JG Thirlwell: Hide and Seek

Sunday, 18 July 2010 00:00 Anna Station Opinions and Editorials - Interviews and Features
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If you've listened to music in the past 30 years, or even turned on your television, you've heard JG Thirlwell. He’s released over 40 records under 19 different identities. He’s the Venture Bros guy. The MTV Sports voiceover man. The remix king. Foetus, Steroid Maximus, Manorexia, Clint Ruin, Wiseblood, Baby Zizanie and DJ Otefsu. From no-wave to neoclassical, minimalism to math rock; JG Thirlwell makes noise sound like pop and classical sound like punk. From sound-sculpting with Nurse with Wound to remixing Pantera; from making a video with Karen O and Spike Jonze to writing symphonies for robots, Thirlwell has been around.

 

JG Thirlwell: NYC Foetus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pouting redhead swigging wine from the bottle in 1996 was not JG Thirlwell. It looked like him, sure, but this guy was all swaggering excess and seductive charm; the real JG Thirlwell is shy, cultured and softly-spoken. He’d made the switch several years before, but now the impostor had taken over. Fuelled by acid and alcohol, he had blistered his way across the various scenes of the '80s and '90s until almost destroyed by his own myth. JG Thirlwell is back now, and has spent the past decade making better music than ever. With a new album, HIDE, out next month, Thirlwell has agreed to tell all: about the man I met, about the man he is, and about the extraordinary music they’ve made between them.

James George Thirlwell was born on 29 January, 1960 in Melbourne. He’s often called “Jim” but goes by “JG.” He spent 12 years at an all-boys Baptist school and hated it so much that he excelled for fear of being held back. He became withdrawn and antisocial – describing himself once as “a shithead” – and sought comfort in books, art and music.

AS: When was the first time you remember really enjoying music?

JGT: My first musical memory is singing “Viva Las Vegas” to a little girl called Viva in kindergarten. I must have been three years old.

AS: Who do you still love listening to now who you enjoyed hearing as a child?

JGT: I used to love The Monkees, particularly Mickey Dolenz's smokin' big band number “Goin’ Down.” The Monkees was the first group I ever saw, in Melbourne in about 1968.

JG’s Scottish mother took him to the UK from time to time, and he felt more at home here than Australia, where he felt culturally isolated. At 16, he graduated and spent two years at Art College where he found himself training as a teacher instead of the course in graphic design he had intended to take. Frustrated and unhappy, he amused himself with low-level mischief before fleeing to London, where his mother had once studied music. He'd packed a couple of bags, told his parents he was taking a vacation, and didn’t return.

JGT: I haven’t been there in over 30 years and I don’t miss that country. I will no doubt visit one day. I've never actually been invited to perform there but Kronos Quartet played the first piece I wrote for them there last year.

It was 1978 when JG arrived in London and found work as a buyer for Virgin Records. Through this he was able to keep a close eye on all new releases, as well as obtaining sound files and soundtracks on vinyl for use in samples. Example: he put a voice clip of Vincent Price on two tape loops to play back in and out of phase, Steve Reich style. He began chopping up tape clips and making charts of what pitch they’d form if he played them back at different speeds; a DIY primitive sampler.

Minimalist experimental acts like Reich, John Cage and Phillip Glass were his main inspiration, along with the post-punk acts of the day – but Thirlwell's heart seems to be in classical music (particularly Bartok and Penderecki). He’s always claimed he “can’t really play anything well,” but he seems to compose well enough these days: he writes the music electronically and then sometimes works with an arranger to generate the score for each instrument.

AS: On the documentary NYC Foetus (part of the LIMB release), it’s suggested that you like the impersonality of classical music. What made you decide to make (for want of a better term) rock music instead?

JGT: I never said I think classical music is impersonal, I think [sound engineer] Martin Bisi said that. I don't think classical music is impersonal at all; I think it can be highly emotional. Just listen to the closing of Stravinsky's “Firebird” – there won’t be a dry eye in the house! I don't just make one style of music.

