When Andi met Andi: a conversation with Andi Sex Gang
~interview by Andi Jarrett
(images courtesy of the Andi Sex Gang site, Pete Scathe's site and Uncle Nemesis)
Ian Astbury of The Cult, quoted in Alternative Press:
"One of the groups coming up at the same
time as us was Sex Gang Children, and Andi - he used to dress like a Banshees
fan, and I used to call him the Gothic Goblin because he was a little guy,
and he's dark. He used to likeEdith Piaf and this macabre music, and he
lived in a building in Brixton called Visigoth Towers. So he was the little
Gothic Goblin, and his followers were Goths. That's where goth came from."
Fast-forward to 2002, and Andi Sex Gang is still forging ahead with a career that has touched all manner of bases in twenty years. He's recorded over 20 albums, both as himself and under various permutations of the band name. He's worked with collaborators as diverse as Mick Ronson, David Bowie's Ziggy-period guitarist, and the Italian horror movie maestro, Dario Argento. His influence can be heard in the most unlikely areas, as anyone who's ever listened to Cinema Strange will acknowledge. His latest release, the album 'Bastard Art' is a wide-screen sweep through a twenty-first century glam landscape - and sees the return of the Sex Gang Children identity. A good time, then, to catch up with the man himself. Andi Jarrett met him in the cafe in the crypt of St. Martin's In The Fields church in Trafalgar Square, London, and what followed was a conversation which ranged far and wide over many subjects - except one...
AJ: I was wondering if we could start with one of the more typical questions...what made you decide to use the name Sex Gang Children again, instead of being Andi Sex Gang?
ASG: That's a typical question! A very mathematical question. I'd rather talk about art and influences...other artists...the influences I have, that I find inspiring.
AJ: Oh. OK. Well, because of your presence on stage - it's very theatrical - I was wondering if you had any background in acting?
ASG: No, except for an appreciation of all incredible art forms that are good, that are done well. No, I've had no training whatsoever, in anything. Never had the money to, and apart from that my life was kind of different anyway. It didn't really lend itself to that, to those circles. You know, when I first started going on tour, many years ago, I used to walk down Oxford Street on Saturday...the traffic would flow one way, and I'd go the other way - I would go against the grain, dodging people, walking without slowing down and getting in their way. That was good practice. And it was free, as well! Good practice for a sense of movement and balance. That was a long time ago.
AJ: It seems like a lot of actors take on roles that are an aspect of themselves, even though it may not be a typical aspect. It's still something they can draw upon, you know?
ASG: There are those that have that 'something else', and those are the ones - I *believe* them, what they do, they stand out as far as actors go. Same as people who do painting as a form of expression. You can look at a picture and see into the life of the artist. Otto Dix, for example - the German expressionist painter. He painted hundreds of anti-war pictures and yet he'd spent all four years of the First World War as a machine gunner in the German trenches - an enthusiastic machine gunner as well, by all accounts. But he understood the real horror of war. He didn't sit around in a coffee house! He was *in* the war, and he understood it first hand - the carnage, what it's really like. And all his contemporaries, good as they are, don't have that...pathos, that understanding of the horror that Dix had. I've always believed that it's how you live your life that counts, it's who you are, how you feel.
AJ: What are your first-hand experiences that have affected your art?
ASG: Everything. Every experience is useful to me. I would say that I'm very, very conscious of what I write, but at times, on reflection afterwards, sometimes a long time afterwards, it makes more sense. It's almost like I can close my eyes and feel some sense of myself as I stride through life. That sounds really pretentious, but it's not!
AJ: So anything that happens during
the day, you write about the feelings you get from that?
AJ: It's interesting how some things that artists do, whatever the original subject of the work, can make you think of something else. On your new album 'Bastard Art', in the song 'The Bormann Chain' you say, 'I took you for a killer/Did you take me out of kindness?' You know who I thought of? Harold Shipman. [The Manchester doctor who was recently revealed as the UK's worst-ever serial killer]. Now there was a bastard who malpracticed his art!
ASG: Yeah, that would make sense. That's a good point. That's a good example of how any words, any music, any pictures - whatever the medium is - should be. Art should be ambiguous.
AJ: So that it can apply to many things?
ASG: So it can apply to all things. Art should stand up on its own - it shouldn't be without force, but it should be ambiguous. It's not about whinging 'She was a bitch, why does nobody like me?' Keep it in your fucking head!
AJ: I guess a lot of people think
the whole gothic thing is about whinging. So they whinge.
AJ: Did you feel it was multi-media, too?
