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Interview with Martin Atkins of Pigface - conducted by telephone - 12/2/97



Jester: Where did you come up with the idea to do the spoken word tour that you are currently embarking on?

Martin: There are several things that fueled the whole concept. The first is that I am very shy, so doing a tour like this helps me deal with that issue. Secondly, whenever I am on the road with Pigface, I am not able to spend time talking to people. With Pigface I am responsible for twenty odd people and it costs us $4,000 a day to tour. The added issue of being always behind a drum kit onstage surrounded by scenery. Ultimately it takes almost an entire day to set up all of the equipment through which I express myself as Pigface.

When I do spoken word I just walk into a record store or a venue and begin talking. It is really a very raw sensation. There is absolutely nothing between me and the people with whom I want to communicate. Essentially it is the other side of the coin from that which is the insanity of a Pigface tour. Going out on a tour like this really focuses my mind, prods me to read some of the things that I've written and learn from some of the mistakes that I have made. It turns out to be quite healthy.

You also need to understand that I don't do spoken word because places like Seattle need to know what I have got to say. I would be some kind of an asshole if I felt like that. I do my spoken word because by putting a bunch of people in a room with lights on, no security, and no instruments, if I read things for about 45 minutes then people begin to get used to making eye contact with me. Hopefully the event will escalate or degenerate into a conversation. Then that is when I get a buzz.

Usually people end up asking questions about Trent Reznor, Al Jourgensen, Johnny Rotten or Killing Joke. This is fine because it then takes us to another level of communication. I've been in record stores three hours after they were supposed to close because we have been talking about deep issues like the meaning of life. I do it because it is a blast.

Jester: Is Pigface going to be touring in 1998?

Martin: Yes, but it will be more of a label tour than just a Pigface tour.

Jester: Who all is going to be on that tour?

Martin: As many people on the Invisible roster as possible. At the moment I am trying to get Mick Harris to come over so we'll see. I think it could be really great if he does.

Jester: Why did you choose to write most of the new Pigface album without so many people in the studio getting in the way?

Martin: I think that I had more of a personal focus this time around on the music itself. Pigface has always been a controlled catastrophe at times which has always made it exciting but there were so many moments on the previous records that when I looked back on them I was not satisfied with the results. I got tired of feeling that way, so this time around rather than having ten people in the studio at once, I would lay down a bed of sounds and then have just one person contribute to the track at a time. Then I would refine each contribution as every individual added their own personal additions and each stage of the process ended up more focused.

Jester: "A New High in Low" also marks the first time that you released a double album of Pigface material. What motivated that?

Martin: It came down to the fact that there were two very different musical moods in the material. I simply could not see placing 'Train' at the end of the first CD and calling that an album. Both CD's wanted to be 73 minutes in length because of their moods. So the artist in me decided to segregate the music so that people could put in either disc depending on their mood. A record for every occasion.

Of course it doesn't make any business sense whatsoever because it costs us an extra $2 for the double digi-pak with the extra CD inside. However that is what Invisible is about. We want to give the finger to major labels and their pathetic economic ground rules. Another example of the non-standard packaging was the Sheep on Drugs album with the digi-pak and the folded up newspaper inside. I love do stuff like that just because it doesn't make any business sense.

Jester: How do you manage to walk the line so well between the business of running the label and the artistic viewpoint of a musician?

Martin: If you have ever been a musician who just completed a new album and have waited a year for a major label to get back to you with their ridiculous opinions about what you should be doing with your music, then how does an artist function with that? So I'd rather take control of my own music than have to berate a label to send out a promotional package to a handful of key press people who just don't happen to make the grade in the minds of the label. I just don't need to be the human post-it for an A&R representative at a major label so I simply did it myself.

I'd much rather threaten a promoter with the cancellation of a show because their PA isn't the quality promised in the written contract than sound horrible because the PA sucks. Ultimately it comes down to performing a ridiculously large amount of work, but I'd rather do that work every day than have my music pissed upon by people who don't have a clue about what they are doing.

Jester: I think you are doing an excellent job at that right now. Invisible seems to be exploding this year.

Martin: Thank you! We have just finished up the schedule for February 1998. We are signing license deals with lots of other record labels. We just signed a deal with Mick Harris's label Possible and there are more labels on the way whose deals we haven't completed yet. I am also working on Ogre's new album right now and it has been nothing but a delight.

