Now is a great time for composers: it's all there. Sales suck for sure but maybe that's the new path for artists: forget about making a steady living from it and concentrate on the marvellous tool kit we can now use.
05/06/2012, Jurgen VANVLASSELAER
photos: © Michel Clair
He's worked with artists such as Frank Tovey, Alain Bashung, Gene Loves Jezebel, Front 242 to name but a few. He's jammed with Daniel Miller in his living room, opened with Digital Dance for Joy Division, scored a hit with The Weathermen and even has had a track aired on a Baywatch episode, how many Belgian artists can say that? We had a very nice chat with the man behind Poison: Mister Jean-Marc Lederman.
Welcome Jean-Marc. Can you remember the first time that music really moved you? When did you realise that music was something special for you?
I was with my parents at a dinner they had with some friends and they were playing The Temptations “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”. I remember where I was sitting and all, it's pretty intense still.
Which artist or which event made you decide to make music yourself?
There are two: Brian Eno and Kraftwerk. I was listening to their music on a loop...There are two albums that especially triggered in me the desire to make music: Radioactivity (Kraftwerk) and Taking Tiger Mountain (Eno). I was mesmerized by the idea that they weren't really musicians but people with ideas and a desire to do something that wasn't common those days: make very experimental music with definitive pop appeal. Best of both worlds.
In 1979 you were in the very first line up of Fad Gadget, 2 Belgians (Phil Wauquaire and yourself) and Frank Tovey. What do you remember from those days? Why didn’t you stay?
Those were great days. We knew we were doing something different and rather new: Frank was something unseen and unheard in electronic music, like Iggy Pop with synths. The music was also exciting, it was rough and edgy, with a definitive edge and...pop sensibilities somewhere. We played dates in the UK, Belgium, Germany. I couldn't believe it the first time I got a per diem: “what? Money to do something so great?” Of course, I have a lot of memories of these times, like when I was travelling in Germany in my little Honda Civic with Frank, Daniel Miller, Chris Haas (DAF) and Phil Wauquaire, we were just having fun and laughing our way in. It was just so inspirational: we were happy kids playing in a courtyard we designed. I was still playing with Frank when he opened his skull at that Clarendon gig. He went on playing after a ten minute break, so someone could try to stop the bleeding. Frank wanted a full line-up and, to be honest, I was a really bad keyboard player. Still am now. As said earlier on, the crossover between rather experimental music and pop structures/pop hooks has always interested me. For a composer, this zone where music genres overlap is very exciting, healthy and tantalizing. I'm not interested in music you keep away from people, nor am I overly interested in charts and consumer music, I like it when things collide and make interesting accidents.
In 1980 you opened with Digital Dance for Joy Division at Plan K, Brussels. What are your memories of this gig? Ian Curtis wasn’t an icon in those days, but did you get the chance to have a talk with him?
These gigs and time with Digital Dance were very tense and I had no time to see Joy Division, which I didn't really like actually. I didn't speak with him then but I actually drove Ian and Bernard Sumner from their hotel to some other place a while before that. I had the chance at the time to be close to people who were close to great artists. I can also tell you that Peter Murphy slept in my parent's bed. Not that they were in the bed when that happened :)
You’ve met and worked with a lot of great artists, Frank Tovey, Alain Bashung , Daniel Miller, Gene Loves Jezebel, Polyphonic Size, Front 242 to name but a few. Maybe difficult for you to answer, but which person made the biggest impression on you and why?
It's impossible to say, as it's impossible to put them all on a line and make a statement about them that way. And they were, or are, very different personalities. But I think Daniel Miller probably jumps to mind cause the man is absolutely mesmerizing. He has succeeded by doing something enormous while it was all a dream back then when I met him (The Normal was just out). I stayed at Daniel's place, back in the days, and we used to jam with our synths in the middle of the night when Daniel's mother would come in at 3:00am and complain about the noise, lol.
Recently, by a very funny chain of events, I got to meet Karl Bartos, of Kraftwerk fame, did a remix of one of his songs and got to work closely with him. It's an absolutely amazing karma twinkle in the eye as I'm able to pay back some respect to someone who made me make music in the first place. I developed a free iphone application with him and help him at concerts.
Alain Bashung, I met a while back as he wanted to work with Franz from The Young Gods, but it didn't happen so.. he was looking for another 'noise maker'. He asked me to work on one song and I ended up playing on 5 (album Chatterton). A year later, he called me up and asked me to write him some songs, which I did, and he included one of them, Ode A La Vie, on the multi-platinum album Fantaisie Militaire which has been awarded best rock album of the last twenty years. It was an eerie feeling to see him take three awards at the Victoire de La Musique that year, it felt very close.
And in my short period of doubts, one thing artists have every three days at least, it's very helpful for my soul to see that my “career” has been spanned with meeting great people, making a few songs that matter to people and, top of the bill, having two songs of The Weathermen being featured in the TV series Baywatch. If you never had your music being synchronized to Pamela Anderson's boobs dancing up and down in slow motion you haven't lived :-)
And who was the biggest disappointment? Cause I’m pretty sure they weren’t all great personalities.
