Talk Show Host: 025: Marc Heal

Eighteen months ago, I spoke with Marc Heal to discuss his new book, and his past in Cubanate, and ended up getting the confirmation that Cubanate were returning after all.

Fast forward to now, Cubanate’s return has happened in Chicago, and I was there to witness it. So with Marc’s first solo material proper being released this autumn, I thought it was time to catch up again with Marc and hear his thoughts on that return, the solo work, and more besides… Marc, it’s been eighteen months since we last spoke on How’s things been in the meantime, now the book and The Compound Eye EP are done and you’re onto other things?

Marc Heal: It’s been a great 18 months, thanks for asking. Eventful and creative. Feeling my age a bit, but still alive. The return of Cubanate at Cold Waves was generally acknowledged to be one of the highlights of the weekend. How did you feel about the festival, before and afterward?

Marc Heal: When we agreed to do Coldwaves a long way beforehand, it all seemed rather abstract.

But as the time approached I did get nervous. I started to think that it was maybe a mistake. After all, I’d not played on any stage since 1999. I’d only even seen Phil maybe twice in the previous six or seven years. I thought this could be a disaster. I started getting classic stress dreams: being on stage butt-naked, forgetting all the words. The night before I flew from Singapore I had a quasi-nightmare that we’d rehearsed the whole Cubanate set in a Caesar’s Palace, 1970’s Vegas style. I had to sack a troupe of dancing girls in sequins five minutes before going on.

When I got to Chicago and we started rehearsal it suddenly became real. By then was too late to back out, even if I had wanted to. But the moment we went on stage I felt at ease. The odd thing is that fronting Cubanate is that it’s not about me. I seem to act as a receptor dish, a reflector for the energy of the crowd. Normally I’m a very controlled person but when I’m up there I‘m not very conscious of what happens. It’s an out of body experience.

Afterwards Phil and I both looked at each other, shocked. It was over so bloody fast. Seemed like 40 seconds, not 40 minutes.

When the tension left me I was drained. It was great to see people like Jason and Kelly Novak that I’d not seen in nearly 20 years. Emotional. Then, hanging out backstage with Raymond [Watts], in the middle of his US tour. RevCo! A few days later it all felt like another dream. A good one this time. Any thoughts on whether you might do more live shows – and is that Cubanate retrospective you mentioned last time still coming?

Marc Heal: Yeah. Phil and I said that we’d do more if we enjoyed it, but we would put no pressure on ourselves. So yes, I think so. Cubanate retrospective is still a-coming. I think we were paused until seeing if Coldwaves worked, to be honest.

It’s just a question of time. Phil’s got a new solo project too. Sounding good. Any bands from the weekend that were new discoveries for you?

Marc Heal: I had more time to watch bands on the first night. I liked HIDE. I think that the female mind is darker than the male’s. Never seen Clock DVA live before – they were great. Night two we were on so I missed some bands I would have liked to see, or only caught a glimpse. Dead When I Found Her, for example. But I made sure that I caught KANGA. She’s special.

I went back upstairs to see PIG. Hardly a “new discovery”, but I haven’t seen Raymond live in at least 20 years. It was a real buzz hearing them play Shake. And the afterparty. To my shame, I’d never heard Bryan [Black Asteroid] DJ before. So that was cool. But by then I could barely speak, let alone party. The first taste of your new solo album The Hum was recently released in the form of single Adult Fiction. It came across to me as being some sort of short story, and the album seems to be following along the same lines – an anthology of “stories” of sorts?

Marc Heal: I didn’t intend that narrative approach at the outset, but I do know what you mean. Maybe that was a result of writing the book. Anyway, aren’t all good songs stories?

Certainly I was bored with all the usual industrial tropes and that navel-gazing, narcissistic tone that seems endemic. Any scene becomes boring when it becomes stylized. I wanted to look outwards, not in.

So I am proud of The Hum. I think it moves things on. It’s very human. It’s intelligent. And I don’t think it sounds like anything else right now. The video for Adult Fiction is also sumptuously styled. Who was behind that?

Marc Heal: That would be Gabriel Edvy, who directed it. She also did the Cubanate visuals at CW. I explained to her what the song was about and Gabriel sketched out an idea and just went right ahead. I only got involved at the end for very minor tweaks. I like working with people like that. Not just talented, they “get it” right away. “Why do you always wear black?…in my country, it is the colour of death” is an intriguing quote from The Hum opener Tiananmen, which as a song struck me as something of a comment on the differences in societal norms, what you can and can’t say (or do), as a foreigner in another country – and I was thinking along similar lines for Model Citizen. How did you adapt to moving and settling in the Far East?

