Photo by Alice Wilby
An interview with Gordon Sharp, Cindytalk
by CJ Mitchell
Stride Magazine UK
I came to Cindytalk by way of It’ll End in Tears, the 1984 album by This Mortal Coil on 4AD Records. Gordon Sharp’s vocals were a highlight, particularly on a cover version of Big Star’s ‘Kangaroo’ – no mean feat given that Elizabeth Fraser, Howard Devoto and Lisa Gerrard also sang on the record. The record sleeve helpfully credited Gordon as a member of Cindytalk, and as he notes in the interview below, many came to discover the comparably darker world of Cindytalk this way.
Cindytalk’s work remains elusive and marginalised in the stories of independent music, which may in part be down to their dogged determination to work at their own pace, forging unpredictable creative paths which at times might appear to be out of step with whatever the currently prevailing interests of the music press might be. However, their inconsistent, and occasionally unhelpful, record label support has further hindered awareness of their work, as well as making it difficult to get your hands on their back catalogue.
From debut album Camouflage Heart (1984) to Wappinschaw (1995), Cindytalk’s singular output ranged across songs, ambient/industrial soundscapes and film soundtrack work. Rich aural textures and a lively interplay between musicians were often enhanced further by Gordon Sharp’s distinctive and immediately recognizable voice.
After 1995, Cindytalk pretty much disappeared from view until the mid 00′s, with talk of new releases and the promise of their back catalogue being reissued through Abraxas in Italy. Sadly, the Abraxas deal subsequently fell apart, but (for Cindytalk) an unprecedented level of new activity is now in full swing. A series of new Cindytalk releases has started to come out through the highly-regarded Austrian label Editions Mego: three albums, The Crackle Of My Soul, Up Here in the Clouds and Hold Everything Dear, along with a split 10-inch vinyl release with Robert Hampson. While the Mego releases are mostly solo work from Gordon Sharp, Cindytalk is also active again as a group, which has been focused on developing new material through live concerts, including a short European tour in Autumn 2009.
The musical contrasts between the solo Mego releases and the new group incarnation in some ways may be grist to the mill for Cindytalk; they like to confound and confuse. However, the recognition which has followed from their association with Mego, and the relative ease with which you can now find their new releases, is long overdue. That recognition also hopefully provides a strong foundation which can be built on by the current group line-up.
In the interview below, Gordon Sharp fills in some background to his activities over the past 15 years, outlines many of Cindytalk’s key artistic concerns, and hints at some future directions still to unfold.
CJ Mitchell: Cindytalk is currently experiencing a relatively high public profile with a lot of activity, notably a series of releases on Editions Mego which in large part is solo work by yourself. Alongside that, you’ve also got a six-piece band, playing live and potentially recording in future. So there are two distinct but also related tracks of activity going on just now. Could you summarise from your perspective the main things that are going on with Cindytalk?
Gordon Sharp: Wappinschaw, the last proper Cindytalk album, was recorded between 1990 and 1992, but didn’t get its release until 1995. In 1996 we toured America, in 1997 I went to live in America, and between 1997 and 2005 I was out of the UK travelling [mostly in USA and Japan] – and not with any of the band members from before, but looking constantly for new band members, a new possible set of people to collaborate with, but not being able to find them.
As a singer, I had never really spent a lot of time learning how the gadgets worked. As a singer, I knew how to use effects on my voice occasionally and I would be quite happy to ‘clumse’ away and tell the sound engineer what I wanted but I stupidly never really bothered to sit down and learn how to do it. But, you know, I was a singer; I wasn’t a musician in the conventional sense. And as a singer I also took control of the general direction, image and lyrics, so I was already doing quite a lot. But, lo and behold, I found myself in a foreign country with nobody to collaborate with, and basically unable to do what I wanted to do, so I had to knuckle down and just learn how to do it, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to make music in the meantime.
