Interview:
John Foxx

21st Century Foxx

For over 25 years now, John Foxx has been making some of the most creative and innovative music around consistently, and inspiring hoardes of today's most successful artists into creating masterpieces of their own. Whether you remember him best as Ultravox's driving force before their more commercial assault on the nation's charts or as a solo artist in hos own right - or for his recent work with Louis Gordon, there's no doubting his fully deserved place in the musical filing cabinet stamped "most influential men of the 20th century". Now he's back, with The legend was happy to answer several questions for Atomicduster - even after I got the name of one of his albums wrong! Oops...

AD: Congratulations on your new long player "Crash and Burn". It's been some time since we last heard from you, with your "Cathedral Dreams" album...

JF: Er...it's "Cathedral Oceans"...

AD: What?

JF: It was "Cathedral Oceans", not "Cathedral Dreams"...

AD: Eh? Oh...um...sorry...

JF: That's ok

AD: Phew. Ok, so what have you been up to since then?

JF: We've been working away, doing gigs and the odd record release here and there, but in a lower key way. Also I've been trying to get things working the way I wanted them to - primarily in getting the record label sorted. Getting that set up was the most important thing I ever did, as I find record companies very hard to work with, being a very "leftfield" artist. Then I've had a whole host of other trhings to think about, such as this lens that seems to move through music and fashion. For example, you can become really fashionable and then the lens moves in and before you know it, the camera has taken a snapshot of this particular "scene", and you're suddenly completely UNfashionable. That's why I've always believed my place in life is just to be underground. That's the kind of club scene I've always been interested in anyway. The problem otherwise is that every time something gets big, something else comes along shortly afterwards to replace it - and if you're not careful you'll stagnate and get stuck in this time warp.

AD: Good answer. Anyway, you've long been regarded as a kind of cult artist and an inspiration to many of the leading figures in the industry - to such an extent that Gary Numan once cited you as the main influence of his entire career. What's your take on all of that?

JF: I always think it's not much to do with me really. It's as simple as that. I mean, it's great that they did, but it's out of my hands. One great thing is that it makes you feel like people are actually listening and that's a kind of context with it - I mean I was heavily influenced myself. By the Velvet Underground. Admittedly they were a pretty seminal band, but with them it wasn't just about the music - there were also the black and white movies, the whole Warhol thing, the amateurish films and the stark imitations of what was going on in London in the sixties. They mixed other elements too, and managed to gather all the best bits in a careless way - using a rip up and cut up style. All that and people like William Burroughs had a profound effect on me. I think it's just a great way of working.

AD: Ok, time for a question you've probably heard a billion times before, but I'm gonna ask it anyway - when you left Ultravox at the tail end of the seventies after three groundbreaking albums, they did of course go on to have their greatest commercial success without you. Did that ever piss you off at all?

JF: (laughs) No it didn't bother me in the slightest, and anyway it was starting to look like it was going to happen while I was still in the band - and that's pretty much why I left in the first place. I didn't want to be in a pop band. Everywhere was sold out on our tours, and I just lost interest in that kind of thing when I discovered synths and drum machines. I was a little daunted about the whole size of it really - everyone else was delighted of course, but all I was thinking was that I was gonna be locked into it and I had too much else I wanted to do. And the things I was getting interested in, well, I almost felt I couldn't really ask the band to do that as it was so different. I just didn't want to be part of a "gang" anymore.

AD: So how did the rest of the guys take it? Any animosity?

JF: There WAS a little, understandably. It wasn't easy, but I always got along ok with them - there were no major fallings out. I still see them every now and again.

AD: Looking back at your early solo stuff, and in particular your work on "The Garden", I always felt you were one of only a handful of artists who were actually attempting to do something different at that time, along with maybe Brian Eno, David Byrne and even Kraftwerk. I also thought that the album reflected our society as it was back then perfectly, so in essence your output was very much "of its time" while at the same time being way ahead of it. How do you think you managed to encapsulate that so successfully?

JF: I'm glad you think I did! I don't know, I just react to things as I see them, and I always deliberately make music that I'm NOT hearing but that I WANT to hear. It's quite frustrating sometimes and I get haunted by stuff I can almost hear but can't quite achieve it. Then of course you can get diverted by all sorts of things and a track can start pulling in all different directions. Recording a song can change it too - it's a bit like swimming or surfing - you're riding a wave, but ultimately trying not to get drowned.

AD: I gather your time in Italy shaped a lot of your subsequent work. Which place in particular, and why did the country inspire you so much?

JF: Oh, there were lots of things, but the main one is that I was physically comfortable. Before that I lived in Finsbury Park, and London at that time was very bleak. I was between there and Chorley and Manchester most of the time, so basically it was the difference between having everything heavy and grey - or sunny, warm and comfortable. No contest. I felt like I'd reconnected to parts of myself I'd almost forgotten about and it was great to enjoy the air for a change. It was like escaping from a concentration camp. Then of course, there was all the cultural stuff I picked up - you know, the history, the renaissance painters, the architecture...and I loved getting lost in Venice. I found this place called Bormozo near Rome as well, which was this lost medieval garden and it really took me back to my childhood. That's probably because I grew up in Lancashire when all the mills were falling apart and it reminded me of an era that's passed. I felt a strong emotional charge there - I really connected with it.

AD: You obviously didn't connect with the UK music scene back in 1985 though, as you came out of it altogether. Why?

JF: I just got very bored with it. Around that time, England was starting to get taken over by all those "white soul" bands, and I really hated that. All that lurching around and trying to be sophisticated just seemed so false. And the Goth thing really wasn't me either. So I was relieved when the Acid House scene kicked everything off again a couple of years later. i started doing some stuff with Tim Simenon after that and became interested in music again.

AD: And it seems that Louis Gordon has had an impact on you too, since you started to work together. How did the pair of you meet?

JF: I was at a party in Shropshire, where they had a different person playing in each room. I couldn't see anything because of the smoke and lights, but there was this one room where Louis was playing with a synth and a beatbox, and I thought he was great. I went up to introduce myself later, and coincidentally he already knew who I was and just happened to be a big fan of my previous work. So it all stemmed from there really - Louis wanted to play live and I didn't, but he eventually convinced me and doing some gigs with him made all the difference. When I work with Louis, harder stuff, hard edged electronic music gets made, and I'm happy with that.

AD: If you look back over your entire career, is there anything you would have liked to have done differently?

JF: Oh, loads of things, but it's all irrelevant really isn't it? At any stage in your career you've got to make decisions. Circumstances always conspire to make it appear you could have done better had you taken a different route, but the path you choose is the one you're on and there's not really anything you can do about it. I think I can live with that.


and so can we, if John continues to make the quality music he has always seemed to make. I suppose the only thing I'd change about MY career as an Atomicduster journalist is those occasions when I emabarrassingly get the name of the artist I'm interviewing's damn name wrong! Ah well, at least he was decent enough to forgive me...even if he does have a photograph of me pinned to his dartboard now. Paranoid, me?

John Foxx and Louis Gordon's "Crash and Burn" album is out right now.


Interview and transcript by Tone E

'Our visuals? - Don't ask! Too much 'fizzy pop-star' Coke I guess' (editor)

 

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