Le 2 avril 2008
Interview & Photography: Steve Bateman
"Some musicians are meant to be heard but not seen - merely an auditory experience and nothing more. Berlin's IAMX, on the other hand, isn't merely a band... it's an event - a full-on aural and visual attack with the dynamic and inimitable Chris Corner (of Sneaker Pimps) leading the charge."
- IAMX Press Release
Flamboyant, doesn't even come close to covering the all-enveloping fantasy world that Chris Corner has assembled and immersed himself in. For this is a place like no other, offering an extraordinarily rich tapestry of vivid music and glam cabaret visuals, with "a black heart and a romantic soul." Which when heard on record (Kiss + Swallow and The Alternative), or experienced live in person, is a veritable feast for the senses - and is somewhere that you'll soon want to return to, possibly never ever wanting to leave! The name IAMX, partly references Sneaker Pimps debut album, Becoming X, but X also "represents the subconscious and is a symbol of art, life, truth and growing up... It is radical openness that we achieve in heightened states of creativity. It is the unquantifiable element in all pleasure and all pain," Chris has pondered.
As with Depeche Mode, the backbone of IAMX's music, is dark propulsive electronica, rock and synthpop, which is topped off with Chris' enchanting and lithesome voice. But like Jekyll & Hyde, IAMX is not typical of his everyday life - this is purely an escapist act, an alter ego, an uncompromising animal, albeit one that has firmly taken hold of Chris and which he unconditionally gives his all to! Few subjects are off-limits, as Chris explores his mind and unearths thoughts on existence, love, relationships, sex, erotica, obsession, narcotic intoxication, anxieties, depression, alienation and death - with his writing and creativity occasionally seen as a therapeutic process.
Clarifying to Cat On The Wall the reason behind the birth of the group in 2003, the multi-instrumentalist, singer, producer and self-confessed "obsessive control freak" said, "There was so much baggage and confusion with my previous band, Sneaker Pimps, I was driven into doing it. I needed the freedom and was desperate to learn to be self-sufficient. There is a safety net in band culture. On one hand it is comforting, on the other it is suffocating. I had written songs for a possible fourth SP album and they weren't used, and they became the seeds of IAMX."
Currently living in Berlin after "running away" from London, Chris also told the webzine, "It has had a huge effect. I fell in love with Berlin years ago, and the idea of a sexy, liberal, decadent city was always a turn-on. The reality is more relaxed and beautiful than I imagined - artists come here because it's cheap and nobody gives a fuck about following the world. You have breathing space to consider your options. I was sick of the stress and competitive nature of London, it messes with your conviction and self-confidence. Berlin has given me the spirit to care less about The Music Industry and take an independent route."
In terms of IAMX's songs, Chris doesn't like the technicality of recording, and although this is a very insular process, to do things the wrong way - an alternative way of doing things - is his biggest inspiration. And from a few chords, to a basic beat, to a lyrical idea, the tracks are never structured, but develop emotionally, anyway, anyhow! Chris has also produced Robots In Disguise and written a soundtrack for the French film, Les Chevaliers Du Ciel. On stage, flanked by a touring band of musician friends, IAMX's narcissistic and theatrical show, is "a glorious mess" of makeup, braces and top hats that will hit you right between the eyes! Offering both an intimate and intense atmosphere, the dynamic exchange between performer and audience has been likened to "going to war" by Chris, and a Live DVD + Scrapbook are currently in the works.
Having been "weary of playing the UK because it's the kind of place if you try too hard when nobody wants you, it's soul destroying" - Chris waited until "the time was right and people wanted to hear it," which is why today, I'm speaking to him (in the company of his bandmates and Tour Manager) at the Oxford Zodiac. As a truly unique proposition, "IAMX has become a Lifestyle Attitude of Independence, Style and Liberty" - and for anyone else who finds an affinity with Chris' lustrous music, it will surely have the same effect on you...
Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans
1. As a relatively new artist to British Music Fans, if you could write the perfect headline for an IAMX article, what would it be?
"Ooh (laughing), um (long pause + thinking). Oh God, it's a good question! Um (thinking), I don't know? I guess it would be something to do with...
'MIDDLESBOROUGH BERLIN BOY COMES GOOD!'
Or something like that (smiling), I'd have something cheesy (laughing)! Because I feel like I'm sort of coming back, and playing in the UK is a bit of a homecoming really, in a strange way. Because I used to live in London for a few years before I moved to Berlin, and it was quite suffocating, so I moved to Berlin for a real change of scene. So to come back and actually feel really cool about the tour, is quite refreshing. So some kind of homecoming theme (smiling)!"
