Githead have always been a bit of an anomaly in the pop music landscape, largely because most people would never guess that a group like this could ever exist.
While some would expect the combination of Wire figurehead Colin Newman, Scanner’s Robin Rimbaud, and Minimal Compact’s Malka Spigel and Max Franken to result in some delightfully-obtuse post-rock supergroup, the band has confounded expectations left and right by simply churning out immaculately-crafted pop-rock since 2004, resulting in three acclaimed full-length albums, including last year’s Landing.
Conducted shortly before the close of 2009, this interview with Colin, Malka, and Robin shows us not only how tight-knit the band is, but how down-to-earth they are as well, celebrating albums like My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless one moment and the work of T. S. Eliot the next. Few 20 Questions features are quite like this one, but then again, few bands are quite like Githead.
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Malka: I always cry when I watch movies on planes. The most moving one I can remember is Gran Torino with Clint Eastwood.
Robin: Let The Right One In; the closing lines break my heart every time I hear or remember them.
Colin: Gran Torino — Malka and I watched it on the plane coming back from Canada when we were coming back from curating [the] Sled Island Festival in Calgary. It’s an incredibly human story, sensitively told.
2. The fictional character most like you?
Malka: Lisa Simpson, but I wasn’t that clever in school.
Robin: The Invisible Man or Krapp in Krapp’s Last Tape – a man listening back to his memories. I’ve kept a diary since I was 12 years old, each and every day, and this character reflects as I can reflect on every day since then.
Colin: I find it quite hard to identify with fictional characters. All of us are somehow a “creation” and to some extent a fictional character ourselves. We are partly our own creation but then if you enjoy any degree of infamy then you become a creation of others. I don’t identify very much with the me created by others that don’t really know me. I’ve also often said that I refuse to play a comedy version of myself.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Malka: Surely there is more than one …?
Robin: King Crimson[‘s] In the Court of the Crimson King for today, but ask me again in ten minutes and I’ll offer you another.
Colin: Oh come on, give us a break! There is no such thing and if there was why would the rest of us bother? The best achievement of anyone perpetrating great art is to dazzle us into believing they’ve got all the answers. Of course they haven’t. This is however not to belittle their achievement at all because something has to be great before anyone can be dazzled by it. Greatness is rare but far from non-existent!
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Malka: Star Trek!
Robin: Trek Wars. Never quite connected with these other films. I fell asleep as a teenager watching Star Wars.
Colin: Star Trek — I thought the first Star Wars movie was amazing but the franchise has slipped into little more than a kid’s entertainment. Meanwhile Star Trek, in spite of it’s cozy nerdiness, has always had some kind of overarching vision. Patrick Stewart was amazing as Picard and casting “Sylar” [actor Zachary Quinto] as Spock in the most recent movie was a stroke of genius.
5. Your ideal brain food?
Malka: Positive thinking. When I feel positive I get all the best ideas.
Robin: Two freshly boiled eggs whilst listening to Faure’s Requiem and reading T.S. Eliot and Robert Lowell.
Colin: Is all food brain food or only special sorts? Isn’t smoked haddock supposed to be good for something, [as] its got Omega 3 which is stuff that’s supposed to be good for you, or is that Jojoba oil? Maybe you mean something more abstract? I have at various times had the (wholly unsubstantiated) theory that great art can make you more intelligent. What do you think?
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
Malka: At the moment, our new album Landing. If your work is honest and diligent you should have the sense that each new thing gets you closer to where you want to be artistically and I have that feeling …
Robin: … because it’s nurtured and grown from a beautiful place, and I and we are always proud of what the family can produce.
Colin: Which one? I’m proud of many things but currently very proud of Landing. Why? Well within my universe it represents the state of the art about how to make a record which has all of the “substance” of great pop/rock but with none of the bogus “authenticity”. If we can succeed to stand out in a very crowded market with this then we are capable of true greatness. It’s easy to be a big fish in a small pool.
7. You want to be remembered for …?
Malka: For never compromising when it comes to art.
Robin: My dedication to the cause and my commitment to never missing a deadline and fulfilling requests [on] absurd timelines.
Colin: If I’m being really arrogant I’d say “being right”.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Malka: Piero Manzoni, Syd Barrett, The Beatles, Frida Kahlo.
Robin: John Cage, Joseph Beuys and Francis Bacon — I’ve found inspiration in their words alone, outside of the manifestation of their productions.
