THE FANZINE THAT FEATURES SMALL AND UNSIGNED BANDS
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
INTERVIEW WITH PERVERTED BY LANGUAGE
WHY NAME YOURSELF AFTER THAT ALBUM BY THE FALL?
I sent an email out in sheer frustration with a full list of The Fall's discography, and Fra (the drummer) sort of casually dropped into a conversation that he liked "Perverted by Language". Fra is very convincing.
I SUPPOSE PERVERTED BY LANGUAGE HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE MUSICAL OUTLET FROM JEREMY THOMAS.
Feh! Not at all. I mean yes, it's me looking for a musical outlet, but not at all as a "my" band - I've always wanted to work with people and for the people I work with to be just as equally valued as I am. This is very much a team effort. Being the singer and frontman, things just naturally tend to focus on me.
HOW DID IT EXACTLY START?
It started when I replied to an add that Ronan had put online. He sent me a demo of a few songs, and I knew we would do great things together before the end of the first chorus. So we started getting together to work on stuff. We both had a clear Daan / Depeche Mode sort of idea, but it didn't work out like that at all. We needed a drummer and something else. Fra & Vas came as a package, and Élise came in when we decided that I was better off just singing without playing the bass.
WHAT ARE YOUR RELEASES SO FAR?
A release being something you can buy in a shop? Not really. We have a studio demo and a few home recorded tracks. We know we want to make an album, but realistically, we have to fund the recording ourselves, and find a label to distribute it. One of the problems of being a band nowadays is that you're comparing your music with 30 years of U2 and are probably expecting to fund it with less money than they had to spend on a single in the early days.
We have a small budget and not much studio expertise, so we're being careful in making sure we spend wisely. It might take some time though.
IT’S A PAINFUL QUESTION I KNOW BUT 18 YEARS IN BIZ AND ONLY A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE KNOW YOU. NEVER CONSIDERED THAT AS A FAILURE?
I'm not quite sure where you got the 18 years from. I first got my arse on stage in 2008, just a few weeks before I hit 40. We're a bunch of part-timers from Brussels. We've opened for For Against and Chameleons Vox. I'd never consider that as failure.
We have people who go to one gig and then come back. These people are not stupid - you really know you can trust their judgement when you see their face in the crowd for the 3rd or 4th time. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to know that we can blow people off their feet, and they will come back for more. I respect the audience - they're just as much part of the gig as the band is.
That's not commercial success, but we're in it for the music, not for the money. (that's so cliché!)
NEVER THOUGHT IT’D BE EASIER IF YOU WERE A BANDWAGONJUMPER?
What? And be something I'm not? No thanks. Besides - we have a sound. There's no way I'd want to loose that - it's what makes us unique.
Anyway - which particular bandwaggon do you think I could jump on? LOL!
LOT OF THINGS HAVE TO DO THAT MUSIC LIKE YOURS IS SO IGNORED BY EVERYONE.
If you sold 1 million albums in the UK at the height of the '80s, that would mean that less then 2% of the population had bought it. Is that being "ignored"? In this day & age, more than any other time over the past 30 years, you get told what to listen to by the media, who get told what to tell you by the guys who control the formula. If you want something good and exciting, you have to scratch beneath the surface and go and discover the stuff that's driven by the music, not the money.
We're a small band. We get our message accross bit by bit. To really go mass market takes a bit of luck and a lot of money. There's a good proprtion of the people who hear the message who actually like it, and it's spreading slowly and steadily. I'll settle for that.
DID YOU EVER UNDERSTOOD THAT?
Money talks, yes.
I MEAN MUSIC LIKE YOURS IS ALTERNATIVE BUT 1000 TIMES MORE POPPY AS SAY SONIC YOUTH….
I love The Byrds, Abba (yes, I am a big Abba fan), The Police, Psychadelic Furs, The Human League, Depeche Mode, as well as maybe more obvious stuff like Joy Division, Bauhaus, My Bloody Valentine or The Smiths. All of that has worked it's way into the songwriting. It may not be obvious, but I know where I've reused a favorite lyric, or borowed a melody for a chorus, or built a whole song around a variation on a classic bassline. There's such a huge database of great songs and ideas to draw on when you're writing popular music. Take a Joy Division bassline, stick a Furs vocal on it, an Abba chord sequence for the chorus, a Depeche Mode synth lick, and a Chameleons type song structure. Give it to the band and let them bugger it up slightly, and you get a song that's consistant in the set and also sounds unique.
One of the best songwriting techniques is not to listen just to music you like, and certainly don't try to copy bands you want to sound like - you just become a second-rate clone.
Listen to Teenage Kicks or Love Will Tear Us Apart - they are very poppy with great melodies. I can't argue with that.
