1995 NME Interview JG Thirlwell


Foetus out the door! All round nice guy and sex expert Jim Thirlwell will spare no energies in giving you his latest shot CLINT RUIN! Doing the decent thing WILLIAM LEITH. Down to earth profile DEREK RIDGERS.

“I LIKE THE BAD THINGS IN LIFE. The other day I was in someone’s car and they were playing this music that was so bad. I hated it. Everything about it disgusted me, but I loved listening to it because I knew why it was so bad. I enjoy hating it, but I hate myself for enjoying it…” There’s a savage little twist of wilful perversity which lies at the heart of the foetal scheme of things. Perversity is what Clint Ruin has instead of a good singing Voice or a nice face, and he uses it to explain everything. It’s his main asset and his escape clause. He looks at me and lights another cigarette. Unless I tell you otherwise he’s always lighting another cigarette. “Sometimes,” he tells me. “I’m so full of horrible things I need something to purify me”.

SO YOU WANT PURITY? Well, purity costs. And right here’s where you start paying for it – in filth. And filth costs too, you know, only this time your currencies are shame and degradation. And so on, into the mire. To anyone in search of good clean insurrection and a cathartic jolt, this bit of wisdom – the filth factor- should be enough to make them gag on their nutburger and all over their copy of Socialist Worker. To Clint Ruin, on the other hand, the first whiff of ordure is where the fun really begins.

THIS IS THE STORY OF a quiet Australian kid called Jim Thirlwell who stayed in his bedroom all the time, reading sci-fi and Sartre and cultivating his adolescent Existentialist phase, much like any other skinny shy-boy with a grain of intelligence. He was meticulously antisocial and hardly urbane, growing up on the outskirts of Melbourne, the most suburban city in the world.

“I’ve put myself through a deprogramming process so I’ve blocked out most of my childhood, but I remember as I grew up I felt like I didn’t want to be where I was. I was always pretty miserable which I didn’t really even know until I’d had something to compare it to.” Thirlwell went to, and of course subsequently dropped out of, Art School (I asked him what he did and he said it was stuff like his album sleeves – sick stuff), got bored with Australia and decided to come to London for some cultural stimulus and a bit of bumming around. He should have known that the best way to find out about a country is to look at its TV ratings-list, but he made the mistake of going on reputation. “England is just like Coronation Street. It’s so mundane and it constantly addresses itself to the mundane. People in these petty, hideous situations (gets animated, twitches a bit) boring, stupid people in the most horrible of surroundings … in England, everybody’s stultified, held back from aspiring out of their situation.” It’s the old class thing again. Ruin hated England because of the distances between people and the nastiness of its curtain twitching mentality, but it did give rise to some of his most disquietingly brilliant work: the wounded charge towards self-sacrifice that was Ache and the wider-scope crush of diseased humour and sculpted sonic weaponry, the catchier Hole. Hole, he tells me, “sounds like a pop album when I listen to it now”. He’s moved on a bit since then.

He tells me about living in New York, and about his new album, Nail. He’s moved to a much sicker, more cash-gloating and crime ridden society and it feels good. From Coronation Street to Lives Of The Rich And Famous. Just look at how much more cash they flash about on the game-shows. “New York is the other extreme from the complete banality of England. Conspicuous money, conspicuous poverty, vile serial killings, which is good – sick as well, but good. The class structure’s much more blurred, and much more to do with money, which you can see from a distance, so everything seems much more honest. There’s more stimulus, less oppression, more choice, more contrast, more opportunity. The constant onslaught of stimuli can drive you slightly insane. “Musically, I’ve been interested in creating something huge, great big slabs and chunks of sound. As always. I’ve drawn from a lot of different sources but this time I’ve filtered them through so that it really sounds like a part of me. I’m so close to this record – it’s like I’ve cut off a leg and put it in the record stamper. I think it’s an effort to articulate myself and make an aural equivalent of myself which has been successful. It’s . . .the record I’ve always wanted to make. It’s really all about me (he’s off again) all about what I am interested in. It sounds great. Actually, it sounds unpleasant, vaguely obscene, all the more discomforting because it’s a dog’s dinner of all sorts of things you know and love jammed and twisted together, tastily and without tact or grace. It is everything you ever wanted from a Foetus album, and a little bit more because where as in the past records sounded like things – societies, religions, relationships falling apart, now it sounds like they are being torn apart. Mass, mass-murder, masturbation – in this punitive collage, they’re all worth a cackle or two. This is a progression from merely shouting “Crucifixion is my addiction” on a record to naming the whole thing after the crucifix’s point of agony. Like Motorslug or the film Blood Simple, it gives you a sense of tangible alienation, the feeling that familiar objects and situations are convulsing with horror. Nail is actually pop music in the middle stages of AIDS. The immune system has been knocked out and all sorts of raging virulence is flourishing in there. There’s one that’s brought on some kind of hormonal shakeup so that the timing gets put out of whack, one that’s causing stabbing abdominal pains, one that gives you the traditional rush of vitality the moment before you croak. “I’m the one,” snickers Clint Ruin, “who gave the sandwich to Mama Cass”. And, in a slightly more humorous mode, “Glory glory hallelujah You’ll get what’s coming to ya – a stake right through your HEART”. “There’s a thread, a theme of oppression running through this album. I’ve tried to itemise it from various viewpoints – the oppression one imposes on oneself, the oppression that can exist in your environment, like “Enter The Exterminator”, which is about a concentration camp, and “Pigswill”, which is about a series of child murders. That song evolved out of my travels up and down the West Coast, which I hated. Actually, I don’t know if I hated LA or it hated me. Anyway, it started off being and then I tried to apply it to these notorious lovers who travelled up and down the coast picking up young hitch-hikers and fucking them and killing them. “I’d like to die having killed someone. I think I’m too moral to take it that far, but I think it would be interesting. You can’t alter someone’s life much more than that, can you?”

