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Interview with SME (SK), 01/2003
You allegedly told once that you used to live in New York in the times when it was still a city full of fun. How did the fun look like back in those years? And how were you involved in producing this fun?
Yes, I lived in New York from 1979 until 1984. I went there for a two week holiday and ended up living there for five years. Shortly after I arrived, I met a beautiful striptease dancer who had musical ambitions, and we formed a punk band together, which we called The DC10's (the DC10 was an aeroplane that was famous for falling out of the sky and crashing!). We did one chaotic concert at the famous New York punk club, Max's Kansas City, and then self-destructed. No future indeed! I lived with my striptease dancing girlfriend for two years, then we split up and I married another striptease dancer! This second striptease dancer (my ex-wife), is now a doctor in England, believe it or not. Life can be very strange... New York at this time was a very hedonistic place. No-one knew anything about HIV or AIDS then, so it was a very free place in terms of sex and drugs. A lot of experimentation was going on, in both of these areas. It was also the high point of the New York punk music scene: The Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie, Television, Richard Hell, The Dead Boys, The Dictators - these bands were all playing regularly at quite small clubs like CBGBs. My own post-punk band, Khmer Rouge, was also playing in this scene, though we weren't so well-known or successful. But it was a very vibrant scene, full of energy and creativity, and I feel lucky to have played even a small part in it.
How far are you with the book "Stripped"? In your last book Junkie love, you did a sort of "coming-out“, you write on life you lived – drugs, sex and rock and roll. Is this frankness typical for you? Don't you have problem with it in between hypocritical East Europeans?
I'm editing and re-writing sections of the first part of "Stripped" at the moment. It's going to be a trilogy, and it has been driving me crazy for the past four years! At last I have it in focus, and the first third should be ready for translation in a couple of months. It's structurally more complex than "Junkie Love", and I have to keep the overall picture in view, while at the same time ensuring that part 1 functions as a complete work in itself. I'm trying to capture the whole flavour of the New York "demi monde" at the end of the 1970's/early 1980's, so it will be a little more extreme than Junkie Love. Mainly, I suppose, because New York is (or was) a much more extreme place than London. I don't see why you shouldn't be frank in literature. Especially within this genre, which I would define as "creative autobiography". That is to say, everything happened, but you change time sequences and characters around for dramatic effect. If you are not completely naked and exposed in this genre, then it doesn't work, there is no point in doing it in the first place. Think about Henry Miller in "Tropic Of Cancer" and "Tropic Of Capricorn", or Celine in "Journey To The End Of The Night". Those books are pretty damn frank! And I don't think East Europeans are particularly hypocritical - certainly not compared to the English! In England, hypocrisy has been raised to the status of an art form. It's the most popular national sport after football! Look at the Royal Family, for instance, now there's hypocrisy for you! A lot of young kids here, who have drug problems, or have friends/family with drug problems, told me they got a lot out of reading "Junkie Love". I think it tells the truth, and it's very hard to get reliable information on drugs in this part of the world. I hope it illustrates, without preaching, that the path of hard drugs is not a good one to follow.
Your previous band KHMER ROUGE was a support act of such names as The Clash, Billy Idol or Nick Cave. Is the voice of all those good old rocking buddies still strong these days? Or are they completely pushed back by nowadays groups re-inventing rock´n´roll or even DJs?
Khmer Rouge supported The Clash and Billy Idol (also Suicide and Tom Verlaine). I played support on a couple of Nick Cave tours in England, but solo, after Khmer Rouge had split up. I suppose these influences are still there, deeply embedded, but I would say that bigger influences on me are people like Iggy Pop, Swans, and Leonard Cohen. Rock 'n' Roll is always being reinvented, and this is how it should be. Stagnate, and die! But I hear Alice Cooper in Marilyn Manson, Led Zeppelin in Ministry, The Sex Pistols and Television in The Strokes, Spacemen Three in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, etc etc. All these bands have done their musical homework, and there is such a wealth of creativity in popular music since Elvis, Little Richard , Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry started the ball rolling. It's like an Aladdin's Cave, just waiting to be plundered. A real treasure trove! The whole DJ thing already sounds very dated to me, though of course it's very popular with teenagers. Personally, I find it extremely boring. I don't have the same opinion about electronic music, much of which I like. I liked it back in the 1970's when German bands like Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Can and Neu pioneered the form. I like rock bands that incorporate electronic elements into their music. Did you see the new Ministry video? It's a real mind-fuck!
