Talk Show Host: 011: Marc Heal

Took a bit of time to arrange this one, but I’m thrilled to be able to post a recently completed interview with Marc Heal. For many readers, his name will instantly be recognisable. But for those who it isn’t…Marc used to front industrial/techno terrorists Cubanate, and was also involved with C-Tec, Ashtrayhead and PIG in the late-nineties too. Since then, he’s busied himself with other media pursuits, and very soon will release his first book, The Sussex Devils, as well as a return to music with a collaboration with Raymond Watts (The Compound Eye EP).

On with the interview, then, where we get some interesting revelations… So, Marc, how’s life?

Marc Heal: Sweaty and spicy. There’s incense on the wind for Chinese New Year. The maid is chopping up the ingredients for a huge Vietnamese salad and a gang of eight-year-olds are laughing as they play cards upstairs. You’ve been running a kickstarter on Unbound to fund your book The Sussex Devils. Had you not stumbled on the note, do you think you would have turned onto writing a book in some form regardless? Or was it the personal involvement and unusual nature of the story that inspired you to do this?

Marc Heal: Everyone thinks they can write a book don’t they? Well, I liked writing too, and I had toyed around with a few pieces before. But completing a full sized book is an exponentially larger task. It’s the difference between writing a riff and finishing an album. You need stamina and motivation to finish 80,000 words. You need to be a little bit mad actually.

In all honesty, I didn’t choose to write The Devils, it chose me and then it wouldn’t leave me alone. I realized that there was an incomplete jigsaw, a detective story. Some pieces were well known, others only I knew. After I finished a rough draft of the book, I sent it out to a few people. Then I got signed up by a London literary agency, AM Heath. They encouraged me to build up the personal narrative so I rewrote it.

I had some interest from some big publishers but the publishing industry is more screwed up than music even. And the Devs is a dark, complex book. It doesn’t treat the reader as a dumbarse. Tough to sell. So I went through Unbound to get it funded. Which it did.

It will be out in the autumn, I’m told. I just received the delivery schedule. How has the experience of writing this book been for you?

Marc Heal: Thrilling, fascinating, cathartic, sometimes amusing and sometimes profoundly moving. Personally challenging and certainly life-changing. Many times just plain hard work and often very lonely. After finishing it I know myself better and I care less what anyone thinks about me. I mean, not at all. That’s a very liberating feeling. Of course, you’ve written about some of your musical past before – have you ever considered a book about your time in the music world?

Marc Heal: I did consider it. But unless you are a star of such magnitude that a set of showbiz memoirs makes you interesting ex officio, it’s a restrictive project. And Cubanate was an interesting project but it hardly turned me into a cultural icon. Too often, rock memoirs simply form a necklace of anecdotes that fall into the “you had to be there” category. Stoned antics are bloody funny if you were part of the gang, and they might be a riot to recount in bull sessions down the pub, but on the page, they rarely translate to outsiders.

So: I think that music and literature must stand apart.

What I was trying to do with the Antimatter pieces was look more broadly at the 1980s and to have some fun, examining what might be called the lifecycle of ambition, or delusion. Because it’s that madness that interests me. What makes someone start a band, let alone continue for twenty years? What made me? Parallel to this, you’ve got a new musical project coming, too (The Compound Eye EP, working with Raymond Watts – see How did this come around – if I’m not mistaken, haven’t you worked with Watts in the past?

Marc Heal: Yes. In fact the funny thing is I worked on the last PIG album, which admittedly is now ten years ago. Personally I think the PIG tracks on Compound Eye are fucking great, but… See it’s like this: I insist that I produce when we work together, which always gets things moving. But I don’t think Raymond likes not being in control, so after a while he loses interest.

And so it proved this time. But his absences had a positive affect. I found myself in an empty studio with a guitarist and I thought to myself, well, what the hell are you going to do? Don’t be a wanker all your life Heal, do something. So I made some songs of my own. I started to get a feel for what I wanted to do. Slower beats, heavy, but not as hot under the collar as in Cubanate.

We finished four songs – two were PIG, and two were me, with a few odds and sods left over. That’s why the EP is necessarily called the Compound Eye “sessions”. It’s really a record of those few weeks in 2012.

I got Rhys Fulber from FLA to do a mix. I said I was no longer young. My hair is greying. Squeezing into leather trousers is problematic. I said I wanted a mix to restore my credibility with goth girls. He’s promised me the whole shebang – goggles, hair extensions and glo-sticks. So we’ll see.

Then I left for Singapore and things paused. But I couldn’t have borne yet another half-finished project on the shelves. It seemed that you dabbled in reconvening Cubanate a few years back – did you end that reunion because you felt you weren’t going to do it justice, or was it just not the right time? Do you still feel proud of what you achieved with Cubanate?

Marc Heal: Proud? Well, yes. I think Oxyacetylene is one of the defining songs of the genre. And we did it with no money and during a period when I was absolutely galvanized on booze and drugs. Proud of Cubanate? I was proud I managed to stand up most mornings.

Working with Phil again back in 2010 made me think what it means to be “in a band” as opposed to say, Phil Barry ft. Marc Heal. The fact is that you need to be synched together to make a band. That’s what it means to be in a band, that’s why bands form strange, intense relationships. When we started Cubanate we were hanging out, going to the same places, constantly swapping ideas and influences. When we got together again in 2010, we had barely spoken in ten years. I found that we’d both moved on and not in a bad way. Sure I could have done some vocals on top of Phil’s music or vice versa but that’s not the same is it?

Anyway, now the book is done I’m pretty sure we will work together again. Phil did a Compound Eye mix on the EP and I used a couple of guitar samples from when we were in the studio. Oddly enough I’m totally relaxed about playing some shows with the old Cubanate stuff now. Again, the book has shifted a logjam for me.

We’ve pretty much decided to release a retrospective Cubanate album next year and to do something live to support it. We’ll try to make some new music too, but no promises.

[Editor’s note: Woah. I really wasn’t expecting that] Do you still listen to any current industrial music? If so, any bands in particular that you really like?

Marc Heal: I’ve generally been disappointed by the genre for a long time. But I feel signs of life in the old dog. There’s a Scottish core developing in the UK right now that I like. Metaltech, Je$us Loves Amerika, all that crew. I dunno what they call it. McDustrial? Hard Sporran? (Stop it, you twat). I know this much – the London scene sucks these days. Or it did when I left town, anyway. The book release, the new EP, life the other side of the world, it sounds like you’re in a good place now. Are they any plans to take The Compound Eye material on tour for live shows?

Marc Heal: I had to get out of the UK, it was driving me bloody mad. The whole country in debt and sold off to Russian criminals. I moved out to an old farmhouse in the country to try to get some peace but then I realized I needed a complete change of scenery and I wanted to show the kids somewhere different. So we came east.

Definitely going to make some more noise soon. I would like to take it out live, but can’t see how just yet. But even if not live, I’ve got another solo EP to come. Now the book is finished I’m completely relaxed artistically.

The thing is, I don’t make music to make money anymore. It’s just a nervous tic. For so many years I couldn’t finish anything and I wondered why. I think it was because of that fundamental psychic blockage which remained inside me, for the reasons that I touch on in The Devils. Anyway, all done now. New things ahead. Don’t know what.

The book The Sussex Devils is out later this year, as is The Compound Eye EP with Raymond Watts.

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