Interview with Steven Brown, Hilton Cologne, 29.06.2004
Steven Brown [SB]: Did you listen to the album (‘Cabin in the Sky’)?
Volker Harrach [VH]: Yes, I got the album yesterday. I’m quite surprised by some tracks. But you can hear it right from the start, it’s definitely Tuxedomoon – Peter Principle’s bass, Blaine L. Reininger’s violin, your clarinet and piano playing and both of your speech song. Added to it is merely the German electronica stuff by DJ Hell and Tarwater. What surprised me is the thing with Jon McEntire (Tortoise). How did he join in?
SB: We asked him. He mixed the song, ‘Luther Blisset.’ And Hell was the only one we worked with face to face.All the other guys were just sent out with the mail.
VH: How did you produce the album?
SB: We had a meeting with Marc (Hollander, chief of Crammed Discs) in his office in Brussels. He played records of people he thought were doing interesting things. That’s how we chose Tarwater, Tortoise and Juryman. Also, Marc Collin came from Paris for two days but mainly Crammed did all the work. They contacted these people and when they agreed, we sent them the music. There were some happy coincidences because I really like what they do.
Their work is not really remixes is it? They almost recreated the music with their own sound. Well, ‘Chinese Mike,’ for example, all this “woarwoar” and suddenly it changes. And we got the ‘Annuncialto Redux’ remix at the end, which works great.
VH: Yes, a lot of the tracks are like that. They start, suddenly change, go off somewhere and then come back to the original idea again.
SB: Yeah. Some of the stuff, some of the compositions in itself, are some kind of work in progress.
VH: In a way it’s now the third reunion under the label Tuxedomoon, isn’t it?
SB: The third?
VH: Well, Blaine left first in ’83, then in ’88 you had that Reunion tour and in ’92 you did the Solo tour with him. Or is it just a kind of an art project, which continues whenever there are some new ideas?
SB: It’s sort of a reunion in terms of the record. We were playing together since 1977 and it’s more a continuation really. But Blaine did leave and then again he came back in ’88, as you say and then he left again. Right after that we kind of just stopped anyway. So what would you call it? It’s like a third chapter. But now we have Blaine and Luc (Van Lieshout), so we have the best of both worlds. Also Bruce Geduldig is back for the live shows. Peter and I stuck it out at the beginning and now we have a bigger band, a big band. I like to have more musicians but resolve the financial.
VH: You had a big success in Russia recently with the live tour and the double album. I think it’s quite surprising how many fans you’ve got up there.
SB: Yeah but since the 80’s they’ve been trying to get us over there. So we knew there was an audience but it never ever happened till now. It was only that St. Petersburg is where the interest is really and not so much Moscow. And we like Petersburg much more than Moscow. Moscow is a hard city in many ways. You heard that record, the live record?
VH: Not yet.
SB: It’s out here?
VH: You can order it here or through the Internet.
SB: There is this crazy guy over there called Oleg. He’s brought us there twice; he got my Mexican band Nine Rain there last year and put out a record of them, brought us the live record. And now he wants to bring out DVD’s and stuff from Tuxedomoon. I don’t know how he does it but he just keeps doing it.
VH: I’d like to have a DVD of Tuxedomooon.
SB: There’s one coming out in September with the making of the album and a lot of concerts. Kind of home-made from a friend of ours in Paris. She’s a professional but we did it compiling lots of bits and it’s not bad, not bad at all.
VH: When I was working with the video art organization ‘offensive videokunst’ back in ’88 in Dortmund we showed your short film, ‘Fugitives in Black and White.’ That would be a nice item to have on DVD, also maybe the ‘Ghost Sonata!’ I guess there’s a lot of stuff still out there of yours.
SB: Yeah well, with the record companies there are some things and we can do our things that the record companies don’t want. We’re right in the middle of this negotiation now with Crammed. They’re gonna put out the studio albums and all the rest will be put out through our new company ‘Tuxedomoon.com.’ But we’ve just started now and it’s an interesting thing. And if Marc Hollander is selling less than 15-20.000 copies he’s not interested, they’ll lose money. Not us! We can sell a thousand records and can make more money than we make with Crammed. So that’s the future, the future is here. The past is the future, that’s how we started. We borrowed money to make the record you know, we made the record, paid the guy back who gave us the money, then took it down to the store and sold it. Every week, going to sell some records and that paid the rent (ha ha) and it’s coming back again!
