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J.G. Thirlwell, the Corporate Mofo Interview, Part 1


by Corporate Mofo Web Staff



Foetus. Baby Zizanie. Steroid Maximus. Manorexia. DJ Otefsu. These are just a few of the latest incarnations of the legendary JG Thirlwell. He's taken a machete to the music world and carved a path that is so uniquely his own, nobody can touch him—though many much more commercially successful acts, from Trent Reznor to Rob Zombie, have followed in his footsteps.

It's ninety degrees at 5:00 in the afternoon when we show up at his loft, and it's humid as all hell. We walked into the middle of a photo shoot. French pop music from the '60s was playing, and the view out the window was an asphalt housing project landscape. This must have been what Warhol's factory felt like back in the day, only without the annoying pseudo-celebrities. The surreality of the taxidermy animals, the Robert Williams paintings, the books that were on the shelf, the kitsch tchotchkes that occupied every available space, none of them were out of place. If you've ever heard Manorexia, that's exactly what happens. You close your eyes, and your own little movie starts running. It's a trip to the subconscious, and what you find there can be beautiful, frightening, or whimsical. Since Thirlwell manages to take us on journeys to the Netherworld through a cacophony of crafted ambiguity that somehow just works, it's fitting that his place of creation, his studio, speaks of all of that.

A bit of background, for those new to his world: A native of Melbourne, Thirlwell immersed himself in the avant-garde music scene in London in the late 1970s. He founded his own label, Self-Immolation, in 1980, under which he released the ground-breaking Nail and Hole, among countless of other albums, compilations, and remixes. Thirlwell signed with Columbia in 1995, under which he released Gash, a project that was two and a half years in the making, followed by Null and a parting of ways from Columbia. At last count, he has released some 42 albums, not counting the re-mixes he's done for Nine Inch Nails, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and a score of other bands you've heard on commercial radio. His latest projects as Foetus, released in 2001, were the widely acclaimed Flow, and its companion Blow.

Trying to put a sense of his music into words is nearly impossible, but if we were to try, we would describe it as fastidiously crafted, monolithic layered sounds pouring down, seemingly self-destructive, yet loaded with classical references. Just when you think you've seen Satan himself, Thirlwell turns the tables on you, and Satan turns into Shiva, and then he'll throw in a bit of Elvis just for the hell of it. For an example of what some of his music sounds like, click here to download "Hammer Falls" from Gash [5.2 MB download].

CM: You've been up to so much, I don't even know where to begin. How about your new Manorexia album?

JGT: Well it's one of two albums. I should have copies of it next week, week after. It's called The Radiolarian Ooze. Ummm. . . do you know what radiolarians are?

CM: No. I can't say I've ever heard of them.

JGT: Radiolaria are small sea creatures that secrete this material which settles on the bottom of the ocean, mile upon mile. It's known as the "radiolarian ooze." Some of my recent work has had an underwater theme going on. The previous Manorexia album was called Volvox Turbo. Volvox are also a small aquatic organism. It actually is a single cell organism that is made of cells that congregate, it's a social thing, it congregates, clumps. It's kind of pond scum. I added the "turbo" because I like the idea of fast moving pond scum [laughs]. And the Baby Zizanie album coming out on Nail in a limited edition of 500 on vinyl is called Thalassophobia, which means "fear of the ocean." . . . .

CM: It's like a different world. The ocean, I mean.

JGT: It's a totally different world. I mean, it's not like I've been researching it or anything but I started to delve into it. I'm going to do a third one [Manorexia album] next year which will also be distributed by me through the Web sites and concerts and then, maybe in 2004, what I'd like to do is do a triple-CD set, releasing them, all three of them together, through retail, so whoever discovers Manorexia for the first time is going to get their head ripped of by this triple album [laughs].

CM: Yeah, Manorexia just blew me away.

JGT: Yeah, I think some of my best stuff is coming out through Manorexia. . . I had this idea for the way that I wanted it to be, the type of album I wanted to make which was a type of drone album, or something that is coming from almost along those lines. That was the first intention when I had the idea, and when I turned on the studio it didn't turn out to be a drone album at all. What it did turn out to be—because I did decide to distribute it myself, it gave me an opportunity to create work where I felt like I wasn't under scrutiny. Stuff like Foetus and Steroid Maximus, they are heavily and meticulously crafted, and I felt like with Manorexia I wanted to do something where I could paint with almost broader brush strokes and using space and using exactly how I want to feel, so I don't care if it breaks down into being just like one sound repeating for like three minutes—that's exactly how I want to feel and it's really instinctive and it really comes. It's almost like my head, if there is an equivalent for the odd sounds I use, it's like playing air guitar [laughs]. That's the way that I feel when I hear it because it's really tapping into a different subconscious place, and it's really impossible to articulate what Manorexia sounds like.

CM: I heard you finished it in six weeks? True?

JGT: The first one yeah, the second one took longer.

CM: Did you just not sleep?

JGT: No, I didn't work on it that hard at all.

