On his new solo album The Vertical Axis, Ian Crause, founding member of Essex band Disco Inferno, attempts to balance content with form. Back in the Nineties, Disco Inferno created swirling music of immediacy, a reaction to a neoliberal England, a way of figuring out how to fit in a globalizing, postmodern economic and cultural landscape, with lyrics commenting on class, immigration, loneliness, and depression among other themes. The music itself was carried by Crause triggering real-time samples with a midi-guitar, Rob Whatley doing the same but on drums, and Paul Wilmott grounding all the chaos with melodic bass lines. On the Vertical Axis, Crause’s goals of form seem more realized, the content more thought out. The sample-scapes, though no less striking or damning than those of DI, are more expansive, more controlled, and more purposeful, and Crause has a lot to say- about capitalism, about class, about lost homes. The Vertical Axis is reflective, political, concerned with myth, and often beautiful.
Interview conducted over a series of emails by Alec Livaditis
WUOG: So let’s start out light. How are you? How’s the weather?
Crause: Yeah, fine. Just been working, recording stuff. The weather has suddenly gone hot again, which is good.
WUOG: I don’t want to ask you too much about DI (Disco Inferno), but I did want to ask what you found so compelling about the sample. Was DI a conscious attempt to create a certain new post-punk aesthetic?
Crause: No, I heard the Young Gods and Public Enemy using them and it fired my imagination, making me wonder how I could make backing tracks like movin’ pictures. Then, when I got my guitar MIDI-ed up it sounded different to how I imagined, so the limitations changed things.
WUOG: The music of DI has a sort of lyrical urgency to it. What was your experience of being in Essex and London during that time? Would you like to explain the context of the place you Whatley, and Wilmott found yourselves in?
Crause: Well, we were born into it. We all lived in East London or Essex all our lives up til that time. The lyrics I think should be viewed as juvenilia, given that I wrote them between the ages of abut 16 and 20. It’s a pretty suburban, curtain twitching, gossiping environment and as someone who was regarded as a misfit by most of the people who came across me and who was pretty depressed for most of the time I was growing up, whatever their overt themes, they could probably said to be coloured by a sense of feeling outside and against the things immediately around me. Outside of this the world was shifting in unstable ways politically with the first stirrings of a neoliberal society in England – something which we’d seen in America through the 80s but had put down, with typically injured British superiority, to Americans being crazy, so we didn’t recognize it for what it was, so once the music started to edge towards sounding out of control it was a natural step for the lyrics to naturally be able to reflect that wider aspect of what I felt the world I was growing up into was more or less about.
WUOG: The sampling technique seems more fully realized here on your record The Vertical Axis. You’ve referred to it as ‘picture-sound’. What does the name the Vertical Axis mean in relation to capitalism, and can you explain the intentions of your sampling technique?
Crause: Yeah, it is definitely far more realized than we were able to achieve in Disco, for sure. Basically after the band finished I had enough of it all and went away and just read books, working out how I could go forwards into something new. I knew as far back as 98 that I wanted to make a sound which was like moving pictures but I saw it more as bing like maps and diagrams in 3D rather than the way it currently is – though I´ll still do that in the near future, as well – but to do that you need to have lyrical content for the form to reflect and I knew my lyrics were well below what was needed to do this so I started reading in order to understand how I could do what I wanted. I took about 9 years before I understood what I needed to do, which was basically do what the modernists of 100 years ago like Joyce had done, by which I mean go back to the roots of things as far as possible which for us is classical or primeval art and draw a line forward from there, which is obviously what radical means – to draw forth from the root. The long and short of it is what I decided to do was rather than to try to create a realist style of music, which is still too difficult for me ability-wise and technology-wise, I decided to follow medieval radicals like Dante and create something which is pictorial, where the sound aims to be as visual as possible and which follows the exigencies of cause and effect within the lyric rather than just abstract patterns, which govern most music. So what I ended up with is a kind of moving animation running behind and interacting with the words. It’s a good starting point.
The Vertical Axis was the title of the album I was going to make 15 years go for a major label but the sessions were catastrophic and afterwards I basically just walked away from music and decided to completely start again, as I explained. At the time it was about the steep face I saw before me which looked like an impossible climb. It was very personalized.
When I decided to use it again recently, years later, as a way to lay yet another ghost to rest, I was really pleased to see how apposite the title still was regarding the songs I was writing. The song, the album’s title track, gives the lie to the rightwing article of faith which says because some market capitalism is essential and a very good thing – something I agree with – that therefore means that an unlimited amount of it is better by the same degree til we reach some kind of utopian situation. So the song basically uses space as a metaphor – up and down do not really exist, they are only subjective terms we use to point to and from the centre of a gravitational mass. Like with gravitational mass, which attracts more mass, money is not a free energy but is drawn to masses of pre existing money, which is why people invest it.To make more money.
