|THE ARCHIVE ORGAN INTERVIEW...FEB 2002|
If one looked at photos of Desman and only gave their music a cursory listen, one could dismiss the band as just a bunch of musically inclined pretty boys. However, as their live performances and a good listen to the lyrical themes of their songs prove - there is certainly a depth to this band that goes far beyond the surface. Images of mind control and death dominate, whilst light-hearted love songs are scarcely to be found. In 'Auto-Icon,' the third song on their debut single, singer/guitarist and chief lyricist John Halo opens with the words "you tape my eye lids and make me watch your films . . ." The startlingly moving 'Young, Fresh, and Dead' details the guilt and grief over a friend's tragic early death. When John hypnotically chants "Just because you're innocent doesn't mean you're free" at the end of the song `Blank,` one gets just a hint of the band's attitude towards the "free world's" societal constraints. Not your average issues, I dare say. Desman are new London four piece who's debut single is enjoying a healthy amount of attention right now
Recently, on a typically grey London day, SHAARI SUE GINSBURG sat drinking coffee and discussing the depth of music with John.
Are Desman original?
I think so, even though that wasn't our main goal. Guitar music is just guitar music, I don't think we sound like anyone else though. I don't know why. What we set out to do when we started playing, was to make guitar music that was interesting and not just like any other `indie' guitar band. I don't want to be offensive to other bands, but indie is the term I hate the most. Because to me, indie just reminds me of when I was younger and all indie meant was those bands on those compilations I didn't like. I was really into heavier music. But I think anything can be original if you just mix the right ingredients. If you cook an omelette two different ways--you get two different omelettes (I can't believe I just compared music to eggs.) I think in that way, when people see us, they come out of the gigs thinking that they saw something different than what they may have seen before, and I don't know why.
Something different than last time people may have seen you or something different to anything they've ever seen before?
Both, I guess - what I really mean is, people think they're going to see just another guitar band but then when they listen they find more - I think that's reflected in the good comparisons people are using in terms of describing us. I think the combination of bands that they compare us to is original. I really think that we are different than the other bands, I don't know why...so the answer is "yes, I think we are original."
Who do you think you are a voice for?
Oh my God. Apart from myself?
If that's who you think you are a voice for, that's legitimate . . .
No that's not my intention, I don't pretend to be a spokesman for anyone or anything. There are no movements anymore, I don't think there are. That's actually one thing that I write about. I'm talking about how there aren't any voices anymore. There's only a movement of not having any movements and the main thing I identify with is apathy. There's a lot of apathy in this world. It's not that I care too much or care more than other people do - no, I'm sure that other people get as upset at the injustices and what ever else is going on. But, I don't really want to be identified with any movement - I don't want people to tag me. I don't know if there are a lot of other people out there feeling like this - I sometimes just end up not caring. But I really do care. So I care, but I don't care. It's very complicated. I think that I am a voice for anyone that just feels that inside they're a shell. Maybe it's because we end up getting bombarded with things so many times a day that we end up not caring and we let everything slide and uh, and I think that's a big reason for so much instability and unhappiness in my immediate surroundings in London. You see so many young people that go to their jobs with so much blankness in their eyes. I can understand that, I can relate to that, because the only time I don't feel like that is when I'm playing. London is such an easy place to lose yourself in nothing, really, in just trying to pay your rent. There are too many people that go unheard.
So you are saying that the fact that we get bombarded with so much information makes us apathetic? Is that what you're saying?
YES! Because it all ends up not meaning anything. So much information ends up not having any true meaning. Who cares who won Pop Idol? I don't. And people just end up clinging to these like plastic false things - like they are so happy for the person they voted for over their mobile phones - why? It's got nothing to do with them. I think it's just people looking for something to belong to, which I can understand because for so long, I was looking for something to belong to. But that's, you know, the story of my life.
What do you think appeals to others about Desman?
Honestly, I don't know . . . I'm still pretty flattered and surprised that people like us.
Do you think artists have a responsibility with their craft?
