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By: Cameron Piko
The Golden Communion is the first release in quite some time for multi-instrumentalist Thighpaulsandra, perhaps best known for his work with Coil, Wire, Spiritualized, Julian Cope and countless other artists. The two disc, nearly two hour solo album takes the listener on a journey through orchestral and experimental soundscapes that open up to a surprisingly good understanding of rock grooves. It’s an absolute beast of an album, and I managed to speak with the man behind the music. For someone who creates such dark, introspective music, Thighpaulsandra was in a pleasantly jovial mood as we talked about his approach to composition, his dislike for cliché, Coil, and – of all things – a shared appreciation of Frank Zappa.
(((o))): This is the first album you have released in 7 years. How much of that time was spent working on The Golden Communion?
Thighp: I actually started in 2003, but I got distracted. Various things got in the way: Geoff [aka Jhonn/John Balance] from Coil died, Sleazy [aka Peter Christopherson, also from Coil] died, then my mother died. And those were the three major things that got in the way. But apart from that, I was doing an album with Liz Frazer from the Cocteau Twins as well, so that took up a lot of my time. We did some shows, so had to rehearse for about 6 months for those. So lots of things really.
I put out an EP in the meantime, and between 2003 and 2015, I have put out a few other records. But the album The Golden Communion – as it was originally conceived – was originally slated for release in 2008.
Somebody reminded me the other day that I did an interview for Resonance FM where I actually said “Yes! It’s gone to the printers!” [Laughs]
(((o))): Yeah! I read that actually [The Quietus]
Thighp: Well, it was already going to be pressed, and I pulled the plug on it because I didn’t like it. I thought “No, this isn’t good enough” and I went back and did a bit more work on it. And a bit more work turned into what – seven years? [Laughs]
It’s been finished over a year. It took me a long time to get a label and get the artwork done. All those things take a long time.
(((o))): When you look back to 2003, are there many similarities between the album now and then?
Thighp: There are a couple of tracks that didn’t make it. There are a few tracks that – well, I wouldn’t say that they will never come out – but they need to be changed quite a lot. Then there are a few tracks that I thought needed more work. “The More I Know Men, The Better I Like Dogs” was around in 2008, and then I thought it was too long so I shortened it. But in the process of shortening it, I thought “Well it needs more a few more things added to it.” So I added a few more elements to it.
(((o))): When you originally said you shortened it I thought you meant the song used to be 40 minutes long and you shrunk it down. (The piece on the album is nearly 27 minutes long).
Thighp: [Laughs] Yeah. Length is no problem for me.
(((o))): Did you have any specific goals in mind when creating the album?
Thighp: No. I never do, really. I just do what I like. I don’t make records with any kind of plan, or any audience in mind. I just do what I’ve always done which is that I spew this stuff out and hope somebody’s going to like it.
There are a few tracks that didn’t make it to the album, and I guess they didn’t go on because they didn’t really fit. They were either too much in one direction or another. As is probably fairly obvious I like mixing things up quite a lot. I like a lot of different types of music, so all the styles get mashed up together which is good for me. But sometimes it can all end up in too much of one particular variety, so I’ll try and stop it doing that if I can.
(((o))): Yeah! Well that’s a nice segue into the next question. A lot of these pieces are through-composed, they never really repeat and they’re always shifting genres as well?
Thighp: I’m not a big fan of repetition, I have to say! [Laughs]
(((o))): It sounds like if you ever feel like you are repeating, you’ll actively try to avoid it. Is that fair to say?
Thighp: Yeah, definitely. It’s really easy to [repeat]. It’s so easy to think “Oh well, I’ve done this before. I can do it again.”
It’s very easy to make it sound like Coil, in a way. So I try and steer away from making it sound like Coil, or Cyclobe, or any of those bands. Because we all used to work together, and we have fairly habitual ways of working. So, I quite often have to be thinking “Oh no, I mustn’t do that. That’s what we would have done before.”
(((o))): I wanted to briefly talk about the title track – because I think it’s amazing. It goes from chamber music to electronic musique concrète to a sort of… jazz-rock groove at the end?
Thighp: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah!
(((o))): Could you elaborate on what went into creating that piece, “The Golden Communion”?
Thighp: Well first of all I wrote the string quartet, and I wrote that as a whole piece. Once I’d done that, I always planned for it to have some sort of electronic interpretation as well, but I wasn’t quite sure how that would work out. So when I went into the studio and created all the electronic elements, I took parts of the string piece and modified them with firstly bits of software, and then by recording them to tape and chopping them up. And then I’ve got another piece of software that converts audio into MIDI information, which triggers synthesizers. So I can get the expression from some of the string instruments and translate it to synthesizers, and then manipulate them both to play both parts.
For the sort of jazz-rock piece in the middle, I had this in my head and I thought “this is all too comfortable” in the musique concrète and string world. I needed to go somewhere that is a little uncomfortable – although not necessarily uncomfortable for me, but for the listener. So I thought “what would be a good genre to flip into that would be completely unexpected here, and also fit the mood?” A smooth, L.A. sounding fusion thing, but with a very atonal Fender Rhodes solo over the top of it. So that’s what I did, and then [the song] kind of creeps back into this musique concrète – a very sludgy version of all the strings at the end.
