Conversations with Paintings ; An interview with David Sylvian, September 2005 by Anthony Reynolds
The music of David Sylvian and his presence in the world concurrent to mine has been a source of enjoyment, interest, and comfort to me for years and years. In my provincial life as a Fan (and I do enjoy being a ‘fan’ of people and their work, it’s an indulgence I strive to maintain as I get older), I don’t have any main man as a focus -I take what I need from whomever at whatever time – but there are those with whom I have a fascination that I’m unlikely to lose. (Unless I truly do break through to that other side in this life)...

I know, also, that some artists touch me in such a profound way that once I’ve been hooked by them, they seem to occupy some inner part of me permanently. I can go months, even a year without reading their poetry, watching their films, listening to their music and yet some part of their spirit inhabits me daily and its no trouble at all to locate it at a moments notice. I don’t know if this is a common enough occurrence, writing this I realise I’ve never articulated this phenomena before now…

So, I may not interact with Basquiat’s paintings, Yevtushenko’s poetry, Cocteau’s films or Sylvian’s music for months on end but as I say, they still occupy a tenancy within some compartment of the filthy rag and bone shop of my heart, a place I can meet them there any time I like.

I remember vividly the first time Sylvian’s music came into my life. I think it would have been…late summer of 1981, and I would have been ten years old. The song was Japan’s ‘Quiet life’ and it was playing on the radio, a re-release that was to be their first hit. This was way back when nowt were on TV during the weekday and BBC Radio One was on in our house constantly 8 through 5.

I remember the set up of the living room then and the Radio, part of a hi-fi, was to my right. I was walking toward the bay windows and the sun was streaming in, you could see lint freefalling through the air. I ran my hand through my hair and looked out of the window. I had done such a thing countless times, no doubt but today something changed. Running my hand through my hair to the sound of Quiet life made me feel… different somehow. This simple reflex had in a way, become more than it was, apart from what it had been. It was suddenly a gesture, a pose, as well as a matter of clearing the fringe from my eyes.

This was both the end and beginning of something; a sign of loss of childlike bliss and a definitive, definite step toward adolescence and self-consciousness. Sylvian’s song marked the very new moment of a new life.

A year later, further synchronicity; I came home from school to find the house empty. The radio was on (The Peter Powell show, I think). He introduced one of the weirder songs in the charts at that time: Japan’s ‘Ghosts’.

As I stood in the living room calling out; ‘Anyone home’? Sylvian Sang; ‘When the room is quiet/the daylight almost gone/it seems there’s something I should know…’ Ha! And what was that thing? It sounded like nothing else, at the time or now; righteously wrong on the radio. (I also remember being round a friend’s house. Gareth Cullen. Walker Street, Splott. His older brothers record collection was a source of mystery and envious delight to me. As I flipped through the Depeche Mode, Squeeze, Madness, Reggae and UB40 12 inches, ‘Ghosts’ appeared, seeming incongruously placed in both immediate and general vicinity. Over my shoulder, the older Cullen noticed my piqued interest and in that taffy twang remarked; ‘That’s a bloody good song that is’…

As I matured, I never lost interest. His presence in the ‘pop’ world always seemed slightly out of step and increasingly so as I became older and more aware generally.

(I’ve just remembered my dad, in a rare display of innocence circa ’85, suggesting I write to “Jim’ll’fix it” for a meeting with my teenage hero. As I laughed my shrill adolescent laugh, he seemed bemused and turned away from me forever, mortally wounded and uncomprehending…)

HMV, Cardiff Queen Street, October 1987. The shop is ten minutes away from closing, almost empty. There is a minute hint of Christmas in the air. Outside it is rainy and dark. The staff has just finished playing Sylvian’s latest album ‘Secrets of the Beehive’. It sounds classically out of time over the instore P.A. The orchestral chords of the final track, ‘Waterfront’, die away and I hear the staff mutter ambiguously - not what they were expecting but quality, nevertheless. They then put on the latest meisterwork from Howard the Jones. Its obvious Sylvian has long since left this particular building.

