1984 NME interviews Foetus

From the Womb to the Tomb (1984)

“Crucifiction is my addiction,” confesses rock’s newest savior Clint Ruin, the man behind You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath, Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel and other strange afflictions.

Perverse though it may sound, of all the sad songs emerging from this sad world the saddest song I’ve ever heard is written by Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel.

Exactly how, you may ask, can so insensitively named an individual – whose previous monikers have been Foetus Uber and Foetus Over Frisco, Foetus In Your Bed, Phillip And His Foetus Vibrations, You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath and Foetus Under Glass – write a song capable of provoking anything but retching?

Well, as anyone who has taken but a small sample of this sad world will note, sickness is very much part of the sadness, and, if there is to be any accuracy in art, then it must sift this sickness, not for facts and figures, but for those sediments which might contain the grains of an emotional truth.

Integrity doesn’t have to mean descending into an inferno of the diver’s own devising; it just happens to be the downward route this one Foetus has taken to make his “whims match up to my ideology”. (In the Foetus scheme of things the Devil not only holds all the best tunes, he also has the best jokes.)

But this sad song, the one that most represents this sad world?

Called ‘Meet You In Poland Baby’, it’s hardly the stuff of conventional mope pop. Construed as a dialoge between Hitler and Stalin – not so much a lovematch as a marriage of convenience – it eavesdrops their lovers’ tiffs over the partition of their dowry: Poland. The song’s lyrics, punctured with newsreel soundtrack, pun their way round the pair’s mutual non-aggression pact – a devestating metaphor for many a modern marriage if ever there was one.

It is the song’s music, however, cued by a simple, heartrending chorus-statement “See you at your gravesite baby / I’ll meet you in Poland, baby” that so deeply affects this listener. Where the words fill in concrete details, the melange of funeral melody, noise, expropriated sound effects and a highly inventive use of looped voices, chart the dreadful consequences of the couple’s fallout.

Rarely in popular music has such a sense of wasted landscape, of massive displacement of peoples, of soldiers crossing a scorched continent to relocate their families among the ruins, only to find, perhaps, a charred snapshot of loved ones, been so chillingly evoked as here.

This is the European aftermath described in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow or Grass’ Dog Years translated into sound.

Few would dare such a marriage of wicked wit and charged music as this Foetal individual has done, never mind pull it off. However, the LP ‘Hole’ from which it comes is not all death and gory, though its best tracks are similarly steeped in despair. Anyway, even at their most lost they are suffused with a gallows humour all the more remarkable for its scorched settings.

The record’s second side consists of a five song sequence on a hellish theme, which culminates in a sequal to ‘Poland’, called ‘Cold Day In Hell’ – as much a hilarious tour de farce as harrowing tour de force. “Mockery with intent,” remarks its creator, tongue piercing cheek.

Pun compounds pun, but with the intention of stripping bare the soul of its tormented author line by line: “Mass breathing, mass seething, mass bleeding, mass seeding, mass debating / Mass existence is the cause of all my problems / Gotta choose between suicide and genocide,” sings the distraught narrator, going on to plead elsewhere: “Deliver me from this treachery, deliver me from this agony / stop trying to make a man of me / I ain’t got the raw materials, see?”, before writing his own epitaph “the inscription on my tombstone reads WISH YOU WERE HERE,” and finally confessing “crucifiction is my addiction”.

Elsewhere he treats death and life more lightly.

A riposte to Iggy’s ‘Lust For Life’ called ‘Lust For Death’ lays waste a Beach Boys surf number. Others result from a musical headon collision between Gary Glitter and Wagner. One minute he might come on like a lecherous Southern bible thumper humming 60’s puppet show tunes, only to crop up next as a grotesque Dostoevsky styled diarist running rampant at a birthday party.

When Foetus is out plundering nothing is too sacred to be chewed up and spat out.

An earlier song ‘Today I Started Slogging Again’ features a Marquis De Sade rap. Coupled with another re-recorded You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath favourite ‘Wash It All Off’, it makes up a YGFOYB greatest hits 12″ which, along with Foetus Uber Frisco’s 12″ sado-disco delight ‘Finely Honed Machine’ and ‘Hole’, constitute a three pronged assault on an overground, hitherto oblivious to his subterranean existence, about to be launched via Some Bizarre.

Is the world ready for the Foetus fix of sadness and madness? Will the world be able to stomach it? What’s more, will it buy it? Not Foetus’s concern, contests Jim Thirlwell, man behind the Self Immolation label which first brought you YGFOYB et al.

“We don’t hold our marketing meetings in the studio” he once rasped in these pages. No surprise to learn – from a label whose first logo was a man slicing off his nose – that the Foetus dictum goes: “Bleed now, Sell later.”

