Lene's CD, Shadows And Dust, was released September 13 2005
Mike Thorne: It’s been a while. And it’s been six years since we last sat down to an interview, and fifteen since your last CD. It’s a long time. Do you see your new record as part of a progression or is it departure?
Lene Lovich: Well, everything is part of an evolution. The way the song is evolved, the way we make the record, it’s just a part of a continuing process. There are no wildly different directions here. We are just moving forward, hopefully. Things take a long time, not because they have to, and not because they need to, but just because they do. There are a lot of reasons for that, and a lot of those reasons are not very creative reasons. It’s due to life circumstances and difficulties in finding the right times to make music, the right conditions that allow you to be creative and feel good about what you do. Life gets very complicated most times. It doesn’t really matter if you can get there in the end.
You talk about evolution. What sort of evolution has happened for you to arrive at your music for the new album, Shadows And Dust?
Well, I don’t see the collection of songs as a body as a whole. Each song has a self-contained life, and then because they’re all born out of Les’ and my work, then they become related. It is not a concept piece as such. Each song just happens to be what we’re feeling at the time. It’s really hard for me to say, because all the songs are different, and all come out of different experiences, and different feelings. But they are related, and that’s why they ended up together on this album.
I’m sure, without a doubt, that experience is important in the shaping of a song. I don’t analyze what I do so I can’t say for sure, but I must think that the experiences that I have had are affecting what I write. After a long time of writing songs I think you have maybe something more universal to say, not ‘always’ personal. It’s still personal, but you have something more to say because you have an identity in the bigger world. It’s like when you are very young, when you are a child, your world is small, and then it gets, bigger, and bigger, and bigger. You still have a small world inside your head, maybe, but you are part of the big world. And the more experience you have in the big world the more you have to say about it. Make any sense?
So here’s a killer. You’d have likely been written off by the music business as it was in that rather stultified phase a few years ago, or even now, and you’d been cut off from making fresh music with resources to facilitate it. From the business' point of view, if you made it with a certain style, you keep on doing just that. That’s what people expect, and everybody gets really comfortable. Now you know more thanks to your active twenty-five years and you haven’t fallen asleep. Do you think that being more mature restricts crazy experimentation, the sort of things you might have done 25 years ago?
Not at all, because it’s the experimentation that we like when Les and I are writing songs. It doesn’t get any easier or necessarily any better with maturity. But in general our ideas take a long time to cook and we have to try a lot of things. For us that’s the fun part. So, I’m afraid to say I don’t really think too much about what other people think. There might be some small time in my life when I did, but in general, I have the opinion that you have to follow your own artistic identity. If you’re not being true to that, if you’re worried, or wanting to do something to please other people, then you probably are not being honest. If you’re not following your own honesty then it’s not really your own art any more. It has to be something important for us to satisfy a certain creative urge. If it doesn’t, then you just put it aside somewhere, either on the back shelf of a memory, or on a musty little cassette somewhere
You mentioned that ideas take a long time to cook and certainly on the strengths of the gaps between CDs in the last few years, that would be born out. Did the things with which you burst on the scene in the ‘80s, such as Lucky Number take a while to cook? It didn’t look like it at the time.
They didn’t, but I think that was because it was our first effort at writing and recording. We had a whole lifetime up to that point in which to cook the ideas. They didn’t seem to take a long time at the time, but they were almost as old as me because they were there waiting to come out.
The cliché is that the second album is always the difficult one because you have used up your life experiences in the first one. Did you experience that in the second album?
No, the second album was wonderfully free and exciting for us, and probably still my favorite album. Because I thought, at last, I have an outlet for all this creativity. We were left alone by the record company, busy with other people who were much more complicated than us, just more or less left to get on with it. For us that was wonderfully exciting. We just loved it.
Do you think it’s better to be left to get on with it or do you think that you should have the world banging on your door the whole time, or part of the time.
Well, a bit of both is probably the best situation. If you give somebody all the money in the world and all the studio time in the world, I don’t think that they’ll necessarily come up with the best album in the world. I think this is born out by lots of people’s experience. What I think is a good idea is to have people around you that are on your side and interested, and willing to help, and also know when to stop giving advice. It’s hard to find that. Usually that never happens, usually it’s one extreme or another. Either they totally leave you alone or you’re safe all the time. It’s hard to find that compromise.
Is that because most people really don’t understand what you go through when you write music?
