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Eyeless in Gaza

Eyeless in Gaza: Writing is a manifestation of the psyche

Dimitris Antonopoulos spoke with Eyeless in Gaza and below you can find many interesting things about the 80s, Anne Clark, Joy Division, Cherry Red Records, etc.
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The Eyeless in Gaza (Martyn Bates and Peter Becker) is one of the most influential bands of the 80s. From 1980 until today they have released 19 albums.

Dimitris Antonopoulos spoke with both Eyeless and below you can find many interesting things about the 80s, Anne Clark, Joy Division, Cherry Red Records, etc.

DA: Details about your latest EYELESS IN GAZA album 'ANSWER SONG & DANCE'.

PETER BECKER: To be honest, I wouldn’t really categorise ‘Answer Song & Dance’ as a new Eyeless in Gaza album – instead I’d say it’s a compilation that also includes some new material.   The idea is to try and create some fresh interest in Europe, so in some way I see it more as a promotional thing – maybe to introduce people to Eyeless in Gaza who are not so familiar with our material.  The idea to make this album is partly coming from other people, but generally it is a compilation from our post-Cherry Red material.  It appears that it is also difficult to get hold of our CD’s generally.   But really, at the moment I just want to play live.  Playing live is where it happens.   
MARTYN BATES:  I agree with Peter about playing live, to a degree … but I strongly feel that recordings are also ‘where it happens’. For me, records/ recordings are more ‘alive’ in many senses than live concerts are - I feel that the two things are intrinsically different – and for sure I also feel that the art of playing ‘live’ concerts is a peculiar, and a most special and ‘rare’ occurrence –that each concert is a unique, never to be repeated ‘happening’, to use an outmoded but very appropriate expression.  But, for me – records are the life, the creatures that you send out into the world, things that will always live - and these creatures live and breath and take on lives of their own.

This includes of course the life where the listener ‘completes’ the picture – creating, making new life by simply listening and completing the circle. Above all this I feel however that Eyeless in Gaza has always striven for a timeless, transcendent feel. Obviously, everything under the sun is more, much more than that – everything contains death and life, in one seed - and that is a good thing. But this album Answer Song & Dance - above and beyond the things that Peter Becker has said here –  I see it as an exercise that tries on for size these various theories. And I happen to believe the album works very well, obviously.

DA: Information about your forthcoming albums (live cd etc*) with EYELESS & solo.

MARTYN BATES: as I write Eyeless in Gaza have just completed a retrospective triple album release, for a limited edition release on the Hong Kong based Ultra-Mail Productions label.   This has been a huge project, but a rewarding exercise in terms of gathering energies and preparing oneself for new work.

For all of this new work that I’m tackling right now, my approach has been to consider how much I love working with stillness and silence. For me, this is a way forward. I want the new music that I make in 2010 to reflect these interests. As I write there are two new records to complete. One is album of organ based songs, which I would like to ‘colour’ with delicate improvisations and filigree voicings – whistles, harmonica, the judicious use of noise elements that will sketch a backdrop of nightsky sonic interference. The second record I have in mind - I would like it be to be a solely acoustic guitar and SONGS record, where I use painterly echoes and reverbs to create an apparent ‘distance’ – only this will work to create an intimacy and energy. I have SO MANY songs, and SO MUCH still to say. The melody, and the words - they will both find me, I am sure. I am ready.

DA: About 'SHOREPOEM', the single of the new album.

Eyeless in GazaPETER BECKER:  Shorepoem was released by Monopol Records, which was suggested by our friend & contact in Berlin (Takis Mitsidis).  Sometimes it is difficult to remember the exact sequence of events… but I think Takis contacted us to arrange a concert in Berlin in 2009.  Whilst we were in Berlin I said it would be great to visit Hansa Studios as some great records were made there in the Seventies. 

