Omega Magazine Interview
by Amadeo Spahi (Omega Magazine, Autumn 1996)
Martyn Bates is at the crossing of every road. He sings songs which are beautiful as spring mornings where you wander through the underwood with the dewdrop caressing your childish cheeks. Always his voice raises over new regions. His voice echoes in the depth of the swamps in order to whirl more than ever in many volumes and in order to become more sparkling, straight in the middle of the sky, where the birds are dancing, beside the carpet of the fleecy clouds. The world of Martyn Bates is warm and brilliant. He and Pete Backer are cutting sharply in a diamond that is too pure for our eyes, so unfamiliar with such clarity and such beauty. ‘Eyeless in Gaza’ is the warrior mask. Their weapons are redoubtable. One of the most emotive voice. Fragile and strong as the iceberg. It brings the emotion to its highest point. The rage of the first days has been transformed in a (delicate) balance of the attendant strength. The heroic recollections are haunting the place. The woods are appearing at once more magical. The world becomes more luminous when, all around, the void roars.
Martyn, where do you come from? I read that you lived in a Methodist family and that you grew up listening English “folk-music”. What did this mean for you? Retrospectively, what can you tell me about your childhood and in which way did your youth contribute to your musical culture?
At the beginning, I always lived in Nuneaton in the Midlands, in England. It was a market town whose history was linked to the coal-mine. It’s a city that leads you nowhere. A place where you live and come back to and that can hurt you.
I grew up in my family with an older sister to whom I never was very close, except as a small child (tho perhaps we are closer now). My father and my Mother were both Methodist. So, there was no alcohol and no tobacco at home. It was a delightful family but quite restless. They never worried to demonstrate their feelings. This is something really insupportable and, I want to say, dreadful in the two senses.
As a child, I think I was a bit precocious. I had the tendency to give attention to the spiritual world and to the intellect much more than the other children. However, at each spring, I stayed in the street to destroy butterflies. There is a strange mixture in all this.
I always hated school. I never fit in at school. I was always fascinated by the information that was provided to me but the socialisation … there is no doubt, it’s the jungle law. I hated school.
I hated sport. From where I come from, there is a division, a very sharp gap, where you like either soccer or you like music. If you like soccer, you like to hate people; if you like music, you are interested in the things that are around you. My father and my mother were no music fans – that comes from my nice uncle. He helped me in my musical development. He took me with him to see people like Martin Carthy. This was a great experience for me, to see someone like this in front of me: you were able to see his soul … revealing … to you … Surprising.
At the beginning my interest for folk-music was linked with … the fact of trying to understand where you are living, to understand where they are living, to understand where you come from, who are these people, why they are as they are … brute diamond you know …
How did you come to music? Was it a natural way for you?
Indeed, it was a natural way. Because I felt really excluded from so many ways (note of the translator: ostracism). I always wanted to play music for a living but it was an unimaginable idea. It was unacceptable, unrealistic. Afterwards, I only begun to play seriously music at the age of 20 years, after having painfully foundered along during four years and after having worked at the market, done jobs that led nowhere. Now I’m playing music for a living since 1982. I do not think that I can do anything else because it’s the only way for me to be totally happy.
“Migraine Inducers”: 1979. What can you tell us about it? Is this (or, will this) be available? What was the importance of the industrial music for you? And does it continue to have an importance? Can you mention some names and give us the importance that they had for you?
This will be once again available thanks to the Italian company ‘Musica Maxima Magnetica’. At the end of this year, this will be totally re-mixed at Ambivalent Scale studio by Peter and myself. It was essentially and basically published by the cassette label of Eyeless In Gaza: Ambivalent Scale. There were only 50 or 60 copies. I think it is very important that people are aware of this side of my musical whole.
The ‘Migraine Inducers’ project is an unsung component of the history of the industrial movement. It is inspired by the very first works of Throbbing Gristle, of Nurse With Wound and people like these. It was really exciting because you were able to create something that belongs really to you and you were able to go beyond all of your frustrations. You need no rock musicality, and in a way, I used it in a “punk” way. (“Punk” is a word that has became totally nasty now – with all sorts of empty “gestural” connotations to it: “Ug!”).
