VOILA! THE ARTIST SPEAKS
Martin Hall interview in Gaffa, March 1999
Who else than Martin Hall can ask Martin Hall all the questions he doesn’t want to answer? Niemand! For the same reason the Danish music magazine GAFFA gave Martin Hall the honour of interviewing himself. Which he then did. All alone in a white room to set the record straight before the release of Adapter, his first studio album in three years. Read on and find out what happened.
Since a lot of people still hold the view, that Martin Hall must be a both maladjusted and self-centred being, the time has come – once and for all – to either cement or extinguish these myths. Yes, it is true that Martin Hall is envied by many, and yes, it is true that a lot of people still hate him from habit because they once had a girlfriend that adored him, but is he forever going to suffer from the fact that he happened to be a teenager during the eighties, or that he once was fascinated by the Tarot? Is he forever to be blamed that he’d rather talk about European cultural heritage than indie-environments and NME-predictability? Is he forever doomed to be subject to old stories and rumours about his eccentric conduct of life, when there are so many new and better ones to pursue? If the answer is yes, please stop reading immediately and blindly continue your witch-hunt against the man who prefers to eat grapes from silver dishes and bathe in rose water rather than socializing with other musicians. However, if your answer is no, continue immediately, although you may come to regret this decision.
OPENNESS AND PARANOIA
Q. What seems to be MH’s greatest mistake throughout his life?
A. His openness of heart. No doubt about that. It is not only hazardous to your health, but plain stupid to practice such an attitude.
Q. How is that?
A. It is not very wise to give other people direct access to your feelings and thoughts. Better just to indicate what goes on; then people can draw their own conclusions.
Q. How would you describe yourself?
A. I wouldn’t.
Q. But if you had to.
A. I don’t.
Q. Why is it that the descriptions of you vary so much as they do, all depending upon whom you speak with?
A. Contingencies. All depending upon the period in which people have met me – in which situations. Some days I’m more talkative than others. The worst case scenario is when someone is really trying to show you how intelligent they are. I tend to lose interest in conversations that become too demonstrative.
Q. But you do seem to talk a lot.
A. I get carried away.
Q. How do you feel about that?
A. I view it as an interesting phenomenon. “Your mouth so open that your brain spills out”. But I’ve become more careful lately.
Q. Aha. In what way?
A. I don’t know. My system takes care of these things.
Q. What about the much commented “religiousness”?
A. I don’t really want to be bothered by this concept anymore. The story in short; a young man with adjustment difficulties questions the quality of his life, spends some time being more interested in the occult than in beers and football, and immediately everybody thinks he’s become “religious”. A logic that’s similar to “a rock can’t fly, Mrs. Brown can’t fly, so Mrs. Brown must be a rock”.
Q. You don’t exactly make it easy for people to understand you. Why is that?
A. I think I’m fairly straightforward. I make my music, write my books and otherwise keep as private as possible. I can’t see any problem.
Q. Well. Your arrogance?
A. It’s not arrogance. It’s paranoia and paranoia is healthy. It keeps you on your feet. You don’t take anything for granted in that state. You live without a past so to speak. Now and here and without too many ideas about oneself.
Q. In general it seems to appear quite the other way around, as if you take yourself very seriously?
A. Maybe. The dice fall as they do. If we look long enough, I’m sure we can find some journalist or some cast-off alco-artist who will boycott the new album just because “I’m too much”. Self-solemnity has a variety of forms. I’ve heard of several homes where it’s forbidden to play Martin Hall records. It almost makes you proud.
Q. Okay. This must lead directly to the last gimmick-orientated question: What do you think of people who hate you for what you are?
A. They make it so much easier for me. Finger kisses to them all.
THE NEW RECORD
Q. You have released a lot of records and books. Which titles would characterize the ideal Hall catalogue?
A. The cd’s Random Hold and Performance from respectively 1996 and 1997 and the book Uden Titel (“Untitled”) from 1998.
Q. None of the older releases?
A. No. The three above-mentioned titles sum up everything else. And then the new album (Adapter). It gives a fairly good description of whom I might be. In many ways it seems to be the same elements recurring in my music – obviously in new correlations and other forms, but as an artist you can’t help leaving the same fingerprints. Recently I heard a Ballet Mécanique track while working with the homepage (www.martinhall.com), and I realized to what extreme degree music is an emotional diary. The older releases belong to the times in which they were made. Adapter still figures in present tense.
Q. What can you say about this album
A. Not much. Better to listen to it than to hear about it.
Q. Yes, yea, yea, but you know, an interview and readers who know nothing of it…
A. Okay. Dateless pop music? Ten new songs wrapped in a nice synthesis of longings, Weltschmerz and East European sound texture. The vocals have been recorded considerably more spontaneously than the last time we recorded an album, which seems to have given the record more presence, more “authenticity”. It’s difficult to put into words. I’m not the best to describe my own music.
Q. I think it’s going quite well.
A. Thank you very much. I’m particularly fond of the many snapping-for-air sounds on the tracks. That everything isn’t put together from a thousand pieces, but that the overall connection has been allowed to shine through. To me the most important thing about a recording session is to find new ways of working, that you don’t just repeat some old formula that once used to work. I would like to be less involved as a musician on the next album, basically only show up and sing the songs and apart from that leave everything else in other people’s hands. But we’ll have to see about that.
