Back in 1981, the bothers of Clive and Mark Ives released an album called Whichever Way You Are Going, You Are Going Wrong under their band moniker Woo. The duo refers to their music as “new age” and “ambient”, but the truth of the matter is, their sound extends far further than that.
With a sound that is simultaneously whimsical yet serious, homemade yet professional in its own way, the brothers Ives have been putting out albums for decades, often through their own label, garnering some press notice but largely flying under the radar. Then, in 2012, Drag City wound up re-releasing their 1989 effort It’s Cosy Inside, and suddenly the group’s entire discography underwent a large critical re-analysis. Now cult heroes to the indie set, the English brothers’ strange sounds proving to be influential in their own way, as the guys never really considered genre in their recordings, which explains why songs may start up in one style but end in another, difficult to categorize on just about every front—just the way the guys like it.
Now, here in 2014, Drag City has just released When the Past Arrives, an album of stray tracks recorded over the decades which have an otherworldly charm all their own, a charm that is almost rivaled by Clive’s own responses to PopMatters’ 20 Questions, wherein he talks about when he designed one of the first-ever posters for some band named U2, how deep he is into being a Trekkie, and how the guys plan to address the problem of their one album that hasn’t sold a single copy.
* * *
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
I watched Love Actually recently and cried at several scenes. The open scene at London Airport with Hugh Grant’s voice over, Emma Thompson opening her Christmas present, and the final section with the Beach Boys, “God Only Knows”.
2. The fictional character most like you?
My girlfriend says I look life Professor Dumbledore from Harry Potter films when I wake up in the morning.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Frank Zappa’s One Size Fits All. When Mark and I read this question, we both first thought of this album. The two versions of “Sofa”, especially the version with the German vocals is so unique and surreal. Frank’s guitar solo on “Inca Roads” was recorded live at a gig and spliced into the middle of the studio recording. It’s not until you read the sleeve notes that you realize that this is what he’s done. At the time a brilliant and impressive sign of his talent! I’ve always loved his irreverent attitude, his guitar-playing, his inspired composition, his humor, and his knack at combining so many musical influences while maintaining his own very distinctive style.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Mark and I grew up with Captain Kirk and the crew, and stayed on board the Enterprise for the future series. The omnipotent Q who appears in the series—The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager—is continually evasive and mysterious regarding his motivations. His home, the Q Continuum, is said to be beyond the comprehension of “lesser beings” such as humans, but with all his comic genius, you know you are dealing with a life form with profound understanding. When Picard argues that humans are capable of dealing with anything, Q whisks the U.S.S. Enterprise to the system J-25 for the first human encounter with the Borg. Has there ever been a more awesome and stark adversary than the Borg, who travel through space assimilating life forms and making them part of the whole in such a cold and calculated way! Makes Darth Vader in Star Wars seem like a nice guy!
5. Your ideal brain food?
I like to hear about scientific breakthroughs, especially new understandings about the universe. The recent monitoring of the sound of the Big Bang, which somehow proves that the universe has existed way before the big bang, and that the expansion and contraction of the universe has been a cycle that has been going on for ... God knows how long ... and I guess he’s the only one who does know, assuming he was there at the beginning to make a note of it!
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
Back in the early ‘80s I was working in a graphic studio in Kings Road in London for A&M Records who had just signed a new rock band. My boss came in and told me to design a poster with just a large “U2” on it. He said I would be telling my grandchildren about this. I don’t have any yet, so I am telling you.
7. You want to be remembered for ...?
I want to be remembered for the music that I haven’t recorded yet. I am hoping the best is yet to come. I remember seeing a documentary about Joan Miro shortly before he died. In this film he described how he would sleep and be very passive for 21 hours of the day, so with the remaining three hours he had the energy to paint. He was very shaky and frail, but the film showed him painting very slowly working with his fingers directly onto the canvas. The control and the artistry of his earlier days was gone, but you could still see his passion and his desire to explore shape, color, and symbols. During his life he had developed a very personal language that he was still evolving right to the end of his life. I’m not comparing myself to Miro, but I would like to be remembered for continuing to be creative until it’s time to go!
