Claire Sawers

Freelance Writer

Category: Interviews (page 2 of 5)

Interview: Gazelle Twin

Behind the angst-ridden mask of musician-producer Elizabeth Bernholz


The List
12 Feb 2015

Elizabeth Bernholz, aka Gazelle Twin, is a Brighton musician making ink-black, intoxicating experimental pop. Her droning, bleeping, pitch-shifting electronic tracks are nightmarish, unsettling takes on everything from mental health issues, societal angst and body horror. She was The Quietus’s 2014 Album of the Year winner, and recently made music for the London Short Film Festival. Claire Sawers got a brief peek behind the mask…

As someone who’s been racked with anxieties, self-loathing and neuroses since childhood, how did you deal with the praise piled on you, particularly for your last album, Unflesh?
That’s the first time anyone has asked me that and it’s a great question. I’m not very good at taking praise normally, especially in person. It sometimes makes me want to cry, or feel sick and want to hide. It’s not that I am ungrateful – quite the opposite.

It’s an odd thing. I guess in this sense, being praised for making work about various traumas is also a very uncomfortable thing if I think about it too much. I try to focus on the fact that it’s maybe just my ability to communicate and construct something out of an experience, rather than the experience itself. Good press is like a drug though. I try to distance myself from it as much as I can as it’s easy to become addicted to that rush of reading good press, or receiving praise, and then the drop is a long one whenever the criticism is negative, or things just peter out and no one talks about it anymore. I’ve been incredibly lucky with this record that people are still interested!

What three things might people find surprising about you?
Behind closed doors I am pretty juvenile when I’m not totally stressed out from work or other things. I love watching comedies and getting far too addicted to TV dramas. People might also be surprised that I am quite shy, self-deprecating and easily embarrassed… that is, if they have seen me onstage lunging or barking at them.

Your videos and music seem to reflect deep-rooted, societal angst. Are we all fucked?
Hmm, yeah I think we are really. I can’t lie. It’s just a gradual demise from now I think, until total collapse. Until we start all over again, if we are that lucky.

What role can music play in making things less fucked?
I think it’s important that people have a way to purge their frustrations, anger, experience, no matter how personal or how political. The more that leftfield music is heard in the mainstream, the more creativity might be inspired, the more free-thinking might be adopted by younger generations. I don’t know, that’s a utopia of course, but young people need that. The world needs that. It probably can’t help war, famine, disease or natural disasters though sadly. Sorry Bob Geldof.

Is life getting more or less terrifying for you?
People terrify me. The idea of having children, which will be my next big event in life, terrifies me. But healthy fear is a pretty good motivator most of the time.

Who or what makes you laugh?
French and Saunders. Arrested Development. Mulligan and O’Hare.

What’s your idea of hell?
Probably too dark for your readers, so I’ll go with something less graphic like being stranded at sea with my legs underwater.

What are you working on now/ next?
I have been working on a few side-projects and other music work, but have made a start on album three. It’ll take me a lot of work to get some of the ideas I have into shape. But I am excited to start something new.

Gazelle Twin plays the Art School, Glasgow, Fri 27 Feb, with Zamilska, hausfrau & Dick-50. Read the interview at The List here.

Interview: General Ludd

A new project from Glasgow duo Tom Marshallsay, aka Dam Mantle, and Richard McMaster of Golden Teacher

General Ludd

The List
21 October 2014

General Ludd fuses the talents of a bunch of Glasgow music acts we already loved. The duo of Tom Marshallsay (aka Dam Mantle), and Richard McMaster (from Golden Teacher, Lovers Rights and Silk Cut) was a shoo-in for good things, and recent DJ mixes and an upcoming EP of twitchy, bouncy house/ techno/ pop confirm suspicions – yup, it’s a match made in electronic heaven.

Where were you when General Ludd first came up in conversation?

At home flicking through the pages of [1960s Marxist text] The Society of the Spectacle.

Did you set out to make music that was going to sound a certain way? Or did it just kind of evolve out of the gear you were using/ the way you were producing it at the time?

I think we have some sort of process that we feel comfortable with now. It’ll inevitably evolve as we go along and is never fixed; the environments that are imagined when we’re constructing tracks are varied. Our sound doesn’t necessarily revolve around specific gear, but we tend to use this old Allen & Heath mixer we acquired, and if we have equipment that performs the same task as the computer we try to use that as you can access more immediate visceral responses from being hands on. There is this space in yourself when making music that almost feels out of your own body – it’s like you are looking at yourself playing or performing a task and you forget what you are actually needing to do. Whenever that happens it’s something that we focus on and that is an essential part of our production.

Can you sum up the General Ludd sound in five words??

Not really.

Why did you call yourselves General Ludd? (ie: the guy we take the word luddite from?)

