The Mick Karn Tapes – Part 1 (from Bamboo 3)
A sunny yet cold afternoon in October, the ay prior to the release of the debut single from Dali’s car, “The Judgment is the Mirror.”
Bamboo (Howie, Vikii, and Debi) walk up a flight of stairs into the kitchen. There, sitting by the table, is Mick Karn. We shake hands and sit down.
(Tea and hospitality by Mick’s P.A. and girlfriend, Deli.)
Howie places the tape recorder on the table. Mick smiles and raises and eyebrow – well, the bit where the eyebrow should be!
Mick: Cor, you don’t muck about, do you?
Howie: No, I don’t!
Debi: How come there’re three of you (Dali’s Car), Paul Lawford as well, and he’s not in the press photos or anything?
M: Well he’s not in the band permanently. Dali’s Car is just me and Pete really, but he’s on the album. I should think we’ll use him live when we do some dates. I like the idea of changing drummers every time, as a bass player that’s what I rely on, to make it sound different every time.
D: How did you meet Paul Lawford?
M: Oh, I auditioned ages ago, just before we split up. I auditioned drummers for about two weeks, which was really boring, listening to drums every day, all day. But he was the only one who had something original.
Bamboo: He used to do something with The Scars, didn’t he?
M: Mm, yeah. And a band called Killer Whales. He was the only one who was original and young and willing to do something different. He’s been with me for about two years. It took another year before I met Pete and we got on with it.
D: Your single is released tomorrow, David’s got a single out too.
M: Yeah, I know. It’s really annoying but Virgin always does that, make it into a competition.
D: Do you think they do it deliberately?
M: I think so, yeah. There’s a Japan album due out, a double best of.
B: “Exorcising Ghosts” – what’s the point of that? We don’t see the point.
M: Nor do I, really. I don’t like that sort of album.
B: Whose idea was it? Virgin’s?
M: Mmm, completely, none of us knew anything about it. There’s a compilation video too, I don’t see the point of that either.
B: You’re from Cyprus – why did you come over to England and how old were you?
M: Well, for a better education. I was only 3. I’ve got a brother and sister who are older than me. At the time, she was 7 and my brother was 10. The idea was that we’d come over here, get well educated and go back, but I think I let the family down a bit. My brother and sister did alright. I think a little too much was expected of me when I went to school, because I went to the same school as my brother and the opposite thing happened. You tend to rebel when people expect too much. But I had a lot of difficulty because I couldn’t speak any English when I went to school and nobody could understand what I was saying either, I could only speak Greek, so I turned into the class clown. Keeping everyone amused was the only way to make friends if you can’t talk to them.
B: How did you meet the others, the very first time?
M: I was always at the front of the class making everyone laugh and David Sylvian, when we were in the same class together, in the second year – we must’ve been about 12 years old, used to be the quiet one in the corner at the back. So we were completely opposite, and I think it was that which drew us together. I was intrigued ‘cos he’d never laugh at my jokes. But I remember him saying to me, the first encounter, he turned round and said, “Why do you always make people laugh? You’re not really that happy inside, are you?” And I thought, “Hang on a minute, he’s right!” and that’s how we actually met and we tended to balance each other out. He calmed me down and I brought him out a bit, so we ended up in the middle of the class together.
B: And Steve?
M: Well, Steve and I met through Dave because he was his brother. We didn’t mix very much because he had his own bunch of friends at school.
B: And Richard?
M: Oh, Rich stayed at the front of the class, you know. He was the brains – he liked to pay attention and didn’t like the distraction me and Dave would cause. So when school ended, Rich got himself a good job at the bank. I think it was Barclays – he really enjoyed his job.
B: He certainly didn’t work at the Slough branch! What were your highest and lowest points as a group?
M: Lowest points? There were a lot of them! The lowest…we’d been together for a few years and been trying to tell people that we would one day be successful and no-one would believe us, of course. We’d met Simon (Napier-Bell) and got all the management contracts sorted out but we already had a trip to Germany that we’d worked out ourselves, that was offering us 2 weeks as a residency in a nightclub in Germany. We’d have somewhere to stay and get paid for it and we thought, “Great!”, what better experience before launching ourselves with Simon? Everybody warned us not to go as we didn’t need to do it anymore, but we felt adamant that we had to, ‘cos it was the first time we’d be going abroad. Anyway, it was absolutely terrible! We ended up sleeping in one room, 7 of us, full of cockroaches and we had to leave the lights on all day and night so the cockroaches wouldn’t come out and we had nothing to eat and it was quite hard going really. I don’t know why we went through with it. I think that’s the lowest we’ve ever been. It was quite good that the lowest we’ve ever been was just before we started properly.