I think it is very hard to expect other people to share your vision. Creativity is a personal thing. It has to be. Quite often, like showing somebody’s unfinished painting, it’s very difficult for them to visualize what it’s going to be. We’ve had lots of problems like that in the past, especially because of the evolutionary process and the way that we write. Quite often it doesn’t make any sense until the final stages, although we may be able to see it perfectly well in our heads. It’s not ready until it’s made.
How do you know when it’s finished and ready?
It’s just a feeling that you’re satisfied, satisfied that you’ve tried all the different roads that surround that particular song. I like to try a lot of different ways of seeing things and I like to try any number of sounds. Once you’ve gone through a fair number of these possibilities, you start to get familiar with what is closer to what you have in your head. So you get familiar and then you fine tune it. So you get to a point when you know it’s safe to go out into the world. It is a fine line between saying too much and saying not enough. And I mean this in the musical way, and not necessarily in the lyrical way. In the same way, someone is carving a piece of sculpture, there is a point when you can work on it too much, so that you destroy what you have tried so hard to create.
At least with music, with your own tutor, means you can always go back to an earlier version, and say, ‘Wait a minute. We lost our way there. Start again.’
It is a credit to your music that it always comes out sounding as if it came from one very specific point. That was true of Lucky Number and its also true of the newest songs, such as Remember or Little Rivers. How does that start? Did the idea start with a particular point, or was it a just a big mess which gradually cam together?
I think that my ideas are clearer and stronger now than they used to be. It used to be a big mess that we kind of had to peel away. Some of the extra bits were probably in the way. But now the ideas are much stronger and I think that comes through experience, through more focus. The ideas are so very clear that … I don’t know what to say! La, la, la...
It’s very hard to talk about ideas. They are there. In the past we used to surround our ideas with a lot of junk. Lovely junk. And we used to like every single bit of junk that was around the idea. But now I think that after a while you feel you can become more selective.
In the late 70s you were part of a movement, as a lot of very different stylistic people were, which revolted against musicians that who refined technique at the expense of message. Your new CD is technically the most accomplished of them all. Is it inevitable that the better the technique, the harder it is to say something fresh, the more possibilities are there, the less you can focus?
Uhm? I think that being better at what you do and having better skills should help you to say what you want to say even better, really. Sometimes when you’re limited you are forced to just do what ever you can manage to do. And sometimes that comes across as a very fresh approach because compared to what else is around it is interesting because it is so raw. But I think that it just depends on the strength of your creativity, on the strength of your artistic identity. An artist should be able to portray an idea in any way that connects to portray that idea. And if a painter makes an image that is not perfectly clear or perfectly representational, it doesn’t mean that they are not able to. They are skilled to do that but they choose not to do that. They choose to portray something in a way…
I don’t know if you understand what I mean. Just because you know how to do something and you have the means to create several different planes of interest and planes of sounds, it shouldn’t mean that the idea is jaded or boring. If what you have to say is fresh, and the ideas that you choose support that, then you should come out with something that is really quite exciting.
Let’s change direction a little bit. When we first met just prior to the collapse of the Stiff/Epic deal, and Stiff Records in general, you were pregnant with Taz, who is now at college. At that point you made a very specific decision to reduce music activity in order to raise a family, which was the major priority. Did that decision come easily?
Oh, yes, absolutely. When you are having a child it is a much more important job than hanging around the record company. Getting up on stage is wonderful, and its part of me, too. But family comes first.
I still make music even when I am not recording. I have all these musical ideas in my head all the time, and it comes out of other things that I do. It doesn’t have to be in the music business environment. I’m singing in my head. I’m hearing things all the time if I’m just at the supermarket, or whatever. I don’t have to be in a special musical world. It’s very much a part of everyday life.
You mentioned doing something in the context of the music business. We have been outside of that for a very, very long time. But the implication of what you are saying is that you do it just on the sheer amateur level because you love to do it, and sometimes it bubbles to the surface. Would that then go on to be advice to others to make music, aspiring professionals or not?
I think that just because some people are privileged or had made very hard efforts to be in a position where they can devote all their time to music, I’m not taking anything away from them. You can be inspired and you can come up with great songs. It doesn’t have to be in a music business situation. The good thing about the music business situation is that you are able to communicate with the rest of the world. If that’s important to you, and why shouldn’t it be, really, if you want to get your ideas across to other people and be part of that big world communication then that’s something the music business can do for you. But the initial writing of the song, unless it’s something that comes out at performance, which for me doesn’t happen very often. For me song writing is a more 'poetry' situation. I’m on my own and I’m making it happen on my own. I don’t need outside influence from the music business point of view to cultivate that.
