In a little unusual turn of events, instead of one of the house Global Music Club members conducting this interview and, in keeping with his unusual way of approaching music projects, this time I handed over the mic to Ed Shorrock to run proceedings…. You got this, Ed!
Ed: Thanks, Crow. Today I’ve been given the opportunity to shed some light on a project which has been a few years in the making. Following a trip to Germany where I met Mike York (Garden of Delight, KALT, Sweet Ermengarde) and, in a chance encounter, Gonzo (Love Like Blood’s first singer…Johannesburg and a few other classic tracks), I’ve kept in contact with both of them and become good friends – trips to Leipzig for gigs, late nights on the tiles in Düsseldorf, road trips, that kind of stuff….
But it was a year or so ago when Gonzo dropped the bombshell that he had been working with Mike on “a few tunes” and sent me some tracks which had me playing them on repeat. Ahead of the official release of some solo tracks by Mike and the fruits of the collaboration between the two, the guys suggested it mightn’t be a bad idea if I asked them a few questions to give some colour to their joint venture, so here goes…
Ed: Mike, Gonzo, thanks for taking the time out to speak. I suppose the first question has to be: Can you tell us something about the release?
Mike: The release is a classic split EP. One side features four songs written by me and the other side is a joint venture featuring RËVEREND GONZ, the first singer of Love Like Blood. The track listing for our joint project is as follows:
· 'Decapitated' from England's Broken Bones in 1983
· 'One Millionth Happy Customer' from Cassandra Complex. Leeds, 1987
· 'Company of Justice' from English band Play Dead's final studio album in 1985
· 'Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely' by Husker Du included on their album Candy Apple Grey in 1986
In addition, and in a change from the past, for the first time I will not be publishing under the name KALT. KALT was originally conceived, back in the day, as a fully-fledged band with the first members being Jon (Garden of Delight/Merciful Nuns) and my brother Thym (Garden of Delight). However, due to changes which happen to pretty much every band, it quickly became a one-man show and so now I have decided to release it under my own name as MIKE YORK.
Gonzo: I have not done half as much as Mike has done over the years. It really is something if someone shows great creativity and commitment like that! (Laughs). I’m just thankful a friend like him has taken me under his wing and given me the opportunity to create some art together…dark art…
Ed: And how did it come about? Whose idea was it?
Mike: It was actually Gonzo who first came up with the idea and after he mentioned it to me the seed began to germinate in my mind. Sometimes it takes a left-field suggestion from someone to kick start a project and which now seems quite obvious. With respect to the ‘cover versions’ which feature Gonzo on the second side of the EP, I am not keen on doing them which replicate the exact original sound. They had to be different and reflect my own edits and interpretations so that they had my and Gonzo’s imprint. A pure replay was out of the question for me.
Also, as a musician you have to be 100% connected to the songs otherwise you cannot impart passion and drive. The process was quite simple - we compared notes about our favourite tracks which had shaped us in our early years. As with many musicians who become friends and co-conspirators in the murky world of music we discovered that we had experienced a very similar "music socialisation" in our youth. In short, punk and post-punk shaped our young years and that is why those four tracks appear in the way that they do.
Gonzo: Yep - I was the one who triggered it. I have been wanting to pay homage to a certain song for more than 30 years now simply because it means so much to me and has been ever-present for a whole lifetime, turning me into the person I have become. When I approached Mike with my thoughts and ideas I was very happy that he immediately shared my enthusiasm!
To me "punk rock" is a mighty magic phrase and it was THE liberation, which I longed for. That said, and for very good reason, I am also very interested in newer acts and sounds – we must pay respect to the past but look to the future. Punk rock was simply so influential in my formative years, both for Mike and me.
Ed: Gonzo, can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been up to musically since your LLB days and how you and Mike hooked up?
Gonzo: As many people know, I had to leave LLB to do my military service in the former Yugoslavia, otherwise I would have taken a much longer musical journey through time with my buddy Gunnar Eysel, but the "fates" wanted life to turn out differently for me. Immediately after the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, I returned to Germany and did not participate in anything musical. It just did not fit: Everything stands and falls in my eyes with the people who do it with you and dream with you and they weren’t a part of my existence at that time.
As an individual I never created anything by myself. On the contrary. I always need someone at my side to get something musical off the ground. In 2011 I was awakened abruptly from my hibernation: Gunnar and LLB asked me to join them for a series of exciting gigs, so I came back into these dark spheres (laughs).
While I said I had been musically inactive until 2011, there were a number of small, musically insignificant excursions with various projects that are not worth mentioning. That phase was also associated with huge financial losses and ‘human disappointments’, so I was on my way back to a permanent abstinence from music. Then it was a coincidence that Sweet Ermengarde was looking for a singer in 2015 and I was approached by the band. However, this collaboration did not work out because of the physical distance between me and the boys. In the end it turned out for the best and I'm very happy about how things panned out because in Daniel (Damour) they have an exceptional, inspiring singer who makes a wonderful addition to the band. I immediately struck up friendships with all the band members and they continue to this day. Although I didn’t sing full time, I was lucky enough to be able to participate in some gigs that will remain unforgettable for me, particularly the rendition of ‘Doomsday’ in Noel’s Ballroom in Leipzig in 2017….
