And even for me as a woman, I take for granted all the freedoms I have and it’s hard for me to, you know, to realise that that is happening today, and our world is very archaic and NOT updated!
(Courtesy of Rodrigo Jardon, City Slang Records)
It’s cold outside, and Coco Rosie are not warm. Huddled round a kitchen table in a friend’s house, and obviously not convinced by the assurance from our host that the temperature is perfectly okay, Sierra peeps out of the blanket that she’s wrapped herself in and waits for me to start the tape. It’s been a couple of years since we last spoke: that last time I was freaked out by them appearing as pixies out of a lift in a seemingly abandoned building. This time, matters are more, well, ordinary. But only on the surface.
Before we get down to business - almost as a bit of light relief to shake off the cold - we’ve decided to interpret the meaning of a Wallace Stevens poem, one that Marc van der Holst and Brenda Bosma from Amsterdam’s premier beatnik troupe, Spilt Milk, sent me. I was informed by Brenda that this particular piece “had an elusive attraction (the poem) had, apparently, “brought us to our knees in devotion. Funny that language can do that…”
We read the poem together as if we are at primary school…
Tea at the Palaz of Hoon
'Not less because in purple I descended
The western day through what you called
The loneliest air, not less was I myself.
What was the ointment sprinkled on my beard?
What were the hymns that buzzed beside my ears?
What was the sea whose tide swept through me there?
Out of my mind the golden ointment rained,
And my ears made the blowing hymns they heard.
I was myself the compass of that sea:
I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.'
(from Stevens, Collected Poetry & Prose, p.51)
Sierra and I look at it, Sierra threading her way through the lines with a sort of cold deliberation.
IN: It’s nice language… some nice lines. I think it’s a very male poem. It’s about power. About asserting his own power. And about maybe reject ting God. It’s all very Symbolist though. All this symbolism is very male, very Apollonian.
Sierra looks at me and looks down at the lines again.
S: “I was myself the compass of that sea…” The word compass is NOT very emotional; maybe he was the tool, maybe the source of judgement. This is very self-righteous isn’t it? I wonder if he (this time meaning Marc, not Wallace) will play a guitar when he sings it? I bet he does. (Laughs)
We stare at the poem for a few more seconds. Time seems to pass ever so slowly in the room. Sierra pulls the blanket a touch further over her head.
IN: I suppose I’d better ask you about the new record, that’s why I’m here. Actually before I do, I’d better tell you that I had a waking dream about Coco Rosie, just before I got your record in the post as it happens. And I had this dream that you were both news readers for the world, on the telly!
S: Wait… that was your dream? You are joking! Had you heard anything about us recently?
IN: No, I never read things like press releases and I hadn’t read up anything recently about you, honest! I just saw a mental image of you both sat next to each other on the telly taking turns to read the news.
S: Wow… Wow! (Laughs). That’s awesome.
IN: Would you like to? Be news readers?
S: It sounds cool, interesting, it’s certainly an interesting dream. And it’s interesting because uhm… you know in the past… I don’t know if you remember the last interview we did together but we weren’t in the mood for talking about social issues and politics, we were more concerned with afterlife and astral projection and… really… transcendental ideas. That was the music was about. And things have shifted. Tremendously. We’re dealing with a lot of issues that are a response to the world. On a more direct level than before. And music of course is such a special medium of expression; it has its own realm, and still does in our work. But the content is more grounded about the Earth and about being here now. It discusses what human beings are doing to the Earth and how we treat each other. And it’s new for us. So it’s quite interesting you had that dream! (Laughs a lot).
IN: I did notice something on this record, I mean you’ve always had this dual nature, but on this new record it’s more pronounced, and pitched in a slightly different manner: you always played with the concept of “what is and what isn’t”, but your lyrics now do seem to be more of this earth, lyrics about shopping malls…
S: I don’t know why we started on this; I’m not sure. But we founded a group (Future Feminists) with Anthony Hegarty, Johanna Constantine and Kembra Pfahler, where the five of us have been discussing issues of the world and working on a dialogue for solutions. And this has been happening during this year, and Anthony is – you know Anthony’s work? He’s such a grandmother figure for us and is a real source of wisdom and is always in our lives a lot and continues to affect us a lot and is a big support. He’s on the record (Tales of Grass Widow)…
IN: Yeah, second and last tracks; (Tears for Animals and Poison)… I wrote down 'the nature of existence' in my notes, there’s something about this record that is much more direct? What triggered this?
