Interview by Aldo Chimenti (Rockerilla, August 1997)
1. What is Isolationism? Is it possible to concilliate the sense of silence with sounds?
Mick Harris – This lable – and I hate the term – is simply a word deployed by certain journalists to identify like-minded musicians that work to create a certain kind of austere musical palette that utilises digital technology. To me it’s a natural place for musicians (and artists or whatever) to be in 1997 – it’s simply that it mirrors some kind of frightening, inevitable breakdown of society in general (evoking paranoiac visions of hermetic, cut-off cells of human isolation – no real human one-to-one direct communication) – I never planned to be here; it’s just somewhere I’ve arrived because merely I’m part of the culture… .
Martyn Bates – I feel this whole area is very much Micks property really, that he practically invented it, or at least this wave of progenitors, tho he is rarely acknowledged in this respect – in fact, in truth I don’t see my work as being anything to do with the whole genre; my desire to work with Mick was simply for the experience of stepping outside the normal parameters of my “musical life” i.e. those particular worlds of overt lyricism and full-on emotion that is my “regular” province – … simply Mick is the best of the whole lot – it seemed obvious to approach him for a collaboration … my own personal interest is in bringing something hopefully different to it; the human voice, the story … to extend the remit … it just happens to be via this channel of “folksong”/murder ballad (incidentally, Murder Ballads (Drift) came out well before the Nick Cave album – this is just coincidence … I’ve long loved this neglected area of music).
So, while “Isolationism”, such as it is, does concilliate and convey a fractured sense of sound with silence, these murder ballads projects are a movement outwards towards communication once more, away from the isolation – it’s the only way forward for this beautiful and strange form … .
2. The music you’ve done for Murder Ballads suggests to me the idea of a limb between nightmare and a dream, darkness and light, past and future – is it perhaps a desire for flight from the surrounding world?
Martyn Bates – … The whole “post-isolationist” tenet is not one of “flight” … it’s about breaking out of that position, that’s what it’s about! … a pragmatic realism and utility … but, this is a slow evolution, very much to do with communication, making the beginnings of lines of a communicative dialogue again … just as isolationism was a healthy reaction to a wave of cultural change and breakdown, so post-isolationism is a natural step onwards from there; it’s a slow revealing of an ideal towards the truer integration of a very human utopia and an honest and sane utilisation of the new tools of technology … .
3. What is the basic idea of Scorn? Can it be considered a part of the same “post-isolationism” area?
Mick Harris – All my work is a projection of how I feel – it’s the person I am – when I’m making a Scorn record it’s a completely different thing from when I’m making a Lull record, or when I’m working with Martyn, or Zorn or Laswell say … I cannot possibly create Scorn music if I’m going thru a Lull phase … – it’s simple; this stuffs in my guts, I don’t intellectualise … this stuffs here inside, all I can do is spew it out – I work with the same machines, the same technology for all my projects, the difference being that for Scorn I play a full drum kit (something I still love to do …) – as far as I’m concerned, it’s all me, 100% – it’s what’s inside me – as for catalogising it, I leave it to “critics” – that’s their job.
4. Which are the common cultural points between Mick Harris and Martyn Bates, apart from the fact of composing music?
Martyn Bates – Well, we both live (and were born) within 20 miles of one another, in both an industrial and formerly rural area – in my opinions it gives quite a nostalgia for the rural ethic, while simultaneously being totally wrapped up in the decay of the industrial town and city – this comes through in our work in completely different ways; Mick and I both make completely different choices and this is what’s so interesting about our collaborations; on paper it’s such an unlikely marriage and mixture, but despite all that, it works so well … for instance Mick had no experience whatsoever of Folksong until I showed him my ideas … and I’m pretty much a technophobe (machine technology is anathema to me) – however, when I heard Mick’s work with Lull I recognised an immediate common ground in the repetition of a form, the endless repeated cycles, the implied rythms that hypnotise … really and simply that both forms (“isolationist” and “folk-ballad”) unfold with a slow, subtle grace.
