Thighpaulsandra - I, ThighpaulsandraFor years Thighpaulsandra has been an enigma. He's been Julian Cope's mohican haired keyboard player performing on most of the Arch Drude's output since Autogeddon. With Cope he formed the glambient supergroup Queen Elizabeth, filling their eponymous CD and subsequent Elizabeth Vagina CD with deep ambient drone. With Cope switching his attention to book writing Thighpaulsandra joined erstwhile Spacemen Three member Jason Pierce, in his space rock group, Spiritualized, initially as a replacement but now as a full-time member lending his keyboard wizardry to various Spiritualized releases including the Abbey Road EP and the Live at the Royal Albert Hall CD. He survived the Spiritualized schism and has contributed extensively to the forthcoming Spiritualized release with both his keyboard and orchestral scoring skills.
In 1998 he contributed to Coil's (at the time) ultra-limited Astral Disaster vinyl release. He forged an immediate psychic kinship with John Balance and as a result was invited, and duly accepted, John Balance's invitation to join Coil as their permanent fifth member. "Pentagrammatical. Complete," commented Balance. He's since recorded with Coil on the two volumes of the Musick To Play In The Dark series. Last year he debuted with Coil at their magnificent Time Machines performance at the Royal Festival Hall, London, as part of Julian Cope's Cornucopea event. The night before not one but three Thighpaulsandra's (work that one out) joined Queen Elizabeth to perform Temple of Diana.
On Eskaton, Coil's imprint, Thighpaulsandra released his debut EP, Some Head. Black Nurse unfolded through ambient drone, treated vocals, and touched upon world music in an almost 23 Skidoo fashion. Tudor Fruits, meanwhile, ranged from brass deconstruction, massed choirs to spoken words delivered in a random manner. Some Head was imaginative and confusing but gave scant indication of what to expect from I, Thighpaulsandra.
Encased in a lavish fold-out sleeve with a robed Thighpaulsandra brandishing a magickal wand on the cover, and an insert that curiously resembles Crowley's ,"Four Red Monks Carrying A Black Goat" is I, Thighpaulsandra. I, Thighpaulsandra is a sprawling double CD set bursting with inspiration, ideas and versatility. It eschews genre categorisation and is a testament to the imagination and musical dexterity of Thighpaulsandra.
A flickering guitar scale, and the operatic tones of his mother, Dorothy Lewis, opens the album amidst various tinkering tones and ambient drones. It's idiosyncratic, obtuse, and gives way to the rampant funk of The Angelica Declaration. With its abusive anarcho vocal over brass derangements and excited mellotron stabs it announces the arrival of Thighpaulsandra. It's followed by the electronic manipulations of Optical Black featuring a heavily processed John Balance vocal with oppressive keyboard flourishes, aggressive rhythms and deep bass. After the scratching/scraping strings, marimba and clarinet of Abuse Foundation IV, the first of several lengthy tracks appear. Opening with electro buzz it gradually seeps into the space rock of Michel Publicity Window, with funk guitar, bass throb and a Thighpaulsandra pop vocal (sounding not dissimilar to Cope) before dissolving in a haze of electro feedback.
Terrible opens the second disc with the sound of lapping water (recorded by Cyclobe's Simon Norris), a piano and, a moody melodic vocal. We The Descending is another 'out there' pop song, all keyboard beats, soaring guitar fuzz and the occasional bleating sheep. Perhaps the squealing acid rock of Home Butt Club is an oblique reference to the Butthole Surfers. It's certainly as warped. Nestled between is the otherworldly minimal vapour trail of Limping Across The Sky, a sole Thighpaulsandra composition - that originally appeared on the giveaway Cornucopea CD. It then dissolves into the cosmic jam of Beneath The Frozen Lake of Stars with Cope's doubleneck guitar, a theremin and a full-on rhythm section.
I, Thighpaulsandra straddles so many styles of music - experimental, krautrock, space rock, classical, jazz - but ultimately exists in its own universe. It's a shimmering kaleidoscope of sound, as unique as its creator. With Thighpaulsandra's use of Hammond Organ, Synthesizers, Vox Organ and such like it'll take a lifetime to unravel the layers of sound herein - that this review only hints at. Adventurous ears will delight in what Thighpaulsandra has created here, it is truly wonderful. There's little chance of there being a more adventurous CD all year. "A fanfare of trumpets herald my arrival," he boasts on The Angelica Declaration. Perhaps he's right.
We tracked down Thighpaulsandra to ask him the following questions...
i) On I, Thighpaulsandra you perform a varied amount of instruments, what's your musical background? Who is Thighpaulsandra?