Taki then suggested that maybe we could record something there.  There is some connection with Hansa Studios, Meisel Music and Monopol.  So a deal was made to record one song ‘Shorepoem’ – maybe make this a ‘single’ and just see how things progress.   To be honest I much prefer to record at our own studios - A-Scale - which are based at home here in the UK. Going into a ‘professional’ studio again reminded me of other situations in the past where people tried to make ‘helpful’ suggestions about ways to improve our music.  I am always happy to try something new, a different angle – but I have generally found that “First Idea, Best Idea” usually works for me – and I know that Martyn feels the same way also.  It is when the original pure inspiration comes that has not been tainted or filtered by conscious effort.  Sometimes, too much re-working can result in the artist becoming disenchanted with the original idea.  I was quite happy with the original recording that I made at A-Scale with Martyn.  OK, technically maybe it had some flaws, but a unique moment in time was captured there.

DA: About your collaboration with ANNE CLARK, looking back ?

MARTYN BATES: In the 90s you might say that I explicitly embraced my literary heroes – writing and arranging music for Rilke poems on Just After Sunset (dual album by Anne Clark & Martyn Bates) was just one of these expressions. I also made two CDs of musical settings for James Joyce’s poem cycle Chamber Music, and put music to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s epic Locksley Hall ( with Alan Trench, working as Twelve Thousand Days). It seems a long time ago now, very distant – but it was an ‘outing’ for me if you like – great fun to play with a seven piece band, playing to larger audiences. Anne is an admirable figure – a lone female in a world of parasitic wolfmen –the rock world, if you like . She is a figure that I admire for her achievements, both professionally and as a friend.

DA: What about your cover on 'PRIESTS' & what about LEONARD COHEN as an influence & as an artist?

MARTYN BATES: For me, recording ‘Priests’ is as much a tribute to the hideously overlooked Judy Collins ‘Wildflowers’ album, as much as it is a tribute to Leonard Cohen -although it is indeed a strangely overlooked and rarely mentioned Cohen gem. It was an honour to sing this song, as I’ve always felt an affinity with the early work of Leonard Cohen- not so much his music as his two novels The Favorite Game, and Beautiful Losers. In fact one of the pieces that Eyeless in Gaza did for the Caught in Flux album was titles as tribute to this insane novel. Having said that ‘Improvisation’ from Cohen’s Live Songs’ album is right at the heart of much of our output – well, definitely at the core of certain strand of what we’ve done down the years.

DA: What about about JOY DIVISION and FACTORY RECORDS Tony Wilson?

Eyeless in GazaMARTYN BATES:  As a young music ‘fan’ in the Punk days and after, I saw many times Joy Division. In comparison, when I think  now, of  how often  the audiences back  then comprised so many of the  people who went on to form bands of their own , or to become creative artists in other areas…it was amazing! Somehow,  I can’t help but feel that this kind of phenomenon is ‘lost’ now – at the moment , any way – that we’ve lost that  whole cross fertilisation experience of the ‘AUDIENCE AS ARTISTS’.

I feel that presently in this saturated culture there exists an equivalence between the new digital age and what happened during the Industrial Revolution. I can see a parallel between the super saturated ‘digital information explosion’ that’s still happening now – a parallel between that and with people coming out of the fields and into the towns and cities. Psychologically there’s a resonance there with what’s happening now with the exchange of information. The dust’s flying around everywhere, and it’s quite exciting –BUT very dangerous, fraught with jeopardy and much to lose. The Marshall McLuhan argument was that al this would have the positive  effect of a global village, a sharing of resources and a mutual exchange of information to the benefit of everyone, but I think all this escalated change seems to be happening so quickly that we’re not quite sure where things are going to settle. I don’t know if it’s negative or not – it’s just ‘different’. For me, the important thing is to be aware of the flux.

DA: Memories from 'KODAK GHOSTS RUN AMOCK' / recording the track etc?

