Le 03 Mai 2008
Could this be the ultimate plan for IAMX? And how alternative is the creator of "the Alternative", really? Why did he abandon London, what does he think about the future of the music industry, about fashion, drugs, Art and women? What does he love and what does he hate? Which will his next move be?
Music, creation, art, angst, lust, guilt, sexuality, routine, intimacy, expression, revolution, intuition, originality, brilliance and paranoia. The ever talented Sneaker Pimps kid transformed into a symbolically sexy and mysterious persona, and he appears to passionately and vigorously stand by it. Chris Corners answers Postwave.gr's questions, in a deeply pleasurable yet exhaustive interview. Prior to his lve performace in Athens, take a deep breath and decipher mr X.... this could make you love again....
Chris Corner: I was stressed bored and insecure about my creative future. I had written songs for Sneaker Pimps but they were too personal to use. I felt desperate to move forward as SP was a confused project at that time. It was a big risk going back to roots, having no money, setting up my own stage equipment, producing and playing everything myself, booking my own shows. IAMX saved my artistic life. The concept was to be a mix of raw subversive electronic sounds with lyrical weight and melancholic melody. Over the last couple of years it has developed its own character and independence and the sound has become more aggressive and live because of the strength of the live performance.
X in math is widely used as the unknown factor, what we search for in an equation. But also as a sign to mark the spot where something is. Inside you, X represents the known or the unknown?
Chris Corner: At the moment the X represents my subconscious. The place that most of my interesting writing and emotions come from.
It is variable, abstract and ultimately unknowable. Sometimes I feel so disconnected with myself. Creating IAMX was an attempt to come closer to myself. To explore the murky depths of personal, real problems. I wanted a strong confident brand-like statement to lead the way.
You recorded the first IAMX album “Kiss + Swallow” in the bleakness of London. Then you moved out to Berlin, which appears to be a haven for underground artists nowadays. Why did you make that move and did the city live up to your expectations?
Chris Corner: I live in Berlin and it has become the centre of my universe. It is dirt cheap, liberal and still physically fucked. There is so much unused space.
Nobody cares about the rest of the world so it is like an oasis in the centre of Europe.
The art is great and there is a strange sense of community without competition and cynicism.
In a way it is quite an untainted innocent place. People have there own style without being fashionable or cool.
I lived in London for years before Berlin. One day I woke up and thought "Why am I here?" This is insane. I stressed too much, drugged too much and waited too much. The pace and spirit of Berlin is very different. It is the most non-city city I know and I love it. The problem is that I don't want to be a walking advertisement for this place because I don't want more people to move here.
How's a typical Berlinese X day? Would you say that fragments of the infamous cabaret spirit and of the legendary German impressionism are still alive?
Chris Corner: There are fragments and ghosts of the whole century of culture. For me it does have an atmosphere of another time. Maybe that's just here in my apartment or in my head, but there are so many places that still live and breathe in an alternative way. There are tiny lowlight spontaneous bars, clubs, and illegal parties in secret spots. The style is free here and I have to say every day is pretty laid back. I work on a different time here. 3 to bed usually. Work, talk, wine Essen. Lots of time to reflect and create at my own pace without getting too lazy or disconnected, as you still have the buzz of a city.
There are also a few genuine cabaret venues that stick to the spirit of that time. Also there was a recent run of German expressionist films in an obscure independent cinema here. The films were accompanied with a pianist who played the soundtrack live. That was special.
You seem to be in a constant move with gigs and touring but if you were to settle down and record album no 3, which city could be the next destination for IAMX in search for inspiration? Would you leave Europe in favor of a more eastern (Beijing or Delhi) or a much more western (New York?) destination?
Chris Corner: I love many cities in the world and could probably live temporarily in a few. My real favorites are still Tokyo/Berlin. I did a lot of production work in Tokyo for Japanese artists and I feel that it is a second home. So alien and exciting.
But the new album is the 'no city' album.
I have found an old GDR building in the German countryside. It will be the factory, the industrial heart of the 3rd album. I am building a studio there and I want to make music away from city life.
In my own IAMX kingdom. I want have an open house for painters, filmmakers, musicians too. You can live in the house if you are productive, work on it and add to it.
I am still working on this concept so it's undeveloped at the moment.
When I first listened to your latest album “The Alternative” I thought: “Hey, this is definitely the best release of 2006!” and it was just April at the time. Considering the album got raving reviews from the press, is that rewarding or more of burden for its creator?
Chris Corner: Thank you very much. I am generally not in touch with the feedback. It's safer for me to have minimal contact and enjoy what I can from the studio experience and stage shows. I have always been my hardest critic, so it is - in the end - irrelevant what the response is. If absolutely nobody were interested, then I would have a problem, so I can't lie that I am not interested but I must have a protection system in place.
