Dec 2022 07

London After Midnight founder Sean Brennan speaks with ReGen about the band’s current activity, reaching to the past with some hints to the future.
 

 

An InterView with Sean Brennan of London After Midnight

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Since the band first appeared in 1990, London After Midnight has gone on to become a beloved entity in the annals of darkwave and goth/rock. It’s almost difficult to imagine that Sean Brennan has been guiding the band for more than three decades, the group’s sound a constantly shifting blend of dark musical styles compounded by thought-provoking lyrics that address the ills of a society in decline. Issues as diverse and perpetually relevant as environmentalism, animal rights, anticorporatism, and more have been at the forefront of LAM’s modus operandi, using the music as a vehicle to encourage social and political growth and reevaluation, all the while never losing cred with the underground. As the band is currently in the midst of reissuing gems from the back catalog, Sean Brennan took the time to speak with ReGen about the current state of affairs for London After Midnight, touching on the pros and cons of being an artist in the digital age, the significance of politics in art and the band’s music, and the pitfalls of touring and live performance before and after the pandemic.

 

First of all, how are you? How’s your health?

Brennan: Good, thanks.

You very recently released Oddities Too; what was the motivating factor for returning to Oddities after 24 years?

Brennan: Oddities Too was going to be a standalone album, a collection of songs similar to the 1998 Oddities album – recomposed, never released, new, etc. But after some consideration, I combined it with the planned rerelease of Oddities. In 2019, I formed my own record label, Darkride Records, in order to release all my previous albums. Those have been out-of-print because I left my former record labels – they are all still available digitally, but physical product wasn’t available and I always get requests, especially for vinyl. I am not just rereleasing the same albums or merely remastering them; I am remixing them from the original multitrack master tapes, as if they were being mixed for the first time. With today’s technology, I am able to finally present the music as it should have originally sounded, without all the limitations I had at the times of original production.
In 2019, I rereleased a deluxe version of my first album from 1991, Selected Scenes from the End of the World: 9119. This included a forgotten recording from the original sessions, restored audio tracks that have never been heard before, versions of the songs that have out-of-print for decades, and a massive improvement to the overall sound, presented with rare never-before-seen photos.
 

 
So, I combined Oddities Too with the planned 1998 Oddities rerelease, making it a double album. So now, I have that Oddities rerelease checked off my list, while also simultaneously releasing new material. All the recordings on Oddities Too are new, many never-before-released songs, except for the recordings from the 1998 Oddities album. But as said, those have been entirely remixed.

In the process of remixing/revising the original tracks, as well as the other featured tracks, did you find that your perceptions of the material had changed since you first recorded/released it?

Brennan: I was very limited in my ability to mix the songs correctly when they were originally recorded due to financial constraints. So, this made for substandard final mixes. I’ve always wondered if I would be able to make them sound better given the opportunity. Upon revisiting older recordings to remix, I did find that some of that insecurity was baseless, as the recordings really come to life and sound so much better when they are properly mixed.

After more than two decades, what kinds of surprises or otherwise unexpected qualities did you discover as you went over the original multitrack tapes?

Brennan: After a while, you can get a little jaded, maybe dismissive of tracks you haven’t thought about for a while. I don’t often listen to my own music, but going back and working with it again, I found it to have a sincerity and emotion I’d maybe forgotten about, an earnestness and optimism, even in songs that are a little dark in nature. So, it was nice to revisit them. Also, hearing the sound from between takes, when voices talking might be captured, is pretty interesting.

Nostalgia has manifested in different ways, from the resurgent popularity of certain genres to many artists revisiting past material, as LAM did with Oddities Too. To what would you attribute this? What do you feel have been the key factors toward these looks back to the past?

Brennan: I think every generation has their period of nostalgia, and that spans interests. I’ve seen it from the collectable market through music, fashion, and beyond. I guess it’s just a way to revisit a time of comparative innocence and is an opportunity to reflect and share something with people who have similar interests.

