Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Fur Real: David Yow & the Art of Cats

When most underground music fans think of David Yow, they typically envision a drunken, often-unclothed madman slurring to the heavens with The Jesus Lizard, Qui or Scratch Acid. But as of a few weeks ago, he is also the man behind Copycat: And a Litter of Other Cats, a hardcover art book of cat puns.

Yes, cat puns. Check these out:

"Cat Burglar" by David Yow (courtesy of Akashic Books)

"Catatonic" by David Yow (courtesy of Akashic Books)

"Alley Cat" by David Yow (courtesy of Akashic Books)

Billed as “a very important book by David Yow,” Copycat was published in August by Brooklyn-based Akashic Books, who also put out the Jesus Lizard retrospective BOOK earlier this year. As discussed in this site's feature on BOOK, Yow's relationship with Akashic is based on the singer's longtime friendship with company founder Johnny Temple, formerly a member of frequent Jesus Lizard tourmates Girls Against Boys. The idea to turn Yow's cat art into a full-fledged book took shape shortly after the Jesus Lizard tome neared the finish line.

“I don't think [Johnny] did the Copycat book as a favor simply because of the amount of work I put into the Jesus Lizard book, but I think there was a little bit of leverage for that,” remembers Yow. “I think he might not have been 100-percent thrilled about doing a goofy-ass cat cartoon pun book, but I think he got a kick out of it, and the other people at Akashic got a kick out of it.”

Naturally, Copycat has found an audience unfamiliar with Yow's past musical exploits.

“That's definitely something I was hoping for,” he offers. “I think that if it was limited to an audience who gave a crap about the music I've done, I don't think we'd sell a whole lot of those books.”

Unsurprisingly, cats have always been a major part of Yow's life. Born in Las Vegas in 1960, Yow was still a toddler when his Air Force pilot father moved the family to Tripoli in Libya on the Mediterranean Coast.

“When we lived off-base, my sister and I found this kitten,” he recalls. “We asked if we could keep it, and my dad was very adamant that he didn't like cats; he was a dog person. My sister and I cried for a whole day until he gave in and said, 'Okay.'” My father was very clever; he said, 'We can keep the cat, but we've got to name it 'Me Yow.' That'll be the only cat in the world that could say her own name.'”

Fast-forward to 2014, and Yow and his girlfriend are loving owners of three cats - Little Buddy, Penny and Nico. At 20 pounds, the long-haired Little Buddy is the image of regality.

Little Buddy (courtesy of Akashic Books)

“He's so handsome, so striking and so cool that you think he's not afraid of anything,” Yow says. “But – and I hope he can't hear me – he gets really spooked really easily. If you'll drop a pencil, he runs away. But he's such a gentleman. When [my girlfriend and I] moved in together, he had pretty much never seen another cat, and neither had the girls. We figured that because he was so large that he'd be the alpha cat and rule the roost, but instead the girls are just fuckin' bitches to him. They hiss at him, swat at him and growl at him. For quite some time, probably three years or so, he was just like this pacifistic Gandhi-like creature. He would just lie down on his back and look at the girls while they're hissing and growling at him. He'd offer his tummy and be as sweet a gentleman as he could be. That's pretty amazing, I think.”

Penny (courtesy of Akashic Books)

According to Yow, the black-and-white Penny is “really, retarded.” The singer is convinced that she has The Carl Stalling Project playing in her head the whole time. Nico, who is the smallest at nine pounds, is described by Yow as “just a little lady, very prim and proper.” At the time of this conversation, Yow said he and his girlfriend were toying around with the idea of getting a kitten, “almost just to see what these three cats' reactions would be like.”

Nico (courtesy of Akashic Books)

Those who enjoy Yow's art have an opportunity to own some of it thanks to, the custom portrait site he launched in 2012. As of this writing, he has produced roughly 120 portraits of people and animals, all based on photos from customers looking for an artistic experience they won't find anywhere else. To achieve GetFaced's unique results, Yow tends to work with as little outside direction as possible.

“Sometimes, I'll ask questions,” he says. “If somebody sends in a picture of their dog and they don't say anything about it, I'll ask them what the dog's name is, what their favorite toy was and stuff like that. There have been a few times when people would say, 'I like this kind of color palette,' and I kind of don't care. I say on the website, 'I won't print this until I'm proud of it. You have no idea what this is going to look like, but I promise you I won't send it to you until I'm proud of it.'”

On the musical front, Yow made waves last year with the release of his first-ever solo album, Tonight You Look Like A Spider. Yow's ventures into solitary recording began shortly after The Jesus Lizard's breakup, when old friend Alexander Hacke (Einst├╝rzende Neubauten) showed him the rudiments of ProTools.

“It was kind of retarded stuff,” says Yow of his early noise experiments. “I really liked it, but the analogy I like to make is that the music that I was making was sort of the way children draw. There are no rules and almost no parameters.”

Yow began thinking about releasing a solo record as far back as 1998, when Mike Patton (Faith No More/Tomahawk) expressed an interest in putting it out on his Ipecac label. However, Yow's work moved slowly as the years carried on. By the next decade, the idea had lost momentum.

“I think around 2006 or 2007, I just blew it off,” he remembers. “Ipecac quit releasing stuff unless it was The Melvins or Tomahawk. I figured, 'Well, okay, it'll never come out. I don't care.' It didn't seem that important to me.”

