Interview With Best Of Baltimore

I’ve just done an interview with the lovely Sherryn from the Best Of Baltimore Blog. You can read it in full here. Here’s the intro which is lovely for an egomaniac like me to read:

“Is anyone else on the inter-webs excited about White Town’s newest album? I know I am not the only one since I grew up with ALOT of White Town fans! White Town’s newest album, Monopole, has multiple tracks drenched in ebullience, love and remorse and it’s crafted so well that I assure you, it will stick closely inside your head for days. Yes, it’s that good!”

Have a read of the rest of it, I ramble on about New York, being a musician, my usual blather. 😀

Neal Asher

Neal Asher
Neal Asher is a great British treasure.

The first book of his that I read was ‘Gridlinked‘ and within the first two pages, I knew I was hooked. On the book and on the author.

He has a lean yet detailed style coupled with breathless pacing: his books are all page-turners. I’ve spent countless nights lost in the worlds he’s created, all of them richly and sometimes grimly detailed.

I now pre-order everything he writes and wait impatiently for it to turn up. When the book arrives, I read it within two or three days and then feel that withdrawal sadness of the story being over.

I have no doubt that if he wasn’t working within the SF genre, he’d be acclaimed as a great popular writer. As it is, the snobs of the literary world only honour SF writers by pretending they’re not really writing sci-if, as they’ve done with Vonnegut, Russ, Ballard and Dick. The snobs believe “proper” authors don’t tackle genre fiction. What utter rubbish!

I emailed Mr. Asher totally out of the blue and cheekily asked him to do an email interview. To my immense surprise, he agreed and replied to my questions very speedily. Lovely!

And now, the interview…

1. In a couple of interviews I’ve seen, you said that you consider your work to be “Schwarzenegger fiction.” Are you saying this in a post-modern sense or do you actually think your work isn’t “great literature?”

When I say I’m from the ‘Schwarzenegger school of SF’ I guess I’m trying to distance myself from those in the writing world who consciously try to create ‘literature’.

Readers can be assured I’ll not bore them with my attempts at stunning prose and mind-numbingly deep insights into the human condition, nor will I try to escape the SF label because obviously SF isn’t literature don’t you know?

My primary aim is to entertain. I want readers to come out the other side of my books feeling as if they’ve just watched Terminator or Total Recall for the first time. I’m offering them an escape from everyday life, not analysis of it or prose they have to labour through.

Whether or not my stuff is ‘great literature’ I don’t believe can be decided now. Who decides that anyhow? Small committees of out-of-touch academics and self-promoting critics? The same sort probably who denigrated Charles Dickens for his penny dreadfuls, and William Shakespeare for catering to plebs who just wanted plays containing plenty of royalty, murder, sex and ghosts.

2. Will there ever be a sexually explicit orgy in a Neal Asher book? With tentacles?

Only if the plot requires it, and then I’ll probably get that prize (can’t remember what it’s called) for the writer of the worst sex scene of the year.

3. You’ve worked for twenty years to become an overnight sensation. What made you persevere all those years when a man of your obvious intelligence could easily have given up and got a straight career job?

If I’d known how difficult it was going to be, I might never have started.

By the time I began to find out, I’d utterly committed myself and was too stubborn to give up. Many burning boats lay behind me but, over that period, I did seem to be making headway even if with only a nice rejection letter one year followed by an acceptance the next by a small magazine offering only a free copy as payment.

Anyway, a straight career job would have been boring, and if it had all been about money I wouldn’t have chosen to write SF anyway. Writing is something I like doing, and something I’ll do till I die. A lack of success probably would not have changed that.

4. I love all the little future history flourishes you incorporate. Will you ever actually write a full version of ‘How It Is?’

I’m steadily building an encyclopedia of all those little pieces (Quince Guide, Speeches by Jobsworth, a chronology too) and use them as a reference when writing another book. There’s always the possibility I could produce a full publishable reference work, but I prefer to concentrate on the next novel or on more short stories.

5. When I first started reading ‘Gridlinked,’ it was like being hit by a train. I hadn’t experienced such a gripping opening in SF since ‘Neuromancer‘. How important is it you to grab the reader by the scruff of the neck? Would you ever write in a more reflective, meandering style?

Thank you very much. Refer back to my answer about ‘Schwarzenegger fiction’. I write what I like to read, which is the case with most writers, and the minute anything I’m reading starts to meander I start skipping paragraphs.