Marc Heal: East Asia is vast and complex. Singapore has a layer of denatured, JG Ballard-esque luxury overlaid above a gritty trading city. China I find awe-inspiringly powerful and occasionally breathtakingly cruel. Most of the time one is wrapped up in one’s own business. Moment-by-moment human life continues. Girls date boys. People go shopping. But then every now and then you are reminded that there you are under a military dictatorship. Tiananmen is about one of those moments. Perhaps that’s another reason why I’ve lost patience with pampered LA musicians moaning.

I think, having lived in Libya and Abu Dhabi as a kid, I have that desire for “a new career in a new town” embedded in my psyche. It was good to do it with my wife. Scary, but more fun when you share it. There is a distinctly different style to the new album compared to music you’ve been involved in the past, that kinda came to mind as “Adult-Oriented Industrial” at points (and I don’t mean that in a negative way!). Did you have an overarching sonic concept when writing this, or particular influences that inspired you (do I detect a hint of Bowie in Wounded Dog, while Johnny Was An Oilman seems to move into an industrial take on stadium rock (that drum rhythm), for example?)?

Marc Heal: Adult Oriented Industrial? Ha! I don’t mind that. No, there was no preconceived concept. I had never made an album by myself before. But I knew I had to find a new voice. A voice for now. And you’re right. It’s definitely adult.

I’m a bit of a believer in using whatever instruments you find. Lion studio, where I recorded the album, is a wonderful old wreck of a place. But I found an old Polymoog in there, which I restored. An early Roland synth too, with crackling sliders. Good for channeling a bit of Numan. Plus some other old analogue effects like the early Eventide Harmonizers. Tape echoes.

I did set myself a few musical rules. I used a simple set up to write. And I slowed things down. That 140bpm techno thing didn’t sound right anymore. It seems to me that there is a whole generation of so called “industrial” bands that have been knowingly or otherwise influenced by what Cubanate were doing in 92-95, and are still playing a sort of debased four-to-the-floor trance music. Even we had moved on from that by the late 90’s and they are sounding very lame now.

Cubanate: Cold Waves V: Metro, Chicago: 24-Sep 2016 Indeed, what were your formative musical influences? Your other work aside from Cubanate has shown quite a breadth of styles at points.

Marc Heal: Oh, Bowie of course. I say that especially because his death partly triggered the album. I saw the way that he remained productive up until the very week of his death and it shamed me into action. I also thought, “Well, how much time have YOU got left Marc? Better use it well.”

I like a lot of music. I’ll steal from anywhere. I suppose that I grew up with new wave and disco. But truthfully, the reason I make music is I that I fell in love with the sound of synths as a teenager. For some people it’s an electric guitar, for me it’s a Minimoog. I can’t help myself. It’s a love whose month is forever May.

These days I get forced by the kids to listen to a lot of daytime radio pap in the car. Taylor Swift and Selina Gomez. In return I get some ska and techno and punk. You have to compromise. It does you good. Finally, as an Englishman having now moved overseas (and having travelled extensively), what’s your take on the political situation “back home” at present – does it make you glad you moved away?

Marc Heal: When I think of my farmhouse by the river in York, I do feel a pang. It felt strange being so far away when we voted to leave the EU. I was in Jakarta on the day. When you see changes like that at home you start to feel unanchored. Is that really where I come from? What the hell are you all up to?

Out here in the East, what is apparent is that our pressing problems are less political, more environmental or even existential. The devastation of deforestation and industrialisation is very real and visible here. When they burn the Indonesian rainforests, the whole of Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam is covered in choking smoke. The parts of China that make these nice things that westerners take for granted are permanently covered in poisonous yellow smog. Thousands of miles of it. If it was Birmingham or Boston where you couldn’t breathe, people would soon wake up. But people in the West don’t quite understand the scope, or they don’t want to. They don’t realise yet what’s coming for them. I wouldn’t mind staking out some Republican climate change denier a few hundred miles downwind of Sumatra when it’s on fire and ask him to tell me about it once again. If he could breathe.

Marc Heal’s single Adult Fiction is out now. The Hum is out on 11-November, and can be pre-ordered here.

One thought on “Talk Show Host: 025: Marc Heal

  1. Thanks for the great interview. Marc seems like a hell of a fine chap, and I enjoyed hearing his thoughts about Bowie (including a “new career in a new town”… was that deliberate? Or unintentional? Haha). Cubanate destroyed Cold Waves. So pleased that I made the trip.

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