I suppose. Well, you start off with being responsible to your self, really. To begin with, nothing can go that wrong if you are being true to yourself. In extreme cases you have a responsibility, it depends on who your audience is. I would feel bad if I sang about death and carnage and little kids thought that I meant that quite literally. But I don't think, and we don't think, when we're making music, we don't think about 10 year olds listening to our songs. Maybe that's wrong. It's pretty easy to feel bad if you not being true to yourself when you are making music. Being responsible when you make something that you can defend it and not feel that you are lying or making false excuses. If I make a song or a piece of music, that speaks to me, that speaks to my soul, I'll defend it to the death no matter what people say. I mean, if it speaks to me, I am part of humanity, so it has to have some meaning to humanity. I guess, if that's of course if as an artist you see yourself as part of humanity.
What is the point of what Desman are doing?
Yea, my mum asks me that all the time (ba dum bump). No really, I think it's to bring some sort of beauty into the world. I think music is one of the most beautiful things in the world. I mean, so many people, like me or like you, couldn't live without music. I don't know what it is about music exactly. I was thinking about this yesterday--it was raining and grey out and I turned on the radio and this song came on and there were three of us in the room and we just started singing along and we were so happy. I mean, how powerful is that? I've wished all my life that I could paint and draw and get that immediate beauty . . . maybe this is conceited of me, but I think some of Desman's music is really beautiful. We want to bring beauty into the world because the world is sometimes an ugly place. We hope that our songs give people something to believe in. I always, kind of very pretentiously hoped that people would feel that way when they listened to our songs, that our songs would be something they could follow. Not that I want to be a mad dictator. But I felt that way when I was younger and listened to certain songs by other people - I still do.
What's the qualification for a good song?
I don't know - I just don't really over-analyse music. If I hear a song, either I like it or I don't. Mostly, I tend to disregard music that is too humoristic or too light because I am a brooding kind of person . . . If a song makes my hair stand on end--I think it's good. If it just leaves me indifferent than that's bad. I mean, even if a song is offensive, or bad - if it makes me feel something, than it's not that bad. But if it leaves me cold then there's no point to it. Blandness is wrong. Whatever you are doing, just do it. But don't dilute it . . .
I've noticed that themes of mind control recur in your songs a lot.
That's definitely one theme. I used to write about apathy a lot - I still do - I just don't use the word apathy.
Where does the mind control issue come from?
I'm very fearful of mass media. In the way I live, I tend to distrust everything at first viewing. I think it's a BIG issue these days. People just don't question what they're given. That's what I mean about mind control - I don't mean it literally, like being hypnotised and sent to kill someone. But why not? Isn't that what governments do in a way? It's comes from reading 1984 too many times. There is a big part of me that thinks there is a Thought Police, actually. It's not that obvious and it's not that brutal, but I think it's being done in a friendlier kind of way. Instead of just beating you into what they want you to think, they just remove, while your growing up, your access to knowledge. I mean, a lot of information is being removed from our access and people just don't seem to notice it any more. You know that MTV program Cribs (a show about rock stars' houses), well, Moby was on that show. He actually had a very humble flat in New York, and he was saying something that really stuck a chord so much in me, he was saying how most of the houses they show don't have any books In them! See, he was apologising for the disarray of his books . . . and I just realised that in most homes, there just aren't any books. If you remove literature from people's lives they don't seem to miss it, because everything is on the news and on the telly - I mean you don't have to read Charles Dickens, just wait for Christmas and they'll show the mini-series. And that really scares me - how easy it is to lure people into this, catatonia, really. If we can't think then what's the point of being alive? It's got to the point where I just don't believe anything at first. Even if they show this horrific bombing on the news . . . I really, really don't believe what they're telling me. It's not something that I intentionally do - I just can't help it. I mean so much of the time this happens - especially if you have access to the Internet: I see something on CNN, and then on BBC and it`s slightly different, and then on CNBC and it's slightly different again, and then, if you go to different countries' news services, completely different story. So who are you going to believe? I don't know. That's another thing I write about though - I write that I haven't got the answers. I don't pretend to. But you at least have to try and find your answer. It's not that I'm any smarter than anyone else - it's much easier to roll up in your duvet and watch `Count down' and eat fish fingers... I use to write a lot about death. I don't so much any more - it's just too depressing. It was something I had to deal for a lot of years and I think it's dealt with.
Do you? I mean, I don't think death is anything that's ever dealt with . . .
Well, not dealt with as in put in away in a box. But there were a lot of things I needed to scream about and I just don't anymore. It's quite scary that I feel almost happy . . .
What are you looking for in your writing? What do you hope to gain by your song writing?
