You say that you feel the best on stage, but I wonder if you still, after so many years of live shows, have a kind of stage fright?
Nope. No stage fright. We are resolutely uninvolved in the process of running up to a show. We sit around and watch the clock and eat the food and engage in desultory small talk. The one thing we don't do is talk about the show. I may give some simple directions or instructions just before we go on but that's about it.
Your music is often called experimental, there is a lot of room for improvisation in it. This kind of mix people usually consider as uncomfortable to listen to, but you make the audience want to move, even dance, how is it possible?
Because we like songs and when we improvise, we improvise songs. When we experiment we experiment within the framework of a song. But I'd like to insert here that we don't need to experiment, we know what we're doing. The purpose of experimentation is to test an hypothesis. We are firmly grounded in all the principles we need. We know what will happen at every step of the way. That's because you, the audience, are a known factor. If we were playing in front of men from Mars we would need to experiment. Because we are firmly grounded in all the trade, "masonic" secrets of being musicians we feel free enough to be able to make songs up from nothing. We know what will happen. We know how to please you. We know how to scare you. We know what you want. More importantly we know what you need.
You`re part of many musical projects and groups. Tomorrow in Warsaw you`ll be playing with Two Pale Boys. Is it hard to find different formula for every group and project, or you have rather lots of ideas and still have to find new ways to express them?
Every group determines its own "formula." it comes from the gestalt of the personalities of the people involved. I like to work with different structures because the perspective is different. If you work with a telescope then you have one perspective of the universe. If you work with a microscope you have another. It's the same universe.
Your main band (at least in most people's eyes), Pere Ubu, is pretty flexible musically. What do you get out of working with Keith and Andy that you couldn't with Ubu?
Pere Ubu is a rock band. It has a drummer and a conventional line-up. Therefore, it has a certain amount of inertia which requires a certain amount of effort to affect. The 2pbs, being a smaller unit, reacts quicker and changes direction with much less energy. Pere Ubu is like a Hollywood big-budget blockbuster. The 2pbs is one of those black & white foreign films with sub-titles. Pere Ubu is capable of powerful visionary lunges. The 2pbs is capable of subtle and intricate detailing. It is useful as a writer f music to have access to all these facets.
The vibe on '18 Monkeys' makes me think of some kind of futuristic Beatnik club. Is that sort of what you were going for, and are the Beats a big influence on you?
Wow. That's interesting. It's not what I was going for but I'll certainly consider telling other journos that it was!! No, what I was going for as a framework was the atmosphere of one of those 50s dime store trash detective novels. Jim Thompson sort of thing which is why the album art looks the way it does. I need to be clear though that a framework is not the same as the "concept" of the album. It's more like a Point of View, a perspective, a specific vantage point from which the action is viewed.
Even on your solo albums from the early eighties, most of the songs are credited as collaborations with other writers. What is it about collaboration that appeals to you?
My own ideas are not good enough. I like to have them tempered by engagement with the real world. That is, in a sense, what collaboration accomplishes.
Can you describe the difference between the 2pbs album and 2pbs live shows?
The 2pbs is an improvisational group that uses rock and, I'd have to hold my hand up to it, avant-dance elements. From night to night the songs change and various storylines interweave, ebb and flow. It's one of those experiences that you should collect all episodes of. The album was constructed using a method I hoped would replicate such an improvisational approach. The studio, you see, has no audience-- which is the prime ingredient-- and it's an environment in which it's too easy to cheat. The method I used was a bit complicated but it involved working in sealed bubbles and then passing on the work to the next person in a modified chinese whispers chain.
"I work one way - I warned you that I was difficult. It goes like this. You're on their own. I practice a policy of Imperious Laissez-faire. Deliver the goods. Talk, theory and discussion are a waste of time. Work needs to be communal, social and cooperative - yet each person operates as an independent agent. I am only loosely involved as conductor unless I feel the integrity of the project is endangered or direction is lacking or in need of focus. We choose to work together not knowing the outcome but convinced that because of the persons involved the end result will be interesting and the means of achieving that result an adventure. Working relationships are established by working together."
