The Monster-Maker [2015-04-19]
Andrew Liles is one of the most prolific & respected figures working in British experimental music & sound. Over the years he’s worked with the likes of: Nurse With Wound, Current 93, Faust, Tony Wakeford, The Hafler Trio, and many others. One of his most sonically varied series of solo works comes in the form of the Monster series- this started in 2010, and so far they have been 15 releases under this banner- the releases have moved through various different sonic & musical styles, but one of the most recent releases has really seen him push the genre boat out. And that release is the Snuff Box- which takes in three CD’s, and finds him authentically recreating various types of different horror movie scores. Andrew kindly agreed to give us a email interview discussing the Snuff Box, and the Monster series in general. This is the third time we’ve interviewed him at M[m].
m[m]:Tell us a little bit about how the idea for the Monster series of release first came about & what do you see as the main sonic & theme elements that tie all the series together?
Andrew: The Monster series probably stems from a lifetime of collecting, from Star Wars figures and cigarette cards when I was a kid to records when I was older. They all tie together thematically and artistically, for me there is a compulsion to collect everything part of the same series. If I get into a band or author I want everything by them. It just appeals to my slightly autistic personality. I like collections, I like continuity, I like things to have a collectable and organised quality, the use of the same visual theme, the same fonts. I like a recognisable identity, I love the font Shlop, the Monster font that I use throughout the releases.
Andrew: There are no musical or sonic themes, the idea is to make each record totally different, there is a spoken word /jazz album in there, a metal album and a dub one. There are a few sounds or motifs that run through several of the records but the principal idea is to explore far reaching and diverse musical styles. I guess that the Monster motif is my signature to let my audience know that they should expect something entirely unexpected. If you buy a new Iron Maiden, AC/DC or a Leonard Cohen album you pretty much know what it is going to sound like. If you buy a Monster record you probably and hopefully don't know what to expect. That's why I will never be a commercially successful artist, I'm too unpredictable, too random. Most people want the same record again and again, if you throw them a curve ball they generally don't like it.
I'd like to think my audience is similar to me with a wide, varied and open mind to all kinds of music and art. They are an amazingly loyal following who thankfully keep on buying the releases and supporting my idiosyncratic excursions, and I am eternally thankful to them for that.
Andrew: I have compartmentalised Monster - it's almost like having another band, Monster is random, tongue in cheek, eccentric... to be honest it is so large now I don't know what it is or what it has become.
I also think another element as to why I created the Monster thing is in part to challenge the musical genre that I am often attached to. It's a very self conscious and austere genre, quasi intellectual, often times with minimal artwork and a highbrow aesthetic. It has very little if any sense of fun or irony, it's pretty joyless really, I don't want to be pigeon holed into that world, the beard stroking world. I think a lot of what I do doesn't fit into the experimental 'scene' or any genre really.
m[m]:Seemingly 2010’s Ep Monster Munch was the first release to appear in the series- what did this sound like & how does it compare to later works in the series?
Andrew: Monster Munch plays at 33 and 45, the basic principal was to experiment with the format of the 7". It's a structured rhythmical song that works at both speeds. Its not just some random noises that you can easily play at any speed. It was created to sound musical at both speeds. It doesn't compare to any other of the releases, as I say I want them all to be very different from one another.
m[m]:So far the series has taken in 15 releases- please select a few of your personal high points & explain why they are?
Andrew: On a personal level I think they all have their own merits, but I would say that wouldn't I?. I have enjoyed writing the stories - at least 4 of them have a narrative or a story written by myself. The quality of the packaging has been astounding thanks to the record labels that kindly indulge my requests. Another highlight was having the legendary horror illustrator Graham Humphreys paint two of the album covers. I also enjoyed the fact that 3 printers refused to print the Dreamy Gorgeous Monster book, a personal triumph...of sorts.
m[m]:One of the most recent additions to the series is the Snuff Box Set- which finds you over three CD’s trying to create the feel & vibe of various different types of horror movie sound tracks. The scope of the set sees you covering a lot of different sonic & instrumental ground, moving from orchestra full scores, onto sinister 70s/80’s synth scape-ing, through to taut yet terrifying jazz tinged dramatics, onto creepy music box & horror sound work-outs. Through to bone chilling piano urgency, and beyond. Please tell us about how the idea for a release of such scope came about, and how long did it take to compose & create?
