Musician, recording artist, author ,poet and film maker are all terms that are applicable to Jude Rawlins. He was also the founder of the brit -altrock/shoegaze outfit Subterraneans who put out a series of albums through out the 2000’s with the 2007 Soul Mass Transit being a favourite of mine. Deviation Street managed to catch up with him to chat ( on line ) sometimes this would be around just a name or something that develop as we corresponded either way we covered a lot of topics which ranged from his first band Angelhead to the impact of Bowie , working with Angie Bowie, his involvement with Charleston House the home of the Bloomsbury group , William Blake, Covid -19 and his latest venture with pianist Marina Vesic. Which may well lead to the birth of some new contemporary Strum and Drang movement for the oncoming winter journey.
Early Days :
Angelhead When I think back to Angelhead, the thing that most strikes me is how right we got things even though we were naïve and were only starting to figure stuff out. We made the same mistakes as every other band at that time, because we weren’t from London or Manchester or any of the hip places, we were all from council estates in an isolated suburb of Birmingham, about as far away from the limelight as it was possible to get. And we had no money. So when the record companies started to notice us getting a deal became the Holy Grail. We thought because they had an infrastructure that it would solve our problems and make it easy for us to do what we wanted to do. These days anyone can have a home studio, all you need is a computer and a few other bits and pieces. But in 1987 it wasn’t like that. Though from the very first time I ever set foot in a studio I knew I hated them, and that I just wanted my own. When we started we’d be knocking out four songs a day in the guitarist’s living room on a four track, and the only local studio was just an eight track in my friend’s dad’s shed. Then the next thing you know you’re spending three weeks recording one song, the bills are spiralling, the demo still sounds better and your A&R person is the only person at the company who even knows your name. And when you suggest just releasing the demo everyone thinks you’ve lost your mind. That changed when Curve came along, because finally there was a band you could point to and say “but they made their record in the singer’s basement and it’s in the charts.” Alas, that was too late to save Angelhead. But I am still immensely proud of that band and what we did, and I know Neil (Gardner, guitarist) feels the same.
Also, as an artist and a human being, that time really helped me understand and explore my desire to communicate and create. I was thinking about this recently. There was no internet then, of course, and only three or four TV channels. There were maybe two or three radio shows that really meant anything to us, Peel, Annie Nightingale, Janice Long, and then Mark Radcliffe’s first show Out on Blue Six, which was on for one hour a week on a Monday night. When we were teenagers Richard (Cole, Angelhead bassist) and I used to buy chips and sit on the swings in the kids’ playground at night, just talking, because there was nowhere else to go. We were too old for youth clubs and too young for pubs. Music was everything to us. So we would dream big, having existential conversations, learning to look deeply into things. It was really valuable stuff, and that time codified a lot of things for me that are still relevant. And if we were that age now, with all the fantabulous flabtraptions of the modern age I really don’t know how we’d ever have discovered who we were and what we wanted from life.
I think between Space Oddity and Scary Monsters he was without equal. I regard The Man Who Sold The World, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Station to Station and Low as five of the greatest albums ever made, and there is really good stuff on the others from that period. But for me it ends with Scary Monsters, after he left RCA he never made another record that interested me. It was only later I realized that period when he did his best work was exactly the length of his marriage to Angie. “Let’s Dance” is a great track and it catapulted him away from the Seventies, and Angie, and RCA. But it’s not a Bowie record, it’s a Chic record with Bowie singing on it. When Nile Rogers talks about making that record it’s kind of sad how detached Bowie was from it. I think he realised with EMI that he could just coast for a few years, and that’s what he did in the 80s. In the 90s the big thing was he left EMI and went back to RCA, he was working with Mick Ronson again, then Eno again, then Visconti again. But all those records were forgettable, because he’d put the fire out in 1980 and that was kind of that. I was glad that he got Earl Slick back in the band at the end, because I found Reeves Gabrels almost unlistenable. Hearing him trying to recreate the work of Mick Ronson, Adrian Belew and Robert Fripp was just painful. Although actually Reeves Gabrels has done some good work, ironically on Mick Ronson’s daughter Lisa’s album, which was superb.
Angie is a force of nature like no other. She’s a true original and she understands more about human nature than anyone else I’ve ever met. And when David was alive there were dark forces working against her, that was true, I know, I was there and I experienced them first-hand. I could talk about Angie all day and all I would be saying is how fucking wrong everyone, including her son, is about her. She’s been nothing but a friend to me, and when she does fly off the handle she only does it out of love. I met my wife because of Angie, I learned so much about myself because of Angie, and when my mum died Angie’s advice literally saved my sanity.
