Interview with Stephen Coates (The Real Tuesday Weld, english version)
Stephen Coates (The Real Tuesday Weld)
(Interview by Nicolas Ragonneau for Paris Djs, january 2012)
Stephen Coates is a man of many masks, illusions and smoke-and-mirrors. Under his weird female pseudonym The Real Tuesday Weld he’s released impossible-to-classify records since the end of the Twentieth Century. I, Lucifer (2004), The London Book Of the Dead (2007) and The End of The World (2008) were major achievements. Stephen's baroque and romantic world is tinged with bittersweet melancholy. London is its sole setting, and the Clerkenwell Kid (one of his other aliases) a recurring character. Long before the electro-swing fashion, blending early jazz, cabaret, easy-listening and electro, he invented a genre of his own called ‘antique beat’. His new album Songs for The Last Werewolf (Crammed Records/Europe, Six Degrees Records/USA) is released on Tuesday (coincidence?) 16th of January and it’s the OST of the eponymous - and critically acclaimed - book by Glen Duncan (The Last Werewolf, Canongate Books, 2011). His side-project, the psychedelic garage-blues band Lazarus and The Crash Plane (read the review here), has also released its first record on his Antique Beat label. Stephen talks about the beginning of The Real Tuesday Weld, the way he uses dreams in his life, his love for London… just before releasing the nice mix he’s cooked for us, scheduled for January 17th on Paris DJs.
01. Preparing the interview I was struck by your obsession with dreams in so many tracks titles, in so many songs until the 'Dreams money can buy' OST . 'Dream' shall be the most important word in your universe...
It absolutely is - along with 'love' of course - I am still writing songs with both words in the titles, in fact I have just finished one for Valentine's day called 'Dreams of Love'. I am not an expert in either.
02. You had a dream of crooner Al Bowlly once then another dream with actress Tuesday Weld, which led you to music and chose the band's name. Can you remember precisely those dreams?
I can see them in my mind as clearly as the night I dreamt them. Al Bowlly was leaning over the statue of Eros in Piccadilly like a giant. Tuesday Weld was walking away from me through the London streets but always with her head turning over her shoulder.
03. There's at least one connection between Al Bowly and Tuesday Weld. Have you ever thought of this?
Aaah - please give me a clue...
- Well, the keyword is 'Prohibition'. Al Bowlly was famous in the 30s, and Tuesday Weld's character in Once Upon a Time in America appears during Prohibition times...
OK, I got the connection now. Of course I love 'Once upon a Time in America' - a great movie with a great, if somewhat peculiar, score.
04. What's the meaning of those dreams according to you?
I took the Al Bowlly dream as a sign to turn back to the music I heard in the house I grew up in - which was mainly 1930s jazz and easy listening. I took the appearance of Tuesday Weld as a kind of goal - an unattainable icon - forever about to disappear over the horizon. Al Bowlly was kind of the first English pop star despite actually being Greek. But there is something unearthly about his voice and he died during the bombing of London after a concert so he is a very romantic figure for me. Tuesday Weld seemed to embody something opposite - an beautiful feminine American glamour but with brains.
05. Are you interested in dreams' interpretation, especially in the ancient times?
Very much. A bit of background here which may make sense of the above: in the mid 1990s I became convinced, as you do when you are young, that I could become enlightened. I had been practising Buddhism and I went to live and study in a monastery in the mountains in southern Spain. I had an amazing time there but... I didn't get enlightened. When I came back to London and after a love affair went wrong, this began some sort of psychic crisis - or as we would say in England: 'I went round the bend'. I had some extremely strange experiences in the city. I began to study Jung and so came to take my dreams seriously (I was already taking MYSELF very seriously...). I made many decisions based entirely on dreams and intuitions. I still do so - although I have become a bit more business-like of late.
06. I was told that actress Tuesday Weld is planning a band called The Real Stephen Coates. What do you think of this?
Hahaha - yes please. I have had various letters and messages for Tuesday over the years. It is quite strange - I mean I ask myself 'do these people look at the website, and think "Ok, she is now pretending to be an English guy and has started making music, but I will email her anyway?"'. I share their admiration but I think I may have saved her some awkwardness by not passing the messages on - they are often very weird.
07. You music gives a feeling close to the floating moment (especially in the morning) between waking and sleeping. I this intentional?
Well I am very pleased to hear that - yes I would like it to be so. My two intentions are 'A dream in every song ' and 'A film in every song'. Which reminds me, I don't know if you have had this experience too but every now and then I hear some beautiful music in a dream - not only beautiful but incredibly commercial - but I start to wake and I am desperately trying to fall back into the dream - or get to my phone so I can record the melody into it. It is usually too late - or perhaps a friend will call me later in the day and say "What was that message on my answer machine with you making these terrible groaning sounds?"
08. How have you begun in music?
My sister and I were musical children but I grew up, forgot about it mainly and studied at the Royal College of Art . Then I made a project to recall the sound of my childhood and a friend sent it to a record label who got in touch and wanted to release it. Then they asked for more, so I did an album with them and ended up signing to a US label too. I agreed reluctantly to perform a one-off show in London (just four songs) but then got invited to play in Athens and then in New York and so it started. I had no grand plan - I just followed things as they occurred. I have been very fortunate and benefitted from other people's enthusiasm and hospitality - if invited I generally say 'yes'.
09. Any musical heroes when you were a teen?
I was very affected by songs - probably more so than by personalities. And also by films. I was very influenced by the films Angel Heart, Brazil and The Singing Detective. The first artist that really blew me away was Gainsbourg.
10. Since the word 'cabaret is often pronounced about your music, have Gershwin and Kurt Weill influenced you a little bit?