Andrew: In 2011 to 2013 I decide to collate a huge database of sounds. I acquired 100 DVD's of quite literally half a million sounds, of sound effects and snyths. I also was collating a lot of source material to build upon the existing database. I bought a violin and recorded nasty scratchy sounds. Made my piano into a 'prepared piano', used fishing wire on guitar strings, made my own instruments from metal poles and guitar strings which I bowed and plucked. I recorded all of them over a period of 3 months. I built a vast library which I can now call up instantly. An impossibly vast database of unique and found sounds many of which have a horrific or scary quality.
Andrew: Added to this I bought an iPad and downloaded an array of software. There are some extremely good and authentic sounding Mellotrons and Hammonds and old synths for the iPad. I was just messing about one day with one of the horrible 80's sounding synths on the iPad and thought that sounds like John Carpenter. Then it just dawned on me why not make an album of horror music. It just exploded from there and I decided to try my hand at all the horror musical styles. I'm a workaholic so I just dived straight in. Once I get an idea I don't stop until it's all done.
It took about 8 months of 10 hour days to record the album, with about 3 years of collecting and collating sounds to make it so diverse.
m[m]: where there any types of soundtrack types that were more difficult than others to get right? Andrew: The more 'classical' orientated tracks I found to be more difficult. To make a song sound with a more traditional structure I find more challenging. Abstract pieces are a lot easier for me to do
m[m]:The Snuff Box is clearly using a whole host of different sonic instrumentation- who plays what on the release?
Andrew: Me, myself and I. The voices are supplied by friends. All the instrumentation, recording engineering and mastering, as with the vast majority of my releases is entirely by myself. I generally only work with other people for their voices.
m[m]:Wow that is most impressive you played everything?! Considering the scope of the release ..I imagined you had got people in to play different elements- so how many instruments do you play on the release, and how many can you play?
Andrew: Primarily I use keyboards on this release. I have an amazing array of keyboard sounds that can emulate a wide variety of instruments. That said I am not a musician in any way. I couldn't tell you what a single note is on the piano. I play by ear, trial and error. I have no formal training in music whatsoever, I guess I have a good idea of how things work and there is a lot of studio trickery that can hide my lack of musical skills. I am a firm believer that if one can get a sound out of an instrument you can play it. I'm not great at playing any one thing but try my hand at everything. I have all kinds of instruments, guitars, a saxophone, wind instruments and all kinds of xylophones and stringed instruments. A jack of all trades but a master of none, except maybe the studio, which I think I'm pretty good at. The studio is the main instrument for me.
m[m]:The Snuff Box had a very ltd pressing of just 151 copies, which are now all sold out- do you have any thoughts of re-releasing the material again either in a less limited physical form or digitally?
Andrew: I have no idea, I doubt it. It seems a little bit of a disservice to the people who have paid for the box to then release it cut price digitally. But maybe I will put it on the download site in a few years time. I use the download site primarily to issue stuff that is long out of print or to promote forthcoming material. The ratio of listeners to purchases shows me that less than 1% of people pay for music, so there is very little incentive to make material available in that form.
m[m]: you mentioned early about texts/ stories running through the monster releases- a few tracks on the Snuff box feature spoken word elements( mainly in none English languages). Is there any interlocking story behind these? Or are they just purely for effect?