 

 

LAM is often associated with goth/rock and darkwave, and while it’s not unheard of for these genres to directly address politics, you’ve been one of the more visible and vocal acts to do so.
A quote I love from Orson Welles, ‘Every work of art is a political statement. When you deliberately make it, you usually fall into the trap of rhetoric and the trap of speaking to a convinced audience, rather than convincing an audience. I don’t think it is the duty of every artist to change the world; he is doing it by being an artist.’
Especially in the modern era when everybody is able to communicate and share (or reinforce) their views and opinions, what are your thoughts on the role of politics in art (or vice versa)?

Brennan: I think art needs to be relevant and subversive, with the goal of progress. Sure, in our minds, we can create art for, or relegate it to, some other level of existing – like being a purely aesthetic thing for example. But to me, while not unimportant, such art seems to me to occupy a less important space in our culture. Some art is political by existing, but that’s because it’s subversive and countering a prevalent mode of thinking, such as racism, or homophobia, sexism, etc. Not all art is political by merely existing. Of course, there’s a place for not overtly political art in all our lives – we can’t always be switched on 24/7, we’d have nervous breakdowns. But I think, to put it very simply, the really important and lasting art is not only original, but the kind that speaks about something greater and/or rebels against something oppressive, rather than just being ear or eye candy or a background soundtrack.
With LAM speaking out about climate change, about the rise of fascism, wealth inequality, racism, bigotry, sexism, etc, I’m happy that these subjects are so welcome to most audiences. But there is the other side, the people who say “shut up and sing” simply because they want to pretend these problems don’t exist or are guilty of supporting those issues. There’s that aspect too, of people actually wanting art to be dumbed down and wanting artists to be mindless performing monkeys. That mentality is really destructive.
About the Welles quote, I don’t entirely agree. Saying that any art is political by merely existing seems a hoity-toity thing to say, but I don’t know in what context Welles was saying this. Not all art is on the same level. I think it’s dangerous to say that the most shallow art is as equally valuable or relevant as more intelligent, culturally, or politically significant art. Of course, art can be interpreted different ways, and people relate to different art in different ways, so this is a topic that requires much more space devoted to it, but I think that we need to understand that some art isn’t valuable or relevant simply by existing.
People can make grand pronouncements about all art being equally significant and then cite the original jazz musicians of color as an example of artists who weren’t overtly political with their creations, but they fail to point out the context of what they faced in regard to oppression and racism for merely creating that music. I think declaring grand things about all art can devalue all it by saying it’s all equally relevant.

Similarly, as genres are often mixed and mangled, what are your thoughts on the goth and darkwave genres and how they’ve evolved (or at the very least changed) since you first started making music?
What is the validity of ‘genres’ in this day and age?

Brennan: Personally, if a song is good, I like it regardless of the genre attached to it. So, to me, genres really aren’t something that matters.
In regard to the way the genres or music styles have evolved, I think that in some sense it’s progressed while in others it’s stagnated or devolved. When musicians create art for a scene, then you have a problem. When music becomes a replaceable soundtrack to a scene that was built on music and then morphed into something else, then the music can suffer and the genre, musically, risks becoming stale. But there is also a lot of support for original work and people taking chances. So, I’m optimistic.

 

 

You’ve just recently released a video for ‘Better Off Dead (Be My Guest),’ which you also edited. Despite the title, you did include the disclaimer addressing depression and suicide ideation. First of all, would you tell us about how you approached the visuals and their relationship to the lyrics? Do you have a philosophy around LAM’s visual presentation and how it complements or strengthens the music?

Brennan: The video, in my mind and in this case, tells the story visually. The problems are personified – the protagonist, the antagonists, the sort of Greek chorus commentary or reflection. It’s not too subtle and it’s really all I had to work with, visually, so not ideal to me. But it’s kind of dreamy and weird and lets people feel whatever comes to them. For videos, I never really wanted to feature me or a band. I am actually a little uncomfortable doing that and never liked getting pictures or video taken. LAM was never really intended to be that focused on the visual in regard to the look; it was just how I and live members felt comfortable in the environment of performing music. That, for some reason, became a thing though. But you’ll notice relative to other bands, LAM doesn’t have tons and tons of photos and photoshoots and videos. This is why – I just don’t like that aspect very much. But now we live in a time where unless you plaster photos of yourself all over social media, you’re forgotten, and you have no ability to earn a living making music.

