de/create interview

Dead C. sat down to do a hugely informative interview with Nick Cain of de/Create (now Opprobrium) magazine in 1994... I used optical character recognition to extract the text; hope I caught most of the typos....

M = Michael Morley
B = Bruce Russell
R = Robbie Yeats

d: Everybody talk to me about The Operation of the Sonne.
(convulsive laughter)
M (recovering) Three songs, three really long songs.
d: It seemed to take an awfully long time to get over here.
M: Well, no, it's only because of the record company.
B: It took quite a long time to come out, it was here relatively quickly after it came out.
d: How indicative is it of where The Dead C. are at now, and where are The Dead C. at now?
M: Entirely, probably.
B: It's certainly indicative of where we were at two years ago, which is when we recorded it.
M: And also where we are at now.
d: Where are you now?
B: Side two is kind of indicative of where we are an increasing amount of the time because we can't get together to do anything else.
d: How was side two done? Can you talk about the genesis and realization of "Air"?
B: It's a live recording of us at the Empire Tavern.
R: We thought about it constantly for the six months leading up to it.
M: The eight months of lessons.
B: A lot of yoga went into it. It's a live cassette recording.
M: One take.
B: That's totally what the audience heard.
M: (laughs)
B: No, it's true.
d: I believe you.
B: Michael's laughing, but it's true.
d: Where does the title come from?
B: It comes from The Emerald Tablet, which is an alchemical text which I think first appeared in the Corpus Hermeticum, by Hermes Trismegistus. What I'm reading in the opening text of "The Marriage of Reason and Squalor" is actually from a text called The Emerald Tablet, or Tabula Smarigdina, attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. Supposedly, it contains in an allegorical sense all the truths of alchemy and natural philosophy.
d: You' re making more use of the synth now.
M: We've got two of them, so we're making more use of them than when we had one or none. It's an interesting instrument, I think, it's resurgence is long overdue.
d: It does seem to be having a bit of a vogue
B: That's all due to Mick Elborado. (of the Terminals)
M: He doesn't use a synth, though, does he?
B: He now declares it's not a musical instrument and he won't play it, but he's entirely responsible.
M: Last time I saw him, he was really drunk and having beer poured over him by Stephen Cogle.
R: He climbs walls.
M: (laughs) He doesn't know anything about synthesizers, anyway, or about music in general. He just lies.
B: But certainly, he was using one before we were.
M: I wouldn't call him an influence, though.
B: Well, I don't know.
M: Hell no. (laughs)
R: Yeah, he's influenced us.
M: Oh, come on, Mick Elborado; no way.
B: He's an immense influence.
M: (laughs)
R: He's the greatest.
M: None of us can get as drunk as he can in the short space of time we have open to us during the night.
d: Bruce, you've talked before about The Dead C.'s use of pot - I can see what you mean in terms of the numbness and blurring of perception that I associate with The Dead C.'s music, but there's a real edginess that I wouldn't associate with pot. Has it always been an intrinsic part of your creative process?
B: I'm afraid it has.
M: It has not.
B: Yes, it has.
M: He's lying.
B: No, this is absolutely true, from day one. I can only think of three, or maybe four practices that we've had when we haven't been really stoned.
M: No, I can think of one time we've played where we haven't been stoned.
B: There was a practice we had in Auckland where I wasn't stoned. I remember that one clearly.
M: What?
B: Yes, there was one, there was one.
M: At Stella and Jane's place? Really? You weren't stoned? What were you doing?
B: Well, I had to go to a meeting at the Auckland Institute and Museum Library straight afterwards, so I didn't smoke anything (laughter) I had to go and meet the archivist.
M: There was that time in Wellington when we played with Sonic Youth where we weren't stoned because Robbie had walked into a concrete pillar.
B: That's not true, we went offstage and had a smoke.
M: Was that before we played? I don't remember that.
R: Before I banged my fucking head.
(debate concerning whether marijuana was smoked before or after or before and after live performance ensues)
B: Yes, I'm sorry about the edginess, but we have so much edge that we can afford to smoke that much and still maintain it.
R: It's kind of interesting, because most people are so scared to smoke and then play, it's like forbidden fruit or something. But for music, the best people I know are out of it, not to say that the reason they're good is because they're out of it. People enjoy it because they don't have to fuckin' answer to bosses and whatnot.
B: Or the clock.
M. The clock
B. The clock
R. The clock.
B: I find getting stoned a very good way of combatting the tyranny of the clock.
M: I don't understand the tyranny of the clock any longer.
B: No, you don't have to, do you? Even though I generally take a clock onstage with me.
