By: The Floydian Device
"I been drinking, but drinking doesn't make me. . . . feel allright." - Have Not Been The Same (SLOW)
Punk Globe: Tom, thanks for doing this interview. Let's go back a few years…Your earliest band SLOW is known as the 'Band That Killed Expo' with their infamous performance at the World Fair in 1986. With the Olympics coming to Vancouver in less than a year, any thoughts of reforming and seeing what kind of trouble you can cause?
T.A.: No, I just want to see some figure skating.
Punk Globe: The stories have become legend about what actually happened when SLOW played on Expo's opening night: The band was out of their minds on Everclear; throwing boards at the audience; some band members exposing themselves on stage; organizers cancelling the festival in the middle of your set - leading to a riot and shutting down the city's television news broadcasts for the night. Is this the way you envisioned spending your 18th birthday?
T.A.: A lot of bands weren't playing Expo because of the evictions on the downtown eastside etc. We felt we could do more harm playing, considering that they were stupid enough to ask us. I recall the description from the Expo guide said " Young band, brilliantly out of control."
Punk Globe: What kind of stuff were you and your band (Christian Thor Valdson, Ziggy Sigmund, Stephen Hamm, and Terry Russell) listening to growing up that morphed into the sound of SLOW?
T.A.: Well, we were very interested in hard rock and heavy metal. A lot of punk bands had been playing sort of camp versions of metal songs. East Van Halen were a big favourite. As a little kid I loved Kiss a lot. That didn't change after I got into punk and new wave. When I was 12 I got into all the local bands. The Modernettes, especially. DOA, Pointed Sticks. There was so much going on at that time. Vancouver had such a vibrant scene. I attribute this largely to cheap warehouse space and welfare. Everyone I knew was on welfare. The greatest arts funding Canada ever had. Totally inclusive. Because there were no juries of peers to decide whether you would get funding- just the worker.
Punk Globe: People still talk about the band's live shows 20 years later; tours described as 'leaving a wake of destruction across the Pacific Northwest'. What was the initial reaction to the band when you began playing live? Was there a different response from your hometown crowd in Vancouver and playing across the border in places like Seattle?
T.A.: I just remember a few big gigs and a lot of empty ones- the story of my life. I remember when we brought the Slow single to CITR they said it wouldn't fit into their format because it sounded like Goddo. (Actually we felt that was a compliment). Everyone remembers being there, but I don't remember seeing most of them.
Punk Globe: When the Seattle scene exploded in the early '90s, many of the bands were guys in their 20s and 30s that seemed to be trying to emulate what SLOW had done as teenagers in Vancouver in the mid-eighties. By that point, you had already moved in a very different direction musically. Did you feel a bit like the New York Dolls in paving a road with something so new and raw, disbanding, and then seeing what you had done copied and exploited by so many other bands?
T.A.: I think Slow did have an influence on the Seattle scene, through Green River and some other bands. But if I start taking credit for that shit then I have to take part of the blame for the current rock sound.
Punk Globe: Was there any thought of reforming SLOW in the early '90s to try to take advantage of this exploding scene?
Punk Globe: CJXF Radio listed SLOW's 'Have Not Been The Same' as the #10 song on the Top 100 Canadian Singles of All Time (between Rush's 'Tom Sawyer' and Neil Young's 'Cinnamon Girl' -ed.). John Marshall from MuchMusic called the song: "The most reckless, rocking, growling rage tune by Canada's self-destructing secret weapon band." The name of that song has also been used as the title for the first comprehensive history of rock music in Canada: "Have Not Been The Same: The CanRock Renaissance, 1985 - 1995". Has it ever really sunk in just how much influence your young and short-lived band had on the scene first here in Vancouver, then across Canada and the U.S.?
T.A.: I really never think about it.
