All about Suicide + interview + 8 Free Albums
Imagine a two-man band that used a droning Farfisa organ with primitive drum machines with plodding rhythms that were accompanied by rockabilly howling from the bowels of hell. You might raise and eyebrow out of curiosity but ultimately decide to pass on listening to tunes by such a band. Now imagine this band during the 1970's in the context of groups of Yes and Genesis and how people might have reacted to this outlandish and abrasive sound. The band, of course, is Suicide.
While punk and post-punk were following the standard singer/guitar/bass/drums format, Martin Rev and Alan Vega were pushing the envelope of what a band could be with their minimalist act, all the while seething with anger and spewing vitriol at their audience. Today Suicide is widely recognized as a band that influenced synthpop, techno, industrial and electroclash but back in the 70's many people came from a punk and a post-punk background and the regarded instruments like synthesizers as belonging to groups like Yes who they felt were very pompous and decadent.
How did Suicide come together and given that so many people held instruments like synths in disdain, why did you become an electronic based-band in the first place?
You know, they were great for their world. But we weren't coming from that directions and I never really used a synth at all until later on in the studio years later.
And also, were weren't coming from a punk background, really. We just were what we were. later on we were called punk. We called ourselves punk a few years before that scene was called that. It wasn't a conscious thing. Alan Vega :: We did a show in 71. The show we did was actually in an art gallery. We put out flyers. Marty actually still has some of these flyers and we called it a "Punk Music Mass" and that was before anybody except Lest Bangs, who was the only guy to use the word "punk" when we wrote in article in '69 about The Stooges. Up until then the word didn't exist.
But it was just an attitude thing. We never dreamed there would be a punk movement. I guess it started with The Ramones and then the Pistols and then suddenly the word "punk" is all over the place.
I was at a bar show once, I forget the name of the show at the time, but the word "punk" was actually used on a mainstream TV show and I was like "What the fuck, man. How did this happen?" But we never considered ourselves to be punk. We've been called everything under the sun. They always ask me what category should Suicide belong in and I always go "Well, it's the Suicide category." Maybe it's country and eastern music, you know? But they never pigeonhole us. It's still going on. Every generation that comes along, everybody's like into Suicide and Suicide's an influence on blah blah blah, so now we belong to this category, and we belong in that category and I just say it's Suicide, 'cause we don't sound like anybody else. A lot of people do our stuff. I mean hundreds of bands have been doing our stuff through the years. They still don't like Suicide. They do our songs but they don't sound like us.
What sort of background were you two coming from before you began Suicide?
So we were coming together as individual artists who had been doing what we did. Even though we were quite young we were doing it very intensely and intently for many years up till that time as individual artists and kind of living the life that that kind of created. At that point we just came together and realized that we could work together because we shared a space that allowed us to work with some other people and that's how it started. During this time the usual format for a band was a guitar, maybe two guitars, and bass and drums so what led to the decision to become a two-person band?
We knew we weren't going to keep a band together for that long based on what we did, the amount of space we might have for rehearsal, which was always limited, and the amount of money we had for equipment and the amount we gigs we. We were starting from scratch. And also where we we coming to as individuals. I was hearing another sound. I was hearing the possibility of bringing a drum machine which would allow one to almost make all the music because I could arrange it almost like, orchestrate, you might say, to use a cliched word. To really take in and take out parts as opposed to saying to bass player don't play here or drummer don't play here, which doesn't get done in a regular band too much. It was all electronics and that was a whole new world of possibilities. And again, necessity being... you know, whenever we went to a gig we had haul our own stuff some how and that war really what became later on with hip hop and rap: two guys, DJs and MCs, which was also out of necessity. What could be afforded and what could be done with what you had. That's how a lot of scratching came about and a lot of sampling.
These days electronic musicians use laptops and keyboards and quite a few are using analogue equipment. Obliviously it was very different int he 70s so what kind of gear were you using back then and what were some of the challenges of using that equipment? Alan Vega :: We started out with a ten dollar Japanese keyboard that Mary found somewhere. We could hardly get any sound out of it so we started introducing, was it an Electroharmonix thing like bass boosters and treble boosters?Alan Vega :: This keyboard would be lined up with five or six of these things and that would jack up the sound because we could almost couldn't get any sound out of this thing.