‘Dissonance’ was recorded in a very primitive way on a Gründig two-track tape recorder, and further tracks were layered onto this using several cassette recorders. When it came out, it recieved good reviews in ‘Stabmental’, John Balance’s magazine. It was great to publish this! There are other things that were published at the same time, such as some of the experimental music of Clock DVA, ‘Fragment No 2’ for example, that were really essential experimental tapes of this period. This work was exciting, minimalist, totally black and white and totally essential. All these things should be published or re-published, people should have this music.
It is not particularly important to link Eyeless In Gaza’s music to the music I played solo on this former-industrial scene … I did not particularly want to be involved in the so-called Industrial movement, but people always want to categorise you, even if this is not very accurate. It was like a romantic and industrial background … a good start to a “History”!
I think that was really the spirit that was prevailing around us when we begun Eyeless In Gaza. A spirit that is always present. Coil, Nurse With Wound, Current 93 or even Legendary Pink Dots … It is very strange, how all arrived at the same place, working with World Serpent Distribution. It’s like as if there is no one with whom it is pleasant to work with in this artistic domain, in this kind of atmosphere. And groups like Eyeless In Gaza or Current 93, all those who are turning around World Serpent and that exist since 15 years, 10, 12, 13 or 14 years won’t go away. I think that this is the result of the sincerity of our intentions. We are not there to make big money, we do not play music in order to make a short term success. We play this music really because we must play it, because it is fundamental for us, as to breathe. If we did not play music, we would not be realised as human beings. It is curious to see how many groups that have a clear mind continue their projects, are trying to complete their ever changing objectives, to define further their musical styles. It’s surprising.
The fact is that, with World Serpent, you are free, you do exactly what you want to do. You give them your masters and they attend to sell it. They know what to do, they know what you know, they know what is happening. As a result, you have comprehension and a lot of empathy at World Serpent. It’s rare.
The meeting between Peter Becker and Martyn Bates. I found the same word in a lot of interviews: “accident”. That’s the way you seem to characterise your meeting … How did it really happen?
Yes, the word “accident” is the one that comes to my mind. The word accident and hazard are very close to Pete Becker and his art. It’s strange. It’s very contradictory for him to be combined with these words. Because, you understand, he is the technician in Eyeless In Gaza. He’s the one who does everything in the recording studio. Without him, I would not know how it works. Peter is the one who is necessary for this. He’s the one who makes everything work. But, as well, he is the one for which hazard and accidents are very important in his work and in Eyeless In Gaza music.
Whereas me, I focus more on the intuition. But an intuition that comes after a lot of work, an intense work because it is always necessary to re-examine the lyrics, the place of the words, the framework of the melodies. We concentrate mainly on these topics when we are preparing a song. I never thought of my energy in terms of accident or chance; that’s why this is one of the greatest tension in my work with Peter: he will never let me control the things as I would like to, so we obtain this weird hybrid with which I am very pleased, it makes such a difference.
Martyn, you said one day “I was emotionally so close to Peter Becker that it was like a kind of wedding”. But what term will you prefer? Friendship or collaboration (especially when one thinks of the short pause you offered yourself)? In 1988, you said that 6 years was the ideal life duration for a group. The song ‘Back from the Rains’ seemed to summarise everything of what Peter and you could dream of, as the best of the music. It was like “well, here it is, we have done it, we can stop the group now”. Why did you feel the need or the will to play music in solo or without Peter? And why to rebuild Eyeless In Gaza? In your newsletter, you wrote that you met again during your collaboration of Anne Clark’s album ‘The Law is an Anagram of Wealth’. Was it really the beginning of your reformation? Because I read that you had begun to play together when, Peter, after having retired from the musical business, was preparing ‘Fabulous Library’ with Elizabeth S. The foremost question remains: the reunion of Eyeless In Gaza. What do you think you still have to bring?
