Subway Sect is a new radio series, produced by Maria Bartolo and CR’s Eliza Williams, which is airing on Resonance FM, London’s art/experimental radio station. The shows aim to explore the complex relationship between art and music and take the form of a series of conversations between artists, musicians, writers, designers, DJs and music video directors.
The shows go out on Resonance FM (104.4 FM or online at www.resonancefm.com) and we’ll also be bringing you transcripts of highlights from the shows on the CR blog.
On today’s Subway Sect, Primal Scream guitarist Andrew Innes was in conversation with artist Jim Lambie. Lambie and Innes are old friends, having both grown up in Glasgow, and they discuss the impact the city has had on them and the experience of working together on the cover for Primal Scream’s Dirty Hits, as well as their mutual love of junk shops and eBay. The interview was recorded in Primal Scream’s studio earlier this year.
On early music memories
Andrew Innes: I seem to remember the Rolling Stones, I think it was on Top of the Pops, playing Get Off Of My Cloud, I must have been three or four and I remember the drummer was dead high up and I remember liking that song… that was the first music I remember, it must have been about ‘65.
Jim Lambie: I guess mine was Sugar Sugar by The Archies – it was a cartoon and that’s the first time I remember paying attention to music and visuals.
AI: It’d just be all the pop music when you were a kid; Slade, T-Rex, Mud…
JL: I grew up like Andrew about the time of the whole T-Rex glam thing. My dad had the first mobile discotheque in Scotland (laughs). And there were three go-go dancers and my mum did it as well. It was called The Spinning Wheel Mobile Discotheque and they used to go around Scotland doing this stuff. He was a salesman for Walls during the day, selling packets of ham, and at night he’d come home…
AI: My dad sold sausages…
JL: Did he? (laughs). There’s a common thread between us!
AI: …and cans of spam as well.
JL: He used to come home at night and get changed… and then he’d jump into the van and do these gigs and at the weekends my mum would join him. I remember my mum sitting watching Top of the Pops and taking down moves from Pan’s People, writing them down and the other two or three go-go girls would come over to the house. I remember one time particularly when my dad got the lights in from the van and we were all lying on the couch…
AI: How old were you?
JL: About ten.
AI: Three go-go dancers..?
JL: Yeah, three go-go dancers in the living room with the lights going! Practising their dance routines for that weekend! My dad actually got these suede belts with little lights put into them with a battery in the back and these flashed on and off the suede hot pants with suede fringing on them (laughs).
Maria Bartolo: This really sounds like your work!
AI: Nothing’s changed!
JL: Some things never change (laughs). It was all really homemade, because there weren’t speakers everywhere and stuff, like a club now, there was nothing like that then. So they kind of built it up. My dad’s light bank was made out of breadboards with Perspex in the front, sectioned off with lightbulbs in each. They only had two speakers at each side of the decks and then they got extra leads and moved it up to four speakers and that became what’s known now as a night club. But at the time…
AI: It was all scout halls.
JL: Exactly, it was all made up.
AI: What was his patter like? Did he talk in-between records?
JL: Totally! His patter’s rotten now so god knows what it must have been like then.
MB: It’s interesting though, Jim, because the aesthetic you described earlier really connects with some of the things you’re doing now.
JL: I think that DIY attitude is still definitely inside my work. I never reference it directly though.
AI: But some of it looks like a mobile discotheque.
JL: Exactly, but I never start a piece of work thinking about how to describe music, I think music does that totally perfectly well itself.
On early experiments with sound
AI: I had a little tape recorder and I used to make tapes, then I got a reel-to-reel. It’s great now with laptops – that’s the great thing about computers, you can get as good quality, you’re not stuck to layering sound. When you layer sound and sound you lose something, every time you bounce it you lose something, and it always ends up a mass of tape hiss… but with computers for the same price, for next to nothing, you can have 24 tracks.
MB: Your work is experimental in terms of sound – did you do any experimental sound works when you were a kid?