Andrew: The languages are Italian, Russian and Japanese. They are all translations of the same words, the words were taken from the spines of a collection of Bizarre magazines I have. A kind of DaDa - cut-up approach. They are all nasty phrases and random. I love using foreign languages, I have used them throughout all my releases. They sound exotic to my ears.
m[m]: The outer covers of each of the three discs in the snuff box were done by highly respected horror artists Graham Humphreys( who was responsible for iconic 80’s horror poster like Evil Dead & Nightmare on Elm Street). How did he come onboard the project, and how tighter spec did you give him on the designs?
Andrew: Graham is a friend of a friend so I had an in-road to contact him. I gave him a fairly loose idea of what I wanted. I wanted 3 of my own head so they could be divided up into the 3 separate discs, then it was pretty much up to him how he executed it.
m[m]: Another one of your recent additions to the Monster series is “First Monster Last Monster Always Monster”- which sees you doing an instrumental, electronic adaptation of The Sister Of Mercy’s 1985 debut album “First and Last and Always”- what can people expect from your version of the release? And are they any other classic slices of Goth rock you’d like to Reinterpretation? Or for that matter any other albums from other genres you’d like to record your version of?
Andrew: I always loved the album, and in a small way it was my gateway into more abstract music, independent labels and the like. I never ever considered The Sisters as a Goth band, I always considered them as an alternative Rock band...with a drum machine. I think the Goth tag came later, just another 'catch all' journalistic construct. In terms of what it sounds like, it's pretty odd, a kind of pop album to my ears. I can't be that objective really, kind of IDM meets Jean-Jaques Perrey. It's meant to be tongue in cheek, something to do the washing up to... maybe. Like all good music I guess you are not really meant to listen to it with any kind of depth.
It would be extremely unlikely that I will be recording a Christian Death album anytime soon.....but maybe Diary of a Madman...maybe.
m[m]:You mention possible doing your version of Ozzy Osborne’s second album 1982’s Diary Of A Madman- what attracts you to this? And what would be your sonic take on it?
Andrew: I'm a big fan of DOAM - I collect every vinyl version on it. Here's a link to my page about the reasons why.
I don't know how I would have it sound, I don't think it would be anything I would do anytime soon.
m[m]:Please selected ten of your all time favourite horror soundtracks & explain why you enjoy them so much?
Andrew:George Crumb - The Exorcist soundtrack
Krzysztof Penderecki - Again on The Exorcist soundtrack
John Carpenter - Halloween Theme
Pino Donaggio - Carrie - especially the song 'Devil Come Home', it has some very beautiful organ and brass .
AC/DC - If you Want Blood - used in the last of the Final Destination movies - perfect backing track for the compilation of all the deaths in all the movies.
Isla Cameron - Oh, Willow Waly - The Innocents
Paul Giovanni - The Wicker Man
Brian Reitzell - Hannibal - (Original Television Soundtrack)
Bernard Herrmann - Psycho
And a mountain of stuff by Morricone
Andrew: I'm sure there are a ton I have missed out or overlooked it's really difficult off the top of my head to name them. I can't really tell you why I like them so much, I just do. Truly remarkable music.
m[m]:What was the first horror movie that truly terrified you?
Andrew: Without hesitation whatsoever it has to be The Exorcist. I saw it when I was 11 or 12, and I was also bought up in a household where demonic possession was considered 'real'. My father had performed a couple of exorcisms and had had some 'supernatural' experiences in doing so. I think the thing that scared me about The Exorcist is that it seems very 'real', it is shot in a very unique way, very little happens in the first three quarters of the film, it is pure tension and made in a fly-on-the-wall documentary style. Even at the time I considered it to be more of an examination of religious guilt, religious fervency and mental illness rather than anything supernatural.
Andrew: There is something incredibly unique about The Exorcist, amazing artistry, the sound design, those amazing voices and incredible music. There is an eternal drip drip drip of shockingly poor Exorcist type movies. The lazy film industry must say "Call the movie something to do with 'Exorcism' and the punters will watch it no matter how shit it is". No one has even come near the genius of the original, one and only Exorcist. It is certainly one of my favourite films. I met William Friedkin once and wanted to talk to him at length, shyness overwhelmed me, but I did get him to sign my Exorcist book.
m[m]: Are you able to talk in more detail about your fathers exorcisms? I take he’s a catholic priest then?