In 1978 there arrived at a British port of entry an immigrant. His name was Jim Thirlwell. As an Australian who spoke something resembling the same language, he did not anticipate any major difficulty about being absorbed into the bloodstream of British society. Before he had completed the journey from the airport to the centre of town he would be disabused of that notion.

The first hostility he encountered was that of immigration control. Nothing overt, just a sullen, silent kind. Passive hostility an immigrant can take, however, so long as it doesn’t turn physical. After collecting his one suitcase carrying his prized possessions, he passed through customs praying his bag would go unchecked. For the trafficking in live quivering Foetuses was a capital offence in anyone’s lawbook.

Relieved, he boarded the train into London. If at first the lush green of the countryside was appealing, the slow descent into the suburbs ringing the centre choked him with a sense of encroaching claustrophobia. He had left broad, airy Melbourne for this tight, tangled network of narrowed streets, tiny tenements and semis?

He had heard the Englishman’s home was his castle. It seems it had been shrunken to a semi-detached, his estate stretching to a few yards of grass…

Months passed. Like those other Melbourne emigres The Birthday Party, Thirlwell was quick to learn that British rock wasn’t the world centre of great ideas and excitement, as according to the myths that had filtered through to Australia.

On the contrary, the patterns of Brtipoppycockrock reminded him of the layout of semis and gardens he had passed through on his entry into England. An endless grid of stupid fads divided by the privets of their perpetrators’ limited visions and guarded by that peculiarly British thing: Poppycockrock’s Little Man.

The Little Man, be he Gary Kemp, Paul Weller or Wham!, looking to expand his waistline enough to support a waistchain, puffs his chest with pride as he surveys his empire, the backgarden of his imagination, cosy in the arrogant, unfounded belief that Britpoppycockrock is still best. Well, the Americans buy it…

More months passed. A year goes by. To support himself and his Foetus family Jim Thirlwell took on a series of jobs, even working awhile in Virgin, Oxford Street, from which position he got to hear just how rotten the state of Britpoppycockrock was.

Otherwise penniless, he was forced to change his address with some regularity, the poverty of his surroundings exposing him to the squalid underside of the British suburban dream.

Circumstances threw him into the company of other immigrants, who had to reluctantly acknowledge that, no matter how rotten the state of Britpoppycockrock was, it still controlled the worldwide communications network. One had to come here, then, just to be accepted at home.

He fell in with such immigrant undesirables as the shaven headed DAF, The Birthday Party… For a while conspiracies with effected with British dissenters, the Camden squatters, the Scrittis. All squawk, he would later spit, an intellectual knitting circle. When the likes of Scritti were later to emerge from the long night of heated discussion with the sole intention of entering the bright eternal light of Radio One day, his contempt for Britpoppycockrock was complete.

With the benefit of hindsight he drops the following footnote into his diary: “That whole phenomenon leading up to the present frenzy of useless activity, all this frantic thrashing round to maintain a false semblence of surface calm, well, that phenomenon started by ABC and Heaven 17, of becoming businessmen and going for the charts, has been integrated to such an extent that there’s presently no risk whatsoever. It makes you not want to listen at all. It’s totally grubby.”

Not that it worried him anymore. The passing months had added up to two years, by which time he’d established his own label Self Immolation as an outlet for his Foetus family, if only to give himself something to listen to.

A message from Self Immolation founder printed in a fan newsletter:

“Self Immolation Records was conceived in 1980 as an outlet for recorded works of aggression, insight and inspiration, and in reaction to the general malaise, mediocrity and poison rife in the music scene. A driving force is the sheer lack of anything worthwhile; Self Immolation can be seen on one level as a cry of disgust.

“The Foetus family prefers to retain a degree of anonymity (hence the dissemination of disinformation as to the Foetal groups’ origins in Brazil, France and Frisco, and leading men Frank Want, Phillip Toss et al) so the observer can have no preconceptions about the music via the appearance of the perpetrator, the artefact must be judged on merit alone…

“However Self Immolation is not wilfully obscurantist. Ours are commodities one cannot afford to be without – the greater part of the world merely doesn’t know it yet. Fling filth at pop kids! Someone has to redress the balance!”
Clutching a bottle of Mexican ruin, Clint Ruin, latest in a long of Foetus spokesmen, is cradling the newest mutation Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel in his lap. He has just returned from New York where he’d stayed on after his appearances with The Immaculate Consumptives, a revue completed by like sick minds Lydia Lunch, Marc Almond and Nick Cave. Since then he’d further collaborated with lover Lydia on a project called Stinkfist, which apparently conjured up the sound of dust settling on the rubble, and, most recently, blooded the first live performances of SFOTW and You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath.

