Production still from In the Heart of the Wood and What I Found There, 2011
Cheap & Plastique correspondent Heather Morgan interviews Chicago-based filmmaker/video artist Charles E. Roberts III for Issue 9. Charles will be showing at the Cheap & Plastique booth at the Fountain Art Fair during Armory Arts Week in NYC, starting this Friday, March 9th and running through the 11th.
Heather/C & P: Your films often come across as paintings come alive. Given your background in painting, do you find yourself composing “like a painter” when you construct your sets or your shots?
Charles: There is something of a tableau quality to much of the video I’ve done so far. I’m actually trying to move away from that and let things fall where they may. Also, my lighting situations tend to be very unnatural. I use light to throw color more than to illuminate a realistic sense of space. Maybe they are more like stained glass than paintings. I was never a very good painter.
Production still from In the Heart of the Wood and What I Found There, 2011
Heather/C & P: Some of your recent work revolves around varying incarnations of witches. What do these creatures mean to you, what is their power?
Charles: I’m not interested in witchcraft or any of its spiritual aspects necessarily. I do relate to witches in the folkloric or storybook sense of the word, the reclusive character in the strange little house deep in the forest who spends her days gathering ingredients for the spells she will cast that night. That pretty much describes my studio practice, albeit in a forest of thrift shops and dollar stores.
Heather/C & P: What are some themes to which you find yourself frequently returning?
Charles: Right now I can’t seem to escape flora and gore. The blood will not cease flowing and the flowers continue to grow up through the snow.
Production still from In the Heart of the Wood and What I Found There, 2011
Heather/C & P: What films have you found most influential over time?
Charles: All of the works of Sergei Paradjanov have been a significant influence on my video work over the last few years. They are undoubtedly the most beautiful films I have ever seen. Carmelo Bene is an artist who’s films I’ve just recently discovered, I’m especially fond of his Salome. I also love the black magic themed horror films that came out of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia in the 1970’s and early 80’s. The gore in those films is out of this world, so plastic and rainbow colored…and some of the spell casting in those movies is very much like some contemporary performance art.
Video still from Act 1 for The Temple Theater of the Gruesome King, 2012
Heather/C & P: Given that your latest work has involved performers, is this work in any sense collaborative for you? How much of your ideas or images are already worked out before the actors arrive?
Charles: I usually have the costumes and sets planned before shooting. The action is usually choreographed on the spot. Recently I have been trying not to dictate every little movement and control every little fold of fabric. I’ve worked with some great performers and I’ve played the puppeteer much too often.
Heather/C & P: You instill macabre imagery with a lush sense of beauty. Describe the experience you are attempting to create for the viewer.
Charles: I’m still trying to work this out. I would like to be less macabre and more repulsive, but always lush. I would prefer physical reactions to my work as apposed to intellectual or even emotional…at least that’s how I feel today.
Video still from Act 1 for The Temple Theater of the Gruesome King, 2012
Heather/C & P: Do you envision incorporating music into your pieces?
Charles: I am about to embark on my first adventures in sound recording. I have no idea how this is going to work out but I’m very excited about it! There may be some pieces that will call for something more musical in the near future. I will enlist the help of others more experienced for those particular projects.
Heather/C & P: Who are some of your favorite artists, living or dead?
Charles: Michelangelo de Caravaggio, El Greco, William Blake, Albrecht Dürer, Gustav Moreau, Maurice Sendak, Peter Greenaway, Andrzej Zulawski…this is no way a complete list, just the first eight that come to mind.
Video still from Act 1 for The Temple Theater of the Gruesome King, 2012
Heather/C & P: Tell us about future projects you have planned.
Charles: I should have a website by the new year called The Temple Theater of the Gruesome King, there are eleven acts scheduled to be performed there. I still dream of making a psychotropic porno.
Video still from Act 1 for The Temple Theater of the Gruesome King, 2012
Heather/C & P: You refer in your work to childhood systems of belief and fantasy. How does your own childhood inform your work?
