acid logicpresents...

An Interview with JG Thirlwell

Part One

JG Thirwell


By Sandra Kay
January 16th, 2003

Photographs- Beatrice Neuman

Foetus, Baby Zizane, Steroid Maximus, Manorexia, DJ Otefsu, these are just a few of the latest incarnations of the legendary JG Thirlwell.  He's the man that's taken a machete to the music world and is carving a path that is uniquely his own.

It's 90 degrees at 5:00 in the afternoon when I show up at his loft, and humid as hell.  I've never been to Brooklyn, which was painfully obvious by the way I was dressed.  You don't wear heels in Brooklyn, at least not the part I was in.  I walked in on a photo shoot; French pop music from the 60's playing in his loft, overlooking a seemingly dreary NY landscape, yet it really wasn't dreary at all. As I looked out the window at the black teenagers playing basketball below, I felt oddly comforted.  This must have been what Warhol's factory felt like back in the day.  It was a surreal experience, it was almost as if everything that was in my head, was on a projection screen, only it was real.  From the taxidermied animals, to the Robert Williams paintings, to the books that were on the shelf, to the kitsch tchotchkes that occupied every available space, I simply can't explain it.  It doesn't surprise me that much though, because if you've ever heard Manorexia, that's exactly what happens.  You close your eyes, and your own little movie starts running, it is a trip to the sub-conscious, and what you find there can be beautiful, frightening, whimsical, you never know what your going to find around the corner. It's exhilarating and will take you places you never even knew existed.   JGT somehow manages to take us on journeys to the Netherworld through a cacophony of crafted ambiguity that somehow just works.  So, it doesn't surprise me that his place of creation, his studio, speaks of all of that.

I've been a fan of JGT's for over 15 years now, and I feel that musically, artistically, he is quite simply brilliant. He among all others stands out as a gem that I don't feel has ever been given the recognition that is rightfully his.  I also got the distinct feeling that recognition has never been his motivation, or money, or any of those other things that us mortals are concerned about.  He is a man of grace and vision.   

Trying to describe his music is nearly impossible, but I'll give it a go.  Fastidiously crafted, monolithic layered sounds pouring down on you, seemingly self-destructive, yet loaded with classical references.  Just when you think you've seen Satan himself, Thirlwell turns the tables on you, and Satan turns into Shiva, and then he'll throw in a bit of Elvis just for the hell of it.  To say that JGT is a contradiction seems quite an understatement.  Yet, the final product is pure brilliance.  He has simultaneously defied and incorporated every musical genre there is, yet somehow manages to put an undeniable JGT spin on just about anything aural.  Just try finding his CD's at a store, and you'll never know where they'll end up. He is uncategorizable, yet far from being inaccessible.   

A native of Melbourne, Thirlwell immersed himself in the avant-garde music scene in London in the late 1970's.  He founded his own label "Self-Immolation," in 1980 under which he released the ground-breaking  "Nail" and "Hole", among countless of other albums, compilations, remixes.  JGT signed with Columbia in 1995, under which he released "Gash," a project that was two and a half years in the making, and that was followed by "Null," and a parting of ways from Columbia.   There are too many albums to even list, last I counted there were 42, that's not even counting the re-mixes he's done for the likes of NIN, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the list goes on and on.  His latest Foetus releases in 2001 were the widely acclaimed "Flow," and it's companion "Blow."  With a sigh of relief from his die-hard fans, JGT is back, going places I'm not even going to pretend that I can know of.  Lead us on Mr. Thirlwell.

SM:  You've been up to so much; I don't even know where to begin.   How about your new Manorexia album?

JGT:  Well it's two of two albums; I should have copies next week, week after, called the "Radiolarian Ooze."  Do you know what Radiolarians are?

SM:  No. I can't say I've ever heard of them.

JGT:  Radiolaria are small sea creatures that secrete this material which settles on the bottom of the ocean, mile upon mile, it known as the Radiolarian Ooze.  Some of my recent work has had an underwater theme going on.  The previous Manorexia album was called "Volvox Turbo" and volvox is also a small aquatic organism.  It actually is a simple cell organism that is made of cells that congregate, it's a social thing, it clumps, it's a kind of pond scum.  I added the Turbo because I like the idea of fast moving pond scum.  (Laughs).  And the Baby Zizanie album coming out on Nail records - a limited edition of 500 on vinyl - is called "Thalassaphobia" which means "fear of the ocean."  And with Baby Zizanie I asked Vicki Bennett who's doing our visuals from "People Like Us" to explore underwater sub-aquatic type of imageries so you get that feeling. it's a whole different civilization that's on our earth and I love the imagery of it, you know, there's a lot of almost science fiction.