AI: Yeah, I had a reel-to-reel when I was a kid, but it started more when I was about 18 and I got a cassette player that did two tracks – I’ve still got it – so you could over-dub. Then I bought a reel-to-reel called Sound On Sound and you could bounce from one side to another while you add another layer of music, and then you could bounce back and add another layer of music, but you end up losing quality and after about five bounces you’d get tape hiss.
JL: I think that’s the thing though, there’s a build-up in all this that you’ve acquired and I guess that I have as well. I think there’s too much ambition about right now, especially in the arts where people are trying to take shortcuts, cutting out the learning process and that can be a problem.
AI: It’s just the culture – it’s a junk culture. Everything’s junk, you have it for a year then everything breaks down and instead of fixing it, you just get a new one. Take the Vocoder (points at it in the studio) – it’s been there since 1971 and it’s not working very well, but you can’t get anyone to fix it, because when your technology breaks down you’re meant to throw it in the bin and get the upgrade.
On record covers
MB: Do you remember any record covers from when you were a kid?
AI: I remember the one that interested my mum, it was Tanx by T-Rex – he was sitting there with a tank in-between his legs and my mum thought, ‘He’s going to be a poof!’, because I suddenly stuck it up on the wall and she thought, ‘Hang on a minute, that’s a guy with girl’s long hair… he’s gone weird’ (laughs).
MB: And what about you, Jim?
JL: It’s a weird one, because I’d never really seen any record sleeves until really late. But the first one I really remember, that made any kind of impact on me was – and it was the first record I ever bought, and it’s totally not made-up here, right… I chipped in with my mate, and we put in 30 pence each or something and it was The Day the World Turned Dayglo by X-Ray Spex. The vinyl was orange and the sleeve was like…
Mani (bass player with Primal Scream) walks into the studio.
Mani: I’m off.
JL: Mani’s off. (All laugh). He’s bored with us already.
Mani: The Day the World Turned Dayglo, X-Ray Spex. A belter.
MB: (To Mani) Have you a message for our viewers?
JL: For the listeners…
Mani: Don’t wear checks with stripes… Especially on the radio (laughter).
On first gigs
JL: My first gig was when I was 15. I was from a small town outside of Glasgow and I saw The Jam at The Apollo.
JL: I just remember totally freaking out. You know, these people that I’d only seen on Top of the Pops, because that’s all there was at the time to watch, were there in front of me! And there were hundreds of thousands of people there and everyone was totally in the mix. I remember doing this Jam dancing in the aisles with my boating jacket on and my beige trousers and my Hush Puppies (laughs). And the bouncers were really brutal…
AI: They were 40 year-old men and they used to punch 13 year-old kids in the face just because they could get away with it.
JL: Aye, I was 15 and I remember a bouncer totally manhandling me.
MB: What about your first gig, Andrew?
AI: It’s going to sound totally made-up… The Sensational Alex Harvey Band Christmas Show at The Apollo in Glasgow. My one regret is that they tore The Apollo down before we got a chance to play it. It was the best, the best gig. It had a ten foot high massive stage; it held 3,500 people and they went mental. No one really knows the Alex Harvey Band now but it was an incredible show he put on, it was brilliant sound, and I just thought, ‘Oh right! That’s what gigs are like’, and I guess I’m still waiting for one to be that good.
JL: Can I tell you my second gig? Again it sounds made-up, and I don’t know how I got from The Jam to this, well I do but it’s a longer story… my second gig was Kraftwerk.
JL: It was unbelievable. I quickly moved from being a plastic-looking punk to a boating jacket type mod to flirting with a European stylee.
AI: I remember hearing Autobahn when it came out and that was weird, you just didn’t get it. Even though everyone said, ‘It’s a classic’, you didn’t understand it when you were 14, you thought, ‘That’s not music’.
How they became an artist/musician
MB: How did you get into doing what you are doing now, what was the moment when you thought (to Jim) you’re going to be an artist or (to Andrew) you’re going to be a musician?