Yes, this looks still like a kind of wedding between Peter and myself. It’s a matter of friendship and collaboration. I would do anything for Peter, and I think I can say the same for him. I feel the need to play music outside of Eyeless In Gaza. I have so many ideas that they all cannot be held in Eyeless In Gaza. Eyeless seizes such an important number of different domains. And nevertheless, I feel the need to make always more, I always want to make more.
The situation in which I am is a bit embarrassing: you noticed what I said in 1988 about ‘Back from the Rains’: “It was the best thing.” Now I no longer think the same – I think we talked about this a lot at the time, and have done since, especially during the two or three last years. ‘Saw You in Reminding Pictures’, ‘Bitter Apples’ and ‘Streets I Ran’ contain a better music than the ones we ever performed before. And it brings me more happiness. A part of this whole result is linked to the control we have, now, because we have our own recording studio. This makes a great difference. Everything is ready, we don’t have to use the service of another company, to go with heads bowed, with cap in hand for the recording budget etc., which is so embarrassing. We no longer have to do this. It’s good.
It’s true that in this situation some artists may become self-satisfied and lazy. But for us, this is not the case. It’s just the opposite. Each time, this becomes more and more like a test. I want to say that you have to keep this in mind when you go to the studio to work. So, it’s an everlasting fight. More than ever. I explore more and more the things that have a real importance in the whole macrocosm that lies beyond the music and I know I do it with Peter Becker for Eyeless In Gaza.
To be totally honest, the real reason of the Eyeless In Gaza reconstruction … Well, in fact it is all because of a suit of accident. First of all, Pete wanted to make a solo album. He was busy recording with Elizabeth S. And in fact, he succeeded to record all these songs. Elizabeth was composing the melodies and was singing for Peter’s album. They asked me to participate and someone suggested to bring us together and to call this Eyeless In Gaza. It was accidental.
But the real reason that pushed me to work, it was still this experience, the fact that the abandonment works with voracity. I fell in a terrible bitterness in 1990. I was deadly wounded. I felt really disappointed not to play music. I had to see Peter once more. It was like returning home, and this home was benevolent. Not a home born from a certain complacency and a certain laziness. It was the best option that was possible for me, the best of all the possible worlds. This took three years of pains. Finding Pete again was a real trip between the flames of Hell, but I found my way.
You were talking about ‘The Law is the Anagram of Wealth’ on which Pete and I played with Anne Clark. Is it really the beginning of the reconstruction of Eyeless In Gaza? Not really, because the last record I made for the Belgian label (Antler Subway) called ‘Stars come Trembling’, there’s a song called ‘Soaking the Glow of Sight’. Peter co-composed this air. He hurried up to come to play on this piece. It was the real starting for everything.
In a certain way, Anne Clark’s music is at the opposite of the music I wrote alone, without Eyeless. But I appreciate her, that’s why I like to play with her, because it is good to go beyond the normal tracks in which I operate. She’s exceptional, she’s very original. You know, what she is doing is very distinct and unique. I admire her especially because she is strong in what is essentially a macho, masculine business environment. It seems that it is always a question of men in the musical business, it’s the worst business in which you can be involved. Just look at the manner the other businesses are working. This one is full of murderers and liars. So, I admire her for being able to do this and to survive and flourish in this environment. More power to her.
“The main question remains: the reunion of Eyeless In Gaza. What do you think you still have to bring?” I see what you want to say. Instead of answering directly this question, I submit you a question; so I ask you to give me the name of a group who’s music looks like Eyeless In Gaza’s one. Give me a name. Give me one. And here is the answer to your question: we are unique as everything that Eyeless In Gaza can undertake. (Laughs) I just read “Pete has retired from music world”. Claptrap … Well. Pete is still and is always someone cloistered. He is working in the studio and I cannot force him to get out of there and performing concerts. I will try perhaps in the next years. I cannot tear him away from his mixing table. However, I would like us to play some gigs. Everything depends on Pete. We will see.
What does music mean for you today? And what did it mean at different periods of your life?