Amanda: My childhood definitely directed me toward image making. I was raised in White Plains, New York by a single mom. It was the 80’s; we watched a lot of MTV. Depending on how you look at it being poor limited or expanded my childhood activities. My first two records were Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual and Prince and the Revolution’s Purple Rain. Those album covers were spectacular pictures, colorful, dynamic and highly emotive. I remember holding Purple Rain and staring at the flowers on the back cover while the record played. I’d say Cyndi’s color clash and Prince’s body language taught me the power of pictures. Fantasy was everywhere in the 80’s and I was a kid filled to the brim with fantasy. The parking lot next my apartment building was the blank canvas for all types of high jinx and adventures.
Heather/C & P: Much of your work is based on the self-portrait. Some of these figures seem like artist-as-model, others more mythical. Tell us about the different characters you create, and how they relate to yourself.
Amanda: I refuse to adhere to a fixed notion of identity. Or reality for that matter. How boring life would be if reality was absolute. Identity is flexible, changeable and influenced by experience. Yes, I pose for the initial photographs for the paintings. Although, if we are in constant transformation I am not sure if in the end I could confidently say that they (the people in my paintings) are any longer me…
“Under this mask, another mask. I will never finish lifting up all these faces.” Claude Cahun
Heather/C & P: Is there a self-portrait by an artist you particularly admire?
Amanda: Van Gogh’s Portrait as Bonze. Van Gogh’s obsession with Japan goes a bit overboard in this painting. That’s part of the reason why I love it. This painting was part of an exchange with Gauguin and Bonnard. It was Van Gogh’s attempt to share a dream—I don’t think that Gauguin ever understood. A Bonze is a Japanese Buddhist monk and upon close inspection, you will notice that Van Gogh altered his features to play the part. He slanted his eyes, made his head rounder and his cheeks more narrow and sunken. The electric mint background that his portrait is painted against is what first drew me to this painting. I visited it often at the Fogg Art Museum in Boston. It was in the room with Picasso’s Mother and Child. I always anticipated the blue of Picasso’s piece as I ascended the steps to the second floor. That blue would scream down the hall but became somehow more humble as you drew closer to it. Van Gogh’s self-portrait was much smaller and hung to the right of Picasso—it was hung low, right in your face. One of his eyes confronting you and the other somewhere else (maybe in Japan). Something about that shade of green made me feel more alive. Whenever it was out on loan the whole room felt dismal.
Heather/C & P: Your most recent work depicts cats, real and symbolic. What do these cats represent? Do they have a personal meaning for you? Are you a “crazy cat lady?”
Amanda: When I finished graduate school, three years ago, all I craved was privacy. I wanted to hole up in my studio and sift through, digest the copious information I had been fed for two years. I like people, don’t get me wrong, but I was kind of sick of hearing what everyone thought. Being in my studio is being at home, since I have a live/work space. The cats lounge about the studio, so I guess it was natural progression that they made more appearances in the pictures. The “Catlike” series of paintings were inspired by a ceramic cat; a large Maneki Neko Charlie had got for me in Chinatown in Boston. Maneki Neko literally means beckoning cat. It is a popular Japanese sculpture believed to bring wealth and luck to its owner. Hence its appearance in many shop windows & restaurants. Its origins are explained only in folk tales and legends. My Maneki Neko was unfortunately stolen when my first apartment in Chicago was broken into. I got obsessed about its abduction and frustrated, I loved that thing! Where was her luck and where did that leave mine? Smashed in some alley for a few pennies… I couldn’t let it end that way, so I decided to rewrite the story…my beckoning cat was not carried off by desperate folks but instead it had enough of immobility and came to life. I imagined Maneki Neko as a girl/woman whose behaviors were only those learned from the real cats that moved, slept and played around her.
I also see a correlation between the solitary studio life of a painter and the indoor cat. We both have these elaborate internal lives full of stories. I often find myself envious of my video and performance friends who get to interact with other people while making work. But in all truth I feel most content when I am alone in the studio. So, yes I am on the road to crazy cat lady status—but not yet.
Heather/C & P: You have spent time in Austria and China. Tell us about how travel has influenced your work. What other destinations do you have in mind, and what kind of art will you explore there?