This is not to say that everything I write must contain at least one violent death every couple of pages, but I want to make it interesting.

Even when describing the backdrop I’ll always put in something to smack the reader in the eye. Long paragraphs of beautiful prose describing rolling country or a character’s emotional angst are not for me.

6. In the early days of SF, the baddies were invariably poorly disguised wily Orientals or vicious Africans. In the mid-period, they were after our women and had gills. In 21st century SF, we often seem to be battling our synthetic children. Is a Vingean singularity inevitable or just a great premise for cracking adventures?

I think it a great premise for creating godlike beings or super-science ‘indistinguishable from magic’, which are both staples of SF. I don’t think it inevitable, but then nothing is.

As has always been the case, SF is pretty poor at predicting the future. Personal computers, the Internet – yup, we missed them (Arthur C. Clarke’s prediction of satellite communication is often cited as such an SF prediction, but it was really a scientific article, more of a proposal, in the magazine Wireless World).

The Vingean singularity is presently in vogue, and future generations of SF writers will probably start taking it apart. In my books I contend that the AIs decided they didn’t want to go there since they were having too much fun.

7. Could you please peruse this rant. What are your thoughts? Am I insane? Is it all pointless anyway?

Does anything have a point? On the whole I’m optimistic about it all.

The impression we get nowadays that the world is going to Hell in a handcart, but it is an utterly false impression provided by a more efficient media. If there had been a tsunami a two hundred years ago (maybe there was) only a few people in Britain might learn about it after a few weeks or months. It happens now and it’s on our screens at once.

Our news services present horror to us with an immediacy never before known and, let’s face it, the reporters are not out there looking for nice fluffy human interest stories to stick on CNN or BBC News, are they? The reality though? Yes, terrorists are blowing themselves up and flying planes into office blocks, war mongers are at work out there, rape and murder abound, and people are starving and dying of horrible diseases.

However, all of the above have always been with us, yet human technology ever advances and improves the human condition. I shan’t bother to list the benefits – if people can’t see them that’s because they don’t want to. There will be setbacks, wars, possibly nuclear terrorism, maybe global disasters and near crashes of our civilization, but the knowledge base will continue to grow, and the technology and its benefits continue to accrue. We may not be going to the stars this millennium, or ten more down the line, but we will.

8. And the same with this article by Charles Stross. Is it all the tea? Why are Brits ruling the SF world? Is this the Nouvelle Vague of Brit SF?

Because a bunch of good authors in Britain started getting published at about the same time? All the speculation about the zeitgeist is a bit daft really. I very much doubt if a different ‘spirit of the times’ would have prevented me or others from loving to read and write SF. Just watch, a few years from now a bunch of excellent American SF writers will start being published, and similar speculation will abound.

9. Although your work is commonly labeled ‘hard SF‘ it’s full of deep characterization, hence the stories don’t feel plotted, they feel like they’re unfolding by magic. Even in ‘Brass Man,’ you manage to let the reader inside Mr. Crane’s head. Do you consider yourself a great character writer? If not, why not?

I have to admit I don’t analyze it that closely. I’ll let others decide. Currently opinions conflict, with some saying I write cardboard cut-outs and others saying I produce excellent characterizations. My stories are plot-led, but the characters are not discounted by the plot. Um, I just don’t know how to answer that.

10. I notice that with your ‘Cowl’ and books like Baxter’s ‘Evolution,’ time itself becomes a major character in the narrative. The wonder often is factual rather than fictional. Would you ever consider doing science factual writing? A book of stuff like this article?:

I’m a published science fiction writer, which means I can tell an engaging story and am not ignorant of science, but that doesn’t quality me to write science fact articles.

The above piece was really just opinion which lay more in my area since I was bemoaning the misuse of the word ‘organic’ and all the ignorance that surrounds that misuse. Again, I could put together a collection of such articles but at present the books and stories are more important to me.

11. I note that you’re a Niven fan. Does this mean that your fantasy writing is in any way related to his ‘Magic Goes Away‘ concept of logical fantasy or is it more traditional / magical?

I’m really a fan of Niven’s ‘Tales of Known Space’ books and stories – Ringworld, The Ringworld Engineers, The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton, The Pak etc – the super-science, the massive alien artifacts, the transformation of humans, immortality.

My fantasy writing relates more to Roger Zelazny’s Amber series. Even then, when writing those fantasy books, I tied the powers unleashed to science. No magical sword, but a sabre sharp as an old carbon steel ham knife, monsters created in dank laboratories and an arch villain wielding power obtained throughout an endless life of research.

