Stefan Jaworzyn: Interview
“When I used to read what musicians actually ‘think,’ it regularly put me off listening to them.”
“Oasis of Filth” is a ‘live’ recording on a digital synth I was tinkering with. In the way these things happen I thought, “Wow, that sounds fucked up, better record it.” I recently described it to Scott (Foust) along the lines of “a psychotic ‘experimental’ piece that sounds like a lunatic trapped in some installation and banging the door against his head in an attempt to make it all go away.” Think of it that way.
“Cast Out” is much different, here I was consciously trying to create something less rhythmic than usual. (I mostly use a sequencer to trigger rhythms.) Here I wanted to produce something more menacing and unsettling — it has a sort of pulse to it, but it’s ‘beatless’… And I have previously enjoyed producing long pieces involving repetition — if you listen to “Winter”’ on [the] Eaten Away By Shadows CD it’s not a million miles from “Cast Out” — now I guess it’s an actual intention rather than an accident or some half-formed notion I wasn’t fully aware of.
What attracts you to analog recording?
Well, it’s not analog recording. I have a few analog synths and a couple of sequencers. I absolutely love the MFB Urzwerg Pro sequencer and their Dominion X SED synth, they’re both spectacular instruments. But I’m not into them for exclusivity or analog snobbery. The sound is all that matters — I also love the Access Virus TI and use it a lot; a good digital synth is just as much fun. “Make a Joyful Sound” on the last 12-inch was produced using the Novation Nova, a digital ‘virtual analogue’ (yeah, right) synth with numerous irritating aspects. I dragged it out of the basement and ended up with “Make a Joyful Sound.” I mean, I’d like a studio full of analog equipment, but that’s not going to happen. And digital synths can produce great sounds, they shouldn’t be underrated…
Drained of Connotation LP
You’re also releasing Drained of Connotation on Blackest Ever Black. What do you enjoy most on Kiran Sande’s roster? How do you think your music fits into that context?
Oh, I absolutely insisted Kiran allow me to audition his every release before I could allow my music on his label. If there’d been a single one that didn’t meet my standards I would have lost all faith in him and it would have soured the deal. (As ‘the internet’ appears to contain a couple of dumb fucks who take everything at face value, I should probably explain I am blatantly lying.)
I like Kiran’s aesthetic and his attitude, I like his label’s identity and the fact that he knows what he wants but is also happy to take a chance… (I’m still kind of surprised he wanted to put out something by me.) Cut Hands, Regis, Raime — I’m in good company. Does my music fit in? Does it matter? My album’s from 1982! In that respect it doesn’t fit in at all, yet Kiran obviously thinks it does, and despite my feeling of disbelief and increasing middle-aged crankiness, I do too. Maybe BEB reminds me of early Shock; I guess if Kiran likes it he’ll put it out, isn’t that the most important aspect of running a label? When your label is popular and/or successful and you can say, “Well, too bad if the people who bought xxx don’t like this, I’m putting it out anyway.” I mean, I released a Lol Coxhill LP in between two Skullflower albums and it sold out, isn’t that what matters?
so much has changed in the last 30 years it’s unrealistic to compare it now to ‘the good old days’ — which probably sucked but didn’t seem to because we were young and, uh, enthusiastic. When you’re young you barely notice and care less that you’re living in a shithole with no hot water. Or you haven’t eaten for two days because you spent your money on drugs.
Last year saw the first Shock releases since 1996. How does it feel to be putting out material again and what inspired you to do that?
It feels like hell. It’s a fucking nightmare. I hate the fucking internet and I wish I could do everything by fax and letter again! Anyway… It started with the Skullflower CDs, which took getting on for two years. It was something I thought would never happen for a variety of reasons, and working on them was a shot in the arm (though not of the type I might now choose given the circumstances). When I went through my cassettes looking for unreleased Skullflower material, I brought up the tapes of my old bedroom junk, and playing through the synth stuff that Kiran’s releasing reminded me how much I enjoyed using machines.
I’ve been increasingly reclusive and it struck me that ‘electronics’ was ideal for working alone and at home. Once I started screwing around I realized I had notions of what I wanted to create and the way in which I wanted to create it (it must be said this is informed as much by my inabilities as my abilities). Once I’d done a bit of recording I thought, “This sounds pretty twisted, I might as well release it — what’s the worst that could happen? People don’t like it and say I’m a cunt? What else is new.”
The first five acts on Shock were Skullflower, Coil, Current 93, Nurse With Wound, and Drunks With Guns. That’s a hugely influential roster. How did those connections come about and how do you feel now looking back on those releases?