That was until Yow crossed paths with Indiana-based label Joyful Noise Recordings, who released his friend Adam Harding's extraordinary Dumb Numbers album last year. Partnering with the label, Yow put together a collection of his years-in-progress recordings as Tonight You Look Like A Spider in June 2013. The album was made available in both a standard vinyl edition and a long-sold-out “Monolith” edition (limited to 50) that was crafted by Yow himself and included an actual cement vinyl-displaying sculpture created from the same mold pictured on the front cover.


In addition to presenting a very cool argument against illegal downloading, the Monolith edition is in line with Joyful Noise's penchant for odd and memorable packaging. (For example, this writer's copy of Tonight... was boxed with a strip of Laffy Taffy.)

“They're pretty cool about packing up goofy little special treats and hand-written notes and stuff like that,” Yow says.

Away from art and music, Yow has maintained a steady schedule as an actor. Recently, he filmed the role of “a party host who hangs out in a shower cap and [his] underwear” for the upcoming film Entertainment, which will also feature such heavyweights as John C. Reilly, Dean Stockwell, Michael Cera and Greg Turkington (otherwise known as Neil Hamburger). At the time of our chat, he was planning to travel to England to shoot his first lead role – “a New York hitman who fucks up a job and has to get out of the country” – in a movie called A New York Story.

Of course, interested parties can also experience Yow's thespianic skills on the Cooking With Yow segments on the brilliant (not-just-for) children's show, Pancake Mountain. Joined by co-host “Rufus Leaking” (voiced by Pancake Mountain co-creative director JR Soldano), Yow (in varying states of coherence) offers tips on cooking things like “Pizza Cake” (get it?) and coconut macaroons while the often-bewildered Rufus looks on. Cooking With Yow is great fun, even if the episodes rarely (if ever) feature any actual food or cooking – a fact that impresses Yow's girlfriend, a behind-the-scenes veteran of reality cooking shows like Chefs vs. City and Cupcake Wars.

“She thinks that Pancake Mountain has done for cooking shows what Breaking Bad has done for regular television,” he laughs. “Nobody in the past who was on a cooking show would ever think of not showing the food!”

With his acting schedule getting heavier by the day, Yow is committed to developing his craft as much as possible.

“I want to get to the point where I can do paintings or something if I want to, or sing on a friend's record, but mostly I want to just keep busy with acting,” he says. “That's the most rewarding, challenging and interesting thing to me right now.”

From pouring cement to create his album's packaging to putting out a book of cat jokes, David Yow has made a life out of being as unconventional as possible. Lord knows what he's going to come up with next, but you can be sure that whatever it is will be worth your time and interest.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Symphony of Survival: Inside Annie Haslam's Artistic Renaissance

Courtesy of Leighton Media

Having a conversation with Annie Haslam, frontwoman of veteran Symphonic Rock act Renaissance, is an absolute pleasure.

Throughout our 90-minute chat, it was clear that this music industry veteran looks on the bright side of life. A wonderful conversationalist with a penchant for playful laughter, Haslam spoke from her Pennsylvania home about everything from her artwork to her upcoming touring plans. At 67, her infectious love of life is as impressive as her five-octave vocal range. And considering what it took her to get to this position in life, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate.

Change and challenge have been major elements of the Renaissance story for more than four decades. After all, just charting their evolution in personnel over the years would probably require three times the length of this feature. Heres the short version: The UK bands often-rocky story dates back to 1969, when former Yardbirds members Keith Relf and Jim McCarty put together the first incarnation of the group with Relfs sister Jane on co-lead vocals, pianist John Hawken (later of Spooky Tooth) and bassist Louis Cennamo. Although the bands lineage (as well as the strong single “Island”) helped Renaissances self-titled 1969 album score considerable attention from the masses, McCarty and both Relfs were out of the picture by the time the sophomore release, Illusion (featuring the debut of Renaissance mainstay Michael “Micky” Dunford on guitar) hit the shelves in 1971. After a brief stint with American singer Anne-Marie Binky Cullum, Renaissance recruited the operatically trained Haslam for 1972Prologue. From 1973 to 1980, the bands “classic lineup” included Haslam, Dunford, keyboardist John Tout, bassist Jon Camp and drummer Terry Sullivan. This configuration produced the 1978 UK Top 10 hit “Northern Nights” and a series of classic albums including Turn Of The Cards, Scheherazade and Other Stories and A Song For All Seasons. Reduced to a trio of Haslam, Dunford and Camp at the start of the next decade, Renaissance released two New Wave-flavored albums (1981Camera Camera and 1983s Time-Line) before calling it a day in 1987. The 90s saw separate albums by both Haslam and Dunford under the Renaissance name until the duo (along with Tout and Sullivan) reunited for 2001’s Tuscany. Fast-forward to 2009, and Haslam gets a call from her old friend.

I knew exactly what Micky was going to say, because over the years he’d ask me if I wanted to get the band back together,” she recalls. “I just didn’t want to do it because my life is different. I started painting, and I’ve got my solo projects. I didn’t know whether I wanted to go back into the past. [The “classic” lineup members] were all older, and everybody’s different. I’m very different in the fact that I’m a lot stronger as far as doing the business side of things, which in the early days I never even thought of and never got involved in. I just sang and followed everybody else; I had no interest in going there. So I was a little concerned about the strength I had built up myself as a person…In the 70s, it used to be Jon Camp and Michael Dunford who really did the business part of the band...I don’t know why I said it, [but] I said to Mick, I’ll do it if [legendary east coast concert promoter and former Renaissance manager] John Scher would be interested in taking this on.’ I didn’t think he’d be interested in a second, because John’s a very well-known promoter and he’s done a lot of things on Broadway recently as well in the last few years. I thought, ‘He’s going to be too busy; he won’t be interested.’ He said yes! I could have fell over!”