I still get sad when I think about Billy. What can I say? Family dysfunction is the number one cause of suicide around the world. Honestly I cannot imagine Billy functioning in the world today. But almost every time I hear music I hear lesser talents than his, somehow getting away with it. And now that Scott Walker and Mark Hollis are also gone, it will probably always be that way. After he died a lot of people told a lot of lies and talked a lot of shit about him on the record. They know who they are. He was a true one-off original of our species.
The music scene in London at that time:
When I moved to London the whole Britpop thing was just starting to happen. I was living in Chalk Farm, right in the middle of it all. There was some good music but I also remember a lot of egos. I had given up drink and drugs by then, so I didn’t get many invites, and wouldn’t have gone if I had. The closest person to me at that time was Steve New (Rich Kids/Vicious White Kids/Beastellabeast) and we’d be hanging around with people like Derek Jarman, Pogues manager Frank Murray and Kirsty MacColl, and watching Shriekback play free acoustic gigs in the middle of a King’s Cross housing estate. Then Rayner Jesson started managing Subterraneans, and so Jeffrey Lee Pierce would be hanging out with us. And I’ve just realised that all of these people are dead now!
William Blake, visionary art , the process of writing, the relevance / the importance of his work and non conformist.
My first contact with Blake was singing “Jerusalem” when I was a choirboy, and it being immediately apparent to me that this ain’t no hymn. And as I first read Blake he seemed to have more in common with The Sex Pistols than he did with the Romantic poets. He was that radical, and it affected me in a similar way. The only other person who truly revolutionised my thinking after that was Kristin Hersh, who I first met in 1988. It wasn’t just that she was and is a great artist, writer and musician. She didn’t perform, as such, she just got on stage, strapped on a guitar and sort of caught fire. There were no gimmicks involved or even necessary with her. And she held herself and her work to the highest ethical standards I’ve ever seen any artist do. She still does, and I understood that then as well as now. It’s the reason I can look back on over thirty years of work and the worst thing I can say about it is that I meant it at the time.
My whole creative process is really governed by the Blakean ideal that you must create a system in order not to be enslaved by the systems of others. For me, writing songs is the most difficult. Which I didn’t realise until I started doing other things. Emotionally one line of a lyric can rip your heart out. Especially the way I do it, because I hold nothing back, I go for broke on every single line. And on the record it’s devastating and vital. But then you have to sing it on stage, over and over. On a good night it pummels you to the point of madness. And if you get through a gig without being pummelled by the material then you feel like you’ve cheated the audience. A lot of musicians don’t feel such a wildly out-of-control connection to their material and can just get the job done, but for me that’s the hallmark of mediocrity. Like three-act storytelling in movies. I think Drimble Wedge and the Vegetation completely summed up what most popular culture is about.
Non-conformity is my default. For me it was never a reaction or a political thing, it was just natural. I knew from a very early age that I was a misfit. I wasn’t interested in the things the other kids were. I never thought of myself as a rebel, but really just utterly disinterested in joining in. I could never conform even if I wanted to. But I’ve never wanted to. I experience that a lot these days because so many people seem to be banging on about identity. Personally I can’t think of anything less interesting about a person than who or what they think we should think they are. I find it hugely empowering to know that what others think of me is absolutely none of my business. I mean really, who has time to worry about the opinions of people they don’t even know? The truth is that no one is thinking about you anyway, they all have their own stuff going on. Get some humility and get over yourself. Then you might do something interesting.
When I was a kid I was always really good at amusing myself. My parents never tried to make me do anything I didn’t want to do, quite the contrary. My dad in particular would notice when I took an interest in something, and then try to encourage it to see if it was something I’d run with. He’s never conformed to anything in his life either, so maybe it’s just in my DNA. And my mum taught me not to be a coward. It’s not that I have never felt fear, but I have never let it dictate my actions. She was quite insistent on that. I don’t scare easy and I am virtually impossible to intimidate. It has proven very useful over the years in the music business.
Faith is an interesting question. I’m not religious, and I’m pretty obsessed with Quantum Physics and Multiverse theory. I like Emergence Theory a lot, I feel like they’re on to something with that. Perhaps because it reflects the scientific aspects of Alchemy, which was poo poo’d for hundreds of years until Jung and Einstein started evoking those ideas again. But to address the question of faith, well I think agnosticism is the only smart position, the idea that things are unknowable until we know them. A lot of people seem to find uncertainty almost disabling, but I’ve never understood that. To me, it just means that the possibilities are wide open. So I do have faith. I have faith in the muse. I have faith that ideas will come to me as long as I remain receptive to them and don’t try to control things. So far, so good.
