nick currie


nick currie

chickfactor: so you were at an art opening last night?
nick currie: yeah, at the tate gallery, it was an opening for the turner price short list show, and it’s all women this year. so there was a ‘chick factor’ there. brian eno is on the panel of judges so he was there. neil tennant of the pet shop boys was there. hugh cornwall of the stranglers and me.

cf: do you look at lots of art in london?
nick: yeah, it’s funny, I seem to be an art groupie now. I came back to london and it seems to be a most interesting scene. the indie music scene I kind of know but I don’t go to every indie gig by any means. if there’s art openings, I prefer that. I don’t know why. and strangely enough a lot of the artists–I’m quite good friends now with georgina starr for instance, she used my music in some of her pieces. she had this weird comic strip where she imagined the world being run by love lyrics, and everybody having to learn love lyrics as if they were a religion and some of my lyrics were in there. in fact, one of the songs on the new album is inspired by her, “the animal that desires,” cause she’s doing this musical called “tube-a-rama” about these fantasies people have when they’re on the underground. that was originally going to be in her musical, but in fact she’s working with other people now. she was there last night. I’ve been away three years, but since I left huxton has been a really hot bohemian center of london. there’s not initially much to see, but there are a lot of artists living there, a new cinema.

cf: I heard at one point you were planning to move to new york.
nick: yeah, I was trying to get a visa but it was a lot more difficult than I expected and I’d run out of money waiting. but in a sense, I’m somebody who’s kind of always searching for bohemia whatever that is, trying to live in montmartre about 80 years too late. I was going to come to the east village and live there about 20 years too late. but london is fairly bohemian just now, it’s got quite a lot of interesting happening. I’m happy just visiting new york–maybe one day.

cf: how long did you live in paris?
nick: three years.

cf: why did you leave?
nick: I lived on the place du theatre in montmartre, which is the fake kind of disneyland artist square up on the hill by sacre coeur.

cf: we were just there yesterday.
nick: were you? did you get your portrait done?

cf: no.
nick: terrible rip-off. it was so disspiriting to see real creativity eventually being turned into a statue, a museum, which is what montmartre is. it’s nice to visit. montmartre has actually become quite trendy with daft punk and people like that.

cf: did you feel much of a music community there?
nick: yes, in the sense that I was doing a lot of records with japanese artists who were working in easy listening revival kind of style. people like producer bertrand burgalat, who I wrote “I am a kitten” with, and gregory czerkinsky, who used to be in a band called mikado. also I was kind of vaguely aware of the scene that has spawned daft punk–the montmartre kind of techno scene, neofunk or whatever you want to call it. there’s was a big hospital that was squatted that was just down the hill in montmartre, full of DJs and people like that. but on the whole it’s not a music center like london is. it’s a very small number of people.

cf: but things aren’t very alive here musically at the moment?
nick: no, they are. the kind of stuff I am going to see–there’s a band called add n to (x), people using moogs and making a wig-out kind of early 80s kind of moog music, sounds a bit like early human league. or there’s this band called komputer, who sound extremely like kraftwerk but they sing songs about bill gates and singapore and stuff. everything I go to daniel miller of mute seems to be at.

cf: when did you write your first song and why and about what?
nick: I think I wrote my first song when I was 8 and it was called “I can see japan” and it’s just this little plonky thing on the piano that goes “I can see japan, I can see the mountaintops, I can see the villages, I can see your images” and it’s partly because my dad was a linguist and he was doing a PhD in children’s acquisition of language and so he had to get examples of how children use language and he always had these incredibly expensive, beautiful german reel-to-reel machines to do his research with so he’d kind of bring these things down to the basement and say “just talk and sing and do whatever you want.” in fact, I had a short story published in a linguistics textbook when I was 5 years old. I was kind of spoiled with attention. it’s not showbiz attention, that’s the interesting thing. it’s kind of academic attention. so that’s probably formed the way I do these rather serious academic songs.