Before long, the remaining members of the band's classic 70s lineup signed on for an extensive 40th Anniversary Tour. Unfortunately, the reunited band wouldnt stick together for long.

Jon Camp had something that he couldn’t cancel,” Haslam says. “John Scher said, ‘This is the tour; I’ve worked on it. This is what it’s going to be, or nothing.’ We decided to carry on. Jon didn’t do it, then Terry backed out and then John Tout backed out, so it was just the two of us.”

Michael Dunford and Annie Haslam (courtesy of Leighton Media)

Haslam and Dunford quickly recruited previous Tuscany touring members Rave Tesar (keyboards) and David J. Keys (bass) and new members Tom Brislin (keyboards, best known for his work with Yes) and drummer Frank Pagano. Despite the initial personnel woes, the 40th Anniversary Tour soon became an overwhelming success.

We were worried that people would say, ‘Well, it’s not the original band.’ But you know what? Very, very few people said anything,” Haslam recalls. “They were so in praise of the band we had that it didn’t matter. I don’t want to take anything away from the other guys, because they’re brilliant as well. But with the technology that we have now – and these musicians – it was fantastic.”

The tour led to subsequent trips to Japan and Korea (with Rufus Wainwright keyboardist Jason Hart filling in for Brislin), a three-song EP entitled The Mystic And The Muse and the release of the 2011 DVD Renaissance Tour 2011 – Turn of the Cards and Scheherazade & Other Stories Live In Concert. With Renaissance fully back in action, the band decided it was time to release a full-length album. Like an ever-growing number of artists, they turned to Kickstarter to get the funding necessary to commit new sounds to disc. Incentives offered to pledgers included everything from Haslam's personal copy of the first Renaissance album (which she used to learn songs for her audition in 1971) to the dress she wore for the band’s performance of “Northern Lights” on Top of the Pops in 1978. Initially setting their Kickstarter goal at $44,000, the band ended up raising an astonishing $92,531.

Songs for the new project included the gorgeous “Symphony Of Light,” a lush 12-minute number inspired by the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci, who of course was known as “the Renaissance Man.”

I looked around on the Web to see if anyone had written a serious piece of music or song about him, and I could not find anything,” Haslam shares. “I just thought, ‘Gosh, this music is perfect for it!’”

As the recording of the new album moved on, the band brought in guest musicians for the first time in their career. Jethro Tull leader Ian Anderson contributes his trademark flute to “Cry To The World,” while Haslams close friend John Wetton (King Crimson/Asia), who filled in on bass for four Renaissance shows in the 70s including the Reading Festival, added vocals to “Blood Silver Like Moonlight.”

In September 2012, Haslam and Tesar were busy mixing the album when the singer started experiencing strange pains in her back.

I thought that maybe it was because I had been sitting in the wrong position in the studio, which was true,” she recalls. “But it got really bad, and I went to see somebody. It ended up that I had a compression in a vertebra on my spine. We had to cancel three quarters of the [then-upcoming] tour, and we were just building momentum up…It was so devastating.”

In addition to being advised by her doctor not to fly or travel by automobile for more than two or three hours, Haslam wore a metal brace on her back every day for nine straight months, even when singing. Naturally, this situation had a chilling effect on the bands booking schedule. Although Renaissances planned tour was reduced to a handful of shows on the east coast, she soldiered on. Then, the life of this hard-fighting woman (who survived breast cancer in the early 90s) became even cloudier.

I’d go onstage and when those lights hit, it started up this thing in my left eye,” she remembers. “Everything went foggy and hot around the eye. Every light had a rainbow around it, wherever I looked.”

The odd phenomenon ended up being acute angle-closure glaucoma, yet another obstacle to hit Haslams road to rebuilding the Renaissance name.

My God, it was a challenge, but I sang really, really well,” she says. “I sang my heart out. Sometimes, you do your best work in times of sadness or pain. The human spirit comes through.”

Sadly, Renaissances troubled year was about to take an even darker turn. After performing a show at Collingswood, NJ, the band was alerted that Hurricane Sandy was about the hit the area. Luckily, Dunford was able to catch the very last flight home to England, while the rest of Renaissance (augmented on this particular tour by fill-in drummer Joe Goldberger) accepted the fact that the next show wouldnt happen (resulting in a considerable financial loss) and braced themselves for what was about to come. Thankfully, Dunford made it home safely, while Haslams Sandy woes were confined to a phone outage and a damaged maple tree in her front yard.

Considering the ups and downs that defined the previous months, it appeared that the remainder of 2012 would be quiet. Tragically, that serenity was shattered on November 19, when Dunford’s wife called Haslam with the news that he had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. The next day, he was gone.

That was the biggest shock of all,” Haslam says. “I’ll never forget that day as long as I live...It was very strange year full of so much joy and happiness, and then completely the opposite...disaster and devastation...I wasn’t sure whether I would carry on, but I know that Micky would have wanted us to, plus the fact that we just worked on this beautiful album that everybody needed to hear [and] also needed to experience live with the band.”

