A single lit candle is brought onto stage. This pre-performance "mood-setter" would normally give a crowded concert hall an air of solemnity, ritual and intimacy. However, rather than placed conspicuously upstage, where it might be a silent call to attention, it is set off to the side, almost backstage. Obviously, the candle is not meant for the audience, but for the private ritual of the performer. Such is typical of Edward Ka-Spel, whose moving performances offer access to an original and deeply personal vision of the world. As founder of the Legendary Pink Dots, Edward and company have put out some of the most absorbing and richly diverse music around-ballads in epic proportions without concessions given to chorus, hummable melody, or neatly coategorized style. Instead, it is almost operatic, full of radical stylistic shifts, and bound with sophisticated and sometimes grating elecronics. Edward Ka-Spel has just finished a solo tour (in which the other Pink Dots were present through the magic of pre-recorded magnetic tape) with Canadian mud rhythm monsters Skinny Puppy.
The Legendary Pink Dots have become well, legendary - for their almost uncanny ability to be included on compilation recordings. Their songs can be founnd on countless cassettes throughout Europe along with many of the leading (and lesser) lights of the experimental and avant-pop underground. Through releases on Belgium's Play It Again Sam label, the band is stepping into it's own and earning a somewhat higher profile.
At his performance in Las Angeles Edward Ka-Spel sang from a veil of dry-ice fog against slide backdrops od beautiful and ornate religious paintings, all of which contrasted nicely with the tough electronic rhythms and hard-edges textures. The audience, many of who sported such post-industrial apparel as Psychic TV t-shirts and Current 93 baseball caps, were delighted with Edward's show. We had the chance to talk afterwards.
The music of the Legendary Pink Dots is a pretty disparate combination of elements. It's highly melodic, but there are some rapid-fire cut-ups and Biblical references to temper-an unusual combination.
Extremely wide territory. Why are there Biblical references and collages in the midst of the beautiful tunes? It's meant to be painting that goes on inside of me, which is hardly the most balanced human being to use as a reference point in the first place. So any beauty that is inside me, any chaos that's inside me-they sort of fuse inside me. I paint them as they are going on all the time. The music I write is a representation of this. It's sort of like painting your own soul.
Is there a collective unconscious in the music of the Legendary Pink Dots or is it a mutation of different ideas?
Well, it's unified lyrically because all the lyrics I write. They are all interconnected verses-the same themes, the some characters keep popping up. The Pink Dots on the whole are a group of obsessive individuals, and for that reason the music gets more extreme as it goes on.
Your music has a wonderful ability to shift suddenly from stark, electronic textures to lush, orchestrated pop-oriented material. Is that a conscious effort to diversify?
Yes, it's like turning a kaleidoscope. An observotion seen from different angles. The kaleidoscopic vision is always changing. I'm providing the soundtrack to that observation-music to match our sensory overkill. I can't help but hear a superficial resemblance to American Broadway show tunes in some tracks.
That must be a coincidence. I never listen to Broadway musicals.
It's hard to escape the quote from West Side Story on your Asylum album. "So Gallantly Screaming."
Oh yes, that's because in a way, that song represents America. You read the lyrics? It's about the death of America.
Do you have any distinct impressions of the States?
Television. It's never ceasing. You hear it in the motels through the walls. I'm not surprised there's so much psychosis in America with so much televised violence. You're saturated with it.
Were you worried that you wouldn't be able to got a visa to tour here?
Yes, I was terrified of that. It's disgusting. Julio Iglesias never has trouble getting a visa.
What are your opinions of the American music market?
From what I hear, it's obsessed with the bland. I was sitting in the car yesterday pressing six stations on the car radio, hearing six channels of stupification. I think there are good American bands here and there. The Residents justify the entire American music scene to me. Most Americans probably have the some impression of music from Great Britain, from what they hear.
I'm sure you're absolutely right. 99% of what comes from Britain is absolutely perfect for American radio, which is rather a tragedy. Do you play live in England very often?
Four times, lately. We're based in Amsterdam now. That was a decision we made because of for greater response in Europe than there was in England. Most interesting English bonds never get recognition in their own country. My favorite bands in England, at the moment, are Coil and Nurse With Wound.
You've worked with Nurse With Wound in the past.
Here and there. To say I've worked with Steve Stapleton is maybe an exaggeration. I mean, you do something in the studio, and Steve will do something with what you've done and you won't recognize it later.
He did the editing on Asylum?
We didn't have any experience with editing an album-just the musical side, so it was a case of putting the songs together on the sides, really. In his own music, he's a master of editing-the art, rather than just the tool.
Will the next project you do be a continuation of the post one?
The idea in the interconnection is to destroy the concept of time-to shift backwards and forwards. To create this other world like a huge tapestry ...
A sort of cubist perspective of time from record to record ...
Yes, and within the songs themselves.
Stravinsky said that music should not be listened to with the eyes closed. Would you agree?
Yeah, I would. I like music to be almost hallucinating. It should take you places, even with the eyes wide open. To destroy the line between reality and dream. Have you ever had the experience, when you seem to remember something, and you realize what you're remembering cannot be placed. You've never been there before, and you couldn't possibly have been. Then you realize that you're actually remembering a dream.
Which gets into the Australian aboriginal idea of dreamtime being as or more real than waking time, and that line disappears. In performance, do you try to destroy that line between what is actually taking place and the subjective perceptions of the audience?
I wouldn't say destroy it, just ... ignore it.
Do you see your music as political?
No. I hate politicians. I hate politics. I go to the left, the right, the middle -whatever- and I see ambitious, greedy people. The only politician I even remotely admire is Gandhi. But no, I couldn't see myself waving a red torch.
I've seen the phrase "concept album" applied to your music more than once-are these in fact "concept records?"
No particular album is in itself a concept. Each is part of a huge jigsaw puzzle. When they're put together, they'll make sense.
Will the puzzle ever be complete?
(laughter) When I finally go to that big jig-saw puzzle in the sky ...
Where did the name Legendary Pink Dots come from?
Well, we started in this old, delapidated squat in East London, and the only instruments we had were this tiny synthesizer, and this incredibly cheap piano-a very old get-up-with these mysterious bits of nail polish on the keys ...
So somebody knew which were the right notes ...
Yeah ... and people always took a look and sciid, "Ah, those legendary pink dots!" Well, we thought that would be a great name for our band. We used to be called "One Day... " before that. Because we'd say, "One day we'll do this, one day we'll do that ... "
And now you're doing it.
Maybe we'll change the name to "Doing It."