Pere Ubu's David Thomas interviewed by Unknown

1-Interesting, and understandable, your warning for interviewers. I´m guessing if the fact that the musician has to show the way to the journalist does mean that rock journalism has become a kingdom of, umm, civil servants working by routine? If this is the case, and it seems so, what´s worst, the journalist´s laziness or his lack of imagination?
Laziness is worse, I guess, though I think the two are connected. It’s insane to expect a music critic to ‘get’ everything. Pere Ubu works like very few other bands. We may be unique. No one holds a gun to your head and makes you become a critic. There are a few writers who clearly have put a lot of thought into analysing what we do and the importance of how we do things. There are others who just as clearly copy and paste and pretend they know our catalog. I don’t expect every writer to know our history and the ins and outs of each album. But then they shouldn’t PRETEND that they do. It’s perfectly valid to take each album on its own merit.

2-Tired of futile interviews, I fully agree with your point. After years devouring rock press, nowadays to read rock mags throw me into a narcotic stupor. It seems rock journalism is feeded with clichés, always telling the same story, repeating it as a tedious mantra, carving it in stone like a religious petroglyph, an unalterable commandment. Maybe this also has to do with the fact that many readers are refractory to originality or audacity and they rather enjoy to read always the same script and in those terms more easily understandable for them?
I agree. I think you understand the situation. So, I guess it’s time for you to quit! Quit or just get on with it and hang the consequences.  “Damn the torpedoes!” So that’s what we have done for decades now. We proceed on our own course. The world changes, Pere Ubu doesn’t. We acquire the means of production. We are self-reliant. We are not dependent on record companies, radio, TV or fans. Fans are an irrelevancy. We have work to do. We have a course to follow. If no one wants to come along with us, then fine – we’re still going there. We know where ‘there’ is. It’s always just over the horizon.

3-The same way that without a literary quality in rock music there will not be a literary rock criticism, another theory which can explain this hypothetical rock press decadence could be that is the result of the lack of originality and audacity on current rock music...the vast majority of popular music today shows a low degree of subjectivity, rock reduced to a yuxtaposition of “influences” which are a cut and paste of the musician´s record collection.
We live in a world where everyone is afraid. The Emperor has no clothes but never dare to whisper it or you invite a heap of abuse and character assassination. So we do what folk musicians have done in similar circumstances for thousands of years. We encode the truth in tradition and a secret language that only others of our kind will understand. We make a pact with the geography we inhabit and together we speak of things seen through the cracks and seams of the world of humanity.

4-How does work your relationship with the press as artist and as reader? Which is your ideal of rock magazine and which ones do you check more frequently? How do you react to good and bad reviews?...I mean, what do you like best, a positive review poorly argumented or a smart bad one?
I do not listen to the radio. I do not watch the TV. I pay no attention to the media. I do not read the daily newspapers. They are all liars and criminals. Most musicians are slaves of the media priests. They’ll do or say anything to be approved and celebrated. So a ‘good’ review means nothing to me. Neither does a ‘bad’ review. Sometimes a critic comes up with an interesting bit of analysis –  but it doesn’t bother me what context it’s in. Pere Ubu, in any case, is beyond traditional criticism, most of which amounts to an art critic saying of a latest Picasso, ‘Oh, I think there’s too much orange in it.’ Yeah… right. Years ago, I said, “I don’t care about sounding ‘good.’ I care about Meaning.”

5-One of the clichés more frequently related to Pere Ubu in the rock press discursive is the boundless use of the term avant garde. In the first place: what´s avant garde? there´s still something that can we call avant garde or it is yet another outpaced anachronism? In second place: is my humble opinion that what makes Pere Ubu “advanced” is the way its artistical-musical perception of  life normalize its strangeness...I find it a perfect antidote for alienation.
We are not alienated from society. Society is alienated from us. We are in the mainstream of rock. Justin Bieber is a fanatical avant-gardist. ‘New’ is a scam and a trap for the gullible, like student-types. We are guilty of being literate and restless. We are impatient with the ordinary. We are intolerant of the self-indulgent… of the obsession with ‘self’ itself. Our motto for decades has been ‘Self-expression is evil.’ I scream at the radio, “I don’t care about your damn cat! I don’t care what a crummy boy friend you have! Tell me a story about something other than yourself and your supposedly miserable life and your crummy feelings and your comic book philosophies!”