AND DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT TODAY POST PUNK IS BACK BUT THAT IT ARE BANDS WHO ARE GAINING SUCCESS WHO HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH IT? I MEAN I REALLY DO LIKE STUFF LIKE WHITE LIES OR EDITORS, BUT I ALWAYS THINK : WHY THEM????...AND DON’T TELL THE CLICHÉ THAT IT IS THE MONEY…
My own influences, or rather the stuff I listened to a lot when I was younger, are not "post punk" as such, but rather just stuff that punk opened the door to. Punk said you could take risks and do anything. It opened the door for experimentation and excentricity. It took the "industry" quite a while to regain control and get back to what could be defined in terms of predictable corporate profits. Post Punk, for me, is simply an attitude - stay true to yourself
Editors are good. I'd like to think they got where they are on their merits. You have to ask the question the other way round: Why have more people heard of Kate Nash than of An Pierlé? Why does Coldplay get as many people in one place in a night as Ozark Henry does on a 20 date tour? You know damed well that it's not a matter of talent or quality of the music.
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AS A BELGIAN BAND? NOT IN TERMS OF NATIONALITIES, BUT IN THE SENSE PART OF THE BELGIAN SCENE…
Well we're not exactly bloody German are we.
(DON’T ANSWER IF THAT’S TOO PRIVATE). WHY DID YOU COME TO BELGIUM AND DID YOU DOSOMETHING MUSICWISE IN THE UK, AND IF SO HOW WERE THE REACTIONS THERE?
I sort of got a career, then kids, then decided I needed a hobby. Coming back to Belgium allowed me to take up classical singing where I'd left off when I was 17. And the work situation meant that I could find a bit of time for a band, so I started on that as well. I never managed to start anything in the UK, mainly due to work committments.
I WANNA HEAR IT FROM A BRIT WHO LIVES OVER HERE, WHAT DO YOU THINK FROM BELGIUM AND THEIR MUSICTASTE?
Garner; Cecilia::Eyes; Vismets; The Diplomat; King Terror; Set The Tone; Strawdogs - these are all Belgian bands that I've seen live and who are fantastic at what they do. I could (should?) go on - Vismets ought to be massive; Ozark Henry should be an international superstar; it's nice to see a band like Customs getting a decent amount of recognition.
We're exposed to a lot of music in Belgium, and there's a lot of people who are picking up on it and themselves making very good music. It makes for a very exciting underground scene. I hardly ever go to see "big" acts these days. For the price of a ticket to see Interpol from a distance with crap sound, I can get to see 10 local bands. About a third of them will be at least as good as Interpol, a third will be OK, and the rest will be utter shite. It helps if you keep an open mind - some of the best Belgian acts I've seen have been metal bands - something I never listen to on CD.
I think the biggest problem with the Belgian scene is a lack of all the periferal things that go with it. The funding is politically tainted because it comes from the communities, and that unfortunately makes the linguistic fronteer very hard to cross. If there was more and better press talking about it, that would make a bit difference - the British scene has things like Kerrang, NME, Q, there's none of that in Belgium. The bloggers can be very good, but it's narrowcasting & word of mouth. Someone needs to be telling the punters that the Belgian underground is fantastic, and that in turn should get the people out and paying to see gigs, which in turn would oil the whole thing and maybe get a bit more international interest. I know Francophone acts like Ghinzu export quite well to France, but why should a band like Johnny Berlin have trouble getting a decent gig in Brussels?
I do think that Brussels has an urgent need for some more decent small venues that can put bands on regularly. Like Gent has the Kinky Star. That's done a lot of good to the Gent scene.
Belgium has a good enough music scene for it to become an export industry. But we need to start by breaking down the North-South divide.
I GUESS YOU PLAY POST PUNK WHICH HAS DEFINITELY BEEN INFLUENCED BY JOY DIVISION…
Personally, I started off with synthpop - Human League, Depeche Mode, Yazoo. It was Paul Young's cover of Love Will Tear Us Apart on his No Parlez album that first got my interest going in Joy Division. I liked New Order's Blue Monday very much, but the link didn't click until a lot later. I still think Peter Hook is one of the most innovative bass players ever. It's in the attitude - he has an anger and personality that just shines through. And Steven Moris is one of the best drummers ever (though I've met a few drummers that hate his style).
I KNOW IT’S STRANGE TO ANSWER, BUT IF YOU COMPOSE A SONG IS IT AN AUTOMATISM TO SOUND POST-PUNK? TO PUT IT IN A RIDICULOUS WAY : CAN IT BE THAT TOMORROW YOU’LL WRITE SOMETHING DIFFERENT THAT IS ABSOLUTELY NOT POST-PUNK..SOMETHING LIKE SKA ORWHATEVER?
