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The Peace & Freedom Magazine 1988 Attrition Interview
Originally appeared in Peace & Freedom, No. 5, Vol. 3, Spring/Summer 1988.
Paul Rance pummels the best pop duo since Simon & Garfunkel with some dodgy Qs. Martin supplied the words of wisdom.
Attrition have gone through many changes since their last P&F i/view. They are now settled on a two-piece, viz. Martin Bowes - lyrics, vocals, rhythm and sequence programming; slides and visuals. Garry Cox - synthesizers and keyboards.
Live they have appeared in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Zurich, Berlin (West), Strasbourg, Hamburg, Oslo and beyond. Their first album, "The Attrition of Reason", surfaced through Rough Trade in 1984. They recently appeared on CD, alongside The Smiths, Siouxsie/Banshees, Howie Jones, Lena Lovich and Nina Hagen on "Animal Lib.".
20 years later Trev Teasdel of Hobo magazine interviewed Martin. Here's that 2008 interview in full
Do you feel, being a duo, too limited, or do you feel it's an advantage with less differences of opinion, and consequently easier to keep everything together?
Being a duo doesn't mean just two people! In the studio we bring in guests - whatever we want; drums/saxophone, etc. Live we're going to be a 3-piece; should be working with a percussionist and, of course, our (ever changing slides/film man! No, it works well being a tight, basic line-up. It's more flexible. Garry can play a lot of instruments and I can't play any (?!). This is what makes it interesting. Attrition seems to be me working with other people (whoever!), as Garry is quite recent - it's like a new band; the next LP will be a change of direction. Every LP will be. It's very new all the time - that's good.
Lyrically, the music scene in Chartland is probably in an even more depressed state than the music; do you feel people are bothered about meaningful lyrics anymore?
People are interested, but listening to the pop charts they don't normally realise that words are there, and can be used. They are very powerful tools, words. Something said simply can have great effect - it doesn't have to go above our heads, but the lyrics should never pander to what is seen as current taste (it doesn't exist!). The independent scene isn't automatically better in this area.
New material like "Take Five" and "This Final Push" seem more "commercial" than your music of a few years ago. Do you think that is so, and, if the case, is it solely to inclination, musically?
Well, it's better recorded! Also we did a lot more atmospheric music in older incarnations. We still do, but it's more direct, more accessible. I decided to make things clearer, less abstract. You could see that coming - even on the first LP.
How do you view the underground of today compared to four years ago?
Things have changed a bit - superficially, in that there's more "guitar" music that's popular now, and the cassette scene has died a little (with honourable exceptions). More importantly, some things are more organised. "Underground" magazine is a good example of that. There was never anything like that (in the U.K. ) before. Independent music has diversified and yet it can be unified in one publication. I'm pleased with that.
As a band, where do you stand on moral issues; disarmament, abortion, etc.?
We've always supported Animal Rights - as you know, going on benefit LP's and doing gigs for Greenpeace, too. There's so many causes, you can't devote time to every one! It's good if people choose one or two and make a stand that counts for something. I think that's better than everyone (that cares) making a half-hearted effort at everything! Disarmament?! I can't understand why people want any weapons, so, of course, it's bad, but complicated when there's people running wild with dogma's and machine guns. Abortion? I think that is an individual right to choose, especially a female one. Government has no rights. What feels more pain, a few-week-old foetus, or a few years old cow/sheep/pig ready for slaughter?
You've not exactly been colloquial, gig-wise; what foreign markets have you been particularly successful in?
We haven't played a lot in the U.K. lately. It would be good if we could change that. The scene is so bad here. I guess people have no money. I understand that, but it's a lot better for us, in, say, West Germany, Holland, even France and Norway. There seems to be a lot more enthusiasm to support good bands - they don't seem to follow trends to the same extent there (but of course some do!). There's more money for "luxuries"! But, then, some luxuries you need!
What advice would you give to any band starting up?
