Mr. X. Interview with Chris Corner from IAMX
Multi-instrumentalist, visionary, maverick… Throughout his career, Chris Corner has received many admirable epithets and comparisons. Nevertheless, no matter how many questions music fans have prepared for him, IAMX leader has always been true to his mysterious personality, and has given answers exclusively though the prism of his versatile, vulnerable music. Over the last two years, Corner managed to overcome long-term depression and insomnia, leave once beloved gloomy Berlin for sunny Los Angeles, and most importantly — create the outstanding, critically acclaimed record Metanoia. On the day of the last show of their European tour in Frankfurt, MyCity met the British musician to discuss IAMX’s latest release and the artist’s recent life changes.
How does it feel to come back to Germany after you were forced to move away?
I thought it was going to be difficult but it has really been amazing. I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve changed and have a totally different perspective on my personal life now but definitely there is whole other world of love that opened up and it feels really good.
You have been living in Los Angeles for quite some time. Was it hard to adapt to the US? Can you actually define any difference between European and American ways of life?
I think that main thing is that there is a certain natural positivity, appetite for moving forward and for success in the US. There, especially in LA, it’s all about the individual. In a way, in LA everybody is a freak. Being a freak, I really feel good there and don’t feel judged. Nobody judges you and everybody is just doing their own thing. Maybe it’s just a city life but I felt a bit different in Germany and in England, while in LA I feel much more myself. I wouldn’t say that I’m totally attracted to America as a whole. I just think that city is healthy to me at this point of my life. So, it’s a positive “go get ‘em” kind of attitude that I missed and didn’t really have in Berlin. Berlin is cool, sexy and dark but it’s pretty heavy. The German attitude is heavy…
Did you feel the burden of language barrier while living in Germany?
At first I did. On the other hand, so many people speak English in Berlin, that it’s actually very difficult to learn the language. I tried hard to learn it and didn’t want to be this kind of lazy Englishman who doesn’t speak any languages. One of the reasons I moved away from England was to get away from that island mentality and to be more of a global person or a European person, anyway.
Do the country borders mean anything to you?
Not really. I have been touring for a long time and have seen many different cities and cultures. One interesting thing about the IAMX project is that the fans are similar around the world: there is a similar way of thinking and mentality, which brings down all kind of boundaries for me. I don’t really care about a language. I don’t care about anything actually.
The new album is a beautiful outcome of a dark period of your life, the time of depression and constant insomnia. Does it anyhow affect your personal attitude to “Metanoia”? Is it a love-hatred relationship, or a form of therapy?
It was a difficult time and the album was actually the easiest record for me to make because most of the difficult psychological work had been done before I started working on “Metanoia”. For about two years, I thought like I couldn’t be creative. I was actually quite scared to be creative because it could take me on a very emotional roller coaster and I didn’t want that at that time. I needed balance and calm. A lot of the albums that I’ve made before were a psychological struggle for me. I thought that was going to be the same and stopped being creative. Then, at some point, I just recovered from the dark time and took some baby steps back into creative world. I realized that music wasn’t my enemy but a source of nourishment that I needed again.
How long did the recording process last?
I guess it took probably about 5 months. Although many issues I talk about in the record are quite difficult, the writing process was very smooth and very odd in a way. I just knew what I had to write. A lot of the struggle with creativity lies in not knowing what you are doing. However, I think for the first time in my life I knew exactly what I had to do because the message was so clear.
Are there any songs on the album that you don’t consider playing live because they are too personal or not appropriate for the live show?
I think a lot of IAMX tracks are not really in sync with what the IAMX live performance has become. There seems to be quite a schizophrenic nature to IAMX, which has a very melancholic, balladesque, slow side as well as a more dancey-animal side to it. That is pretty much who I am. I’m not schizophrenic but I have extreme polarities in my personality, which I love equally. I feel that tracks that are more upbeat seem to work well in terms of power and energy, which live show requires. Saying that, in the future I would like to do a tour, which consists only of the slow songs.
