Unidentified telephone interview 1994
Interviewer: What do you think of the state of electronic music today?
Garry Cobain: Well I think electronic music is the most genuine form of music you can make, so in that respect it's very healthy, it's beginning to communicate like no other music has around the world, which is very positive.
Interviewer: Do you guys use mostly analogue or electronic equipment?
Garry Cobain: We use whatever can get our hands on, basically. We've got a very abusive attitude towards sound and equipment, whatever falls into the studio and whatever we can nick.
Interviewer: How did the Amorphous Androgynous project affect the direction that the band was taking?
Garry Cobain: Good question. We're control freaks really, so in terms of things changing the course of our direction I'm not really so sure about that, because that was actually quite a measured step, we basically sacrificed that album so that Virgin around the would could market research the area that we wanted to go in, because we thought Virgin knew fuck all about it. So that was kind of like a sacrificial offering, so that they could get some knowledge.
Interviewer: So when you first went into to recording music as a profession, you had planned on doing something like that then?
Garry Cobain: No, not at all, I suppose that's quite a hard question, makes it sound like it was all mapped out from day 1, which it wasn't obviously. It was quite a scatty process.
Interviewer: What kind of non-musical influences do you have? Do you read a lot, or...?
Garry Cobain: Yeah, I guess our whole philosophy on life is similar to our philosophy on music. Things fall into your web, sound falls into your web, books get given to you, you happen to catch a film. It's like everybody else, you catch what you can. It's a bit of a mess, you're always behind because there's so much happening. We're just receiving a small part of what we should, and we're experiencing a small part of what we should be experiencing. So in that respect, yeah, we're quite limited but we try to be as diverse as we can in all forms of stimulus, whether that be gallery spaces, friends houses, books, whatever.
Interviewer: Specifically what kind of stuff do you think has had an influence on the way you do your music? Can you think of something that you read once that effected the direction that you take or the approach you take towards music?
Garry Cobain: I guess our approach towards music is by assuming that we're idiots and we're not particularly talented, so in that respect what inspired me for our music was picking out the moments of brilliance that other people came up with, and that basically means the whole history of music and I guess in terms of what we're doing now, in terms of radio shows, that also includes the whole history of film as well. You can go into a really bad film and you can find the most poignant speech you've ever heard, so we take that and we incorporate that into our music, or we take one sound that's in a really bad track. By that philosophy that means we can't ever overlook or ignore any music we don't like because there might be an amazing sound in there. Similarly with books and with films, basically all we are is like these electronic librarians that collate and collect sound and collect whatever's being broadcast in any media.
Interviewer: That's a cool analogy. So do you think that everyone - the way you call yourself idiots - that anyone is capable of producing really good music?
Garry Cobain: I'm not sure, that's a very difficult question. Probably not, no. I think it's a very hard thing to make good music, because there's a whole history of music and there's a whole history of dealing with music and we're all very, very learned now. So much time has gone by in the music history that we're very, very aware. I think the most honest thing that Brian and myself have ever done is to say "look, that's been done, that's been done", we're being... idiots. Because we are, that's what we're doing, we're regurgitating it, and pretending to be very original, and we're not really. If anything, that is the most positive thing I think you can do these days, to say "I'm not original", but beat yourself up. Which we do every day, we beat ourselves up to try and make better music. Relating that back to your question, I think that's why most people aren't capable of writing good music, because most people are not prepared to go through that extreme paranoid, neurotic, self-questioning phase we go through every day, because most people want an easy life, and I'm not sure how much I want this life. In terms of writing music, which I have to beat myself up on - by that I mean we don't like what we naturally write, we're in search of the unnatural. The moments that we're not bodily capable of. We want to go beyond the level of our personal limits, and that's a really, really horrible state to go into to be honest and I wouldn't wish it on anybody.
Interviewer: What about drugs? Have they had any effect on your music?
Garry Cobain: Yeah, I suppose so, in the fact that I've dabbled with virtually every drug conceivable. I'm not into sustained use of drugs. I think the most effective drug I ever took really was hot knives, which completely changed my perspective of myself, but really scared me. Music became a really scary thing, it was an ugly monster basically, and I didn't like music. It became so analytical, time used to drag, and I couldn't appreciate the sheer beauty of sound anymore, and that was bad.