2. Almost just through word-of-mouth, you already have a devoted cult following across Europe, as well as an intimate relationship with your fans through MySpace. But does this ever feel like a pressure, in that people are so analytical of your music / lyrics, and that for some, you could even be a voice for their suppressed emotions?
"Sometimes I think about that, it kind of hits me and I become quite aware of that emotion. But most of the time, because my writing is such an insular (pausing), I have a very introspective way of working - I don't really play anybody anything until it's finished, and I don't like playing demos to them either! It's very secretive and I'm quite possessive about my music. So in a way (pausing), when people respond, it's great, but I don't feel that I'm necessarily dictating anything to them. The music is open enough and the lyrics are flexible enough, for people to take what they want, without blaming me for anything (laughing), if you know what I mean? At least that's the way that I would see it, and because it's such a personal experience - writing and producing in the studio - I do genuinely do it for myself and I don't feel pressurised to give them what they want. But, on the other hand, in terms of the live performances, then that's a different experience, because then you deal directly with people. Atmospheres and emotions are in the room, and you have a very close, intimate relationship with fans, to a certain degree. So then it's a different thing, and I think you have to be aware of how you present yourself, and the message that you're giving."
3. Why do you think Europeans have always been so drawn to subcultures / dark electro, rock and gothic music?
"I don't know? I really don't know? It's funny, because you grow up in England and you're fed English pop music, and then when you live in Europe, and spend a lot of time there, it's just a completely different place! People don't have this sense of irony that I think the English do, and that lack of irony, gives you more scope - more scope to be really into things genuinely, without thinking, "Is it cool enough to be into?" So there are no questions about stuff - people just go for it! In terms of the dark subculture thing, I don't know? There's quite a wave of that in the Eastern European countries as well (pausing + thinking), I can't explain that, but there's been a real affinity for the stuff that I do there, and I really appreciate going to those places, because they're really hardcore. But it does feel like there's more of a subculture happening in England now (pausing), I don't know? You live here, so I can't really say."
4. Sohodolls originally recommended your music to me, and when I first heard Missile, it instantly stopped me in my tracks. What was the last song that had that effect on you?
"Hmm, that's another good question (long pause + thinking). I mean I don't listen to that much contemporary music - I tend to listen to classical music, or music from a different time and age, where it's so far removed from what I do, that it becomes an attractive, atmospheric place to go and escape to. Something that I'm really, really into and blown away by at the moment, is Kurt Weill & Bertolt Brecht, and probably the songs from The Threepenny Opera, which is a famous German theatrical play / musical piece. There's a really brilliant song on there - they're all brilliant - but there's one called Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (Ballad Of Mack The Knife). You'd probably know the tune if you heard it, but it's sung in German and I'm kind of learning German, so I'm really into that. Yeah, that blew me away (smiling)!"
5. Ideally, what would you most like your contribution to music to be?
"For a while, that really concerned me - the idea of what I do, how it will be pictured or viewed, and what seeds I will sew for the future. But as soon as I stopped caring (laughing), I think I became a bit more relaxed with my music, and the real stuff started to flow (pausing), it felt like that anyway. I think the main thing is, is that I'd like it to be viewed as a tight audio and visual experience. I think that's why we play with the style and the imagery, and I said play, because I think that's a really nice antidote to maybe the weight of the music - where you have a theatrical performance which isn't too serious, and you can say really heavy and deep things with the music. And I've always thought that was a beautiful thing about comedy, the fact that you can say very depressing things in a funny way. It's not that I'm saying it in a funny way, but I think that you have to have a sense of humour about what you do, to in a way, take yourself seriously (smiling), which is a bit strange (laughing)!"
6. Neil Tennant recently remarked, "Nowadays, pop music is not regarded as a medium for ideas, it is regarded as a medium for success." Do you think that's true?
"Yes, that's very true and very observant! It's a huge corporate indulgence (pausing), it's funny coming from him of all people actually (laughing), because the Pet Shop Boys were the perfect pop package of The '80s! I do believe that, but I also have faith in the power of the independent movements that are happening. The way we do things with IAMX, it's like a tight-knit community that does everything without the power of huge backing and lots of money, so it's quite self-sufficient, and I think that's the new way of doing things! It's actually a more productive and rewarding way of doing it I think, because I've been in big major deals in the past, and dealt with major companies, but I only had heartache with them you know? And so the way that we do it now, is very much on our own terms, and I think that's the only way that we personally, can deal with it. But I think that that's also a guiding light for other independent thinking artists!"
