Vive Le Rock Interview

Here’s the full transcript of a recent interview with Vive Le Rock.

Listening to your new album Interplay, it seems to encompass two extremes of your work? IE there’s a sense of claustrophobia to ‘Shatterproof’ and a sense of urgency to tracks like ‘Catwalk’ (which references the old Ultravox track ‘ROckWrok’), or ‘The Running Man’ – this seems to juxtapose with the feeling of serenity or detachment that come with a track like ‘Summerland’?

JF: ‘Yes – that’s it really – you hope to provide lots of joyous jolts and rides – transports of delight.

Perhaps also something to do with this idea of Serene Velocity – which may come from recent forms of mechanical transport – trains, ships, planes, etc..

You know, you’re sitting calmly inside this fast moving, powerful machine in a sort of silent cocoon, watching the world go by, as if it’s on some kind of film.

Time drifts and you’re making all kinds of calm, detached, dream connections. Meanwhile, the machine is expending brutal power and noise – and you barely notice. A very modern set of pleasures.’

The record’s sleeve art is interesting – the retro-hi-tech style imagery seems to suggest a kind of alternate or parallel future, which could also be read into some of the music, was that a conscious intention?

JF: ‘I guess the entire album is cast in that way – a sort of parallel present. A newscast from somewhere else – Benge and Jonathan Barnbrook’s manual for some sort of unexplored retrofuture.’

There’s a quote in the sleevenotes to the Systems of Romance reissue “the push and pull of romanticism and alienation” – would you say this theme, or perhaps the interaction between the mechanical and the emotional – has been a constant in your work?

JF: ‘Absolutely. I think it’s something to do with the way we all have to live our lives now – especially in this ugly, rigid Mechanical/Digital version of time. You have to submerge and confine yourself In order to accommodate the damn thing, yet you’re still really operating in Biological Time, which is variable and beautiful – moves at different rates in different places – more to do with all the variables of weather, seasons, and phases of day and night.

That basic opposition can really burn you out, and I think certain kinds of music are built to provide a sort of temporary annexe – somewhere you can take shelter, look outside at the horizons again, take a shower – reintegrate yourself a bit.’

Your audio-visual work Cathedral Oceans was an immersive experience – there’s this curious luminosity to the sound and images – also maybe the theme of man-made structure being reclaimed by nature, possibly an echo of the imagery of industrial decay that characterised the early material?

JF: ‘I guess so – like most of us, I’m always trying to recover my own time and light from all those artificial impositions I just mentioned.

Making Cathedral Oceans was an attempt at acknowledging something that’s following us constantly – or perhaps always waiting in the wings.

I grew up through a series of periods characterized by ruins – of factories up North, cinemas, country estates abandoned, demolished streets in Manchester and Liverpool and war ruins and bomb sites in both. So inevitably I feel this is some kind of greater cycle that is always in operation.

Looking at Piranesi reminds me of my childhood. I recognize those ruins. I can imagine walking in a ruined Dresden, or Hiroshima, or Detroit, or Greater Manchester, or Oxford Street.

There’s a more positive aspect of all this too, a kind of romantic drift that always attracted me – a pleasurable melancholy. You can reflect on certain themes that will always arise from walking through overgrown ruins…

It’s also something to do with the way we tend to use cities – when I was working on Cathedral Oceans I’d make routes around London, finding and linking particular places – places where you felt you could walk out of the city, into somewhere else. A sort of creative drifting.

We all do this sort of thing – simply by choosing routes through all the possible streets, you gradually construct your own city – a version of London, another city

For me, it’s also a process of reimagining London as a city of beautiful overgrown ruins, purely for my own purposes and my own pleasure.

For instance, one of these particular places is behind Denmark Street. There’s a quiet square, so near all the rush and traffic, yet calm and distant.

Time moves at a different rate there. It feels as if all you have to do is keep on walking and you will pass imperceptibly through into a ruined city, where nature has taken over.

You stroll down through the trees to the banks of a lake. Piccadilly is still there, underneath the surface. You can breathe the water, swim through all the streets.’

What’s also striking there is the choral nature of the sound, which also surfaced to some extent in your work with Robin Guthrie – did you have any sort of classical grounding before you joined groups?

JF: ‘No, but I was in a church choir and sang Latin Mass when I was very young. So I guess my earliest influences are Latin chants. Elvis came later.’

Ultravox during your tenure must have very much been a ‘band out of time’ – in the context of happening at the same time as punk, while in some respects the band were very in-tune with it, even perhaps pre-dating it – at the same time your use of electronics and reluctance to engage with overt politics, the ‘quiet man’ stance, must have placed you at a distance from it? Some of the journalistic hostility that seems to have been around at the time is hard to believe!

