Interview by Dr. Yo and Christian Atrocity
We are The Legendary Pink Dots, and this is a serviette. We are not here to serve you, but to get you. Yes, to get you. To change all your petty, pretty, shitty preconceptions about life.
Do not expect entertainment! We do not jump through hoops for you! You will not be spoon-fed, this is not a circus — just accept that your continued existence depends on your interpretation of this message:
BELIEVE! Because we believe. But we are not telling you what we believe in...
Sing while you may!
— Edward Ka-spel
In a world oversaturated with meaningless information and assembly-line art, The Legendary Pink Dots represent individuality laughing in the face of oppression. They stand in opposition to the vampirism of contemporary pop culture, in which artists and consumers alike are drained by media parasites. No other band provides such an effective vaccine for the malignant cultural viruses which plague us all.
Based in Amsterdam, the band is half English, half Dutch. After ten years of relative obscurity, their peculiar form of psyber-shamanism has finally been recognized by the American mainstream. Their latest release, The Maria Dimension, is among their finest -- and its success may well inject much-needed creativity into the stagnant gene pool of popular music.
The Pink Dots are the inheritors of Syd Barrett's artistic legacy. From a panchromatic sound palette, they generate iridescent psychedelic visions -- like Tibetan thangkas painted on crushed velvet. Each song is a universe in itself, populated with peaceful or wrathful beings. As the title implies, The Maria Dimension is primarily an invocation of The Goddess in her various avatars.
Affecting the individual on mental, physical, and emotional levels, this music is a holistic experience. The Dots induce trance states, synaesthesia, and emotional resonances without compromising one's intellect -- a remarkable achievement. There is a philosophical and psycho-spiritual element to the lyrics which shines like gold, even from the pit of insanity and existential despair.
Edward Ka-spel, lead singer and lyricist for the Legendary Pink Dots, spoke with Christian Atrocity and myself in Los Angeles. Competing for Edward's precious time were various drug casualties, Hollywood scenesters, and clueless artist wannabes. We clocked in just under 30 minutes alone with this enigmatic but amiable man.
— Aaron Ross
Aaron Ross: Could you give a brief history of the Dots and tell us how you evolved into a collective organism?
Edward Kaspel: It's basically a band of friends. Back in 1980, it was myself, Phil, who plays keyboards, and a girl named April. We lived in the same area and practiced in an old house in East London. Since then, the band has changed lineup maybe 19 times. It's never been the most stable of bands, mainly because of the type of music we make — it's a recipe for poverty.
Christian Atrocity: Are you able to support yourself with your music?
EK: Now we can. As soon as we began selling more than 10,000 records.
CA: Has that affected your music?
EK: Not at all. All we ever do is hand over a finished master tape to the record company. We refuse to give them any demo, we refuse to give them any indication of what we're busy recording. There's a certain trust between us and the company.
AR: Have you reached a wider audience over the past few years?
EK: Yes, but we don't know why! If anything, the music has become less commercial in the last few years. But, at the same time, the audience has grown, especially with the last album -- it actually doubled the audience within the first month of its release. I think Caroline Records had a lot to do with it.
AR: Were any of you academically trained in music?
EK: No, we're completely self-taught.
AR: There's a very distinctive color to your music . . .
EK: A distinctive multicolor!
AR: It makes me think that timbre is the most important thing. You seem to spend a lot of time developing the sound aspect of your music.
EK: We're total perfectionists, but it's so intuitive ... you just simply know. Its an emotional thing. None of it is premeditated; a lot of what you hear on The Maria Dimension was recorded live in the studio, excepting the vocals, which are added later. I do believe that music is mainly a thing of emotion, although I think it's lovely if the head is purring as well.
AR: Do you record at home with a mobile?
EK: Neils, our saxophone player, has his own farm by the river, an hour from the nearest village. He has a barn where we have our own eight-track.
AR: It sounds so finely crafted, I thought you'd hauled in a digital 24-track!
EK: No, it's a Tascam! An old one.
CA: They're workhorses.
AR: In writing the lyrics, do you see it as a process of communication with your audience, yourself, or the other band members?
EK: Largely with myself. A lot of the lyrics are extremely introspective, and I write them primarily to please me. If they can twang a chord in somebody, then all the better. They're open to great misinterpretation, but I can understand that, and I actually don't mind. I think it's great if people see something totally different in it than what I see. There's a track called "A Space Between" on The Maria Dimension. It's basically about "What do we know?" We know nothing, really! What if events have feelings, too? A girl came up to me in Detroit and, "Yeah, that's all about abortion, isn't it?" I thought, "Where'd she get that from?" I looked at the lyrics in a different light, and I could see it!
AR: "We all have names."
CA: People are just reading in what they want.
EK: That's all anybody can do, unless you're sloganeering at people. I don't like beating people over the head with a club with my opinions — which may well be wrong!
AR: Didn't you say, "We're here to get you, to change your preconceptions"?
