future bible heroes
chickfactor: stephin, why do you come here every day?
stephin merritt: because they have my pot of tea ready for me…
cf: it has nothing to do with these [points at cigarette]?
stephin: …and I can smoke here.
claudia gonson: stephin’s a creature of habit.
stephin: I’m trying to become a creature of habit. I’m going every afternoon when I wake up to the same restaurant and every night before I go to sleep to the same bar. it’s comforting, it’s brown. consoles me from the great losses of my life.
cf: did the two of you really meet at a mini golf course? please elaborate.
stephin: we met at a party actually.
cf: so you lied to me the last time we did an interview.
chris ewen: no, we had met several times at mini golf courses, though, that’s the thing. it just wasn’t the first time we met.
stephin: it doesn’t say it’s the first time we met.
chris: we met several times on mini golf courses.
stephin: we’ve also met at polynesian lounges, planetariums…
cf: so you met 100 times before you met on a mini golf course. who is the best mini golfer of the three of you?
chris: stephin’s the best.
stephin: I’m pretty good at mini golf. I usually win.
chris: I’m pretty rusty right now.
claudia: I’m pretty horrible.
cf: do you play any other sports?
stephin: no. pool! we play pool. I have played pool seven times in ten years, all in the last week.
claudia: you used to bowl in high school.
stephin: that’s true. in high school I took bowling.
claudia: for credit.
cf: when did the bible heroes begin?
stephin: sort of faded into existence gradually in the early 90s.
cf: what does a bible heroes fan look like?
claudia: sort of perpendicular haircut, bleach blonde, heading off on an angle. 45 degrees away from their head.
cf: is this in a dream world?
chris: no, it’s in a new robert wilson opera.
claudia: they wear glass bubbles around their heads and float off the ground.
chris: that’s generally the rule. I’ve noticed that too.
cf: what do you hate to be asked?
stephin: “what does your name mean?”
cf: is that all?
claudia: that’s the really bad one.
stephin: that’s the only question particular to future bible heroes that I have to answer that I have difficulty with.
cf: what about in non-interview scenarios?
stephin: “how are you?” I’m really bad at “how are you doing?”
claudia: “how’s it going?” or “what are you doing in your life or in your future?”
cf: what do you want to be asked?
stephin: “what’s wrong with music today?”
cf: okay. answer that question. who is the best lyricist in an electropop group?
stephin: me. neil tennant. gary numan’s lyrics are underrated. people assume they’re science fiction and they’re really not usually, and they actually do tend to make sense and a lot of them mean things that are evidently personal to gary numan.
claudia: there’s a quality that’s on the future bible heroes record, the first part, the thing about science fiction–the alleged science fiction quality–then you analyze it throughout and realize it’s not particularly science fiction.
stephin: yeah. we do have the one science fiction song, though: “you steal the scene.” it’s either a metaphor or…
claudia: but I think it appears to be even more trippy and cryptic than it actually is.
stephin: the gary numan song “I dream of wires” is in fact science fiction. he’s the last electrician alive and there’s a completely new technology tantamount to magic, not involving instrumentalities.
claudia: that’s pretty close to reality.
cf: favorite lyricist?
chris: besides stephin I’d have to say probably neil tennant and andreas dorau–but he writes in german. stephin: I like catherine ringer’s lyrics actually. oh and lydia tomkiw but she’s more a poet than a lyricist so I don’t know if it counts.
cf: isn’t it all the same though, really?
stephin: no, she doesn’t sing.
cf: what future bible heroes song is the biggest dance-floor filler?
chris: I’ve been playing them. “real summer” is a real dance club hit on thursday nights, which is our gay night at man ray, the club I work at. on wednesdays, which is our big goth night, they’ve been dancing to “lonely days.”
cf: who is the most important producer in the history of electropop?
stephin: the two martin H’s. kraftwerk are easily the most important producers in the history of electropop. followed I suppose by tangerine dream. edgar froese. actually, maybe more important than that is tonto’s expanding headband, this very obscure 60s, the first technopop band I guess, who worked with stevie wonder and are responsible for basically the sound of the synthesizer in 70s pop by stevie wonder.
chris: they were also signed to herbie mann’s record label I believe through atlantic. they put out a couple albums.
cf: what is the best gay bar you’ve been to?
