Interview with Momus

Momus Interview By Todd E. Jones

Momus (a Scot called Nick Currie) is truly one of the most eclectic and unique artists in the world. His debut LP “Circus Maximus” (on El Records) got the attention of Alan McGee (Creation Records). After that, it was a snowball effect. Momus released 7 albums on Creation Records (Poison Boyfriend, Tender Pervert, Don’t Stop The Night, Hippopotamomus, Monsters Of Love, Voyager, & Timelord) and even had a top 10 indie hit with “Hairstyle Of The Devil”. The musical styles vary on his albums from acoustic guitar-driven tracks to minimalist electro-pop to feminine disco to lush synths. “Hippopotamomus” not only received a “0” out of “10” from the NME but the song “Michelin Man” had to be removed from the album because of a lawsuit. After the end of Creation Records, the Momus LPS were almost impossible to find. (“Hippopotamomus” went for $50 on Ebay.) These days, Momus is very busy. His latest album “Oskar Tennis Champion” was released on his own label, American Patchwork. Finally, Creation LPs are being re-released! Also, he is releasing a double CD compilation called “Forbidden Software Timemachine” that is a superb collection of the Creation tracks from the 80’s and 90’s. With a perverted mind and elegant voice, Momus always did his own thing. Constantly creative and constantly evolving, the music of Momus is creative, weird, wild, sexual, but most of all…. cool!

T.JONES: How are you doing?

MOMUS: Fine, thanks.

You have a new compilation album out that collects many tracks from Creation Records. Tell us about it.

It’s called “Forbidden Software Timemachine”. It’s a double CD set. It lifts three or four tracks from each of the seven Creation albums. I had to make some tough choices — is ‘Sex For The Disabled’, a song about Thatcherism, still relevant? (Answer: no. Who remembers Thatcher?) Which is better, ‘I Was A Maoist Intellectual’ or ‘How Do You Find My Sister?’ (Answer: ‘How Do You Find My Sister?’ Less narcissistic.) Taken all together, I think it’s a strong record. Eventually, we’re hoping to be able to release all the Creation albums on Analog Baroque.

What was your favorite album released on Creation Records?

Of my own records, you mean? The definitive one is probably ‘Tender Pervert’. Something clicked with that one. Its mottos are ‘Give me the ability to rage correctly’ and ‘Circumcise the foreskin of your heart’. Well, I got circumcised and I raged correctly on that record.

Your first LP Circus Maximus was released on Cherry Red. How did you end up on Creation?

“I don’t know, really. Mike Alway just told me one day that Alan McGee had seen me in the NME or something, and liked ‘Circus Maximus’, and was interested having me on Creation. I think Mike knew that I was never going to make money or get famous on el Records, so he let me go in a very good-natured way. I think he felt he was standing in the way of my ambition. And in a sense I was standing in the way of his, because he wanted to be a cross between a ringmaster and a patisseur. He wanted to be standing in the centre of his own circus ring, whipping pastries.”

Why did you choose Creation (as opposed to 4AD or Cherry Red)?

I chose them all at different times. 4AD was trendy in 1982. Creation was trendy in 1986. I always like to be on trendy labels when they’re just about to peak.

What was your first meeting with Alan McGee like?

Alan was the same age as me, but he seemed like my dad. He did all the talking. He said I was going to appeal to Face readers. He told me the music business in London was run by 100 individuals and he knew 90 of them. He took me to a coffee bar off the Clerkenwell Road, then to celebrate the deal we went to Burger King on Chancery Lane and he paid for my burger, joking that it was my advance. Actually, it wasn’t a joke.

How did Alan McGee or the rest of Creation Records influence the recordings?

There wasn’t really any direct pressure. Alan always said ‘Be as arty and obscure as you like. You don’t need to put any type on the cover.’ He did persuade me to work with a producer on my first Creation album, though, which I didn’t really want. As a result, that album, ‘The Poison Boyfriend’, is a bit bland and professional, with session musicians. But I think Creation’s main influence was just a certain Scottish thing we all had, of being hungry young Scots on the make in London. It was like being Poles in Berlin or something. We all wanted to get rich and fuck beautiful women.