I bought a laptop and tried to learn how to create shapes and sounds that corresponded with what I was trying to communicate. So, over the next five years, still away from London in the main, I’m basically using what I’ve learnt to make new music, hence the reason that there are effectively three new albums of solo Cindytalk work. When I reached The Crackle Of My Soulperiod I knew that I was beginning to properly create new Cindytalk music. I didn’t really want to change the name, I thought it was quite nice to mutate into that.
But all the while I’m doing this, I’m desperately trying to start a band. [While] I’m really, really happy with the [solo] albums that will be released through Editions Mego, it’s fair to say that if I hadn’t needed to do that, I wouldn’t have; I would have continued just being a singer and directing the musicians rather than having to learn how to talk to a computer. But it can only strengthen Cindytalk overall for me to be able to do that, and it’s been a good thing with so many doors opened up through the connection with Mego and the press and media we received from that. But all the while, all I really wanted to do was forget about the computer, close my eyes and sing, and to do that I have to find the band so that I can work in a more organic, possibly more orthodox way, but still in a way which I’m very comfortable with. (I’m definitely starting to change my view on what I can do with doing solo computer gigs though; I’m planning to introduce voice and piano to those sets and build from a new perspective, deepen it and bring in more layers.)
[Regarding the band] we had several false starts between 2005 and 2008: three years of false starts, of not getting very far. The personnel wasn’t always right, and then Matt Kinnison became ill and subsequently died. I had been working with him off and on since 1982, but he’d become a partner in that particular phase of Cindytalk, and so that was a colossal blow to all, as a friend first and foremost and for him to lose his life, because he was full of ideas. So we had a lot of problems getting going but I saw glimpses throughout that period of the possibility, the potential to do something interesting with a band.
You know, I have a bit of a reputation for being awkward when it comes to my voice and there have been times when I have refused to use it in the obvious way, and I think I was correct in doing that. I feel it was worth continuing the struggle to find the right musicians, ones who would also fight for it and believe in it and take it to new levels and I think I found that. It wasn’t until the middle of 2008 that we really got going and I think we could tell that at our first gig – we did a kind of warm up, almost like a rehearsal, in front of an audience at the 12 Bar [London] in June 2008. I think we knew from the minute we started playing live that we had something very special and so it was just a question of continuing to pursue those ideas, get better, and work harder to make sure the musicians can actually go on stage and play even if we had no songs, and could do something interesting without it becoming self-indulgent. And of course, when we play live as a band, for me it’s infinitely more enjoyable and more fulfilling than playing with a computer. Both are valid and both are valuable, but I can’t deny that I enjoy playing with other musicians.
CJM: I’ve only heard the first of the three new albums, so they might be distinct in their own ways…
GS: They’re all different from each other.
CJM: As a body of work, can you encapsulate some of your interests or concerns in terms of what you were aiming for on these CDs. Since it’s principally laptop music, what are the sound sources?
GS: It differs. With each album I changed the approach and did it slightly differently. The Crackle of My Soul began as experiments with turntables and then mainly a CD mixer, effectively remixing. It’s a form of DJing, effectively. I was DJing with Darkmatter Sound System in Los Angeles, which I helped found back in 2001 with a bunch of young DJs and producers in Southern California. I started off DJing with the beats, but they were all better at DJing than I was. The spirit was always very good and I think you can be a DJ and not be very skilled and still do really good things if you have the right spirit and the right energy for it. But in the end I just thought, ‘these people are so much better at doing this than I am’, so I changed tack.