CM: It just came naturally?

JGT: Yeah, it just came to me. The second one was much harder actually. But, what it's done for me was to re-teach me a sort of different place to create from, which is actually much more a place of innocence, and [to] start putting it into a pantheon of things, like a pantheon of a legacy, instead of thinking about where it fits when you walk into Virgin Records. And I think as an artist creates over a long period of time, you can't help but start to get sullied by that, especially when your doing all the business yourself. I think Manorexia first came out partly out of frustration in having re-kindled a lot of my connections in the business and trying to find a deal for Foetus and stuff over the course of a year, and I was like, "fuck it, let's do something totally different and do it myself." And it was such a liberation to do that.

CM: So, do you find yourself having to keep up with technology, or is it having to keep up with you, or do you have to really study it, or is it a totally intuitive thing?

JGT: You don't study it. I have no interest in keeping up with what it is. You exchange ideas with people who tell you about things, you find out about things, and you say, "I want to try that out!" . . .Sometimes I'll have an idea of something I want to do and I'll find out if something exists to make that happen, or that can do it in an expedient way or find some application that does one thing, and you can use this one thing it does to make it do something else.

CM: So you're actually kind of ahead of the curve. . .

JGT: I wouldn't say I'm ahead of the curve, I mean. . .

CM: Well, what I mean sometimes you want something that's not there.

JGT: Ah yeah, that's true. There are things that I would like to have, especially for live performances, that haven't been invented yet. And they probably will be, because there are people like myself who discover there is a need for such and such a thing, like you know, like a maybe a digital audio interface that's the size of a matchbook and (laughs) something like that. . . .

CM: It's been said over and over again that Manorexia is reminiscent of a soundtrack. Is that something that you'd be interested in doing, or have you already done some?

JGT: I've done a little bit of soundtrack work. I did some work for Richard Kern on the Death Trip films, I worked on music supervising and a little bit of score for this film version of J.G. Ballard's Atrocity Exhibition, which didn't get a distribution deal, but I think now it is coming out on DVD with commentary by J.G. Ballard in London called Ballard Now, and that was about it. And for me, I am a coordinator for soundtracks, but the films haven't been made yet. For me to pursue soundtracks, that's a full-time job by itself, but it's also a committee.

CM: Because you're having to follow somebody else?

JGT: I've had experiences working with directors who haven't been able to articulate what they want and I'm not going to make 40 minutes of music that gets chopped and lost and then they use five. I figure that if I just keep creating this music that I am [creating], it will just fall into somebody's hands who will let me do something carte blanche with what I want to do—and know what I do, and say "Yes, what you do is what we want," not "Okay, you do good work, now can you make a little piece that sounds like the Beastie Boys, and then can you do a piece that sounds like Radiohead and then maybe a bit of your orchestral thing?" Fuck that, fuck that shit. . .

CM: Well, it you've re-mixed for like everybody, everybody seems to go through you. . .

JGT: No, it's not true. I was hot for a while. And I still like doing re-mixes, but now I'm just concentrating on my own stuff, but I haven't done a re-mix for a while. The whole re-mix landscape has changed a lot during the last five years or so because everyone has their own studio. Everyone is doing re-mixes, and I think I kind of got ghettoized and painted into a corner. What was the break for me was the Prong re-mix that was suddenly a hit, and I became the metal re-mix guy, and I think that that ghettoized me. I also think towards the end of my re-mix run, when my re-mix style was shining, that became a really bad, bad part of my life and some of the re-mixes towards the end really sucked. I really blew it big time.

CM: Now did they feel that way, or was it just you that felt that?

JGT: I knew it, I knew it, and they knew it too. And I think I stayed with the formula for a couple of years and I didn't change it, and then by the time I got up to do re-mixes again, I mean, those things are cyclical, you know. You can be hot in one little area for a little while, and than you're not hot. You know, I was like a hot voice-over guy for a while.

CM: Interesting. So it just comes in waves, it's trends.

JGT: Stuff like that, you know I can look back and go "would-have-should-have-could-have," but I should have got an agent back then for re-mixing and I should have got an agent for voice-overs and I didn't do either. In voice-over, it was "Ah, it's just free money, it's just pocket money, it's not something I want to pursue." Fuck it, I should have pursued it so much.

CM: Yeah, you were the MTV Sports guy!

JGT: Well I did the MTV Sports thing, and then everyone wanted "that MTV Sports guy." People started to do the MTV sports voice. In fact, I probably got passed over for people who did the MTV Sports voice.

CM: So people were copying you then?

JGT: Well, for example, I did an audition for the NHL and they wanted the MTV Sports guy sound. And I went in—they didn't have a director, they didn't have a producer there, so you know I wasn't getting any direction—and I got a script, and I didn't get the job. And I am that guy, you know.


p align="center">You can pick up J.G. Thirlwell's latest album, The Radiolarian Ooze, on his Web site, If you're Scraping Foetus off the Wheel, e-mail

Posted October 27, 2002 9:59 PM






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