Interview with Momus backstage at Fez, October 17, 1998. Transcribed from recording.
In Creation Records' hey day, Momus was the eccentric,
witty, acoustic-guitar playing, cosmopolitan Brit with lyrics that read
very interesting historical textbook. Now 10+ years later, after making dozens of albums and penning hundreds of memorable lyrics, he's still eccentric, still witty, and certainly still cosmopolitan. Though he's shed the acoustic guitars, with a lean for analogue gear. Momus is simply one of the greatest lyricists of the past 20 years, with scholarly insight balanced with razor sharp wit. Momus was kind of enough to let me sit in on dinner with him and ask him a myrid of questions about music, electronica, and legality...
Jon ? I guess we could start with, you've been using the term "analogue baroque." I am familiar with the works of Wendy Carlos, but I haven't heard that term since, and really I hadn't heard it then. Did you coin that term, or had it already been?
Momus ? As far as I know I coined that term, just putting those two words together, yeah.
Jon ? And I actually don't have the new album, but I've been here [to see the previous 3 live shows] so I am familiar with the new material. Would you say that over the course of the past few albums, its been working toward this, or was this a concept that you decided was going to be the basis for the new album?
Momus ? I think it wasjust one song I did for the Kahimi Karie album KKKKK. So we recorded that in London in January of this year with an analogue synth band Add N to (X), who just signed to Mute Records, which is the living museum of analogue synths really, all the bands on there use analogue synths. And they have like 5 Moogs and a drummer, and that's it, you know. So we got them in on the session and they were jamming over this track that was basically harpsichord with some weird percussion. So I kind of thought that it was an interesting mix to that, because that song was actually a tribute to the film Clockwork Orange the Kuprik film. You know to this day I don't have a copy of the Clockwork Orange soundtrack, so in a sense I was imagining or half remembering what that music was like and what Wendy Carlos' take on, not in that case baroque music, but on what Beethoven was. And then I guess when it came to my own album, actually I wanted to make a record of very short songs, like 1 minute long, but it didn't really work out because I couldn't cram enough into them, so instead they became two minute songs, and they were all going to be on the piano. But I recorded a few that way, didn't like them, so I decided to substitute harpsichord for piano, on the model of the Beethoven song I did with Kahimi. And then basically it all came together with primitive Maestro beat box rhythms, which were all samples. And actually all the analogue synth sounds I was using at the time were samples, because I hadn't actually gotten my analogue synth yet. I had a couple digital synths. So strangely enough, I bought all the analogue gear after I finished the album.
Jon ? Really?
Momus ? And I actually bought all my Wendy Carlos vinyl after I finished the album, so if you listen to the album, it doesn't actually sound much like Wendy Carlos, and I'm not just saying that because I'm getting sued by Wendy Carlos. It actually sounds like Baroque music but in a pop context.
Jon ? You had said a few interesting things the other night, you mentioned bridging the old with the modern, and she bridged a lot of opposite things. And I think its very interesting because I'm familiar with your older material, like Poison Boyfriend, and lyrically you take a very historical perspective. I kind of see this bridging of 70's analogue with modern electronics, and at the same time all the while you've been doing this lyrically. Do you see it as that?
Momus ? Yeah, its just always stimulated me, it's just
not enough to have something that all works together and makes an efficient
modern sound talking about things that are happening now. So it just seems
to me to add an extra dimension to bring something out of the past out
of the sound in the music or in what you're talking about. My first album
Circus Maximus was talking about people in the district of Romford which
is a suburban district of London, and comparing it to ancient Rome, which
you know has
the first same letter. So just colliding the past withYou know I'm just interested in contrast so colliding the past with the present, east with west, men and females. Because you get a new flavor. Two old flavors make a new one.
Jon ? You say the new album is specifically influenced by baroque. Is it that period exclusively that you're influenced by, or do you see this concept carrying into other genres. Or is baroque, since its so mathematical the only time period that the adaptation to analogue that would work.
Momus ? We think of both periods as early, I mean baroque music has its own section in record stores, and then we think of early electronica and we think of stuff that was coming out in the 60's. And I guess that makes you think of things baroque. Especially when you live in a 24 bit, 32 bit, 64 bit world where everything is kind of, the technology the more it advances, the less interesting the sounds it produces seem to be. It seems like something you can do, not only "kitchen-retro," but also on a cultural level, back to like 2 bit outnds or 1 bit sounds, like a Nintendo Gameboy. I actually sample a Nintendo Gameboy and used that as the bass sound in most of the songs. I also had samples of an AMS analogue synth.