And I wanted the static and the white noise and the pure experiment
[With The Crackle of My Soul] I’d build up a library of abstracted sounds, and then I would start to piece these pieces together. I’d get shapes in my head of places I wanted to take it, sound-sculpting it. I didn’t have a keyboard, I had no musical instruments with me at all. I’d go into that library of sound and then I’d find little melodies, tiny little fragments of melody. I knew that with The Crackle Of My Soul I didn’t want it to be too melodically based. I had been kind of inspired by several of the noise-glitch people: Fennesz, Oval, Hecker, Pita amongst others. But some of that kind of music (not necessarily those ones particularly, and without being disrespectful) had become a little bit kind of coffee-house, going down that path of being very polite noise, noise which was really sort of palatable to everybody. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t of course, but it struck me that a lot of that music was becoming very wishy-washy. I think that lots of these kind of people were starting with the experimental stuff and very, very quickly reducing the experimental part and getting more and more organised and formed and so orthodox, and I specifically wanted to do something where the experimental in fact was the whole, or nearly the whole, rather than the experiment being cosmetic where you’d have a nice, polite glitchy-thing with loads of melody and then a little bit of noise in the back, white noise, static, whatever. And I wanted the static and the white noise and the pure experiment, the thing where you have disparate noises and disparate dysfunctional rhythms, effectively colliding to create new dysfunction, but interesting dysfunction – in the same way that you might stop [to listen to] a lift shaft because it’s got a little squeak which sounds really nice. That pure industrial kind of concept that all the sounds and rhythms you hear are music; I wanted to concentrate on that, microscopically just play with that. And at the same time as keeping the experiment as pure as possible, it might be that I would add just a fragment of melody, just a fragment of underlying almost subliminal melody.
There’s a myriad of strands of intent with this. I did want to try to make a music which specifically wasn’t music, that might reach out or reach back: reach out to the future or back from the future. I wanted to attempt to create a music which actually almost belonged somewhere else and not quite here, as ridiculous and difficult and pompous as that might sound. I was surrounded by musics that were constantly regurgitating the past, [and while] there are specific influences in [my work] which come from the past, I did somehow want to try and push [the music] out as though it were broken signals trying to reach us from somewhere else, trying to come back at us from a distance or a time where sound and melody have been stripped, pulled and abused to the point where they just become broken signals. And, in fact, some of the pieces include actual Morse-code signals that have been abused – they are in fact ‘S.O.S.’, [laughs] help! And also abused voices, ’cause being a singer I was also interested to have the voice stripped and abused and distorted by distance and time, so that it becomes again part of the broken signal thing.
This comes back to that human thing of trying to communicate but not being able to, and that could be reflective of the fact that I was in a foreign place, not quite able to do what I want to do and desperately tapping out little messages on my computer to try and create new music.
CJM: Is everything you’ve just described a set of conditions and concerns that is shared across those three releases?
GS: Actually no, I would say that is just The Crackle Of My Soul. To be honest, The Crackle Of My Soul was the key album in that respect, it was the one I very definitely had a vision and a structure for. Somebody in one of the reviews mentioned it’s thematic. It’s not quite that but I definitely wanted its pieces to be connected – they’re all from the same two or three libraries of sounds, they’re from the same experimental process of turntable/CD mixer experiments, and I very deliberately wanted that to have a cohesion, to be a collection of pieces that were related, although different.
Crackle was begun in California, continued in Hong Kong and then maybe as much as seventy-five percent of it was done in Kobe, Japan. Okamoto (a village area of Kobe) was in fact very important in giving me the headspace to make these recordings work. I live there with my partner, Mari, up a mountainside overlooking both Kobe and Osaka ports and the peace and quiet I find there really allows me to create the noise/s I’m looking for. I then found myself post-Crackle, just wanting to continue making music but looking for different ways to do it. I may have used fragments of the same processes but by and large I changed how I did it. I tried to do it from different angles, I maybe even tried to do it in a slightly more orthodox fashion, less sort of high-pitched – lots of the sounds were high-pitched on Crackle, which I loved; part of that experiment was to create a music for dogs!
With Up Here in the Clouds, there’s a different emphasis, it’s more a collection of ideas and there’s not the same kind of conceptual vision for it. And Hold Everything Dear is more based on field recordings combined with played music – I drew in quite a lot of Matt Kinnison’s experiments with trumpet marine and the yayli tanbur, and I’m still doing kind of abstract electronics. So that album changes again.