"Caught in a web of non-design." - Dust (CIRCLE C)
Punk Globe: After SLOW, You formed the band CIRCLE C (later named COPYRIGHT) that moved in a lot of different directions over a decade and 3 albums. The first album has been called a 'masterpiece of paranoia and angst'. The songs were experimental; many acoustic based; and with a much more produced, clean sound than SLOW. 'Mission' and 'Odette' sound like Radiohead on morphine. 'Dust' was one of the most innovative pop songs to come out that year. You formed CIRCLE C with your writing partner from SLOW (the great Christian Thor Valdson). What led you both to move in such a different direction from your earlier band?
T.A.: I just wanted to do something new. I always try to push ahead, do what I think is good. Mainly to keep interested. I just do what interests me. Every time I try to please anyone else it never works anyway.
Punk Globe: How was the experience recording in Wales? Were you happy with the finished results?
T.A.: The experience was difficult. Rockfield was a perfect place to record the record. We had been living in Salt Spring getting away from dope. A lot of the more pastoral material was written there. I'm proud of the record. I think it is a pretty great lost album. Some of it sounds a little baroque and overcomplicated to me now. But the high points are pretty up there.
Punk Globe: How did such a great album ultimately end up losing support at the record company?
T.A.: I think some of it was the record being more experimental than they had been expecting. The name didn't help. Wanting to use the copyright symbol as our name. A lot of it was drugs. My inability to handle dealing with the people at the label. Also, fear. Mostly fear of having my work ruined. We knew we were one of the best bands in the world. What we didn't know was that didn't matter. They buried the record because we looked like a liability and pissed off the wrong people. Nirvana Nevermind came out the same week as Circle C. That didn't help.
Punk Globe: What were you doing creatively in the years between CIRCLE C and your next release 'Love Story' for BMG in 1997
T.A.: Getting clean and making that record. We made Love Story in our warehouse studio on Hastings in Vancouver. Spent a long time. I also had hepatitis and was exhausted all the time. It was a little hard. No record deal, no money, and the hepatitis was a drag. This was in the grand old days of the music business still. So we made the record and started shopping it. And it took a long time to get a release. But we never really stopped working, just "toiling in obscurity" as Pete Bourne says.
"When the devil appeared, I locked him in a box, sure if it opened that he would eat me up." - Transfiguration (Copyright)
Punk Globe: The album 'Love Story' sounds like you had temporarily locked the devil in the box. There were pieces that sounded like Lou Reed singing over the chiming guitars of U2; echoes of 'The Smiths' in many songs. 'Transfiguration' was a dreamy, sonic trip that followed no standard rules of song structure; and the song 'Radio' had a break in the middle that would have been right at home on The Beatles 'Abbey Road'. If SLOW was the house flying through the air in black and white, COPYRIGHT now sounded like the band had taken a massive dose of Valium and woken up in the Land of Oz. What kind of stuff was influencing you at the time?
T.A.: A lot of pop music , Serge Gainsbourg, The Beatles, Lou Reed. . Always been a real favourite. And, you know, so much pop music. I always loved real syrupy pop.
Of course a lot of it is being in a band. People are into different things. I believed in the band, the chemistry, but Christian and I didn't always like the same music. Sometimes the differences worked and sometimes not.
Punk Globe: When touring this album, how did a Green Day audience react to the opening chords of 'Transfiguration'?
T.A.: We were on the radio at the time, so it went ok, Most people accept what is familiar. That's how you get the battered wife syndrome.
Punk Globe: I first saw COPYRIGHT in Vancouver in '97 at an outdoor festival put on by MusicWest. COPYRIGHT was playing in the middle of the afternoon; these soaring echoes of guitar in the air; a voice like Bowie singing over top. When I walked in, the first thing I saw was you at the front of the stage, spitting on what looked like a pack of Iron Maiden fans. Even at a point where you were putting out your most melodic, life-affirming music, there still seemed to be an ongoing undercurrent of anger and dissatisfaction. . . Would this be a correct assumption, or was it just a bad afternoon?
T.A.: I hate playing that corporate shit. Unfortunately that is more and more how music is monetized. TV show and advertisement placements become the main revenue. I try and imagine The Clash doing a Microsoft ad 30 years ago. Who knows, if there was no other way to make a living maybe they would have.
