- SOUNDS, December 18, 1982
(Winston Smith screams for The Sisters of Mercy. Photo: Paul Slattery)
Nineteeth greatest single of 1982 is the fabulous "Floorshow" by The Sisters of Mercy. The four Sisters hail from Leeds, have a killing sense of humour, can
be quite difficult, and er, how long have they been around?
"What the hell does that matter?"
"No it isn't. Who the hell cares? You don't really care, we don't really care, and Joe Public knows already."
--No they don't, how do they know?
"Because they're aware."
--But I'm Joe Public, and I don't know.
"Well...if you need an answer, say...a year and a half in our present format. No two, say two. It's evolved; you can't put a year on it."
Prior to the current "Floorshow" (coupled with the slightly less startling "Alice") there have been two Sister singles, these being the intoxicatingly bizarre "Body Electric" b/w "Adrenochrome"
from around February this year, and a mysterious debut ("To all intents and purposes it was a different band, and it really is best forgotten...") which absolutely no-one wants to talk about.
"Floorshow" though, is worth losing breath over. For its savage, swamping blanket of raw, grating guitars, deep, doom-ridden vocals and thunderously mechanical drum-machine make it a mercilessly wicked temptation for more adventurous souls from all manner of musical persuasions...
Lurking here is a real, almost awesomely huge potential. Trouble is, for some reason IT remains untapped, and could very easily stay that way. This mustn't happen.
--Did The Sisters intend to fill some sort of gap when they began all this?
"Yeah. I mean, we didn't think 'oh there's a gap, let's fill it'. We thought, well, this is what comes naturally to us, why isn't anyone else doing it? So we started up this thing with a really heavy drum machine, fuzz guitars a-go-go and tons of echo, and other people are taking it up so there must be a need for it; people are ripping us off left right and centre now."
--Already? As far as I know it's only been since February that people outside of Leeds have heard of you.
"Well, outside of the North. People in London think that unless somebody comes to them and plays it can't be any good at all. It never strikes them that maybe people don't want to play London for a year. I mean why the f*** should we play London? We can headline up north, so why should we appear fourth on the bill down here?"
--In what ways are people ripping you off?
"Every way; even our artwork gets ripped off. The only thing that's relevant about it is it's obviously a useful way we've constructed our sound, because other people are finding it useful too. Hopefully they'll like, take it away and use it for something slightly different."
--People have used drum-machines before though.
"Yeah, but only in a pathetically weedy way. We're hooked on them now...It's like the modern world; you've got really clinical, relentless backing, and you've got these really gritty things over the top, which in our case are fuzz-guitars."
--Don't you find the drum-machine restrictive?
"No. Certain sorts of discipline are very useful; the disciplines of a song for instance.
"We just like juxtaposing things like that and playing things off against each other. It's nice, it's like trying to say something serious but doing it in an absurd way; which is the only logical response to the modern world, and especially to rock music."
--Is it rock music that you're rebelling against?
"No, we're using it. I mean groups generally don't recognise, or rather they try and forget, that there's a barrier between band and audience. They pretend it doesn't exist. What we do, we've got this really big barrier and it's really intricate and ornate, and elaborately decorated, and it's got BARRIER painted all over it; and it's a very funny thing, although it's quite serious.
"It's a much more honest way to approach things than pretending it doesn't exist, and this barrier is nebulous enough for people to make their own way through it whatever particular place they like."
--Shades of Pink Floyd?
"Absolutely not. They were just poncing about with pseudo-artistic artschool theories; they hadn't got a bloody clue, and they still haven't."
The Sisters of Mercy, incidentally, are Ben Gunn (guitar), Gary Marx (guitar), Craig Adams (bass), Doc Avalanche (the drum-machine) and Andrew Eldritch (vocals). It's Andrew who does all the talking, except on one or two odd occasions.
Merciful Release (also incidentally), the band's record label, is in fact their own creation; and it's through the enterprising Sisters that the March Violets and others will, and do have, their own singles released.
"We intend to be more of a production company than a record company," stresses Andy, but that's just rockist trivia: So back to the nitty gritty...
--Don't you think it's the artschool crowd who are attracted to you?
"No, absolutely not, because we're cleverer than they are, basically. They're too busy being serious; we're being silly and serious, if you like."
Ben: "They're into being really cosy and serious. I mean they know the subjects which they're talking about are serious, but they do it in such a way that they'll never change anything."
Andrew continues: "Every time they get really into something, they veer right away from the popular way of doing things, whereas we wallow in it."
--You don't sound at all "silly", you sound very serious in fact.
"Yeah, but okay, we (Andy and Ben) might sound serious talking to you with that tape machine running, but we both know that talking to you with a tape machine running is basically a very funny thing to do.
"...The problem with the modern world is the things that you dislike the most, are the things that you like the most. All the things that are the most destructive out there are the things which are the most beautiful, you can't deny it."
--Are you being serious?
"It's a perfectly serious statement."
--Because I don't know what you mean.
