Sonic Envelope 10/20/95

At Hammerjacks
Baltimore, Maryland
Friday, October 20, 1995

Sporting a small white towel, Raymond Watts joined me after a post-concert shower for a most enjoyable interview. The total-rock-star-material Raymond was effervescent with his cool British panache teamed with a boyish charm. His performance that night with KMFDM was infused with a mature, hard-driven energy, but the big kid in him isn't as apparent on stage as it is off. Before we parted, he gave me a copy of Sinsation, the album he just finished recording in Japan, which will not be released in the States until he signs with a label here. After hearing it, I am sure he won't have any problem in that regard.

Every now and then an album appears with a surprising amount of creativity meshed with pop sensibility that it sparkles with a platinum glow. What gives Sinsation its edge? Songs like "Volcano" and "The Sick"; songs that you want to hear over and over again, because they evolve with pop hooks that are integrated so organically that they move and breathe within a higher aesthetic. It's all a clear reflection of Raymond Watts himself, his lack of vanity coupled with a healthy ego exuding charisma with an even more genuine appeal. He doesn't need to tweak this or that to create the rock'n'roll miracle - Sinsation rings with Watt's personality - cocksure intelligence steeped in animal magnetism. It's hard NOT to like him or his music. Not that you would want to try.

Sonic Envelope: Where in England did you grow up and what was your childhood like?

Raymond Watts: Mr. Suburbia, I was. Came from suburban hell just outside London, you know. Nowhere zone. The kind of zone where you grow up as a kid and as soon as you get to age 16, punk rock starts happening and it's 1977 and you see Bill Grundy, who was an "establishment" TV figure, being told he was a "dirty old fucker" by all the boys in gangs and the Sex Pistols, and you're 16 and you go, "Fuck, that's cool - that's what I want to do!" So, I gravitated towards London, lived in squats, etc., played in dodgy old bands, blah, blah, blah, ended up living in Japan in '81 working for crappy kind of corporate pop-whore outfit, came back to London, thought that sucked, stopped doing music, fell in with some cunts who were from Berlin, it's 1982, Some Bizarre (label) is happening, Psychic TV, Einstürzende Neubauten, all that shit, London sucks, gravitate to fucking Hamburg, meet these guys (Sascha Konietzko and En Esch of KMFDM), start KMFDM, go to Berlin, do something a bit more extreme, they fuck off to fucking America, I do some interesting stuff with other people, that's the story. Concise.

SE: So how did you become an engineer for Einstürzende Neubauten?

RW: I had this friend, Jon Caffery, who worked with them and he couldn't do one tour or something like that, and I'd met them through Genesis P-Orridge (ex- Throbbing Gristle/Psychic TV) and all that dodgy old lot, that kind of early industrial 80's shit. He couldn't do one tour, so I said, "Alright." And then Mufti (F.M. Einheit) and Mark (Chung) said, "If you can't do it, we can't do it." So I went and did it... it was good fun. I did their first album and some stuff for KMFDM and then moved off more into doing live stuff for Neubauten because it was just more extreme at the time. I mean what we were doing was quite bizarre, but the Neubauten stuff was quite exciting to do, it was a live thing, 'cause like I said it was just this big out-of-control monster. I think they were quite interesting in those days, actually, seriously, sort of fairly seminal and a bit of a cornerstone. Although their stuff isn't incredibly listenable nowadays, I think its had a lot of influence on the way people approach music and it was quite interesting to somehow have to go out there and deal with this shambolic mess, and it was all coming through a mixing desk and a lot of power and it was kind of like, "Vroom, vroom, vroom," - you know what I mean? You didn't know what was going to happen, which was extraordinary.

SE: I spoke to Mufti (F.M. Einheit - Neubauten's "toolman" percussionist) last week.

RW: Is he wandering around here with Caspar (Brötzmann) and the lot?

SE: Yes. they're on tour.

RW: I was in a record store the other day where we were doing a signing and I wandered into the jazz bin and there was Caspar and Mufti's stuff, so I don't know what that was all about...

SE: So tell me how you came to be involved in Foetus' Rife album back in '89?

RW: Met Jim (Thirlwell, a.k.a. Foetus) backstage at a Neubauten gig somewhere at one of those large venues in New York. We had a chat and I think that his stuff had been fairly instrumental in me returning to music - I told you, I sort of really lost faith in music and left Britain and was only interested in sort of odd foreign people bashing assorted bits of plastic and metal together - and then I got introduced to his (Jim Thirlwell's) stuff and I found it quite inspiring - I mean continually inspiring - actually maybe worth picking up a reel of tape and putting on a machine or even a microphone or guitar because I think that what he did back then was fucking great - really exciting - and certainly got my vital hormones flowing again, so I was impressed with him. He produced a Pig single for me, I played in his band, we rehearsed in New York for a month, went on tour for a month, did some work in Berlin together, and I went back and did this funny thing called Steroid Maximus with him. I think I did six tracks with him on that and then we did some stuff with some other people.

