Published on November 26th, 2018 | by Paul Hawkins0
An interview with Tom Mayne, David Cronenberg’s Wife
UK Antifolk powerhouses David Cronenberg’s Wife’s recently released a new EP, the Octoberman Sequence, their first new music since 2015, and first collection of songs since 2012. Lead singer Tom Mayne and keyboardist Mary Boe catch up with Paul Hawkins in the local Wetherspoons for some cheap curry and double spiced rum & cokes (only £3.50!).
Paul Hawkins: So Tom, it has been a few years since the last DCW album. What have you been up to?
Tom Mayne: Well, it is quite a few years since we’ve released anything, but it doesn’t seem like it’s five or six years. When you’ve not got a record label asking when the next album’s out, when you’re not really on tour, you just play and record music at your own pace. We had a lot of songs that we were working on, but we never got round to recording them. We’ve been playing gigs as much as we ever did over the last couple of years, but then recently with the new line-up of the band it’s been sounding really good, so now is the time to get back in the studio and start releasing some music. For me personally it’s been the usual, just working at McDonalds…
PH: There’s a new album coming next year, but first you are releasing this new EP, The Octoberman Sequence. The EP features some older DCW songs that have never been released. What’s the reason for putting those songs out now?
TM: All the songs on the fourth album are quite dark songs about people dying, or maybe dying… So in that context [songs like] “You Should See” and “The Dude of Love” aren’t really going to fit. So I thought, let’s do an EP, clear the decks of some old songs that have been favourites over the years, add in a few new ones – “Rules” is relatively new – and just get back into the practice of releasing music to remind people that we’re still a band that is still releasing music and still writing music. And that will hopefully pave the way to the fourth album which is going to be very different.
PH: Two of the songs you’ve just mentioned are long-term fan favourites. Are these songs you wrote before you were even in a band, before you were in London even? Tell us about how “You Should See” and “The Dude of Love” originated?
TM: Actually, I think “The Dude of Love” may have been just after I moved to London because it’s about following someone on the tube…
Mary Boe: Did that really happen?
TM: That did happen.
Mary: You followed someone?
TM: Well, I didn’t really follow someone, I was going in the same direction as that person and I thought this could make a good song.
Mary: I follow people on the tube as well.
TM: On “You Should See” – I was in Manchester with my friend George, the first person I started writing songs with. He was staying over for the night and the next day I had a date with somebody – it was the early days of the internet. It was basically an internet date.
MB: It was a dating website?
TM: Kind of like that. It was a college thing, before Facebook existed. The date was, as the song suggests, in Liverpool. So me and George thought it would be nice to actually write and record a song the night before the date, have the date and give the girl the song on a CD for her to listen to after the date when she goes back home. So that’s what we did. We stayed up quite late in Norwood in the cellar – I had a computer set up down there, recorded it very lo-fi. We basically improvised it on the spot. The date happened and I gave the girl the CD with this song about the date that I was on, which I think is… an interesting idea. I never saw her again…
PH: On the subject of “The Dude of Love” and following people on the tube – DCW has been quite a subversive band, writing about relationships and sex from a very outsider perspective and often adopting the perspective of very macabre characters with a sense of irony. We live in a rapidly changing culture even since Don’t Wait to Be Hunted to Hide came out [in 2012] and there’s been a lot more of a backlash against certain things, like with the development of the #MeToo movement. Are you conscious you’re operating in a different environment and does that effect what you’re trying to do?
TM: I have definitely thought about that and have reconsidered some of the songs. I wouldn’t necessarily change anything that I do. Those songs have already been written. Maybe I’d write them in a different way now. Perhaps one thing that I did do with “The Dude of Love” – it was a little bit rawer when it was originally recorded – the final version has a few more questioning voices so you hear [DCW drummer] Stu saying, “I’m not sure about that” and other people questioning my motives. So that wasn’t necessarily a concession to anything going on in society but I think it made the song a little bit more interesting because it was almost like questioning the character of the song and his motives. He thinks he’s doing quite a cute thing when actually maybe it’s not so cute, and I wanted to add that element to it.
PH: You find some weird shit when you google ‘The Octoberman Sequence’! Perhaps you could explain what The Octoberman Sequence is and how you feel it relates to the EP? Why did you go for that title?