JG was particularly excited about post-punk experimentalism. He was inspired by the DIY ethic of the time - the tools to make your own music were available and anyone could do it if they had the ideas. He regularly went to see bands such as Throbbing Gristle, Joy Division, Wire, Scritti Politti, and Nick Cave's group, The Birthday Party. At first he played with PragVEC and Nurse With Wound, but then sought to create his own music.

In 1980, he set up his own Self Immolation label and eventually forged a manufacturing and distribution deal with the fledgling Rough Trade to put out his records - each released under a variant of “Foetus” (Foetus Under Glass, You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath, etc.) – a word he loved for its baffling taboo status and weird spelling, as well as its connotations of potential. Around this time he began working with Einstürzende Neubauten, financing and helping to assemble Stratagien Gegen Arkitekturen Volume 1. As his own manager, agent and publicist (as well as performing all the instruments and designing the sleeve art), he created the aliases to make the idea of selling his music more palatable. As he told in NYC Foetus, he didn't want to be touting his music to people saying, “Please will you play my record?”

On the press releases he wrote, he pretended Foetus was Frank Want, Phillip Toss and two Brazilian statistics collectors; he claimed Scraping Foetus off the Wheel was Frank Want and Clint Ruin. Frank Want is credited on releases by Orange Juice and The The. (Matt Johnson’s one of his closest friends: he’s performed with The The playing synthesizer, guitar and even the kitchen sink.) These characters were inspired by the mythology The Residents built up surrounding their releases, and his early press releases advised “the Foetus family prefers to retain a degree of anonymity so the observer can have no preconceptions about the music via the appearance of the perpetrator, the artefact must be judged on merit alone...”

 


 

JGT - New Musical Express 1984

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He told Brutarian that he made up Clint Ruin to create the illusion that there was more to Foetus than JG Thirlwell, and created Self Immolation to give the impression he had capital behind him. But why bother lying? Why not just say nothing at all?

JGT: I was successful at remaining anonymous for the first 18 months of releasing records, spinning mythology through press releases. Then it became exhausting. I didn't want to be the Residents; they do it so well. However, there was a point when I was creating the mythology of Foetus that I created names for the members of Philip and his Foetus Vibrations. Among them was Frank Want, Clint Ruin, Bubba Kowalski, Karl Satan, Wade Banks and others. Clint Ruin was one I picked as a “stage name,” but it's just how I got inhabited when I played live. I never really thought about it too much; it’s just what happened when I walked out on stage.

For someone so eager to remain unknown, Clint Ruin was a very provocative character. The impression I had is of a skittish young colt: this frightened little thing with gaunt cheekbones and huge eyes. He fidgeted constantly, spouting pithy one-liners while looking painfully self-conscious. He didn’t want to be there – in fact, he regarded interviews as debasing his craft. It was the act of recording that he called his catharsis. At first he refused to do any interviews at all (his first was in ‘84), though his lyrics and art were confrontational. I wonder why he’d invite questions that he didn’t want to answer.

JGT: I don't feel that I directly invite people to ask questions, I make statements, sometimes expressing the opposite point of view than I have. Maybe this is posing questions too.

JGT: It’s good if it provokes discussion; my music is not really passive. It's foreground music (not fairground music). In the last 10 years, though, I'd say maybe 80% of the music I have made has been instrumental. I have written hundreds of pieces for The Venture Bros, as well as four Manorexia albums, commissions and so on. This is probably the most prolific period of my life.

By the summer of 1982, Foetus had released four singles and two albums. JG met Lydia Lunch at a Birthday party gig.

JGT: I was living with Mick Harvey; he introduced me to her. The Birthday Party had met her when they were in NYC. I was aware of her work from Teenage Jesus and Queen of Siam and was a fan. I'd been writing press releases for the Birthday Party, which were quite overblown, and she'd seen them and asked if I would write her a bio sheet. We got together to talk about that; that was the first time we really had talked. She didn't know I made music until some time after that.

