Chain D.L.K.: When you joined Real Life the band already had their huge success with “Send Me An Angel”. Were you already one of their fans during the 80’s? What brought you to become their new keyboard player?
Alien Skin: Real Life in the early 80s was one of the few bands on the local Melbourne live scene, where I live, playing predominantly British synthesizer music with a contemporary and modern attitude. The majority of bands gigging were very much guitar and rock oriented still. I first saw them in concert supporting another major Australian synth band, Icehouse. It was from this moment I became a fan and began catching them at their many gigs over the next year or so before international success with ‘Send Me An Angel’ took the band overseas. Real Life performed, looked and sounded very much the way I envisaged myself developing musically and as a performer. They were very educational for me during that formative period.
Chain D.L.K.: Before then, what kind of musical experience did you have?
Alien Skin: I had been performing on the local Melbourne scene with a number of electronic outfits as a keyboardist and songwriter throughout the 80s and beyond. This gave me important grounding for my later work with Real Life and Alien Skin. None of my previous bands and duos achieved the success I would have liked but with the experience came learning and the honing of my musical and technical skills and capabilities.
Chain D.L.K.: In your opinion, what have been the highlights of your experience with Real Life?
Alien Skin: Well, definitely touring, not only at home but also on a number of trips to the US and Germany, and being warmly and at times feverishly received by fans. We also played with Orchestral Manoeuvrers in the Dark, together with Claudia Brucken (from Propaganda) at Synthstock 2000 in the US, that was a huge outdoor show! The other highlight of course has been co-writing with David Sterry, Real Life vocalist and guitarist, which resulted in two Real Life original albums and a remix album. Our most recent release in 2004, Imperfection, was the combined effort of David and myself. This latter album was the one I had the greatest influence over, producing and engineering it as well.
Chain D.L.K.: In 2004 you felt the urge to compose your own songs and for this reasonAlien Skin started to take form. What have been the steps of this process?
Alien Skin: After our US ‘Imperfection’ tour of 2004, I felt that I had done as much as I could within the confines of the band. I have always been a songwriter and I began feeling that the time was right for me to release something of my own, envisaged and performed in a way that best reflected what I was about, as a writer, singer and artist. I had never seriously done that before. I had some songs already drafted and I began consciously writing more specifically for this new solo project. ‘Alien Skin’ had not been born yet, that came much later. I simply commenced work on writing and collecting a number of songs from which I would eventually shape an album. After a few compositions, written for the most part on acoustic guitar, I decided the mood of the album. I had already written quite a number of upbeat tracks for Real Life, now I wanted the opposite, darker, slower, more ambient, melancholic and ethereal. This stylistic approach also best suits my voice.
Chain D.L.K.: In the meantime Real Life released a couple of albums for ‘A DifferentDrum’ label. How did you deal with the fact that you were doing your own stuff and also composing with David Sterry for the band?
Alien Skin: Actually, ‘Imperfection’ was the last album we did together, so when I began writing songs that would eventually belong to Alien Skin, David and I were not working on any music together. During my career with Real Life I wrote a tremendous amount of music, only some ended up as Real Life, a lot just didn’t fit or was oversupply, so I have always written music that was more for me than the band, it was never an issue.
Chain D.L.K.: On my review I called ‘Don’t Open Till Doomsday’ a ‘night album’. What’syour own definition of it?
Alien Skin: ‘Night album’ describes ‘Don’t Open Till Doomsday’ well! The songs when listened to as a whole, I believe, create a mental and sonic environment of night, of darkness. There is a melancholic thread running through them. I find it difficult to imagine the album listened to on a bright summer’s day – although someone just wrote to me to say she loves hearing it driving down a sunny highway with the car roof up. Personally I find this difficult to comprehend as it has the opposite affect on me. I’ve described the album elsewhere as a ‘kaleidoscope of electronic melancholia’ and as ‘music for aliens, astronauts and other marginal beings at the frontiers’. I think this visual impression helps create in the mind what I set out to achieve.
