"I hate doing interviews. I think it's disgusting, it's just something that seems to have to happen. I hate the idea of going through the treadmill and being processed. Well, that's the extreme interpretation of it but the fact is, I've been totally unknown and ignored, people start doing interviews and photo sessions with me and then the public start to notice. That makes me sick, why didn't they take notice before? That's why I've always said to you, no, I don't want to do an interview but I've made the first step now so I may as well go through with it."
This is said with the tone of a resigned-to-ritual parachutist who realises he's forgotten to strap on his chute but leaps from the plane anyway. The speaker is Frank Want (that should perhaps be written 'Frank Want'). He is one of the identities behind Self Immolation, a corporation responsible for the release of records by such as You've Got Foetus On Your Breath (two LP's Deaf and Ache), Foetus Over Frisco (a wonderful 12-inch single called Custom Built For Capitalism), Philip And His Foetus Vibrations and Foetus Under Glass (a single a piece).
Beneath the surface noise, the Foetus phenomenon is riddled with strange truths, bizarre unrealities and a rapidly evolving mythology. Readers may do well to bear in mind the phrase 'ambiguous flirtation'.
"We've never wanted a public image. No one could look at the group and say 'they've got this haircut and those trousers and therefore the music must sound like this'. I found myself in a record shop, picking a record out of the rack, thinking that the cover looked interesting. Then I turned it over and seeing the band had long hair, put it back immediately. That's disgusting. With Foetus there is nothing to judge us on apart from the record."
SCRAPING ART OFF THE WALL
"I like the idea of neo-constructivism and really identify with some of the slogans they came up with in the '20s. Like The Truly Modern Man Is One With A Constructive Life, and the idea of Art For The People, i.e. propaganda. I think propaganda is the highest form of art, I'm all for propagandising and preaching.
"A lot of bands say they don't like to preach to their audience but I'm all for that. Preaching is just lots of strong ideas being thrown about. It's a lot more interesting to read what Psychic TV have to say than the Virgin Prunes saying 'oh, we don't want I preach'. Everyone should preach to anybody who'll listen. If people take it too literally then it's their own fault. A lot of Foetus lyrics are not meant literally, they're just cynical or taking a certain stance."
How important is it to (p)reach (to) as many people as possible?
"To me that's not important. I have wondered whether I was just screaming into a cupboard, but the record is a commodity and, as good as the independent distribution system is, it's there to buy. What else should you have to do?
"You shouldn't have to hype yourself and get press exposure. What I always wanted was to get a following through word of mouth and that actually worked.
"I'm for preaching, but I'm also for people genuinely wanting the record, not just being told they want the record. It just takes longer, the only difficult thing is to survive as the word of mouth gets stronger."
Sources of finance?
"From (hushed tones) the Corporation. Various backers, investors and the State. For Foetus On The Breath (future big project – see later) I'd love it to be funded by the Swiss government or something because it needs at least a million pounds. Meanwhile, though, it's the State and independent investors, oil companies and things like that!'
I buy him another (black) coffee.
DIFFERENT HANDLES OPEN DIFFERENT DOORS (PUN)/WHAT'S MY NAME?
"There are different line-ups with different aims, limitations and concepts behind them. For example, Foetus In Your Bed is instrumental systems type stuff, it's not been released (save for two tracks on a United Dairies compilation) but it's building up a strong identity. It's almost system-funk but with no percussion.
"Foetus Over Frisco, that's a cynical funk group. Disco records which are very conscious of being disco records. The next 12-inch will be called Foetus Uber Frisco. That's a really complicated network of ideas tying in neo-constructivism with disco conceit – that self admiring thing, like rap people who always talk about themselves saying 'I'm the biggest star'. it takes Le Corbusier's idea of the house being a machine for living and transposes it to the body: the body is a machine for living. And you can dance to it, what more d'ya want?
"The next 12" after that will be by Foetus Uber Alles."
(He later muses over this name: "Hmmm, I really love that There is a little bit of former Austrian house painter in Frank seeking revenge, plotting, scheming, sticking pins in maps of the world.)
"That would take the idea to its most extreme but it would be fairly obvious to anyone who listened that it wasn't right wing or fascistic. Just power orientated .
Who do you think is the typical Foetus fan (the Foetus Youth?)?
