Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Self-Evident Truths, Equal Creation, Unalienable Rights, The Pursuit of Happiness

I probably don't need to tell you that this is a big week for gay rights in the US.  As the Supreme Court prepares to rule on Proposition 8 and The Defense of Marriage Act, I'm proud to say I stand by the people whose lives will be affected by these cases.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


If you're at all interested in fantastic fiction, and you haven't read Clive Barker's Imajica...seriously, get off your ass.  If Barker had never made another movie or comic, or written another book in his life (which I'm very glad is not the case), his entire career would be validated by this one alone.

My only word to the wise is that it's hardly light reading.  The cosmology he built for this story has a density level somewhere between Dune and The Lord of the Rings, and it demands your full attention.  I made the mistake of reading it on buses and trains, and I think I missed out on at least a third of it.  Right now I'm still too fatigued from the first reading to even think of starting over, but sometime soon I'm gonna have to take this trip again.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Rum Diary

Just after the New Year, I flew down to St. Croix, USVI to visit my grandparents.  Having decided to turn the trip into an assignment, I wrote an article for The Mariner about fishing in the Virgin Islands.

There's a weird guy named Jeff who lives in my grandparents' basement.  As a rule he never lives more than a mile from where he has to work.  There are only two towns on the island, Christiansted and Frederiksted, and due to Jeff's policy on movement, it had been five years since he'd been to the latter.  On the last day of my trip, Jeff dragged my brother and I to Frederiksted on the other side of the island, where we proceeded to stop at every single bar he could remember.  This article was written in one sitting at eleven o'clock that night.  I was a little worried when it went to print, as I couldn't entirely remember what I'd said.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Interview: Attrition


Yesterday I shared my Top 13 Songs by Attrition.  Going through some old files, I came across an interview I conducted with them in 2005...which I just realized was almost a decade ago.  Jesus, where does the time go?

In the Spring of 2005, Attrition were touring the US in support of the 'Dante's Kitchen' album, the first time they'd played stateside in four years.  I was really excited to see them live for the first time, and I'd arranged an interview with Martin Bowes on the night of their Pittsburgh show.  Unfortunately life intervened, and I didn't make it to Pittsburgh.  Martin, however, was nice enough to answer my questions via email.

The interview was supposed to run in a Canadian magazine called Comatose Rose.  Because it was that kind of year, the magazine folded the following month, the interview was never published, and I felt like an even bigger asshole.

Anyway, here's the interview.  Martin, in case you're reading this, sorry it took a decade for it to see the light of day.

How did you and Julia meet?

I met Julia at a local gig in Coventry in 1979... She was a friend of a friend...
I was running a fanzine at the time so I was probably there reviewing the show...
We started to see each other and soon after fancied we should start to do some music together...
It took a while and after a few false starts my brother Chris joined us and we did the first Attrition show in Coventry in December 1980....

Projekt Records is responsible for most of your North American distribution.  How did you and Sam Rosenthal come to work together?

Well actually they do have a lot of our back catalogue but the most recent releases have been through Martin Atkin's Invisible records...although they both use Rykodisc distribution...
I first got in touch with Sam when I saw he had written a good review of one of our first records back when he ran his own fanzine in 1984... He then did a bit more on us and we kept in touch...not long after that he started Projekt...but it was a few years 1990..that he suggested he release our first CD..."Recollection"... a collection of material from our first 3 albums and it became our first US release... it went very well and Projekt put out the complete albums followed by new material in 1996 when we came over for the first Projekt festival and our first US tour....
Eventually we parted company...Projekt was downsizing and concentrating on it's mail order side...but we are still in good contact... we stayed with Sam when we played our New York show recently...

You just got back from your first North American tour in over four years.  How did it go?

The tour went very well. The best one in terms of the reception and even financially!... There were great shows in Los Angeles, Dallas..Raleigh..New York was fine... many were good...there were one or two exceptions!... Aren't there always...
We will be back very soon. By next year.

Why was 'Dante's Kitchen' so long in development?

