Turning the Corner - Interview with IAMX
Reported by K8-e
Submitted 03-03-10 07:50
Chris Corner may not be a name you are overly familiar with but if I mentioned he was one of the founding members of the 90s trip-hop band Sneaker Pimps and the guy who stepped up and sung the vocals on their second and third albums that would probably do it. After parting ways with the band and setting off in his solo guise as IAMX some five years ago Chris has carved out a sound and style thatís only partially described as something that fuses 80s electro glam with dramatic synth-rock. Three studio albums and multiple tours later IAMX touches down for the UK leg of the current tour for a one-off gig at the University of London Union on March 20th.
It was Christmas and I was messaging a friend in Switzerland, we were discussing music and talking about our favourite albums and artists. Iím always first out of the gate with Massive Attack - Protection and Sneaker Pimps Ė Becoming X when asked about my favourite albums and he asked me if Iíd heard of IAMX, I hadnít. It was the guy from Sneaker Pimps stuff post-Pimps he told me. Heís really big on the continent Ė why didnít I check it out. So I started googling and found myself wrapped up in some IAMX tunes on Youtube. Liking what I heard I made my way to iTunes to purchase the ones I liked Ė but there were no IAMX tunes on iTunes, I was confused. Some more googling led me down into a world of an artist whoís made a bid for creative freedom, shunned the music ďindustryĒ and take an independent route, yet built an amazingly loyal and passionate fan base Ė many of whom live and breathe IAMX. I was intrigued, so much so I purchased all three albums and a London concert ticket on the strength of hearing a few tunes. The more I read about Chris Corner and IAMX the more I felt I had to interview him. Coupled with the amazing journey the music has taken me on Chris himself seemed like a really interesting individual, and what IAMX stands for and the world that has been created around it was a fascinating one.
Chris now lives in Berlin which has given him "the spirit to care less about the music industry and take an independent route." Clearly thereís history here between Chris and the music industry, quite a few of the tunes on IAMXs first two albums (Kiss & Swallow and The Alternative) were originally written for the fourth Sneaker Pimps album which didnít happen. The focus of this interview however is on IAMX today, here and now. I hope above all else you find the interview interesting and take some time to check out the tunes, and if you discover a love for IAMX too then Iíve done a great job.
Chris, thanks for taking the time to do this interview today. To set the scene and give some context when you say IAMX (shortened these days from the original name of I am X) - What is X? Has that changed over time for you?
Yes it has changed, but I think itís still represents some kind of symbol of flexibility, moving on, progressing, searching, learning, Basically everything that Iím running to is in X. I guess itís my goal. Somehow I came up with the name as a confidence statement, a sort of blind confidence to maybe tell myself where I needed to go. So IAMX apart from being a very simple name (because Iím really bad at choosing names) was my attempt at being extremely self-confident.
And the X does vary, it does change with time and thatís what I love about it. Itís a symbol of everything in the attitude of IAMX and that means concentration on art, creativity, flexibility, movement. And also X if you wanted to see it in more of a hard light, you can see it as ďI am no longer many things, I am X this or X thatĒ, Iím no longer the person I was.
I understand it all started with production for you, how did you get into producingĖ what software were you using originally and what were you making way back when?
I basically got into production I think because I like to work very privately using a computer, particularly electronic production gave me the tools to do things in private to be very singular and focused in my own world and not be particularly distracted by others and even though I worked with a band for years and collaborated with many different people I never felt particularly comfortable in that position. IAMX and particularly the production in IAMX gives me the opportunity to be very focused very self indulgent and also self analytical and very private in my work. Being a producer allows me to do that and not to just be a fragile musician that needs other people to direct them and guide them. I guess in my control-freak, obsessive way I wanted to do everything, so thatís why I became a producer.
I always worked with a Mac because I liked the design side of it and the simplicity and it always felt like the most creative machine and Iíve pretty much always worked with a combination of Logic and Reason. Thatís what I do in the computer and then everything else I do outside.