Andrew: He's not even Catholic. He was heavily into the church when I was kid. I don't know how he got into the exorcism thing, it wasn't ordained by the Vatican or anything. He was involved in some weird Christian shit, I remember going around to someones house to a prayer meeting and they had a huge crucifix in the living room, which everyone kissed. But with the exorcisms I guess it was more of an ad hoc thing that he used to do with the local vicar, DIY exorcism, this was way before the Exorcist came out. He told me a story of holding a woman's hand and reading the lords prayer and getting an electric shock, and how the same woman set alight to her face with a box of matches, but the next day she showed no signs of burns. I'm totally cynical of anything like that tho, I've been at 'occult' masses and traditional belief things, temples of all kinds...to me it's all a bunch of superstition for socially inadequate people.
m[m]: What are your thoughts on the Sequels & pre- Sequels to The Exorcist?
Andrew: They are all rubbish....
m[m]: As your such a fan of the original Exorcist- have you ever thought of theming a release round it?
Andrew: Absolutely not. That would be pretty awful. The whole Monster thing is a homage to great movies and great music, but I also think most of the movies that I have referenced or make a nod towards are pretty camp and funny. I think some of those bands that present themselves as 'serious' occult practitioners and use all kinds of arcane symbols are seriously lacking in artistic originality. Can you imagine meeting someone who says they are a Satanist? I have - it's hilarious.
m[m]:Have you ever considered recording an alternative soundtrack to a horror movie? And if so are they any that come to mind?
Andrew: I'm not sure if I'm that interested. Myself and Steve Stapleton done a Murnau soundtrack some years back which was fun. But I'm not so sure, invariably those live soundtrack films back very old films which don't interest me at all and I think it would be a bit incongruous to soundtrack a contemporary film as they usually already have their own distinct soundtrack, it could be a disaster. Think of Zane Lowe pointlessly and arrogantly 're-scoring' Drive, that was a fucking car crash - pun intended.
m[m]:What’s next for the Monster series?
Andrew: A 7" - Monster Raving Loony - to come out, fittingly on UK election day. May 7th. After that I have a few planned but nothing concrete yet. Maybe a 3 CD set that compiles all the vinyl releases with some extra material.
m[m]:When was the last time you were truly terrified?
Andrew: I can't say that I have ever been 'truly terrified', the word terrified seems to imply paralysis due to abject fear, I don't think I have ever had that. That's not to say I don't get scared, I do and very often. There is nothing in an esoteric, spooky, ghostly or supernatural way that terrifies me, I don't believe in any of that kind of thing. I found out at a very young age through some experiences using brain bending chemicals that it was all in the mind, purely a man made construct. My fears are very much earth bound.
Andrew: A few years ago I was rushed to hospital several times with anaphylactic shock, I was fairly ill for 18 months and the cause was never determined. The thought that it could come back at any given moment is fairly scary, but not terrifying, something amazing happens to our psychology when shit like that occurs. Our quest for survival far outweighs anything else.
Andrew: To see my neighbour waste away from cancer last year was scary, in purely selfish terms it makes you consider your own mortality, unimaginable emotional anguish, pain, the frailty of the human body and the brevity of existence. It makes you think "Fuck, what am I doing with my life", it took him 6 weeks from diagnosis to death, that could be me or you or anyone, that's very scary. I think I would be truly terrified if I was given that final prognosis. I guess that's why horror is such a popular and important genre. In some way it helps deal with our real world demons and monsters in a controlled way. The real world is far more terrifying than any musical piece or horror film.
Thanks to Andrew for his time & effort with the interview. Here are the various internet links for Andrew: