Scribble Boy: An Interview with Art-Warrior & Pioneer Andi Sex Gang
by Heather Drain
In a world of soot, shit and dirt, there's a speck of gold shining underneath. That glint of precious metal and light comes in the form of Andi Sex Gang and never has he shone more fiercely true and brilliant than with his recent album, “Achilles in the Eurozone.” Sex Gang is a man, whom, from the very beginning with his work in the early 80's goth/post-punk band Sex Gang Children, has never ever played it safe or constructed himself to squeeze into any firm category. Like a fluid shaman who presents you the firm duality of this existence, he will never play you or I for a fool. The beauty, pain, violence and heart are all there, thrumming and ready for anyone open and tuned in enough to get it.
I was blessed enough to get to connect with and interview, via e-mail, the man himself and discuss the world of art, music and his latest zeitgeist.
One of the things I loved the most about “Achilles in the Eurozone” is that, keeping with your past work, it is both unlike the others and yet unquestionably yours. Each album is its own creature completely. Were there any creative connectors between this new album and your last one, 2011's “The Devil's Cabaret?”
ASG: Not really, well at least not consciously. “The Devil’s Cabaret” was my second Berlin album and collaboration with my DJ friend there, Ragnar, so it was a different beast in that sense, as was “Inventing New Destruction”, my first Berlin collaboration. They were kind of like getting into a ‘different suit’ altogether, you know putting yourself in a different situation, they were more spontaneous albums as such. Diving into uncharted waters and see what happens. “Achilles”, like Madman, Veil, Arco Valley etc. were very much in accordance to a preset plan with everything mapped out to the last detail. However, I tend not apply the same method in sequence, why take the same photograph or paint the same picture twice? So in that respect, “Achilles” would not have been what it was without the free-fall approach of “The Devil’s Cabaret” before it.”
Listening to the album as a collective, there's a feeling that you as a narrator are one whose tales, perceptions and warnings transcend time. It could apply to a thousand years ago, now or the near future. The eternal vox. With human history, there's always the ugly/beautiful notion of the more things change the more they stay the same. Was this a strong element for you in creating this album?
ASG: Seriously, I have never consciously thought about it in that way, however, I would say there is a lot of validity to what you say. But in all honesty, I don’t know. I never dwell or think about my work once it’s out there. I think if I tried to understand or think too much about what I was doing, I would lose the whole point of it and cease to be an effective conductor.
With “Achilles” the motivational elements were clear, the album had to be an indictment of what was going down and what was going to happen as a consequence. Some of the songs speak for themselves as a bombastic statement of our modern culture, or rather lack of it.
The instrumental track, “Greeks in Casablanca,” has a loveliness that feels tinged with undercurrent of melancholy but not without some hope. What all went into the process of creating it?
ASG: “I am the stone the Persians laid to rest.”
That piece of music I had initially recorded for an American documentary some years before I had started work on Achilles. With that track everything came to me as in a dream, as a finished piece and all recorded in one take more or less. It was the first time I had played a snare drum live, no kick bass drum or toms...just like the old 1950's skiffle drum approach, but set against a flamenco guitar based song which I believe had not been done before, and it worked. I love being a maverick, wandering down that yellow brick road. What can I say, it has a sense of attack about it which just totally seduced me. As a child, I was inexorably drawn to Ancient Greek history and mythology, there was a flavor to each story which had a taste that was familiar to my soul. So far as I was concerned, this was life in a nutshell. For example, I read accounts of how the Spartans used to move on the battlefield in such a zen and balletic way and I decided I wanted to make music that conveyed that same poetic flow. It was and became the blueprint for everything I did in my life. As the “Achilles” album took shape, I just knew that track had to be on there and as the album progressed and took form, that piece just made more sense to me than ever before. I saw it in a new light.. I added strings and remixed it, voila!
I think the album would not have expressed its true import without that track and I liked and realized the importance of the fact that this track was something that no-one would expect from me, but it is me. As far as I’m concerned, it's the key track that gels everything else on the album. And just to add, it was the first song I had recorded with the Spanish guitar that I had bought over the phone when I was in jail many years earlier and that had been a special moment for me while adrift in a sea of non creative outlet. I'd heard its beautiful tone played over the phone and immediately fell in love with its sound. Some things will always go according to a given future plan, no matter what the present situation may hold for you. So why follow someone else's path when you can make your own? That challenge is what life is all about.
There are so many great lines that feel like a battle cry for the spirit and even more specifically, the creative soul. “Be a warrior, not a slave!” being a good example. Given how neutered mass music and even some of the more popular indie music has been feeling in the past few years, this album is the soundtrack for the cultural revolution that Western culture has been parched for. What do you think is needed to make the future a more nurturing one for artists?
ASG: Shoot first, sing later.
Make no mistake, we are at war in the battle for hearts and minds. There can be no room for compromise in that struggle whatsoever. If anyone out there thinks I over exaggerate the situation then just take a look at all the great cultural movements of our recent past. Look at how much those movements have given us, in thought, inspiration and just sheer bloody enjoyment. The rush, that sense of self ennoblement, and then look at what has recently passed as mass popular entertainment and tell me something isn't wrong. Go to any art gallery in the world and you will more than likely see most people sitting on the viewing benches checking out their I-phones instead of the great art around them. It's Andy Warhol's predictive nightmare of watching paint dry come true. Snap out of the mind numbing stupor that is killing your creative individuality, you are better than that.
We need to remember and appreciate who we are: noble Human Beings not cock sucking consumer cattle. Make your choice.
