to the Sun interview October 19, 1997
QRD – why do you use a seven string guitar?
Ashkelon – my friends Cameron Bobro, the opera singer, & Paul Allen, the Trader Joeís bag clerk, make furniture for the hell of it. really expensive exciting furniture with hardwoods & stuff. they decided for a while that they wanted to make guitars & sell them. make really high priced expensive custom guitars. so they made seven prototypes & mine is one of the seven prototypes. they had seven designs & all of them were seven stringed & theyíre all made out of indian rosewood, purple heart, etcetera etcetera. so I experimented with different tunings for it. first I tuned my low string to a low A like Korn does now & stuff. but I didnít find I had a use for another four notes down below the usual scale. then I found out in europe a lot of the classical guitarists have switched over to seven string guitars & they have a special tuning for it & Iíve adopted that tuning. the lowest string tunes up to a D, the next string is an F, & then from there itís the typical A, D, G, B, & E. so I have a low D & an F string which allows me to do a lot of chords you canít normally do really. itís really cool & really convenient.
QRD – do you think thereís a significant style difference between Delirious & Venomous Eve?
Ashkelon – of course there is. intentionally so. itís like any album. thatís what they said between Ghost Forest & Bloom Flowers Bloom! for example. Ghost Forest came out & there was some crazy adherence to Ghost Forest & we nailed all these interviews like Carpe Noctum. & between the time they said theyíd interview us & the questions were sent, we sent them Bloom Flowers Bloom! & they were like, ďwhoa, this is way different.Ē & when the interview came out they were saying Ghost Forest was incredible & Bloom Flowers Bloom! was more of a this or a that album. everyone has a preference for one album or another. theyíre all different & they will always all be different. I never intend to make the same album twice.
QRD – do you think thereís a bigger difference between Bloom Flowers Bloom! & Ghost Forest or Venomous Eve than the difference between Delirious & Venomous Eves?
Ashkelon – no.
QRD – whatís your favorite Swansí song & what Swans song would you cover if a tribute came out?
Ashkelon – thatís an awfully tough question. I have almost every Swans album. I can tell you whatís my least favorite Swans song... well my least favorite album. I donít like Love of Life at all, even though Iím one of the biggest Swans fans in the world. but I like all the other albums infinitely. I guess I just donít like that one because I donít think itís as good as the others. I like White Light from the Mouth of Infinity. in fact, today I leant my neighbor White Light from the Mouth of Infinity along with Christian Death Only Theater of Pain because heíd never heard either of them. I recited to him the lyrics to ďFailureĒ because I like those lyrics a lot. the part about ďwhen I get my hands on some money, Iíll kiss its green skin.Ē I like ďLove Will Save YouĒ a lot. what would I cover? Iíd probably cover ďAmnesiaĒ from the Omniscience disc. but only if it was a comp of 100% excellent bands. the Swans donít deserve the typical morons-cut-a- tribute-disc sort of butcher job. theyíve worked too hard.
QRD – has starting your own label been worth it to you?
Ashkelon – no.
QRD – just financially or as an experience?
Ashkelon – as an experience Iíve learned a lot, but itís hard to get off the ground financially. it takes a long time to see returns in the music business & collecting money is a big big bother. anyone whoís ever had a label or even thought about it should know that. but what it boils down to is time. for example during the month of September this year I locked myself in my house from September 2nd to October 2nd & I worked on music 14 hours a day straight for thirty days in a row. that doesnít leave anybody enough time to do a record company properly.
QRD – do you think the experimental music underground has a better future in clubs or with studio releases?
Ashkelon – I donít think one could be held in favor over the other. but studio releases do have the advantage of being more permanent & accessible because you have to be there at the time & place to see the show. but the shows definitely help alert people to whatís on the records. but live music is always more powerful than the studio music if you're looking at a good band. so I wonít say oneís better.
QRD – is there anyone that you havenít played with live that you particularly would like to?
Ashkelon – no, I really donít care. Iíll go on tour with the Cure, Iíll go on tour with Fiona Apple. I wanna play with Fiona Apple because sheís pretty, but I read her interview in A.P. & I didnít really like it, so maybe that would be a pain. I just choose who Iíd like to play with based on if theyíre a slightly different music category than us that has a crowd that we would cross over into. so we would draw certain people & they would draw certain other people that wouldnít normally come to see us & vice versa & that people would appreciate each band. thatís how I viewed yhe situation when we did the Cindytalk tour. I wouldnít want to go on tour so much with a band that was just like us. I love Swans & Einsturzende Neubauten, bands that are my favorites & have been a long time, sure Iíd love to go on tour with them, but that isnít where Iím coming from in my goals of being on tour because itís about my show. Iím working on what Iím doing & Iíll take what opportunities I can get to go on tour.