What do you enjoy about the process of making/editing videos?

Brennan: I studied film in school and grew up making stop motion animation films and mini-features using my father’s camera. I planned to be a film director from childhood, but gradually got more into music. The interest in film has never waned, though, and it’s something I’d love to get back to. I do have several short film ideas I hope to get to one day. But creating videos allows me a little of that visual storytelling.

Prior to Oddities Too, LAM released its first ever live album, which was actually created through online interaction during the lockdowns.
Of course, file-sharing is nothing new, but what did you find to be the major challenges in recording in this fashion vs. how the band records in the studio? Do you feel you were successful in capturing a live energy through this medium?

Brennan: It was obviously totally different to how a band would normally record a live album, but given the software that exists now, we were able to do it without too much trouble. I think the Live From Isolation album is a more accurate reflection of a live performance than an actual concert performance is, ironically. LAM does a few festivals a year, maybe every other year. So, without the regular weekly touring grind, suddenly thrown into a festival setting where everything is rushed because there are so many bands and there’s no time to work out any sound issues, you’re kind of starting from scratch and at the mercy of fate in such circumstances.

 

 

Many bands turned to livestreaming during the pandemic, and while live shows have returned, we are still facing numerous postponements and cancellations – visas not being issued, health concerns still rampant, financial issues, etc.
What do you feel artists, labels, venues, the industry as a whole should take away from the experience and use or think about going forward?

Brennan: It’s really difficult to say. If you look at even larger bands now, they are pointing out that they cannot earn a living touring or releasing music. Before the pandemic, touring had become a necessity due to people no longer buying music, replacing it with streaming, and streaming pays essentially nothing to the artists. But now, the pandemic has so reset things that it’s hard for even larger bands to make tours work financially. That may change over time, but touring never paid that much to begin with, and now it’s a mess. So, the takeaway? I don’t know. But for fans, I say that if you value music, buy it. Because with nothing paying artists anymore, we may not have very many choices in regard to art for very long.

What is the prospect of LAM playing live and touring – do you foresee this happening anytime soon?

Brennan: LAM has a few concert dates set for 2023, one being the massive Sick New World Festival in Las Vegas in May with The Sisters of Mercy and tons of ’90s bands like System of a Down, KoRn, and more. Also, a festival in Europe next summer. LAM just headlined the Amphi Festival in Germany this summer and performed at the huge Cruel World Festival in Pasadena, CA at the Rose Bowl with Bauhaus, Blondie, Morrissey, etc.

 

 

Not to bring the subject of age into question, but what do you find to be the major differences in your writing and working methods now vs. when you first recorded/released Oddities?
What do you find personally have been the best methods to staying healthy and vital as a working musician, and in what ways do you feel it affects your creative abilities (and vice versa)?

Brennan: For me, there aren’t that many significant changes, though obviously, now technology has allowed an entirely different approach to production. So, what would have been a more difficult thing in the past – dealing with tapes and recording machines, studios, and all the gear you need – is much more condensed and easier now. This has made it easier for me to be able to start Darkride Records and release three albums in two years, whereas in the past, that took ages.
Staying healthy is difficult if you’re touring as you don’t sleep enough, aren’t able to eat properly, you experience a lot of stress, etc. Maybe that’s why I don’t tour that often. But starting out healthy and staying away from things that can harm you is pretty important. I’ve never done drugs at all or drank alcohol to any significant extent. But I’ve unfortunately worked with musicians who had problems in those areas and though I tried to intervene and help, it was often fruitless and ultimately had to part ways. Those activities will just burn you out and destroy your creative abilities, I think.

What’s next for you and London After Midnight? Any other projects you can tell us about?

Brennan: There is an all new album that’s already half recorded. I also want to remix LAM’s second full-length album from 1995, Psycho Magnet, and rerelease a deluxe version of that on CD and vinyl to match the other Darkride Records releases. After that? Who knows?

 

London After Midnight
Website, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, YouTube, Instagram
Darkride Records
Website, Facebook

 

Photography provided courtesy of London After Midnight

 

Leave a Comment

ReGen Magazine