As promised, here is my email interview with Simon Indelicate. As expected, he gives thought-provoking, articulate answers – enough to stimulate many further intellectual debates. He did The Indelicates’ b(r)and proud.
Remember to go over to The Indelicates’ Corporate Records, pay for the privilege of listening to their music, and then if you’re so inclined, participate in their Versions Project, which you can find out more about at their website.
CTRR: This latest album is full of references to decadence, especially that of the 20s and 30s, musically and lyrically. What draws you to the ostentatious display of privilege for songwriting material?
SI: I think it’s fear. The defining feature of the 20s and 30s was really the way that they ended – with thuggish racists taking over whole countries and leading the world to the edge of destruction. Being a floaty intellectual in Weimar Berlin didn’t help at all, being young and drink-sodden didn’t help, reading academic theory didn’t help, romanticism did help but it helped the wrong side – in short, people like me doing things like I do, were utterly ineffectual in halting the advance of the worst thing that ever happened in the world. I find that scary and interesting.
Now I don’t want to say that any of this is fair or accurate – but when you’re at an upper middle class, libdem-voting party in Brighton and someone starts talking about ‘Jewish Power’ being a tangible force in global politics that needs to be challenged or when you see pop singers romanticising their nationality in near wagnerian terms or you see a parade of artificially kooky women neglecting the real world in favour of a silly pseudo-feminine dreamscape made of tits – you think about Unity Mitford and Sally Bowles and those liberal Germans who found Hitler such a fascinating dinner party guest and those German kids who found him boring and irrelevant and you start to wonder…
CTRR: Are there similarities between today’s “doomed youth” and “the young and the damned” of the early 20th century? Are they different? Discuss.
SI: I seem to have got ahead of you there. hmmm. Obviously, calling a song about methadone pretty tosspots in Hoxton ‘anthem for doomed youth’ is heavily irony laden and sarcastic – but this whole album is a more personal thing (when we use ‘I’ on this one, we generally do mean ourselves) and that song is a self-indictment as much as anything else: It’s all very well feeling hard done by because you can’t legitimately rebel against a broadly functioning society without a plausible radical alternative – but, hey, you could be having your cock shot off in Ypres, so cheer up…
I never do though – the lack of legitimacy makes it worse. winking smiley face.
There is a point to be made about the difference between today’s counterculture and it’s antecedents – it’s very easy to drop out now (and as easy to drop back in again with barely a blip on the CV) but you can’t really be Lenny Bruce without being prosecuted for obscenity, you can’t be Allen Ginsberg if bumming is legal, you can’t be Rosa Luxembourg and live. So I don’t trust the revolutionary heroes of the oxbridge dominated presses – there’s never been any risk in it. I suspect that the best minds of our generation are largely unheard behind the cacophony of careerism and networking.
CTRR: Your lyrics and music are socially engaged and espouse critical thinking, but at the same time there’s a strong vein of the romantic and anthemic. Are they both equally necessary for you?
SI: I would hope that we’ve never done romantic without undermining it in some way – it shouldn’t be forgotten that swooning entails a loss of consciousness. But yes, we have to admit to indulging in it a bit – you can’t really help it with music, it just sort of happens.
CTRR: You’ve written songs about specific people like Unity Mitford, Jeff Buckley, Pete Doherty, and now Patty Hearst. What attracts you to a particular public figure when writing a song? Are they generally exemplary of specific issues or did you choose these people for more of their idiosyncratic qualities?
SI: More often than not, songs will develop from a specific thought rather than from a broad set of intents; so, with Jeff Buckley, I was watching some 100 best songwriters of the 90s ever programme and listening to some pundit explain exactly what would have happened if he hadn’t died and it all seemed to have veered into the realm of hokum and soothsaying, because he was good at singing, Jeff Buckley, but ‘what if’ scenarios are reason’s wanks and no one’s more than just a person… hence song. You start narrow and aim broad.
the Patty Hearst one is a little different because it’s really not about her to any great extent. For one thing, it’s factually inaccurate, the SLA never ran guns to savages – that was this bloke in Brighton who I vaguely knew and who used to take guns to Papua New Guinea and then come back to the anarchist club to soak up praise for, essentially, being an arms dealer. It’s a song about a number of specific people like that – of whom Hearst is, as you say, an exemplar.
It is fascinating, the Patty Hearst thing though, especially when you consider that the terrorists we get nowadays are generally from prosperous backgrounds. There’s something about that bored, monied drawl coming out of a tape recorder to attack the ‘fascist insect’ and justify bank robberies. It’s so cool, so appealing and yet there was that innocent woman who got killed…
CTRR: This latest album features a wider palette of musical genres. Did the lyrics influence which genres you used?
