The best sex is slow
by Greg Friedman
MARCH 12, 1996
HOW DID THE FIRST THREE SHOWS GO?
Good. We played Boston and Philly and New York. Boston and Philly were a bit fucked up because there was three feet of snow and blizzards. . . A good turnout but I wouldn’t have gone out [laugh]. Three feet of snow and blizzards! That part of the world has got really bad weather. You guys have got it to but not as bad as Boston. It was weird arriving in a snow storm from a country that is suppose to be cold called Ireland. . . They went good. And then New York was really good but it always takes a few gigs under your belt before you really start so I think you’re going to see a really good gig tonight.
WHAT MADE THE NEW YORK GIG REALLY GOOD?
I think. . . I like the venue in that they could see everything– that is important. This is not a bad venue. You will be able to see shit. And the Philly show wasn’t a great venue. It was hard to see. But the New York show was a good venue and it was packed– sold out. And, there was a real buzz in the room, so the minute we walked on and started going– you know a gig like that? Where some cities that we aren’t well known, sort of like Philly, they didn’t know what the fuck was coming on the stage [laugh]. New York is tough. They see themselves as very intellectual.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR MOOD GOING INTO THIS TOUR?
My mood? I’m a moody bastard [laugh]. I’m a very nocturnal person. When I got off the bus I was waking up <4:30 in the afternoon>. . . It’s such a strange country you live in for us Europeans. And, it’s so vast– culturally it jumps all over the place. Washington is so different from New York. We’re heading to Atlanta– that’s so different again. Then we’re going down to Florida then to Texas. I mean, “Hey,” we’re going to see A to Z and back again and personalities and cultural types. I’m excited about that because I think it is a challenge. It is definitely a continent within a country. . . It’s a good mood.
ARE THERE ANY MAJOR DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THIS TOUR AND THE ADAM AND EVE TOUR IN 93′?
It is different in that we moved on a bit in certain things. Musically, we’ve become a bit more. . . Dabbling in rhythmic stuff. We have been using samples and sequencers. We still actually use acoustic instruments over samples and sequencers, and we do acoustic songs as well. So, I think it’s more sophisticated musically, but we were always quite sophisticated [laugh]. We’re dabbling in dance rhythms but in sort of slow motion. We’re taking aboard– there is this movement in Britain and in Europe with Portishead and Massive Attack and Bjork and Tricky. There is elements of that in our stuff. Also, I am two or three years older and hopefully wiser [grin]. It’s the same guy but three years on, and I think you’ve got to move on. I think that’s what is wrong with a lot of music– it doesn’t move on with it’s reference points. Those references which I just said, Portishead and that, I find that really exciting. And, what I like about it is I’ve always been interested in older music like music from the 30’s and 40’s. And, if you take away all the beats from Portishead, you could be in Paris in the 40’s. If you take away Bjork, it could be Edith Piaf on ecstasy. It’s sort of like old and new. But I see what I’m doing as very contemporary today. I think people are sick of, “I hate myself and I want to die music,” and are sick of, “I love you baby and I want to fuck you music.” It’s also dealing with sensuality which is something that is probably the most beautiful thing about relationships– being sensitive rather than just being like, “Hey, let’s go out and party.” Parties get boring very quickly.
HOW IS SHAG TOBACCO SEXUAL AND SENSUAL AND WHAT MAKES IT SO?
Shag is very sexual and very sensual. It is a slow sensuality. I’m a bit older than you guys, but you’ll find out the best sex is slow sex. It’s not wham bam thank ya ma’am. That doesn’t work. . . Well, it does work, but the best sex is slow. I also think it’s dealing with feminine sensitivity because in my book women are far more sensitive whereas most men have years to catch up. That doesn’t mean that women are the coolest. There are a lot of stupid bitches out there [laugh]. The title song “Shag Tobacco”– it is a semi-autobiography about me going home to my wife. And, it is a romantic song. I’m singing, “Hey, I’m not going out on the town with the boys tonight. I’m going home.” Then you get home, you make your coffee, have a cigarette, and she’s upstairs. It becomes a romantic crooning song. But what the music– the rhythm does– the rhythm is dark, predator like and very sexual. But that’s what sex is you see. You can be romantic as fuck, but there’s something between your legs that’s predator like. . . That starts moving in a different way [laugh]– you’ve got no control over that guy. . . I love the cinematic quality of music. What you can’t say with words, you can say with music and with rhythms and sounds and atmospheres. And, we’re also dealing with topics. . . it’s really A to Z in personalities. Some of the characters are totally fictitious. Some, I’m being voyeuristic. Some, I’m actually playing a role, and some, I’m being totally honest and me. “Kitchen Sink Drama” is about a demented mid-life crisis of a woman. I play the role of this demented woman. But at the core of all these songs, whether it is “Mr. Pussy” or “Little Black Dress,” is love underneath that. The celebration of love or the misunderstanding of love or the abuse of love or wanting of love or whatever. That is the theme that keeps it all together. I think that’s the most important thing: personal politics. You can’t look after the people around you and the way they go about their life and their sexuality. You can’t have the patience to let that go is the problem.
