Apr 2024 13

Martin Bowes speaks with ReGen on Attrition’s long legacy, working with friends old and new to stand as one of the most distinctive entities in darkwave.
 

 

An InterView with Martin Bowes of Attrition

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Although the band has often been described as goth or darkwave, Martin Bowes has never allowed Attrition to land definitively in any single niche. Initially drawing inspiration from the early years of industrial and experimental post-punk, Bowes and his ever changing contingent of collaborators has crafted a sound that has made a dramatic impact on underground music for over 40 years, all the while retaining a singular identity that can only be described as Attrition. And yet, the band isn’t afraid to look to the past as this year saw the release of The Black Maria; although a quintessential Attrition album for all of its propulsive rhythms and bleak sonic exploration, there are shades of nostalgic reflection interspersed in its very makeup, most notably with the return of original member Julia Niblock Waller and her ethereal voice after two decades. Furthermore, The Black Maria is dedicated to Bowes’ late wife and longtime collaborator Kerri, adding to its reverent and somber resonance. The band will be returning to North American shores later in 2024 as part of this year’s ColdWaves event in Chicago, with plans for further touring currently in the works. ReGen recently had the opportunity to speak with Martin Bowes on the album’s long development, hampered by the pandemic and Kerri’s long struggle with alcoholism, as well as touching on friends old and new and their contributions to The Black Maria, misogyny and social evolution in the music industry, live performances, and Attrition’s legacy in the annals of darkwave music.

 

When we last spoke in 2020, The Black Maria was reported to be nearing its release; now, it has finally come to pass four years later. Obvious though this question is, what can you tell us about the album’s long delay?

Bowes: A good question. A lot of things got in the way – Covid, which wrecked our shows and tours in 2020 and 2021, and with it a certain amount of enthusiasm to finish the album. Although, as no one was touring in that period, everyone was recording, so I ended up busier than ever in my studio, mastering so many releases… good money, but I would have rather been on tour!
I was also distracted by other projects like my side projects Engram and DPM, but the main thing is that every album is so personal to me, like an audio photo album of my life story at that time if you like… and it was turbulent times – splitting up with my wife Kerri, getting divorced, and her eventual decline and death in January 2022. They all hit me hard at the time. I had trouble finishing some of the songs, particularly the lyrics. I didn’t know what they should be saying. As soon as Kerri passed away, they came to me really quickly, bless her.

At the risk of asking a very personal question, and knowing how loaded it is since I’m sure you have many stories – personal and public – about Kerri; are there any in particular that you’d be willing to share that you feel serves as a significant memory that might relate to one’s experience listening to The Black Maria?

Bowes: I haven’t really talked about this in public before. Kerri was a beautiful soul, as I’m sure a lot of people that met her will attest to. We met in 2010, were married in 2011. She was an occasional model and featured on some of the Attrition covers around that time (The Unraveller of Angels in particular). She was also a keyboard player and contributed to some Attrition recordings (The Invocation film score being of note).
Kerri had real issues with alcohol, and sadly, it got worse and worse. I tried what I could to help, but it just didn’t work. It got worse and worse between us, and after a long difficult time, we split up in 2018, just after we played the horror film score live in Transylvania. After a little break, we did stay friends and I helped her out as much as I could while she lived in her new apartment with our dog Amber. She seemed okay for a while, but ultimately, the alcohol proved too much, and she died from that, aged only 39, on January 8, 2022.
It’s still difficult. I have dedicated The Black Maria to her memory.

 

 

The Black Maria features remixed/remastered versions of ‘The Great Derailer’ and ‘The Alibi,’ which were released as singles in 2020 and 2021, respectively, along with 2023’s ‘The Switch.’ In what ways do you feel your perception of those songs has changed in the interim between when you released them as singles and their final form on the album?
Did your vision for those songs change at all as you mixed them for the final album?
On that note, how much of The Black Maria was locked in your mind from the start, and what would you say most changed in its final version?

Bowes: I think I was a bit more focused. I liked having the chance of going back and working with them within the context of the album. I know there can be a danger of overproducing, so I was wary of that, and I think they work… for me anyway.
I don’t really lock anything in my mind when I work on songs or albums. I like to let them develop their own sound. From abstract beginnings, there is always a point that I feel they have got their own ‘spirit,’ and then I work with that ’til the end (is there ever an end?). People that have worked with me on songs will know that I often take a song back to the basic framework when it’s not working for me, and it can change the sound a lot. In fact, I have some very different versions of early mixes for this album, and recent ones. I was thinking it may be good to make them available on Bandcamp when I get time, rather than a big release – I love Bandcamp for the place to release things like that.