As Haslam began to pick up the pieces and carry on after Dunford’s death, it became apparent that he wasnt ready to say goodbye just yet. According to her, Dunfords children began seeing white feathers – an occurrence commonly interpreted as a message from the dead. Haslam soon had her own experience with this during the soundcheck for her first Renaissance show after the guitarists passing.

I’m very particular about how things look, particularly since I’ve been painting,” she remembers. “Everything’s got to be symmetrical and it’s just got to look right. I go out and say, ‘Right. Let’s move those guitars over there...I went down to the front, and everything was great on the stage. I go back on the stage, and right in front of my microphone was a pink feather on the floor. I knew that was him, and I knew he made it pink because he knew it would make me laugh.”

(Unfortunately, Dunfords death wasnt the only significant parting to affect the reformed band: Lyricist Betty Thatcher, who had worked with Renaissance since the Relf days, passed away in 2011.)

In addition to more touring for Haslam and company (with guitarist Rych Chlanda joining the ranks), 2013 finally saw the release of the Kickstarter-funded album Grandine il Vento on the Renaissance website. Earlier this year, the album was re-released to a wider audience as Symphony of Light with three bonus tracks (including “Renaissance Man,” a tribute to Dunford) on New Yorks Red River Entertainment.

Shortly before Symphony Of Lights release, Renaissance took part in Cruise to the Edge, a jaunt from Miami to parts of Honduras and Mexico with a vast array of artists including Yes (naturally), UK, Marillion, Queensryche and former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. But with another Renaissance undertaking came another example of Murphys Law: During the bands first show in the indoor theater, the boat was ht by a storm and began rocking from side to side.

I had to hold myself tightly to the microphone stand most to the show because I could have fallen over!” laughs the singer. “The show went fantastic, but that was really a trial in a way.”

Two days later, the band played poolside – with 60-mph gale force winds adding to the festivities. Haslam knew before she even hit the stage that the dress she picked out for the show wasnt going to make it.

I had to walk back to my cabin and change into a black outfit; it really wasn’t a stage outfit, but it was all I had,” she says. “I had a painted hat that I was going to put in the auction on the cruise. I put that on and pinned my hair up and pinned the cap onto my head. The wind was so strong that I had to hold the cap down for an hour and 15 minutes while I was singing. (laughs) I had to cup my right hand around the microphone so that the wind didn’t go into my mouth and blow me up like a balloon! I had these visions of being blown up like a balloon and drifting off to Brazil! (laughs)

You could barely stand up,” she adds. “You know that advert for Memorex with the guy from Bauhaus [Peter Murphy] sitting in the armchair? That’s what the keyboard player in Renaissance looked like!”

In her time away from Renaissance, Haslam keeps busy working on her impressive artwork. Her works include the covers for Grandine il Vento and Symphony Of Light. A special lithograph of the latter is available through the Renaissance website (see below).

After overcoming hardships that would have easily defeated other bands, the rejuvenated Renaissance shows no signs of slowing down. East coast dates are set for late October/early November, while Haslam hopes to bring the band to Europe next year.

I feel that there’s more life for this band yet,” she says. “As long as I feel that, I’ve got the desire to keep it going.”

Photo by Esa Ahola

Renaissance and Annie Haslam online:


Friday, August 22, 2014

A New Break-up Soundtrack: Jack Grisham Resurrects The Joykiller

TSOL. Tender Fury. The Joykiller. Cathedral Of Tears. Some of the music made by these bands changed lives. All of this music featured the vocals of Mr. Jack Grisham.

Whether he's fronting the current incarnation of TSOL (boasting most of their original '80s lineup since 1999) or indulging in a variety of extracurricular projects both musical (including the extraordinary Songs For An Up Day by The Manic Low and last year's release of archival Vicious Circle recordings) and literary (including 2011's An American Demon: A Memoir), Grisham consistently delivers the goods. This is especially true of Grisham's involvement in what this writer believes are two absolutely flawless albums: TSOL's Beneath The Shadows and Tender Fury's If Anger Were Soul, I'd Be James Brown. Now, he is working to resurrect the recorded life of his mid '90s act, The Joykiller.

Signed to Epitaph Records, The Joykiller released three studio albums (The Joykiller, Static and Three) from 1995 to 1997 and a compilation called Ready Sexed Go! in 2003. As with everything else Grisham has done musically, The Joykiller presented an intriguing mix of street-level danger and undeniable Pop sensibilities. If you've never heard them, you need to make the investment in their albums. They were one hell of a band.

Recently, Grisham uncovered a number of forgotten Joykiller rehearsal tapes of unreleased material. Inspired by what he heard on them, he decided to get the band together again to record these tunes for a new album tentatively titled Music for Break-ups. The band currently has an Indiegogo campaign going until September 9 to raise funds to complete the project. Rewards include everything from test pressings to a turntable to use to play the album. To make the deal even cooler, the album will be produced by Paul Roessler, the man responsible for the best album of 2013.

There is no way Music for Break-ups is going to suck.

Go here to learn more about the project and donate money towards the album's creation.  

UPDATE: Just received word from Paul Roessler that the great Rikk Agnew (Christian Death/Adolescents) will be contributing guitar to the recording. Amazing...