I am really happy with where the label is going and I think we are getting to a point where we have earned some trust with the public. We have done things like putting out double albums for the price of a single one. We have always tried to go the extra mile for our listeners. We are trying things easier and cheaper for people. I think that maybe we are finally getting to the point that people will choose a record on our label because they know how much work we have put into our products because we really do care.

Jester: Do you find it difficult working with a large distributor like Caroline who in essence take away some of the control from your label just to get music into stores?

Martin: I am curious about from where you have heard about distribution problems from Caroline?

Jester: I have heard about problems from both artists and labels in regards to Caroline in particular.

Martin: Really? Caroline is a big distributor in New York City and people are under huge pressures getting music into stores. It is the real world and people need to sell music to keep their jobs. I don' t think it is anyone's right to expect anything from anyone until you have earned it. So we work very hard to stay in touch with our distributors.

For example, I just spent time in Philadelphia and Baltimore in the same day. I stood in two different records stores doing my spoken word thing, giving away the new Drug Test Vol. III to anyone who bought an Invisible release that day, and sold a ton of our music that day. So I called up Caroline that day and asked them to restock both stores by tomorrow and they agreed. I actually go out and run my label by doing events like this which is more than I can say for a lot of labels.

We end up doing a million different promotional things for our label, so because we do stuff like that, I feel that I can expect a lot from my distributor and they deliver. Things are tight everywhere so you have to do everything just to stay ahead of the game. I pity anyone starting a label this year because I have plowed all of my money from Pigface, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, PiL, the Miami Vice soundtrack royalties, CD-ROM soundtracks, and Gravity Kills remixes into my label. In fact one of the only things I bought myself from a massive publishing advance five years ago was a single coffee cup that I still drink out of today. That's what it takes these days just to keep a label alive.

Jester: The basis of the complaints that I am hearing is that it seems like distributors make more money off of the music that they sell then the artists themselves do.

Martin: You don't have to go through a distributor to get your music into stores. About five years ago I used to call up small record stores and sell them music from my label via C.O.D. shipped UPS. You can always do direct sales, you don't have to go to a distributor.

It is very easy to have ten computers in the office, seven phone lines, a web site, and a FAX machine and think that you are communicating with the world. You are not truly communicating with people until you talk to them face to face and actually have physical contact with them. Phones, computers and a web site are great bit it's not real.

Jester: Who are the Girl Brothers? I have never heard of them before I read about them in the credits in the liner notes.

Martin: They are a fine example of Martin Atkins stepping from one pile of cowshit into another. It comes down to the fact that I was tired of always putting my name all over everything on a Pigface release. I do the artwork, the music and produce the records. For some reason I decided to leave my name off the record this time around and said that the Girl Brothers did it. Actually I had a bit of fun with that because some guy on the Internet was saying that the new Pigface album sounded fantastic because I had nothing to do with the production.

So I had my fun with that, however it turns out that the Girl Brothers are a publishing company. Their attorney contacted us and accused us of trying to sell thousands of extra albums because their name was contained in the liner notes. Luckily there isn't any information on the outside of the CD itself so their accusations were groundless. However I think that the next edition of the album will say that it was produced by Martin Atkins just to avoid the legal issue.

Jester: When did you first get involved with making music? When did you start playing drums?

Martin: I started playing drums when I was nine. I was in my first band when I was eleven. We were playing backing music for strippers when I was twelve. I played in seven bands before I left school. I got a job when I left school during the day and performed in a band called Money every evening. I turned professional when I was seventeen and moved to London where I got a job working for the government.

I joined PiL in 1979 and left them in 1984. Over the next few years I asked myself a lot of serious questions about being on the cover of major magazines, performing on large American television shows and having a large house in Los Angeles. That was obviously not success in my mind so I left that business and have been working on my own ever since.

Jester: Music has always been an essential part of your existence?

Martin: Yes. That and fucking with people. I always enjoyed doing things like conning someone like RCA Records into letting me into the building, momentarily putting on a suit, and playing their game while utilizing every opportunity to use their phones, FAX machines, mail department and Federal Express numbers for my own purposes. That is what Punk Rock was about back in 1977 and I think that what I am doing with Invisible Records today is the logical extension of the Punk Rock explosion in 1977.


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Last Modified: Monday, 24-Sep-2012 16:44:34 MST