Amanda: Travel is always the most amazing mind shifter. One’s sense of the vastness of the world becomes more tangible and overwhelming. Vienna was my first trip abroad alone. I was awarded a travel grant to study the life and work of Egon Schiele. I was living in Boston and it would be my first time on a plane after 9/11… I ended up not going alone. Charlie and I brought 15 rolls of film. We wandered and explored and documented every moment. I was a shy blossoming art student with visually hungry eyes. Going from museum to museum viewing paintings and drawings I had only seen in books. I was ecstatic. Schiele was very important to me. His self-portraits were brave and his watercolor drawings are full of sensuous line and fascinating choices of vibrant of color. I related deeply to his tortured soul. When we returned home and had the film developed and all 360 of the pictures were vertically half black and half image—apparently the shutter wasn’t functioning properly (Life was hard before digital photography). In retrospect, the dozen or so photos I kept from this trip are somehow poetic. I’ve returned to Vienna twice since.
China was sensory overload. I was happy to have a camera on this trip because there was too much going on for it to sink in completely in the moment. The photos upon returning helped me organize my memories of it. So much of that trip was non-language because of the complete language barrier. Happening upon the English alphabet (even when used in nonsensical ways) woke up a part of my brain that seemed to be dormant for most of the trip. Everything felt overwhelmingly visceral.
I would love to go to Rome and see some Caravaggio…but I would go just about anywhere that would have me. Really.
Heather/C & P: What painters have you been looking at most recently?
Amanda: I honestly haven’t been looking at much painting lately. Thanks for reminding me. The last noteworthy painting show I went to was Luc Tuymans at the MCA. I had been to an epic lecture of his while a grad student. By epic I mean it was long, three hours I think. The show was unexpectedly amazing. The paintings we alluring from a distance and kind of like fading memories up-close, they were made up of big brushy marks, mint greens, and powder pinks. He really made paintings out of his found source material. I was impressed. I also met a new friend at the show; we were both drooling over the same painting.
Heather/C & P: Your palette has shifted from cool, earthly tones to fluorescent color that mirrors the increased theatricality of the images. Did the subject matter inspire the color choice or vice versa?
Amanda: Actually a local back-alley treasure hunter named Eddie enabled the addition of moments of fluorescent color in the newer paintings. I had been experimenting with pushing the color for a while now, trying different brands of oil colors. I could get really bright colors with gouache and watercolor but with traditional oil colors it was challenging. Of course half of the battle for intense color is more about the relationship between colors and not so much the color itself. I stumbled upon a few water-soluble colors that up the temperature of traditional oil colors and then Eddie found some discarded fluorescent oil paint sets made in Mexico. They are tiny tubes. They won’t last forever. A friend from Mexico recently told me that they are traditionally used to paint Alebrije, Mexican folk art sculptures. I particularly love the reds and pinks, they are just hot enough to use in the flesh without looking hokey.
Heather/C & P: Your use of pattern sometimes appears to comment on the figure, other times creates a dizzying environment for your figures to inhabit. What draws you to the use of patterns, how do you choose them? How has their presence in the paintings evolved?
Amanda: It’s unbelievable to think that I have been working with figure and pattern for seven years. I think that firstly I am attracted to patterns, I have always been. I have strong visual memories of rugs and drapes from my childhood. I like the feeling of getting lost in a repetition. The left side of the brain kind of gives up and the right side takes over. When this happens is when I most understand being “in the zone.” My first experience of this was in my first intro to drawing class. Ever since then I can’t wait to get in the studio and go there. I guess I want to share that experience of looking with the viewer. And you’re right in that the patterns function differently from painting to painting. Sometimes they seem to be part of the implied narrative and other times lending to the mood of the picture. The biggest evolution in the patterns is probably to touch of the paint. The older works have more of an all over equal touch—kind of like the even surface of a photograph. I have been trying to loosen it up just enough to let it breathe and make it feel like a painted surface. I’ve also been using a bit of wax to suspend the paint, make it more matte, less opaque and velvety. I’ve spent a good amount of time making pictures, now I am learning to make a picture a painting.
China definitely had a huge impact on my pallete. If you want to experience synthetic color in a natural setting, China is heaven. Even the trash was beautiful and colorful against a mountain landscape. I have the photos to prove it. Red, hot pink, indigo and silver against green lush mountain scapes…gorgeous.
Heather/C & P: Having recently performed Butoh dance, do you see yourself expanding the worlds of your paintings into three dimensions, using elements of performance or installation?