cf: were you given music lessons early on?
nick: yeah, but I always hated them and skipped them and got in big trouble.

cf: lessons on what instrument?
nick: guitar, piano, violin, I hated the violin.

cf: you hated playing it or you hate the sound of it?
nick: I hated the fact that the violin teacher was more interested in rugby than he was in music, which is actually something very british. every music journalist in britain would rather be a football journalist. in fact danny kelly who used to be the editor of the NME is now doing his football show on tv. what other field of journalism will you get somebody who really wanted to be in some other field? you wouldn’t get financial journalists who really wanted to be gardening journalists. that’s what it’s like. it’s because the british have this suspicion of arts. when they get aesthetic and decadent and homosexual and all the rest of it, they do it quite well, as in the oscar wilde kind of 80s and 90s. but otherwise they’re terrified of being seen as too aesthetic.

cf: do you know gilbert & george?
nick: I just went to their book lunch last week, but I haven’t spoken to them. I just got a CDrom of theirs which is really good and they’re sort of saying, “piss piss on blood, shit on piss,” in this very–they’ve got the same kind of charming faux naivete that pierre et gilles had when I met them, in that they’re very much a married gay couple and their immorality is almost done in this incredibly childlike way. when you look at them explaining why they’re doing all these fundamental pictures which are all “piss on piss,” “blood on blood,” “spunk on piss,” “spunk on blood” it’s actually almost done with a scientific, using microscopes. it’s also done to provoke and get publicity and everything but I like that living sculpture side of their ideas. and they’re also great british eccentrics just like quentin crisp is. they’ve been crucified by art critics like brian sewell. eccentricity seems to export very well–wherever you are, it’s okay if it’s consumed in japan. I continue to get very hostile and suspicious reviews here. the first review just appeared for my new album–Q magazine printed this review saying I was dealing with pedophilia and stuff like that, which I once wrote a song about pedophilia eight years ago called “the guitar lesson” but on the new album there’s nothing about it. there is a song called “lolitapop dollhouse,” which I wrote for kahimi karie, and lolitapop is like a category of pop music in japan and the fact that I used the word “lolita” means that it must be about pedophilia. I mean, the guy didn’t listen to the song. he also described me as “obsequiously immoral,” I don’t know how you can be obsequiously immoral. I think he chose the wrong word.

cf: we saw lolita in madrid because they aren’t releasing it in the US.
nick: they’re not releasing it? the one with jeremy irons?

cf: there’s nothing risque about it.
nick: but they showed the stanley kubrick one–the ’60s one–didn’t they? I mean, I can see not putting out a film because jeremy irons is in it.

cf: where do you write?
nick: I’ve got this gadget where I can actually write songs, it’s a little sequencer that you can listen to on headphones when you’re on the tube or whatever but that’s in theory. in practice I just write here. I tend to start with a title and I just scribble on bits of paper.

cf: do you ever start with melodies instead of lyrics?
nick: um, sometimes but that’s rare. I find it’s much easier to think of what kind of song would have this title; I’ve got a title just now “french new wave” so I kind of say–what my father the linguist would probably say is lexus, you take the lexus of words that are suggested by other words like a thesaurus almost. but also on the level of clichÈ and people’s perceived opinions about a subject and then maybe you’ll think, well let’s flip that over and look at it from another angle. try and subvert those clichÈs and say well, I mean in “french new wave” I was going to write about the liberating effect that it has when you’re in a provincial town and you suddenly see a french new wave film and you don’t normally see that kind of thing, it doesn’t normally come to the cinemas in your town and it’s partly a sexual thing because you see french people being much more sexually liberated than your life is–I mean, this is me really talking about when I was 20 and I was a student in aberdeen in the north of scotland and seeing french new wave films. this is a song I’m writing for kahimi karie so what I might do is make her sing about meeting a boy who has just seen some french new wave films but he’s actually a very repressed boy. I’ll just find some personal reasons to be interested in the subject.

