I don't really agree that there's been a switch. People say that some songwriters keep writing the same song over and over. Some have two, three, four songs. I have six, and I think they keep getting re-incarnated on each album. For instance, 'Yokohama Chintown' is just 'Islington John' set in Japan. 'The Madness Of Lee Scratch Perry' is no more surreal than 'Hippopotamomus'. 'The Sadness Of Things' fits the mould of 'Summer Holiday 1999' or 'Voyager'.
Where do you think 'Philosophy' fits in with the rest of your albums?
It's just as sprawling, just as confused. Someone recently wrote that my work was 'the sound of conservatives being cut messily to pieces'. That, if anything, is the brand image of Momus, the 'maoist intellectual' or the 'tender pervert', trying to undermine and subvert institutions like marriage, television, pop music, puritanism, heterosexuality, machismo, Pearl Jam.... 'Philosophy' gives that stereotype the lie, but then so do all albums except perhaps 'Tender Pervert'.
Why the same music behind 'I Had A Girl' and 'An Inflatable Doll'? Are they two different answers to the same question?
Just about every lyric I've ever written has two different versions, a 'mad', 'surreal' first version and a tidied up second draft in which I try to rationalise what I might have been talking about in the first. I couldn't decide which of the two songs I liked best, so I released them both. Blame it on the fact that now I have a studio at home and can record something the minute I write it, more and more of my first drafts end up as the final song. There's less of that polishing you do when you have to wait weeks for studio time and keep re-writing and polishing as a kind of nervous reflex like biting your nails. My demos always had some naive magic the final songs lacked, and I'm now much closer to capturing that magic.
How did 'Milky' arise and what is Shazna's contribution to it?
Milky was Mike Alway's idea. Mike used to run El Records and was brought in to do my press at Cherry Red. He'd met Shazna and recognised some kind of star quality in her strong personality. So when he got to putting together his own label he had to have her as the first artist. He actually dictated the subjects of the songs and even the titles to me. 'We've got to have something about Jackie Onassis. And then a song about Courtney Love. And what about fruit? A song about fruit?' I don't mind working this way occasionally.
Shazna's contribution is simply being Shazna. But she's just written her first lyric, for a song called 'The Emperor Of Oranges'. It's the tale of an orange who doesn't heed the warnings of 'his ugly wife Liz' and, just as she predicted, gets turned into a glass of freshly-squeezed juice. It may sound whimsical, but there's a core of uncomfortable truth there for all of us.
Have you decided on all the songs you want to include on 'Forbidden Software'? What are they?
Lucky Like St Sebastian
The Angels Are Voyeurs
The Charm Of Innocence
I Was A Maoist Intellectual
The Guitar Lesson
A Complete History Of Sexual Jealousy (Parts 17-24)
Closer To You
The Hairstyle Of The Devil
Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous
I also recorded 'The Gatecrasher' and 'Hotel Marquis De Sade' but they turned out too gloomy.
What prompted you to make a CD ROM?
The fact that Cherry Red are keen to get into CD Plus, the fact that I want to extend the world I've already built in people's imaginations with images and pictures, the fact that I love making pictures and places on my Mac the same way I used to love dictating little stories into my cassette recorder.
Of course the best interactive journey is still the one we take when our mind is engaged and inflamed, something just as likely to be triggered by the sound of a pencil tapping a jam jar as, for example, a Pearl Jam concert.
Do you forsee a time when Shazna's family will come to accept your marriage?
This question causes a lot of anguish in our household. Shazna thinks they won't, and that for her family she might as well be dead. I like to think yes, they will one day accept it. But another part of me says '...And on that day all your troubles will begin.' Because I went through a period of negotiation with the family during which I converted to Islam, agreed to stop being a musician, vowed to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, even offered to work as a waiter in Shazna's father's restaurant. I became like an iceberg, nine tenths hidden, so that only what was acceptable to them was showing. I know now what it must have been like for Shazna in Bangladesh, swearing she'd forgotten me, disguising herself as a dutiful, obedient, submissive waif. And the effort, unreciprocated by them (for there IS a 'Philosophy Of Momus', just as there is a Philosophy Of Islam, and ideally we should have 'compared ideologies'), very nearly killed me.
