Sonic Envelope InterviewInterviews usually take place either backstage, on tourbuses, or occasionally, in my house. Richard James didn't want to talk in any conventional place - instead, he opted for the backseat of a car! He was quite pleased with the grenade I gave him - it was bright orange, so I knew he'd like it - his nickname is "the coppertop" (referring to his red hair and its similarity to a duracell battery).
Well, let's see... you've just come from New York City - my home town - I love it there. How'd you like it?
I did a lot, yeah. Went out to some schmoozie party last night - took the piss out of everyone.
The MTV party?
I think it might have been.
How'd you take the piss out of everyone?
All these fuckin' pop star people and industry people.
Do you despise them, or you just don't care about them?
I don't despise them - can't be bothered. Can't despise them - that takes too much energy. Can't really despise people you don't know.
You've just had a birthday - right?
Yeah. 18th of August. It was a fuckin' good party as well. Hired a boat out on the River Thames and just got all my friends to go on it. 80 people or something. It was impressive, actually, because I thought only about 20 people would turn up. I didn't know every single person - some people brought friends I didn't know. It was wicked. Got all my mates to DJ on the boat and got really drunk.
So did you see Jim Thirlwell up in New York?
The bloke from Foetus? He hates me - he REALLY hates me. In fact I wound him up really badly. I'd taken the piss out of him, and he didn't like it. He got really, really... he's rubbish. He's really weak. He couldn't handle it at all. He said he was gonna kill me, and he was really trying to make me believe it. And I didn't know if he was lying or not. So I said, "I'll bet you a hundred quid that you don't kill me tonight." And he was scared - he couldn't handle it, 'cause he was trying to scare me. I said, "A hundred quid - bet on it." And he bet on it - that he would kill me by the next night. And I saw him the next night. And I was going, "Fucking a hundred quid, mate - I'm still alive." He couldn't fucking handle it. He almost hit me, actually. Gettin' so angry. It was wicked.
You'd probably hit him back?
I dunno. Probably, yeah. If he hit me I probably would clock him out. I'm not really into fighting though.
I see you like that grenade.
Yes. It is good.
Help me out here with your lyrics on this new album - I can't make out the last word: I'd like to fuck you in the butthole/and then I'll sneak into your room/and cut your cock off/and stuff it in my mouth/and chew it up with my little ....
... chew it up with my little boolies. I see you've worked it out!
What are "little boolies"?
Balls - bullocks - "boolies".
Is that voice you?
That voice is not me. It's my computer. I can't accept responsibility.
I didn't know what "boolies" were.
So you've got that new record then?
Yeah. Of course. I really liked that one - "Come To Daddy" (Mummy Mix). Do you know which one that is?
That noisy one.
I didn't like the other ones as much.It's usually the other way around. People usually only like the fuckin' nice ones. Nice "tune" ones.
I'm not really very into tunes.
I like everything. I love tunes.
You love tunes?
Ah yes. Definitely wicked. Tune mate. I appreciate everything - the full range of human creativity, expression in music. Tunes - pretty fuckin' good bit of expression, I reckon.
What's your place like in London?
Well, I just bought a massive bank and I've moved into it on my own. It's 5000 square foot on 5 floors. It was still a bank when I bought it and now I'm in it on my own, and it's scary!
Was it expensive?
Yes. Well it was, but it was a really good bargain, so after I've put loads of money into it, it's probably doubled in price now.
Is it in a good neighborhood or a bad neighborhood?
It's not much quiet, and there's loads of weirdos. But it's in the shittiest part of London - it's in the center of London, in this most un-trendy area.
You've of course kept the vault - stuff like that?
Yeah. It's fuckin' wicked. It's got two walk-in vaults. It's really sordid. It's fuckin' cool - the doors - they've got those big locks that turn. I keep my stuff locked in it when I go away. I've got my bike in there. My bike was so upset - thought I was dead. Hadn't seen me for months. It told me it was really pissed off.
Do your things talk to you?
Yeah. Only to me, though. Just pretendin' that they do. But they do, after a while, if you keep it up long enough when you're on your own - havin' really good conversations.
Do things tell you what's wrong with them?
Yeah. Quite smart. Cars too. Dogs - the best animals I reckon.
Do you communicate well with animals?
I don't, but I know this girl who does, actually. She speaks fuckin' dog language - very impressive. I thought she was bullshitting me when she told me at first, but she can actually fuckin' do it. If you tell her to say something in dog language, she does it and it's so realistic. Quite impressive.
Have you recorded her?
I'm going to.
Does she do cats?
Not as good with cats, but they're pretty good as well.
Do you have any pets?