JG, Lydia, and their friends Nick Cave and Marc Almond briefly played together in a band called The Immaculate Consumptive. Yet another NME cover without bothering the charts. They played just three gigs – JG broke the piano at the first, and Nick halted a song during the second saying “and then it goes on like that for another five minutes.”

As Clint Ruin, JG made his first recordings with Lydia in May 1983. They were romantically as well as artistically involved for the next few years, and moved to New York together during that year after a brief stay in LA. They made a decorative couple.

He released the seminal HOLE and NAIL in 1984 and 1985 respectively. JG’s artistic endeavors became well respected – both the music and the self-designed covers, which have been shown in art galleries over the years – but Foetus was just too controversial to enjoy mainstream popularity.

On “I'll Meet You in Poland, Baby,” he likens infidelity to the destructiveness of WWII: this girl didn't just break his heart, she broke his world. Even a decade after writing it, it could still bring a tear to his eye singing it live. By contrast, NAIL's lyrics are a spiky mass of ghoulish wit, full of grimly comic lines such as “make a withdrawal from my blood bank” and “they’ll cut off your face to spite your nose.”

His lyrics could offend just about everyone: gay, straight, black, white, any religion or political affiliation; all come under attack from his psychopathically brutal lines. On “Free James Brown (So He Can Run Me Down),” he alternates “I want to die with my hands around a black man’s throat” with “I want to die with my hands around a white man’s throat” (a quote actually appropriated from Miles Davis) – either way round, it’s an ugly, horrific thing to say, and that’s the point.

When I sat with Foetus in 1996, he had answered patiently and playfully. Sometimes Thirlwell admits he finds accusations of sexism, racism, etc. “insulting,” but a lot of his songs are hard to take unless you know enough about him to see the context. “English Faggot” sounds very different once you learn about the homophobic bullying he endured in his youth: the song was inspired by a threatening message left on his answering machine. Old girlfriends speak of him in such glowing terms as to make accusations of misogyny based on his lyrics sound ridiculous.

Most bands sing about what scares them: what unsettled people about Foetus is that you’re getting the horror story from the viewpoint of the killer. However stomach-churning the images are, it’s impossible not to smirk at some of the bleak comedy in songs like “Throne of Agony,” and those choruses are damned catchy.

AS: That whole Oscar Wilde-sings-Johnny Cash thing you did with the lyrics: where did that come from? Is macabre wordplay a strong part of your real-life sense of humor?

JGT: You mean part is wordplay part of my daily conversation? Yes, sometimes. Lyrics come from different places for different songs, and my lyric writing has changed a lot over the years, both in process and content. I think maybe I write from a deeper place now. I may do less of the wordplay, I don’t want to fall back on the same tropes, and that's been co-opted by some other people. Often there are obscure references that only I know. Often my subjects are composite characters. It really changes song to song.

AS: You allude in your lyrics to a painful divorce, but I didn't know you'd married. Was that allegorical?

JGT: It’s allegorical. I use divorce as a metaphor for murder!

 



JG developed friendships with other influential bands such as Einstürzende Neubauten. At once such gig, FM Einheit injured himself during the set and was immediately hauled off to the hospital by the tour manager. Thirlwell had leapt onto the stage and filled in Einheit’s part before the rest of the band even noticed their drummer was missing. This from someone who claims his only real instrument is the studio.

Foetus 1985 by John Hubbard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foetus didn’t play any instruments live: the early shows were just Clint Ruin prowling an empty stage wielding a baseball bat, surrounded by pig heads on spikes, while a reel-to-reel tape provided the music.

Descent Into The Inferno, The Tube, 1985: originally called “Descent Into LA”

JGT: No-one was doing it at the time and I actually got very strong reaction. People seemed to really like it. The trick was to “inhabit” the stage with blinding white light, smoke and pig heads.