Q. Have you become less of a perfectionist?
A. I haven’t, but I think my surroundings have become better at handling it. Applauses for Thomas Li (co-producer) for his ability to react and to get things moving … and to not become too affected by my many changes of mood. To me it’s almost painful to have to listen so much to my own voice, as you are forced to do during the recording of an album. I only pay attention to everything that’s out of tune, that doesn’t work, all the details that could be better, although a lot of the nerve lies exactly here, in everything that moves on the borderline of what is acceptable. In the end you can’t hear anything.
Q. Do you go through a lot of mood swings during a recording?
A. I go through a lot of mood swings anywhere, everywhere, all of the time. Several nervous breakdowns by the hour. I’ve become so good at dealing with it that no one seems to notice it anymore. I am Ben Hur, Spartacus and Ulysses in one person. Charles Atlas A.D. 1999.
Q. You like old movies?
A. I like a lot of things.
Q. For example?
A. To avoid my own predictable questions.
Q. But we have to talk about something.
A. You’re right.
LONG LIVE THE MYTH
Q. How do you think we’re getting along?
A. Well, it could be worse. Although I don’t really know if anyone’s getting any real insight into anything. But it’s definitely better than sitting around being questioned by my past.
Q. Why don’t you want to talk about your past anymore?
A. No reason to. People only want to hear about death and destruction, chaos and mayhem. It’s too morbid for me. Most people just want to be entertained. They hunger for some kind of drama. There was this magazine that only wanted to do an article about me if I agreed to answer all kind of questions about my past. It struck me as a particularly stupid idea. Who could be interested in that?
Q. New listeners?
A. I don’t think so.
Q. What’s your relation to your old audience?
A. Bad question. If people don’t have a present interest there is no audience.
Q. Which expectations do you have about the reception of the new album?
A. I haven’t really goy any. Things happen as they do. The record is what it is, no matter how it will be received. Some of the tracks on Adapter mean a lot of me, tracks such as “Images In Water” and “Paper Days”. In the week where “Burning Sugar” hit the charts, different people in the street came up to me just to tell me how appreciative they were of this track, people I’d never met before. I was genuinely moved by their frankness, the fact that they wanted to let me know, that my music meant something to them. It sheds a light upon your own isolated experience of what you do, puts it in a completely different perspective.
Q. I thought you didn’t care what other people think?
A. Another stupid misunderstanding. A part of the myth – the invincible hermit and so on. What you have to guard yourself against is the jealousy, the envy, people’s perfidiousness, not the sober critique or natural response.
Q. What hurts you the most?
A. Bluntedness. Imprudence. A lot of things. Very often it’s small things that seem to hurt the most. Hypocrisy in its many forms. I can very easily relate to the fact that a lot people seem to have a problem in swallowing some of the things I say in interviews, but at least I’m not a coward. The fact that the humour, the undertone and the tongue-in-cheek aspect of the conversation is completely ignored in the final translation is quite another matter. But again, you can’t be friends with everybody. To me, the worst thing you can be is a coward. During the years I may have said some things I shouldn’t have, but that’s life. Rather this than the opposite; rather this than being a politically correct beer monster whose only aim is to please the mediocrity of the Danish music scene with some impotent views. My life has created my career. It’s not the other way around. An important point.
MICHELANGELO, BLAKE AND JOAN OF ARC
Q. Where do you see yourself in a hundred years’ time?
A. On a sales exhibition for the brains of deceased poets. The only odd detail is that my brain only costs half of everyone else’s – the reason being that it’s been used.
Q. What would you like to have written as your epitaph?
A. No, no, no … Everything just seemed to go so well.
Q. Mmm. It’s hard to be everyone and everything at the same time. What would you like to say?
A. That’s the problem. I haven’t actually got a lot to say. I merely react to circumstances. It’s not like I’m sitting here withholding a lot of unexplained feelings or something like that. I’ve become much more weightless during the years. It’s a very pleasant feeling.
Q. There was a journalist who described you as “co-instantaneously being the most present-minded and absent-minded person” he’d ever met. How would you explain that?
A. I decline the rights. But if this séance absolutely has to end on a self-indulging note, then why don’t we talk about my taste in clothes or my favourite restaurants?
Q. “Look in the mirror and hit yourself in the face” to quote one of the great lost heroes. Let me hear some of your favourite record titles.
A. Alas. “Sold Our Souls for Rock’n’Roll” or however they put it. “Satan Takes a Holiday”. And of course the classic “We Are all Prostitutes”.
Q. Is there anyone we’ve forgotten to mock?
A. The list is endless.
Q. Any famous last words?
A. An irresistible offer. How generous of you. Vision or Hall-ucination, I will leave that for the audience to decide. I am the longing of Michelangelo, the touch of Blake, the pathos of Joan of Arc. I’ve got nothing to sell. Snap your fingers and it’s all gone.
Q. And with these words…?
A. With these words nothing. Thanks to everyone who tried and a reference to the music in its own right. What am I supposed to say? I’m not born to eat food out of troughs or waste my time. I’m busy. I’m calm. I’m excused. I should be exhibited. I should be guarded. My heart lies in what I do, not in convincing everybody else about it. Kisses and chin chin. What can I say? The Renaissance artist resigns.
MH/MH, February 1999.