On a personal level, Mike and I understood each other immediately, humanly and musically. We are united by a deep and close friendship that I would never want to lose...
Ed: Mike, Side A is an extension of your solo persona which kicked off with KALT in 2003. Why did you start and continue with a solo project when you have had such success with bands such as Garden of Delight and Sweet Ermengarde?
Mike: The drive to release my own songs came at a time when Artaud (Garden Of Delight) had increasingly taken the lead in song-writing. There was nothing wrong with that but I had my own destiny and creative urges to satisfy. I was writing my own songs all the time, but now I wanted to release them as well.
During my time with Sweet Ermengarde, I had a little more flexibility and downtime in which to focus on song-writing and I am grateful for that. That said, being in a band and working full time became too time consuming to give my own work the attention it deserved.
Now I want to work on my own material again!
Ed: The themes which continually re-appear in your work are very much on the darker feelings of life: pain, burdens, release, negative views of religion. What drives these and how does the music help you deal with these?
Mike: I cannot write happy songs! Happy music makes me feel sick. But when I hear dark music, it gives me a positive feeling! That's just the way it is ...
Ed: When you approach some of these classic tracks, what is the process of stripping them back and re-assembling them the way you have done?
Mike: For me, the biggest challenge of "rock songs" was the prospect of making "rock songs" again. That's something I've avoided so far. So the natural alternative was to go fishing in the same pond. That was the origin of our thinking in trying to interpret some classics from our past and re-inventing them in the guise of MIKE YORK + RËVEREND GONZ.
With the Hüsker Dü track, I knew from the beginning that we would have to go VERY slowly. Likewise with the Broken Bones number. The original songs are so fast that I quickly realised that one should have a nasty, tough and slow, almost chunky feel and the other, at most, should be a classic mid-tempo goth rock number.
In one of those odd twists which seem to happen when composing or interpreting pre-existing music, I discovered the approach for the Play Dead track when I noticed the similarity to Indian drums at the beginning of the song. So then my thinking led me on to “Why not weave some kind of "desert rock"?!” into it and that’s how that particular sound came about. There is no magic formula to musical creativity (despite what the pop industry says, at least nothing that is half-way decent) – it sometimes “just happens” when a spark leads to a fire…..
The final song from Cassandra Complex (One Millionth Happy Customer) is not as far removed from the original. From a Motörhead-orientated bass the track leads in to a mixture of classic goth rock and powerful metal riffing.
I guess you’ll just have to listen to the originals and our versions to hear what I mean!
Gonzo: I really cannot add much to that. It was exciting for me to see Mike quietly and professionally take the songs apart and put them together into something touching. I had a clear idea in advance how I wanted to sing, but it was SO downright frightening and inspiring for me all at the same time.
Ed: Mike, you’ve very publicly said in the past that as a one-man project KALT would never play any live shows. Is that going to be the case with this project as we’ve seen that Gonzo has made some public appearances with some of his former bandmates and friends? I’m sure there would be some willing contributors to guest on bass and drums…..
Mike: The reality of the situation is that we don’t live in the same area in Germany and the distances involved make live shows more problematic to co-ordinate. That said, I don’t want to say never as there are plenty of bands who do operate like that. However, there are no plans and we are both aware that commitments to live performances are time-consuming.
Gonzo: Right from the outset we agreed that live performances will probably not happen. There is, of course, a tiny idea in my mind and in my heart of what it would be like to perform live. But no... it is not feasible, certainly not at the moment. We both have commitments in our daily lives and the investment in time to make a live performance successful is too great at this stage - above all there is the distance between Düsseldorf and Bremen, where I live.
The basic concept which underpins everything is that you have to act spontaneously, have three or twelve drinks, debate, discuss, talk nonsense and, above all, look each other in the eyes and the thoughts of your partner and friend to read their minds. That cannot be replaced by anything... emails, social media and the rest of the electronic world cannot replace human contact and socialisation.
Ed: On what formats is the release and, more importantly, where will people be able to get a copy?
Mike: There will be a very limited edition of 100 vinyl and 50 cassette tapes available on Bandcamp. Also, given the modern age we live in, there will be downloads available. CDs no longer have any appeal to us – it’s either old school formats or downloads.
The records and tapes (as well as older KALT releases) are available on a new website and, as I have mentioned, on a Bandcamp site. The sites are now active and hopefully this interview will generate some interest in it! The sites can be found here:
Mike: We have just finished the pre-sale, orders for which have started shipping, and the official release date is 14 November 2019.
Ed: Thanks for the insights guys. I have no doubt this release is going to make an impact. They certainly have on me and I look forward to catching up again soon on the road!