SI: sort of. I mean, things like Roses and Be Afraid of Your Parents are about as close as we come to outright pastiche. but a lot of how the album sounds is down to having a long time to record it and being able to ponce about in a studio trying things out and recording ourselves goosestepping down corridors to use as percussion. Most of the arrangement was done on the fly and I think that, as much as anything, is why the genre shifts so much. The first record was done in a big hurry with a bunch of songs that we’d been playing live for two years. This time we had no idea what album we were going to make until we made it.
CTRR: You’ve decided to release a music video for each track on Songs for Swinging Lovers. Would you consider this a branding strategy to augment your already impressive “multidisciplinary” approach to selling music?
SI: The thing about music is that there’s loads of it. It is an abundant resource. The things that music does – provide an atmospheric backdrop, support dancing with rhythm and produce emotions unrelated to the immediate circumstances – are also abundantly available. There are billions of people in the world and millions of them can make music – the idea that any of them are special is pretty hard to support. And yet music continues to have a a market value. This clearly cannot be derived from its intrinsic quality as taste is variable and there are clearly others who can supply the same basic service as the highest valued music. The fact has to be then, that music acquires value from something tangential to itself: in other words, you’re not buying the music, you’re buying the fame. The fame is the whole of the work. Everything every band does is branding- I think you can do good things in that medium. So videos, books, economics lessons in interviews – we’re all about that now – if the brand is the art, then we want to make the best brand we can and we are proud to offer our range of Indelicates Lifestyle Enhancement Products.
I’m partly joking, of course, but I was reading an article the other day suggesting that the corresponding obligation to the right of digital freedom is to produce as much data as you can yourself. People should have free access to data but should feel a duty to contribute original data themselves – I like that idea. Lots of videos feels right.
CTRR: You have been very articulate about your opinions on the shift in the music industry, as well as on opposing the Digital Economy Bill (something I, too, am very much in opposition to, and I watch the proceedings of ACTA with equal frustration). Is this paradoxical conflict between information as capital and information’s immateriality down to a basic issue of incorrect metaphors and language? A way for money-hungry industry/government types to warp reality back into a past state that can’t be applied to current remediations?
SI: Yes, I think you’re right to an extent, there’s a real problem of maps being mistaken for territory in all this – information isn’t capital, it’s an abundant commodity that can be capitalised in the right context: when things get stuck in established categories they can very quickly become obscure. But also, I think, there is a real change in the economic realities that underpin the transfer of digitally encoded information – everything about it that was limited by profit-generating scarcity has become abundant and the only truly scarce resources left for the recording industry to exploit are nostalgia and sentimentality – hence all the handwringing about ‘record store day’ and all other processes that commodify and fetishise what really just amounts to shopping.
The whole business of copy and digital rights will have to be rethought by people who understand it.
CTRR: When I was taking my MA, I had an epiphany (rather belated, perhaps) about the necessity of rhetoric to to help us function in the face of too much information and not enough expertise. In the current climate of “universal” information access and an explosion of DIY art to be made immediately available to a global audience, how important are rhetoric and effective filters?
SI: I don’t have much time for expertise – it tends to be a distorting factor in the weighing up of information, there are no worse arguments than those which take the form ‘this expert says this, so there’ – especially now, in music, where the ability to hear the thing being described is so immediate. In many ways, those who know most about music are the least qualified to predict what a particular individual will enjoy listening to; a film reviewer who attends 5 press screenings a week and doesn’t read children’s books, for example, is entirely unqualified to tell a harry potter fan whether they’ll like the deathly hallows film. In that sense at least, I think people are quite capable of filtering the information themselves, finding particular bloggers who tend to agree with them, listening to albums that artists they like recommend… Expertise comes collaboratively from interaction not from any authority.
Rhetoric though, yes, I think I see what you mean – the assembling of thoughts into memorable phrases can clarify things as people go about the business of filtering their own data. I don’t think it creates opinion, but it probably helps to give it a form that makes it easier to share.
CTRR: Has the Internet merely exposed how much the average person values art?
SI: I think it has exposed the disparity between value and price. I wouldn’t want to live without Paradise Lost – as such, I value it highly, but I’ve never paid more than about £2.50 for a copy of it – that doesn’t necessarily mean I value it any less, just that value is expressed in broader terms than money.
CTRR: Would you ever plan a larger North American tour (including Canada, of course)?
SI: We’ve been planning one forever (we called the first album American Demo, after all) but cost is a massive issue and the benefits of being free from a record company do have to be set against the lack of tour support. If you or anyone reading knows a booking agent in the states who wants to book a viable tour for us – please feel free to send them stuff and ask them for us – it’s only the money that’s keeping us away :)