Now that’s a thing: I finally got in contact with one of my most favourite musicians, Times from Venus in Furs. Although being one of the pioneers of new wave music, there was hardly an evidence of his existence on the Internet. The mysterious man is back and finally I got the chance to ask him all the questions that came up over the years.
While reading the following interview I recommend you to listen to the following amazing song, ‘Majordomo’.
|André Savetier: Recent news of yourself and Venus In Furs has not been too easy to find – Is there any reason that we didn’t hear anything from you in the last few years?|
Times: Well, I’m still here…. ! For the past few years I’ve been building up a new digital studio in my home, and that has taken a while to assemble. Also, it’s really not too unusual for me to not put anything out for a while and then to release a clutch of albums in a short period – I’ve been working steadily on a new VIF collection (working title: birthconfusiondeathdotcom), I have this about 70% completed so far, there’s a new collaborative album – ‘The Desert Tropes’ which will feature the compositions of James Capelin, whose work I admire very much – the ‘Tropes’ is really his music, sounds and rhythms – very textural, I contribute some vocals, a little guitar… I’m also planning some new piano pieces, perhaps with a small chamber ensemble of woodwind instruments, fairly quixotic, playful music which I like working on. I was hoping the 2-CD “Best of” VIF album – DELTA – would have appeared by now, but I’ve heard nothing from the Russian label (Other Voices) which contracted me for that work – which is kind of disappointing for VIF fans who were expecting it… the trailer for it is still up on YouTube, it’s a confused situation… I did send them good digital masters, and some artwork was prepared, it’s as much a mystery to me as anyone else. But, that aside, 2015 should see the Internet release of these newer projects which have been in steady development during the last 3-4 years.
|André Savetier: How is your attitude toward fame – don’t you want to be in the ‘Limelight’?|
Times: I’ve never really given it much thought – maybe in the early years when the initial VIF albums were doing ok sales-wise. I think I kind of explained it in my song ‘Concerning Status’ (from STRIP) – of course, it’s nice to be acknowledged for what you do, and to be able to share that with others is a valuable thing, but fame/celebrity comes with certain limitations in how you operate and live, in many ways I’m kinda ok about not “making it” really big – for as you become bigger, your world gets smaller, or that’s how it seem to me.
In any case, composition for me is a vocational thing , it’s a lifetime commitment – I was once asked what I’d be doing after a period of considerable success had passed – well, I’ll be doing exactly the same thing, it’s the carving and shaping of an idea or thought, the gestation and revealment of a situation or experience which is the most important thing, and if you can affect or interest/move someone with this, it is surely reward enough, right?
|André Savetier: Could you tell me about your inspiration, when making music?|
Times: It varies – quite often there isn’t really any specific plan, something just kind of “arrives”… also, it differs depending on what instrument I’m using – occasionally I’ll be watching some dull TV, just playing around with an acoustic guitar or bass, a basic root melody or tune will spring up, then I’ll spend some time developing this, seeing which key will open and expand the piece – around this point, the music will suggest to me a certain mood or feeling, i.e.: joy/regret/ecstasy, whatever, then I’ll work on a vocal line and some harmony and go to my studio, get a basic version of this recorded. Then sometime later I’ll return to it and the real, involved process begins – to completely rework it from scratch as a final version. However, I often come up with something new almost all the time (although not all of these will be worked through), so I end up with many backing tracks for songs in different stages of development, I do find it takes a lot of discipline to work on one song to conclusion these days – life has many distractions and everyday chores that require time – so they all get small progressive additions over long periods of time… eventually I’ll then emerge with a fair collection for a new album… it seems to be taking longer for me recently, I think the sheer amount of choices in sound and digital technology is kind of a two-edged sword: the capacity for new sound samples/instruments and just the enormity of what is available to composers nowadays is so vast that getting the desired result (i.e.: to get the feeling as close to where you want it as possible) inevitably takes much more time. ‘Inspiration’ – this term seems to me to cover a multifold and complex process: so much is about intuition, character, mood… and that, for me at least, is before any lyric is written – so that’s why my stuff always seems to take so long to appear – I need to speed up, right?!
|André Savetier: Are you involved in any other creative art, except music?|
Times: Not as such – I’ve done a fair bit of teaching, English languages, piano tuition… dabbled in a little painting… I have had a plan to write some fiction, maybe this will be realised at some point.