I am a hyper sensitive depressive in some senses. They way I make music and finish projects is to be a little bit blind to the outside world. Childish, but it gets me through.
Would you trade the positive criticism and the fan acceptance for bigger sales? Do you wish for IAMX to sell as many records as Sneaker Pimps did ten years ago?
Chris Corner: Not at all. The more I travel through this lifestyle the more I try to avoid bullshit. Success usually magnifies the ugly traits of human behavior and, by its very nature, filters out the challenging leftfield parts of the art.
I am in it for the art. I can't look at myself in the mirror if I am sucking on a corporate cock. I need just enough money to do what I do but no more.
Going back to roots with an independent approach saved my life. It is a localized, controllable project that works on a global scale simply because of the internet, word of mouth and really hard work. My parents were hardcore working class so I was lucky to have that ethic drummed into me from an early age.
The only reason I would want success would be to use it against the music industry. That's our humble plan. To be another small guiding light for independence. In the 'group' of IAMX there are 9 people including management band and crew. That is enough for a tiny revolution.
One can't help but notice that “The Alternative” has a more dark & new-wave feel than your previous album. Also, it's a more organic one. Was that a conscious choice or did it have to do with your influences at the time?
Chris Corner: It is a rougher, more aggressive album than “Kiss and Swallow”. In one sense it is not as technically perfect.
I wanted to bring more live elements and noise into it. I feel it has more life because of this. The drums are harder, the guitars are heavier, the bass is dirtier. I had fun playing all the different instruments and putting it together so it sounds like a band.
I also think the lyrics are more intense, well it felt more intense writing them. My life was pretty messy at the time I made the album, so it gives you an insight into the volatile things that were going on with me. Relationships corroding, escaping London to Berlin, and general venom for all things human.
“For all you lonely boys, I will be president. / In all you sons of men, I can be accident.” Care to elaborate a bit on the chorus of “President”?
Chris Corner: It is my small fantasy of leading all misogynists into an early grave. It was a weak, mixed moment of empathy and deep hatred for stupid violent powerful men that never had love and reason. I am also guilty. Fuck them, fuck me and bury us all.
My favorite track from “the alternative” is “Bring me back a dog”. If you were, in fact, brought back as a dog in the next life, what breed would it be? Do you have any pets in this life?
Chris Corner: In this life I don't. But I would prefer a dog to children. There is this contented loyal idiocy with dogs. I envy the pleasure and reward system they have and the care that humans give them.
I would choose to be a small, elegant dog.
Being a David Bowie fan myself, I remember that he also moved to Berlin, also did a lot of face-painting, experimented with life & music there and of course turned into the thin white duke... Do you like Bowie? What other artists do you really like?
Chris Corner: There are too many to list.
Do you have an all-time favorite record? Also, can you tell us a current song top-10?
Chris Corner: Again I would rather talk about Architecture.
Ok, so let's talk about painting maybe? “Kiss + Swallow” featured Memento-style inscriptions on you body as part of the artwork, while your IAMX image turned into black & yellow for the Alternative photo sessions. Even though less straightforward than words, what does yellow stand for as part of the Alternative concept?
Chris Corner: There is a lot of visual strength and energy in yellow but for me the contrast with black is what makes it important. There is definite madness and anxiety in it and that fitted well with the feeling of the album.
The Alternative was stressful to make. It was produced in a month in a shit, moldy Berlin basement with no money and a lot of desperation.
It had to move things forward. I think yellow reflects this aggressive drive that I had at the time.
It is the colour οf insanity.
Berlin is known for hiding little treasures in its (second hand) clothes stores. Still, I know that you do your own custom-made modifications in wardrobe and hair and also carry around a sewing kit. True style can't be bought? And what exactly does style mean for Chris Corner?
Chris Corner: Style for me means not caring about fashion per se, but developing a unique vision, which comes across in personality and creativity too. For me there must be form and coordination but also a healthy distaste for the normal. It must be subtle but special, chic but relaxed, vintage but updated and customized. My style is simply about a knowing laziness. Also, as a small man, I have to find most clothes in the women's sections. This means I have to change the shapes so it naturally looks a bit strange.
You did the soundtrack for the movie “Les Chevaliers du Ciel”. How was the purposeful composing experience? Is there a particular movie that you'd love to write music for?
Chris Corner: Outside of music I have a huge passion for architecture and film. Architecture is a little out of my league but I have a small dream of working with a crazy old Czech stop frame animation filmmaker called Jan Svankmajer. One of his films called “Alice” is a reconstruction of Alice in wonderland (extracts from Alice on Youtube). His bleak chaotic and humorous approach has parallels with the IAMX world so I find them comforting. I would love to work on a non-linear soundtrack with no traditional song structures. My next step is to also make the films that I want to write the music for.
I guess this must be a rather silly question at this point but how are things going with the Sneaker Pimps? Are there any plans or is it a dead story already?