I became involved with Charleston because something led me to Sussex for a while. It’s hard to explain because one doesn’t question the muse. Pilgrims are the only people who never lose their way! But a lot of artists wind up in Sussex, at least for a while. Blake wrote Jerusalem there. English folk tradition kind of lives there. Sussex is kind of haunted by a very specific and very English kind of genius. It’s why I love Carol Morley’s film Edge. And of course, Vanessa Bell made Charleston the place it is. When I was a member Angelica Garnett was still alive. I used to love it when she came to visit because she’d have her feet up on the furniture and would have to be gently reminded that it was a museum now, and she could no longer kick the shit out of the legs of the Omega Table like she did when she was six. But ultimately it’s all about Virginia Woolf for me. You can never escape the spell of Virginia Woolf. It is not possible. Once she has you, you’re hers for life. For me, she is the greatest writer in the English language, because she is unbound by it. She has a sense of purpose equal to that of Blake and Milton, but she also has the emotional firepower of Dickens and Sylvia Plath. Really, above her there is nothing. Not even Shakespeare.
With issues such as “non-conformity” then and now. Has it become synonymous with being “cool” There are kids who want to be seen as non conformist, so they wear Nirvana, Ramones and Joy Division t shirts , but it was the, manufactured music / k pop fans who were politically proactive in outsmarting Trump.
I don’t think I’ve ever considered a Nirvana t-shirt as remotely non-conformist. But I’m sure I’d notice someone if they were wearing a Babes in Toyland or Amon Duul t-shirt. If you can buy it in Primark or Target it’s hardly likely to be a threat to the status quo. I don’t know anything about K Pop, but even if it’s a legitimate emergent counter-culture it isn’t going to change anything. I just watched Zabriske Point again for the first time in years, and it’s just like watching the news today. I was born in 1972 but I’m pretty much stuck in the 60s. I’m happier there.
Do you think that the creative process of writing, making music has changed ? The artwork around Charleston for example had its imperfection for want of a better term which made it unique. Current technology is designed to ensure that what comes out at the end as a clean product.
I’m not furiously pro-analogue. Much of that was a total pain in the neck. Digital is easier and cheaper. But I have never considered “polish” to be a production value, quite the opposite. If it’s not in the service of the material it really shouldn’t be there. Audiophiles and sound engineers don’t necessarily know anything about music. I don’t think I’ve used a digital effect or a plug-in for about fifteen years. I’m not interested in them. Digital recording is the perfect excuse to use freaky cheap amps and strange old microphones, because finally you can explore their characteristics and find sounds that inspire you. Spring reverbs and tape echoes sound beautiful, why would you not use them now that recording them has become so easy? The biggest problem with digital is that you are only limited by your imagination, and thus we are finding out at an accelerated rate how embarrassingly limited many folks’ imaginations actually are.
You’ve been working recently with pianist Marina Vesic on Your Ghost but now we have life under Covid-19 , how has this affected your creativity , the future? will it be no gigs, smaller gigs, soirees perhaps ? The new Sturm and Drang? (storm and stress) On line streaming? are you continuing to work and what are you reading and listening too during this unprecedented period?
My work with Marina in Your Ghost is the most unexpected and liberating thing I have ever done. Marina is the only reason that I did not walk away from music entirely. She has kept the flame alive, and in fact re-ignited it. We recorded two albums together within two months of knowing each other. Our musical chemistry is undeniable and powerful. I love the way she plays my songs and I love to sing to her playing. It’s been a new lease of life for me musically. So I hope that we are only at the beginning of that. We are thinking about what we want to do next. I cannot write fast enough to satisfy the hunger we have to do something, so we may do an album of covers. Obviously touring is more difficult, although it’s not hard to socially distance on stage with a grand piano between you. Covid-19 is a pain in the arse, but it is what it is, and for now we’re stuck with it. Historically, of course, these things happen a lot and we survive and move on. I don’t feel like the lockdown has been all bad, but the virus is horrendous and I look forward to seeing it eradicated. I am happy to play my part in that. I am amazed at how many people seem to think being asked to wash their hands and wear a mask in public places is some kind of threat to their personal liberty, or an encroachment on their rights. We don’t have the right not to catch a life-threatening virus, that is not in the Constitution. Show some empathy, solidarity and respect for your fellow human beings. I know that’s a tall order for conservatives, but if they don’t allow themselves a reality check once in a while they’ll wind up getting a lesson in Darwinism whether they want one of not. Because the fittest are not the strongest, or the fastest, they are the most adaptable to change. That’s why you don’t see any Neanderthals queuing in Whole Foods. They are all dead.