(Skint, I stole a vinyl copy of SOTB from the same shop some weeks later. I was at the time inexperienced in most ways of the world, especially sexually, and still living with my parents. The record blew me away. Some months later I moved into my first bedsit…got a girlfriend, lost ‘my innocence’. The record still sounded great, even in this newly adult terrain. Almost two decades on, here I am; a corrupt, seasoned man of the world. A well travelled wine expert and raconteur…a veteran of the war of the heart. The record still gets me. Still connects to that part inside that is ancient and ageless. It remains to me, my favourite and most complete work by the man).

I should say that, as hinted previously, I am not an obsessive…about anyone (except myself). I love Elvis, Bukowski, drinking, boxing and

At such times, when my attention narrows on to any of these passions, Sylvian’s work sometimes seems remote and almost…unreachable, to me, seems to consider itself almost too preciously. Like anyone, I go through phases of focus and interest.

In addition, A few of his works I’m unlikely to listen to again (‘The First Day’ Album with Robert Fripp. And the first two times I saw him live were something of a test. The third was an epiphany. See here: http://www.musicomh.com/gigs/david-sylvian.htm

Oh, and none of my girlfriends really liked him. Which I was secretly glad about for some unspecified reason.

Sylvian moved out of London around the same time I left Cardiff for that same capitol (There was no relation between these relocations) but there were many other times and occasions where as I moved through my own humble musical career, I felt the shadow of his presence near… (The time I was taken round live agents to choose which one I wanted…the wall lined with Japan’s gold discs at ‘The Agency’ was almost enough to make me go with them…I chose Woody Allen’s agent instead…then there were a handful of long cheery phone calls with Japan/Sylvian producer Steve Nye circa ’95. in 2000 for my ‘To stars’ album, we shared a sleeve designer (V23) etc)

I thought the time for us to meet had finally come at The Hammersmith Odeon, 2001. By then, we had a (temporary) mutual acquaintance. It was the final night of Sylvian’s retrospective tour and I sat in the stalls knowing that at the aftershow party, our mutual colleague would introduce us. Sadly, or catastrophically as it seemed at the time, said colleague was not enamoured of the gig. Halfway through he said something about a curry and his babysitter and abruptly left, leaving me alone with six backstage passes and no introduction. Compared to what had been such an ideal prospect, the thought of me jumping into Sylvian’s line of sight at the backstage bar exclaiming “You don’t know me, but...” seemed grossly inappropriate. I let it go, watching the meet and greet from afar, sipped from a beer bottle, and held my tongue, catching an early bus home.

His latest album is a collection of songs, a collaboration with brother Steve Jansen and a chap called Burnt Friedman whom I know little about: www.themilkfactory.co.uk/reviews/bfriedman_summary.htm)

The record is called ‘Snow borne Sorrow’ and goes under the group name of ‘Nine horses’.

It has just begun its life in my CD player and is too early to evaluate its place in my heart as yet. As ever, after early listenings, moments sound utterly beguiling and heart tinderingly beautiful at present…others passages and songs need further attention, although the overall effect seems to me to be somewhat fragmentary. But it is no disappointment, far far from it… New ground is broken, however subtly, and the progression and development of the work no doubt mirrors that of his inner life and in this regard he’s never let us down. (I know this article wobbles on the precipice of fawning but there are few enough artists I’d pay to see whack a topaz ice cube with a breadstick if I believed that they believed what they were doing was true and necessary. DS is among that few and it makes me happy this is so. While I retain my objectivity in this matter, cynicism is banished).

Holding the whole work together is the pain glazed honey and hemp of that voice. It is one of the uniquest I’ve heard, a sound that has seemed to evolve and acquire authority and detail on every new recording.

Sylvian’s influence on the music world of 2005 is tangible but almost exclusively among those who fall however loosely within the ‘electronica’ tag.

People of my age and younger seem most influenced by the progressive approach of his and Japan’s work and rarely the style of the work itself-which is surely pleasing to the source. Although Japan were very much a band, a band who toured as much as any, using drums, bass, and guitar just as importantly as sequencers and backing tapes, their particular dynamic has rarely been imitated in the last decade or so. What is evident is the influence of their innovative, pioneering spirit.

I was disappointed that our interview couldn’t take place in person although I wasn’t surprised. And having been on the other side of the interview process countless times, I always found E-mail interviews a little stilted and linear. I tried to get round this by inviting the moment in at varying opportunities. I also didn’t want the exchange to be one sided and this will doubtless seem self indulgent on my behalf to many.