[Holding SHAG TOBACCO in hand] CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE CASE AND THE ART WORK FOR A MINUTE?
We did it like that deliberately to have a double cover. We just like to fuck people up. All the photos are taken in my house– in my kitchen and in the bathroom and dining room. I sort of have a domestic thing– there are a lot of domestic references in the album from “Kitchen Sink Drama” to “Shag Tobacco” to whatever. Because we can all surf the internet, and we can all go out and do crazy shit, but ultimately, the big deals happen in the bedroom and in the kitchen. And, we all have to go and wash the dishes now and again. That context is where the real shit happens. So, I am trying to turn the house into a surreal thing. [Looking at the picture of Gavin smoking a cigarette inside the back cover] This is me having a cigarette. That’s me and Shag Tobacco after coming in late at night. That’s my kitchen. [Pointing to the back cover] That’s my wife. She is quite shy, and she wouldn’t be photographed. [Pointing to the megaphone in front of his wife on the back cover] This is a megaphone which I call a stronzophone which in some tracks I actually sang through on the album. I couldn’t just bring it over. It just costs so much. If we were selling a lot of records, you’d see a really different production. I like the idea– it has an orchid feel too. . . The imagery is quite surreal. I also have me and Maurice having a cup of tea and bread and butter. Because rock and roll is so fucking passe’ sometimes. I think it is more of a statement to stand up with a cup of tea than a bottle of Budweiser or Rolling Rock. It’s really putting the finger up to all that Jack Daniels bullocks when you know they’re not really drinking Jack Daniels. I mean I know for a fact that a lot of these guys have cold tea in there. So, why not drink it hot? It’s all fucking image. You can’t drink that much Jack– you’d be dead. Whether you’re Axl Rose or Slash– it’s bullshit. Slash drinks cold tea and I bet you he has vitamin C in it– I bet you! [laugh]. . . [Looking at the picture of Gavin in the bathtub] That is definitely me sitting in the bathtub listening to Enrico Caruso. . . So we just did a lot of shots and picked them out. [Looking back at the picture of his wife behind a megaphone] But, I didn’t marry a megaphone [laugh]. She has a head. She just wouldn’t show it. In the cover of World War III you can see her. [Gavin takes apart the European copy and puts it together correctly].
WHAT ARE THE MESSAGES OF SHAG TOBACCO?
I don’t really like the word “message” because I feel like you’re preaching. I prefer vignettes or little stories. It’s almost like Shag Tobacco is a theater. I become many different characters here and there. It’s so eclectic. Pick a tune– “You, Me, World War III.” One of the greatest things in life is the relationship and that eternal romantic thing. But that is like hell. Real relationships are not taking each other for granted and completely going with each other and respecting each person for who they are. . . And that becomes like a nightmare– a battle, blood, sweat, and tears. And the day that the sparks don’t fly, there is something wrong. Somebody says, “When will World War III be happening?” and I say, “I think it is already happening.” It is the eternal battle between man and woman. It is between our legs, baby. But, it is doing it in a romantic way. I use the cinematic, 60’s influence James Bond theme, and it’s very melodramatic. But, I’m talking about something that is very ordinary– A man and a woman beating the shit out of each other, and I don’t mean physically. I don’t believe in violence and domestic violence. I’m talking about how we fuck each other’s heads up. . . “The Last Song I’ll Ever Sing” is dedicated to a friend of ours who died of AIDS. Indirectly, it’s not about AIDS– it’s about somebody who was a performer called the Diceman. . . Very influential around Ireland. And, when he got sick, it was a very slow, sad death and very ill. As he was physically becoming weaker, he was becoming stronger spiritually, mentally. He was doing a lot of work starting off co-ops with theater, giving money to kids– he became this enigma of charity. And, he asked me to write this song about him, and I came up with this analogy. What is he like? He’s like this diva who’s giving everything into one song– going to sing this song and die. The line in that song, “Here with words that can’t be said we take songs to our bed–” Sometimes you can’t write about somebody going through cancer or AIDS or MS or something. You can’t write it, and sometimes just the essence of sounds and poetry can say that.