cf: whatever happened with her u.s. record?
nick: minty fresh were having problems with sample clearance because u.s. labels are a bit uptight about, understandably, being sued. the compilation as minty fresh planned it won’t come out now. I think kahimi’s negotiating with polydor/polygram in japan and she’s about to sign with arista in britain so when she does that they’ll put out a collection of her old stuff as well as her new album.

cf: do you go to japan frequently?
nick: I’ve been there three times but I haven’t been for a couple of years now.

cf: are there any good japanese bands you’ve heard lately?
nick: my favorite japanese band is cornelius.

cf: me too.
nick: their last album was great, fantasma, it’s fantastic. keigo’s kahimi’s ex-boyfriend. I like buffalo daughter and pizzicato five. I love citrus–have you heard citrus? they’re fantastic. sort of noisy indie band with a girl singer, they’re on trattoria.

cf: if you could have any vocalist or band do a tribute record to you, who would it be?
nick: it would be nice to force the pet shop boys to do one. or kraftwerk. it’d be nice to have a comedian, like emo philips or somebody, do one. peewee herman, yeah, peewee herman.

cf: what song are you doing for the 6ths?
nick: “as you turn to go.” I think they’ve had that in the bottom drawer for a few years. I saw them in new york a year ago and they were doing live versions of all the tracks on the 6ths album, which I hadn’t heard then and I got sent and I prefer the live versions really. the production, there’s a lot of reverb and synthetic textures which I thought the songs didn’t really need cause they were great songs.

cf: are you doing lots of remixes for others?
nick: no, very rarely. I’ve just been asked to do two in my life. I did one for pizzicato five and one for a berlin band called stereo total.

cf: is there a concept for your new LP?
nick: I guess it’s a return to some of my earlier song styles and it’s kind of vaudeville. a bit like the ultraconformist or even circus maximus or something. so it’s very wordy and it’s got that casio sound that critics love to point out. it’s basically a response to me coming back to london so it’s me snapping back into satirical mode a little bit because whenever I’m in britain I get a little aggressive because I have problems with british culture. whereas if I’m in france I just do these emotional, more personal songs or if I’m writing for the japanese market it’s kind of science-fiction melodrama or something.

cf: do you ever get writer’s block?
nick: no, what’s the opposite of writer’s block?

cf: I can’t think of a nice word for it.
nick: I know! I’m possibly going to sign howard devoto to my label so we met up and we were trying to write some songs together around the corner at this baróI think he wants to meet japanese girls–he wanted to do a duet with kahimi karie where he’d be like a film director and she’d be a casting couch actress. so we were trying to write and he has this way of writing where he makes very cryptic notes in notebooks and he uses the lines in no particular order and that makes very startling, surreal juxtapositions but I keep saying, “what’s the character’s motivation here?” “why is he saying that?” I’m much more like a director saying it’s got to make sense as a little story. and he says “no no no, it mustn’t be as easy as that, we’ve got to make it more mysterious and more interesting.” and in a way, the song didn’t get finished because we have such different approaches. he definitely has writer’s block; he has a line in one of his songs: “unless you let things take forever they never get done.” whereas I think you have to make at least one album a year and keep churning stuff out and being spontaneous.

cf: do you have any regrets about any of them? songs you can’t stand hearing?
nick: you don’t have to listen to them.

cf: songs you regret that others can hear?
nick: no. it’s like life. you regret the things you didn’t do rather than the things you did do.

cf: who do you think the most important artist of the past decade is?
nick: oh, beck.

cf: why?
nick: he manages to be postmodern and primal at the same time. he manages to have a rocking, funky basic quality that people respond to and also you can be very conceptual and be talking about fluxus and what his grandfather was doing in fluxus and apply that to what he does to and it’s the truly global music for a global age. it takes from indian and balinese music and some sounds like chinese folk music and nashville and rap music. he has that same quality that serge gainsbourg had or david bowie in the 70s when they were going at a huge speed through every genre and making something successful out of it.

