MOUTHY ISSUE ONE
LEGENDARY PINK DOTS
interview by C. Reider
The Legendary Pink Dots' current U.S. tour, their first in two and a half years, included a two night stop at the Bluebird Theater in Denver, Colorado, with a special solo set by singer Edward Ka-Spel, and several extremely limited editions of some recordings for sale only on the second night. None of these perks were available at any other stop on the tour. "Many people have asked over the years... 'Why Denver?'" said Ka-spel, addressing the crowd on night two, "... and to that I say 'Why not?'" This typically obtuse bit of stage banter sat well with the audience, already euphoric from the special treatment and the excellent performance of the night before.
The current incarnation of this 20+ year old band is touring without former member Ryan Moore - who quit recently to pursue his own musical project, Twilight Circus Dub Sound System - leaving the band without a drummer. Now reliant on the Silverman (synth player and original band member) for the core of its rhythm section, the sound harkens back to the earlier days of the Dots, with clunky drum machines and squawking analogue synths forming the basis of most songs. Their approach has been pared back enough that more of the quiet, pretty side of the Dots' music can be displayed live, Martijn De Kleer playing acoustic guitar, violin and even mandolin - rather than psyched-out electric guitar - through a significant portion of the concerts.
The band is touring supporting their pair of new albums; All the King's Horses (Soleilmoon) and All the King's Men (ROIR), and the bulk of the live set is new material. Most notable are the showstopping renditions of "12th" and "The Unlikely Event", both gut-wrenching responses to the September 11th terror attacks. The former with its sombre intonations of "Let Live," and the latter portraying an airplane passenger leaving a goodbye message on an answering machine ("Goodbye, good luck, be who you want to be...") left me rather shellshocked, especially after having been bombarded by the overly macho messages of other September 11 themed music, promising "Let's roll" to go put "a boot up your ass" or whatever.
I spoke with a very tense Ed Ka-Spel after a brief rehearsal of his Bach-channeled-through-Kraftwerk solo material. Both the road manager and the soundman made nervous chat with me about how this is the only rehearsal for the set, many of the songs had never been played live, and the door time was rapidly approaching. I noticed with some inner amusement while walking down the stairs (he never wears shoes onstage) that Ed is a Converse Chuck Taylor hi-tops kind of guy.
How is the tour going so far?
It's going really well, but this is the scariest night for us, 'cause everything is new.
Why has Denver gotten a special show for the last several tours?
I suppose it comes down to the first time we played in Denver, it was at the Mercury Cafe. We'd been wanting to go to Denver for a long time, people were always asking us, but for some reason it didn't work out before then. And when we finally played it, there were a lot of people shut out because so many people wanted to see it. It was overwhelming, we thought "My God, this is insane!" That's where the idea came from of "Why don't we do two shows in Denver," because the interest here is so high. Whether we've retained such a following is debatable, I don't think it's as high as it was back when we played the Mercury Cafe, but the two shows in Denver turned into a tradition, and it became like a little bit of a pilgrimage for people across America who like the Pink Dots, and that they would tend to fly in for these two shows, 'cause they always get something different on the second night. But it's very tense for us too, trying to learn songs in an afternoon, it's a challenge. We're always terrified that we'll fall on our face.
"Apocalyptic" is a word often used to describe the mood of the Dots. Do we really live in any more of an apocalyptic time than any other?
It's hard to say. It is a very frightening time, there are very frightening people in extremely high places in what you'd call the world order right now. But basically I believe in the future, I have to believe in the future, I have children. There have been frightening times throughout history, it's the nature of the human being, I suppose. It's almost like a deathwish that happily never quite is fulfilled. I don't think there's any more than this. This exaggerated deathwish which we're witnessing right now.
Your new pair of albums have been reported as being at least partially a response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Do you think people have really changed since then?
Yeah, I think so. As terrible as it was, it was actually, I thought, a really great chance for people to maybe look at the world in perhaps a different way, and maybe come together, but it didn't really happen. The fear has been perpetuated by people who should be far more responsible. To me the administration in America right now is just about the worst, I think probably in the history of America. People tend to think that it's based on ignorance, etc. but it's not, it's extremely clever. It plays on fear. We've noticed that people don't go out as much these days.