12. When will we see your fantasy work issued? Surely there are publishers queuing up for it now?

No queue forming yet. Peter Lavery at Macmillan has shown an interest, but is more interested in what I’m producing now. Really, if I did want to get those books published I would need to sit and work on them for a long time, since I wrote them more than ten years ago. Also, I’m building a reputation as an SF writer and to turn away from that now to sort out those fantasies might be detrimental. Better to ride the horse I’m on now rather than try to climb into another saddle. However, in time I will return to them … just not yet.

13. Gabbleducks and hooders, the fantastically inimical Spatterjay – you have a Carolian sense of the macabre and grimly silly. Ever thought of writing some really terrifying kids books? C’mon!

I considered doing such. I have the beginning of one in my files about a mechanical knight called Sir Mech and his mechanical horse called Cogwobble. Again another project set aside for the future, along with the TV and film scripts, and the contemporary novel about farmers growing GM cannabis in Essex. But children’s books? With the stuff I’m doing now I can let myself go and write what I want. Children’s writing tends to come under the scrutiny of the politically correct, and I’m damned if I’d want some interfering prick telling me what I can and cannot write.

14. What’s the last new record you bought?

Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon on CD. Probably a rather predictable purchase for me.

15. Tomorrow you are made King Of The World. What would you do to make it a better place?

That would be utterly dependent on the amount of power I could wield.

Right, you lot, stop killing each other, or trying to force your beliefs on each other. Throw away all your guns and bombs and redirect all military spending into space exploration and developing re-useable resources. Everyone is now accountable for their own actions, including politicians and lawyers. This means that if you trip over a hole in the pavement, tough. It also means that if your lies lead to the deaths of thousands, I have a gibbet prepared for you. Etcetera.

16. Would you like to write a Dr. Who script? Been approached?

I would like to write one, but they wouldn’t be able to show it before 9.00PM.

17. Someone in Hollywood sees your statements about ‘Schwarzenegger fiction.’ Arnie himself rings you up and asks you to pen his next SF blockbuster. Yes or no?

Yes, just so long as there’s a suitably large advance involved. I’d probably suggest he takes a look at The Skinner and specifically at playing the part of one of the Old Captains.

18. Name five contemporary authors (non-SF) everyone reading this should read.

Off the top of my head: Richard Dawkins, Minette Walters, Bill Bryson, John Hersey, Philip Caputo.

Dawkins, because everyone should read ‘Selfish Gene’ (As you have yourself) to gain some real understanding of what they are.

Walters simply because she tells a bloody good story.

Bryson for his humour, and the English books.

Hersey’s ‘Hiroshima’ because we all need to be reminded.

And Caputo’s because ‘Rumour of War’ is one of the best Vietnam war books I’ve read.

But this list is just a ‘now’ list. It would have been different a year ago and will be different in a year, or even tomorrow. Lot of books out there, and many of those I’ve read and I’m just not remembering right now.

19. Ditto for SF authors?

Alastair Reynolds, Robert Reed, Richard Morgan, Iain M Banks, Ted Chiang. Every one of these has written absolute winners, respectively: Chasm City, Marrow, Altered Carbon, Use of Weapons, and Stories of your Life and Others.

20. If you ever do a Jeff Wayne-type thingy for one of your books, can I do the music? 🙂

Of course you can. It would be nice if someone could also create an AI Richard Burton to do the voice-over!

I’d like to thank Mr. Asher again for taking the time to answer my often rambling and vague questions. He’s a top bloke! 🙂

Laura Veirs

Laura Veirs - 9
Laura Veirs is a tiny dynamine, a songwriter who has, in the space of a few years, found her own voice and style. Her 2004 album, ‘Carbon Glacier’ is a dazzling fusion of trad American blues/folk with more off-kilter, European melodies. The Independent called it the “most enthralling album of the year thus far.”

Laura graciously agreed to do an email interview with me.

1. When you wrote the line:

“Gonna dig a coal mine, climb down deep inside”
What was going through your mind? Was it escape or actually confrontation?

I adapted the lyrics of “shadow blues” from karl blau’s song “shadow”. In his song he says, “gonna dig the deepest coal mine, that’s where you’ll find my shadow.” So I was just adapting his words and mushing them around to suit my song. It’s interesting to think of a place where your shadow can hide in darkness.

