They played at the New Music Seminar, but the Legendary Pink Dots are by no means newcomers to the music scene. These English gents have been together since the late seventies, making records since the early eighties, and ignored by virtually everyone right into the nineties. Yet, the Dots have persevered and finally seem to be receiving some of the recognition that they've deserved from their start.
Troubles and tribulations have greeted the Dots around nearly every corner of their musical journey. Disputes with record labels coupled with financial hardships nearly led to the breakup of the LPDs on more than one occasion. However, iron wills and a blinding passion for creating audio masterpieces have held them together for their latest release, The Maria Dimension, released domestically on Caroline records.
Though the line-up has evolved over the years, the core of the LPDs remains intact with vocalist/lyricist/etc Edward Ka-Spel and main keyboardist/programmer Phil "the Silverman" Harmonix. The nucleus of the Dots is radiantly augmented with further colors by a host of other musicians that varyingly are Pink Dot members and guest musicians. Because of their bizarre noms de plume, it's difficult to keep up with who is who each year.
Unlike last year, the LPDs were cleared to enter the US for an entirely too brief tour. And to think that this band could be questioned on artist merit merely due to the fact that they aren't mega-sellers. That's certainly a valid judging point for allowing bands into the country. After their diminutive fling in the US, the Dots will be doing some dates in Canada before returning home away from the maddening crowd in the Netherlands.
While touring in the States, the "Prophet Qa-Sepel" conducted in in-depth conversation with B-Side.
BS: You've just completed your European Tour. How did it go?
EK: It was good generally, especially France. We didn't have enough shows in France; we only played two. There are really quite huge crowds there. There are quite a few French fanatics and they all think they're the only LPD fans in France. Then they go to the show and there's like 700 people there with them. It's a strange thing, because we don't get much publicity, we get very little. We don't covet publicity, we never have. In a way, we're too busy creating the music.
BS: I understand you played at the New Music Seminar in New York?
EK: Oh yeah, the New Music Seminar, a dreadful affair. It's like all these guys from record companies walking around looking important, trying to impress bands with how influential they are. I'm rather allergic to that. It's our New York show, that's how I look at it and that's how we got through it. You know, we don't really want anything to do with the bullshit that surrounds it.
BS: How well in sales is the Maria Dimension doing?
EK: TMD sold 20,000. This is in a way, a kind of breakthrough. They all still go, even Brighter Now (the Dots first LP) is still 1000 a yaer. We're like a phenomenon at Play it Again Sam. They don't understand how a band works like that. The back catalogue keeps turning over as if they were new records.
BS: I believe that's because it's timeless music. It's not dated where it becomes old and stale in a year.
EK: It's great to hear you say that. I mean, that's the intention. I hate trends and fashions.
BS: That's obvious from the music. How does it feel to be a creative artist who's made many brilliant albums and still remains relatively obscure? Do you get angry when you see pop sensations with minimal talent and zero creativity climbing the record sales charts?
EK: I'll be very honest about it; once I did. In the early days you think "Why? Is there a lot of money being pumped into these bands?" Usually that is the case. The LPDs, in a way, are quite lucky. We've been a totally underground band for years and years and years, and we've now had some sort of recognition. I mean the fact that we can come to America denotes some kind of recognition. There are other bands, which I would say, are also wonderful bands, extremely creative, who're still selling like 700 records. That's really unfair. Bands like HNAS and Nurse With Wound - I think they're brilliant. And how many records do they sell?
BS: Right. And then you see the New Kids On The Block and similar dross soaring the record charts.
EK: Yeah, but in ten year's time they're gonna be pretty old kids on the block. If you're in it purely for the money, ultimately what do you get at the end of it? You may as well become a bricklayer and own your own little building company eventually. You'll make as much money maybe. But where's the fun in it? Where's the joy in it? These people deny themselves joy for a few years just to sort of get the big dollar. How do they spend it ultimately? It's not my way really.
BS: Are your album sales enough to support the band financially now? Didn't you have day jobs up until a few years ago?
EK: I haven't had a day job since '84. In the early days it was very, very hard. I mean it was even difficult to buy food and things like that for a while. We earned about $3000 a year in the beginning. Now it's well liveable. It's not fantastic, we'd still get more if we lived off the state in Holland, but in comparison, yah, I do what I enjoy and I'd never complain. Say there was no band, I would have wanted to see all these places and it would have cost me a fortune.
