Heartland Interview with Gary Marx (2003)

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Quiff Boy
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Heartland has managed to get an interview with that nice Mr Marx. You know, the guitarist chap that helped kick start all this sh*t?


I would imagine most of you know that he's got a new album out entitled "Pretty Black Dots", his first recorded output since Ghost Dance's "Stop The World" in 1989.

There's also a free cd-single to be had - more details can be found at http://www.garymarx.com

Anyhoo, enough of the PR and on with the questions...
Heartland wrote:
HL) You're back on the old rock and roll trail again then, eh? On your website you come across as quite excited about it all - is it good to be "back"?

GM) Yes, it feels absolutely great. I don't think it would come as a surprise to hear that you can miss the excitement of going out on stage and that side of things, but it's all the other stuff I've missed as well - the poster turning out ok, getting a good deal on the mastering - the actual business of making product, opening up a box of 100 of my CD's has always interested me.

HL) Are you planning to tour the new material? And if so, do you have a band lined up? Or is it more of a studio-based set-up?

GM) There is no band - a good many of the songs don't need a band to make them work so there's nothing stopping me doing the stuff live. It wasn't my initial intention but I'm certainly warming to the idea.

HL) What set-up do you have now? How organic is the recording process? It certainly sounds more organic than either The Sisters or Ghost Dance ever did...

GM) It would have been even more organic if I'd been left completely to my own devices. My collaborator on the album (producer Choque Hosein) reined me in a few times. I really wanted to push and pull time around on certain tracks and a fair bit of that still comes across - the extended pauses, the break-down on 'butter fingers' etc. I also wanted the battered old acoustic I wrote a lot of the tracks on to be one of the central sounds of the album - it and my voice are pretty much ever-present.

HL) It's quite a change in style from the stuff most people will remember you for - both musically and lyrically. Where are you drawing your inspiration from these days?

GM) The impulses which make me write anything are much the same as they were way-back when. Things I'm listening to now and may be acknowledging in some small way include The Magnetic Fields, Beck, The Reindeer Section and older stuff like Jonathan Richman, Wire.

HL) How long have you been working on this current crop of material?

GM) I recorded the songs in September 2002 (the bulk of them in a week). Some of the songs had been around for a couple of years before that, others were written during the studio sessions just building on an idea or sound we had on the given day.

HL) I see on your website that you say you have quite a lot of songs written... So when's the NEXT album out?

GM) I already have the songs and the title for the next album (the second in a planned set of three). It will be called 'Powder Blue Cool' - I intend to record the tunes this winter and release it early 2004. I'm taking some time now to re-package some older stuff and make that available before the end of the year.

HL) You've been spotted out and about at various Sisters gigs over the last couple of years - What's your relationship with Eldritch like these days?

GM) I think I may have a double, as I have only been to one Sisters gig as an audience member. That was in Brixton a few years ago. Andrew last rang me prior to the 20th anniversary gig. We had a bit of a natter - he made me laugh and annoyed me, I made him smile briefly before infuriating him, so things were fairly 'as you were'.

HL) Have either of you mellowed with age?

GM) I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but he does seem in danger of becoming a hugely likeable man, perhaps that's why there's no new music.

HL) Are you still in contact with anyone else from that time? Wayne, Craig, Anne-Marie, Etch, etc?

GM) I don't have regular contact with anyone from either camp, but have seen most of them at some point.

HL) A lot of the "old guard" seem to be back on the scene - you are back recording, Wayne is currently touring an acoustic solo show, Andrew is still churning out his stuff under the pretext of looking for a recording contract, The Lorries are touring, even the old M62 bands from the other side of the Pennines are back and making a bit of a racket - The Bunnymen, The Chameleons, etc etc - do you think there's an M62 revival in the making?

GM) There seems to be a need on somebody's part to create a revival. I don't know what anyone else is up to, but the recordings I have made are hardly a revivalist's dream.

HL) Have you been tempted to get any of the old gang back together for a workout? There would appear to be a market for it...

GM) It's not something I am actively working to bring about.

HL) On the subject of THAT guitar sound, may I ask you how the old "Anaconda" guitar is holding up? And are you still using it?

GM) The Anaconda guitar is in one piece (an achievement in itself). It was only ever a guitar I used live. I bought it because it was silver and black, it was never a great sounding instrument, even before clearing the PA tower at the York Festival. It doesn't feature on any recordings past or present. 'The guitar sound' was my old '85 Shergold in the early days, something I'd borrowed off Jon Langford or other 'friends of the family' or one of Andrew's guitars - I used a hired Telecaster for most of 'First And Last And Always'.

HL) And just for the anoraks, what make of guitar is it?