Twins of Voodoo: A Conversation with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: Part 3 of 3

Cover of the forthcoming Psychic TV album, Snakes (photo courtesy of

In Parts 1 and 2 of this conversation, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge discussed h/er work in Psychic TV, efforts to share h/er experience in pandrogyny with others and some of h/er past exploits in '60s and '70s England. In this third and final part of our extensive conversation, Gen discusses h/er recent explorations into Voodoo – a journey that has been extensively documented in the upcoming film Bight Of The Twin by Hazel Hill McCarthy III.

It has been a great pleasure presenting this multi-part interview on this site, and I wish Gen nothing but the greatest happiness and success moving forward.

You're 64 now. In this stage of your evolution, what gives you the most joy?

Here's a letter somebody sent me from Canada: Currently, I'm busy making some major changes to my life. I spent most of last year recovering from a rather troubling depression. I thought it was time to take your example to heart and get on with living the life I've always wanted. So I will be quitting my job at the end of the year, possibly sooner, and starting my own business, with the added advantage that I will be able to work without having to stay in a permanent location. A big thank you goes to you for giving me the courage to do this. I'm actually scared shitless, which I believe is a sign I'm on the right path.

Isn't that sweet? That's when we feel some joy.

Obviously, my little dog, Musty Dagger [gives us joy]. She's a Pekingese, and she's absolutely wonderful. She's a rescue, of course; all of our dogs have been rescue dogs. Jaye always said she didn't want babies, but if she got the urge to have a baby around, she would always adopt.

We got a hell of a lot of joy from going to Africa...A friend of mine, Hazel Hill McCarthy III, lives in Los Angeles. A few years ago when I had a bit more money than usual, we took her with me as a companion to Kathmandu in the Himalayas and had a really beautiful time there. In the autumn last year, she came over to visit and showed me these photos she'd come across online of this festival that happens every seven years in Benin in Africa. We were both blown away by the costumes. I said, 'God, wouldn't it be great to go there and film that?' She took that to heart and actually found out how to do that, and bought me a ticket to go. I said, 'Well, you can’t do that.' She goes, 'You took me away somewhere amazing. Now, it's my turn to take you.' She and her husband Douglas, and Drew and Lewis – some friends of hers – came. We had a crew of four people with really high-end cameras, a still photographer and two people doing sound, and we went to Benin, which is just next door to Nigeria. It's the only country in the world where the state religion is Voodoo. We went thinking we'd film this festival, but we got there 10 days early. Our translator-cum-fixer Emmanuel took us on the second night to meet his father in his little compound. It's nighttime where there's no electricity, so there's some candles. His father –whose name was really long, but we called him 'Dah' - was sitting there, and he's wearing all these necklaces. Having studied Santeria and other disciplines, we knew it meant it was a priest...We realized that he was someone important, but not how important.

We're all just talking and drinking. He looks at me and points and goes, 'You had a twin who died, and she needs to have her soul and spirit joined with yours. Would you be prepared to do a ceremony so that we can have her linked with you?' Everyone went really quiet, because they knew all about Jaye, but he didn't. We went, 'Yeah!' Suddenly, this documentary film becomes Benin and Voodoo interacting with Gen! (laughs) Jaye used to call that, 'the Of Course Factor.' 'Well, of course they knew that you had a twin; of course it ended up like that.' That's how she would explain it. It was amazing, and we came back so energized and so rewarded with a magical view of the universe.

It's not the title of the documentary, but my running title is, “Voodoo: A Religion of Kindness.” They were so kind, so generous. They have nothing; to have a chicken is a big deal. Those people reconfirmed my belief in the possibility of humanity to still become something amazingly beautiful. All of it – not one bit or the other bit, not the ones who have this god or that god – but just humanity. No gangs, no cliches, no dogma, no better than yours. Just all of us loving what's possible.

Where is the documentary in terms of production at this point?

Hazel's made a trailer. There's no budget; she used her own money to get us there. As far as we understand it, the plan is to get the trailer as perfect as possible and then look for people to help sponsor it becoming a full-length documentary.

They allowed us to film everything – [things] that have never been filmed before. We have two ceremonies that we filmed. The five heads of the five cults of Voodoo met us in a sacred grove and said, 'You can ask any question you want. We'll answer.' No one's ever had that access before – and what they say is so different to that stupid Hollywood version of Voodoo. That's why we thought using the word 'kindness' could be so important, because it immediately shifts your mind from your pre-conceptions and stereotypes and sensational versions of what you've been told. It was nothing like that; it was just so embracing and loving and kind. At 64, to have another amazing adventure and another spiritual explosion of hope...that's what we live for.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Do Not Panic!: Hawkwind Unleash a New Sonic Attack

Now this is interesting...

On August 15, UK legends Hawkwind announced the imminent release of a new digital single – an updated version of their 1973 classic “Sonic Attack” with none other than legendary British actor Brian Blessed delivering the song's infamous dystopian broadcast.

Here's the official announcement from the band's website:

It’s the musical collaboration we never knew we needed, until now! Legendary space rockers HAWKWIND have teamed up with kingly thespian Brian Blessed for a brand new single version of ‘Sonic Attack!’

When Hawkwind decided to recreate their classic Space Ritual show of 1972, for one night only, at the London’s Shepherds Bush Empire in February 2014, the venerable group donated all proceeds to animal charities including Team Badger – of which Brian Blessed is a patron. It was a gig that set the wheels in motion for a storming new partnership.

The accompanying video was created by longtime Hawkwind artist Martin McGuiness.

This powerful addition to the Hawkwind canon is available from 1st September 2014.

Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen fronting Hawkwind? How amazing is that?!

As a longtime Hawkwind fan, I'm thrilled to hear the band bring “Sonic Attack” into the present tense. As a lifelong Brian Blessed fan (thanks to my British father's insistence on raising me on Blackadder and Flash Gordon), I'm excited to hear that classic booming voice read Michael Moorcock's brilliant words in 2014. Welcome to the Single of the Year!

This revamped third version of “Sonic Attack” (which was first redone in 1981 for the Sonic Attack album) comes less than a year after the band's last release (the compilation Spacehawks) and is the latest music produced by one of the most stable lineups in Hawkwind history. Although the band has gone through dozens of members over the years, this current incarnation of the group clearly has staying power.

As sole original Hawkwind member Dave Brock told me last year, “We all get on well. We've got [Dead] Fred now playing keyboards; he used to play with us in the '80s. Of course, Tim Blake played with us in the '70s, '80s and then '90s. Richard [Chadwick], our drummer, has been with us 25 years – or even longer now. The two new boys...Dibs has been playing with us seven years, so he's not really a new boy at all. (laughs) Unfortunately, a few years ago, we lost our keyboard player Jason [Stuart, who died in 2008], and the we had Niall [Hone] come in and take his place. Niall was playing guitar at the time; he switched to playing bass. So we had two bass players, and Dibs switches from bass to electric cello. It makes life interesting; that's the whole thing with music. As long as you can actually keep on changing and moving forward rather than going backwards. (laughs) That's what we try to do.”

Nearly 45 years since the release of their debut album, Hawkwind continues to survive thanks to a deeply loyal community of supporters. While other bands have fans, Hawkwind have kin.

We do our own festivals, and it's fantastic because we have loads of kids there and it's family-oriented,” remarked Brock (who turns 73 today) during our chat in 2013. “People bring all their kids, and it's a safe environment. Of course, we get to know loads of people. It becomes a giant family on quite a large scale. It's really quite important, and it's a great honor in a way to actually have all that. That's why we have to keep going.”

Pre-order the new version of “Sonic Attack” at the links below:

Amazon US 

iTunes US

Amazon UK

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

From Kerouac to Crass: A Conversation with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: Part 2 of 3

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As clearly demonstrated in Part One of this interview, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge is one of the most fascinating subjects ever featured on this website. As our interview earlier this year carried on, the talk became less of a structured question-and-answer session and more of an organic, flee-flowing chat. I always love when that sort of thing happens...

In the '80s with Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth and even before that with the mail art, you were very much into using conventional mail to spread a message. We're in a substantially different world now, where a postcard or letter is now a status update on Facebook. Things are so much more immediate now. Do you see that as an advantage, or a hindrance?


How so?

Well, in 1966, my English teacher told me to come up after class. It was, 'Oh, no. What have we done wrong?' He goes, 'I think you would find this writer really interesting and up your street.' He gave me this bit of paper, and it said, 'On The Road. Jack Kerouac.' We had never heard of Jack Kerouac. We said, 'Thank you, sir.' When we got home, we gave [the paper] to my father, who traveled up and down England a lot in his job, and said, 'If you ever come across this book, would you get it for me?' He said yes.

A few weeks later, he produces a paperback of On The Road that he found in the bargain bin on the motorway. We read it, and it blew my mind; I was just like, 'Whoa!' We already loved Dada and Surrealism because they lived interesting lives; they didn't just make interesting work. Their lives, to me, were equally exciting – if not more so – than the artwork. So we already reached this point where lives and art were all intermingled and life was in a way more important. The art and books were just clues to the result of evidence of a life lived, but not the thing itself.

We read the book, and at that time we thought it was amazing. We realized that they were real people, that Bull Lee was William Burroughs. Somehow, we found that out. So then we wanted books by Burroughs, but there were none in Birmingham. We went to all the book shops in Birmingham, and no one had anything by Burroughs or Kerouac or anyone. So we hitchhiked down to London. We lied and said we were going to visit my friend's grandparents in Purley, and off we go. When you're hitchhiking and you're 16 and reasonably cute, you never know who's going to pick you up. There's a man in a Rolls-Royce who keeps asking for a blowjob, and we say no. Then, there's a man who's a firefighter who's just done a check on a Mormon Temple and said, 'Did you know there are eight floors below the ground because they don't need planning permission for that? And in those eight floors, they've got a big water reservoir, and it had a library and a school and enough places to live for the entire local community of Mormons, so if a bomb goes off, they can all continue to live and come out again?' And so on. So you get all these amazing stories for several hours – sometimes 10, 12, 14 hours – from people you'll never meet again. And then you arrive in London, and you know the only way to find somewhere to sleep is to go to Piccadilly Circus where all the junkies and people with long hair are, but also because of that, you know that they’re the hip community. You meet somebody who's got long hair, and they say, 'Do you want to crash on my floor, man?' You go, 'Yeah, that will be great.' So you go visit them, and they're living in a macrobiotic commune. You sleep on the floor, and they give you brown rice in the morning, and you don't really like it at the time but you go, “Oh, thank you.” Then, you think, 'Where do we get books.' You go into London, you go up and down to Tottenham Court Road and no, no Burroughs, no Gysin, no nothing. Then you go into Soho just because it's the porno area, and you're still young and horny. Lo and behold, in the first shop, you're looking along and there's Naked Lunch! It was once banned and obscene, so therefore they stock it. Then, you look a bit more, and there's Henry Miller's Tropic Of Cancer – because it was obscene... And suddenly, all the books you really want are there in the obscene Soho book shops...You head back and you met a little more people, and you go back to school. Or, as it happens now, you go to and click.

