Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: an interview (Part 2)
by - Tom Gilbert
(cont'd from Part 1)
Obviously you've talked about the process for a few of these songs, but what I was wondering is what was the process of writing this album as a whole? Did it stem from the live shows with PTV3 or did you say, “hey I got this concept...”
|Photo by Dan Mandell
It was a very ad hoc mix, some of the songs began years ago. Something like “Just Because” was part of the live show as “I Like You” in the '80s, but it never resolved itself. The same with “Lies and Then” which was something that was played live, but never recorded as well. So they were stories that I could return to and think about for 10 or more years. Some of them are ongoing concepts that I have been sort of refining and looking for the perfect final version. And then other ones were written on tour live.
Like “New York Story' came out of Thee Majesty and then was switched across because it had the possibility of being a more traditional song, “Maximum Swing” came out of sound checks on the last tour. We were in about the 4th week in our European tour and Lady Jaye was walking along in front of me and Markus the keyboard player and completely spontaneously I looked up and saw her hips swinging and I said to Markus, “wow, look at that, she's got maximum swing.” Which was a phrase I never used before. So it's a very organic process. Some of them were very intuitive and others more intellectual.
“Milk Baba” was a very strange one, the instrumental. We had been working on the album for over a year and one evening I went over to our rehearsal studio space and David Maxx said he had this idea for an acoustic 12-string thing, so I said “oh, play it.” So he started to play it and I said keep recording and I just ran into the vocal booth and hummed along, and that's the take. The only bit we added was with Lady Jaye when we were in Nepal together in 2003 we stayed in this place in the Himalayas, a town that's on the edge of a lake. And the guest house was on the other side of the lake, so we had to get a row boat taxi. And we are sitting in this rowboat and the man rowing is there, but he had his two children with him who had come home from school. And they started to sing these Nepalese nursery rhymes while we were being rowed across the lake. And that's the actual sound in the background, the boat being rowed across the lake and those two children singing spontaneously. The Milk Baba is actually this holy man that has a small dwelling near the burning ghats where they burn the dead bodies in Kathmandu and he had nothing but tea, milk and sugar to eat for nutrition for over 20 years. He had these dreadlocks that were more than 20 foot long. He became one of our friends over there and I have a recording of him singing Hindu prayers, but they didn't work with the music so we just left it with his title. There is actually a Milk Baba.
So it's varied. The two or three songs that I always felt were worthy of being finished and recorded definitive versions and then there are new ones. Since we finished this album we've already started to write several new songs...
I was hoping there would be more...
Oh yeah, there's more [laughter]
What's nice is that we don't feel obliged to only create something new. There's still some ideas from the past that I never finished, and I have no problem with looking at them again and finding the definitive version of them.
I don't know why sometimes people feel like when you put something out there, that that's it. It doesn't need to be touched again.
If you reconnect to that song and that moment...
It starts to be revealed with a completely different meaning.
Exactly. You should just run with it.
Yeah, we've been doing that. It's been exciting. I mean, you can tell with this album that I've been very fortunate. Edley found me the best musicians. They are all incredibly proficient, but they are also very loose. They can follow me in an instant on stage with a movement of a finger or a twitch of my eyebrow, they know what I mean and they'll go with me. And something that used to last for 3 minutes can last for 30 minutes just by a few body movements and signals. I think I am also more confident because of the strength of the band. This band is able to sound like and play like I always dreamed, right from 1965. Finally I've got the exact machine.
That really stands out from this album. It's got such a Garage Rock, Psychedelic feel to it, which Psychic TV has always touched upon and been a part of and it's the strongest I think on this album.
Definitely, but you know what's really annoying? We get bracketed into this Industrial thing and it's so frustrating because we're not Industrial, we've never been Industrial. We're Psychedelic, it's never been a question that we are Psychedelic.
Well I think you're going to be cursed with that just because of Throbbing Gristle and...
I know, it's just it's very frustrating. And a lot of the times when we are touring the promoters thinking they are being kind will book Noise, Laptop bands or Industrial bands, and it really doesn't set up the atmosphere for what we are doing at all because our stuff is celebratory and joyful. And we are investigating relationships, identity and human behavior but in a very positive and open way. And we have to work for one hour just to get the audience to understand what we are not before they can surrender to what we are.
You know though, I found my way to you through listening to Nurse With Wound, Skinny Puppy and from a Noise/Industrial sound...
So, it's a legacy I'm just going to have to live with? [laughter]
I doubt you've gotten the new Thee Majesty album yet.
I actually just got it yesterday.
Oh, you did! Oh, wow, you are keen.
It's funny I wasn't even aware that there was one coming out and I was in one of my local shops, Cafe Soundz in Montclair, NJ, and the owner was like, “oh, you know the new Thee Majesty is coming out” and I told him to put me down for one and let me know when it's in. I just went and picked it up yesterday.
I'm also really happy with that one.
It's a really good album, I've only gotten to listen to it once so far...
