Interview with Eyeless In Gaza
by E.Giannakopoulos, M. Karagkouni & K. Brellas (Postwave.gr, November 13 2006)
You picked the name “Eyeless In Gaza” a long time ago, roughly around the time Martyn met Pete and it is directly related to the Huxley book as well as having certain religious and spiritual extensions. After all this time, how does your band name still apply to you, as individuals? Is it a mere token of the past or do you still share it’s deeper meaning?
Pete: So far as I know no-one else is using the same name for a band – so yes, it still applies to us. I don’t see it as a token of the past as we are still making music together and this is not a new band so why not keep the name the same – so many other things change – including the music and also us as people as we grow. So Eyeless in Gaza remains the name for the project, the band, the music and the feelings I have for it.
Martyn: the deeper meaning stays with me. The name has been problematic, perhaps, for some – but I also chose it because it looks good and feels good to say – in the spirit of a child exploring early words and loving alliteration – in that it’s exciting to say the actual phrase.
For an artist, no matter how much he may love a good melody, experimentation is something like a thorn in his side. But its disturbing presence can lead to certain amount of disorientation and even a loss of focus. Is there a golden ratio for this situation?
Pete: For the musician he must follow his intuition. Thus when he listens attentively it will tell him when it is time for change for a new approach for fresh stimulus or for a return to old friends for a new conversation. The ratio will change like the combination of foods that satisfy you at a particular time; one day salty, another sweet and yet another some fresh combination. The variation keeping the palate alive to the new and the familiar. For the music there is always the familiar voice telling unfamiliar tales.
Martyn: as a writer I feel that composition is paramount – first, the moment of inspiration/possession, then the craft that one must apply. There is no formula beyond listen to the soul, that’s all.
I think a couple of Eyeless In Gaza albums & singles are quite poppy … . For example, “Welcome Now” could be a top-10 single … . Why do you think Eyeless In Gaza didn’t make it in the charts? It never bothered you to become more popular?
Pete: In 1985 I decided that I was never going to be a pop star. 20 years later I am still trying to reconcile myself to that fact. But in the world of top-10 singles I think Eyeless In Gaza will live uneasily. The real or imagined pressure of producing another top-10 single is not for me but for others who need it.
Martyn: How could we do that? Our nature is too perverse to consider this … stylistically, we have always presented a problem to those who would lazily categorise into neat genres – we don’t fit anyway – we don’t stay in any one place long enough. Never have done.
Let’s talk about the legendary Cherry Red Records, for a while. Bands like Eyeless In Gaza, the Monochrome Set, Felt, Marine Girls, Everything But the Girl and so many others, composed great music in the most tastefully artistic ways. Can you define a hidden musical template or a common musical character for all these bands?
Pete: I didn’t realise that they were legendary now! I guess the common factor was that they were all (I think) signed by Mike Alway (Cherry Red A&R) so that filter was already a factor. As to their common musical template – well I would say that there was a certain fragility, melancholy, introspection and simplicity in the content and also in the characters involved in the music. I think most were not really interested in the usual rock & roll trappings if you know what I mean. Mike Alway had a thing about calling us all “The New Puritans” for a while and I think I can see what he was getting at with that. But most of the musicians were concentrating on doing their own thing in the best way that they could and did not really pay too much notice of what label was being stuck on them at any one time. Although it did cause some amusement at the time – particularly the “Long Mac” period. Another phrase at odds to the above also comes to mind “Pigs on Purpose”. This I think comes from the Nightingales (another Cherry Red band) and relates to the artists sometimes being wilfully obscure or difficult when faced with the incentive to deliver something more acceptable to the populist.
Martyn: it’s simply the work of individuals, not fashion followers.
What’s exciting about your songs is the feeling of the reinvention of a melody, a structure or a meaning in every song and in fact, this may lead to the cinematic aesthetics of your music. How is to sing and play such kind of music live? What’s the difference between a concert and working in studio for Eyeless in Gaza?
Pete: In the studio one has a wide palette from which to chose. Almost anything is sonically possible now – particularly with the introduction of computer-based recording, processing and mixing. However, most Eyeless In Gaza recording sessions involve a strong element of improvisation and of the introduction of the chance element. This is very deliberate as a counterpoint to the predictability of “OK – I am going to record the guitar overdub now and I know exactly what I am going to play”. The recording generally will be a pretty spontaneous affair as we never record for longer than 2 hours at a time. After that time we store the recordings away and come back to them later – sometimes years later – then we hear it almost fresh again. Many times we listen to previously recorded sessions and have no memory of having performed such a sound. Quite often we will both say “Did we do that?”. The live concert provides a different setting. Here improvisation still has some influence – but primarily we concentrate on achieving an intensity of performance – of striving towards a certain feeling or emotion and how to portray that within the live arena. Latterly we seek out unusual performance venues which hopefully will inspire us in their own right (for instance Saint Catherine’s church in Brussels).
