Marc Almond

THE RELATIONSHIP between record companies and the music press is I think generally seen to be one of a symbiotic nature.

However it would seem that this opinion is not shared by everyone working within the music industry. I shall spare you the gory details that made the setting up of this interview into a nightmare and eventually turned into a slanging match. Luckily, Marc Almond saved the day by making what could have been a very tense and unpleasant situation into a delightful and charming conversation.

A cold but sunny winter afternoon provides the backdrop to this scene; Marc has just rushed into the building clutching a take-away sandwich. He is in high spirits due to the success of his debut live performance as Marc and the Mambas (with Matt Johnson and Ann Hogan) the night before at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London. Unfortunately I was wilfully deprived of this rare opportunity to see Marc on stage. Can’t moan too much though, the trusty Tube allowed me and a few million others a glimpse of Marc battling bravely with a faulty microphone and gave us a taste of what to expect on Soft Cell’s forthcoming LP, The Art Of Falling Apart.

Photographer Peter Ashworth, incidentally, was once a member of Matt Johnson’s group The The and can also be heard playing drums on the Marc and the Mambas LP Untitled.

What’s the story behind ‘Where The Heart Is’?

Marc: It’s looking back really. Both sides of the single, ‘Where The Heart Is’ and ‘It’s A Mugs Game’ are looking back at me in adolescence. I suppose ‘Heart’ is younger adolescence and ‘Mugs Game’ is slightly older adolescence probably about 16 or 17… ‘Heart’ is probably about 14 when you get to that stage when your parents just seem to stand in the way of everything that want to do and you start to develop your own personality and your own way of thinking. It’s a bit of an anti-parent song really. It’s not slagging off parents, it’s just saying parents take note and don’t let your kids turn out into a mess. You know, don’t let them end up like me!

It’s funny, because people come up to me and say; “Oh, it’s the sort of song that mums and dads can sing along to”, that’s what I like, that sort of subversiveness, but I hope that the mums and dads that are singing along to it will realise that it’s taking a little bit of a dig at them.

What’s your role in the song?

Basically, I’m the kid. Obviously I’m using my experiences but I think a lot of people have been in this situation. You get to a certain age and your parents seem to stand in the way and they want you to be just like them. They want you to like the things that they like and they’re going by their set of standards and morals, which is like a long, long time ago. They don’t realise it’s decades on and things have changed, they don’t encourage kids to be themselves. They want them to be little replicas of themselves instead of encouraging them to have personalities of their own.

Did you have a happy childhood?

Thinking back, not particularly, no. I had moments of awfulness, it was just awful at times. I found out that I had to enjoy being on my own and I had to be independent and find out what I wanted to do, find out my own direction because no-one else was really going to help me. That’s nothing against my mum because I’ve always got on well with her and she’s always encouraged me. It’s the other side, the father side. I haven’t seen him for a long time, nor do I want to.

Is your mother pleased about your success?

I think she’s really… well, obviously, when I left school and went to art college and did all those things that she didn’t approve of, she thought it wasn’t a good sensible job. Then you have this thing again of them wanting you to be like them — I said no, this is what I want to do and what I want to be, and she said “but you can’t make any money out of that”; that was performance art. She didn’t understand really. I remember when I told her that I’d started doing music and I’d formed a sort of group, she said, “Yes, but can’t you do something useful?”. Now she’s come around and says that she’d always encouraged me…

I’ve got a sister of 22 and a sister of six — my mum remarried. The family situation is great now because I live away from them; I’m independent, my mother’s very happy and she’s got a child. Everything’s straightened out and they’re very happy.

I used to have terrible fights when I lived at home. When I was about 17 and I was at college at Southport, I was still living at home with my parents and I used to have really bad fights with my mother. It was unbelievable. But it’s not unique to me at all, that situation is very common to most people. ‘It’s A Mugs Game’ is about the way you aim for your independence and you end up learning the hard way a lot of the time and you end up making a mess out of yourself. It’s all these things that go towards making valuable experience, you know, like going to parties and getting really drunk and being ill, and missing off school and getting your girlfriend pregnant, all those sort of things…

When I first heard ‘Where The Heart Is’ on the radio, I thought it had rather incestuous overtones. It sounded as if you were sitting opposite your sister at the kitchen table and singing a funny sort of love song. Do you know what I mean?