Interviewer: A friend of mine read an interview with Alex Patterson where he said that most of his music was just from drugs, and that he didn't feel that it had any depth at all. What do you feel about that? Do you think that's still valid as music?
Garry Cobain: No, because I don't take drugs, I write music in completely the opposite state. A horrible sanity, I'd describe it as, too sane, acutely aware of my surroundings, that's how I write music. And I guess that's what our music's about, it's not about tripping out and escaping. It's a form of escape, but it's a form of escape by ridding yourself of what's inside you, which means you have to be acutely aware of what is inside you and what is around you, so I would say our music is a very paranoid and micro look at the would around us, and not space.
Interviewer: So would you say your music has a dark side to it?
Garry Cobain: I think it's getting a lot darker, yeah, the music we're writing at the moment. We've obviously finished the Future Sound of London album, so again there's been a drastic change in direction.
Interviewer: A friend of mine said Lifeforms felt really organic to him. Is this a conscious thing?
Garry Cobain: I guess it depends what organic means. I guess from my point of view it's got to be the most organic album that I've ever heard because I think it represents an extreme collection of sound from every corner. Not only with real sound but, the way that society's going, all sound is coming into your home and every piece of apparatus you go out with in digital quality, so you're always collecting sound. So Brian and myself are always behind our library duties.
Interviewer: Can you think of an event that had a very large effect on your life?
Garry Cobain: My dad telling me that I'd never make a living out of music, I suppose. That was a pretty good one.
Interviewer: What effect did that have, do you think? Was that what made you go into music, or one of the things?
Garry Cobain: I guess it made me fight him from an early age, mentally, so that was the ultimate coup, to earn a living from music having been told you couldn't. And to not be a genius because his attitude was that I needed to be a genius at playing music and he would have known had I been a genius at the age of 3. He had this very cock-eyed look at talent and music. I guess that was a fairly important one.
Interviewer: What do you think is the appropriate listening stance for your music? Where do you think it should be played?
Garry Cobain: In complete isolation, I think.
Interviewer: You think it should be listened to while someone is alone?
Garry Cobain: Yeah, or travelling around with headphones, because it's headspace music. I always like matching things, that's what our music's about to a certain degree, I like putting a different soundtrack to life. That's basically what our music's about. So if you wander around, get on the underground and listen to it, I like that too, that's a good place to listen to it.
Interviewer: What about in the ambient rooms at raves? Did you ever go to raves at all?
Garry Cobain: I've been to a couple, but certainly not that, no.
Interviewer: Really? Because it seems like a lot of raves, at least here in the US, a lot of them lately have tended to have a second room usually with music without beats, and they play a lot of ambient type stuff.
Garry Cobain: Yeah, we're not interested in adoration at all, we've never got involved in it, because basically we've got very solid ideas about what we want to do. A vision etc. We're beginning to break into those areas at the moment, we've got a radio tour on Radio 1 which is going out to millions of people. We're basically doing a live gig from the studio to Radio 1 who are broadcasting across Europe and across England. So that's going to hit a couple of million people, and it's our first ever gig. It's quite an appropriate one that we're not standing on a stage and twiddling buttons, which I think is quite a boring face of electronic music. That's one of the areas, and the other area is that we've just finished a seven minute film which, for the first time, we got access to the video gear that we've been after and looking towards for the last couple of years which is silicon graphics, the stuff that Jurassic Park was shot on, which I think is going to become a very, very creative medium in the next two years. That's getting shown on television etc. So in about eight months' time we will have a 55 minute movie, so maybe a very abstract cinema dedicate space with an appropriate sound system, surround sound and what-have-you. They're kind of the areas that we're going into.
Interviewer: So you're taking it into a multi-media type thing, right?
Garry Cobain: Yeah, ultra-media!
Interviewer: What about virtual reality?
Garry Cobain: Well, I think we've all got a sort of 'virtual reality consciousness', I think none of us are totally aware of what it's going to bring, because the helmet side of things hasn't been totally brought up-to-scratch yet. In the meantime, I think we're going to have a whole host of sort of pre-virtual reality products which kind of hint at that aesthetic without actually needing to put on a helmet. Because CD-ROM and all these new formats, they're not really at their most creative yet because they can't really handle what we've spent years trying to achieve with our video work; in terms of real-time rendering and graphic capability. But we are actually getting involved with a new video game which is absolutely going to blow the lid off the computer game industry in '95, because the graphics are stunning, they're up to the quality we're achieving on silicon graphics, and the sound is CD quality. So for the first time, I'm interested in computer games. Up until now I've always thought they're very mundane.