I come from a very musical family. My mother was an opera singer and my grandfather was a conductor. Two of my other grandparents were church organists. I used to attend weekly chamber music concerts with my parents up to the age of thirteen so I was exposed to a huge and varied selection of music. Pop music wasn't allowed in our house so the only time I got to listen to that was at school. I developed an interest in contemporary classical music from an early age and particularly Berio and Stockhausen. Although I loved Bach and a lot of 'classic' rock and pop I always tried to experiment and be more unusual in my own writing.
Thighpaulsandra is a small Welsh boy.
ii) You're a member of Spiritualised, Coil, Julian Cope's group, Queen Elizabeth? What made you decide to strike out on your own firstly with Some Head and now the double CD set, I, Thighpaulsandra?
I like to keep busy. Although the groups I play in are varied and exciting in their own ways they also impose certain restrictions of style which I feel a need to transcend. I have interests that lie well outside the parameters of all those groups and there are plenty more left to explore. Having presented a broad outline of those styles on I, Thighpaulsandra I will continue to develop them on future releases. I also felt it was a good time to release some more challenging material. The music scene is very bland these days.
iii) How would you describe I, Thighpaulsandra? Who do you think it will appeal to? Is there a message behind it?
I suppose it's psycho-sexual space music. It's for people who want something more from music than the purée of the mainstream chart acts and the pseudo-intellectual smoke screen pedalled by the majority of the alternative music fraternity. Experimental music needs to be exciting. Four guys with laptops looking intense just doesn't do it for me I'm afraid.
iv) I, Thighpaulsandra covers a broad range of musical styles from 'out there' pop music, space rock to improvised and electro-acoustic music, how did you compose it?
Some of it was scored. Some of it was improvised and some pieces were formed from ideas and experiments that I'd had over the past two years.
v) How long did it take to record? It features contributions from Julian Cope, Coil, Michael Mooney how did you get them to participate?
I did some of the initial recordings with Malcolm Cross and Julian Cope at the start of 1999. I worked fairly consistently from then till its completion in October 2000. I work with Coil fairly frequently and Julian visits my studio about once a week so it wasn't hard to get them to collaborate. Martin Schellard, the new bass player in Spiritualized, lives close to my home so he came to play guitar and bass whenever I needed him and the other Germans, Hans-Jürgen Rausch and Butros Müller-Staal came over from Cologne for about a month. I don't see Michael Mooney much these days but we are still good friends and he's such an inspirational guitarist I had to get him on the album.
vi) It's a disparate collection of groups you record with, how did you hook up with Julian Cope, Coil, Spiritualised and the Waterboys?
I met Julian in 1987. I was working as an recording engineer at Loco Studios in Wales where Julian was a client. We got on really well and had a mutual interest in Krautrock. I moved to the USA but we met again in Wales in 1994 when we recorded Autogeddon. We've been working together ever since.
John Balance was a Cope fan and after attending a London show got in touch with me through my manager. I bought Horse Rotorvator when it came out but had not kept up to date with Coil till I met them in 1997. John and I immediately made a psychic link and we have been very close friends ever since. John and Peter are superbly creative beings and are a constant source of inspiration.
I was asked to join Spiritualized because Michael Mooney who used to play for Julian had joined Jason's group. Kate Radley had decided not to take part in the forthcoming tour so I was asked to step in. I had a week to learn the set and get myself to Chicago. It was a tough call at first but I enjoyed it and feel greatly privileged to have been part of that incarnation of Spiritualized. Sean Cook and Damon Reece are one of the best rhythm sections I have ever played with.
My work with Mike Scott was initiated by Mike's manager Philip Tennant who I used to work with in the 90's. Mike was also a Cope fan and had enjoyed my synthesizer and Mellotron work with Julian. It was a great experience working with Mike as he is a perfectionist and we share a similar sense of humour and interest in German history.
vii) Lycra, fake fur - how do you account for your unique dress sense?
It is as personal as one's love of fine cheese.
viii) You have a reputation as a being something of a keyboard wizard, so the perennial keyboard question: analogue or electronic?
By that question do you mean do I prefer electronic instruments or acoustic instruments or do I prefer analogue or digital synthesizers? I suppose my answer would be that I appreciate all instruments for their inherent strengths I would never use a piano sample if I had a piano available. I love to explore the individual character of each instrument. I have over fifty synthesizers but I spend an enormous amount of time learning the nuances of each one. It is very easy these days to buy a new synthesizer and use nothing but the factory presets. The first thing I do when I buy a new synthesizer is to erase all the factory presets. This way I am forced to learn the character of the instrument from the inside out. Similarly if I had to perform Mozart I would rather play a Blüthner piano than a Steinway but if I was to play Bartok the opposite would be true. It is the musician's responsibility to understand the character of each instrument. Analogue, digital, acoustic, electric or electronic it doesn't matter. Intent is everything.
ix) Anything you'd like to add?
Star-flower penis society. You know it makes sense.
Julian Cope's Head Heritage Site
Buy online from Threshold House mail order