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
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 (www.foetus.org) 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
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.