M: Bruce has a large black clock which he carries around with him everywhere.
B: Including onstage.
M Including onstage. That's how we know how long some of the songs are.
B Absolutely. That's how the two live perfonnances on The Philosophic Mercury are both within a minute of half an hour, it's because I have a clock. And I was stoned. (laughter)
R (unintelligible)
B Shall we tell the story about Barbara?
M (aghast) No! No! No! No! No!
(amusing but unprintable anecdote concerning postal communication from Barbara Manning to Michael Morley is, despite strenuous protest from the latter, related)
B Perhaps we should change the subject. Would you like to call the meeting to order, Robbie?
R Either that or roll up.
B You call the meeting to order and I'll do it. (exits)
M Meeting to order.
R Bruce is adually taking me seriously.
M Thank God for that. Anyway Nick, have you hung up yet?
d No, I was just thinking of how much fun this is going to be to transcribe.
M Are you taping it at the moment?
d I am.
R Hey Nick. we smoke marijuana, and we would like the world to know.
M Oh dear.
d Okay, Metalheart?
M That was done at the beginning of this year. It was recorded on Video 8, we recorded it at Willowbank, where I used to live. Willowbank doesn't exist any more, it's been bulldozed into the sea. (archly) I don't like to talk about it. The last good place I lived in. (laughs) Since then I've been transient.
R l'd like to talk about how fucked it is, though, that a house that was about 110 years old,was it Michael?
M Yeah, it was about 110, 120 years old.
R They fucking pulled it out.
M Stone and brick. Fuck. Such wankers. I wasn't here, I was in the States. They bulldozed it while I was away.
R That was the heart and soul of Metalheart
B (returning, breaks wind into telephone) Just combating our image as po-faced. (laughter)
M Okay, Metalheart
[short debate concerning Metalheart recording technique ensues]
R Have you hung up yet?
d No, stiil here. Expiain to me The Dead C. vs. Sebadoh.
M Ah, punk rock.
[delay while tape is flipped over]
R Whereabouts are you anyway?
d Wellington.
M They didn't have any good punk rock.
R The Dead C. vs. Sebadoh is a great purging of everything we hate about rock music.
M it's one of the funniest records ever made. I think.
B It's like my fart. (laugher) It's intended to combat the impression people have of us as po-faced.
d Do you really think people see you that way?
M Yeah, I think they do. In New Zealand they must do. New Zealanders are so up-themselves·
B Particularly me, I think l'm seen that way.
R Yes, l'd agree with Bruce when he says that. (laughter) Yeah, I think they do.
M All of us. We're dickheads. We're total fuckwits.
R What the whole thing comes down to is, we don't want to give in to anyone else's ideas, so we're stuck up our own arses. If that makes us po-faced, then I'm with Bruce on that one.
d Let's talk about the public reception of The Dead C. - you haven't always been as critically respected and commercially successful as you are now.
M Bullshit. (laughter)
R What? (more laughter)
M What? Come on, come on.
B DR503 got a really bad review in the Southland Times. (laughter) That's one of the few that I can think of. In New Zealand.
M Yeah, in New Zealand - I mean, are you talking about New Zealand or are you talking about the rest of-the world?
d New Zealand.
M He's talking about New Zealand.
[sudden background debate and general commotion, seeming to arise from the fact that one interviewee is rolling a 'cigarette' on a Harry Pussy LP which another interviewee does not own]
M What were we talking about?
[laughter, unintelligible background conversation]
M Now there's a good band.
B No no, look, let's not talk about Iron Butterfly. I don't know if our critical reception has improved over the years, because I think we've ahvays been well received by critics. In New Zealand, maybe the public is more receptive to what we do than they were six years ago. But it's difficult for them to receive us at all because they never get to see us. I don't know - what do you think?
d I don't know ...
M He doesn't know. You'd know more than us.
R You'd probably know better than us, because you're in Wellington.
M We live in Port Chalmers in Dunedin.
B And no one talks to us.
R We don't have any idea.
M This is the thing, you go to a place like the United States, and people say, "oohhh, The Dead C. - great band," and I just look at them in horror. What are you talking about? You've never seen us.
d Do I need to see you live to decide if you're great?
M I don't know ...
[tape temporarily fails]
M ... we're great, okay, we're really great. (sings) To see, see, see them is to love, love, love them, and I do, do, do. (laughter)
B Sax break by David Bowie.
R David Bowie, I've just read that book, Life On the Wild Side, by Angie Bowie.
M Oh my God, Robbie was into glam rock a long time before any of us were.
R l'm still into glam rock.
