Frequently Asked Questions
I am interested to know what sources inspire you to write the kind of lyrics that set you apart from a great many artists, if you don't mind my asking.
Most of my sources are non-rock. For instance, there's a tribute to a Japanese painter called Kuniyoshi Kaneko on 'Philosophy'. (You can see his work on the CD ROM 'Alice', released by Synergy through Toshiba EMI). Because I have a somewhat guarded personality which nevertheless longs for great liberty, I identify with the late 19th century decadents like Wilde or Beardsley. I also identify with shy young Japanese people, who are also emerging out of a similarily 'Victorian' period of stiff starchy collars in their own culture. Funnily enough when freedom goes further I lose interest in it. (The image of dope-smoking Australians surfing in Bali springs to mind). It's the first glimpse of freedom caught by a truly repressed person that I want to capture.
In the end freedom is only the idea of freedom, and depends for its existence on its own repression (which we call guilt).
I respond to art which depicts both the guilt and the longing to be free of it. But in the end I don't think we can or should be free of guilt.
Why is 'Sadness' the only song where you collaborate with another musician? Whatever happened to the various people you brought in for other albums?
I have collaborated with quite a few other artists, though the results haven't always been released. For some reason most of them were French. I've written songs with or for Dominique Dalcan, Jil Caplan, The Poison Girlfriend, Ken Morioka and Kahimi Karie. As for musicians, I've worked with most of Josef K, with Frenchmen like Bertrand Burgalat and Gregori Czerkinsky (ex-Mikado) and with keyboard players like Douglas Benford (Sicut DB, Phoenix Jig), Neill Martin and Dean Klevatt.
Dean now calls himself Dean Ross. He's written songs with Betty Boo. Neill I've known since The Happy Family. He's come on tour with me to Japan and Scandinavia recently. Douglas is running his own techno label, Suburbs of Hell Records.
Why does 'The Philosophy Of Momus' sound diverse up to song 13 and then homogenous for the rest?
I usually go for consistency. For instance, Hippopotamomus and Voyager were originally meant to be just one release. But I separated them for aesthetic and technical reasons. Lyrically, I divided the sacred from the profane, exaggerating the sexual or spiritual impact each made by leaving it uncontradicted by the other. Technically, in those days vinyl was still around and when you load vinyl with too many tracks you lose sound quality.
I usually have a whole bunch of songs in different styles when I'm about to compile a record and I see which style 'wins' and do the album like that. I'll group them all into categories like 'messy sex', 'ambient spiritual' or 'cabaret'.
This began to become limiting around 'Timelord', when I threw out a lot of good songs (London 1888, The Sensation Of Orgasm, Life Of An Office Worker) in my desire to restrict the record to very gloomy songs of love and alienation. In the end I had a record with a powerfully concentrated but stifling atmosphere, only 35 minutes long.
For 'Philosophy' I just threw everything on there and let the listener choose which to listen to. You could say I introduced proportional representation. The range of styles is deliberately confusing. But eventually it settles into the emotional and stylistic consistency of the record it would normally have been: a slightly down and dreary record, but with some moving things in it. Think of it as a melancholy old uncle at a kids' party, putting on a few funny hats and voices before lapsing into his true manner of (slightly seductive) regret and gloom.
If 'Complicated' is meant to 'express a sense of slightly fearful wonder at the way a girls hair falls around her ear' then why the cheesy cabaret music that makes the song seem like a parody?
I'm very inspired by the cheesy arrangements programmed by my Technics KN600's Japanese engineers. (Leonard Cohen has a KN600, you can hear it on 'I'm Your Man'). There are all these one-finger arrangement patterns that do Bossa, Country, and stuff made by people who never left their labs in Shinjuku, let alone heard a real Country band. The backings are immaculately vacuous, so insincere and misguided that they would make you doubt anything sung on top of them. And that's a state I love to put people in (call it my version of Brecht's Alienation Effect), the state of doubting but wanting to believe nevertheless.
One of my favourite sayings is this, by Adorno: 'In the end soul itself is the longing of the soul-less for redemption'. And similarily, in the end all pop music is parody longing to become authentic.
Any chance you'll go entirely acoustic again (just think, Momus Unplugged, LIVE ON MTV!)?
That's the trouble though, the world is full of people who think that an acoustic guitar is authentic. Pop music becomes truly authentic by confronting and celebrating its fakeness, not fleeing from it. So I would only do Unplugged if I could sit on a bicycle pedalling a portable generator connected to a Technics KN600 playing the ghastly imaginings of that Japanese engineer with his fake arrangements.
(I probably will explore more acoustic textures in future. Don't take my anti-sincerity rant too seriously. I like playing devil's advocate. I like to find new ways of justifying my old organs).
Rumor has it that you partied with Martin Gore. Total truth or tall tale?
This was a lie printed in the NME. I went to a Pet Shop Boys party which had just about every pop star in the universe at it (including Martin Gore, who I've never met. But someone who interviewed him said he likes my work). They also said I bounced on a Bouncy Castle. That bit was true. The only stars I partied with that day were the KLF and Neil Tennant.
How is 'Withinity' about AIDS sufferers other than a reference to a T-cell?
'Withinity' is total improvisation, word association. It's interesting that AIDS should be the first thing you sing when you sing the first thing that comes into your head. I suppose the notion of an infinite regress into smallness would be a way of being trivial if we didn't live in an era where many of the biggest things (AIDS, biogenetics) are happening at a submicroscopic level.
