Eyeless In Gaza
interview by Dale Ward
Listening to Eyeless In Gaza’s demanding form of communication two years ago, certain words and phrases immediately sprang to mind. Pessimism ‒ hysteria – asphyxiation. Eyes constantly looking daggers.
Their debut Lp Photographs as Memories, drew nourishment from an almost suicidal intensity. The follow-up, Caught in Flux provided glimmers of hope, yet still fell short.
For far too long Eyeless sat in the corner of their darkened room. They’re still there, but as their new record – the wondrous Drumming the Beating Heart shows, the blinds have been drawn back.
Listen, be surprised. Revel in the wide open spaces of ‘Dreaming at Rain’, be disarmed by the stretching of hands of ‘Pencil Sketch’, the tender evocation of ‘Before You Go’.
For now there are new words. I could talk of hope, maturity, democracy, exhilaration, or a restrained deluge of stunning heartbeats.
Martyn Bates and Peter Becker are Eyeless In Gaza. Modest, calm, they portray a cautious optimism which is approximate to that found on their new record. At Peter’s house, over coffee, we talk.
Q: I have to say that I find parts of Drumming the Beating Heart quite thrilling. Are you pleased with it?
Martyn: I don’t feel anymore at home with it than the other records. You complete a project, then you feel great about it, then you have to leave it for a while to assimilate …
Peter: … to distance it a bit. I always feel the same way. We do a batch of stuff and put it out and think “wow, that’s great! It’s really worked well!” For it to come out on the record I have to give it a little time. I get lost in it.
Q: Previous records always seemed rushed and rather cluttered. Photographs as Memories was almost claustrophobic. Yet much of ‘Drumming’ was recorded over a year ago. You’re allowing yourselves more time and space, both of which are creative entities.
Martyn: You’ve got a point there, because the first and second records were BANG! – we practically walked straight in and out of the studio! A lot of this album was recorded in March ’81. We’ve had time to juggle and think of things like overall feel. This one’s got more uniformity – it works as more of a set piece than the others, which tended to go WHEEEEK! We’ve been thinking that maybe you should treat records differently, rather than have all these peaks and troughs.
Peter: … it’s better if you’ve got more of a unified feel. The first albums were like, “bloody hell! this thing’s worrying me!” We’re still searching, but now it’s optimistic rather than claustrophobic. We’re beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Martyn: It very much comes from the way that we relate to one another, cause we’re still pretty much strangers. I mean (laughs), christ, I don’t wanna know ’im that well! But seriously, we feel warmer in the way that we relate and possibly that’s come out in the music. The first records were very sort of AAAARGH!, weren’t they? We were doing this personal thing together, and there was a great deal of tension in it.
Q: There’s a certain sense of exhilaration which arises from the fact of something being allowed to develop naturally. I feel as though you’re beginning to take giant steps.
Martyn: As regards where it’s leading, I can’t see it going in one particular direction. We’ve recorded quite a bit of new stuff which is in complete contrast to ‘Drumming’. Some of it’s aggressive, some of it’s improvised. We believe it’s as good as the stuff we’ve just put out. This is our attitude towards making music. It’s not a consistent thing. It’s not full stop or a new direction. You won’t be able to box us because, like, we’re just a pair of pigs basically. If we feel that people are trying to push us a certain way, then, chances are …
Peter: … but we’ll be going down some other road by then.
Q: Your music seems to represent an intuitive search for qualities which are indefinable, nebulous, yet crucial. How important is intuition?
Martyn: It’s everything. That’s how we go about making music. I want it to be optimistic. The themes to the lyrics are, like, searching, and I feel the lyrics are reflected in the music in terms of the feel they give out.
Q: They’re far more personable than before.
Martyn: You can understand them more easily. They’re not so cryptic.
Q: There’s no doubt that the new record is (comparatively) more “accessible” than the others …
Martyn: … I think the first two records could still get to people, but you don’t have to chip away so hard at the new one. It seems that’s why people are liking it more initially.
Q: In that case, where would you draw the line between yourselves and, say, what “synthi-pop” bands like Yazoo or The Human League are doing?
Martyn: I don’t really want to get into this. That’s why I’m hesitating, ’cause I don’t want to be unreasonable about it.
Q: I’m not trying to get you …
Peter: It’s difficult. I don’t compare us with The Human League and think “oh, they’ve got a better sound than us” or “the singer’s got a better haircut than me”. I just have a perception of what The Human League is, and what Eyeless is. I don’t think about the two in conjunction. That’s your job.
Q: In that case I’d have to say the sparseness of Eyeless’ music gives emotion more of a chance to shine through. That’s why I prefer ‘Drumming’ to ‘The Lexicon of Love’, where purity of emotion is often obscured by giddy technical extravagances.
Peter: Pop’s going back into big productions which sound impressive, but that’s just a part of it. The song is about a subject and you should take it all into consideration. If you break it down in an anaytical way, then you’re looking for technicalities, and our music’s just not about that.
Martyn: I watched top of the pops again this week, and I’ve been trying to make sense of it because I used to get upset about how horrible it was. The things that were going on there seemed representative of some false world which is just not what I want from music. This sounds crass and it’ll look pathetic, but perhaps we’re more, erm, spiritual than they are.
Q: Less materialistic, I’d say.
Peter: We’re not in the same area. We’re not superstars … .
At this point Martyn throws up his arms in a gesture of despair. “Waaugh! we’re doing just what we said we wouldn’t do – COMPARE and CONTRAST.”
I sympathise. The pressures exerted on artists by reporters in search of “good copy” can become almost intolerable.
Peter: You don’t have to answer every question. If you’ve got nothing to say, then that’s that. But I always feel that I should explain every little thing. They put you on the spot and you’re meant to say something astounding.
Martyn: Then what happens is that you start squirming and say something you don’t really mean.
Q: After we polished off a bottle of wine the other night, I asked you whether you were confident and you said yes. Let me ask you again …
Martyn: … and now it’s saturday and I’ve felt lousy all day. Well yes, I’m still confident. I think we’ve got that x quality … oh dear … you see you’re very conscious of it coming out in print aren’t you? But I am confident about us. I know we’ve got it in us to do the music, do it well, and have it mean something more than just puppet music.
Peter: People have just got to come to terms with us. We haven’t got to come to terms with the pop industry. We don’t have to conform to standards which will make us stars. If people can’t accept us for what we are …
Martyn: … then it doesn’t really matter. After all, I fulfilled my ambition by putting out the first album and by being in a stable unit which makes music which is real.
Q: I’m delighted that you’re now beckoning rather than withdrawing. What does this promise for the future?
Martyn: Oh dear. No, no. I don’t like crystal ball gazing. really. It’s frightening.