[background commotion]
M Oh no, he punched me ... oo-er.
B Order.
M New Zealanders really hate us. Come on, think about it.
R it'd be really good for New Zealanders to love us, but they're just too stupid.
M They'd much rather listen to
Supergroove, y'know? (Supergroove, for the 'benefit' of overseas readers, are a domestic chart-topping freshfaced groug of teenagers whose obscenely bad dance/rap/funk/'jazz'/swing/shit 'hybrid' and energetic live shows have won them places in the hearts of thousands of idiots throughout New Zealand)
d I do.
M Good.
R You mean you like Supegroove better than 'Hell is Now Love'?
d Oh yeah.
M (laughs) Okay Nick, you like Supergroove more than The Dead C.
That's fine. l'm sure 90% of New Zealanders would agree with you.
d More than that, l'd say. (laughter)
R 99.9%...Hey, Bruce has done the deed. We're getting excited.
B It'll calm them down.
M We'll watch Bruce smoke it. Robbie and I don't smoke marijuana, we just watch Bruce smoke it.
B (inhaling) They don't inhale. They smoke like Bill Clinton.
M What?
B (strained) Bill Clinton. He never inhaled.
R The saxophone player. I'd like to say that it's a fuckin' fantastic thing that the most powerful man in the world plays music, that's really neat. (laughter)
B (exhaling) I think so too, actually.
M What? My God ...
B He's a better saxophonist than Kenny G, anyway.
M Who's Kenny G?
B Ignoramus. Don't you know anything about fusion?
[ --- ]
d Let's take a verbal stroll through the Dead C. back catalogue. DR503
R DR503 - I met these two freaks and recorded some music that I didn't really know what the fuck was going on
M He was in The Verlaines.
R... in a very sunny room on a one track reel-to-reel tape recorder and it turned out to become a record. Bruce and Michael said, "Hey, we've got an album of this," and I went "what?!"
M (laughter) You're Iying.
R No, l'm not lying, Michael, I'm telling the truth. I was sort of tapping my part on a snare drum on the floor, on the carpet, sitting round on this very sunny afternoon, like a Tuesday afternoon.
And that went on for about two weeks, as far as I can remember, and at the end of it they said they had an album, and I could not believe it was the truth, but it was the truth, and that's DR503.
Then things got pretty sinister.
M The second one, we must have tied Robbie down and given him iots of drugs.
B What's the second one?
d DR503b?
M Eusa Kills?
B No, actually Thre Sun Stabbed.
R Involving Peter Jefferies ...
M And a four-track reel-to-reel.
R ... in a room at Alastair Galbraith's really beautiful warehouse space. We decided, let's do a single, still not really knowing what was going on, from my point of view.
d When did you find out?
R When I got given a seven-inch with a Michael Morley cover - "Oh shit, he's fuckin' serious!,"I thought. Anyway, it was done at Alastair's place, with Peter mixing next door, really carefully, as Peter does things.
B Peter made a very tidy record, but not to his detriment.
R Very well done ...
M He wasn't that tidy, he was tidy-ish.
R ... and then we went to the same place, to Studio 13, to make Eusa Kills.
B All of Eusa Kills was recorded at Alastair's, we recorded it over a period of about two weekends.
R We did about four or five versions of 'Scarey Nest'...
M Yeah, we did a lot of versions of 'Scarey Nest'. There's a couple of versions of 'Maggot'.
[debate on this topic ensues]
B (to M) I think you were in Auckland in about August 1989 and we'd recorded the album in March. David Mitchell was there, and you had the temerity to record music under the name af The Dead C., with David Mitchell... replacing me (laughter) .... It was a serious breach of etiquette, I felt at the time. I think that after five or six years I can adiquitely say that I felt it. I was slighted, they snubbed me to do that.
M (laughs) It was never released, though.
B Damn right it was never released. (laughter)
M I still have the four-track.
B l'm sure you do, I still have it on cassette, too, I get it out and glower at it sometimes. (laughter) I'm sure it's quite good, though.
M Ah no, it's not, actually.
R I don't remember this.
B Robbie must have been quite drunk at the time.
M It does have one song on it that we never did, which was the one that Mitchell. helped with.
a DR503b.
B That must have come out earfy '90 and it was basically everything that we'd done up to that date that hadn't been released that I thought at the time had merit. I compiled that pretty much myself to reflect my own taste. Several parts of it are I think quite good, and they're included on the forthcoming Shock compilation CD, World Peace Hope et al. I liked it, but some of it's not that brilliant, so we've only included the best bits, bits which include the two things recorded at the time we did the Sun Stabbed EP that were not released on vinyl at the time, which are 'Fire' and 'The Sun Stabbed (edit)'.
d Okay.