Every band has different aims and ideas! But if you believe in what you are; what you are doing, then there will be no rewards (amen!). No, just look further than your own town, or your country (it isn't yours anyway!). It's hard work, but build up your music and your contacts (so important) and the name will spread - try every avenue (there are so many - and there are no rules!) ...and never underestimate custom officials!!! Etc., etc...
What is the Attrition philosophy on life?!
There's no band philosophy! Mine is in the words - "That's what they're there for!!". So, you'd best look there (I haven't worked everything out perfectly yet - can't you tell! I've come a long way, though).
How does Britain compare with abroad - in terms of music, and life in general?
There's more diversity of "independent" music in a lot of "mainland" Europe - otherwise, it's similar to the U.K., apart from the fact that countries like Norway are much, much richer! Every country has its own good and bad things - that's why it's so good to travel and meet people; it opens your eyes to a lot of different ways - it does change your own ideas, too. There's so many places I haven't been to yet - I look forward to that!
You were on an Animal Rights record with some "Big names" - did that get you as much positive feedback as you had hoped; in terms of being shown to be a caring band, and also regarding your musical credibility?
Our address wasn't on that LP, so we didn't get personal letters, but a lot of favourable reviews for our tracks (a re-recording of "Monkey in a Bin", our first 12"). The record (CD/cassette) sold a lot. I know it did 40,000 in the U.S. alone (I've sold one or two things there myself, literally one or two... - Ed.), and then an new version was released for the rest of the world. It was good for us, but, more importantly, good for the old animals!!
How did that record offer come about?
We originally did that song for another "Artists for Animals" LP ("Abuse" on Slip Records, U.K.) alongside Madness/Style Council, etc. It didn't sell a lot because it was on a small U.K. label - then Wax Trax contacted us to use our track on their LP.
In terms of sales, how have your LPs sold?
Each one has sold progressively more - I don't know about "Take Five" yet (communication with the Italian label is a bit sporadic). Our archive LP, "The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts", did 2,500, but has sold out and will be repressed soon. We've broken into new places a lot more recently, so we're expecting our next LP to do a lot more!
The mixture of contrasting vocal styles is effective. Was this contrived or just a progression?
The vocal style just developed, of course!
Media coverage must be increasing all the time (!). What radio play, TV exposure, music press coverage have you had in the last twelve months - of especial note?
We're often doing local radio interviews in the countries we visit and getting plays for our records all over. We get a lot of reviews in music magazines and fanzines around the world, too. We've only had cable TV exposure so far. We do need wider exposure on a more national (press/radio/TV) and international level - but we're working on that!
Are venues adequate in the U.K., for a band like yourselves, especially one with a lot going on?
It can be a pain setting up slides/films, etc. Smaller venues aren't too interested in cluttering up anywhere other than the stage. The P.A.'s can be bad, too - we usually play much bigger clubs in Europe where this isn't (usually) a problem.
Where do you see music five years on; Morrissey said pop will die - do you agree?
There's always been "pop" songs for hundreds of years! Only the styles change ! Of course, it will again, so in a way, he's right, but then again... It's not really something worth worrying about - it would disappear tomorrow if nobody wanted it at all!
The "Take Five" mini LP is out on Supporti Fonografici, Viale Coni Zugna 63, 20144, Milano, Italy. The tracks I've heard, thus far, are very impressive.
"Take Five", the title track is powerfully harmonic with nuances of, dare I say it, Yazoo, though more stronger than anything that band put out. The deep vocals intertwined with the higher vox works especially well on the mega-dramatical "This Final Push", beautifully haunting, my fave Attrition track of all. "Shotgun" is more brassy orientated, with piano. Good dance track, but never reaching the vacuous level of a lot of dance music, some pretty nifty vox, too.
Plans to play Warsaw in April!
Discography (to collect...)
|The Attrition of Reason||LP||1984|
|The Voice of God||12" EP||1984|
|Smiling, At the Hypogonder Club||LP||1985|
|The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts||LP||1986|
|Death House||Soundtrack LP||1987|
|Take Five||Mini LP||1987|
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