This money can also be used to buy force of arms in order to protect its interests and convert that weight of wealth into genuine violence, as we have seen the US doing in Iraq and in Latin America in recent years against the likes of Chavez, Morales and now Maduro. The song uses the examples of Zelaya in Honduras , who was ousted in 2010 in a US supported coup after he introduced a minimum wage for Chiquita banana workers and his spiritual predecessor, Savador Allende, whose Presidency in Chile was brought down after the CIA organized truckers strikes to paralyze the country’s economy and aid General Pinochet to take the state by force of arms, disappearing 1000s of opponents. So it basically just points out the truth of things, i.e. that this argument about capitalism equalling meritocracy is largely a big fucking lie.
WUOG: What are some of the other political themes you explore on the record? How did you come up with the idea of “Black Light” being narrated from the point of view of someone having a political conversation at a cafe… “Oh, I do so hate the Tories…”?
Crause: The whole thing is about the new liberal bourgeoisie in Britain. A whole class has grown up as ostensibly – superficially – liberal. Cos most of what they have has come easy to them they are at pains to be very generous to people they consider poor but worthy, i.e. pat on the head little immigrants who will be ever so grateful to them, as they surely deserve – with the resources and lives of those they consider unworthy, the undeserving poor. The underclass their ascent has created. So whilst they think of themselves as profoundly tolerant there is still one thing they hate: the poor and working class. And one of the things these new bourgeois townies do, coming as many do from the countryside, is to reify the pre-industrial rural poor. So the song basically sets out their worldview. It draws a straight line to an endpoint: essentially the fascist military dictatorship of the upper classes enjoyed by much of the third world during the cold war and much of the world until the 20thC. And the further to the right you go the further back in time the ideal resting point becomes. With fascism it is the middle ages.With many conservatives, the early modern period. SO it fantasizes THEIR ideal working class, tending their sculptured lawns, working in their fields, shutting their mouths and acting as their cannon fodder should the need arise.
WUOG: “Foreign Land” focuses on the theme of immigration, something not new to your writing. How is this theme important to you?
Crause: Because I am an immigrant in what feels like a world of immigrants – at least it did when I was in London. The whole world seems in flux now – the upper classes travel, live and work abroad and in various places in relative comfort and in relative ease and the flip-side is the poor are forced for economic reasons to do a similar thing but in much more difficult circumstances. The song is also about life itself as exile as well, of course and it has – or should have – a strong feeling of nostalgia – longing for a lost home.
WUOG: Were there any readings in particular that influenced the record?
Crause: You mean books? Sure, books more than records influence the way I think now.
Writers like Ovid and Dante, who personify what is roughly referred to as humanism are the most prominent. What they did, inadvertently in both cases, I think, was to draw the hugeness of existence down into signs and symbols, especially in Dante’s case, which has the effect of making them basically controllable and tamable to the reader (or listener). In both their cases they took existing traditions, the classical myth and the medieval adventure, respectively, and used their talents to hugely expand their capabilities. In my case what the use of sign and symbol is doing is pretty much the opposite – it is clearing out a lot of the abstraction and existentialism which has propelled the last 70 odd years of challenging or arty music and replaced the sense of awe, or of ‘state’ which is aimed for with a prosaic and almost touchable parade of pictures, which pass behind and around the words – this’ll come to the fore on the thing I’m currently doing in a much clearer way than on the album. A good way of looking at it is that it seems to draw existence into objects it seems to make them almost an arm’s length away. It’s as if the universe is intellectually on a human scale, which is why these writers are considered beacons of humanism in art. The book which did it for me was Mimesis by Erich Auerbach, a book subtitled ‘The Representation of Reality In Western Literature’, which mines a seam through history where content meets form. That’s the crux, isn’t it – the reflection of content in form. So that’s my bible, I guess. He also wrote a superb book about Dante.
WUOG: There’s some idiosyncratic guitar going on here. I suppose that reflects this idea of form, as well?
Crause: Actually, I don´t usually try to get the guitars to do anything other than carry the original tune or glue parts together – they’re totally functional in my mind. I use a VG99 box which gave me a few hollow bodied Gibsons, Gretsches, Fenders and Rickenbackers (or various combinations of) and providing the thing sounds OK I tend to just go with it cos I know it’s gonna have a mountain of shit poured on top of it.
WUOG: Thanks for your time, Ian. Are there any closing comments you’d like to add?
Crause: Yes, I’d like to sum up by telling you not to do drugs and to marry well. Find a woman with a good heart. Looks will fade.