Later this year he intends to put together a group with the intention of creating a “physical, fleshy sort of music, which you can hear, smell, feel. It’ll be very sinewy, visceral, really heavy. Hardcore, sort of, but not so obvious as a woman’s place is on ma face. It’ll be more suggestive, something instinctive from the pits of the stomach, groin, bowels and throat, a post apocalypse James Brown…”

Nice boy! He’s almost achieved something of the like on the song ‘Hot Horse’ from the soon to be released ‘Hole’, for which he has contrived a quivering mass of lechery syncopated to a body wrenching rhythm: “Yeah some hot horse…mmm I like it…goddam good lookin’ bitch…Dya come here often?…You’re a foamy filly…grow up fast in the city…good fishin’ round here…”

If it’s not already apparent, Ruin has an excellent ear for spoken language, be it that of the gutter, the B movie or the mediaspeak of politicians and popstars. His ears are not his only good feature: a mess of big hair towers above gaunt cheekbones. His wiry frame, still stiff from the punishments he put it through hurling it about in his live performances, is more comprehensively covered these days. The little money he earned in the States has been invested in a black shirt to replace an old string vest more hole than string, tight black trousers replace the torn flap thigh number he wore during the Consumptive dates. The combination’s completed by cowboy boots. A mutant Texan?

Clint Ruin has not always looked so healthy.
Fifteen months ago Clint Ruin embarked on a punishing recording schedule that would have been the death of a lesser man. Almost bankrupt after the release of the second You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath LP ‘Ache’, he further strained his debt account by helping bring over Einsturzende Neubauten to Britain.

Broke, unable to afford to even leave his home he began writing songs he thought he’d never be able to record. The thought fuelled his despair even further.

Thus when Stevo promised him enough time in a 24 track recording studio to record something, he took the opportunity to lay down an LP and two 12 inch singles, an awesome task for someone who records everything himself. And to meet deadlines he often found himself working 36 hour graveyard shifts. Meanwhile he ceded over the business runnings of Self Immolation to Some Bizarre.

“Self Immolation is still a figment of my emancipation,” asserts Ruin, however. “I told Stevo I just want to keep going. I’m not really interested in big advances or the cliches he often expounds…”

Got enough of your own?

“Ha, ha. I mean, like conform to deform, which I think is stupid. Deform to deform, not conform. But I was interested in having my work exposed via Some Bizarre’s mechanics. I don’t care about Some Bizarre’s ‘use the industry before it uses you’ line. Which isn’t to say I don’t think you can work simultaneously within and without the industry.

“I suppose you could say what I am doing is rock music, but I don’t have to be involved in the rock industry. I’d rather just ignore the rock market place structure with a vengeance. I don’t care about selling records. I just care about going into the studio. The fact I haven’t been there for a while is why I’ve been so grouchy lately.”

If Foetus music has been in the past a vehicle for a bilious anger so acid it permanently scarred all those splashed by it – Marc Almond, Orange Juice, Cabaret Voltaire number among his fans – the new dimension of despair he’s brought to it doesn’t blunt it so much as colour it more luridly.

“Just about every song on ‘Hole’ was a purge of the system, born of a lot of despair, aggression, anger, disgust, things like that,” Ruin deadpans. “But the act of getting them out of my system gives the record such a sense of relief I find it uplifting to listen to.”

Better, the depth of despair forced him to take extraordinary leaps of the imagination to find suitable expression for his condition. And best of all he’s man enough to mock himself.

“Who wants to get po faced about a po faced condition?” rasps Ruin. “It’s a matter of taking experiences, distending them in a funhouse looking glass and placing them in a wild and mucky context. Simultaneously glorify and flay them.

“And humour helps makes it more potent. It’s not a matter of making people go ha ha ha, more of catching their attention with a joke. Mind you, once I’ve got a good joke I do like to kick it to death.

“So it’s a matter of exaggerating themes and simultaneously deflating the whole idea of wallowing in them, saying something strong in a less pathetic way, getting vehement instead of wimpy about your condition.”

The corpses of Hitler, Stalin, the Ku Klux Klan are ploughed over in the search for a suitable metaphor… When the James Joyce character Stephen Dedalus exclaimed “history is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake” he might have been speaking up on behalf of the Foetus family.

How far have Foetal imaginings been shaped by the events of history?

“History? Hysterie is perhaps closer,” puns Ruin in a French accent. “I’m using events from history as an analogy for a personal desperation as opposed to depicting a desperation born of a particular incident. The narrator is someone who obviously hasn’t experienced those events, but he is likening them to his own situation.

“It obviously involves a gross overstatement,” he understates.