So how is your studio kitted out now Ė I believe you are in a disused waterworks in Berlin Ė is that right? Howís that working out?
I have an old GDR factory in the east of Berlin and thereís lot of strange rooms and studios and visual rooms. One of them is my main studio where I have all of my synthesisers, guitars and drums set up for me to play with in my crazy little play house.
Is there anything you could pick as your favourite?
Yes! I think my favourite synth at the moment is a horrible old Kawai Home Organ I think itís from 1973 and it gives you many different options. You can have a voice sound, a wind sound, a Hawaiian guitar sound. Itís adorable, itís really cranky and itís out of tune but it has a lot of life in it and I think thatís my favourite at the moment.
I read an interview where you said about your voice, how you werenít too precious about it and if it needed to be fucked up to make the record sound better youíd do that, are imperfections something you like to explore in IAMX?
Coming to terms with imperfection and fragility is important to me in a confident way and maybe even a vulnerable way, it is part of my therapy I guess. With my sound, with my lyrics, every part of IAMX is about that human vulnerability Ė thatís why I like to explore those imperfections. Actually maybe imperfection isnít the right word; itís the character, the life, in unexpected sounds in mistakes. Although thatís not to say I allow mistakes as in one sense Iím a perfectionist, if the mistake is interesting and perhaps subversive from whatís expected in normal pop and commercial music then I find it interesting. I will always have to push it as far as I can to be happy with it. A few mistakes here and there are fine but it still has to have some kind of quality threshold for me to put it out there.
Your lyrics are often really personal and deal with age old conflicts experienced through love, sex, drugs, addiction, politics and the rest Ė yet its all beautifully wrapped up with your disarming voice and lush production. Iíve got all three IAMX studio albums (Kiss & Swallow, The Alternative, Kingdom of the Welcome Addiction) and I think theyíre all significantly different and I guess an evolution but for readers who maybe unfamiliar with your work how would YOU describe your sound and that journey?
I rarely listen to my music if you can believe that. But youíre lucky because recently I just looked at my history with IAMX, trying to get a perspective on my life from the last five years. The first album (ďKiss & SwallowĒ) probably represents that first step in searching and in centralising my world into a small room and into an independent space and challenging myself to make something, in a way itís a bit more electronic than the other two and quite simple in some ways. So that was my simple first step.
Moving into ďThe AlternativeĒ that became a bit more of a dramatic, open, maybe a slightly overblown, version of myself, an exploration of the character that was naturally coming out of this project and thatís where I started to develop the stage persona a bit more and to explore the live shows more, to put that back into the music as well. So it was combination of live organic performance with electronic.
And then ďKingdomĒ (of the Welcome Addiction), the last album, I think I was a little bit worn out by The Alternative phase and wanted to go back and explore the emotional, more fragile part of my personality. I think that comes across in Kingdom its more emotional than the other two records. Thatís the way I see it, but Iím notoriously wrong about the way I see my own work. Iíd be interested in how others see it.
Bringing the music to life and touring is an integral part of IAMX. Your new tour kicks off this week. What are your thoughts about being back on the road again?
Itís always a shock to the system but itís a very integral part of what I do with this project, both practically and financially itís the way that we support this independent project but itís in our blood now. Itís important for me personally to have this energy release that I donít get in the studio. Thereís a lot I can talk about in my music lyrically and I can express things in certain ways, but just to be completely explosive and animal about it, my frustrations, my hatred and my observations of the world, no matter how much you write about it you never really get that kind of release. What I love about live is that I can have that release and it feels very visceral and very real to me, I wouldnít do it if it wasnít else I would have worn myself out a long time ago. Thereís some kind of yin and yang between the studio and live, between the calm existence and this ravaging gypsy life that we have on the road and both need to exist with this project.
