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One white crow – an interview with Nick Hudson

Nick Hudson interviewed by Caroline Simpson

Nick Hudson is a singular talent. Based in Brighton, Hudson, a musician, has a prodigious output, having produced four albums (My Antique Son, 2010, Territories of Dissent, 2010, A Day without Comfort, 2012 and Letters to the Dead 2012) over the past three years, which not only does he write, perform, play most of the instruments – he also records and produces himself.

Praised by outsider luminaries such as  David Tibet, Jeremy Reed and Julian Cope, Hudson’s music is spectral, creepy and menacing. Every song is a dark jewel, like ancient amber with an insect entombed inside. He is Pinky’s long lost brother; a wraith in Brighton’s labyrinthine back streets, whose stately and melancholy music is not only beautiful and strange, it is also disturbing, hinting at a world that is there, but is elusive – just out of reach.

Unrestrainedly and unabashedly ambitious, Hudson has now ventured into multimedia presentation having directed a film last summer to accompany, or augment, his latest recording Letters to the Dead.

As he sings on My Antique Son, “creeping, morbid, hopeful chant, And nervous, merry dance”.

Below is a conversation I had with Hudson, last autumn, in London.

When did you start making music?
I started playing violin at five, but never pursued it, because the teacher seemed like an alien, used to make us walk around the school with our violin on our shoulder. I then took up piano, essentially because of my Auntie Penny, who died in 1989, and was in a band called Room 101, who were at one point much loved by John Peel and Billy Bragg. She gave me a keyboard a few years before she died of cancer, and she gave me a keyboard and I started working stuff out on it, and my parents recognised that I had seemingly some affinity with it, so they bought me a piano and got me lessons.

I realised fairly quickly that I wouldn’t be concert pianist material – my sight-reading always suffered compared to my capacity to improvise. I think I was always inclined more towards a creative route than an interpretive one. Then I started playing guitar when I was ten, I’m totally self-taught. My technique’s not remarkable, it’s singular in that it’s me – replete with all the flaws that brings. And I got my first singing lesson when I was 23. I never really intended to sing.

I was living back at home where I started writing songs, saved up enough my money buy myself a laptop and a really crap mic. I downloaded some software. There was obviously some latent discharge waiting to happen ‘cause as soon as I had the capacity to record, I just went apeshit and started hemorrhaging songs. Then it was by default, “Ooh, I have to sing these, because there’s nobody else around – it’s Lincolnshire!”. I’m self-taught as a producer, and my ear for that and knowledge of the software is just through trial and error – plenty of the latter – but they’re starting to sound pretty decent I think.

 Nick Hudson with Yves Klein backdrop/ Photo by Joe Nockles

Nick Hudson with Yves Klein backdrop. Photo by Joe Nockles

And how did you get from Lincolnshire to Brighton?
I moved back after university, and it was something of an awful decision – I just think you get thrown into the same old behavioural archetypes that you had before you left. I became a teenager again, my dad became an oppressive monster again, which of course he isn’t, and I got generally very depressed and kinda decided that I could either stop there or write my way out of it.

How did that come about?
The writing gave me a lot more confidence and I’d also started corresponding with an author called Dennis Cooper.

I’ve never heard of him!
I know you haven’t!

Was that through the blog?
No, it was way before the blog. I emailed him personally. I’d just starting writing songs and I think it was reading his novels that gave me the confidence to write about the things I was addressing in my lyrics.

So this was about seven years ago?
And, the early lyrics were all quite stark, naked, confessional and, um, deeply unpleasant. (Laughter). I wrote to him, as a kind of nervous, delayed, adolescent. And he emailed me back. I sent him some music, and he replied saying, “Oh my god, this is really fucking beautiful, who are you? What’s your background?” And we became friends. This gave me a great deal of confidence to continue to write and explore these things in more detail and develop as a writer and an artist.

Prose and poetry were happening simultaneously with music anyway, and it was only when I was about 23 that I started twinning the writing and the music together. I think the confidence writing gave me, led me to looking to ways to move on from Lincolnshire. After this I ended up living in Crawley for a year or two.

Was this by yourself?
No, I was a lodger at some absolute nutjob’s terraced house.

How did you find that?
Family friend. And, y’know, we had fun. He was a challenging man in every sense, often in good ways, but … I wasn’t employed very much at the time so I was able to hone my craft, and write constantly. I mean, I think I did something like seven albums within three years or something stupid like that. And then minutes within arriving at Crawley, I got on the train to Brighton. I stepped off the train there and immediately thought, “Oh, I want to live here”. And within two years I was.