BS: Conceptually how does TMD tie in with your theory of the Terminal Kaleidoscope?
EK: To be honest, I don't talk so much about the TK anymore. That's not to say I don't believe in it, but in a way, I've explained it too many times to a point where I felt like I was repeating a kind of formula. I think in some ways what I've said about that is not a new theory at all. I mean, I've heard other people that have talked in the same way, but never called it the Terminal Kaleidoscope. Philosophers and the like, and I didn't know that at the time. But you know, I think it is something that is very obvious now. Which is just the acceleration of things. It seems to be a natural process, this acceleration... and never has it been more obvious than now really. I mean, just the dramatic changes in climate for instance.
In some ways, you can say it's scary. I don't think it's actually scary. I don't think the human race is capable of destroying this planet, maybe mutating it, but I think the planet is stronger than the human race. There's a bigger hand that sort of like really pulls the strings.
BS: Is it still a goal of the Dots to transcend reality?
EK: To create our own peculiar reality, I'd say."
BS: You still use characters and settings from your own "peculiar reality" on your records. Is TMD meant to be another chapter in your created reality?
EK: TMD is full of songs and questions. And they're questions that I've been asking myself for years and trying to express in lyrics form. Like the idea of events having feelings too. I mean the deeper root is basically, how much do we actually understand about the nature of things? And actually, we understand so very very little. Who has successfully explained the flight of the bumblebee yet? You know, this bumblebee flies around and around and he doesn't have anything to stay in the air. That's just a small thing, but it goes to show, how much do we really know. And it's nothing compared to what there is to understand.
So you propose preposterous ideas, and they could be true. You know, events maybe have personalities too. You know, who's to say they don't? Who's to say the world will end in an ecological disaster when it could just as easily turn into a giant cornflake? We don't really understand the nature of things and the instability, or the apparent instability, of the patterns of nature. I really think we're novices in these kinds of questions.
BS: How would you describe the type of music that the LPDs create?
EK: What we're projecting is ourselves, it's ourselves in the finest detail. Sort of things that you'd maybe liked to cover up as well; the dark things, the optimistic parts... We want to make people cry, we want to make people laugh; all mixed together, just to get to all those emotions. Get to the parts of people they'd maybe like to cover up within themselves. I think it's a very emotional music. That is the criteria when we start creating. We really want to put ourselves so totally into it that it sort of makes us feel personally uncomfortable when we hear it.
BS: So it's never meant to be background music for casual listenings?
EK: It's never meant to be background music. You know, if people are sitting, having dinner with the LPDs on, it's better that they're silent. You know, we'd really be annoyed if anyone talked all over it. I mean, some people will, I think they should maybe put on something else. All good music demands attention.
BS: TMD seems to contain less of the classical elements that pervaded many of your previous releases.
EK: It always depends on how we feel at the time, when we're composing. I would never say that the classical element is gone. It's likely to rear its head strongly again. On TMD and Crushed Velvet Apocalypse, we really wanted to make sort of total sound pictures. Really sort of like a movie for the ears. We'll probably continue on this line on the next one too. We're enjoying this line at the moment, trying to make it even more vivid album by album.
BS: Are you planning a follow up single to TMD?
EK: I think that's unlikely. Singles were very much a record company idea originally. We never actually played that game. You're supposed to take the 12" single from the album to promote the album. We thought that's ripping people off, they're buying it twice. It sort of caused dilemmas between us and PIAS. They saw things in a marketing way and we saw things in an artistic sense. Ultimately, we agreed to stop it with the singles.
BS: Well, your singles were never on any of the albums anyway.
EK: See, that was the dilemma. You know, we wanted them to be entities within themselves. We didn't go out to make a single, we went out to make an EP. There was an EP released with TMD in Europe. A Three inch CD. Very nice we think, but absolutely nothing like a single. Five new songs which were not contained on TMD. I think they should have pressed more. I think 500 are being pressed for America.
BS: The message "sing while you may" appears on nearly all of your records. It seems fairly simple, but I gather it's very important to you.
EK: It is very important. It's to do with that Terminal Kaleidoscope idea. But taking it further, is there any more significant period in the history of the planet so far than now? When you look at things it's exciting actually. Even if it's disturbing in some ways, be glad you live now.
BS: At what age did you realize that you wanted to be a musician?