AI: I wanted to be a musician since I was about seven I think. I’ve got a bad experience with art, I remember being in the art class and I was so shite at drawing. Everyone came round to laugh at me, so ever since that I’m like, ‘I fucking hate art’.
JL: I had a problem, cos to ask for a guitar was not a good thing. I don’t know what it signalled but I had a real problem with asking for that when I was younger, even though I always wanted one.
AI: I had to do piano lessons, which wasn’t a good look. After about a year and a half I was like, ‘I’m not doing this anymore – get us a guitar’. And they (my parents) were like ‘Are you going to learn it?’, and I’m like ‘I’m going to fucking learn it!’ And I did!
JL: (laughs) Brilliant. I’d always drawn, I remember sitting and copying stuff from newspapers and stuff. I just drew anything, but I never really thought it was something that I could do.
On how they met and Glasgow
JL: I’ll tell you my first memory of Andrew…
AI: …in the ‘80s on that TV show.
MB: What were you doing there, Jim?
JL: I was in a couple of shitty bands and started to meet all these guys (Primal Scream), and I remember Bobby and a few other people had started this club, Splash One. And I’d come from a small town outside Glasgow and I thought, ‘How the hell do I get to know all these people who are totally doing something for me’, and everything they were into I was into and everything they were about was what I was or wanted to be about or enjoyed. So I got hold of an early video camera and I asked them if I could film the club and the bands in the club and I did Sonic Youth’s first gig in Scotland, I did Primal Scream and a whole bunch of bands that were in Creation. The reason I was there was because I was a fan and I was a fan of the band. At that time there was a whole other bunch of people that I’d go on tour with, like Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub and just about everyone you could mention at that time from the Glasgow music thing.
MB: And how did Glasgow influence what you do creatively or otherwise?
AI:I think it’s subconscious, cos mostly you wanted to get out of the place. The music scene at the time was so cliquey and so small town; Alan McGee and me just went, ‘Come on, let’s go to London’. I think people want to get out of small towns – people in Glasgow are going to stab me for saying it’s a small town… but…
JL: There’s a village mentality. Even though it’s a city, it’s not a city like, say, New York. You don’t have to make appointments to meet people in Glasgow; if I feel like going out on a night on my own and no one immediately feels like going out, I’ll just go to a bar cos I know I’ll meet people and I’ll have a great or a good night at least, y’know, cos Glasgow’s like that. Well certainly at that time. When you’re older you probably appreciate it more…
AI: Yeah, when you’re younger, you just want to get away.
JL: …from what you’ve grown up with.
AI: I think as well from where we’ve come from, punk rock was outsiders’ music and I met all these weird people, I met Bobby and McGee. When you see these TV shows on 1977 – everyone’s a punk, but nobody was a punk. The outsiders or weirdos were into punk. When you went to see bands at The Apollo you’d get barred standing in the queue outside, because you were weird.
JL: I was 12 or 13 and you’re still trying to work it all out.
AI: You were an outsider. When I was 18 it was 1980 and I hated the ’80s and the mainstream music, so that’s when you get into the ‘60s and psychedelia, and I gave up playing guitar for a while, cos I thought, ‘this is awful’.
JL: At that time there were a lot of Glasgow-based bands really going for the gold. It made you feel ill. I remember getting a flat in the south side with a couple of mates and I remember Bob Gillespie walking by the house to the park with another guy out of Primal Scream with a ghettoblaster – it’s a true story! It was a sunny day and I remember following them (laughs). They looked great and the music they were playing was stuff I was into and it was something else that was going on that was away from these Glasgow bands…
AI: It was outsiders.
JL: It’s totally outsider stuff. Even now I don’t feel inside what I’m inside, I don’t feel inside the art world.
MB: You were talking earlier when we were outside about the relationship between the music and your work, can you talk a little bit about this?