Apart from Dennis Cooper, what are your influences, music or otherwise?
They are as wide and varied as you would hope … Mmmm. I guess the real stayers, the enduring ones, are the absolute singular mavericks like Bjork … and Scott Walker, who I adore – every single stage of his career I adore, and a lot of the Eastern European contemporary classical composers like Penderecki and Gorecki and other names with the suffix “-esci”. His Symphony of Sorrowful Songs I listened to when I was 16 and it’s still one of the most strikingly beautiful things I’ve ever heard. Yeah, just something about the pace, orchestral texture and harmonic voicings really kicks my arse.

And although I don’t make dense modern classical music myself, it’s there, partly because of my training, partly because of my listening, there’s an influence, even if it’s understated. Who else?  Lots of film-makers actually. People like David Lynch, Terrence

Malick and Tarkovsky, who most recently has been utterly caning me.

Letters to the Dead – cover image

Letters to the Dead – cover image

And writers?
Burroughs, predominantly.

I think … I regard him foremost as a social philosopher in some sense, and as part of a potent lineage with Crowley, Genesis P-Orridge, Coil, and quite aggressive countercultural stuff.  And the cut-up work he did with Brion Gysin has been hugely influential on my approach to editing in whatever medium I’m working in.  Extreme juxtapositions within one piece I guess.

Why do you like that?
I guess I’ve always responded to collage, intuitively or whatever. It’s exciting to me to have lots of data densely crammed into one little announcement or something. I don’t know. It works for me.  And also, I guess like the modernists. They’re attempting to present an idea of consciousness with a greater accuracy than 19th-century novelistic fiction had ever done, and I find that really compelling.  And also, Burroughs’  life is fascinating too.  He’s kind of everything that society currently detests and deplores – he was a wife-murdering, misogynistic junkie. So, y’know …

What’s not to love?
Exactly, role models.

So you were in Brighton, you’d made lots of material.
Yep, too much some might say.

And you started to release these?
I always used to record as I’d write and I still do to a degree. It’s a slower process now as I’m better at recording, so it takes longer. The early stuff was very lo-fi and quickly produced. I’d barely edit. I was pretty much haemorrhaging songs as I’ve said. I’d always write and record pretty quickly. I did a seven-album cycle called The Phoenix Diaries which was me trying to write my way out of behavioural idiosyncracies that I found objectionable in myself … slightly fucked-up sexual stuff and …

The sea sprites in Letters to the Dead. Brighton, July 2012

The sea sprites in Letters to the Dead. Brighton, July 2012

Can you possibly elaborate?
You want me to elaborate? My mum might read this! Without labouring it, because it’s by no means an abuse tale on the level of intensity often reported, and rightly so – but there were incidents. Every adolescence is thorny, of course, and there were small, violent components to my forming. Little episodes with an older kid in my village. He was a speed freak. It’s all in the lyrics. And that kind of confused my approach to enjoying a healthy sexual dynamic for a while. That’s what most of the early cycle is – me trying to write my way out of that malingering bollocks. And then I started sending The Phoenix Diaries to various people.

Like who?
Franko B, Dennis Cooper, Alex Rose (he blogs with Dennis) who is an amazing artist based in Ireland. He is pretty reclusive. He has been a very fervent supporter of my early work who gave me a load of confidence, and opportunities. He is a really lovely human being. As I went on, I’ve just always entered into correspondence with people whose art I like, insofar as I can obtain their contact details, haha!

Go on?
Meredith Monk, briefly, which was lovely – when I got an email from her saying kind things about my music, I was kind of bowled over, y’know? And, Jeremy Reed and David Tibet, who wrote the foreword for My Antique Son – a record of mine that came out two years ago. Also, some photographers – Anthony Goicolea – he’s a Cuban-American photographer, his stuff’s really wonderful. His early stuff seemed to resonate with my early stuff – certain images he would use would appear in other forms in my own lyrics.

What’s Hexenverfolgung (this is a musical project of Nick’s)?
It’s German for witch persecution.

And who’s Kiddiepunk?
He’s Michael Salerno, a really good friend and another early supporter of my work who lives in Paris.  I played at his wedding in Italy last year – a really amazing week. He started a label which started out as a cottage industry zine. Then he started a label and put out The Elegy, which was a fairly wintry folk record that I made about five years ago.

For ToD, I got loads of orchestral players in to help me out, and I was still recording on a shitty SM58, standard dynamic microphone, usually for live work, but it’s all I could afford. I was recording acoustic instruments on that and through trial and error mixing them so they might sound ok and not lose all of the breadth of texture that string and wind instruments have – that was a challenge.

We self-released that, and that’s the first time we rented St Mary’s Church in Brighton – this huge, cavernous church with mind-blowing acoustics – a three-second sustain. We performed the entire record in sequence with a  ten-piece chamber orchestra. All through rehearsals, I was recovering from swine flu so I had a five-note range and was really cautious of infecting all of these wind musicians. But it went away just in time for the performance, and it went really well. Julian Cope reviewed the record – a profane and brash and crazy and lovely review.

