Atomic Duster December 2002: The Androgynous Sound of London
Garry Cobain and Brian Dougans have been making some of the most inventive, breathtaking, creative and ultimately appealing music for the best part of a decade now. Music critics who wrote them off as a “techno” band will have been bewildered by the band’s consistent ability to produce such classic albums as Lifeforms, Dead Cities and, under the guise of Amorphous Androgynous, the latest release Mello Hippo. Garry became very ill some time ago, and ended up traipsing all the way to India in an effort to try out different kinds of medicine that may or may not have helped cure him. It worked, he returned a changed man in a very positive frame of mind and the overall vibe you get when speaking to him is of someone who really just loves life nowadays and balls to anyone who’s gonna try to change that. A lovely chap with a passion for talking, Garry answered some profound questions for the sake of Atomicduster.
Interviewer: FSOL have been going for ten years now. How is it that you’ve managed to stay sounding fresh while other artists from the same era have ended up sounding like dinosaurs on the verge of extinction?
Garry Cobain: Ha ha. Good question, and my answer would be by risking the very fabric of our existence. We’re not really accountants and we don’t make moves or whole period was actually quite dark, but it formed the whole basis for the new sound and it was almost like being born again. If you imagine that we’re just two creative, absurd human beings who just have a passion to make music and then picture that when we were talking to Virgin it became apparent that FSOL was no longer a band to them, but to them it had become purely a business. That’s not what we wanted, as music to us is as much about personal exploration as anything else, and we like to keep continually moving. But yes, very much agree, we HAVE stayed fresh, and I think it’s because we’ve never become victims of the system.
Interviewer: You’ve also recorded as Amorphous Androgynous for some time too. Why have you always kept the two projects separate?
Garry Cobain: Well, going back to the early nineties, the rumour was that Virgin tried and failed to sign Leftfield. They wanted a “left of field” dance band anyway, after seeing the success of the Aphex Twin and Underworld because in those early days way out music was suddenly commercial. I get quite nostalgic about it sometimes, and at that time we were getting gold discs. Unfortunately though, the pop industry is quite sad, and we realised later that they weren’t raving about our music because they thought it was really good or because they loved it – it was solely because it was selling well. Virgin would have happily put out and raved about an album of Malaysian flute music if it meant financial gain. That’s not the way I like to live my life. I’m not someone who buys my sofas from MFI, I’m more likely to know someone who makes themso that I get something that is well crafted and original. So, to answer your question, we decided we’d rather invent a new band that would celebrate our freedom and became to be an escape from the straitjackets strapped upon us by the shackles of the corporation.
Interviewer: Yeah I can see your point about wanting to make something totally different, and the relevant name reinvention, but surely your first two albums as FSOL were completely independent of eachother musically as well, making the transition from what was, in essence, a techno album to the relative ambience of Life Forms…
Garry Cobain: Yes I suppose you’ve got a point there. Accelerator was an entirely different record altogether. We didn’t strive or set out to make an album that contrasted with the first particularly, we’ve just always loved really way out music, and our love of that stuff just polarised into us producing way out music ourselves. I love anything odd, like pummelling your audience with beats and then dropping down to a Barbra Streisand record. What could be more odd? Times are quite exciting now too, as there seems to be a dawn of a whole new technological era. People are playing with Eastern philosophies, playing not just with music, but also by exploring themselves by way of the food we eat, use of enemas, massage and alternative medicine.
Interviewer: Just picking up on that last point, I gather you are a great believer in spiritual healing. What can you tell me about your most vivid or enlightening experiences in India in your quest to cure your illness?
Garry Cobain: Oh God. Now I’m looking for a really cool story and scratching around in my brain knowing I ought to have one. That’s the kind of question that makes me quake in my boots and not be able to think of anything! I don’t think there was necessarily any one particular event – it’s just that in my previous life I used to drink a lot, and my time was filled with promotion, music and beer. Now, since my time in India, my life is quite sedate and I don’t have great big peaks and troughs. I generally love life and people, I love the way we can express ourselves – through the way we dress, the way we talk and the food we choose to eat. Life is just so precious and we need to tailor it in such a way that it suits us.
Interviewer: Life Forms makes me want to cry every time I listen to it, and your new album is especially moving in places too. Did you set out with the intention of moving people to tears when you recorded it?
Garry Cobain: Not really, but I think it comes across as Brian and myself are quite romantic people – we thrive on music that evokes things of a great beauty and passion. I mean, I wouldn’t have used the word “spirituality” for fear of sounding over pretentious, but we do like to try and stretch ourselves beyond our potential, and create a kind of keyhole into another dimension I suppose. But yeah, you could say that we’ve always tried to shake the foundation of the listener’s emotional state. The music feels more real that way.
Interviewer: An enormous amount of artists have cited you as a great influence on their own careers…
Garry Cobain: Have they? Who?
Interviewer: Erm…just for example, Robert Miles, when I spoke to him recently he said FSOL has been the biggest influence out of anyone to him…
Garry Cobain: Really? You know it’s amazing, but we seem to get this quite a bit. Six years after we’ve recorded something, it suddenly becomes a great album. I remember when we released Dead Cities, it received very little media support, yet now apparently it’s a fantastic record. I suppose it’s quite nice really, after all we used to be quite exhausted – we had to advertise and do all sorts of promotion which had to be on the week of release, whereas now we enjoy low key advertising and that kind of fits in with the ethics of what we’re all about and what I believe in. It’s funny because I was walking past some advertising the other day, where there once would have been a singular billboard, but now it has rotate in a hexagon, such is the insanity of this choc-a-bloc world. It struck me that everything that flashed up on the boards was so desperate to succeed that they have to revolutionise or die. The good thing is that people are taking less and less notice of these advertisements, and we’re wising up to alternatives. I’m always suspicious of those companies who really need to advertise…when you think about it, something like Coca-cola is still hugely advertised, and if people knew what shit they were putting into their bodies with that stuff, I wonder whether if there was less marketing it would eventually die. At the same time there’s maybe a little store at the back of Safeways giving away organic juices that hardly anyone knows about but which would improve their health and lifestyle threefold. But like I said, people ARE starting to wise up to it now and we’re not believing everything we’re told like we used to. It’s a glorious time right now, we’re starting to realise how to bring up a child in a healthy way, we have all sorts of new and exciting developments like Ethical Banking where certain banks will not put their money into unworthy causes, we’re saying “Fuck that, I’m not eating what you’re trying to sell me because I know that MY food will not harm me”, and people like you and me are flourishing. I’m really starting to trust in people and music and journalism again, and that can only be a good thing.
Interviewer: Couldn’t agree more. Why should we buy all the things that are rammed down our throats on a daily basis when there are products, bands and people out there that just want to make the world a better place for us all? Thanks to Garry for giving me such good answers to six of my questions that I had to throw the rest of them away due to time constraints….!
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