EK: Oh, you heard that! That was just us winding the audience up. We love to play mind games. There's a lot of humor in the Pink Dots, always has been. And the funniest part of it all is how seriously people take us. I nearly fall down laughing when people come up to me and say, "Oh, it's the PROPHET!" That's the whole reason the term, "The Prophet Qá-sepel" came to being. After I watched myself on a video, stomping about a stage in my long cape, with lines painted all over my face like the Rock of God, I couldn't stop laughing. I thought, "You pretentious bastard, you look just like one of those old prophets. That's a great name! I'll be The Prophet Qá-sepel on the next album -- everybody's going to laugh." They didn't.
AR: I did!
EK: I'm glad. You're the first.
AR: Is your philosophy of "sing while you may" an optimistic one?
EK: We talked a lot about this thing called the Terminal Kaleidescope. If you look at the history of the planet over the last few hundred years, you become aware of a rapid acceleration of events. It's rather like the planet was a drowning man watching its life flash before its eyes, as it goes down -- maybe for the last time, maybe not. But how can we relate to that? Be glad you live now, you're witnessing the most significant period in the entire history of the planet. Cherish this time; sing while you may.
AR: The human race is in its adolescence.
CA: Let's hope it's not a suicidal teen.
EK: I still don't actually believe that the human race is capable of destroying this planet or itself.
AR: The planet's going to fight tooth and nail for its survival.
EK: A lot of The Maria Dimension is about this astonishing arrogance. We can't even explain how a bumblebee flies yet; that strikes me as being quite primitive.
AR: About the song, "Blacklist." Is that a true story?
EK: It's just an observation of certain trends. It was inspired by a very simple incident. We'd come back over the German-Holland border, and our sound man, Hans, got hauled over to the customs office by the police. He hadn't paid a parking fine a few months earlier. I thought, "My God, they can track you even down to an unpaid parking fine!" And he wasn't allowed to pass back into his own country until he paid it. That's sinister.
CA: Who are the most pathetic musicians you can think of -- your antithesis?
EK: I never usually like slagging off other bands, but I'm pretty offended by Guns 'n' Roses, because of what they said about gays and anybody else who simply deviates. I hate fascism of any kind, and I think they've been responsible for some pretty bad shit that way. However, having said that, I don't know their music well. If I consider something bad, I simply choose not to listen to it. I never listen to the radio, for instance; it's a waste of time.
AR: So you keep yourself isolated and uncontaminated?
EK: Not completely — there are many bands I admire. For example, Nurse With Wound. They've been going for even longer than us. I enjoy a band like Coil, because they can always surprise you. And there were so many bands that were great at the start, and somehow they lost something on the way up. Like Chrome -- the early Chrome was fantastic; now it's a little bit mechanical, I think. It can happen to musicians, I don't know why.
AR: Don't you think they might burn out?
EK: I'm not so sure about burning out, but sometimes motivations change. Often I've seen bands chase the money out of desperation. I wouldn't lay into them for that. We had members of the Pink Dots before who desperately wanted the band to become big, but there was always a balance of people who desperately wanted to keep it small.
AR: A hypothetical question: what if you do become "big"?
EK: We'd probably make an album with one tone, with backwards guitars all over it. Then we'd really give the audience a hard time.
AR: Didn't Lou Reed do that?
EK: If we become big, it'll be totally on our terms, and our terms won't change. They can't, not after ten years. And yet the distribution has leapt, and we don't know why. It's not as if we've made any compromise at all. Whereas it seems that more and more bands are getting into the house sound, we decided a year ago that we'd kick the drum machine out! I'm totally allergic to being hit over the head with things.
AR: So who plays percussion now?
EK: We take turns banging and thrashing anything within reach, but we can only do that in the studio. On tour, the rhythms are stored as loops in the EPS.
CA: So what have you done in America besides the tour?
EK: We've just toured. If we have a day off, it's a luxury. But we finish with a collaborative recording session in Vancouver with Skinny Puppy.
They scorched the earth
They petrified the forest
Painted windows black
Pumped cyanide in rivers
Roamed around in packs
Screamed: "Stand, deliver"
Always took it all
We hide, but sure they'd find us
Curled up on the floorboards of our shack
Five on the blacklist
Five on the blacklist
We were bubbling under
Now we're in there
With a bullet through the brain
Frightened on the floorboards of our shack
Once we'd fight them
Now we take it all
They have our names
They have our numbers
The printout says we take it all
Again and again
'Til we pay
If God was egg, if six were nine
If time was never measured
Only killed in pleasure gardens of our making
If we'd never taken anything, but only given
If we could forgive and forget, and rearrange the patterns
If you'd never thrown that stone or split the atom
If I'd stayed alone in shackles
Seeing nothing, feeling nothing
If we'd shared instead of just collecting
If I'd never lived
If we'd ever
If we'd never, never, never land
But fly without a destination
Cry without a cause
And lose ourselves for just a second
In the beauty of it all
Then, maybe, in the next life
We'd be dolphins!