Index Magazine interviewThis is a revised interview from Index Magazine (May/June issue) - see bottom for details.
MEREDITH: I just realized I haven't heard the telephone ring since I've been here.
RICHARD: I've fully given up my phone. Best thing I ever did.
MEREDITH: Sometimes I feel like doing the same.
RICHARD: Actually, I do have a phone, but it's downstairs where I can't hear it. It used to be up here, then it went to another room, and then another that was further away. Finally, I turned the ringer off and just let the answering machine get it. But I could still hear the click of the tape, and that was enough to give me a molecule of stress, so I moved it downstairs. Then I changed my number a few times. Only gave it to my mates. Now nobody calls me - everyone has totally given up.
MEREDITH: They don't even bother.
RICHARD: They just e-mail. Though it's weird having e-mail on my computer because I hate mixing business with music.
MEREDITH: Is that why you have so many different computers? One for business, one for games, one for music?
RICHARD: It used to be that way. But they were all networked, and the situation became too tedious and confused. Now I just keep a laptop with everything on it. All my accounts and business things are next to the folder full of tracks. The laptop has made the boring stuff more friendly.
MEREDITH: Do you play video games? I don't see any Nintendo gear around here.
RICHARD: You're just not looking in the right place. [laughs] There's a box full of shit right there.
MEREDITH: How about Play Station 2?
RICHARD: No, I'm not that into it. I like strategy games like chess. I play with my friend John. There's also this computer game we play called Total Annihilation, where two tribes fight to take control of a civilization. It sounds crap, but it's actually a very intelligent war game. You can't get bored, because there are so many permutations of how you can compete with your opponent. I love those kinds of games.
MEREDITH: I hate them! [both laugh] How many floors are there in this house?
RICHARD: Five. It was a bit of a gamble when we moved in, because it's a non-residential area. But I just thought this neighborhood, which is in a cheap, shit area of London, would be great. My friend Chris, Cylob, lives on the first floor - that's his world. And then another guy, Victor, is on the second floor, and I'm here on the top. Once in a while, I'll stick my head in when Cylob is down there making his tracks. He's really good. Victor makes music too, but he won't ever play it for me, probably because he thinks I'll hate it.
MEREDITH: Cylob's on your record label, right?
RICHARD: Yeah. We're top mates.
MEREDITH: Where did you live before this?
RICHARD: In a big house, just full of people. There were ten people in like, six rooms.
MEREDITH: That was the place with no heat?
RICHARD: It has no heat now. It did when I was there, but I guess they've broken it. I really fucking hate warm houses, though. The heat melts your brain.
MEREDITH: You can't get any work done. I like it better when it's cold.
RICHARD: The thing is, when I get cold I become nostalgic. It reminds me of being little, because my house when I was growing up didn't have any heat at all. I had a bedroom downstairs, and I'd always wake up freezing cold. I really liked going to bed when it was freezing and getting all cozy.
MEREDITH: Me too. This place must get pretty hot in the summer. You've got a wall of windows.
RICHARD: Yeah, I have to run loads of fans because all my equipment really heats up the room.
MEREDITH: It seems like you're always working on so many projects at once.
RICHARD: I've always got about thirty tracks on the go. Some haven't been touched for ages, but I know they're good - they're just waiting.
MEREDITH: Do you usually spend a session working on one thing, or you do you bop around?
RICHARD: I bop around. When something's working, I can usually see the end in sight, and I know what to do to finish it off. Other times I make little stabs, so I can step back and think, "Yeah that's a really wicked idea, that's worth spending three days with." I try to maximize my time - I don't get that obsessed with tracks. The best things I've done have always come about when I wasn't actually taking any notice of what I was doing.
MEREDITH: So you never force yourself. It's funny, another painter once told me, "Whenever you're at the point of giving up, keep working for another hour."
RICHARD: If I did that it would be a disaster. I've forced myself to work on things when I wasn't in the mood, and I've just ended up hating them. I want to associate making music with good things, not nasty things.
MEREDITH: Some of your work is pretty nasty, though.
RICHARD: Yeah, but it doesn't feel that way to me. I was smiling away while I was making it. I've never thought about doing something to make myself feel bad, actually. Never until now. That might be an interesting angle to take.
MEREDITH: Does living in the city ever get to you?
RICHARD: Living in London, you always feel like you're running out of time. That's what I hate about it. I want to move down to my cottage in Wales for a bit and do some tracks down there.
MEREDITH: Do you have to drag all your equipment along with you?
RICHARD: No, I keep it pretty sparse. I've got nothing there but, like, one book. And I bring my laptop, which is enough to entertain me for a lifetime. Just the stuff on my hard drive could keep me going without having to log on to the internet ever again. It's scary.
MEREDITH: I can only imagine. When did you start writing your own computer programs?
RICHARD: I've always done it. I started when I was first playing with computers, just writing crap games and music programs. But I stopped using computers for ages. I just got back into them.