Amanda: No. I’m happy working in 2D. But being in the studio stationary for so many hours makes it mandatory to move when I am not working. Dancing seemed to be a way to do this. I have a fascination with Japan. It comes primarily from Japanese woodblock prints and Japanese cinema. I’ve used Japanese paraphernalia; kimono, tabi socks and geisha hair-dos in paintings and I’ve been accused of exoticism because of this. Taking a butoh class was partially to widen my knowledge of Japanese dance. I was first introduced to Butoh in a Japanese cinema class in graduate school. It immediately seemed related to German and Austrian expressionism in mood. I think of the morbidly-obsessed Egon Schiele who believed “Everything is dead when it lives”… or Mary Wigman’s Witch Dance. Of what I have experienced of Butoh, I like the restlessness and the juxtaposition of fluid movements against uncomfortable right angles. I look at it like a painting, something that needs to be deciphered. I don’t know that much about it but I am curious to learn more.
Heather/C & P: Tell us about your passion for vintage clothes, and how your thrift finds become part of the process of constructing your images.
Amanda: I have always thrifted. I was ashamed of it when I was kid because it was out of need not desire. By the time I was in high school I knew all the good spots and branched out of suburbia to NYC and frequented vintage and army surplus shops that were affordable. In college I ended up working in a vintage shop in Harvard Sqare in Boston. I was there for about eight years. Being in that environment really changes how you think about clothes. Everything you touch is a piece of history, recent or otherwise. Each dress has a story imagined or real. Having access to these objects imbued with past lives became part of my life and I am now addicted. For better or worse, Chicago is thrift heaven! This city is unbelievable. Don’t get me started…
Everything in my life works its way into the paintings at some point. I collect vintage fabrics and I have all kinds of clothes from various eras. How I put items together varies from painting to painting. Sometimes the fabric comes first sometimes the costume. Either way I like making clashing patterns and colors become harmonious in a painting.
Heather/C & P: What are you working on right now?
Amanda: I have just begun a new project. I am going to be doing paintings of my artist friends living in Pilsen. I am excited to look outside of myself and work with so many interesting and complex individuals. We were all attracted to Pilsen for the same reasons—in order to have time and space to make art. Chicago has a huge advantage over other major cities in that artists don’t need to make much money to survive here.
That said I want these paintings to go beyond documentation. In order to do this I will be placing them in worlds I have created for them based on my interpretation of who they are through their artwork.
Nathan Wasserbauer interviewed by Heather Morgan for Issue 8 of Cheap & Plastique.
Nathan Wasserbauer is a painter, living and working in Brooklyn, NY. His work comprises vivid geometric abstraction, evocative of architecture, digital transmissions, kinetic spaces.
Heather: You talk about the excessive consumption of our society and your childhood robot toys and comics being elements in your work. Are robot toys the bright side of that coin?
Nathan: You could say that robots are a starting point. So are dinosaurs and superheroes and all the things you’d expect a kid might draw. We’ve come to a point now where themes from popular culture can be cited as artistic influences. When I was a little kid drawing Godzilla breathing fire, I’d make the sound of the fire while I was drawing it, when it hit the tank I’d do the explosion sound. I even hummed the music from the films. Adults would sit there and be entertained. I love watching kids do stuff like that now that I’m an adult. When you get older and you come to realize what an exploding tank really might entail, you’ve left the starting point. Part of being a grown up is realizing that there are wonderful things you cherish from your past, but there are also negative things like fear and aggression we bring from childhood into our adult lives. Sometimes we act on these impulses, and it makes you wonder if there really is such a thing as an adult.
Heather: Considering the dual nature of your themes, do you aspire to uplift or present a dark hidden meaning?
Nathan: I think there is some slapstick in my work, which is a kind of cynical humor and healthy in appropriate doses. If I’ve really done my job well, a viewer might find some mystery there and then their imagination takes the baton. In my opinion, anything that moves a person toward investigation and curiosity has great uplifting potential.
Heather: You are also a musician and a martial artist. Do these pursuits influence your work?
Nathan: If I’m doing animation there might be some music. Overall these things get me thinking why does that make that tone? What’s the overall structure? Where does it have weight and where does it release? In martial arts you get a sense of how the human body works, with all its strengths and limitations. There’s certainly an aesthetic tradition with martial arts forms, movements, weapons and such.
Heather: Your acrylic paintings are very tactile. Tell me about your drawings, which achieve a very different aspect. Do you have different ideas for drawings versus paintings? How
do they inform each other?
