I thought the Swans and Psychic TV’s outré musical experiments may’ve been influential?
Yeah. Yeah. I had a few Psychic TV live records. It was the year they were releasing one live record every month. Genesis P. Orridge was really cool. But only a little bit of the Swans, though Michael Gira played Australia recently.
How’d you hook up with Fiona?
She’s been around since the first album. We moved from Perth to Melbourne—which is a better music town. Perth was like a smaller version of San Diego, but more remote. It’s cool for surf waves, but we moved to Melbourne and Fi came with us. We’ve known each other 10 years.
I heard Gala Mill was recorded in a haunted Tasmanian factory.
We didn’t see any ghosts, though. It was in one of the first Australian farms built in the 1900s. Australia is only as old as California, so, it was in a middle-of-nowhere farm. It was a custom-made studio waiting to happen. All it needed was recording equipment. It was like being on holiday and getting a record done. It worked out good.
How would you compare Gala Mill to its subsequent follow-up, Havilah?
Gala Mill is heavier, but not in a depressing way or in its sonic assault.
Several of Havilah’s slow songs compete favorably against the usual expeditiously blitzing savagery. There’s ‘Cold And Sober’ plus caliginous break-up lament, ‘The Drifting Housewife.’
As for ‘The Drifting Housewife,’ there was a gazillion love songs, so I figured I’d write a divorce song. We could do all sorts of stuff. It doesn’t have to be political.
What are some of your political views? Are they as bleak and portentous as your lyrics sometimes indicate?
The world is pretty complicated. It’s a lack of people having enough knowledge of what’s happened before that really makes them freak out about shit. Obviously it’s not good to have these current economic conditions. But we’re not living in the streets and we’re not all gonna get killed by terrorists. It’s unnecessary hysteria.There’s room to be philosophical, but it’s not the first time financial institutions have collapsed. It’s not the first recession anyone’s been bogged down in.
I was quite intrigued by ‘The Minotaur,’ with its scraggly Captain Beefheart-like anxiety and scruffy elegiac characters.
It’s about modern day losers. ‘The Minotaur’ is the offspring of a bull sent down by the gods. He’s just in a maze. And that sort of predatory depressive weirdness happens all the time, a progeny of a fucked up relationship—like the kids locked in their bedrooms getting into porn and ultra-violent video games. It’s just mysterious anti-social behavior. They’re entertaining the worst traits humans have. It’s relatively harmless, but in a stupid way. It’s all about buying a bunch of useless shit that’s obsolete in a week and you’re bored with it so you have to buy more.
You’ve mentioned online how much blues artists such as Blind Willie Johnson fascinate you.
Blind Willie McTell, too. Everybody talks about Robert Johnson, and he’s cool, but there’s quite weirder, more dexterous, and stranger dudes, like Mississippi John Hurt, Fred Mc Dowel—the finger-picking and the song structures. Take Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist. We did a song, ‘De Kalb Blues,’ an old Leadbelly song. We’ve done Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Motherless Children.’ I’m into all that fucking amazing stuff. That’s what got me into songwriting originally, rather than just Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page’s pyrotechnic stuff.
This and John Fortunato’s many articles on music can be found at beermelodies.com.