“Really good musicians are all a little bit irrational and obsessed”
A friend of mine called Martin Bradstreet, who’s a terrific poker player and a terrific natural musician, once wrote an essay about how people who have balance in their lives aren’t good poker players because they aren’t driven. You need to be slightly obsessed because if you’re not willing to keep up and study you’ll always lose to the people who are.
All my own work has been made to satisfy a mania. It hasn’t been made to suit a market or fit an idiom. The audience wants to see you spilling your guts about something that makes you uniquely you, so if what you’re doing is nonsense or some bullshit that you think people will buy, then sooner or later, that will register with them as hollow. As soon as you’re labelled as a phoney, then your shot is gone, you’d better pray that you can make a living on cruise ships and bingo halls.
“There’s a perception about music that it’s only really valid when it’s an occupation”
I’m pleased that it’s never even occurred to me to make a living out of playing in a band. In virtually all the bands I admire, that attitude is non-existent. It’s antithetical to the creative to worry about the bottom line. That’s why I admire people like Bjork and Nick Cave who do these things that are unwieldy and can be, in some cases, abhorrent and insulting. It’s the purity of their instinct that people react to, not the product. It feels genuine and that’s why people value it.
I’ve always seen being in a band as a fantastic experience that I get to have rather than about making money. If I’d had to rely on just the band to live, I’d either have to live a very meagre life or do a bunch of stupid things in an effort to increase the profitability of the band. I have some small regrets about the way I’ve conducted myself as a musician, but it’s always felt that at least in the moment all my decisions have been pure. I’m proud of every stick of music that I’ve done.
“The best artists don’t give a shit about their audience”
I’m strongly of the opinion that every work of art has been made with near-complete disinterest in the audience. If you’re making something and you consider the audience even for a moment, then you’ve cheapened it. Look at Nick Cave, for example. What people are responding too isn’t the tunes, it’s Nick Cave, the person. The more he’s willing to present himself in a genuine fashion, even if it’s just a character he’s playing, then the more the audience will have a genuine reaction.
It’s an odd thing that a lot of bands who are trying to ‘make it’ listen too much to the industry. The music business is reactionary and its always going to push artists towards whatever’s hot at the moment and make them incorporate these sounds into their sounds. They reduce it to these action memos, but no one buys records for this reason. When has one musician said to another, ‘did you know who the business manager was on this record?’ They don’t care. Even if you think of it from a purely business perspective, it makes sense to always be honest. It always works out better in the long run.
“The whole ‘extra band strata’ of the music industry is alien to me”
Y’know, like managers, agents, lawyers, record producers, pluggers, promoters, publicity – those kinds of people. Basically, if you are in a band or a musician, then you and I will get on; if you’re one of these people who is living this parasitic existence outside that, but within the administration of music, whatever you’re thinking, I won’t get it and probably will never get it.
There’s a very small number of independent record labels that are run by enthusiasts and work on a similar level to me, for example, Corey Rusk of Touch and Go or Ian MacKaye of Dischord – they’re very respectful to the bands and operate very efficiently. I understand those people very well, but people in the mainstream music business? I don’t get those people at all. They’re like fucking space aliens to me.
Additional photography: Primavera/Paco Amate
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