Nathan: The color and light in the paintings give the objects weight. The light is somewhat internalized so the structure pops out in a bombastic kind of way. Painting is more a summation for me. Drawing, however well I plan it is always an input stage for me. The nature of simple tonality creates more atmospheric effects, light is externalized, and you figure out new vocabulary as you carry on. Eventually, you hope the best bits find a way into the paintings.
Heather: Tell me about the process of creating your images. Do you begin with drawings? Or do you organize your ideas around color?
Nathan: I begin with drawings on paper. I sort of create components and find ways to collage them together. Once I’ve got something I hadn’t expected, I might draw on top of that and add some new component. It’s like inventing grammar for a new language. In regards to color it’s about intensity and proximity. Either process might lead the charge depending on what I’m going after.
Heather: The digital age is a major theme in your work. What appeals to you about “old school” media such as oil paint and various printing techniques to create your imagery?
Nathan: There is a tradition of alchemy associated with drawing, painting and sculpture that I’m fascinated by. Gesso is ground bone, pigments come from earth, insects, plants and some need to be treated and enhanced through chemistry. When you consider the longevity of these materials, the work that goes into these techniques and that artwork is meant to outlast its creator, it puts things into a very real and constructive perspective.
Heather: Tell me about the influence of Italian painting on your work. How has your residency in Rome impacted you?
Nathan: I mentioned the materials already. Much of renaissance and baroque painting is meant to memorialize, and/or glorify. The fact that much of the subject matter involves violence, sexuality and such an effort is made to make tragedy beautiful, well, that’s epic! But when you take away the opera of it all, the fact that light and color finds consistency from the renaissance to futurism also gets my attention.
Heather: Who are some of your favorite painters, living or dead?
Nathan: Last year I was in Italy and really took a look at Filippo Lippi and the things that guy did with layering color are amazing. Here’s a list: Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Julian Stanczak, Paul Klee, Lucian Freud, John Romita Jr. (he drew Spider-Man and X-Men when I was a kid, and still does.), Mark Rothko, Hieronymus Bosch, Sol Lewitt, Robert Longo, Al Held, James Turrell, and Timothy Hawkinson.
Also Herman Melville (Best known for the whale thing, but he wrote Bartleby the Scrivener! Artists who’ve had jobs other than studio work to pay the rent can relate to this.)
Heather: Do you think that looking at paintings influences you as much as the massive amount of visual information (advertising, movies, internet, etc…) we are exposed to on a daily basis? Your work comments on this “problem”, as well. Are you telegraphing your mental billboard?
Nathan: I think only looking only at art to make art leads to a sort of creative inbreeding. It’s important to me to view paintings and be able to enjoy them outside of my own studio practice. Outside research is pretty crucial. I would say in earlier work there was more telegraphing. Now some material has become less penetrable upon initial investigation. Dave Hickey once told me “You work too hard. Leave some out. Let the viewer do some of the work.”
Heather: I have heard it said that every painter has one picture that they make over and over and that a good artist has several. Do you think that you have one or more images that you continually reinterpret, reinvent? What are they?
Nathan: There is a lot of stuff that Bernini did that I’m after, from individual sculptures to those grand city plans, architectural projects and colonnades. That spiral movement you find in baroque art or Chinese dragons. A lot of monumental ancient architecture and ruins come into play. Chinese landscape painting is also something I keep coming back to. The simple architecture of Italy and the American southwest, the way light and color break them down compositionally, when you reduce that to post painterly abstraction, and then multiply it again, you end up with endless possibilities. Think of the roof tiles as just one component.
Heather: Do you envision yourself remaining in NYC, or will you run off to a villa in Tuscany/cave in South America/Moon settlement someday? If the latter will you take your future phone with you?
Nathan: I enjoy New York City and I feel fortunate to live here. It’s nice to go away for a refresher, but I’m pretty glad to come back here. Life is long though. If I could spend part of the year in Italy and part here in NYC that would be great, but given a choice I’d stick with here for now. If I went to a moon colony I’d hope to take communication. I can’t envision cutting myself off.
Heather: Tell me about what you are working on now.