It seems that one of the purposes of pop music is to be entertainment, a disposable throw away product. Your records show that you take it much more seriously than that - why?
I was at a party last year and a little girl drew a picture of all the guests round the table except me. I pretended to be offended and drew myself into her picture, but she ran away screaming and bawling. I had to erase my self-portrait before she'd calm down. That says it all. Our little pictures and our little songs are more important to us than the life they occasionally portray. The world in the end is beyond our control and doesn't care about us. But in our pictures we have the illusion of making sense of the world, improving the world, taking control of it. And suddenly it's no longer either the world or our vision of it, it's a new world, a thing in itself. The drawing comes to mean more to us than the scene it depicts. 'A thing beyond us, yet ourselves,' as Wallace Stevens said.
I still have every doodle I ever did, every little guitar sketch. They're like things an archeologist found, relics of some ancient religion. They preserve the primeval mystery that happens when a thing I didn't know was in me jumps out with a saucy wink. I expect Pearl Jam feel pretty much the same sense of awe when it happens to them.
Brian Eno, in a statement about his lyrics, once said: "For me, lyrics aren't really important. Any others would do just as well. What I'm interested in is how lyrics and voice contribute to the song as a whole." Would you say that your songwriting style is at the opposite end? That the lyrics are the most important element and that any other music would do just as well?
Strangely enough, Eno's lyrics have been a huge influence on mine. Precisely by not caring what he's saying, he goes off into strange and wonderful places, a bit like Edward Lear. 'There's a place in the orchard where nobody goes / And the last man who went there turned into a crow'.
I've always been accused of being the most literary of songwriters. In fact I started off doing lots of experiments with guitars, bottles, tissue paper, smashed pianos and tape distortion which, eventually, out of sheer laziness, I stuck some words on top of. They were out of a book of Brecht poetry, usually, or a hasty pastiche of Brian Eno.
For years I searched my guitar for the 'missing chord' that would stop time or make the whole world weep. Now I scroll through a thousand types of digital delay to find the one that will switch the world into slow motion. It's music that really fascinates me. Words come easy, I have a facility with them, I can 'do' words.
Do you think artists should take responsibility for what people do after seeing or hearing their work?
I don't believe anyone has ever committed a crime because of being exposed to a work of art. What artists have to take responsibility for is the shadowy dreamlife of repressed people everywhere. They have to make sure the dreams get spoken out loud, because only when one set of dreams are spoken can we move onto the next set of unspoken ones. Everybody knows that this is the job of artists (and, I'd add romantically, madmen and children). But that doesn't prevent people from punishing the artist for speaking out of turn, or claiming that only HE has such a sordid and shadowy dreamlife.
What effect (if any) do you want your music to have on people?
I'd just like them to feel a bit more okay about themselves, maybe help them explore their hangups so they can move on to bigger, more bizarre hangups.
If you weren't writing songs, what would you be doing?
Counselling the neurotic... in the mirror.
What's the biggest misconception about you that you'd like to clear up?
That I am the only pervert in the world.
What were the early symptoms that you were going to end up as a singer/songwriter?
Writing songs at the age of 8 which my dad (who was doing a doctorate in children's acquisition of language) recorded earnestly on an expensive Uher reel to reel.
When did you realize that the music you made under the name Momus would be mostly autocratic?
When I stopped pretending my band The Happy Family was a democracy just because I believed in the principles of democracy. In art, fascism works better.
How would you describe your music to a stranger on the street?
Kind of scuffly electronic pop for shy Japanese girls.
Given your albums' lack of (commercial) success, what drives you to produce the next one?
When you look back over your albums, which are you the happiest with and why?
I suppose 'Tender Pervert', because it 'ripped open the bellies' of all the bullies who had oppressed me, physically and ideologically, over the years.
How do you judge your own work these days?
I think I'm getting more modest. I can see 'my insignificance in an indifferent universe' without shedding too many tears. I wish Pearl Jam every success, I really do.