Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Picnic on a Frozen River: a Faust Interview

The transcript of my interview with Jean-Herve Peron of mighty kosmische freaks Faust. This was the basis of my article for The List magazine. Of course there was plenty of material that I didn't have room for, so here's the whole thing. This was one of the most enjoyable interviews I've ever done. Thanks to Jean Herve Peron for being such an engaging chap.

Tell me about the early days of Faust.

We've been together since 1970 and there were six of us. One disappeared, another died (producer/mentor Uwe Nettlebeck), one lost interest, so it's gone through all kinds of changes. What happened recently, well, by recently I mean ten years ago, there's been two different currents within the Faust philosophy. (The other Faust features original keyboardist Hans Joachim Irmler and the members who joined in the early '90s) It was better to make a clean split, rather than argue for ever. One Faust is with Zappi and myself, two original members from the '70s and we are joined by Geraldine Swaine, who you might know, she was in Bad Servant and is a London painter lady, and James Johnson who is from Gallon Drunk and the Bad Seeds. And most of the time we invite people. I don't know who will come in Glasgow, but we might have a guy called Mick, he's one of yours I think. He plays guitar and uses his lyrics, he makes quite good lyrics. But my head is a bit confused, I'm not quite sure who will be guests in Glasgow. Maybe I'll keep that sort of a surprise, because I don't want to say who and then they say, oh shit, I'm playing somewhere else!

The BBC Krautrock film showed you and Zappi performing together. Was this in the Bad Durmentingen base?

No, no, no, not at all. You are confusing both Fausts, that's quite alright, I don't mind. It's all cool. We wanted it that way anyway. No, what you saw on BBC4 was a documentary at my house in Schiphorst in Northern Germany. Yeah, BBC4 came, they stayed for a few days, we answered their questions and it was very pleasant. Zappi and I, we started to improvise. I used a bit of the concrete mixer and Zappi went on with his percussion thing. We enjoyed it. I think the BBC people enjoyed it.

Were you playing a Mongolian horn? I've seen a few jazz musicians use those.

No. I'd love to have one of those. It was like a straight trumpet, you play only with the lips, you only play basics and harmonics. All horns function under the same principal, it's all with the lips and you play basics and harmonics.

Is this a good example of what you do live in that its improvised?

Ah, my ears are a bit fucked with old age and noise! On stage we do a mixture. We respect and love our audience so we realise there a few things to consider. First of all is what we are, that means improvisation, whatever comes up in our minds. But also what the audience is sort of expecting. They buy a ticket for Faust and they know they shouldn't expect anything precisely, so we do a few old tunes, and a few much more recent tunes, so everybody's happy. It's one third old tunes, one third recent tunes, and one third improvisation.

Are you bringing the cement mixer?

Probably, probably. It all depends how much gear we have. We are touring now. It didn't fit in my van, but I will try again to make it fit. It's a good instrument, we miss it when it's not there. It creates a very droney atmosphere and it seems to reach ladies, it seems to move the heart of ladies in some way. In Glasgow when we last played, I remember a lady – she didn't have much interest in our music, she just came because her man liked it and she said, ok I'll go along and see what they do. At the end she came up to me in tears and said, and I'm not kidding, 'Oh god, The Fish,' - which is the song we play with the concrete mixer - 'That really moved my heart.' So that was very motivating, not flattering, very inspiring.

Are you bringing along other power tools?

We are going a little bit back to basics, having less things all around, making more straight music. That doesn't mean a thing really. James plays guitar and keyboard and vacuum cleaner, Geraldine plays the accordian, guitar, keyboard, she paints on stage, and Zappi plays metals and percussion. I blow different horns, I try to play some acoustic guitar, play some bass, and I love to have a talk with my concrete mixer, with a chain saw, things like that. And I also like to paint on stage.

Some of your shows in the 90s were pretty crazy, with fireworks going off. Are you going to have any of that, or are you not allowed to say?

(Laughs) Unfortunately we can't do that anymore. In the 90s nobody knew what we were up to, so when we arrived at a venue and they asked 'are we going to do the usual thing?' we'd say 'yeah yeah yeah.' Then we'd start putting things on fire, starting fireworks. And now the promoters are aware of this and they have us sign this thing saying 'no open fire, no bombs, no fireworks'. So we cannot be as carefree as we used to be.

But instead you've got the painting and all other kinds of visual elements.

(enthusiastically) Yeah yeah. I don't feel like doing always the same things. There was a period where I enjoyed that. We change.

I guess it becomes a drag, like Jimi Hendrix having to set fire to his guitar at every show...

Right, yeah.

How do you feel about the influence Faust have had? When you returned in the '90s new artists lined up to work with you like Jim O'Rourke, Keiji Haino, Dalek, Nurse With Wound and Michael Morley of the Dead C. Do you feel an affinity with them?

We never, ever realised that we were influential. We never realised that we would have any impact on anybody. We were and we still are unaware of all this. When people come up to us and say 'ah, your music and this and that' of course it is a nice massage for our ego but we were never aware of that, so I guess it's a good thing. I feel happy that I can tell my children and my grandchildren that I have done something that doesn't seem to have been that bad, because people seem to think that I gave them inspiration. I will say one example like Stereolab. I seldom feel that they like our music, but one nice thing about it is that they've taken it one step further, or one step in their own direction. They've take an inspiration, an impulse and they've used it their way. Or NWW. Maybe they just took the energy, or the general attitude of our music, they didn't take any chords or plagiarise, they just took the energy.

It's maybe harder to copy Faust than Can or Neu, say, as there isn't a particular signature sound, like the 'motorik beat'.

You are quite right, but I would disagree when you say we don't have motorik. Zappi from time to time, he loves to go into one of his mighty beats, but other times we like to be without any rhythm.

Have you been working on new material?

Yes. We are going to go into the studio in July. We don't really work. We meet once, twice, three times a year at my place in Schiphoff, we spend maybe five, six days together and then we jam, we record it very roughly. Then we pick up the themes and try to remember them. We've been doing this to prepare the UK tour, because we are here quite regularly, so we don't want to repeat ourselves, so we have to get a new set all the time for the UK. So we did this in March and we came up with some new things.

It seems you're still working in a similar way to the Wumme years, albeit over shorter periods of time?

Yes, we work in a very similar way. In the back of heads is the feeling of being free, not being under pressure to produce anything. If something happens it's fine, if not it's also fine. We are happy to be together and we happen to have people around us who are excellent cooks, we have good wine, so everything is art in life, not only music, not only getting into the rehearsal studio and producing sounds, but everything is art. It's like Wumme all the time. Maybe we're just stupid, maybe we're just naïve! (Laughs)

Anything you'd like to add?

If you could mention the Avant-Garde Fest in Schiphorst that would be a great help. (Happy to oblige. See below)

Also tell your people that we enjoy very much to play the northern part of England (sic), we went all the way to Edinburgh... You are fucking loud! We too are sometimes! We have to have a good sense of humour because your are loud. But it comes from the heart and this is what I really like. It's not because you are disrespectful of our music, it's just that you are very vital, very passionate.

Faust play The Arches, Glasgow, tonight, then tour the UK.
Peron's Avant-Garde Fest takes place in Schiphorst, Germany from 2 – 4 July 2010. Confirmed acts include Lydia Lunch's Big Sexy Noise, Blood Stereo, Gallon Drunk and, of course, Faust!

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