GM) It's a Gibson Les Paul (LS1 I think), a model which never really took off. The body's so thin there's hardly any sustain - a nice metaphor for the Sisters.

HL) You use the snakeskin pattern on your website and on the CD artwork - was that a deliberate nod to the past?

GM) A definite nod - the guitar was/is far more recognisable than my face. I wanted people to know it was the same Gary Marx, not to say the music was the same (since the images are mostly quite severe distortions of the original pattern) but to say it came from the same source, that something tied the stuff to my previous work even if you have to squint your ears to figure out what.

HL) The last thing we know you for was Ghost Dance - you said on your old LIPA site that looking back you found it all a bit cringe-worthy now. Has your view of that changed at all?

GM) When I listen back to Ghost Dance recordings they have a habit of annoying me because so often the overall sound is wrong.

HL) Does that apply to The Sisters stuff too?

GM) With the Sisters' stuff lots of those recordings sound great and it just becomes about specific songs like 'Anaconda' for instance where you know it could've been great but the process of recording it was such a disaster. We'd made 'Alice' with John Ashton producing who did a brilliant job, and rather than invite him to work with us again Andrew believed he'd learnt everything he could from John and took sole responsibility for 'Anaconda'. The result is thin and lifeless - when I hear it, not only do I dislike the recording, I'm reminded of the things I don't like about Eldritch.

HL) How much of the old Leeds/M62 stuff do you think has stood the test of time?

GM) I can't imagine me rushing to play the Chameleons or the Comsat Angels albums. I don't really refer to music from that time too much. I heard the reformed Bunnymen albums and found myself singing along.

HL) Andrew claims that while he still likes the old material, he dislikes the production and thinks of them as "baby photographs"...

GM) That may relate to the fact that he was more closely involved in producing those early recordings than I was. He may see his development as an artist in terms of his production skills - I measure his worth and mine on the strength of the ideas. If he comes up with anything better than 'Adrenochrome' and 'Floorshow' let me know.

HL) On reflection, did you enjoy the 80s? What about the 90s?

GM) The lows of the eighties were among the bitterest times I've endured but on the whole they were fantastic years. By the nineties I had enough wisdom in the tank to see me through whatever came my way.

HL) You have quite a musical legacy - a lot of people across the globe are very much taken with your body of work thus far - how does that factor in your new stuff? Was it a pressure or a comfort?

GM) I am aware of whole new generations of people becoming aware of the old material - usually coming at it second-hand via bands like Placebo or some New Metal thing. That's fine and a natural process, it certainly had no real impact on what I chose to do this time round. Obviously you form an impression of whether existing fans will like the new songs or not, but as soon as you start allowing that to influence what you do you're sunk - you might as well be in a boy-band.

HL) So what happened to Ghost Dance - one minute you were playing those trademark Gary Marx-style riffs over a drum machine and Anne-Marie's singing in Bingley Working Men's Club, the next you were signed to Chrysalis and making shiny happy pop songs...

GM) I'm not sure if the question relates to the riffs and drum machine in particular or the whole shift that was evident with later Ghost Dance material. Simple practical details led to a change in how we assembled songs - I learned to play a few chords. As dumb as that may sound to people who play guitar I hardly ever played chords with the Sisters - I didn't know how. By the time Ghost Dance got underway I'd been playing guitar for five years so I'd developed a few other options. It may well be that robbed the band of one of its distinctive ingredients although some typical guitar lines featured on the 'Stop The World' album ('I Will Wait', 'Spin The Wheel'). I also began writing songs with more than two sections in them (that was usually the limit for my Sisters tunes)so that may have had an impact as well. I suppose most noticeably it was the lighter texture to the voice which opened up the sound and the lyric content being more easily digestible.

HL) Did the move to a major label factor in the break-up of the band?

GM) The Chrysalis deal was a massive factor in the demise of the band. When you sense that success is within arm's reach - real financial success that can change the way you run your life, a little madness creeps in to even the most clear-headed individual. We lost direction completely as a band in the pursuit of the big pay-day. It was embarrassing as much as anything that we'd gone that route - our collective pride was hurt and we couldn't really see a way to carry on with that version of 'Celebrate' still ringing in our ears.

HL) Ghost Dance has a fairly hardcore bunch of fans who seemed very devoted and very up for a good time - listening to old bootlegs now you feel that everyone was having a good laugh. Almost a party atmosphere. Is that how you remember it?

GM) There was a great sense of fun, particularly after John joined. Not just because of his personality but because the inclusion of a drummer meant we could be much more impromptu live - we didn't need to spend hours programming a drum machine to include a surprise number in the set. The audience responded to that, the idea of each gig being separate and tried to make it special in some way.