5. You have many other side projects: can you make a survey of your respective works for us?
Martyn Bates – Essentially, my center is the work I do with Eyeless In Gaza; this is where my truest heart lies! … Tho I’m always keen to diversify … I’ve been working with Simon Turner (creator of Derek Jarman film soundtracks, i.e. The Garden, The Last of England, …), Anne Clark (setting poems by Rainer Maria Rilke), Max Eastley, and Nurse With Wound collaborator Alan Trench (of World Serpent). – Both Mick and I seem to be into everything and anything! … .
Mick Harris – It’s simply that were both naturally inquisitive, I reckon … make no mistake, collaborating is both stimulating and exciting – Painkiller; it’s a mindfuck to be in a band with Zorn and Laswell … clears the sinus! – Somnific Flux [Harris’ Cd collaboration with Bill Laswell] was an interesting thing, … a different light on it [“isolationism”] … – anyway, enough of that. We should be talking about the “Murder Ballads” stuff … .
6. The next question is specific to Mick. How do you remember your past experience as Napalm Death?
Mick Harris – I remember it fondly; a good learning experience – early days were great – Napalm Death had been around since 1981, although in a totally different style – I joined in 1986 and the sound became faster, more agressive, with metallic riffs – that’s why I joined; to play hard metallic riffs – the band got a new singer, bassist and guitarist early in ’87 and the sound became harder, faster, with a denser guitar sound – we kind of “specialised” in short songs – ‘You Suffer’ was 0.75 of a second long … we were first, and we really made an impact. – But, later it became a kind of trap – the band weren’t interested in the kind of experimentation that I wanted to embark upon, to take it somewhere else – so, it was natural for me to move on.
7. To Martyn (that I remember very well for his records with Eyeless In Gaza) I would ask where are the roots of his poetry, the sources of his lyrics?
Martyn Bates – The roots of my written work begin at a strange nexuss occupied by Dylan Thomas, D.H. Lawrence and writers such as Mary Webb and A.E. Coppard – what I’m interested in is trying to nail down (as a writer) is just to tell the story of thwarted potentialities – what I’m interested in writing about in particular is the stifled voice, and I don’t mean “stifled” as in the direct oppression by “society” and/or “the system”, I mean in the purely personal sense, whereby, you yourself, as the one at the helm of the ship, as it were, … you’re the one steering yourself into oblivion – it’s this sort of internal dialogue and struggle that I’m constantly groping towards the illumination of; private sorrows and joys, unknown fully to oneself … a rhapsodic tussle over this tragic, dream-like dissipation and journey of the human essence.
8. Let’s talk about “murder ballads” again. “Drift” and “Passages” are quite similar musically. Which is the substantial difference between them? Is there a continuation?
Mick Harris – “Passages” is a lot more of an open work, with a lot more of a lyrical feel than “Drift” – it was intentionally done that way, with a lot more lyricism in both the vocal melodies and the music.
Martyn Bates – On setting out on “Passages”, both Mick and I were conscious of trying to steer this so-called isolationist cul-de-sac from out of its dead-end and into a brighter, broader and far more open field – this is just a beginning: hopefully others will take up the mantle … .
9. What are you keeping aside for our future listenings?
Martyn Bates – I’d like to do a project with Mick where we deploy the human voice only – to create a parallel sound-canvas to “Drift” and “Passages”.
Mick Harris – I’m personally getting more into what journalists term “trip-hop” plus bass n’drums, tho I don’t use those labels, I think they’re ridiculous; I hate all forms of music categorisation, in fact I hate this “personality-cult” side of music … all this bullshit packaging of what is essential a pure medium … I get so incensed.
10. Have you never imagined what could be beyond the silence?
Mick Harris … There is no silence – there never has been any silence … .
Martyn Bates … Beyond the silence, there is love … .