Thursday, 5 April 2007

“The savage bows down to idols of wood and stone, the civilized man to idols of flesh and blood”

This is an interview I conducted with Brighton band The Flesh happening last Summer. Thought I'd stick it up here in case anyone wanders through.

The Flesh Happening

With a feverish lust like a fire in your chest / You drug and you fuck till there’s no fucking left / Your mind is a mire of hunger and hate / Your body’s the temple that you desecrate

The Flesh Happening create music full of thrusting imagery and surreal unpleasantness, amped-up, irresistibly catchy, infectious hooks and surges contrasted with introspection and mortal humility. They are in many regards the most exciting band in Brighton with a volatile nature that extends to their relationships with each other as well as in the music.

I meet up with them at Bassist Ben Sumner’s flat as they prepared for their Brighton Live gig at the end of the month.

The name is perfect for your band. Where did it come from?

Oliva Spleen – front-man, lyricist, homosexual explorer, undisputed focal point of the band and owner of an incredible soporific pan-European accent says the origin is “A cheesy pulp novel about gay wrestling. It’s really funny. I only just managed to get hold of a copy because they won’t send it to England so when we stayed in America I got a copy sent to the people we were staying with.”

Can you describe your sound?

“I don’t know. It’s sort of a naff, lame version of David Bowie” says Rich (Leppard, the bands guitarist) belligerently in a mood which will both entertain and intimidate throughout the course of the interview. “We’ve been compared to loads – Roxy Music, Sonic Youth, fucking Queen” says Glaswegian Ben, sounding flattered yet unconvinced. “No don’t put Queen” snaps Rich.

Oli: “I just feel like I can’t say anything, I can’t be bothered to say anything with Rich around”

Well tell me about your lyrics Oli, and where they come from.

“Oh God, shall we go down the pub and come back in a few hours” sighs Rich. Tim Fearless, band drummer and partisan peace-keeper halts him “No Rich, let him talk, just let him ask the question”

“What was the question?” asks Oli, distracted, then laughs “A shit Roxy Music?”

The frankness and shocking quality in some of the sepulchral acts depicted in his lyrics are extreme, even by the Marquis De Sade’s standards, though Oli’s actions onstage go someway to convincing us that they are all true. “Mostly all are very autobiographical” he begins. “Some use character based stuff to communicate stuff that might be harder to talk about in the first person. The Jacques Brel thing of talking through characters that David Bowie ripped off and we’ve ripped off – Like Waste – everyone assumes that song is about me getting fucked up the arse and passing on the disease, but some of the stuff like Hitler and Jesus is just about nothing, it’s like a nursery rhyme and Shit On Me…I’ve never had anyone shit on me…..intentionally.”

Is that because you’ve never met the right person?

Oli: “No! Ha ha ha No! It’s more about the idea of giving yourself up to depravity. I don’t know, I don’t want to intellectualise it too much. It’s very lowest common denominator stuff. Shit On Me’s got a very good message about nature and about…the environment.”

Ben: “Has it?!”

Oli: “Yeah, about recycling”

Rich: “Generally, we’re a very ecological band.”

Oli: “Most of the songs come from lyrics that sound good or stupid, then I add them to more lines that sound stupid to make a big thing that sounds stupid. Useless Pumping…I didn’t even know that was about wanking…”

Rich warms to the subject: “The only lyrics I like are Rent Boy, Shit On Me and Hitler and Jesus”

Ben: “No, that’s complete rubbish Rich

Oli: “You don’t like Waste?”

Rich: “I like the bit about ‘Fuck me up the arse’ it’s the only bit I ever remember”

Oli: “You know, when we first got this band together he said that ‘Everything you write is shit, why do you bother, everything you write is shit’, then I went home and just wanted to kill myself. Then people told me that Rich is just like that”

So how collaborative are you as a band?

Rich: “Generally, if it’s kind of subtle and clever, Tim probably wrote it, if it’s slightly poppy and thematic Ben probably wrote it, if it’s punky, I wrote it and if it’s just a standard crappy chord progression Oli wrote it”

Oli: “People say those are our strongest songs.”

Tim: “They’re beautiful lovely simple tunes”

“Simplicity Kendall….” says Oli dreamily “What was the question?”

A lot of your songs are quite aggressive sounding, musically and lyrically…

“I don’t think they’re aggressive at all” says Rich, cutting me off. “No, I don’t think they are” agrees Ben. “I’d never rape anyone” says Oli flatly.

“We’re too fucking tuneful to be aggressive” continues Rich, “There’s only one song that people said was aggressive and that’s Will To Kill because…”

Ben: “…It’s got Kill in the title…”

Rich: “…No, because it’s so off kilter”

Tim: “It’s also to do with the energy”

Oli: “And the screeching”

Ben: “Yeah, I think it’s the energy and the fact that Oli is quite full-on when he performs”.

“You can look a little bit scary Oli” confirms Tim.

“I don’t know why people say I’m scary I have no desire to dominate other people” Oli replies, exasperated.

Tim: “When you’re 6 foot 2, got 6 inch heels and you’ve got a gimp mask on, you can cut quite an imposing figure.”

Oli: “Well I’m sorry”

Tim: “His passion and his honesty is probably very intimidating”

Oli: “That’s very kind of you”

Rich: “Are you going to stand by that?”

