Eyeless In Gaza – Sweet Life Longer
by Phil Clarke
The following interview was conducted between myself, Phil Clarke, Pete Becker and Liz Bates of Eyeless In Gaza on the event of their departure to join Martyn Bates in Europe. The dates they are due to play, supporting Anne Clark, are the first performances to feature Liz as a group member and also the first for them as a unit for several years.
As a group, you’ve effectively been out of action since … 1987?
Pete Becker: The last gigs that Martyn and myself played were in Spain in March ’87, so yes it’s been six years.
How would you describe the train of events that led to you reforming, and also Liz’s involvement in the music.
PB: Well nobody wanted Eyeless to end in the first place. After the release of the last album we did for Cherry Red, ‘Back From the Rains’, we were trying to get a major deal, we’d got a manager and we were thinking about a “rock‘n’roll career”, go up the ladder, progress, that sort of idea. I think we were very, very close a lot of times, but we just never found a satisfactory deal. We were nearly there, but the guys kept hanging us on – I think we hadn’t worked live for a year, Martyn said to me that he was going to do some solo stuff, to fill in the gaps. We were talking, and he was saying things like “Why don’t you go and do some things by yourself as well?”, but he was trying to say “Look it’s all coming to an end, isn’t it?” I think I said to him, I can’t remember the exact words, but it was something like “Well, better call it a day, then, because it’s not getting anywhere.” I couldn’t keep hanging on, but it was all very depressing, y’know to think that a year before we’d had the support tour with Depeche Mode and it had built up to something and then there was nothing.
Liz Bates: It’s like the old adage, there’s nothing that causes more problems than money problems. I mean, how many times could you tour Europe together? That was part of the reason why you wanted to take it into another stage, just to get things shifting.
PB: Anyway, I ended up signing on the dole and then, after about six months I got a conventional job. But I never stopped working and neither did Martyn – he released a couple of solo albums for Antler (in Belgium) and I worked with In Embrace for a bit as a session player and to get their stuff onto computer so that they could play live. I’d always been doing my own stuff too, ever since I bought the first (music) computer, the BBC, in 1984. I’d just built up a load of backing tracks over three or four years and my intention was to try and get some studio work, as a technician, producer or an engineer. I was offered a job at Woodbine Studios in Leamington Spa, but basically the money wasn’t there and I’d have to live in a poky flat away from my family and friends for £60 a week.
LB: While all this was going on, I’d gained an interest in doing stuff with a country feel. I’d always liked the more popular areas of Country; Crystal Gayle and Dolly Parton, and while Martyn was still doing his solo stuff with Antler, me and Pete got together and did a few things where Martyn had written the vocal melodies, or there were some of his songs and I’d written lyrics and Pete had arranged them. I didn’t really do anything with it. I still saw everything as fun and I didn’t really get off my backside and send it to people or anything like that. I think sometimes, in the back of my mind I was thinking “Get Pete round our house … ”.
PB: … But not consciously… ?
LB: No, it was just that connection. And then Pete gave me a tape of some of his work and I was wailing away in the bathroom to it. I was doing some Shalamar-type vocals, no lyrics or anything, and everytime I did it Martyn’s ears were there, y’know he said “ooh, I like that piece” and that led to a few serious conversations over a beer at the Red Gate.
PB: … Couldn’t have been that serious if beer was involved!
LB: I remember several serious conversations where I made us all knuckle down and say “That’s it, we’re coming round.” You’d given Martyn a tape with some of your favourite pieces on, and what got him was ‘Feel Like Letting Go’ (ultimately to be one of the tracks on the new ‘Fabulous Library’ album). I remember we played it on the car cassette going up to the Red Gate and he started singing his piece over it. Then we went round and that was it, that got the ball rolling and we never looked back.
So finding out that your vocals, Liz, fitted well with the rest of what was going on was more of an evolutionary thing then?
