(From Cyber Psycho's A.O.D., US music fanzine, July 1992.)
Martin Atkins on Pigface
Interview by John E. Graves III and Jasmine Sailing
This interview was conducted with Martin Atkins after the October 22 Pigface show in Denver, Colorado. We thank him for a lot of time, much interesting conversation about Pigface, Killing Joke, Ministry, PiL, etc., and for a great performance.
CPAOD: So you're off to London tomorrow. Are you coming back to America after the European tour?
MA: Yes, it's a 75 day tour with 73 shows. We have 2 days off; our 1st day is tomorrow when we fly to London, our 2nd day is when we fly back to Miami.
So the tour started about 2 weeks ago and it's going until January?
Till Christmas, yes. We're going to do a new album at the end of January, a new studio album. We played about 6 new songs tonight, and we're working on some more. We're going to document this tour the same way the Mexico album documented the last tour. It's just too wild, when you have people that you know will be bygones, people who just join us for a while. I felt we should document everything so we DAT every show. But I don't want to release another live album. If we released 5 live albums it wouldn't be like Throbbing Gristle, you know, because every show is different. We've already had bagpipes, sitar, and other things. Every show is a world of difference. But I don't want to start doing that. We're going to record everything, we're filming all of Europe, we've got a crew coming out with us.
Did you film the last tour?
Yes, and we're going to combine the last tour with this one to put a 1 1/2 hour video documentary together.
Does it get difficult, with all of the different people doing everything on the studio album, to allot who does what on the live tours?
No, because it's like Chris (Connelly) isn't at the point where he can take a full live band out. So it's a chance for Chris to present his material to a lot of people with a pretty proper backing band. And it's a chance for us, you know I played on Chris' records, to really blow. Yeah, we'll play "T.F.W.O" (Skinny Puppy) because we really like it and want to, it's wild.
There were a lot of guys who were total metal heads and they were like "Yeah, this is great!" during that song.
We just have a blast. On the last tour we did some PiL covers, we're making up new songs, we just do whatever we want to do. And it's actually cool to have such a large pool of talent.
How long has Invisible been around?
About 4 1/2 years.
Really? And has it always been yours?
Yes. I had a label before Invisible called Plaid and I lost about 10 grand when Green World went on it. I've been doing this for a long time. My wife, Lela, used to have her own radio show in Milwaukee and she used to run a record store. So it's a pretty cool marriage. I mean I played every fucking gig in America, I know everybody, and between us both we do pretty good.
I think you are definitely the best drummer around, since PiL, Killing Joke and everything.
Well, I think technically there's a lot of really excellent drummers out there who could just piss all over anything that I do. I think the reason people say to me they enjoy my drumming is I have a lot of fun. I have the most fun playing my drums of any drummer I know. I stopped playing my drums for a couple of years; I'm playing them now because I want to. And every night I really want to. I don't think I'm technically very good, I just have a great time and the vibe comes off the stage. And that makes me feel great because people enjoy watching me have a really good time.
You said you're going to do the 7th box set?
That's going to happen, it keeps getting put on the backload. There was going to be the 7th box set first, then we did the Mexico thing. Then there's Lean Juicy Pork, it's all of our interviews, there's 5 unreleased tracks, the Pixies play on it. Jason Pettigrew from Alternative Press interviewed everybody, then I chopped it all up and put on my interview, it's about 5 minutes long, I'm on a train, then I'm in a bowling alley. Full it took longer to put together than the Mexico album, it's wild.
Is it a promo album?
There'll be a few for sale. The way Invisible is we can't do a CD/vinyl radio only promo just for the hell of it. We'll have to sell 500 to cover the costs so we're going to have a few for sale. And I think that if I were a big fan of Pigface it's something that I'd want to have. It's like listening to Ogre talk about crossing the border into Mexico with Black Francis from the Pixies playing the flamenco guitar. We're having such a blast.
I like that. I hate bands that are like "we're serious musicians, take us seriously, we're all about deep things" and they never let up.
And also you talk to some of these people and it's like album, video, tour, time off, album, video, tour, time off. And every question you ask them, it could be about anything, would steer it towards the new release. Because that's what they do, they just promote the new release. We're not promoting the Mexico album because it's a different band. The Mexico album is a completely different band than this. So if somebody likes the Mexico album and comes to the gig, they're seeing a completely different band doing different songs. I mean it's just crazy from a business standpoint.
But it's great. It's cool to be able to come and see new things, not having stand there like "Oh, I've already heard this 10 times and know it." Immediately, the stuff at the sound check, I was like "god this is great." Where was "Welcome To Mexico" recorded, everywhere?
Yes, it's from about 16 or 18 different shows. At one point I was thinking about listing where everything was recorded, but I don't even know anymore where everything was recorded. The Pixies stuff on Lean Juicy Pork was recorded in Spain, in the Highlight Court at San Sebastian, when Killing Joke opened for The Pixies. Mexico was recorded all over the States and some of Europe.