B We can go as long as you can. Just keep naming records.
d Runway.
M I compiled it over a period of time from tapes I had lying around that were The Dead C. They were put together, no consultation with anybody else, and we released it. It may be a CD some day.
d Helen.
M 'Helen' we recorded in Auckland at the practice rooms I used with
Angelhead.'Bury' was recorded in Dunedin over a period of time.
B Our first American-released record.
M It was recorded as the first to be released, as well.
(conversation concerning the studio where Helen was recorded and what microphones were used ensues)
"We're an Auckland band, really" (Morley conclusion is reached)
d We should move on, I think.
B We spent two years recording Harsh 70s, and during that time we released the Forced Exposure single, 'Hell is Now Love' and Trapdoor. They were all in the same period of time, 1990-91.
M We had a specific idea about Harshr 70s, didn't we? We had an idea that it was supposed to be The Downer Album.
B is that a fair assessment?
d it sort of implies that the others are The Upper Albums. (laughter)
B Yes. Harsh 70s, of course, has a serious conceptual component as an anti-war album. I don't think it's often pointed out by critics.
d You should explain it.
B I think it's fairly obvious. Our sampling of Lillburne's 'Poem in Time Of War' (Douglas Lillburne was New Zealand's pioneering electronic experimentalist/composer. His 'The Return' is regarded as New Zealand's first electronic composition. 'Poem in Time Of War' (1967) is an anti-Vietnam War statement) on 'Driver UFO', which opens side one, makes the anti-imperialist connection. l'd like to point out that Clinton Williams (also known as Omit) is the only person known to me who, on listening to 'Driver UFO', recognised this.
M No, he didn't.
B Yes, he did. He wrote back as soon as I sent him the album and said, "Good on you, l'm amazed that you've used Douglas Lillburne's 'Poem in Time Of War' on 'Driver UFO'." Didn't you know that?
M Mo, I didn't. No one apart from Clinton has picked Lillburne as the composer for 'Driver UFO'. It's pretty amazing he picked it.
B Ciinton Williams is a very clever person.
d I spoke to him last night and he told me to tell you to hurry up and send him that tape. (laughter)
B You can tell Clinton that I'm very conscious of the fact that I haven't done the tape. My apologies to Mr. Williams. That's only the beginning of it, though, because after that we have 'Suffer Bomb Damage', the title of course a reference to 'Suffer Bomb Disease' by This Heat, which is of course about radiation sickness.
M The album just goes down from there, really.
B There's also 'Power', which isn't on Harsh 70s, of course, but which is Michael's swinging response to heavyhanded US tactics in Panama. That goes with out saying, but again no one's really picked it up.
d It's pretty obvious from the cover art for the seven-inch.
B True, that's obvious, but the whole of Harsh 70s, l'm convinced you can find an anti-war message in almost every song.
d Clyma Est Mort.
M Clyma was my favourite black cat, he was really neat. He was totally, absolutely insane. He followed me up and down the country. Anyway, he died, and we recorded this live album as a tribute to him. Tom Lax (Siltbreeze C.E.O.) was in the room.
B I don't think Tom ever met Clyma.
B It's an ironic tribute, because no one in the world actually liked the disgusting creature. Everyone complains about their pets, but I have to say it, Michael, Clyma was one of the worst.
M He was one of the worst, but I thought it was touching that he died under my bed. d Michael, tell us about the inspiration for your lyrics.
M No.
R The instigator?
M No, I'm not sure about that one. They just come from all over the place, lots of things. Can't really explain them over the phone to you.
d Okay. What does the C stand for?
B You mean as in Dead?
d Yeah.
M (Laughs) I don't know, I thought it might have stood for C, as in a universal C.
R It could mean anything, really, it's up to you.
B It could be Christ.
M There's a McCahon drawing that has 'The Dead Christ' written across the top, and if you fold the drawing across where the C ends, you get 'The Dead C'. (laughs)
B That's so meaningful. Alternatively, it could be as in the musical note C, like a dead C, a non-note. It could be the holy see.
M It could be chrysanthemums, The Dead Chrysanthemums. Could be cranberries, there's a band called The Cranberries, we couid be The Dead Cranberries.
B Yes. I was telling Michael this afternoon, Robbie told me there's an American band called Driver UFO.
d They have a single out.
B Apparently, yes.
M We've sent then threatening letters, we've said we're gonna come round and kill them.
R I met them.