Filming Letters To The Dead, Summer 2012. Photo by Lyndsey Muller

Filming Letters To The Dead, Summer 2012. Photo by Lyndsey Muller

And then My Antique Son happened. I got given a really brilliant microphone by a friend – a Neumann u89 – a £2,000 condenser mic, so a significant step-up from the SM58, which enabled me to everything with way more clarity, and to record sound sources that emit a lower signal. It’s really good for recording voices with. I went kind of nuts on My Antique Son. There’re loads of layered choral parts. I recorded throat singing and the organ and in the church, there are loads of doom metal influences on this one. It’s really progressive and psychedelic with a huge narrative. There’s a track – Hierocles – dedicated to Jeremy Reed on there, based on his book,  Boy Caesar.

And that’s the first one where I’d say the production is something I’m pleased with.  It took a good two years to make. It’s intensely sculpted, and feels more like theatre I would say.  It traces a lineage of my own connecting between what I call my pantheon of gnostic saints – from Heliogabalus, via William Blake, Aleister Crowley, Johnn Balance of Coil, Rimbaud and so on …

After My Antique Son, which was a really collaborative record without about 15 people on it, I wanted to hole up and make something entirely solo. A Day Without Comfort still sounds like a band record in places, even if it is only me. It’s way more intimate and personal than My Antique Son. The coalition, of course, has kicked my writing into more political realms – it’s quite a ranty, sore, acrimonious record. It also addresses certain episodes in the life story of a really dear friend, called John Bacchus. He has a really fascinating life story, and so the lyrics are his life so far condensed into a single day. It’s a more ballad-infused affair.

This brings us to Letters To The Dead. What were you trying to achieve with it?
I guess I tend to be quite reactionary. Every record seems to rebel against the processes, motives and shape of the previous one. I’d made this solo record, A Day Without Comfort, that set out to be very pop, insofar as I can conceivably go towards pop, which I’ve discovered is not very far.  In its production style, I was consciously aping Stephen Street’s work with The Smiths, and also certain Martin Hannett qualities – so an eighties agit-pop record essentially.  Letters To The Dead is utterly different. I was bored of compression and waveforms that look like a brick.

The Letters To The Dead, film ensemble. Photo by Lyndsey Muller

The Letters To The Dead, film ensemble. Photo by Lyndsey Muller

I knew I was going to make a record with very little compression. I’ve used lots of programming, and synths, post-production in the past. With the new one I wanted to record with very little post-production and use mainly acoustic instruments – that became the sonic blueprint. I also wanted to make a straight-up narrative record.  The narrative was written way before I actually began conceiving of it as a record. It’s an opera of sorts. Although that term intimidates me somewhat, so it’s essentially a narrative record.  I wrote the narrative, then started writing the lyrics which would convey the narrative, without being flatly expository, and then I started composing around them.

By this point I’d developed friendships with various members of really brilliant modern-compositional cult bands from NYC and Seattle, who’d all come from either the John Zorn milieu or from a Sunn O)))/Earth doom-y background.  I developed a friendship with Stuart Dahlquist who operates a band called Asva. Stuart was the original bassist in Sunn O))) and was in Burning Witch. And his band Asva are incredible. And every album they make, the further away from traditional doom they get.

The new one has shades of Arvo Part, and features Toby Driver from Kayo Dot on vocals.  I’d just gotten into Kayo Dot, and it was a total headfuck epiphany of a band to discover – totally kicked my arse when I heard them – it’s through-composed, but uses – especially in the early stuff, it’s gone even farther out now – rock instrumentation.

And we put them on in Brighton when they played their last UK tour, and hung out, and stayed in touch and developed a lovely online friendship, and now many of them appear on Letters. Toby, and various members of Kayo Dot, and satellite bands all contribute amazing parts. It has led to the record taking ages to make. Obviously if you’re collaborating with loads of people you have to wait for their schedules to allow for them to develop their contributions.  I also recorded a ten-piece choir of amazing Brighton singers in St Mary’s Church where we premiered the show.

The record’s now done. It’s being released on Antithetic Records which is run by just one guy, called Shawn. It’s an amazing DIY label, limited edition, in beautiful sleeves. Shawn really liked My Antique Son and we discussed doing something together. That turned out to be Letters To The Dead.  But also, I never conceived of it as just a record – it’s a performance as well, a film and a libretto booklet. It was more a case of isolating a narrative, refracting it through various media and seeing how they interact in the public forum.  The libretto booklet will feature all of the lyrics, scanned working notes, visual art, etc.

So all the instruments.
Yeah, I used some really beautiful pianos on Letters … for the lingering sonorities that my stage piano unfortunately can’t simulate. And Letters … is quite a sparse album so to have those hanging, sustained tones was important.  I had to blag my way into studios for free, or save up and rent rooms with pianos and good mics. Tim Byrnes is an amazing trumpet/flugel-horn player from New York who plays with Kayo Dot and his own outfit Hazel-Rah – provided a five-part brass arrangement of the opening track Bad Atoms – his contribution made for a really striking overture.