Interviewer: So how is it you guys are getting involved with the computer game? Are you doing the sounds?
Garry Cobain: We're doing the sound, the whole philosophy, the whole game.
Interviewer: Wow, you're doing the graphics too?
Garry Cobain: Yes, well you'll see the seven minute film when it comes over, I expect. It's quite impressive actually. It's basically a whole new philosophy of gameplay. It's not based on a shoot-'em-up or that kind of thing. It basically fits in with the FSOL philosophy that I've just run by you. A very psychological game, veering between sheer beauty and sheer terror.
Interviewer: So how will the video game be accessed? It won't be like an arcade game, will it? It won't be like you pop quarters in outside a movie theatre, will it?
Garry Cobain: The thing about that, you never know where it will end up, I couldn't really argue for that. At the moment we're just dealing with our side of the format, which is a new console that's going to come onto the market next year that Sony are developing.
Interviewer: That's really impressive. I knew you guys were doing film stuff but I had no idea about the video game. So, what do you think needs to be changed in the direction ambient music is taking now as a whole genre? Do you think it's got problems?
Garry Cobain: In terms of our music, or are you asking for a 'scene evaluation'?
Garry Cobain: In terms of our music, what we've been trying to achieve with Lifeforms was a listening entity that didn't involve tracks, and we achieved it kind of 70% I think. Our idea was to try and lose our egos, and if we'd written a track that lasted five minute but got boring after 30 seconds, then just use 30 seconds of it and then go into something else so it was a completely non-linear listening experience. I'm quite excited by that, but I think we need to get more dynamics into it now. By which I think we're actually getting back into beats, but a new kind of beat not based on dancing. It's a very intricate, listening type beat that stimulates your mind I suppose rather than your feet. It's programming, so we're fiddling around with those kinds of ideas at the moment. In terms of ambient, like any scene, like any mechanism that springs up, you get a whole host of problems, and the positive side. It's quite a positive thing, I think it's genuinely sprung up out of a desire from people to hear it, but like dance music, it becomes rotten. Dance music is rotten to the core in this country, which is why we moved out of it. People were earning livings, and we try to threaten our livings every day by questioning what we do. I think people become very scared about music and mechanisms moving on because it threatens their livings. So in terms of that, that's probably happening with ambient as well, so of course we're against that.
Interviewer: What about dancing? A lot of people think that dancing brings about physiological changes, or at least chemical changes...
Garry Cobain: Cobain: Yeah, it makes me cringe. That whole philosophy makes me cringe. I'm sure it's true, but I'm not sure.
Interviewer: I don't know much about it, but I've heard about something called ambient dancing, which I guess is dancing when there isn't a beat.
Garry Cobain: Well I like dancing, but I guess it's a kind of a private thing. Or maybe I'm just a repressed Englishman, I'm not sure. I just don't like metronomic dancing, I guess.
Interviewer: What about celebrities? This is just sort of an idea that I had. The way techno, or at least most electronic music, must be faceless, it seems like the idea of celebrities is almost contradictory to that. It seems to me that the people who create the music, although they can produce special music, and they way you talk about people having moments of genius, it seems like they're just normal people mostly. How would you respond to that?
Garry Cobain: Who are normal people, electronic musicians or everybody?
Interviewer: Yeah, electronic musicians.
Garry Cobain: Electronic musicians are normal people as opposed to rock'n'roll stars...
Garry Cobain: I think electronic musicians in order to be good - I think any musician has to question himself and what he's doing and not get sucked into that thing I was talking about earlier, doing what you naturally do and being happy with it. We're not happy to be us and to do naturally what we write, so we try and change ourselves every day. It's quite a difficult thing to do. In terms of that, I can only speak for myself, if that makes me a more genuine person, which I think it probably does, then yeah, I'm not a celebrity. In the other sense, what we're trying to do is we're trying to actually get a new face for our music, which is probably why we come across as slightly faceless. Until we've got that, which is to be ultra-media, to be audio-visual. These words that have been bandied about since the '80s, I think for the first time are becoming feasible this year and over the last couple of years. I think we're going to achieve something that doesn't require us to stand up front and be celebrity egos. And I think we'll achieve something in terms of film and sound and audio-visual cinema, which hasn't really happened yet in terms of the sound and the visuals being equally important, so I'm willing to take a back seat for that.