How are sales doing? Is there a lot of interest?
Amazing, we shipped like 20,000 yesterday.
Who are the shirts selling through?
The only thing that we don't have control over is Pigface shirts. That's because going into the last tour we needed a very large sum of money to make it happen. We can't have 14 people go out on the road in a bus with a truck, with 5 crew, then flying to Europe. We have 16 people flying to Europe with a truckload of equipment, you know, that means you need a bank power to handle it so we sold our merchandising rights to Iceland. Fortunately I sold them only until the amount of money we got in advance was recouped. So in about 4 weeks time we get those rights back. I don't want to slag off Iceland because we needed their money 6 months ago and they helped make the tour happen. Now we don't need their money and if I could sell those shirts for $12 I'd be very happy. Because of the situation we're in, we have shirts for $20 and $35. I want control of that back; I want our shirts to be $12 and $20. Early next year we'll have everything back and I think you'll see a difference in the way Pigface is presented.
What I want to do with Invisible is help other bands. If bands like Fugazi are serious about their music -- I don't know how they record, I don't know a lot about Fugazi. But when I make a record, when we make a Pigface record or whatever, we're renting a 24-touch studio for $100 an hour. If you want to have control over your music, over the finished product, you'd better make fucking sure you've got a couple grand in the bank. If you want to remix a song or if you listen back to a track and the guitar's out of cue, you'd better have a fucking grand to say, "I want to redo the guitar." You need some financial stability to first of all control your own musical situation, and secondly to hope to have any kind of influence over, or pay, anybody else. How can I help Wreck, a Wax Trax band -- nobody's heard of them on the West Coast. They're good friends of mine, they're great. But how can I hope to help them if I'm so desperate for cash that I have to sell our support spot for the tour? Which is what happens in Europe, bands need money so badly if you want to open for, say, Killing Joke in Europe it costs you 3-4,000 pounds to open. You don't get paid and you have to pay the band. The whole Pigface/Invisible thing is to try to get control back, which we're doing. I feel like right now we can do whatever we want and make it available to anyone across the country who needs to hear it. I don't impose any restrictions on anybody who's on Invisible or in Pigface; they can do whatever they want and I'll put it out. Two months later it'll be in stores. I'm not going to say to anybody, "well, you know, it needs more of a beat" or "I don't see this starting new directions." Anybody can do whatever they want and people are like "holy fucking shit".
That's great, nobody does that. So are you staying with Ministry? Are you going to tour with them?
I'm not going to tour with them.
Are you on the new album or can you not handle Al? He seems impossible to work with.
No, I get along with Al. I credit him as being the originator of Pigface. Pigface came out of that Ministry tour. He put us together: me, Bill, Ogre, Chris, William. I like Al a lot, he's just doing something else. I understand the new Ministry album's fucking great. We're just doing something different.
Are you doing Killing Joke anymore?
No, Killing Joke is split up. We just did a new album with Paul Ferguson, the original drummer from Killing Joke, myself, Paul Raven, Geordie, John Bechdel on keyboard, and Chris Connelly singing.
When is that going to be out and will it be on Invisible?
Early next year. It's on Invisible now but, unless something happens, we don't have the machinery to get 100,000 copies of it out and it's just so fucking hot. I can't go to the other people ... this is called Murder Inc. I can't say Invisible is the label for this because we'll be struggling. We'll get 30,000 out there, everybody will be out of stock and we'll be struggling to keep it in stock. And unless Invisible becomes part of something else, which could happen, I'd like to have some funding, some access to cash. The cash flow through Invisible ... the first Gub sole over 30,000 and that generates cash. But I'd like to have more cash to do what I want with and to have more people at Invisible to work on things. There's 5 people there now, including myself, and I'd like to have a couple more people there. And I'd like a chunk of money that I can mess around with.
Everybody asks constantly about Trent Reznor. Is he into touring with it or did he just think it was fun to do one time?
Well, at the time when Trent was working on Gub, nobody else who was on the album knew who the hell he was. Trent was an old friend of mine. Nine Inch Nails were doing OK, maybe he sold 100,000. But it's like, OK, there's this guy who's a good friend of mine from Cleveland and it'd be really cool for him to be able to do some stuff. And some NIN have gone gold on CD. So, I don't know, I haven't spoken with Trent in a long time. I went down and did a couple of Lollapolooza shows; I was supposed to tour with NIN but it didn't work out. I think it would be good for Trent to come out with us; he did some dates on the last tour. I did some drum tracks on his last album.
So you just invite various people for different dates on tour?