(general constentation; Robbie relates, not into the telephone, story of liow he met the members of Driver UFO somewhere in Pennsylvania and how they apparantly asked him for official nomenclature permission; also tells of meeting rabid, green-haired American Dead C. fans)
B XTC. They're back. Are we missing the bus again, on the New Wave of New Wave?
d The Dead C. and lo-fidelity - what was the reason for that stance in the first place?
B I think a conscious decision of taste, from the first, really, that lo-fidelity was definitely our fidelity, (laughter) and we've never realty wavered from it.
R Beautiful.
B I think I've coined another one. Sounds like a motto to me.
d How much of The Dead C.'s material is improvised?
B I would say about 80-90% of the overall musical content. There are some songs that are probably only about 50% improvised, but the overall percentage would be about 80-90. An increasing proportion of our repertoire at any given time is completely improvised.
d l'm not sure how you balance improvisation and ...
B Neither are we, realty. We could never be described as a purely improv band. I mean something where one member of the group - Michael, for instance - might have some idea of the structure of what we're going to play, but Robbie and I don't always. But the longer we play something that's from our staple live repertoire of songs, like 'Power', it's difficult for us to completety play that in a totally different way. I wouldn't know how to play on the jew's harp, whereas something else, I could do on the jew's harp.
Something like 'Power', it has a certain form.
d You react to/against and feed off Michael?
B Oh yeah, definitely, even when he's nat playing notes and chords or indeed playiag anything at all. (laughter) We have a relationship outside of just what we do in music, and I think it's reflected in what we do. That's why I always try and do whatever he doesn't.
d What you're doing seems completely unrelated to what he's doing.
M Yeah.
R Do you think so?
M Yeat.
R Oh crap. I resent that, I think they're exactly complementary.
M Overall, maybe it is. But at the time you're thinking of things that are gonna throw each other off.
B Definitely. There is a combative aspect. (laughter)
R Combative?
B Yeah. Life is a battle. Didn't Pat Benatar tell us that?
M Joan lett.
B One of the two.
d How much of what you do is based on theory about music?
R None.
M We can't say we do things totally because of theory.
d That's very articulate.
B Where l'm at as far as musical theory goes is pretty much where I'm at with regards to the theory of plate tectonics, or astrophysics, in that I don't know anything about music, but I have ideas about it. I have opinions, and I attempt to implement them, and that's the extent to which what we do is about theory. I can think of theoretical reasons for taking a shit, that's not a problem, but I know more about taking a shit than I do about music. (laughs) The Dead C. is completely an accident, it's contingent, thete's nothing necessary about it. But my theories about music have more of a flavour of necessity than the existence of The Dead C. I wouldn't go much beyond that.
d How deconstructionist in intent is The Dead C.?
B I don't know. I often finds myself gripped, when I think about popular music, by this incredible passion to destroy it, and sometimes I flatter myself that The Dead C. is my revenge on popular music. It's definitely deconstructive, but that's not quite what you asked.
d No.
B Deconstructionist ... it's a lesson in how to take things apart, definitely, I would think. Our music isn't intended primarily as a lesson, but if you take it as a lesson, I guess is a lesson listen to 'Children Of The Revolution', an obvious example ot the band trying
to deconstruct 'When The Levee Breaks', and only Robbie being able to play it. Consequentely it became 'Children Of The Revolution'. That's a triumph of practice over theory. (laughter) Do you know what I mean?
d I think I do. How much control do you have over The Dead C.'s music?
B Who?
d All of you.
M (at this point in toilet, accompanied by mobile phone) (laughs) How much control?!! (sound of toilet flushing)
B It's a moot point. Depends what you mean, really.
d Something like Harslh 70s is ostensibly a quite messy record, but I think it's actually very refined and controlled. Whereas something like Eusa Kills is also a messy record, but has more of an accidental quality.
B Yeah, very accidental. Definitely, because Eusa was an album that was basically recorded over a couple of weeks, and Harsh 70s was recorded over a couple of years, so there's a great deal more selection and 'postproduction' decision-making and editing. Eusa Kills was recorded in one acoustic space and it's more or less live, with the odd overdub, whereas Harslh 70s was recorded in a number of different locations via different media and then put together after the event.
(delay while tape is flipped over)
M Did you hear about the Austtalians, did you read tbe front page of the OD1? Those kids threw the lollies, Cool Mints, into the orchestra who were doing Venli at tbe Sydney Opera House. Amazing.
B I'd like to make it a matter of public record that Danny Butt drew my attention to that story, which reflects so badly on his compatriots.
M He's always telling dirty little stories about Australia.
B it's a defence mechanism.
(lull; background conversation]
d What I might do is send you a transcript.