Is there any chance of seeing your records distributed in the US soon?
Ever since I can remember my labels have been promising it, but it never quite happens. At the moment companies like Matador, Bar None and Big Pop are being mentioned. But I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.
I once heard about a feature film in which Momus is supposed to be involved. Has this ever been released?
There are two films, 'Amongst Women Only' was a ten minute film made by Nick Triandafulidis, a student at the London International Film School, in 1991. It was screened at LIFS and the Royal College of Art but never released commercially. There is a full length Momus video documentary coming out in October, though, called 'Man Of Letters'. It's being released by Visionary Communications. Their address is on the album sleeve.
Have the complete lyrics been published somewhere?
Yes, in 1992 by Black Spring Press. Title: 'Lusts Of A Moron'. ISBN 0-948238-14-3. Black Spring Press, 63 Harlescott Road, London SE15 3DA
What instruments does Momus use?
Blimey! I use a Gretsch semi-acoustic guitar (1955), Technics KN600 (good for arrangement ideas), Casio CZ 101 (nice wriggly synth noises), Kawai K4R (adequate multitimbral synth for building up arrangements), Akai S2800 (not enough outputs!), Art multiverb, PowerMac running Vision and Deck 2.2 (excellent direct to disk recording software).
When will the 'Man of Letters' video documentary be released and does Visionary Video have a fax or e-mail?
The Visionary fax number is 44 1253 712362. They also have a website which you can reach by clicking here.
Is a complete discography available?
There's a discography on the website, but it's not complete. I've added one here , it's got values of records because it was done for a special article appearing shortly in UK magazine Record Collector.
Are there any promo-videos by Momus?
'Hairstyle Of The Devil' had a video shot by Anton Corbin's company State. It's on the Creation records video sampler (number 1) and the Snub TV video, if you can find that. A video was also shot for my 1995 single 'The Sadness Of Things'. The director was James Harrison, and it was shot in Paris. It's not commercially available anywhere, although it may be included on the 'Man Of Letters' tape.
'Stop trying to cut off your feet so they fit your bed, make it longer instead,' you sing in 'The Philosophy Of Momus'. Why?
The bit about bed-lengthening is a reference to the robber Procrustes, who tied travellers to his bed and stretched or cut off their legs so that they were all the same size. I found out about him in a polemical book about socialism called 'The Politics Of Procrustes', which held that egalitarianism chops everyone down to the same size. Having been an egalitarian most of my life I found that quite a challenging perception.
What made you write 'The Loneliness Of Lift Music'?
I think 'Loneliness' started with the notion of elevator muzak and brushed steel. Leather-gloved murder then grew out of the sinister ambience suggested by those elements. I'd imagine killing someone must make you feel more alone than anything. I also like the juxtaposition of this evil with the relaxing and reassuring music, suddenly made into an accomplice. I have a very heightened sense of evil, I find shopping evil for example. (So much rapacious violence has gone into manufacturing all those products, then so much effort is put into laying them out and sedating us as we buy them. Why? What would we realise if the aural valium were turned off?). But to communicate that feeling I have to exaggerate it by introducing something more universally condemned, like murder.
What about 'The Poisoners' (on the Kahimi Karie EP 'I Am A Kitten')?
'The Poisoners' is about the pursuit of happiness in a particularly toxic, modern and amoral way. When we assume the world is run by killers (Imelda Marcos with her vast shoe collection purchased thanks to her husband's oppression of his Fillipino subjects is somewhere in there) we become killers ourselves. Only our own children matter, and their happiness is purchased by the death of other people's children. It's a parody of the hard-nosed, unprincipled attitudes of aggressive conservatives everywhere.
'Little Lord Obedience'?
'Little Lord Obedience' is about sex and death. Sex is seen as an almost Buddhist capitulation. Tennyson's metaphor of 'Crossing the bar' (ie dying seen as setting out to sea) is in it. The sailor 'docks' in the source, 'the port in every girl', the vagina. (There is a Japanese cult which worships the vagina, known as honi). I suppose it's saying we should abandon our illusions that we are free. When it comes to reproducing and dying, we 'obey' forces far greater than us.
'The Mother In Law'?
'The Mother in Law' is about (confusingly) two characters called Bill Cotton, both of whom were associated with the early days of the BBC. Billy Cotton was a band leader in the 40s. Bill Cotton was a populist controller of BBC 1 in the 50s and 60s. I've rolled them into one, an all-purpose 'entertainer-controller'. It sketches impressionistically the shift from radio to TV, a technological change which didn't affect the general ethos of the content, which continued to be trivial jokes about mothers in law. ('My mother-in-law is so fat...') In a rather presbyterian way I have BC meet the real 'Mother-in-Law' at the end, Satan. You know my grandparents, strict Calvinists, really did believe radio and TV were inventions of Satan. They wouldn't have them in the house.
'Transiberian Express' is just impressionistic, an experiment in extending the imaginary landscape out to the east (after the fall of the iron curtain a heap of long-repressed caucasian myths were suddenly returned to us west europeans). It might owe something to the mythscape of Joseph Beuys. It's a traintrip back through time to the archaic and indecipherable (the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Epic of Gilgamesh). I suppose it's appropriate that it should itself be slightly uncrackable too.