I feel really positive about many musics that are produced nowadays. I do not like commercial music that is sold currently, except Tricky and some Trip-hop things. I can appreciate everything that has got an experimental side. I’m always the same one in the way that I do not have a typical music. I like everything that can bring me something unique. This can be just a person that is only singing, as long as I feel that there is something unique that comes from the temperament of the person. I’m very positive about the musical scene in general. I hate “Brit-pop” and all that bloody rubbish. That goes without saying. But, in general I like the experimental sides in many musics. When you look at the magazines ‘Wire’ or ‘The Empty Quarter’, you find a lot of fascinating experiences. Now the true music is what you do with what you have. The music is what you are and where you are. And it happens that my music is a hell, a scream, a smile. It’s just me who talks, me and Peter Becker, searching for news.
Is the final result conforming to what you had in mind at the start? Or is it just a stroke of luck? What is the starting point? What does make you begin? I already read that for you, the first attempt is the better one. But, are you starting with the melody and the rest comes after? Do you find the final form of a song very quickly or after a long work of both members of Eyeless In Gaza? You talked about spontaneity and freshness when you started. Did not all this contain more reflection? Is it possible to say that it is you who came with the melodies and the lyrics and that Peter was on the commands to gather everything? Or is it possible to say that he is more classical in his musical approach? Who brings dissonance?
Since we have our own recording studio, I think we are inclined to use it more and more. This can be very exciting by itself. We use the studio in a much more advanced way. In addition, totally incidentally, we are starting to use much more cassettes than before. It’s very fascinating. The process that is applied in order to create music is very amazing. But don’t hide your head in the sand, it is really a privilege.
For Peter as well as for me, the music is finally an investigation between us. It is an exploration. We are never certain how things will turn. This is good.
The spontaneity is equivalent to the freshness.
From my own viewpoint, I do not want to, I would not dream of working again with songs that are sequenced and programmed. That’s why the ‘Fabulous Library’ album (that had been started as a solo album of Peter) is very different from our other works. Because he prepared everything on a computer. Pre-programmed work. I can’t stand it. I can not bear to be the second part of this slow and dying way to play music. I am still a defender of the snapshot. The moment … capturing the moment … The first or the second take. That’s still the best thing, the better answer. “First is the best.”
Generally, however, as I’ve stated earlier, it is Peter Becker that introduces the hazard and the accidental elements in to our work – although we both bring dissonance, we both bring sweetness, we both bring melody, we both bring love, we both bring hate, we both bring ourselves.
Is it possible for me to say that from one side we have songs, good pop songs, always personal and, on the other side, we have a musical research and experimentation?
Yes, during all the long road that we peregrinated with Eyeless In Gaza; there is both the “popsong” and the improvisational; it is the “exploring” way to make music. And I think that is good. In fact, there is strength in this perceived weakness. Perhaps, we embarrassed ourselves during all these years, by choosing the changing nature of the chameleon … All along our career, we played in avant-garde festivals as well as in childrens TV programs. So! – No embarrassment. – Far from it! There is something good in the ability to feel comfortable in these situations. I don’t know what it is, but I’m sure there is something good within.
What do you want to explain when you say that “The process of writing songs is a cathartic element” for you? Which are the demons you have to exorcise?
Writing songs is the base of my whole life. It is still and always the first way I have to express myself. Even if there was no issue for me to write songs beyond the studio, the workroom, I would continue to write songs. But, there is an objection. I must be able to bring this further because, for me this is an affirmation. This demonstrates that I exist. That’s the thing that matters. When I write, I attempt to proceed with the things that I am not able to state with the help of the speech. I am not the greatest orator in the world. I can’t see the world this way, I don’t want to understand the world this way, I don’t want to be able to sit here and have some ready-to-use formulas in order to explain some aspects of the psychology and philosophy. For me, it would be a denial. For me, this is not interesting. If I thought I have the formula for one thing, then it would be dead. Because, where could you go? Where could this bring you?
Is there an (important) difference between the music of Eyeless In Gaza and your solo music? Eyeless met a lot of changes, but in the same time it has an outstanding style … in opposition to the Martyn Bates music that is not very different from an album to another (even if your last solo production appears to be very particular, ‘Murder Ballads’, ‘Chamber Music’ …).
