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Interview with Tom Komarek for ROCK & POP (CZ), 2009
It’s not experimental in a pretentious, "artsy" kind of way. I’d say the experimental aspect lies in allowing ourselves total freedom to explore unconventional song structures and sounds. Golden Vanity was recorded "live" in the studio at massive volume and with minimal overdubs. What you hear on the CD is basically what went down in the studio. We were inspired by classic 70’s albums like Funhouse and Electric Warrior as well as the "space rock" of bands like Hawkwind, Can and Amon Duul 2. I don’t think there are many bands today who would dare to record a CD in such a spontaneous manner. Most producers try to clean everything up, to make the CD acceptable to radio programmers. When recording Golden Vanity, we threw all such considerations out of the window.
It looks like you been challenging each other, seeing who could bring more weirdness to the table…
Well, I did go thoroughly over-the-top with my antique Roland Space Echo! Especially on the ten minute + instrumental called Jamboree Bag. This track was recorded in one take and can never be repeated. It’s 100% improvisation and is more like a sound collage than a conventional song. We were all pushing each other to take the sound to new levels of inventiveness and unpredictabilty, and I think we succeeded. At times it mutates into pure noise, something like Sonic Youth. But always with this heavy riffing at its centre, and a psychedelic weirdness reminiscent of 13th Floor Elevators.
You used a lot of experimental techniques to write the lyrics. How it was writing with Nikki?
Usually it takes me ages to write lyrics. I put a lot of emotions and ideas into them. When writing the lyrics on Golden Vanity, we used the Dadaist technique of automatic writing. Again, as with the music, we wanted something spontaneous and unpredictable. We actually challenged each other in a kind of game to see who could invent the most bizarre lyrical images. One of us would write down a line of text that didn’t necessarily mean anything at all, then fold the paper over and pass it on to the other. A little like that game which kids used to play before they got hold of computers. We ended up with pages of disconnected, but very evocative images, which we later edited and put together in song structures. The end result, on some of the songs, is something close to surrealist poetry.
Looking back, that 1997 tour with Nikki looks like it was a lot of fun…
It was a lot of fun until news arrived of Epic Soundtrack’s death in London. Nikki tried not to let it affect him, but they were very close as brothers, so of course it did. I noticed that he started using drugs a lot more, to kill the pain, I suppose. In certain respects I’d say that Nikki never really recovered from Epic’s death. There was a big void at the heart of him after this. Their musical careers had been so intertwined for so many years, and they depended on each other in a strange kind of way.
Do you think that all those things (The Mick Taylor-Ronnie Wood book, the bio, short stories etc..) that Nikki was always writing will be released some day? Are there any in shape or are there only fragments?
Albion Sunrise, the Tolkien-inspired epic he was writing during the 1997 and 1998 European tours that I did with him, this was never finished. I’ve read pieces of the Ron Wood biography, and it’s great writing, as much about the secret history of London as it is about Ron Wood. But he never managed to get the interview with Ron that he needed to complete the work. Nikki’s autobiography, The Last Bandit, has only been published in Italian translation, to date, by Arcana Edizioni of Rome. It’s a long book, and the extracts that Nikki sent to me are fascinating. It’s all about growing up in the English Midlands and becoming obsessed with T Rex, The Stones and Rod Stewart at the age of 14. In some ways, it’s more of an homage to the deveopment of English popular music in the 60’s and 70’s than it is about Nikki himself.
That whole process, when you restored the tapes with Dan Šatra, was a real adventure. Tell us about that!
After we finished recording Golden Vanity in Berlin, the two inch analog master tapes were wiped. We had a very small budget, so we only "rented" the two inch tapes. After the recording was mixed onto DAT, the tapes were returned to the studio. Nikki kept hold of the DAT, and later burned me four CD-Rs containing about 70 or 80 different mixes of the fifteen songs we had recorded. Then he flew out to Chicago to work with Kevin Junior on Red Brocade, and unfortunately Golden Vanity got put on the back burner. Nikki began playing in the USA more and more frequently, and I didn’t see a lot of him for quite some time. One of the CDs he had sent me skipped, so I didn’t even have the entire recording – several of the mixes wouldn’t play. I repeatedly asked him to send me a new copy, but I suspect he had misplaced the DAT among the hundreds that he kept of live concert recordings, demos, out-takes etc. Anyway, I never got one, and in 2006 Nikki died. Finally, I decided last year to see if there was anything I could do with Golden Vanity. I called Dan Šatra at Stereo Mysterio studio in Prague 5, and asked his opinion. He said that it shouldn’t be a problem, with today’s technology, to retrieve the missing mixes. I took the four CDs to Dan, and he loaded them all onto the computer using the Cubase software system. I chose the best mixes, and after a bit of copying and pasting where tape-stretch had ruined some sections, we edited it all together and added echo and other FX at the mastering stage – unconventional, but it works!
Is it possible that we’ll hear those beautiful songs like Love Makes her Shine live on your solo gigs?
I’ve actually never played Love Makes Her Shine live. It’s kind of unique for me, in that it’s a very happy, upbeat pop song. I like it, but I don’t think it really fits with what I’m writing at the moment, which is something else again. But who knows? Maybe I will one day, just for the hell of it.
Please, what does the title "Golden Vanity" mean?
It’s Nikki who thought of this, so I can’t say exactly what he meant. It’s a very „Glam“ title, but also somehow very Baroque. My own interpretation is a little darker, more Gothic. I see it as alluding to the fact that „all things must pass“, that it’s pure vanity to imagine that you, or any of your golden works, will mean anything in the end. We all finish as dust and bones, so it’s better to just make the most of life while you have it, and not get hung up on delusional ego games.