The highest we’ve been was probably the first time we went to Japan, the shock of playing in front of all those people at the Budokan – you know what it’s like – after playing to 200 people at The Marquee. We weren’t warned at all, Simon didn’t tell us about the Budokan, he just told us we would be playing there. I understand now why he did that, but at the time we were really angry with him. If he’d told u we probably wouldn’t have been able to walk out there.
B: Two years on, do you regret the fact that you’ve gone your separate ways?
B: Not at all?
M: I tell you, the only thing I really regret is I keep wondering what the next Japan album after “Tin Drum” would’ve been like, because I don’t think any of us had a clue where we would’ve gone after that and it would’ve been interesting to see what would’ve come out of it.
B: Do you think you will do another LP together?
M: I very much doubt it, I don’t really think so.
B: It seems more of a possibility now than it did, say 18 months ago?
M: I think it seems less of a possibility now that it did, say 6 months ago. I think maybe 6 months ago we were all possibly contemplating it, but that’s always the way when something finishes. You always tend to look back and remember all the good parts and forget all the bad parts. That’s the only regret. That we didn’t stay together, for just one more time to see what would’ve happened.
B: Yeah, but maybe after that time you’d have thought the same.
M: Yeah, probably. It’s a Catch-22, you never find out. I don’t regret it because I think we all needed to break away from each other, to grow up individually.
B: Jim Capaldi tour. What can you tell us about it?
M: Oh, Jim Capaldi tour! How’d you remember that?!
H: I don’t!
M: Well, what can I tell you about it? It was a really good tour, we really enjoyed it. We were so inexperienced. The idea was that our management was going to sort out a few tours for us to support to gain experience. We did the Jim Capaldi tour and they were really nice to us. We really got on well together – it was like a dream come true really. We were going round to all these places, being well received and the band were good to us, but at the end of it, it wasn’t really enough experience…so that’s why we did the Blue Oyster Cult tour straight afterwards, which was a little more…severe!
B: Favorite show on the Sons of Pioneers tour for you?
M: Favorite show? Oh that’s really difficult, we went to so many places!
B: There must have been one outstanding show.
M: I think the London shows were special, the last couple of those, ‘cos it took us a few days to warm up – it always feels nice to come back to London.
B: So one of the Hammersmith shows?
M: Yeah, probably the last one and also Bangkok was an experience, such mayhem breaking out in the audience when they didn’t really know who we were 2 weeks before.
B: Over the past 2 years, your own personal highs and lows?
M: (laughs) My own!? Oh dear! Oh dear! That’s really difficult…that is so difficult…
B: What, no highs?
M: Well, yeah, but what I find a high now is not really what most people would find high. It’s obviously nothing to do with performing or anything like that, ‘cos I haven’t done any over the past two years. Highs for me when I actually write something that I’m really happy with, all on my own in a little room…at night. That makes me feel happier than anything else. Makes me feel relaxed…I can go to sleep. Lows? There’ve been lots of lows…(Mick pauses, deep in thought)
B: (laughs) Anything outstanding? (Mick joins in with the laugher)
M: Anything outstanding…
B: Coping with success has been difficult?
M: No, no, there hasn’t been any! (We all laugh) I think the lowest really came just before I met Pete. That was the lowest time in my career, ‘cos nobody wanted to know and I felt like that too. I didn’t really want to know. I didn’t really want anything to do with it.
B: Are you surprised by the loyalty of your fans and the fact that even though you’ve been finished as a band nigh on 2 years, you’re still picking up new fans?
M: Mmm, yeah. That is a surprise.
D: Through doing Bamboo, there’re so many people who’ve said, “I’ve only been a fan for the last 6 months, I only got into Japan when they brought out “Oil on Canvas”, etc.
M: That’s always surprised me.
B: It’s unusual to hear of someone picking up on Japan in the last 6 months when there hasn’t been anything.
M: It’s a shame they couldn’t see a tour or something.
B: Will you be playing Dublin as Dali’s Car?
M: Possibly, but we’re not making plans for touring until next year, after January. We don’t think the album will sell that much before Christmas, probably sell more after Christmas, so we can reassess where we stand in January and do a tour.