IN “ANGEL,” ARE YOU SINGING TO YOUR WIFE?
I’m not just singing to my wife. That was a weird song. That was an improvisation. It was just a song that came off the album that we hadn’t worked on before. One we didn’t write– “The Slider–” but we really fucked it up and brought it to a new place. That was us just, “Let’s jam,” and we used to do it live, so we did that one spontaneous: we spent a day. . . “Angel,” we had this bass-line and rhythm that we liked, and one day things weren’t working out in the studio, and Tim Simeon says,”Oh, let’s jam.” We took out that bass-line, played it and built it up, and then improvised over it. And, in many ways, it is quite ambiguous lyrics. . . I’ve probably written since the Virgin Prunes days. But, what it is really about– sometimes when you’re away, or even you don’t have to be away. . . You could be at home. . . Sometimes just the need for someone to hold you, whether that be your lover, you wife, your boyfriend, your mother, your best friend. . . Just somebody to hold you and keep you warm and make you feel everything is okay is probably one of the most beautiful things. So that was the spark or influence for that. But, I didn’t want it to be directly about that. . . I was reading a book at the same time that the Diceman gave me about AIDS as well. It’s called Angels In America, which is a famous play, and they have this amazing scene where the guy is dying and on his deathbed. . . And, an angel comes down, obviously the angel of death, and they have intercourse together and then he dies. And, it was almost like the angel of death is a sexual thing that took him away. Sometimes death is not the end; sometimes death is painless. Ultimately, Angel is something that can hold you and keep you warm. It can go from a personal thing to a lot of things.
IN “DOLLS” THE SWITCH FROM GERMAN TO ENGLISH IS VERY POWERFUL. WHAT WERE YOU TRYING TO CONVEY WITH THAT SWITCH?”
“Dolls” is dealing with transsexuals and transvestites. That was inspired by New York actually. When I was hanging out during the Adam and Eve tour, every second club we’d be brought to or go to there were just trannies coming out of the woodwork. I was being a voyeur looking at the other side of life. Transsexuals and transvestites are, to me, at the end of the 20th century. I use them as this analogy– as the pom-pom girls at the big finale, the big football game of the end of the 20th century. . . Or like the cancan girls as this century is burning. The reason I picked trannies is that so much is sexual politics– we’ve gone from A to Z in sexual politics. What’s next? We don’t fucking know. . . Feminism, machoism, gay lib, whatever. . . And now, it’s bring back the He-man, Iron John politics. it’s gone crazy! Lesbianism is the big thing– don’t even deal with men and women just go with women. So, it’s all over. Visually, those icons are interesting things. Visually, they sort of symbolize how crazy sexuality is at the end of the 20th century. I went into their world. I show you a peep show; come in and see these guys and dolls. At the same time, people have very little time or patience for different lifestyles, and I remember being in a club in London and a load of skinheads came in and they beat the fuck out of two trannies that were at the door. And, these people were so feminine they wouldn’t even throw a handbag at anybody. So, I brought in a Germanic thing almost as if, “Live and let live.” The Germanic thing is symbolizing aggression. . . The track of the album called “Le Roi D’Amour,” which is French meaning the king of love. . . And that is the last thing you hear on the album because at the end of it all is always love waiting there. . .And it is romantic and I’m a bit romantic.
[Gavin has Renaud say Le Roi D’Amour] Isn’t that beautiful? And, it’s sensual and sexual far more than “The king of love.” But, if you want something aggressive– if a German walked in and said, [German phrase], You’d go, “Okay sir,” and do it immediately. I’m taking languages all over Shag Tobacco; there are European references because Europe is now one believe it or not. We are the new superpower. Italians, Irish, Germans, French,Spanish– it’s crazier than the United States of America because it’s more culturally diffuse. But, you know what’s happening? I see us taking idioms of different languages and using them where they are more powerful. Restaurant sounds better than cafe, diner. I use Italian swear words, “Hey stronzo ancora.” Italians and the Spanish know how to swear. They make it sound like poetry. Like, “Your mother is a whore and she sucks on the host,” and it just sounds like, “Say that again! [laugh].” “Stronzo” is a shithead, but it’s the shit that is remaining at the end of a toilet bowl. If you went to Roma or Milan and said, “Hey stronzo,” you’d be on the ground with a fucking hammer in your head. Whenever I’m giving grief, I use my megaphone which I call the “Stronzophone,” so it’s like, “Shithead cometh.”