Up Here in the Clouds is more, ‘what do I do when I get here?’ It’s possibly a bit more relaxed, and in some senses that’s a kind of experiment for Cindytalk because we’ve never been really relaxed. It’s always been a bit fraught and nervy, and I don’t think The Crackle of My Soul is any different. So it’s possible that Up Here in the Clouds is just a wee bit more relaxed – of course, people who hear it might disagree with that!
[Postscript from GS: Prior to the completion of Up Here In The Clouds I pruned it a bit, tightened it up and added two new tracks, "We Are Without Words" (which has become the opening track in our current live set) and "Hollow Stare" which attempts to rough the album up a little! This process, I think, has focused the album up a bit and made it more the equal of Crackle but still more relaxed as I mentioned earlier, a bit cooler, even. I also did a version of "The Anarchist Window" that featured Stewart Home reading from his new novel "The Blood Rites Of The Bourgeoisie" but I decided to leave it off the album and will probably use it on a 7 inch release sometime later in the year.]
I find it pretty much impossible to do the same project twice, probably because I forget why I’ve done things, literally. Once I’ve done it, I’m like, ‘how did I do that?’ So, thankfully, I have to start from a different position [each time]. I think that has been a great help over the years for Cindytalk because we’re never able to become formulaic, it’s not possible, as long as I’m there [laughs].
CJM: How did your desire for singing, or using the voice, present itself when you were working by yourself?
GS: I found it very frustrating. I’m not a technician, and prior to this [phase of work] I would have described myself as a bit of a technophobe, so it was a bit of a baptism of fire to just get in there and create sound from nothing. That might be the main downfall with the idea of self-producing my own work, ’cause I don’t in any way feel confident enough or capable of recording my voice.
Over the years I would have considered myself probably quite a difficult singer in a studio or live situation. I can recall many moments during sound checks or setting up the vocal recordings for Camouflage Heart, In This World,Wappinschaw, whatever, and causing the engineer serious problems by being a bit whiney: ‘It’s not that I want, it’s this!’, ‘But it needs to be red… no, a bit more orange!’ – not being able to express technically what I’m aiming for, so using colours instead! So, knowing that I might be a bit fussy, tells me that my own technical limitations would be well out of sync with me recording my own voice. I did it on a couple of occasions by myself on a computer: the little slivers of voice that were used on Crackle were recorded either on mini-disc or on a silly computer microphone – they were seriously lo-fi. At some point in the future, I would like to be better at doing that. I shouldn’t be saying this, I’ll get sacked from Mego ’cause they’re supposed to be all hi-techy, computer-boffin music types, and I’m the opposite!
CJM: So, in terms of the current band, other than some single gigs, the recent batch of dates is the only tour the band have done with the current line-up. Are you just discovering what’s going on?
GS: We’ve played twelve or thirteen gigs so it’s still at an embryonic stage. Though having said that, we’ll probably always be at that embryonic stage because we’re fairly likely to abandon the set that we’ve just got used to before too long so it’ll never get too focused. We like the uncertainty of not knowing.
CJM: Is it fair to summarise it as a set of conversations within which there’s room for play and improvisation?
GS: Everything comes from improvisational beginnings, and one of the things that I’ve always tried to do with Cindytalk is make sure that it’s very inclusive. Everybody that plays is a writer – everybody that plays on a track, no matter how big or small a part they play in it, is a part of the writing process. I’ve not been to that many band rehearsals but the ones I have been to by other people seem to use a similar process: people begin from just playing. I guess it’s true that there will often be a songwriter or two in a band and they actually come up with an idea and play it and see what other people do with it. But there’s not a single songwriter in Cindytalk. It’s a band thing; everybody contributes to the composition and everything begins from just one sound – it could be a voice, it could be a beat, it could be some percussion. Any instrument can start, and then another person just adds to it and builds from that organic position, and the current set began exactly like that: it has never been fixed in stone at any point.
One of the reasons for touring was to get to know the material better so we could record it at some point, and also to have fun playing live. It’s very difficult to get better in rehearsal; you can put a lot of work in but ultimately the place to get better is when you’re up against a crowd and you have to bring something together to make that work.