EK: In a way, I always did, even when I was a little kid. It's just something that was part of me. I come from a very unmusical family really. No musicians at all really. I was 17 when I first tried making music. It was ok. It was naive but it was a start. Everybody has to start somewhere.
BS: How many albums do the Pink Dots have total, including casette only releases?
EK: I couldn't say, I have no clue. I know there's 13 albums including the Pink Box. That doesn't include solo records, which I think is another seven, casette-only releases, Tear Garden and other projects.
BS: Of course my next question is, how do you find time to write and record all of this diverse material?
Ek: I think it's a natural thing. When you're really into it, and you're working 356 days a year on it, maybe 40 or 50 songs a year is not so many. We don't really take days off, because we enjoy it so much. If you really enjoy things that much, you want more and more of it. It's a creative addiction. It's the same throughout the band, we can't stop.
BS: Have you completed the album you were working on with Nurse With Wound's Stephen Stapleton?
EK: We started work on it back in November. We've got to get together again. Steve lives in the west of Ireland. I plan to go to Ireland for a little while and then Steve will come to Holland. We're also going to do a little recording together in New York. It will come together when it's finished. It's like everything, we never release anything until we think it's absolutely finished. It's silly to rush anything. It will be different. As strange as spiders' kneecaps. A strangeness you can't relate to any other strangeness.
I think Steve's one of the most talented, inventive people on this planet. I mean, why aren't people talking about Steve Stapleton? Some people are looked upon as pioneers, great experimentalists, and you listen to it and think "Oh, God."
BS: When will the next Teargarden LP be available?
EK: The whole recording will take place in August. We're starting from scratch with no preconceived ideas about it at all, which is a nice way to enter an album. You can be totally open-minded. I'm holding myself back from preparing some lyrics, because I want to write them at the time. It just means I have to bite my fingers, sometimes.
BS: How did you get involved with cEVIN Key?
EK: He was writing to me for years, before Skinny Puppy even started. He liked the LPDs and wanted some of the early casettes and things like that. Then I was invited to Vancouver for some solo shows, and then Skinny Puppy were in existence. We basically got together in the studio because it seemed such a logical move. We found that we got along really great and the friendship lasted right 'til now and continues. He's a very creative guy himself.
BS: Are you still going to release a book with all of your lyrics and poetry?
EK: That's still pending. I think it will take a while yet. I have to get together on it with Elke. Sometimes it gets put on ice for a couple of months. I want it to be good. I don't think I'll ever fit all of the lyrics in there. It'd be like a Bible or something. I don't think anyone needs another Bible.
BS: Rumour has it that you have one of the most impressive record collections on this planet.
EK: That's not true really. It's been blown all out of proportion, I have 1000 records. It's actually quite small compared to a lot of people. It's an extremely esoteric collection. I'd say three-fourth's of it you won't find in your local record stores. I love the music, I just love the sounds these guys make.
BS: What's your all-time favorite record?
EK: That's a hard one... Cottonwood Hill by Brainticket. That might be my favorite.
BS: Do you have any plans to release another solo album anytime soon?
EK: Oh yeah, there's one coming out in a month or two. Tanith and the Lion Tree. It's all me. Some parts of it are very harsh, some parts are very beautiful, and it throws you from the harshness to the beauty in very short spaces of time. I love it now. There was a period of time where I wasn't sure if it worked, but I'm convinced it works now. It's a difficult album to digest. There's a lot of information on the record in a way.
BS: Despite all of the apocalyptic visions on your album, there is also a very light side to your music. Are you generally a happy person?
EK: Yes, I am. Why should I be depressed? I don't need to walk around feeling dejected all the time. In some ways, I am having the best time of my life these days. Though many of the depressing lyrics are written from recollections of moments of despair.
BS: It's good to see that the Dots are still getting by despite Bob having recently been claimed by cancer.
EK: Not only did I lose a fellow Dot with Bob, I lost one of my best friends. Since it happened, my fears of death have freshly disappeared. I mean, I still feel his presence very strongly. Up on stage, it's as though he is there with us still. You cannot kill the spirit.
BS: What is the ultimate goal of the LPDs?
EK: There is an obscure image of perfection. There may be moments when we feel we are close, but we've never quite reached it. I'm not really sure if it can be reached. In a way it would be sad if we reached it, because there would be no more need to continue with it. I'm not really worried though. I'm sure that we have a long way to go yet.