That would be nice. I hope they have and that Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim, Bertholt Brecht, Tom Waits, Kathleen Brennan would do too.
11. What's the working process with Glen Duncan behind 'I, Lucifer' and 'The Last Werewolf'?
So some more background here. Glen and I have been close friends for a long time. When we lived together having parallel existential crises in my apartment in Ladbroke Grove, our daily routine was to get up in the morning and tell each other what we had dreamt the night before. By the way, I recommend this to anyone. Firstly you become very intimate with your friend in a psychic way; secondly, there is nothing like hearing what someone else sees in your dreams; thirdly your imagination gets fired up by the images from your dreams and also from your friend's dreams. Also, you remember many many more of your dreams.
Then because of a dream, I moved to Clerkenwell and later Glen came there too. It was time for him to write a new novel and for me to make a new album. We had a drunken idea in the pub that it would be interesting to make a soundtrack to a book. That is how 'I Lucifer' came about. We were living together and the book and album are a little like a brother and his younger sister. We thought everybody would start to do it - but of course no one did so we tried again with The Last Werewolf. I don't read fiction apart from Glen's books. He gave me this one in manuscript and suggested I might write a soundtrack. So I read it and over about a year, the songs emerged.
The Real Tuesday Weld - Me and Mr. Wolf
12. You've said many times that you feel at ease telling a story in an album. Given the fact that 'I, Lucifer' and 'The Last Werewolf' were books' soundtracks, wouldn't it be obvious to try making a real concept album of yours, the kind you could play exclusively with actors, visual performances and guests?
I would love it. I am trying to move towards something more like that. The little 'At the End of the World' album we made is a concert set on the evening of the apocalypse. I am working with Marcella Puppini and the playwright Mark Markham on a musical right now. Our shows are quite theatrical- using the animations and film we have made. I like the idea of creating a little world for people to look into - much more than a gig.
13. Your lyrics are brilliant and very simple at the same time. Is it difficult to write nicely with simple words?
Thank you. I love lyrics but I do find them more challenging to write as time passes. I think the secret is to write a lot and to edit. I have written a lot of very bad songs - they are kept out of sight in the drawer. There doesn't seem to be a way to avoid that. It is easier to write well for someone else - or to inhabit a character I find. Stephen Sondheim's book 'Finishing the Hat' has all the secrets.
14. Tell me about your fantasized vision of London. Are you still living in Clerkenwell?
I still have an apartment in Clerkenwell but my studio is in Vauxhall. When I came to London, I immediately felt like I had arrived home. There are three levels with this city (maybe with Paris also): first you are a 'visitor'; then if you decide to stay you become a 'resident'; then if you do actually stay you become an 'inhabitant' - but the last stage is a decision made by the city, not by you. I like most cities but after I came back from Spain, I had some very intense experiences here which changed things totally. I began to have a sense of being in a big story or myth and I have been trying to write about that.
15. Tell me about your other project Lazarus and the planecrash.
So that is me with Joe Coles from an English garage band called "The Guillotines". I write the music and he writes all the words - he is an amazing Captain Beefheart style poet and great performer. The album 'Horseplay' will be released in the UK in January and hopefully in Europe shortly. It is a strange hairy thing and I like it very much.
Lazarus and The Plane Crash - King of the Village Fete
16. You've worked on the LA Noire video game soundtrack. How have you composed for this? Is it very different than doing a classic OST?
They rang me last Christmas Eve, I have never played a computer game and with the film soundtracks I have worked on, I have been much more involved with the actual pictures but I liked the brief which was to write original songs with the theme of crime in a 1940s noir style. So I did and we recorded them with Claudia Brucken of Propaganda and I gave Rockstar Games all the parts seperated out and they placed them throughout the game. I am not sure quite how they do that. I don't know if you have seen it - but it is a complex world. Very stylish.
17. I leave you the final word. Chose one question and answer to it like in an auto-interview.
What would be nice next?
I'd like to play more shows - especially in Europe, work with more filmmakers and theatrical people oh, and write a masterpiece.
Questionnaire de Proust
01. Your fav classic novel
Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
02. Your fav writer/poet
03. Your fav silent movie
Underground - Herbert Asquith 1927
04. Ten movies to bring on a desert island
My Dinner with Andre, F for Fake, Brazil, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I heart Huckabees, Synechdoche New York, The Last Picture Show, La Jetee, Mary Poppins, Dr Zhivago
05. Your fav Hammer movie
06. Your fav werewolf movie
(Did Proust watch Werewolf movies?!) An American Werewolf in London
07. Fav directors
Orson Welles, PT Anderson, Charlie Chaplin
08. Fav soundtrack
09. Fav classical composer
10. Fav 'torch song'
September Song - Kurt Weill
11. Fav painter
12. Fav museum
Museum of London
13. Fav photographer
14. A living artist or musician you'd dream working with
15. Your definition of a dream
The unconscious becoming conscious
16. Your definition of a nightmare
The unconscious becoming conscious
17. Your fav witty quote
'The higher a monkey climbs, the more you can see it's bottom'
18. A very important thing you have to do before you die
Make a will
19. Write your epitaph
Born, loved, dreamt, died.
The Real Tuesday Weld : official | antique beat | bandcamp | blogspot | discogs | facebook | myspace | parisdjs | soundcloud | twitter | wikipedia | youtube
Crammed Discs : official | discogs | facebook | myspace | parisdjs | soundcloud | twitter | wikipedia | youtube
Six Degrees Records : official | bandcamp | myspace | soundcloud | twitter |facebook | wordpress | youtube
Lazarus and The Plane Crash : official | facebook | myspace | twitter | youtube