Clint Ruin also branched out into another area: acting in Richard Kern’s arthouse horror-porn films alongside actor-screenwriter Lydia Lunch, as well as creating the soundtracks. When Clint and Lydia released the Stinkfist EP, both appeared near-naked, entwined and covered in mud on the cover.

The Clint Ruin persona became increasingly eroticized, especially with his hip-thrusting live shows for Wiseblood – his side-project with Roli from Swans. (“Wise Blood” was Lydia’s nickname for JG, from the Flannery O’Connor novel.)

AS: How did that sort of exhibitionism make you, as someone apparently rather introverted, feel?

JGT: Performing as a singer could be a shell to project my visions, pathologies or innermost thoughts or artistic intentions. It can imbue me with a sort of fearlessness. I don't necessarily have that fearlessness offstage, and where I can be candid in my work, I may not be as candid when talking personally to someone. I can articulate through my work in ways that I don't in normal personal interactions.

JGT: But I don't perform live in that context any more – what I do with Manorexia and Steroid Maximus is very different to when I sang in live band versions of Foetus. My intention with those ensembles is to rearrange and sometimes reimagine my music for live ensembles. With Manorexia, the compositions are revoiced for the chosen instrumentation, which is string quartet, piano, percussion and laptop. With Steroid Maximus the music is more dense and elaborate, and the bigger the band the better. Steroid live is very elaborate, and not cheap, so I haven’t had an opportunity to do it as much as I would like to. I just did the first ever Steroid Maximus NYC show in Prospect Park in June as part of the Celebrate Brooklyn festival. It was magical to finally do it in my hometown, and home borough.

AS: Roli Mosimann was the first person you approached for your idea of a band with four drummers, and it ended up with just you and him doing Wiseblood. Do think you'll ever revisit the four-drummer idea?

JGT: I don't know. I had four drummers playing when I recorded Stinkfist. I'd like to write a symphonic piece, and that would probably have five percussionists in the orchestra.

Wiseblood – Stumbo, 1989: sexy

As well as the more straightforward sexuality, Clint Ruin was morphing into something – someone – else. By the time the Butterfly Potion EP was released in 1990, the makeover was complete: the fragile, coltish youngster replaced by the gravel-voiced rock god I met in 1996. A different kind of energy and a different kind of performance.

 


 


JGT - Alternative Press May 1992 by Michele

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AS: You mentioned regretting that you never went further with that (Butterfly Potion EP) sound. I notice similarities on tracks like "Sieve" and "Need Machine" – is that you going back to that?

JGT: No, I don’t think they are really going back to the Butterfly Potion thing. The sound on those tracks was a product of the technology I was using and how I was using it right then, and a kind of economy it bred. “Sieve” and “Need Machine” are entities to themselves from a different time with different methodologies.

Touring band-members over the years included various members of Swans and Cop Shoot Cop, Raymond Watts from Pig/KMFDM, and Ministry’s William Tucker.

AS: What prompted you to recruit a full live band?

JGT: The need to get out and play it live: I wasn’t satisfied performing with the backing tracks but didn't think I could do my music justice as a band. And I don’t think I ever did, until I had a large ensemble. With the rock band format, the music gained in volume, confrontation, physicality and heft, but lost nuance.

JGT: I didn't actually perform that much with a live band. There were about seven tours: Europe in 1988, US in 1991 and 1992, US and Europe in ‘95-‘96 and US and Europe in 2001. 2001 is when I gave up that “rock band – tour” format. It just wasn't working, it felt boring and not who I am any more. My main artistic life happens when composing and recording.

JG also built up a reputation as a producer, having successfully remixed tracks by Prong and EMF, which led to commissions to alter songs by the likes of Megadeth, The Cult, Nine Inch Nails, Danzig, Pop Will Eat Itself, Pantera, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. He became better known for his remixes than for his own music – moving away from it when he felt his mixes were becoming a sort of self-parody – though he still does the odd reworking.

