see also our concert review of the Sixteens here
We are backstage at Pagan Love Songs in Bochum, Germany. It's 1.00am, and the Sixteens have just delivered a set of fractured elektro-punk disko to an audience whose reaction seemed to neatly split between bemused incomprehension and manic enthusiasm. I've joined the two Sixteens - Kristen Louise (vocalist, keyboardist, and effects pedal walloper), and Veuve Pauli (more keyboards, bass, oboe, backing chants) - in the surprisingly spacious dressing room here at Zwischenfall, the club which Pagan love Songs calls home. Tonight this room will double as sleeping accommodation for the band. With sleeping bags spread around, the atmosphere is laid-back and homely - an appropriate setting in which to get inside the heads of these kooky electric art punks from San Fransisco
We pop the cork on a bottle of wine and I start my tape rolling. I've prepared a list of questions, but as the conversation flows it seems likely that we'll arrive at the answers naturally, haphazardly, as we talk. So, we'll keep this informal and random, and just see where we go from here...
Names, Places, Noises
Firstly, though, I wanted to know what had brought the Sixteens to Germany - for, after the band's present European tour is over, they're not returning to San Fransisco. As of now, the Sixteens relocated - to Berlin. Why did they decide to make this move?
Veuve Pauli: That just happened about a week ago, when we played in Berlin. We'd been thinking maybe we'd move to Madrid - but we found we'd have a lot less space, we'd be living in this cramped space and we'd be paying a lot more. But then, in Berlin, we got this offer of an apartment for two months - basically, for the first two months it'll be like a sub-let and then we can stay longer if we want. It's kind of perfect 'cause we don't have to give a deposit or anything. So it made up our minds for us.
Andi: So what made you want to get out of San Fransisco?
Kristen Louise: Well, you know, it's not like I really wanted to leave. We're involved with a huge collective of people there who have been doing art and music for a long time. It feels like it's a family, but at certain point in your life you have to leave your family. You just have to. It's like, if you don't, how are you supposed to grow? How are we supposed to grow individually, how can we help the people that we leave grow? We are all trying to be better people, and be stronger. You have to go through a lot of let-go. Withdrawal and pain.
Andi: If more people thought like you guys do...I mean, I think like that too. It's kind of depressing when people don't think like that.
Veuve Pauli: Yeah, we want to venture out. It's really scary, I think, for most people. Very scary to venture past themselves and what they're doing, even if they know what they're doing is stale. Instead, if they're at a point where something needs to grow and branch out, people will stifle that from happening for years and years, until it never happens. You see all these shrivelled-up people...
Kristen Louise: This is the kind of thing that people use money as an excuse for - that they don't have enough.
Andi: What I'm curious about is what the name Sixteens means, what significance the number has.
Veuve Pauli: (to Kristen) You can start that!
Kristen Louise: Well, the thing is, I think the real basis of a name is so generic, but what it makes me think of is what it isn't. I like that.
Veuve Pauli: It's a really dumb
name! I still don't see how the name corresponds with what we do.
Veuve Pauli: If you get a 78 rpm record, 'cause you can find those at the fleamarket too, if you play that at 16 rpm, it's like the slowest music you can possibly play.
Kristen Louise: And so what we tried to do, because we'd played so much fast music before, in separate projects, we wanted to invert that, and play really fucking slow, but weird. That's how we started, playing this slow music all night long, all day. That's where the Sixteens name comes from, that 16 rpm record player speed.
Veuve Pauli: I think I might even come back to that one of these days. Yeah, some of our songs are really slow. I'd be interested in doing some really slow, slow, slow songs again.
Kristen Louise: Like our first one, that was so fucking bad? [She demonstrates, singing in an exaggeratedly slow operatic voice]. That was when we had an onion - a big one, like seven inches - break a window. He [Veuve Pauli] was playing keyboards, and we'd dragged this inside of a piano up to our apartment. It was really heavy, all bronze...
Veuve Pauli: It was like a harp. It was the inside of a grand piano. It looked like a harp.
Kristen Louise: And we had headphones, a microphone, a phonograph. It took hours and hours and hours, making this track, he was playing keyboard...and all of a sudden someone threw a fucking onion. It just missed us, there was glass all over the place.
Andi: Was that in response to your music?
Both: (laughing) Yeah!
Kristen Louise: We've had a lot of vegtables thrown at us!
Veuve Pauli: So, what happened was, we stopped playing music so loud, but we had these Super 8 projectors. We'd made films of ourselves, like, inside the house, and we projected them out of the window onto the side of our neighbours' house. So, on the side of their house, there would be Kristen smoking a cigarrette really really huge, but there was no sound involved. They couldn't complain about it, but we were still projecting ourselves onto their environment.