"..You've got to get to grips with the things which you're opposed to, otherwise you've got no way of dealing with them; it's a basic rule in life. You've got to realise that those things, these days, are intrinsically attractive; y'know, like napalm over acres of forest going whooosh! It's beautiful; you can't deny that it looks a-mazing! You know, I mean "Death Race 2000" - terrific! It's all very attractive."
--Would you say you stand pretty much alone in what you're doing?
"Yeah, I'd say so. I mean there's obvious reference points, but they're not the usual...They're not like a coherent range of reference points like you find with most bands; you know exactly what their range of reference is going to be. Ours come from all over the shop. The people we like are generally people with a sense of humour who make an extremely loud noise, or write wonderfully good tunes.
"Basically we're working with certain cliches, we're working with what you could call punk, what you could call heavy metal or glam, or whatever you want. We've recognised that, whatever we do, it's part of a tradition, just as every band ought to recognise that whatever they do it's still part of a tradition.
"I mean I know it seems we've developed this whole new way of doing things, but it's not, even if it does appear marginally inventive; it's just the counterpoints of a tradition. So what we're doing is acknowledging that."
--I've heard you don't like being compared to Bauhaus.
"...Well, I mean who does? I'm sure Bauhaus don't like being compared to Bauhaus these days. I mean they're dreadful, they've got no sense of humour, or at least if they have they don't use it in the right way."
--So you see no similarities in your sounds, in the vocals especially?
"No. The problem is these days there're so few people that sing in a low voice that...I mean, when I started singing people said 'ooh, he sounds just like Jim Morrison' and shortly after that they said 'ooh, he sounds just like Ian Curtis' and now it's Pete Murphy... So y'know in another year's time when people hear someone singing in a low voice they'll go 'hey, he sings like Andrew Eldritch..." (1)
Y'know, f***! (laughs) I mean no one says Boy George sounds like Gregory Isaacs. It's about as relevant."
--The trouble is through singing like that, no humour gets conveyed at all.
"The humour doesn't come across on the records because you just can't convey it. You have to tell a joke with a straight face basically."
--But the sleeves don't appear humorous either.
"Ah, I think the sleeves are very funny; I mean 'Body Electric' is a very funny sleeve. I mean it's a screaming Pope, you can't get much funnier than that."
--Look, are you trying to build some sort of mystique or...
"No, basically we've seen an awful lot of really boring interviews in the press, and we're determined not to say the things that usually get in. I mean we didn't really want you to know how long we've been going, not because it matters, but because we're keen to make our interviews a little more interesting than that; and if we waste part of an hour-and-a-half telling you how long we've been going, then...
Do you see what I mean? You can say an awful lot of useful things in an hour-and-a-half if you want to, but not if we talk about Leeds and..."
Three days after the interview, Andy and I talked on the telephone. Not surprisingly, the main topic of our conversation was Mick Sinclair's less than favorable review of the band, published in Sounds that morning.
--Does it bother you at all Andy?
"It doesn't offend me in the least, I'm just sad for the general public. I mean at least he made his way out of the bar on occasions, most of the time they don't even manage to do that...
"He's just not bothering to assume that what he's dealing with is any more interesting than what he saw the night before, or the night before that. And hence, nobody else thinks, 'well, it might be more interesting', and those who do think it's more interesting are encouraged to think that it isn't, and that it's as one-dimensional as everything else.
"I mean all the cliches, all the formats that we distort and manipulate, or rip-off if you like; we don't use any that we don't love, but we love them in a pretty disrespectful way, because we know how silly they are."
--The Sisters talk a lot about 'dry' jokes, so what if the review was a joke?
"Er, in that case it wasn't a very good joke. If you notice, nothing we ever say which is in a song that's supposed to be funny is ever the sort of thing which if taken at face-value does any harm. We're very careful about that. We don't ever propagate anything which in our books we regard as morally bad, even when you take a song at face-value."
--Would you say the Sisters are not just another rock'n'roll band?
"No, we are. Anybody who says they're not is just lying; the very fact that they say 'we're not a rock'n'roll band' says something about their relationship with rock'n'roll. To me it says it in a rather naive, dishonest or stupid way, but there you are.
"I think it's important for a band to realise what it's doing. It's like our relationship with [bad connection]. It's a bit like the psychedelic garage re-opening. The original garage has lain decrepit and decaying for quite awhile. Various people have hammered on the door, and maybe bits of debris have trickled out from underneath in the draught, and these people have picked up the dross and taken it away and tried to make something useful out of it. But they haven't managed."
--So there are connections with psychedelia then?
"Yeah, in as much as those bands understood the absurdity I think. Most of their noises were very silly; their lyrics were absurdist, all the best ones anyway, not the introverted hippy drivel! But the garage bands certainly."
--The Sisters of Mercy - a perfect epilogue.
"The garage is pretty crummy now. All the flowers are dead, and there's a skeleton screwing a dead dog in the corner on top of a heap of car parts. Nowadays you can hear sirens outside and there's men in uniforms around the block. The whole trip has turned sour...
"The Sisters have re-opened the garage, and are dancing around it...with mischievous desperation."
(1)...a prescient remark, surely...
...you can see the cover of this issue of Sounds on our Ephemera page.)
...return to Transcriptions page.