It is very, very difficult to distinguish between some of Martyn Bates solo music and Eyeless In Gaza music. In fact, I will not try to distinguish, beyond a certain point. Of course, the music I play solo is the result of my own impact. Pete is not there and he is conspicuous by his absence. But this still works. It is different, more precious, if you want. Perhaps this is not the right word. It’s a more precious thing that I convey within my own work. I think the work I do with Eyeless is simply better because of the wealth brought by Peter in so many ways. But sometime I succeeded, I really did succeed. Sometimes, I can do it better than Eyeless. Just accidentally (laughs).
At the beginning, there was a rage, a violence in the voice, a distorted voice, and it became more wise and more peaceful. The lyricism seems less tortured. What happened, is it a metamorphosis or a transformation?
Yes, I must admit, when Eyeless In Gaza music begun, it was much more like “letting the jinn come out of the lamp”, “liberating all the rage I had inside of me.” I had a lot of hostility, a lot of things to voice, just in order to designate this hostility. Just things that had to get out systematically. And it got out painfully, like a clearing. Because I was so frightened to communicate through music. They said to me … at the beginning … that I could not do it. It was not right. That was not what must be done. That is was a hollow activity. As they told me all this, when I played music, it came out like a rage scream, a disgusting cry, a dislike for myself … in fact, it was like that most of the time, when I think about it … .
And when people begun to listen, I realised that I was able to do it. I was able to play music, live as I wanted to. A part of my anger and of my frustration vanished. The whole way I used to convey it died … I wanted to find another way to express myself, a softer way.
There were really some clinical reasons that forced me to stop to sing as I did on the three first Eyeless albums. Howling, screaming, stretching my voice. Constantly singing so, I woke up one morning with blood in my mouth and the doctor told me to stop singing in such a way. I had to find another way of singing. So, naturally, there is also a physical reason. But the two things are working together.
The musics seems to be much more important than the lyrics. You say that you had the habit to play with the words, to sing only the middle of the phrases. Even in ‘Saw You in Reminding Pictures’, all the lyrics are not sung, isn’t it? What is the importance of the words for you? It is possible to say that you are a romantic artist who lets your heart and soul talk and who examines what happened afterwards. Because you said: “People often ask me what part of me is in my lyrics. And I often ask myself who is this character. Even myself I do not understand the most part of my writings (I do not want to say that it is mythical). It is complicated to identify myself to them. I can look at them and say ‘I’m not like this, this is not me. I could not think this …’”.
In answer to those who say that Martyn Bates can be criticised for the rhapsodic melancholy of Eyeless In Gaza work, I would agree with you when you say: “concerning my melancholy, people find that it is an introspection as if this is inevitably something bad, as if contemplation is necessarily something bad. My music never feels frightened to be depressive as life, or negative, even if it possible that it is able to expose this feeling. There is beauty in a sad song.”
But I would add that in your writing, there is an atmosphere around the notion of the loss. It seems that you know that everything (happiness?) is weak and that everything goes very fast. This can explain the meaning of your music: you must hurry up, you don’t have time to loose, you must enjoy the current moment, as it comes. And the future is not dark or delightful, it is. Don’t you agree?
What you told about the link between the music and the lyrics and the ascendancy of the music in Eyeless work is fascinating. I think that this is really true because I consider that the voice is able to transmit things that words cannot communicate. – This touches a personal note, a personal echo in everyone. Even if I say this, I’m still very glad of my lyrics and I like to think that people are listening to them.
Yes, in fact, I do already on occasion sing truncated sentences. It’s a method I used at the start of Eyeless, and yes, in ‘Saw You in Reminding Pictures’ there are a lot of songs without lyrics … and in addition, it’s a fact that I’m not always singing the lyrics … The lyrics are just printed in the booklet. I think this is an interesting concept to play with this and with people, to catch them out by singing something they do not expect to listen.