Like an acoustic tour?
Not even that. I thought about acoustic but then didn’t see the reason why to do that. I just want to play the songs that people haven’t heard live as they were recorded. I think that could be quite interesting for me as well because I love a lot of the songs but I’ve never actually played them live.
One of them is “Wildest wind”, which I find to be beautifully subtle and lyrically powerful. What is the idea behind this track?
I guess it’s the closest I would come to a romantic love song. I don’t usually talk about my private life and relationships that I’ve had but this song does reference to a time that was very special to me in a romantic way. In a way, it is a simple love song but there are different psychological levels to the text. It was written on the piano. Putting it in that slightly sort of “jazzesque” mode felt very natural for that kind of song.
“Metanoia” is the sixth IAMX album, which excites with traditionally striking music and artwork. What usually comes first to you mind during the complex creative process?
It is difficult to say exactly as I am very chaotic. I have many ideas and have a subconscious feeling that I will result in something. I think this confidence came from working a lot and trusting that something will happen. I probably wasn’t that secure earlier at my career: I was taking more risks back then because I had no idea what I was doing but just had the impulse to do it. Now I have the impulse and more confidence. I have always been interested in all aspects of art, particularly visual arts and videos.
And now you are directing not only IAMX videos but some videos for other musicians, like, for example, “I Am Dust” for Gary Numan last year. Do you consider further similar experiments and future collaborations?
Yes. I feel like particularly in LA there are few more people that I know who are on my wavelength, and I think this is going to happen. It may happen with Gary or with a few other people. We are sort of planning now a vague collaboration project with many different people involved, which could be interesting. I can’t say too much about it because… let’s call it a secret. Musically I am a bit skeptical about collaborating with people, and I don’t know why. I think I’m perhaps a little self-conscious. I like to be alone when I work, and I feel like I can really experiment much more freely because I don’t have to expose myself at that time. I never play a record to anybody until it’s finished. It is very important that people get the right message and don’t get the wrong impression because of that chaotic thing, which will be later filtered up to the last moment. I would probably prefer to collaborate visually with other artists. That is why I like doing the video with Gary. He is similar to me in a way: he likes to work alone and does his own thing. That is why I think the musical collaboration would be weird at that time. I felt I could offer him something else through a video, and I would like to continue with more videos. It is just a lot of work. I have to be very careful about what I get myself into. In the past, I would just take things, get stressed and overwork. I try not to do that now.
LA is still mainly synonymous with Hollywood and the film industry. How has living there with your passion for directing affected you? Would you like to try yourself out in a feature film?
I don’t really like commercial… anything.
There are independent movies.
I would consider that. I work in the same way anyway. The difference in directing a video though is that you have no choice but to collaborate. You really have to collaborate, and I find that a bit uncomfortable. That means, I’m still thinking how I would achieve that. Maybe I‘ll just take one camera and do it all myself and then edit it. That could be quite interesting. However, I’m not very good at narrative, I’m more of a visual artist. I don’t feel like I can write a story: I can paint pictures and people can make their own stories from those pictures.
It is not a secret that many IAMX fans, who admire your versatile talent, especially distinguish your exceptional voice. Could you name any voice in the music industry that mesmerizes you personally?
I can, actually. There is one person, whose voice I really love. It’s a guy who is called David Sylvian and who used to be in the band Japan in the early 1980s, I think. It was kind of a new romantic band but he went off and did a solo project later. He’s got a beautiful, very low, rich, deep voice. It is very unusual and emotional, and I find it the most interesting voice that I personally know.
And what do you do to keep your voice?
I’ve just made a lot of mistakes. Over time, if you get on stage and make mistakes, you think, “Ok, I can’t do it again”. I had to work really hard over the years to strengthen the voice. I warm up, although I don’t treat it as well as I should. I should be more careful because many things I do on the records are very difficult to do live. So, when it comes to a live situation it’s just extreme. It is great when you sing once in the bedroom and you record it, but when you get on stage and you do it every night, it is pretty difficult. Nevertheless, I like the challenge of being up to push myself and see where it goes. After 40 shows of this tour I can still talk, so something must be ok, I guess.
