Chris and Cosey
Chris and Cosey
Steve Cogan talks to Chris and Cosey at their Norfolk home
Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti have been working together as a duo since 1981 and have achieved fame across most of the world, from India to America. Steve Cogan talked to them at their Norfolk home.
Chris and Cosey were formerly in Throbbing Gristle, the legendary 70's British Electronic band which seems to be a benchmark against which all others are measured against. Recently Mute records acquired the rights to five Throbbing Gristle albums and have added them to their collection of 'off-the-wall' music.
In the early 1980's they formed Chris and Cosey, since then they have switched from Rough Trade to Play It Again Sam (Brussels) but have continued their tradition of uncommercial music. Just how much of a cult band C'n'C have been for the past/nine years was shown when Grace Jones asked them to support her world tour in the early 1980's. Since then they worked on collaborations with people such as the Eurythmics, Coil, Monte Cazzaza., Robert Wyatt and Boyd Rice.
When I went down to their Norfolk home studio they had started packing for their American tour. After a cup of coffee to revive me, we went into a large downstairs room which looked like an Aladin's cave for musicians, filled with many different pieces of equipment.
Sitting down with my tape recorder Chris and Cosey started with their musical history. Chris was first off the mark, 'I started off doing light shows, slides and things like that for really big groups like YES in the 60's. I progressed onto a 'multi-media' thing where I built my own synthesizer, a big modular synth. Me and a friend used to tour round English colleges, he'd handle the light show and I'd play the synth. The dad of the friend I used to work with ran a place in east London which was an artist's meeting place.'
Cosey said her 'bit', 'That's how Chris and I met, as his son used to work with me, he met me through his dad's place. He was also working with Chris at the same time but I didn't know this.' Chris broke in, 'I did a 'multi-media' show in London and you came along, didn't you Cosey?' Cosey agreed and Chris let the story unfold further, 'She came along and we were introduced. I went along to her studio, took my synths down there and we started jamming.' Cosey continued 'We used to do a lot of acoustic, percussion and we wanted to actually start getting amps so we asked Chris' advice and it all started from there,' Chris, 'We started building our own PA system and it just went on and on. Then we formed 'Throbbing Gristle' and the rest is history!
We started recording our own stuff in about '81, we went to Rough Trade records after TG, we did a number of albums with them. We weren't happy with the way Rough Trade were going, they were getting very guitar orientated, they seemed to loose interest in us, so we started looking for a more lively company, one which would be more behind us in what we did, a bit more on our wavelength. Our biggest sales have always been in Europe anyway and we had heard good things about Play It Again Sam records. So we approached them and they said yes almost straight away. We've now done two albums for them, they've also taken all our back catalogue. They are very on the ball and really into the sort of music we do. They have a lot of electronic bands on their label, a lot of English bands as well.'
Chris & Cosey didn't actually buy their Atari ST to use for MIDI purposes, Chris explained, 'We used to write a yearly newsletter and the idea was to get the ST for that, one of the first things we liked about it was the mono monitor, a really crisp, clear display - better than the Mac monitor. We set it up in the office with the intention of using it for the newsletter but it ended up being used in the studio.
We got some software for sequencing and it's been here ever since! So now we have to get another ST for the office because we still haven't done the newsletter. But since we've tried doing music with it, we haven't stopped. Before we got the ST we used the Roland MC-500 sequencer, we did a whole album with it. But once we got the ST and we used Mastertracks Pro, it revolutionised the whole way that we record because you could see everything on the screen at once.
Although the MC-500 has a little display it's a bit restrictive. It's a very fast machine but the display is just a joke really. It's quite a powerful sequencer, it hasn't a very big memory, only half a meg - equivalent to a 520ST, it has a double sided drive but you can store and manipulate a lot of information. So when we tried the ST it was like a breath of fresh air. We now use the MC-500 for backing up what is on the ST and we download everything through MIDI.
We thought we had a virus for ages because disks were getting corrupted and we thought it was terrible because we had lot of PD 'clip-art' programs and we thought we had picked up a virus from them. What it turned out to be was that I've got a high formatter for disks and I formatted a lot of our disks with 11 sectors, we used to store the disks next to the monitor and when you switch the monitor on it sends out an Electro-Magnetic Pulse and it was corrupting the high-format disks, normal format disks were alright. For a while we thought we had a virus and we were backing everything up onto the MC-500 in case anything went wrong.
The other big problem we have here is we get a lot of power cuts so we have to back-up regularly throughout the day. Otherwise if you've just finished a lot of great synth lines or drum patterns and you get a power cut, that's it.'