Jon ? Have you been generally dissatisfied with digital technology as of late? I notice you're using the Roland VS-80 on stage, as well as the BOSS 202 digital sampler.
Momus ? The thing about the Boss sampler its that its so fun, in a way its the most retro that a sampler can get, in that it just throws away the subtlety of your big archive. I mean, again I bought that late, I did use that on the album but not very much. I think it's Edwyn Collins that calls it "digitally enhanced analogue," DEA, so its just using digital technology to give you access to all the analogue sounds that are so romantic in a sense. I mean, people always get nostalgic about tech of the recent past, which is what I'm really doing, its a nostalgia for a time when I wasn't really buying musical instruments. I was in school at the time, so for me its a weird and wonderful thing from pre-history.
Jon ? You suggest an interesting statement, I mean there is a lot of useful digital technology coming out now, that when coupled with older electronics (for instance the Korgs you use on stage), they really compliment each other.
Momus ? It gives you a lot of flexibility and a lot of power, but analogue has character.
Jon ? Lets talk about the synths you have on stage...
Momus ? Gilles has his own Korg which is an MS20 I think, and mine is a Korg MonoPoly. And we bought them at much the same time about three months ago. We bought his at a flea market, and mine in Brighton from some guy who repairs old synths.
Jon ? Would you say that these pieces are hard to come by?
Momus ? Well, Gilles got his for a very good bargain price, I had to actually travel to get mine, take a day trip to a seaside town to find one. It's quite an interesting adventure just to track one down, because they are either very very expensive, I could've bought the new re-edited mini Moog which they've redone, but its very very expensive.
Jon ? The new album, did you record that at home with the Roland or were you in the studio?
Momus ? No, I recorded it totally with the machine that's on stage really. I mean I have an ADAT but I didn't even use the ADAT really. I just had one mixer with a whole midi sequence mixdown thing happening with samplers altogether down to two tracks on the VS80.
Jon ? Do you usually record at home?
Momus ? Um, I usually record at home. Ever since 93.
Jon ? I guess you prefer that.
Momus ? Yeah, I mean it's a lot cheaperAnd you can do it whenever you feel like it.
Jon ? I mentioned before that I'm more familiar with the earlier material, like I mean when did the first Momus album come out?
Momus ? The very first one? '86.
Jon ? So this is a time when people were like itching to go digital.
Momus ? Yeah, I used an Emualtor 2, I was just looking at one today at this shop in Chinatown. A big heavy thing, looks like a Boeing 747.
Jon ? But back then, you obviously weren't fascinated by the analogue sound...
Momus ? Well, yeah you know its a certainly a retro thing, kind of like this nylon thing I'm wearing now its just a retro thing, for me its just a style of dress to go back to analogue.
Jon ? Do you see it working its way into mainstream, I guess it really already has, right?
Momus ? Well, all the synth manufacturers are now making retro-styled analogue-emualting synths, so I don't know if it applies to other areas, but I don't know. It's funny because on the edge of every technological frontier the analogue to digital thing means something slightly different than what is happening, a slightly different time. I mean photography's happening right now, and obviously music went to digital in the 80's with CDs, once that transitions been made you have to wait about ten years before people start getting nostalgic for the old analogue days.
Jon ? It's curious to me to think what is going to happen 10 years from now, will people "return to digital" after there's been some progress, and say, "Why did we ever not use digital?"
Momus ? Well, I think it's like when you buy a digital radio, and you can't turn the dial anymore, and you can't get the stations in as easily as you used to, now you have to preprogram everything in. its so frustrating, a lot of digital equipment when it first comes out is really badly designed, and they think that by giving you 100 extra options you're going to be happy, but in fact you don't want those options. You want something that's intuitive and fun, and there's nothing more fun than an analogue synthesizer with all those knobs and instantly you hear it, like "woooaaaeeerrr."
Jon ? Yeah, every show has been different because of that.
Momus ? And some of it is chaotic and horrible and sometimes breaks your ear drums because suddenly you have this sine wave coming from no where just screeching.
Jon ? Are there any pieces you're really itching to pick up?
Momus ? Um, there are some that look really cool but I don't really know what they sound like. Like the Arp Odessey...
(interrupted by dinner)
Jon ? When you stumbled upon all the Wendy Carlos albums, were there any other artists that you found similar to her? Because I'm unfamiliar with any.
(someone brings us Flipz Pretzels)
Momus ? Well there were some Pierrien Kingsley, for instance Jean-Jacques /paray/(not sure of spelling)
(photographer in to take film)
Momus ? What was I saying?
