Monday 20 February 2017

Interview: Marc Heal

Model citizen...

“It’s funny, having worked so hard to make a living out of music I found once I’d got there that I’d broken myself in the process. I needed a break to do some, uh, emotional housekeeping.”

Marc Heal's contributions to Industrial Rock cannot be understated. In the 90's behind the helm of Cubanate, and as a producer as well as hired gun for some of the biggestbeing an elder statesment of industrial music. names in the scene he has done more than enough to ensure his place in musical history.
After the dissolution of Cubanate, Heal took a long hiatus from making music until hooking up with Raymond Watts for the Pig Vs MC Lord Of The Flies release 'Compound Eye Sessions' EP in 2015. Since then there has been no stopping Heal. First came the release of the 'Adult Fiction' single, followed by his first solo full-length studio release 'The Hum', and then the very unexpected live reformation of Cubanate.
We caught up with Heal to talk about his latest album, breaking free of the past and being an elder statesman of industrial music.

Intravenous Magazine: The Hum was released last year – how do you feel it has been received so far?

Marc Heal: It seems to have gone down very well. There have been many kind reviews. Mind you, the age of the bad review has gone, hasn’t it? I haven’t seen one of those old-school, bilious, scathing reviews in a long time. Every writer is a “scene” writer, which is good in one way, they know what they’re talking about, but it makes them nervous about being properly critical.

Now that the album been out two or three months my excitement has faded. I’m in a kind of post partum depression. You think, “Is that it?” I’m wondering what comes next. I make difficult music, I know it’s hard to pigeonhole. I wish I could be more commercially minded.

IVM: After such a long time away from making music was there any trepidation about releasing this as solo material rather than under a moniker?

MH: Yes, I was nervous. You’re supposed to think of a cool handle in this scene aren’t you? But I didn’t think it was appropriate. 'The Hum' is personal and it’s different from the usual fodder so it seemed a bit stupid to give it a “cool” project name. There’s something healthy about exposing yourself like that. Does you good.

Actually I have a side project that I’ve been thinking about for years, it’s an album called “Falz Kompilation”. Each “act” on the compilation is me in the guise of a different fantasy industrial band. So there’s my German hard EBM project, Fritzl. There’s the US hardcore outfit, Hurtymen (probably from the east coast, channelling angry Jared Louche-esque beat poet vocals). There’s a sort of early Throbbing Gristle project called Porridge Gun. Plus the Industrial Riot Grrrl three piece, Cameltoe Rust. Oh, and a Slovenian primal scream thing with the working title of Melania.

IVM: You're reputation with acts such as Cubanate obviously precedes you but what led to you taking your hiatus from music and what led to the decision to start making music again?

MH: By the end of the 90’s I was in a rut and I lacked confidence. No, not confidence, interest. I wasn’t interested in what I was making anymore. Also I was drinking a lot. That numbs the nerves. At that time I had a lot of money from Gran Turismo royalties. I mean really quite a lot. It’s funny, having worked so hard to make a living out of music I found once I’d got there that I’d broken myself in the process. I needed a break to do some, uh, emotional housekeeping.

I also realised that things were moving against me. That was around the start of that synthy-poppy thing with VNV and all those bands. I never got that.

More than anything, I wanted to do something else. There’s something moronic about touring. I couldn’t bear the prospect of just being in a band all my life. I needed to be grounded. To work. Unlike a lot of artists I’m interested in business. So, I set up some studios. I tried my hand at a few things – managing band, licensing. I had a couple of kids. Eventually I ended up in TV production.

After I worked with Raymond on 'Compound Eye' I became more interested in music again. Then I wrote The Sussex Devils. That was the best way to break a creative logjam.

IVM: Stylistically and thematically what were your inspirations when making 'The Hum'?

MH: It was around the time of Bowies’s death. It wasn’t that I was listening to Bowie. I couldn’t actually, for quite some time. But 'Blackstar' did make me think about being energetic and brave enough to do things your way. If you can’t do that, you can’t call yourself any kind of artist, however minor.

I travel around the east a lot. The huge cities, polluted and corrupt. And of course, the rich, isolated, protected. I realised that I didn’t care anymore for conforming to industrial stereotypes. You know the drill. Fetish, goths, Hellraiser, Terminator, blah. I realised that I could write what I wanted. Electronic music used to be a hotbed of intelligence, not cliché. So I decided to write about what I saw.

The sessions felt dreamlike. I sealed myself off from the outside world. I was all alone in a massive studio. Nothing penetrated. It was like I was the last person on earth.

IVM: How did you find the process of writing a solo album differed from your past work?

MH: I had to learn a lot of things I might have delegated before. I had to play a lot of parts, in every sense of the word. I had to sing, then judge and edit my vocals on the fly. That’s tough.

I also had to learn to mix properly. Normally I’d let someone else lead that process. I got a lot better through necessity.

I like collaboration. But the interesting thing about your own work is that it’s a mirror. You get to see yourself, warts and all.

IVM: The video for 'Adult Fiction' was stunning. How did that come about and can we expect any other videos to accompany the album?

MH: The 'Adult Fiction' video director was Gabriel Edvy. She was working with Cubanate on our live visuals. She nagged me to do a video, and I was liking what she was doing for Cubanate so I let her loose on 'Adult Fiction'. We haggled around a few ideas at the start but after that I just let Gabby do her thing. I was delighted with the end result.