VH: Also nowadays the equipment is very cheap to produce a CD yourself or make a DVD for example and sell it over the Internet just like No-Man do in England. They offer some of their radio sessions like a kind of made-to-order CD on their homepage for ten quid.
SB: Radio sessions?
VH: Yeah, songs they played on the radio, for example for BBC Radio.
SB: Wow, they must play live on the radio a lot!
VH: Well no, they just burn a CD of it; slip it into a special cover and you get it sent by post to you. Maybe that’s a distribution channel for you as well?
SB: Yeah, that’s exactly what we wanna do. A lot of people are doing do this now like Coil, Throbbing Gristle and The Legendary Pink Dots. It makes perfect sense!
VH: So, DJ Hell brought you all together in a way, didn’t he
SB: (laughs) Who said that?
VH: No I assume so, because when he met you in 2000 on that big rave in Mexico City he asked you to produce some Techno re-mixes of ‘No Tears.’ The ‘Remixed’ album was followed by the ‘Half Mute’ 2000 Tour and you and Blaine had been quite honoured by the interest of the young musicians. So maybe he was a kind of the pusher to do something new?
SB: Sure, No, he was. This is funny, because in Le Monde there was a review of the record last month and they said that “DJ Hell, who brought Tuxedomoon out of the closet.” That’s how they put it and I don’t know if they knew what they were saying but they literally said that. But it’s true with Hell, it’s all true. He was really a shotgun right when we needed it. I mean it all started in ‘97, like I said in Tel Aviv, when we played on that ‘Next’ festival. We were there for like ten days to write a new show and they gave us time to work together because we hadn’t worked together in many years. We played it there for two nights and then crazily people heard that we were playing together again in Greece and they’ve invited us for a show. Then we went to Italy for a big show, a thousand people, great response. And so we just kind of looked at each other and said: “Well, what’s going on? If they still like what we’re doing maybe we should try it again.” But by the time I met Hell in 2000 it kind of dipped again. We didn’t really know where we were going, what we gonna do. I’m in Mexico, Blaine in Greece, Peter’s over there in New York. And so he came along with this energy and enthusiasm and he said: Oh yeah, I wanna do these records and I wanna invite you on a tour. And I said, “Great,” and that’s how we got over here doing a tour in Germany with him. But again, even on that tour we played at concerts and DJ Hell played afterwards. And at most places, by the time he came on everybody was just gone. They were coming to see Tuxedomoon! So yeah, Hell helped a lot just by his enthusiasm and support for sure. He wanted to do the record too, but that didn’t work out.
VH: Do you still do something with Nine Rain then, or is it that now you’re more concentrated on Tuxedomoon?
SB: I work with Nine Rain in Mexico on some music and recording new tracks but actually with Tuxedomoon it’s : we have the name and the history and so, record again. With Nine Rain, Opción Sónica, the record company we’re with; which is of the biggest independent label in Mexico, has just disappeared and died. It’s kind of like what Tuxedomoon was in the late 90’s floundering a bit. We can all make music ‘til the end of time but we really should get into the new technology. We need somebody with that knowledge. But anyway, we will be still playing live, recording music and put the most energy into Tuxedomoon. You heard Nine Rain?
VH: Yeah, I’ve got the second one ‘Rain of Fire’ from 2000 as a Mexican promo.
SB: It also was licensed here on Traumton Records from Berlin.
VH: It had also very good reviews on the Internet. Is the book about Tuxedomoon ‘Music for Vagabonds’ by Isabelle Corbisier now finally out?
SB: No, not yet. She was flying all over the world, talked to everybody, interviewed everybody, she’s got records, tapes and articles from all over the world. She’s only now beginning to transcribe all the tapes, so it’s gonna take at least a year she said. They did a book about a Belgium pop star and it took them six years to make. It’s a lot of work and she’s alone, plus she’s looking for a publisher, so it makes sense.
VH: James Nice (from the Les Temps Moderns label) did also a great job of putting out all your old solo stuff on remastered CD’s now. Although he got real problems in getting the original tapes from Les Disques du Crepuscule label because they’re so bad with their back catalogue.
SB: Yeah, that’s true. But did you like what he did with the two versions ‘Ghost Sonata?’ Do you think that works?