Whatever, I do feel there was a meeting of sorts upon the page, be it of heart, minds, a combination thereof…

Hello David

I live near the West Wales border, in the countryside more or less. Today is one of those very slow, wet September mornings. From where I’m sat, I can clearly see the farm opposite; acres of green, rain soaked cows and sheep, an abundance of birdlife.

I’m writing you from my attic study, between my recording studio and the boiler room…

Could you describe your immediate surroundings to me?

I’m sitting on my bed which is located in a large room which was once a meditation room so the energy is good. There are 12 windows on two sides of the building (North and east). Outside the trees are still heavy with leaves so I only get a glimpse of the grey sky beyond. To my right a small window reveals plenty of wildlife activity in the large fern tree. All season, a male cardinal (beautiful bright red bird) has been tapping on my windows. He started out tapping just once a day then escalated to multiple times daily. He’d tap on the window, settle on the ledge then seemingly peer in. Occasionally he would fly up and down in front the window. Since I’ve returned from an extensive trip abroad he’s not returned.

This week I’m making a move away from New England where I’ve lived for the past 5 years so it’s as if I’m burning these images of my surroundings into memory as a means of saying goodbye.

(I believe DS lived in a converted Ashram on the side of a mountain in New England).

Behind and to my right one of our cats is sleeping. My partner and I moved here from London shortly after 9/11. One of the reasons being that we wanted the definite and increased presence of animals in our lives.

We have a Horse and a fluctuating number of cats.

I believe one can tell a lot from a person by the way they relate to animals. (I do of course, consider humans to be animals also).

My relationship with ‘nature’ seems apart from my relationships with society and people in general.

When I relate to an animal, something ‘divine’ seems almost instantly accessible to me.

What is your relationship to animals in general and do you have any pets yourself?

I’ve always felt a great affinity with dogs (born the year of the dog) but have only ever lived with one, the family pet, whilst growing up. Since then it’s been cats. I’ve never chosen to own a pet myself but either my partners have had pets or, as is the case now, my children. Since having children I find it harder to connect with household pets the way I once did. Larger animals still manage to make an impression and yes, can convey the presence of the divine in a very tangible way. Animals sometimes make appearances in the garden and always, always, feel purposeful in the presence. Deer, Bears, Coyotes, Pheasants, Porcupines.. We live where there are a number of predators and not far from a busy road so a number of the cats we have owned have disappeared. It’s either the coyotes, the Bears, of the mysterious fisher cats. The children have begun to take their losses as just a part of life here in the wild although they do grieve them when they go.

I understand you’ve been a vegetarian for some years. What’s the basis for this decision?

What advice would you give your children in this regard?

The initial reason for giving up meat was a health issue (84). It started with abstaining from dairy and then went onto meat. I still ate fish for a number of years after that but I finally felt the need to purge myself of animal foodstuffs entirely. By that time (95) it was a conscious decision not to participate in the harming of animals.

My children are vegetarian. As they’ve been vegetarian since birth the notion of eating animals is foreign to them. As they get older they are free to make decisions for themselves. Their mother returned to eating fish a couple of years ago so they’re in an advantageous position of deciding what is right for them at any point in their development. My children share my belief that all animals embody the divine, as does all of nature. This doesn’t preclude their eating animals but they should be aware of the sacrifice the animal has made of their behalf.

Does having children change your relationship with your own parents? If it does, how so?

It allowed me to view their parenting skills with a great deal more understanding and compassion. Also, there’s something about extending the family line which appears to draw us closer to one another. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been big on family ties but this aspect does seem to draw attention to the relationships shared in this life, past lives, and the next. For example, when my youngest daughter was born I could feel the presence of my mother in her (my mother is still living) but also that of my maternal grandmother. It’s this continuous chain, these on going relationships, that fascinate me.

I was once told that the people in our lives are there because they serve a specific function in our development. If we shut one of these important figures out of our lives they will return in another guise, another form, so that the opportunity to learn remains present. Of course this rings doubly true where our immediate family is concerned. I’ve witnessed the truth of this first hand.

I stayed with the English Writer Colin Wilson for a few days last year. (www.anthonyreynolds.net/pages/writings_colin_wilson_part1.htm )

He is now in his seventies.