I do think that the songs on 'The Hum' are very visual though. Each lyric reads like a mini-film. They are mostly stories. So I do like to think I give a filmmaker something to get their choppers into.

IVM: Your last release was the 'Compound Eye Sessions' EP with Raymond Watts – how did that come about and are there any more plans for similar releases?

MH: 'Compound Eye' was recorded well before 'The Gospel'. I like chucking Raymond ideas. I’d worked on 'Pigmata', a decade previously. But that had been the last PIG album at that point. So I hadn’t seen Raymond in a dog’s age and then I ran into him in a bar. He said he wanted to try making a 'Pigmata' follow up.

We were both at a loose end creatively so I dragged him into the studio. We tooled around with making an album but it didn’t get too far before I left for Singapore. So I released the scraps as 'Compound Eye', some tracks with Raymond’s vocals, some with mine. I always like working on PIG. I’ve already tossed him a tune for the new album.

I’d like to do similar collaborations with other people but I find that you really need to be in the same room.

IVM: Many industrial bands today are still influenced by the work you were doing in the 90s. Is this a position you're comfortable?

MH: Sure thing. I don’t mind being an elder statesman. Cubanate were ahead of our time and I’m glad to have sown some seeds. Some of the new bands that have taken it on board are great.

But I like to keep moving. I’ve never felt completely comfortable in the “pure” industrial scene. I find it a bit one-dimensional.

IVM: Are there any bands around today that have particularly captured your attention recently?

MH: I don’t see too many bands live out here. The last live show I saw in Singapore was Charli XCX at the Asian TV Awards. Dave Bianchi from Cubanate in the old days is her manager now. It was a weird trip; backstage with Charli and all these glamorous Korean TV stars in in Oscar’s style gowns.

In the scene? Well, Mistress Kanga of course. There’s something deceptive and alluring about her voice, which I like. She sings in that west coast prescription med drone and you find yourself drawn in. But don’t tell her I said that. She’ll only get cocky.

I still can’t gear that grinning, gurning brand of “emotional” electronic music. That “boys behind keyboards” thing. It’s so suburban. Who is that dude who promotes his tours with a cartoon of himself winking in a pork pie hat and a wine glass? Aesthetic Something. Christ.

IVM: The reformation of Cubanate as a live act has been music to a lot of people's ears, first with the appearance at Cold Waves festival and now with UK tour dates announced – is this a limited engagement or can we expect more from Cubanate in the future?

MH: I think more. But we’re both a bit reclusive these days. And we’re on other sides of the world. It’s hard.

Still, we enjoyed it, so we’ll play live a few more times I’m sure.

IVM: There was talk of a Cubanate retrospective album. Is this still the case?

MH: Yes. There’s a compilation of remastered versions of 15 songs from the first three albums coming out in May. It’s called 'Brutalism', it’s on Armalyte Industries.

I was kind of hoping that we’d discover some “lost gems” but the fact is that we released almost everything that we recorded. The new masters sound good though.

IVM: Cubanate aside, are there any plans to take 'The Hum' on the road?

MH: Love to, if anyone wants me. Live, it’s a bit overshadowed by Cubanate right now.

IVM: You've relocated to Singapore – how has this affected you musically and culturally?

MH: I like being here. I look at the west very differently now. The idea of being somewhere strange, not speaking the language has always fascinated me. Musically I do feel isolated, but perversely I find that liberating. I’m not looking over my shoulder at other people.

Mind you, a few years away gives my view of Europe a rose tint. I do get pangs of homesickness. Less so in the winter months.

IVM: In addition to your musical work you've released a book – 'The Sussex Devils' – can you give us some background into how that came about?

MH: I never meant to write a book. I found an old clipping about a court case in the UK. It got me curious about the past and I started making notes, scribbling things down. I found that I had about 60,000 words and I sent it the raw idea off to some agents. Several liked it and one agent, Robert Dinsdale at AM Heath encouraged me to finish it.

The book is about the hysteria surrounding Satanism in the 1980’s in the UK and also about Evangelical religion. Actually it’s about more than that. It’s about the past, youth and friendship at its core. When you reach a certain age you begin to see your life in a broader historical perspective. That’s impossible when you’re young, you’re too close to it, too self-absorbed.

IVM: How do you feel the book was received and are there plans for more?

MH: It was well received, but quietly. It sells steadily but slowly. Again, I make no complaints. It’s a strange, dark book. I wouldn’t expect it to be everyone’s cup of tequila.

I love writing. But it takes a huge amount of time to do it well. And like music, I have to be motivated. I can’t just do it to order. I’m dysfunctional like that. I wish I could be one of those write-on-command, please-the-public sorts of artist. But I have too many blanks, blind spots, dead ends.

IVM: Finally, are there any plans for a follow-up to 'The Hum' planned or any more collaborations for 2017?

MH: I’d like to get a follow up released this year. I’ve just started to write again. I’m a bit low, it’s not coming easy right now. I wanted to do something more upbeat after 'The Hum', but everything I’ve written so far is very bleak and slow. And very left-wing. I try to write a punchy, club-friendly number and it comes out as an 80bpm dirge called “Communism In Theory And Practise”. I can hardly see that one setting the charts afire, can you?

I don’t know. I’m bipolar. I get into a trough of paranoia. I can never trust myself not to just throw it all in the bin. But I’ve also learned to persist.

'The Hum' is available to buy now through Armalyte Industries. For more information on Marc Heal, including new releases and live dates, please visit his official website.

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