That’s really interesting. How strange! What an unusual way of looking at it. I don’t think that was in my mind when I wrote it but I like it when people see things in different ways. I like songs that have suggestion and this subversive quality. If you see that in it, I think it’s good because it relates to — I don’t know — some sort of personal thing?!!!

I think we’ve come to expect songs with a disturbing element from Soft Cell. After all, the famous porn video for ‘Sex Dwarf’ was quite disturbing.

But that’s a very small part of Soft Cell. The Porno-Sleaze thing was really a very small element. If you look at the first album with songs on it like ‘Bedsitter’, ‘Frustration’ and ‘A Secret Life’, it was mainly dealing with suburbia and that sort of under-the-carpet thing. I often put songs in situations, sort of sordid and sleazy situations — which again, is relating to a lot of my personal experiences. If you’re looking for glamour it’s a much truer and real sort of glamour than something like roses and champagne and mansions in Beverly Hills.

I think the Marc and the Mambas album is very romantic.

Yeah it’s romantic but it’s also very desolate and sad as well. I can’t ever do happy songs, I can’t deal with happy subjects at all, I just can’t relate to them. I like listening to other people’s happy songs, I just find it very difficult to sing them myself. I don’t think I do one single happy song.

I’m afraid I don’t know much about Jacques Brel. Could you tell me a little bit about him?

He was a French writer who wrote a lot of songs that have been covered by various people. His favourite subjects were quite sleazy. Have you heard ‘Next’? He was the sort of person who wrote about the black side of life, but I think also finding a kind of glamour in it, like in something like ‘Amsterdam’, with the whores and the pimps… He found a sort of glamour in squalor, which was what my early performances pre-Soft Cell used to be about.

Do you still go to the theatre?

I haven’t been for a while. I used to go all the time, I used to see ballets and all sorts of plays.

Recently, I haven’t really had a chance to. I go to see films more; I’m film mad, but I really want to get back into going to the theatre again. I prefer the theatre, I get a feeling of excitement and tenseness that I didn’t get as much with films. I love gore and horror. My favourite film recently was The Sword And The Sorcerer, I loved it because it was real trash. I enjoyed Cat People very much but I think Blade Runner is one of the best things I’ve seen for ages. It was fantastic.

You seem to have a recurring motif/obsession with snakes. What’s the attraction?

Snakes are my favourite animals, I just love them, I adore them. I did a video with one, it was great.

Why don’t you buy one?

I want to but I wouldn’t have a chance to look after it really. I would buy one but the girl who looks after my house, in Leeds while I’m away won’t have one in the house. She absolutely refuses. The one we used in the video was a Black Indiana, it was purple and black, it was fantastic, but it had this tendency to wrap itself around your neck and strangle you and the keeper had to keep pulling it off.

Another thing is that I hate and detest spiders; live ones that is. I don’t mind rubber ones! So I was tempted to get a tarantula recently to try and overcome my fear of spiders but then a friend of mine who’s got one said that if you touch a tarantula you can sometimes come up with horrible skin reactions to its fur and they do give you nasty bites.

Apparently if you drop one, they burst like jelly in a paper bag.

Uggh! Oh no, how horrible! I saw a really beautiful one once that was all black with little pink toes.

Are you still commuting from Leeds to London or do you have a place here?

I stay all over the place now. I had a bedsit in Earls Court. I really like places like that, I enjoy writing in bedsits and being on my own. But I left because I was suspicious of the landlady.

For the sake of credibility, I hope it was suitably seedy!

Yes, it was quite seedy. It was just one room with a kitchen in the corner and two windows and none of the furniture matched. It never does in those places, they obviously get it from second-hand shops. I like it because during the time that I was living there, Jane who works in our office was living in the room downstairs, so we had quite a lot of fun. You could relax and have a good time… I like it round there, there’s so many different types of people and different races and all the shops are open till really late at night. There’s always something going on, little things to watch like little scenarios going on in the doorways. Anyway, I’ve moved from there now and I’m looking for somewhere else really.

I believe that you spend a lot of time in New York as well.

I’ve just bought a loft there. It’s on West 17th, between 5th and 6th, quite near to the Village. It’s a really big raw space that I can do anything with, I’m having partitions put up at the moment. I like environments that are good for writing in…

What have you done with all your money?

I’ve virtually got nothing left. I’ve put a lot of it back into work and a lot of it goes on my friends, giving them a good time. We’ve also put a lot of money into this video project which seems to be turning out to be a bit of a disaster.

What’s that and why’s that?