I asked him if he thought one ever ‘got over’ one’s childhood. His reply; ‘I’m afraid not’.

I’m speaking broadly but if you recognize the question, I’ll ask the same of you.

No, I believe not. Rather than get over it’s a matter of embracing what is. I think that’s another matter entirely.

You’ve spent a substantial part of your adult life travelling. Did you have a wanderlust before work offered you the opportunity?

I guess I started travelling when I was about 18. I can’t say I had an overriding ambition to travel before that time. I thought of the external world as a hostile place. There was quite a lot of fear to overcome before I could walk out into the world at large with the spirit of adventure.

Sylvian and the rest of his first band, Japan, originally come from Catford in South London.

Like many suburbs, a predominately loveless and ugly place.

I come from a place in Wales called ‘Splott’ that makes Lewisham seem like Florence by comparison…

When I was young, my father was made redundant from his job at the steel works; he used the redundancy money to take the family on what seemed then to be extraordinarily exotic holidays. For about five consecutive summers we left the drab, lower working class environment of our Cardiff suburb to visit Bulgarian Fishing villages, Venice, Southern Italy, France, Spain, Germany, and Rumania. This had a twofold effect on me. It opened my eyes and heart to the reality of a bigger world of enormous mystery and beauty and it made my hometown seem unbearably ugly by comparison.

As a consequence, perhaps, I haven’t been comfortable with my place of birth since.

What are your feelings regarding your ‘hometown’?

And did you travel much as a family before you began to travel extensively via your work?

I was never at ‘home’ in my hometown. Maybe that’s part of why I experienced the world as a hostile place although much of it was due to my own psychology. Sure, the location was virtually devoid of any redeeming features but it was the village-like mentality of the suburbs that was suffocating. Small minded, mean spirited people accompanied by the constant threat of physical danger. But ultimately it isn’t the physical location but the mind set it tends to breed (and still does as far as I know) but then these elements are inextricably tied together aren’t they?

As a family we never ventured far on our infrequent travels. My parents never had money to burn so the vacations, when we took them, were pretty humble.

Can you remember what it was like to leave home? How it felt to have a place of your own for the first time?

Like having a straight jacket removed.

Do you feel you’ve now found a physical home?

I wonder if I’ll ever feel that way.

I understand you record now almost exclusively within your home studio. IS this correct?


One of the first consequences of my moving here from London was that we had much more space…as such I immediately cobbled together a humble studio in one of the spare rooms. I’d long wanted such an asset and yet I’m ultimately disappointed.

I find I miss the ritual and constraints of working against the clock at an expensive commercial studio. I’m often tempted to begin recording songs before they’re finished… Whereas before, I would carry songs around with me for months even years, pruning and watering them as it were, refining them as they matured. Then, maybe once a year, I’d have access to a horribly expensive studio and producer of my choice for a limited amount of time. I miss the process of going in and filtering the work further through a band and time and engineers etc and knowing that when the time was up, I’d have something tangible to show for it…

Do you miss this process; the borders and constraints?

I can’t say I do. I do miss not having a tech handy when I need one as solving technical problems is just a total pain.

Would you ever consider recording in a ‘live’ situation with a band under a strict schedule?

I’d consider it but it wouldn’t be an ideal set up as far as I’m concerned. I occasionally work in commercial studios for the odd overdub or to capture a group performance. I do enjoy the spirit of these sessions but I like to take my time sifting through the material after the fact.

I understand that the writing of Blemish surfaced as it was recorded. If this is so, then it suggests a high level of self-confidence. How true are the lyrics to their first drafts?

They are the first drafts

Did anything come up that was surprising, shocking or even embarrassing to you?

I attempted to be as unguarded in my response as possible. The results excited me. It is another thing entirely to listen to this kind of material with other people in the room. I can get uncomfortable in this regard when the work is still very fresh to me, reflecting my current state of mind. It is very revealing but this is what is exciting about the material, to say something clearly, concretely, possibly definitively for its time.

How did the recording of ‘Snow Bourne Sorrow’ differ from that of Blemish and how did the process differ from other albums? I believe the Nine horses project was begun before Blemish?