MEREDITH: You were only using electronics for a while there?
RICHARD: Yeah, just synths and stuff.
MEREDITH: You didn't even use computers for sequencing?
RICHARD: Yeah, but not for sound. I got back into using them when Macs got good again. I couldn't ignore them any longer - there were too many excellent new things to check out.
MEREDITH: Like what?
RICHARD: Really interesting software, mainly. There have always been interesting bits out there, but without the internet you couldn't really find them. It's hard to remember a time before the internet, but when I was fifteen or sixteen, I couldn't get any good software because I didn't have the money. No one even knew what electronic music was, so never mind getting a bit of excellent software from an academic institution or anything.
MEREDITH: And now they teach The History of Electronic Music.
RICHARD: Yeah, I didn't even know you could do courses in electronic music until about six years ago. I thought I was the only person who was interested.
MEREDITH: Yeah, right! Do you download a lot of software from the net?
RICHARD: Loads. I'm just coming to terms with the fact that I'll never be able to check everything out. When I first started with computer music, the only way to become really good was to learn programs inside and out, to be in control. So I always had that mentality. But if you get into software on the net with that mindset, you'll have a meltdown. It can take a year to get really good at one bit of software, so if you've got fifty programs, and they're all awesome, and you're obsessed with becoming an expert, that's really bad news. Knowing that there are so many interesting things only a search away - things that I'll never get to see - is quite frustrating.
MEREDITH: How do you go about finding stuff? You and your friends must pass information around constantly.
RICHARD: I keep the feelers out, but I'm the provider for most of my mates, actually. For instance, my friend Neil hasn't got an internet connection. He knows I'll find anything good, so he doesn't waste time searching. He can just get on with the programming.
MEREDITH: It's amazing how common it's become to download music off the net from places like Napster.
RICHARD: Yeah, but it's bizarre how most people use Napster as if it were HMV or Tower Records, just to get pop music that they can find anywhere. Whereas creative people use Napster to get music that they'd never normally be able to get.
MEREDITH: Just imagine if Napster had been around when we were growing up ...
RICHARD: But I always think about that, growing up and not having any records. Recently I was listening to some tapes that I made from records when I was young. I always knew they were sort of average, but I used to love them anyway - I'd pretend they were much better then they were. There's a lot to be said for that. The new generation would never do that. They've got too much choice. They can just go on Napster.
MEREDITH: Yeah, but everyone has to start somewhere. It's interesting to think about how certain people get the idea to look for something different in the first place.
RICHARD: Right. Where do people from average homes get their starting point? If they come from a family that doesn't play any music, they have to go find it themselves. That's really lush. My parents played the radio sometimes, but they never listened to music.
MEREDITH: My parents didn't either.
RICHARD: That's good and bad. I would've loved it if my dad had been into music. Like Squarepusher's dad was really into dub, so Tom grew up listening to loads of tunes. But at the same time, it's wicked when you have to work things out for yourself.
MEREDITH: Yeah, like all the people who are producing their own music and putting it out on the web.
RICHARD: I've gotten really good at finding stuff on MP3. I've met loads of people who have their own files up, and if their tracks are interesting I'll write them and ask for a demo. Most of them don't believe it's me. The last guy said, "I'm flattered you like my music, but if you wanted a free CD why didn't you just ask?" I was like, "No really, I am me!" We had this whole exchange where I tried to convince him of who I was. It was like a Twilight Zone episode.
MEREDITH: But you finally got his demo?
RICHARD: He sent 150 tracks on the bloody CD - it took about a year to listen to it. I was thinking about releasing the whole thing, but I don't know if he'd be into it - his life's work for ten quid. Mix Master Morris said he recently found a CD in Moscow for two quid, and it had all my tracks on it. I was waiting for that sort of thing to happen. Eventually you'll be able to go down to Camden Market and there'll be a bloke selling every electronic label on one CD for five quid.
MEREDITH: But don't you think someone will eventually come up with a way to police the industry?
RICHARD: There are too many loopholes. Plus it's already becoming accepted that music isn't copyrighted. To kids logging on to Napster, it's like, "Copyright? What are you talking about?" You can't go back now. On the other hand, I've made all my money from copyright. So I can't really criticize.
MEREDITH: Well, it's great to make money by doing what you want to do.
RICHARD: But if I didn't make any money, I wouldn't give up making music. I used to make more music in college, when I had a shit job. I couldn't wait to get home and start working. I wouldn't want to be in that position now, but the rush of going into my bedroom after being trapped in school all day, it was quite lush.
MEREDITH: You'd find yourself almost running back.
RICHARD: Yeah. But when I left college and started just doing music, it took about three years to come to terms with not having to work at a job. Having all the time I wanted wasn't so good - it was hard to be happy, even though it was what I'd wanted for ages. I had a bit of cash, I didn't have to get a job, but it wasn't as exciting as coming home and looking forward to making music.