|André Savetier: As you are a pioneer of new wave music: Do you still follow the contemporary scene? If yes, do you have any favourites? If not, why not?|
Times: Well, I keep my ears open – I don’t really hear to too much of what ‘s current, I try to catch ‘Late Junction’ on the BBC which has a decent experimental playlist, some good African/World music… my listening is wildly eclectic – If I think over this past week, I’ve been getting into some Ethiopian “throat” singing (extraordinary); yesterday I was playing some Shostakovich String Quartets (check out Nos. 3, 8 & 12 especially); like some Nina Simone, some good Jazz… ECM stuff… still enjoy the Ramones, great band… some AGF, bit of Fripp & Eno… most mornings I play piano music, Chopin waltzes, or some Bach fugues, great to breakfast to… the Monochrome Set‘s ‘Love Zombies’ fabulous, a classic… presently I’m listening to the music of James Capelin, a friend of mine who I hope to be working with soon for a collaborative work – his music is unusual, quite esoteric… perhaps you will recommend some things I should check out, André?
Much of my time is taken up with composition, my stuff takes so long to complete, I have periods of time when I just have to be a bit blinkered, and focus on new material.
Also, there is just so much music out there – ! It’s a matter of finding the time to absorb it all.
|André Savetier: I heard you are working on new material. Of course, many old and new fans are looking forward to that. What can we expect?|
Times: I have around 18-20 songs in various stages of completion…. each of which is (somewhat typically for me!) quite unlike each other in style and content. From this crop, I’ll select the best dozen or so, and that collection will form the next VIF album.
What to expect? I’ll try to describe some of these… ‘CITIZEN WOLF’ is a wild, rhythm & blues type song, pretty heavy, it’s about stalking through the city in an altered state, a man become a beast… has an element of humour, some bottleneck or slide guitars, a strong pulse beat… ‘ULTRAFEMME’ is a dancey, kinda sexy track, it’s about an unobtainable beauty, the ultimate siren… ‘MOTORIK GROOVE DERVISH’ – a rocky, almost krautrock type track, features a host of interweaving guitars, will possibly remain an Instrumental… ‘BEPPO & PEL MAKE A KILLING’ – a story-song, character driven, a little bossa-nova… ‘STILL WE DREAM’ is a major track, a ballad, rich string sections, quite atmospheric, pure romance… got a complex percussion piece, has three drum kits playing simultaneously (!) it’s a fun piece, called ‘SLAM’ at the moment, but that title may change… ‘BCD.COM’ will be the final, end piece – very eastern European in feel, has a vocal choir, pianos, a small philosophy concerning existence and “…what is the size of life? ” ie: how worthwhile is existence itself… ‘JET WING GHOST STAR’ is kinda spacey, has massed echoplex guitars, a romantic tragedy… a vamped piano song about family called ‘A SIBLING THING’… several other songs which are untitled as yet, I’ve been working on this album now for a few years – slow progress, but the music arrives when it wants to, that’s certainly something I’ve learned over time.
Album title is currently – birthconfusiondeathdotcom – which is a working title, ie it may change, but I quite like it, it’s intended to represent an entire philosophy in three words…!
It will be available through the Internet as a download, should be complete around summer 2015.
I’m also in the process of compiling a new compilation of some previously unissued VIF tracks, called TO THE WIRE, this one should be ready quite soon, we’re just finalising artwork and I’m preparing to re-master the recordings, it features some things from the late 90’s and a few out-takes from SOFT LIFE.
So, as you see, there is plenty of work to keep me busy! I’d like to fit in some travelling, somehow, see a little more of eastern Europe, study some native traditional music – If I can ever get out of my studio – !!
|André Savetier: Why Do you call yourself TIMES?|
Times: That’s a familiar query… why is Bobby Zimmerman known as Bob Dylan? Ringo’s surname is actually Starkey, Mr Bowie is really David Jones… the singer in U2 seems to have chosen a word which is strikingly similar to a well-known brand of English dog food (!)
As I recall, I decided to use a pseudonym for much the same reasons, I guess. The concept of walking into another person’s character seemed appealing to me, held an element of mystique etc… also in a connective sense, the word ‘Times’ for me, represents a certain indefinable status – isn’t Time itself a constant reminder of existence passing along, measuring our vicarious life events – be they joyous, perilous, indifferent or otherwise…? Also, it happens to be the name of the long – established English newspaper that I take – !! What’s in a name, anyway? These are deep waters, Andre – let us move on …
|André Savetier: Why did you continue to make music under the name of TIMES instead of VENUS IN FURS ?|
Times: For me there are two ‘dimensions’ – for want of a better word – to the multiform kinds of music which interests me.