(((o))): Just hearing you describe that made me think of something. It may be my own bias – I’m a massive Frank Zappa fan – but do you happen to like that music as well?
Thighp: Absolutely. I’m a huge Frank Zappa fan. In fact, depending on how much of a Frank Zappa fan you are, there’s one little section in that jazz-rock section where the vocals come in – they’re the only vocals in the whole piece – and soon as I did that, I thought “Wow. That does sound a bit like Frank Zappa.”
So yes, I love Frank Zappa. From about 1978 through to the time he died I saw every single show he ever did.
(Here I’ve excised further nerdy Frank Zappa discussion.)
(((o))): I’m getting distracted – we’re here to talk about your album!
Thighp: [Laughs] I think he’s a greatly under-rated genius. I think people are often put-off by his sense of humour and his flippancy. I think people get turned off by that quite a lot, but beneath all that: a) he’s an amazing guitarist, b) he can really write orchestral music in a stunning way c) his group were always great. I really admire Frank Zappa. A wonderful man.
(((o))): Absolutely. Bringing it back to the album, two of the tracks feature Jhonn Balance and Peter Christopherson in some way or another. And particularly on those tracks, you can definitely feel their absence. I noticed that the video for ‘Did He Fall?’ even ends with an image of one of those fluffy white outfits worn during Coil’s live days, except this time no-one is in it. How did these pieces come about? That must be a very weird thing to do, I imagine.
Thighp: When we were in Coil we used to create a lot of music, and some of it didn’t always fit the “Coil format”. We often created pieces – sometimes the three of us together, sometimes just Geoff and I. Geoff used to come to my house quite a lot – usually after a spate of drinking – he’d come to my place to be out in the country, and as far away from alcohol as possible. And when he did that, we used to write quite a lot together. It was my way of distracting him, if you like.
We used to throw ideas around and he’d come up with lyrics. Sometimes I’d give him a synthesizer and say “do something with this”, and he’d come up with something interesting and we’d work on it from there. We formed a lot of ideas, and I’m a great believer in recording – if I’ve got somebody like him in the room I record all the time so I never miss a note.
So he used to come over and we used to work quite a lot, and I’d go to their [Balance and Christopherson’s] house. Sleazy and I would work a lot on different things. Some of it would be very obviously Coil, and some of it would not fit the Coil aesthetic. If it fell outside of that, we’d not dismiss it completely but file it away and perhaps revisit it another day. Well, some of those things that we filed away became tracks on my albums. Some of them were created from scratch with a view to being on my album with the two of them, and other pieces I’ve got here now was just stuff we were messing around with but never really found a home for. So that’s how those pieces came to be.
(((o))): With regards to all of that recording, is that where the infamous line ‘The More I Know Men, The Better I Like Dogs’ comes from? Is that from you guys sitting around having a chat?
Thighp: Yeah. You know, I think [Geoff] stole it from someone else. [Laughs] I can’t remember who originally said it, but it wasn’t Geoff. But Geoff liked the line, we liked the line so he used it in that piece. I’m fond of musique concrète and that kind of thing, so we created that section in the middle where there’s 5-10 minutes of lyrics that are all very much chopped up and mangled. I’ve still got the handwritten script that he used for that, and there’s quite a lot of stuff – but that’s the line that we really liked so we used that line over and over again.
(((o))): Speaking of Coil, I recently wrote a piece on the band that looked at the rebellious aspect of their music.
Thighp: I read that, it was really good.
(((o))): Oh! Thank you. Looking at your own work, I think it is safe to say you explore realms certainly outside “normal society”?
Thighp: [Laughs] Pretty much, yeah. I hope so.
(((o))): Do you intentionally work on subverting or exploring societal taboos in your music, or is that just how the art ends up?
Thighp: [Sighs] Do I deliberately do that? I don’t know. Well, I live on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere, and I really hate society.
[Laughs] You know, what else can you do?
I guess I generally try to be subversive, but it’s just naturally who I am. All taboos really fascinate me. I love anything that is taboo – it always makes me want to explore it, just because I want to know more about it. And the more people are repulsed by something, the more I want to know what interests particular people who are interested in those things. I won’t go into all those things, but you can imagine that there are a lot of things that really upset the majority of society and for me, they’re all interesting. I feel it’s my duty to look at those things and comment on them.
(((o))): It comes across like the lyrical version of your aversion to, say, repeating yourself musically. Normal subject matter can feel clichéd or done or just bland. I don’t know, but maybe that’s the premise for it?
Thighp: Yeah that’s right. That’s a good point, I’d never thought of it like that.
(((o))): My last Coil-related question: are there any future Coil releases to look forward to, or can we finally consider the discography finished?
Thighp: Well, there’s no ‘great lost album’ or anything. I’ve got all the archives here and there are unreleased tracks, but I would say everything that was unreleased was unreleased for a reason.