No further comments but yes, some artists are too blinded by ego and lust for money that meeting them in the flesh, or working with them, ends sourly. And I'm no angel myself, so I guess some people must have felt disappointment with me too.
Your most ‘well known’ project is The Weathermen. After a silence of 12 years there was a little resurrection again with new albums and a few live gigs. How is the situation these days?
Well, there seems to be absolutely no interest whether we do a new album or new gigs, so we think it's better to slowly disappear. We know it's an old band and the scene is interested in bands that are louder, more monolithic and macho, with more clichés and caricatures of the genre. We did 8 albums and there are some great tracks there. We also wrote a pure classic, so there are no bad feelings. Just time to close our eyes and let is pass.
That pure classic is Poison. You’ve always had a love/hate relationship with that track. How do you look back at it now?
It was a great track then and is still a great track now. It has allowed us to sell many records, live from our music for a while and have people enjoying our music and our art. We made many mistakes after Poison, everyone was anxious to maximalize Poison's impact (including us) and somehow it made us too unsure and hesitant.
It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Poison did come later on in The Weathermen's “career”. People after Poison were expecting too much, and we were expecting too much from the crowd. Maybe if we had had the time to grow a following we could have built something else. I don't know, I don't care much now: that was then, this is now. I have zero nostalgia and plenty of good memories. And some bad ones too, of course LOL.
Is it during The Weathermen period that you started with your alter ego’s Jimmyjoe Snark III, Patricia Hearst etc. How did that come about and where did the names come from?
Well, we were supposed to be totally unknown people who were sending the final mix and covers to the record label who didn't know how to contact us, so the names were part of the disguise. It was fun that's all. The name The Weathermen was chosen cause I thought at the time that the best way to have a weight was thru the “music biz" so I was imagining what would happen if a terrorist group (like the original Weathermen) would do music instead of bombing stuff. Their weight on events and societies would have been much bigger. To be honest, we were very conceptual anyway and dedicated to offering a totally different angle of electronic music. Lyrics (written by Bruce Geduldig) were for instance very important and funny/cynical.
These days you are still involved in several projects. La Femme Verte, Ghost & Writer, Leatherman, etc., can you give us a little update of these projects?
I always have been involved in more than one project at the time: I was with Kid Montana and The Weathermen at the same time. In the 90's, I was doing Ether (a metal industrial band with Dee-J from La Muerte and Luc Defourmont from Ugly Papas)and the ambient Man-Dello at the same time. Both albums use the same samples actually, just being played and produced differently.
I like doing many different types of music and really never got to do only one thing over and over again. Now, I'm sure if you listen to all, you'll find many common grounds. But there's a big difference between Kid Montana's Temperamental album and Ghost & Writer for sure.
Well, I don't think there'll be a new La Femme Verte album for a while. It's very complicated to put all this together (La Femme Verte's Small Distortions was 9 different singers).
Ghost & Writer: we're putting songs together and a new album should be out end of the year.
The album Romania from Leatherman is just out.
On the La Femme Verte album, Small Distortions, you covered tracks such as Enjoy the Silence from Depeche Mode and Where The Wild Roses Grow from Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue. Did you get any reactions or feedback from the original artists?
We did get reactions from Martin Gore: he really liked our version. Got a mail from Angelo Badalamenti who complimented us for our cover of Falling. But no phone call from Keith Richards, Kylie Minogue or Brian Wilson. Bastards ;)
Ghost & Writer is your project with Frank Spinath (Seabound). How did you get in touch with him?
I think he got in touch with me, as he wanted us to sign some Weathermen stuff. And we got to like each other and said one day, hey let's try to write a song.
Ghost & Writer debuted 2 years ago. How was that debut received?
Well, ex-tre-me-ly well in the reviews department and not bad at all for a first album in the sales' one. Some reviews were ecstatic and it's always great to have people appreciate your work of course.
A new Ghost & Writer album is scheduled for the end of 2012. What can we expect?
The album is sharper and faster, more to-the-point also. But still with the great voice and lyrics of Frank and our cinematic stamp on the final thing.
I know you’re not the biggest fan of performing live, but can we expect Ghost & Writer gigs in the near future?
Really depends if some promoter wants us to do something of a certain dimension but I'm not ready to accept to play dumps and tacky clubs that's for sure.
Your latest project Leatherman, a project with Jacques Duvall, is again something completely different. Can you tell us something about that project?
Leatherman is a project with Jacques Duvall (a lyricist. He wrote songs for The Sparks, Alain Chamfort, Jane Birkin and...Lio- Banana Split, that's him). Our album is just out (check: www.leatherman-romania.com).
I wanted to write new songs, he wanted to cover old songs. So, it's a bit like La Femme Verte except it's very dark and somber. But majestic at the same time, not sleazy or miserable. There are a lot of things to express in crepuscular things and I'm glad Jacques gave me the opportunity to explore that.