That in a way created the sound. As Marty was saying, it was out of a necessity thing. We had to jack up that keyboard, man, and out came this incredible rush of sound that no one has ever heard before or afterwards. The sound was created just out of necessity and we ran with it, man. It's also more than that. I mean, Marty and I, we were both hearing electronics. In the late 60s I was already fool around with just noise, just radio static and shit. It's our musical taste. We like to hear noise, you know?We got a Farfisa after that?
How come you suddenly decided to get back together and play gigs/record as Suicide again, after all those years of silence?
The activity wasn't really there, for some reason, and we also weren't looking for it that much. So we got more involved in our solo things and other aspects of our lives and music lives. From around '86 and on, we started getting asked to play gigs again as there seemed to be a growing demand for us in Europe. We also took a little bit of a break in the mid-nineties and then we started touring again, so a lot of time we're associated with a comeback, but we never really split up and we never saw it as a comeback. There never really was strong demand for us to play in America. The States always kind of seemed to be a hostile territory, especially in the late '70s/'80s, for us. As far as Europe was concerned, there was a period of time when we just didn't go out, we weren't called for, and then we were, a lot. Of course then we played a lot in Europe and then we had to cool in Europe at that point, cause we'd been playing there a lot, and then it came back again, came around again. So it's really been about that, we've been together all these years, it's just that there are times when activity is less for Suicide and so we're more involved, as we're always involved anyway, into things we do complimentary to it and our own stuff. It's not a decision, it's just really based on demand and... In the early days you guys had a wilder stage show fueled by anger and the struggle to survive in N.Y.. How would you describe your performances as suicide today?
We played also between performances, we sort of called them rehearsals, they were these incredible sessions on our own, but we got to a gig and we didn’t know and nobody else knew what was goin to happen. Now it’s difficult to have that same impact because the times have changed and people now either know of us and were not hitting them totally broadside. Whatever you do, even with the same intensity at least musically, ya know its not gonna have the same effect, there are still times we get a lot of audience involvement, certainly its usually more positive, sometime its kind of mock negative.How would you say that NY has changed since the 70’s in your opinion?
In the 70’s there was a cultural richness that so much had happened and so much was to happen. Punk came out of this richness of rock ‘n’ roll and also the history of NY artistically, it was still the center of the arts. You could feel it, you could feel it even in the down time, a year or two of downtime, and that’s what punk came out of in the mid to late 70’s. Now it’s too expensive of a city to develop that kind of a scene, and also music and art is different because of new technology. So it wouldn’t develop here the same way because the whole concept of bands and punk was something that needed to be said as a continuation of rock ‘n’ roll. There are so many ways you can turn over an art form like rock ‘n’ roll and get the next movement out of it. At some point you develop and saturate all the major varieties of that art form, and rock has came to that place, and punk was an extension of it. I think NY is still a good place to work, it has great energy. If you’ve grown up here like I did, the history is in you really, its not so much in the actually city itself. When I was growing up the greatest artists were living here and you could feel that, and everyone was coming to NY. The situation that way globally has changed the arts in a way cycled to a great extent across the board. You still have new things coming from individuals, but the major movements you don’t find the way you did then. Then they were coming every year or two, jazz was movement after movement, rock was movement after movement, and dance was movement after movement, and modern classical was still evolving. Now thers a lot of eclecticism, and its all much more relaxed, in a sense NY is a Reflection of that.
Suicide - American Supreme
2002, Blast FirstSuicide - Why Be Blue
1992, Brake OutSuicide - Surrender
1988, Chapter 22Suicide - A Way Of Life
1988, Chapter 22Suicide - Alan Vega Martin Rev
1980, ZeSuicide - Dream Baby Dream
1979, ZeSuicide - Cheree
1978, Red StarSuicide - Suicide
1977, Red Star