Interviewer: What about social change? What do you think are the biggest problems in the world today?
Garry Cobain: I think, from my side, looking at the atoms of society rather than the whole thing, I'd say our attitude probably doesn't help particularly, in that society has become so learned that you have a situation like ours where we're very, very critical. We're just critics. I think your mid-20s you basically become a very good critic, criticising yourself, criticising everything. I think that's probably eating away at society to a certain degree. I'm certainly not helping I don't think, because I basically don't like people. I can pick faults in anything. I can pick faults and find what's rotten in everything. I actually see that attitude sweeping across the country, not just in me, from the atom upwards. That attitude is becoming endemic. In terms of politics and stuff, I don't really get involved with those particularly, unless it's social politics.
Interviewer: Before you ever actually expected to be interviewed, did you ever have something that you wanted to tell people about at all?
Garry Cobain: Not really. I'm not sure, I'm really trying to be me, but this isn't me at all. But hopefully another side of me will come out one day, probably away from the techno bracket. I seemed to get asked a lot of technology questions, which kind of sits ill at ease with me and what I'm like.
Interviewer: You're not a very technological person, I guess...
Garry Cobain: Ah, well I am, of course I am. But I have an abusive attitude towards technology, I'm not obsessive about it. Basically if it's in the studio I'll use it and then I'll move on. So take me away from that environment and I could probably say a lot more. I think probably the technology environment is becoming an extremely unhealthy one, but I am consumed by it, as are an increasing number of people.
Interviewer: How do you think it's unhealthy, I mean the technology?
Garry Cobain: Because I think it teaches you to be a control freak, and I think we are the worst control freaks that I've personally ever met, and I think the industry is finding it very, very difficult to put up with us, because we are this very new form of subversion. It's a subversion that basically needs to be completely in control of absolutely everything. We did photoshoots for front covers over here and we basically walked out because we couldn't hand over control to photographers, because we knew how we wanted to look and we do everything. I would write this interview it I could, because whenever anybody gives an opinion about us, or writes about us, I always find it ungenuine to what we're about. I guess that kind of attitude we apply to everything. Which is why this ultra-media, images, text, everything comes from here, and it's a complete control obsession, and I guess that is an unhealthy state of mind.
Interviewer: Actually, is there any way you could write this interview?
Garry Cobain: I'd rather not, because I'm trying to cure myself of the illness. I'd like to, but I'm trying to cure myself of taking control of every area around me. Because at the moment we're finding that it's a nightmare. We're doing radio show, we're doing images, we're doing front covers for magazines, we're writing interviews, we're writing books. We're cutting up our own interviews for radio, we're making films. Music is fast becoming sandwiched out, it's only a small part of what we do and it's quite frightening actually. So yeah, I'd love to [laughts], but I'm under instructions from my physician not to!
Interviewer: How is it, then, that you want to come across? I mean, as you're so... Um, God, this is really difficult. This is my first interview, just so you know...
Garry Cobain: That's ok, you're doing fine. Just wondering what you're thinking of me really!
Garry Cobain: You seem to go 'hmm' quite a lot when I say something! [laughs] Am I confusing you, or... a mentality you're not comfortable with, or...
Interviewer: What's that, interviewing?
Garry Cobain: No, no, my mentality.
Interviewer: Oh, no, it's just... I guess I'm just kind of nervous. I'm starting a magazine and I didn't expect to be doing as much writing as I ended up. It's very interesting to be able to do it all.
Garry Cobain: Yeah, you have a strange profession as well, a profession that I've come across quite a lot, and I've kind of analysed you guys as well, if I can lump you into a bracket for a second. Again, you get people that try and write about things they believe in and try and forage that, or you get people who write about what they know they can sell. It's a very difficult profession, and I guess you're going to have to go through a lot of self-questioning as well.
Garry Cobain: There you go again, 'hmm'! [laughs]
Interviewer: What about the Real World label, Peter Gabriel thing? What exactly is that project?