*In another recent online interview, Chris stated... "MySpace is very important and to fight against technology is deluded. You have to embrace it and be smart with selling yourself in other ways. Art is still the currency, you just have to make everything that surrounds it more attractive. I like the idea of artists becoming gypsies again; selling ourselves door to door, city to city, a hand to mouth existence."*
7. When asked about your lyrics, you said that "lyrics for me have to be natural and real, there has to be weight. Sometimes I like to suspend belief, but everything is based on personal experience and sentiment. This is where spirituality comes in." But of all the Art & Music that inspires you, which is the more dominant element that they have - Truth or Joy?
"Hmm (thinking), being polite in English, I would say a bit of both (smiling). I wouldn't say joy, because I think personally (pausing), it depends what you see as joy - if you take joy from being moved in a depressive / emotional way, you can somehow feed off that and feed it into other things. But, I would say that normally, the truth of it is more important. Like take something such as production - because I'm still kind of a producer as well - so something like rhythm, is a very truthful, direct way of making people feel things, and I think that you can manipulate truths in music to make emotions or whatever. I'm not so much into the more joyful side of things, I'd always go for a more bittersweet edge to music."
8. In order to shake-up his creativity, David Bowie once utilised the 'Cut-Up' literary technique devised by The Surrealists, whereby he would randomly splice his lyrics and then reassemble the words in an abstract manner. Would you ever consider experimenting in such a way?
"I've heard about that, yeah. I mean the way that I do it lyrically, is actually quite a feely and in no way a theoretical way of writing lyrics. What I do, when I get into the studio, I know that in some baby-like way, I'm trying to get something out. You know, you sort of see a baby trying to say stuff and you know that they're trying to express an emotion, but it's not quite there yet. So my first step of lyrical writing, is coming out with this sort of nonsense language, with the guitar or the piano. It works well for me, because it also pushes me into (pausing), I respond to it and think, "What word can I use that would also describe what I was feeling at that time?" So, it pushes me to use words that I would never use, and I hate being lazy with my lyrics, because it's such a powerful and expressive medium - it's so open you know? So I would always shy away from the traditional writing concept. The 'Cut-Up' literary technique would be another way of doing it, but I don't know if I've ever tried that? I think I heard about that once and I thought, "OK, let's give it a go," and I remember doing that and it didn't work (laughing)! So I was thinking, "Nah, he's dressed it up in some way - maybe somewhere along the line he's used it, but he's also kind of gone back on it."
9. Have you ever met any people that you admire, and what were your impressions of them?
"Actually, the weird thing is, the people that I would like to meet, I've never met! Not really. I mean I've met a lot of people - maybe somebody that I knew was extremely famous or whatever, but I'm not that interested in. But that's OK, because I'm not really interested in the idea of fame anyway. But in terms of people that I would really like to meet, I think I'm a little bit scared as well - I don't really want to crush my impressions of them, and maybe I'd always like to hold that (laughing)."
10. You've now been based in Berlin for several years. What do you most enjoy about living there, and what do you most miss about the UK?
"Um (pausing + thinking). My friends and... my friends (laughing)! I ran away from them and I miss them too, but there are so many things about Berlin that I love, that instantly struck me and that have also grown on me. I went there with this impression of indulgence and decadence and subculture and nightlife - and it's all there, but there's also a really calm and relaxed side to Berlin, which I enjoy more than that side of things. And now, I really enjoy getting into the language, because it's something that I never got into as a kid - I was always shit with languages (laughing)! So, I'm experimenting with that, which is really nice, and just being very, very relaxed and not worrying about money - that's one of the biggest things! You're not in a rat race, whereas in London, you really are! But I do miss my friends, even though I'm still working out who they are (laughing), but it gives me time to think, so that's a good thing!"
11. Over the years, Europe has produced many 'One Hit Wonders' - but do you have a favourite 'One Hit Wonder' song?
"Um (smiling), I don't know if I've ever told anybody this (laughing), so this is (pausing), I have a few secret ones as well, but this one is purely for production reasons of course (laughing)! I really like that track Lady, by Mojo (starts singing song)..."
"It was massive everywhere! There are more, but we won't go into that (laughing)!"