cf: are there genres that you avoid?
nick: no, no. what I like is people’s interpretations of things like country or bluegrass. japanese engineers sitting in a tokyo highrise imagining, trying to do a sequence pattern for country rock and they’ve never been to nashville, and that misunderstanding of the genre is what I think pop music’s about. it’s not about authenticity, it’s not about roots–it’s about people saying “oh my god, I wish I was black. why was I born white?” that’s the essence of it, that transgression or escape from the category you were born into. listening to things out of context is important too, like being in scotland and listening to french pop or being in greece listening to american tribal rock opera, things become particularly poignant.

cf: whose lyrics do you respect and admire?
nick: howard devoto. although I think beck’s great musically, his lyrics are a bit lazy sometimes. all he sings about is pollution. leonard cohen. serge gainsbourg. I’m very influenced by nursery rhymes.

cf: should an artist have to reveal what is or isn’t autobiographical?
nick: I was amazed, I put a story up on my website about somebody being dropped from a record label and the character was called colin and people said to me, “I didn’t know you stayed in your mother’s guest room” all these details from the story. even if you change the names, people assume it’s about you. I was reading noel gallagher was doing a guest review of the john lennon compilation album that just came out. he must be john lennon’s biggest fan but he’s gone through half the songs saying “this is much too personal, he should have told this to his therapist and left it out.” that explains why oasis songs are so boring I suppose but if you leave out any personal content from your songs and try and make these anthems for a generation they’re going to be dead. maybe I do put too much in, disguise or not in disguise. I also confess to things I haven’t done, it’s a confessional mode. I’ve always found confessional novels the most interesting novelsólike mishima’s confessions of a mask–that kind of thing where you go too far and you say too much. maybe it’s a particularly japanese thing because in japan so much is forbidden you have to have this rigid disciplined exterior and so people have a very turbulent and imaginative inner life and writers are the only people who reveal that. therefore, they have this thing in japan “the nail that sticks out must be hammered in.” that’s why so many writers commit suicide, cause it’s so taboo to say anything.

cf: has your relationship with alan mcgee changed since oasis broke big?
nick: what relationship? I haven’t spoken to him since oasis broke big. he does mention me in interviews from time to time as his famous mistake–proof that he’s mortal and fallible. he’s not on the same scene as me; he doesn’t go to trendy art launches. he’s probably going to the bpi dinner, or meeting tony blair, he’s on a different level. not necessarily a more interesting level, but a richer level. he’s got £18 million in the bank. as a creative force, he’s spent. I don’t find the creation roster very interesting at the moment personally. it’s not at the cutting edge of what I think of as indie music.

cf: what are your fans like?
nick: they’re transsexual, transnational, I don’t know, displaced confused people, people who are probably as interested in films and in art as they are in pop music. they tend to be younger. early 20s.

cf: what’s the most interesting thing you’ve received as a fan gift?
nick: japanese presents are always incredibly carefully done and I suppose around the time that hippopotamomus came out I got this immaculately made hippopotamomus doll. ultimately the greatest thing people give you is their trust. I sound like an oscar acceptance or something.

cf: how did you meet matt jacobson [from momus’ u.s. label le grand magistery]?
nick: he came to london. I think he was in touch with mike alway or something, about 1989, and we went out. he rang me up and said “why don’t you come to this acoustic club?” he was a graphic designer at the time.

cf: what’s it like having a coffeetable book made of your lyrics?
nick: I’d been in touch with the publisher for years, and he said “why don’t you write a book of short stories for me?” so that was initially what he wanted. in the end he said “let’s just do the lyrics because they are short stories really.” they do stand up on the page in a way that a lot of pop lyrics don’t so I think it reads quite well.

cf: what would you like to say to your critics?
nick: “I’m going to sleep with your girlfriend.”

cf: you have had some feminist critics in the past but now women’s mags seem to be embracing you.
nick: I think I’m a very effeminate writer and not just because I write songs in the persona of japanese girls a lot of the time and make 80% of my income from that, from being a lyrical transvestite. but also because even if I’m dealing with the subjects in a controversial way they’re still women’s subjects. there’s a song on the new album called “his majesty the baby” which is about how babies totally dominate adults when they come along and make women into these kind of nursemaids, mopping up shit the whole time. it does say “let’s chop the baby’s head off” in a jonathan swift kind of modest proposal way, but obviously it’s a humorous suggestion, as some women are going say, “this is deeply misogynistic because he’s saying that women are imbeciles.” but at the same time a lot of women will say, ìthat’s exactly why I don’t want to have a baby right now is because it’s going to dominate my life. it’s very much a women’s issue. “murderers, the hope of women,” as well, I make a metaphor for the way being married can kind of kill your potential. marriage is seen as a long drawn-out kind of crime. it would be wrong to exaggerate how much I’ve been attacked by feminists because the one bad review I got from betty page in the nme saying I was “a pervert, misogynistic and everything,” what she really seemed to object to was that it was sexually explicit. she said “this record tastes like a muscle or some weird unidentifiable piece of sexual organ–spit it out immediately.” I think that says more about betty page’s–betty page inverted commas because she’s not really called that, she’s taken the name of a bondage queen–she has some sexual confusions which she’s not quite worked out and she’s using the review as therapy. I did enjoy that review hugely because it was so sexually oriented, it was all about betty’s feelings about sex and in a way that was what my record was about. it was wanting to put people in that queasy state of not quite knowing if they wanted to go further toward desire or further toward disgust. there’s no feel-good factor in my songs; you should feel kind of half sick and half good, like somebody coming off a drug or about to go onto a drug.

cf: have you ever played with del amitri?
nick: no. we weren’t very close as cousins. I’ve only met him three or four times. he’s a very nice guy. but I just find it really strange that somebody from scotland who ‘s a european should sing like he was born in nashville. there’s nothing wrong with adopting somebody else’s style–that’s really my definition of pop music, it’s wanting to be what you’re not. I just happened to have looked east, toward europe and japan whereas he looked west. I think it’s more original to look east because in fact we’re strangers to our own continent. partly because of american imperialism–the french resisted a lot more–but britain is really culturally yoked very much to the states.

cf: are you a prince fan?
nick: I’m a secret admirer of prince.

cf: that song “closer to you” is very…
nick: I think it’s more like l.l. cool j, or barry white. I’m a huge fan of early little richard.

cf: what was your first gig?
nick: god this is going to be embarrassing. van der graaf generator, this guy was playing the flute in his bare feet. probably the second gig was magazine.

cf: were your parents hippie-ish?
nick: no, not at all. they seemed to have been of the generation that should have been but they were too square. they were vaguely on the fringes of bohemian edinburgh if there was such a thing.

cf: what were you like at age 12?
nick: I was at boarding school, not particularly happy. my parents had just come back from greece. you being my therapist, the two big shocks of my life were: I thought I was incredibly special being the first born in my family, then my brother and sister came along and I realized I was just another person, which is an essential realization for anybody to make. then being sent away to boarding school and realizing the world is full of bigger stronger guys who want to dominate you and who are less smart than you but ultimately can have their way because of more muscle power. I was in the middle of that. I was also realizing that I could have a status by being cool so I was in with the cool guys who were listening to lou reed and david bowie up in the senior common room; having a turbulent relationship with them, going in and out of fashion. sometimes I was seen as the nerdy wimp who read too much and sometimes I was this guy who could turn them on to interesting things. there was a certain amount of gay stuff going on in my boarding school as well, so it was an interesting year: 1972.

cf: who do you have a crush on?
nick: brian eno. howard devoto. CF