There’s a séance sequence in the narrative, and for that I wanted to exploit the human voice in unusual ways. I explained to the choir that I wanted them to respond to the vertical axis of my hands. When I’d raise my hand, they’d raise the pitch. They were doing long sustained notes and I was conducting them a bit like a theremin.

Can you tell us about the narrative?
It started pretty free-associative. Then I stripped it down into a more straightforward narrative. Basically, it tells the story of a woman who in the prologue abandons her child through bearing a complete lack of maternal compassion for it. Then it cuts to news footage of this being reported, and of the mother disappearing after the abandonment, and how the child hasn’t been found and how only the father remains. The father’s long-estranged from the family – barely even met the child.  Then it relates to a tale from the 1970s – a cult of fathers who were obsessed with battling over-population and would ritualistically abandon their first-borns into the ocean.

Is this true?
No. Haha. And then in the background you can see footage of three fathers abandoning three children into the ocean, and they sail off.  And then the piece really opens – the estranged father is a writer, he has his writing desk moored on the rockpools right at the fringe of the ocean. And he’s witnessed writing three open letters to his estranged child – each letter is a song. Every time he finishes writing a letter, he folds it into an origami sampan and sails it off into the ocean, like a message in a bottle.

Then we wind back about a hundred years – there’s a Victorian spirit medium called Leonora Piper, who was “tried” by William James – Henry James’ younger brother, and a psychologist – and him being a man of reason and empiricism. He was obviously sceptical, and yet he deemed this particular spirit medium’s psychical capacities so convincing that he became besotted with her. There’s a quote from him – “in order to disprove notion that all crows are black, you must but produce one white crow” – which I thought was pretty poetic. That’s why there are white crows dotted about the scenography and the film that’s attached to this project too.

Then we cut to a séance, and the mother from the prologue, is played by the same person who plays Leonora Piper, to imply a connection in the sense that they’re outlaws from what society would rather they be, so a séance happens, and she invokes three sprites from the ocean – undead, ocean-dwelling, half-naked, seaweed-draped sprites – and these are the kids that we saw being abandoned in the newsreel footage, and so there’s obviously some abandonment issues.

We then cut back to present day and the séance turns into a trial – as I figure they’re structurally quite similar – someone’s being tested, generally by sceptics. The mother is then put on trial by the trio of undead, ocean-dwelling sprites, and is banished into the ocean.  At which point, the child from the prologue sings a reprise of the overture addressed to his mother.

What do you hope to do with it?
We premiered it on November 5 at St Mary’s Church in Brighton – with giant origami sampans (boats) constructed from the letters, strobes, televisions emitting static, crows dotted about the space, and a causeway of candlelight.  We’ve also made a film to compliment it – kind of a cinematic album – a short feature – we had this screened at the Duke of York’s in Brighton in October.  A lot of the performers who appear on the record also appear in the film. The album’s coming out on vinyl, CD and DVD and as a libretto booklet. We screened the film as we performed it too.  I made the film with my collaborator Chris Purdie, who’s a really brilliant director who’s done stuff for Asva. We had a big shoot in Brighton which involved me taking the desk from my room about two miles up the road to the rock pools beyond Brighton Marina. My friend Gary Goodman, a poet, played the father. I sat him at the desk, writing the letters, gazing wistfully out to see and folding them into the sampans.  I felt a bit like a poor man’s Herzog carting the desk up there.

And we got some really beautiful shots – timed it so we’d have peak low tide and sunset. It was about the first good weather we had all year. I got footage of the sprites coming out of the ocean.  The cast are all really good friends and did an amazing job – covered in slimy kelp and writhing about in the sea.

NIck Hudson performs Letters to the Dead at its première in Brighton, 2012

NIck Hudson performs Letters to the Dead at its première in Brighton, 2012

So just a general question – what drives you creatively?
Erm. I’m probably quite naturally quite depressive and so in order to stave off the black dog, I keep myself really busy. Obviously I get huge intellectual and emotional satisfaction from working on it, and of course, it derives from some emotional core that it’s a little bit skewed in me. I think most writers maybe do it because they have an inability to express stuff in a more direct way. I’ve always liked telling stories  –manipulating words, sentences and music.

 The Letters To The Dead premiere, November 5, 2012. Photo by Chris Purdie

The Letters To The Dead premiere, November 5, 2012. Photo by Chris Purdie

Let’s not forget it’s fun.  The fact that I can do most of it from home is enormously liberating, as much as the democratisation of music that home recording allows – that can also produce a lot of shit. I think on the whole it’s an excellent thing. It’s occurring in most cases despite the industry.

