Interview related to the performance of David in St. Petersburg, April 18th 2004. (site now defunct)
sylvian adds to ‘blemished’ reputation
By Sergey Chernov
David Sylvian, remembered for his band Japan, will appear in concert in St. Petersburg this weekend but what the musician now composes is light years from the New Romantics of the 1970s and early ’80s. After the British band split in 1982, Sylvian reemerged as an innovative and sophisticated artist who collaborated with such figures as Robert Fripp, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Holger Czukay.
Called “Fire In The Forest 2004,” Sylvian’s current tour – which includes two Russian and four Japanese dates – is a continuation of last year’s longer European tour. Backed by his brother Steve Jensen (also formerly of the band Japan) and Japanese visual artist Masakatsu Takagi, Sylvian will focus on “Blemish,” his astonishing 2003 solo effort, in which he effectively combined lo-fi with hi-tech.
Speaking by telephone from his home in New Hampshire, U.S., 47-year-old Sylvian said he was prompted to put aside another project that he had been working on with Jensen to devote his time to “Blemish” for differing reasons.
“I’ve been working on a number of retrospectives for Virgin Records prior to parting ways with them, and I just become overwhelmingly tired of my own material and felt, in a sense, trapped by it,” Sylvian said.
“It was like your own history was suffocating you. I wanted to break away from that entirely. I wanted to find a new vocabulary for myself as a writer. At the same time I was going through a very difficult, emotional time and I was trying to find the means of expressing what I was living through. And it just happened to take this form, because this work itself is very much improvised. It took the form of open-ended compositions.
“I didn’t know where they were going, I just created everything in a series of first takes, wrote the lyrics on the spot and performed them on the spot. So it was all very, very immediate. And as I was delving into this rather murky emotional territory, I felt liberated by both the experience of being able to express these things, but also in a musical form that I felt was very unfamiliar to me.
“I wasn’t sure anybody had walked down this road before in the way I was walking it, so I was actually very uplifted by what I was hearing at the end of any given day.”
Marking the parting with Virgin, “Blemish” is the first album released on Sylvian’s own Samadhi Sound label.
“‘Blemish’ was a different album for me, and I saw it being a very low-key project I would just put out over the Internet and that would be that. People that are interested in my work would eventually find it, but it picked up very positive reviews and suddenly it had this momentum to it,” Sylvian said.
“And this meant not only that people were interested in the album, but the label itself was beginning to grow, and people were interested in the label, and suddenly we had the possibility of having other artists on the label and releasing their work. So it has grown incrementally, and its growth is fascinating. I’m just seeing how it goes, you know. On a week-to-week basis things evolve.”
Sylvian said that he has no interest working with a major label at this time because of the climate in the recording industry.
“I think that the climate in the music industry can only be for the better. I mean they’ve been exploiting artists for so many years,” he said.
“When I think of working with Virgin for 20 years, you know, there are very positive aspects of cooperation, as they said, but to think that after 20-odd years I don’t own one note that I recorded, that it’s all owned by a major corporation, there’s something abhorrent about that. It shouldn’t be so.”
According to Sylvian, the most interesting music is being created beyond the limits of major labels now.
“It’s a terribly cynical time in terms of the industry and major labels but it also a hopeful time because there’s so much going on in so-called ‘underground,'” he said.
Sylvian said that listening to “Blemish” in concert could be a challenge for the listener.
“It’s a very intimate performance, and quite a challenging one for the audience as well,” he said.
“‘Blemish’ is a difficult record. I was very gratified that the audience was able to stay with us. I think it really helped that we had a visual element there to accompany the music.”
Sylvian said that the concert will be divided into three parts. Apart from “Blemish,” there will be new material and a retrospective of older compositions, including Japan’s “The Other Side of Life,” and “Jean the Birdman” – originally Sylvian’s 1993 collaboration with Fripp.
David Sylvian performs at 7 p.m. on Sunday at Theater of Young Spectators (TYuZ), 1 Pionerskaya Pl., M: Pushkinskaya. 112-4060, 112-4102.