Punk Globe: Through all your different transformations, COPYRIGHT has been a band able to mix something primal and aggressive with elements that were also soaring and melodic. Few bands have been able to do that formula well. Were you and your writing partner (Thorvaldson) both adept at different styles; or was one of you more 'art-house' style, and the other the more 'heavy' influence?
T.A.: Chris and I both have a pretty wide love of music. I wouldn't say the influences were divided so neatly.
"You've got to get on my level, In the hidden world, All you young daredevils, All you boys and girls" - The Hidden World (COPYRIGHT)
Punk Globe: After the release of 'Love Story' in '97, you were quoted as saying: "Rock music is traditionally a very rebellious, immature form, but it doesn't always have to focus on darkness. That's just a very young state of mind, and you can grow out of it - and if you want to live, you have to." 'Love Story' didn't focus on the darkness as much as your previous work had. It was a much more hopeful album lyrically and musically than anything you had ever done. But with the release of the next album, 'The Hidden World' in 2001, you came out with a stark chronicling of the dark side of life and everything gone wrong in the world: The allure of drugs, power, and fame; addiction; violence; characters who hated their lives but saw no way out. . The dark lyrical subject matter was equally matched by the music. This was a band that had fully merged the anger and aggression of SLOW with the melodic and sonic capabilities of COPYRIGHT. What happened between 1997 and 2001 that caused such a huge shift in the sound of the music and what you were writing about? Was this record autobiographical of what the band was going through at the time?
T.A.: The record was definitely born out of working for so long on East Hastings. Our studio was right in the thick of it. I have always tried to be real and write about where I am. So many Canadian artists sound like weak imitations of other slightly less derivative American bands. And when I think Vancouver I think port town. Smack, Aids, whores, crack, dead girls, rain. Also, Nature capital N.
Punk Globe: 'The Hidden World' was co-produced by Dave "Rave" Ogilvie (David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails) who was adept at bringing out the dark power of a band who were already pushing the boundaries. How much influence did his presence have over the way the songs were turning out?
T.A.: Rave gets great sounds and is very open in the creative process. He is a real talent, but the songs were pretty fleshed out by the time we hit the studio.
Punk Globe: The first half of 'The Hidden World' was all about the allure and power of the dark side. The second half - more about the trip downward after there is no more strength left to fight. Was there a conscious effort to create this kind of arc on the album?
T.A.: The first half of that album was pretty ruined by being on a Canadian content oriented label. Our A&R seemed pretty determined to make sure no one went home happy. They starved us out, tried to control the process to get their modern rock for the Bear or the Fox or the Moose or whatever. The first half of the album was really strong before this idiot with no real concept of music started tampering with it.
I remember our man at the label hated the song I'm No Saint so much. I remember him asking me how a kid in Sudbury could relate to that song. As if I cared. I think with a different handling, that song could have been a hit of sorts. Like in an underground way. The lyrics of those 3 songs. Saint, Curbcrawler, and Juliet. I'm very proud of them. And the music. But, you know they made license plates for children's bicycles and beachballs as giveaways for promo. They said Rock Machine on them. I mean what is the point of even engaging at that point? What can you say to an infant that shits the bed?
The demo for the song The Hidden World has Niels from The Legendary Pink Dots playing saxophone and it was stellar, like something from Rubber Legs by the Stooges. Very ambient and alive sounding. Huge drums. But BMG said saxophone was too retro and rock radio wouldn't play it. That real small minded opinionated drivel is something I don't miss about being on a label. Everyone is scared to lose their job, wanting you to fall into line and start imitating some music you don't even like. The A&R at BMG Canada made the A&R from Geffen look like hands off. But, you know, with no real track record to back it up.
Punk Globe: How long did you tour with this record? And what was it that finally caused COPYRIGHT to go their separate ways?