You toured with many artists from Creation Records. Which artist did you have the most profound experience with?

Contrary to the mythology, I really enjoyed touring with Primal Scream. The way they threw the backstage open to the audience at the end of the show for a ‘party’, which basically meant for the selection of girls, was quite a revelation. I found Bobby very charismatic, although I didn’t like some of his hangers-on. And the rest of the Scream were, literally, a scream, with their tales of the Gorbals. It was like Irving Welsh before Irving Welsh.

What was it like touring with Lawrence and Felt?

Lawrence was super-neurotic, just as I’d been told he would be. He was supposed to share a room with me but refused after he heard I’d broken the hygienic seal on the toilet. He didn’t like cheese, and made a big deal of waiting outside the restaurant until someone came out to report that there was no cheese on the premises. He was shooting a super 8 movie out of the van window of ‘Nice Girls’. He seemed like a narcissist and a nutter. One part Andy Warhol, one part your retarded cousin Kev. Felt’s music, at the time, struck me as rather boringly melancholic and trad, like Primal Scream’s. They both got a lot better in the 90s, with Denim and mark two Scream.

What do you think of the Poptones label?

Don’t really know the records. Mike Alway’s sleeves were nice. And it was good to see Alan putting out some reggae.

Did Alan McGee ever approach you to work with Poptones?

No way, man!

Your LP Hippopotamomus received a 0 out of 10 from the NME. How did Creation react to this?

I don’t remember any reaction whatsoever. Alan liked the sleeve but not the record. Dick was probably off at a meeting with Sony or something. Everybody was off their heads on ecstasy, including Laurence the press officer. The only ‘industry’ person I remember discussing it with was Nicky Kefalas, my plugger. I told her I wanted to make the most perverted album ever recorded and she said ‘Cool, I think you should go for it!’

On your website, you said that Timelord was an LP that shot itself in the foot. Can you explain that further?

I had this album that had stuff like ‘London 1888′ and ‘Quark And Charm, the Robot Twins’ on it. It was ‘sci-fi melodrama’ and ‘toybox techno’. There was a big influence from classic schizo comic strips like Krazy Kat, from Mishima, and from the sound of the Nintendo Gameboy. But then I fell in love and my girlfriend got sent to Bangladesh for an arranged marriage, and I wanted to make the album a sort of love letter to her. I felt like I was Thomas Jerome Newton in ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’, and I could never see my wife again, but at least I could make an album which she would hear on the radio on her distant planet, and she would know I loved her. So I took off all the happy songs and the time travel songs, and just left miserable, lost laments. I find it hard to listen to now, but some of it has a grand, tragic, unearthly beauty.

It also states that Timelord was the end of the line for Creation. Can you expand on that?

Because when I ran off with my Bangladeshi bride, her heavy brothers and ex-fiancé came round to Creation full of threats and Creation freaked out and dropped me. They were already super-paranoid because of the drugs, and they didn’t really need me on the label. McGee called me up and said it wasn’t so much the episode as my attitude to it, which had been ‘Don’t worry about those guys, their bark is worse than their bite’. Anyway, the record worked in the sense that I triumphed in my personal life, marrying my sweetheart and going off to live in Paris. And that led to professional success too. That’s where I wrote the biggest selling songs of my career, the stuff Kahimi Karie sang, that sold like hot cakes in Japan and made me tons of money.

What were some Creation bands you liked?

My Bloody Valentine I think were completely great, in a class of their own. I liked Pete Astor’s solo stuff. To be honest Creation wasn’t really my kind of label. In the late 80s I was listening to Tom Waits and S Express and Serge Gainsbourg and Wim Mertens and Holger Hiller. I’d done the guitar bands thing in the early 80s, wanting to be on Postcard Records and forming a band with Josef K. By the late 80s I would have been happier, and fitted better, on Mute.