Edinburgh was the last gig on that tour and by that time it was fairly together. It may have sounded like it was a cohesive batch of material that was pretty song-like, but there were still many elements that were changing from gig to gig.
I know that there are certain melodic areas that I go to. I have a basic skeleton structure of what I’m singing but I don’t spend lots of time working it out so that it’s the same every time. Basically I know roughly where I’m going but I’m not quite sure how I’m going to get there. So, it’s a skeleton structure; that’s always been the way with Cindytalk, both in recordings and in a live sense. We try to build a foundation that is quite strong, flexible but strong, and then we flesh it out, when we’re able to, in a live or recorded situation.
so exquisitely beautiful that you can’t ignore it
I think that this is the closest ‘Cindytalk live’ has ever been to being song-based. I’ve never really believed that we’ve written songs. We pretend we can write songs and we sort of create shapes that almost mimic the song, but that’s how it’s meant to be because I’m not a huge fan of ‘the song’. I think songs are great but there’s too many of them, and too many of them sound the same. It’s a formula, you know, and occasionally one will hit you that’s so exquisitely beautiful that you can’t ignore it. Otherwise everyone plays effectively the same song, or a different variation of – I think it’s a slightly overrated medium. What I like to do is to play with the shapes that are around that, but bend them and twist them so that they never quite go where you’re expecting them to go. They follow their own trajectory and don’t necessarily conform. Having said that, this is the closest we’ve been to getting in that area, but it’s still not verse/chorus/verse.
CJM: Is that consistent with what was happening with the band in the 90s when playing live?
GS: Yes, except that we were noisier in the 90s and we were less focused because the line-up wasn’t quite as good – there were some good players in there but the line-up was a bit less focused. It’s gotten a lot better. We can’t really be the band that we want to be unless everybody who’s there is capable of just going onto the stage and, if everything falls apart, we can still create something, even if it’s a minimal thing. Everybody needs to be brave enough or have an element of bravado and be able to blag it, because that’s ultimately what you’re doing, you’re blagging it, you’re just saying ‘ok, I don’t have a fucking clue what we’re doing but let’s do it anyway’ and then you just throw yourself off the edge and see what happens. By and large, if you have the spirit to do that, it’ll work.
CJM: So, what are the aspirations for the band both live and recorded?
GS: Hmm… Just to play more… It’s a question of seeing where it takes us, the adventure is that.
I have been thinking that I’d like to toughen it up again, so I do envisage getting a bit noisier – not losing the melody, because I’m really still happy to have that within it, and I’m enjoying singing, but I imagine bringing in some harsher elements to sort of counterbalance it.
Back in the mid-90s, when we were playing live we used electronic beats a lot more. I can’t see us ever doing that in the orthodox way where you have everything midi-ed and synced up, it’ll always be done in a much more organic ‘throw it in, and see what happens’ sort of way. I don’t really ever want to go down that path where everything seems too together – our music has to be about falling apart! Different ways of falling apart, I suppose; if there’s a formula that would be it.
I’m artistically interested in things beginning and things ending. That’s what I enjoy – when it’s beginning to take shape, and when it’s beginning to dissipate. You can feel the process, you can feel something joining and getting together and becoming something, and I like that period, and I also like the bit where it starts to dissipate and sort of decay. I’m fond of both. I’m not sure what to do with the middles yet!
Music has to be about falling apart! Different ways of falling apart
CJM: For me, one of the things that is very striking in your work is this sense of the search, the quest, the yearning. And that might be taken to another level by the voice. There is an environment created within which these feelings just take over.
And one thing that was interesting with Crackle are the glimpses of that yearning in the music – it is constrained by the textured sounds much more, but it’s there. One of the things that also signaled that for me was the choice of the album title and some of the song titles – for example, ‘signalling through the flames’, ‘if we meet, we meet in silence.’ When I’ve been listening to it, I’ve been thinking about exterior worlds – landscapes, places, urban spaces and so forth, and perhaps environments are one of the things that really feels at the forefront of Crackle.