2. Generally In Britain, your genre label is “Americana” which I find about as useless a descriptive term as “Electronica.” I also think your melodies are more Eastern-European (in places) than more blues-derived folk. Is what I’m saying rubbish?

I agree that the Americana label is rather useless in my case. I’ve been steadily moving away from folk/country-influenced songs. I hope that people can find new terms to describe what I’m doing, especially with my upcoming album which has more electric guitar, drums and feedback than I’ve dealt with since my punk days.

I see what you’re saying about the eastern-european melodies – I have no idea where these are coming from though, as I have listened to very little of this kind of music. (Although recently I’ve really been enjoying an album of Bulgarian women folksingers; I love the unusual intervals they use for vocal harmonies.)

3. I’ve only met you once (at the Derby Reveal gig) and you seemed quite shy then. Would you class yourself as a shy person? If so, is performing a release or an ordeal. Or both?

When I’m with my peeps I’m a real ham. And sometimes on stage I really shine. But generally I’ve gotten more shy in recent years, probably since I’m performing all the time and when I’m just hanging around people I’d rather see what they have to say. I’m certainly introspective. But I’m funny too. Performing is strange. Sometimes it’s wonderful and transcendent and other times I’m distressed and want to leave the stage. It’s really unpredictable for me.

4. George W. Bush, president. Happy with that?

Oh yes, delighted! I love the way he’s catering to the ultra-rich, screwing up social security, killing innocent people in the middle east (elect and oil man and you’ll get more access to oil), destroying the environment, threatening abortion and gay rights and flushing subsidized medical care down the toilet. It makes me consider moving to Europe… no, I will stick it out over here. But it’s scary!

5. The final lines of ‘Rapture’ are questioning but the body of the lyrics tend more towards creativity as a curse than a blessing. Is this how you feel about your own songwriting?

Overall it’s a blessing to be a songwriter. But it’s a real struggle to create art, for me personally, and for artists generally. You have to wrench something out of nothing and that’s never easy.

6. All of a sudden, Laura Veirs becomes the hip artist to name-drop at all the in-parties in London, New York and Paris. You’re invited to glitzy film premieres and christenings of submarines. Would you go?

Sure I would go! But I’m not a schmoozer so people would have to deal with the real me, who is nothing close to glitzy or glamorous.

7. Coca Cola want to use ‘Icebound Stream’ as the bed in a huge new TV campaign. Yes or no?

No. I don’t like Coca Cola, their practices or their product.

8. What’s your favourite new record of 2005 so far? And why?

I am still obsessing over Joanna newsom’s 2004 record. That one really blew my mind.

9. What’s the best non-fiction book you’ve read in the past year?

“how to cook a wolf.” A strange cookbook from quirky WWII-era housewife.

10. When I’m writing songs, I often sing bits of nonsense that actually turn out to mean something, then I add bits that focus the lyric. Do you work in a similar way or do you start with more fixed, prepared lyrics?

Lately I’ve been grabbing lyrical ideas from stream of consciousness writing that I do on the road. Sometimes it makes perfect sense to me what the songs are about, and other times I don’t really know for sure but I like the way the words sound together and the way they compliment the melody.

Great questions. Have fun! All the best, laura

Say Hi To Your Mom

Say Hi To Your Mom
Say Hi To Your Mom (pic by M. Vorrassi)

Say Hi To Your Mom made my favourite record of last year.

Their new album, ‘Ferocious Mopes,’ will be released on June 7th but you uber-hipsters can have a sneak preview by clicking here. Looks like it’s going to be another tasty treat.

Eric Elbogen, the SHTYM primary node, graciously agreed to do an interview for Bzangy Groink. And here it is! Enjoy!

1. What is Say Hi To Your Mom band? Is it Eric Elbogen + others for gigs or is it a collaborative creative project? Who does all the songwriting? Arranging? Tea-making?

I’ve done everything on the three records. Because I can’t afford the proper components for robots to recreate the music live, I’ve been forced to hire actual, fleshy human beings.

Sometimes the humans end up being pleasant, sometimes not. I’m thinking of incorporating some of the pleasant ones when I start the fourth record.

2. There’s a new SHTYM coming out in 2005, what’s it called, what’s it like, what’s it about?

Ferocious Mopes comes out on June 7th. It’s thematically dark, sometimes funny, lushly produced, cryptic, catchy and intimate. At least that’s what I tried to do with it. There’s another robot on the cover:
Ferocious Mopes

3. I think my favourite thing of all about SHTYM is your lyrics. Are they as autobiographical as they seem or are you a great fiction writer?