We did videos for most of the songs from Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret and Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing to be put into a little video cassette compilation called Non-Stop Exotic Video. We’ve had so much trouble with it, so many of the people who we were trying to get to release it wanted various things cutting out, like in the ‘Sex Dwarf’ video. Actually, now, I tend to agree with them, because I’m really quite bored with the ‘Sex Dwarf’ thing, I’m just totally pissed off with it quite honestly. It’s done its good, it created a real storm which was the most valuable thing about it. But it’s a shame about the rest because a lot of the videos on it are really good and we’re having a lot of trouble getting it released, the companies that want to release it want to exploit it to its full potential and we don’t want that. So it looks as if it’s going to be a mail order thing from Some Bizzare. Also, when we do some dates in England in February, we’re going to use a lot of the videos in the show.

I read in an interview with you that one of your hobbies is investigating gay bars, strip joints and brothels. Is that safe?

I just love going into underground places. I like going anywhere where there’s real life situations going on and real live bits of theatre. Sometimes I get threatened and sometimes I get pestered by people who want to pick me up. You get some very weird people in there sometimes. Most of the time I think it’s great because I love the girls that work in those places and they’re such great fun and they tell the most marvellous stories.

What sort of books do you read?

At the moment I’m reading 120 Days Of Sodom by De Sade.

Have you read Justine?

Is that the one with the giant Minsky?

No.

Oh, it must be Juliette. It had a giant in it called Minsky who had furniture made of human people and he put hot-plates on them and they all writhed about. I think that’s where Allen Jones got his inspiration from for his tables and hat-stands.

I know De Sade inspired a lot of the medical experiments carried out by the Nazis.

120 Days Of Sodom is banned in this country but you can get it in America… it’s really heavy… the film Salo was based on 120 Days and that was heavy too but not as much as the book because it wasn’t set in the same situation. Pasolini who did it — put it into the situation of Fascist Italy and I think the version that finally hit our screens was very much cut. Nevertheless, I found it very shocking, it’s not titillating. You come out of the cinema and you’ve learnt some lessons about humanity, about how far people can go. It’s like bloodlust. In wars people just get obsessed by mutilation and killing. It’s like a trigger that’s in all of us, that trigger to kill. They say it’s terribly sexually satisfying to kill…

I also like Genet a lot but he’s very difficult to get into because he writes so personally. I also really like John Rechy. He writes about the sort of gay underground scene in L.A. He wrote a book called The Sexual Outlaw in which he just spent the whole weekend going round L.A. picking people up, one after the other… he even goes into training for it and then goes round the parks picking guys up. They don’t ask each others names, it’s just totally loveless sex, which is something that really interests me… People using other people as meat, which is a very icy and odd situation…

Another book he wrote is called Vampires which is the only book of his I’ve read which isn’t based around the whole gay subculture. My favourite book is called They Thirst and I can’t remember who it’s by. It’s about vampires taking over Los Angeles.

Do you believe that vampires exist?

I believe in vampires, not in the big toothed variety but I believe in people who like blood as a sexual thing. There was this film called Martin by George Romero about a young 14 year old boy that goes around cutting housewives’ wrists and drinking their blood. He does it very methodically; first of all he injects them, cuts their wrists and then bathes himself in their blood and then drinks it and then he has sex with them while they’re dying. Martin is like a metaphor for frustrated adolescence, when you’re young you sometimes feel like an outsider and that you don’t fit into any situation… We’ve actually done a song on the new album that’s based on that film.

I think blood is very sexual, it’s like sado-masochism. I think a lot of people find blood a very sexual liquid…

Stevo’s become quite famous for his rather unusual and unorthodox management techniques. Why do you think he gets away with it?

I think in the music business there’s so much of the suit and tie brigade, there’s so much grovelling as well; managers will go into record company offices and they’ll grovel, they’ll say “yes sir, no sir” in their suit and tie and bring out their briefcase and put it on the desk and talk about deals etc, etc.

Stevo just goes in there, often he’ll send his teddy bear or a tape recorded message or he’ll say things like, “We’ll have to conduct the interview under the table or in the toilet”. If they want the deal badly enough then they’ll do it and they’ll make idiots of themselves but I think that they enjoy that because it shakes them up and messes them around. I think so many of them are so bored; all they’ve got to look forward to is their line of cocaine every half-an-hour. They must enjoy it because they all come back for more.

Have you met Gloria Jones since ‘Tainted Love’ was a hit?