Chris had a real horror story to tell about their early days of playing live as Chris & Cosey, 'When playing live we had the batteries go once when we did our first Canadian tour, we were using a Casio CZ-101 off of batteries. I can't remember why we were doing that but the battery low LED was flashing when we went on stage and nothing would come out of it, so I had to fake it for the first two numbers! It was terrible, that's the worst thing that's happened. We don't take the ST or the MC-500 on the road because they have diskdrives and you can wipe the memory just by getting a glitch in the power supply. We tend not to take anything like that on the road.'
Cosey described how they start work on a track, 'It starts in various ways, sometimes it's with a vocal and then that gives us an idea what to put with it. Whatever the lyrical content pre-determines what kind of sound we want to go with it, whether it should be a moody, soft sound or whether it should be a rhythmic, dance orientated sound. Sometimes if it's done like that then the lyric starts off the kind of music we want to put in the track, if it doesn't start like that then Chris might be in the studio one day just messing around, getting a rhythm going and it starts off from there. But usually it's straight into the ST, isn't it Chris?' 'Yeah, quite often it's a rhythm thing just to get us moving, we'd often play something on the Octopad, just try different drum sounds out and that's recorded straight onto Mastertracks Pro. We usually copy the bars and then build on the rhythm with bass-lines and synth ideas. Since it has 64 tracks you can try out lots of things.'
Cosey broke in, 'We keep that as the guide all the way through and program in breaks.' Chris added, 'Shift things about, cut things out and move them further up or down. The biggest thing with any sequencer, whether it's a Roland MC-500 or the ST running Mastertracks Pro, is that it can get a bit robotic if you put everything in and quantize everything - it ends up being exactly on the beat. Mastertracks Pro has a randomising feature and you can randomise everything to a percentage, so I randomise everything and shuffle everything about a bit, it gives it a more human feel. It takes the rigid feeling out of it and makes it a bit looser and more fluid. We did that a lot on the new album, we added a lot of rhythm on the new album and some of it was a bit too precise.'
'We've got the be careful,' Cosey explained, 'because you can see what's going on, you tend to say 'right there's a gap there let's put that in there', it's too calculated sometimes. That's why a lot of bands that use that kind of system sound quite sterile. Although the rhythms are great there is just something missing, it hasn't got the 'guts', it's too mechanical.'
Chris talked about the work they add to their tracks to avoid becoming too perfect and inhuman, 'We often put effects on different instruments like fuzzboxes or over-record so things get 'gritty', so they have a bit of feeling to them. Or when we're putting drum patterns or keyboard parts in, we only quantize to a certain degree, we don't quantize too much, we leave a few mistakes in. It works for some groups like Depeche Mode or Kraftwerk but they play on it because everything is spot on.'
Chris commented on their choice of equipment for playing live. Most of the time, they don't use the ST or MC-500 live because they atre unreliable. 'We tend not to take anything like that on the road. Though we do play quite a lot live, guitar, cornet, vocals, Octopad, two sets of keyboards. Just the two of us play, there's a lot to do. The thing I find is that if I'm on stage and I look over to Cosey sometimes I get distracted and forget the synth line on the sequencer and play a few bum notes! With MIDI it's a bit easier because we use a Roland D-110 which has a whole drum kit and it has all the keyboard parts and we have it connected to an SPX-90 effects unit.
I use the Casio CZ-101 just to play the samples, I don't use any internal sounds. So for track one I press Preset One, up on the D-110 and all the settings for that track come from the SPX-90 through MIDI, so for the fifteen songs I just go through pressing each one for each track and everything comes up and it's ready to play. Whereas in the old days we used to have lots of settings written down for all the pedals and everything, for this track I have to press this, this and this! So it's a bit easier now, though there's still quite a lot to do especially for Cosey, she plays guitar, cornet, drums and sings on quite a lot of tracks.'
Cosey had strong opinions on people buying a sampler, stringing a few sounds together and not really having any idea what they are attempting to achieve, 'Everyone seems to fall into that same trap, they think 'Oh, that's easy I could do that,' but I haven't found anyone that can easily use this kind of equipment and come out with some really good sounds.' Chris added, 'There's a lot of dross about.' Cosey continued, 'There's a hell of a lot of 'Like I can do it, listen to this, it's easy, get a rhythm down, bass-line, keyboards and sampled vocals.' It's not that simple.'
Chris related an earlier discussion they had had with fellow musicians, 'We've had this discussion with a friend from another group, we both said that we could make an album with a sampler, reverb unit and a tape recorder (8 track or something like that), and he's actually just brought out a CD with just a sampler, reverb unit and that's all. But you've got to have the ideas, he's got some brilliant ideas and some brilliant samples and he's done it, he's releasing a CD in America and it sounds really good. It's not totally electronic sounding, it sounds quite 'organic'. But it can be done with a minimum of equipment.'
Cosey was pleased that the price of music technology is coming down in comparison with a few years ago, 'I think that's great because in the past when equipment was hellishly expensive the people who had all the great ideas couldn't afford it. Only the people with the naff ideas could afford it so that's all people were exposed to. It's still a bit like that now but if you look at independent labels then you'll find some good stuff, if you look in the charts then you can forget it.'
