Alien Skin

About Alien Skin Interview

About Alien Skin: Introducing Alien Skin Interview

 - May 1st 2008

Ms M: By way of introduction and before discussing your debut album Don't Open Till Doomsday, let me ask you about your background in Australian band, Real Life. How long were you the keyboardist with the band?

George: I wasn't the original; Richard Zatorski takes the credit for that. I've been the longest stayer though, at least a good decade since the mid nineties.

Ms M: 'Send me an Angel', Real Life's signature song is still a radio favourite and considered an 80s classic. Performing the song live, has the excitement remained strong after all these years?

George: Send me an Angel is always a fan favourite at shows. The opening couple of bars are enough to send an audience into a blissful frenzy. In fact we often reprised it as an encore and got everyone who wished to, jump on stage and sing it with us. It often became riotous! Whether on tour at home, the US or Europe, the reaction has always been one of great anticipation and excitement. So yes, it was always full of energy for us because of the audience. We never tired of it!

Ms M: After a number albums with Real Life you have now established yourself as Alien Skin. How did this come about?

George: David Sterry and I have been co-writing for quite a number of years and collaborated on many great tracks, but I have a strong passion for writing my own songs and wishing to explore areas that didn't work within the format of Real Life, and I love interpreting the tunes myself.

On return from our US tour of 2004 I began thinking seriously about working on an album of my own songs. A perspective and mood that would be different to what I had been doing although still very much electronically centred. Enter Alien Skin. Health and personal issues, though, delayed the venture for quite some time.

Ms M: Why Alien Skin?

George: Soon after the 2003 release of our (Real Life) Imperfection album I was preparing to undergo major surgery. The last few days prior going into hospital were quite unsettling and bleak, being a cold and miserable winter didn't help. I started developing a musical piece that captured the mood I was in. I finished the draft the night before my admission.

It eventually turned into the song Alien Skin, the notion that you can be two different entities, at least in perception. The 'thing' you are inside... the notion that you can be two different entities, at least in perception. and the 'thing' that you present, or are seen as, externally. Hence the lyric 'the Stranger within, Alien Skin'.

Later, in scrolling through name ideas in my head, those two words kept appealing to me most. I have been accused of looking like an alien before though!

Ms M: 'Martin Gore before the guitars', did you really define Alien Skin that way?

George: Well, I was being pushed to describe what Alien Skin sounded like, that was the first appropriate response I could think of. Depeche Mode has always been musically educational and inspirational for me, right from the wee early eighties. I discovered in the songwriting of Martin Gore an organic connection with my creative aspirations. Depeche Mode's musical and live band perspective, especially with Alan Wilder, really nailed it for me, pointing towards a direction I have since pursued.

Ms M: Your debut album is called Don't Open Till Doomsday. Tell us about the title.

George: I had various working titles such as 'Ashes and Dust', 'After the Funeral'... I think you get the idea. The mood of the album was already set in my head. I'm not adverse to humour, frivolity and sunshine but I wanted to delve into another area where I know other people also find refuge. I can better identify with a melancholic mindset than an energetic puppy dog personality.

I think the title Don't Open Till Doomsday inspires a certain mental attitude, a dark cautious curiosity. It just happens to also be an episode from one of my favourite early sixties TV sci-fi series, The Outer Limits.

Ms M: How did you prepare for the album?

George: Some of the songs already existed in other forms though they were radically twisted to work within the musical theme of the album. I wrote quite a number sitting in front of the TV late at night with an acoustic guitar, inspired at times by disparate ideas that were flashing by on the screen.

The next day I would develop the song sketches with keyboards and beats. It functioned like this for a while, some songs worked others didn't, some are still to be completed.

Ms M: The sound is often quite sparse; the synths the beats, the songs work well in this context. Was this intentional?

George: Yeah, with this album a conscious decision was made early on to create a fluid body of songs bereft of the harder edge and dance beats prominent in my previous work in Real Life. The album inhabits a darker, bleak and brooding area I've always wished to explore. I'm not known to spare density in production as Real Life's last few albums will testify, but this album is consciously minimal. For me, the collection of songs here is best enjoyed as a whole; it's the sum that generates the overall atmosphere.

Ms M: Let's talk about the songs.

George: Sure.

Ms M: Your album press release states 'with subject matter that ranges from estranged Sci-Fi love, to Jacob's Ladder, to Hiroshima'. Can you tell us about the songs being referred to?

George: Estranged sci-fi love? The opening song 'The Outer Limits' is an obvious one here. That vintage TV show again! I intentionally wanted an opening to the album with a sparse and ethereal soundscape. It establishes the mood for what is about to come. I place myself in the mental state of a creature, or anyone, separated from their other half by the insurmountable vastness of distance, time and space. It may seem an extraterrestrial theme but translates in any contemporary context I believe.

Jacob's Ladder was originally a biblical story of an imaginary ladder leading up to heaven, where angels ascended and descended. My inspiration in writing the song 'The Spirit is Willing' The story is a journey the mind takes in the last hours or moments, from a struggle against to finally acceptance of the inevitable, your own actually from a Tim Robbins movie entitled Jacob's Ladder. Briefly, Robbins' character is a returned - after being wounded in action - Vietnam War soldier whose mind has become confused and delusional as he struggles with his own mortal reality. My interpretation of the story is as a journey or trip the mind takes in the last hours or moments, from a struggle against to finally acceptance of the inevitable, your own death.

'Dust to Ashes 1945' refers to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. It was the first detonation of a nuclear device over a populated city in history. The lyric tells of a survivor who still has nightmares of that early Monday morning, August 6. It was an act of mass destruction unknown up to that time, I believe it was a political consideration and decision rather than a military necessity. In today's global political climate, the threat of a Hiroshima being repeated is ominously returning so I thought it a relevant and timely subject to revisit.

Ms M: Razor Arms, is this song's masochistic overtone deliberate?

George: Yes and no. Often lyrics were written in a stream of consciousness manner, I wasn't actually aware till it was completed that it tended to point in that direction. I feel most of us, if we're passionate enough about something, or someone, can pressure ourselves into a masochistic state of mind. The song for me has a certain European minor key flavour to it, one of the earliest written for the album and a personal favourite.

Ms M: I have to mention the song, Gloomy Sunday; it's almost electronic acapella. What can you add to this?

George: Electro acapella? Well, nearly. I tried a variety of approaches for this song; none inspired me as much as this final version which is pointedly sparse with dominant and heavily treated vocals. It was the most appropriate means to express the sentiment in the song, and no it has nothing to do with the early last century piece with the same name, which is still a spine-chiller!

Ms M: There is a recurring female spoken voice on some songs, who is that?

George: The voice contribution on the songs The Spirit is Willing, For Always and Alien Skin is from Iryna, who also designed the CD artwork and website. She, in her own right, is a great writer of disturbing poetry and short stories… and, oh, also happens to be my wife. Keeping it in the family as they say:)

Ms M: Finally, you had full control over the production of the album, has this been a blessing?

George: As we all know, doing it independently grants creative authority but no financial support. Aside from mastering I had control of all the processes from the writing, production and engineering.

Opening up the market to independent artists via new technologies diminishes the need to grovel at the feet of corporations. I think opening up the market to independent artists via new technologies like the internet, digital recording etc is truly revolutionary and to be welcomed and diminishes the need to grovel at the feet of corporations.

The big music players are still necessary to make an artist a household name, but they've become almost superfluous in the link between creating and expressing your own ideas and distributing them successfully yourself.

For me Don't Open Till Doomsday has been a hard slog, but it has given me great satisfaction to have been able to achieve this result.

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