ASG: The last time I was over there - this year - it was definitely multi-media. Yeah, it's always had spoken-word things, poetry, films, theatre. It had all that stuff. A wonderful mix of all these different art forms, and I thought it was great. Some people exhibited their paintings. There were twenty different things going on at once. And I think that's what it's about. Gothic is not supposed to be just another style of pop music!
AJ: It's like people just apply the trappings, it's not really thought about.
ASG: Well, even in the early days of the movement - I don't like the term 'movement' but I suppose it *was* a movement - it had a lot of bandwagon-jumping, and then those people just jumped on to the next thing that came along. I think you're always going to have the people who are bandwagon jumpers, and people who are prime movers. Or they try to push the boundaries, and sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they might not quite get there but it's a process of finding out - you've got to be not afraid to try things out and go on upward, so to speak.
AJ: As for the scene as it is - what would you like to see happen? Your launch gig for the 'Veil' album had all sorts of performances, everything from belly-dancing to snake-charming - would you like to incorporate that sort of thing into future shows, create that sense of atmosphere?
ASG: Why not? I thought all that was right for the time, that gig and that album. Expanding on that, doing something different - yeah, why not? The reason why I think music is the most potent, powerful, art medium is because it encompasses performance, recordings, it encompasses all sorts of other work. Artwork, whatever. Photography, films, books. Music encompasses it all. So make it bigger, build on it! Nothing really hits you like a piece of music that really affects you. Bach's cello concerto, fucking brilliant! I've been decorating my apartment with it turned up really high - fantastic, fantastic piece! I never get tired of it. And how many years ago was that composed? 400 years ago!
AJ: So how did you decorate your
house...while listening to Bach?
AJ: Blue is an emotive colour.
ASG: One of my favourites!
AJ: It's funny how certain sounds, or words, or moods, bring up colours in your head.
ASG: I think a sense of colour is important. You know, sometimes you go through an area and it just looks great - like the City of London. I just love that area. Not that I have any cash money at all!
AJ: Since we're talking about colour....you did a song, a piece called 'The Naked And The Dead' for Dario Argento's film 'Phenomena'. He's very chromatic. You know, he uses reds at certain points in his movies...blues, yellows. It all means something.
ASG: I never noticed that!
AJ: In 'Suspiria' it's particularly marked.
ASG: 'Suspiria', my God, I saw that in 1981 or something, maybe earlier.
AJ: It's a strange movie. I love his stuff. Would you like to do any more music for films?
AJ: What made you chose 'Phenomena'?
ASG: I didn't. They chose me. It just landed in my lap. I was working with a producer at the time, Simon Boswell, and he played me this mix of something he was working on. He was doing music for the film...and Dario came into the studio to see him, and said, 'Who is this?' And Simon said, 'That's the singer with the Sex Gang Children!' and that's how Dario and I were introduced. And Dario said, 'Can you get him to do something?' And I obliged. I'd seen 'Suspiria' and I'd loved it, so I said yes. That's how I worked with Dario Argento. He wore these really ill-fitting clothes, like he just went in to Marks & Spencer and grabbed the first thing he saw!
AJ: A lot of people who are really into what they do don't think of anything else, so they'll just wear whatever...
ASG: I know, it's funny, and he's exactly like that. A character.
AJ: So, who would you say are the bastards of art, and why?
ASG: I called the album 'Bastard Art' because it *is* bastard art. It's art, but it's not trying to be anything, it's not trying to be there, because it is there. By default or by purpose, it's there.
AJ: So what if its parents weren't married, it's there!
ASG: There is that, too! Art without sanction.
AJ: On the sleeve of 'Bastard Art' there's a little insect man, and he has a lot of resemblance to you - not in a bad way! He's got these skull eyes and a sharp proboscis. What's he preying on? Or is he preying? Or is he gazing really strongly at something?
ASG: On the back of the CD?
AJ: And he's got the eyebrows, too!
ASG: I need to take a closer look! I did that painting when I was 15 or 16 or so. It probably took me about half an hour, or 40 minutes, tops.
AJ: Who are your favourite films, actors?
ASG: I always thought Robert de Niro was phenomenal. When I was little, really little, I saw a film on TV called 'Walkabout' That really knocked me for six. I thought that was such a great movie!
AJ: The Aboriginal film, right?
ASG: Yeah, I thought it was great. And 'The Harder They Come' - Jimmy Cliff. That was on TV recently, late at night. I caught a bit of it and I'd forgotten just how good a film it was. It had been so long since I'd seen it.
AJ: I love John Waters, all of John Waters.
ASG: 'Pink Flamingos', that has a special place inside me!
AJ: "Look, mama, a turd, mama!"
ASG: It's great! It's fucking great! So poignant, so beautiful!
AJ: And I love how, in 'Polyester', he cast Stiv Bators as Bo-Bo.
ASG: I have to see that again. I
saw these things so long ago. I think when you're drained of culture your
soul, the common universal soul of the people, becomes sick. They descend
into McDonalds, they descend into Big Brother. All these things which are
ASG: Authors, I don't really have favourite authors. George Orwell, maybe. '1984' , 'Animal Farm'. '1984' was the book that really...I don't think any other book really hit me as much as '1984' when I first read it. The writing is fantastic.
AJ: What about 'Brave New World'?
ASG: Yeah. I started to read it afterwards, and there's this whole thing of how 'Brave New World' was written before '1984', but, I mean, '1984' was better. It gets the point across much better, it really does. It's a far superior telling of the nightmare.
AJ: What do you think of this whole cellphone craze? I mean, talk about over-stimulation and not having time for undirected thought, you know?
ASG: I would say it's unhealthy. It's very unhealthy. But I think that's the way things are meant to be now - or that's the way things are because it's all being encouraged. It's an unhealthy balance, and you have to have balance.
AJ: What d'you think of Buddhist philosophy?
ASG: I don't really know much about Buddhist philosophy at all.
AJ: You just sort of go with an idea of balance?
ASG: I think you are born with everything you need to know. I don't think anyone has to go looking for anything. People travel to find themselves - they go somewhere, they go to a religion, to see some Swami, whatever. Some devout martyr. And you know, you don't need to do this. Everything that happens, happens on your own doorstep. It happens within your own life. All the things you need to know, all these things are given to you to apply yourself in order to help yourself.
AJ: So you need to learn how to accept it and use it?
ASG: No, no, no. I think you accept or like what you like and you should live within that once you're there. And I think one should also live with what you don't like, and what you can't accept. And know where the line is. You've got to have a sense of...morals? I don't know the appropriate word, but that sense of values in life.
AJ: Yeah, 'cause right and wrong are such vague terms.
ASG: There's no such things as right or wrong, there's just things that *are*. I live my life by my rules without compromise, and I don't hurt others because of it. Not willingly, anyway. That's my choice. I've always really liked people who do direct action - the Greenpeace people - I think it's great! Instead of, you know, the Church saying, let's pray, everybody, let's pray for those poor souls - it's like, don't fucking *pray*! Get out and *do* something! Help those people who are starving!
AJ: Do all religions piss you off, or is it just the Christian religion?
ASG: I see no difference. If Jesus was around now, the Church would be the first to crucify him. They would! When Christ was crucified, he was killed by the Church. If you were to place it in a hierarchy, he was not crucified by the Romans.
AJ: By the institution?
AJ: Do you still listen to the Clash?
ASG: I've not got rid of all my old vinyl and tapes, but these days I find it difficult to listen to rock-based music.
AJ: From your performances, though, you would think you had a lot of glam influence?
ASG: Well, when I was a kid, I liked Marc Bolan, David Bowie and Roxy Music, but when I listen to rock music now...If I listen to T Rex, there are certain songs that will never leave me, they're so beautiful. I think Marc Bolan and David Bowie are the only two from that period that still bear music naturally. There's a perfect pathos, humanism. It's a perfect harmony of what it was all about at that time.
AJ: Have you ever heard of a band called Cinema Strange?
ASG: I have heard the name. Are they Americans?
AJ: They are, they're from Los Angeles, in the Deathrock scene. They're very surreal on stage and I think you've definitely influenced them. They don't sound *like* you, but they sound like you've influenced them.
ASG: That's good, 'cause no-one should sound like anyone else.
AJ: Yeah, there's a difference between hearing an influence and hearing a carbon copy. There were so many goth bands that all sounded like the Sisters of Mercy...
ASG: You see, some people would say that arrogance is a sin, but I would say, it depends. I think a dose of arrogance is absolutely necessary. Stand up and say, 'I am me!' You take in other things, it's like an evolutionary process, but no-one should sound like anyone else. No-one's existence should be a pale comparison to something else. You've got to be arrogant to a point. 'I am fucking ME!' That's why I think my life has been different. I just have different things that made me this way.
Andi Sex Gang's website: http://www.andisexgang.com
The Sex Gang Children's part in the early
evolution of the goth scene is chronicled in Pete Scathe's History Of Goth
Follow-ups to references in the interview:
Interview by Andi Jarrett: firstname.lastname@example.org