Would he construe his version of events, or at least his use of them, as irresponsible in any way?

“Well, if people could be specific I can answer it.”

Borrowing the mantles of the mass murderer and the perpetrators of genocide.

“That’s an analogy for taking the weight of the world on your shoulders, trying to get inside the mind of such a figure, work out how he’s thinking, feeling the desperation that might drive him to such acts.

“Perhaps it’s as well to remind you here of an early Self Immolation saying: It’s okay to be irresponsible so long as you know you’re being irresponsible. Under such circumstances you can use bits of horrific imagery so long as you know you’re not just flirting with it.”

Before bringing this story to a conclusion, here are a few more Self Immolation chestnuts.
“Embracing negativism as reaffirmation and a tool. The opposite of escapism, dross exists already… to create you must destroy. That which may initially seem purely negative often produces positive results by its very existence. If you’re never miserable you have nothing to compare happiness to.”

Some dear people operate best with their backs to the wall, social breakdown bringing out hitherto untested characteristics. During his stay in New York, Ruin deliberately set aside real fears of muggers and other assorted thugs to launch his Stream Of Consciousness Man on the world. Part Gingerman, part Joycean, his Stream Of Consciousness Man was born of the urge to wash the bad taste of Los Angeles out of his mouth and make up for all those lost months in the studio, to amass some experience of living again in order to give him something to write about.

Regarding L.A.: “The combination of shit and sun makes for a stinking team and all those flies can’t be wrong. That’s why they congregate in L.A. Stream Of Consciousness Man is partly my reaction to that. Basically it’s a matter of playing down the conflict between mind and body, being less analytical and more instinctive, striking a happy balance between the visceral and the cerebral…”

Getting Foetus out of bed and into the subway…

“And back into bed again. Yeah, something like that. Throwing a lot of shit at the wall and seeing what sticks when you wake up in the morning. For me it was a new experience going out all the time and having ‘fun’, this mythical ‘fun’ people are always talking about all the time. I didn’t find out what it was actually, found it a fairly vacuous pursuit. I’m all for satisfaction and fulfillment, but I’m not a big fan of ‘fun’ at all.

“Anyway, the Stream Of Consciousness Man, the act of just going out there and being, well, it necessitates a fair bit of reflection afterwards, which sort of invalidates being a Stream Of Consciousness Man to a certain extent. But unless you keep a perspective on what you’re doing you stay the same person, your viewpoints are never modified, because you’re spouting them the whole time.”

And there you were thinking hedonism was just a matter of letting go.
“Using the element of surprise through the usage of past cliches, knowledge and home truths being flung out of joint. And therefore used as possible weapon or subversive force.”

Not to be confused with trash aesthetics. To my horror I made such a mistake, arousing such a bilious response from Ruin he almost bounced the Foetus out of his lap.

“Trash aesthetics? Fuck off!!,” he spits. “Why aesthetise trash? I’m all for trashing aesthetics! This is not the time for beautifying anything. The aesthetics of commerce, huh, that’s what started popular music’s death. Why cosmetise the corpse?

“Look at all the groups glorifying the art of lying then having the audacity to call it the lexicon of love, only to later expect us all to sympathise with the scars of their beauty stabs. It’s their eyeliner, they can go sink in it!

“That art had to be something beautiful, that it was there for the glorification of life, and that invariably means the life of some small elite, a select beautiful people, that it should ignore life outside palaces, that it should not be concerned with the sheer vulgarity of living, well all those thats went out with the death of Virgil.

“Art – whichever form it’s spewed forth – that doesn’t remind us of realities ain’t worth two licks of shit. It doesn’t have to awaken nightmares, it doesn’t always have to be going down into the inferno just to tell us what it’s like down there. But it ought to convey something of life – and life of the imagination – or stay silent. Put up or shut up!”
Scan the dull conspirators of popular art installing their brand of cultural barbarism as the reigning mediocrity. The puddle of their frozen, fixed smiles and smug smirks reflects nothing but the meanness of their ambition. It’s a pity the frenzy of their frantic treading of water doesn’t send ripples across the surface calm.

Ironically, it takes a barbaric art to rip through the surface calm of cultural barbarism. The various Foetus strains have been slowly inducing catastrophe into art ever since Jim thirlwell shelved plans to fake terrorist attacks on the Melbourne art community and came to England instead, carrying the germs of his ideas in his suitcase. Once they popped, nobody could possibly get them back into its womblike darkness.

For Foetal art has developed into a bloody, muddy thing, grotesque and hilarious, not easily embracable, but then its intention was never to be loved.

If one thing is absolutely clear, Foetus was not so baptised to take his place among the good guys.

Source: New Musical Express of 17 March 1984, Biba Kopf.