MICK KARN: MUSIQUE CONCRETE
I caught up with Mick not long after the release of what no-one could guess would be his final solo album, The Concrete Twin – the latest in a line of emotionally complex works. I’d been inspired to get in touch after reading his intimate and revealing self-exploration in the book Japan and Self Existence, especially as he touched fondly on his work with Midge Ure. And so it seemed like an ideal time to catch up with rock music’s most original and distinctive bass player… even if it was only briefly by e-mail (and a big thanks again to Debi Zornes for arranging that for me).
I had far too many previously unanswered (to my knowledge) questions that I wanted to ask Mick about Japan and his earlier work, but aside from talking about his work with Midge, he preferred to concentrate on his present work. I’m so glad that I got in touch when I did. Here’s what he had to say, exactly as it appeared in print within #9 of my Ultravox magazine re:VOX.
Rob Kirby: How do feel upon releasing an album? A feeling of relief, anticipation or the desire to move on to something new after living with your latest album during it’s gestation?
Mick Karn: I feel exhausted usually; in need of a break from music.
There seems to be a mixture of optimism, and yet also melancholia (on the opening track) along with a restless, searching quality (with frequently halting melodies on Confabulation and Yes, I’ve Been to France) running through many of the tracks on The Concrete Twin (balanced by a more contemplative feel on Presence and Purple Attachment), leaving an impression of issues yet to resolved. As this album is dedicated to your father, has this recording been a way of working through various things that you touched upon in your book?
My recordings are always a way of dealing with unresolved issues, most of them mentioned in the book. The recordings have little to do with my father that I'm aware of.
While there seems to be a more leisurely pace to this new album, the sounds of your present environment seem to be seeping in to The Concrete Twin, and on your previous album prior to Selected, both in the use of rhythms, woodwind and acoustic guitar – is this a conscious approach?
No, not a conscious approach. It's impossible not to hear music wherever you go. Everything I hear will eventually turn into an influence on some level, subconsciously.
Did Pete Lockett’s drum work pre-date the album, or did you work alongside him initially?
It pre-dated the album. He was very generous in sending me some of his drum work completely out of the blue, which helped a lot with the writing.
As your albums have progressed, since Bestial Cluster you’ve chosen ever more quirky and, at times, rather amusing or punning track titles, The Concrete Twin being no exception. So, who, or what, is The Concrete Twin? It brings to mind the self-sculpture of Anthony Gormley.
I guess it's the closest I'll come to mixing music with sculpture. The Concrete twin is another self we all have. The 'hard' side of us that can withstand all the trials and tribulations that life has to offer.
Are you recording entirely via Pro-Tools these days?
I never use Pro-Tools, unless in a studio that's not my own. I use Digital Performer.
How do you feel about your work right now? Do you feel more contented, having put elements of your past into perspective by writing your book?
I feel glad that people know the truth due to the book, but contented, no. I'm never contented, It's my motivation for carrying on.
Looking back a little further now, I’m interested to know how long after was it that first Prince’s Trust show before Midge Ure suggested you work together?
I think it was probably straight after the show.
After a Fashion was a fascinating pop/left-field blend – something that the early 80’s charts were very good at accommodating, with their plethora of different genres, in a way that would be impossible now – would you have liked to have recorded further with Midge at that time?
No, we were both heading in different directions.
Did After a Fashion make it easier for you to later sell Virgin the idea of releasing Titles?
No, Titles had already been released before Midge and I worked together.
One project that remains sadly stillborn out of the many, and varied, collaborations that you have participated in over the years, is your team-up with Midge again in 1992 – prior to coining the JBK name. I’ve heard Get a Life and Cry, but did any other songs get recorded besides these? Did you ever consider trying to release them through Medium?
No, that would have defeated the object of trying to secure a major record deal for the four of us. There were only the two tracks recorded, and they were left at the demo stage, never finished.
When Midge gave you a bolt-hole in his house, and home studio (when you needed somewhere neutral to work and live and he needed the house minding for a while), was this before or after you had spent time jamming with him over in Montserrat and working with him again on the song Remembrance Day from his second solo LP, Answers to Nothing?
I’m not going to dwell on all your personal highlights, bad times, travails and instrument thefts, as you’ve covered them with great care in your book, but I’m curious to know if you approached any publishers with Japan and Self-Existence, as there seems to be quite a gap between completing it and later self-publishing it through Lulu.com?
Self-publishing was the last option. Debi spent three years on my behalf, approaching every publisher that we could think of. The reaction was always positive, but the explanation the same; too many biographies by musicians on the market.
What prompted the book? Was it the relocation to Cyprus and the revelations about your father’s past that spurred you on to commit your thoughts on your past life to paper and print?
Just tired of meeting so many people that have the wrong idea, and that well known people can have the same human flaws as anyone else. I began writing it in a Japanese hotel room.
Well, I would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in that era of modern music. But before we close this up, I must ask if Japan were ever given the opportunity to select the tracks they’d like to be singles, and did you have any say in that regard with your later solo work too?
The only time we were given the choice, we chose Ghosts. With solo work, I only ever had one single.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN re:VOX magazine #9 (June 2010)
This, and other back issues of re:VOX are available from Rob Kirby via email and there is a gallery of the magazine's covers on Facebook
© Rob Kirby 2011 – Not to be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.
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