QRD – how important do you think honesty is in music & art?
Ashkelon – in the movie La Belle Nouseaus, itís in french & 4 hours long about a painting, most of the film is a guy painting a painting & itís the story of what goes into the painting & he says, ďitís not a masterpiece unless thereís blood on the canvas.Ē meaning you have to have lost a little bit of life over it & you canít lose a little bit of life if youíre not being honest. if itís not honest I donít necessarily think thereís a point to it. what else is there? interpreting other peopleís lives? give me an example of dishonest art.
QRD – pop culture in general. is pop culture dishonest?
Ashkelon – oh. we were sitting in a restaurant last night before the show waiting for sound check & they had all this really cheesy music. this ballad duet kind of nonsense with a male & female vocalist singing ďhow I will always love youĒ & ďyouíre mine tonightĒ & ďblah-blah-blahĒ & of course thatís dishonest. the guy was probably in New York & the girl in LA & they probably never met, so they werenít really in love with each other, but theyíre singing as though they are. yeah, thatís inherently dishonest, but the human feelings & emotions are probably honest. I donít relate to anything like that because Iím a hopeless cynic, but I suppose there are people out there that appreciate & like that stuff & would put on that record in order to seduce their boyfriend or girlfriend & they go to bed & have wonderful sex & have their happy lives & thatís great for them. maybe thereís something wrong with me because I donít adhere to that kind of aesthetic. maybe I just think too much about the fact that that guy & that girl never met & never even knew each other & here they are singing in a song ďI love youĒ & they never met & that cheapens the whole thing. it cheapens the concept of the words ďI love youĒ & stuff. which is a big thing if you think about it & youíre going to say that to somebody. so in my opinion itís bullshit, but for some people itís probably valid & perfectly honest because they interpret it on their own terms & their terms are honest. so then pop culture becomes honest because itís interpreted by the person whose listening to it. but thatís not what Iím striving for. Iím not trying to reinterpret somebody elseís life through music & hope I nailed it. thatís why you can only do it with a love song because everybody knows love as a basic human experience. thatís why pop music is ruled by songs about love & occasionally one about a car or money or a surf board. but if you want to write about anything beyond that, youíve got to be mother fucking honest. thatís where Iím at, but I think thatís self evident. the music I like is written about honest things that honest people experience, but youíre going much more out on a limb then because everyoneís experiences are unique. if youíre going to write honest music you have to have lived a little bit. you have to have been kicked around by life a little bit. you have to have had your heart broken at least thirteen times. you have to have lied & gotten caught. you have to have been devastated & you have to have lived many different facets of life if youíre going to write something with honesty that other people can relate to.
QRD – how do you keep cats from peeing on furniture?
Ashkelon – your interviews always full of questions like this. donít have cats. or have happy cats. thatís what youíve gotta do. youíve got to give them lots of attention & good food. & let them go outside; they pee on the furniture because they donít dig the fucking cat box. would you want to pee in a dirty little box?
QRD – not unless itís clean.
Ashkelon – see? exactly.
QRD – do you think techno is a fad?