No. I’d be very interested to meet her. It would have been nice if ‘Tainted Love’ had been a hit for her because it was re-released the same time as ours… I feel she’s had a bad deal with the whole Marc Bolan thing, the way everyone blames her for Marc’s death… I think she deserved something, she has such a great voice.

What is your star sign?

Cancer, I’m quite typical for a Cancer. I get moody and I’m very changeable. I’m like a crab — hard with a soft interior. Sometimes I can be hard to people, I find it difficult to let people get near to me but I also get hurt very easily, I’ve got a soft inner self. I’m also very home-loving but I don’t get enough chance to be home — not my parents house, I mean my own home. Cancers are often oversensitive and upset about nothing which sums me up really.

You are often criticised for singing out of tune. Do you do it deliberately so that you can convey emotion?

I’ve never said that I can sing, I’ve always said I’ve got my own style. People either like it or hate it. I think the most important thing is getting the note in the right place a lot of the time — I’ve never had a singing lesson in my life although I think I may do a few breathing excercises soon so that I can develop my voice more.

But the most important thing about singing is delivery and interpretation of the lyric and meaning what you’re singing and putting real feeling and emotion into it.

I hear so many bands that put all the notes in the right places and they sound so boring and so bored, it looks as if they’ve just been handed the lyric before the session. I’ve got my own style which is mine, if people don’t like it then they don’t have to listen to it, but I wish they’d keep comments to themselves.

Have you ever dabbled in black magic?

I’m interested in black magic but I never dabble in anything. I don’t know enough about it, I’m interested in white magic — a magic that can be used for a useful purpose as opposed to a destructive purpose. I read a book The Satanic Bible by Anton Le Vey who’s a bit of a colourful character in San Francisco, he runs an organisation called The Church of Satan. He’s a bit of a circus character in a way, he wears all these long cloaks and has a bald head with a pointed beard and he thinks he’s the devil.

I got very interested in him when I was at college because I was doing a series of drawings and paintings based on the life and death of Jayne Mansfield. I was reading a lot of books about her at the time and she interested me very much, not just on the level of a busty dumb blonde but because there were a lot of very strange things happening in her life. She was involved with Anton Le Vey and his Church of Satan and she went to his place once to pose for some photographs with him and her boyfriend picked up some sacred skull that was on the alter and he laughed at it. Anton Le Vey said to Jayne Mansfield: “If you carry on with this man then I’m putting a curse on him, don’t get involved with him or else something awful will happen to you, he’s going to have an automobile accident” and within a matter of weeks she had the car crash where she and her boyfriend died.

When I read The Satanic Bible I realised that, unfortunately, a lot of what he says in that is true. He says that men should go back to being animals and that man is too sophisticated, we should get back to the unconscious and become animals. He says sex should be wild and uninhibited and that people basically want to kill and they enjoy it, which is a heavy statement and it’s really scary but I can recognise it as probably being true.

As I mentioned earlier, you use the snake motif a lot: the other one is eyes. Why is that?

Eyes are my favourite feature, one of the things that I’m quite obsessed by is eyes. I love people’s eyes, you’ve got really lovely deep blue eyes, there’s lots of little secrets going on behind those eyes! Eyes say loads and loads of things about people, they give people their character. It’s fascinating, you can just see so much in people’s eyes… I don’t wear contact lenses but I’m meant to wear glasses for watching TV but I forget to put them on. I’m so shortsighted, I’m as blind as a bat. A lot of the time I wear dark glasses because I get headaches from the bright daylight.

Can you sum up The Art Of Falling Apart in a nutshell?

It’s a much bigger and heavier sound to the last album which tended to be a little lightweight at times, the songs are much more powerful and intense, the whole album’s a lot darker and dramatic, it’s also very personal. The songs are getting more aggressive and there’s a lot of energy in the way of dynamics and I don’t mean that just in the dancebeats.

What would you like 1983 to hold in store for you?

If it holds half as much as 1982 then I think I’m going to be an extremely busy person. I think it’s going to hold a lot more excitement than 1982 because there were too many depressing moments in 1982 like touring around in Europe and being treated like an arsehole by various people who had no respect for you whatsoever. I think now that I’ve found my feet and Dave’s found his feet that we’re relaxing a lot more. We’re getting more done and we’re much happier. I hope 1983 is going to be an excellent year for us, I don’t mean that in the way of selling records, I just mean it in the way of creative activity.

© Fiona Russell PowellThe Face, February 1983

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