PB: Oh yeah, I think I had an idea in the back of my mind that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have someone do more-or-less what Anne Clark does, it’s weird as it’s turned out. My idea was to have someone read lyrics or poetry to do something a bit different. I was listening to a lot of Rap and Hip-Hop stuff at the time and I thought it would be so false for me to get someone to go “Hurley-Hurley-Hoo!” over the top, it’s just so bloody obvious. I thought that it would be quite nice to do something that’s more in keeping with where we’re coming from.
LB: More often than not, when we came round, I’d know what Martyn was going to do, but he wouldn’t know what I was going to do on top of it. In part, this was because I was protective about my input and I thought if I show him he’ll say “This is shit!” and he won’t let me do it! (not really). So, it was a surprise when I used to go in and do my bit. Then there were other times I’d just make it up on the spot and say that I’d worked for days on it (laughs).
So gradually this gathered momentum as you went along, and you started to realise that something was coming together.
PB: Oh yeah …
And then you got the idea of going into a studio to record it all for a future release?
PB: Yeah, we got about six or eight pieces that we thought were really good, and we approached Antler at the start. It started to be, like, the same old story again. I hate the rock‘n’roll business really!
LB: Well first of all they went mad over it, didn’t they?
PB: It just seems that people go “Oh this is great” and then nothing happens, y’know, and I just thought “I’ve been here before. I’ve done this before.” I think that Martyn got far more excited about it than I did, because I never believe it until I’m signing my name on a contract, and even then I’m a bit wary about it.
So the album took time to record?
PB: That’s right, it’s to do with money. If you’ve got money you can book studio time and pay for it, but none of us had got any money so we got somebody, who shall remain nameless, who was very kind to negotiate studio time for us. The deal was that they let us have the studio for nothing now, but when the record comes out they take a percentage. Which was very kind of them. Cabin Studios (Coventry) didn’t have a lot of “down” time, that was why it took so long to do, fifteen or sixteen months, a long time and a bit bloody frustrating as well. We had to wait until Paul Sampson (producer) and the studio were both free together. Sometimes, Paul was off doing other projects … .
Listening to it though you can’t tell that it was recorded over a period of time. Although there are different slants within it, it sounds very much a “whole” album to me. It sounded like it was done in one pass really.
LB: The motive for it remained the same throughout, so that’s probably why it sounds as if it was all done in a closer space of time. One of the things we said right from the outset was that we were going to do this music for ourselves, and not for a fashion or a phase. There were no outside pressures, I mean the only pressures we had were to get finished by 10 o’clock to get to the pub! We all agreed on that!
PB: A lot of Dance music these days will be very fashionable this month, but in three months time it’ll sound dated because something else will be along. That’s why they constantly re-mix things, so that they’re up to date.
I noticed on the album that you tend to stretch out more on the longer pieces. They get a bit, well Mantraish. It’s much more upfront than what is classed as Ambient music, but the way it sweeps you along is the same kind of effect.
PB: That’s interesting. I wanted the music to be calmed and repetitive, the music should have an emotional impact regardless of the words being there or not. I wanted to keep it pretty simple as well, and not just pile loads of effects and plug loads of modules together and think “This’ll make a good noise.” I quite like the repetitive kind of musical phrases that tend to spiral, y’know.
LB: There was one track on the album, ‘Love’s a Sometime Thing’, that both Martyn and myself thought of as one of our favourites. I can’t really speak for Martyn, but for my part I know why I liked that repetitive thing. It’s very sensual – but it almost reminds me of my folk roots. You’d go to folk clubs and listen to people singing about ‘The Maid with the Golden Apron’ or ‘The Maid who Murdered the Farmer’s Dog’ or something and there’d be like thirty verses! And you’d be gripped because it was that repetitive quality it had – it wasn’t just the story which was probably the same in hundreds of different folk songs but that quality does almost hypnotise you. If it’s a good melody it’ll work.
PB: Personally my favourite on the album is ‘She Tries on the Jewels’, I think the lyrics are really good. I think it was always Martyn’s intention that the words could stand on their own as prose or poetry. I remember saying to him that I liked the idea of having, say, two or three strands of lyric in a song. You could have a Strand A that was Story A (or Direction A) and Strand B that was Story B and Strand C that was about a particular thing or topic. But actually, in the verse you might have A followed by B followed by then C, C, A, B so it’s almost a cut-up idea.
