We Have Ways of Making You Talk
By Chris Roberts
Uncut, May 1999
David Sylvian’s first solo album for 12 years, Dead Bees On A Cake, is his most personal and accessible work to date, and features Talvin Singh and Ryuichi Sakamoto. The former frontman with early Eighties melancholy futurists Japan married paisley Park protégé Ingrid Chavez in 1992. The couple now live in California with their two daughters.
Can you reconcile the serious, left-field artist you are now with the teenager who glammed up after hearing ‘Telegram Sam’?
“I feel very much in touch with that person, I really do. Maybe for many years I didn’t, and that’s part of the eternal conflict that goes on. I was shy, I created a persona, a mask. You should be able to open your heart to such a degree that you’re able to embrace aspects of your own life which made you profoundly uncomfortable — the faults and weaknesses, as well as the strengths and joy. I don’t ever expect that process to end. Your heart can always expand that little bit wider.”
Are you very religious?
“Hmm … certain forms of religion and philosophy have informed my life over the years, but my own practice had dried up through lack of inspiration and focus when I met Ingrid. We found a teacher, Hindu- based, who refocused our attention back to what matters. It’s very difficult for us, in the West particularly, I think, to come to that point of surrender. But we instantly recognised in our teacher a — for want of a better phrase — divine being. So the journey began. There’s an element ot Buddhism, yes.”
Has living in America influenced your sound?
“Well, I use a John Lee Hooker sample on the track, ‘Midnight Sun’, and a sample becomes a collaborative partner. It pushes you into a genre or area of music that you may not have otherwise been interested in. I saw a hybrid developing that made me want to pursue it further. That in turn allowed me to return to the blues and other music for the first time in years, because I’d found a way in a sa writer. I’m anything but a rootsy musician! So, it was a new door, but was it due to my environment? See, I’d had that record in my collection for years. Was I more susceptible to the suggestions made by the sample because I was living in the States? Who knows? I haven’t listened to Miles Davis in six years, but people make references to his electric period — my favourite— with my instrumentals. Perhaps it’s surfaced when I’ve well digested it.”
Is the track “Café Europa” your comment on the “new” Europe?
“Actually, it’s more to do with the fact that after Ingrid and I were married, it took me a while to get a visa to go to the States, so we spent a lot of time travelling through Europe, with which Ingrid was relatively unfamiliar. So we explored it together. I guess there was a sense of breaking away from the past, old relationships coming to an end, leaving England… and the excitement of the new, and the deep love that we were feeling. We’d kill for each other! It was very intense and strange. The song embodies that sensation.”
Are you still down on Japan?
“With ‘Ghosts’, everything changed for me as a writer. Everything. So I’ve always drawn this clear line between everything that came before ’82 and everything that’s followed. I can’t deny any of it, it’s all been of value in one form or another, but certainly prior to ‘Quiet Life’ nothing was achieved. I can still stand by Brilliant Trees, and all the collaborations have stretched me: I had a great commitment to Rain Tree Crow, and I find that relatively strong. And working with Robert Fripp gave me an enjoyment of live performance which had eluded me until then. I always describe myself as a non-musician, but playing with him gave me a sense of competence as well as confidence.”
Dead Bees On A Cake is out now on Virgin