Interview with Paul Sadler of Big Electric Cat at EJ's, Portland, OR, September 6 by Peter Marks

Peter: Since there hasn't been a lot of coverage about your band, could you give a little biography about the band?

Paul: We formed four years ago. We started off originally as a five-piece band and we had a live drummer. We decided after playing a gig at which the drummer played, that we would try using a drum machine. And from there the band sort of took a left turn from being a dark pop band into a gothic band. Actually, the gothic label was stuck on us; we never intentionally wanted to be a gothic band.

Peter: Which I can definitely hear in the music. Your guitar stylings are more along the lines of early Cure. Your music has more of a psychedelic element that has been missing in this genre.

Paul: This is another description that is being leveled at us. We're not intentionally trying to be a psychedelic band either, but there is an element of the whole band that has a very strong psychedelic edge to it. We're all very imaginative people and we all tune into weird and interesting stuff.

Peter: I noticed you named your drum machine Dr. Ruth - kind of a backhand to Dr. Avalanche (drum machine for the Sisters of Mercy).

Paul: Yes, I named it after the sex therapist; I m a big fan of hers. Actually, all these gothic bands name their drum machines something. And Dr. Avalanche has been around for a few years, so we thought we would just twist that a little bit.

Peter: I've noticed a trend of Cleopatra bands releasing remix albums, first the Wake and Rosetta Stone and now your band. Is this something that has become more popular in the "scene?"

Paul: It seems that way. I don't think there's any point in ignoring technological advances; if you can incorporate some of that into your music it's very healthy. The problem with a lot of gothic bands in the past is they've been primarily guitar-dominated bands. And although I love playing the guitar, I'm also very much into technology. And basically we just used the tools that are available; we're not striving to be a techno band or even profess to having a particular liking for that style. But the fact is, these instruments are out there and available, they're very good and easy to use and they produce a very good sound.

Peter: I've also noticed that a lot of bands from Australia have a distinctive sound, but when most people think of music from Australia, they think of INXS or Midnight Oil.

Paul: What's happened in Australia over the last few years, instead of repeating earlier trends where bands emulate and imitate what's saleable in the Europe and the U.S., is that now there is now a large movement within the arts to try and get a cultural identity. Because of that, there are a lot of bands coming out that are basically doing what they want and throwing it out to the marketplace and seeing if it sticks. We're a case in point -- we put out a self-financed EP. We went to all the record companies in Australia, and didn't get anything back mainly because of this gothic, dark tag and they really didn't want that image. It represented something that was a bit against the pop ethic over there. But at the same time, Australia has produced bands like the Birthday Party and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Every few years or so Australia seems to produce a cutting edge band; unfortunately, because of the size of the place and the small population, people become very passionate about what they do and they have to work very hard to achieve any kind of results at all. In our case, when we got offered this tour, we felt the time was right and the profile of the band was starting to get larger; more people were starting to know our name. Cleopatra set up a web page for us and as soon as people found out we were on the tour, the label started getting a lot of calls and inquiries and interest about us. Now having been on this tour for nearly a month, we're finding more and more people are getting into the band; the word is spreading that we're a good band and we're honest. It's hard for a lot of Australian bands, because a lot of people in that country say that the only way you are going to get any recognition in your own country is to go to America or go to Europe and then people will start to take you seriously. Australians have a very home-grown attitude towards music.

Peter: Are you pretty well-received in your home country?

Paul: Yes we are. The problem with Australia is the distances involved between cities. The fact that the gothic scene is split up is because of these distances. I live in Sydney and it's 16 hours to the nearest major city, Melbourne. To go down there and play is quite an effort. But generally speaking, the gothic scene over there is very healthy; it's small, but it's very loyal, and when people get into it, they tend to stick with it. What's happened for us in the past few years, is that we got a record deal in America and people started to take the band seriously, because we had an international profile. Before then, people thought we would give it a year or so and then give up, because there wouldn't be enough of a response to it.

Peter: And there is that second album stagnation which often happens, particularly in this genre. Now, do you guys regret being put on the GothiK Rock 2 compilation?

Paul: Not at all, because the results of being on that album, particularly in the States, has been incredible. Nobody had really heard anything about us before then, and the fact that it shipped a few thousand albums, in the States at least, has done us nothing but good; it basically got our name out to the general public, which was the intention.

Peter: How do you finance yourselves between albums?

Paul: We all work, we all have day jobs. In order to do this tour, we basically sold everything we have. We have nowhere to live and no jobs to go back to when we get back to Australia, so what happens after this is anybody's guess. [This tour] is an opportunity that comes along once in a lifetime and we had to take it.