Martyn: impossible to say; to me it’s all breathing, separating myself from everything which is not numinous. For me, the process of making music is ALL about totally living inside the music of that moment –I can’t separate the two.
James Joyce, Rainer Maria Rilke, William Butler Yeats, Alfred Lord Tennyson. Needless to pinpoint Mr Bates’ affiliation for poetry. Care to mention some more of your favourite poets? Who would most likely have a spot in a future release?
Martyn: I feel i’ve exhausted this line of musical exploration, for foreseeable future, at least.
During the previous decade, Martyn Bates took a lot of time working and collaborating with so many other musicians like Mick Harris, Alan Trench and of course Anne Clark. What leads to collaborate and how did this affect the new face of Eyeless in Gaza?
Martyn: The desire to avoid misanthropy – in the past I’ve felt that need to take things beyond my usual channels. With the return of Eyeless in Gaza as a gigging band, it seems to be that this need will diminish, and that’s a happy development.
My favourites EIG albums are “Caught in Flux” and “Drumming the Beating Heart”, maybe because I have some teenage memories there … . If you should pick a favourite Eyeless In Gaza album, what would it be and why?
Pete: For me it is “Rust Red September” because then I start to feel comfortable with the recording process and understand what it is all about. John Rivers (engineer and producer of the early Eyeless in Gaza albums) was good at encouraging us to try for that conventional quality (e.g. New Risen) which I think we balanced with our taste for the more unconventional. I also really like the songs on that album. Latterly I find myself more and more drawn to the abstract unnerving backdrop soundtrack coupled with whipping a guitar into a rhythmic frenzy.
Martyn: Summer Salt & Subway Sun.
In a very old interview of yours (I think it was 1981) you banned the music scene of that time saying that “it’s getting worse” and that you couldn’t stand the revivalism of psychedelia etc … . So, what do you say now about the current music scene and the early 80’s new wave/post punk revival?
Pete: I didn’t know that there was an early 80’s new wave/post punk revival! I do not read the music press or listen to the radio. Neither do I download music from the internet – I don’t even buy CD’s any more. I can’t for the life of me remember why I was so against the revivalism of psychedelia – in fact I don’t know who I was even referring to. I guess I was just commenting on people jumping onto whatever was the latest trend at that time.
Martyn: I still feel like an outsider – always have, and probably always will.
Can you point the most influential albums or artists for you? Also, are there any new bands that you really like? What were the last records you bought?
Pete: (Some of the) things that definitely had an impact on me musically (more or less chronologically) were; UK Skiffle in the 1950’s (Rock Island Line by Lonnie Donegan), The Beatles (Day Tripper, Ticket to Ride, Sergeant Pepper), Pink Floyd (Piper at the Gates of Dawn), Captain Beefheart (Trout Mask Replica), Frank Zappa (Were Only in it for the Money, Weasels Ripped My Flesh), James Brown (Sex Machine), Stevie Wonder (earlier stuff), T.Rex (My People Were Fair …, Ride a White Swan), Can (All albums!), Rory Gallagher (Taste), Big Youth (Natty Cultural Dread), Weather Report (I Sing the Body Electric), Parliament & Funkadelic, Public Image etc, etc. – I think that brings us up to the beginning of Eyeless.
Martyn: Laura Nyro.
Future plans for Eyeless In Gaza?
Pete: Trying to place some of our music with film. If there is anybody out there (enough) then please get in touch via our website. (www.eyelessingaza.com)
Martyn: Monster Field, concerts, film music. I feel at home with World Serpent – Eyeless are about to work with Beta Lactam ring records, and will be back with the fold again very soon; this is good. It’s the true English underground of individuals and eccentrics … .
You’re about to play in Athens for the first time if I’m right, excluding the Anne Clark concert some years ago where Martyn was there. What’s the concept for Eyeless In Gaza concerts nowadays? Is it just Pete & Martyn on stage or there will be other musicians too? You play old and new songs or focusing at something in particular?
Pete: A mix of old and new, the familiar and the unfamiliar.
Martyn: The idea is to focus on the intensity of the performance and the feelings and emotions contained within the music and the lyrics. This particular set of concerts will be quite stripped down to the bare minimum. It will be just Martyn and myself joined by Elizabeth S for a few pieces. There will, I think, be more focus on using guitars then previously – but expect also drums, some machine generated sounds, bass, keyboards, percussion and ukulele! As usual it could be anything.