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INTERVIEW: Pere Ubu
Sean Kitching , September 5th, 2014 08:28

Pere Ubu's David Thomas and Sean Kitching set out to have a conversation about their new album, Carnival Of Souls, out next week, and end up taking in the merits of melding acoustic, digital and analogue sounds and discussing the finer points of English prog

Pere Ubu's 18th album, Carnival Of Souls, inspired by and derived from the band's live soundtracking of Herk Harvey's classic 1962 B-movie of the same name, is out on Fire Records next Monday, September 8. As is currently stated in bold on the front page of the band's website: "the album is not about the movie" but rather "a complex sensual response to living in a world overrun by monkeys and strippers who tickle your ears, cajole you to join in with their cavorting and then become vindictive when you decline". It is also a wonderfully dark, pulsating road trip through a nightmare landscape mapped out in analogue and digital electronics, treated guitars, clarinet, voodoo drums and of course, David Thomas' unmistakeable otherworldly vocals. We spoke to the singer and band leader about the album and his plans for their upcoming autumn tour.

I really like the new album, the combination of clarinet and electronics is really effective. I understand you met [clarinet player] Darryl Boon in Hove - at what point did you decide that you wanted to add that sound to Ubu's palette?

David Thomas: It was really a development of Two Pale Boys, where I really liked the idea of a blend of acoustic, digital and analogue sound. I'd already added Dids [Graham Dowdall, also known as Gagarin] to have a contrast of digital and analogue synthesisers and Darryl came along at the same time and he took to it like a duck to water and his real passion is Dixieland... I like that connection, I stress the need for historical context at all times.

In Cogs [the book detailing the recording process behind the album] you talk about synthesising Kraftwerk and Suicide into one band, which is a great description of how the record sounds. Can you elaborate on that?

DT: Well, the notion that Pere Ubu is a machine is something that's been in my mind for a number of years now, it's kind of what I've been working towards since Ray Gun Suitcase... And people immediately go, "Oh gee man" but no, the Pere Ubu machine is built to fight conformity and protect against artifice. And of course, I've always enjoyed Kraftwerk's notion of the machine, I mean it's a great idea. But then you immediately think of Suicide. I remember seeing them back in '78 or something and it was just great. We were on the same bill I think, at Max's Kansas City or somewhere like that. It was just such a thrill... and the chaos! Totally anarchistic and just wonderful. So I thought, you want a machine and you want it to be passionate and unpredictable... and still machine-like. Because a machine can still be unpredictable. I mean that's what an analogue synthesiser is - totally unpredictable.

The 'fixing of prog-rock' aspect you describe in respect to this album is less immediately apparent. You said you listened to Van der Graaf Generator's Pawn Hearts every day prior to making the record. Why Pawn Hearts?

DT: Well, I've always liked Peter Hammill. In the context of prog rock, he is damn passionate. I mean, it's all emotion and it's all intense, within the context of a music that's very English and therefore... not really what you would call passionate. I don't think you could ever call Genesis in the classic days, passionate. Or Gentle Giant. If you say what's English music, the first two things that I think of immediately are the folk traditions of people like Walter Parton or prog rock - The Soft Machine, The Incredible String Band, Henry Cow... I mean you can't get any more English than that.

I'm really excited about Henry Cow playing at the Lindsay Cooper memorial event at the Barbican on November 21. Did you ever see them?

DT: No, I never did. Unfortunately we're on tour then, so I won't be able to go. But I was a huge fan... Chris Cutler was one of the very first people, internationally, to start talking about us. We've always been friends.

Like you say in Cogs: "The real Sex Pistols was a band called Henry Cow."

DT: Yeah, they were a great band and it's a crime that they're so lost to history.

What's your intention for your forthcoming live shows, is there going to be any visual element carried over from the film? Are the new songs going to be presented alongside older material or kept apart as a song cycle?

DT: I've always seen the live shows as sort of a Robbie Williams 'Let Me Entertain You' thing, so I've always been hesitant to go too weird in a live show because I feel, partly from playing all those crummy bars as a kid, that we need to give them some entertainment value here... But I was really struck with the Visions Of The Moon tour, where we had hardly anything prepared or planned and it was very exciting. People who had seen the Lady From Shanghai show were just totally blown away and were saying, "Why don't you do more of this?" So when we go out this year, at least in the fall campaign, we're not using support acts, which I've always hated anyway, and we're gonna do like a 40-minute opening show, which is gonna be unplanned and improvised... I haven't even told the band that's what we're doing because I don't want them to start to fret about it or plan on bringing extra pedals or anything like that.. and then I'll feel better about doing the Robbie Williams entertainment thing after.

As you always seem to have one eye directed towards the future, do you have an inkling about what direction the next album might take?

DT: With Pere Ubu, I don't know if you've ever noticed, but the last song on the album is some sort of indication of what's going to come [the album's last track 'Brother Ray' is described as a prequel to Nathanael West's The Day Of The Locust] I'm interested in the development of that idea, where it's really a very complex, literature sort of thing. Anyway, anything which you start with, very quickly mutates. Obviously I'm beginning to build the band... I mean it's up to seven people now and I could easily see two more people coming in. I'm building in this direction where ultimately it's becoming a small orchestra.

Are there any instruments that you would particularly like to add?

DT: I could see almost any instrument. I didn't start out thinking I'd like to add a clarinet. In the end it has more to do with the person than the instrument. He could have been playing anything... a tuba.

Carnival Of Souls is out on September 8 via Fire Records. The band will be touring the UK and Spain in November; head to their website for full details

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