Please tell me more about the avant-dance elements. The one time I saw you solo, with Cutler/Cooper/Maimone in 1985, you spent much of the performance seated.
I am referring to musical elements. Andy and Keith come with an avant-anglodance, techno-influenced background. Naturally some of this is evident in their playing. I've only ever done one tour seated, as an experiment. You saw it.
So the album differs fairly radically from a 2pbs live performance?
Yes and no. Some songs are similar some nights and not at all similar other nights. You'd recognize the piece...eventually. It depends on what the storyline is for a night and it depends on where in a song's lifecycle you are seeing it. The idea of the two pale boys is to replicate the thrill of creation, of surfing the moment. You don't do that by miming the same performance night after night.
Are your intentions in your "solo" projects different from those within your Pere Ubu work?
Pere Ubu is a big rock experience, often overwhelming in its power and intensity of dataflow. It's a Hollywood blockbuster on a cinemascopic screen. Projex like the 2pbs are intended as indy arthouse films. I often use the same songs in both projex. With the 2pbs I can explore the stories behind the songs. I can extend / expand / interpolate those stories. I can add personalities & plot twists. The 2pbs-type projex tend to be improvisational and purposefully under-rehearsed, designed to encourage serendipity & spontaneity. Pere Ubu can also be accidental and spontaneous but the constraints of the larger band mean there's less time to linger over things. In the 2pbs I have more time to develop background material and flesh out the characters. I've got more time to sing. The philosophy behind everything I do remains the same, it's the chosen technique that accounts for differences of style & sound.
Would it be fair to say that the 2pbs group affords you a more flexible format for the story-telling aspect of your music than Pere Ubu? Why / why not?
Of course. I use a number of the Ubu sub-themes with the 2pbs because I can linger over them and add detail and coloring. If you like what Pere Ubu does lyrically and emotionally then the 2pbs is a required experience. It supplements, clarifies and expands the stories you've come to know and love, as well as adding more. The goal is to create a form of performance novel. (Don't ever say I lack pretention!)
I imagine you know the Samuel Butler books about Erewhon?
I read the first one about 25 years ago, but never got thru the sequel. I can't remember anything about it except it's about a place that doesn't exist. Which is what "utopia" is but also the name emphasized the notion of a PHYSICAL place that doesn't exist. And that paralleled ideas at the heart of the album; that increasingly we find ourselves living in ghost towns, choosing to live in ghost towns, in places that don't exist, because our physical geography, our culture, is being transformed into something that is detestable and the only sane reaction is non-cooperation.
In EREWHON the approach seems to be more musically minimalist, purer?
It's hardly minimalist since each person in the group, particularly Keith & Andy, is producing 2 or 3 or 4 voices simulataneously and would produce more if the technology and brain power and fingers were available to make it possible. Our intentions are not minimalist. Our intentions are to produce songs that are spontaneously generated. I feel that 3 people is the optimum number for such a project, allowing for the most flexiblity. I don't like to call what we do improvisation, though. We are always aiming to generate structure and context. Our aim is to preserve the excitement and drama of improvisation while, hopefully, producing a performance that gives the APPEARANCE of being rehearsed. Fear not. We DON'T rehearse.
Of course it's still a crazy music, you certainly don't like music to be classified?
I don't get paid to classify music. If I got paid to classify music then I would like music to be classified. That's why writers like music to be classified. They get paid to classify it. Why make life difficult? Pay me to classify music and I'll stick it in neat little compartments all day long for you. In the meantime I'll do my job and you do yours.
You seem to have developed a huge interest in technology with your 2 web sites & see dee +s - are you thinking of this as *a* way forward?
A way forward to what? No. I'm there. I'm always interested in ways to make others understand what THERE looks like.
Do you enjoy touring, or is it just a necessary evil to get your music out to the public?
I enjoy playing in front of people. I am at my best in front of people. I sing better. I construct better stories. I create special moments. And the thrill of performance is addicting... taking risks, improvising outcomes, etc. Touring is necessary for that. I enjoy it as long as it doesn't go on too long. In Europe the 2pbs have worked out a methodology whereby we can go off for 4-5 mini-tours on a regular basis. This is ideal for me.