Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: an interview
by - Tom Gilbert
A few days before PTV3, the latest incarnation of Psychic TV, were about to start their tour in support of Hell is Invisible... Heaven is Her/e I had the chance to talk with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. We chatted about Psychic TV's first studio album as PTV3, Pandrogeny and Gen's various other projects.
Just to get it out there, I've been a big fan of your work for a long time, probably the last 17 years or so.
|Photo by Dan Mandell
It's weird for me. You know? To think that people... there's a lot of people who grow up and I was just always there. I was always in the music landscape. Strange thought. It's hard for me to really imagine.
Well it's great in that sense, because there is always a back catalog to go back to.
Yeah, the Throbbing Gristle stuff is pretty much all available. And I just got an email from Sleazy, there's gonna be a box set of DVDs of all the video documentation of TG live.
I wondered if that was really going to come out soon.
He's mastered all the DVDs and he's finishing the artwork.
Any idea on when that will be coming out?
My umm... I have been trying to find out from Mute. They have not given me a date, however I do know they'll probably try and bring it out for Christmas. It'll make a Special Christmas gift.
I'm actually excited about that. I think people who've imagined Throbbing Gristle live... that to actually see what it was like for the first time is going to be very exciting.
Yes, definitely looking forward to them. I was very excited about the DVDs when I first read about them...
I suspect that there'll be quite a few... new bands that will... take that as a sort of starting point, having watched. And sort of re-interpret what they imagine they are seeing in terms of our somewhat deadpan approach.
There's one of those gigs in particular at the Illuminated 666 club in Manchester where we played and Joy Division, A Certain Ratio, and Nico's band at the time were in the audience, a lot of people. A Certain Ratio were in our dressing room and I had been having a really bad day with the other members of TG, I was in a really cranky mood. I was trying to get A Certain Ratio to leave the dressing room because I wanted to be alone and they wouldn't go, so I pulled out this knife and I sliced my arm, my right hand, one slice on the back of my hand for each finger. Very beautifully done, very symmetrical. And it started to gush blood and they still didn't want to leave. So I got my mustard gas and sprayed them all in the face, and that's when they finally left. But, when you watch the video you will see that my right hand when I am holding the microphone is still streaming blood. And when I am turning certain knobs on the signal generator and so on. There's a bootleg of that gig actually with a close up of my right wrist where you can see the wounds bleeding. So that's going to be interesting for people to see... The whole day was very weird.
I'm sure a lot of days of shows with Throbbing Gristle were weird.
[laughs] Yeah, right.
Jordie Valls, of Vagina Dentata Organ, was there and he saw that I was getting into more and more of a bad mood, so he decided to take me out. He said, “let's go find something to eat. Get some fish and chips.” And we went out, I was stomping along grrr looking at the ground grrrr and I didn't notice but there were all these Hell's Angels up the street and they saw me coming along and they were starting to say all these things. They wanted to create some kind of situation and, he only told me this afterwards, but apparently I just marched right through them and shoved them out of the way. [laughs] I told them all to fuck off. [laughs] And they were so shocked at this tiny person being so aggressive that they didn't do anything, they just backed off. It was a good gig though, it was one of the nights that I invented “Something Came Over Me”. So, with all being well, there is a good version of that on there.
Personally, I can not wait to see these shows.
When you see the Manchester gig think about me knocking the Hell's Angels out of the way. Groaning and moaning and being really obnoxious.
Now, with Hell is Invisibile... Heaven is Her/e, I honestly didn't know what to expect from it. Of course, the Throbbing Gristle album came out earlier this year and it was far better than I ever could have expected it to be.
[laughs] I'm on a roll, aren't I?
I thought, “oh no, he can't have two great “comeback” albums. And, it was great.
Ohh, I'm really happy with the new album. I really, really am. I think that Hell is Invisible... in a way, for me, encapsulates all the things I wanted Psychic TV to be from the very beginning. And I think it's probably the most perfect album I have ever done.
You know, I would actually probably agree.
I think it's just got all the aspects that I've always played with and investigated. Cut-ups, and symphonic structures, strange edits like Frank Zappa and Lumpy Gravy. Sort of otherworldly film music, landscapes and ironic psychedelic stories and parables. I really think it's the best thing I have ever done. I really do. I think my singing is better than ever.
That was actually one of the points I was going to make. I think lyrically it's one of the strongest and I think your vocals are just great on it. What would you attribute that to?
A couple of things, I don't know if you know the story of how PTV3 originated, but you know I met Lady Jaye, my other half, in 1993 in NY, fell madly in love, and still madly in love all these years later... and she didn't know I was even in a band when we fell in love. She had heard Throbbing Gristle, but she didn't make the connection, and she remembered hearing “Hamburger Lady” when she was still in high school and thinking it was a really interesting track, but one of her best friends from her teenage years was this guy Edward Odowd... Edley. When we moved to New York in 1996 we started to hang out with Edley, you know for dinner and just listen to records and talk. And he said to me, “you really should start Psychic TV again.” And I said, “Why?”He said, “'because you write good songs.” It may seem weird to people now, but I never thought of myself as primarily a songwriter. I've always been into these cultural ideas and ways to change the world and all these other things, but I never really separated it out and thought “I write songs.”