S: Lemme think back…
It was a core process of recording this time, ‘happened in two weeks, really fast and it is different for us, the way we’d made records in the past. But leading up to the recording process during the building of the songs, we’d been working on these characters. We’d been working on this character called the grave digress which is this old woman and we have been working on this character of a child with no face who has been raped of its innocence and this symbol for that part of society which we reject, and are uncomfortable to name as being human, those faceless untouchables that we all pretend aren’t there. And then a character called scarecrow who is this… interesting masculine shell of a human being who has… maybe not a human heart. So these three character s have been dancing together in a song, or maybe there’s a conversation between the two. The song Gravedigress is a conversation between the child and the old woman, and in that song they reveal a circular experience of time which refers to the possibility that we can communicate with our inner child, or even our future selves. And receive guidance and do healing work on our past.
Anyway, these are the characters that have been building. So this is what has been started first of all during the year. We did a ballet, a theatre production, which was more like a musical theatre performance based on these characters and we’ve certainly done a ton of poetry around them. In the meantime we’ve been having dialogues about the world and I think… it’s affected our music. Our music has its own realm which I think all music does. But our feeling about the world and our dialogue with the future feminists, and people that Anthony has met through a magazine called Gag, this has all funnelled into our poetic realm. And has become a voice – through these characters in the play and now into our music. I don’t know if that all makes sense. But it’s a recycling of politics and personal pasts in these characters, and somehow they end up finding their way into the songs.
Does that make any sense?? (Laughs).
IN: Yes, it does. I was reading a book recently how Elizabethan England saw the world, and how some of the era’s main poets such as Spenser or Sidney, saw the world. It was a time where the neo Platonist ideas, the mediaeval idea of the world was radically being pushed about, and people like Raleigh started to question things, prompting this huge tectonic shift in understanding. And they use allegory to explain things in a different way than before; you can see this in Cynthia or Arcadia. And that’s what you’re doing effectively… the artistic channel.
And there’s a lot to be angry about now. Isn’t there?
I dunno if it’s a good thing. I think maybe there’s issues that are there to be explored you know, that people don’t wanna explore and this (rejection) may give people an island feeling, that they don’t want to look too personally at things…
IN: What do you mean?
S: Well, there’s a song on the record, there’s a couple of moments that are based on true events that have become personal to us. The song Child Bride discusses marriage and discusses the case of this 5 year old girl who was married away to an older man. And old man, really, and he promised not to have sex with her till she had her period but we just don’t know… and erm, we discussed the emotions that she went through. Confused, of course, of having no possible way of understanding what was going on. And this is a hard subject for us. And even for me as a woman, I take for granted all the freedoms I have and it’s hard for me to, you know, to realise that that is happening today, and our world is very archaic and NOT updated!
(This is followed by a long, cold stare).
You know it is very, very old fashioned. And there are some very questionable ways. And it’s hard because we are exploring subjects that people want to have at a distance.
(Courtesy of Rodrigo Jardon, City Slang Records)
IN: Things don’t smell or hurt any more, not most of the time: a sort of displacement. You just have to just touch a screen. Use your thumbs: (I mime someone’s thumbing a mobile screen).
S: Yeah! You’re right! What’s going on with the thumbs?
IN: It’s mad. Now reduced to using their thumbs.
S: Thumbs…. Wow. Oh man the thumbs, how fucking weird is THAT?
Oh man, what is this cheese?
(Sierra stabs some cheese that has been set in front of her.)
IN: That cheese looks a bit nuts… (I later find out that this is some sort of fried Italian cheese, and in doing so I lose a tiny bit more of my Northern/Industrial ignorance). ANYWAY, the record… I enjoyed being seduced by it. It didn’t feel like a record that needed to be explored in a hurry. It’s very easy to listen to. A soothing record. So you were trying to ensnare people into what you were trying to say?
S: Yeah! That’s nice yeah. We weren’t really trying to do anything specific. We have a very serious commitment with our music, and we keep each other in line. And our commitment is based on a combination of poetry and messages and art as art, and honouring what that is, and for us it is something very mysterious that you can’t put your finger on.
And it takes a level of respect. If something happens in the creation that isn’t really pleasing, but we know it has the emotional quality we were looking for and happened in a very sincere way, we just say fuck it; let’s let that moment speak to the rest of the song, or let’s close the song up and call it finished, you know that happens a lot too. So it’s nice to work with my sister. We keep each other really honest. There’s no bullshit there’s nowhere to hide.
IN: I remember you saying that the first time we met, years ago…
S: It’s brutal sometimes! (Laughs) Well you now there’s no point being phoney and it’s easy to see if someone’s not prepared for music or not, you know… in the right space or… There’s an incredible amount of honesty in the whole process.