SE: Yeah, I saw him several weeks ago.

RW: With his band?

SE: No. Backstage at the (Nine Inch) Nails/Bowie Concert.

RW: And here everybody who just ever mentions his name says he's just completely fucking wrecked all the time.

SE: Usually. Actually, I went to a barbecue with him during the summer and he was not drunk when it started...

RW: What time did it start? Like 8:00 in the morning?

SE: It was about noontime. Of course he did get trashed later.

RW: How's he doing?

SE: His recent album Gash is wonderful; some parts of it are absolutely amazing.

RW: Yeah... someone played me a bit off that record.

SE: What are your plans for Pig?

RW: I've done quite a few Pig records, actually. I think the first one, which I don't like at all, is fucking pretty uninteresting, but it was released here (in the states). None of the others have been released here. I've worked with some independent labels in Germany, London and Japan, and recently moved onto a major label in Japan, because there was this sort of split - I was doing different things from the KMFDM people - I was producing pop bands in Japan and doing fairly obscure left-field things there as well, and one of the things that happened was I ended up working with a Japanese label and they did a couple of albums. They weren't really capable of getting stuff licensed over here, and although there were a few takers, it didn't really happen, but I was quite happy just sort of doing that over there and stumbled into the hands of this label and I've done one album with them and one interview with them this year which I did immediately after the Nihil (KMFDM) recording which we did in Seattle... I'm trying to make this concise - I hope you understand...

SE: I'm with you...

RW: But there are a few things ... basically there's a license in the offing at the moment and there are a couple of labels who want to do it here and I sincerely hope that it will happen here, because there seem to be a few people who'd be vaguely interested in it. It's not as kind of commercially straight forward as the KMFDM stuff - I feel it has a very particular kind of handle on it, do you know what I mean, in terms of marketability, we're not talking left-field/commercial/independent/underground, I mean it's just got a severe handle on it, and maybe the Pig stuff plows slightly deeper... a deeper furrow that kind of scrapes up seed from a slightly more obscure gutter which it will then use - what I'm talking about is using source material and making it more obscure and difficult and so I don't think it would be quite as easily acceptable as KMFDM is. I'm not saying that we're a sort of straight out-and-out pop band but the stuff I do I think is quite...

SE: Quite what?

RW: Well, it's fairly kind of straight forward, I feel, and digestible. The Pig stuff will never be as easily digested for some of the people I see coming to our gigs. Does that make sense? I'm just saying that I hope the Pig stuff comes out- it's supposed to be licensed, but it's always going to be slightly more difficult to swallow. Is that true? I don't know...

SE: I wouldn't know.

RW: You don't know. You've got to listen to it. I'll give you a CD of Sinsation; I've got a copy of Sinsation with me, and it's the last album I did this year.

SE: What did you grow up listening to?

RW: Um... I think the first full-length album I bought was one by T-Rex. And I liked Gary Glitter and all that sort of stuff...

SE: (laughs) So many people reference "Gary Glitter"...

RW: He was absolutely "it" when I was 13 years old, him on Thursday night Top of the Pops doing "Rock'n'Roll Part II", or whatever it was called - it was fucking seminal. And then things got a bit more exciting - like I said, it wasn't even the music of the Sex Pistols that excited me - it was them going on live TV and telling the interviewer to "Fuck off - you filthy old fucking bastard!" which was more like, "Wow - I don't even know if I like the music, but I really like their fucking attitudes! I want to BE one of those people!" So that was what I moved into...

SE: How do you like being a combination frontman/sideman for KMFDM? I mean, a lot of people in the audience, who don't know the "structure" of the band think you are KMFDM... along with the others, of course...

RW: No! They don't!

SE: At KMFDM concerts, I've walked around and asked people in the crowd, randomly, "Who is KMFDM?" and many point at you, because you're so "visible"...

RW: KMFDM is Sascha and En Esch...

SE: Yes, I know...