Andi: Like giving them bad voodoo with your art...
Kristen Louise: But I didn't even know the house belonged to the people who'd thrown that onion. It was just the closest house we could project onto. We weren't being malicious with our intent.
Andi: But you could if you wanted to be!
Veuve Pauli: (Laughs) You could,
Art As Revenge
Andi: This is actualy funny, you know, sometimes I'll have the questions ready but the conversation will have already led me there. So, thinking of using art as revenge, I'm going to ask you - what's your weapon against terrorism?
Kristen Louise: We don't even believe in terrorism. We sort of believe it doesn't exist. People feed into it. More, it evolves.
Andi: Well, there's so many layers to it that we can't really sayit's just this or just that. I don't want to block it out - I want to know what's happening in the world.
Veuve Pauli: You know what's strange about this fear of terrorism? After the 9/11 thing there were always people on the street...
Kristen Louise: They were perpetrating it.
Veuve Pauli: Yeah, they would ask people on the street, 'What d'you think about the possibility of a biochemical attack on the subway?'
Kristen Louise: Like it was already happening!
Veuve Pauli: But how many times have I heard about somebody dying in a car accident? So many fucking times. I'm so much more afraid of dying while driving a car. Not dying from...these things that they want to inject into the collective psyche and make you afraid. Because this is the political agenda. They want you to vote in this way, or that way, and they're trying to make you afraid. They're really directing people's minds. I think I could die of so many other things, so much more easily, than I could die from a terrorist attack. I mean, I'm really not afraid of a terrorist attack.
Andi: If you met George Bush, what would you tell him?
Veuve Pauli: I don't know.
Kristen Louise: Fuck off!
Veuve Pauli: Uh, yeah, of course!
Andi: Everyone would!
Veuve Pauli: Yeah...but I don't know. I really don't want to meet him. I really don't know what I would say. It's just, like, he's such a problem in this world. He seems to me like the five year old Pharoah in Egypt. The five year old king in line for the throne - the old king dies so they have to bring up this five year old to take his place.
Andi: And he doesn't have the experience or maturity.
Veuve Pauli: Yeah. He's just a dumbass. He's just like a little kid. I think the brains behind the whole thing are so far beyond the man. It's really just like this: put all the blame on him, and he's going to take it like a bugger. It's not a big deal, as long as he's not assassinated. He can just pose.
Andi: He's someone's puppet.
Veuve Pauli: Yeah. Exactly. I don't think it's him. If I met him I would probably be saying...whatever. I don't think he's the real problem.
Kristen Louise: The real power is elsewhere.
Veuve Pauli: If I met him, and I was able to rip his head off or something, it wouldn't matter. It wouldn't make any difference. I think, in the last election, they wanted everyone to vote Green party because that would take votes away from the Democrats, who would've otherwise won. It put Bush in office, but I think that even if the Democrats had won, not that much would have changed.
Andi: No, it doesn't seem like it.
Veuve Pauli: I don't think it makes a difference. I think there are some great, powerful things that are running this country. It's so far beyond whether you vote Democrat or Republican - the only thing that could maybe change it is if more people started thinking for themselves individually. We're living in a machine. I don't think humans are in control of the machine any more. The machine is in control of the human. Even the President is this convenient thing the machine puts back.
Kristen Louise: We have that phrase - it's a Sixteens song title - 'Cancellation Projects'. It's about that. Like, 'We're not into conspiracy', the time when we're singing that...
Andi: I think, also, what I see happening - as people have less and less say, they'll just start ignoring the government. It'll become more anarchic and people will start forming their own mini-governments themselves.
Veuve Pauli: Our system is so immense now, I can't believe it. Like, I've travelled to so many countries now, and it's all over the world, this Western way of doing things is happening everywhere. The electricity branches out everyplace. There are cars roaming everywhere.
Andi: But look how many people don't want that. I was one of those people who marched against the war [on Iraq], and it was almost two million [on the march in London]. Almost two million people unheard. It didn't matter. It was like a big fuck-you.
Veuve Pauli: Yeah, it's like a strange beast. You know what would be really great? How many products have you seen, they're making so many, T-shirts, coffee cups, weird playing cards, that'll show Bush's face superimposed on women's bodies and stuff? I've seen so many different things, it's like a whole cottage industry of this take on this whack president. That's where all the energy must be going. But I think it would be really amazing if Bush gave a speech with all of these things, this paraphenalia, behind him, so that he could just mock the whole world. Because I think it's at this point where it doesn't matter. It's like, people are making money off this thing, off this president that's so terrible. But making fun of him doesn't matter, it's not doing anything.
Andi: No, but it makes some people feel better.
Kristen Louise: It all promotes Bush, actually.
Veuve Pauli: That's his whole strength - a president like we've never seen before.
Poetry In Motion
Andi: Do you consider yourselves the Dada-Surrealists for the new millennium?
Kristen Louise: No!
Veuve Pauli: Other people have said things like that. Like, in one interview someone mentioned our lyrics were like a modern art piece, and I never really thought of it that way. We both consider ourselves writers, so the words are just as important as the music. I don't know how tro explain the craziness of the music, and then the lyrical part of it...
Kristen Louise: I got really upset one time because I was basically living like a situationist, you know, the term and the movement?
Kristen Louise: I was doing the same kind of shit for years and years, and then, all of a sudden people were like, 'That's so small!' I thought I was doing all this really weird shit. I felt unique about it for myself, I felt like it was turning things on. It was pretty electric, then, like, wow, I'm just a child of the ancestors I didn't know.
Veuve Pauli: It's great, I love when that happens.
Kristen Louise: It's better not to know. It's cool when it happens, but it's really trippy 'cause then you ingest it to the point of art alone.
Veuve Pauli: You know what's really good about it? It's thjat you were doing it in a very genuine true way, and people who just study and lean that this movement went on - studied situationism - could never do anything like that. Because they'd just say, 'Oh, that's already been done before,' and they'd never actually try to act it out.
Kristen Louise: Right. One thing I did was make all these poems from samples in Oakland. They had poetry up on the trains, you know? So I made my own poems and glued them up every day, and they were really fucked up. I would do stuff like that a lot. I don't know, maybe my energies had to change!
Witches And Walking Frames
Andi: One of the other questions I had related to this compilation album you put together, with The Vanishing, Phantom Limbs, Love sharks, all sorts of bands. The Witches Of The West album. Who are the witches?
Kristen Louise: The Witches Of The West are all the people we were connected with in California, basically. At one point we didn't have a label at all, so we gave it a shot ourselves with a compilation. We just collected lots of music from the west coast, some of our friends are on it. It's kind of funny you know, you have the east/west thing all over the world.
Andi: It's interesting, though, because when I think of the United States I think of the brain. When you go more west you get more in touch with that realm of the brain that most people don't use; the part rthat they have to establish contact with again. When I think 'west', I think of Indians and shamans.
Kristen Louise: Right! And it's so true because it did happen later. It was a movement across the whole country. Anyway, Witches Of The West, though, really was to try and help our shit get out, and help other people that didn't have that chance to get one.
Andi: What about the Zimmer frames, which you use on stage as keyboard stands? Some synth bands use ironing boards - so why zimmer frames, and not ironing boards, or hostpital gurneys - or potty chairs?
Kristen Louise: This is a good question! It's so funny, because I've seen people use them as walking aids. We needed cheap keyboard stands, and they totally fit our persona. I went to Brick Town in San Fransisco, this cheap cheap cheap place, I found one and it was just perfect. So all three of us got them - when Nick was playing with us - it was actually really fucking perfect. So, then, we got really lucky, because this one particular hospital had to get everything out. Monique, a friend, picked me up, we went back and got a gurney. That was good, but it's still in the house in San Fransisco. And the we went back and got so much shit.
Veuve Pauli: All these old hospital machines!
Kristen Louise: You know those - when an abortion's vacuumed - they have a...
Andi: Suction thing?
Kristen Louise: Yeah. We have it all. We had two of those, and then, like, tons of fucking weird stuff.
Andi: You could've used it all on stage!
Kristen Louise: No, I don't need to get that elaborate. I'm not trying to impress people.
Veuve Pauli: The walkers work.
Kristen Louise: But I did keep the vacuuum, and I still have the gurney!
I can't help wanting to see some of this stuff turn up on stage, but I can understand Kristen's desire not to overdo...
After our bottle of wine, and what feels like an interesting chat with long lost friends, the evening has ended. We hug and part with the aim of getting some much-needed sleep; or, at least, I do,. Kristen wants to dance to Thomas Thyssen's DJ set, but she'll only have upstairs to go when she's ready to snooze. I have to find a taxi to get back to the hotel, accompanied by my equally sleepy partner.
Sixteens website: http://www.realgone.org/sixteens
Pagan Love Songs: http://www.nightmarezone.de
original email: 10/16/05