Beat #37 - January 1989
SALVATION OR DAMNATION FOR
THESE IMMORTAL SOULS
These Immortal Souls blew through the States for a month of tour dates in March and early April. The band's members (Rowland S. Howard on vocals and guitar, Harry Howard on bass, Epic Soundtracks on drums and Genevieve McGuckin on keyboards) derive from some of the most respected and influential groups of the past decade (the Birthday Party, Crime and the City Solution, the Swell Maps). And yet the Souls' visit was accomplished with relatively little ceremony (I half expected New York City to stop dead upon their arrival, but surprisingly enough life went on). Rowland S Howard's physical presence, not to mention his slash-and-screech amp-torching style, delivers a sample of the Birthday Party's scare quotient. Overall, though, the band's refined alloy of brutal noise and melodic grace puts them in a new league which few late-'80s outfits can touch. Their debut album, Get Lost (Don't Lie) (SST in the US) tears into the bleeding heart of rock 'n' roll with disarming sounds and mutilated emotions, from punk to blues to 1940's balladry. Their set consisted of most of the album, plus a track from Rowland's most recent side excursion with Nikki Sudden's Jacobites (Kiss You Kidnapped Charabanc) and covers pummelled beyond recognition.
The interview took place on April 4th. Rowland smoked Larks. Interview with Harry Howard, Epic Soundtracks and Rowland S Howard.
THE BOB: What's the status of Crime and the City Solution?
HARRY: Well, Crime is still going with the same name but with different people - mainly without us. It's Alex Hacke from Neubauten on rhythm guitar, Chrislo Haas, who used to be in DAF, on bass, and Bronwyn is now playing violin full time.
EPIC: We started doing TIS, we started recording the record in early '86. Crime was still going at the time, so we had to do it over quite a long period.
HARRY: It was just a project, originally, for Rowland to record his back catalogue of songs that he wanted to sing.
EPIC: Then it kept on, meanwhile, gaining more importance to us. Mick (Harvey) and Simon (Bonney, of Crime) were living in Berlin and we were living in London, and it became more difficult to do anything. So in the end, there was just a long gap where nothing happened, and then they sort of started playing with other people, and we decided - well, we just found out that we were no long in the band, basically. But I think it worked out best both ways.
THE BOB: So the souls is pretty much permanent?
EPIC: Yeah ...
ROWLAND: As permanent as groups can get.
THE BOB: Have you thought about doing another record yet?
HARRY: Yeah, it's just a matter of figuring out the material and recording it (laughs). But we're going to do it. First we have to get back to London and recuperate.
THE BOB: Rowland, did you feel like you wanted to find a band that would record your songs more the way you wanted?
ROWLAND: Well, it was basically just to find people who had the same idea about rock music that I do. And it became obvious working in Crime who the people were who had similar ideas about music as I did, because they were always the people that were having difficulty getting things done. So it just seemed very natural.
THE BOB: These Immortal Souls sound much more melodic ...
EPIC: We think that melody is really important, obviously, if you're writing songs, song structure and melody and stuff.
HARRY: It's a bit neglected these days.
ROWLAND: Usually you find that any groups that use any elements of noise don't have songs that you could sit down and play on an acoustic guitar. But I think if the song is really good it can be played by anyone.
EPIC: So we'd like to combine the two different things. Well, we don't really think they're different. We just think it's natural. Obviously melody's important. Having good sounds and noises and stuff is important too. So we'd basically just like to combine everything we like into what we're doing.
THE BOB: (to Rowland) Like the songs on the record you did with Nikki, it seems they could have been done on either album, it's just the way that you arranged them ...
ROWLAND: Well, some of them, I know what you mean. Again, it was a record of mostly just simple songs. Which is Nikki's field, basically. And I was doing both things at the time.
THE BOB: The Billie Holiday song that you did on Kiss You Kidnapped Charabanc, how did that come about?
ROWLAND: Once upon a time after the BP broke up, I played with this French group called Kas Produkt just a couple of times, and they used to do that song. And I thought it was a good song. I changed the words, 'cause I wanted to get a slightly different meaning. It just seemed fitting with the type of song I'd sing. It's not because I'm heavily into the blues or anything. But we basically rewrote the music, and tacked a bit of the Shangri-La's onto the end.
THE BOB: Did you have complete songs when you went into do the album?
ROWLAND: They were all complete except for 'One in Shadow (Hide)' and 'I Ate the Knife.' The other ones that I wrote, they were all complete, from over the years. But it was a really difficult record to make, 'cause we had to do it in lost of bits and pieces of studio time, so it was just basically a lot more work than it should have been. We started it in early '86 or something, and finished it in early '87. but we only had about twenty days in the studio. When you get one studio day at a time, you spend half the day setting it up and getting sounds and stuff, so it's a real waste of time.
THE BOB: How did the SST thing happen?
EPIC: We just sent a tape to them, and they liked it. They got to hear about us through various connections. Sonic Youth probably putting in a good word ... I don't know, it probably helped a bit.
THE BOB: I heard it wasn't received that well in England.
HARRY: The English press? Yeah, that's basically true.
EPIC: Nobody knew what to think of it, and nobody thought anything, really.
HARRY: They couldn't be bothered thinking about it.
EPIC: There's isolated people who have liked us, but the general reaction is they'd rather write about Pop Will Eat Itself or something.
ROWLAND: It's easier writing about groups like that, because they have so many big, colourful scarecrows stuck up their rear ends, and you can recognise them very easily. Also, people tend to think that they can assume immediately what you're going to sound like. It's obvious to anyone with half a brain that you're just going to make a record that sounds exactly like the last one.
THE BOB: I guess when people like something like Crime or the BP, they want that person to keep doing stuff like that.
EPIC: Certain parts of the audience do, but also there's always people who like you because they think you're interesting and because you take chances. So at least they have a bit of respect for the fact that you don't want to keep doing the same thing forever.
HARRY: In Germany, where we toured before here, and over here, lost of people who seem to be our fans have never heard of Crime, and aren't particularly familiar with the BP which is good.
EPIC: If you're 18 or something, then the BP would be quite a long way off, you might not have heard of them. You would have been 13 when they broke up.
THE BOB: The name TIS, did the song come before the name?
ROWLAND: Yeah, the song was written in about 1981. Because of the subject matter of the song, which is basically written about all these people I'd known ... it was written about all these people I knew in Melbourne. Most of them, when they were about 17 were under the impression that they were fairly invulnerable artistically and mortally and everything, and they could do whatever they liked. And found out different.
EPIC: It's called growing up.
ROWLAND: And so it seemed like a good name for the group.
THE BOB: 'Blood and Sand' reminds me of the Pink Panther.
HARRY: Leonard Bernstein (laughs).
EPIC: That's the sort of thing where you can take a musical cliché and bend it around to make it into something of your own.
ROWLAND: I think it's really important in music to have recognisable elements, so that it has a vaguely nostalgic feel but it's also doing something new at the same time. I think it's really good if you can do both of those things.
EPIC: And it's completely different from pure revivalism. It's like if you think of early Roxy Music, they could take the music from any era and shape it until it became something totally new and totally modern.
- Karen Schoemer