JL: A lot’s been written about this and that’s absolutely what should happen, that people should want to make connections and describe the work the way they want to describe it. There’s no direct relationship in my mind, but I think the music thing just bled through what I’m surrounded by. You know, I talk to Andrew, a lot of my friends are musicians, I DJ sometimes, I buy records all the time and collect glam rock 7″ picture sleeves, so it’s just around all the time and that’s where the bleed comes through and I’m happy that people see that. But I never start a piece of work thinking that I’m going to try and describe music. I’m trying to make sculpture, I’m trying to make interesting pieces. I think music describes itself pretty well, I think it’d be difficult to describe music with art, I wouldn’t know where to start.
AI: I find it weird when you see these artists in the Turner Prize talking about their work – I guess you just have to do it. But in music you just write a song and maybe in a couple of years you work out what was going on. Sometimes you just do stuff, you make a noise and you think that’s just a great noise.
Collaborating on the album Dirty Hits
MB: Can you talk a little bit about the collaboration for Dirty Hits, how did it come about?
JL: They just asked me!
AI: We needed a record cover, so we asked him!
MB: And what made you think of Jim?
JL: Cos I’ve always been about (all laugh). Like a bad penny. I turn up on a night (adopts a nasal tone) with my whiney voice, in the background like a white noise annoying everybody.
MB: Was it like a collaboration, or did you leave it to Jim?
AI: We left it to him – and then we ruined it (laughs).
JL: No, these guys generously asked me. I’ve always been a total fan of the band so I was super excited about it, and they’re pals anyway, so everything was falling into place. I did a couple of things for them and we got them photographed but when I saw them the day before it was supposed to be produced I thought they looked like the worst images I’d ever seen. The band were trying to say ‘no’ and I was like ‘man, honestly – this is Primal Scream, this is ‘the’ band, I cannot put my name to this’. So I stayed up all night until 6am with my friend Paul Hart listening to Miss Kittin’s Computer Love and Kraftwerk all night, and did the sleeve.
MB: So would you do other people’s album covers?
JL: No, because Dirty Hits was the biggest thing for me. Though recently I got asked if I’d do a Suicide 7″ and I said yeah. I got a couple of emails about it and they were into doing it. (Laughs) That was in February and I haven’t heard anything since! But something like that would be great. But record sleeves man, you have to deal with these record executives and design houses and once those ball scratchers get in on it you know you’re fucked.
AI: The problem is in the old days it was a 12″ LP and you could do something proper but now it’s CDs and you can’t do much.
JL: And with downloads… (laughs)
AI: It’s ruined the art form.
JL: Yeah, where’s the artefact? I mean, it’s fine – great – it opens up a whole area, but it also closes down a whole experience too.
Titles in art and music
MB: What about titles? How much time do you give to them and how do they come about?
A: Don’t talk to me about titles… we’re terrible.
JL: I enjoy it, because I wait for these people (points to Andrew) to make a title up, and then steal it (laughs).
MB: Did you know the album was called Dirty Hits when you were doing it?
JL: No I didn’t! (laughs)
MB: (To Andrew) Nor did you? (laughs)
AI: Perhaps if you interviewed other bands they might say, ‘While we’re recording the LP, we’re making the sleeve…’, because they know the release date and it’s all scheduled. Whereas we are like, ‘We’ve got to make a record, what are we going to do… we’ve got no ideas!’ Then we get it finished and we’re like ‘We are finished!’ and then the record company’s like ‘Where’s the sleeve?’ And we are like ‘What?’ So we go, ‘Better call Jim’ and then he’ll go ‘What are the titles of the songs?’ and we go ‘What?’ (all laugh)
JL: They generously asked me to go on tour with them… (laughs) and when I got back to Glasgow people were like, ‘You’re green!’
AI: ‘You’re not looking half as good as you used to!’
JL: The best time was when they were playing with the Rolling Stones in Benidorm.
AI: Except the Rolling Stones had the decency not to show up! So we’re stuck in Benidorm with nothing to do!
JL: (Laughs) Aye. The gig got pulled. Then we had to travel 18 hours in a bus, so we were all drinking heavily (laughs). We get to the gig and I’m in the dressing room and as the band walk out the door I follow them. Then I’m on stage! (laughs). They pick up their instruments and there are 20,000 people there and I’m standing there thinking ‘Oh right, that’s why I’m here’ (laughs).