RW: They write the music and say, "Will you write some words and sing the melody?" So what happens is, Sascha goes, "Will you come and work with us again?", so I travelled to the studio in Seattle and walked in there and they were very comprehensively almost finished - backing tracks, music tracks, and it's kind of liberating, because you don't have to take control of the whole fucking thing. You know, with Pig, it's my own little fucking car, and I've got both hands on the steering wheel, foot on the accelerator - it's the whole car I'm driving. With KMFDM, there's specific roles, and although they sometimes overlap, there's actually specific defined parameters to what you have to do, which is, in fact, actually quite liberating. I'll go, "Yeah... I could do something with this ... what about this: 'Be mine, Sister Salvation, Juke Joint Jezebel...' and they go, "Wow - that's great... Yeah, let's do that!" And so, there's just this bit, and you throw in an idea, and if it's deemed acceptable, then it's deemed acceptable, but that's all you have to do.

SE: So they listen to your ideas?

RW: Well, I'll listen to them as well. There are times where I'll go, "I don't have a fucking clue what to do with this!" and then Nick (En Esch) will go, "Well, I'll do this," and then I'll say, "That sucks," or "That's great." It's kind of broken down in a way - because Sascha is KMFDM, there is more responsibility riding on his shoulders for the whole thing, whereas, for someone like me, it's quite liberating, just to walk in and go, "Cut the bass drums out, Sascha...", but it doesn't matter.

SE: Because it's not YOU.

RW: Yeah...exactly. But I still very much enjoy sticking my horn in and going, "Okay, let's reprogram the bass and the drums and let's change the guitar part." And sometimes that's acceptable. If it's not acceptable, I'm not going to sort of 'cry all the way home'. It's kind of liberating and limiting - it's not such a fucking severe responsibility. Do you know what I'm saying?

SE: Of course. It doesn't rest on your shoulders.

RW: Exactly. So I kind of enjoy it. What was the show like, by the way?

SE: It was great!

RW: Yeah?

SE: Definitely. How much of the stage persona that you present for KMFDM is "you" and does that transfer over into Pig or do you have a different kind of persona there?

RW: To be frightfully honest, I mean, I think if I contrived it, then it would really suck. I mean, in a way, there are contrived elements, but only in as much as - I mean, I wear pretty much the same clothes and stuff. Maybe there are contrived elements. I just can't go on and do what I do and say, "Hang on - I'm singing for KMFDM now - I'll have to be different." In another aspect, you can't go on and say, "I'm being paid $200 for this gig, I'm going to be different from how I'd be if I were being paid $2000 for this gig. You can't do that. It's like, if you're writing an article, whether you're paid $200 or $2000, you're going to do what's "you"; you're going to do your kind of thing and you're going to do the best you can do - do you know what I mean? Once you've put yourself in the starting blocks, that's it.

SE: Well, I wasn't thinking really in terms of monetary reward, necessarily.

RW: But, I'm just saying - for example. We (KMFDM and crew) were talking about that earlier - bands who make more of an effort when they're getting paid more and less of an effort when they're getting paid less, and I'm kind of applying it to this situation, in as much as I go on and scream and shout and get sweaty and most of the words I sing are my words that I write, therefore they still come from within this particular vas of excuses, so why should I be different?

SE: I never really thought you should. I just wondered if you felt like you were the same, or if you felt you were presenting a different stage persona.

RW: I mean, sometimes I have to be a bit careful, because I don't want to tread on other people's toes on stage. There's Sascha there (on one side) and there's Nick (En Esch) there (on the other) and it's basically their baby and they've asked me to come and be involved and do something.

SE: It's just that they've put you in such a prominent role...

RW: And the thing is, sometimes I have to say, "Look - you want me - you get me - lock, stock and barrel." You can't just have me here and you can't edit these bits off my stage persona, personality, whatever it may be, egotism, you know, self- obsession, whatever. 'Cause I think sometimes, some of the things that I do, sometimes get out-of- hand a little bit. But I'll say, "Well look - you know what you're fucking getting, mate, and if I throw tequila on your fucking drum riser and into your drum module and fucking break your guitar strap, it's not my fault and that's what's going to happen," you know. Do you know what I'm saying? Does that make sense?

SE: So you can be some trouble...

RW: Really, I don't mean to be trouble, but sometimes I have been known to break a few things of theirs (KMFDM's) on stage. But not on purpose.

SE: Of course not.

RW: Right. If you've got me, they you've got me, you know what I mean? Tell me to go home if you don't like fucking tequila on your drum riser. I mean, I don't like to come across in any sort of egomaniacal, threatening way - it's just the way it is.

SE: Obviously, they wouldn't keep inviting you back if they didn't want you completely - along with tequila on the drum riser.

RW: Tequila and all. Like me, like my dog, like my hog...