GS: I think that it’s definitely no less of a search or of a yearning than any other [Cindytalk] album. [As a solo record,] it is an unusual Cindytalk album as I’ve always been at pains to say to people: ‘Cindytalk is a band, a collective, a group of people.’
But Crackle is just one person, it is specifically a record coming from solitude, from being on my own, sitting in a room, headphones on, very enclosed, possibly claustrophobic, possibly locked into this world of sound, but constantly trying…
By being involved in earlier years in Soundsystem culture, DJs and electronic producers, I became very aware of the amount of music that comes out of that world that lacks personality. Then you begin to see those people who really know how to use ideas to communicate, because there are relatively few people who are capable of imbuing their midi-ed electronic, analogue or digital music with character that’s unique – Leo Anibaldi, Lory D, Marc Acardipane (The Mover), Christoph Fringeli, Toby Reynolds – people who the minute you hear it you know who it is, you know it’s that person. But much of the music coming from that world you couldn’t tell who it was, because so much of it sounds like it’s coming from the presets or coming from some sort of formula.
If I add my voice to a piece of music, by and large, people would hopefully know it’s me singing. But without singing, how do you do that, how do you get your character into this music?! It struck me that within the context of Cindytalk, one of the things that I used to do, which I think became a kind of voice, was using structure very carefully, both structure in the pieces and also the albums. I would spend weeks, maybe even months, putting the track lists together and trying to figure out how best to make things flow, and so I think I learnt how to use structure almost like an instrument. And so it dawned on me quite quickly that I would do the same thing within the context of this music; that structure would become my voice. And so I used the way things fitted together both in terms of the pieces and also how the pieces fitted together to create a journey, a flow. So, without playing an instrument or singing onCrackle, the structure then became the heart of that voice. I always perceived it as poetic; I perceived that what I was doing was creating a poetry of noise.
People asked me what I was doing, and I would say, ‘noise poetry’, which some people understand, some people don’t. The structuring, rhythm, flow, all that kind of stuff became poetic for me and I think that might be one way that yearning and desire, and things that were always thematic within Cindytalk anyway, come into play, somehow.
It was very, very important to me when putting together a live band that every single member was capable of that same search, or similar searches, their own journey within it. So yes, from every perspective in Cindytalk, the people are looking, are searching for something. We search individually and we search collectively. Even though we can in no way be connected to the jazz ethic, I often felt that that’s a similar thing: you have players who all go off into their own space but then they know how to come back and join with the people they’re playing with. We definitely have moments when we just fly off and other times we come back and connect.
CJM: There’s also the acknowledgement (or sometimes the printed acknowledgment: quotations on your album sleeves) of other artists, whether contemporary or historical, as references, as guiding spirits perhaps.
And there’s some pretty fundamental, big themes that you touch upon, not in a heavy-handed or didactic way, but I think it ties in with that yearning idea. It’s unashamedly signalled in the music and in cover imagery – for example, the balancing between extremes with the fire and ice images on the 10 inch single cover [Cindytalk and Robert Hampson], and Wappinschaw’s hammer and feather images as well.
GS: The first word in the Cindytalk story has to be desire, it’s written on the wall on the cover of Camouflage Heart, I’m standing next to my own spray-painted writing, and that’s exactly the starting point. So, yeah, absolutely. I can’t imagine not drawing in other artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians that have inspired us. It strikes me that we take these people inside us on a daily basis, we don’t exist in a void, we’re made up of what we know and what we consume and what we seek out – other ideas, other thoughts, other entertainments. I did that from the very beginning with Camouflage Heart: there was one track we needed a drummer on, so I went to friends and said ‘we need a drummer on this song, and to be honest there’s only two drummers who I’d really like to play with’, one was John Murphy, who had previously been in the original line-up of The Associates, and one was Mick Harvey, who wasn’t even really a drummer technically, he was a guitarist in The Birthday Party but became a drummer in The Bad Seeds for a while. And it just so happened that the person I asked knew Mick Harvey so he became a part [of that album] – somehow, somebody we’d been inspired by stepped inside, in a very, very brief and fleeting way.