How am I doing? Three new albums, three different bands. All good. Did I tell you about the new Throbbing Gristle album we've done?
There's already another album?
Oh yeah! [laughter]
I know there was talk of one being done, or that you have recorded some stuff for it, but...
Oh, it's done, well it's recorded. I went to England in May and Throbbing Gristle did this concert at the Tate Modern, a huge modern art gallery in London, which was really great. We played for an hour and a half, we did about 40 minutes of new Throbbing Gristle music and then we did Derek Jarman film soundtracks. But then we did six separate three-hour sessions at the ICA Gallery in London and that was ironic in that I was banned from there in 1976 for the first Throbbing Gristle gig. And now they are inviting us back. What we decided to do with our follow-up album was a cover version of the entire Desert Shore album by Nico...
Yeah, this is the 12 disc set that's available now, right?
Well that's just an intermediary release, that's the unedited sessions. There will be a proper finished, mixed cover version of the album too.
So it's going to mixed down from those sessions?
Uh huh, yeah. So, that's the next TG album.
That was stressful. I was in this little tiny vocal booth at the ICA and there was no air conditioning because it would ruin the sound, it would interfere. And they had halogen lamps int the vocal booth so I was just sweating like a pig, as they say. Then the rest of the band would play me Nico's original song through headphones and then they would play me their new music for the song and then I would have to memorize the lyrics, figure out where to place the lyrics, and make the lyrics do justice to Nico's song. Out of the blue, in front of an audience. And in three languages. English, German and French. That was tough, it was really tough. But Sleazy's been emailing saying he's been listening to it and that I did a great job.
About the Thee Majesty, Vitruvian Pan, from what I read about the recording, the vocals were all pulled from various performances you did?
They were just cut together?
Yes, Brian Dahl decided it would be like an aural game of chess. So he took various live Thee Majesty concerts from Europe and France, one of them being the one where we invented “New York Story”. And he separated out the vocals using software and then he took my various improvised vocals and he did cut-ups of those to create new songs. And even on one or two tracks he even used my voice to create, by processing it, he created the rhythms too. So the whole album is based on my improvised vocals. Except for the track about the Do Do. Which was when my children were small, I think they were about six and eight years old then, I used to tell them stories to help them fall asleep. So we created this world, The Land of Do Do. Once in a while I would record them on cassette these stories so that when I was away on tour or busy the babysitters could play them my voice telling them stories. So that was my recording of a bedtime story for my children, but it has a nice metaphorical story about not taking things for granted and so on. It was my way of teaching them good values.
I did want to talk a bit about the Pandrogeny. The Pandrogyne, more than anything else, is the most influential piece of your art right now. It's throughout Hell is Invisible..., it's throughout the new Thee Majesty album. Gender play has always been a part of your work, going as far back as the COUM days. What took it to that next level for you? Was it meeting Lady Jaye?
Yeah, definitely. Definitely meeting Lady Jaye. The first day we met she started to dress me up in a very androgynous outfit, with a skintight bottle-green sort of velvet jumpsuit with a leather miniskirt, high heeled shoes from John Fluvog. And she started to put all these pretty jewels into my dreadlocks, so from the very moment we met, she understood and recognized a sort of androgynous and hermaphroditic aspect to me. Which I thought was remarkable given that she had no idea who I was. So from the very beginning we were really playing with and exploring switching roles, switching genders. As time went by we just carried on playing, very much in a playful way. And we started to have long talks about the implications, why it fascinated us, and so on. The first level of the investigation was that we realized it was a way to express absolute love. To want to be... not to just be with each other but to look like each other was kind of an expression of love. The same as having a mutual orgasm or making a baby. Making a baby in some way is Pandrogenous. A baby is two people combined. So we were thinking about that and looking at that and we took it very serious because we are both performance artists as well. Somehow it just started to become important and we would think about why. Something to do with DNA, why do we want to refuse to accept DNA? Do we have to just have babies to become like each other or are there other ways to do it? And so we found ourselves more and more entranced by the idea, looking like each other in a really physical way. And finally in 2003, on Valentine's Day, as a statement of intent we both had breast implants of the same size on the same day. We were very lucky that our cosmetic surgeon, not only was he a good one, but he also thought it was a great idea.
Yeah, it's gotta be tough to find some doctors to perform what you are asking them to do.
Yeah, we were really sort of nervous that he would turn around and say “what the hell are you talking about”, but when we said, “we want to look like each other for an art project,” he said, “oh, ok.” Which was unusual because most of the time they insist that you have to have one or two years psychotherapy and all this other stuff, but he knew straight-a-way we were very serious. And so, that was the first step really. The more that we explored it and the more that we began to live that way we started to see deeper meanings in what we are doing, that it wasn't just about trying to be each other, to become one being, there were more implications. In fact, one of the things we started to incorporate into our thinking was the idea of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, that when they collaborated on cut-ups of writing, that the result was not created by either of them but was created by something else that they called the Third Mind. So we looked at our bodies as being representative of two different beings utilizing those bodies to create a new being that we call the Pandrogyne. Neither of us were the Pandrogyne, only the two of us together were the Pandrogyne. And that's why we began to call ourselves Breyer P-Orridge. Neither of us were the owner of what it was, and it only existed when we were together.
That was sort of Stage Two, then we began to look at the contradiction of DNA and the way the human species is and we began to see that there's a disconnect between the human species' evolution, psychologically and in terms of it's behavior patterns, and the environment. In prehistoric times the aggressive binary male dominated behavior pattern of attack something that's different, attack something that's other, protect and control replication of babies, and protect and control women. All those different impulses and behavior, those were all prehistoric, and while they helped us survive in prehistoric times when the environment was very brutal and frightening and there were all these predators, that it was no longer the same. We've now created an amazing, beautiful, technological environment with cellphones and computers and space stations and yet we've done nothing, absolutely nothing, to change our behavior. And there's a terrible disconnect and a terrible danger involved between how we behave and what we create. And there needs to be, for our own survival as a species, there needs to be some kind of reconciliation of behavior and consciousness with the environment. Which requires us to evolve.
Do you think that has something to do with the resurgence of the occult and New Age, you know coming in from the 60s on up, and I think it just keeps growing...
Oh definitely, as you know I was involved in all that too. One of the alchemical symbols of perfection is the hermaphrodite. And the symbol that's a return to the divine and a connection with God is the hermaphrodite. So we are saying that's not just symbology, that's also a fact. That we do as a species have to become hermaphrodites again. We have to represent everything. We can't be separated from anything. It's not either or, it's not black, white, male, female, good, bad, Muslim, Christian, rich, poor, etc. All of those are divisive and dangerous and destructive. We have to create a world where things are inclusive and about similarity and about evolution to become the same. That there is nothing to fear from letting go of one's fear of the unknown or fear of the other or fear of something different.
Letting go of the Ego pretty much.
So we've chosen to use our bodies to represent that absolute need of the species to evolve. If we don't evolve we're doomed. If we don't change the way that we relate we're doomed. We must let go of attacking and being violent towards things that are different. We have to embrace things that are similar. We've got to love each other ultimately, and we've got to love every aspect of each other. And stop being afraid. So that requires a change that's really radical and very deep. It requires a complete change in behavior. That's what the Pandrogyne is representing.
That answers one of the next questions I had, which was is that going to be the next necessary evolutionary tool? Because I agree with a lot of that.
I know it seems very radical, I think it seems kind of weird, but it makes complete sense. There's no need to be trapped into this male-female dichotomy, and from all of that is where everything else, violence and war and conflict, comes. There's no question that patriarchal power deliberately suppressed female power. And that's not healthy. None of it's healthy. It's not working, we only have to look at the world right here and now where there is so much polarization and bigotry and hate and fear that controls everything, to know that it doesn't work. The old models don't work. We need new models and our proposal is that yes, we have to embrace something that is completely different. And not be afraid. And accept that we can be anything we might want to be. I mean we don't want to just become hermaphrodites, we want us to be able to let go of the idea of a human body being sacred and realize that the human body is a material object that carries around consciousness. That's the statement.
How have you felt that, most importantly, your fanbase, has taken to Pandrogeny?
Well, I would argue that so far people have been incredibly receptive. Surprisingly so. On a crass level, me running on stage in a miniskirt with my titties, no one's bothered. People seem to get it. I really think our fans are very intelligent.
And I think it's one of those ideas who's time is here and in it's own slightly wacky way it's describing a very serious issue and it's down to this choice: do you want the human species to survive and be proud of itself and just to exist to create the most wonderful and fantastical and miraculous things that it can do (travel into space, travel through time) or do you want to be at the mercy of bigoted, greedy, power-hungry, retarded politicians who want to destroy the species just for their own ego? Which do you want?
How have you found the press to be with regards to this subject?
Everybody we've talked to so far has been seriously and sympathetically interested in the idea. Which is remarkable, I thought it would be much harder to get people's attention and to get them to listen in a fair way. I think it's fairly obvious to anyone that we're in a very dangerous place. The human species has been in dangerous places before, but this is the first time that idiots are in power. This is the first time the have the tools to make destruction beyond belief. And they are already doing terrible destruction to the environment, but they have no sense of shame, or guilt about any more destruction that they create. They are so locked into this binary perception of things. And so obsessed with a prehistoric view of behavior and the way that the world works. We are all in terrible danger of a new Dark Ages at best. It's about survival of the species, and the creation of a species by itself, for itself, for a future that's wonderful. I think we've done it.
PTV3 is currently on tour in support of Hell is Invisible... Heaven is Her/e. Some upcoming projects that Gen is involved in are a new 300 page edition of The Psychic Bible and a book all about The Process. Both of these will be put out through Feral House Press.
• Genesis P-Orridge Official Homepage
• Hell is Invisible... Heaven is Her/e review
All Photographs by Dan Mandell (www.danielmandell.com)
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