The founder of the COUM Transmissions, Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV believes there should never be any half measures when it comes to creating. In the second half of our extensive interview, this hero of the avant garde talks about Psychic TV’s hit single Godstar (an ode to the late Rolling Stone Brian Jones), dressing as a baby and why ultimately everything he/she has done, has been in the name of love…
What impact has location had on your creative journey?
In Hull we lived in a squat. To cook, we had to go to the market where there was a stall which still used coal. At the end of the day we’d go and take what was left, make a fire and cook whatever we’d either found or scrounged. At the start we said we would not compromise. So we learned a lot about hardship in Hull.
In London we were more involved with the art world. Being in the ‘death factory’ in Hackney, with the sounds of the saw mills and trains outside, we wanted to make music that reflected our lives rather than just mutating rhythm and blues. We wanted to question what the future of modern music was going to sound like.
Throbbing Gristle was a slang phrase from Hull and Yorkshire. There were lots of them. The five knuckle shuffle. All that crude language. Having studied Chaucer, it was the living part of Chaucerian England.
I’m currently working on a travel book about the different places around the world which have had a real influence on me. We went to the Himalayas Kathmandu, then New York and London. It will eventually be an unusual travel book discussing how these places have changed and inspired us.
Is collaboration key for you?
We love the idea that two brains are better than one. Many musicians, more so artists, want to be unique. They believe they’re so special. That’s bullshit. If you have three or four people pooling their resources, you can get more done, enjoy more variety and novelty. Fresh perceptions, attitudes and ways of perceiving the same thing. All of that enriches the work.
Has having a hit song ever been a motivation?
No. Although Godstar was kind of a hit. It was number one in the indie charts for 16 weeks and reached 29 in the national chart. Our then manager was really excited. But then got a call from Radio 1 saying they couldn’t play the record. They explained that they had been called by the Rolling Stones’ office saying that if they played it, they wouldn’t be able to ever play a Rolling Stone’s song on the radio again. It’s because there’s a moment in the video for the song, which asks ‘where were all your friends last night?’ and Mick and Keith crossing the screen laughing.
In all interviews, we were saying that Brian Jones was murdered. And it’s recently been proved that this was indeed the case. That was why we pushed that song so hard, to re-open the case and ask what was going on that night. You probably know the builder did a death bed confession. He held Brian Jones under the water.
They did the classic thing – ‘drug upped Rolling Stone drowns in his own pool’ and it was buried for decades. Now it’s been proven he was murdered but hardly anyone seems to know that’s what happened.
So we wanted this record to be as successful as possible, to re-open a discussion about what happened and vindicate his reputation. That’s why we called it Godstar as it’s about amazing and influential dead people. Jimmy Hendrix would fit into that category. Jones was considering making the first super group with Hendrix – can you imagine what would have happened if it had come to fruition in 1969? It would have made the Stones irrelevant. I hitch hiked from Yorkshire down to Hyde Park to watch the Stones that year. They were terrible.
Are you excited by any musicians at the moment?
We’re rediscovering kraut and prog-rock. We’ve always loved the Yeah Yeah Yeahs – we met Nick Ziner at the start of their ascendance. We still love the Dandy Warhols and Brian Jonestown Massacre. The Dandys used to support Psychic TV when we toured along the west coast of the US.
What kind of artists do you admire?
We believe artists should never hide anything. If you expose everything, what can be used to attack you? That comes out in the book. There’s one image of me and Lady Jaye with bald heads grinning wearing a nappy. We’d fallen in love instantly on first meeting and got married on Friday 13 June in 1995. That happened because it was the only day the registry office had free.
Afterwards we thought hair grows and contains all the memories of life. Your emotions, stresses, strains, highs and lows. All of it is represented in hair. So we shaved off every bit of hair on our bodies, then took magic mushrooms and became babies. We were crawling around making baby sounds, born again, completely fresh and clean with no past attachments. Just fresh and brand new babies ready to begin a completely new life together as two halves of one.
When Leigha Mason was going through the photos editing, she picked this one out and asked what it was about. It looks pretty ridiculous. So we explained it.
But that’s something else that fascinates me and Jaye. Information can completely change how you view something. By knowing that story the picture becomes romantic instead of ungainly and ridiculous.
It’s indicative of how strong the ability to control is by the editing of what we are and are not told. How it’s presented and belittled by more or less information. Language is a tool for revelation and oppression. Which is why we’ve always been fascinated with language and cutting it up, creating new worlds, meanings and ideas that could exist in no other way.
You’ve enjoyed a richly creative life – what have been the highlights?
In the book, there’s a beautiful photo of one of our babies when she was born – in her face she looks like a 2,000 year old alien. She’s staring at me as if she has all the wisdom in the world.
To an extent we do believe that babies in the womb are connected to whatever gives consciousness and energy to life. For a certain amount of time babies exist in both worlds, both the divine holy world and in the mundane, material, challenging physical world.
The other thing that really touches me is when we married the childen’s biological mother. She always said she wanted bunk beds so we built queen size bunk beds in the bedroom. When people stayed other we could have pyjama parties like kids, sleep in the bunk beds and chat and stay awake at night with torches under the blankets. The children were conceived in that bed – they were born in and around the bed – and spent their first nights in the world asleep on the bed.
From the beginning we wanted to be a travelling bohemian and not give up the childlike awe of sunsets, insane behaviour and novelty. All those things would enrich our species. They shouldn’t be discouraged as daydreams or impractical just because you can’t make a living like that.
My friend invited me to his house to dinner. She asked me what I was going to do now I’d finished school. I said I’m going to take our day dreams very seriously. And basically be on holiday for the rest of our life. She threw me out of the house.
But we were telling the exact truth. If you think work is something you have to do to survive in this materialistic economy, doing what you love all the time is a holiday.
We’ve been so blessed that we left university in 1969 at 19 and just thought fuck it, fuck ‘em all. We’re just gonna do what we promised ourselves and see what happens. That’s what we’re still doing all these years later. It’s been really difficult at times. Losing everything over night. Lady Jaye dropping her body so young. But also it’s been tempered by just how fucking wonderful it’s been too.
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