Can you talk about a breakthrough publication in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
My autobiography “Northern Sulphuric Soulboy” was my first book release. It was a cathartic experience to write about my past in the music industry. I felt that the music scenes I, and many others, had come from, hadn’t been looked at in much detail.
There are, of course, thousands of stories from any era and I implore anyone who feels like they have something to document to at least get it down. The saying that it only takes two generations to be forgotten is true, rescue the past and make it live forever. I think the 90’s in particular are beginning to look more and more culturally interesting as time passes. You could argue it was the last great decade of music genre creation.
I started writing my autobiography in 2012, and it came out in 2016. It was delivered as a 10” record, I wanted to show that I wasn’t done with making music. That was my bridging project.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
It’s true, there is a space where things happen, it’s close to meditation. I am a great believer that you have to work to open up the space by actually writing. Sometimes you have to write 1000’s of words of nonsense to open up one sentence that suggests more.
This is not far from what many stages of the novel writing process is about. You have to grind it out, the angels turn up to whisper in your ear if they hear you have been working hard.
Words can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for literature and poetry as a tool for healing?
I think writing, in novel form, is the greatest way of unpacking the conundrum of human existence. I have not written to try to hurt someone nor have I had someone use words to hurt me. People tend to shout at me in the street now and again but that’s most major cities. There is less shouting in boring towns, they do most of the loud stuff down in the cellar.
I did notice that literature could change my sense of being, a recent trip with Murakami made me feel strange for a week, a good strange. He taught me something too, don’t worry about skinning a man if you are looking for a cat.
All reflection is in some way a form of healing, even the bad stuff and I think books subtlety inform you about experiences you’ve had in a way that helps you reinterpret your own pain. Lamarck believed we could inherit responses directly from the experiences of our forefathers. He may have tried to prove it with mice and dodgy cinnamon.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I believe there are no limits, certainly commercially, until a lawyer gets involved.
Culturally, it’s been a fraught journey for the music industry. I think the digital era has given artists more power, there are less barriers to entry and artists have a greater chance of owning the rights to their songs. There’s just a lot less money in it. Why? Because it’s not hard anymore and even your grandma has an EP on a private link on Soundcloud. People had to make their own drum machines once, that leads me to a story concerning appropriation and Kraftwerk. The breakthrough sound that Kraftwerk created, can be traced back to the ‘Trümmerliteratur’ era in German society, the song ‘Vom Himmel Hoch’ is a link. This musical blueprint found in the bands invention of electronic music was subsequently copied by Americans, many of them black, to make early electro records. "Planet Rock" is a Kraftwerk record with added rapping. This subverts our notions about how the exchange of ideas works, for decades it was the other way around.
People will always steal innovations. Drake uses UK grime and drill producers, top 40 pop acts sound like trap beats with huge 808s. The key is for the innovator to control the supply. I am not sure that’s possible in the digital world.
On the wider issue of copying, it must be done with respect and understanding of how a culture got to the point of making the art. Stop, ask why? People should also ask themselves, how they would feel about someone mimicking or stealing from them? Take love into the game. No one will ever fix stealing or feelings.
Literature works with sense impressions in a different way than the other arts. How do you use them in your writing? From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I believe the most powerful trigger of memory is smell, followed by music. I am aware of synaesthesia but can’t say I have had the direct experience of a crossover of the senses. Occasionally I feel my phone vibrating in my pocket when it’s actually in another room. I’m yet to give that experience a name, would ‘geistertelefontasche’ work?
In "The Caterpillar Club" I have a scene in a hospital and the main character feels faint. He ends up passing out and his mind invents a smell that doesn’t exist. It was a way of playing with shifts in perception. Certain states, such as coming out of anasthesia, semi-sleep and fainting are tools I have applied to blur the perception of time. It’s something I wanted to examine with my work. Many books play with time, it’s the most universal of experiences that affects all of our senses.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I believe my personal path is to explain to myself who I am, and who I have been. The closer I get to that, the closer I get to my perception of art. I see it as a process with no real end point. I feel as if writing is the best expression of my soul, more so than music. There are less rules and you have more control. Music still makes me cry, now it’s not the songs I want to do that stir that response. It’s the songs that I ignored or disliked in the 80’s, they want to speak to me now.
Sometimes I hate that it’s like that but it’s also wonderful if you are transported to a time when a parent was alive. I’m dripping in early onset nostalgia.
What can literature or poetry express about life and death which other forms of art may not?
The length of time that a book can hold you in its grasp, can alter the way you think and in turn feel. Grand structures can be created for others to pass through and hopefully the reader can feel connected to a deeper sense of shared experience.
So much of life is projection and everyone wants to see themselves reflected. We all get to live, we all get to die, not everyone wants to talk about it. Books create this space.