write about my life as a musician. Mainly because I hate those rock musician autobiographies, which usually end up being really boring and predictable. Bill Wyman made playing with The Stones sound as exciting as working 9-5 in some dull office job. How he managed to do that, I don’t know! So in Stripped I consciously censor all my musical activities with Khmer Rouge, and concentrate instead on the existential problems of identity and drug addiction. But there’s a lot of sex and rock & roll in there too, and I don’t think it gets tedious. Junkie Love has just been licensed to Random House/Ebury Press for UK and Commonwealth distribution. I’ll wait to see how that sells, then offer them Stripped. If Junkie Love sells, then I guess they might be interested. If it doesn’t sell, then I guess they won’t. Which means I’ll have to shop the manuscript around, which will be a pain in the ass. Hopefully Stripped will get published in Czech at some point, but it’s gonna be really difficult to translate. It jumps around a lot, the structure is quite complicated, and there’s a lot of NYC slang and street language that I don’t know how you’d translate into Czech. Maybe use some gypsy dialect or Zizkov slang, instead of Puerto Rican and Black "jive“ talk…
Is there a big difference between writing songs and novels? If so, where does the difference lie?
Yeah, there’s a big difference. With songs, it’s a much more spontaneous process, and sometimes I write a song in twenty minutes. Other times it can take months, and if it’s not happening I just put down the ideas on tape and come back to them later when I feel more inspired. With books it’s different. You’ve got to slog away day after day, even if you don’t feel in the mood. If you’re not serious and disciplined, the book simply never gets written. Then there’s the collaborative aspect. With music you’re working with three or four other people, so there’s some kind of feedback and swapping of ideas. With books you sit alone at a computer all day, lost in your own world, trying to recapture an event or a feeling that happened twenty or more years ago. Writing books is like masturbation, playing in a rock band is like having proper sex! You get the immediate response from the audience and all the energy feeding back to you. Well, most of the time anyway. Sometimes, of course, you end up playing to a frigid audience – usually in some sterile little town in Germany!
Is city culture attractive for you when you are working on new songs or new books?
Do you mean Prague? Or urban culture in general? Well, I think I’d write the same songs and books wherever I was. Though of course, having lived in big urban centres like London and New York in the past has influenced my outlook on life. But I would say that living in Prague gives me a lot more freedom than I’d have in England to do the kind of music and writing that I like. In England, everything is about the latest trend, it’s very superficial and if your face doesn’t fit you’re out. Here, the media has much less influence than in the UK, and people tend to make up there own minds. This might be down to lack of knowledge and reference points, but at least it’s better than just accepting what some frustrated, anal-retentive music critic says is important, like people tend to do in the UK.
In which cities have you worked? Can you mention something about them?
Mainly London, New York, Berlin and Prague. I think I’ve already talked enough about the differences between these places. Basically, I’m happiest working in Prague and Berlin, for all the reasons listed above.
What do you think about the future of guitar music?
Actually, I’m very optimistic about the future of guitar music, including the scene here in the Czech Republic. Suddenly all these new bands are appearing, bands which have cool influences and are into the spirit of rock & roll. When I first came here (in 1994), it was horrible. People thought Deep Purple, Frank Zappa and Jethro Tull were cool! A few people were into The Cure or Nick Cave, but basically it was a desert. Now you have all these young bands like Secret 9 Beat, Rest In Haste, 15 Kc, and loads of other bands that I’m finding out about all the time. That label Silver Rocket seems interesting, they release some cool stuff. So you’ve got all these kids listening to the New York Dolls, Richard Hell, Television, The Stooges, and making something new from it. Like I say, I’m really optimistic, there seems to be a real wave building. Of course, you’ve still got this big techno scene here, but I’m not really into that. Some bands have put it together with rock, and are going the so-called electro-clash route. But for me that’s already a dead genre. I mean, Kraftwerk, DAF, Brian Eno, Klaus Schulze and Suicide were the originators, and were much more interesting and inspiring. Just to add a bit of distorted guitar to a computerized backing track doesn’t really turn me on, and it already seems terribly dated. Somehow, these young guitar bands are much more timeless and relevant. I don’t know why, but it seems that way to me.
Do you think rock & roll music will ever run out of steam? Or will there still be new records on the same level as in the 70‘s era of New York City punk music?
As long as there are bored young people with access to loud guitars and drums, there will always be rock & roll. Every time some dick-head critic pronounces it dead, another wave comes along, and it’s been that way since the 1950’s. Minor classics are being recorded even as I’m writing this interview, not just here but all over the world. Maybe a lot of it will never get out of the garage, but as I say I remain optimistic.
Do you have any other musical projects apart from Fatal Shore?
Yes, I’ve got my Czech band (with Pavel Cingl, Pavel Krtous and Jarda Kvasnicka), which used to be called Phil Shoenfelt & Southern Cross, but is now known simply as SHOENFELT. People who didn’t speak English weren’t able to pronounce the name of the band. They had real problems remembering Phil, Southern and Cross. So the guys in the band suggested changing it to Shoenfelt, which makes sense as everybody refers to me by my second name anyway. We’ve played all over Czech Republic, as well as Slovakia, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Greece, Switzerland, Ukraine, Hungary, Spain, Italy and the UK. We don’t get a lot of media exposure, so I guess we’re a real „underground“ band. I guess I’m a little too old and ugly for teenage magazines, and I have absolutely no desire to be a „celebrity“. Basically, I’m a rocker, and my idea of heaven is a sweaty little rock club with a good sound system and 200 people going nuts – a real party atmosphere in other words. I guess I’m not very ambitious in terms of promoting myself and trying to be fashionable. My ambition is all chanelled into making the best music I can, and in writing the best books I can. In my opinion, everything else is bollocks.