1991 Fifth Path Magazine Interview JG Thirlwell


God has many names – Jim Thirlwell, Clint Ruin, and Jim Foetus among others. Now he is in the company of his apostles from The Swans, Hugo Largo, and Cop Shoot Cop in the form of Foetus Inc. who we spoke to October 18, 1990 in S.F.


TFP: How did you decide to start expressing yourself through music?
Well, I used to listen to music a lot, just natural progression. It wasn’t something I set out to do necessarily, it just fell into place – pretty natural after that.

Did you have any musical training as a child?
No, not really.

Some of the stuff off of Thaw is really classically arranged. Do you listen to classical music at all?
Yeah, I listen to all…I pretty much listen to most genres of music. I listen to a lot of modern classical music…A lot of ethnic musics and a bit of everything else in between.

What types of ethnic music appeals to you?
Anything and everything. Anything that isn’t bound by egos.

Have you listened to any of the Bengalis?
Yeah, I’ve listened to everything. I’m not a student, I just listen to it. I don’t read the liner notes.

Are there any classical composers you really like?
Yeah, I like Paderewski, I like Bartok, I like… Paderewski is probably my favorite let’s say.

Have you heard of Carl Orff?
Yeah he’s cool. I like Takemitsu. He’s a contemporary Japanese composer…he’s really good.

Does he use western instrumentation or Japanese instrumentation?
Both. He uses both…but he subverts traditional Japanese forms and he also uses a lot of internal clusters, dissidents…so on.

Do you have any classical pieces in the works?
Well, I just finished an instrumental EP and two 12″ which are coming out early next year (1991) under the name Steroid Maximus. I’ve been working on that for a year. The LP is called Gondwanaland. There are some neo-classical pieces on that. That pretty much runs the gamut of music styles. Apart from that, there’s not really any rock on there, but there’s a lot of other forms and there’s a lot of collaborations between myself and with other people like Raymond Watts, Don Fleming, Away from Voivod, Hahn Rowe, who I’m playing with tonight. Mark Cunningham and Lucy Hamilton, a bunch of other people.

Is that going to be on Wax Trax?
No…I don’t know who’s distributing it yet.

Did you just start working on Wax Trax?
They just licensed a couple of my records. The licensed Sink from Some Bizarre and then called me me and said…you know…”Do you have anything else to follow it up with?” And I was working. I’d just finished up Butterfly Potion at the time, so I offered them that and they put that out too. It made sense to promote both records at once. That’s about the extent of it.


Are there any other projects you’re working on now?
A new Wiseblood 4 track EP called Pedal To The Metal and a new Clint Ruin/Lydia Lunch EP which is a cover of “Don’t Fear The Reaper”, a Blue Oyster Cult song… A double live LP for this band (Foetus Inc.) and then when I get back, I’m working on a new Foetus LP and 12″ which I’m doing some bits and pieces of production and remixes.

Do you have any plans to help produce bands beyond your own music?
I just produced some tracks for White Zombie and I’m re-mixing some tracks for TAD and I’m fielding off offers. If I get offered interesting stuff, I’d consider it.

Do you have any soundtrack works in the future, aside from Death Trip films?
I’ve had a couple of offers, but nothing really interesting. I want to work on something, but I’m waiting for the right offers to come along.

Do you have any more work planned for Death Trip films?
I just did the Sex & Guns soundtrack, that’s about the last thing he’s [Richard Kern] worked on. He’s not exactly prolific.

I had the understanding he’d stopped working now.
I don’t know what his plans are now really.

Have you ever worked with anyone associated with Coil, and beyond them Current 93, Death In June?
No, Nurse With Wound, that’s about it. A lot of stuff with Nurse With Wound.

How about PIG?
What about them?

How much did you help them? I noticed they credited you with special thanks on Poke In the Eye.
Yeah, that’s because he [Raymond Watts] ripped me off so badly – he felt so guilty about it he put me down. I produced the single. Since then, I think it’s horrible. I’ve worked with him on a few tracks of the Steroid Maximus LP. I think that’s the best stuff he’s worked on.


What particular musicians or bands influenced you at the start?
Well, I try and be distanced from influences as possible. But I guess earlier on I was kind of more influenced by people like John Cage and Stockhausen and people like that, in terms of ideas, then applying that to my own visions, but nothing directly musical. But now I’m just influenced by my own work.

You use a lot of obscure writers, like taking Wiseblood as a title. What type of education did you have in English and literature?
Well I was pretty well read when I was a youngster, but then I stopped reading for several years, and now read pretty much exclusively non-fiction stuff.

What type of subjects do you read about?

Crime, like mass-murder, or…?
Uh no. The gamut of stuff, organized crime to serial killers, you know. I read anything that strikes my fancy.

Do you do most of the art for your albums?
Yeah, I do it all on the Foetus things.

You use a lot of politcal or propaganda art. What type of political poster do you like more?
My work has kind of evolved. It’s a series and it’s like the next sleeve will pretty much build upon the previous one and so to create a series effect, and it’s kind of evolved from the neo-constructivists. I used to juxtapose Chinese, Nazi, and Communist imagery all in one. And that has slowly evolved into pure design – graphic design which has been influenced by some supermarket products and so on, and then I’ve started to bring in Japanese characters because I like the purity of the actual characters – [they] have a purity in them and exist with a beauty of design unto themselves, and a strength. And I think they’ve got a mystery as well, because I really don’t know what they say, but I get them translated, so they actually say something, but I like the feel that generates.

You use a Japanese comic style on Sink and Butterfly Potion. Have you been looking at a lot of Japanese comic art lately?
Well, for some years I’ve been interested in them and the way they use graphic dynamics, the strength of line and so on.

Are there any particular stories or comics that you really like?
I think my favorite is Pro Golf R U, which is a golfer who golfs for good, not evil.

What type of equipment did you use on your really early albums like Deaf and Ache?
Um, using a lot of live stuff, a lot of live percussion, metal, pianos, prepared pianos, MS 20’s, various synthesizers, tape manipulations, tape loops, whatever would make a good sound, anything from a vacuum cleaner to a saxaphone – anything.

Is there any reason you are now working with a band instead of backing tapes?
Well the band, you know, in a live situation I work exclusively just with the band now. But I’ve taken that as far as I’ve ever wanted to take it. It’s just more stimulating, to me, to reinterpret the material, and in a band situation there’s a lot more power that way and alternatively, hopefully a different experience.

I’ve always been interested in your political beliefs in general. I’ve noticed you’ve tended to use a lot of Nazi-type stuff, at least as background on Hole, which is the album I’m most fond of.
It wasn’t really reflecting any political beliefs. It’s just reflecting strength in graphics.

Well “the 1st of September”…?
That’s more of a euphemism for a relationship. I’m more interested in personal politics.


You sing a lot about violence and sexism. Is that more of a stage persona or a record persona or does it ever encroach into your real life?
I write what I feel. What I feel like writing about, I guess that’s what comes out, it’s not exclusive, whatever I’m interested in. What comes out at the time. I think that side of my work is kind of over-emphasized.


What do you like about New York?
The intensity, the convenience, and it’s just a good place for me to be in right now.

Is that a really violent city, have you been attacked there?
Yeah, I have been. Yeah, just before I left there were a couple of bags of body parts found in the empty lot next door.

How did it affect you?
It freaked me out a bit. You know I’ve been living in ghettos for quite a few years, so it’s part of the territory.

Is there any reason ghettos attract you?
Uh, yeah. Because the rent is cheap.

Source: The Fifth Path magazine, Issue #1, Spring 1991, by Robert Ward.