Empathy. Not Sympathy - cos that's just people feeling sorry for you...
Empathy from other or for others?
...From me to others, really. It's nice to idealise about a situation where I could actually sing a song and people would listen to the words and feel like I understood what they were going through, and that I felt the same way and they were not alone. I feel that with the guys in our band, on the rare occasion when they can understand what I'm singing, or when they read the lyrics, I know they understand and I know that many times they feel the same things. You know it's that thing when you are fifteen and listening to the Smiths and you think "he's singing about me!" That's my main vanity - I always wanted to do that for people. I'm not pretending to be a selfless hero . . . or a hero at all, really. I do have that aspiration to touch other people like others have touched me. And I want to be cool, too. I mean isn't that why everyone gets into a band in the first place?
Is it? I don't really know?
I remember when I saw the Sex Pistols for the first time . . . I got in to them when I was about fourteen, through someone else's record collection and then we saw the Great Rock n' Roll Swindle, and I thought they were so cool, and I liked what they were saying and I wanted to be cool like that too . . . You know, there are so many cycles in musical history and when I was fourteen music was so shit , it must have been at the foot of the cycle again -at least across the main stream and I hated that. And when I discovered the Sex Pistols it was like "Oh my God! They're really angry" and it was great 'cos I felt really angry. I still feel really angry - I don't know at what though. It's good to be angry.
Because anger is an energy (she says borrowing heavily from Johnny Lydon...)
Yea, anger is an energy. Being angry or happy.. . happy is good if you can manage happiness - which I don't very well. Angry is easy. If you can have a focus to your anger - that's really great - but I can't.
What would you hold
back from a song? I mean is there anything or anyone that you wouldn't
Not really. I wouldn't talk about love - I consciously don't talk about it. It makes me uncomfortable - I don't like talking about it
(at this point John starts squirming in his chair and itching and is visibly uncomfortable)
I don't know. I just don't know. Maybe lack of love is something I could sing about. But even unrequited love has been done so many times. I just feel too uncomfortable. When it happens to me, when my heart is broken - it's just something I don't want to talk about. I talk about being sad, because of something - maybe because of love - but I would obscure that word.
When you write a song, is it therapeutic as you write it or is it only therapeutic in retrospect?
Well, there are different stages for that. I don't know how it works for the other people - but for me, when I write, it's usually 7 or 8 in the morning, I pick the guitar up and strum along and a song may come out. Other times I have this idea in my head and I won't stop playing until it comes out. It's very therapeutic when you finally get all the ideas together and they form a song. You've been at it for a couple of hours and it's morning and you think "Wow this is sounding really good!" That happened last week and I was just pacing up and down just waiting for the other guys in the band to wake up - and it was finally 12PM and I rang them and . . . But other times it happens with the band in rehearsal and that's absolutely fantastic--that's like being on drugs - It really is. And then, when we play it live and it comes out really well - that's the best. So see, there are different therapeutic steps . . .
What's your definition of freedom?
Wow, freedom . . . More than the right to equality - I think freedom is the right to difference. I do know that there are too many inequalities in the world. But also, there is a growing strain of censorship and lack of individuality and we get so caught up in the fight for being equal that we forget that we have the right to be different . . .
Name three essential albums or songs:
Ugh, that is so hard . . . Anything by the Pixies, there isn't one song that I don't like. They are the perfect mix of sensitivity, power, melody and jt's just brut force and drive behind their songs - it's fantastic. They also have a little bit of humour, which I think is ok, because they can pull it off. Frank Black did it really well. Doolittle is the most complete album - it's not too indie or underachieved, and then again, it's not too polished and doesn't deal too much with Frank Black's personal concerns. It's a whole band effort. Brilliant. The Holy Bible by the Manic Street Preachers, probably the last one the did properly. It's very dark - fantastic lyrics and it works as a whole - it's a whole concept - a bit of mad genius, the whole concept of design, the album, the themes of the songs very, very depressing, and very, very good. (at this point I suggest the third should be a Desman song . . . ) One of our songs - 'Drone' - it's an old song, and we haven't recorded it properly, but it has the lyrics that I'm probably proudest of: "A substitute for sadness/a surrogate affection/I'm living off my idols/carry on, be a drone." I don't know how that came out - but a substitute for sadness became the theme for the band. It just sums up music for me really well - don't be sad any more, there's music.