claudia: I like that one in columbus.
stephin: I’m partial to my hangout, dick’s bar, where I’m on the jukebox. at dick’s bar, if somebody comes up to me and says “what do you do?” I point to the jukebox.
chris: and they think he’s earned his degree in jukebox repair or something.
chris: I really like this gay bar in detroit called men joes. I like dick’s bar a lot.
cf: what place went long ago that you wish was still around? or just a club?
stephin: a very short-lived club night that chris used to spin at in the paradise gay bar in cambridge, mass. “hardcore homo club.”
claudia: that was so fun. it had a photo booth machine. I lived in it. I’m partial to the very early days of the pyramid club. that was probably the height of my gay bar existence, that and the early days of danceteria, though I was a little traumatized there when somebody called me a deadhead at the red lorry yellow lorry concert.
stephin: claudia was wearing her famous butterfly dress.
claudia: my famous sunflower dress.
chris: the old pyramid does get top honors for one I wish was still around.
stephin: with ivan ivan DJing. happy face on stage. the tropical lounge downstairs.
chris: my old band used to play there, and there’d be gogo dancers on the bar and we’d have a drag queen open up and the drag queens would come out and introduce us: “and now…figgers on the beach.”
stephin: area had wonderful new romantic nights occasionally. when it was only a few years after new romantic, they were doing retro new romantic. we got tired of the 70s revival…we’re on record in the boston globe in 1986 or so as already being tired of the 70s revival and going on the 80s.
claudia: we were interviewed for something.
stephin: because of our clothing. we were such fashion horses we were in the newspaper.
cf: did anyone ever ask “what are you? new wave? new romantic?”
stephin: no, everyone feels free to pigeonhole us in surprising ways.
claudia: let’s get into that conversation about “why is this record getting pigeonholed as new wave?”
stephin: I have some pretty good answers for that. I’m not going to answer on record but I can understand why we’re pigeonholed as a new wave band. okay, I’ll answer it.
cf: as opposed to…a pop band?
stephin: electronica. we don’t always have dance rhythms. we wouldn’t be a dance band. we have songs easily understood songs a/b/a/b so we’re doing bubblegum with synthesizers, which is associated with new wave.
cf: how many synthesizers do you own between the two of you?
stephin: I have about 20 and chris has about 30.
cf: how many do you bring on stage?
chris: it started off being as many as possible…
stephin: …now it’s as few as possible.
chris: we realized it’s not easy to bring a lot of really old synthesizers onstage.
stephin: also my prophet 5 broke presumably because we were toting it around.
cf: so you haven’t hired a team of cute boy interns to lug your stuff around?
chris: soon. that will happen soon.
stephin: chris has those cute chaffeurs.
cf: what kind of gear do you hope to procure?
stephin: part of being a synthesist is gear lust.
cf: what is it you crave and why?
stephin: reed gazala’s insect synthesizer for easy access to [makes insect noises]. it’s not all about what it sounds like, a lot of it is about what it looks like.
claudia: stephin was coveting a celeste.
stephin: which looked like a tiny church organ.
cf: what sample have you heard that you wish you thought to sample first?
stephin: in the boogie nights soundtrack there’s a ten-minute action sequence where the incidental music is a record skipping, that’s the only music.
claudia: they had a clock ticking at another point.
cf: some sample-heavy artists’ records never come out cause of sample clearance.
claudia: then there’s some weird examples of bands like cornershop, who are very sample heavy and managed to somehow get through that.
cf: then there’s people like puff daddy who end up having to remix the song that they sample.
chris: I think that’s happened with a lot of pizzicato five stuff actually, where in newer versions of the albums, they’ve remixed a lot of the older samples loops and stuff out of them for rights reasons.
stephin: in japan you can do more samples.
chris: in japan you can sample the beatles and no one cares.
stephin: we never use samples from other people. it’s immoral.
cf: who are the best radio shows or DJs?
claudia: none of us listen to the radio.
stephin: obviously, or we would be doing quite different music.
claudia: maybe one of us should listen to the radio.
cf: have you started getting your matching theme outfits ready for the next gig?
claudia: no gail, that’s your job.
stephin: we’ll all have horn-rim glasses.
claudia: and beautiful long victoria lake hair.
chris: we should get those big bubble things that our fans wear.