Reviews say that in spite of the dark music you create, in your new album Ecstatic one can find the tone of happiness. Are you happy? Because of what?
I think "Ecstatic" is the most upbeat CD we have done. It's "heavier", more "rocky" and more danceable. There are still a couple of moody ballads, though, and I suppose that if you compare it to Kylie Minogue or Helena 2000 then, yeah, it is quite "dark"! But I think it does have a fresher sound than the last CD (Dead Flowers For Alice), and it certainly rocks out a lot more. I used a lot of electronic feedback tracks on guitar, then we sampled and looped them and fed them back into the mix at random points on some songs. You can hear this to best effect on the remixed versions of "Garden Of Eden", which are on the four track CD single released one month after "Ecstatic". I don't know why I feel happier as I get older. I just do. Maybe if I live to be seventy, I'll reach nirvana!
Why have you gave up living in London? Was it maybe a disgust from techno and house music that started to occupy clubs that made you move out?
No, I didn't move from London because I don't like Techno music! As I said before, I actually like a lot of electronic music. The main reason is that I just got sick of living there, and at the same time I met the woman who is now my wife (I met her on my first tour of Czech Republic in 1994). London looks very attractive from the outside, and it's true there is a hell of a lot of interesting stuff happening there, especially in terms of popular culture. But to actually live and work there is a real drag, at least I found it to be so, and I lived there for over ten years. The place is just so big and fragmented. If you have a band, and each member lives in a different part of town, just trying to organise a rehearsal is like planning a military campaign! Everyone has three different part-time jobs, because the cost of living is so high, so no one has any free time. And if your band doesn't "make it" in the first six months, everybody gives up and looks for a different band. Travelling across London is a nightmare, you can waste your whole life being crammed like a sardine into a small underground train. I prefer Prague, it's a much more manageable size.
Allegedly, you ignore music trends and you are free of any calculation in your creative process. Is it more important to do it your way then to sell records?
I don't consciously ignore new musical trends. It's more that I'm not very aware of them! I can't afford to buy every new CD that comes out, especially with the extortionate price of imported CDs. And most of what I see on MTV, VIVA, etc doesn't interest me very much. Most of it seems to be more an excercise in marketing strategies than in producing good music. A lot of what you hear also seems to be written with the idea of selling it to an advertising agency to promote cars, or trainers, or washing machines! I'd rather go see a band live, and most of the interesting music (at least for me) is produced by bands that are doing their own thing with little support from major labels - who, after all, are only in it for the money. And anyway, I can only make the music that I feel comes naturally to me. It would be a little absurd, at my age, to start wearing a hooded anorak and begin rapping like a black homeboy from the South Bronx.
On the other hand, there is a Stage plan on your website with the picture of equipment positions and special requests like for some wedding band. This is indeed something unseen in this region...
Yes, the hideous stage plan... That was produced specifically at the request of German concert promoters, who seem to have a paranoic fear of the unexpected. All these places in Germany have huge amounts of sound equipment anyway, but I suppose they want to be forewarned just in case you ask for a rare plug or cable that they've never heard of before. Quite bizarre, I agree, and we never send it to any clubs except in Germany.
Do you know Slovakian music? Why have you decided to play some shows here?
Unfortunately, I don't know very much about Slovakian music. I know a lot of Czech bands, simply because I live here, but Slovakian music doesn't get a lot of exposure in the international media. I know Tornádo Lou. They did a CD with Rachot Records, the same label that my second band, The Fatal Shore, used to be on. I think they are a great band, and I'm looking forward to seeing them live. I think we will do a TV show with them in April. I saw Jana Kiršner a year or two ago in Prague, and she has a wonderful, evocative voice. Then there's Richard Mueller. I first saw him in this seven minute extravaganza of a video on Czech TV a few years back. I thought he looked a little crazy, with megolomaniac tendencies. Then I heard he was hugely successful, but had got himself messed up on heroin. This further endeared him to me. Anyone who can have such success, come from a famous family, and risk throwing it all away by getting messed up on drugs either has to be mad, extremely calculating or simply fucked up! I hope he's back on the straight and narrow by now. It's no fun being on heroin, no matter how rich and famous you are. But anyway, on our forthcoming Slovakian dates I hope to hear more Slovakian music. It's not the first time I've been to your country. I've played there with Southern Cross before, and also with The Fatal Shore. In fact Fatal Shore recorded the first CD there, at this great studio in Lucanec, near the Hungarian border. We had a great time, though my memory is a little hazy because of the huge amounts of alcohol we were forced to consume!