Well, some of us were (independently) mooching around/hanging out at Vinyl Experience on Hanway Street. They (Vinyl Experience) were starting to manufacture and distribute records… Geoff Cox was usually behind the counter and he was a great source for odd records and knew just about everyone… I was obviously in Skullflower, we were recording a fair amount and no one else was releasing anything, so what the hell… Edwin/Savage Pencil suggested I start a label and it seemed like a good idea.
I knew Steve Thrower from our mutual interest in trashy movies, he’d written for Shock Xpress and played on Form Destroyer, and he’d introduced me to Geoff Rushton and Sleazy. I’d encountered Geoff/Jhon earlier in the 1980s via John Gosling when they were in Zos-kia… And I’d interviewed Coil for Shock Xpress about their score for Hellraiser, which ended up unused (and thus did the interview). So it seemed like a good idea to ask Coil to do a record — theirs was supposed to be the second release but we had so many production problems the Current and Nurse records came out first. (We sold 3000 copies of the Coil 7-inch, that’d probably put it on the charts these days. The Skullflower 7-inch sold out in a day. Stuff that up your fucking internet.)
I think Edwin suggested I ask Current 93 to do something and ‘officially’ introduced me to Tibet… There was a scuzzy Spanish bar (Bradleys?) we’d usually end up in, most of our ‘business’ was done there. I think Tibet said, ‘Well, if Coil’s going to do a record and so am I, then you should ask Steve (Stapleton) too.’
Then I got introduced to Fritz from The Strangulated Beatoffs, who’d gravitated toward Vinyl Experience on a trip to London. He ended up staying with us for a couple of days and put me in contact with Stan Seitrich, who had a couple of unreleased Drunks with Guns tracks in his vault. People told me that Stan was ‘difficult’ but he was a sweetie! (Christ, if they thought Stan was difficult they never had to deal with me.) I may have the chronology wrong here, I might have got Stan’s address from Byron, then met Fritz after I’d put the DWG record out — does anyone remember?
I love those first five records, and I enjoyed producing them the same way I enjoyed the early issues of Shock Xpress. Me and Sav folded most of those 7-inch covers sitting on the floor upstairs at Vinyl Experience, stuffed all the stickers in the first thousand Coil singles.
Eaten Away By The Shadows LP
Starting a label is a lot different now to what it was when you started Shock. Music consumption and the portability of music has completely reshaped the way it’s experienced. Does that have any impact on you in reviving Shock, and if you were starting from scratch right now, how might you adapt your strategy?
I am basically starting from scratch! I have no strategy. Everything I might have once known or understood is hopelessly outmoded and/or obsolete. I don’t think like a ‘young person’, my perception of ‘the market’ is completely addled and I feel useless and out of my depth, pissing in the wind. Can someone tell me how to run a record label?
People losing jobs, vacant positions not being filled, the local job centre closing, and a needle exchange opening — that was the direct effect of Tory policies. Experiencing that perhaps served to make me less sympathetic to whining that a grant for 10,000 rolls of film to document The Colonic Wart Growth Project had been refused…
The Kino records are an excellent opportunity for new audiences to discover your work. Why do you feel that now is a good time to be releasing them?
Well, it’s not my work, it’s Skullflower. That stuff should have come out years ago, it’s been unavailable way too long. I guess Matthew and I were both sitting there wondering if we should contact each other then not doing it… Stupid really, but there you go… At least we finally did it. Listening to it all properly after 20-odd years reminded me how powerful so much of it is. And the CDs sound fantastic, I’m really pleased with the unreleased tracks. Richard’s mastering is perfect, as were Steve’s ideas for the covers and design — finally we got it all right.
Will there be a live show to go with The Annihilating Light? What can we expect in the coming months?
I haven’t figured out how to play live, sometimes it takes me a day to find one rhythm I like. I don’t use a laptop or anything and I don’t program sounds into the synths’ memories — I might produce an hour of total shit! (Which I suppose might amuse some people…) But I have no transport, and no real desire to stay up late or deal with anything other than the TV remote and the vodka bottle. So that probably rules out gigs.
As for the future, I have an album of new material I’d like to put out, which vaguely resembles the material on the two Shock records. But it’s more, um, evolved and conceptually continuous, it seems more like an album than the 12-inch tracks, which aren’t really related, if you see what I mean… So I guess I’ll end up putting that out next year some time… By which point everyone will have had far too much of me and I can retire to the sofa for another couple of decades…
For Shock inquiries, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Top photo: Descension supporting Sonic Youth at The Forum, London, 1996 (by Jo Fell)