You’ve already worked with a lot of notable artists. Which artist is still on your dream list?
Again a very difficult thing to say. It's a long stretch I'd like to branch out more to movies and doing something for David Lynch or David Fincher, that would be awesome but hey, that's a loooong stretch.
In the music world...maybe Madonna? You said dream list right? ;) Or the Vermin Twins? Or MGMT? Or Of Montreal? The list would be endless as this is what I love doing: working with other people even though I'm a rather a-social person.
Your music spans decades, but what was the most interesting period for you as a musician?
Most definitively now. Now, I can have access to tools and instruments that were out of reach back then. Now is a great time for composers: it's all there. Sales suck for sure but maybe that's the new path for artists: forget about making a steady living from it and concentrate on the marvelous tool kit we can now use.
Do you still follow the electronic music scene these days? Is there a band you would recommend?
I do follow what's happening in the music world quite closely although the old electronic music band scene is now totally boring. They're all stuck in time, partly cause they can't think of evolving, partly cause their fans don't want them to. The new industrial scene is really bland and compression can't make up for imagination. It's funny how a scene devolved from being the top notch place to be in, where you want to hear new stuff, and how now it's all (sexist and macho) attitude and VST plugins but no invention at all.
I like Psy'Aviah cause at least they're trying different things and aren't stuck. I like Vermin Twins cause it's very energizing and visually interesting. NTRSN is a cool band too...
Outside of that sleepy industrial scene, I could “recommend” Beth Jean Houghton, a Mute band that doesn't sound at all like a 1985 Mute band lol, I like MGMT a lot but that's hardly an unknown band.
As usual, these bands are crossover for me: they're proposing something at the crosspoint of different genres and what they find there makes something exciting.
Can you enjoy music or are you constantly listening with technical ears?
I can switch off analysing stuff on something I like, but I can't switch off when I don't like it. I can easily enjoy a track when it's pleasing my ears and my heart but I can't stop my brain to make the connections: “oh, this beat is taken from this song” or “they are very inspired by that song”.
The other day I heard on the radio the latest single from a very successful new band and it's a total rip-off from T -Rex. I can't help hearing that cause...I've been there. But it's ok, it doesn't mean I'm an hearing machine and I always put down things, it just means I'm very, very tough to please musically.
Of all the tracks you’ve written, what is the one that you are most proud of and why?
I wrote many tracks in quite a few different genres so it's impossible to say. I guess I need to cut it down to all the bands I compose it for.
Kid Montana: She Never. To me it sounds like The Waterboys...LOL
The Weathermen: Poison , of course, Punishment Park, It's A Beautiful City , Fruits and Vegetables...
La Femme Verte and Leatherman are covers (LFV is light and hedonistic while Leatherman is dark and crepuscular) but I'm very proud of Falling and Can't Seem To Make You Mine.
I also wrote some wicked tracks I'm very proud of for video games.
How do you look back on your life as a musician (so far)? Was it a fun ride?
It wasn't always fun as being an artist can be tough at times because the music bizz can be a real jungle where the monkees would be replaced by ego driven imbeciles, but I met some amazing people and had many wonderful moments with them. I think I wrote some great songs and I'm grateful to the people I did it with. And I love writing songs and producing them and I think these are great, great times for writing music. And I love it when people like what I've done although I don't know how to properly integrate that feeling.
What does the future hold for Jean-Marc Lederman?
I'm currently finishing the Ghost & Writer album and doing a soundtrack for a cool videogame. I have also initialized new connections with singers, so there might be some new paths to follow there. I'm always open for interesting collaboration if I find the right people.
Thank you and good luck with your future projects!
DARKMEN • To me it seems like Belgium is still stuck in the 80’s...We hope to play live in Belgium soon, and show them what good EBM sounds like!
DE/VISION • I would tell anyone who starts a band the same thing: stick to your guns and never stop believing in yourself, no matter what negative things some people might say about your music...
SCHMUTZ • Schmutz is like a nice familynest you crawl into and you make music with guys you respect and have fun with.
EMPUSAE • Symbiosis for me, is kind of a turning point of what Empusae is. I needed this experiment as a person and as a composer.
AMBASSADOR21 • Our deep idea is EVERYONE has a RIGHT FOR RIOT - it's doesn't fucking matter 'why?', is it 'logical' or not. If you just want to - it's enough. Go on!
COMA DIVINE • We are already looking forward to enter the peek-a-boo stage!!!
SYNAPSCAPE • It's been almost exactly 18 years when we started Synapscape, so now it's grown up, can have a home by it's own and marry without our permission ;)
JACQUY BITCH • Jacquy Bitch is more and more a band and a concept
18 SUMMERS • Contradictions and inconsistencies, that is what 18 Summers is about: in life and in the songs!
NORTHERN SADNESS • We wanted to create our own world, in the little world the gothwave-scene is. I think we’ve succeeded. People often tell us they can’t really compare our music to something else.