Ashkelon – no. hereís the deal. musical categories are a great thing in a record store, period. the moment somebody invents a new kind of music they give it a category & a label. thatís great as long as youíre shopping in a record store, then you know what section to go to to find things. but when the category becomes something that everybody knows, you get a bunch of shlocky morons going around trying to emulate it. they donít know what theyíre doing, they didnít invent anything, they havenít come up with anything. theyíre just trying to make something that sounds like everything thatís popular so the can either be cool or get laid or make a buck & thatís lame. so the record companies, they condone that, because once you have a category you have a license to sell discs to people who liked the one thing that was original & had a lot of momentum & character & originality & they sell these other records in the hope that the people who liked the original thing will like this trendy thing that went along beside it & is just an emulation of the original. & it happens in all kinds of music. it happens in gothic, where you have all these shlocky gothic bands trying to sound like the Cure or Bauhaus or Sisters of Mercy. it happens other places too like country or heavy metal; itís the worst in heavy metal, my god thatís an atrocity & itís almost as bad as the emulation factor in techno. but the true classy cutting edge techno stuff coming out of germany & so forth is fucking fantastic & is a very valid form of music. itís just unfortunate that, just like so many other categories, techno has a bunch of emulators trying to be cool & donít really know what techno music is about. but Iíll tell you what itís about. music is ruled by time & canít exist without time because it takes time to view it. if you have a painting, thatís a form of art in which you can control the time you look at the painting. but music rules time & therefore it can cause time to fluctuate or cause your perception of time to fluctuate. because time does fluctuate in your head. sometimes things seem to take forever, like a test or something, or when you sleep & sometimes you think five minutes have gone by, but itís been ten hours. thatís your brain causing time to fluctuate, because itís your perception of time thatís fluctuated. if music is done well, music causes your time to fluctuate, but it can only do that if it makes your imagination swell. if it causes your imagination to run. & the way music causes a personís imagination to run is not by the things they put in, but the things they leave out! because you imagine what it couldíve been. like if you say something it suggests other things, Robert Smith is one of the greatest at it using metaphors & so forth to suggest things in the lyrics. or the little silences in the song are so important because your imagination is filling it with all the things that couldíve all happened in that little silence, but there was really nothing there. true good music sets off your imagination by leaving things open to the imagination & that is the whole point of techno. it leaves vast areas open to your imagination & interpretation. it doesnít try to interpret any more than it has to. techno is another experiment to get to the absolute minimum necessary to make your imagination go crazy. thatís the point in techno. so good techno that does that is good, but there is a lot of crappy techno.
QRD – previously youíve had two female singers & recently youíve started to sing yourself, is this a compromise or temporary situation for you or something youíve been going towards?
Ashkelon – something Iím going towards, definitely. the last song on Delirious, I sang it. I wouldíve worked with Zoë forever & at the time when Zoë left in August of 96 it was a compromise, but I pulled out of that one well & I managed to cover the shows we had with Gordon Sharp of Cindytalk singing for us as a special emergency arrangement. it went very very well, we played ďKangarooĒ from This Mortal Coil & we did his favorite Brian Eno song, he improvised to the Trance material which he knew pretty well. I have it on video, itís nice. Iím really glad we got through that time in that way. & then Dawn, but Dawn was not necessarily intended to be a permanent singer. we knew we were going to make at least one record & do at least one tour which we did. but she made it clear from the start that her priorities lay in her solo project which I got shows for along the tour. she opened as her solo project on almost all the bills on that set of shows. then it was just apparent that it wasnít going to last anymore than a year. sheís just really driven to do her own project & had to devote full time to that & I think I wanted to believe that our arrangement would have a longer shelf life. but it became time for me to do this which is what I knew I was headed towards anyhow. with Dawn weíd sit there for hours arguing about how vocals should be & I would come up with all the music & say how the vocals should lay out & we worked on those songs together & everyone was saying to me, ďyou should be singing these songs, because you know what you want.Ē Dawn was saying that to me, everyone close to the band was saying that to me. so why am I writing songs for other people to sing? I still like the idea for that & Iím working on an album currently on which Iíve written a bunch of lyrics I do have in mind for other people to sing, but this time Iím bringing on a lot of guests. Mike from Lycia has agreed to sing on one of them & Dara Rosenwasser from Faith & Disease has sung one already thatís finished. Marc Linder, my former bandmate from Blade Fetish is on new Trance stuff with me as well. a cover of ďFade to GreyĒ (Visage) will be on this upcoming new wave ďtributeĒ album, New Wave Goes to Hell. also this year, two unreleased ďZoëĒ era Trance tracks will be out. one on Hex Files Vol. 2 which was put together by Mick Mercer ? nice packaging ? that songís called ďvelvet fuck.Ē another, entitled ďSlave,Ē will be on the next Cleopatra Goth Box set. Mere Mortal Records in Boston is doing a comp ? I havenít picked a song yet, but we were asked. thereís supposed to be another comp by oblivion entertainment called Dead Southern Code with a remix of ďA Force Behind the Wheel.Ē of course thereís the Tess Records Aria compilation with still more exclusive tracks.
QRD – anything else?
Ashkelon – no, I got to say a lot of things.