6-Also, noir is another regular word when depicting Ubu´s music...or expresionist...As I pointed before but now in a more articulated form, to me, all these tags just pretend to apprehend that the Ubian landscape is a translation of the signals that common life emit from under the smothering understanding of its facts in which we have been programmed since childhood. Could be Pere Ubu, then, as Jarry said of Poland, a nowhere, a not-place where we can assume that rock maybe is not an adventure anymore, but still can be an enigma?
Yes, I know. It is tiresome that our lyrics and songs are depicted as being strange or out of the ordinary. We write about every ordinary things. And, here’s a real shocking idea: people today are exactly like people 50 years ago, 500 years ago, 5000 years ago – we have the same hopes and dreams and fears. There is nothing new under the sun. We write about ‘life and life only.’ And of course there’s that miserable ‘singer/songwriter’ meme – that it’s all confessional and autobiographical and personal and therefore True. I’ve probably recorded more than 300 songs – no more than two or three of them have been in any way even vaguely autobiographical, i.e. True. I make stories up. Gee, I don’t know – it’s not like that’s unusual in the literary world. Shakespeare made stuff up. Herman Melville made stuff up. It’s a damn story! What is so hard to comprehend in that? Mostly I see stuff and I think about what I see and then I report what I see. Wow! That sure is radical…

7 Like write about rock, to record rock albums has also become a procedure. I have the feeling that most of the contemporary albums are done without a truly creative impulse behind, by inertia, even without enough stuff worthly of being unearthed, just because this is the mechanics of bizz...without a product you don´t exist. How does Pere Ubu approach the logic of this mechanics? Do you take it as a work —“well, it´s time to make a new album”— as a need of exercise your inspiration, as an urge of express your feelings?
Pere Ubu is my job. Nobody holds a gun to my head and says, ‘Be in Pere Ubu.’ If I didn’t make a living from that job I would choose another job. My job could have been ‘Be Bruce Springsteen’ or ‘Be Bono.’ I didn’t want those jobs. I didn’t CHOOSE those jobs. And if circumstances become ‘You can have a job making music but you can’t do Pere Ubu’ then I would do something other than music. I do a music job because I get to do exactly what I want. That is the strength of the band. We can all do something else and undoubtedly make more money. No one is in Pere Ubu because it makes anyone wealthy. The way you make money in this job is to sell albums and sell concerts so there is a course to follow that involves something like a production line. It should be clear from our history, though, that we proceed down that production line in our own time and according to our own agenda.

8 Carnival of Souls has been inspired in the 1962 movie of the same title, evolving from a score the band played for a screening. Re-scoring movies is one of the main Pere Ubu sideprojects. Which is your criterium when choosing the movies to score? For the album, in what degree were you driven by the film´s peculiar atmosphere and aesthetics? And how was the process to turn the score into a full album with its own meaning?
The album was not inspired by the movie. If anything, the choice of the movie was ‘inspired’ by the direction I wanted the album to take, by the themes and ideas that I wanted to pursue. Doing the underscore was a way of setting out on the road to those themes and ideas. I like B movies. Also you want a movie that doesn’t need a lot of dialogue, lots of talking. And then you want a cheap budget movie because there are fewer scenes. For example, doing ‘It Came From Outer Space’ was much harder to underscore because it was a Hollywood production with lots of scene changes. ‘Carnival’ and ‘X, the Man with X Ray Eyes’ had small budgets, therefore fewer scene jumps. Those the practical considerations.

9-Most of the lyrics in Carnival, at least the fragments my scraggy english is able to capture, seem to have a tale structure, or be product of an oneiric experience...why, when listening to Pere Ubu, I have the feeling that their apparent normality —for exampe when dealing with love and emotional skills—hides an eerie side? By the way, in Raygun Suitcase´s notes, the band stated that “to print lyrics is a bad thing”...why?
This question begins to border on asking what the album is ‘about.’ I don’t go there. It should be clear that over the history of Pere Ubu we are dealing with a few storylines that emerge and re-emerge again and again. The same characters appear and disappear and then re-appear. There’s one storyline, for example, that’s been going on for 25-30 years. On one album we find the character looking out a window, for example, and maybe five years later the same character reappears looking back into the room that he is in just seconds later. One day I think to myself I will connect all these fragments so it’s obvious what is going on but then I think I don’t have time to look back – I’ve got stuff to do. I don’t like separating lyrics from the music. Lyrics are not poetry. They are part of the music. On our website we provide the lyrics to all albums. You can find a link to the COS lyrics on the album page at