VH: I don’t know.
SB: (laughs) I was a little bit: “James, what are you doing?” He goes: “Well, they’ve put out records with five different versions of Miles Davis songs!” And I was, “Well, whatever”. But he did “Searching For Contact’ with the extra EP ‘Me and You and the Licorice Stick” and now he’s doing ‘Half Out’ and the Italian one. Have you ever seen the Italian record?
VH: ‘Steven Brown plays Tenco?’
SB: Yeah but what do you think about ‘Half Out’ plus ‘Tenco?’ No?
VH: No, I’m sorry. That ‘Tenco’ album was a project in itself just like the ‘Steven Brown reads John Keats’ album was. And you shouldn’t mix it with ‘Half Out.’
SB: Yeah I know, I’m sure that’s all true. But he says nobody is gonna buy a re-release if there’s no bonus tracks.
VH: That’s true.
SB: That’s true, right?! So I better tell him not ‘Tenco’ but something else. I’ve been thinking about this because all I want is to put out ‘Tenco’ alone, which is a better idea.
VH: Maybe also with the Keats stuff plus the hard to find ‘Love Yes’ 12inch?
SB: Oh, yes. It’s gonna be fashionable again, probably. At the time it was really radical and current. But yeah, I’ll tell Niko (Nikolas Klau).
VH: Do you still have some kind of a contact to Winston Tong, or did he just vanish?
SB: Yes, No. But he’s always vanishing; he’s the lady that vanishes. He’s in San Francisco doing shows, translating poems from French to English. I was there and saw him, actually inviting him for a tour for family reasons. But I don’t think he wants to tour anymore. Maybe we gonna record with him again some day.
VH: Paul Sullivan from England wrote in the press notes of your new album that, if you transfer ‘Cabin…’ onto a canvas, you have Pollock, Bacon, Miro and Dali all rolled into one…
SB: They didn’t say Bacon!
VH: Yes they did! I was like how the fuck can you put Dali next to Bacon!
SB: Ha, right! I just say that movie, ‘Love is the devil.’
VH: Ryuichi Sakamoto wrote the score for it.
SB: Right, its very good, really good movie too. I mean that actor, my good he just looks like Bacon, amazing!
VH: A close friend of mine who did two films on Bacon (“Francis Bacon in Paris”, “Model and Artist”), she thinks it’s crap and didn’t have anything to do with him.
SB: Hahaha, okay but sure, that’s John Grace’s view on him, who wrote and directed it.
VH: Tuxedomoon was always known as pioneers of that post-punk experimentalism, combining different music styles to a unique sound. Now with the new album ‘Cabin in the Sky’ and its modern electronica influences, it also still contains a lot of melancholy. May be only a bit lighter than in the 80’s.
SB: Huh, melancholy light, hurray!
VH: Well, I don’t know. I mean the track ‘Misty Blue’ is quite poppy but still has got that little bit in it.
SB: (laughs) It’s true, but it’s ironic. But you think it’s melancholic?
VH: No, but melancholy is a whole subject of its own.
SB: Yeah, all music is melancholic. The definition of music is: melancholy. On the other hand : what is happy music?
VH: Happy Music? It’s supposed to be what most people know as Pop Music like, for example, some Pet Shop Boys songs.
SB: Do you think that Nirvana was happy music? I mean music has been melancholic from Wagner to Nirvana, all of it! I mean good music, music that’s interesting. I really think that music is, by definition, melancholy. What does melancholy mean? It means dreamy, you just kind of sit there and dream, you know.
VH: But there’s a thin line between melancholy and nostalgia or being sentimental.
SB: Yeah, it’s all the same country or territory. And it can be sad but doesn’t have to be. I think it’s somewhere in between sadness and happiness. It’s just this grey zone, which can go either way you know. I think all great music, all great art for god sake! I mean look at painting, look at theatre, look at literature! That’s it man. If you ever take magic mushrooms you know, that at the bottom of the bottom of the bottom there’s this intense sadness. No, sadness isn’t the right word. But, hmm, it is kind of a tristesse. And it’s the source of everything somehow; I don’t know how to explain this. I think there is a connection between what you experience when you’re under the influence of certain plants and the history of art. It’s so obvious. The environment in most art is kind of melancholic, dark and dreamy.
© Text & Photo: Volker Harrach, 2004