I’ve read that The Black Maria is a nineteenth century term (now commonly associated with police vans) referring to those who take outcasts away. Now, we live in an age when it seems like every style, every social caste, etc. has a place – regardless of those in authority or power.
What is your perception of the outcast and the roles they play in the world now?

Bowes: I have always felt somewhat on the edge. I learned long ago not to worry about fitting into this world; rather let the world fit around me, although the reality is a compromise. It’s vital people keep their own identity! As the punk kick started my passion for creating music, it really comes from that vision. I will always be that punk rocker at heart.

Among the notable vocalists appearing on the album are Emke (Black Nail Cabaret), Elisa Day (Hetaira Decrépita), Yvette (Vaselyne), Joanna Wolf, and original Attrition vocalist Julia Waller. First of all, would you tell us about how you and Julia reconnected after two decades – what brought that about, and in what ways would you say your working relationship has developed since?
Similarly, we spoke before about Emke and Elisa Day; how did you encounter Yvette and Joanna, and in what ways did their contributions affect your outlook for their respective songs?

Bowes: Julia returned after 20 years! What had happened is that at the end of lockdown, I had been talking with Richard (Woody) and Ashley, who had recorded the 1982 horror soundtrack, This Death House with me. We decided to perform a live version for the very first time (partly inspired by the fact it was being reissued on vinyl again). We played it three times in the U.K. in 2021/2022. As Ashley is Julia’s brother, she came along to those gigs, and they got talking, and she rejoined, firstly for recording, but also for some of the shows. It’s been wonderful. I look forward to recording the next album with her.
I met Emke from Black Nail Cabaret when we played with them in Budapest in 2017. Elisa came here to record when she was over in Europe from Mexico. Yvette, I met online and then in London (she lives in Holland), and Joanna was a local Coventry musician I met at various local shows. I liked what she did. Alia from Subterranea in Toronto also contributed some vocal parts. I do like that contributions from other musicians can alter the course of a piece of music. I work on my own most of the time, creating audio collages from all the pieces of the puzzle. I think my art school background is always there in me. I still ‘see’ music a lot.

Much is often said about a general sense of misogyny in the mainstream musical community, yet Attrition has always championed female voices and musicians. What more do you feel must be done, or that we can/should do, to continue to empower women as artists and creative leaders?

Bowes: I have always felt it is important to convey both a male and female side in my art. It’s ingrained in everything I do really. I hadn’t thought about it as a particular cause; in fact, you mentioning this, I realize how many female musicians are on this album! Some of the best people in the music industry I have worked with are women. I’ve always been impressed by that, and I know it can be a difficult road to take.

We’ve spoken about the vocalists; now, how about the other musicians?
You have Ian Arkley and Steve Clark on guitar on this album – while guitars have always been present in Attrition, your sound has never been especially guitar-centric. How do Ian’s and Steve’s approaches to the instrument compare to past guitarists you’ve worked with, and what was it about their contributions that you feel was essential to The Black Maria?
Same question for Vancorvid, Marietta Fox, Annie Hogan, and Kris Force…

Bowes: It is always really interesting to work with different musicians, bouncing ideas around. I tend to send a demo of the work in progress out to people and let them have a free reign to work with it. Sometimes it won’t work, sometimes it does, and it adds a whole new element, taking the song into a new direction at times. Ian plays in a doom metal band, whereas Steve plays much more post rock/experimental music, so they inhabit different areas, and it worked well for me. The others, on strings and piano, again added textures and layers that I would never have done with my electronics. As this was all recorded over a few years, there was a lot of development on the songs. Some people fell by the wayside, others are still onboard. I have a feeling, as the original Attrition lineup is now back together, that the next album will return to a smaller core unit again, but we shall see.

 

 

Although commonly associated with gothic and darkwave music, Attrition has maintained a sound and vision that is very unique – few other acts really sound like Attrition. First of all, what are your thoughts on these genre terms as they apply to Attrition?
Secondly, as you run The Cage Studios and have worked with many other artists over the years in various capacities, what sorts of methods – recording, songwriting, production, etc. – would you say you’ve adopted or incorporated to strengthen Attrition over the years?

