It’s been 20 years that Attrition is been active in the the electronic scene. They started with Coil, Portion Control just to become part of the music history of the genre. The interview has been conducted using ICQ so I had more fun doing it and also Martin was relaxed enough to chat with us about every aspect of the project. The first question I asked him (which wasn’t supposed to be part of the interview) was: “Do you know that your website doesn’t works with Netscape-based browsers?” We’ll start from that one…
Chain D.L.K.: hehe…That already was the first question!!! “Do you know that your website doesn’t work with Netscape-based browsers? ” HAHAHAHAHHA 🙂 The answer is NO! 😉
Attrition: I hope you put that in!
Chain D.L.K.: If you want to. I love to ask questions other people don’t ask… 🙂
Attrition: Yes. I hate the same old interviews!!! But I must say I’m not TOTALLY useless at web stuff!!!
Chain D.L.K.: Usually I also tend to ask more about music composition because I’ve been playing ever since the Fall of 1984. I don’t think you even knew…
Attrition: I didn’t really know! It’s best when questions come from people who have more ideas! I work part-time teaching music technology so I can have time to do my own music. For 9 years now at a college in Coventry. It works out.
Chain D.L.K.: I read that in one of your interviews. Anyway…let’s talk about you 🙂 The most boring question I can ask (and I hope it will be the only one) is: what have been, in your opinion, the band’s highlights and why? This will be a useful base for more interesting questions…
Attrition: Hmmm, the band’s highlights…I think just to ask me what the “highlights” are is enough to start with! It’s NOT about any commercial thing. It has to be about something I would stand by artistically, and that is difficult, as I can change my opinion on that. Something I have done over the 20 years of recordings and live performances too, but I tend to think of the recordings as more important. It’s got nothing at all to do with anyone else. Critics’ or fans’ opinions either, that doesn’t sway me. I find the highlights must be a line of lyrics I have written or an atmosphere I created or perhaps a whole song. I’m being suitably vague as this is a suitably vague subject in that it is “intangible”. It is art and it is what I am talking about or trying to say and therefore I struggle, as if it was easy to say I probably wouldn’t bother with it in the first place.
Chain D.L.K.: When would you say you reached an important point in the history of the project? A stage that you wanted to reach, I mean…
Attrition: Well, that has to be when we finally had our first single and album releases, back in 1984. Ok, I change that! I am always trying to reach that point!!! There are elements in every release that reach “that point” but so many elements that are not quite there and that push me on to the next work.
Chain D.L.K.: In my opinion we could divide Attrition’s musical style into two main parts. The first one goes from the beginnning until the end of the eighties and the second one starts with “A Tricky Business” until present days. I’m going to tell you why: I noticed that besides the instruments and technology you used on the second part, there’s a different use of the female vocals and a different approach to atmosphere. Would you agree? In your opinion what brought you to this result?
Attrition: You are totally right about the transition period!!! Here’s a little history. As a “band”, Attrition started in 1980 as 3 people. I guess I was the catalyst, but the idea was a shared “band” thing. I had many ideas an NO musical skills and I was good at organizing things. It worked out so that I organized most things and people came and went. At the end of the ’80’s I was left with just me and I had to get things together for Attrition again. I got Julia back to sing with me (she’d been in the Legendary Pink Dots for a while), I built up my own studio and started to write the songs mostly myself instead of relying on contributions from others. I had a lot to learn. It’s working though! Some people say: “Attrition was more experimental in the beginning”, almost as to imply that that was “better”, and it is true that we were learning new things, but in terms of musical style we always had a mix of rhythmic and ambient pieces. I had a long talk with an “experimental” musician once in which we debated what was “experimental”. To me personal experiments are the most useful, and so it is NOT style of music but personal fulfillment that counts.
Chain D.L.K.: I noticed also a similarity with another band: Die Form. They also started as an experimental electronic band just to switch to something more groovy with a lyrical use of female vocals.