Structured songs with lyrics where I want to explain an idea or feeling or just create a kind of inferred “movie” – is VIF type composition… but you know there are many different and varied approaches to music, and when I’m absorbed in, let us say, piano music or some other genre like soundtrack work, then this seems to make sense to me to issue this under my own name – although it is all clearly the work of the same writer, I would hope!
Also, it really isn’t a case of “instead of” as much as “as well as” – the two methods or indeed, persona, can operate in parallel contradistinction: I’ve just finished compiling a new VIF album (TO THE WIRE) of previously unissued songs, some are out-takes from SOFT LIFE, a “dub” mix of ‘That First Wild Kiss’, some new recordings, there’s a cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Venus In Furs’ which I’ve been meaning to get to for years (people keep asking me to do a version!), also I’m deep into writing and recording a collection of entirely new VIF songs.
|André Savetier: About THE BROTHERS CHRIST: Why did this not become a VENUS IN FURS album? And why was there only one BROTHERS CHRIST album?|
Times: Firstly, when the Bros. Christ thing started happening, I had just completed work on REAL MORAL FIBRE, which had taken many months of 1986 to do – the album was just being released toward the end of that year, when I happened to run into Colin Johnson. I hadn’t seen Colin for some years, we were good friends when younger, went to the same school, used to get drunk together in the late 70’s… quite an odd pairing, I think – in my teens I was well into the burgeoning new wave stuff, Colin, on the other hand, was always a keen prog rock fan, he was into Gong, Hawkwind, the Floyd etc (- and I’ve often thought this blend of contrasting influences explains our music, in some ways -)… so we’d sit in bars and chat about music, girls, life generally, a punk and a hippy (!), Colin looking quite bizarrely resplendent in a black velvet cape, and his “…long ragged hair” (< cf ‘Battle of Hastings’) but we got along fine, we’d trawl the local seaside taverns looking for drugs, girls and adventure etc – typical young guys… after this period, our paths diverged for some time.
So I was glad to see my old friend again after several years, during which of course, I’d formed VIF and produced the early works.
Colin owned a good-sized house, was living alone, had a good job with British Telecom (UK Telephones), he asked to hear the newly released RMF, so one evening we listened to it at his place, he really got into it, became very enthusiastic about how I’d done it, and was somewhat wistfully reflecting on the fact that, though a big music lover, he’d never learnt an instrument or tried his hand at singing. At which point I had an idea: why don’t we make an album together, and record it at his house? Colin’s home made wine seemed to help the idea along (!), and after some initial anxiety concerning his non-ablity to play or sing, we agreed to start work on the project soon afterwards… I assured him that I’d help him to figure out the vocals, if he would write the lyrics, then I’d take care of all other duties ie: write the music, play the instruments and produce it.
For me, this was always a kind of “fun” project – and it was a very enjoyable album to work on, quite light-hearted, the songs arrived very quickly, I’d work on them during the day, he would arrive home from work in early evening, (he’d write the lyrics whilst at work) then we’d put the vocals down – next day, same process.
I recorded it on a Tascam 4-track cassette machine – this is pre-digital, ok? And it turned out pretty well, for an untrained singer, I think his voice suits these songs.
A few points re: Brothers Christ – The song ‘Too Late’ is the only pre-written song which was originally going to be a VIF track – which is why it does sound very much like VIF!
Looking back, I sometimes think I should have kept that one for MEGALOMANIA, but I do think Colin sings it really well, and it seems to fit in with the other tracks ok.
After completing most of the songs, I realized we were a little short to fill out the album, so I remembered an experimental Composition by Skot Lucy, which he and I had recorded during an interval in the sessions for PLATONIC LOVE… ‘Summer Echoes’ is a piece that Colin and I really admired, it shows Skot at his most lyrical, a synthesizer concerto, almost…
So that seemed a good, logical way to finish the album.