IAMX is a solo project. Still you have a team that helps you with your musical “child”. Tell us a couple of words about your current band. How did they come to your life?
It has been different over the years. I met Janine Gezang through my ex-manager in Berlin, when I was actually looking for a keyboard player. She played bass but very quickly learned these keyboard parts and impressed me with her flexibility. Besides, she wanted it so badly. Adaptability and passion mean a lot to me. The band members don’t have to be perfect players (although it helps if they are good, of course). There has to be a certain level, but I’m not interested in session musicians or perfect musicians. I’m interested in people with passion, the drive, adaptability to different situations, and great personality. That really helps when you spend a lot of time with them on the road. Over the years, people have come in and out of the live band, but Janine stayed and has been so amazing! She has even moved into management side of things. Janine grew up performing with clowns in a circus and has always been in a performance family – so it is a perfect lifestyle for her. The same is with Sammi (Doll) and Jon (Sirel), who just came on board. I mean Sammi has been with us for a few years now and she has the same attitude. If you have an attitude, if you embrace IAMX as a way of living, as opposed to just a job, the relationship lasts in the band. Sometimes, it hasn’t: people have been quite cynical about it, saying that they have been just doing their job. So far this is a really great group of people.
You are quite active on Social media platforms…
I am now, yes.
In your posts, you always address your fans and followers as “beauties”. What is your concept of beauty? It must be definitely something unconventional.
Yes, the more unconventional, the better. I’ve always been inclined to left-wing point of view, ways of dressing and ways of expressing oneself. There are many levels of beauty. Of course, there is physical attraction but then there is much more in the mentality that can stimulate me. I‘m more inclined to female beauty and I think that is because the female attitude is just more in line with my own. The feminine kind of view of the world is much more like my own. I grew up with very strong mother and sister, who had a big influence on me. My sister dressed me up as a girl when I was little, and it has had a big impact on me. So, femininity is a big part of my life. I can’t really define what exactly beauty is but this is definitely multilayered and unconventional. Confidence and freedom with one’s own expression, whether is it is sexual or artistic, are very important; they are all connected to the same thing. That’s what you see on stage with IAMX as well.
What else nourishes you apart from music?
I love architecture. There is another thing about Los Angeles that attracts me – modernist architecture. I am more into modern art.
So, Rome is not for you?
No. I mean, the city is very impressive of course, but not inspiring for me in a way. By the way, I have ambition to build my own house at some point of my life. It is one of my goals. What else? I love film of course.
What’s the last movie you’ve seen?
The last movie I’ve seen was actually the old Fellini movie “Amarcord”. That was the other night actually on TV somewhere (I don’t know if it was in Russia or somewhere else but it was definitely on the road). I’m a big art-house fan. I love Bergman, Tarkovsky. Actually, I like his father’s (Arseny Tarkovsky) poetry as well.
Since I am from a Russian–speaking magazine, I can’t help but ask: how do you explain such a huge IAMX-mania in the Russian-speaking countries? What is so special in Russia that attracts you most?
There seems to be different levels to it. I think it is closely connected with the melancholic aspect. Maybe there is a sort of slight tragic nature to IAMX, which Russians really like, and that’s why I am attracted to them too (smiling).
Is it the reason for the line “I’m drowning in virgins and Russians” in “Aphrodisiac” from the new album?
(Laughing) Obviously, there is a sexual level of this attraction. Well, Russian women are beautiful. Not just the women but the men as well seem to like this sort of sexuality of the performance. Maybe there are repressed feelings which they want to expose, or maybe it is just a new level of sexuality, but they seem to be particularly hungry for it. Obviously, there is a whole LGBT issue… Anyway, it is always a huge pleasure to perform in Russia.
The new record is available on www.iamxmusic.com
Fotos: Saryn Christina