And we’re essentially totally independent. There’s no big labels courting or moulding us. All the labels that we work with are often one person in the room who has an equally zealous thirst to do this kind of stuff.  Not that I would mind of course if some demented Russian oligarch decided to bequeath four billion pounds upon our creative acts, but in the meantime I’m happy to pursue bigger and more ambitious projects on whatever terms we can summon.

One last thing.  What’s the best thing that’s happened to you creatively?
I’m going to have to think carefully about this.  Ok. It’s all pretty exciting. It’s all challenging.  But, hmmm. I’ll list a few highlights.  One of them – playing in the cellar of a medieval castle in Italy last year – that was incredible. And the acoustic – I don’t really like PA systems – I prefer naturally amplified sound, so that was an incredible setting and a beautiful circumstance in which to perform.

Putting on Kayo Dot was pretty brilliant, and then developing friendships with them, and that leading to New York connections and the sense of this international community of mutually supportive artists coming together.  And the first ever concert we did in St Mary’s Church three years ago, where we did a unamplified, candlelit performance with a ten-piece chamber orchestra.  That was pretty special. This gave me more confidence to think – “ok, I can push this – we can be ambitious”.  And, I’m really proud of My Antique Son, I think it’s a really strange record that can proudly sit in the corner doing what it does.  And, it IS really odd.

And low points?
Usually the low point in the making of a record is when the hard-drive crashes and I lose half the album. It’s not happened so much of late because I’ve become a raving paranoiac about backing up, but there’s a whole other version of My Antique Son somewhere out there in the infinite multiverse that’s completely different to the one that got released.  Otherwise, I don’t really dwell. I try and keep myself busy. It’s very easy to get swallowed up into some kind of hole.


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Filed under 20th century writers, Brighton, Brighton, Dennis Cooper, Dennis Cooper, FIlm, Gary Goodman, Gig, Gorecki, Jeremy Reed, Kayo Dot, Music, Nick Hudson, Penderecki, Poetry, Sunn O))), UK, UK writers, US writing, William Burroughs

My Dark Places – an interview with Dennis Cooper

One of my favourite writers Dennis Cooper was generous enough to grant me an interview last year.

Often introduced by William Burroughs’ comment: “Dennis Cooper, God help him, is a born writer”, and, less sensationally, by Edmund White who says: “Dennis Cooper is reciting Aeschylus with a mouth full of bubble-gum”. The late great critic Elizabeth Young describes his writing as achieving “Bliss – jouissance or rapture – in trying to speak the unspeakable” and who Vice magazine dub an “Abject-Lit god”.

The Californian author Cooper’s work, is usually (lazily) referred to as “transgressive” or “subversive”, “macabre” or “morbid” with is often represented as some kind of literary outlaw due to some of his fixations – obsessive love, dead boys, the body and all its effusions, hustlers, sex, drugs, homicidal fantasy.  But his beautiful, intelligent and lucid writing transcends its subject matter to create literature of the most exquisite poetry and beauty.

At the centre of his novels are a blurred, drugged out beautiful blank boy, the paradigm of which being his best and beloved school friend and muse George Miles of Cooper’s eponymous five-novel “George Miles cycle” composed of Closer, Frisk, Try, Guide, and Period.

Why do I love his writing so much? I love its careful multi-layered and complex structure which underpins the – apparently – flat-lining, terse and darkly humorous prose, expressed in its teen Californian demotic.

I appreciate, and am moved, by his great empathy towards the damaged, unloved, forgotten and abandoned young men that inhabit his books. I believe Cooper is one of the most generous, open and compassionate artists working today. His commitment and talent is coupled with his sincere deep concern and regard for his readership, his blog The Weaklings and the supportive community that has emerged around its readers and commentators (the “dls” distinguished locals). Since the Cycle was concluded with Period in 2001, Cooper has continued and developed his themes in My Loose Thread, Ugly Man, The Sluts, and the highly acclaimed God, Jr.

Here is my interview that took place in March 2010.