You mention 'on your own,' and you’re still living in the idyllic Norfolk countryside. Is that a plus or a minus when it comes to ideas and developing them?
It’s a very good place to be, without many distractions. I’m very happy here. I’m lucky because I can do things at any time of the day or night. It’s a wonderfully privileged position to be in. Okay, I have to go to work and try to get money from lots of different directions, same as everyone else. But in general, I have a lot of time because it is such a wonderful place to be. A lot of people have much more difficult situations, where they are fighting with their environment, or they are unhappy. They might have a lot to deal with it. I have less to deal with in the outside world here.
Now that you have bundled Taz off to college, and Hally is also heading off, will you be more active musically?
I’d like to think so. It’s a very big job being a parent. And it doesn’t mean my job’s going to stop. I think I’ll have more time to do more of what I’d like to do. I am looking forward to it.
On a related note you speak and write on a number of social issues, such as PETA [People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals] and other environmental concerns. It has always been possible to influence these through pop music. Do you think it is easier now or is it getting harder? Do you think the media is closing down on artists like you who try to say meaningful things?
I think that a lot of people have said a lot of things about environment and social issues, and things like that. So if you have something to say you better find an interesting way to say it. You can’t expect to rant and expect that people be amused or interested or take notice. I think that’s quite a difficult one. No one likes to be told what to do. You have to present what you have to say in an attractive way.
The song [Save The Animals] that you recorded with Nina Hagen had a very definite point of view. It is very difficult to write a pop song with a specific message. Do you think pop music and politics and social issues interact constructively?
The initial thrust came from Nina. I was just sitting on the fence, really, at that point as far as animal rights were concerned. It was only really talking to her and also being fed a lot of information, from all directions at that period of time, that made me feel I wanted to be like her, a 'factual' person. I wanted to relate information. I didn’t want to rabbit with any kind of smoke screen or attractive silliness or fun. I just really wanted to get the facts. I felt it was important to say things very clearly. It’s sometimes difficult when you have ideas that you want to say clearly to other people. It comes across sometimes as just spouting off your opinion and dictating to other people want they should do. But really for us it was more of an alarm call and we just wanted to say something that we thought was important. I think it can only help if it's wrapped around a song, so that it gets into people’s heads, and stays there a bit longer than just a conversation or an interview.
I was contrasting that song with your typical songs, if there is such a thing as a typical Lene Lovich song, which tends to be very poetic. It enables the listener to make their own judgment and put their own interpretation on it without going to cosmic about it. Are there any social issues on Shadows and Dust? Is there anything specific implied? Or are these purely poetic things for you?
Most songs have at least two planes of interest. That’s just the way it comes out. I don’t like as a rule to be so specific that it rules out personal interpretation by other people. I’m just trying to think, really, if there is any one song that might have anything…
I don’t want to force you into a corner here.
Well, no. I’m just trying to think if there is one song that might be more in one direction than others. A lot of the songs on the album are of a more personal rather than a universal point of view. The one that comes to mind maybe is Craze, probably the oldest one because it’s been with me inside my head for so long. Like some of my songs they come out of dreams or deep feelings. I like dreams and I have them during the day. I just had a very ominous feeling that something terrible was gong to happen, and I knew I wasn’t the only person thinking that. The world was going to take some crazy turn. It was like that before those terrible plane crashes into the world trade center, even before some of the recent atrocities in war. It was a feeling that was looming up so much inside me. Potentially, we have this craziness inside us, bubbling under the surface all the time. I just knew it was going to come closer, and closer. I don’t know if there is any other song that has any more universal meaning.
Do you have a sufficient distance now from what you recorded, because it is after all quite a while since they were finished, to contrast them with say the songs on March, or even earlier. How do you think that they might be different?
I don’t know if I can really. There is never any conscious decision. We never say, ‘Oh lets try this or that.’ Every thing happens so naturally with Les and I. When we’re working, we don’t even really talk much about, it to be honest. We are doers rather than thinkers. We might think about it afterwards, but not while doing it. Just doing what we think is right. I really don’t know if there is any great difference.
So it really just comes full circle and you just have people listen to it.
I don’t know. I’d be interested to see if anybody has an opinion about that.
Well, we’re about to find out.
Lovich at the Stereo Society (selected
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