TM: Well, the Octoberman Sequence is a routine used by these so-called pick-up artists that have become quite prominent over the last 10 years or so… Supposedly if you use it, it makes a woman fall in love with you in 10-15 minutes. I think the actual routine is out there on the internet now, but for a time it was this kind of secret thing – “The Octoberman Sequence” – this secret technique to make women fall in love with you. By calling the EP that I was kind of laughing about the idea that this thing would exist, but also in some ways I’m saying that music is my failed Octoberman Sequence, that maybe when you start writing songs when you’re 18 you’re thinking this will attract members of the opposite sex, and it doesn’t quite work out like that. Apart from Mary!
MB: (sarcastic) Thanks! I don’t like your music anyway.
PH: When I was finding out about The Octoberman Sequence – without going down too many wormholes – the one thing I ascertained was that it was about creating a happy mood, then a sad mood, happy mood, sad mood. Did you think subconsciously or deliberately it ties in with the structure of the EP which seems to follow that pattern?!
TM: I’ve not thought about that but I’m taking it. It was absolutely intentional…. When I read [Neil Strauss’] The Game years ago the thing I took from of it was just be yourself and be confident, but as the book explores, people have taken that to these very dark extremes where it becomes more about domination and misogyny. David Cronenberg’s Wife explores those themes so it seems kind of apt.
PH: What’s interesting is that when you get into the idea of pick-up artists it’s very much about constructing characters and I’ve always felt in a way that you’ve managed to set up this idea as Tom Mayne as a character in DCW songs, versus Tom Mayne in real life. Maybe it’s what every songwriter does to a degree. To what extent do you think the idea of constructing characters ties in with how DCW works and to what extent do you like that line being blurred?
TM: The blurring of the line is fine by me. You’ve got to make it interesting. You’ve got to raise questions. In one sense obviously “The Pied Piper [of Maidenhead]”, the guy in “Spiked” are characters, but in some ways the person who is speaking in “The Lou Reed Song” – which is a totally different kind of song – is also a character. I’m a little part “The Lou Reed Song” and maybe a little part of “The Pied Piper”, but in my head it’s fiction. When you’re a songwriter and on stage, you’re playing a part. The songs feed into that. If people want to read things into that, it almost makes things better in way – as Marc Riley said when we played on his show the first time, he said he was a little bit scared of us, and you want to create that feeling of danger, to a certain extent.
PH: What’s interesting is that pick-up artists almost represent the very beginnings of the alt-right and the Trump movement… But there’s this tendency to cast people who get drawn to extreme politics and attitudes to women as social monsters, which is an understandable instinct, but one could argue it makes it harder to engage in discussion and bring about change because you’re pushing people to greater extremes. What a lot of your songs do is get under the skin of very dislikeable and detestable people, to try and find their humanity. Do you think that is something that in art is important to do in terms of understanding people?
TM: Maybe not so much in terms of understanding them, I just think it makes for more interesting songs. I’m not saying anything new – there’s so many TV series about humanising the monster. If you want to take it outwards a bit further, I think you need to do that, you need to try and find the reasons for why things happen. At the moment, and maybe it’s always been like this, there is definitely a polarisation, of pigeonholing people into various positions. The discourse at the moment seems to be “I’m not engaging with this person because they are this or that” and this seems to be a bit of a weird thing to do. But I’m not really so interested in that. It’s about creating a good song. And if I was to write a song from the point of view of someone saying that these things are bad, it just wouldn’t be very interesting. Because we all know these things are bad. It’s why I’ve always liked the films and books that I like – they always contain strange characters who you sympathise with to a certain extent while being horrified by their crimes, like Alex in A Clockwork Orange.
PH: In “Rules” you talk about making lists of football teams and cars. But fruits? Could you talk me through the list of fruits? I was genuinely intrigued…
TM: When I was younger I would make lists. I was 6, not 15. And I think the idea when I was 6 was “how many fruits are there in the world?” “I’m going to list them all so at the end I can say ‘there are 26 fruits in the world.’” Cars – I wasn’t interested in cars. I would sit in a tree and watch cars go past, but not noting whether it was a Vauxhall or Volvo, basically whether they were blue or red. I was counting colours. Football teams? I don’t think I did a list of teams because you’d have the Football Pink as reference back then.
Mary: The Pink?
TM: Yeah you’d get the results published immediately. It was the Pink in Manchester.
Mary: It was pink?
TM: Yes, it was a newspaper – it would be published at 6 or 7pm on Saturday and you’d go out and get it.
Mary: What about the internet?
TM: This was way before the internet.
PH: I used to watch the scores on teletext.
TM: And as they came through on the vidiprinter. If it was more than 5-0, they’d write out the score so you wouldn’t think it was a typo. So yes, I was a list maker.
PH: I know you’re a big fan of The Fall, and similar to them and my band, The Awkward Silences, you’ve had a rotating line-up over the years. What do you think of how that changing line-up has affected what you’ve done over the years?
