(From Industrial Nation, based in Chicago, Summer 1997)
by Kwyn Shelley
|For those of you don't know who Martin Atkins is, crawl out from under your rock every 10 years or so and get a clue. Martin has been making kickass music since you were in diapers. He is a living testament to the ideal of that which you don't have, you make yourself He started his own label, Invisible, out of his loft in New Jersey. He has been a member of countless bands, a producer, a writer, a real renaissance man. He's not the type to sit on his ass and wait for things to happen, he makes them happen. He takes no shit, tells it like it is, and you know how we just love that.|
IN: I think that by now everyone knows how Pigface began.
MA: Do they?
IN: Well, everything came together on the Ministry - The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste tour, right?
MA: I give Al credit for bringing everybody together, just as a nice thing to do, because he did. He asked me to drum on that tour, he asked Ogre to be on that tour, and Chris Connelly. So, in a way he brought everybody together, but in another way, he brought us all together to be this Ministry cover band and that just seemed absurd to me. As much as I enjoyed being on that tour, I think it's a great tour, it just seemed crazy that all of us were there, and what could happen? Nothing did happen, except that we did great versions of those Ministry songs, and people got arrested, and things got really crazy, but it didn't go past that. And I wanted to say, 'Hey, what are these guys up to?' KMFDM were the opening band on that tour and all kinds of things happened. En Esch jumped out of a burning building and shattered his arm and his hip and bits of his brain. I wanted to get something more out of that whole experience than just a Ministry tour pass on my tour pass Wall of fame.
IN: So would you say that Pigface was created as more of a stress release or an outlet for what you saw as wasted talent?
MA: No. I just thought that chemistry of one kind wasn't being explored, that's all. I just felt it needed to be.
IN: Isn't that why RevCo was created?
MA: I don't know. I did get a snotty fax at one point, from I can't remember who, saying, 'After all, this has all been done before by RevCo.' Which, I don't know that thatís true either. I think that RevCo was a bringing together of different people, constantly changing line-up, that all performed the same songs to the same backing or whatever. I don't think RevCo was a musical experimentation, I think it was more of a social experiment.
IN: Who is actually in Pigface now?
MA: Everybody who has worked in Pigface in the past is still a Pigface member. I mean, there's no reason to fire anybody from Pigface.
IN: Are there any new additions?
MA: Mick Harris just sent me a tape with some bass lines on it. There are new people involved constantly, but I'm just reaching the point with Pigface of saying, 'Alright, it's Pigface.' If there's a band thatís asked for some trust, that I think should get some trust is Pigface. I don't think anybody's been to a Pigface show, apart from some people in New Orleans one night, that have been remotely ripped off by a show or anybody whoís been ripped off by a Pigface album. I've seen some releases on Fifth Column that list so many names, it's like the name dropping is so, well, somebody said, 'The name dropping is so heavy you have to wear industrial safety boots.' I think one of the Dessau albums lists Rich Patrick from Filter. He left his guitar up on the corridor of the studio where someone was recording something and it accidentally was recorded because it was so loud, and then they gave Rich Patrick a credit on a Dessau album. I see that stuff, and we had Dessau do some dates with Pigface, and then the next set of outs I see from Fifth Column, all of those names, and non-names, and link names, and somebody who knows somebody in another band, and somebody whatever, then it's like, 'And they just toured with Pigface!' So I'm just completely turned off by the name listing. I think what I'm going to do with the next Pigface album, although I've t told you Mick Harris is involved, is say, 'It's Pigface, either buy it or donít, I really donít careí. I donít think Pigface has got anything to prove, and just no more of this name shit. The Notes From Thee Underground album, everybody is on it except Elvis Fucking Presley. It's just, if you don't know what Pigface is, a few names on the cover isn't going to make any difference. And I'm fired of that from promoters as well. The last few shows we did, the first question was, 'Well, who's in the band?' I said, 'Well, what does it matter?' There's the band, and then there's people who show up.
Two tours ago there was the band, which was ridiculous, and there was Genesis P. Orridge, and Casper Brocksmith, Danny Carrey from Tool, and a linebacker from the Bears. I mean, who cares what the line-up is? And the answer to that question is everybody, except me.
IN: Since you don't like to plan anything out for Pigface, are you ever afraid of nothing happening?
MA: You mean Pigface ceasing to exist?
IN: No, just a docile period.
MA: No. There are times when itís good to push, and there are times when itís good to do other things. It's not like I need something to do. Which I think I'm lucky in that regard, I've always had a few different things going on. When I was working with Ministry, I insisted to Killing Joke that they let me take a break from Killing Joke to work with Ministry. So, I cancelled a Killing Joke tour to do a Ministry tour. I think itís healthy to have several things going on, not to be in several different bands, but just to have several different interests so that you're just doing something. Things stay fresh, you do things because you want to do them. Things prioritize themselves, rather than a band that shouldnít be touring insists on touring because they're bored or they think they should be doing something. Got another job, do something else, tour when itís right.
IN: Has there been an idea for Pigface that didnít turn out as you expected, or failed altogether?
MA: Yeah, the inflatable boat that we'd launch an top of the crowd. The first time we did that was in New York and there wasn't enough of a crowd to hold the boat up. Mary Byker went zoominí out on this inflatable boat and he just hit the floor. Trent was at that show, Trent's done two shows with Pigface and that was one of them, Ogre was there, everybody was there. The guy who plays bass for Gwar was there in his Gwar costume. I mean, it was pretty strange, and I think it was like 250 people in the crowd. So there's been times when the idea of Pigface doesn't work. There's times when it which pisses me off, there's times when the whole idea is so overwhelming, logistically and financially that it stifles my creative input to Pigface. It's just, 'So whatís the fucking point?, ya knowí? I end, up arguing with promoters in LA. saying, 'There isn't enough light, and the sound system, and it you don't have some more low end in here by 4 o'clock you can fuck off.' Confrontational shit to get more low end for a sound system to make a more successful vibe. But in taking care of the energy of the room, sometimes my energy is just completely depleted by the end of the day. Sometimes aggro like that gives me energy. So, I only have so much energy and there's only so many battles you can fight and sometimes at the end of the day I'm sitting on my drum kit exhausted.
IN: You have already worked with a great deal of people in your career, is there anyone with whom you'd like to work with that you haven't had a chance to?
MA: Garry Glitter, and Harvey Keitel, Iím sure there's more. The great thing about Pigface is like when Christina Petro bellydanced with us, we just bumped into her walking down the street. I think she wanted to get into the show, and we're like, 'Well, what can you bring to the performance?'. She's like, 'well, Iím a bellydancer.' 'Alright, let's go!' ya know? Things like that. The great thing about Pigface is the energy, and when it's great it's always a surprise and itís new. Although, half the time, I'll be like, 'Alright, Casper Brocksmith's flying in from Germany to Seattle, we need to rent this equipment.' It's not like a surprise. But when Genesis did his first show with us in San Francisco, I was floored by how instinctively he understood what was going on with Pigface and how he just gave and put all of himself into it without fear. You know when you're talking loudly in a bar and the music stops and the bar's silent and you're screaming and you look like a complete prick? Well, you would think that on stage with Pigface, not knowing the songs, and even if you knew the songs you don't know even know how the songs are going to go that night, you'd think that he'd be holding back or not letting go or not giving all of himself. At the first show that he did with us he transformed the way Pigface was, which made sense to me. If Pigface was Pigface the night before, then along comes Genesis P.Orridge who gives all of his energy, then of course it's going to be completely different. Itís not going Pigface, 'there is no god up in the skyí, with Genesis singing backing vocals. Everything changed rhythms changed, our vibe changed, the energy on stage changed, and that's how it should be with the different numbers of people. That was a great surprise. I've forgotten what your question was, but there's an answer.
IN: So do you consciously make an effort to change the sound of each Pigface album, or is it just a metamorphosis of all the different artists contributing?
MA: Well, whoeverís involved brings whatever. Bob Dog was here from Texas today playing sitar. Whoever does what they do, it changes everything. I think that some of the ideas have become a bit more focused. There's still an energy to Pigface recordings, but I donít go out of my way to do anything other than fuel myself at this point. I want to do things that I enjoy, and things that fuel me, that make me excited when I'm doing them.. I donít get excited about, 'Oh wow, this recordís going to do really well and I'm going to get some good reviews for this one!í Itís really meaningless. A great review is nice, but I enjoy a really well-written slag review as well. Iíve laughed at some really, just really vicious, malicious stuff. Iím trying to think. I know that Jason Pettigrew has done really great nasty, twisted, sarcastic stuff. I guess if you canít create for yourself, as soon as you start to change things because someone told you the drums were a bit nasty, or somebody said, ĎWell, you need more saxophone on that trackí. As soon as you start trying to please anybody, you might as well just give up, because all there are in this business are more and more people to try and please, and if you go down that road, you are fucked.
IN: What do you think about people saying that bands like Ministry and KMFDM seem to have a more metal sound than industrial lately?
MA: I didnít know that the sound of KMFDM had changed from their first record. They sounded like theyíre trying really hard and they still sound like that. I donít know whatís up with Ministry. I find it very strange that Alís embarrassed by early Ministry, because great songwriting that touches a chord in people has a value. Thatís all I try to do. Ten things happen, and I donít mean this in a musical term, but this harmonious chemistry happens that is still electrifying, and heís done that. I donít know whatís up with Ministry. I couldnít believe that last record, what was that about, I found it really dull and boring, I donít know what's up with it. See, to me, thereís a heartness, thereís an uncompromising. If someone wants to be really sweet and have layers of harmony and whatever, then the hardest thing you can do is let that song be that, and not say, 'Well, we're KMFDM and that song has to be this and this.' Do you know what I'm saying? It's be true to whatever youíre creating.
