How did you meet/come to work with Dave Hillis?
We met in L.A. --- Leif Garrett introduced us actually. Dave was with Jerry Cantrell and I was with my friend, Harry. We were at a party at a weird mansion that used to belong to Paul McCartney in the Hollywood Hills. I had been looking in vain for musicians with similar tastes and ideals to start a new band with and we hit it off right away, on all levels.
What made you choose the name Thee Heavenly Music Association?
It's taken from a record called 'No Pussyfooting' by Brian Eno and Robert Fripp. There's a song called 'The Heavenly Music Corporation' which I wanted to use originally but it was already taken by another band. Everyone prefers 'Association' anyway so it turned out great. I wanted a really long and OTT band name, in the tradition of bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor --- like I say, if listeners are too stupid to deal with that many syllables then I don't want them as fans anyway --- it's a sort of natural selection ... hehe.
THMA sounds very different to Fluffy and Jack Off Jill (2 earlier bands that you played with). Was it a style of music that you always wanted to do or did you only decide to change style when you left Jack Off Jill? It's interesting to me because it seems like such a change from the bands you were in before yet it works just as well.
I've always been into the kind of music I'm making now and have always written songs in that style --- I just didn't really have a forum to present them from before. I was and still am really into 70's NY and Detroit punk like The Stooges, MC5, Patti Smith, etc., which was the premise for a lot of Fluffy's shtick. Jack Off Jill had a more American punk/Goth sound which was a cool blend of a lot of influences. But ultimately I was brought up in Manchester and the gloomy industrial landscapes are a large part of sculpting my own and my idols' sound --- like Joy Division, the Chameleons, Verve, New Order, the Smiths, etc.
Your lyrics are very poetic but kind of opaque and cryptic. I was wondering who some of your favourite lyricists/writers are.
I have a really long list, of course. I really like Peter Murphy, Nick Cave, Kate Bush, Brian Eno, Grace Slick, Patrick Fitzgerald from the band Kitchens of Distinction and I also draw inspiration from beat poetry and authors like Thomas Hardy and Lewis Carroll occasionally. I love the way vocalists like Meredith Monk and Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins) sing without words but still manage to convey so much emotion and meaning in a song. It's a concept I will definitely be exploring on our next record.
I think my favourite song is Alain. Is it based on a real person and if so, what does he think of the song if he's heard it?
It is absolutely based on a real person. Yes, I changed his/her name, however, to Alain, which is allegedly, the original name of Salvador Dali's infamous long-time transsexual girlfriend Amanda Lear. The person in question was a dear friend of mine but does not know about the song as far as I know as I haven't seen for years. I would love to tell her, I think she'd get pissed about it anyway though ... !
On your website it says you are working on a new EP. Can you give us some idea about the new songs, will they be different/similar to the album?
They'll be similar but better. The delay in getting it out is due to financial reasons. The new record is going to have more energy and probably be a little less instrumental and dreamy, although we'll always have the same wall-of-sound guitar noise!
Do you have plans to tour the US/Europe and the UK? What are your live shows like? For some reason I can imagine your music working really with projected images/a lightshow but I'm probably miles off.
No, you're right. We want to create a Velvet Underground, Jesus and Mary Chain vibe with projections and lights, kind of a moving art show with music. We are dying to tour but have no money to right now. Definitely both the UK and US will be covered though, once we do.
On the album you do vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards and drums on various tracks. Which is your favourite one to do?
I think guitars although I love playing any instrument. It depends what song --- it was really fun playing Mo Tucker style drums on Alain because it was such a tribal, basic beat.
There are some references to angels in your songs and a general kind of otherworldly feel to your music. Do you think angels actually exist and have you ever seen one?
I don't know about the standard definition of angels but I have certainly met a few people who live their lives in a very angelic way. I really like the film "Wings of Desire" which is about angels on earth and a lot of "Shaping The Invisible" is about very pure innocent people who I've watched become corrupted by life, people and chemicals, especially in Los Angeles (the city of lost angels ...).
I read that you and Jessicka from Scarling (and Harry?) were working on a project together, a kind of female supergroup. Will you be doing any more of this? Will you release any of the stuff you've worked on so far even if it's just online as MP3s?
Yeah, one day it'll happen! There are so many musicians in our circle of friends that it seems like a shame not to --- Harry, Nadja Peulen, Sam Maloney, Jessicka, Anna and Martina from Drain etc. I promise we'll release it as soon as we do it!
You were a member of Jack Off Jill for a time, one of my favourite ever bands. They were such a brilliant band who the fans loved and they seem to be gaining more and more fans all the time but why do you think Jack Off Jill didn't achieve more mainstream success at the time? (because I really thought JOJ were going to be as big as Hole or Marilyn Manson). Do you think it was because Jessicka was a woman and didn't fit the conventional beauty mould? I'm pleased to see more and more people getting into the band even though you've now split up and I hope Scarling is successful.
It seems to me that it's hard for the mainstream to cope with a female singer who acts in a very dramatically offensive way, especially when visually she is clearly uninterested in being attractive to the 'stereotypical' male eye. What is astounding to me is how record labels can apparently put blinkers up to the record and merch sales and giant fan-base of a band, simply because of their narrow-minded refusal to be the first to dare break the mould on this issue. People can't deal with a woman acting non-sexually on stage --- they're too used to women being objects that are easy on the eye, to deal with seeing Jessicka razor-blade her chest open in front of them! I hope Scarling do really well though.
You were also in Fluffy who I happen to think were a great band and very under-rated. I got your album, Black Eye, a couple of years ago and I was really surprised at how good it was after some of the bad press I'd read. Are you still in touch with any of the other girls from Fluffy?
The problem with Fluffy was that we were young, skinny and cute, through no fault of our own, but it led people to either believe we were put together by a man or be flat-out jealous and bitchy about us. It was a weird kind of sexism to deal with --- people were amazed when they saw us play live. The press in England were vicious and destroyed our reputation by fabricating a story that we were 'posh' which is a real killer to a punk rock band in England. We just liked the NY Dolls and thought we were being post-feminist by wearing mini-skirts but I think, if you are a woman in a position of 'too much' power and also flaunting your sexuality you are almost guaranteed a backlash, unfortunately. Bridget, Angie and I talk all the time. I always see them when I visit London.
ALL PHOTOS OF HELEN AND T.H.M.A. WERE FROM THEIR WEBSITE.
THIS INTERVIEW WAS DONE BY E-MAIL IN JUNE 2004 AND ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN DECEMBER 2004. THANKS TO HELEN.