Jim Thirlwell's brush with death gives
new life to his divergent recording projects. By Michael Gallucci.
Foetus The Agora, 5000 Euclid Avenue
9 p.m., Sunday, June 24
Jim Thirlwell, the man behind Foetus,
Steroid Maximus, Wiseblood, and other post-punk industrial projects that
helped shape the genre over the past decade, recently returned from a self-imposed
six-year hiatus. After the release of Gash
in 1995, Thirlwell stopped performing and recording to deal with some personal
issues. He's purposefully vague about the details of what was likely a
nervous breakdown. But to regain peace of mind, he had to distance himself
from his music, which consists of extreme noise constructed with tape loops
"I had been living my life pretty
out of control and started to pay the consequences," Thirlwell says. "Anyone
who had seen my live show around that time can attest to that fact. I basically
got into a life-and-death situation and had to stop my life and turn it
around and work out a way to live... and decide whether I did want to live
or not. I had no other choice."
Once he decided that living wasn't
so bad, he realized he didn't need artificial substances to enhance his
"I have moments of euphoria when
I'm walking down the street and I go, 'Jesus Christ, this is what I was
spending so long concocting intricate balances of chemicals to achieve?'
And that feels good, dealing with feelings screaming up in your face."
Born in Australia, Thirlwell moved
to London in 1978 and started recording there. Three years later, he released
his first single, "OKFM,"
on his own Self Immolation imprint and issued several solo albums before
teaming up with members of industrial-minded acts the Swans, Hugo Largo,
and Unsane to form the side projects Foetus Corruptus and then Steroid
Maximus. He moved to New York in 1984 and eventually signed with Sony in
1995, just as disciple Trent Reznor was burrowing his Nine Inch Nails into
mainstream consciousness. And then things promptly fell apart.
"There was a finality to the albums
I had been making," he says. "I think I really nailed the pre-apocalypse,
desperate, this-is-it-baby, this-is-the-last-one-before-they-drop-the-big-one
statement on Gash. And that's what I had been building up to slowly.
But you can't really keep hammering that point home forever, because how
can you keep making final statements? It gets redundant, so you tend to
and Manorexia's Volvox
Turbo (two of the albums he's released this year), Thirlwell ruminates
on the horde of emotions that have accompanied his newfound peace of mind.
"Flow connotes a continuum
instead of this finality, this death-wish thing," he continues. "That's
not to say that I think it's particularly mellow, but there's definitely
different energy on different tracks. I'm trying to achieve spatial quality
in production, and I think the timbres are really different. And there
is sophistication in the arrangements, programming, and instrumentation.
And Flow is 'wolf' spelled backwards, and I kinda like that."
Compared to the rest of the Foetus
oeuvre, Flow is an ambitious and relatively tuneful reflection of
Thirlwell's past work. It even comes off as domesticated by comparison.
But Thirlwell says it's just a sign of how things have changed for him.
"I think this totally fits in,
just as any of my work fits in," he explains. "Given that the Foetus albums
are a diary of where I'm at, Flow is definitely the next installment."
Keeping up with Thirlwell's various
aliases, however, can be challenging. He has also released recordings as
Clint Ruin, DJ Otefsu, and many variations on the Foetus foundation --
Scraping Foetus off the Wheel, Foetus Under Glass, Foetus Über Frisco,
Foetus All Nude Review, and Foetus Corruptus. Keeping all these side projects
straight can be a dizzying task, but Thirlwell has "simple criteria." Manorexia
and Steroid Maximus are both predominantly instrumental, and anything Foetus-related
has occasional vocals.
He says he plans to take Manorexia
to Los Angeles next summer, with a string section and live percussion,
for a series of performances. While it sounds like a radical departure
for Thirlwell, he maintains it's not so off-kilter.
"I used to have this purist ideology,"
he says. "But that doesn't exist anymore. Really, there is no such thing
as selling out. It's unfashionable not to anymore. You run off of a different
energy after a while. I wouldn't have reached the same conclusions I have
without going through the things I did, musically, physically, emotionally,
Thirlwell believes the Foetus name
is good for at least another three albums, and he envisions the next one
will be yet another overhaul.
"I do see a grand scheme of the
work I want to leave and accomplish," he explains. "There is a grand plan
that will make itself clear to myself and my adoring public as time goes
by. If you look at the Foetus albums, there are certain threads through
them: four-letter, one-syllable album titles. They are a document of my
life. Beyond that, it's wide open."
source: Cleveland Scene, 21 Jun 2001, by Michael Galluci.
© 2001 Cleveland Scene
17 Jul '01.