10-The musical content of Carnival is mostly somber, obscure...much songs are atmospheric...but the whole thing flows unequivocal ubian, characterized by this morbid, organic sensuality so inherent to the you think is a good thing to be recognizable? I mean, like with long term couple relationships, the protocol with long term musical careers is that after so many years tracking the artist, the listener doesn´t feel surprised or shocked anymore...the first impact, so physical,  is replaced by a much less disturbing but deepest intellectualization of the musical object. What do we, artist and listener, loose and win with this equation?
One of the most repeated journalist memes about Pere Ubu is that we are “always the same, always different.” So clearly there is nothing to lose in the long-term relationship. What is gained is that the stories we tell can have a depth and detail far beyond the capabilities of the limits of the 3-minute song formula. That was always the intention of what we were doing.

11-Beside the fact that Pere Ubu never has been a major selling force, records doesn´t sell like before...and what to say of Cds...seems that right now touring is the main source of income for bands. What can you tell me of the financial side of Ubu? How do you drive your ineluctable relationship with capitalism? Have you ever figured out a different way to make things, in economic terms, I mean?
I love capitalism. It preserves integrity and protects individuality. I detest the socialism of the art world. You get crap in the art world because it is financed by the Elite. (Socialism is based on Elitism.) Almost all the early band worked in record stores. We loved taking cash and handing over a record. In the early days we played every Thursday night at a workingman’s bar in the industrial part of town.  Most of our fans had to get up in the morning to go to work so we always insisted on playing the first 2 sets of the evening, the early shows, and guest bands doing the tour circuit played the two late sets. They’d always be so impressed that we were so humble and polite. Most of the audience went home after we played! The notion that the money is to be made touring these days is a myth. It’s true for U2. It’s not true for many of the people working on a lower level. We earn a living from scrabbling bits of income from as many sources as we can. We tour without frills and we exchange pain for cash. Basically we survive because we can endure unimaginable levels of physical and mental pain.

12-A record, a rock album, can be many things....Merchandise, cultural object, entertainment product, fetish, subversive or submissive artifact, piece of life, fake of life, art oeuvre, pure dou you consider Pere Ubu albums, do you think they have its own cathegory?What specifical purposes has the band in mind when endorsing what you´re gonna share with public knowledge?
What you say is true. You are a critic. It's your job to consider these things. I'm a musician. It's my job to make music. I'm not paid to go through all of that. And I got other stuff to do that's more important to me.

13- For more than hal f a century, rock has reinforced the concept-message that growing up is a bad idea, that adulthood doesn´t exist, that rock itself will save you from reality, from the inexorable. You began in this trade being 20-21 and now are 61, how do you have confronted this perverse negation and what changes have you passed thru with the years in your relationship with rock and the creative process?
My ideas have not changed an iota since 1975. I do nothing different now than I did 40 years ago. I have not gone through any of the changes you refer to. Plus, I never believed for a moment any of that crap about rock music. To me, rock music was a new art form to be explored. Nobody in their right mind EVER believed any of that youth rebellion stuff, did they?

14-Yes, it looks like this world, as the ancient world, as always, is ruled by monkeys and strippers...delinquents, anyway, with an inmeasurable capacity to lie in order to satisfy their unfathomable greed. Pere Ubu´s dialectics, to me, encapsulates the perception that nothing is what it seems, that we live under siege, cheated all the time. Does Pere Ubu has a political consciousness beyond this and other suppositions? What kind of future can we expect in your opinion? Are we condemned to turmoil?
We have no political consciousness. Remember what George Orwell clearly demonstrated in ‘1984,’ that the establishment will always create or at least maintain an Anti-Establishment as part of its control mechanism. The Dancer is puppet to the Dance. What will the future be? More of the same until someone stops it. That someone is not me. I got a job to do. Until it is stopped, or I am stopped, I will do my job. A big part of that job is to tell the truth and to be responsible and to be as good a person as I can be.