Bowes: I know what you mean. I struggle to think of another band that would fit on a concert billing, or a tour, although we have toured with some amazing people over the years – The Legendary Pink Dots and In the Nursery stand out, and the same unique vision can be said for them too.
When we started, we were very much an anarchist post-punk band with bass, drum, and guitars for the first few shows… not a synth in sight!
Gothic was only beginning in 1980. As we progressed into electronics, we were very much influenced by industrial and post-punk music – Cabaret Voltaire was a big influence back then. Darkwave wasn’t a thing, although I tend to use the term myself when people ask about us… it seems to kind of fit.
We started with a small four-track demo studio in 1981, recording a lot of experimental tracks for vinyl and cassette compilations back then. It was hard to get many shows at first as our sound was very experimental then. We then started to go into ‘pro’ studios as we started to release our music on independent labels, and learned a lot doing that. So, in 1993, I set up my own studio, which meant I could record as often as I wanted to and work, produce, master, or remix other bands too. It was so worth doing. I think I learn from everything I work on. I love that I feel I am only just getting to know what I’m doing. I hope that feeling never ends.

Aside from the artists that you’ve worked with directly, are there any in the current landscape that you find particularly noteworthy or interesting, or any that you’re keen to work with?

Bowes: I do hear so much music. The band I have loved the most in recent years is Idles; seeing them live reminded me of being at those early Clash shows – so powerful and inspiring. There is so much good music in the underground too. We played some U.K. shows recently with Pilgrims of Yearning (from Chile, and now in Boston) – wonderful band and people. I need to produce something of theirs!
My sometimes singer Alia has her own project, Subterranea, an ethereal operatic affair. She sometimes opens for our shows, and I love that.
I could go on and on.

2022 saw you performing a series of festivals and shows with Julia, as well as Richard Woodfield and Ashley Niblock. What were the major challenges the band endured to revisit the old live dynamic and adapt yourselves to performing older material with a more current mindset?

Bowes: It’s been quite inspiring. First Richard and Ashley rejoined (after 30 years?); they’d made their fortune, but missed the best times they ever had. :)
Then Julia rejoined. Obviously, I’d never gone away and had sailed the Attrition ship for all those years. The live dynamic works really well. Of course, I’m running it all these days as I have been for a long time, but it totally works as a band. The lineup is still flexible. Ashley does live in San Francisco, so he can’t make every show. Richard will be there, and Julia’s husband John joins us sometimes too (he actually debuted at The Projekt fest in Chicago in 1996, so he has credentials).
We play a mix of the old and new material. We’re going to work in a few more old favorites, but really, we’re most excited about writing new material. It’s 44 years since our first show – I love that we are as excited as ever!

Attrition is also scheduled to perform at this year’s ColdWaves. What do you think are the biggest difficulties with live performances right now, especially for bands to travel internationally? What do you feel artists, labels, venues, the industry as a whole should take away from the pandemic and use or think about going forward?

Bowes: Well, yes, the pandemic was awful, but we’re getting over that now really. I think a worse development is countries swinging to the right, closing borders, Brexit, all making it harder for musicians to travel and tour. War doesn’t help either. It’s a scary world we have at the moment. I think that is the thing to think about more. We are all people, all the same underneath the politics. We need to move on as human beings.

 

 

You’ve been around for more than four decades and have undoubtedly seen social and cultural changes in views and opinions, ways of behavior, words we use, etc. Moreover, social media not only allows a platform for the audience to engage with artists, but we also see a lot of older artists taken to task for things said and done in the past. Especially for those with such a long pedigree, what do you feel is the responsibility of artists and musicians to adapt to – or at least address – the changing demands of the audience on a societal and cultural level?

Bowes: A good question. Times do change of course, and they should. I love that all kinds of people are accepted these days (well, they are supposed to be). I remember well being turned away from pubs as a punk rocker in 1977, and being chased through the streets by football fans.
We used to go and drink in the gay pub in Coventry as there was never any trouble there. Punk was very inclusive, and a lot of things I saw then are happening more broadly now. Living in Coventry during the Two Tone era was also good. There was a lot of racism back then, and I know there still is now, but to see the effects of black and white people together in bands at the time really changed a lot of attitudes. I used to interview The Specials in my fanzine at the time. I think we just need to be good people.

What do you most enjoy outside of music? What are your favorite activities that don’t involve music – cooking, reading, hiking, etc.?

Bowes: I do keep thinking of returning to my painting and sculpture. I always promised I would when I got too old for the music business. I can’t see that happening anytime soon though.
I love travelling. I just came back from a few days in Marrakesh. I love all the Arabic art and decor, and yes, hiking as you call it… and cooking. And I am now a bloody grandad, so I love hanging out with this new generation. I have two – they are both babies. They better not ever call me a Goth!!! :)
Thanks for the InterView Ilker!!! Appreciated!
People… do check out our various sites for more on what we are up to!

 

Attrition
Website, Facebook, Bandcamp, YouTube, Instagram
Two Gods
Website, Facebook, Instagram
The Cage Studios
Website, Facebook, Bandcamp, Instagram

 

Photos provided courtesy of Attrition

 

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