IN: Of course, but then when you’re making something it’s often not about you, it’s about that something else which turns up in the room. So you need the discipline to put your ego in a box.
S: That’s true a lot of the time. A journalist was telling me the other day about an interview he’d done with Tom Waits. And he’d asked Tom Waits where his inspiration came from. And Tom Waits said, ‘it’s like trying to photograph ghosts…’ so it’s interesting to have the love for that process and the commitment. I guess it’s a way of being spiritual; just to honour that process in itself.
IN: I’ve been thinking a lot. And as I get older I feel angrier but more resigned to the fact I just can’t control stuff. And this seeps into my art, and the only thing I realise I can do is, as you say, honour the process of the making of my art. Or my writing. Whatever it’s worth.
S: As a writer do you think we can change our sense of language, our sense of a word for example?
IN: I think you can throw things around. You can look at words and look at them completely differently from one day to the next, sometimes because of the emotional or chemical state you are in. Words can be supremely tricksy bastards because you cannot pin them down. They are potential little devils (Laughs).
S: Do you think that words inform our perspectives or not? I mean when I say perspective I mean our consciousness?
IN: Oh yeah I think they do. Don’t quote me, but I think language must come from some kind of trade, some kind of barter of emotions and experience. So for a language to be “trusted” and for you as the speaker to be trusted, you’d have to develop a signalling system that your group can recognise. So there’s always a sort of trust/don’t trust trigger. Which, I suppose… means words as we know them do have an inherent duality. And they are tools we use to sell things or ideas with.
S: Selling: that’s a key point and I have a question for you seeing as you’re a word person. I’m not, not so much a word person. From the outside it seems to be an interesting subject. Now (warming to the theme) what about this idea…
…what about this idea that we keep using the term man for mankind. When we refer to women and men we use the masculine version as a default. What do you think…
…I mean you said the selling thing just then and something struck me, maybe not the full connection, but this idea of the man. What do you think of that?
IN: I think… well… (Gets sweaty palms)… Words are used as a sort of control, so it’s maybe a manner of controlling your own panic. I suppose if you look at certain primitive societies, then it’s all about understanding where the fuck you are in time and space, and the only thing you can maybe refer to is yourself and the ‘everything’ outside of you is an extension of yourself or your species: and this can be expanded or collated into some form of suggestive control mechanism that grows over time. Thor the thunder god, giving flower names to girls, et cetera. And I’ve certainly always thought it very strange that words can have a gender: or things have to be ascribed a particular gender in terms of organising a language; say in German, der die das. Words are there to help you feel safe.
S: Is this a male thing? Do you think men use linguistics to control?
IN: I think there has certainly been a lot of that over time, through all sorts of missives, whether literary or in law, and I think that it’s very interesting what’s happening now, I wonder if something similar isn’t happening all over again with coding language, I mean I have no evidence outside of the empirical evidence that I (in my day job as a webmaster) see, but I can’t think of any female coders. Designers yes, but coders, no. So to wander the foothills of paranoia a bit, you have one way of looking at things (male) that is enshrined in the new technologies that underpin our existence.
S: Do you think we should address this male domination of language? I mean, we are expected as women we are expected to include ourselves but it is strangely hard to do, it’s a challenge but there it is again all over language.
Let me ask you something else: do you believe in equality between men and women? Do you believe in equal rights?
IN: You know what, I’m not trying to be evasive or pretentious; and I’m most probably being stupid somewhere, but I’m not sure about this ‘idea’ of rights! I don’t think they exist on one level in our consciousness. The law is important to our society, it’s where you can stop or agree on something. In its purest form law is beautiful: the concept of the blindfold judge is beautiful. However concepts like rights, fairness, equality, liberty, outside of the law they can become red herrings in a way. I just wonder we keep using them as excuses to do nothing, or terrible things now anyway. And speaking on a “person to person” level I don’t want to or try to judge anyone on their gender. I don’t think about it. There’s just good and bad / nice or nasty in my eyes. It may be naïve but I’m all for naïve.
IN: And that’s why I like punk: still. It’s primarily for ugly boys and girls. It’s one concept or refraction on the meaning of equal that I like.
S: What did you mean by that? What do you mean by ugly?
IN: Ugly as in people who didn’t dress up to mainstream satisfaction.
S: Challenged, you mean.
