Elegy Magazine

 

John Foxx (pictured at the Troxy, 2011)  interviewed in the French Magazine, Elegy.

How did you meet Benge / Ben Edwards and what made you feel like working together ?

JF: ‘I heard Benge’s Twenty Systems album, then went to visit him at his London studio. I liked the way he was interested in pure, abstract synthesizer sound.
His place is also very close to where my old studio was – in an interesting part of east London. So I was very much at home there.’

Do you share the same background ?

JF: ‘Yes – he was at art school in London, as I was. We both like similar kinds of music and musical eras. We both enjoy the texture of analogue synthesizers and drum machines.’

How did you work on Interplay together ?

JF: ‘We began by imagining we were going to make an abstract album, but the arpeggios from Benge’s huge Moog Modular system led us immediately into songs. It’s the rhythm and harmony and power of that sound. You only have to sing along.
We were surprised at first, then realized we were really enjoying the process.’

Interplay is very catchy with wonderfully inspired melodies. Did you work hard on it or did it come quite naturally ?

JF: ‘Thank you. It wasn’t at all hard work – we simply listened to what the machines were saying to us.’

Shatterproof, Catwalk, Destination and Summerland are really great hits. What can you tell us about these songs (anecdotes, instruments, themes, inspiration etc.) ?

JF: ‘Shatterproof – well, it was written as if I had caught some kind of psychic thief stealing from me in the street – there was a line I omitted from the final take “You got your hand in my pocket –and I don’t like, no I don’t like”. Though the theft is really more generalized – stealing time or attention – just as our ridiculous British celebrity culture does. Diverting us all away from any cool assessment of what is actually going on.
When I was actually singing it though, I was thinking about bankers and imagining some unspecified, sadistic revenge.
I had also been listening to some old recordings of William Burroughs reading from The Naked Lunch. The voice was so dry and electrical – it somehow sounded too close to my ear – very uncomfortable. At times it seems as if the voice is located inside your head. Benge has an old microphone that gives the same effect. So it all felt right.

Catwalk – Glamour and darkness. I was in New York recently, during the New York Fashion Week, and got talking to a couple of guys who specialize in seducing model girls.
I realized that some of the models feel they have a very limited time to ensure they won’t be forced to return to their former lives. So there is this ecology of money and anxiety – all charged with envy, drugs, and sex.

I think Summerland is partly concerned with the impossibility of returning. That idea that you can’t put your hand in the same river twice. Then, perhaps once in a lifetime…’

What made you feel like collaborating with Mira Aroyo on Watching a building on Fire ? Did you contact her for that ?

JF: ‘Oh yes –I’ve known her for some time. She seems to personify modern electronic music – cool, poised, intelligent and beautiful, with a dark side. I’d been looking for the right project, and this was it. She also wrote and recorded the main synthesizer part. It all worked perfectly. ‘

What attracts you so much with the analogue synths ?

JF: ‘That big, wide, rich, luminous sound – and the fact they are so powerful and disobedient.’

And what is the biggest difficulty to work this kind of material ?

JF: ‘The choice – Benge has everything, so I had to limit myself mainly to what I already knew. Otherwise we would still be recording.’

These old synths are just tools or they inspire most of Interplay songs ?

JF: ‘Synthesisers are urban, electroerotic machines. They will direct the way you think, and the subject matter. You only need to listen and reply, like any worthwhile conversation.
Benge and I both avoid nostalgic or replicated music though, so it all had to feel modern.’

The visual aspect has always been important in your work. How does the artwork interact or interplay with your very last songs ?

JF: ‘The artwork is by Jonathan Barnbrook, who is one of the best young British designers. He also designs live projections with us, along with Karborn, a great visual artist/VJ.
The Interplay design is deliberately cool, detached and colourful – resembling a manual, or a technological textbook.

I imagine it as a surreal text for everyday life, a book on how to inhabit a modern city – instructions on how to pass through walls, or read electricity. That sort of thing.’

Your music has always been very much “European” and urban. Is your artwork the same ?

JF: ‘Oh yes –We all live in cities and suburbs now. They are the new natural world.
I’m exploring a city where you can walk into a part of London or Paris or Rome from certain streets, even into New York, because that is closer to the city I really inhabit.

All the songs concern a man, a woman and a city. I don’t really think anything else exists. They can supply enough subject matter for songs and images to last the rest of my life.’

Are you interested in any kind of music ? What is your last discovery in music ?

JF: ‘I still listen to many new kinds of music. Friends will mention something and I will check it out. That’s how you find the best things. I’m also discovering new aspects of music I’ve liked for a long time. That can be deeply satisfying.

The new would be that new electronic minimalist scene in New York – Xeno and Oaklander and Weird Records, some excellent raw, intelligent music is being made there, and Lowfish have been doing similar things independently, in Canada.
There are also many new labels and artists across Scandinavia and Europe. In England there is Ghost Box and Warp and Burial. I still admire Ladytron. Tara Busch is capable of doing engagingly alarming and inventive things, plus she is a first-rate composer – and Serafina Steer has made that beautifully eccentric album with Benge.

It’s also interesting that guitars are being used as sound sources now, often electronically collaged and reassembled – almost into abstraction – Lonelady, Seefeel and The Soft Moon are doing this, all in very different ways.

Of the new aspects of older music – I must mention Erik Satie – I recently realised I was unwittingly doing a similar thing to what he had been pursuing.
In his time, he was attempting to devise a new form, in the face of a dominant musical culture – that of Wagnerian and other powerful forms of Germanic orchestral music.
He wanted to discover what would happen if you removed this, and wrote an elegant intimate kind of music that referred more to France and urban Paris.

At the time of Metamatic, I was imagining a kind of European music that might have existed if we had never heard of America.
(I must also make it clear that I’m not at all anti-American – just the opposite – perhaps I love American culture too much. But as a British/European artist I felt it important to explore what could happen if I didn’t refer to any of that).
Through this decision, I gradually rediscovered elements of Surrealism, Futurism, then French, Italian and Spanish Cinema, Satie, Brel, Stockhausen, Varese, Musique Concrete, European classical composers, German Electronic music, European cities, architecture and literature, and so on.

Gradually, it became clear that we have a wonderfully rich artistic and popular culture – easily capable of making something powerful and fascinating, without relying on that marvellous, but completely overpowering culture from over the Atlantic.
Just as French new Wave Cinema did for instance – by making a dignified, independent-minded reply, rather than a pale imitation.’

Are you really a “running man” ?:)

JF: ‘No – but every time I switch on the news there is a running man – someone who has dared to release a secret of some kind and is being hunted for it. He is as much an image of our times as the Burning Car. Or the Silent City.’

What about the Mancunian raver Louis Gordon ? Do you plan new stuff with him ?

JF: Oh yes – I enjoy working with Louis. He is a human blur. Very energetic and inventive.
But there are several albums already begun with other collaborators, and I must finish them this year. So it will be quite some time before we can get together again.

I don’t know Mirrorball, your work with Robin Guthrie. What can you say about it ? Will you work together again ?

JF: ‘Robin Guthrie is one of the most original artists Britain ever produced. I really admire those early Cocteau Twins records – Treasure especially, so it was a great privilege to work with him.
We worked very quickly – the album only took a few days to record. We both want to work together again.’

Why did you quit Ultravox in late 70′s ?

JF: ‘That Rock’n Roll lifestyle is absolutely not for me. I need to be repaired too often.’

I began as a painter working in a studio and that is really what I prefer – lots of time for quiet contemplation. Being in a band is the opposite of that.

At that time, synthesizers and drum machines were just beginning to arrive and I knew they would change music, just as electric guitars had, a generation previously.
I could also see you had to devise a new language, a new sound for them, from zero. I couldn’t ask a band to wait around while I followed these ideas. It was all too eccentric at the time.

Meanwhile, the band wanted and needed success – hit records etc.
I understood completely. As a band you need to do this, or it can become difficult to continue.

But none of that interested me much, and since what I wanted to do was most likely to fail financially, and in every other way, I gave them the name and switched on the machines. We both got what we wanted.

What do you think of Ultravox career with Midge Ure ? And how did you feel about Ultravox reformation recently ?

JF: ‘I think it’s all fine. I wish them well. It is what they wanted, and they succeeded. We both did, in our different ways.

You see, the point of the original band was to have an adventure. We all come from very ordinary backgrounds, so this was a way we could make a life – our own life – from nothing. This is what the band was for – to enable us to devise the life we would rather have. It worked. I’m still very proud of that.’

I heard a story about the fact you were asked to be the singer of The Clash ? What about it ?

JF: When I got to know Mick Jones and Glen Matlock better – around 1978, they told me they came to see us play a few times around 1975, and were going to ask me to join their band. But we seemed already too far ahead of them, because we were already playing at the Marquee while they were still rehearsing.
This was ironic, because I’d also seen Mick at a gig at The Roundhouse, and was going to ask him to join my band, because he looked so good.
We were all just kids hanging around London at the time – but we all had the same instincts and we all knew something new was going to happen.’

What about your work with Paul Daley of Leftfield ?

JF: ‘I finished my parts about two years ago and Paul is still mixing. I hope he can complete the recordings soon, because what I’ve heard sounds absolutely tremendous.’

You play with Gary Numan and Motor in London soon. Are they friends of yours ?

JF: I like them both a lot. I’ve known Gary since he began and I’ve always admired his music – he is a genuine star, completely on his own terms and I think he made the best music of that era.’

Can we hope this kind of program in Paris soon ? :)

JF: I hope so – Paris is one of my favourite cities. It was the first place I hitch-hiked to in 1965 – the greatest adventure you can have at that time of life. Unforgettable. I still love it.’

Recently, I walked the route that Erik Satie took every night to get home from Montmartre to Rue Cauchy, Arcueil, near the aquaduct.
I also visited the Au Lapin Agile – the only cabaret left from those times where Satie actually played.

What would make you feel like playing in France soon ?

JF: ‘Well – we have some offers already, which we are considering – on the other hand, I must finish these albums this year. There does seem to be a great deal of international interest in Interplay. Benge and Serafina are keen to tour and France is certainly a favourite destination for us all – so we’ll see.’

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011 MEDIA