Yeah, we've had a lot of people. Marsten from the Thrill Kill Kult came out and all he did was drink our liquor for 2 days. He came on our bus in Chicago, got drunk, fell asleep, woke up in Kansas, and just kind of hung around and drank. Which is great, that's Pigface. There's 24 hours in the day and 2 of them were on stage. The rest of the time wasn't on stage; it was a social thing as much as a musical thing. The tour very much tied together. If we weren't friends and if we didn't support each other, how could we be prepared to go onstage and fail? There's no competition, there's no ego bullshit. We're all friends onstage. If someone's having a hard time we'll help him out. Ogre's been having a bit of a rough time. He's out with us, he doesn't have to play if he doesn't want to. He knows he's here, we know he's a fucking great guy and we're all friends. It's the same with anybody.
That's cool that you guys can be like that. So you're definitely going to continue Pigface for as long as you can?
For as long as it excites us and I'm as excited now as I was 2 years ago. It's wild. It just continues to change and develop and grow. As long as it continues to do that I don't see any reason why it shouldn't. We get bored easily so we change things. You can't do that in a conventional band. You can't go out on a Killing Joke tour and say, "Let's make up a bunch of new songs." People want to hear "Love Like Blood", "Night Time," "Eighties".
And they get mad if they don't. At the last show, I had to laugh, this kid was standing around whining "they aren't playing any Revco". And we were all like, that's the whole point, that's the beauty of it -- you're all breaking away from that.
Go see Revco, go play the CD or the video.
Exactly. But a lot of people really liked it. Even some of them that are only into the beat had a really good time.
That's the good thing that's coming out of all of this. Everybody's going back to the other bands but I went back to Killing Joke and said, "OK, I'm leaving." It's really healthy. When you're only in one situation you can convince yourself, you can rationalize, that it's cool, it's groovy, bla bla bla. I did that with PiL for 2 years. Once I left PiL I thought how could I have put myself personally in that position where I was just totally screwed up?
What was it like in PiL?
Initially it was great you know. '79, Metal Box, the first tour of American Bandstand. But it quickly became gig after gig after gig. People left, and then it was just me and John and we were really good friends. It just turned nasty. We aren't friends anymore and that's something that still upsets me. I left the band in '84 and it really pissed me off to see such a charismatic person as John, who could see a person walking across a room towards him and immediately understand any weaknesses. He could just go into the middle of somebody's head and either say a few things that would make their year or else say something totally nasty just to totally fuck them up. It would fuck them up for life maybe, just really really nasty shit. And I think that's just basically wrong. For someone with those talents and powers to misuse them. I started to get disgusted and I lost a lot of respect for John. It cost me a lot. I co-owned Public Image Limited. I had a condo in LA, a really nice car, tons of money. I just said I don't care, I'm not doing this anymore. I became an illegal alien, I ended up digging holes, planting trees. I went through a really rough time and didn't touch my drums. At one point I was planting trees for Bon Jovi's drummer, so I'm out digging holes in frozen ground for $5 an hour. Everyone else is getting $12 and I'm getting $5 because I'm an illegal alien. And the drummer came out like "Marty, Marty, I saw you on tour with PiL, you're one of my favorite drummers." I'm like "yeah yeah yeah, where do you want this tree planted?" So I'm digging this hole and it starts to rain and "This Is Not A Love Song" comes on the radio. If you want to talk about character-building shit, that's why with Invisible I'll help anybody. I'll help the hard-working bands. I'll do anything I can. Anytime anyone sits back and says "Well Martin, my record's not happening, what's going on?" Well, fucking get off your ass and do something, that's what I do. I go out and do gigs, I work my fucking butt off. I'll help anybody who wants to work, but anybody who wants to be a fucking pop star and and ride around in limos and do drugs, fuck off. You don't have any money? Get a job, work 3 jobs. I've done it. That's how I started Invisible. Work 3 jobs and in your spare time make your music, print t-shirts.
Sometimes it's that hunger that makes bands and once they lost it and get handed everything they're like "Ehhh." Do you prefer playing at clubs and bars or venues?
I like anywhere. My least favorite is the middle clubs where there's a moat and about 1,000 people. I like to pick up the vibe from 3-4,000 people. You walk upstage and you fee that energy that's directed at the stage.
Do you ever get used to that?
You never really get used to that. I get butterflies, I puke, I get really nervous, you know, whenever I take this shit for granted. Somebody said to me today, "This must get really boring, signing things and talking to people all day." I'm like how can you say that? How can I say if somebody wants to wait outside for an hour or two to meet the people in Pigface and say hello, who am I to be bored by that?
I like the whole "you're one of us, we're one of you" not just "they're up on stage...."
Sometimes we have local bands come up and jam with us. In San Francisco we played for two hours, then these guys got onstage and started jamming. We were in the dressing room and it's all these local bands on stage, playing to our audience. It was wild. We were in the dressing room and all these guys aren't in Pigface. I guess they are now; it's really cool. That's what's cool about Pigface, it's like "Sure, come on stage, do your thing."
And we gradually let him go get a beer and wind down after some more babbling about crews, Can, and other things....