T.A.: We toured for a couple years off and on. You know, losing money, playing to nobody. Opening for totally incongruous bands. I just couldn't do it anymore. I had lost interest.
Punk Globe: Songs like 'Death of a Curb Crawler' and 'Juliet' (coming near the end of 'The Hidden World') were more theatrical in nature than a lot of your music; and maybe a bit of a foreshadowing of what was to come in the next few years with your most recent project MIRROR. When you were finished recording 'The Hidden World', did you already have an idea that eventually you would be moving in this new direction?
T.A.: Well, they were pretty theatrical, but also very expressive, which the MIRROR album is really not. But, yes, Laure-Elaine sings on Death of a Curb Crawler and they are more character driven.
Punk Globe: After spending time in Berlin, you moved to Los Angeles where you got down to work on MIRROR over the next 2 years. Had you already formed a pretty strong idea of where this project was going by the time you got to L.A.?
T.A.: I love Berlin and had spent some time there before the wall came down. I am not so sure I love it as much now. I am a really nostalgic person. Berlin before the wall, New York before Giuliani etc. And it's the same with Los Angeles. I love to look for traces of old Hollywood. There isn't much left, now, but I look. Joe Dallesandro's building is pretty evocative of that era. Old Spanish villas in the back of a crazy run down apartment building. This old actress lounging around the lobby half naked, you can tell she was a real stunner.
So this escapism into the past was what I wanted to capture.
"We were running to the future, when we fell into the past." - Nostalgia (MIRROR)
Punk Globe: MIRROR has been described as using live and recorded media to create a kind of 'psychosexual, post-modern cabaret'. What exactly does that mean?
T.A.: Well, the shows have been pretty slow moving and cerebral. And pretty sexualized, but not in a particularly real way.
Punk Globe: What was it like collaborating with producer Vincent Jones? Did he understand the concept of the project from the beginning?
T.A.: It was great. He is a tremendous musician as well as being a producer. He had a real feel for the aesthetic.
Punk Globe: In watching and listening to MIRROR, there is a feeling that any second, in the middle of something that sounds like it could have been a love song written 50 years ago, you're going to lean over and find an ear in the grass; or see a head rolling down a quiet street. David Lynch's nightmare world (and the way he uses music in his films) seems to have been a big inspiration for this project. What was it that first turned you on to Lynch? And how have his works inspired what you've done with MIRROR?
T.A.: The main thing about Lynch that inspired MIRROR was the way he used Badalamenti's music.
Punk Globe: In Lynch movies, there is often a sense that he has strung together a series of his nightmares without knowing exactly how they connect, and trusting that the universe will connect them at some later time. Do you surprise yourself with your work? After you've finished a song or a film, do you sometime later wake up in the middle of the night and say: "That's what that was. ."?
T.A.: One great thing about Lynch is the level of trust he has in the unconscious and metaphysical aspects of art making. I think those "aha" moments usually occur when something hasn't been worked too hard. I am starting to believe that the level of trust and faith in the process is more important than all ones' hard work. This, of course, goes against what most of us are taught. 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Where the perspiration has been most important for me is in developing and keeping involved in the craft.
Punk Globe: In SLOW and COPYRIGHT, you were doing something new and outside the box, but in the familiar confines of a rock and roll band. With MIRROR, it sounds like you're trying to do something much more familiar, but always set in a very different context. It is a Roy Orbison song in the middle of a violent kidnapping; or a grotesque woman in the radiator singing like an angel. The songs have melodies you almost remember from your childhood, but can't quite put your finger on. And these lullaby-like songs become the soundtrack for films that shift from the innocent to the deeply disturbing. What kind of experience are you hoping people take away from MIRROR?
T.A.: I was fairly relentless in eliminating anything unfamiliar in the "written" part of the songs while fighting that with the production and sonic landscape. I wanted them to be kind of fighting themselves. Like the songs were old and fighting to be heard in a memory.