It was started prior to Blemish. SBS had a long a protracted evolution which I’ll not bother getting into here. In terms of the recording itself it was created in what might be seen as my traditional method. The songs themselves come quickly but the recording of the pieces, for whatever reason, takes time to reach fruition. Steve also has a tendency to work slowly so whilst a song may have come together in what seemed like minutes there’s time taken over the construction, arrangement of the piece, the sound design, etc etc.

When attempting to ‘convert’ friends to your music I come across the recurring criticisms;

That generally speaking, your work is lacking melodically and that there is an absence of ‘passion’. I disagree on both counts. Again, generally speaking, I believe both qualities are apparent but appear to me to be sunken. I.e., they are not necessarily placed in the foreground.

This is unusual in the Western Ballad form and in ‘pop music’ but I still think of your work as being rooted in both.

Do you have any recurring criticisms of your own work? Do you recognize a habitual weakness?

A reliance on familiar forms plus a lack of spontaneity in the recording process (rather than the writing) which is what I’d tried to escape on Blemish.

Is melody particularly important to you and how much do you work to elaborate on the initial melodic idea?

I am suspicious of melody and tend to go with melodies that (hopefully) seep into the consciousness with repeated listening. Too much is made of melody in popular music which tends to diminish my ability to sustain interest in much that is produced in that genre.

Works tend to come fully formed. There isn’t too much tampering once I’ve found the heart of a piece.

I got the feeling from listening to ‘Blemish’ that, odd as it sounds, some part of the author of that record wanted to make it hard on the listener.

Is this true?

I wasn’t testing the listen as much as testing myself. I didn’t want to feel comfortable as a writer or listen when dealing with the subject matter of these compositions. I was seething, weeping, screaming. This doesn’t necessarily make for easy listening (nor for successful recordings as a rule). I was attempting to stretch myself, to touch upon, for want of a better word and at risk of overstating the fact, some unvarnished truth in a place that felt unsafe, unknown to me (musically).

The new record sounds much more seductive and not only by comparison.


How was it written?

With Steve and I one of us would come up with something that would get the ball rolling and we’d take it from there. E.g. came up with the cyclic keyboard melody for Atom and cell. Steve initially came up with a very different percussion part in response. I wrote the lyric whilst he was programming the drums..there it was in essence ..a few hours work. Then comes the refining. Months later Steve scrapped the percussion pattern and replaced it with something more refined, added the vibes. I added the chorus vocals, Arve, Ryu…

This is essentially, how we’ve always worked together. A refining of ideas and sound over time but essentially the song is there from stage one.

(He is referring here to and long time friend and collaborator, Ryuchi Sakamoto http://www.sitesakamoto.com

And Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen. The Swedish singer/songwriter Stina Nordenstam also contributes. These may explain in some part the glacial, Bergman - esque and Nordic like quality of the album).

Most of my adult life, I’ve had the feeling of writing ‘on the run’ – often living in noisy and temporary accommodation, joyfully composing both to schedule and in spite of it, always for the thrill…but until recently I’ve never had a perspective on the process.

Since escaping to the Country, having time and quiet, peace and space I’ve found the writing to be less regular yet increasingly intense.

At its height, I have had the sensation of being outside of time, actually able to see myself at the keyboard as it were; completely of and beyond the moment and myself. I find this thrilling and scary. Always odd to follow such an experience by going downstairs to have dinner with Anna, watch a movie, take a call from my mum. I feel out of sorts for a while, pleasantly so.

I also have a hunch that sexual energy is closely related to the faculties involved when writing.

I’m with you on all the above.

Do you believe that writing is a form of magic?

I wouldn’t call it magic. I would like to avoid pinning it down as this is always counterproductive or so it seems to me.

Poetry :

I’ve noticed the evolution of your own and as apart from your lyrics. I particularly like A Diner called heaven –looser, confident, quietly tragic and touching.

(Check out ‘text’ section at http://www.davidsylvian.com/ )

Do you have any particular ambitions in this field?

An anthology perhaps? Readings?

Not at present. The material comes when needed.

I believe we share a love of Ted Hughes’ work.

If I’m not mistaken, parts of Rain Tree Crow were influenced directly by Hughes?