12. What's your Mobile Ringtone?
"My Mobile Ringtone (laughing)? I'm not even into that - that's something that I'm a bit behind on culturally. I like the old dial phone and I've got that, because it reminds me of being a kid somehow. It's really subtle, and I like technology that doesn't intrude!"
13. In reference to your name, if 'X Marks The Spot' - and using your mind as the spot - what other things in life most stimulate you?
"I would say Architecture. There are many examples, but I would probably go for The Bauhaus Movement and a Modernist like Mies van der Rohe, who's actually a German architect who did very many wonderful things in The '30s and '40s. I like him very much (smiling)!"
14. Do you have a favourite quote?
"SAY IT, DO IT!" I don't know who said that? It was probably Nike (laughing)! But it resonates with me, because of the independent way of working, and I think that if you come up with an idea, you really should act on it very quickly! I've found that there are so many ideas all around, and you say, "Why don't we do that?" And everyone goes, "Fuck, that's brilliant! But we don't have the funding and we don't have the money, so how do we do it?" So we have to try and find ways of doing things! So yeah, I think that's mine - "SAY IT, DO IT!"
15. What's the best advice you've ever received?
"Um, there are a few, but I'll try and narrow it down to one. I think the best advice for me personally, is that I "work well under pressure" - which I didn't believe for many years (laughing)! I was thinking, "Shit, I hate being under pressure!" But, I think it really helps me."
16. You once commented, "The marriage of music and image is fascinating" - and you have clearly taken great care and consideration over the band's style and artwork. But are there any musicians' sartorial looks or record sleeves that you admire?
"Again, I'm not really well-versed in contemporary music, but, I think now and again, things pop out and at the moment, I like Alec Empire and his music. Visually, I don't know in terms of bands, but I think we all take a lot of influence from films, art and artists, rather than bands (pausing), it's funny really, we should be in a different business!"
17. If you could be photographed for any magazine and be on the front cover, which one would it be?
"There's a German magazine actually, which is (pausing), God, I can't believe I'm going to say his name, but it's Bryan Adams' magazine and it's called Zoo (www.zoomagazine.de). He's also a photographer and he does half of the photography in it. I quite like that magazine, because there's a lot of (pausing), you're hearing a lot of secrets coming out now (smiling) - this is where the band will go, "What!?!"
"It's quite a nice magazine, because it's still got commercial qualities, but they push a lot of gender-bending in it, which I think is quite interesting for commercial magazines. Obviously they have a lot of the traditional girls with tits out doing fashion shoots, but they also have guys sort of spreading their legs, painted with make-up and stuff. So, I think it has quite a good balance of sexuality in it."
18. Musically, you "like strong, simple statements and albums that have the same sound all the way through." But do you have any particular favourite sections in songs - moments which you think are magical?
"Yeah, but it's difficult to drag one out. I like it when production has that subtlety and detail - I really loved David Sylvian when I was a kid, and I always noticed that there was a lot of detail, thought and depth that went into the production and sounds of his music. At times, there would just be a pause of silence or whatever, and the same song would return - I think there's a song called Gone To Earth by David Sylvian - but it's about 10 minutes long (laughing), or something, it's really indulgent and quite ridiculous! But in the middle, there's a point where it just dies into silence and then comes back, and I think that's a really nice pause and break, without killing the atmosphere and the mood of the track."
19. Of all your songs to date, is there one that you could pinpoint as the prototype for IAMX's sound?
"Um (thinking), it has two sides to it - it has quite an aggressive and upbeat / dancey side, and then a more anthemic and melodic / ballad side or whatever. But, I would say the track The Alternative, is probably the most representative of the album as a whole, because it has melody combined with the more aggressive side of things. Something like President, is too much the other way, and Negative Sex is sort of rock and just a bit more punky. But I think The Alternative, is probably the closest to the sound of IAMX."
*IAMX's Tour Manager Morgan, asks if we can start to wrap up the interview, as the band are due on stage in just over an hour*
20. What are your biggest hopes for IAMX long-term?
"Just to keep doing what we're doing, and to have a strong independent message within The Music Industry. That's really important, and it's become kind of a mission for us - to do what we do and plough through, without having to play the game so much. And also, for everybody to be happy and comfortable and survive making the music. Yeah!"
21. Lastly, chips or cream buns?
"Ooh (thinking), well obviously there's equal negativity and evil in both, so you have to (pausing), I'd probably go for cream buns, because it's more of a feminist angle!"