I don’t think the Luddites were necessarily anti-technology or backwards looking (which is how the word tends to get appropriated), they were just protecting their craft from those who capitalised on running the mills where they made their living as artisans. By using the name of a mythological hero of a leaderless movement we hope to draw attention to the struggles of those who were trampled in order to establish the industrial empire we live and work within today … It’s about having a healthy sceptical attitude, although we don’t align ourselves with a specific ideology, critical thinking is important to us …

You’re well connected – with gigs at Berghain, and doing stuff for Huntley and Palmers, Optimo, Boiler Room – any other collaborations or projects in the pipeline?

We’ve been really lucky to work with people who are mindful, charitable and are into music for the right reasons. A lot of that just is the product of music in Glasgow. We just finished an EP and have quite a few plans in the pipeline.

How do you swap / work on music?

We’ve both been in Glasgow for around 7 years. We work together at a home studio that we’ve slowly constructed over the past few years. Our time does get limited by our various commitments but we’re always trying to be as productive as possible with our time together.

What do you both get from GL that is a bonus / missing thing from your other music projects?

The chance to make distilled productions outside of a ‘live context’ that are mainly focused for DJing. We also get opportunities to DJ as GL and that is a really exciting experience. Even just this last weekend we played in London at a Black Atlantic party at Village Underground with Golden Teacher and Optimo and it was such a great experience. It’s so exciting to play the music that we love to 1000 people and see bodies moving and smiles on new faces. Music can really transfer emotion in such immediate ways and it’s so exciting to be part of that exchange, that’s what we’re doing this all for.

What do you want from a crowd when you play live?

Communitas. Empowerment. Freedom. Party!

Read the interview in The List here.

Interview: Peter Zummo

The trombonist and Arthur Russell collaborator reinvents the cult composer’s work with an experimental sextet


The List
8 October 2014

’Let’s just say, I can sometimes have an attitude about the cellist who’s going to play Arthur Russell’s music. When we were choosing the right musician, I think it’s fair to say I expressed a few opinions,’ Peter Zummo confesses, laughing quietly down the phone from his home in Staten Island, New York.

As someone who worked and shared a music studio with the cult composer – the one-off, mysterious genius that was avant-garde / proto-disco producer / musician Arthur Russell – Zummo is understandably a bit picky about anyone attempting to recreate the distinct cello sound of his friend. ‘It was never just about sentimentality with Arthur, he played with this raw energy and supreme intelligence, it’s important not to get the wrong interpretation of that.’

But Zummo – himself a noted experimental composer and trombonist – is giving the seal of approval to Oliver Coates, the cellist who’ll join him onstage, alongside Ernie Brooks (guitar) and Bill Ruyle (hammer dulcimer, percussion) with live beats and processing from JD Twitch and Bass Clef. As a half American, half British sextet, they plan to play live over selected tracks from Russell’s vast back catalogue.

‘Keith [McIvor, Glasgow’s JD Twitch] has isolated the rhythm of ‘Is It All Over My Face’, for example. He’s taken an extended sample and remixed it – that will be the foundation that we play live on top of.’ While Zummo is keen ‘to check back in with the original songs’, he also thinks Russell, himself an endless reshaper (there were 40 tapes with mixes of the same song found in his apartment when he died), would want them to push the sound forward. ‘He moved fast, he didn’t believe in repeating himself. If he was alive today, he’d be into totally different stuff, so I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to rework his stuff, rather than spin out the same concept.’

Although Zummo initially wasn’t keen to get involved in the growing Russell revival following his death in 1992 (‘I figured we should let him rest in peace!’), he is pleased he eventually let himself be talked into it. Zummo featured on 2011’s debut album from Arthur’s Landing – a collective of ‘Russell alumni’ – musicians who’d all worked with him at some point, on his more introspective, acoustic work (World Of Echo) or his pioneering disco projects (as Loose Joints and Dinosaur L). Arthur’s Landing visited Scotland that year to play the Tramway alongside Chris and Cosey, curated by Optimo DJ Keith McIvor. McIvor first got in touch with Zummo, asking if he could re-release his Zummo With an X, a gorgeous record of Zummo’s from 1981, featuring him on trombone, Russell on cello and Bill Ruyle on tabla. ‘I took over mastertapes with me, and Keith ended up putting the record out on Optimo. From there I seemed to start building up a lovely bunch of UK contacts.’

And so it is that Zummo finds himself, four years later, returning to Scotland.

‘Some people find it odd to have live instruments playing over a pre-recorded track, but that’s exactly how Arthur used to perform, back in nightclubs in New York in the 70s and 80s. If he wanted to create street level interest, he’d go into a dance club, do a cameo performance, with him singing, or playing cello, or with a guest vocalist over a track that he’d prepared.’

