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Spleen interview

Date:    Sat, 21 May 1994 23:22:30 +1000 (EST)
From:    Matthew Kirkcaldie <>
Subject: Re: the curve interview

Please do not post copies of this interview to FTP sites, newsgroups, or any other public access site. I'd also appreciate you not privately circulating it - our magazine is an entirely voluntary one, and we need all he sales we can get to cover production costs.

For more details of issue #5, including interviews with Fugazi, Curve (with discography), Sepultura, Kim Salmon, the Bats, Antenna, David Bridie of Not Drowning, Waving, Suzanne Vega, and MANY others, contact me via e-mail ( or write to:

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My questions and Dean's answers are separated by blank lines. This is the unedited transcript before I make an article out of it, so it might lack a bit of focus.

You must be really happy with Cuckoo, then.

I'm really pleased with it, yeah. I really like it - I think we've made a much better record than the last one.

It seems very varied.

It is, yeah. We wanted it to be more varied than Doppelganger, but that was like a blueprint when we started - we wanted it to be different, and go through different moods. Sparser and generally more experimental than the last one. I think we achieved that.

I thought it sounded a lot like where you seemed to be going with Cherry. Doppelganger seemed almost like a step back from that.

Yeah - on reflection, the Cherry EP should have been part of the Doppelganger record. It was done at the same time, and we were in two minds about whether to put another EP out. We were very ambitious - we said "Let's put it out, we can write more and more," and we were in the studio for a very long time. It became a very stressy, "deliver, deliver" kind of time for us, and we just sort of got through Doppelganger... somehow. It was mad, you know. Really chaotic, like crazy. We'd just finished tours, we were about to start more, it was picking up in America... there was a lot of pressure to get the record done. We felt at the time that we'd done the best that we could - I still feel that - but we watered it down somewhat. Some of the tracks should have been taken off. You learn, though. That's what we've always been about. We know that we're going to make mistakes, and that's just one of the things that was said to us. On reflection we know - so we had a clearer idea on Cuckoo. It's always easier for us to make EPs than it is albums.

A tighter focus?

Definitely - the much shorter time. Most of the EPs were done in a maximum of two weeks, the first and second of them in a week, including the writing. We like that. When you get a longer stretch of time, you go through so many different stages in the making of it. If you start to go down, you can really spiral, and drag yourself through it to where it waits at the bottom. It's so up and down, and there was a lot of stuff going on at the time - but I think we still did well. We'd like to put out a couple of EPs next. For me, there's more immediacy - it's more spontaneous.

Do you fell like grabbing a song straight away, rather than labouring over it?

Some of them - we never labour that much anyway, really. When we do that, we tend to get disheartened over it - losing faith, as though we're glossing over it or copping out. Some things do deserve it, though - there's that fine line, where it gets very confusing.

Yet there's a lot of layering in the songs on Cuckoo. There seems to be incredible amounts of stuff buried away in there.

Yeah, there's definitely quite a few things going on. We like that, or I do anyway.

Is it still just you and Toni responsible for everything?

Yeah, mostly. We just about did it all downstairs, on our little 24-track under Toni's front room. We didn't take it out as we have done before. It was a 16-track and we used to take it to another studio to put it on 24, and then Debbie, Alex and Monti'd come in, and we'd bring a producer and it would take on a band atmosphere. This time we wanted to keep it more insular. We used the Church for mixing, and recorded some drums in the kitchen and the lift, but that's all it was this time. It was all done at our little low-ceilinged place.

Debbie, Alex and Monti obviously aren't just session musicians, though. What do they add?

Definitely not. We're in rehearsals at the moment, and they're our quality control, in a way. They come in and they say what they think, but they also understand how we work, what we think, and how we want to do it. We've always said to them that they can do whatever they want within it, and they've all got outside interests as well. It's all expanding - everybody's got their own thing, and we all respect each other's work. When we play live, though, it's very much a band. We do everything together.

Curve seem to be a meeting point for a lot of different genres. Where do you see it coming from?

Difficult to say - there's lots of things that we take in. Toni and I are from very different areas, so between us we cover a massive spectrum of music. I really like Roxy Music, the Remain in Light Talking Heads, more old things. The recent stuff, like say the Mondays and the Valentines, we really like - but I'd like to think that we're out on our own. We wouldn't bother if we didn't think we were.

Ten years ago, when you were in Eurythmics, did you imagine you'd be in a huge indie band now?

I had faith that there was more to it than just that. It was a brilliant thing to do - I really enjoyed it, and I respect them both enormously. Their approach was very similar to mine, working in small studios. Even before I was playing I was interested in studios, and that was the way Dave approached it. We haven't put a blueprint on it, but I could see the potential of how things were done. It was like an apprenticeship, and they gave me an open page to express what I wanted to. It was an enormous confidence boost, and I knew that I could do something on my own. In what form and when, I was completely unsure of. We tried a few things in between, but none seemed to work because they were forced in some way. What we have now is completely unforced and trusting.