FS: What led you to being a writer?
DC: I always wrote, and also did drawings too, as a kid. I was particularly interested in writing. But I didn’t take it all that seriously. I didn’t read serious literature. I just read junk. I really like novels that were taken from TV series like Batman, the Man From Uncle. There were terrible novels based on them – just junk. I read nothing else. But when I was 15, I discovered all this French literature like de Sade and Rimbaud.
FS: How did you discover them?
CD: De Sade? My family and I were visiting a friend in Washington DC and the son had de Sade on his shelf and that’s how I discovered him. And the other less lascivious stuff … Bob Dylan used to talk about Rimbaud and through that I got into French literature. I decided I wanted to be a serious writer after reading that stuff. I felt a real kinship.
FS: Why?
DC: It’s hard to explain. With the de Sade, it was the explicitness of the material which was a mindblower to me as I had such a strange brain.
FS: Why is your brain strange?
DC: I was already making notes, like a private investigation, of every fantasy and they were violent and sexual. I was prying into a secret investigation of my brain. Literature is a place where you can investigate it and lay it out. I don’t know, I was just really taken with it. Rimbaud is a classic teen thing.
FS: During, or after your teenage years, did you go to art school or college? How did you develop your writing?
DC: Mostly on my own. I was at a private high school which I got kicked out of.
FS: Why?
DC: I was part of this crowd of students that was complicated, artsy, weird and drug taking. And the faculty didn’t like us. There were four or five of us. George Miles was there and he was very close with me and the rest of them. He was three years younger. They, basically, kicked us out one by one on trumped-up charges. I was the last one. I hadn’t done any thing at all. It was just to get rid of the bad influences … We also knew a lot about the teachers.
FS: The dirt?
DC: Yes, we had a lot of dirt on them. So then I went to public high school.
FS: Where you living with your parents then?
DC: No, I had left my parents and was living with my first boyfriend in a city called Monrovia. So I went to the city college, Pasadena State College, for a couple of years. All I did though was take poetry classes. There were a few teachers who really supported me and thought I was really talented. That was huge for me. Then I quit and ended up going to the former Claremont College, in California, (now called Pitzer University). I never studied creative writing; I figured it out for myself.
My literary professor told me to quit. I was taking drugs and things like that. He said I was wasting my time. He said it was stupid to go to school if I wanted to be a writer.
FS: When was this?
DC: It was 1970 or whatever. So I quit school and apart from these poetry classes I never studied creative writing. I just did it myself.
FS: So you stayed in LA, writing and supporting yourself? When did you start the Little Caesar imprint?
DC: That was in 1976. I also got the idea when I was 15, or 16, to write the George Miles cycle.
FS: So you had that idea so young?
DC: Yes, I wanted to write a big cycle of books.
FS: At such a young age? Most people are very unfocussed in their teens.
DC: I am very driven and stuff. I do the fucking blog every day and that takes … so much time. http://denniscooper-theweaklings.blogspot.com/
FS: I want to talk to you about the blog.
DC: It’s weird. I didn’t know what it was going to be. It took me year and years and years to figure it out … but I wanted this big multi-part work. So, I was writing that and it was really, really shitty. My poetry was better, so I started publishing poetry but the fiction took a really long time to develop.
FS: What was it about George Miles that made you want to write the cycle?
DC: I don’t know. He was just massively important to me. We just bonded. He as the first person who I really believed loved me in some way.
FS: So you don’t believe your parents loved you? Or was this a different kind of love?
DC: I don’t believe in that kind of stuff, like it’s given, you have to. This was independent. It was the first time I felt like that about me – not based on obligation. In the end we were just really close. He was extremely screwed up and I adored him. He was very complicated – and so was our relationship. He ended up being diagnosed bipolar. He was a brilliant musician; we were in a band together in high school. He was iconographic to me in a certain way. It really bothered me that he was so fucked up and he probably wouldn’t achieve anything. So I had this idea when I was trying to figure out the cycle that he would be the emotional centre and main character of the work and I would write it for him.
FS: The books are very tightly structured. Did you plan that? I remember you have blogged about the structure.
DC: It took me years and years to figure it out. I made graphs and just thought about it. And experimented with different things. I had the basic form in mind. It got changed as I was writing it, though. It is more structured that it seems when you are reading it.
FS: It took you quite a while to get into prose writing? Did you start it when you were 28 when you lived in Amsterdam?
DC: I was living in NY in the early ‘80s and my prose started getting a little better them. And I published a book called Safe. I felt ready. And then I went to Amsterdam. I fell in love with this guy there. I had an awful two and a half years living over there. I was very isolated and this was combined with going over the top with the drugs. I started writing in that city as I was so isolated. It was there I discovered the nouveau roman.