SO IT’S ALMOST USING LANGUAGE AS MUSIC TOO BECAUSE MUSIC HAS THAT SAME ABILITY
Totally. I mean look what the blacks have done to America– “Yo’ mo’fo’,” You mother fucker. It’s happening everywhere. In about fifty years there will be about another fifty languages I’m predicting. We won’t be able to understand anyone [laugh].
I’M GOING TO GIVE YOU A WORD AND YOU GIVE ME THE FIRST WORD OR PHRASE THAT COMES TO YOUR MIND OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD
CABARET: Viva la cabaret!
CARUSO: The first pop star of the 20th century.
OSCAR WILDE: The Jesus Christ of the 19th century.
THE 21ST CENTURY: Very worried, very confused, very exciting.
THE 90’S: Scary and exciting. . . And a lot better than the fucking 80’s [laugh].
SHAGGING TOBACCO: Well, I could talk a bit about that. That’s the little short story at the top of the c.d. booklet. Patrick McCabe. . . You have to check out a book called The Butcher Boy that he wrote that Neil Jordan is making a movie of. Patrick McCabe is a friend, a fellow writer, a fellow Irishman. I gave Patrick the album and all the lyrics and I told him, “Get into the imagery, the idiom, the atmosphere.” And we spoke, and we threw a lot of concepts around. But ultimately what we decided on doing, and he went and wrote it, was to tak a few of these characters. . . Mr. Pussy, Slider. . . Take these characters and get the essence, the feel of all these tunes and put it into one scenario like it happens one night– 12 o’clock to 8 o’clock in the morning because the ambiance of Shag Tobacco is a night town thing… And bring them to life in a surreal motherfucker almost like James Joyce on acid. And, that’s what he did. But, the reason for doing that. . . I have this love of literature and poetry and I think as technology is advancing and advancing, we are forgetting about words and literature. I believe that music and artists and musicians should be opening doors for people not just fucking selling records. And, I have that there to create a world for some people. At least it is there. . . In that booklet to be ignored or adored. . . But at least it’s there. And, if I read that when I was 16, I would have been pretty tripped out by it. I would want to know. . . We are actually recording that and it will be coming out in August, September.
THAT IS THE SPOKEN WORDS CD?
Yes, but it’s not going to be just spoken words. It’s going to be an hour long; it’s going to be like a movie with no visuals. You can close your eyes. I play all the characters vocally and all the atmospheres of Shag Tobacco are going to come and go.
VIRGIN PRUNES: Rest in peace.
MR. PUSSY: A legend in his lifetime. Mr. Pussy is like having the grandmother you never had except she’s in drag.
IRA: Complicated. Ultimately, they’re assholes, but in the last eighteen months they’ve been fucked by the British government. The IRA is a complicated thing. When they formed at the turn of the century, they were very relevant, sort of freedom fighters. I’m very nervous what’s going to happen in the next three to four years. IRA– assholes. Anyone who blows up innocent people and children are assholes, but at the moment the biggest assholes are the British. . . more so than the IRA.
UNITED STATES: The Holy Roman Empire part III . . . Where McDonalds is [laugh]. . . Basically, it is the biggest empire of the 20th century; it’s everywhere. That doesn’t mean you went around blowing the fuck out of everyone; you blew the fuck out a few people [laugh]. . . But, ultimately, everywhere, even in the deserts of Africa is a McDonalds. Oprah Winfrey, sadly to say, is everywhere. American clothes, American music are everywhere. It’s probably the silver and gold of the 20th century. It’s the greatest place on earth; it’s also the most frightening fucked up place on earth.
BILLY BOOLA: Billy Boola was a dog that used to live around the corner from me and Bono when we were seven or eight. This dog had a very big dick and used to get upon everything that moved. And, this big dog was the most fucked up looking thing. It had almost like dread-locks, and it was like massive filthy. I remember a gang around the corner threw a hatchet in it’s back once because it was such a mad thing. . . And, it used to get up on everything. We used to have a saying in Ireland, “It would get up on the crack of dawn. . . ” And, we used that as an analogy because that character in the movie Jerry Conlin went over from a small town to a big town like London. He was wearing his flared jeans and his afghan coat, and he talked like he had the sun shining out of his arse. He was an idiot was the truth. So, it’s that analogy for the bravado that happens when you’re 18 or 19– that’s Billy Boola. . . A great name for a dog [laugh].