TM: It can be a positive. You mention The Fall. I guess what Mark E. Smith was doing was trying to get different ideas out of different musicians in the band – he would try and channel them into The Fall way but they each had their own particular talents. And from that came very different music – as John Peel said it was always the same, but always different,. With Cronenberg’s Wife we try and do the same thing. Jes – who I got from your band – in contrast to other bassists we’ve had in the past is a much more strident player, he’s more out in the forefront so I think some of the new songs take advantage of that. The negatives – when you have new members of the band, it’s just learning new songs and [dealing with] people who are at different stages of [learning] the songs. To me it’s always been a positive. With Adam joining the band in the last couple of years, a lot of the songs on the fourth album are co-written with him based on riffs that he’s written that I couldn’t write. I think that’s needed because there’s only so much that I can do – basically two notes or two chords. Those ideas run out quite quick!
PH: I can relate to that! You’ve had the 10 year anniversary show of Bluebeard’s Rooms which implies a degree of looking backwards and you’ve recorded songs like “The Dude of Love” and “You Should See”. How do you find the experience of playing songs now that you wrote 10 or more years ago – that sense of maybe you’re in a different place? Does that affect the way you play them now – do you look at them in a different light?
TM: You fall in and out of love with the songs. As you say they change their meaning to you maybe over the years. Some songs I don’t like at all – there’s a lot fans out there of “My Date with Jenna Bush” which we released as a B-side. Never say never, but I don’t think I’d ever play that again. It was of its time. Other songs you get a bit bored of, but [then] you play them with a different line-up, like we’ve been doing with Bluebeards Rooms, rediscovering some of the old songs like “Where is Lucy Leveugle?” We would always mess it up somehow but with this line-up we’ve managed to nail it down. Playing it at The Lexington it was really fun, so [I thought] maybe we’ll run that one out again. Some songs seem eternally fun to play – for me, it’s “Jonny Bentham’s Dilemma”. And other songs go through a bit of a cycle. And some songs you leave behind, you don’t necessarily have to revisit them. With a lot of the songs we always have them in our arsenal, [we] don’t play them at every gig, but have them there if needed.
PH: Looking back to the songs you wrote in your parents’ house in Stockport. When you reflect on – what is it… 12 years?
TM: It’s longer than that but let’s keep it at 12.
PH: When you reflect on where you have been and what you have done since then, how does that fit in with what you expected back then – if you expected anything at all?
TM: What you set out to do is to write songs, play them and record them. When you’re writing songs you think, “this is going to be amazing” and “it’ll definitely happen”, but another part of you is still the shy, nervous boy thinking “well, maybe this will never happen”. So the fact that all these years later we have 3 albums out and an EP now, and we’ve got a certain amount of a following, and people have helped us get those albums out, and you can listen to them on Spotify, and things like that, if you asked me [back then] I would have been amazed that I’d done all that. I remember posting something on Facebook, saying something like “I wish we were a little bit bigger” and I think you commented saying “look at all the things you’ve done”. And I remember David Beauchamp who used to be in Jeff Lewis’ band saying that you always feel that, no matter how far up the chain you are. And that struck me as a nice way of thinking about it, that you can always be bigger, but bigger is not necessarily better. I have had the opportunity to play these songs and release the albums exactly the way I wanted them to with the artwork I wanted, with total creative control. Had we been a much bigger band early on I don’t think that would have been possible and I’d probably be looking back now regretting some of the decisions that some record label made and lamenting “why didn’t we just stay a small antifolk band?”, so whichever way you cut it, there’s positives and negatives. I’m not complaining at all.
PH: You mentioned the change of focus on the new album, the fact it is a change of themes. Is that a conscious evolution?
TM: It just sort of happened. If all these songs are about people at the end of their tether I thought maybe I’d write a few more things like that. There’s a new song called “The Russian Death Song” which is maybe about a guy committing suicide and I probably reawakened that song which had been sitting on a computer file because of the theme of the album. And because Adam came up with quite a sombre riff.
PH: He came up with a death riff?
TM: Practically yes! And I thought, “I’ve got lyrics for that one.”
PH: What’s coming up in the near future for DCW?
TM: We’ve got a gig coming up in January in London. There’s a new video for “You Should See” we’ve just released. And basically just looking forward to getting the record out next year.
PH: Thanks Tom!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
David Cronenberg’s Wife’s new EP “The Octoberman Sequence” is out now on Blang Records. Buy it here on limited edition 12″ vinyl or download.