FS: You finished the George Miles cycle in 2000.
DC: From starting to write the first novel to “Period”, the final one, took 12 years.
FS: How much work goes into each novel?
DC: Lots. Rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. That’s all I do. For me it’s all in the rewriting and editing.
FS: And that is still your approach?
DC: Yes, absolutely. I didn’t learn how to write so, I have to rebirth them and rebirth them. I labour over them and then I rework them. I envy people who can write from beginning to end. But I just can’t do that. I labour over them and rework them. I envy people who can write from beginning to end but I just can’t do that.
FS: Your writing does come across as very light and joyful. It doesn’t seem laboured, it is quite strange. I like it as there seems to be so much emotion underneath it. A few words have a lot of compressed meaning and inchoate emotion. It’s such an amazing skill to be able to do that.
DC: It’s hard to do.
FS: … and in your blog, I love the way you write your voice is very fluent and witty and brilliant. The commitment to your blog must be immense. What made you start blogging?
DC: I started it. It wasn’t exactly a dare but there is a website about my stuff made by a guy in Australia and he asked me if I had a website about my work. He set a competition on his site and one of the options in the contest was that I should set up a blog. And that is what most people who visited his website voted for. So I did one. I didn’t really know what it was going to be so I felt interested in it. It was when people started posting comments and I didn’t know what to do… so I started answering them.
FS: So what do you do? Do you read the comments and write notes and then complete a very long document to everyone’s remarks and put that up?
DC: No. I read it several times the day before. So I read the comments and absorb them. I get up in the morning and read them and I sit down and type answers. I go through them one by one and answer them. It really does take about three to five hours every morning to do.
FS: It is a huge commitment. What impact does this have on your writing?
DC: It’s a problem but it’s like I have no choice. It took me three years to start my novel. I can do it now it’s not optimal by any means. I can blog and write.
FS: “Ugly Man” was published since you have been living in France wasn’t it?
DC: Those were short pieces. I was working on short pieces because I didn’t have the stamina or the brain.
FS: So you are working on a novel now? How is that going?
DC: I started conceiving of it when I when I first moved here.
FS: Do you think the blog has influenced it at all?
DC: I think it’s going against the blog. I think it’s something completely outside of it.
FS: I always see you as a very LA writer and that really comes across in your writing. How do you think being in Paris has influenced your writing and this novel in particular?
DC: This novel is like this weird novel that’s written in this big voice, complicated and artificial. It could be a disaster but I trying to do something different. It’s a novel about this French cannibal who speaks in this really pretentious voice.
FS: Do you think there is a French consciousness that is now imbuing your writing?
DC: To a degree. I’ve always been a Francophile. I love French literature or films. Being over here makes a difference. I know what it is to live here. I know the street, where the shops are. I know what a château is. So it is like my homage to French literature in a way.
FS: To return to your blog. Did it defy your expectations?
DC: I had no expectations.
FS: I love how supportive and encouraging it is of people. On the internet, it seems to me, people can conceal themselves behind the cloak of anonymity and be very snarky and unpleasant, but on The Weaklings, you never get nasty or snide remarks. And if anyone does cross the line at all, you defuse it in a very gentle way. I think that’s amazing.
DC: I am really surprised there aren’t more people coming in who want to toss bombs or something. Occasionally they do, very rarely. And they have left. It is a special place. I don’t really know why it happened but it’s very precious. It has a huge readership. I feel like I should keep doing it.
FS: You help a lot of people there. Lots of commentators get mutual encouragement. And get their work out there.
DC: I try yes. There are people who have been there a while and they are starting to their work and publish their books. I think the community makes some small difference.
FS: I can’t imagine someone like Martin Amis doing something like this. They are so careerist. Why do you think you are different to those kinds of writers?
DC: Because maybe because I never went to school, because I’m from LA, because I’m an anarchist. I’m not a snob at all. I don’t know. I have a caretaker side like the George Miles thing. It’s a combination of things. I have no interest in that kind of literary career. I’m not into cocktail society or kissing ass … I alienate people.
FS: It is difficult.
DC: Yes it is economically. But it’s all about eternity, isn’t it?
FS: I seem to have jumped from the George Miles cycle straight into “Ugly Man”. But when you were writing “My Loose Thread” and “God Jr”, these are standalone novels. How was it to write them outside of the arc of the cycle?