B: Dali’s Car, is it a short-term project or a long-term project?
M: It’s a long-term project, that’s the whole idea of why we thought of a name for it, we didn’t want to call it “Mick Karn and Peter Murphy”, that sounds like a short-term project to me. We wanted it to be something more serious that people would look at.
B: You’ve made a point to the press of saying that you are different. What we want to know is why are you different and what have you got to offer? We think a lot of other people will want to know that too.
M: Has it really been stressed in the press?
B: We think so.
M: In what way? In that we’re different from everyone else or different from how we used to be?
B: “Synonymous yet anonymous”?
M: Mmm, we’re not actually making a point. I just think it’s the impression people get when they talk to us. Umm, I’m just really tired of the music that’s going around at the moment. I find it really tiresome, boring and electronic…there’s absolutely no feeling in it at all, and all the things that go along with it. All the hype that you have to do – all the silly interviews that you have to do for the kids’ papers, things like that.
B: Yet, you’ve had to do that now?
M: No, not really. That’s what we’re trying to keep away from. We’re trying to approach this totally seriously. I think if anything, what people are picking up as being different when they interview us, is that we’re serious about what we’re doing and aren’t just in it for fame and fortune that I think most people are nowadays.
B: Why don’t you take the New Order approach and do no interviews at all?
M: Because I think it’s important to do some interviews. I think it’s important for myself as well. I don’t really think about what I’m doing until I’m asked about it, so it’s a way of finding out about myself.
B: So what have you got to offer, besides the single, album and a tour?
M: (laughs) Well, I’m hoping that’ll be enough for now!
B: How are you going to tour with just 7 songs?
M: There’s more in the pipeline, there’s more on the way.
B: Compositions between you, or will you be playing your own solo material?
M: No, no own material, it’ll be compositions between us.
B: What qualities do you admire in Peter Murphy?
M: He writes very visual lyrics. He writes words that instantly bring a picture to mind, rather than tell you a story or dictates anything in his words, but most of all, you are asking what we have to offer – I think the album we’ve made id based on feeling – it’s based throughout on the feeling that you’re left with when you listen to the album. When I first met Pete and gave him the instrumental tracks and they all had a certain feeling in them and it was up to him to take that feeling and make the lyrics have that feeling too. So that’s probably what I admire in him most, that he can do that, because that sounds really difficult to me.
B: Your instrumentals on “Titles” were very good.
M: Thank you. I prefer the instrumentals.
B: Is that the way the work is shared? You put down the music and Peter does the vocals and lyrics?
M: Yeah, I mean there’s a couple of times when that just hasn’t worked, because the track works as an instrumental, but not as a song. What I’m trying to say is that the tracks on the album are the ones where that works, where the feeling has gelled together, and it sounds like one thing. Because working separately you’re bound to have some that just don’t work and in fact there’s one on the album which is still an instrumental.
B: Are you finding it easier to work in the studio because we know you’re not a great lover of going in day and night and thrashing it out? How long did recording take in the end?
M: Mmm, we spent about 8 or 9 weeks. I really enjoy it a lot in the studio. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.
M: Mmm, I’ve changed a lot.
M: Why? Because I’ve become a bit more confident in what I’m doing and what I want to hear. So I’m not so afraid to try things out and spend days on them if they don’t work out. I used to be worried about people around me but now it’s a case of being the only one who can make the sound work.
B: If this is going to be a long-term project, we presume there won’t be too much solo work, or work with Midge Ure?
M: There might be some solo work but I don’t think there will much work with Midge, I think that’d take up too much time.
B: Are you familiar with any work by Salvador Dali?
M: Only the ones that everyone knows. I don’t particularly like his work. That wasn’t the intention of the title of the band, you know. It’s not because we like Dali.
B: Whose idea was it?
M: It was my idea to call it that. It’s from a lyric Pete wrote, one of the tracks on the LP is called “Dali’s Car” and I thought is sounded like a good name for a band because it doesn’t mean anything. We found out there’s a track by Captain Beefheart called “Dali’s Car”, which is by accident, it’s not because we like the music.
B: You’re favorite track from “The Waking Hour” and why?
M: I’ve got 2 favorite tracks actually. One is the instrumental called “Artemis.” I like that one because it was written around a backwards bass line, which is something I find a challenge and because it was done in one day. My other favorite is “Create and Melt” because of its instrumentation. I think both tracks sound slight Greek to me and I don’t know why but I’m pleased I don’t know why.