Colin: Very hard but I’d probably have to go back to my first serious inspiration and say The Beatles. The music stripped of context is good but certainly not in a class of it’s own. But context is all and the important point about them is that they were really the first to make the point on the widest possible scale that pop/rock could in fact be art. There is really no other way to explain their rapid evolution. In so many areas they did it first.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
Malka: Loveless by My Bloody Valentine.
Robin: The Last Judgement by Hieronymus Bosch.
Colin: Keep the easy ones till half way through why doncha! I have literally no idea. I’ve been in awe of so many things in my life. Once I thought I’d like to audition as a dancer for Kraftwerk. But to be honest I’m not really covetous. If someone does something great I’m pleased for them, I’m happy to use it as fuel and inspiration but I don’t want to “own” it.
10. Your hidden talents . . .?
Robin: I can do a Russian Cossack Dance amongst many other minor talents. Does flaring my nostrils in rhythm count?
Colin: I’m quite good at washing up.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
Malka: Only dead fish swim with the stream.
Robin: Always travel with two pairs of trousers. Lemmy of Motorhead recommended this and I can confirm how valuable this is for a traveling alien.
Colin: Oh god I never follow anyone’s advice! Well, only Malka’s.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
Malka: My Fender jazz bass guitar.
Robin: All of my books forever. Stealing is naughty. I’m addicted to my private library. I can see and just look at the spines of hundreds of books for hours on end.
Colin: I didn’t buy it but the one thing I still have from when I was 18 is my Suzuki acoustic guitar. I still use it although I don’t play it every day. I’m possibly going to write all the tunes for the next Wire album on it (or not as the case may be).
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?
Malka: My own casual style.
Robin: Vexed Generation designer clothing. Bought, collected and worn for the last fifteen years. Have a minor museum of their collection.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
Malka: Colin because it’s the person I feel most comfortable with. I like to be relaxed when I’m eating.
Robin: Someone with a generous wallet and an inclination for an early night.
Colin: Who’s paying? Well, if the bill is taken care of then I’d say nobody famous, just someone who might enjoy the experience and get a kick out of it. Perhaps my Dad. It goes without saying that Malka would be there.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
Malka: 100 years in the future, so I can see what it’s like.
Robin: Right here, right now, everywhere at once.
Colin: As far enough in the future as possible as long as the planet is comfortable for humans to live on. The limits of human span are a tragedy. We become involved in a vast and intricate story of our own development which we can never see the outcome of. What will we be able to do in 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 years time? Will we still be here? I want to know! Don’t you?
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Malka: Spa vacation.
Robin: Stress is my means to maintain my production level. I only drink Coca-Cola to slow me down! Then again I’d possibly use the hit man to take out the owner of the spa on Prozac.
Colin: None of your business!
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?
Malka: Creativity is the most essential thing for me.
Robin: None of these, thanks. Fresh vegetables and some cold water will do me just fine, as well as a warm body to snuggle against each night. Sleep comes in pretty handy sometimes too for recharging the batteries.
Colin: I can live without vodka & cigarettes. I’ve never been much into the “lifestyle”. But good coffee, hmmm. Nice chocolate, ooh.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
Malka: City, Tokyo.
Robin: Montreal or Vienna, and perhaps undiscovered uncharted waters unknown to man at present but safe and secure in an imaginary future.
Colin: This is a big issue for Malka and I as we don’t want to stay in London forever. It’s theoretically a great city but you need to be way better off than we are to really get the most out of it if you also want to live somewhere that’s okay. We’ve considered Brighton, Madrid, L.A., Chicago, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Brussels and each have their good and bad points. The best answer would be to live in two places but the fairy godmother has so far been a bit slow in putting in an appearance.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Malka: Not sure which is my country anymore?
Colin: Give David Miliband a chance – he might even win!
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
Malka: Getting ready for the Githead gigs and taking pictures, which I don’t really consider as work.
Robin: Just completed a new soundtrack to Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, am busy being Visiting Professor in Le Fresnoy Art School in France, installing artwork inside Amsterdam Central Station, and currently filming broken glass in extreme slow motion for a film premiere in 2010.
Colin: What, besides this interview which seems to have taken about 15 years? Preparing for some Githead shows at the end of the month, mixing some live recordings of Wire in Germany last March, theoretically writing tunes for the next Wire album – I’m being deliberately tardy because I don’t want to overcook it – in preparation for January recording. Planning for Githead Europe-wide tour in February 2010. Wondering if we need to make some special Wire t-shirts for Christmas. Trying to rally the troops around the Wire “legal bootleg” series. Mainly, too much.