Attrition: Funny you mentioned that about Die Form, just as I was writing the last response. Yes you are probably right! I like Die Form too, Philippe just sent me the new album; looking forward to hearing it. You may know I did a few remixes for them going back about 10 years…
Chain D.L.K.: I knew you remixed them, but I didn’t ask the question wasn’t because of that 🙂 Talking about the past, I think people’ve got a romantic view of the old days so this next question popped up in my mind…Since you did the “Elephant Table Album” along with Coil, Portion Control, Chris And Cosey as well as the “Animal Liberation Front” album, it seems there was sort of a link/fraternity between the various bands. Is it a bad interpretation? Is it something you feel also nowadays?
Attrition: There’s always romantic views! I know some people. Chris n Cosey did a remix for me on “The Hand that Feeds” album in 2000! Portion Control I met once (actually I rented a room in London in a house with Ed Kaspel that had been Portion Control’s studio!!! That’s a weird connection). Coil: They did their first gig with us in London in ’83. So, yes, there was a connection, but it wasn’t all great friends in it together. Just a whole new different thing happening. Many bands trying something different. Bands that had something in common in their diversity. Really something that has been a little lost sometimes today. We have a lot more little boxes to put people in, I feel, with the “Animal Liberation” ideal. I think that the political agenda is sadly subdued these days and that is a great pity.
Chain D.L.K.: Let’s talk about the new album now. Where did the title “Dante’s Kitchen” come from? For its atmosphere “Dante’s Hell” would have been more appropriated, maybe, even if more obvious…
Attrition: Do you mean it has a “dark” atmosphere???!!! 🙂
Chain D.L.K.: Kind of 🙂 You see, there’s a constant use of violin and lyrical use of female vocals that tend to bring tension to the tracks…
Attrition: In it’s simplest form, it is just a word connection between Dante’s Hell and Hell’s Kitchen, but it describes my own life of the last few years during which I wrote the album (which is probably also why it took so long! ). The kitchen is my home. Mentally and physically.
Chain D.L.K.: Are you referring to what you had to go thorugh with your ex-girlfriend?
Attrition: Yes, I split up with my girlfriend of 10 years that I had 2 children with. She denied me access to them and I had to go to court. I ended up representing myself actually, which was scary! I also had to build up a new home. All my albums are like audio photo albums of my life, but they help me come to terms with all the aspects of it…good and bad, and out of the darkness can come beauty. I think so. Actually things are a lot better now…
Chain D.L.K.: Is it for that reason that the tracks’ atmosphere and their titles seem to be kinda connected? Are they all pieces of the same picture?
Attrition: Yes very much so. It could be a “concept” album…I HATE that idea!!! 🙂
Chain D.L.K.: It seems like it starts all the way down from “Dante’s Kitchen” and step by step it ends with the big question…”Still life? ” heheh…I thought about the concept album idea myself, indeed; -)
Attrition: … and the answer this time is definitively: “yes”. Thanks for recognizing that! I wonder if anyone else will at all. There are a lot of hidden themes in my albums. I do like this album a lot though. There are new things I tried, particularly in rhythms and sound production, that I am very proud of and there is actually some humor there in the dark!!!
Chain D.L.K.: Since you had different female vocals on your album, does this affect the writing process? Do you think about who is going to sing one specific song when you compose it?
Attrition: Well actually most of it is Julia, my original singer. She just works so well with me but I brought in other singers to see what they could add. Usually I just let them have a free reign…let them come up with ideas at first…then I asked them to try things as the songs developed. So it was fairly open to interpretation…
Chain D.L.K.: Why did you make such heavy use of the violin? Was it because it helped the sick atmosphere or because it was part of your sound experimentation?
Attrition: I do love the marriage of the pure tones of electronics and the warmth of the natural sound of the violin. It has been featured on many recent albums. In the same way I think the combination of male and female voices is important in expressing my ideas. Hey what do you mean by “sick”!!?? 🙂
Chain D.L.K.: It’s a term I use to describe twisted atmospheres and to me it’s a positive thing…
Attrition: That’s ok then!