DC: It is very refreshing. It makes each book more difficult because I have to start from scratch. But I’m enjoying creating super structures that are standalone now. In some ways, the George Miles cycle was very helpful in terms of just keeping going. It’s a little more difficult but I find it interesting.
FS: Where you satisfied with each one?
DC: I don’t publish things unless I am pretty confident. I liked them. I mean each of them have things I like about them and things I wish I could have done differently. The only one that bothers me is “My Loose Thread”. The publisher, Canongate, didn’t publicise it properly to say the least. That was the only bad experience I have ever had in publishing.
FS: Music plays a big part in your writing. Why is that?

DC: I’ve always been interested in music and seeing bands since I was a kid. It speaks to me, or whatever.
FS: Why?
DC: It’s self-evident. I have always been a huge music guy since I’ve been a kid. I’ve always seen bands. I’ve always been like that. I think pop or rock music or whatever you want to call it, is the most advanced medium.
FS: More than art or sculpture?
DC: Yes I do.
FS: Why?
DC: It’s self-evident.
FS: I don’t know. I find rock music and the rock scene passé. I think guitars look archaic.
DC: It depends on the band.
FS: When you see a band on stage, male or female, with guitars, it seems to me like something in a museum or something (perhaps that’s just me).
DC: I know what you mean. I think that is a sign of getting older. I feel that in myself. It’s hard to maintain belief in it too. But it’s a huge field. For me it’s always seemed really vast. It’s instant. You make it. It’s done. So, formally, I’ve always studied it as a way to work differently when a band is referenced pretty heavily in a novel, it’s usually because I’ve studied their work and I’ve tried to implement their aesthetic in the writing of the novel.
FS: What are you listening to at the moment?
DC: Just a hotchpotch. Last year, I liked the XX album. I like Bradford Cox. If someone says something is interesting, I instantly download it.
FS: I notice in your writing, you don’t have any texting, despite you using and referencing emails and instant messaging a lot.
DC: That’s because I sent my first text message two months ago. I had a really shitty old phone. It’s a Russian one, my boyfriend’s so I couldn’t read the letters on it. I got an iPhone about two months ago so there will be texting in the book I’m working on at the moment.
FS: Architecture is also a big theme for you too. For instance the house in “God Jr”.
DC: I have a really strong interest in sculpture and it is a big influence on my conception of space. I also have a huge fondness for haunted houses and spooky houses.
FS: Why is that?
DC: They really, really interest me. I study them. I think about them in terms of aerospace, particle physics and neuroscience. And I get them from sculpture too. That’s where the house interior and the monument in “God Jr” come from. I like combining those two. In the new novel I have these chateaus with these crazy passages and so on. That’s something to do with sculpture again, creating spaces and passageways. I don’t like straightforward narrative. I hate that stuff. I use it in a subversive way, but you have to sometimes. If you have secret passages ways through things, it’s like the novel being a piece of architecture.
FS: You also refer to video games a lot in your novels.
DC: Yes, I like the structure. They have a kind of weird narrative to them which is very loose and open. I am interested in progression, propulsion and momentum. I am not interested in narrative or plot or suspense or all that crap. So I am interested in ways of making them move along. So I am interested in video games and spooky houses. Why you want to play a video game. It’s not really narrative that compels you. It’s the same with pornography. It’s another thing. I think pornography is really useful as it has no narrative but it’s really compelling. I am looking for ways to get around the stupid boring shit that fiction is becoming.
FS: Are there any writers that you like at the moment?
DC: There is a huge wave of brilliant fiction writers in America right now, that is just mindboggling – Blake Butler, Shane Jones, and Justin Taylor. Ben Brooks is British – I really like him.
FS: Are they influenced by you at all? Do you have any relationship with them?
DC: I have a relationship but I don’t think they are influenced by my work or me. But they respond to my methods of experimenting. A lot of my influences are very close to them I think. I think they see me as a kindred spirit. Maybe they are influenced by me or may be they are not. Even though they are much younger than me, I feel they are peers of mine.
FS: Writing is a very isolating process which requires a lot of solitude. But now you are collaborating with the French theatre director Gisèle Vienne. How did that come about?
DC: I was coming to Lyon to do a lecture in 2003 and she wrote me a letter asking if I would be interested in trying out collaboration, working on some sketches and see what happens. She sent me some DVDs of her work which were very interesting. I had done some theatre stuff in America but not for a while. So I came over and worked with her for three or four days. We worked well together. It was so easy and such a pleasure and the piece was received extremely well. So it became this long-term collaboration. I love working with Gisèle. I love the interaction with people.
FS: How did Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))) get involved with your collaboration with Gisèle?
DC: We were in the early stages of making this piece Kindertotenlieder and she suggested hooking up with Stephen because I love Sunn O))). He was really interested enough to check out what we are doing and has been working with us. He did a piece (Eternelle Idole) with Gisèle last year.
FS: How long have you been in France?
DC: Five years.
FS: Do you like living there? Or is it a necessity because of the visa situation (of his boyfriend).
DC: It is a necessity. But I do love it. It is the most beautifully constructed city, everything about it is beautiful. I love French people.
FS: How are they different to Americans? What do you love about them?
DC: Everything. They are much more talkative. They have much more sense of who they are, their mortality, what they can do and can’t. I feel very comfortable. They are very trustworthy. It’s quite nice to be away from America. I’m very happy not to be there at the moment.
FS: I guess being an anarchist isn’t too easy in the US.
DC: It’s a philosophy, so it’s fine actually. I’m not utopian. It’s a really good philosophy.
FS: What do you mean by you being an anarchist?
DC: It’s too complicated but basic things. There is a phrase, “As soon as you get power, disperse it.”
FS: You certainly do that with your blog. I don’t suppose you think you have power (in terms of politics), but you do have a reputation. You have spent many years refining your work and writing. You don’t abuse your position impose your views, or whatever. You welcome everyone – regardless of their opinions, talents, interests and so on. Would you call that an anarchist approach?
DC: Sure. I think that that’s the way I approach the blog. It’s just a basic analysis of power structures. Anarchism is a very simple thing, and there is a million ways to be anarchist.
FS: It’s also quite tough, in financial terms, though, isn’t it? It doesn’t pay well does it?
DC: It would be wonderful to have all that money as it would be great to set up a foundation to support a bunch of other people. But it doesn’t torture me.

Dennis Cooper has curated a show of work from contributors to his blog at Five Years Gallery in London, that opens June 11, 2011.

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