I’ll be honest and say I can’t recall whether I read Crow before or after the RTC project. I do remember taking greater and greater interest in the symbolism of the crow in various cultures after the fact because I’d used the symbol of the crow intuitively. I realised it was possible to tap into this kind of knowledge via intuition alone rather than education or the influence of ones own culture.

Was he aware of your work –

No, not that I’m aware of.

- did you send it to him - and did you ever get to see him ‘live’.

I didn’t.

I understand he was an incredible presence when reading… (and offstage too).

I’ve found that reading about his work deepens my appreciation of it. If interested, I’d suggest Keith Sagar’s ‘The Laughter of Foxes’ and Fass’ ‘The Unaccommadated universe’-two critical studies of Hughes’ work that deepened my appreciation greatly.


(Being familiar with both the Rain Tree Crow Album and Hughes’s apocalyptic ‘Crow’, I would say that these poems were read before DS wrote some of the lyrics for RTC. Songs such as ‘Black Crow Hits Shoe Shine city’ are in keeping with the style of Hughes’ titles throughout his book and to a lesser extent the poems themselves. Of course, the symbol of the crow is a powerfully recurring one throughout many cultures of the world, in particular throughout native American mythology.


I’m surprised that more of your work hasn’t featured in films. Is this something you’ve blocked?


…have you ever been offered the opportunity to score for a movie?

A few times yes but I didn’t feel like pursuing them. I enjoy working under my own steam. Not too tolerant of people peering over my shoulder as I work. I’ve worked with a few musicians over the years that have produced numerous scores. I have enormous respect for their abilities but I have an aversion to this craftsman-like approach to music making. Maybe if the right director with the right film came along..? But I’ve been saying that for years now.

Most musicians/artists I know have a recurring problem with finance.

Are there projects you’d like to do but have to postpone due to a lack of finance? Ideas that are put on a back burner so to speak?

Yes, but not necessarily in music. The biggest compromises where music and finance are concerned are in the area of live performance. Many corners have to be cut to make a tour possible these days. Hopefully that’s not reflected onstage at the end of the day but it has been a constant source of frustration over the years.

(I presume that DS’s financial situation is more comfortable than one would expect of a pop musician with such a low profile. Having published himself since 1983 (Via his own company, Opium (arts) Ltd) he owns the rights to his own material and would receive full royalties for his share of compositions from all MCPS and PRS payments. Add to the fact that by the time he split Japan they had made five albums; each selling enough (A Million)to go Gold in the UK alone by the mid 90’s. DS was 24 when he went solo and his albums have continued to sell steadily and in higher quantities than their chart placing would suggest. Much of his catalogue has been re released these last few decades in varying forms through out the world. Although he receives little airplay he continues to be a profitable live proposition. (His recent tours would have received no record label tour support and would have had to break even on the back of ticket sales – no mean feat for a full band tour).

Blemish was your first major release not to be financed by Virgin. How big a part did budget play in the your approach to this and on Snow Bourne sorrow?

(As you may know, the Chinese word for opportunity is the same for crisis).

None. Generally I feel quite liberated from the confines of budget since leaving Virgin. Of course if we’d been using orchestration there would’ve been some real budgetary concerns.

You’ve used orchestras and string sections in your work intermittently since 1979.

Would you agree that in pop music, the role of strings is predominately redemptive?

Any plans to record with an orchestra at present? I wondered if recently recording ‘Somewhere’ (For a U.S. health care Ad), with an orchestra whet your appetite?

I have no plans at present but that could change.

The new album is partially based on collaboration with your brother, Steve Jansen.

It feels only partially true to refer to Steve as a drummer but nevertheless…

I find something uniquely beguiling in Steve’s playing; there is a particular quality of approach that is evident from the first Japan album on. But I can’t place the source of this quality, what it is exactly that informs his unique style.

What do you think of Steve as a musician?

I think of Steve as an architect. He builds these wonderfully thought through structures on which the composition rests. He is thorough, reliable. Like myself he’s not what I would call an improviser but that not where his interest or focus has led him up until now. I would love to hear him improvise more often.

Steve is also an amazing programmer and sound designer.

(Steve Jansen is a sublimely lyrical drummer and curiously underrated. He stood out among the early Japan albums as being, arguably, the only natural musician aboard. I still imagine him playing with Miles Davis…something that could have been possible but never came to pass).