The title, ECHOES OF LOST SOULS, is Colin’s choice, and I came up with The Brothers Christ… seemed to me kinda funny, ironic and playful…
Following its release, it sold pretty well, so we decided to do a second one. Colin invested in some more serious studio equipment – we went 8-track – we bought a digital sampling keyboard (I used this to write ‘Perestroika’, also much of SPEED OF A PUN) and I’d completed about half of the new work when Colin’s girlfriend became pregnant, so clearly, a nursery was required – and our tiny studio was converted for the new babe… Colin then became a fully committed family man, which effectively spelt the end of the Bros Christ. I guess life sometimes just gets in the way, right? In any case, I had more than my fair share of work going on, as by this time I was well into working on MEGALOMANIA at studios in nearby Brighton (and also recording THE CHAIRS with Tim Shelley), so you can see we had to abandon the second Bros. Christ album right there – the few remaining newer songs were included later on the CD release of ECHOES as extra tracks.
I didn’t hear from Colin for some time after that, and just a few years ago I sadly heard that he’d died of cancer… he was a nice guy, fun to work with, and a good pal.
So that’s a pretty comprehensive explanation of why there is only one Bros. Christ album!
|André Savetier: Which song in all your oeuvre do you cherish the most? And is there one, you cannot listen to any more?|
Times: Now, Andre! That is a very tricky question – how to answer? It’s rather like asking a parent which of their children they prefer to the others! However, I shall try.
I don’t really listen to my work too often – too busy writing new things – but once in a while I’ll check it out… the odd thing is, that as the years go by, you can become more distanced from it, ie if I play, let us say ‘Rogue Male’, in a strange way it almost sounds like a wholly different band than one I was involved in, wrote the song, etc – I think you can get more objective as time passes, which actually allows you to appreciate the work in a richer sense. I would say this process is less likely with more recent things: if I hear something from just a year hence, I tend to be thinking more along the lines of “Hmm, maybe could have played that better… could have used a different instrument in that section…” and so on.
So periods of transition kind of help. Generally speaking, I tend to get into the very newest stuff – my very recent ViF songs I think are pretty strong, I find myself singing along (mentally!) to them whilst shopping or walking around – but this inevitably leads me to do some re-arranging of the music or altering lyrics when doing something quite banal – when choosing food in a supermarket I’ll sometimes find myself tapping on some watermelons or something, as a rhythm pops up!
I’ve had some odd looks from shoppers, perhaps I’ll wind up one of these archetypal absent-minded loons you sometimes see – (hopefully not!)
Ok – well, I quite like VENUSBURG, it has some good work on it, when I made that album I didn’t have too many instruments to hand, so it was entirely done with a bass guitar and a child’s small plastic keyboard (there are no guitars on it)… I had to employ some extensive outboard (delay, reverbs etc) to get it sounding “big” or somehow achieve the sounds I could envisage – Moog Synth sounds, distorted synthetic ‘guitars’ (cf ‘Pop-Telerama’ – chords played on keyboard, fed through two distortion units)… I like ‘Nicole Schwimmt’ (it has the actual sound of Ms Kidman, the great actress, enjoying a swim – don’t ask me how I got that, but it IS genuine)… ‘Euromark’ I think, is both quite powerful and funny – I lifted the voices from a “Teach Yourself German” audio course: it’s about a Fräulein going to the dentist/doctor and enquiring about train times… ‘Herr Plank’ – which was a major operation, a song about sound production and Konrad Plank, a hero of mine… ‘King Cobra’ was my little son’s favourite reptile – so I tried to get it playful, weird etc …the piano things – special to me in an entirely different, more personal way…
It’s kind of near-impossible for me to point to any ONE song – I guess ‘When I Acquire You‘ or ‘Velvet Cage‘, perhaps ‘Mishima‘ were considered highlights… ah, the PARIS soundtrack, I like to hear this every now and again… if I hear PLATONIC LOVE or Bros Christ, these are joyful reminders of some fun and highly creative periods with good friends… SOFT LIFE was a kind of ‘peak’, has a strange, crisp air, it holds a little magic for me… CURTAIN has a special place, it’s not easy to get four players in a band which ‘click’… I like the tight interplaying, and the elation of a live concert, so this takes me back to the beginnings of ViF, and I think it has a certain vibrancy, a youthful power of its own dark commitments.
Any I can’t listen to anymore… well, each album there are several tracks which didn’t make it, were unrealised, whatever – I don’t listen to these too much! Although, having said that, a small percentage get re-worked and find new life eventually – so there can be some salvation in salvage!