Did you guys have any more trouble than normal getting into the U.S.?
Oh, it was more expensive, a LOT more expensive. Because the new way is that basically your visas will not be processed until you've paid over a thousand dollars per petition. Thank you, George Bush. As soon as you've done that it's (*snaps fingers*) it's like that. It's very cynical.
The approach of your lyrics goes back and forth between a very vicious sarcasm and a romantic, Utopian attitude. So which is it - pessimist or optimist?
I'm an optimist, ultimately, clinging onto my Utopian dream, despite it all.
Do you think it's dangerous to play with creating new mythologies?
It can be. You have a responsibility, especially if you are a cult band such as the Pink Dots. I don't want to feed people with just darkness, there are many colors of the rainbow, there are many sides, shapes to the human soul. I try to give all of those sides. I do my best, I don't think we're a one-dimensional band at all.
You've been playing a very well received version of "Isis Veiled" on this tour...
(smiling and nodding) Yeah indeed!
Is the Tear Garden ever going to tour?
It's likelier than ever at the end of next year. I don't know if it'll be a big tour, it'll probably be quite a small one, but, you know, it's time.
You have a new Tear Garden release coming out immenently (Eye Spy With My Little Eye, part of Subconscious Communications' From the Vault series of limited editions.).
It's kind of a new and old thing, in that I found some cassettes that cEvin (Key, of Skinny Puppy, Download, etc.) sent me in 1988 I think it was. And I finished them. So it comes across a bit like the missing album between Tired Eyes Slowly Burning" and The Last Man to Fly. It is mostly just me and cEvin, mostly, not all.
There hasn't been a proper album in a couple of years, did Ryan Moore's leaving require a lot of regrouping?
Well, that's not strictly true. There are, but they're quite obscure releases. There was the Chemical Playschool box, and that was an important one, most of the material on that is new. Then there was Synesthesia which was a strange little project that we just embarked upon in the space of a couple of weeks. A very experimental record, a very pleasing one to me. It's kinda controversial, because it's quite different from the other Dots releases, but I must say I really like it.
Without Ryan's drum playing, you seem to be exploring a different side to the Dots.
That's true. I must say I miss Ryan. He left because he had to do what was closest to his heart, which was Twilight Circus. Every one of us wishes him the very best. He deserves it, he works really hard at it and he's good. But yeah, for us, we wanted to see what could happen with the four of us. Whether it'll be always like this is open to debate. We may bring in a drummer, we may not. But at the moment, we're enjoying how it's going.
In your earlier releases there were a lot of East-European, Jewish/Gypsy influences in your music. Why has that more-or-less disappeared from your more recent music?
It hasn't really. Well, it's disappeared from the Dots' material, it's still present in the solo material. I don't know why. It's just snatches of things i've heard that pulled me, I like that music. I've got a strong affinity with Eastern Europe, especially Poland, my girlfriend is Polish. I seem to get deeper and deeper into that culture, I like it more and more.
Do you have a favorite or least favorite Dots record?
I used to sort of get the knives out for Island of Jewels, I don't anymore, I like it now!
What was the reason behind that?
I don't know -- it sounded so angular to me for a long time.
I've got a friend who that's his favorite record.
Yeah, I can see why now. It was a difficult time when we recorded it. Not the greatest time within the band and maybe that colored it. But I went back to it quite recently and thoroughly enjoyed every note. It's odd. As to my favorite, I just don't know. Nine Lives to Wonder is up there.
What have you been listening to lately?
Recently? Not a lot. I've been working too hard. I haven't had much chance.
Really? You had to have listened to something on that long drive from Dallas to Denver!
Oh, no, we just talked the whole way. We've had great conversations in the bus, it's a brilliant atmosphere the whole way.
Now we'll get to the hard-hitting investigative-journalism portion of the interview. What's your favorite dressing for Pommes-Frites?
(laughing) Pommes-Frites? I think just mayonnaise.
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