B: And Japan? Favorite album and track?
M: Favorite track, “Life Without Buildings”, definitely. Favorite album – ah, that’s difficult. Musically “Tin Drum”, but for actual memories, “Quiet Life.” That was the best time we went through while actually recording, so it means a lot to us.
B: You’ve probably got a retrospective view of what you achieved as a band now you’ve been apart for 2 years, so what do you think looking back now? What do you think were the good qualities of the band, what do you think you achieved?
M: Oh dear! I don’t think we had anything to do with the New Romantics and all that stuff the press tried to pin on us but I do think we were pioneers of something new in music. I think “Sons of Pioneers” said a lot of the way we feel.
B: “…Are Hungry Men?”
M: Well no, the Sons of Pioneers are hungry men. I think we all individually broke new ground with our instruments that hadn’t been broken before – I really believe that.
B: We honestly think Dali’s Car will go places, which is what you’re hoping for no doubt. If you did become incredibly successful, you wouldn’t think, “Oh God! I didn’t want this to happen!”
M: No. Because I’ve learnt so much from the past. It will happen in a different way no. It would be successful on the strength of what we’re doing, now what I look like or what magazines I’m in.
B: Whilst you were in Japan, the others dressed in the same style yet you went your own way. Why was that?
M: Well, I suppose I’ve always wanted to be different. None of us wanted to belong to a group of people, we’ve always like to look different, but I suppose I took it one step further and didn’t want to look like them.
B: You said in an old “B-15” interview that you wouldn’t tone down your appearance to gain commercial acceptance, yet I think it’s fair to say that you’re not quite as obvious as you were then?
At this point, Deli’s dog, Ocar, a lovely Alsatian, walks in and receives our attention. Mick pauses to consider his answer.
M: That’s very true, I remember that. Well, the whole idea of wearing makeup in the first place and trying to look different was to be individual. To show that we were different. It’s the most important thing in your life when you’re a teenager, is to prove that you’re an individual – it’s the main thing and one of the easiest ways to do that is with your appearance. But as you get older that doesn’t really matter. You can try and change your appearance all the time, but it still doesn’t change what’s inside your head. That’s what makes an individual, what’s inside your head, not what people see outside. I think I’ve become a lot more private with my individualism, I’d rather keep it to myself.
B: Who makes your clothes and who made your Pioneers tour suit?
M: Nobody makes my clothes. I buy them.
B: Where from?
M: Wherever I can find them. The tour suit was from Bastet. It’s a very over-the-top shop, but there’s usually one good suit in there. I don’t like people making clothes for me, I like to mix and match them from what I can find.
B: You had a lot of trouble with your management. Can you give us a brief outline?
M: Yeah, well, the brief outline…you know I released my solo LP whilst Japan were still together, so by the time band split up there were plans for me to go on tour, to be a singer in front of my backing band. These plans were made by the management and the record company and it was just the sudden realization that I was trying to be something that I wasn’t. I could never do that in a million years and I don’t want to do that. So I cancelled my contract with Virgin, which was a very good contract and proceeded to try and break away from the management as well – which I eventually did, because I didn’t want anything to do with the music business, or any of those people. I wanted it to be a fresh start after Japan – and it took me 2 years to come full circle and realize that the management I had was probably the best management in London, after seeing what everyone else had. So we patched thing up and did it under the terms I wanted, so I’m much happier with the management now.
B: What did you think of David’s album, “Brilliant Trees?”
M: Well, I was really surprised after the first hearing.
M: Because I couldn’t understand why the first track was so different. It really caught me by surprise. I didn’t like the first track (Pulling Punches), but I got to like the album as it went on. Side 2 I think is really good. But I think it get a little bit tiresome. I don’t think I could listen to it too often, you really have to be in a type of mood to listen to it.
B: Which is your favorite track from the album?
M: Ah, the last track (Brilliant Trees).
B: David’s exhibition – you’re pretty experienced in these matters – what did you think of the “Perspectives” exhibition?
M: Oh dear! I was a bit disappointed it wasn’t something a bit more original. As long as I’ve known Dave, he’s always been original if nothing else. So it was a bit disappointing seeing him do something that had been done before, although they were very well done. I prefer the ones where he actually draws in some of the picture that’s missing and I think I actually preferred Yuka’s photos of Dave.
B: Did he give you one, because he gave Rich one?
M: Yeah, he told me to choose one, I haven’t chosen one yet. I’ve told them all to choose a sculpture. The idea is that we all have bits and pieces of each others work, but only Steve’s chosen one yet.