Fiction. Always fiction. Autobiographies are boring and I’m sick of listening to people sing about their generic lives.

4. Lyrically, who are your favourite songwriters?

Malkmus, Merritt, McCarney, Lennon, Black (Francis)

5. I would never have heard about SHTYM if I hadn’t found your songs floating round the the cyberwent. The internet – good or bad for SHTYM?

The internet is great for Say Hi. I can’t imagine existing without the www and many Say Hi listeners would not have found out about the band without it.

That said, I really wish people would stop stealing my records from file sharing outlets.

I understand and appreciate the function of such technology. It would just be cool if people bought the record or a t-shirt if they download the music and enjoy it.

There is very little money in indie rock and I work very very hard to function as a professional musician and make good records.

It feels really bad when you encounter people getting your records for free, knowing how much work went into them. If someone really doesn’t have the money, I’d be willing to trade a record for something of equal or greater value, like a bunch of unused undergarments or a toaster.

I don’t currently have a toaster.

6. I think tracks like ‘Pop Music’ and ‘Laundry’ sound like films, they have a certain flowing, rich narrative. Have you made any films? Would you like to?

I haven’t made films. I applied to film school in college but didn’t get in. It was probably a blessing in disguise, because studying literature and writing really helped my craft.

7. Of the following, choose one of each pair:

Copenhagen or multiverse?
Cyclohexane or dichloromethane?
TV or bowling?
Sharks or tigers?
Nuns or cheese?
Emo or indie?

The Occasional Hydrocodone
Bowling With The Cast Of A Popular TV Show
Nuns Covered In Cheese
The latter, definitely. Although I’m thinking of using ‘Brian Emo’ as one of my pseudonyms. Either that or ‘Stevie Blunder.’

8. You’ve so far released all your music on Euphobia, your own label. Would you consider signing to another label, indie or major?

Yes. It’s time to be on a label. I spend all my time stamping and stuffing bubble mailers, an object I’d be content never to see again. I’ve also pretty much maxed out all my credit cards. Bubble mailers and maxed out credit cards are the two dominant ingredients in owning a record label, a fact anyone who owns a label will surely attest to.

The difference between me and them, however, is that I don’t yet have any interns. Does anyone want to be an intern? I am, however, very content that I’ve done things myself thus far. I keep telling other bands to do the same, instead of waiting for a magical label to improve their lives.

Like I said, however, I’d rather be spending my time on tour or making more records than stuffing bubble mailers right now. The problem is, there are only two record labels in the US I’d trust to put out my records and I haven’t been able to convince either of them to do so.

9. What have you got against cats?

Nothing. I’m just a little obsessed with death sometimes.

10. Is SHTYM a political band? And if so, is that with a big P or little p?

No. Unless your talking about the politics of the music industry. Then yes, because every band is political in that sense.

11. You become KING OF THE WORLD. What changes would you make? Would you abuse your position or become a benevolent dictator?

King of the World like the Italian kid from “Titanic?”

12. ‘Let’s Talk About Spaceships’ is key SHTYM for me: funny, sad and acerbic all in the one song. It’s an amazing pop song. Why do you think so much contemporary pop songwriting is pure shite? Does it make you feel lonely?

There are good bands out there. At least enough to fill my 40 gig iPod. Sometimes you just have to dig a little harder.

13. I’m a one man band, I do everything – writing, recording, mastering, graphics, label. Sometimes that fucks me off and I’d love to just hand over everything non-musical to some nice, clean people. Do you ever feel the same about SHTYM?

Please see number 9.

14. Is Euphobia purely for SHTYM or have you/will you release other artists via it?

I’d like to release other bands at some point. I can’t afford it yet. I want to it right when I do, which means a hearty financial investment.

15. Can you make your living totally off SHTYM? Do you want to or would you rather do it the Scottish indie way and work to support the band, thus maintaining greater artistic freedom?


16. Every single person I’ve played SHTYM to has loved you. Whenever I DJ and play your stuff, I get people coming up asking what band I just played. You make excellent, hyper-catchy pop music so you should be a megastar. Are you prepared for that? Do you want that?

Yes and yes.

17. What’s with the exploding drummers?

I should stop feeding them gasoline.

18. Would you ever consider writing more mainstream pop for other artists? If Britney / Christina wanted a sprinkle of your magical pop semen, would you oblige?