So, what is the importance of the words for me? I’m inclined to think that the sensations are much more important than the words, sensations, sensations behind the words. When I talk about sensations, it’s about the way it is sung. This can be a whisper in the music. The melody needs it. I think that, in a certain way, the words are secondary. After having established this notion, I must add that this function remains very important for me. I don’t think anything did change in my way of writing. The results can be different, but my approach, my methods remain the same, the same they always have been. Through myself, I call for something unspeakable. I’m glad to think so. I do not joke about myself. I’m not Ezra Pound. (Laughs).
I have always felt the memories, the retrospective wisdom, the perspective of the after … I always thought that this has been seen as a real punishment, without any quality, since I was a child. I always was nostalgic. I don’t know why, it’s something in me. I think that memories would be fabulous links across the space … .
About the comments I made about the melancholic elements in my music, I think that they are highly flattering, that this involves really the Gods. It turns around this; it has gone beyond the contemplative. It’s somewhere wilder, it’s always a beautiful sad song but this song is always in a wilder place.
Yes, I agree with you about your comment about my work in the second topic!
Which are today your artistic influences?
Currently, the music that has got the most influence on my work is in fact the British folk music. More than ever. Especially the mystic vein; that I really do appreciate. For this kind of atmosphere and these kind of melodies, currently, my favourite group is COB. In fact, I think that a lot of people are receptive to this kind of “folk music” and that this music is able to become an alternative to all these commercial musics. I want to say that this is so anti-fashion, this contains such a special accuracy because it is born from something that is so vast and better. In fact it is totally Jungian, it has to deal with the collective unconscious of the people. Things have been put there and Art brought them at the front of the stage. That’s why this is so important. And I think that a lot of people, or rather, that some artists are attracted by this. Because there are mysteries, and mysteries there that you want to penetrate.
You published albums on so many labels. Don’t you think it is very hard to follow your discographic career?!?
I think you want to state that it is very hard to GET all these records and that it is complicated to follow what I’m doing.
I really realise that I chose a viable alternative when I decided to work with labels like World Serpent. I think that all the possible drawbacks are worthwhile because, at first, I’m able to “polish” my art in the way I want to, without any commercial pressure. This quickly brings some complex lists and difficulties to the scenario, but I do think that this is really worthwhile.
Elizabeth S. takes a peculiar role in the world of Eyeless In Gaza. In ‘Photographs as Memories’ she was credited for the [beautiful] snapshots. Who is she? And why have you wait so long before you let her sing?
We hope to record a solo album with Elizabeth. She’s got a fascinating and strange voice. We hope that this project will see the light some day. Now, we can talk about this project for years, if you want to … It’s gonna be a great album! (Laughs)
Martyn, I read that you already had some projects with Louis-Philippe for some British folk-songs. Where are you in this project?
This project is dead and buried. I do not want to see it realised today. – I don’t like it. It’s too baroque, there are too many ornaments. It was an experience. I regret it now, as it is. It did not work.
What can you tell us about your collaboration with Deidre Rutkowski of This Mortal coil?
This will be published. But what happens is that currently, we only have four songs that were recorded in 1988 and Deidre would like to record more songs. This will be done this year. Pete and I prepared the music. This album will be available. [The project has been abandoned and it will not be published. – Jerry]
And the collaboration with M.J. Harris for “Murder Ballads”?
Working with him was really exciting. Especially performing “dark ambient” music. Currently, we are preparing a second collaboration. This time, there will be voice samples. It will turn around the same subject, but I think that the project will be more interesting, because Mick has never worked with voice samples before. His work is unique. He should have the honours as the instigator of this kind of music. Because, nowadays, a lot of people play like him, but Mick was one of the first to play like this, if he was not the first one. And, I think that he is the best … the first and the best … .
The future of Eyeless In Gaza?
Eyeless In Gaza could and should continue forever as long as Peter Becker an I both continue to enjoy our unique connection – it feels like it should last forever, this special link; “I dreamed I saw you, walking, walking in the world ….. .”
CHALEUR ET SINCERITE
Contact: P.O. Box 3/Nuneaton/CV10 9VT/Warwickshire/Angleterre