Similarly, there is a unique quality within your singing voice. I feel that during the early stage of your singing career you were often highly and sometimes engagingly derivative of your inspirations. This is a common trait when artists are, quite literally, trying to find their own voice.

Yet…since the mid 80’s, I reckon, it seems to me you have increasingly found your own voice. In the last decade especially, I believe it’s become a true instrument in itself…

Listening to your voice on the most recent recordings, I predominately hear the following; the imprint of a great hurt tempered by a need and willingness to love and be loved.

Do you ever consider the root of a voice and the processes that shape and inform it?

I feel uncomfortable analysing what it is I do. So much of what I do is intuitive. I don’t want to encourage the mind to get in the way.

Have you ever consciously tried to change your own voice?

Only in the sense of finding it and that need can be renewed time and again.

A characteristic of your work has, it seems to me, been a lack of obvious sexuality. Conversely, I’ve found it to be increasingly sensual sounding, from DBOAC onward in particular. Would you agree with this? If so, is this a conscious decision on your part to exclude this side of your being?

I hope there’s a sensuality in the work. This is more interesting to me than overt sexuality. However, I haven’t consciously excluded it from my work. One piece that springs to mind as both sensual and sexual is the piece I recorded for ‘Readymade’: ‘Sugarfuel’.

(I’d forgotten about this collaboration with French musical maverick


The track does stand apart from much in Sylvian’s oeuvre. In fact, I often think he feels free to explore lyrical themes in these one off ventures, themes that he’d feel uncomfortable giving voice to on his own albums. See also collaboration with Ex Marilyn Manson man, Tweaker;


What’s the role of the female voice in your work?

I think that speaks for itself. Again, to define is limiting.

What are your indulgences? Do you collect anything: Art, books? I get the sense you still enjoy dressing well…

Obsessed with books. Collecting art was something I did when younger. Ownership is far less important to me now.

I like to dress well but actually don’t indulge myself that often. I tend to live in the most comfortable of clothing from morning to night when at home. Comfort is essential when working.

Many people deal with the day-to-day ‘difficulty of being’ as it were via wine, cigarettes, drugs et al

I believe you’ve long since eradicated such substances from your life.

What did you replace them with?

Wine, cigarettes, and drugs.

Is it a matter of replacing them or were their effects mostly illusionary anyway?


Was does ‘Intoxication’ mean to you?

I’m not interested in being ‘out of my head’ as an escape. Being ‘out of my head’ as a result of a blissful experience (true intoxication) is a revelation, a sustainable reality. Out of mind, into being.

What are you reading at present?

As I’ve been doing a bit of travelling I’ve been making my way through Paul Auster’s output and that of his very talented wife Siri Hustvedt. Great on the road reading. Adam Philips Going Sane. Edie Prévost Minute Particulars.

It seems to me that there are certain singers rarely heard on mainstream radio/MTV. (Usually my favourites). Off the top of my head, I’m thinking Tom Waits, yourself, Nico, Leonard Cohen. All of these artists (with the obvious exception) are currently producing strong, accessible, contemporary work and yet I never hear ‘em unless I play ‘em. I believe this is something to do with the range that these artists sing in. For some reason, people who program radio seems to think that mid range and high voices are all the public want to hear. I don’t know why this should be so?

The mid to hi frequencies obviously cut through a lot clearer on most people’s radios. Also, the mid to hi range sounds a lot more user friendly. Uplifting.

Having said that I haven’t heard a lot of Robert Wyatt on the radio of late.

A such, are your PRS statements a regular surprise or disappointment to you…!?

Never look at them……maybe that’s why..?

Three things that in my mind, I cannot associate you with:

Sport, pornography, and comedy.

Do any of these play a part in your life?

Preferably all three simultaneously.

A few years ago, I would have added ‘politics’ to the above but that’s changed of late.

How do you see this progressing? Will you become increasingly vocal in this regard? Can we expect to see you participating at benefits and the like?

I got more involved in politics as a result of living in America where the voices of dissent where simply not being heard once the Bush ad min got into office and started their warmongering. This isn’t an area I want to get bogged down in. Overt politics and music are not the best of bedfellows.

You and Scott Walker talked of collaborating together…back in the late 80’s, I believe.