“THINK TOO MUCH?” I have just suggested that Ruin’s essential difficulty is that he agonises too much over things. He looks worried, but then I can’t remember a time this afternoon when he didn’t look worried. “Sometimes, yes, I feel my overthinking about things takes away a lot of the enjoyment,”‘ he laughs. “It worries me even more when I think I’m being analytical about being analytical. No, I do worry a lot – about everything, absolutely everything. What makes it really difficult is the fact that I worry so far in advance. I mean … what, specifically? Particular things? You know, leaving the house on and so on. I’m a little bit agrophobic. No, of course not the end of the world. That’s the last thing I worry about.” It will be.

WE PUSH THE Conversation a bit deeper, probing areas like sanctity and guilt. To me the terse psychodramas of Ruin’s songs conceal a deep respect for organised religion, chastity and so forth, but I’m not saying so, not yet. Perhaps not at all.

It’s difficult to tell how far Christianity has pushed its dubious ideas about sex and virtue into the foetal mind, but there wouldn’t be much point in perpetrating extreme acts of blasphemy if you weren’t trying to purge something from yourself. “Sometimes I feel guilty about nothing, and then I feel guilty about looking guilty, and then I feel guilty about trying not to look guilty I cringe at the site of uniforms sweat pours down my legs. Fear and guilt are the two most destructive emotions and these are the ones I try hardest to suppress. I mean, I have absolutely nothing to be guilty about. I stand by everything I do or say.” Soon enough, though, he’s being flippant, back to the old perversity. He tells the story of his last appearance on the Tube. “Muriel Grey said to me, you’re tearing down religion, what about Feminism? I said basically Muriel, a woman’s place is on my face. That to me, is hilarious. That’s the type of humour I really appreciate – one that attacks everything. My view on feminism is that I’m a feminist but I don’t come across as one. It’s an extremely volatile situation one where you can elicit an extreme reaction so I guess I just take advantage of it. “A lot of the time I’m speaking from a character point of view though, which doesn’t mean I’m condoning what I’m saying. I mean, it’s just as likely that I’m taking the opposite stance.” But you enjoy playing the parts? “I do purge certain parts of my personality which don’t get a chance to externalise themselves, so I’ll take on roles, like Hitler and Stalin in “I’ll Meet You In Poland, Baby”, but here I go to great lengths not to get mixed up in the politics, not to say anything pro- or anti-Nazi. By distancing myself, I can portray the full horrors.”

HE IS NOT QUITE THE horseman of the Apocalypse that I’d got from the records, and nor is he the obsessive Wasp Factory schoolboy type that I’d I’d worried about. In fact, there’s a lot of Tom Wolfe Me Generation in what he says, and a lot of ’80s New Paranoid self-improvement in there, too. He talks a lot about getting better at things. “Ever since I started putting out records, it’s been a learning process the whole time. I have an unquenchable thirst for studio knowledge, which is part of my self-improvement programme. It’s a constant evolution. I’m aspiring to be a great . . . Clint Ruin. I want to be a person that I think is great.” What about Rambo, Clint?

“Love it.”

Source: NME Magazine, 21 Sep 1985, William Leith.

Thanks to Gazzaleano for transcription and images.