I do have some stuff that's quite Depeche Mode-ish and some more that's quite Cocteau Twins-ish. I've even done some electronica, but I don't rate that much. Most of the stuff I've written for PBL is around a strong bassline, and I have quite a distictive bass-baritone, which I simply can't change. But PBL is certainly not restricted to what I write. Vas and Ronan have written stuff, Élise is often the starting point for songs we've written together, and Fra is hugely influential in structuring how things should flow. And the sound really does come from how each of us sounds - Fra's involved in a very physical way, Ronan's lost in the noise, Élise has a great grove, Vas is picking melodies out of thin air, and I have this wierd voice somewhere between Johnny Cash and Dave Gahan. The sound is "post-punk" by accident. Remember, we started off with a clear idea of wanting to do something quite electronic. But in exploring who we are as musicians, it's worked out differently.
I HAD THE LUCK TO SEE YOU ON STAGE, YOU SEEM TO BE TOTALLY INTO ANOTHER WORLD, NOT?
That was an off day - I was so busy organising the gig I wasn't quite there. Usually, I get into the mood of each song. It's sort of like acting - something I get from classical singing - you have to get into character to get a song accross effectively. It's no good just singing the words - they have to be real. But that particular evening, the buck stopped with me to make sure that the main act was a success and the crowd got what I'd charged them money for. It was just a little bit distracting.
But getting up on stage usually allows me to be myself - no worries about the finer details of ettiquette - I know that enough people like what they see. I'm not trying to please a mass audience. We seem to reach a small minority of people in quite a special way, and that's what matters.
ON THAT NIGHT YOU SHARED THE ROOM WITH CHAMELEONS VOX. I GUESS THAT MIGHT MEAN A LOT TO YOU, NOT?
Every time I've seen Mark Burgess, it's been special. The guy has total committment on stage. There were a lot of friends there, and a lot of other musicians who's music I really like, and the best thing was to be able to share that special moment with all of them. I really felt I'd done my little bit to make the world a better place that night.
And it was seeing Mark for the first time that made me understand that you had to beleive in what you were singing. You had to be there emotionally and had to make sure what you were singing came from the heart.
I KNOW IT SOUNDS VERY UNCOOL BUT IN ALL HONESTY I HAVE TEARS IN MY EYES WHEN I HEAR A BAND LIKE THEM. DO YOU HAVE SUCH FEELINGS TOO, I MEAN I HAVE THE FEELING THAT YOU’RE A VERY EMOTIONAL PERSON TOO, JEREMY.
Most of my songs are quite emotional - they almost all deal with human relationships. Somtimes, I've not really understood what they were really about until certain events have clicked into place. Elephantine started as quite a cryptic dream, and only made sense when I later found out the truth about a certain person. Helping hands fitted the bill perfectly when a friend of mine lost his wife to cancer, even though I'd written it some years before. Armadillo is about the stress of having to work with people who are complete jerks. The Idealist is about love as a real human experience and not just some meaningless theme around which to write a song. All that energy is released, and I think people feed off it. Francesco (the drummer) certainly tunes into these emotions in quite a unique way.
WHAT DO YOU THINK FROM ALL THESE BANDS THAT REFORM?
People just love the music. You have to look at what the real motivation is behind it. When Bauhaus got back together, was it really just for the money? Sometimes you have to set personal differences aside for a while and just go back and recreate that brief instant of genius - performing stuff that you've written to a crowd who just love it. I'm sure it must be frustrating at a certain level for Mark Burgess to skip 20 years of material and go back to doing the Chameleons stuff, but it's also a real priviledge to have created stuff that can still sound so relevant nearly 30 years later. Even the biggest bands who've never gone away, like U2 and Depeche Mode, still put on a fabulous show. You can't say that millions of fans can be that wrong.
It does crowd out the market place a bit for new bands however. But that's just the way it is. There's still more people who pay money to go to gigs now than ever before.
DO YOU THINK THAT 18 YEARS AGO IT WAS EASIER FOR A BAND LIKE YOU, I MEAN DOES A BAND LIKE YOURS HAS IT PROFIT FROM THE INTERNET?
Well we've only been on the go for 3 years, though I'd been trying to find the right people to get something going for quite some time before that.
If you gave someone a demo 7in years ago, they would play it at least 3 or 4 times. Now you send them an MP3 and you're lucky if they listen to more than a minute of it. I listen to stuff on Myspace, and it's very rare that I spend more than about a minute before passing onto the next thing. Because there's so much available, recorded music doesn't have the same intrinsic value that we used to place on it years ago. It's much more throw away.
So while the internet makes it easier to reach far more people than before, it makes it much harder to grab their attention long enough for them to come and see you. That's why it's been fabulous to open for For Against and Chameleons Vox - it's grabbed people's attention and made them focus on Perverted by Language as well. And it works both ways. A lot of people came to see us at the Fantastique Nights because we were opening for something decent. That contributed to more people getting to see Red Zebra and For Against, and the overall success of the night.
DOES MUSIC MEANS EVERYTHING FOR YOU, JEREMY, OR IS JUST A PART FROM LIFE?
It's just one of those things that makes life complete. Along with wife, work, kids, friends. You need a hobby, and music just allows you to have fun and do something that makes people happy as well. I know people who play golf, I know people who ride horses, I make music.