Last month I was one of the privileged few invited to a preview of the new Cabaret Voltaire LP at Western Works and it ocurred to me it was about time I let them open their mouths into print again as someone out there must be interested in what they have to say. The last thing I wrote about the group didn't please them too much as Rough Trade took some of Chris Watson's comments about them the wrong way and got a bit emotional about it. Just to set the record straight, neither me nor Chris were implying any criticism. In future Chris will be careful what he says in my presence and I'll be selective about what I hear. Back to the album, which contains no real surprises. Track listing is 'The Voice Of America'/'The Damage Is Done', 'Partially Submerged', 'Kneel To The Boss', 'Premonition', 'This Is Entertainment', 'If The Shadows Could March?', 'Stay Out Of It', 'Obsession', 'News From Nowhere' and 'Messages Received', though as much of the material has yet to be performed live that won't mean a great deal. I've heard it only once, which is hardly enough to do an in depth analysis, so by way of review I did an interview instead.
Me: Why's it called 'Voice Of America'?
Chris: I had a dream and in this dream I was looking in a musical instrument shop window and I saw some syndrums that Mal had been after for a long time and I saw piles and piles of these things in a sort of stock room and I went inside and there was nobody in there and I thought 'Christ! I must tell Mal about this - he wants some of these', and then the next thing somebody walked across the back with a big guitar, and like you get in music shops these really boring people playing guitars all the time, he walked in and plugged this guitar into a big speaker and started playing but when he started playing this voice came out and said 'Listen to this -it's your new album' and it was talking to me so I said 'What do you mean, it isn't...(unreadable)...,it's Cabaret Voltaire. It's called "The Voice Of America".
Mal: If you believe that you'll believe anything.
Chris: It's perfectly true actually.
Mal: And also it fits in with the voice at the beginning of the tape which we call 'The Voice Of America', the policeman.
Me: How do you think it's a progression?
Chris: There's a lot more bass on it, it's a much deeper sound, a much richer sound.
Me: Do you think the casual listener will appreciate that?
Mal: I don't think Cabaret Voltaire have any casual listeners. I think it's in keeping with the fact that we've never had a distinct sound in a lot of ways; everything we do we try to get a different feel to it... I think it's different. It's a lot more rhythmic. I think in a lot of ways it's more accessible but partly that's we've got more of a continuity in sound. 'Mix-Up' was a lot harsher, a bit more ragged.
Chris: It flows a lot better. I'm not detracting from 'Mix-Up', I really dig that but it's totally different.
Me: How long did you take getting the right material for this LP?
Mal: It was quite a long process but we did it in bits.
Richard: It was done different to 'Mix-Up' in that for 'Mix-Up' we didn't do anything specifically for the album - it was just a collection of things we'd been doing live. This one's been done as an album and will be played live afterwards.
Me: Are you increasing the amount of electronics and technology you're using?
Chris: Not really, just the systems we use in the process we use them more efficiently..... it seems more of a group sound than three individual sounds.
So much for the LP, which should be out around the beginning of June. After that we got onto other subjects, such as 'Eastern Mantra'....
Chris: I read in 'Pink Flag' that 'Eastern Mantra' contains derogatory remarks to the Human League. That's just not true. We were quite annoyed about it. I don't mind being misconstrued but to ignorantly use information like that is quite annoying.
Me: What's Eastern Mantra about?
Chris: It's not a joke, put it that way.
Richard: It's totally serious.
Mal: It was our interpretation of an Eastern chant.
Chris: I don't think people sufficiently understand the meaning of the Mohammed Salud (could be spelt wrong!).
Me: I don't think many people have heard of it.
Richard: It's something I've been interested in, especially the vocal side of it, and it was an idea which came about to use something like that, taken in a way out of context by putting it alongside electronic music and trying to create a fusion of the two.
Chris: We're not Indians. It was Cabaret Voltaire's interpretation of that music. It wasn't a serious attempt to copy someone else's cultural form of music.
Mal: Two cultures on one album.
Me: Was 'Western Mantra' the same idea related to disco?
Mal: Yes, something vaguely along those lines. Western music is very much like a chant.
Richard: I think it was just an experiment in repetition. A lot of people refuse to believe it's twenty minutes long.
Me: Will there be more unusual things like that?
Mal: Yes, originally what we were going to do was do a series of things, public experiments, pushing people's conceptions of what a record should be, and particularly people's conceptions of what a Cabaret Voltaire record should be, and that was the first in a series. We want to use the medium of records as much as possible and not just turn out the expected record which fits the format.
Richard: We had the means to do that. Nobody told us we couldn't do it; we just went ahead and did it. Other groups may be able to do these things live but we're in such a position where we can virtually record anything we want and as it happens it turned out to be fairly successful.
Me: You've got a free hand?
Chris: That's the benefit of being on Rough Trade. There aren't any restrictions, other than a certain quality control.
Future plans for the group include a lot more gigs, including Sheffield University on June 10th, with Throbbing Gristle. They regret the fact that it will be students and guests only, but think there should be enough students around to sign everyone in, the evils of doing a student venue being less than the evils of not playing at all. After the Cabs' last Sheffield gig, in March last year, they intended to not play in Sheffield for another four months, and the fact that it's dragged to fourteen months has been due to not being able to get a suitable venue arranged. That's about all I can think of for the moment, so I'll see you at the gig.
Digital assistance and credit: Simon Dell
© NMX, 1980