Punish Yourself (May 2011)

– Is it difficult for a French band to play abroad ? Punish Yourself played in Canada a few years back and you toured in Japan last year. How did it go ?

– (VX) Well, yeah, it’s quite difficult, but not because we’re french, who cares about being french anyway. The trouble comes from this : PY on tour means at least eight people. Which means a van, plane tickets, hotel rooms and food for eight, I’m not even talking of getting paid ! Most promoters can’t afford this. And we can’t afford losing money, I mean more than we already lost – wich is a lot. When you’re a solo performer or a small band, it’s really easier. Ambassador21, for exemple, they tour a lot because there’s just Alexey and Natasha… We’re to big to move, ha ha ! And we got no big label to back us. Luckily, the cash we earn in france sometimes allows us a foreign tour, like Japan last september or Germany last december.

– What’s going on with your side projects (Cheerleader 69, 1969 Was Fine, Le Cabaret De L’Impasse) ?

– These days I’m focusing on 1969 Was Fine, we’re writing a second album, and experimenting with a new line-up. Miss Z took a break because managing and playing in both bands was too much pressure, and Mat who was playing the second bass switched to guitar. In the meantime I’m experimenting with some analog synths and noise units, the result should sound a bit Hawkwind-like, especially when Mat also triggers his own analog box and the sax goes thru a wah-wah ! We’re also trying some trumpet and flute, and even maybe two trumpets, our drummer just realized he was quite skilled with this instrument. he had never tried before, and it was like he had played all his life. I guess this mix of straightforward nasty rock, free-jazz horns and analog drones is not new by any means, yeah, Fœtus did that before. No trouble, Jim Thirlwell is my god anyway.

– You have said that you are stopping the Cheerleader69 concerts for a little while. What made you take this decision ?

– Well, actually I didn’t really stop, we played two weeks ago opening for 1969 Was Fine (with more or less the same line-up on stage). But it’s true I got tired of spending time and energy for gigs that often left me sadly unsatisfied. I’m a perfectionnist, and when you play this kind of largely improvisational music, sometimes it works and sometimes, it doesn’t. I can’t take failed gigs anymore. Next performance with C69 will be just me onstage, with noise boxes, loops and maybe some heavy guitar droning à la Richard Pinhas, but I’m not doing full line-up gigs with drums and violins and sax and so on until further notice. Especially since this last gig in Switzerland got us aware most of the soundscapes we produced would be more useful in a 1969 Was Fine gig !

– Can you tell us a bit more about Le Cabaret De L’impasse ? Do you plan to record any tracks of your own under that name, or will it say as a twisted cover band ?

– It’s definitely a cover band, even if most people just don’t know half of the songs and think they’re ours ! When you play Fœtus songs, that’s to be expected, especially when you play in jazz clubs, ha ha. This band attracts lots of people who are completely uninterested in « underground » music, even when we cover Nick Cave or Tom Waits they don’t know the songs, but still, they enjoy the « big bad voodoo jam » vibe. We’ll probably release a live record one of these days, when we have some time to work on this…

- What is going on with the Cheerleader69 releases that have been planned for quite a while ?

– Well, to be honest, the whole thing is on a standstill right now. « Drone Junky » was nearly completed when my laptop got stolen, so now I have to start again from a much earlier version, that’s pretty appaling. I’ll have this record completed some day, but right now, the thrill is gone, and I can’t work on something that doesn’t turn me on. Same problem with the Path To The Eclipse record, a lot of work was lost, especially some really brilliant classical guitar takes by TAT – I was very excited at the idea of using these ! Hours of live documents too were lost, I had some very interesting recorded gigs I was planning to edit and release. Anyway, that’s life. But life SUCKS !

– “Iokanaan” has been released as a split (3X3 – Volume Three) with K.A.N.T.N.A.G.A.N.O and Montreal Nintendo Orkestar on [walnut + locust]. Did you know these two other bands before that ?

– I knew MNO but I must confess I had never heard of K.A.N.T.N.A.G.A.N.O, which is a shame… I’m really happy of being part of this split, It’s a really coherent effort, when most compilations look like bad patchworks.

– Any plans for the re-release of “Mother Of The 1966 Bombs” ?