Peter: You sounded very tight upstage. I heard a song that isn't on any of your albums. Is it a new song?

Paul: Yes, it's called Last Breath'; the title comes from an autobiography or biography of Luis Bunuel, who is a favorite director of mine, a surrealist film director that was around in the 20s and 30s and worked closely with Salvador Dali.

Peter: Does it get tiring playing the old stuff night after night?

Paul: Not at all. All we've done technically to the songs is to change the drum patterns, because we thought the drums on "Dreams of a Mad King" sounded a bit dated. So what we did was revamp the drums for the live stuff. So the show has a combination of drum sounds off of "Dreams..." and "Burning Embers" [the newest EP]; we're trying to cross over a bit more.

Peter: It was nice to hear the deep drums as well as not hearing the wailing and monotonous bitching a lot of bands go on about in their music.

Paul: This is something we are very conscious of; there is definitely a place for sadness in people's lives. Sadness is a natural emotion and that is my concept of gothic -- to confront the dark side of your human nature. And not necessarily dwell on it, but accept the fact that everyone has it and experiences it from time to time. And all we're doing is reflecting that emotion in our music.

Peter: It is definitely good to see a female in this genre who actually plays in the band and is not just a figurehead.

Paul: Debra Denton is a really important part of this band, she's very good on the technical side, she does as lot of the programming, she plays keyboards, she does backing vocals. She has a really strong profile in the band and I think people like to see a female presence on stage, it has a kind of sexuality attached to it. The good thing about the gothic scene, is that it allows that kind of femininity to shine through with the dress and fashion.

Peter: And it also brings out a lot of references to old texts and literary history which is nice to see, because that is so often overlooked.

Paul: It's very much an influence on us; Marc grew up with that stuff, read a lot of poetry and books; and it just becomes part of the fabric of the music. These are the influences that stay with all your life. We all had sort of unusual childhoods and to play in a band you have to accept the fact that you have this childish side to your character and that kind of comes out in your music. Actually, I'd say more child-like than childish, the fact that you have this kind of innocence with the world.

Peter: I've noticed your music has sort of a playful streak to it.

Paul: We do and try have fun with what we do; we all love playing, we all love being in the band. So that's just reflected when we get up on stage. We've all been having a lot of fun on the tour and we try not to take it too seriously when things go wrong; and when they do, we all tend to band together and help each other out which is a very healthy way of doing things. The great thing about the tour is all three bands are totally different, so when people come to see this tour, there is something for everybody.

Peter: It seems a lot of these bands in this scene are so serious, there is no humour whatsoever. What's your take on that?

Paul: I don't think there's anything wrong with that; it just depends what message you're trying to put across. Our music doesn't have any particular message lyrically; we leave interpretation up to the listener. If they can identify with some of the lyrics or they just like the sound of them, that's great. We're not trying to thrust a message down anybody's throats; all we're saying is come out and see the band and if you like us, buy our CDs. We're glad the audience is there for us; there's been a lot of hard work put into this tour and we hope people appreciate what we're doing. At the end of the day that's all we are really concerned about, that people like what we do and enjoy it.

Peter: Does Cleopatra give you pretty good backing?

Paul: Yes they do. Cleopatra has been great in as much as they've supported us. They pretty much leave us to our own devices in the creative/artistic sides of things. I think they appreciate the fact that we're not quite the usual type of gothic band - a little difficult to label. We've had all kinds of descriptions leveled at us. And that's good, because I think one of the problems with gothic bands in the past, is that they haven't had strong melodies, apart from some rare exceptions like the Cure, Sisters and the Mission. There is a need for this in this type of music; Andrew Eldritch created a sound which has never been emulated to any great extent, because Andrew, in my opinion, is pretty near genius. His lyrics are never specifically gothic; he has a very dark soul, he's an extremely intelligent man, he writes about all kinds of subjects. And I think his attitude is, "I'm going to write about this whether it's a gothic song or not, because that's what I'm feeling at the time," and I think that is the perfect way to do it.

Peter: Do you think it's helped you out coming from Australia?