Youíve said that you feel that performance is like having sex with hundreds of people at once - thatís some bold advertising! <Chris laughs> although conversely youíve also made the analogy that gigging can also be like ďgoing to warĒ depending on the crowd. Confusing! But in all seriousness what can the uninitiated expect from an IAMX gig?
I think the one thing you can expect is that it will push some kinds of buttons. Whether one hates it or loves it I get the feeling from the atmosphere and energy in the room that people are somehow moved and hopefully the fans are moved in a positive way. If people hate it I donít really care as long as theyíre activated. So I think you can expect to be activated in some way and there will be some delivery of work from us and a show, I think itís important that itís a show for me that itís theatrical and larger than life whilst also having a truth to the reality of the performance. I love theatre and I love when people work really hard so youíll get that from an IAMX show, if you get other stuff then thatís great.
You have a new remix album out very shortly (Dogmatic Infidel Comedown OK Ė an anagram of Kingdom of the Welcome Addiction) Ė how did that come about and is it hard to relinquish control of songs that are so personal or is that something you can embrace artistically?
This is a really positive step for me to allow others to interpret and re-work the songs. Iíve been cynical about that in the past because Iíve obviously been involved with people remixing my work and fifty per cent is good and fifty per cent is just not what I like to listen to.
We had the time and I put some effort into choosing the right people Ė people I respected, independent people because I want this record to be a real symbol of independence and to stand outside the horrible music industry. It felt quite good in the end for me to do it. It wasnít too painful! I ended up doing some versions myself, so exploring that side of me was also really nice and what I found out from that was that Iíd like to make a record in a different way. Iíd like to make a record like I did with Kingdom but then without releasing it Iíd like remix it and then release that for people to listen to. I find it very freeing to take on a different character and re-work my own material. It gave me a whole new perspective on the music and I found that really exciting.
It became in the end a really good and positive project and I had a chance to connect with other good, independent artists which is rare for me.
And is there likely to be a new studio album on the horizon?
Yes, there is! Iím going to start recording it in April, Iíll be in the studio for at least three months and Iíll come out at the end with another product I think. Because we do everything ourselves I have to give myself my own deadlines and thatís quite hard. Thereís no one telling me about this stuff, I donít have a contract, nobody is handing anything to me Ė I have do it all myself. So hopefully by the end of June we will have ten or eleven new songs.
At this point I knew Iíd eaten into a lot of Chrisí time but I thought Iíd push my luck and see if he could spare me some more.. Do you find the intensity of support from IAMX fans overwhelming at times or do you think itís a natural outcome given the intensity of the music and how much of yourself you pour into the project?
<Pause> This is a very interesting area for me, psychologically I try to keep a bit of a distance from the whole thing because I canít really see it from that perspective, I will never be able to see what they see. But all I can do is put as much as I can into the music and I expect some sort of reaction will come out. I am quite an intense person I guess in my music and maybe I should expect that kind of reaction.
Well itís interesting, when I was wording that question I had to think, because obviously anyone who is a ďfanĒ of an artist is going to feel passionately about what they do or at the very least be really into their music. But it seems to me with your fans itís pretty intense, not from all of them, but a lot of them and thereís a lot of love for you and what you do.
Thank you. I get goose pimples when you say that. I think thatís amazing and I canít really ask for anymore than that. In return Iíd love to connect with everybody and keep making music. That support mechanism does just lift me up, it is my fuel.
Through your MySpace blog you can communicate directly with fans Ė although probably not as frequently as theyíd like is that because you feel you need to hold some of your back sometimes or a lack of time or other? <readers can check out Chrisí alternative Christmas message on his MySpace blog: http://www.myspace.com/iamx>
I think itís dangerous for me to go that route and itís more important for me to focus on the creativity and to give the fans the real stuff rather than just some day to day small talk. I donít think that it would be as appreciated or as important. Itís not really in me to do that. When I feel like I want to say something to them I really try to say it but I donít want to dilute our relationship by posting messages all the time.