Jon ? Other artists...
Momus ? Oh, for whatever reason, I don't really know
why it all happened, but just in the late 60's I guess it was the success
of Switched On Bach, there were a lot of "Switched On" spinoffa.
Pierrien Kingsley for instance had an album called Baroque Hoedown.
I guess because Bach is a pretty solid seller, and when I new technology
comes along you can't go wrong saying
"Let's sell Bach!" Like when digital recording came along a lot of classical labels issued versions of all the old favorites, to get the
novelty craze public, which is a more pop public, but you also get that classical conservative public as well.
Jon ? It's also like what you said the other night, bridging of the high class with low class, high class being Baroque music of the aristocracy, and low class being analogue elecronica which was scoffed at when it first came out by music theorists and classical enthusiasts.
Momus ? Yeah, it was seem as a gimmick. It was weird, because on one hand many respected classical composers such as Stockhausen, on the other hand it was people doing gimmickee versions of "What's New Pussycat?"
Jon ? Have there been any equipment problems on the tour yet?
Momus ? Um, no, though I'm terrified the hard disc on the Roland is going to get smashed or something but we've got DAT backups of that.
Jon ? When you decided to do the tour, did you know that it was going to be all preprogrammed?
Momus ? Well, I've played live in all sorts of ways, I've had midi sequencers on stage, I've had all the instruments that we had in the studio on stage, real musician, we're actually taking this tour to Japan and we're having a live band plus me and Gilles playing synths on top, so that'll be interesting. But the nice thing about this is the curating, Kahimi Karie is a curator of many artists, and production styles, so I can stick them into the hard disc recorder and have instant access, and each track is like having a different band on stage with out having to remake or rewire it all You have Stereo Total, followed by The Little Rabbits.
Jon ? I guess its hard to say as an artist, but where do you see yourself going with this, with the next batch of material? Taking the new analogue stuff to other levels or moving past it to something new altogether?
Momus ? I'm going to wait and find out a) whether the court case against me is successful, because that's probably going to put me aesthetically a bit off with the whole analogue baroque thing, but my initial reactions were that this was a very exciting thing for me to discover, cause I really knew very little about both analogue music and baroque music, and I'm suddenly very enthusiastic about them both, going out and buying all this late 60's synth gimmick records, but also buying all the baroque recordsAnd one of the reasons I actually got into the baroque thing was having my Mac got PC emulation, and I went out and bought the Encarta encyclopedia, and I was just clicking through all the links, going through all the articles about baroque music, dress, architecture. And listing to the sound files of all the baroque music and learning, because I'm not particularly educated about classical music. So suddenly that feeling of finding a new world opening was really exciting.
Jon ? That's excellent.I don't believe I have too much more (fumbling through papers). I guess that should do it. I'll let you eat. But thank you, I really do appreciate this.
Momus ? Did you ever read the analogue heaven newsgroup?
Jon ? No I'll have to check that out.
Momus ? They're kind of talking about the court case now, half of them say she's right, half say I'm right, so...
Jon ? Is there any basis for the lawsuit?
Momus ? Oh, well you know we had BMG's lawyers look into it, and it was actually thrown out on Friday, but she's having new writs filled out all the time.
Jon ? What was the basis? That you used her in the song?
Momus ? The basis was that, she's insulted by the way she's portrayed in the song, which is as a transsexual, but she is a transsexual, but I guess she's not very comfortable with the fact that she's a transsexual. I made a very friendly initial approach, I don't know what her feelings are. I mean, also it's like A.) she hasn't sold very many records in the past decade, B.) she has a new album coming out and wants publicity, and C.) she's personally wounded by what I said in the song, so all those things go together.
Jon ? I mean, obviously she knows that you are an admirer of hers, and that you didn't mean to insult her.
Momus ? The way she glided in at sound check yesterday she really wants to leave, she's a real drama queen...
Jon ? How did she know about the song if she wasn't at the show?
Momus ? Actually I emailed her quite awhile ago saying you've influenced my new album, when I come to New York would you like to do some joint interviews where we could talk aboutThe main thing I'm interested in is being able to curate other artists the way Kahimi curated me. I kind of do the same thing on the new album with Wendy Carlos, Wendy Carlos did the same thing with Bach. Its' just this thing of influence.
(random talk about case)
Jon ? Well, I certainly hope it works out
Momus ? We'll probably all be the best of friends by
the time this is over... Or maybe not.
(Needless to say everything was resolved as far as the
Carlos vs Momus case. No hard feelings, everyone's happy.)