Cosey bemoaned the lack of independent gig organisers today, 'Our fans never get to see us live because there aren't the venues for bands like us, it's all record company subsidised. The only places you can go are places like small clubs or gigs you would organise yourself, but who has the time to sit back and do all that, it takes a lot of organising. I mean years ago there used to be people that were independent gig organisers, you had the labels and then the people who did the gigs. They would find unusual venues like old churches and cellars and places like that. The nearest thing to independent gig organisers are Acid House parties but it's a totally different type of music, it's not bands, just DJs. They're having to go down the same avenue to cater for something they want because it's not in the main market, it's not in the discos. Not the real sort of stuff they want to hear anyway.'
Chris was concerned that the market is becoming saturated with musicians and recent bankruptcies among record companies haven't helped, 'I think the biggest problem now for musicians is getting it released. There's so much music around because equipment is so cheap now and what you can buy is so good, there are a lot of people sitting in their bedrooms doing brilliant stuff. They haven't a chance in the world of getting it released because it's not quite commercial or it's not quite what people in record companies want at the moment so it's never going to get released.
Even Play It Again Sam who do great stuff for us are very cagey about who they sign. It's understandable because they're in the record business and they have to sell records that they know will sell a certain amount,' Cosey, 'There are a few specialised labels that take on small runs of more 'Off-the-wall' music. They do well because they are known for that so people tend to go for them straight away. Companies like Play It Again Sam records are known for doing not too commercial music, stuff that's on the verge of becoming commercial, that's their market and they're really good at targeting it, they know where they can sell records and people know where to get that kind of record from.'
Chris continued, 'I think one of the best companies in England is Mute, they do some really 'off-the-wall' stuff but they're not signing anyone else at the moment, they've got their roster of people and that's it. So anyone new coming up is having a really hard time. Especially this year because so many Independent companies have gone under, we know that there are lots of groups that already had contracts that are now without contracts and going around trying to get deals. If you didn't even have a contract before, it's probably the hardest time in the last ten years.'
Chris believes that the established music industry in the UK is more intolerant of new styles than on the continent. Cosey agrees, 'They're hungry for creativity in Europe whereas they're not in England, they want to be spoonfed, they're happy like that. Not everyone is like that, we have people in England who buy our records religiously but they have a lot of trouble getting them.' Chris added, 'I think it's the fault of the music press as well, they don't cover anything out of the ordinary now, very little anyway. Kylie and Jason, things like that.
There's so much good music out there being done, there really is, probably more now than ever before because of the availability of the gear, you don't have to go to a 24-track studio to produce something really good.'
Cosey had some advice for bands just signed, 'New bands shouldn't think of being in the big league, falling into the trap of of following the label's advice and going in a 24-track. The bands think 'Great!' and wonder why there's no money at the end of the day because they have a £60,000 bill from the recording studio.' Chris added, 'If the company says to go into a 24-track straight away say No and try and do it a much cheaper way yourself, if you can buy the gear, record it as cheaply but in the best way you can. Supply the master tape directly to the record company, then all the royalties will go straight to you and not paying off all the studio bills. That's the way we do it, we're signed to two companies, Network in America and Canada and Play It Again Sam in Europe, we just give them finished master tapes. We know a lot of people who do it our way, you couldn't say that they set up their own studio but they set up their own recording system.
If you live in England, stay in England but I would target Europe. Travelling abroad would be a good idea for young bands. To go round Germany, Holland especially, into Belgium and just go around the clubs and listen to the type of music they are playing because it is SO different and you hear so many good sounds there. You get an idea of what is wanted, of what people want to hear in Europe, because it is very different to the type of music they play over here, it's quite diverse. In one evening you can go the full spectrum of sounds and records. I think a band in England need to do that kind of research.'
Cosey had some advice on finances for aspiring musicians, 'Ultimately finances have to come into it whether you like it or not, it's a money orientated business and it's a minefield if you don't understand it. It's the money side which is going to say whether you carry on doing it or not. If you're going to be in it and have a job at first to finance the equipment you want to buy and so you can live in between. That is fine but there comes a point when you need the time you're spending on your job to do the music. You have to make the decision that you will try and make a living from what you're doing in music because you need all your time and energy for your music. You have to know exactly what you are getting into business-wise, there is all the copyright side, if you don't understand it you WILL get ripped off. I mean you get ripped off when you do understand it, it's a nasty business! There is nothing more frustrating than having loads of ideas and knowing the equipment is there to bring these ideas into being and you don't have the finances. I know loads of people who have had to give up because they literally couldn't afford to bring their ideas into fruition.'
Next month Chris n Cosey talk to Steve Cogan about some of the people they have worked with and also about the visual side of their work.
Interview by Steve Cogan
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