Nathan: In the studio now I’m working on vast space compositions, landscape and aerial perspective, and I’m considering the archeology, and in some cases anthropology of the subject. So a whole world with its own language and history could emerge! I suppose this work could be a prequel or sequel to the last body of paintings I’d done. Some of my drawings to be shown at Fountain are taking on the role of artifact, or fossil, or a look at the smaller components of larger compositions. Some drawings are working with different grounds, silverpoint and watercolor, referential to rare or unknown material composition. So stay tuned for some scenic viewing art lovers!
Nathan will be showing at Fountain Los Angeles this weekend with Cheap & Plastique.
The Melting Ice Caps Interview
by Aug Stone
David Shah and I sat down at his dining table after I added some guitar to his then
soon-to-be single, “Mise En Scene.” Beverages consumed: David—2 chamomile teas,
Aug—2 Earl Greys.
Aug: How did the Melting Ice Caps begin?
David: I suppose it was towards the tail end of Luxembourg…umm…oh I can’t explain what Luxembourg was (laugh) …people can find out for themselves or perhaps they already know. I just started experimenting with being able to write and record a song at home on my own, rather than taking it to other people, just to see whether I could really. And that was maybe even 2, 3 years ago now, something like that. And I kind of enjoyed being autonomous, I suppose. And then I started gradually getting a bit better at it. I mean I’m still not the world’s best arranger or anything but I’m getting more confident with using the technology, balancing sounds and finding sounds, and playing instruments basically (laughs). So it gradually became a bit more serious over time. And then of course when Luxembourg finished it was the obvious thing for me to do, to put more time into The Ice Caps.
Aug: What were the first Ice Caps songs?
David: Well, I did this solo gig a few years ago [The H Bird single release party at The Betsey Trotwood, September 18th, 2006] which you could perhaps look on as being the first Ice Caps gig, though it wasn’t called The Ice Caps at the time. And there I played “Hard To Get” and I played “Don’t Say A Word”, so in a way they were the first songs…the first ones that were given a public airing. And that then was the first single. [Also played Kirsty MacColl’s “We’ll Never Pass This Way Again” at that first gig.]
Aug: Any thoughts on Luxembourg now that it’s all over?
David: Well it was fantastic and it still is fantastic and that’s it really, there’s not that much more to say. It was a great band and I’m thrilled that I had that but, you know, things change, things move on, things end. Yeah, now the world has The Ice Caps, it has Jonny Cola, it has Rob’s stuff, it has New Royal Family and all the rest of it.
Aug: One thing I’ve always liked about your lyrics, and which I think is true of all great lyricists, is that you have your own vocabulary, words that are unmistakably yours and definitely not run of the mill in a pop song. Anything to say about this? Whose lyrics do you like?
David: Can I have an example? (laughs) I kind of know what you mean. And what was the second part of the question? Hmm…whose lyrics do I like? (thinks) …you want to try not to say the obvious ones, that’s the thing…who are people like Stephin Merritt…and that man whose name is Stephen something or other whose surname begins with ‘M’…and maybe Jarvis and all those people. We ‘ve already mentioned Kirsty MacColl, she’s definitely up there as a fine lyricist.
I think sometimes people aren’t incredibly consistent, they might have a handful of songs that have great lyrics but maybe not the whole of their canon, as it were, is consistent lyrically. But some pull off that feat. It’s one of those questions like ‘Which bands do you like?’, when you’re put on the spot it’s hard to go through everything.
Aug: [Too late I remembered the examples I meant about his own vocabulary, words such as “Gaggle” from ‘Ditch The Theory’ , “Miscreant” from ‘Don’t Say A Word’, etc.]
Mise En Scene
Mr. Solo Interview
by Aug Stone
Mikey Georgeson and I caught up of a March evening in the living room of TOTP
Towers in Camden after Mikey added his part to Keith TOTP’s now legendary
Two Of The Beatles Have Died.
Beverages consumed: Mikey—2 Fosters, Aug—2 Budweisers, Keith TOTP— one of each.
Aug: It has 59 hours…
Mr. Solo:: 59?
Aug: hours capacity…
Mr. Solo:: Really? Should we go for it? (Laughter) Have you ever done a 59 hour interview? I don’t know if anyone has but it’d be worth doing…
Keith TOTP: Something to do…
Aug: Without repeating the questions…
Mr. Solo:: (Laughter) I’m sure we could do that…I can’t remember what day of the week it is…no danger of repetition…
Aug: First off, anything you’d like to say by way of introduction to our American readers?