IN: How do you feel about the lack of exposure industrial bands get from radio and MTV?
MA: I think if industrial bands continue to show the same lack of imagination that they've exhibited for the last three years, then it's a fantastic thing. I thought that industrial was some new umbrella term under which anything could happen, anything was allowed to happen. So hereís Pigface, this supposed industrial supergroup, and we have bagpipes, cello, sitar, Christmas tree lights, trees, whatever, and to me that was industrial, just having a good fucking poke around in the attic of music. What do four bagpipes sound like on stage? Well, I don't fucking know. So we hired some bagpipe players in Philadelphia, and not. like some vast experiment, I mean, we were all in the audience watching our bagpipe intro. I thought, Ďwell, this is great if this is what industrial is, then "it means it's anything because that's what, punk rock was in 1976. It was anything, it was anarchy, start your own label, question everything and work to make a difference. That's what punk rock was in 1976 and that's become some Green Day bubble gum whatever. So now, here it is sad to say but I've seen some really lame metal bands with a couple of oil drums on stage thinking that they're industrial. Christ Analogue are playing tonight. I was listening to their record and thereís some really sweet vocals sweet non-distorted vocals on their record, and I thought, Ďwell, thatís interesting.í It just struck me how few harmonies and how few sweet vocals Iíve heard from industrial music. If you listen to early Psychic TV, or late Throbbing Gristle, or early Throbbing Gristle, itís experimentation in what sounds could do, and there doesnít seem to be much of that going on.
IN: Would Pigface still exist without you?
MA: Oh, would Pigface be able to do something without me?
MA: Yeah, I donít supervise peopleís output, but I think as the person thatís lost an awful lot of money exposing Pigface then Iíd be pretty pissed if that wasnít channeled through Invisible. So I think the artistic side of me wouldn't have a problem with 10 members of Pigface getting together and doing a Pigface record, but the guyís whoís come back from several tours $60,000 in debt would have a problem if that release didn't come through Invisible. If that makes any sense.
IN: You do so many things, from producing to writing, to performing, what is your favorite?
MA: I think my favorite thing is that I donít have a favorite thing. Being in this space [the studio], although Iím starting to hate this room, is great, because I can run into the back and do some screen printing, or work on ideas for covers or something and come back in here and noodle around on the computer, or go over the concert stuff, and go in the stairwell, or get on the phone in the office, do whatever. And sometimes I think that Iím incredibly lucky, and then I remind myself that this is nearly 10 years of Invisible and Iíve done nothing but work very hard to give myself this luck of being able to have my own creative space.
Do you prefer working in a band with just one drummer, or in a band with
more than one?
MA: I was going through this two and three and four drummer thing. One Pigface tour was myself, Joe Trump, Ziggy from the Sugarcubes did a couple of days, Danny from Tool did like ten days with us. We had four drum kits in a line and that was pretty wild, not just from a musical point of view, because if you're drumming with somebody then you have to Ė itís like a synchronized ballet. Meaning, apart from however it. sounds, you have to keep moving at the same time, even if you do it badly and you're not drumming exactly together, then, your movements are really close together. So, everybody does the same drum roll at the same time, it's pretty wild looking, so I like that. That began with myself and Paul Ferguson in Murder Inc. I invited him to join Murder Inc. because he was the original drummer in Killing Joke, and I spent three years playing some of his drum stuff and I felt like I was inside of his head already. It was just an experiment to see how the two of us would work together and we went on from there to do a lot of the drums; that were on Notes From Thee Underground. So itís just more experimentation.
IN: With so many people coming and going from Pigface, what do you do regarding royalties?
MA: In terms of Pigface we do pretty badly. In terms of accounting to people, as I said, one tour we came back from the tour and I sat down in the office and the bus company guy came up and said, ĎAlright, we just need $6,500 and weíll be on our wayí. So we have spreadsheets that divide up every song on every Pigface record, and people get money occasionally, but itís pretty rare.
IN: So do people come into Pigface expecting not to get paid, or have there been some conflicts?
MA: I think it bothers, strangely enough, it bothers the people who have gained the most from Pigface. People like Ogre are pretty gracious about the whole situation. Theyíll come out on tour, get paid a very small amount of money, and enjoy the experience, like Andrew Weiss or Charles Levi. But there are some people who have this great experience and god forbid they have only $200 at the end of it after theyíve been around the world. I think early Pigface was unfortunate, I didnít understand my business as well as I understand it now. The way I deal with structure, through touch and go, was a profit sharing deal with everybody in Pigface sharing in the profits. Although the other side of that coin, which I didnít realize at the time, is everybody wants to share in the profits but it doesn't follow that if a tour comes back $60,000 in the hole that anybody whoís on the album that weíre promoting would go, 'Oh, well hereís a grandí. Itís like, the buck stops here. So at the same time that nasty reality hit me right between the fucking testicles, that a few people within Pigface decided that, not only did they not like the profit sharing plan, but they wanted mechanical royalties for songwriting as well.