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
In my teens I was mainly inspired by visual artists. I have already mentioned Miro; I was also inspired by the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky. His paintings opened the door into the previously unexplored world of abstraction. He wrote a book called Concerning the Spiritual in Art, which defines the vocabulary of abstract art. I am also inspired by artists whose work has a transcendent quality: Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli, Beethoven, Debussy come to mind.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
Marcel Duchamp, the man who made a parody of the Mona Lisa by adorning a reproduction of the painting with a mustache and goatee. And famously, exhibited a urinal signed with the pseudonym “R. Mutt”, shocking the art world in 1917, then in 2004 it was selected as “the most influential artwork of the 20th century”. His masterpiece “The Bride stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even”, more commonly known as the Large Glass, is the work I wish bore my signature. The story I heard, is that he spent eight years designing and creating this unique futuristic glass, between 1915 and 1923. While it was being transported to America, the glass was dropped and a large section of the glass splintered. Upon hearing the news of the accident, and even before seeing how the glass now looked, Duchamp simply said, “Ah, now it is finished.”
10. Your hidden talents ...?
I make a good pancake, not many people know that! As you get older, I think you run out of hidden talents. Personally I feel most of mine have been revealed.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
I can’t remember which probably means I didn’t follow any ...
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
In 1974, I bought my first synthesizer, the Roland SH3. It was one of the first cheap synths on the market, nothing like a Moog, which was the Rolls Royce of the synth world, but still an incredible thing. In those days the keyboards were monophonic, but with loads of dials and buttons which twist and turn the sound around ... I was in Heaven!
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or ...?
How I dressed used to be very important part of defining who I am. In the last few years I am more interested in feeling comfortable with the clothes I wear, than making any grand statements. If I was to go to the Ritz with Marlene Dietrich (Q. 14) I would like to wear an Armani suit.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
I have never been to the Ritz, I imagine it is very elegant and old-fashioned, still holding the atmosphere of the 1920s or 1930s. I would like to invite Marlene Dietrich. Her elegance and charisma would be so enhanced with the Ritz acting as the perfect backdrop.
15. Time travel: where, when, and why?
I would travel to the future—say about 100 years from now, arriving in London. Why? Imagine coming back to the present afterwards, having seen what is to come! It would be like being in the movie Back to the Future. I like to think I would bring some good ideas back, like ... well, you will have to wait and see.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation, or Prozac?
I listen to music.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or ...?
I seem to have overcome most of the addictions I had as a younger man, (never thought I would be able to say that!). I enjoy the good things of life, when they come my way. Right now, the most essential thing in my life is the archive of music Mark and I have recorded over the past 30 years. It’s obviously not essential to life, but it’s become a sublime pleasure to remaster these recordings and compile them into new albums. Having had 30 years of relative obscurity with our music, I am really enjoying getting recognition for what we have created, and am looking forward to mastering and overdubbing many of our unfinished tracks.
18. Environment of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
At the moment I am living in Brighton on the south coast of England. It feels like the place to be right now. But when you ask that question, given the choice, my mind goes to somewhere exotic like Bali.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Leaders of a government always present themselves as if they are the highest authority, the ultimate decision maker. If I had the opportunity to speak to our Prime Minister, I would like to ask him who, or what organizations does he have to answer too? Are there hidden forces that can influence major decisions. Ever since I saw the brilliant 1976 movie Network, the concept of a secret organization, which really controls how the world is run has seemed very plausible. Assuming that there is some truth in it, it would be a very challenging conversation, and asking a politician a straight question, is unlikely to elicit a straight answer, but I am not alone with my desire for more clarity on how the fundamental decisions of world politics are arrived at.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
Mark and I are reworking an album that’s been on our Woo-music website for the past 25 years, without managing to sell one copy! We called the album Dobbins
Lost His Coconuts, it’s a collection of our more comic and upbeat tracks. We’re thinking of changing the title to Dobbins Found
His Coconuts in the hope that a more positive title might boost sales!