A life in the arts started at such an early age for you. Your earlier work belies a sense of sheer determination and self-confidence. Can you go into some detail about the drive you had to become involved in music?
It’s been an improvised life, my involvement with music was entirely the result of circumstantial coincidence.
You have worked with a number of notable musicians and artists from Paul Bley to Salvador Dali. Is there one artist that really left an indelible impression on you in all your years as a musician?
Albert Ayler and John Cage because they liberated music in the way that Jackson Pollack did painting.
A number of your albums (particularly the ones released during the late 70’s/early 80’s) carry strong influences of hip-hop, which was a burgeoning scene at the time. What are some of your thoughts on this particular influence in your music?
By 1973, I was living in the UK, and when hip-hop began to kick into the consciousness of the culture in ’85, I’d already recorded and released albums with raps as early as 1968, and work in ’78 and ’79, featured lengthy rap tracks that were later sampled by hip-hoppers, though I’ve never sampled.
You would heavily dip into the hip-hop/rap waters throughout the 80’s on a number of albums, following albums like X-Dreams, The Perfect Release and Sky-skating. What are your ideas on the hip-hop music being made today?
Seems either to be a product manufactured by a core of producers collaborating with a strong female personality, or a young, sexy object fronting an impressive production; or the indie, urban world of ominous male driven ego. But I haven’t heard anything to eclipse or even equal the immediate impact of imagination and content I first heard on Public Enemy’s Fight the Power, Eminem’s Lose Yourself, or even Biggie Smalls Hypnotize.
Large companies are resistant to change, and big machines can’t accommodate exceptions.”
You have been experimenting with electronic elements most evidently in your music since the release of I’m the One. Later on Sky-skating and I Have No Feelings. In which ways do you think electronic music has helped to expand your sound?
I was able to persuade Robert Moog to give me a prototype, because real music hadn’t yet been made with his synthesizer. It was a new dimension to inhabit and I wanted to be a pioneer on the frontier of its exploration. Every instrument has its unique set of properties and possibilities with which to interact.
When I hear a number of your albums, I am surprised at how far ahead of their time some of them sound. You have currently begun to reissue your early albums. What do you suppose someone from today’s youth might discover in a piece of work you created 30 or 40 years back?
Anyone can relate to intensity and emotion, especially when we’re young, but I think it’s a combination of the “WTF?” factor, and that feelings and truth are timeless. Life’s scenarios and challenges remain the same for each generation whenever, it’s just the sound environment that may date. When I’m The One was recorded I was aiming at au courant, not avant-garde. Of course now I realize that I’d overshot the target by about 40 years, and it’s currently having the response that I’d expected it to have at the time of its original release in 1972.
Anyone can relate to intensity and emotion, especially when we’re young, but I think it’s a combination of the “WTF?”
Because your work is highly personal and often skirts musical conventions, what kinds of problems, if any, did you encounter when you were first on major-labels? What kinds of challenges did record companies present you with?
Those that defined my character: Large companies are resistant to change, and big machines can’t accommodate exceptions. Major labels would promote my work and make it well known, but if artistic integrity is the trade-off, I can’t see how the result could be considered a success. I chose freedom—it’s more rewarding than money, so I’d never be willing to sacrifice it.
Who are some of artists that you think are currently making some very exciting and interesting music today? What are some artists that you would most like to work with?
It’s an endless avalanche of output that seems a rather disappointing assault of eclecticism, in which I find little originality. Of course I believe in freedom of speech and artistic expression, but if you’re going to demand attention I think you should have something to say.
I like to work with great musicians.
Having come from an era where people experienced music in hardcopy format (be it vinyl or CD), what are your own opinions on the digital revolution that has taken hold of the music industry? What is your own personal interaction with digital media in relation to your music?
Must be the same for anyone producing creative content – it’s an asset and a liability. Obviously, it’s a liability because, it makes it possible for everyone other than the artist to make money and benefit from the artists work. If people download your music cheap from an illegal parasite Russian site, who claim to be legitimate and to pay the artist, which they aren’t and don’t; or they grab it for gratis, it can put the artist out of business. I mean, it’s cool if a blogger shares one track on site to download, but please realize that it’s definitely painful to post the entire album. C’est pas juste. How can one finance new independent recordings without an income? Studios, musicians, mastering, printing and pressing are all very expensive processes and everyone wants to get paid, even the initiators of the software that exploit creative content got paid. I wish I made furniture.
On the other hand, It’s an asset, because the internet makes it possible for an artist to be autonomous and accessible. The net is ubiquitous and random – anyone can discover you. Orders have come from places I’ve never heard of, or exotic places of which I seldom hear, and I pause in amazement to wonder what in this world led a person from Singapore or Cyprus to find the album. I like that the net also facilitates informal, direct communication, like Facebook. People who have a relationship with my work feel free to write and tell me how it’s impacted their lives. I appreciate this personal contact – it’s inspiring and motivating.
Music has always had a visual component, more evident now than ever with the artists that dominate much of mass media. Yet you have never actively sought to interact with that more visual component. What are your ideas on the ways in which the state of music is currently surviving in an image-obsessed culture?
Society has always been enticed by manufactured icons and the language of image. It’s a good business to be in if you enjoy being a focus. If music is an art form, there may possibly be a future for it, because our culture is made of individuals, and in it there will be those who seek the pleasure of music for its own sake and substance.
More recent albums like 31:31 still communicate a very bold femininity and sensuality that you really began to explore on X-Dreams onwards. What do you think about the ways in which some of the female artists are expressing sexuality in music today?
Most of them aren’t primarily composers, so they use what they have. Nothing is new about a woman making a living by using the ephemeral appeal of her body. Actually, that approach always works so it’s a good plan.
Your lyrics in the beginning veered toward the esoteric, opting for existentialist and political musings. Later, you would experiment much more with word-play and the playfulness of language. Where is your headspace now in terms of what you sing about?
Music is the effortless part, though I struggle with words to say clearly, something I feel needs to be said.
You have for some time been running your own label, Ironic Records. What new material are you currently working on and what directions are you taking your music in?
I’ve reissued I’m The One, so my focus should be on promotion, but it isn’t. I’m obsessed with writing, and a great deal of work has accumulated from which to draw. Even so, I’m not certain what I’ll record. Habitually, I’ve believed that each album released was exactly right for that time, but they’d always end up being 20 – 40 years ahead. I’d really like to get the timing right at this juncture, because doubtless I’ll be deceased in 30 years, and no artist can enjoy a posthumous success.