MARTYN BATES: You’ve got to remember the musical climate was very different then - one felt stultified by people who were showing off their technique. It all seemed about being ‘flash’, rather than the content. So that’s why punk burst everything open, because you can make your own music, that’s what the message says. And if you were listening to the message properly, you were able to think, yeah, I could bring bits of folk music into this – plus all the other areas of Art that spoke to me. Interestingly, my music started with what you might call an industrial ‘noise’ project – Migraine Inducers...you might say that i go back a long way with certain elements of a  UK avant garde - in the early 80s i sent review tapes to a zine called Stabmental, edited by one Geoff Rushton, later known as John Balance of Coil. He liked the stuff, and actually gave me the first positive press for Eyeless, because he liked the stuff I’d done with Migraine Inducers.

Anyway - that ‘Kodak Ghosts’ period - curious times! Exciting, but fraught. Interestingly enough, we have a 5” vinyl single that features one of the tracks that didn’t make it onto the ‘Kodak Ghosts’ EP - a song entitled ‘By Proxy’. It’s coming out as part of the Hong Kong box-set that I spoke of (which is called ‘Mythic Language’ by the way).

DA: Forthcomin gigs in Europe & what about an ATHENS gig.

still unknown (sorry ….)

DA: Memories from ATHENS gig @ GAGARIN some years ago. 

MARTYN BATES: We met some fantastic people, had SUCH a good time, made good music -   a great night!  We experienced a rare and giving generosity of spirit. We want to return …

DA: What about PILLOWS & PRAYERS looking back.

Eyeless in GazaPETER BECKER: Well, there is much talk about Factory style, 4AD style, but maybe not so many remember about Cherry Red and “New Puritans” as they called bands connected with label.  It was fake? I don’t know – I couldn't say … I didn’t feel like part of it in the 80’s, for sure. I think Cherry Red only really had Felt and Eyeless in Gaza.  Those other labels probably had more acts! 

I think that the “style” part of it only really comes from some common design elements in the artwork of the album sleeves.  I’m sure each musician was only really doing their own thing and was conscious not to copy others on the same label.   The “style” is just a concept that can cover a pretty wide area, e.g. Felt are nothing like Eyeless in Gaza.  The ‘New Puritans’ I think was invented by Mike Alway (Head of A&R at Cherry Red back in the 80’s) in some way to some up a spirit, an approach.

MARTYN BATES: I much preferred the earlier ‘scene’ the PERSPECTIVES & DISTORTION era –Mark Perry/ATV, Lemon Kittens, the early Virgin Prunes, Lol Coxhill, Robert Rental, Thomas Leer, the Snatch Tapes label artists, Kevin Harrison/This Heat, and especially and above all others here, TWO DAUGHTERS – whose tape Ladder of Souls was a HUGE influence on me at this time – and it continued to act as an influence what I did with Eyeless in Gaza for many years – probably still does. THIS whole ‘scene’ was closer to where we were in our hearts, I feel. I‘m still the same as then in a lot of respects – in that my main interest lies in UNMEDIATED work – unmediated by myself, even! Though it is very difficult, for as people  we can’t help but be such SATURATED texts nowadays - not if  we want to be part of the wider world. But this phenomenon is NOT new – it  began with the invention of the printing press, and even before then with Church and State, Feudal Power etc.

DA: Closing Comments

MARTYN BATES : If I want anything to come across in this interview, it is the fact that, for me, the heart of my music down the years, and the best work that I’ve done, has been with Eyeless in Gaza - because I’ve had this special rapport with Peter Becker now for all these years, and we’ve built up this telepathic relationship. And I also want o say that above all, it is creating of NEW MUSIC that is the most important thing to me – to continue creating and writing new songs. For me, the writing is a rich metaphor for the internal landscape – it is a manifestation of the psyche. As a writer I am totally trying to clue into the intensity behind the ordinary, behind the everyday. It’s not a passive process at all.

The cover photo belongs to Philippe Carly

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