How did you start the band?

It was probably the very early stuff that Toni, Olle, Julie and I did together, State of Play, when we'd finished Eurythmics and the drummer and I wanted to do something. We met then, but the drummer didn't like Toni's voice very much. I was taken by it, though, and I could see it in a different way. I knew it wouldn't work in the musical approach we had at the time - on the brink of sampling, almost Frankie Goes to Hollywood or Propaganda. It was a big Trevor Horn sort of sound that was happening then, but I knew that'd never fit with Toni's voice. I knew it had to be more mysterious, secretive and odd. We went through a year of that, then had some time apart. We came back with a lot of ideas of what we wanted to do, how we were going to allow each other the space to explore. It was something we both had to do.

Yet when you came out you had all that flak about being manufactured and having an easy ride. Has that gone, now?

I think that's an easy thing to say, but as we go on it's being swept away. It's definitely going to come out again. We knew it would happen, but you just have to ignore it and believe in what you're doing.

You seemed to want to inject a sense of fun, like the "What a Waste" on Peace Together, featuring Ian Dury [of Blockheads notoriety].

There really is humour - we take the piss out of ourselves all the time when we're recording. It's actually really good fun. People read this madness and bleak depression into our existence. It's not like that, just sort of up and down like everybody is. Doing that thing with Ian was just a good laugh, really funny. We all thought so... Ian was laughing all the time, it was really good.

You just get rid of those moods through the music, then.

Exactly. If people interview us, they're surprised when we're not always glum and black. We can be, but we're not all the time. There is hope.

The music's really too energetic to be gloomy.

Exactly, there's that rhythmic life in it. We like that a lot - it's got to have that pulse.

Do you write from a rhythm?

Generally the weirder the starting point, the better the result. If you come from something really off the wall... "Die Like a Dog" began with a cheese grater, and "Turkey Crossing" was started by our dog Turkey breathing, to give it the tempo. It started with this strange stereophonic dog breathing, backwards and forwards. I like those little weird, dramatic things... Flood's very visual - he says thing like "let's put some distorted angels on this", and start messing around with all this stuff, with guitars and samples. It starts to sound really fucking weird. He understands soundscape, how that can move you without just relying on lyrics or that kind of thing.

It must be great to find these people who you're attuned to, to work with.

Yeah, it is. We have our team, four of us, who made this record - me, Toni, Alan and Flood. It's respectful, because everyone's really brilliant in their area. It's really enjoyable.

Does Alan get involved in putting down basic tracks?

He's not really there - he's very busy during the day, and comes in of a nighttime. For my day, I might start at twelve and finish at nine, or maybe until three if I'm going really under. Toni might stay after I've gone, embellishing and experimenting, then Alan will listen to the day's work at the end. Toni and I will have discussed the guitar side, and he might even put something down like a sketch. When he has time, we'll go over it and pull it into shape. I like turning the tables like that: instead of producing, he's on the other side of the desk, and I record him. I like putting people in positions they're not used to - I'll give the guitar to Toni with a really manic sound and a good open tuning to see her approach. I'm more interested in people who can't really play. I'm interested in what your ear responds to, not virtuoso, faultless playing.

Do you go through a lot of material? Is much discarded?

We do throw away a lot of stuff, yeah. We get bored very quickly, if it's not something we love immediately - we do something else, if it's bringing us down. We just move on quickly, until you get something that really does it to you.

Are you touring much for Cuckoo?

We're in rehearsals for a short tour of England. The we're going to America, Europe, America again, Japan and maybe Australia. We've missed Australia a couple of times, and we really want to come. I was there with Eurythmics in '83 and it was really good. I'd be interested to see how it's changed.

Do you like touring? Does it help you see what crowds react to well?

I've got very mixed feelings about touring. I like it at times, but I'm not looking forward to it because it's so stressful. I want it to be perfect, sound brilliant, but it gets out of our control to some extent. I just have to cope with that. We get a bit neurotic about it.

Do things go wrong?


What's been the worst?

Oh, God. Probably trying out a new song at Glastonbury, which we'd rehearsed but everybody completely forgot. It just fell apart really badly - sometimes things can fall apart in a good way, but this didn't. It was just dreadful, pathetic really.

How do you go on after that?

In a really spirally sort of way. You just think, "Oh fuck, we've really blown it." A massive crowd, really into it - then they're asking, "What's going on?" You take it really personally.

Do people give you much feedback?

We get quite a lot of stuff, more as we go, from all over the place. Always a lot when we put out records. It's astonishing - it's quite bizarre to get a phone call from Australia, then another from Japan, or America... it's wild!

Does that add to the pressure, all those people out there?

Yeah, I tend to think we're nowhere near as popular as we are: "Maybe there's a couple of people who like it in Australia, Japan, wherever..." I always underplay it, but you realise - especially when you tour, which is what I really like about it. There it is, the physical response. You meet lots and lots of people who're really supportive.

Do you get really intense fans, who get the wrong idea from some image?

No more than any others, really. You get the odd nutter, but you just deal with that. If you can relate to them, that's fine, but if they're some utter psycho you back off.

Can that make you feel vulnerable?

No, not at all. I think it's a bit more of a worry for Toni, but there are usually a lot of people around her. She's very very strong, so she can deal with most situations easily - she's often much better than I am at dealing with people in your face, which makes me nervous.

There's kind of a no-bullshit image, like Miki from Lush.

Similar attitude. Miki's great, I like her.

Do you see many other bands?

If I'm interested in something I'll go and check it out, like I went to Aphex Twin and the Drum Club at this Megadog thing, just to see this "urban ambient" movement. I really like that. Also to check out the people, how they're putting it across, what was going on. It was brilliant.

We get almost nothing down here. Do you get bigger reactions in small places?

Definitely, yeah. We're bombarded... I'd probably go out more in New York or Sydney if I was there. In London you hardly go to see what's on in your own town. Toni does, more than I do. Sometime I need protection from music - I can go to bed, and it just fucking drives me insane, you know, constant music going on in my head. I just want to get away sometimes, so to go and see a band on a night off can be horrific.

Does music still excite you?

It's massively exciting, incredible. It's just that some of the space that you have to go through, to achieve something that you like, can be very difficult.

What do you think of people saying that UK music is dying, and that the Americans are taking over the indie scene?

It's prominent at the moment - what's going on over there is just massive, like the Pumpkins, Nirvana, Ministry. It is a massive force, rebellious, which is the appeal for Europeans, because America's been quite ordinary in the past, in some ways. England has a lot of left-field, very challenging stuff coming up. America has the really edgy music, like rap, and it's really exciting there at the moment. It's like a cycle, things from here, everywhere, in waves.

Do you see that as press-generated?

Things do happen. It can be hard to get support from ordinary radio and TV, so the music press can inform people who otherwise wouldn't see it. That's why the press is really good, as an avenue for alternative information. Radio's not supportive... they'll play a Nirvana record, but they won't play Ministry, or Nine Inch Nails, or the Valentines.

Do they play you?

No, they won't play us, either. We'd be lucky to get two or three spins on Mark Goodier or someone supportive. John Peel will play us, but he's been cut down to Saturday night when everyone's out. It's very difficult. We're not prepared to make radio records, really. Radio should be there to put things out, not restrict like it does.

Yet your music has instant appeal as well...

I would have thought so - it's perfect radio stuff, when you hear how it gets squashed up and screaming out. It's exciting radio. I can't stand it, especially when you get something like Hadaway, which is just repellent. Goes to number one, gets smashed into your brain, day in, day out, which is why I never listen to radio. Every time I turn it on, it's just utter shit. A song'll go to number one, then it's number 56 and they're still playing this fucking record... it just does my brain in... I suppose I'm quite aggressive about it.

Do you feel driven to put something out, to make the money?

I think you can tell that we're not really like that, we're not interested. Obviously we want to do all right, but if you want to make money you don't go about things our way. If you're just fodder, then you do it very differently, but we're not like that. We want to make enough to eat, and have a good time, but it's not for that reason. It's to satisfy this craving for music that we have, this possession. We're possessed by it, really.

It must be exciting to go away for a while, then have something ready to unleash on the public that people are waiting for.

Yeah, it is. You put yourself in the position of a record buyer, the apprehension and excitement of buying a new record by a band you like. Getting it home, putting it on... that's what I want people to get out off it. I want to give them something challenging, unpredictable, so you can lose yourself in it. That's the idea. I just don't want it to go in and out the other side, I want it to go in.

With Doppelganger I knew what to expect, but Cuckoo was after a long break, and I had no clues what was coming. That was a real shock, but it must be more gradual for you as it evolves.

Once you've done the record and you're happy, it's like it's not yours anymore. When we finish, we cut the umbilical cord and it goes out.

Do you listen to things you've made?

Only to get arrangements for playing live, to remember how it was done. It's a complete nightmare, to get something that works. Sometimes it's very difficult to translate. That's what we're doing now, six days into rehearsal. It can sound really good one day, like a pile of shit the next. I don't know what to expect, going in today.

Some of the found sounds must be impossible to substitute.

They are, so we take them along using technology, sampling and sequencing.It makes it hard because we can't just plug our instruments in and play. We will be doing about two or three like that, but to me if the song's missing its central idea or sound, it sounds really hollow.

What are the best crowds to play to?

Pushed up to the front, excited, appreciative... it's the "outsiders" at the back I look for, watching them accept and then enjoy.

You need that challenge?

Definitely. When that response is there, you dig in, and as it goes it gets better. A sense of satisfaction - that's the perfect audience.

What more do you want to do with Curve?

We want to make records that we genuinely believe in, go into film, production and stuff, between us all. We have to hope. As long as we're happy with what we do... we'd never put something out just for the sake of it. We just couldn't do that to ourselves, or anyone else.

Last changed Sunday 13·May·2001 [go to top]