cf: I could dress you like the teletubbies.
claudia: are they japanese?
chris: no, they’re english.
claudia: these are the new baby tv characters I read about.
chris: there must be thousands of traumatized english children from that show.
cf: is vocal talent something that can be learned or is one born with it?
stephin: jad fair was born with the skills he now possesses.
claudia: what’s that mean?
stephin: jad fair’s vocal talent is genetic. shirley bassey’s vocal talent is learned and has to do with years of vocal training. the answer is, depends on what kind of vocal talent you want. astrud gilberto presumably has not had singing lessons. in england they think that sarah cracknell can’t sing very well. but the americans all like her voice because she has that cute accent.
chris: but she sells a lot more records in england than she does in america.
stephin: her picture is all over the place there and it’s not here. and all of their records are about being british.
cf: who is the cutest person in pop?
stephin: it isn’t me.
claudia: björk is cute. everybody’s cute. they’re famous cause they’re cute.
stephin: tim gane from stereolab. we all nod our heads in agreement.
cf: are there any hits now that you’re embarrassed that you like?
stephin: I like “barbie girl” by aqua.
chris: I play it in the club. it’s unsettling cause the hook sticks in your head for days. I don’t really like the song but I can’t not sing it after I play it in the club. that chumbawamba song, “tubthumping,” is the same thing. the hook is so trapped in your head. in the club people like the aqua song and that one way too much. it’s like there is some back-masking in the record that says “you will like every aspect of this record, you will buy it, and you will jump and down ten feet in the air every time you hear it.”
cf: what are your favorite dessert foods?
stephin: I like sorbet. baked alaska. green tea crisp chocolate bars. jelly babies.
chris: lots of chocolate. ginger ice cream.
claudia: we all like cadbury flake.
chris: dessert crepes with fruit and grand marnier.
cf: if you could choose a director whose films you’d like to write music for, who would it be?
stephin: the brothers quay. steven spielberg.
chris: I’d love to do the music for the next star wars trilogy.
cf: if you could produce the next record by björk, portishead, or stereolab, whose record would you pick?
stephin: what’s the difference?
chris: I would want to do stereolab.
claudia: k.d. lang.
stephin: yeah. her talents are horribly underused.
cf: if the future bible heroes could be super-famous in just one city, which would it be?
claudia: hawaii. then we could go there all the time.
chris: yeah, I’ll take the city of hawaii.
cf: tell me about the show you saw last night.
stephin: kiki and herb?
claudia: kiki is a 66-year-old former cabaret star who has fallen on some hard times and is still cooking but is battling a problem with alcohol and bitterness and successfully drinks herself into a stupor by the end of the night. starts off with a huge bang and ends up in a puddle on the floor at two in the morning shrieking and her hair is all disheveled and is completely mesmerizing and absolutely delightful to watch.
cf: what luminaries would you invite to participate in your salon?
stephin: everybody I admire is really nasty and I wouldn’t want to be in the same room with them…stephen sondheim. john stilgoe. stanley kubrick. diamanda galas.
chris: neil tennant.
claudia: fellini. buckminster fuller. tuli kupferburg. we’d have to have certain restrictions on when people can talk if we’re going to have diamanda and tuli.
cf: what genre do you wish to dabble in that you haven’t already tried?
stephin: I’d like to do planetarium art.
claudia: you’ve wanted to do planetarium art since you were a little tiny chicken.
stephin: when I was a little tiny chicken I wanted to have a theme park.
cf: what happened to that dream?
stephin: well, here’s my life history. when I was a little tyke in hawaii, I designed my first theme park. then it was made clear to me that children don’t really get to have theme parks, so I settled on architecture. my little megalomania got pared down to mere architecture and in high school I realized that the skills involved in architecture are mostly social and I decided I wanted to be a planetarium artist so I could do things but they wouldn’t have to be built. I actually called around to planetariums asking about how one becomes a planetarium artist and they made it perfectly clear that they were not interested in having any planetarium art and planetariums were not places for art and so I went into film, which also turned out to be a social skill. in film school I spent all my time in the electronic music lab and I whittled down from film to music. ever since then I’ve been narrowing and narrowing my field.
claudia: now he’s into poetry.
chris: well, you were into landscape architecture for a long time.
stephin: but I quickly discovered that I would never be a landscape architect. cf