Yeah, sure. I might end up using one of my aforementioned pseudonyms though.

19. Please name five little-known artists every SHTYM fan should check out.

Dirty On Purpose
The Deathray Davies
Viva Voce
Summer At Shatter Creek
The Hockey Night
Sea Ray
Troubled Hubble
Say Hi To Your Mom

(no offense to any of the above that don’t consider themselves “little-known”)

20. In bourgeois democratic societies, does the self-censorship of songwriters make them complicit in the ideological hegemony of the ruling class?

Pop Tarts sure are tasty.

A big thanks to Eric for the interview!

Please visit SHTYM’s website, email Eric (he’s a friendly bloke, he won’t bite!) and then buy all his records.

Daniel Miller Interview

Mute Records

Daniel Miller has been a personal hero of mine since 1981, when I first bought ‘Speak & Spell.’ Mute Records was the first independent record label I loved, before I even understood the difference between majors and indies. When I look through my record collection it’s filled with bands either on Mute or one of the sub-labels, bands like Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Erasure, Sonic Youth, Big Black, Dinosaur Jr., Labradford, Jon Spencer, Christian Vogel, Goldfrapp, Add N To X… well, you get my point.

I got to meet Daniel after I asked him to remix a track of mine in the brief time I was on EMI. At the end of 2000, I twisted his arm to let me interview him. This interview also appeared in the May 2001 issue of synthpop magazine Lexicon.