On Jim’s record Voidoid
MB: I was in the Serpentine Gallery and I saw a vinyl record by Jim Lambie…
JL: That was the Voidoid thing. It was for my first ever solo exhibition in the Transition Gallery in Glasgow in 1999. They wanted to produce a cheap catalogue so I decided to do a fold-out poster thing and a 7″ sleeve and incorporate a 7″ vinyl record. I used a friend’s recording studio and took a KC and the Sunshine Band record called Give It Up. I sampled it and then took a loop from a Jesus and Mary Chain record with just feedback and mixed the two together. So what you get is (adopts a slurred, slow voice) ‘Everybody wants you…’
On equipment and mistakes
AI: I think a lot of good sound you get comes from mistakes, but you’re meant to be able to talk about it. You can’t just say, ‘I plugged the wrong plug in and it sounded mental’, which is generally what happens and it sounds great.
MB: What about you, Jim, you actually use musical equipment in your sculptures.
JL: Yeah, but that’s got nothing to do with music, that’s got to do with things that are about me and my everyday life. I like the way things can break down and you can put things together again – change the shape of something – it’s really about materials that are around me everyday. So I buy records, so I think it’s quite natural for me to use record sleeves or records in my work. So if that means cutting a record sleeve in half or cutting an image out of a record sleeve to reveal something else – whatever shape that would take, I think that would be quite a normal line of investigation into that material. It’s really about material for me.
AI: Today I shoved the wrong thing through the Vocoder and it sounded mental and the song became this dark thing, because I hit the wrong button.
JL: That’s it, that’s exactly what I would do with materials. I would get something and take it apart and then I’d think, ‘How do I put this together again?’, or ‘That’s really interesting, the way that fell apart there’. It’s not about how normally that thing would be. It’s not about the ABC to how that thing exists in the world. It’s intervened or disrupted in some way. So I might take a glove and take away all the stitching, then all of a sudden I’ve got two hand shapes and that changes the thing, so you can, say, put something between that…
AI: And that’s how you keep it interesting as well. I like the mistakes.
JL: The mistakes are the dismantling of the instructions…
AI: …of your orthodoxy.
JL: If you can disrupt the material and dismantle it, it can take you in a whole new direction.
AI: Yeah, the planned stuff’s good, but it’s safe and when it’s not planned it’s like, ‘What the hell’s that racket?’ and you can take it to a whole new lightness or darkness… and you do something you’ve never done before. I can’t understand groups who do the same thing over and over…
JL: Yeah. I could have made a full art career out of making floors – quite literally spending the rest of your life on your fucking knees (laughs).
On equipment, junk shops and eBay
AI: I’ve always loved junk shops. You buy a thing, you get it home – it might be like a cassette recorder – and it doesn’t work but the mic works. So you might buy something that doesn’t work properly but you can make a sound and sample it. I used to go around three junk shops in London. I got the guitar that I made all the records with in a junk shop in Clapham; I got it when I was 20. He (the owner) looked like a child molester, but it was amazing – full of loads of stuff that didn’t work. But now you’ve got to go to eBay for that and punt ten quid and take your chances, and that’s great too. eBay’s now the worldwide junk shop so now all the good junk shops are gone. I spend days on eBay.
JL: Yeah, me too, the best thing is finding things cos they just come into your head.
AI: Yeah, you can go suddenly, ‘I need a Telefunken microphone’, and it comes up – there’s one in Croatia…
JL: Aye, it’ll be here in a week.
AI: It’s much better now, you can find a copy of Pet Sounds in two minutes.
JL: But at the same time there’s a whole section of society that are just saying, ‘I can download that’, which I do as well, but when I DJ I kind of refuse to use anything that I’ve downloaded…
JL: Yeah, you’re right Andrew… but I’ve DJed with guys that use computers and I swear there’s a difference!
JL: …I do think remastered stuff isn’t as good.