Obviously I always hope to make better songs – it just seems to take longer for me now, I guess, as you age, you’re perhaps more prone to re-defining whatever you’re saying/stating – the stakes are a little higher, there is less and less time at hand – common to us all, right?
|André Savetier: There is one song which is quite outstanding in style among your work. Will you, please, explain the genesis of your song “Memento Mori”?|
Times: Sure… the song had a gradual origin – which began with a vivid (and a little scary!) dream I had one summer night. I woke up, around 4am, a bit freaked out, grabbed a notebook and sketched out the basic scenario – a motel room, shrouded in darkness, one table lamp with slight light, a rather desperate middle-aged guy, stuck in a cheerless marriage, gets very drunk and has a spur-of-the-moment epiphany – he needs to re-assert his sense of self and masculinity… so he calls up an escort agency and arranges to meet what he assumes to be a regular call girl… but, unbeknownst to him, she is actually a very formidable practitioner of Sado-Masochism… I named her “Pariah” – the word literally means “outcast” – and as events unfold, just as he is telling her about his marital distress, obviously in a state of mental and emotional disarray, he realises the immediate danger – I remember trying to convey the fact that her evil/gothic/sinister persona was very much an aspect of HIS perception of her. But, of course, he suddenly, through his fug of confusion and drunkenness, is made aware that he has reached a kind of ‘point of no return’… and accordingly, pays an ultimate price…
In terms of my own experience, I guess that a slight root of actuality is injected into the piece… as a boy of 15, I met a much older woman (quite domestic and pleasant, an attractive lady – quite the opposite to my Pariah… !) was married with small children, who was I suppose, looking back, trying to recapture the happier, more exciting time of her own adolescence… she and I had an erotically charged relationship, which I can now see has influenced much of my early songwriting – pre PLATONIC LOVE – I can only use conjecture in figuring that this experience provided an insight into the two very apposite protagonists in ‘Memento Mori’.
It has been pointed out to me of the song’s apparent similarity with the Velvet Underground‘s ‘The Gift’ – which is understandable, in as much as they are both narratives – but I would say that any comparison ends there – ‘Memento Mori’ (title from the Latin: “remember you must die”) I had always planned out as a kind of small movie/psychodrama, presented as a play in three acts, an introductive theme and reflective instrumental sections in-between.
Musically, there are four harmonising guitar parts (including bass), I tried to make the leading guitars scratchy, wired, hopefully giving a sense of escalating dread… the drumming of Dan Leechasko in the song is, for me, extremely effective… I was lucky to have some great players in VIF at that time.
A final thought on ‘MM’ – the band originally wanted ‘Rogue Male’ as the A Side of our début EP – which is a pretty good, rocky song, I remember they were a little wary of ‘MM”s chances of success, as it was an extensive narrative – effectively art versus “rock”… well, I pushed for ‘MM’ and I’m kinda glad it all worked out – it’s a pretty fair début, I think.
|André Savetier: If there was a country you could choose to live in, which one would it be?|
Times: Good question!! Take your pick: Sweden… Austria… Switzerland… I’m planning to visit Prague soon, always wanted to go there… parts of Germany, Köln, Düsseldorf maybe…
As a European, cooler climates and cultural places seem to hold a fascination for me… I know Paris quite well, it’s always an inspiration…
Politically, all the borders seems to be dissolving… I sometimes wonder if that is a good thing… England, on a good day, is still an ok place to be, I live right on the lip of the English Channel, the beach is just across the road in front of my building, so I can see the ocean when I’m in my studio – it’s kinda nice here.
|André Savetier: Times, thank you very much for this elaborate, yet enthralling exchange. We Venus In Furs fans are very much looking forward to your future releases.
Is there anything else you didn’t mention yet but would like to disclose to the dear readers of this interview?
Times: How about a motto from the great Howard Trafford: “Some will pay for what others pay to avoid“… funny and true!
Well, you know, it is always my hope that any long time, or new, putative ViF listener will know by now to expect the uh, unexpected (!) from me – our world and societies are so wildly varied, ever changing and challenging… my small contributions represent, I hope, an ongoing and continuous attempt to reflect aspects of that… Schopenhauer has said “….expression of passion is one thing – depiction of things quite another…” which seems to me entirely apt… Erik Satie, that tender and mischievious ‘Gympnopaedist’, has this: “Long live the amateur!” – equally valid.
After all, it is all music – just music – this great and goodly food for the soul – let us all share this – and taste it well, right? For, to eat is to thrive …