The first word in the Cindytalk story has to be DESIRE…
When we got to In This World, that idea focused a bit more. I had been reading Kathy Acker and been feeling inspired by stuff like [her book] Blood and Guts in High School, and we were writing a song which related to that and her presence was there already and so I took it a stage further and I went and spoke to her, I explained this to her and said: ‘your presence is already there but why don’t you become the ghost and actually participate, just come in, unannounced, just appear’, as if by magic in a sense, you’re listening to something and suddenly the thing that you’re listening to is actually right in front of you. It was just meant to let itself appear and disappear, as though it’s the kind of thing that the music makes you think of it and so it happens.
With Wappinschaw I was trying to reconnect with my roots in Scotland. I’d spent a number of years up to that point, and maybe slightly after that point, trying to move back to Edinburgh, unsuccessfully. My inability to make that step backwards made me want to make an album that somehow spoke of that feeling, that desire to go back, but can you go back?! It’s not possible to go back, you can’t do that when you’ve moved a distance away, and Wappinschawwas relevant to that. And I read Lanark by Alasdair Gray and was completely blown away by it, and so in that same spirit that we’d used in In This World, I wanted to draw Alasdair Gray directly inside the work. I’m not sure if that’s an unorthodox thing to do, I’ve not come across it very often, but it just seems nice to take the inspiration and turn it into something more concrete. You’re also deepening your work by bringing in real people who have created a whole other world of ideas and sounds, maybe even to some extent introducing new people to them, which did happen a lot.
And of course Wappinschaw became a bigger work relative to that concept with the track ‘Muster’, with its invocation of [artistic] spirits. ‘Muster’ was the key track of the whole album because it spoke of that spirit of what I was trying to communicate about the world having turned in the opposite direction. It couldn’t be any more true now – that idea that we’ve taken a wrong turning and it’s started to strain so tightly that it’s cracking apart because we’ve just gone the wrong way and somehow we can’t get back or go forward to get back on a better path.
I always reduce Cindytalk to this: it’s a person’s relationship with the world around them, it’s very simple, it’s not to be over-intellectualised, it’s a simple thing.
I’ve reduced the voice to the broken signals in The Crackle of My Soul. In a live sense I’ve reduced it in a way by not really using lyrics anymore but using the voice as an instrument. I mean, I’ve always done that; I went through periods when there was lots of lyrics but I constantly come back to the voice as an instrument, because it’s an emotive tool and you don’t necessarily need to have a very clear-cut lyrical passage to feel something.
The Crackle of My Soul’s titles are the lyrics because they’re all connected to the human. I mean, I’m quite fond of Autechre and the way that they create new words and hybrids but by doing so they take it further away from us, but I don’t want to do that. I’m quite fond of the traditional, European experimental or classical music where, at the same time as it being experimental, it’s also romantic. I like that combination, and I think that Cindytalk are a little bit like that, we’re definitely broadly experimental but I’m a bit of an old romantic at the same time so I like to imbue it with that spirit, and I think that romance is the desire and the yearning.
CJM: A very basic question to finish: where does the band name come from?
GS: It was an idea. My band previous to this was The Freeze, which is a generic shit band-name and we eventually had to change our name because other bands also kept calling themselves that. We managed to scare a few off just by saying, ‘we’ve been around longer’, but then Freeez came along with their big hit single, I forget what it was called (a jazz-funky type thing, pretty awful) but they refused to change [their name]. They spelt it differently anyway but they refused to change it, so we just thought, ‘actually, this would be a good time for us to change our name because we need a good name’.
Now, having been burnt in that way, I did think that the best way of having a name that’s not going to be a name that a dozen other bands have is to create a hybrid name: take two things that don’t necessarily belong together and stick them together. If you think about it from the point of view of Googling: perfect! If you choose an obvious, generic name and put it in Google, it takes you forever to get what you’re looking for; you put ‘Cindytalk’ in, and that’s that, just ‘Cindytalk’. In an artistic sense, this is it, there’s only one Cindytalk. So I knew very early on that I wanted it to be a hybrid, and I wanted something feminine because of being transgender, or whatever it is you call it, since I was very young.