Garry Cobain: The idea there is to set up a small studio and, during his real world week where he gets musicians and basically records about fifteen albums for the Real World catalogue, we would be fed a constant stream of sound which we'd be free to write tracks with. Which is perfect. Normally, you see, we have a library which is vastly overstocked. We're very behind, we're very messy. We have about five hundred hours of sound or something, and we've got to go through it. It's becoming a lucky numbers game to write music these days, because you basically pick something and you go through it. Sometimes you wonder if we're actually choosing sound out laziness or because we really have looked hard enough, because we have this huge library. It's too big! It'd be quite nice to work off the sounds that we're fed, so that's what that project's about basically.
Interviewer: So are you remixing it, or what?
Garry Cobain: No, we'll just be fed sounds and we'll basically be writing new tracks out of all the sounds we're given. I guess that applies to the way we remix as well. With the Bryan Ferry track, all of the sounds were bad apart from some overspill which came from his headphones onto his vocal track. We started basically with that sound and built a track around it. That's our attitude to music. And Robert Fripp, we asked for the whole album of sound, because no one track was good enough in terms of its sound source and we just recollaged all the sounds from the album into a new track. That's the way that we'll be approaching that.
Interviewer: Actually, I just remembered what I meant about the celebrities thing. Somebody said that kids were walking around and getting the same haircuts as Richard James now, kids in England. They were trying to find out what brand clothes he wears and stuff like that.
Garry Cobain: You've got to be very wary of press and stories, though. Basically, if you see what's happening in this country, basically the music industry is desperate to retain the celebrity status, the mystique of the celebrity, and what's happening now is there's quite a few electronic bands are getting the celebrity treatment. Ourselves included, we're getting front covers of magazines like we've never done before, major pushes. Because I guess people want celebrities and people like people. But it quite quickly gets to the point where there are stories being made up, and there are quite a few about us too.
Interviewer: How would you react if you discovered that kids wanted to wear the same brand of clothes you wore, or wanted to buy the same shoes that you wear, or something like that?
Garry Cobain: "Sort yourself out, mate!" [laughs]
Interviewer: Ok, well I'm pretty much out of questions. Is there anything that you feel about yourself that you'd like to get into the interview?
Garry Cobain: No, I don't like to say things unless it's provoked.
Interviewer: Ok. Oh, actually, I had another question. Do you ever have any recurring dreams or anything like that?
Garry Cobain: Yeah, I used to dream about my dad flying in a bird cage years ago. But every time I have a dream Brian likes to analyse it because he's a great lover of dreams. I dream quite a lot about what we're doing these days and the different sides of it. But yeah, watching my father flapping against a fence and not being able to get out, under a floodlight, there was a big floodlight, a bit weird.
Interviewer: Does that have an effect on your music at all, dreaming about it? Does it affect the process of writing music?
Garry Cobain: No, apart from on a really mundane level I guess. It puts me in a bad mood in the morning and I'm coming in and writing music in a bad mood. I guess moods do spill over from dreams. As I say, it's kind of like extreme sanity that we write our music under.
Interviewer: What would say is your favourite piece that you've done or remixed or whatever?
Garry Cobain: None of it really. I just see the problems, I don't see the good points. I guess "Mountain Goat", actually, on Amorphous Androgynous.
Interviewer: Do you have a favourite piece that someone else has done?
Garry Cobain: I tire of music quite quickly actually and move on and come back to it. I like bits of loads of things. That's the way - we pick bits. I come back to stuff, at the moment I'm not sure. Music's kind of boring me at the moment, whenever I hear it I hear falseness a lot of the time.
Interviewer: Does that have something to do with switching to video?
Garry Cobain: Probably, yeah, I'm quite tired of looking at walls and writing music, so that's why we've got an edit suite here now and we're working on silicon graphics and stuff, so it's quite an interesting period of not writing music for walls but writing it towards visuals and back and forth.
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"Music became a really scary thing, it was an ugly monster basically, and I didn't like music. It became so analytical, time used to drag, and I couldn't appreciate the sheer beauty of sound anymore, and that was bad."
The only time I've come across somebody else experiencing music the way I do when I'm stoned.
The only time I've come across somebody else experiencing music the way I do when I'm stoned.