Faith Healer, MALE, 1993: gravel-voiced rock god

In 1995, Thirlwell signed to Sony to release GASH. He was becoming high-profile, fashionable and in demand: the billboards in Times Square on the cover of GASH are genuine. Foetus became a Byronic human whirlwind. Other interviews from that time confirm my own experience: he wore a very convincing mask of warmth, seductiveness and charm, but hidden in plain sight he was falling apart. He’d often remain in character offstage, and I thought nothing amiss when I met him: the extreme personality just seemed to fit the music.

To make things worse, the slash-and-burn era had begun with alternative music. Sony's business affairs in Japan decided they wouldn't be promoting the subsequent album so the wheels were set in motion to extricate him from his contract. His UK label Big Cat – with whom he’d had the longer relationship – was swallowed by Virgin and then dismantled. He’s since regained the rights to his Big Cat catalogue, but this dual loss was a major disappointment. JG took his already prodigious drink and chemical habits to new levels, falling into a spiral of debauchery from which he didn’t emerge for several years.

I next saw Foetus at the Royal Festival Hall in 2000. I gasped the moment I saw him: his Elvis-style lamé suit hung shapelessly off his skeletal frame; dull dark-shadowed eyes staring out over hollow cheekbones. He looked old and frail and tired – and very, very unwell.

JGT: Yes, it got pretty scary and eventually I straightened out. Some chunks of the '90s are a bit of a blur.

Need Machine, FLOW, 2001

AS: When you came out of your “lost years,” you were much altered. To me you look younger in 2010 than you did in 2001. How long did it take you to get your health back?

JGT: Yes, I became quite distorted mentally and physically. I guess it didn’t take that long to regain my health comparatively; a little longer to regain my brain. I feel much better and fitter now than I did when I was 30. My musical output was comparatively small in the 1990s and I’m making up for it now. My work has really accelerated.


 

Steroid Maximus live at Celebrate Brooklyn 2010 by Ryan Muir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JG Thirlwell decided that, unusually, he wasn't going to make really bad music after cleaning up his act. While the other bands I loved at the time peaked in the '90s, Foetus just got better and better. FLOW, BLOW, LOVE, VEIN, DAMP and LIMB followed, along with releases by his chamber ensemble project Manorexia, Baby Zizanie (with Jim Coleman), and nightclub slots as DJ Otefsu (which he claimed was some dialect from Ghana meaning “flame-haired prince”, but is actually just an anagram of “Foetus”). He also revisited his all-instrumental incarnation, Steroid Maximus.

Steroid Maximus - Chain Reaction: Ectopia, 2002

AS: You went back and rescored Steroid Maximus and Manorexia with live instruments. Would you ever go back and rescore Foetus songs with real brass and strings?

JGT: I rearranged the whole LOVE album for that instrumentation for a performance at the Donafestival in Krems in 2005. We also did a version of “Hammer Falls” during that set, as well as an overture that used elements of “Theme from Pigdom Come”, “I'll Meet You in Poland Baby,” and “Mortgage.” I would love to do the new album HIDE with a large ensemble or orchestra, and there are a few songs, like “Poland,” that would be great to do symphonically. It's possible I'd like to rescore more material. But it's expensive to assemble large ensembles like that so it has to be underwritten or part of a festival. I do want to write for an orchestra.

JGT: Somehow I always had it in mind that I wanted to rework Manorexia for string quartet and percussion though it took a little while to come about. Those pieces adapt very well to that instrumentation and I enjoy writing for strings. That led me to adding a string quartet to the LEMURbots when I did the commission for League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots.

Rehearsing the LEMUR Robosonic Eclectic concert, 2007

The mystery is why the music he once told me was “totally accessible” is not more popular. To me it’s perfect, but other people describe it as unsettling or just “too much” – the sheer compositional density is overwhelming. He tried to rein it in on 2005’s LOVE, but found the need to give himself “permission to be bombastic.” He can do gloriously epic arrangements and even minimalism, but he’s unlikely to write any hits for Miley Cyrus. Luckily Thirlwell doesn’t have to pay the rent by making bland, commercial pop or staging endless greatest hits tours.