‘It’s the same now, if the rhythm is tight enough, then the trombone can just float on top.’

Summerhall, Edinburgh, Thu 16 Oct.

Interview: Michael Rother

The List
August 2010

Motor Skills

Lynchpin member of several pioneering bands of 1970s German music, Michael Rother chats to Claire Sawers about the liquid
smooth krautrock sounds he will be bringing to Edinburgh this week

Only Michael Rother, one half of pioneering electronica duo Neu! Could find creative inspiration in a wonky phone signal. ‘Seriously! You should hear what this sounds like at my end,’ he enthuses, as Skype turns our chat into a distorted, bubbly, underwater crackle of noise.

‘It’s like Conny Plank is putting you through a phaser! It’s amazing – what an incredible effect! I need to start using Skype for making music. This phone connection is so . . . adventurous!’

Reassuring then,  that Rother, has lost none of his passion for technology, and that knack for homing in on the strange and new. How else would the music of Neu! Have come about? While the rest of Germany succumbed to a bad wave of naff schlager pop hits during the early 1970s, a small portion of defiant modernists strove to create something that had never been heard before. German experimentalists Kraftwerk (Rother was early member, before forming Neu! In 1971 with drummer Klaus Dinger, then later Harmonia with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Möbius of Cluster) as well as Faust, Can and Tangerine Dream, all embraced bold new rhythms and sounds, and led Europe into a stunning new era of electronic music. Creating sublime rolling motorik beats, Neu!’s liquid-smooth, repetitious sound was completely at odds with the bulky and temperamental technology they were using to make it.

‘We had no idea if people were listening to our stuff back then,’ he explains, referring to the lengthy period when Neu!’s underground music was hard to get hold of, and copies on CDR and cassette were swapped amongst fans. ‘Now it seems the audience is much more advanced, and ready for us. I’m so happy to be in a position where we are in demand.’ So, nearly thirty years on, founding member Michael Rother is reviving his 70s creation, in a touring band made up of Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) on drums, and Aaron Mullan (Tall Firs) on guitar.

Steve is a very powerful drummer, and has a great ability to listen and react to the music. He isn’t trying to imitate what Klaus did though – that would be silly,’ Rother says of his one-time musical partner, who died in 2008. ‘Both Steve and Aaron add their own colours to the music. That’s how it should be; not playing like a slave. It’s all in the spirit of moving forward.’ Forward motion is something that Rother talks a lot about, and likens the music of Neu! To a long drive down a straight motorway; a comparison that often crops up of the krautrock sound. ‘It’s about concentrating on the horizon, just moving. Not fussing over small details, just caring about that fast forward motion.’

If Hallogallo’s performance at May’s Primavera festival in Barcelona is anything to go by, this Edinburgh date has all the hallmarks of a hypnotic, very special glide through krautrock beats and woozy kosmische soundscapes. ‘I look out at all the smiling faces, and people seem so happy when they listen to the music. I’m an artist, and someone that’s not easily satisfied with what I do. But really, when you see that, what more can you ask as an artist?’

Hallogallo/ Michael Rother & Friends present the music of Neu!, HMV Picture House, Lothian Road, 0844 847 1740, 17Aug, 7.30pm, £18. Part of The Edge Fest.

Read the original article on

Interview: Malcolm Ross


The List
2 December 2009

Setting the template for art-rock, and showcasing their ineffable cool in the process, Franz Ferdinand’s self-titled debut was a turning point for Scottish music. Claire Sawers asks Malcolm Ross of highly influential bands including Josef K and Orange Juice to explain the album’s significance Continue reading

Interview: James Ellroy

The List
4 November 2009

Blood’s a Rover is most ‘redemptive, romantic and accessible’ to date

Iconic US author James Ellroy has just reached the end of an epic literary trail. Claire Sawers speaks to the man who creates history within a cultural vacuum Continue reading

Interview: X Lion Tamer

Click here to read an interview with X Lion Tamer, aka Tony Taylor on Amelia’s Magazine.

‘Cherokee Moses’ comes home

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, a tour guide once said. Gayle Ross, on the other hand, doesn’t believe in bending the truth. Continue reading

Interview: Emmanuel Jal

The List
6 August 2009


A child in time

Growing up around hate and violence, Emmanuel Jal is still trying to put the horrors of Sudan’s civil war behind him. He chats to Claire Sawers about his perfect therapy Continue reading

Interview: Lauren Laverne

The Sunday Times
23 August 2009

Lauren Laverne

Lauren Laverne

The BBC biter who hates being bitten

The Culture Show presenter Lauren Laverne can’t bear being interviewed –  she knows how dangerous it can be. Still, she did talk to Claire Sawers Continue reading

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