Punk Globe: The videos you've done for MIRROR (especially 'Nostalgia') are like slow-moving collages that tell a story with their associations and the emotions they bring up. On the 'Love Story' album from 1997, you had a series of your collages filled with dichotic images from future and past; innocence and evil; nature, media, and technology all melding together into this powerful, abstract story. Do you feel like technology has finally caught up with your imagination?
T.A.: Those are kind words. I do feel comfortable working in collage. It was really exciting and a little nerve racking using Dave Gahan's performance as an element in those video collages for Nostalgia. My brother and I shot all the elements. A lot of the backgrounds were shot by us in Poland. I wanted to reveal the subtext of the song through the video. Still, now the video has become kind of a shrine for Depeche Mode fans.
Punk Globe: Gahan gives a great performance on 'Nostalgia'; and in another song, 'City Lights', Joe Dallessandro (the cultural icon from the Warhol days) delivers a powerful monologue. How did these artists become involved with the project?
T.A.: Joe Dallesandro, I tracked down in Los Angeles. After a chat on the phone he invited me for a visit. We really got along and started working on some video improvisations. He is an incredible improviser. The monologue in City Lights was first on video and then we polished it together and recorded it. I can't tell you how much I love Joe Dallesandro. From the first moment I saw him in Trash, I think. It has been such a privilege to work with him. Vincent had worked with Dave a lot and just asked. I was very excited when he said yes. Dave Gahan is a very exceptional singer and I felt just his presence and history added an extra layer to Nostalgia.
Punk Globe: You also had the great Mike Garson playing piano. Among many other things, he played the most insane piano solo of all time on David Bowie's 'Aladdin Sane'. Bowie said about Garson that he 'naturally understands the movement and free thinking necessary to hurl himself into experimental and traditional areas of music at the same time.' It seems like a perfect fit for where you are going with MIRROR. How did your collaboration with Garson come about?
T.A.: Vincent Jones had met him somewhere and had his card. We just called him up and sent him the track. He liked it and agreed.
Punk Globe: Did you have a pretty good idea of what you wanted him to play; or was he given free reign to come up with whatever he imagined?
T.A.: I wanted him to play like Mike Garson. When I wrote the song I had him in mind. His playing on Time from Aladdin Sane was a reference.
Punk Globe: You had several other guest vocalists (Laure-Elaine, Frances Lawson, Ronan Boyle) singing on the project. How different was it for you writing material knowing that someone else would be performing the vocals?
T.A.: That was something that I had always wanted to explore. Especially writing for a female character. It's been rewarding, but also very time consuming. It's much easier for me to write through singing.
Punk Globe: What can people expect when they come to a MIRROR show?
T.A.: Screens, projectors, girls, melancholy music. Old fashioned theatre tricks.
Punk Globe: Any shows planned in the near future?
T.A.: Taking a bit of a break from the big multi-performer shows. I'm really inspired these days. I've been working on a new project with some of the key people from the musical side of the MIRROR show. Phil Western, Laure-Elaine. A lot more visceral than the MIRROR stuff. More expressive, less cerebral.
Punk Globe: Where is the MIRROR album available? And where can people find out more about the band?
Punk Globe: Thanks for doing the interview Tom. Any idea what's coming next?
T.A.: This new project. I think we're going to call it HELLO WORLD. lot's of modular synthesizers.
One of Anselmi's most recent projects has been taking over and transforming the historic Waldorf Hotel in Vancouver. As described on its' website: The Waldorf has turned into a creative hub in the heart of East Vancouver where contemporary art, music, food and culture convene under one roof. The programming for the space is both artistically expansive and thematically inclusive. The complex consists of thirty rooms, two restaurants (directed by Ernesto Gomez and executive chef Ned Bell), a Tiki bar (restored and retrofitted with a vintage analogue audiophile sound system), a hair salon (run by Barbarella Hair), a gift shop, a nightclub and a live music venue. In the works are a multi-media theater space and recording studio (tied to a residency program for visiting musicians). The Waldorf joins a new wave of Vancouver businesses that are conversing with the city, setting a benchmark for culture and hospitality.