Well there were a few reasons. I didn't need to rush. There was no point in rushing. I'd done enough music to be able to take some time and develop my take it on a bit further and I worked with a lot of the new technology...particularly do that. I enjoyed that freedom.
But the other reason and perhaps the main one was personal. After the tour in 2000 I went through a major break up with my then long term partner. I ended up having a lot to rebuild...including fighting through the courts to get to see my two lovely children Naomi and Jordan... I finally won but it took a lot out of me, a lot of energy and time and music took a back seat for a while...
‘Dante's Kitchen’ is talking about a lot of that if you look carefully...

Was it worth the wait?

Oh yes it was. I believe so.

Why do you feel that it is your most accessible album to date?

It is still very much an "Attrition" album. They all are... I try different things but I can't escape myself. I wouldn't want to. This album has a very rhythmic feel and I'm very pleased with the production work I achieved on it... so i think it has an accessibility that some of the others don't have... I even thought it was a little "commercial".... but of course I was very wrong... :)

"Two Gods...Are Better Than One" was the first single off the album.  Would you mind telling us a little about it?

It wasn't a single but it HAS been featured on a lot of the US and in Europe so it feels like it was...I'm very fond of that song. It's very personal. It talks about two gods as in two lovers... but not only sexual love but spiritual love and parental love....
Two Gods are better than one?... it's also a little joke...

Where did you find the vocal sample?

"There's a saying...if you see the Buddha on the road...kill the Buddha!"...
it was from a discussion programme on the BBC radio about is actually a Buddhist saying and means that you should not venerate the Buddha...what he says is important but the man himself is not...

You seem to be interested in classical music, and you are a veteran of the Coventry punk scene.  Why did you decide to go into electronic music?

Punk music changed my life. I can still remember hearing "Anarchy in the UK" on my small transistor radio...and thinking that was me... the feeling...the frustration and the anger at the time...anger at the absurdity of this world... not a lot has changed...
I didn't really fit into this world so I found a way of fitting around me....well almost...
after a few years of loud guitars I saw a new band called the Human League supporting Siouxsie and the Banshees...I was blown the same time John Peel played some Kraftwerk...
Then I discovered Cabaret Voltaire... to me this was the future...(it still is...)

I know that Roxy Music is one of your favorite groups. Were you listening to a lot of Brian Eno's ambient work when you began experimenting with synthetic sound?

No. I really love the early Roxy when Brian Eno was a part but I never really got into his solo material... his collaborations are so good…the albums with Bowie are so good too...
as I said it was the Cabs and Kraftwerk and a lot of the early 80's experimental bands that were an influence...and the post punk of Joy Division, Magazine...PIL...

'The Fiftieth Gate' showed you moving towards more conventional, straight-forward song writing.  In fact, I believe there is more live instrumentation on that one than any previous album, or any subsequent effort. Why did you choose to move away from that territory?

That was an experiment. Julia had left the band for a while...she'd been in the Legendary Pink Dots for a while... I worked with Garry Cox on that album and he is a much more traditional musician than I am...well I'm not even a musician!... I enjoyed the change but it was a change... soon after that I took over songwriting with the help of a computer.... and various guest collaborators... it's good to try something different but that was not what I wanted to do or say in the end...

Would you say that Attrition's agenda is first, to venture into unexplored sound territory, and second, to write club hits?

No. My agenda is to work out what the hell is going on in here and try to put all those feelings...up and down...into some kind of state that I can understand them and they make sense to me.
And whatever that takes I will do. I will explore sound and see where that leads as I do that with a lot of areas of my life so it makes sense in my art. I really don't write club hits. I don't like to do that.

You're very interested in film, aren't you?

Oh yes. In fact I'm finally starting to work on some film soundtracks and there may well be something out later this year.

The common themes in your music: sex, religion, death...what am I forgetting?

Love. The most important one!..... and it's more spirituality than religion...I don't subscribe to any organized religion...

I remember reading that you did a painting entitled 'A Girl Called Harmony' shortly after your divorce.  Is the song based on the same experience?

Well I did a lot of paintings in 1990 after I split with "a girl called harmony" helped...I had a little break from music... I used a lot of the paintings’ titles as later song or album titles...
"A Tricky Business"... "3 Arms and a Dead Cert"..."The Hidden Agenda"... there were some that talked about the divorce but there wasn't actually one called "A Girl Called Harmony"...

Who are your favorite visual artists?

Many of the surrealists, Dadaists and pop artists...and some of the newer conceptual artists...

What role do your political views play in the band?

They motivate me and my music as all my views do...they are an integral part...but this is not a party political machine!...I have written in the past on vivisection or xenophobia but usually my views are part of a lyric rather than the subject of a song...
We have also played some "political" shows...PETA's animal liberation album launch show...some anti nuclear and racism shows in our early days...there really isn't enough political thought in the music scene today... it seems to be more about fashion which is sad...

Are you still teaching a university course in electronic music?

I do teach fairly regularly here at city college in my hometown of Coventry, England...
I enjoy meeting the students although academia is not my natural home!....

For all of the different directions that your music has taken since the early '80s, what would you say it is that Attrition has been searching for?

I would say that I have been looking for myself.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Top 13 Songs by Attrition

There was a time when I would eagerly devour any and all industrial/EBM/synth-pop that I came across.  If asked why I fell out of that scene, I'd be lying if I said it all traced back to anything but boredom.  The electro-rock scene carries a disproportionate amount of redundancy, and for every innovative group like Skinny Puppy,  Android Lust, or Front 242, there are a hundred clone bands with no imagination.  While it could be argued that there's blandness and derivation in all genres, when the core element of the music is programmed sound I find it DOUBLY boring.  Come on, guys.  If all you're gonna do is push buttons, at least twist some knobs while you're at it.

It's been five years since I deliberately walked into an industrial club.  The souvenirs I've kept from that phase of my life are the bands who create an atmosphere that I love and can't find anywhere else.  High, high on that list is the Coventry band Attrition.  I discovered them on a sampler from Projekt Records back in 1997, and I don't think I could give them up if I tried.

Attrition has been the artistic vehicle of Martin Bowes since the early '80s.  With it, he's created a sound that's simultaneously avante-garde and seductively accessible, experimental with a classical sensibility.  When live instruments are introduced, they're employed with the light touch of a true composer.  He doesn't seem in the least bit interested in writing anything commercial, but now and then his experiments turn out to be danceable as fuck.  Also, unlike the usual industrial screeds about war, pollution, religion, and suicide, Martin's lyrics are subtle, classy, and deliciously surreal.  They're delivered in a low growl and counter-balanced with a high female echo, the same trick that's been working for Leonard Cohen for decades.

If I had to define Attrition's atmosphere with one word, it would be haunting.  And I'm more than happy to let those ghosts live in my head.

No musical love letter is complete without a mixtape,  so on that note, I'll leave you with my thirteen favorite Attrition tracks (in no particular order).  Sorry I couldn't find videos for all of them.

Thin Red Line

Fusillade III (Both Barrels)

Shotgun Dream

Acid Tongue

To the Devil!

Two Gods...Are Better Than One

Waste Not Want...More

My Friend is Golden

A Girl Called Harmony

Haydn (or Mine) 12"

White Men Talk

Death Truck

The Head of Gabriel

Kilgore Trout Contest

Yo, we got a contest here!  Want to win a copy of So It Goes: A Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut (which contains a story by Yours Truly)?  Sue ya do!  How does one enter the contest?  Click and find out, dudes and dudettes.

Dark Visions

I'm very happy to announce that my story 'The Troll' is due to appear in the upcoming horror/fantasy collection Dark Visions.  The story is sort of  a mash-up of Donnie Darko, Stephen King's IT, and Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes.  If that doesn't sell you, I don't know what will.

The book is scheduled to be released by Grey Matter Press sometime this spring.  Details forthcoming.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

So It Goes: A Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut

The publisher who's releasing So It Goes: A Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut (which will contain my story 'The Truth') just launched a promo site.  It contains a page for each of the authors, plus a form for pre-ordering copies.  Check it out.

The other authors and I were asked to draw self-portraits for our pages.  We were told that they didn't have to be neat, and if we needed an inspiration, we should think of Kurt's line drawings.  That was a relief for me because I can't draw to save my life.  In fact one of the main reasons I became a writer was because I knew I'd never make it as an artist.  Here's what I came up with.

Also, they told us that if we wanted we could write short essays about Vonnegut and they'd be posted on the site.  They said it could be about anything we wanted, as long as it pertained to the man in some way.  Here's mine.

Oh yeah, the book will be available by the end of the month.