Ben: “I know people who refuse to come to our gigs because they’ve never been before and they’ve heard this stuff”

Rich: What about the girl that read the lyrics and was too scared to listen to the CD?! You’ve read them! How can you be afraid to hear them sung?! I think people are just wankers”

Where does the inspiration come for your outfits?

Rich: “Crisp packets”

Ben: “No, just ignore everything he says”

Oli: “I like fisting gloves because they’re good for fisting and I like leather ‘cos it’s made of dead things, so I try and combine it all but make it feminine. My Grandmother was a big influence – she was the person who I used to dress up with when I was four and put make up on and then go back home and my dad would be like ‘Oh, I see the boy’s been wearing make-up again’ and he’d growl, he would never talk to me or look me in the eye and I thought I’d done something really bad but I never found it a perversion…I did find it a perversion when I put on my fathers clothes and got an erection. But the weird thing was that it was a normal thing like a suit and I though he’d get really stressed and growl at me like he had when I’d been wearing my grandmother’s make-up and find it offensive because I’d found it so sexually ‘Eeeeurgh’…oh I was only four like, but he actually went ‘Oh, the lad wants to be like his dad’ and gave me a pat on the head, whereas I’d found it more normal to be dressing in my grandmothers clothes, fur and make-up. Masculine stuff felt more like a perversion. I feel more normal in extravagant clothing and the gay wear like fisting gloves, bondage cuffs and gimp masks and all that other stuff, but it’s essentially…..My grandmother in a gimp mask.”

Would you play any cover songs?

Rich: “None of us could agree and anyway, it’s a waste of time. If you want to play covers join a covers band.”

Tim: We’ve got 26 of our own, we shouldn’t need to”

Oli: “‘He Hit Me And It Felt Like A Kiss’ by the Crystals, written by Carol King, ‘Send Me To The Electric Chair’ by Betty Smith, I don’t know the author, they were the first two songs we did. We were going to do ‘Smalltown Boy’ by Bronski Beat. I’ve seen Jimmy - he’s given us his seal of approval and said ‘When are you playing next?’ and got really excited. I did want to do a video. I want to do Anal Joy as a duet with Jimmy Somerville dressed as a hamster and have him running up a tube to my anus.”

Tim: “Well he’s not going to do it now! Scratch that from the record.”

Rich: “I think Jimmy Somerville might agree to being a hamster swimming up someone’s arse.”

Oli: “Scurrying! Not swimming”

Rich: “I think with your arse it would have to be swimming”

Oli: “I just had this idea in mind. He does like us but I don’t know if he’s that far into it.”

Any plans on releasing a single?

“Yes, we are” says Ben, pleased to be back on musical concrete.

And have you decided on the songs to include?

Tim: “We’ve decided, we’ve agreed.”

Rich: “Useless Pumping, Waste, Kamikaze, just because we know Oli can’t fuck those ones up and we can do the complicated ones later. I never really liked Useless Pumping. It was me that held that one up – everyone like Useless Pumping.”

Oli: Tim was like, ‘Let’s go la la la on the backing vocals’ and the song came alive.”

Rich: “No, he just did it.”

Oli: “Oh yes, that’s right and I had to force you into doing it again.”

Rich: “We had to spit in his face continuously.”

Tim: “We’ve got the studio booked and we’ll have something out by the end of the year.”

Rich: “Your last question should be ‘How long will the Flesh Happening actually last?’ – 2 years.”

Oli: “That’s quite good.”

Ben: “Haha, no, I’d just like to have an album out to leave a legacy.”

Rich: “Well obviously, ‘cos Tim’s a hippy, Oli’s got a deathwish and Ben’s frugal but despondent with his own mentality…”

Ben: “Blimey, I get a whole sentence, the rest of you got a word and I got a sentence.”

Rich: “I don’t give a shit right now, I just know it’s only going to end in tears.”

The Flesh Happening are all about decadence and excess and also tragedy to a degree, so I wonder about their potential to fit into the Rock and Roll cliché hall of fame.

Rich: “We’re a hideous rock and roll cliché, the rock and roll standard – one drum, guitar, bass, singer with the personalities – we are it. Oli will kill himself and the last ten years of his life people will say he’s the most talentless person on the planet. One day I’m going to write a horrible acoustic folk album that will probably get completely ignored, Ben’s going to despondently disappear into an anal job, Tim will probably open a school for African kids to learn drums.”

Tim: “Rock drums…none of that fucking…..Rock drums!”

Rich: Tim’s going to single handedly ruin all the rhythm cultures that have existed around the globe for millions of years.”

Tim: “4/4. You can’t beat a kick drum on the first beat and a snare on the third – it’s just something magic.”

Oli: “I’ve already done the sex one…”

Ben: “I haven’t – for me it would be the sex one”

Oli: “…and the drugs one almost killed me a few years back”

Ben: “For me it would be loads of groupies throwing themselves at my feet. Oli, you’ve got the coolest cliché of all”

Oli: “What, having AIDS? I want to die of a mystery disease that no-one’s heard of.”

Rich: “I’m going to fucking die before Oli, I’ll make sure of it.”

And with that, it’s time for them to all go separate ways for previously arranged engagements.

No comments: