Martin Bowes, electronic pioneer and Attrition vocalist discusses the band's latest release, Dante's Kitchen
. Interview by Joe del Tufo

The release of Dante's Kitchen ends a four year absence since the less accessible Jeopardy Maze. What such a long break?
Lots of reasons. We did release the remix album "The Hand That Feeds" in 2000 and toured more than ever before that year. It took it's toll on me personally- I ended up breaking up with my long term partner that year and went through a couple of difficult years as I found a new place, a new partner, and ended up battling in the courts over access to my two lovely children. Meanwhile we had a few re-issues and compilations out and I worked on the new album when I got a chance . I've made a lot of albums now, so I really didn’t feel a need to rush this one. I took my time, and tried some new things. Things have worked out pretty well now. The battle’s over for now and I'm here with this new album- I'm pleased.

How did Dante's Kitchen surprise you?
I was surprised with the new direction it has taken- the sound and the rhythmic elements have developed a lot. I don’t really plan when I begin an album- I'm happy to see what happens along the way. But I'm pleased with this one more than many.

What track on Dante's Kitchen are you proudest of and why?
Yes, this is always a difficult question. It depends on my mood. I think "Two Gods..." is an important track for me... I learned a lot from that one.

There is a very sinister element to the new disc, what kinds of things were you feeling when those songs were written?
Well, as I said, I’ve been through some dark times lately. Music is one of the things that has helped me get through most of my life and it didn't let me down. Like many of my albums- if you dig a little there is some humour in there. I couldn't survive without that either,

Still Life? is a lush, darkly gorgeous track. Tell us the story behind it.
Still Life? is me asking what is there for me now. After a turbulent period in my life I was looking for something I could live with, and I think I found it. The track has a lot of field recordings I made here in Coventry where I live: a local festival, a funfair, a thunderstorm, many of my surroundings mixed in with a combination of electronics and classical instrumentation. It is perhaps an abstract representation of me in amongst all this. Still Life? actually emerges from the preceding track called "Crash" which is simply the sound of my studio after a computer crash! But it's like that for a reason.

Attrition has been described as electronic,industrial, goth, alternative, modern classical and any number of other musical genres. How would you describe the music to someone who has never heard it before?
I really find this a constant dilemma. I hate all these categorizations- particularly the "goth" one that seems to have become something of a straight-jacket recently. Sometimes I will try "dark-industrial" on someone but then not everyone knows what this means either. Music seems to suffer from the art of putting things into little boxes a lot more than other arts. A shame...

Lyrically, what's going on in The Head Of Gabriel?
Good question! I will try to answer it. It's strange- I don't always know what I'm talking about when I write words, but I know when they are true. When I look back years later it's always obvious, but not always when I’m close to my art. I write from the subconscious as much as possible, and try to let that rise to the surface when I can."the head of gabriel" is about me, how I feel I am, how I feel I am perceived. "Give me Gabriel's head" could mean give me the mind or spirit of an angel, and it can mean I would like to see him dead. Or what he stands for… it's both of those things.

What was the impetus for Two Gods Are Better Than One?
I never know what starts a song as it will develops from an abstract concept. Lyrically it is a mix of ideas around the need for two: two as lovers, two as parents, two as gods perhaps. I certainly don't follow any particular one, and of course the title is my little joke as well.

Define wisdom.
Something we are all looking for.

Describe the genesis of an Attrition song. Do you match lines with beats? Describe the layering process of an Attrition track.
I tend to work on lots of abstract ideas at the same time- atmospheres, sounds, rhythms. I then gradually shape them up into more recognisable pieces of music by adding structure along the way, and at some point they gain more focus. They gain a "soul", if you will. At that point I have an idea of what they are trying to say to me and I can experiment with focusing on lyrics or melodies. Some tend to get discarded at this point. I eventually end up with about an album's worth of music. It's very much the birth of something new with songs- that crawling out of the creative depths, gaining a soul and then being born into the world. And that's the point where I let go- it's difficult to do that.

Apart from Dante's Kitchen, which Attrition release are you most proud of? Which track translate best live?
There are rather a lot now, So I'm going to change my mind a lot. It usually is a particular track that means a lot to me for what it represents- some time or event in my life. I don’t always judge my own music musically or technically- often it's emotionally. Most of my albums are like audio photo albums of my life. "Etude" was a special album as it was a diversion from my usual work- interpreting Attrition tunes in a classical form- so I can listen to this perhaps more easily than other albums. Live it’s usually the upbeat numbers, as I think the energy is important at a club. I try to keep the ambient tracks for listening to at home.

Describe your creative interaction with Julia Waller. Do you write the songs with her, or usually have her in mind as the songs come together? Tell us a bit about the history of your collaboration with Julia. When did you first meet, and how did you first realize that your voices would work so well together?
I first met Julia in 1979 in Coventry at a local gig- I can't even remember who it was! We got together and lived together for a while, and started Attrition in 1980. Even though we split up we always kept working together, on and off over the years. There is definitely an empathy between us creatively. We realised this pretty early on and it's still true today, even though she's not always around and doesn't ever perform live anymore. I write the songs myself and do have her in mind sometimes."a girl called harmony" is a good example as I had that tune she sings in my head and I sang the idea to her, albeit badly. She got the idea though! Often she will come up with her own ideas very quickly- I'm always amazed by that. It takes me a long time to work up ideas, and occasionally nothing comes, so then I tend to work with someone else. It's good I have that freedom.

I've heard your live music but have never experienced a live Attrition show myself- do you usually have visual accompaniment? How much rehearsal is necessary to interpret these tracks?
We recently did a lot of rehearsal to work in the new album tracks into our set. After 20 years I have got a rough idea of what I need to do so I can work quickly myself. I bring in other people for the live show- simon stansfirld is playing synths live as I can't do it all myself. Our sound engineer has a creative input too with loops and effects. Visually we have worked with slides and films occasionally and usually have our own "hand" logo backdrops which claim the stage for us. When I put the two hands up I realised how powerful an image it is... you can see it used in churches and you can use them to surrender if you will.

What effect has the Internet had on Attrition?
It's had a massive effect. I've been able to do so much promotion and organising tours and even creative work through the Internet. I remember in the 80's when I had to write letters to everyone and couldn't afford to call Germany or wherever to organise a tour. It's been good for the arts a whole. There's still as much work to do as ever, but it can be more effective now.

When all is said and done, how would you like Attrition to be remembered?
i don't think you will be singing any of my songs. Perhaps you will remember something that I said and it will make a difference.

Tell us a little about some of your collaborations outside of Attrition. You have your own studio called The Cage. Who else has recorded there?
Most of my time I spend writing and recording Attrition and I've rarely had other bands actually in the studio physically. But I've done a lot of remix work for people like Die Form, The Damage Manual, In the Nursery, Black Tape... lots of people. And also some production and mastering work, more than I have time for sometimes. But I like working on other material, I can learn from it myself so it's always interesting...probably as I'm not a musician in a traditional sense my way of collaborating is like this...

How was your experience with Projekt Records.
Really really good. Sam did a lot for us. He re-issued most of our back catalogue on CD in the states and got us over for our first US tours in the mid 90's. He made a difference and I'll always thank him for that. That reminds me I need to finish the Black tape remix I started recently! Times change, the independent world doesn't have so much money floating around and Projekt had to cut back a little. I thought I'd try Invisible Records for a different musical angle, and so far that's working too.

Do you care to comment on the US election and the current state of American policy.
Well....I don't know...I'm not sure if that independence thing was really such a good idea :)

Who else do you think are creating exciting music at the moment? Is there anyone out there with whom you would like to collaborate.
I love a lot of music. Recently I've been out buying more CD's than I have in a long time, as much old as new stuff. There is a lot of great music around. For new innovative music I love aphex twin, autechre and a lot of the Warp acts. They are carrying on what experimental electronic bands were doing 20 years ago. I don't really think about collaborating with people. If I do it's usually by remixing. I spend too much time on my own projects, but we'll see.

If you could go back twenty years and give yourself advice, what would it be?
Music. Business. That's two words. Live the first one but don't forget the second. Oh, and there's more to life than music!

If you had to choose one, would you prefer your music to be critically acclaimed, loved by the masses, or influential?
I've been the first and a little of the third so perhaps I'd like to try the second one for a while and see how it is :)

Will there be a US tour in support of Dante's Kitchen?
Yes! Starting in November, we will be in the US for a month long tour as part of an Invisible Records/ Underground, inc. package with Sheep on Drugs, Bozo Porno Circus and maybe even Pigface...

A few quick ones:

1. Most prized Possession. My Korg MS20- my treasure.

2. Best book you've read recently. I don't read anything anymore. I know that is stupid

3. Favorite word. This week it is "Veganesque"...don't ask.

4. Best band we've never heard in the US. The Velvet Underground… oh, I don't know!

5. One word to describe you. Stubborn.

6. Greatest Fear. Closing time!

read the Studio M review of Attrition's Dante's Kitchen

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