No. I'd like to have a dog with me. That'd be good. I got a dog when I was little - it was wicked. Big Dog. It used to come pick me up from school when I was little and I used to ride home on its back.
What's Cornwall like? Rural?
Yeah. Decent. Pretty nice.
And you still have your ferret (tank) there?
No. Not in Cornwall - it's in Wales now. 'Cause my parents live in Wales. They look after it.
How'd you get it there?
I moved it - I got it transported, 'cause it's too far - it would've taken hours.
How much does it cost to transport a ferret from Cornwall to Wales?
300 quid - that's about $500, I think.
That's not too terribly bad.
I wouldn't cost more in petrol if I drove it. 4 miles to the gallon. Quite a good laugh probably!
What have you done to it - have you decorated the insides at all?
No - I haven't done anything to it. I'm quite into it the way it is, just being in its natural form. I was going to paint the Aphex logo on it, but I haven't got 'round to that, even. Can't believe I've had it for so long, actually.
How long have you had it?
Three years or something. But it feels like about a year or something or half a year. Time flies when your having fun.
I got to ride in a tank when I was 15.
Did you? Was it a really good time?
Yeah, it was fun.
This is not a proper tank - but it's real sweet, and you wouldn't argue with it, basically. That's the main thing. Like if you come up against it, it's well aggro - it talks aggro-language.
You're a real "yang" kind of person. You know - you like everything hardcore.
Yeah. But I like really soft things as well, though.
So - a man of extremes.
Yeah, definitely, yeah. Well that's just more interesting, isn't it? Middle of the road things just really irritate you after a while - just really boring.
Well your stuff is never middle of the road.
Music-wise? Yeah. Hope not.
Let's talk about the collaboration you did with Philip Glass. What was that - how was that?
I just wanted someone to score that track I'd written for orchestral instruments, and he said he could do it - I wrote him a letter asking him if he could do it, and he could. A really stupid letter. And he was well into it. But he did something and I've told him it was shit. 'Cause it was shit.
Who picked that particular track ("Icct Hedral" - I Care Because You Do), because that was the one I really liked.
I did. It's got a tune in it - you don't like tunes...
Not terribly fond of tunes. But I did like that one. So I was talking to Steve Hillage from System 7 just the other day...
Those old hippies! I get scared when I see them, 'cause I always think Steve Hillage will do something like try to get me stoned, and I'll agree to tie-dye my truck, so I always get really worried when I see his face, and like try and avoid him.
I saw him a couple of days ago, and he told me your set was going to have dancing teddy bears and you were going to be smoking a cigar. Is that what you're going to do here?
I'm not smoking a cigar, because I like to do this thing with my voice and I can't do it when I smoke cigars.
Did you ever see Charlotte Moorman perform Nam June Paik's piece where she wears the TV-bra? You know, she wears a TV-bra and goes underwater and plays the cello?
Uh no, but that sounds good. What's the bra got to do with it?
The bra had TV sets on it and it was her doing the same thing. She played the cello underwater. She climbed up a ladder and climbed into a big tank.
Is that like "Performance Art"?
I don't do Performance Art!
Yes you do! You did that food mixer thing. What do you call that?!
I suppose it is a bit, yeah.
I played at The Kitchen when I was about 13 and had this idea to do something with kitchen appliances ...
Is that where that was?
No - you did the food mixer thing at The Knitting Factory, but it's quite close to The Kitchen. Anyways, I used to think about bringing a bunch of kitchen things there and making some music out of that. So what inspired you to do the food mixer thing?
Just a bit of a joke, because that club - they always have these really good acts actually, some of them, but some of them are just Art Wank sort of performances by different people. They just asked me to DJ, so I thought it would be pretty boring - DJ'ing with records. So I just pretended to mix sandpaper together, and then that "evolved" to a food mixer. It was a pretty good laugh, actually. Because all these people - half the people just understood the joke, and the other half thought I was really serious - pretending to mix sandpaper together, as if to get the speeds right on different decks and stuff - like mixing. I had porno pictures cello-taped to the sandpaper so when it goes 'round it makes little rhythms as it hits the paper, and you know... whatever.
I was listening to "Tamphex" on the way here, and I was wondering if you're the kind of guy who could go into a shop and buy some tampax if someone asked you to.
"I'm the kind of guy whose life stands still once a month." That's the line from the advert. "Are you one of those girls whose life stands still once a month?"... and do what with them? I'm sorry ...
Usually guys are embarrassed to buy things like tampax at a store.
Oh no, not at all. Not embarrassed.
You'd go right in and say, "I need some tampax!"
Yeah. What - I need them? What - for a joke? "I could really use some tampax." Shove 'em up me arse...