– That will definitely happen, but I need to find the right way of doing it. I originally wanted to release it paired with another live version (different line-up) but it got lost… Now I’m just waiting for the right occasion.

- What about Punish Yourself versus Sonic Area ? How did this collaboration start ?

– Well I can’t even remember how it really started… Arno (of Sonic Area, Chrysalide and FYD) is a long-time friend, and an incredibly gifted musician. When we worked on the Cheerleader/Sonic Area track for the « we will never die » Audiotrauma compilation, I knew we would have to collaborate again, no matter how. When we talked of recording a PY vs SA full length album, some people laughed like it was a joke… It really decided me to do it.

– I have read that there is another show planned… any plans for another release ?

– Yeah, a second Phenomedia show will happen in June, in a very small club in Toulouse (PY’s hometown). The atmosphere will be very different from the first gig at Noxious Art Festival, which was a big open-air stage ; we want people to feel  « trapped », we’re working on this right now. The evening night will be filmed and recorded, maybe we’ll release a live album later, but I don’t think there will be another studio album. Maybe one-off tracks for compilations, yeah, and remixes as « PY vs SA »… But no second album.

– You have also collaborated with TAT (live with Cheerleader69 and also on his second album “Le Sperme De Tous Les Métaux”). How did you guys meet ? 

– He asked me on the internet to record some voice on one track, we didn’t know each other before that, then I asked him to play some guitar for a cheerleader track … we really got along musically, and in the end I asked him to join the Cheerleader line-up when he could be there. He’s at the same time a virtuoso and a very nice guy, it’s always a pleasure to play music together.

– What about the Incredible Punish Yourself Picture Show ? Can you explain the concept to us ?

– When the Dour festival proposed us to play a third time but asked for something special, we set this up. Two dancers instead of one, both of them using fire and metal-grinding sparkles, three painters-performers creating a carton wall, guest musicians (sax, violin, noise-guitar, whatever)… Circus time !

– Is it really something very different than a regular Punish Yourself show ?

– Different ? Not really. But it’s definitely bigger , noisier, and funnier !

- In 2007, Punish Yourself released an instrumental album called “Cult Movie”.

– What made you want to release such a thing, I mean as the singer of the band ?

– I’ve always loved instrumental music. Soundtracks, cinematic stuff, it’s always been very inspirational for me, I love the way some sounds or rythms immediately create images in your mind ; I love orchestral extravaganza, I love jazz horns, I love suspense-inducing strings. But it’s not easy to use this kind of sound in a « cyberpunk » band, so, for years, I recorded instrumental sketches on my own and let them sleep. Then one day I realized I HAD to put this into a record. Most bands would have told me I was raving mad, but the other guys in the band followed, because they’re probably raving mad too.

– What was you fans reaction to that ?

– It ranged from « well ok that’s nice but when will you release a proper record ? » to « that’s the most beautiful thing you ever recorded, stop writing rock songs ». Actually most of the reactions were somewhere in the middle ; but we got no bad review for this record, not one.

- I know you spend a lot of time on the internet. Do you think social networks have replaced conventional medias (radio, magazines…) to promote music nowadays ?

– Replaced ? No. But they’re an interesting – and free – alternative. Internet « promotion » can be absolutely free, if you’re ready to spend time on it. « Classic » promotion, most of the time isn’t. You pay for adds, you pay for sending cds, you pay for having someone contact the press. If you sell lots of records and earn lots of money, why not ? I don’t.

– Now you have closed the official PY forum. What made you come to that decision ?

– Well, back in the day, forums were an interesting experience, and the PY forum was indeed an interesting and lively place… I met many interesting people thru it, I mean, a lot ! It eventually grew into some kind of family. But like all families, not everything was happy and some got bitter ; and then, in the end, a kind of dumb feeling of being part of a « community ». The forum, to some, was getting more important than real life. I got away from that. When people begin telling you how you should record your music, who can go to a PY gig and who can’t, or care a bit too much about your personal life, it even gets quite scary. Before that, it was a pretty cool experience… But I guess it wouldn’t have survived the arrival of almighty facebook, anyway. Maybe for a short time, but all forums are closing one after another. It’s a new era…

Interview by Albérick
Photos by Fabrice George

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