Chris Corner: I never say no to an unfinished project but when you ask me this question, one overwhelming word comes to mind. IAMX.
Hidden inside layers of emotion, I personally can detect a rather revolutionary and arousing hint in the Alternative. Could a freak musician lead one? And could that revolution-to-come be a sexual one?
Chris Corner: My revolutions are small. I simply offer another option for anybody disillusioned with the brainwashing commercial waste that is in the music world. It is my duty to give myself and others an escape. I am also very happy to call myself a feminist. I support the idea of bringing out the best parts of human nature, which are usually feminine. Experimenting with sexuality and emotion is a necessary part of changing things and the world around you.
It's been two years now, but still milking out singles and remixes of The Alternative album seems to be working quite well. Are there any new songs at works? When should we expect a new album from IAMX?
Chris Corner: I visualize progression into softer forms. I feel a more elegant, subtle wave of IAMX songs. I don't want to lose the intensity of what has been created but I am drawn to a more detailed exploration of living.
The last year has been a complete head fuck. Deaths of relationships, learning a language, reinventing my life. There are things I want to talk about that must be complemented by the right sound. It will still be raw and aggressive but more emphasis will be on melody and a more broken lifelike pace.
I have many songs in progress. For some reason I see matadors, grandiose, temples women, men, being alone, genocide, prostitutes, gypsies and circuses.
As I am finishing the record there will be a live album release and a string quartet versions EP available.
I hope to release the new record in Autumn.
Face paint, Fancy clothing, and glam. It all seems to be a part of the rock n roll attitude, the myth-building one... Ever tempted to strip down from the X persona on stage?
Chris Corner: Yes. I will be performing a small tour this year. Me, an acoustic guitar and a loop machine. This is generally how I write my music. It may therefore be interesting for some people to see what it sounded like, before I played with the production and added the noise.
The androgynous look was widely featured in '08 catwalks. Even though trends come and go in fashion as fast as they do in music, I would like to hear the prediction of such a creative person as yourself, in what there is to come in these two markets in both the near and distant future.
Chris Corner: I think my problem with fashion is that there is too much beauty in it. I find the models very boring and unnatural. This can help the shape of the clothes but has no reality or grounding to it. I find it strangely tragic. It distracts me from the clothes.
I think the next wave is going back to the sewing machines. People being so bored with high street H and M cast off that there will be a DIY revolution. The most stylish people always get involved with there own clothes making process in my opinion.
Last great film you saw, last great book you read and last great song you heard, please. Also can you recall the last thing (anything... a picture, words from a friend, an instance in your life) that you found inspiring?
Chris Corner: The last great film was ' the Sacrifice' by Andrei Tarkovsky. The last great book Berthold Brecht's 'Liede und Gedichte'
The last great song 'Der Leiermann' By Gerald Moore written by Franz Schubert.
A friend said to me, Men can only experience happiness through what they do; Women can only experience happiness through what they give.
You made the-curse-and-blessing of every musician nowadays (internet and social networking, that is) work quite to your advantage. You claimed in an interview that fighting technology is a delusion and that you would not mind if it all turned out having to sell yourself door-to-door as an artist. Enchanting as it may seem, I also find this a bit dystopian. My fear is that art becomes once again a privilege of the rich or a wandering freak show kind of thing, if not extinct. Do you still feel the same way about all this?
Chris Corner: Yes. I feel passionately that we have to find ways to protect the value of Art. When it is available to all in the ether, when you can walk down the street and choose any music you desire constructed in any way you want from the air, then people will have completely missed the point of what is attractive about other people's art. How do you think artists will survive when the public have the power to demand and manipulate it in any way they want? People get music for free now, that is the way it is. How do we protect ourselves? We have to offer something that they cannot get by lazily pressing a few buttons. They need to work for it. How about not releasing records anymore? Where do they get the music? They come to you personally. They pay for gigs. Merchandise and intimacy.
Quoting Bill Hicks: “If you don't believe drugs have done good things for us, then go home and burn all your records, all your tapes, and all your CDs because every one of those artists who have made brilliant music and enhanced your lives? REAL fucking high on drugs.” So, what about chemicals and creativity?
Quoting Chuck Palahniuk: “No good art comes from happiness”. And what about misery and creativity? Where do you stand regarding these truthful yet clichés of music?
Chris Corner: You have to ask the question what is good art. It's all so subjective and dependent on the cultural, political, religious climate.
Everybody suffers in there own way. I disagree with self-inflicted, constructed pain through drugs for instance. Real life is infinitely more difficult and strange than hedonistic escape and comedowns. But I would agree that being content doesn't breed the best music. Struggle and desperation for expression brings emotional depth and longing to make important, serious work.
The clichés are there for a reason but we should always question them. Media perpetuate a myth that is irrelevant to most people and artists. We must be careful with what we believe and look for answers locally.