You want to make music forever without having a job - this is your goal?
Of course. That's it.
And you want to "clear the shit techno" out of the shops?
No ... did I say that? I said that when I was a young little boy.
You want to get rid of the "boring old cunts". You want to bring in the new exciting cunts.
Well ... yeah. But if they're boring cunts, I want them to stay. I don't mind them - they're really quite sweet. Quite cuddly just being there. They always make good records sound better. It's just an ordeal listening to the shit ones. Takes your energy away if you listen to them in record shops.
Are you into sleep deprivation any more?
I am, sometimes. I was, before I came away to America. Stayed up for just over two days without sleeping at all to work, because I was being a bit rubbish and I didn't get my stuff done to come out, so I fucking saved it 'til the last two days and got it done. Pretty good actually. But I kept falling asleep, standing up and stuff. I fell asleep in the airport actually while standing up, and fell over and landed on one of my bears, one of my teddy bears. Fell on the floor - the bear saved me! And I said, "thank you", and he said, "Don't mention it." He said, "That's what we're here for - to protect you."
Is this one of the bear people, or the bear costumes?
The bear costumes. It wouldn't be so soft to land on if there was people in it. It would have been alright though - quite bungey. Quite bungey fellows.
So you said "no fucking lyrics", "no fucking tunes" - but you like tunes now.
Yeah. I wouldn't have ever said that about tunes. I've always liked 'em.
And fighting - you're not into fighting anymore.
Only if necessary. It's good to remind you that you're human - that's the good part of it. But there's a lot of better ways you can do it.
Back in 1995 you did an interview where you said you weren't going to cut your beard and you were going to grow it to your toes. I thought that was a good idea, and I've stopped cutting my hair, because it's red too. But I see that you have trimmed your beard, and I'm very disappointed actually...
I know. Yeah. I sent it to my dad. He got well confused. He's really straight, so he didn't understand.
He didn't understand why you'd sent him your beard?
Tell me - how many remixes have you not really done?
(Richard makes a roaring noise and a scary face.)
I don't know. Fucking loads.
... that you've been paid for?
I've been paid for almost all of them, I think, apart from a couple.
Right. How many do you really do - a percentage?
Oh - a very low percentage.
... that you don't do?
... that I do do.
So you do what - 80%, 90%? Most of them?
Oh no! Not at all. Fucking about 2 out of 20.
So roughly 10%. 90% you just what - throw 'em a tape, and get the check?
Yeah. Five grand usually, but ten grand sometimes. And I do it for nothing if I really want to do it and I like the people - I do it for nothing.
So you do it for nothing, but you actually do it, and other people give you five or ten grand and you don't actually do it.
Yeah. I wouldn't still get five grand for not doing it though. If you don't do anything, you don't get anything.
I thought you did.
No. Well, they're not going to give you money for doing nothing, are they? Just for asking you.
But don't you just hand them a tape of another track?
Oh, I see. Yes. If you give them another track, yeah. You still get paid for that. I've only done that a few times, though. Did that for Nine Inch Nails, and the Lemonheads was another one. That album - they didn't release it. But they still paid me.
And the Nails?
Yeah. They released that, but they didn't send me a copy though. But they did send me ten grand. But I didn't even listen to the track - I still haven't listened to the track, actually. I just gave them a track without listening to it. And they liked it, so ...
What was it?
Just an old track of mine. I don't know.
So basically, you gave them an old track of yours, claiming it was a remixed track of theirs - they gave you ten grand.
I hear you've done some Top 40 hits that you won't discuss ...
Yeah. I do them for a laugh. It's always been right good fun, basically. But it more than just money - I'd probably be doing it for nothing because it's really just fun - the implications of doing it. My mates are all fronting it, then they're just having a total laugh, so ...
What do you mean - fronting it?
They're pretending to be the band.
And this is all done really secretly, even in terms of the record deal itself?
Yeah. That's why no one's found out. If I signed the contract, then they'd know - people would find out eventually. No one actually knows apart from my mates.
And they are sworn to secrecy?
How many mates know?
Not all of my mates, actually. Only the good ones I trust. A close few. About 10.
(Richard is chewing bubble gum and trying to make clicking sounds with it in his mouth.)
I see you like bubble gum, or is it just the popping sounds you like?
I'm trying to make that sound you can make - can you do that?
Yeah. But I don't have any bubble gum.
How do you do that?
First you have to make a bubble in the side of your mouth, then you pop it sharply between your teeth.
Do you suck it to make the click?
No. You just kind of lock your teeth onto it.
How do you make the noise though - a really loud noise?
You just pop it.
