Graham Lewis interview
The following extracts come from a telephone interview between Graham Lewis [GL] and KSPC's Mary J. Owen [MO] held on March 20th, 1995.
MO: Your new project is H.A.L.O. I know that the name means 'High Altitude, Low Opening' and it's a military term, but I wondered if there is a story how this name was found or where it was taken from?
GL: I was watching a cable channel called Discovery. I was just channel hopping, and it's funny because I already had the initials, but they were doing this program which was about the Norwegian Jaeger who are like the British SAS, and what the phrase describes was their method of entering hostile territory, which is High Altitude. They jump out of planes at high altitude, and they open their parachutes at very low...
MO: As to not be seen?
GL: Exactly. So as this was the first project which I'd made in Sweden. I wasn't sure whether it was going to be hostile territory here either. [Laughter] It fit it quite well.
MO: Is the move to Sweden the reason why the name was changed from He Said?
GL: Yes, that was part of the reason, and also as I was doing it with a Swedish record company [MNW Zone]. I thought it was good to differentiate with the He Said stuff which I had done with Mute. I think that kind of labelling makes things easier.
MO: Has the move to Sweden and being married and having a child influenced, impacted and changed your music? Is that part of the reason why there were seven years between this release and the last He Said?
GL: With regards to the time difference between releases, I've been going to make this record for a long time and each time other things have come up, whether it's been Wir(e) or other things... [pauses] Well, one's life has changed considerably from living in London. For a few years I was living a fairly nomadic existence with Wire. We did a lot of work in the States and in Germany for instance and, shall we say, it's more stable in some ways so I suppose that has some kind of effect. I'm never really sure what the answer to that is. Maybe in the writing of the material sometimes there's an inevitable autobiographical content and I'm sure that goes in but I think once you go into the studio, what's going outside—a lot of that gets excluded.
MO: The content of the songs, many of them are political. The promotion sheet talked about a theme of modern technology...
GL: How can you escape it really? I suppose it's just my observations upon it. But regards to specific things, with regards to technology, like Smart material love (waves) grew out my fascination with the Stealth fighter and the use of smart materials in technology. I thought it could be a new metaphor for the observation and surveillance which goes on in love affairs. Also in greater things as well! Yes, I watched the Gulf War on TV. And the thought that someone could be flying over in an airplane and can actually photograph you from an incredible height. Quite fascinating isn't it?
MO: Skip the Sausage (at the Terminal Hotel)—it has been suggested that it might it have to do with prison...
GL: With going to prison? It's more a song that has to do with being homeless really and being nomadic. When you get into that situation you start to find yourself in strange places meeting strange people at strange times. It's a very, very straight piece—an impression of a hotel. A few years ago I used to find myself near Euston Station in London. Not a terribly pleasant hotel, but on occasions I would arrive back from America or wherever at some strange hour and need to find a somewhere to stay. Hotel rooms have a very particular quality if you are feeling rather cut off.
MO: Right—the carpet or the wallpaper are usually pretty atrocious.
GL: Yeah, this hotel, they even had the windows nailed down!
MO: Health Warning (Act Today)?
GL: The "fuck off you nazi bastards" part had sort of existed in a very small form since about 1986. I think I wrote that the same day as Ahead and Feed Me were written. Some things lie around for awhile so it took a bit of time to develop it and keep it as concise as it is, and then find the right setting for it. But I think that one is fairly straight forward, I think anybody can understand its sentiments.
MO: "Answer to your question"?
GL: I think it talks about stereotypes a lot really, and very, very generalized descriptions of people. But it also talks about, what shall we call it, materialism, I suppose, and how that does effect the relationships between people.
MO: As far as influences in music, do you feel that you try not to listen to a lot of other people's music because you'll be too impacted or is it that everything is sort of a product of multiple influences, and therefore it's more of a collage, and originality is not the point any more anyway?
GL: I think it's both actually. I think one swings between the extremes. There is very little which is very new, it all comes from a pool somewhere. But there are certain things of your life that one hears and once you've heard them, they completely change the way you listen to music again. They're there, they tap you on the shoulder, they say, "No, no, no it's not like that, it's like this." But it's not that you want to reproduce what someone else has done, but someone's methods—their sincerity or the strength in what they're doing, that's extremely important. For instance, the track, So Sick and Tired (On a Diet of Too Much), the beginning part of that, it's quite a strange piece because in the end it was like three texts which I put into the same piece. And the first part is about me discovering Captain Beefhart when I was drunk when I was about 17. I seem to remember with my friends sliding down hills, singing to it ourselves. And then the second part is actually, I suppose, my tribute to Beefhart. The novice gets his mantra, the captain puts you in control. You know things like that happen and you never hear things the same. That continues, it still does.
M: What do you think of early Wire, that people are still influenced by it. Does it feel retro, like Pink Flag?
GL: I feel pretty happy about it. You know, it was the first record I was involved in making. I've still got very good memories of it. As to other people using it now, I can't imagine why they'd want to! [laughter] With regards to it being an influence, I suppose, it's the odd thing, isn't it? It's like when you come across pieces of work which were made many years ago and you think, "God, this is absolutely extraordinary." That's always an exciting thing.
MO: Back to H.A.L.O, you went from Dome to He Said and then to H.A.L.O? How do those fit together, the development of that?
GL: The short answer is that as one's working on material some things seem to fit in certain projects and other things don't. When Bruce and I we were doing Dome and other collaborations, there was still material which I was making which wasn't appropriate.
MO: Why Immanent?
GL: Immanent, well the dictionary definition is "Godlike and Universal", which really is about things being both large and very small. Rather than being a misguided ego trip or something. As it says in Is this All?: "It's so big, is this all? it's so small!"
MO: There's a bit of black humor in the HALO stuff.
GL: Yes. A couple of weeks ago I went to have dinner with somebody and she had bought the record and she came in and just went "Skip the sausage... HAHAHA" and was on the floor! I felt very good, yes, there's life there still!
On a recent trip to the UK, Graham Lewis [GL] was interviewed by Kevin Eden [KE] about the new single, Eclipsed.
KE: How much of the song is direct autobiography and how much is observation?
GL: Well, I suppose both. It's really the feeling when you're really down and get so drunk that when you do fall over you just have to laugh because you do feel as though you've been eclipsed. I also coupled that with the whole recent history of migrations of people across Europe, and I suppose my own, too.
KE: In both this and in Is This All? there is a sense of rebirth or renewal, a feeling of taking stock.
GL: Well, they were both written before Klara being born. But I suppose there's a sense of knowing that this is a possibility. In fact, Eclipsed, Is This All, and So Sick and Tired were written very quickly when we'd almost finished the album. There were two other songs that didn't sit comfortably so I took them off and replaced them with those. I think it rounded the album off more successfully.
Originally issued with a WMO newsletter in 1995.