Other than your LPs, what do you think is the essential Creation Records LP?

I’d have to say an album that never appeared on Creation, ‘Psychocandy’. Everybody seems to have thought it was on Creation! It seems to have defined the label, the sound and the attitude, somehow.

Looking back at the Creation recordings, would you change anything?

I wouldn’t have worked with producers and session musicians so much. The demos had something magical about them which isn’t always there on the final recordings. McGee always liked my demos. He told me he kept them, and that I was the only artist whose demos he had stored away. We were going to do an album of demos called ‘Songs In Soft Pencil’.

Tell us about your new album Oskar Tennis Champion.

It was recorded in Tokyo, in Nakameguro. It fuses musique concrete with vaudeville. It’s got a sort of Gilbert and Sullivan feel, if you could imagine them working with Stockhausen. My Stockhausen was a 22 year old de-mixer from Michigan called John Talaga. He fucked the recordings up, ‘re-produced’ them. When I finished the album I said to myself: ‘This record will win the Mercury Prize, no question!’

You have 2 labels now. American Patchwork and Analog Baroque. Why did you choose to start these labels and what was it like?

Analog Baroque is just an identity I have within Cherry Red. I’m allowed to sign other artists. Actually I’m more excited these days by the idea of putting out DVDs of people’s digital photos, because Cherry Red have a DVD division. American Patchwork is a manufacturing and distribution deal I have with Darla in California. They were hoping I would sign some big Stereo Total-type pop bands. But I signed all these weird synth folk groups like The Gongs and Super Madrigal Brothers instead. Neither label has made any money yet. My taste is just too weird, it seems. But I do think I recognize talent, and I’m glad to have got some people heard who wouldn’t otherwise be.

On Creation, your sound changed from a more acoustic guitar sound to electronic. Was this a conscious choice or something that just happened?

I was the Beck of the 80s! I had my folky side, and my pastichey-electro side. I was into Kraftwerk and Prince as much as Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. Creation went electronic in the early 90s, just a year or so after I did. I think I moved in a Chicago / Detroit direction sooner than they did because I toured with The Beloved and The Shamen after Biff Bang Pow dropped out of our French tour in 88. I came back to London and started buying Kevin Saunderson records and mixed those rhythms into ‘The Hairstyle of the Devil’. The idea was to mix Detroit house rhythms with French chanson chords, which, by chance, ended up sounding very much like the Pet Shop Boys and New Order.

You moved from France to NYC to Japan. Where are you living now? Where will you be living next?

I’m in Berlin now, and I plan to stay here because I like the avant garde art, the low rents, the politics, the bread and the beer. But I’ll be spending the summer in Tokyo.

What do your parents (and family) think of your music?

I think my brother and sister quite like it, although their taste in music is stuff like 2ManyDJs. My mother, to my surprise, went out and bought ‘Oskar Tennis Champion’ at Virgin in Edinburgh. She liked the Scottish vaudeville songs like ‘The Laird of Inversnecky’, and bawdy, Robert Burns-type lines like ‘Because I have Scottish lips you are dancing a fling in your knickers’. She said the record was better than Mull Historical Society’s album, which she bought because she’s a historian of the isle of Mull.

What is the biggest mistake you made in your career?

Well, I really believe that the most important thing you can have is a ‘right to make mistakes’, a ‘license to err’ (and even to ‘um’). Without that, there can be no experiment, no adventure, no advance in music. The more mistakes, the longer the career! I’ve had twenty years of glorious mistakes.

What do you honestly think of Oasis?

I’m enough of a T Rex and Beatles fan to think Noel stole some quite good moments here and there from their records. And Oasis as a sort of Dickensian parody of working class riff raff is quite funny. Bill Sykes-type rogues in cravats, stabbing people in the fog at the docks. Noel is so blunt and so cunning. Liam is so pretty and so vicious. Smooth criminals! But I have to say that Noel completely misses the essence of Marc Bolan and John Lennon, which is sex and art. Oasis are reactionary opportunists, cheap copyists making ‘all their own work from their own memory’. But it’s far too late and it totally misses the point. Nobody will remember them in twenty years. They’ll be like Edwardian sopranos who sold millions of wax cylinders but whose names now mean nothing. I think Noel would probably agree with me.