After Geoff died, Sleazy came here for quite a while and we went through a lot of the stuff. We listened to things that had never been released, and our conclusion was: it wasn’t released, and the reason it wasn’t released was because at the time –before I even showed up on the scene there were quite a few things that didn’t get released – Sleazy didn’t really like them, or they weren’t considered to be good enough. It was the same when I joined the group. There were things that we’d made that we thought was a good idea but it didn’t really fulfill its potential, so let’s not diminish the other stuff by sticking it on a record. So we’d just file it away and it wouldn’t be used.
So yeah, there isn’t any ‘great lost Coil album’. I’m aware that John Whitney is going to release some, supposedly with Sleazy’s blessing, but I can’t say I’m exactly enthused. If it wasn’t heard before, it wasn’t heard because it wasn’t great. If it was up to me, he wouldn’t be releasing it, but it’s not up to me.
And all this stuff that Danny Hyde is going to release – the Backwards stuff. [Sighs] You know, it’s not great. It’s not classic Coil, I don’t think. It’s ok.
(((o))): There was The New Backwards for a reason. (Some background: Coil recorded the Backwards demo back in the early 90s. A reworking of the material was released in 2008 under the title The New Backwards.)
Thighp: Yeah. I remember when Sleazy and I, we had all the tapes of Backwards and transferred it all onto the computer. We had a listen to it, and neither of us were [taken by it]. I think there was a plan at one point to rework a lot of the tracks, because some of the basic ideas were good. But the execution … it had that very 90s dancey feel, which I think hasn’t aged very well. It really, really sounds dated now. I know Danny Hyde is going to release this Backwards album, or has released it already – I’m not quite sure what goes on with all that stuff. [This was recently released in August] But, I know what that stuff is, and I think it’s fairly horrendous. Apart from the contractual problems at the time, the reason Sleazy never released it later as it was, was because we considered it to be a bit shit, really. But people have other reasons for releasing things, and I have no control over what people do. I don’t think Sleazy would’ve approved, really.
(((o))): Absolutely. Given it has been a while since your last record, this is a good time for new and old listeners to look through your back catalogue. Are there any albums in particular you’d recommend new listeners check out, or any you felt were under-served the first time around?
Thighp: I’m still very fond of both Double Vulgar albums, I think those are really good. The first album [I, Thighpaulsandra] I really like. Some of the later ones –things like Chamber Music – I’m not so sure I’m fond of that now.
Actually, I never listen to my own music. But I did something for a theatre production recently where they [asked] if I’ve got anything they can use. Which meant I had to go back and listen to a lot of my older music. Having played those albums for the first time since 2003, I was quite impressed! [Laughs] Oh, this isn’t so bad after all! I can listen to this. I don’t know if you make music yourself, but you get so sick of whatever you’re doing. You never really want to hear it again. But nine years later, it kinda sounds alright! You forget the process then.
(((o))): Are there any plans of playing any of The Golden Communion live, or do your other bands take precedence?
Thighp: Yeah! I’m doing a show in Cologne on the 19th of October, a solo show there. We’re doing a group show in Lithuania in November, and another in Italy in December. But we’re trying to get an agent at the moment to do some European shows, and hopefully shows in the UK as well. I’ve got a group of the same people who do all my records and they’re all ready to go, and we’re keen to do it.
(((o))): Is there going to be any difficulty easing that material into a live setting?
Thighp: Well, we’ve done it before. It’s hard to reproduce the albums exactly, I have to say. It’s not an easy task with four people to pull that stuff off. But we choose the set from all the albums, and because the guys I play with live are the guys who played on the albums, they know what’s expected and how to get through it. Some of it’s quite tough to play, and some of it’s a little bit difficult to reproduce because a lot of what I do is created in the editing. It’s chopping up pieces of tape to make something work. I do a lot of musique concrète – especially on the earlier records, I was more into doing it on tape than I was doing it on the computer in those days – so pulling some of those things off are hard, but we’ll do different versions. I quite like hearing a different interpretation of a track from the past.
(((o))): Again, you don’t want to repeat.
Thighp: Well, obviously I’ll try and make it as close to the original track as I can. But rather than slavishly reproduce it or record it into the computer and hit ‘go’, I’d rather do a new interpretation of it that will be exciting for us to play. That’s part of the thing – I really like when we’re actually on stage to do something with it that makes it feel relevant and interesting for us. Even if we played the same song every night, we don’t do it exactly the same way. The more improvised elements there are to it, the more I’m happy with it, generally.
(((o))): This may seem odd question to ask after such a long break, but is anything else on the horizon coming up for you?
Thighp: I’m always recording. I’ve been in the studio all day today, so I guess what I’m making is my next album. Hopefully! I’ve just spent last week making an album with Graham Lewis (the bass player from Wire), Matt Simms (the guitarist from Wire) and a drummer called Valentina Magaletti from the band Tomaga. We did an improvised album together which I’ll be finishing off in the next couple of weeks. That’ll be coming out on Editions Mego too.
But who knows what else will be happening. There will probably be some more Liz Frazer stuff, who knows!
(((o))): Keeping busy, for sure!
Thighp: All the time, yeah!
(((o))): Well thanks very much for taking the time out to talk, I really appreciate it.
Thighp: No problem at all, thank you.