Jyoti : Hiya Daniel, are you ready for your in-depth interview?
Daniel : Go on, fire away!
Jyoti : Why did you first form Mute, how and when?
Daniel : I wouldn’t even use the word form cos it always sounds too grandiose to say that I ‘formed’ Mute but the first release came out in early 1978. And that was TVOD/Warm Leatherette.
Jyoti : And that was you!
Daniel : That was me.
Jyoti : Whatever happened to the Normal?
Daniel : Retired, hurt. Nothing since ’78 but I did some touring with Robert Rental who sadly passed away recently. There was a recording issued of that collaboration by Rough Trade which is difficult to track down but we’re [Mute] thinking of re-issuing it.
Jyoti : How were you involved with the Silicon Teens?
Daniel : I did it – that was me. That album was recently re-issued on Mute. I’m a huge Chuck Berry fan and I wanted to see what it would sound like doing him on synthesizers.
Jyoti : But did you move to being the Mute supremo because you were too shy to do the band stuff, as has been previously suggested?
Daniel : Not really, no. I was a frustrated musician all my life. I learnt guitar, saxophone and other stuff but I really couldn’t play at all. I was in bands at school but always the worst, I gravitated to the bottom of the league! Part of the whole thing about electronic music was that I had these ideas which I could now get down without necessarily being a conventional musician or songwriter.
Jyoti : But you totally wrote Warm Leatherette and TVOD?
Daniel : Yep – it’s not a Grace Jones cover version!
Jyoti : So you’re saying you don’t class yourself as a songwriter and yet Warm Leatherette has now been covered by quite a few people. Not bad going for someone who doesn’t consider himself a songwriter.
Daniel : But I’m not a songwriter! I think if you’re going to be creative in that area, you have to have the need to be involved. It’s like writing a book, it’s very hard to do if you haven’t got a real passion for it. And I don’t have that feeling. I don’t want to be a songwriter – I liked doing it and I was trying to make a certain point. In 1978, I was trying to make a point that there were cheap synthesizers out there, you could become involved, trying to link that in with punk. In fact, you don’t even have to learn the punk three chords, you don’t have to be a musician, all you need are the ideas and you can come up with something interesting.
Jyoti : So would you call the early Mute a punk or post-punk label?
Daniel : Ah, well it was both, in a sense. It was literally, chronologically post-punk but punk was one of the inspirations behind it. It wasn’t the only inspiration,
there were other factors that came together that made me do it. But the punk ethic was there, the do-it-yourself, fuck-the-establishment attitude. I had that attitude since I can remember but punk focussed it from just being angry. Another factor was my love of electronic music and the last one would be that electronic instruments became affordable to people like me, rather than only wealthy rock stars. Musically, I felt that punk ran out of steam very quickly. The energy was there but a lot of it was speeded-up pub rock, which I hated. But as a spirit, as a sense of adventure it carried on, inspiring people who weren’t making punk, from Joy Division to The Human League to whoever. My primary thing was this new aesthetic, which I couldn’t imagine approaching a conventional record company with. I also liked the idea of just sticking out a single on my own. It was a heady mix of the aesthetic, the economic and the political. There was a hippy element as well but then most punks are hippies.
Jyoti : In the first five years of Mute, what are personal milestones for you?
Daniel : Well, the first single, of course, cos it got the label going. It took me a year to decide to release another record. I was living in London, at my Mum’s and I’d got to know the people at the Rough Trade shop. I was playing live a lot, helping out at Rough Trade. Then I met Fad Gadget and loved his music and wanted to stick it out. Between 79 and 80 there was Fad Gadget, the Silicon Teens, DAF, Non, Robert Rental.
Jyoti : A lot of those releases are now considered the birth of industrial music. You seem to have very broad tastes?
Daniel : It’s my generation, maybe. I’m old enough to remember rock’n’roll (just) and to remember the British beat boom as a young teen, the Kinks, Beatles and Stones. I was just old enough to be appreciative of the underground stuff in the late 60s, leaping onto things like Can and Amon Duul. So I grew up with a lot of great pop bands and experimental music as well. There was a point that music seemed to stand still and I wanted to hear strange things that you’d never heard before. So, I’ve always been a big pop fan.
Jyoti : Don’t you think it’s strange that there’s only the one Mute?
Daniel : How do you mean?
Jyoti : Well, you’re an independent label and you have artists like Labradford, who I love but can’t imagine in the charts. At the same time, you have great pop bands like Erasure and Depeche Mode.
Daniel : Well, I can’t explain it! It’s just my musical taste – it’s the result of all my varied influences. If I have the opportunity to work in all those
areas, I will. I’m excited by having hit records but not for just the sake of having them. If I can get a band I believe in into the charts, have a track actually become popular then that’s brilliant. But I find it equally exciting to release a record that may not chart but that is innovative or experimental that may only sell a few thousand.
Jyoti : I remember seeing you at the Add N To X gig before you signed them and you were excited about them like a kid
Daniel : Yeah, you have to feel that way. And I feel that Add N To X are a band that should be on Mute and that we, as a label, can do more for than anyone
Jyoti : What are the various Mute labels.
Daniel : Well, Mute, obviously. There’s the Grey Area which is specifically a re-issue imprint. If we can get hold of old stuff we like and can work with, like the Industrial Records catalog, we’ll put it out. When they ceased trading, they offered the catalog to us and we were really happy to take it on. There’s also Can, which was unbelievable for me as huge fan, an incredible opportunity. Other stuff on there includes early Cabaret Voltaire, Soviet France, SPK and some other things we’re after. Then there’s Blast First which is run by a guy called Paul Smith. I met Paul in the mid-80s. I’d been locked in the studio for a year, helping to make Black Celebration and I came home, switched on John Peel and I heard these two amazing tracks. One was by Head Of David and the other by Big Stick. So I phoned up Rough Trade and asked about them and it turned it they were both on Paul’s label, Blast First. He heard that I was interested and got in touch. We had a chat and he was saying how he wanted to keep his label going but was low on money, but he’d got this exciting new band called Sonic Youth. So I went to see them and they were amazing, of course. (I’m not anti-guitar, I’m just anti the way most people play them!) But Sonic Youth were fantastic so I formed a partnership with Paul. And then, because Sonic Youth were well-respected amongst their musical peers, before we knew it, we had Big Black, Dinosaur Jr, Butthole Surfers and others who were the predecessors of grunge, I guess. All these modern, experimental guitar bands were suddenly on Blast First and it was a fantastic period for the label.