MEREDITH: And now ...
RICHARD: I got used to it, and now I really love it.
MEREDITH: You must have thousands and thousands of tracks. How do you choose which ones you want to release?
RICHARD: I'm not into releasing every track I've done. Some are sort of personal, some are written for specific people. You wouldn't want anyone else to get those. They're like my little babies. Others, I really don't care about at all.
MEREDITH: Would you ever want to do an over-the-top, chart-busting pop song?
RICHARD: How do you know I haven't? [laughs] I've done loads of secret things. There are quite a few that no one has come close to guessing. But then, a lot of people think everything electronic is mine. I get credited for so many things, it's incredible. I'm practically everyone, I reckon - everyone and nobody.
MEREDITH: Well, people expect you to do such varied things. You're the opposite of someone like Squarepusher, for example. His work is so distinctive that any track I've ever heard, including the unreleased stuff you were playing off your computer, is instantly recognizable. Whereas most of your stuff is radically different from track to track.
RICHARD: It's funny, with pop music there's usually no doubt whether you're hearing a certain singer or not. But with a lot of electronic artists, you'll be like, "This artist is really amazing, they're the best in the world, but is this track by them?"
MEREDITH: I see a mask of your face on the wall. It's from one of the Chris Cunningham videos, right?
RICHARD: Yeah, it's from Come to Daddy.
RICHARD: Quite disturbing isn't it? My girlfriend and I have scared each other so many times with that fucking thing. I'll wear it to bed and put the covers over myself, then sort of cuddle up to her and wait for her to turn around. Once she went to stroke my face and I had it on! [laughs] Then she did the exact same thing to me three months later.
MEREDITH: What's it made of?
RICHARD: Silicone. They cast my face, but it didn't look anything like me - it looked like I was taking a dump. So they had to sculpt it from photos instead. Quite well done, except they didn't give me any eyebrows. And they're not my teeth. All the masks are different. The black ones are really lush - they were for the Windowlicker video.
MEREDITH: Both of those Chris Cunningham videos are amazing. They really connect with your music.
RICHARD: It's funny, sometimes people refer to those as "my videos." It's my music, but they're not my videos. I didn't make them.
MEREDITH: Both Windowlicker and Come to Daddy poke fun at certain genres. Come to Daddy seems like it's saying, "Black metal rules, but this is how it should be done!" And Windowlicker is like, "R&B, I love you dearly, but have you no shame?"
RICHARD: I've worked in so many genres, though. People always think that I consciously manufacture those ideas. I'm always envious of people who do only one thing - I think that would be quite relaxing. But I definitely wouldn't want to make the same sort of music all the time. I'd go mad. Come to Daddy came about while I was just hanging around my house, getting pissed and doing this crappy death metal jingle. Then it got marketed, and a video was made, and this little idea that I had, which was a joke, turned into something huge. It wasn't right at all.
MEREDITH: You're not into the whole "show-biz" thing.
RICHARD: Well, I'm not into the big media effort. It was good for a while, but I'll never do it again. I might make other videos, but I'll never make another that gets into the mainstream.
MEREDITH: Those tracks got into the mainstream?
RICHARD: Pretty much. Come to Daddy was going to go well massive - not in America, but over here. It got to about 16 in the charts, and it was on the way to the top. I had to withdraw the record for a week, just so it would drop out again. I just about kept a lid on it.
MEREDITH: Why would you do that?
RICHARD: I think it's bad to be really well known, because you end up in people's faces whether they like you or not. That's a really horrible thought. The shittiest thing about famous people is that they just assume everyone wants to listen to them or look at them all the time.
MEREDITH: That's the beauty of the internet, I guess. You can choose your own content instead being bombarded with the crap that's been chosen for you.
RICHARD: I suppose all media will be like that sooner or later. People will have to engage their brains and decide what they want to listen to or see. At the moment most people don't do that. They just turn on the TV and are quite happy to be fed whatever is being transmitted. In America you have more choices, though there's not actually any content. But in Britain, there are still only five channels.
MEREDITH: And even that's a fairly recent development.
RICHARD: Right. Until I was a teenager, there were only three channels. It was brilliant, because everyone watched the same programs. So if you know someone's age, you also know which programs they saw millions of times, just sitting there watching TV with their parents.
MEREDITH: Television used to be more of an event. People would watch it while on the phone with a friend.
RICHARD: People still do that, they just do it on mobiles. I know, because I've got a mobile scanner and I listen in on conversations. Late at night, loads of couples phone each other up and watch films together. It's a really popular pastime. I could listen to it for hours. As they're watching their film, you can turn the TV on and watch it with them. You get the commentary simultaneously. If you listen for more than fifteen minutes, you always get something spicy.
Copyright © 2001 Index Magazine. Revised interview published with permission from Index Magazine. Back issues are available from firstname.lastname@example.org or www.indexmagazine.com. Big thanks to Jesse for making this possible!