The past decade has seen him scoring cartoon series The Venture Bros and working on commissions for Kronos Quartet, Bang On A Can, and the LEMUR robot orchestra, fully entering the world of being a respected composer. One such endeavor - a Kronos Quartet commission called Eremikophobia (“fear of deserts”) - involved JG flying out to Oman to record the “singing sands” – the natural music of the sand tumbling down the dunes. It's as though, having run out of samplers to program and pots and pans to bang on, he’s now playing the world itself. That’s in addition to art projects like the freq_out sound installations and recent dabbles in sculpture. Thirlwell likes to keep one foot in the future and one in the Stone Age musically; I wonder if that’s true of his art.

AS: Do you think that we'll see you using watercolors and charcoal any time soon?

JGT: Not soon, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

AS: Do you sit down and write, say, a Manorexia album, or do you just write something and then decide which project to assign it to?

JGT: A bit of both. Sometimes I will come up with something that is obvious for a project but I have had pieces intended as instrumentals and turned into Foetus songs. I have had Manorexia pieces migrate into other pieces and a couple of Foetus tracks have surfaced in instrumental forms here and there.

JGT: On the Manorexia album I am working on, I work with the intention that the pieces will be on that album, but something may creep up that turns into something else. I am going to be mixing a version of the album in surround sound, as well as stereo, so on certain pieces that is a consideration – where the instrumentation and sound events will be panned, where they will appear in the sonic field. That has grown out of doing multi channel installation work. The previous Manorexia album on Tzadik (The Mesopelagic Waters) consisted of the chamber versions of selections from the first two Manorexia albums, which I have been playing live with the ensemble for a couple of years. This new one is only me in the studio, although later I will be adapting some of the pieces for the ensemble too.

Manorexia – Armadillo Stance, 2006: from The Mesopelagic Waters

AS: Is the reason that you haven't done any video game soundtracks simply that you haven't been asked?

JGT: The remix of “Quick Fix” was used on some game, I don’t remember what. [Mirror’s Edge?] Apart from that I haven’t been asked to score video games.

AS: Do you find it easy to compose on demand?

JGT: I don't like the pressure of composing to deadlines so I work a long way in advance. Once I've broken the back of something – i.e. come up with the concept – the rest falls into place much more easily. I always work on several projects simultaneously and go back and forth between them, so each project is in a different point of completion. When I am working on a season of The Venture Bros, I work a long way in advance, scoring to the animatic. After a couple of episodes I might break from that to work on an album or remix or something on location. Then I return to that for a couple of episodes and so on, until by the end of the season I will be right on top of the deadline. It enables me to keep multiple plates spinning in the air at once. I have a fear of drying up or coming to a creative impasse if I’m right on top of things but I’m a bit more relaxed about it now. I have found that the more I do (at once), the more I can do. I’m a time management fiend like that, though that doesn’t mean that part of the creative process isn’t procrastinating, or looking in the fridge to see if there is anything new in there since I last looked 20 minutes ago.


 

JG Thirlwell still from Under Your Skin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JG Thirlwell has always thrived on the energy of New York, but that’s meant living since 1986 in a factory building, where the rent was cheap and he could make a lot of noise. Although the classy bachelor pad he shares with a cat called Squeak looks cozy enough, it’s surrounded by the squalid crime of the projects.

AS: Don't you ever want to just get away from it all and move somewhere nice?

JGT: I have a lot of space here, and I am a self employed artist. I love my loft. Dumbo [in Brooklyn] has become very gentrified, but I am right on the border next to the housing projects, and they are not going anywhere. I don’t know how you define “somewhere nice.” I certainly don’t want to live in the countryside.