When I was between the ages of 15 and 21, that was the period when I was starting to understand it. Before that it was there but it was just abstract, I had no idea what it was. From 15 onwards, I’m beginning to kind of understand it, by 17-18-19, I was starting to explore it, to share it, through clothes, through make-up, through various ways of sending out little signals to try to create a scenario whereby I could communicate it somehow. That was happening throughout The Freeze in different ways and when it came to Cindytalk I actually wanted to make it work straightforwardly, I wanted to have a name that had a feminine aspect. I still wanted to make dark, abrasive, slightly threatening music but I wanted it to have a feminine aspect as well, and it manifested itself through the doll, the Cindy doll – which of course was the Barbie doll in America, but Cindy was British.
I just had a mad notion at the time of a Cindy that could talk, I wanted to give her words that she wouldn’t normally say. I wanted to have a juxtaposition of the pretty and fluffy connotations that came with the Cindy doll and a darker, abstracted language, or things that might be said that wouldn’t normally be said in that context to create that dichotomy and tension. So I just had this vision of somebody pulling the doll’s string and it might say, ‘brush my hair’, but it might also say something completely different from that, something philosophical or political or nonsensical or surrealistic, and I suppose Dada comes to mind when you think of those things, the Dada concept of rhythmic, phonetic poetry, something jarring, and organic. And the thing is that the feminine can be those things too, and it doesn’t mean that the feminine and the fluffy isn’t interesting in itself either, but I was taking that abstract darkness and placing it alongside something pretty and fluffy and sweet to create something different.
This didn’t necessarily manifest itself entirely in Camouflage Heart but it did work when you consider that Camouflage Heart came out at almost the same time as This Mortal Coil. You had me on one record singing very, very sweetly and very melodically, and looking very feminine in the video and pictures with all the make-up and flowers, and then I did Camouflage Heart and it jarred, and I did that deliberately. I often thought that had it not been for Camouflage Heartcoming out at that moment, I would not have done This Mortal Coil; I would have turned that [opportunity] down because it wasn’t strictly my kind of music. I wanted to explore that area of what I could do but only knowing that the two would come out almost simultaneously, and that you would possibly go from one to the other. Most people think of This Mortal Coil as being quite dark as well, but from Camouflage Heart’s perspective it’s sort of ethereal and a bit airy-fairy, and I was interested in the idea that you could go from This Mortal Coil and then take that step into Cindytalk and the movement between the two would be quite an interesting step. And over the years that has proved to be absolutely correct and people did do that; very few people have gone the other way, there are some but I’d say ninety-five percent have come from This Mortal Coil to Cindytalk, and they got that, they felt that, they were like: ‘fuck!’ Some people would push it away, put it in a box, but they didn’t throw it away; and maybe at a later point they would open it up. Some people eventually would reach it and that would open up a few sets of doors.
To me, there was a really clear idea of helping to accentuate the power that was contained within Camouflage Heart, and the name also leant itself to that. Many people over the years have said that the name Cindytalk sounded a bit too twee, and that may be the case, but if you listen to the music then what happens: a dialogue has begun. In contrast, if you give yourself a band name that immediately tells the story of the band and how it’s going to sound, then what are you left with?!
I’ve tried over the years to try to encourage people to participate with Cindytalk. I’ve tried to create some kind of dialogue or tension, to provoke thought, to encourage people to actually step inside, not to just listen and let it breeze over you. Cindytalk is full of implied melody; if there’s not a direct melody there, and sometimes there isn’t, you can be sure there’ll be melody all the way through the core of it, because it’s just a question of a sound hitting another sound – it creates a melody and a rhythm and it’s always been there to encourage people to come inside and be a part of it.
© C.J. Mitchell 2010