I think songwriting was definitely more of a byproduct of getting your art and ideas out there. You know?
Exactly! So, he said he would make a CD of what he thought were my best songs and he said, “listen to this and pretend it's by someone else, not you. And you will realize that these are just really good songs.” So he did that and I listened to these songs, most of them were from the Allegory and Self era, the more psychedelic stuff. And he was right. I listened to them, as best as I could, objectively and I realized that I did love them as songs. They still stood up very well. They were actually songs that could be for some degree, timeless. I would say to Lady Jaye, “am I being egocentric here, or is it true that I can write some really good songs?” She said, “no, no you're a great poet. You really do write catchy melodies and choruses, you've got a knack.” So between her and Edley they taught me to see myself from a completely different perspective. I'll never give up being into trying to change the world, of course, but they also made me appreciate and respect myself for being able to do the songs that worked. I think it was that confidence they gave me, to reassess what I did that really helped me with this album. And even with the TG one. To stretch and to sort of think of each song as a story and imagine it was the person telling the story. How would they feel, how would they sound. And I got sort of so involved in a Marlon Brando, immersed into the emotions kind of acting role, that for example with “Higher and Higher”, the anti-war song, I was actually sobbing and crying at the end. In those choruses at the end I'm crying.
It comes through...
I'm actually crying my eyes out because I started to imagine the pictures, the film of centuries of these beautiful young people being tricked into going out and fighting and ending up lying in the mud somewhere, their life draining out of them. And the people who had tricked them into doing this, being these demons that keep coming through over and over again that go off and sign some kind of agreement later with their enemies. And ultimately it was meaningless, you know? The sacrifice was for nothing. That hypocrisy that leads to so much suffering really touches me, and by believing in myself more I think I was able to find the voices much more than ever before, much more accurately than before.
That was one of the things that got me at first about the album. How vocally strong it was, and you know, you figure it’s been 10 years between your last studio album as far as for Psychic TV...
I'm really happy that you like it. Because I am so pleased with this album. You know, if somebody said which album would you like people to listen to and throw away the rest, I would say keep this one.
I think it's the most perfect, yeah.
There's others that have wonderful moments and that are very groundbreaking and new, but I think this is the one that will last the longest in terms of quality. And for once, we have a new album with material on it that I think is strong and then we are going to tour starting in a couple of weeks. And we'll be touring with the same stuff that is available in shops. That has never happened to us before.
Never ever. Nothing has ever fallen into place in the right way before.
“New York Story”, that one began as a poem I was writing and I was performing with Thee Majesty and we were in Paris a couple of years ago at the Cartier Foundation playing and I started to improvise with this poem with Lady Jaye and Brian Dahl, and again it was very much like the same thing. I closed my eyes and I could see the film. A lot of the songs are very much like films for me. And I watch them and I start to describe what I’m seeing. It becomes very, very real. And I was watching the film of this couple in New York and it was lots of different people I know, and maybe they were junkies, or maybe they were just mutually disruptive, there were all these different dynamics in their relationship that were negative and, by the end of it, I was crying again. And the following day in Le Monde, the daily paper in France, they did this whole review of the concert and they were talking, respectfully, about how I had been crying my eyes out at the end and there was even a half page cartoon as well.
I’ve learned to, to become the songs I think. In a very deep way. It sounds maybe difficult for someone who’s not performing to understand, but there’s so many bands, I think, that perform to a formula. I've talked about this to people. People who have noticed that I am singing differently, or more profoundly, and we’ve talked about it, and they’ve said most bands will develop a formula or style that works and the audience enjoys it and responds to it. And there are two versions of that band. There’s the ballad or fast, but you recognize the vocal style and it’s always the same. But with PTV3 it’s not like that. Each song has a person, a character, that’s singing. They’re speaking through me. And through my vocal cords, but there are different voices for different stories. And i think that's what should be happening. It shouldn't be always the same voice telling different stories, it should be different voices telling different stories.
So with the breakthrough of being encouraged, and loved for what I do by the band, I think I have been able to have this big sort of new, improved ability. Of course it brings a great responsibility too because you have to remember how to become the people in the stories. So it's very emotionally draining.
And we just found out that Cargo who released it, are so happy that we are doing a vinyl version. It will be a double album and one will be orange and one will be pink and there will be one bonus track, because the one thing I was sad about was that on this album there was one extra track that Lady Jaye did the vocals for, she wrote a lyric and vocal, and there was no room on the CD. So now with the double-vinyl album it will be on there. So it will be the absolute perfect version of the album.
Is that going to be available only through your site or will it also be in shops?
That's a good question, and I honestly can't be sure. I know we'll have some and we'll be selling them at gigs too. So people should look for it via our website and/or at gigs. I think they are going to do at least 1000 to begin with, but if it's popular I'm sure they'll keep going.
Continue to Part 2 >>
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