Mr. Solo:: Wow, that’s a…(laughter) that’s a tough question, that’s not a question, that’s a …. Hello America, yeah…I’ll come back to that if I may…
Aug: How did Mr Solo come into being then?
Mr. Solo:: I did a gig the other night in an art gallery and it was the loudest I’ve ever heard my ukulele slap on my bottom when I play a song cause it was unamplified but afterwards, the man that asked me to do the gig, who is quite a friendly man obviously, but he said, “Oh, I heard… Why are you called Mr. Solo?” And I said, ‘You know, cause I’m afraid of being alone…and confronting my issues’ and he said, ‘Oh, I heard it was cause you were in a band and they all …left’ and this was all part of the performance and it was alright but I thought that was quite…revealing that he was prepared to go that far (laughs) having asked me that, I felt like he set me up a bit…but yeah, you know, we’re all….perigones, little islands…joined up…I think I was watching ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ when I came to the decision that I would be called ‘Mr. Solo’ and I taped a little bit of ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ on a dictaphone not unlike that (nodding to my dictaphone) but with probably…less capacity (laughter)…but I’m a great believer in backwards causality, you know, if you follow your passions and then the ideas come back from the future…I mean some people think that’s like, you know when you…rationalize something afterwards and I rationalize the fact that I’m called Mr. Solo but I see it as intuiting the fact that I’m called Mr. Solo, in all seriousness…
Aug: Does it have anything to do with the clothing store on Holloway Road?
Mr. Solo:: Someone sent me a picture of that, I think it’s probably all to do with that (laughs) and I will play my final gig at that clothing store…we could do the album launch there, couldn’t we? (laughs)
It Makes You Wonder Mr. Solo
Interview with David Barnett of The New Royal Family
by Aug Stone
For those in the know, The New Royal Family’s “I.W.I.S.H.I.W.A.S.GAY” was the song of 2008. I sat down with the man behind it all – Mr. David Barnett (ex-bassist for Luxembourg and The Boyfriends, author of Suede bio “Love and Poison”, and all-around International Man of Rock) at The Flask in Highgate, London to discuss.
Beverages consumed: 2 Frühli’s apiece.
Aug: Tell me about the idea behind it. As I gather these are, for the most part, songs you wrote a long time ago?
David: Really it’s a case of something that happened by accident, something that I’d kinda been planning in the back of my mind to do for a long time, in that when The New Royal Family started I was in a band called The Boyfriends that were doing quite well at the time and prior to that I had kinda given up making music because I was working in the music business which is a surefire way of destroying any sort of creativity or love for music you might have. So I’d been doing that for about 10 years and during that time I’d been in one or two bands but certainly for about five years prior to The Boyfriends I hadn’t really done anything musical at all. So The Boyfriends, whatever else one might say about them, certainly reignited my interest in actually creating rather than working behind the scenes in the world of music. So the reason that it happened was that we were offered a charity gig by Paul who now runs Maps Magazine but at the time did a thing called Joyzine and he’d been a massive supporter of The Boyfriends in their early years, he’d written one of the first reviews of us and was very complimentary and he’d put us on at various events that raised our profile. So I was really keen to do this charity gig that he was organizing because I thought ‘well, you know, he’s done us a lot of favours, it’s nice to be able to pay people back now that we were doing quite well.’ But as it turned out, our singer at the time, didn’t want to do it so I was kind of mortified and a bit embarrassed about this and I told this guy that even though we couldn’t get this band to play out, I’d do something. And my original idea was I was going to do like a solo performance and sing all songs from previous bands I’d been in including one by The Boyfriends. But I was at a party with Charley (Stone, from Gay Dad, Salad, many other bands) and I hadn’t seen her for years and I was basically saying ‘Oh, I’ve agreed to do this thing and I’m a bit scared, I don’t really know how I’m gonna do it’. And she said, “Oh well, I’ll play the guitar for you, that’ll be good fun.” And then I told Richard (Adderley) in The Boyfriends, “You know this gig we were gonna do, me and Charley are gonna do it now” and he said, “Oh, I’d like to do it, I’ll play the bass!” So suddenly we had a band, so I asked Jen (Denitto, from Scarlet’s Well, The Low Edges…), who was my girlfriend’s flatmate at the time and she plays the drums and she said, “Yes, I’d love to do it.” and then Alex from Luxembourg was in on it as well so we suddenly had this band that kind of came from nowhere and it was good cause everybody was in other bands so there was no pressure or anything, everybody had their serious band to do and it was just gonna be a one-off and it was gonna be a laugh. But because there was such a short period of time to get ready for it, I basically chose the easiest possible songs that one could do, which was all songs with two chords and the same words repeated over and over again, like “Anyone Fancy A Chocolate Digestive?”, the only reason I dug that one out was because it was so easy to do.