SM:  It's like a different world.

JGT:  It's a totally different world.  I mean, it's not like I've been researching it or anything but I started to delve into it.   I'm going to do a 3rd one (Manorexia CD) next year which will also be distributed by me through the web-site ( and concerts and then maybe in 2004 what I'd like perhaps to do is do a triple 3 CD set, releasing all three of them together through retail so whoever discovers Manorexia for the first time is going to get their head ripped of by this triple album (laughs). 

SM:  Yeah, Manorexia just blew me away. 

JGT:  Yeah, I think some of my best stuff is coming out through Manorexia. I had this idea for the way I wanted it to be, the type of album I wanted to make which was a type of drone album or something that is coming from along those lines. That was the first intention when I had the idea and when I turned on the studio, it didn't turn out to be a drone album at all.  What it did turn out to be, because I did decide to distribute it myself, it gave me an opportunity to create work where I felt like I wasn't under scrutiny.  Stuff like Foetus and Steroid Maximus are heavily and meticulously crafted and I felt like with Manorexia I wanted to do something where I could paint with almost broader brush strokes and using space and using exactly how I want to feel, so I don't care if it breaks down into being just like one sound repeating for like three minutes, that's exactly how I want to feel and it's really instinctive and it really comes, it's almost like my head, if there is an equivalent for the odd sounds I use, it's like playing air guitar (laughs).  That's the way that I feel when I hear it because it's really tapping into a different sub-conscious place, and it's really impossible to articulate what Manorexia sounds like.

SM:  You just have to hear it.  Transcendent. I heard you finished it in six weeks?  True?

JGT:  The first one yeah, the second one took longer. 

SM:  Did you just not sleep?

JGT:  No, I didn't work on it that hard at all. 

SM:  It just came to you?

JGT:  Yeah, the second one was much harder actually.  But, what it's done for me was re-taught me a sort of different place to create from which is actually much more a place of innocence and not putting it into a pantheon of things, like a pantheon of a legacy and instead of thinking about where it fits when you walk into Virgin Records.  And I think as an artist creates over a long period of time, you can't help but start to get sullied by that, especially when your doing all the business yourself, and I think Manorexia first came out partly out of frustration in having re-kindled a lot of my connections in the business and trying to find a deal for Foetus and stuff over the course of a year and I was like, fuck it, let's do something totally different and do it myself.  And it was such a liberation to do that.

SM:  Everybody I've talked to about Manorexia is just blown away by it. Why wouldn't you put it out there in retail?

JGT:  I'm precious about it.  Well, also another reason is that if I distribute it this way I make $10.00 an album, I'd have to sell four times as many of my other CD's for the same amount of money.  I put out one a year and let it sell out, then it's fine.  I've done things where I've dabbled in the mainstream and had records in the charts that I've produced or re-mixed or whatever and signed with Columbia and now I feel quite happy. When I put out things that are way over ground, it's no different than when I put out things that are way underground.  I got as many reviews for Manorexia as I did when I put out an album with good distribution and a publicist. 

SM:   I know that with Baby Zizane you guys are playing off each other, it changes every night, Can you even explain that, or is it just an intuitive thing?

JGT:  It changes but we have a basic framework that we know were going to do the shape of a song governed by a certain set of sounds and meet at the end and which applications we open and close and sometimes it's governed by whether my computer has crashed or however long it takes to load up might turn into a segue which might make me drop a song, or whatever.  Sometimes we don't sync up which makes syncing free-fall freestyle without an MTC box or something like that.  Sometimes it's like any show, it's really hot and your really feeling it, sometimes something will happen and that's it, the show is down the tubes and you can't recover it.  But that's the beauty of doing something like that because your doing it on the fly and so you either get great intuitive things which can come from practice or from reading each other, knowing what works and what doesn't, or you can just have disasters, where no one really knows where it is.  I think the visual element of Baby Zizane is really important too because I like laptop music and I like laptop music live, but it's fucking boring to watch two people sitting at computers so the visual element is important too.

Continue to Part Two of the JG Thirlwell Interview


Don't forget to check out these Acid Logic Interviews that delve deep into the inner psyches of American celebrities and expose them as the senstive artists they truly are:

And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead
Rikki Rockett of Poison
The Great Kat - female speed metal guitarist
Gerald V. Casale of Devo
Teller, stage magician from "Penn and Teller"

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