Paul: In a way it's good coming from Australia, because we tend to look at the rest of the world in -- I won't say a cynical view, but we have this attitude that we're so far away from everybody else, we're not really a part of it, so we can be objective about what we do. When the Birthday Party first came out, everyone was floored to find out it was an Australian band, because people only knew of AC/DC, Midnight Oil and other bands that had been around for years, and they assumed any Australian band would sound like those bands. But believe me, there are some incredible bands in Australia that might not get to see the light of day, but they play great music. I moved there from England in 1989 because the live band scene in the UK was dying off. I had a band in England and we were finding it harder and harder to get live gigs, because the pubs were closing down and they were putting in karoke machines and discos. I had been to Australia a few times on a holiday and I kind of liked the place and I had seen a few bands over there like the Church. And I suddenly realized there was a scene over there that was very healthy and it was growing up out of the live music scene, not from a fashionable thing or video. [Much of the time] you play in front of 200-300 drunk guys in shorts and thongs who basically don't give a damn what you play as long as it is loud and good; and I guess that's why a lot of these Australian bands have sort of this rough attitude.

Peter: What kind of experience have you gained now that you've toured America?

Paul: When we went into this tour we went with our eyes wide open. When we played our first shows in Philadelphia and Baltimore, we weren't sure what kind of reception we were going to get, because a lot of people hadn't heard of us. But after the first few shows, we realized people were really getting into us, and the crowd has been right behind us at all the shows. Also, we've been getting a lot of good reviews in the press; some have said we're the best band of the night, which to me, makes me feel fantastic. We came into this thing as underdogs, and people seem to like what we do.

Peter: You seem to be the only ones tonight to use drum programming, it seems to be a lost art.

Paul: It's never been our intention to use a drum machine as a drum machine; it's basically a machine that creates a rhythmic pattern that we play along to. I have a feeling that by the time we record our new album, we will have hooked in a live drummer, because visually it's better, there's more for people to look at. The only down side is that we can't play the smaller venues, because there just isn't room. Also, [we might bring one in] for the sake of being able to extend some of the songs and be able to feel a bit freer musically, which I think is the direction we will probably go in. But we will still use that pulse underneath the music, because it's a real driving force.

Peter: Do you plan on incorporating any tribal or aboriginal themes?

Paul: I don't think so, because I'd say it's been done to death in Australia. I think to use aboriginal sounds as a novelty to sell records is a bit of a slap in the face for the aboriginal music itself. Aboriginal music has a very strong spiritual base and I think it would be doing that music a disservice to incorporate into our music. But I'm very much into it, I love it very much indeed, but I don't really see a place for it in our sound. Though we have used samples; we've toyed around with aboriginal sounds and twisted them. I think in some ways having an Australian tag has its drawbacks, because people naturally assume that this aboriginal sound is going be an influence on you.

Peter: Do you have any side projects?

Paul: Not at the moment. Big Electric Cat is pretty much 100% of what we do. I will write songs continuously whether or not they're used in BEC. The process of writing is not to sit down and specifically write a gothic album; the idea is to convey emotion through our music. Whether or not that comes out as a gothic sentiment is entirely up to us and the listener. There is no game plan to become a gothic band of the stature of the Sisters; although that would be nice, I don't see any point in pigeon-holeing yourself into one specific genre. Our influences come from a much more futuristic view of the world; we read some science fiction, our name is derived from the novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", and Bladerunner is the band's favorite movie of all-time. We have this vision of a world that isn't too dissimilar to Ridley Scott's imagination and we're constantly reminded at every major city we go to - the place is being eaten from the inside, there's a sense of decay, a sense of sadness, a sense of trying to cling onto the past while keeping an eye to the future. We believe in love transcending death. These are the things that have a strong impact on us. All three of us are quite romantically inclined in the sense that we appreciate feelings and emotions, although they may be dark and probably hard to confront in yourself; all you can do is embrace them and drown in that sadness sometimes. A lot of the subject matter for our songs is based on these particular feelings; it shouldn't bring you down. A lot of people find our music uplifting, but there is also that element of romanticism in there, having a sense of something other than just black and white.

Peter: How did you guys jump from being an relatively unknown band to getting signed and supported and given the opportunity to do this tour in America?

Paul: We put out that self-financed EP "Suspira" I was mentioning earlier, (with those songs ending up on "Dreams of a Mad King" eventually). We put that out because we wanted people at our shows to take home something of our sound, and we started selling quite a few of them. We were in an indie store one day and the store owner told us about Cleopatra records; he was really trying to help us, but he didn't have any money, so he suggested we send a copy of our tape to Cleopatra. We did and we had a call back from the label about a week or so later asking if we would go into a studio and put down about 10 songs live to DAT. We booked some studio time and we went in and put down 10 songs and sent that off. About a week after that, the label called us and said they were very interested in the band and asked if we would consider signing with Cleopatra. We looked at the rest of the roster that the label had, and saw that they had some great, legendary bands; and we thought it would be incredible to be hooked up with these legendary bands. The owner offered us a three album deal and we grabbed it. It's sounds like a bit of a fairy tale, but that's exactly how it happened.

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