"A real schmuck. Judging by the letters it would seem to be the type of person I used to hate at school. I hate people who write letters anyway. We always post back with: 'Thank you for your enquiry, please find enclosed ...' and we send them some literature. I don't think you owe fans anything. I'm not going to say thank you for buying my record. Bloody hell, they got a bargain!"
BOLDLY INTO THE FUTURE
"One big direction is Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel or Scraping Foetus Off The Wall as some of the trade papers mistakenly called it. It's about getting the instruments out and letting the percussion through. Dynamically it's really over the top, simple and aggressive. A bit like punk rock. There'll be a mini-LP, the second side of which will be 'The Devil Rides Out Suite'. Heavy, fire and brimstone stuff starting, with 'Streets Of Shame' then 'Satan Place' and more manic, depressive tracks called 'White Knuckles' and 'Water Torture'. The climax is 'Cold Day In Hell'. Foetus Diabola!
"We're going to be playing live at some point. The Foetus All Nude Review to be performed in strip clubs."
Why strip clubs?
"It's the nature of the music and also it's good to be playing to old men who've gone to see the strip show and confront them with the music."
How would you get on there in the first place (audition?)?
"Wheeling, dealing, friends in the underworld. It could be pulled off (sic). It would be good to use the rhythm section already playing at the club. I like that sort of music, brash, grinding arrangements, a very rude trumpet and trombone, all very seedy.
"I'd bring my own strippers as well."
(Tasteless description followed – deleted).
"If it got to the point where people were coming down specifically to see it I'd stop. I'd only want to play to that strip club audience."
"The You've Got Foetus On Your Breath records are the most important ones. I'd like to think that the third LP, which will probably be the last, would be the ideal LP to hear just before they drop the Big One. The most intense experience, raw and frantic, about to crack.
"Foetus On The Beach is a massive project. It's a musical set after they drop the Big One. It's a triple LP and a feature film. That's what I need about a million pounds for. It'll probably entail five nervous breakdowns and, ultimately, death but I think it'll come to fruition, it's slowly formulating and gathering resolve.
"Let me tell you some of the basic concepts running through, Self Immolation. . ."
LIES TO LIVE BY (I'M ALL EARS)
i) Aesthetic Terrorism: "Nothing to do with political terrorism. It's about taking things and throwing them out of joint, misusing phrases and stuff, juxtaposing things that don't quite fit. Musical quotations – taking bits of melody from recognisable songs, like on 'Wholesome Town' (on 'Ache') there's 'She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain' and 'Give Me That Old Time Religion' and over them 'Oh Susanna' and the William Tell Overture played on woodblocks."
ii) Positive Negativism: "A very vague concept, something I'm aspiring to. Basically it involves using the songs as a means to an end result which is positive but which initially sounds negative. Like 'Anemone' (again on 'Ache'), a lot of it seems very down and violent but it's for a positive end result. If only the release of all those pent up feelings. It's like embracing social decay and almost glorifying it. The opposite of escapism."
iii) The Neo-Constructive Thing (Reprise): "Slogans that are good to identify with. Written on walls so you can look up and see a good guideline to live by – an inspiration. it's about smashing elitist art. Simple direct things which we've mirrored in the record sleeves."
iv) Hard Art: "Not thinking about any commercial considerations but just doing what you want. Then going out and convincing people that it's something they can't be without. Pursuing a whim then selling it.
"There is the Hardt (abbreviation of Hard Art) Record Label.
We're doing a compilation by Einsturzende Neubauten. Self Immolation thinks it's criminal that Neubauten aren't recognised here. They're just probably the best group functioning in the world at the moment."
v) The Church Of The Immaculate Pre-Conception: "This is a mail order religion with guest saints and quest martyrs every year. The first year the quest saints are Sandy Lesberg and Carl Sagan. Sandy Lesberg edited a book called Violence In Our Times and also edits cookery books. Anybody who's sick enough to do that must be a fascinating character. Carl Sagan is the scientist of the people. All we're going to offer members, apart from T-shirts, is that we'll not disclose their names to anyone."
FOETUS, FINALLY AND FRANKLY
"Most of the good records I've heard or the best books that I've read have been through word of mouth, they've just been dug up by people. We're waiting to be dug up."
Original source: Sounds magazine, June 1983, Mick Sinclair.
© mick sinclair