Chain D.L.K.: It isn’t anything morbid or what not. Speaking of which…have you ever been disappointed by a bad interpretation of your music/person that got you violent?
Attrition: Oooh…I don’t THINK so. I get disappointed or upset but not physically violent. I do remember someone shouting something nasty at Christine (my current singer) while we were on stage in London a couple of years back, and after we came off I hunted them down and got them thrown out the venue. They weren’t expecting THAT!!! 🙂 I have been known to shout a bit when it looks like we won’t get paid! It DOES tend to work. I wish it didn’t have to come to that!
Chain D.L.K.: What’s your personal perception of your music? Is it a vehicle for your feelings, a sort of different side of your personality or what else?
Attrition: It is DEFINITELY a vehicle of my feelings. A big part of my personality. There are other sides, but this is an important part of me. I don’t think it could be wide open to everything in my personality. A lot of me doesn’t need to be put into music, but this part does, and I am the better person for it. I think I will always need this side to me. It’s not at all about selling records.
Chain D.L.K.: When you finish a track, have you ever had the feeling that it wasn’t really you that wrote that one song, but that you were so deeply involved into it even though you had the feeling it wasn’t representing yourself? (I’ not talking about drugs, ok? 🙂 ). I’m asking you this because it happened to me when I did some improvised tracks played in the darkness, etc…
Attrition: I know exactly what you mean, and some drugs give you that feeling too. For that same reason I just “know” if something is working in my music or rather just “know” when it isn’t. It is a form of connecting with something else. A spirituality through music.
Chain D.L.K.: Yes. For that reason sometimes I feel that my music is part of my person and at the same time it’s something on its own…
Attrition: Yes. Music that moves people takes us somewhere else, and that is why it is so special. I used to paint and I gave it up to concentrate on music. It moved me more…
Chain D.L.K.: I think that music is more “esoteric” than painting, because sounds could be more intangible compared to something that gives you an immediate visual feedback.
Attrition: Yes, and music has the added dimension of time. It is something elusive. Something we can’t touch and everyone wants to touch a picture, don’t they? Well, we can’t touch music…
Chain D.L.K.: Yep. From these words I can understand that music isn’t a business for you and that’s something people should appreciate 😉
Attrition: Don’t get me wrong, I would love to sell a million copies, but it isn’t what it is about. Also people wouldn’t still be interested in work I did 20 years ago if that was what it was about.
Chain D.L.K.: Selling a million records of honest music isn’t a bad thing! In what way do you go about business and label deals with your idea of music?
Attrition: Well…I just send it to them and they release it!!! There doesn’t seem to be much discussion really, which is a shame, but they are also businesses. Some labels worry about selling my music, but there have always been labels with enough vision to do so. Critically we have had some success and even in sales, we have sold over 50, 000 albums since the first one was released. So it works ok!
Chain D.L.K.: Since we talked about music and visual art…The covers of your latest releases have got particular visual images also. How do you decide which one matches your music the best?
Attrition: It’s difficult. I do spend a lot of time on this. I have worked with a variety of artists over the years. I never felt I had the skill myself for the art. I look for artists’ work that represents my music or at least is close to something I am trying to convey, or at least a part of it. Recently I have worked with US artist John Santerineross, whose work is also dark and has an inherent sexual content.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s next for Attrition?
Attrition: Well the album isn’t out yet!!! So we have a lot of promotion to do and we’re putting together our new live set. Our first tour in 2 years, starting in London on July 23rd. In the meanwhile, busy remixing artists like The Damage Manual, The Last Dance, Black Tape For A Blue Girl; and then I’m going to get a new computer and write a new album…
Visit Attrition on the web at:
[interviewed by Maurizio Pustianaz] [proofreading by Marc Urselli]