Were there any specific influences going into the creation process of “Achilles in the Eurozone?” IE. Art muses, personal events, current events, etc etc
ASG: Current events? Always! With a little peek into a possible future thrown in for good measure. But I don’t really write thinking consciously or in a documentary style manner. I’m just not that sort of story teller. I am not really aware of what I am writing most times, but I am fully aware of why I am writing it. I use words as a painter uses colors or a film director uses camera shots in order to fire the imagination or make a point I’ll pick and choose certain words and lines for their sound, for their playful or dramatic suggestion, for their ambiguity, for their ability to challenge the literary status quo, and hell, maybe for no reason at all! The prime factor for me is that it all comes from a flash thought deep inside, that’s how it works for me and that’s how I like to use words.
As for personal events, I try and keep those outside the loop, except for the ones that might hold relevance for the rest of us in a more general term and can therefore be used as a metaphor and example.
There was no particular art muse in the sense of great music, art or film that had influenced me on this album, not on this occasion. No, “Achilles” is the monster of the tabloid media created world and I am glad they gave me that avenue to stroll down.
What were your initial intentions with this album? How would you describe the outcome?
ASG: To mirror the human experience in the modern world. As for how effectively I feel I may have made that point, I stand by it thoroughly. As for a musical album as a whole, I don’t know...I cannot judge, but others are free to do so.
The use of the Greek Mythological figure of Achilles is a really interesting one, especially given that he was this noble and strong warrior of the Trojan War who was felled by one particular point of weakness. The way that you invoke him both in the title track but then later on in the incredibly moving “Last Man in Europe” is striking. Are we all collectively “Achilles?” Is art as its own entity “Achilles?”
ASG: I believe Art needs to totally play the role of Achilles the noble warrior. The world has changed, and art must reflect those changes and act accordingly and reach out and speak to all people, not just the privileged intelligentsia. There is no room or place now for smug self indulgence. That is just senseless masturbation and it’s obsolete. For way too long the arts have been hijacked by those that have lived their lives within a privileged bubble and more often than not their work will reflect that. But in order for art to effectively and totally challenge the norm in order to effect change, it has to be relevant to the lives of all people. I think that is something the late, great David Bowie succeeded at brilliantly.
I have always believed music to be the most potent art form to effect positive change in people and the society they are born into. Better to be a warrior than slave? Damn right, it’s total war.
The cover for the album, a collaboration with G O D Photography (an artist based out of the UK), is gorgeous and brutal. Like seeing the figures after the eruption of Pompeii. There's an anguish and a dark poetry to it. What was the big picture concept for this image?
ASG: That photo of Bari (Goddard) was part of a series of self portraits he had been working on and it’s such a striking, evocative image. I just saw it and thought...perfect. I didn’t give it anymore thought than that, it just felt right for the album It’s easy working with Bari, we think along similar lines, we are like brothers.
Speaking of visuals, there's also a terrific promo video for the album that plays out like a brain-blast of color, grim-grit and heart-felt strength. The collage of imagery of yourself painted up like a true art-warrior, mixed with a pig-masked figure wielding a gun, is powerful, to say the least, and even better, it merges with the music quite nicely. What was the brainstorming session like for this video?
ASG: That promo video was a mixture of ideas from Bari and myself and as with everything we work on it’s always quick and spontaneous. We’re both great believers in fast and furious creativity, we set a time, date and location and a couple of hours later we’re done with it. Of course the editing takes a bit longer.
At one point during the video, the statement “Art is Expression. Art is Freedom. Art is at War.” comes up. There is so much truth to this. It takes a real artist who actually cares enough to fight and not compromise to state it. This is the best valentine, especially considering that we live in a world that is not necessarily built for artists. At times, it can be quite the reverse, but this is why it is all the more important for creative people to support each other and be supported. What advice would you give other artists? Tips for both creative and life survival?
ASG: Live true, express truthfully.
The most important relationship you will have is with your art. Keep ownership of copyright to your works. This will help see you through all the financial knocks and setbacks that you will encounter. Be prepared to tough it out, your art is worth it. And don’t forget to have fun. Creating something that will potentially reach out to others is one of the greatest enjoyments you can ever feel. And remember, a truthful expression is a beautiful thing.
How would you like “Achilles in the Eurozone” to be remembered five or ten years down the line?
ASG: I have absolutely no idea right now. It’s still too fresh in my mind. How it is perceived I have no control over whatsoever. However, I would just like it to be remembered for what it is, a personal snapshot of the world we lived in at that time.
What would be your big dream project for the future? I would love to see you score/co-direct a film, personally.
ASG: In the hall of that mountain King, I told lies in order to survive the scourge of their lashing tongues!
I want to break rules and experiment more. I want to improve my use of music. To work more with film would be a dream. I like directing and acting, short movies, in all form and angular manner. I have thought about expanding to make short outsider movies with reverence to the beauty of film as a medium and piled with lots of art house edge. Did I just really say that? It sounds like I’m baking a fucking cake! Ha ha! Seriously speaking though, I want to show that art films as such do not have to be self indulgent, over affectacious twaddle, film is too important a medium for that.
I have plans for a book of short poems, though I prefer to use the term ‘spoken word’. I have plans for many things, but I need to make more time. I’m still setting up with my new label Code Black having just recently signed a new distribution deal, through which I will be releasing the whole Sex Gang back catalog and new material. 2016 will be a new year that shall bring forth a new Sex Gang Children album and my new solo project, Dada Degas.
One last question. While we're on the film train of thought, is there a particular director that has left a defined imprint for you?
ASG: I really like the way John Cassavetes made movies. So naturally gritty and without any affectation. It feels like he just let the actors go on a roll once they were instructed as to their motivation. There was always something so true about the man himself and it reflected in his work both as an actor and director.
Much thanks to both Andi and Lara Gaudio for help making this interview happen. For up to date information on Andi Sex Gang, please visit his website www.andisexgang.com or find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/andisexgangofficial.