B: Which one?
M: He’s chosen a new sculpture called “Lips”, which is now in his possession.
B: Going onto sculpture, this gallery of yours, when is it going to open?
M: The gallery? It’s something I still plan to do. The premises are still there. It’s something I want to devote a lot of my time to, and with this album, that wasn’t possible, so maybe next year I can get back onto that.
B: Why do you like sculpture? It’s the sort of thing where you’ve got to sit down and work at it and work at it, and that doesn’t really seem to be the sort of thing you’d do. You mentioned earlier that one of your favorite tracks on the LP was something you did in a day – so why sculpture?
M: Well, the reason that’s my favorite track wasn’t because it was done quickly and there wasn’t much work to it – it was because I relied purely on my instinct to tell me what to do next and what sounded right, rather than rely on all the technical facilities and all the options that you have in the studio. I limited myself to one track to listen to what I felt and that’s why I’m pleased with it. But with recording, as well as sculpture, my favorite part is as I say, when I’m on my own late at night, writing. It’s my favorite time because it’s mine, nobody’s heard it yet, it’s just mine and it’s the same with sculpture. If I’ve spent all day talking to the press or doing TV shows or being in a studio full of people, the last thing I want to do is go out to a nightclub full of people again. The most rewarding thing is to sit on my own with a slab of clay – it’s just the clay and me, no one else.
B: Where will you be spending Christmas, and what will you be doing?
M: I don’t really like Christmas that much. I don’t like the period coming up to it, all the decorations, it’s a hype really. I’ll probably be spending Christmas with friends, doing all the silly things that people do at Christmas, such as wearing silly hats and eating. I’m looking forward to the food.
D: God, it’s a wonder you’re not 16 stone!
H: How do you work off all this excess weight?
M: I worry. When I was young, when I first met Dave and everyone back at school, I used to weigh about 11 stone. I was only 4 foot 9 inches so I was taller sideways than upwards. (Laughter) But when I got to the age of about 15, I started worrying about everything and that’s still going on. It’s just nervous energy. I worry about everything and anything.
B: What are you getting the others for Christmas?
M: We’ve never tended to buy for each other at Christmas or birthdays. We tend to think that if you get a present when it’s not your birthday or Christmas, then it means a lot more than it does if it was one of these times when you have to give presents.
B: You did the “Whistle Test” with Angie Bowie. How did that come about? It was so funny, we just couldn’t stop laughing! The expressions on your face were just brilliant!
M: Oh! I’d love to see that again! That was weird – Angie and I have known each other for years.
B: How did you first meet – where and when?
M: Must’ve been 1978, just round a friend’s house, we used to keep strange company in those days. The friend happened to be a friend of Angie’s and she stayed about 2 weeks, we were staying there as well. An opportunity not to stay at home with your parents, we’d always jump to in those days. So we met her there. Then she went away for 3-4 years and when she came back we met up again. We’d been on the “Whistle Test” the week before as Japan, I think, and Angie was in the audience watching. After we’d finished we spoke to Mike Appleton, the producer, and he jokingly said, “You know it’d be great to get both of you on the show next week to do something together” and we thought, “That’s a stupid idea! There’s nothing we can do together, she doesn’t play an instrument and I can’t sing!” So we came up with this idea of playing along to her poetry, which he seemed to like. The expressions are probably because we didn’t have time to rehearse beforehand – I had some bass lines in mind – she had some poetry in mind and it was our first time to do it together – live on the show, which was very nerve-racking. So I think the expressions were looking at one another trying to know when one of us was going to finish…’cos she’d finish the poem and I didn’t know that it was over, so I carried on playing! (Everyone laughs)
B: Have you ever taken drugs?
M: Um, yes. Mostly when I was a lot younger, a teenager, 15-16. That was when we first started to hang around each other and not do anything else but, really. That’s me Dave and Steve. So I think that goes along with being young and wanting to experience as many things as you can. We virtually tried everything. There’s some things I’d never try, such as heroin. But I think it was necessary to try the others to satisfy your curiosity if nothing else.
B: How do you feel about it now?
M: Well, I know which not to take. I know which I didn’t like and which I don’t like. I think most of them are damaging anyway, mentally. You know the old idea that cocaine goes hand-in-hand with being a musician and working late at night? I don’t think that’s true at all. I think you lose your sense of judgment completely.
End Part 1