Your last album was leaked by a journalist before release. Coming from the dance scene I see the damaging impact file sharing and that sort of mentality has on artists. As an artist what do you think can and should be done to prevent this or is it an inevitability of modern times that we have to live with?
It is the inevitability of modern times. We just have to think harder, we just have to find a different way. I reacted to that, maybe because I felt safe in the sense that I thought I was giving it to people that really did respect the music but then again I was quite naÔve about that. Looking at it from a distance obviously I embrace technology as much as I can and I understand human nature that people will always look for the easiest option, so it would be stupid of me to say we must do this or that.
I think one thing is the artist needs to connect to the fans on a more 1-1 level by saying if you do this I canít really survive and if you want music from meÖ Well there has to be give and take Ė there has to be a discourse between the fans and more of a healthy, realistic discourse and I think the people that really respect what you do will probably buy it anyway and those are the people Iím trying to aim for. I think with IAMX as you say because of the intensity of the fans Iím hoping that most people will buy it, again maybe Iím naÔve!
I think the only solution is to think harder, with us we are trying to develop a whole world with other products and interesting merchandise rather than just putting music out there. Iím also working on video stuff at the moment, so focusing on art forms that you can give in different ways Ė you can give some things away in order to get money for other things. There just has to be a bit of a bartering system I think and thatís what great about being independent, you arenít commanded by a record label that says you have to do one thing or another; you can go directly to the fans.
You mentioned creating videos for your music <and in fact this was what Chris was doing when I called> and youíve talked in other interviews about making a film Ė is that something we can expect?
Iíve moving into that direction. What I was discovering when I was re-working my music was that I was enjoying the abstract nature and the deconstruction of the music rather than being structured verse-chorus, verse-chorus, it was interesting seeing it in a different way. I like that about film music, the sort of abstract nature of film music. And what I like about film is that it can give the same type of emotion but in a very different way. Itís a natural extension for me to move into that and I think that me making videos for IAMX is just my way of practising, of trying to become better at film making. I wouldnít make a film unless I felt in a position to do something worthy so it might be another couple of years before I manage that.
One last quick question! When I listen to Kingdom of the Welcome Addiction you keep telling me I can be happy (Track 9 Ė ďYou can be happyĒ). What is it that makes you happy Chris?
<Pause>. Cor, thatís a big oneÖ
Sorry! I lulled you in with one last quick question Ė but actually itís not a quick question at all!
No itís not! I donít really believe in the word happiness. You canít capture those moments in life in a word of such simplicity. I think contentment maybe describes a plane of sequential happiness or whatever you want to call it and for me, well I probably used that word knowing itís something I could never completely be. I think one of my problems is when I notice Iím happy, the instant I notice that moment its gone, thatís what I mean about the transient nature for me, I canít hold it and I donít know if anyone can really hold it. That doesnít mean you canít be content and I think that maybe there are ways of plateauing your good feelings rather than focusing on the negative stuff. Even though I lose that happiness really quickly I can also get rid of my negativity very quickly Ė which means that I guess Iím somewhere in between. And if I can float around there for the rest of my life then maybe thatís enough.
And with that it was time to let Chris go, thanking him for his time which he said was no trouble at all. He is a thoroughly lovely, polite and quietly spoken guy, a complete contrast to his flamboyant and overt IAMX stage persona.
As I reflected on the interview I was actually delighted to have had the opportunity to speak to someone whose albums I know have changed the way I feel about music at two separate defining points in my life, itís not often you get to do that.
Catch IAMX at the University of London Union (ULU) on March 20th Ė you can purchase tickets here:
Web site: www.iamx.eu
Youtube channel: www.youtube.com/user/iamx
Photos courtesy of IAMX, JANINE GEZANG & Art-in-Black . Not to be reproduced without permission.
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The views and opinions expressed in this review are strictly those of the author only for which HarderFaster will not be held responsible or liable.