IN: Yeah, pushy. Anyway the whole idea of men being on top doesn’t sit well always, and I think in some ways language can be left to overly suggestive souls. People like my maternal great grandmother wouldn’t have given a damn about the word mankind after my great granddad died in 1919. It’s an irrelevance when you’ve a house to run and kids to bring up on a war pension. (At this point I begin to realise I’m sounding like a right old fraud, not to say soft, and shut up).
S: I’ve been exploring these topics trying to get out of where I’m used to and I was kinda thinking well, how does patriarchy surface around the world? On a current level…
…Anyway I did some research and I’m gonna ask you…
…What do you think about the perfect vagina?
IN: (Laughs, in a ‘didn’t see that one coming’ manner).
S: Have you heard about that?
IN: Is this the thing about chopping the labia off?
IN: I remember hearing about this and thinking ‘that’s fucking mad.’
S: Does that reflect… does that fit in with current patriarchal thinking?
IN: As a man, and one whose sexual exploits have never troubled the Richter scale, how would I ever think I would be in a position to be a judge of the perfect vagina? To me the concept is just disgraceful.
S: Do you think it’s because of a pressure? To fit in to a society that is run by men?
Interlude. It must be pointed out by this stage your interviewer had consumed a fair bit of wine, purely in the interests of keeping warm. It was around this point, maybe as a reaction to the vagina question, that your interviewer felt his reason and many other of his mental faculties, like caution, taste and better judgement, slide serenely into a warm and gently undulating bath of alcohol. But this really is no excuse for the piss he talked in the conclusion of the interview.
Now read on.
IN: I never understand any of it anyway. All this shaving of hair. Women AND men shaving all their pubic hair. You see them in saunas. (I like saunas). But they’re there. Looking like fucking Ken and Barbie. And I’m 43 so I’m from the pre shave my chest hair generation. And you see these health fanatics in their twenties completely fucking shaved, waxed, what have you. And it’s a turn off, it’s dumb blind acceptance and in that it’s got fucking Nazi overtones to it.
S: Do you think this is one result where we can see a society that is overpowered by what the man wants? Repressed enough to not question this? Or find a convenient excuse?
IN: And it’s rebounded on men, men do it: the biter bit in that instance. To shave your pubes just ‘cos it shows you’ve got a bigger cock? Are you telling me this isn’t Freudian? My cock size?
S: So men feel pressured too?
IN: I think there is very much a body issue here but there again it’s some form of Graeco Roman Nazi eroticism (no, me neither on reading this back – ed). Big muscles oiled up. It’s all a non-issue for me cos if you want to do that you must be really bloody bored or a twit. But this MUST be of worth to someone for them to do it. It must have some cachet of worth…
S: Yeah. And mutating yourself, cutting bits of your vagina off to give yourself more worth. Like circumcising maybe? Is that related? It’s an interesting and strong subject.
IN: To go back to the notion of selling, you could say it’s barter. Doing this improves your value, maybe in a monetary sense, too. It is mad. It’s all like Echo and Narcissus.
IN: People have always mutated or altered their bodies, or faces, tattoos and skin markings, ear and nose mutations, foot binding, body paints, misshaping… tribal marks… But I sometimes feel we live in a culture that can’t get past its own cock size or its waist size. I mean I like having it, but I like having all the other bits of me too. The only six pack I want is the one I have in the bloody fridge.
…And anyway this idea you can’t be fat – that you are ‘draining resources on the health service’ it’s another form of control. Drives me mad.
S: Yeah! The idea of the perfect vagina is for me, deeply weird and totally scary.
OH MY GOD. Oh my God, it’s insane.
IN: It’s an important issue. Altering yourself.
S: Yeah altering yourself.
IN: (Rallying briefly) Let’s talk about something else. Tell us about Anthony Hegarty then. Why do you like him so much?
S: Anthony’s a source of wisdom for us. He’s like a grandmother figure, always been there and given us credible advice, and when we get into a… shitty mess… we always call Granny and Granny always gets us out. Sometimes we’re feels like it’s enough to be supported by one artist, and Anthony is that artist. And it’s given us the courage at moments to not care whatever people think. Because that’s the most important thing for us to have! (Laughs).
…If you start worrying about that then it’s all over.
IN: And people who know fuck all start telling you what to do.
IN: We started with this Wallace Stevens poem, so let’s end with it. It could be a Jim Morrison poem? (Laughs).
S: So “I was the world”… “And there I found myself more truly and more strange”… I think the end has this ‘looking back maybe not’ kind of twist to it. But the rest is definitely circling around himself.
IN: OK I’m going to tell Marc this is just an exercise in the totality of the male ego.
S: Yeaaaargghhhh!!! Naaarghhhh!! (Laughs).