Chain D.L.K.: As you’ve already admitted Martin Gore’s song writing affected your way ofcomposing. Is this because you both have a similar musical background that haslead you towards the same “ground” or have you been so impressed byDepeche Mode that you’ve been therefore influenced?
Alien Skin: Martin Gore has been a significant influence on my writing since the early 80s when he took over the role from Vince Clarke. His ability to craft superb and gorgeous lyrical melodies, and the structure of those often poignant tunes against dark chord sequences and the way they were delivered both by Dave Gahan and himself, left an indelible impression upon me from the first time I heard Depeche Mode – Martin Gore version. DM has been an important component in my musical development as an electronic artist since that very early period especially during the Alan Wilder era. If anything, we share a similar background in the sense we both value traditional song writing, especially influences from the 60s, and a love of Kraftwerk. The marriage of creative electronics to the predominance and significance of ‘the song’ is a perspective I would like to think we have in common.
Chain D.L.K.: Behind a melancholic but also romantic atmosphere there are dark lyricslike the one for ‘For Always’ (I fear the silence a morgue of silence – Iwill remember you for always) or ‘Razor Arms’ (When I crash into yourrazor arms – when I crawl into your bed of blades – when I’m torn and noblood remains). Here, the main feeling is of someone who’s overwhelmed bylife with no chance of escape. What made you write these lyrics?
Alien Skin: ‘For Always’ is dedicated to our (Iryna and I) beloved Bozette, our very intelligent, loving and affectionate pet cat who had to be put to sleep last year, suffering with terminal cancer. She had honestly been our best friend for 12 years. This is a song that was written soon after her death, and is very close to me. ‘Razor Arms’, was first drafted a few years ago, it’s a mixture of many feelings and ideas, some were inspired by the September 11 attacks, I think that’s what subliminally motivated the idea behind the first verse. When I write lyrics they’re not always meant to be read at face value, often they are created to convey a mood, an atmosphere, so I juxtapose imagery that will best establish, at least I hope so, this intent. Having said that, the period in which these songs were written were definitely influenced by my own personal disposition.
Chain D.L.K.: In my opinion ‘Don’t Open Till Doomsday’ is a balanced album with theright dose of rhythm and melody and a lot of different moods. I’m curiousto know how it sounded before deciding the definitive track list or beforedeciding what kind of production to be given to it. Can you talk about thisprocess?
Alien Skin: Thank you for seeing it that way! From the start I purposely wanted to make an album bereft of the hard beats I created in Real Life. I wanted a certain mood and atmosphere – a theme – to permeate throughout the set of songs. Even those that do have more strident beats, I believe, do not diverge from this overall sonic, emotional and atmospheric theme. I was fortunate at the time, and this was over a long period, that I continued writing songs from a similar perspective so the majority of songs automatically turned out ready made to fit the overall concept of the album. Altogether I wrote quite a few tracks and those I finally chose worked best together as a concise and consistent album. Of the songs you mentioned earlier for instance, I could have had more ‘For Always’ or more ‘Razor Arms’ clones, or more of any one of the rest, but this would have unbalanced the set. From the overall collection I chose the 10 that best represented my ideas at the time. Production and arrangement wise: the direction was set when I decided what type of album I wished to make. That also meant that some songs that were already written in a previous period, such as ‘Razor Arms’ and ‘The Spirit is Willing’ were dramatically reworked to fit into this format. Essentially, they were stripped down and made far more atmospheric and minimal.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you thinking of doing any gigs and generally what are your futureplans for Alien Skin?
Alien Skin: Alien Skin was always meant as a vehicle to express the musical ideas I’ve not been able to make public otherwise. Song writing is the favourite aspect of what I do and this has been quite a challenging exercise, doing it alone, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. ‘Don’t Open Till Doomsday’ as an album establishes who and what Alien Skin is in 2008 and I certainly wish to follow it up with another. I don’t think I would deviate too far from what I have begun, but who knows! As for touring, although I would love the opportunity, the costs and logistics of doing so, especially considering most of the interest in Alien Skin is from overseas – US and Europe – makes this very difficult to do, but again, who knows?
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[interviewed by Maurizio Pustianaz] [proofreading by George Pappas]