JF: ‘Oh, totally out of time, out of synch, right under the radar. But it was such a great experience – I learnt a such a lot about how things will always change, often in the same ways, and how absolutely vital it is to keep a steady eye on the horizon, over all the daft distractions in the playground.

Shortly after that first glorious burst of punk in 1976, I clearly remember wondering – where‘s all that wonderful stuff we were fighting to get to? Where’s the beauty and the getting lost, the adventure and joy? Where are all the possibilities?

So the aim became very plain – make some music that would get you there.

I think we became the first band to recover some sense of wonder from the ruins. Suddenly there were tides in the streets again. The New Wave – a great title, invented by someone on the NME, I think. I was proud. It was what we were. The New Wave.

Systems of Romance was simply an instinctual restating of values – an attempt to recover everything worthwhile from that welcome bulldozer of Punk.

To get it right, we had to go over to Germany – to Conny Plank, who’d been the keeper of the true flame.

You see, I’d felt very strongly that the imaginative, adventurous spirit of British Rock – characterized as the Art/Psychedelic bit – had got lost shortly after The Beatles made’ Tomorrow Never Knows’. It all degenerated into whimsy and Prog.

(Later of course, this was exactly what forced Punk to flatten everything to a sort of year zero – absolutely necessary and a great relief – but it also left everyone a bit directionless in the ruins).

So, by the early 1970’s, all those great ideas and principles crystallised in 60’s Britain, were adopted and developed by a new generation of German musicians – Early Tangerine Dream, Neu!, Can, Kraftwerk, Rodelius and Moebius – and Conny had recorded almost everything of any consequence during that period.

Unknowingly, Systems of Romance later provided a sort of permission for others to also use and explore all these bits of recovered magic – it went out to Gary Numan, Early Simple Minds and U2 – all with different results – but they all took various aspects of that record and built their own kingdoms from the blueprints it contained.

It’s been interesting to watch the same spirit travel on down the generations, via The Cure, Joy Division and Martin Hannett, then on into Blur, Elastica, Franz Ferdinand, Radiohead, now to The Horrors great new record – one of the latest manifestations of that spirit.

Even now, working with Benge is like meeting up with Conny Plank again, the same spirit of adventure and the overriding necessity of maintaining a vision.

Working with Rob Simon, too, is always an instant link to that moment of freedom and joy, where things can be at their best. Because he never lost that. He’s a sort of touchstone. A true original. A transmitter. You can hear it all in Rob’s pure ferocious inventiveness – that great, glorious, glittering explosion of joy, adventure and invention, that will travel on down the generations, acknowledging everything before, and informing everything after it.’

Although a working relationship with Robin Simon has continued, you seem to have kept a distance from band situations since then – presumably you are happier working as a collaborative artist?

JF: ‘Oh yes – A band can be a joy at times – you know, I still believe the best thing you can experience is to be part of something greater than yourself. Problem is, when it goes out of kilter it will take a great part of you with it. Price of adventure, I guess. Nothing ventured, nothing gained….

Then you still have to grow up and leave the gang at some point. Otherwise you become like some 40 -year- old walking around the supermarket with his mum.

At the moment though, I’m working with Benge’s concept – The Maths, which is a band, I guess. Some sort of Shoreditch Exploding Plastic Inevitable, with an ever-shifting cast of players.

And to my surprise, we’re having a great time. Can’t wait to do some new tracks all together, all in the same room. There’s a real chemistry developing and some wildly inventive and eccentric artists and musicians involved. Plenty of healthy critical friction too – So we’ll see.

Benge and I also discovered that collaboration is a great way of working – it tends to bring out the best in everyone involved.

You’re not relegated to the same four or five members of a band, you get to choose who you believe to be truly significant from the ever-moving stream – a fantastic luxury.

And because you really rate the co-conspirator, everyone stays on their toes at all times, so everyone tends to do their best work.

Benge has the most brilliant studio in a most buzzing place – plus, if it all goes wrong you get to share the blame.’

What other projects can we expect from you in the future?

‘Oh God – there’s a bit of a list – how many will open their eyes to daylight is anyone’s guess – hope they all do. They’re all people we deeply admire.

So, at present we’re involved with Ghostbox, The Soft Moon, Paul Daley, Xeno and Oaklander, Tara Busch, Matthew Dear, and a movie with Macoto Tezuka. I also hope we’ll be doing something with Lone Lady – she’s truly remarkable – the lone transmitter of the true spirit of Manchester.

There’s also a wee pet project of my own – a set of parlour piano pieces mixed with overnight empty room recordings that yielded a few startling results. It’s called Electricity and Ghosts.’

Saturday, October 1st, 2011 MEDIA