LB: The biggest example of that was ‘Be the Teacher’, because I’d heard what Martyn had done and I wanted to put my piece on top with the lyrics. When I’d put my vocal down, he said to me “Your lyric means the opposite to what I’m saying!” – I wanted them to. He was on about the positive aspect of someone showing the way, but I was singing about the negative and sinister aspects of it. For my part, the lyrics are all about power struggles, in a political, religious and relationship sense. On ‘Stormy Whether’ for instance, I won’t be specific but it’s about two people staring out wanting the same thing, but not ending up wanting the same thing and one going away. But it’s not a love affair at all, it’s about two children … .
That was my favourite track, the first thing I thought was Twin Peaks …
LB: People have said that I sound like Julie Cruise … .
But it’s not a bad thing!
PB: On the one hand it’s sensual and a bit comforting and on the other it’s creepy. Because life’s like that, one moment you can feel sensual about somebody or something and the next minute you go “Urrgh!”. So it’s funny that you should mention Twin Peaks, ’cause that like that, everything is nicey-nicey on the surface but there’s all this weirdness behind.
LB: I heard the vocal melody and the lyrics to that almost as soon as Pete played it to me, and all I could hear was Janet Jackson! Both me and Pete had liked her albums in the past, and although I didn’t try to sing like Janet Jackson I’d still hear her as if I was to hear the music by itself now.
I’d like to ask you about the involvement with Anne Clark, which has led up to your touring again?
PB: Well, I’d just like to say now that this isn’t getting us back to touring again. This is a one-off, I mean, I’m not dropping a bombshell here, Martyn and Liz know exactly how I feel about it, I just don’t see myself going off doing rock‘n’roll tours that last thirty dates – it would just do me head in! If it was my job then I would feel differently about it, but having a day job already it’s like “this is my holiday”, so it’s got to be special for me to want to do it.
LB: You’ve got to live in the real world, haven’t you? Get by and pay the bills … . Martyn’s able to do it, and I’m sure he’d tour until Kingdom Come if somebody wanted him to – but we’ve both got commitments, and it wouldn’t have been possible for us to do more than the three dates we’re doing, although four were planned originally. I know for a fact that they wanted us to do more … .
PB: On tour, we’re going to go out and do some stuff completely live – which is stuff off the old albums, guitar, bass, organ and percussion things – and some stuff off our new album using backing tracks off DAT which I’m not massively happy about – I know a lot of dance combo’s do it, turn up, stick the DAT on and sing and maybe play a few keyboards over the top – but for the purposes of the tour … .
LB: Anne Clark has been asking Martyn to work with her for the last four years, I think. She heard his solo stuff first, but she knew Eyeless because she’d actually played, well recited, as a support at the Fighting Cocks in Moseley, Birmingham years ago. When she wrote a postcard to Martyn after she had heard his first solo album she was raving about it, and we thought, “Is this THE Anne Clark who reads poems?” and it turned out to be so. They set up a correspondence, she asked Martyn to work with her and go on tour several times – but he was working with Hungry I and he was very limited as to what he could do outside of that. Hungry I didn’t work and came to an end, and Anne started making this album and said “Now you can work with me.” That’s how it started. She asked us to do some backing tracks … .
PB: We sent them to her, she really liked them and now they’re a couple of tracks on her album. She’s doing the tour to promote it so Martyn’s gone out as a support artist and we’re … .
LB: … because originally it was going to be just you two wasn’t it? We sat in a pub (again) … .
PB: All the best decisions are made in the pub! They get me drunk and then I’ll agree to anything! (laughs)
LB: So I said “What Eyeless In Gaza tracks are you going to do then lads? ‘Transience Blues’ and all that stuff?” Martyn started reeling off all these ‘Fabulous Library’ tracks, and I said “Well how are you going to do them then?” He said that he’d not really thought about it. Then it was suggested that perhaps I should go and do my bits. Couldn’t have done them without me!
The interview ends with Liz saying what a privilege it had been working with two people with such a strong creative bond between them.