I can’t say that the virus has hugely affected me creatively, aside from buying me more time to get things done. I don’t have the same hunger that I used to for playing live, and because I’ve been to so many gigs, and played so many that I’m really not missing it just now. But I would go back on the road for Your Ghost, because I’d love to give what we have to an audience and have that moment with Marina. As for any other touring or playing, I’ve said no to a couple of big names since I stopped touring with Lene. If the right thing comes along, who knows? Never say never. I miss playing guitar, and I will always miss playing with Subterraneans and the Lene Lovich Band because they were my bands, and I loved and respected them all. Touring with Lene is an experience I will always cherish. If I could be in two places at once I’d be in a van with that lot any day. It was a joy. And I think everyone who ever came into our little circle would say that too. They are a very special bunch of people and it was a privilege to be part of that band.
I am only speaking for myself, of course. And the way I feel about it could change as quickly as the weather. So I do hope we deal with this virus and learn from it, and I hope we can find a way forward for the performing arts. It does affect me, of course. We have to be mindful of it when we’re making a film, and because travel is so tricky just now it is a challenge logistically. We get on with things the best we can. As for online gigs, well they are not gigs. But I have always loved watching footage and concert films of bands that I love. If no one ever wrote another song or played another gig it would still take several lifetimes to watch and listen to everything that’s already out there. My biggest regret with Subterraneans is that we never got around to having a really great live film made. That was always something I wanted to do.
Currently I am immersed in filmmaking. I am building a studio in Iowa with my production company, and I am almost ready to start shooting a new movie called Little Johnny Jewel with Juliet Landau. Which I am really looking forward to because it was Juliet who really made me into a filmmaker, so this will be a landmark project for both of us, I hope. And I am working on an experimental film, Red, which is kind of a spiritual sequel to Derek Jarman’s film Blue. I am doing that with Georgia Mackenzie and Julian Firth. And I have four other films in the pipeline, one of which I hope to persuade Georgia to do, and if she says yes then that will be the next one. I’ve also been painting a lot, which I hadn’t done for years and years. I have a piece in this year’s Blakefest, which is going to be fully online. And I want to get back to writing a novel that I haven’t picked up for almost four years now.
I’ve been reading a fair amount. I am currently re-reading Stanton Marlan’s book The Black Sun, which I first read when we were doing Songs of Alchemy. I am also re-reading Dahlia’s book about Cindy Sherman’s film Office Killer. I only recently saw the film again, and it completely blew me away. I saw it years ago, in the late 90s at the Renoir in London, but even though I have loved Carol Kane ever since Taxi, for some reason it didn’t really land in my sub-conscious. As usual, Dahlia was miles ahead of everyone else. And she is quite right, it is a masterpiece, unlike anything else I’ve ever seen.
How do you see the city as a creative influence having lived in London Berlin and New York? Where do you live now and does the idea of some kind of retreat appeal to you ?
I’ve pretty much lost all interest in cities. Marshalltown has everything I want and need, as far as the work goes. But certainly cities have been a massive influence on me throughout my life. I grew up on the outskirts of Birmingham, and spent a lot of time in Dublin as a kid, and I definitely have a deep connection with both of them. London was a big influence on me when I first moved there, of course. And for a long time, although it became less so. I think I had the best of it. I lived in London for twenty six years, which is probably longer than I’ll ever live anywhere else. And I feel like we parted on good terms, although I don’t miss it at all. Literally, not at all. I find it really easy to work in Berlin and Los Angeles, they seem to allow me to be very focused and I really appreciate that about them. Naples in Italy hugely inspired me. That work is still in the pipeline. And somehow I’ve never been able to work in Paris, although I have always felt very comfortable there. Like Lisbon and Edinburgh, I just immediately felt at home in those cities. I haven’t tried to work in New York yet, although Dahlia and I made a video there for one of her songs back in January, which was a breeze. But I give her credit for that, it’s always been a thrill for me to work with her on anything. Though it is impossible not to get a buzz out of New York. We drove to a supermarket in Brooklyn recently, and I realised I was driving under the L-Train. Just like Gene Hackman in The French Connection, only much, much slower.
I don’t really do retreats because I don’t ever switch off, so I always have a reason to be wherever I am. That said, I visited Barbara Gogan recently, she lives in the perfect rock star retreat on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. It’s idyllic, as long as you don’t mind hanging out with bears, rattlesnakes, porcupines and bald eagles. And yet somehow it reminded me of Charleston.