AS: Do you think that you'd have been less prolifically creative if you'd either "found God” or had children? Is Lady Gaga your secret lovechild?

JGT: I am too selfish for children at this time in my life. Lady Gaga is my secret lover.

AS: Seriously, though, you've made allusions to your “lost years” and of striving for some sort of immortality through your music. Can you envisage any point where you think you'd have caught up?

JGT: Of course not. I will never catch up; I'll never be “good enough.”

“Many people cross the beach and leave no trace
Well I’m hoping for my footprints to remain
....I know that ain’t real”
- Mine Is No Disgrace

AS: Do you honestly believe that you haven't left a permanent footprint on the world?

JGT: I hope I may have left a toe or two. My work has been, and continues to be, very important and significant to me. I hope other people find it moving – that’s the highest compliment I could have!

JG Thirlwell is disappointed that I’ve focused so much on the first two-thirds of his career, which is “so far in the distant past as to be irrelevant.” He has far more interest in his recent work. That leaves me with a problem: the Venture Bros series has only just been picked up where I live in the UK (to be shown soon on the Cartoon Network), and his sound installations and concerts are thousands of miles away. I simply haven’t heard most of what he’s been doing.

As for his recent Foetus albums and Manorexia and Steroid Maximus, my lack of curiosity is not lack of interest. It’s by far the best music he’s ever made. It’s just that his (bi)polar shift has come through in his music: it seems to me self-explanatory, striking home on such an intuitive and primal level that it doesn’t even occur to me to ask about it. Thirlwell recently told Big Shiny Robot that new Foetus album HIDE is perhaps his best yet.

JGT: HIDE was begun during George W’s regime and lyrically some of it addresses war paranoia and the culture of fear, as well as embracing the rapture as a form of deliverance. There are references to a kind of non-specific Masonic-like cult which is somehow simultaneously serving and enslaving, various other parables, and a bunch of it is in Latin. Parts of it are operatic and I brought in the singer Abby Fischer, and layered her voice extensively. She has an amazing strong operatic voice; it is such a strong instrument. I couldn’t believe how loudly she could sing.

He describes it as “symphonic psychedelia,” which is no surprise from someone who mostly listens to prog and contemporary classical. Let other people enquire about the processes behind HIDE: for me, the way to understand the music is to understand the person who makes it.

Thirlwell now seems so completely opposite to his various incarnations that I can't help but wonder if “JG Thirlwell” is yet another mask. He portrays a mixture of personal humility and artistic urgency. He seems shy, polite, sweet, funny, thoughtful, driven, intellectual and very serious.

AS: Is "JG Thirlwell” yet another persona?

JGT: No, JG Thirlwell is me. I have always been deadly serious!

Yet it's still not the full picture. I know for sure he's not the swaggering flirt I interviewed 14 years ago – only the occasional mannerism hints at any resemblance – but if the purpose of this was to find a vivid, accurate image of the real JG Thirlwell, it’s been an abject failure. I normally learn all I ever need to know about a person within the first few minutes; in Thirlwell’s case, you could spend years trying to figure him out.

Feeling despondent, I rejoin my group of friends and their unrelated conversation. "Whatever the truth is, that's OK: I just want to know," one is saying. "Because there's nothing worse than when you just can't work someone out, is there? Drives me mad!"

All I know is Thirlwell's a lifer – he hopes he has another 30 years of creating in him – and thinks he won’t really excel until he’s in his 70s. I don’t normally use the word “complicated” to describe a person – most of us are just variations of archetypes – but Thirlwell is unlike anyone I’ve ever met. He won’t neatly fit into any box, but remains overwhelmingly complex, intriguing and impossible to describe.

Just like his music, in other words.

 

The Foetus album HIDE will be released in August 2010

Additional resources: Foetus.org, Two Gun Mathilda, Acid Logic, Wikipedia



 

Last Updated on Sunday, 18 July 2010 21:34