Alain Neffe Interview
Alain Neffe Interview
A special interview with Alain Neffe, founder of the Insane Music Label from Belgium. This label was especially known for his own band, Bene Gesserit which he had started with his wife Nadine Bal. The Insane discography will be featured soon. It is quite long!
1. Where are you from originally Alain? And was their a music scene there?
Well, I was raised in an industrial suburb , close to Charleroi, Belgium, in an area that I call “the asshole of Belgium”, it was a noisy, dirty place, between coal mines and iron factories, a really polluted place…most of my friends were foreigners, maybe that it explains my phonetic fascination for languages…A music scene??? The drunk accordion players in those bars where workmen used to spend their salaries, maybe some Italian ballroom orchestras, that is all…
2. Did your family have any influence on your interest in music?
Yes, I guess… my father used to listen to jazz music and French songs, but he did not like rock and roll…but my mother had that 78rpm of Little Richard …and we all listened a lot to the radio…but I must admit that I had no real interest in music since I heard the 1st song of The Beatles…for me, it was a sort of revelation.(yes, I am THAT old !!)
3. Describe one of your first experiences with sound.
I used to hit on absolutely everything to enjoy the different sounds, I loved the sounds in water( putting my head in water and screaming at the same time) and (already) the sound of voices in big empty places ,mostly empty factories and churches.
4. How did you first meet Nadine Bal and how soon after did you start working together?
In January 1980, when she came to a Pseudo Code rehearsal …we began to record jingles for her radio show six months later, and finally, I convinced her to make some music together. Later, I convinced her to be my wife…
5. What kind of process was involved in song making in the early years?
Well, we improvised totally , on a 2 track machine, and we used to determinate the beginnings and the ends of the not-too bad parts, and give them some title…and find a strategy to make the project coherent.
6. What is your approach to lyric writing?
Only emotions force me to write lyrics, I can stay years being unable to write a text.. usually, I must feel unhappy ,desperate or angry to be able to dare to write a single line…I write mostly in French and sometimes in sloppy naïve English ,and often ask to foreign friends to adapt the result in their own language.
7. Do you remember where and when you bought your first musical instrument?
I was 16 or 17 and I bought a wooden flute, that I painted in psychedelic colors …I still own it…
8. How did you release your first piece of music? What was it?
…in 1980, the first Pseudo Code EP…oh no, I almost forgot, I had played synth and vocoder on the LP of “la maison du jardinier”, a bizarre jazz orchestra, it was in 1977, I think…
9. What is the story behind the various pseudonyms and band names?
The story ?? let us say that I had a lot to express, and those names were all corresponding to specific styles…and you don’ t know the names of my groups in the 70’s !!!
10. What inspired you to begin the Insane Music label?
I was fed up to be betrayed by those labels’ owners…the only guy on earth I trusted was myself (I still do !!).
11. How do you compare the image you think your music conveys with the response from the public?
Coherent…people who like my music are a little bit insane, or at least, musically insane…and indifferent to fashion, most of the time…they also seem to have a certain sense of humor, and a need for “human” contact…I received thousands of letters, and some (mostly the girls) told me real intimate things about their life, just like if we were close friends…believe me or not, some said that my music saved their life ,because they felt no more alone (mostly about Pseudo Code and Human Flesh)…but it was in the 80’s, the world was less absurd and “craziness” was not the norm…?
12. Tell me the story behind the track “Tonight” from a High Happy Cynical Cry of Joy?
Nothing particular…we improvised some music, and Nadine improvised some lyrics based upon the feelings she had at that moment, I added some little sounds and I mixed the whole stuff… usually, it was quickly done because I needed the open-reel tape to record other songs.
13. Where did you play live and was there ever a tour?
We played in Belgium, Germany, Norway, and a lot in Holland, we always refused to play in France…a tour?? Yes, a tour of 2 dates (!!!)…the problem was we both had a heavy day-job, in order to be artistically free (no commercial compromises, we did not need THAT money…), and not a lot of “free” time.
14. Tell me about your most memorable live performance. What happened?
It was in Den Haag, Holland, Pseudo Code volunteered to replace Front 242 (!!!), and the (extremely heavy) audience did not know it and came to see Front 242… nobody announced us…we played our 1st song, and the response was silence…for the second song, a rumour began to grow…we thought we’ d been thrown out of the stage by those savages, but gradually, we won their attention, and we got 3 encores…the funny thing was to see Nadine, in the audience, surrounded by cyberpunks who asked her the name of the band and the name of the singer, and shouting “Xavier!!!” while pogo dancing…the backstage was crowded, and they all asked us what kind of dope we were taking…the deceiving answer was “tea and tart “…There is also that concert in Norway, but maybe next time??
15. Other bands you love?
Tons…Urban Turban, AREA , Elisabeth Valletti, the early Pink Floyd (“the piper at the gate of dawn” is amazing), Epica, Robert Wyatt, Akiko Yano, An Pierlé, Phonoroid Phonoroid, Babes in Toyland, L7, Tuxedomoon, Daevid Allen ( Gong), Hawkwind, Peter Hammill, Popol Vuh, Amon Duul 2, Nick Cave ,Brigitte Fontaine, Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Dick Annegarn, Robyn Hytchcock, Roy Harper, Legendary Pink Dots, Tori Amos, The Mothers of Invention, Nico, P.F.M., Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, The Sex Pistols, the Stooges, Sapho, Arthur Brown, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance, Annette Peacock, Lolitas, Lady June, Terje Rypdal, I think I forget hundreds…but for me, the best ever record is the double LP “fly” by Yoko Ono…
16. Tell me about the essential differences in attitude between your current projects and back then when you started out. Are you still equally excited?
There are no essential differences, except that I try to record the music with more care…I also try to avoid the rhythm boxes, because everybody use them, I tend to record more acoustic music because electronic stuff is so easy to make nowadays.
Maybe I lost a little bit of excitement but I can yet be passionate when I find something new or unusual , I mean something that I was unable to do in the past…my dream would be to be able to sing, play acoustic guitar and harmonica at the same time, just like the Bob Dylan of the sixties…
17. Do you care about technology?
Yes and no…I mean no but yesalittlebit… I always used old second-hand technology (I just began to use a computer for music very recently) due to the lack of money…so I never handle brand new technical tricks.I find technology extremely boring , but it can help to get better results, so I try to learn the basic things and try to use them the best I can. If you focus too much on technology, you lose your creativity, your humanity…also, remember that “sergeant Pepper” was recorded on two 4-tracks and still sounds great…not to mention “satisfaction”, recorded on a single track and having the best sound I ever heard.
18. What do you envision for the next 5 years of your life?
Getting older, physically weaker, more angry, maybe get a gun or try to get enough energy to escape to a not-too-hot sunny island.
19. And aside from this what did you do today? What was the last thing you listened to?
I cleaned the bathroom, did the washing up, repaired a wooden box, looked at my second favourite tv series ( Stingers), mastered music for a cd project and listened to some extracts of the 4 cds I bought yesterday in a second-hand shop: Return of the Frog Queen by Jeremy Enigk, an all-written–in–japanese cd by Kim Gordon and a Japanese girl, Brand New Age by the UK Subs, and We’re All Frankies, a compilation tribute to Suicide.
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