HL) This seemed in contrast with the atmosphere at Sisters gigs, where it seems that only Eldritch and the first few rows where really getting into the spirit. Do you think that Ghost Dance were a little more honest about that Goth tag than The Sisters?

GM) The long-time fans of the Sisters always got quite a raw deal by my reckoning. I can remember seeing people turn up at the beginning of a tour, having taken a month off work or whatever and asking what new songs we were going to play, and you'd have to say, 'well we've got one new thing.' Andrew liked the idea of having this devoted legion but often took it for granted I think, I don't know how the 'goth or not goth' debate relates to this really.

HL) You where the first to jump ship from The Sisters - was that a difficult decision?

GM) Not at all, it's become difficult rationalising it sometimes since, but to the 24 year old me it was as obvious as leaving school at 16.

HL) Craig and Wayne went shortly afterwards - what was your relationship with them like at the time?

GM) My relationship with all three of them was completely shattered. If anything I felt more animosity towards Craig and Wayne than I did to Andrew, because they hadn't had the balls to leave when I did. Andrew could never be accused of a lack of courage in those days.

HL) There's a "story" that says that "Walk Away" was about you - did you know that? And if so, how did you feel about it?

GM) When we were making 'First And Last And Always' Andrew was effectively splitting with his long-term girlfriend and I was close to leaving the band. The two things led to a number of references in the lyrics which seemed to cover his farewells to us both. 'Walk Away' may or may not be about me, I don't care because I don't particularly like the song - the one lyric which always bugs me is the line from 'Some Kind Of Stranger' which says '..careful lingers undecided at the door' which I definitely took as a shot at me.

HL) Was it a conscious decision to get out of the music business after Ghost Dance?

GM) There was a desire on my part to avoid dealing with certain aspects of the music industry - that definitely translated into 'no more bands please'.

HL) Touring with The Sisters always looked like hard work - both physically and mentally - did it take its toll on you as much as it obviously did on Andrew and the rest of the band?

GM) The physical aspect never troubled me at all - I was less prone to indulgence on the road than the others. The mental strain was the real problem. You can only tour with no-one talking to each other so many times.

HL) How are your lungs after spending so much time surrounded by all that smoke and dry ice?

GM) It makes me laugh when I see footage from that time now, staggering around in the mist. Thankfully there are no adverse effects.

HL) Are you back living in Leeds then?

GM) I've never moved out of Yorkshire - I live in Wakefield and have done ever since I moved out of the house I shared with Andrew in about 1984.

HL) Are you from Leeds originally? If not, what brought you to the city in the first place?

GM) I was born near Hull and moved to Leeds in 78/79 because I desperately needed to get out of Hull. I had a friend at University in Leeds who I'd stayed with a few times - Leeds was really alive compared to Hull and had new bands like the Gang Of Four and The Mekons just taking off.

HL) How did you come to meet Eldritch? And Craig?

GM) My friend at University shared a mutual friend with Andrew, because of his link with the University. I also hung out at the main punk venue in the city called the F Club which was frequented by Craig and Andrew. It was the fact that both Andrew and myself had links with the university crowd (especially Andrew's link with the Mekons)and the town scene which meant we kept bumping into each other and struck up a relationship.

HL) When you decided to start a band ("to get yourself played on the radio") did you imagine for a second that it would all turn out the way it did?

GM) It continues to 'turn out' so I don't doubt there are more twists in store. It might sound arrogant but I never thought the one single would be the end of it. We both had a bit too much going on for that to be the case. I didn't picture I'd see kids a third of my age walking through Leeds on a Saturday afternoon in 2003 wearing the Merciful Release logo t-Shirt, when I was breaking my friends' arms to by one of the first batch we'd printed twenty plus years earlier.

HL) Are you happy with the way it turned out? What would have done if you hadn't started The Sisters or gotten into music?

GM) If I hadn't stumbled into music I don't know - I'd shown early promise as a criminal just prior to the Sisters, but I think that kind of career choice takes greater dedication than plugging in a guitar.

HL) I'm sure it does. Thank you very much for your time - I wish you the best of luck with your new CD and all the other CDs after that and look forward to seeing/hearing more from you in the future.

Interview (c) Heartland 2003 - This interview may not be reproduced in part or in whole without permission from Quiff Boy. Just ask him - he's a reasonable chap...
Last edited by Quiff Boy on 10 Jul 2020, 18:51, edited 2 times in total.
Reason: fixed some incorrect character formatting
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Quiff Boy
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just a wee *bump* for the recent newcomers that may have missed this ;)
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