I'm so glad you made that point!

Which is more enriching? Hello!

There's such a loss of discovery now.

Exactly. That's really hitting the nail on the head.

I was grade school when I discovered TG. There was an indie record store that took about 45 minutes to get to, so I would have to get a family member to drive me there. All the way in the back, the store had Psychic TV, TG - at import prices, of course. I saved up a lot of money for me in those days, being 12 years old. But to find those things was such a magical thing, as was finding Wreckers of Civilisation on a bookshelf somewhere. Discovering an artist to where you really had to dig. And then you find the dozen or so other people who happen to be looking in the same section of the store. That seems to be gone, and I miss that so much.

Well, that's why we've always used logos. The TG flash, the Psychic cross. It's so that even without the need for words, with simple little telegraphy, you know that person has to be at least on some level closer to you culturally than other people. It's a recognition sign. It's almost like having a flag over your head saying, 'Look at me! Look at me! I'm a little bit like you.' Personally, to me, that is a really essential service. The logo is to further maximize contact with others that are similar.

What were your thoughts on the Pussy Riot phenomenon?

We don't know enough about it; we've really not followed it at all. All that we know is that they did their performance in a church and got arrested and thrown in a miserable jail. Being thrown into a jail for any kind of performance is just totalitarian sadism. Having said that, what do we think of Pussy Riot? The question really was, were they doing it for notoriety or were they purely and simply doing it to make a statement? The odds are high, given the state of Russia at the moment, that they knew the risks. If they knew the risks, then they were serious enough to take the risk. But beyond that, we're not sure. We'd have to know more about what they've written down, if they have a manifesto, what it is and so on. One thing is for sure: They really got fucked.

We're going to Russia in May, to Saint Petersburg and Moscow. We've already had people writing and saying, 'Are you scared to go because you might be labeled as 'transexual' or sexually dangerous or whatever given all the new repressions that are happening?' That makes you start to re-think Pussy Riot...Did they push it in a negative direction accidentally, or did they take far more of a risk that we all realized? That seems more likely. Now that we know a little more about what's happening with the authority there, then they probably knew they were taking a hell of a risk - especially for women in Russia.

We all know this: Whenever biological males get the chance and women are vulnerable, the majority will rape them – like 90-something percent. We know this because of previous occasions – wars, civil wars, uprisings, the Russians coming into Berlin. The first thing they do – sadly and pathetically – is rape, because they can without any kind of punishment...By being pandrogynous, we've separated ourselves to a degree from the male of the species. We do not feel akin enough to the biological male of the species to want to be associated with them. There are so many aspects – the violence, the viciousness, the rape, the dominance, the thoughtlessness.

What do you think of Pussy Riot?

Anything that holds people's attention for this long has to have something powerful behind it. Everything goes by so quickly, but the Pussy Riot discussion has been ongoing for a couple of years now. I think depending on where a person is in the world, he or she might get a different message. Perhaps in America, young women might look at that as an empowering message: “We can do something if we see something that is upsetting us. If we want to voice what we feel, we can do what they've done.” That's wonderful. In another part of the world, they're addressing very specific things; Pussy Riot exists to address evils perpetrated by a particular world leader. So the Russian context might be different than the American context, but they're instilling something in the audience, regardless of where that audience might be. Two of the members who were jailed appeared at a benefit concert for Amnesty International in New York for a benefit concert a couple of weeks ago – I believe onstage with Madonna. So there is that side of people who perhaps look at that and say, 'Ugh. A fucking sellout,' but they're raising questions and drawing attention to issues on that wide of a scale. I can't see that as negative in any way.

No. And of course maybe Madonna will sign them and project them into the mediasphere. Then, we hope they remember what it was they wanted to say. (laugh)

With everything being so short attention spanned these days, I like the fact that people are still talking about them. The jury is still out on what effect they'll have. Were they just rambunctious young ladies causing a stir, or are they going to effect change? Maybe we won't know until they're gone. Maybe we won't know until another generation comes out of that.

It's like the 'wreckers of civilisation' and the tampons and Prostitution. That was seen as disgusting and who knows...all the different possibilities. Many people just though we were just craving publicity, which we weren't. But now, almost 40 years later, the Tate Britain has bought the tampon boxes for its national collection of fine art.


It's re-assessed [as] culturally significant, regardless of the quality of what the work is, [in] its effect and its triggering of a debate, which is ongoing. A very, very serious debate about the nature of what art is allowed to be, and the sponsorship of art and so on, and what's taboo and what's not taboo. It's been finally admitted into the dialogue of the art history story – and the cultural story – of Great Britain. To me, that's vindication, and we're happy about that. So that could be what happens to them. It could be 20, 30, 40 years before Russia gets it and goes, 'Oh my God! They were so right!'

From what I've studied about late '70s Britain and some of the things that were going on, I think there were some parallels between TG and Crass. What are your thoughts on Penny [Rimbaud] and Crass and their impact on culture during that time?