SAINT DIVINE: Saint Divine is written about a friend of mine who we grew up with. His nickname was Snail, and he was gay but didn’t know. . . He was gay and then found out he was gay and got a very tough time for dressing and being the way he was. . . And then he went off to New York. I met him about five years ago when I was in America touring Each Man, and he had found his identity and was able to live his lifestyle the way he could, but he was still lonely. So, it was more just a story– an admiration– for him because he was a nurse working with AIDS patients, and it was me tipping my hat to a friend, really.
ANGEL BABY: Angel Baby is the new movie that myself and Maurice wrote music for. It’s just been premiered in film festivals in Europe at the moment. We wrote twenty minutes of score and we wrote one song, theme song. Angel Baby is a very beautiful, very heavy movie that is dealing with schizophrenia and mental depression. A man and a woman, a young couple, that fall in love, and it’s crazy. It’s like the movie Betty Blue– very beautiful movie, French movie you should check out. It’s like this really organic sexual movie, mad love scenes. She becomes pregnant, and she decides not to take prescribed drugs, and everybody around her starts destroying her life. Because, the big illness today I think that no one is dealing with, not only in America but everywhere, is prescribed drugs and trying to understand people who are suffering with depression. The story is just stuff them with prozac and shut them up, and it is the real evil today. Prescribed drugs are worse than smoking pot. Smoking pot is harmless. The weird thing is the governments okay it. So, it’s dealing with a lot of important issues. . . But, it’s very beautiful and very sad. After In the Name of the Father, I think it is the best thing we’ve done inthe movie context.
WILL THERE BE A SOUNDTRACK?
Yes. I think it’s coming out on Real World, Peter Gabriel’s label, because a lot of the other music is done by Peter Gabriel. But, I wouldn’t expect to see the soundtrack until the summer, and if it’s released in America. . . Because it’s a very dark movie, I’d say it would be in small cinemas. . . Unless it takes off because the acting is really beautiful; it’s a strong movie.
GOD: You spell it backwards and it’s dog . God’s a tough one. He’s a bit of a bastard most of the time, and he’s okay some of the time. I don’t know who God is and I don’t know what God is. I’m still searching that one out.
GAVIN FRIDAY: Jesus. . . That’s not really for me to say. Gavin Friday was the name given to me when I was 14 by my friends. Basically, I’ve got my own personal name. I’m probably more Gavin Friday than I am Fionan Hanvey now because I’ve been Gavin Friday for more than half my life. I don’t know. . . You’ve caught be offguard. You’ll have to ask Renaud. Renaud, give us two words on Gavin Friday– spontaneous, off the top of the head. . . [Renaud says, “Monsieur Artsy”] I don’t like that [laugh]. There is a thin line between art and fart [laugh].
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MARRIAGE AND HAS IT CHANGED YOUR OUTLOOK ON LIFE AND YOUR MUSIC ANY?
Well, I got married two and a half years ago. But, to tell the truth, I’ve been married in the head for a long time. I’ve known the girl for a long time. I’ve been living with her for seven or eight years before I got married. I’ve known her since I was 19, so it’s pretty fucking incestuous. But, marriage is between two people. I got married in a registry office. You don’t have to get married in front of a stage. For me, it was more like a public declaration that I was going to try to stick out the next 40 or 50 years with this woman– now that’s ambitious [laugh]! The best marriage is in your head. If you don’t get on with the person in your head, then no church, no piece of paper, no government will keep you together.
WHAT FUTURE PROJECTS DO YOU HAVE PLANNED?
We’re touring here for the next five to six weeks. We’re going to put the lid on the spoken words project and record that. Then we’ve got a lot of festivals in Europe, and really we start writing again. . . Really, I don’t know. . . You never know. . . I’m waiting for America to inspire me .
SO YOU ARE ALREADY THINKING ABOUT A NEW ALBUM DOWN THE ROAD?
I’ve been thinking about it, yes. There are a few ideas coming around, but we don’t know.
THERE WAS A SONG CALLED NIGHT TOWN WRITTEN FOR THE LAST ALBUM. WILL THAT BE ON THE NEXT ALBUM?
I don’t know. . . We wrote that, but we weren’t happy with the musicality of it. . . We were happy with it, but it didn’t seem to fit into the world of Shag Tobacco. You might see that on the next album, you might see it live, or you might see it on an EP or something.
ARE YOU INTERESTED IN PUTTING OUT SOME LIVE TRACKS?
Not really. I mean, to tell the truth, I love to be able to do eclectic ideas like “Sibyl Vane,” and “Geek Love,” and “Macushla,” but we haven’t had enough time because we’ve been touring since August and to go into the studio you need a week or two. . . So, yeah, I mean you could see it turn up in that context.
BLACK CAT, D.C. MARCH 12, 1996