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New Album: In Spades

Electric Cafe Interview

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Not just in context of the album but also you personally, what is your relationship towards art and commerce?

Greg: Well, it takes money to make art, so to engage in commerce to continue making your art is absolutely necessary. At the same time we’re living in a time where short cuts are taken and liberties are taken by people to obtain music, so you know, we’re sort of in the wild west again, in my opinion.

One of the main reasons I ask is that I feel that the album is ahead of it’s time and the chances of commercial success could be slight. How do you see this album in that context, was this more of a commercial exercise for you or was the approach more artistic, disregarding commerce?

Mark: The initial concept and idea or reason behind this project was fun, nothing more than that. I mean, whenever you are making records and playing shows you hope to make some money out of them, so you can continue to doing what you love doing. You know, we’ve been doing this for twenty years and if we wouldn’t have gotten paid then none of the work we have done would have been possible to create. In my opinion it is not a bad thing to get paid for your art, or for your work in that regard.

Greg: I mean, you can’t just roll up to an Engineer and say record me for free, you can’t go expecting musicians to play in your band for free, you know, people have lives, they have to eat and have to pay for the roof over their head, they have to put gas in their cars, I mean if lived in some sort of…

Mark:…utopian society…(laughs)

Greg: sure, we would all walk around with lutes and harps and shit like that, perform concertos by lemonade lakes and Peppermint Mountains, you know what I mean? Fuck, I mean if rubbing the fucking genies lantern would get us to our next album, then I would, but that’s just not the way it is man.

I spoke to Ian MacKaye about this subject recently and obviously, as you know, he has some pretty interesting and very independent ideas on the subject of commerce and art. Especially in regards to releasing his own music, how do you feel about that?

Greg: Well I would say that he is probably one of the more extreme versions and his way of doing things was and still is, revolutionary, you know, some might say that he never sold himself out. Minor Threat, Fugazi never sold merchandise, their tickets were always a blanket five dollar fee, and anyone could come and yet he made it work. He made Dischord Records much more affordable than other records, you know, he is one of the great populists of our time, in modern music history. But not everyone has the same wherewithal or benevolence of Ian MacKaye.

What was the process of you guys getting together for this album/ project? When was the moment when you said, “fuck it, let’s actually sit down and do this now”, seeing that you had been talking about this album for the past 3 or 4 years?

Mark: Well, we actually got serious about after we had finished touring with the Twilight Singers last year and finally had some time to sit down away from touring to think about song writing and conception of the album and so on. You know, we had gotten together a few years earlier and played with a few song ideas here and a few other songs there but it wasn’t really focused you know. So we had to make a concentrated effort to get it done which started last spring, or early summer I guess and just went it got it done in the fall of last year.

Greg: It actually probably started getting serious last February when you came down to meet me after you had gotten off that Isobel tour right?

Mark: yeah…(grumbles)

Greg: So that was the beginning and then the next time I came out to L.A. in July and that’s when we took what we did in New Orleans and what we had done over the past two and half years and put it into some sort of cohesive form.

Are you happy with that cohesive form?

Greg: You know what? I have never ever put my name on anything or released anything with my name on it that I wasn’t happy with and that I believed wasn’t the best I could do at that time. That’s my answer.

Are there any specific points on the album where you believe you truly nailed it?

Greg: I think the very first song we did together as the Gutter Twins was called “All Misery” I think on the album it is called “All Misery/Flowers”. It was a straight 50/50 collaboration, we went into the studio together with an empty sheet of paper and we came out with the song done. In my opinion we came out with the best if not my all time favourite song I have ever done. So that was all the wind I needed in my sails to sign on for the rest of the project.

Mark: I just think the record as a whole is something that I am proud of, it’s cohesive, it is its own thing, it has a lot of different elements within itself that work really well together I think. Collectively we made something that was unique to us.

Do you still think that rock n roll play a cultural relevance in today’s world, do you think rock n’ roll is still dangerous?

Greg: I absolutely do! I think that music from the time when I was a child and became conscious of it and conscious of the effect it had on me emotionally was different as the media availability you have today didn’t exist, so you had to go and seek it out. When I started making music also, at the time you had to take your music to the people, you had to get into a van and go play, a very grass root approach, my point being that I think there is always a reaction against popular music and whenever a group or an individual or an isolated group of individuals comes up and lays something down, that’s when you hear great music that is culturally more relevant to me.

For this kinda stuff though you have to be a bit of a seeker though, it won’t come to you. You have to want to get turned on, and if you do, then you find something to turn you on. And if you don’t find anything to turn yourself one, well then just shoot yourself.

Are there any artists out there right now that do that for you?

Greg: Yeah, sure, there are some new groups that are doing that. I guess a year and a half ago we played at this festival in Norway, and the band “The Fall” were playing, and we both walked over to see them play and you got a guy who’s been making records for such a long time and he is still pushing the envelope. Someone as venerated as Mark E. Smith blows me away. Also these young kids from Connecticut who play in this band MGMT I think are phenomenal, shit I don’t care if the band has been around for two minutes or 50 years, it doesn’t matter to me. Or you look at a guy like Nick Cave who never played guitar and decided to learn how to play just so he could start a new band and play guitar with friends of his, the Grinderman record is amazing.

Here’s a guy that as long as anybody, from his Birthday Party days to his solo records to the Bad Seeds has always come up with his own thing, regardless of whatever anyone around was saying or doing. He is a perfect example of a guy who has never looked back, always looked forward and I am never not impressed with his work.

Mark: Like Greg said, I am fan of Nick Cave; I think his work is excellent. I am very fond of Will Oldham, you know all the stuff that he does really blows me away…

Greg: Yeah you know that “Superwolf” record that he did, that was amazing, he really went outside his own box there and did something completely different, that’s the kind of stuff that always amazes me about some musicians, when they can go out and do this sort if of things. It’s really important for me if I want to respect an artist that they are not static, that they have the ability to go and do something new and exciting.
Mark here is a very great example of that, just think about all the different types of work he’s done over the years. He’s played with Queens of the Stone Age, he’s played with Isobel Campbell, he’s played with the Screaming Trees, myself and then on top of all that, you have to take into consideration his solo work, which again is very different.

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