It seems strange doing an ‘introducing’ feature on Marc Heal, because the man doesn’t need much of an introduction. We recently reviewed (and loved) his latest full length album The Hum and now our own Dr Magic was lucky enough to chat to Marc about the production of the album, his career and his next steps. Read it here.
I really enjoyed listening to your new album (The Hum) and I think it has set a template for alternative music for the next few years. A lot of us are going to be playing catch-up to your work in the future.
Thank you, appreciated. I was pleased with the way it turned out.
First of all, can you tell us a little bit about your incredible musical history. What’s the story behind Marc Heal and how would you describe your sound?
I first started out making electronic music when I was a teenager in the 80’s in Sussex. I started a band with some mates, just tooling around with early synths and drum machines. My first gig was in 1981. It was the first time the soundman had ever seen a drum machine. None of us knew what we were doing, but we had a blast.
A few years later Gary Numan offered my band Westwon a chance to support him on a UK tour, which was the first break I got. 1987 that was. It was kind of Gary because I still didn’t know what I was doing. We made an album produced by Colin Thurston, the guy who engineered Heroes, and produced Magazine and Human League and the Duran albums, but it never got released.
Later on I started going down some raves in London, by accident really. I even worked the bar at Shoom a couple of nights, handing out orange juice and water, though I was dressed in black and everyone else was wearing flares and day-glo t-shirts. So then I started a new band called Cubanate, mixing guitars and primitive techno. A lot of people thought this was an innovative approach, though really it only happened because musically I didn’t know what I was doing.
I made a few albums with Cubanate, worked with Jean Luc Demeyer from Front 242 on a project called C-Tec, when he wasn’t working with F242. I made a mad little album called Ashtrayhead. Produced some other people. We signed to Wax Trax records. Cubanate went on tour with Sheep on Drugs, Sisters of Mercy, Frontline Assembly, Fear Factory. And Numan again, as I recall. Unfortunately by that stage I was drinking so much that I didn’t really know what I was doing.
Then I quit booze, set up some studios, moved out of London, went into TV production. I wrote a book called the Sussex Devils, I worked with Raymond Watts on his album and an EP called Compound Eye. I moved to Singapore and eventually made the album called The Hum, under my own name. I found a studio called Lion in Singapore where I recorded, sang and played everything myself, except guitar. Co-incidentally, this last year Cubanate also re-formed and we played our first show since 1999, at the Cold Waves festival in Chicago.
I realize that all sounds a bit messy. In my business and personal life I’m quite controlled, but in my artist career I’ve come to the conclusion that I must like not knowing what I’m doing.
What made you chose the name ‘The Hum’ for the album? It seems very different to previous bombastic album names you have worked on.
“Bombastic”. That’s a good word, and expresses exactly what I wanted to avoid. I wanted rawness, both emotionally and musically.
Everyone’s got influences, me included. But I’m sick of industrial bands rehashing what Front or Skinny Puppy were doing 25 years ago. Enough already. You see them dressed up as Nazis or robots. It’s fancy dress. Everyone knows they’re called Kevin and they work in the Amway customer service department. And what’s wrong with that? The problem with stock response is that it throws a blanket over your creativity. It stops you from observing. There is nothing intrinsically more interesting from an artistic perspective about being a cyborg than working at Amway. It all depends what you have to say about it, doesn’t it? If you cannot view your life interestingly, then it’s not the life’s fault: it’s yours.
Also, to avoid still more bombasticism, I tried to keep the song format concise. In the old days, befuddled by E, shit went on for hours. Now I want to hit hard, good tune, then leave. That’s what’s good about the KANGA album too. She says what she’s got to say and doesn’t hang around, knob-twiddling. Less prog-rock, more punk in form.
The Hum comes across like the tales from some gnarled veteran you may find propping up the bar in a strange tavern somewhere. Is there a character you envisage in this album, or is there anything biographical flowing through the songs?
Well, I am a gnarled old veteran propping up the bar. I can hardly skip onstage and talk about the thrill of a first kiss now, can I? But that’s the great thing about industrial music. It kind of suits being gnarly.
All the songs on this album are based on my own experiences.Of course I meld together characters, snip and trim stories, amplify and attenuate for effect. But yes, it’s biographical. What is the point of art, if not to tell the truth as you see it? It’s all you have to offer.
I don’t deny that moving out East turbo-charged my inspiration. It’s just the novelty of a different light. You see things afresh. Two lovers arm-in-arm on a winter’s day in London, you don’t even notice. You see them Beijing, wearing anti-pollution masks,walking through the haze, something stirs.
What’s your own favourite lyric from the album and why?
The thing about lyrics is, it’s not just the words, it’s the delivery. I tried to shout lesson this album. To speak, not shout.Don’t get me wrong, I love a good shout. I’ve got a voice like sandpaper anyway. But I tried not to over-act.
It’s embarrassing but I like the take on a line on Katarina’s House, “Now the children of the village won’t trespass in that place of sorrow.” A pulse of sadness hit me while I sang it and my voice kind of cracks. I suppose technically it’s a mistake, but I kept it in.
As an overall lyric, I am perhaps happiest with Adult Fiction. “And I’m choked by all these silks and leathers, marble lions, ostrich feathers.” That’s fun to sing.
Many political artists have warned of the rise of a dystopia for years but were treated as just artists portraying a fantasy world and not widely taken seriously beyond their core supporters. With the rise of Trumpism and Breitbart politics what can artists do to raise the warnings and this time be taken very seriously?
How do artists get taken seriously? Ha! Cut off an ear. Set yourself on fire.
Most so-called “artists” are actually in the entertainment industry, which is different. They just grin and gurn for money. Not that I blame them. Everyone’s gotta eat.But they are just court jesters.
What can an artist do? Well you won’t persuade anyone by grandstanding. Don’t worry about whether you are on the left side or right side. But be on the side of compassion, humanity. Use your voice. Try not to spread ugliness and triviality. Don’t be an asshole.
Finally, like all good interview questions, I’m going to ask, where do you see yourself in five years time? Can you give us any news or scoops around releases, gigs, upcoming projects? Thank you, really appreciate sharing your time with us.
Five years? Alive, I hope. But who knows?
I’m fired up, though I’ve been re-wiring my studio and nerding around in the past few weeks. Another solo album, I think. Recently I’ve done a few other vocals for some mates of mine. And Cubanate will play again, I’m sure. We’re working on plans for dates next year. Phil’s got a new project, which is sounding good. So we’re just trying to fit it all in.
As you get older, the work matters less. You worry more about the other people in your life. The women and the children. So, in five years I hope the music has gone well, but more than that, I hope I’ve done right by them.