This friend of mine makes this fucking obscene noise that I've been trying to work out and I don't know how to do it. It's really fucking good actually, because it really hurts people's ears, so I want to learn how to do it.
You like to annoy people?
I like to hurt people's ears at close range. Comes in quite handy sometimes. Pretty good, I reckon ... I want to know where you studied electronic music.
Mostly at New England Conservatory. I'm putting some music together now - I'm getting an ARP 2600 - my first love.
I've got one of those - they're wicked. The ring modulator's tasty. I had a dream about a ring modulator. Fucking love them. I used to build them.
I was just talking to a friend about ring modulators on the way here! And you used to build them.
I don't anymore - I write software. But I could definitely build one into the software.
How long have you been writing software?
Been writing my own for two years.
What's it compatible with?
Can you send me your software?
Yeah, but not until I've finished it. 'Cause I've just used this language at the moment and I've been writing my own programs for it, and I've got a year to go before I finish this massive program.
What's your program going to do?
Well, I don't know. There's actually 3 of them, and they're all doing different things, but it depends which one I'll get more interested in, is the one I'll end up finishing off. They're all algorhythmic programs for composing beats, noises and good tunes, but the beats one is coming on quite nicely. Just press a button, and it just fuckin' makes beats up! Like totally mad beats. It's awesome - sounding really good, actually. I play it live sometimes, but probably won't do it today. It's quite interesting watching people trying to dance to it, because it's really all over the place.
Have you given names to the programs?
That main one's called Geak 1.21.
You think of yourself as a computer geak?
Oh yeah ... totally.
Did you study computer language then?
Yeah. Not much, though. I just taught myself.
Out of books, or what?
Just by messin' around.
That's the only way I can learn, really. Can't really be told anything. I'm rubbish at being told stuff. I have to work at it myself.
What other programs have you written?
I've done loads of other ones. Just smaller modules. This one's like a combination of loads of other programs I've done. I've done loads of stuff - just ones to make wicked noises up. Ones to fuck-up audio, and the one I use to play live actually - I wrote that one as well. That one's wicked.
You really like working with computer language.
Yeah ... I love it. (whispers) It's the future ...
And what about analog stuff?
I used to, but I'm not into it so much these days. More into the computer - it's so good now. So I don't need to fuck around with analog stuff. I think of that as - I was saying to my mate the other day - it's like the folk set-up now. You know, drum machines and analog stuff.
It's folk music?
Yeah. It's folk music now, because it's so old. Analog is folk music.
Tell me - what type of music do you listen to?
I listen to everything.
Yeah. Well, not everything, but... I don't like rock music. I don't like indie music. There's so much fucking music out there. Can't listen to it all. I try to do that, but ...
What's a typical day like in your life? You get up when?
I don't really know, actually. Just into having a laugh at the moment. Not really into work. I was supposed to be working this year - that's why I bought a bank. But I can't be bothered. I'm just been having a laugh and going out loads - going to loads of parties. That's what I've been doing for the last two years.
Going to loads of parties?
Yeah. (he shrugs) What's wrong with that?
I'm not very into parties.
Really. I used to be like that. I changed.
You like people, then?
Oh yeah. Fucking love them. Tons.
What do you like about people?
Hey - they're just really good to "interract" with.
You're making this up!
Yeah... I dunno. You can do loads of things with people, can't you? You can make them laugh, you can make them cry, you can fuck them...
You can scare them. So, if girls are birds, then guys are... ?
I thought they were asses.
Yeah - most of them are! I like girls more than blokes, I reckon'.
They don't irritate me as much, I don't think.
And you can have sex with them.
Yeah. Always a bonus.
Not into it with the mates, then?
No. Not really. Not really into that. Like a few of my mates quite like shaggin', but I don't really fancy 'em, though.
Your hair looks much lighter than I expected.
In summer it goes lighter in the sun. It goes darker in winter.
So you've been outside a lot this summer?
Yeah. I've been riding my bike loads - that's why. Been out in the sun.
Is this a motorcycle bike?
No. A push bike. A fucking lush bike. I love it.
A "push" bike?
Yeah, you know, like a mountain bike, whatever. But my bike's fucking shit hot - it's the best bike you can get. It just cost me stupid money and I don't just leave it anywhere - apart from in my bank vault.
Have any cars?
No cars - just a tank. Cars are rubbish. If I buy things, I like to fucking get good things. Not boring things. You've got to spend your money on good things.
So what would be your next thing?
A submarine. I was talking about that about an hour ago with my mates. They don't believe me - so I'm going to prove them wrong!
So you'd like a submarine?
Yes. Definitely. I think it'd be wicked.
Do you play any traditional instruments at all?