Jyoti : So basically, in 1989, you had most of the best techno and guitar music in the world working with Mute.
Also in that period we were working with Rhythm King who had a lot of the early house acts, like S-Express and Bomb The Bass. So, all round, it was a pretty exciting time.
Jyoti : But you haven’t changed that much because nowadays you have the guitar side of Mute covered with bands like Jon Spencer.
Daniel : Yeah, that’s right. And again, he’s one of the few guitar acts that I think is fantastic, I’m very happy to be working with him. Anyway, after we parted ways with Rhythm King, we decided to concentrate more on the dance side so we formed NovaMute, out of in-house personnel who were into this area. It ended up being up an artist-based label with people like Richie Hawtin, Luke Slater, Speedy J, Christian Vogel, 2nd Gen. What happened with Blast First is that America woke up to its own music and bigger labels offered those bands big advances. People like Geffen who either wanted the bands in worldwide, exclusive deals or not at all. Paul got a bit deflated by this and it took a bit of time to get going again but when he heard Pansonic, he loved that and that, along with bands like Labradford, was the start of a new wave of Blast First releases. Jyoti : Here’s an opportunity for a free plug: of current Mute releases, what are you most excited by?
Daniel : Well, it’s a bland answer but a truthful one – I’m excited by it all or else I wouldn’t release it. But of the newer acts we’ve started to work with over the last couple of years, I think Goldfrapp is fantastic. Alison Goldfrapp is an incredibly talented singer and Will is an outstanding arranger. Add N To X we’ve talked about… Echoboy is just one of these guys who’s got music pouring out of every orifice. He comes from a very trad background, having been a Britpop band called the Hybirds, which I’d never heard of. They were dropped by their label soon after the release of their debut album. Richard Warren [Echoboy] split the group up, used his publishing advance to buy musical gear for his home and started experimenting in a more Krautrocky area. He’s progressing all the time and he’s a very accomplished musician in trad terms, which is unusual in the current are he’s working in.
Jyoti : How does it feel having been such a huge influence on whole swathes of Black electro and hip hop? All those people inevitably have copies of Kraftwerk and Gary Numan but also Depeche Mode and Yazoo.
Daniel : Well, I want music to push forward and not be retro. If Mute’s ever inspired people to do that, to progress, well that’s the whole point of what I’m trying to do. That’s what was so exciting about working with Depeche, they were great pop songwriters but they were also into experimenting with new sounds. I sit at home with my synthesizers making great noises but when you can put those experiments into the pop form, that’s thrilling. I listened to Black Celebration all the way through, for the first time in ages, and I was pleasantly surprised. I think we achieved a lot with that album. We were into people like Einsturzende Neubauten and Test Dept., so those influences came through. That album seems to be the favourite of a lot of hardcore Depeche fans.
Jyoti : Don’t you think that if Martin Gore was in a more trad guitar band, he’d have gained a lot more respect as a songwriter?
Daniel : Well, that may be true to a certain extent in Britain. But in the US and Germany, I think he gets that respect. Also, he did win an Ivor Novello a couple of years ago. He’s a very modest guy but he was pleased by that and it was a moving thing for me to see. Sometimes you can get close to someone and forget how much they’ve achieved but when you see someone’s history played out like that, in three minutes of videos, it’s pretty amazing.
Jyoti : I like the subversion of classic Mute pop, in the charts but with edgy lyrics like Master & Servant.
Daniel : Yeah, there was a moment there in the 80s when you had Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, Heaven 17, all chart bands who were producing stuff that wouldn’t be allowed in the charts nowadays. On the other hand, I do think it’s good that kids are listening to pop music again now, that died a little in the 80s, but I’m glad that’s back. You have to have that original thing, that hooks kids when they’re young and then their tastes broaden. If they’re not listening when they’re twelve and thirteen, then they won’t be listening later, you have to have that excitement.
Jyoti : Did you have a Mute 20th Birthday Party?
Daniel : No. I’m not a big celebrator of the past – there was no Mute 20th birthday party because I’d rather look to the future. Also, I’m not a very sociable, party type person.
Jyoti : Why do you think Mute have survived and so many other indie labels have gone down the tubes?
Daniel : I think we had a lot of breaks. We started working with Depeche and that was a band with two great songwriters in it, which then split into two bands. Now that’s a lucky break! You can work as hard as you bloody like but you still have to have the breaks. Then with bands like the Birthday Party/Nick Cave, we gave them a place where they could grow at their own speed. The same with Moby, eight years to get to the point where we’re at now, which probably wouldn’t have happened on another label. But who knows? You can’t ever say what would have happened.
Jyoti : Finally, Daniel, where do you see Mute in twenty years?
Daniel : In 2020? Fuck knows! I look at people who I respect in the business like Seymour Stein and Clive Davis and they still have that genuine enthusiasm, that passion for music. I hope I’ll be like that. I don’t think I’ll get bored, sometimes I get frustrated, like during the mid-90s big Britpop explosion which I didn’t like and couldn’t see how Mute fitted in. I hated Britpop and if you weren’t doing it, the press weren’t interested, it did my head in for a while. So I don’t think I’d stop from boredom but from it being so much hard work, making endless plane trips, forever chasing things. But the next few years are looking very positive, we’re selling records, doing what we want to do, releasing great music.

Copyright 2001 Jyoti Mishra