We began very skeptical of Punk in its entirety in England in the mid '70s. You probably know the whole Sniffin' Glue thing where Mark Perry said, 'Learn three chords and form a band.' My response was, 'Why learn any chords?' There was a certain friction at the beginning. I can't speak for Chris and Cosey and Sleazy, but we were fanatical about the destruction of Rock 'N' Roll and the prophetizing of an entirely new, far more relevant expression of the contemporary experience of its moment, of its time. Coming from Manchester, for example, and growing up around the cotton mills that were all closed, and seeing them all start to decay. Every day, going past the railway yards where they were cutting apart all the steam engines for scrap – just seeing clearly and vividly that the industrial revolution that had made Britain potentially or theoretically great and brought in its prosperity was gone. Economic power had shifted away from Britain. For me, that was much more vivid; we saw it literally all the time. We grew up playing in bomb craters in Manchester, so we also knew the fragility of the most substantial structures – meaning bureaucratic as well as economic or social.

There was still rationing when I was a kid. To get sweets, we had to have a little kind of token, and we were allowed meat once a week. We got rabbit, which was the poor man's chicken, until myxomatosis wiped out all the rabbits. (laughs) So my experience of Britain growing up, which is sort of the same era as Penny, was very much decay. It was decay, and yet there's Harold Macmillan saying, 'You've never had it so good.' Then we got to the '60s, where there was this moment, which is very idiosyncratic of apparent prosperity and the realization that the young people had money and could be exploited to spend it, which gave a brief respite from the decay and the collapse. That was the sort of picture that was happening, and then the '60s – in its brief, beautiful solar flare – sank back into itself into skinheads and the British Movement, and Punk, very quickly. One reason maybe that we were into it as 'Industrial Music,' and that my obsession with 'Industrial' was because [of] seeing “industry” as a symbol of the previous way that Britain was – the Victorian era, pre-Elizabeth 1 era – that there are these peak moments in society that sometimes trick the vast majority of people into imagining they're taking part in this great moment of England or of Britain. To me, it was always obvious that in fact we lived in a new feudalism; to me, it was quite insane that people would walk around wearing the logos of big companies like Nike and Adidas or whoever it might be. Why would you wear an advert for someone who's oppressing you? Why don't you get it? They're paying you low wages and charging you high prices so that you remain in poverty. It's just like the Middle Ages. You're serfs; you're raw material. They'll use you as long as they use you, and then they won't care at all. Why did you get free education and health care in the '50s and '60s? Because they wanted a healthy, well-educated workforce.

When technology and organizational factors came in, so that there was less demand for people who were well-educated and healthy, they started trying to reduce it and get rid of it. People are seen as the equivalent of cows and sheep – a disposable, inconvenient resource that requires a lot of attention to keep it as healthy or unhealthy as you need. And also to keep it ignorant enough not to want to rise up and be outraged by how it's being treated. So somewhere in there, we think we're close with Crass. A lot of people don't realize that Penny was kind of from the Sixties, too. Both of us were interpreting the same phenomena in slightly different ways. His was far more traditional anarcho-political; mine was more bull-in-a-china-shop. But our aims were the same, and a lot of our strategies overlapped. The logo, the slogan, the recognition by a symbol – 'Oh, there's Crass.' By just one symbol on somebody’s arm, you know who they are; they're probably part of your extended family.

We did meet with Penny; we went to the farm. In fact, it was Little Annie – Annie Anxiety – that took me to meet them. She lived there for a while, and we became good friends. One long weekend, she took me down there to visit with them, and we had some really great, sometimes slightly intense discussions. They were concerned that certain aspects of the TG look were too ambiguous. The flash with the red and black was being seen by so many people as Neo-Nazi, when in fact when I designed it, black and red have always been the anarchist flag to me. That's why it was red and black. The lightning bolt was copied from British Rail, where they had these signs that said, 'Danger. High-Voltage Electricity.' So rather naively, we added that, thinking that was a way of expressing the music – high voltage electrical music, not Rock 'N' Roll. With hindsight, of course you could see how it could be accidentally or deliberately misinterpreted – mainly deliberately.

TG did a concert once at the Filmmakers Co-Op, and we built our own PA system. We just stacked it up both sides, and then somebody did a review where they claimed that we set up the PA as two Hs for 'Heil Hitler.' That was a total lie; they were just in square stacks. I'm not even sure how you could make it look like HH. There's probably a way, but that would certainly never cross our minds. Basically, [the press] caused us years and years and years of having to re-explain that were not right-wing. We'd say, 'Look at what we do. We squat houses and give them to associations for artists with families. We do soup kitchens in Kathmandu for Tibetan refugees. And look at me. Do you think a right-wing government would leave me on the street? No, they'd kill me or put me in prison. Get real!' All I'm talking about is change and libertarianism and so on. You'd think that people would get it that that's not what a right-wing totalitarian government wants to hear. But people are very politically naive, and they're being trained ever more carefully to respond to cliches, to stereotypes.

Crass had problems, but not quite as much misinterpretation as we did. That was a discussion we had many times. As to the actual music and performances, we do remember seeing one performance where The Nipple Erectors [with Shane MacGowan, later of The Pogues] were supporting. He was immediately charismatic. Crass was not my cup of tea musically. It's ironic, but to me, the early music’s too abrasive and noisy! We can appreciate what it is and how it works, but it's not something we would listen to. Ironically, to this day and even then, my main musical library is almost all from '62 to '71. Actually, we rarely put music on at all. We don't even remember the last time we put music on to listen to.

Check out Part 3 of this conversation.