Um... jew's harp. No - I have no desire to be a musician at all. I've never really understood all that. I just like pressing buttons. And having a laugh with my computer.
Does your computer talk to you?
Yeah. I love my computer. Totally. I love it. I take it to bed with me. My laptop. Under the duvet.
Do you sleep in some non-traditional bed?
It's a pretty boring bed, actually. I was going to make it good, though. I was going to get one of these hydraulic things to make it go up and down, for when you get bored. But I didn't get 'round to doing that.
So, your goal is to surround yourself with non-boring things?
Well, I've probably have got loads of boring things, but I try not to.
Trying not to be boring is what you're about.
Yeah. Not for anyone else - just for me.
You seem to really love your life.
Yeah. Fuckin' tasty.
Has it always been that way for you?
Yeah. I peaked - my life peaked last week, I reckon'. Got so good. No - it was two weeks by now. Maybe three.
What were you doing when it was peaking?
It wasn't one thing - it was like a load of events in one week. Just fuckin' good. Had a really awesome time. I'm well-contented. Like I don't care if I drop dead like any time now, 'cause I've just had the best bit. So, anything else is bonus now. It's fuckin' good - it's actually good to get to that point.
It was around the time of your birthday.
It was around then, yeah. It's not bad - I mean it in a total good way. It doesn't mean I'm not going to be more fun - it just means I've just got to the fucking most mental bit. I think I could be totally wrong, though. I might not have at all.
Probably not. You're probably going to go on to greater heights.
Maybe. That's the thing - I couldn't see how it's possible.
The submarine, maybe.
No - I mean, this is like fucking hardcore elation. A material thing could never provide that much.
(Richard is picking at the plastic pins stuffed into the ends of the grenade.)
I've got a knife if you want to get those out. I was going to remove them earlier, but I didn't have any time.
(I give him a knife and he proceeds to stab at the grenade.)
What happens if you take them out?
I don't know... Maybe it'll blow up.
How funny would that be if it would blow up...
"Richard James, The Aphex Twin, dies in car explosion with interviewer. Fans are shocked."
I'd be willing to risk it.
So if you could time-warp to any point in time, what would you prefer - The Middle Ages, or the future?
I'd love to live in The Middle Ages. Much more than the future. That was more hardcore than the future.
What do your Mom and Dad think you're doing?
They're well into it.
Do you have any children? Any twins or anything?
My twin brother's dead.
I didn't know you had a twin.
No. Not really. It's only a twin - same name as me, he wasn't actually born the same time.
So, of course, he was born first, and then died, and your mother named you the same name.
Yeah. But with a "D.". He didn't have a D. in the middle of his name.
What's the D. for?
That's me. That means it's me and not him.
But what does it stand for?
A biblical name. And do you have any brothers and sisters?
Got two sisters. One's a fucking good linguist and the other one's a fucking good lawyer.
So they're not terribly boring.
No. Not at all. They're wicked. They bore me sometimes, but my sister always surprises me with things. She's hardcore. I always think she's really stupid and then she just comes out with some - she just asks me a question, and I won't even be able to answer it. That doesn't happen to me with many people. 'Cause she's got a way of thinking about things - very intelligent. She's fucking good at languages. Awesome. She speaks loads of languages. But she's obsessed with it - the same way as I am with music. She always tries to turn all the conversations around into about languages, for her own gratification. You know, when you're having a discussion - you can see her doing it all the time - she'll make it so everyone's talking about languages all the time. I used to do that with music, but I don't anymore.
Linguistics is interesting.
Yeah. It is pretty good. I didn't realize it was good until she told me about it. It's hardcore.
It affects how people think - their concepts.
Yeah - hardcore shit. She's into like Russian and Japanese and stuff. She's picked all the hard ones.
I've heard you're into bodybuilding.
No - I just hired some bodybuilders to come on stage once and do their shit - do their thing...
(Richard makes a sound like a ring modulator with his mouth.)
How do you do that?
It's like a ring mod - isn't it?
Yep. Okay - here's the question I'm sure everyone asks: how long have you been a part of the scene - the "Rave" scene?
Too long. Too long. About five years, I reckon'.
And before that - high school?
I finished school, and then I went to a university to get a degree. But I quit to do music.
What were you studying at the university?
Electronics. Pretty boring. I'm glad I didn't finish it. It was a waste of time.
Where was it?
Is there anything else you'd like to tell me? What else do you do?
Fiddle and be a twat. A mutant.
You're hardcore wicked. See - now you've got me saying "wicked"!
That's what WE like to see.
What do you mean "WE"? Is it some kind of alien mind-control disease?
EVERYONE must talk like ME.