Aug: And it’s become a classic…
Anyone Fancy A Chocolate Digestive?
THE LUXEMBOURG UNDERGROUND
by Aug Stone
Back in 2009, a zine asked me to write something on the music scene in London. I thought I’d use the opportunity to interview some of my favourite musical personalities at the time. They also happen to still be among my favourites as I write this today in 2011. Unfortunately, almost as soon as I’d done the interviews, the zine went on a somewhat permanent hiatus. Thankfully Cheap & Plastique has offered to put the interviews up on her blog so my efforts from a few years past won’t go to waste. But the story itself starts long before that.
On April 29, 2005 I headed to Come Out 2 Nite at the Purple Turtle in Camden to check out a band I’d heard quite a few people raving about recently. It was an exciting time – in the past week I’d discovered The Long Blondes and The Pipettes, as well as renewed my interest in The Real Tuesday Weld. The name Luxembourg had been coming up frequently lately, usually accompanied by the comment “Is it about a boy or a girl? I honestly can’t tell”, said of their excellent single-that-never-was Close-Cropped (even the “three-day stubble” line didn’t quite clarify the issue). The medium-sized club was full and the atmosphere was eagerly expectant, jovial even. By the third song, the electro-rock stormer, Success Is Never Enough, I had made my way up to the front, completely sold. And by the end of the first chorus of the comical yet heartwrenching (I Need) A Little Bit More (Than You Can Give Me), I had found my new favourite band and one of the best songs of all-time, this even before I knew its title contained two sets of parentheses. I bought their collection of work-to-date, Best Kept Secret, (which they were adamant was NOT their debut album) and the What The Housewives Don’t Tell You and proceeded to go see them live almost once a week until the end of the year. A year that culminated in the release of one of the best statement-of-intent songs I’ve ever heard, Luxembourg Vs. Great Britain. I would tell anyone who would listen they were “the greatest band in the world”, and describe them, rather too simply, as “Suede meets Pulp”. The intelligent lyrics encompassing joy, sadness, and often both at the same time accompanied by a beautiful voice (David Shah) and supercatchy synths (Alex Potterill) a la Pulp with the brilliant guitar work (Rob Britton) and rock solid rhythm section (Jon Bacon, bass & Steve Brummell, drums) of Suede. Or as they put it, “pop noir”. When I moved back to the U.S. for a bit, I urged anyone traveling to London to go see them. One visiting friend even attended the gig at The Metro that Morrissey came to. And there’s The Smiths comparisons as well, though personally I’ve always thought there is more to David’s lyrics than Morrissey’s, and consider him a better singer.
Roll on 2006 and the release of the debut album, Front, which also sees Jon playing his last gigs with the band. Two singles from the album – We Only Stayed Together For The Kids and Sick of DIY- preceded the full-length release in October. Visually, their records always looked great as well. Sick of DIY being one of my favourite ever single sleeves – curtains slightly blown open as faint light falls on a lovely splash of colour in an otherwise grey sitting room; a lot like life really. And let’s not forget the Blue Skies Up: Welcome To The New Pop Revolution compilation from Lux’s own Dogbox record label featuring the majestic pop of their Not My Number, a song both bitter and sweet, led by an instantly catchy synth line. The 16-track compilation also featured Swimmer One’s We Only Make Music For Ourselves, Morton Valence’s The Kiss, The Bleeding Hearts’ Stars (soon to change their name to Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring, Bed Scenes by Robots In Disguise as well as many others. Front, when it arrived, offered the four previous singles, a handful of tracks we hadn’t heard before, and, thankfully, recent live favourites, Faint Praise, the achingly beautiful Mishandled, and the gorgeous Relief.