You are known not to be into drugs but Creation Records had tons of drugs everywhere. Did you feel like an outsider? Were you tempted?

No. I’m too nonconformist to take drugs. I have an agenda, a vision, and I’ve got to deliver it to the world on a shoestring. Drugs would get in the way, drugs would distract and divert me and destroy my mission, with all its tight economies of scale. McGee used to say ‘There’s this drug called ecstasy and you’re going to love it’ and I’d just smile. I’d be at some big Creation party where everyone was on ecstasy, and I’d be straight, soberly seducing beautiful girls with big wide pupils. I was probably having the most extraordinary time of all, just witnessing the madness in a normal frame of mind.

Why do you think Creation Records ended?

I’d imagine Alan is the typical entrepreneur, addicted to risk. Once the label got established, it got boring. What was he supposed to do, manage Sony’s portfolio for them? Alan’s a punk at heart, and punk was never about long-term stability and institutionalization. He once said to me ‘The worst thing that could happen to you, Nick, is getting a hit single’. Change that to ‘a multi-platinum selling group’ and I think he was talking about himself.

Did you think it should have ended?

Oh yes, I think Alan did the right thing.

Do you think something should have been done differently?

I wish it hadn’t been so two-tiered. Creation was basically one group in division one and then a bunch in division two. The one group in the 80s was Primal Scream, and in the 90s Oasis. I mean, I understand why that happened, especially now I run labels myself. I just wish there could be true pluralism and diversity in the world, and at record labels. Pluralism and diversity together with stability, so that people can all mutate and evolve in their own directions, at their own speeds, instead of what actually happens: everybody trying to cling to a shooting beanstalk being hacked down by a giant.

You are good friends with Lawrence from Felt / Go-Kart Mozart / Denim. Will you ever collaborate on a project?

Absolutely not. He’s a genius (crossed with your cousin Kev) but I’ve seen the grief he causes over the exact positioning of a barcode.

Word association time. I am going to say a name of an artist and you say the first word that pops into your head. So, if I said Bobby Gillespie, you may say Drugs or Scotland. Ok?

Primal Scream
Halibut

Felt
Hessian

Jasmine Minks
Furs

Oasis
Drought

Eminem
Impersonator

Richard Ashcroft (from The Verve)
Insufferable

Severed Heads
Bosch

Gil-Scott Heron
Committed

The Roots
Plastic

Ween
Irony

What happened to your relationship with Le Grand Magistry? Your last LP (Oskar Tennis Champion) was not released on that label.

There was no falling out, it ended very much like my relationship with el (which is appropriate, because Matt was emulating Mike in many ways). Matt didn’t know if he was going to continue with Magistery, but told me that Darla would be interested in giving me my own label. When September 11th happened, Matt, who’d been subletting my apartment, left New York, got married and went to live in some remote part of Canada. He just sort of disappeared off the map. And I think our tastes diverged. I was getting more into art, conceptual games and insincerity, he was into twee, slick, heart-on-your-sleeve pop.

Didn’t you find it somewhat ironic that you ended up back at Cherry Red?

Not really. They’re always there, they never get bigger or smaller, in that way they’re like me, survivors. They make things work on a modest and manageable level. They won’t go bust and they won’t get bought out. That’s actually incredibly rare in capitalism, a company that can stay at the same level, neither expanding nor contracting, and just let you work and develop. Creation couldn’t manage it, Mute couldn’t manage it.

What is next for Momus?

The Creation compilation, touring Japan, helping poet Jeremy Reed write a book about my work, maybe making a musical based on ‘The Wicker Man’ for the London stage…

Any final words for the people who will be reading this?

Thanks for pressing play!

Thank you Nick!

Interview: April 2003