What did you think of ‘Tilt’?

It was and remains a remarkable work.

Do you participate in your immediate environment?

I understand you live in a forest. Do you go for walks and the like?

How wild does it get up there?

Not much of an outdoors man. If I walk I prefer the cities. I love the great cities of the world that are negotiable by foot.

It does get pretty wild out here. Snowfall and ice storms could isolate you without power for days but unlike Britain life doesn’t seem to come to a halt because of the weather. I was always impressed by the fact that, no matter how bad the weather over night, the Minnesotan’s were back at work the next day, streets cleared of thigh high snowfall, out in sub freezing temperatures. Fantastic sense of community.

It seems there’s a new atrocity on a weekly basis in the world…and I know there’s even an argument concerning the recent New Orleans catastrophe as to weather it truly was a ‘natural’ disaster…

Following the London Bombings, I found myself in many discussions about the motivations of the Suicide bombers. Ultimately, I feel such reasoning to be illusionary.

I feel there is some greater force interested in destruction at any cost. I Suspect this force manifests itself through individuals and that any religious or philosophical reasoning we attach to it after the fact, is ultimately misleading. Another debate I’m involved in is that of The Hunt. (I live an area where it’s a very strong tradition). I’m obviously opposed to Fox hunting and the like. The argument for such a practice touches on everything but the crux; the murder of innocent and beautiful beings.

This leads me to believe that many people merely need to kill, to hurt and cause damage and the like and then attach a convenient argument afterward.

So what do you think? Do you believe terrorists believe themselves to be innocent or more than that, saintly? Or is part and parcel of human nature to be wrapped up in destruction for its own sake?

There is the argument that one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. It is crude propaganda to label every individual fighting for the freedom of their country a terrorist. Having said that the taking of innocent lives can never be justified. In that respect America is the biggest terrorist of all. The recent wars have been unjustified and the repercussions will be enormous. This is complex stuff and difficult to gloss over casually here.

Yes, looked at from another level, we are in a period where destruction is inevitable, both man made and natural. It has been predicted for a long time. In Hinduism, it is known as the Kali Yuga.

If the man-made doesn’t overwhelm us with fear and the natural renews our sense of humanity, maybe we can come through it.

(I didn’t make myself clear here. I know the argument for and against terrorism is subjective and that it’s unlikely that the people killed on either side are seen as innocent by their murderers. Nor am I Pro - Bush, or vice versa. The labels seem almost nebulous to me.

But what I was attempting to convey is the suspicion that violence on this scale-arguably like money and words and language-is a virus…a complicated concept that I can’t articulate well enough at present).

Broadly speaking, I don’t believe in ‘Death’ as such, although I’m keeping an open mind.

However, in speaking of the ultimate destruction of the current body, William Burroughs has said that ‘The form Death takes is always the least expected and the most appropriate’. Do you ever consider the ending of your present life? If so, is such a meditation useful and in what way?

I think of it often. I wish I were more conscious of it on a moment by moment basis. An awareness of the impermanence of life is of positive benefit and helps one maintain a balanced outlook. It allows one to stand in the present moment, to let go of the reins and surrender.

Have you seen any good films lately? Can you recommend anything?

There’s are lot of good films coming out of Asia right now…a new breed of directors from Thailand are proving a source of enjoyment.

Are there movies you revisit?

Occasionally, although I have less and less time for revision, or so it seems to me. But films by Bergman, Godard, Wong kar-Wai, Chabrol, Antonioni’s black and whites etc…are worth revisiting from time to time.

There’s a Jewish writer (whose name escapes me at present)…and on surviving the Holocaust - I believe she was liberated from one of the camps -she wrote, “There is only one question worth asking anybody. And that question is : “What are you going through”?

I love that. Not too good at small talk but love to get straight to what’s real.

(I can’t remember where I heard this quote. It may be as below. Of course, I was addressing this question to DS without asking it of him, although I guess this didn’t come across.

‘Nel Noddings, a prominent author, educator and ethicist once said that asking someone this deeper question is being ultimately moral, because it indicates caring which according to this ethicist is the basis of all morality’. )

Any plans for this evening?

Time to curl up next to a sleeping child absorb her warmth and dream



Copyright Anthony Reynolds 2005