London After Midnight
Interview with Sean Brennan
How did you come up with the title of Browning’s silent film for the band and how did the name Ted almost got into the picture? How was it like to be in Childhood’s End and what are your memories from that period?
I grew up being into Film and being influenced by Theatre and Film Music and have a pretty thorough knowledge of Cinema. I chose the name only because it sounded like it fit the music. I never saw the film because no copies of it exist. The movie is about mind-fucking someone into confessing to murder by making him believe in vampires and monsters after him, so it’s not really a Horror film. I have no fondness for Horror films or Tod Browning’s films, really. There is a book on the film that tells the story with photos (and recently a DVD was put together doing the same thing). The movie isn’t anything special. I just chose the name because it was a lost silent film and the title fit the mood of the music; I never thought anyone would ever know what it referred to.
The “Ted” reference you mention was a joke. I am so often asked “Why did you name the band London After Midnight?” that I started joking that an alternate name was to be “Ted”, which is a rather common name; kind of like saying the band was to be named “John” or something. It was just a joke made up out of frustration over getting asked that in interview after interview.
When I first moved to California, I briefly played guitar and keyboard in a band called Childhood’s End (named after the Arthur C. Clark book). It was a gloom Punk band. We played one show and then disbanded. The other band members were insanely dysfunctional and destructive, so that wasn’t a surprise that we didn’t last long. I then, immediately, formed London After Midnight.
What can you tell me about your first musical incursions before the band’s formation and what was it that attracted you to Music in the first place? Did you have any formal education or are you completely self-taught?
I got into film scores, soundtracks to films, instrumental music and early electronic music. To me this had theatrical emotion that ordinary Rock music lacked, which was too often based around Blues. When I began thinking about forming a band I wanted to bring some of that visual emotion to my music in order to add some of the visual aspect that film music evokes; it’s like I hear music and see visuals, and that’s what I wanted my music to do.
I did take music theory in school and formal lessons for guitar – and some for piano, but I have played piano all my life. I also took lessons for other instruments, though I never really had formal voice training however.
London After Midnight is a musical hydra with little or no similarities to any group. Nevertheless, why do you think that people need to label music so often? Do you think it might be a sign of commodity from their part?
To label any art is to limit how it’s perceived. This, eventually, leads to limiting the artist as well. I do not classify myself as anything but a progressive liberal human male vegan. To label yourself according to some subculture is the ultimate act of conformity. I refuse to do this, which is why I shun the Goth label, or any label. And I refuse to categorise my art for the reasons I mentioned above.
Besides several appearances in compilations and rare releases, you’ve already launched two full-length albums and another one containing live, rare and unreleased songs. How do you look upon them, individually? Is there something you might be able to tell about your new album, Violent Acts of Beauty?
For the older CDs I had, literally, no budget, broken equipment, no one to play the instruments but me, and I didn’t know how to run the sequencers (for keyboards), so I had to rely on Tamlyn – yet, he wasn’t able to produce the keyboards the way I envisioned them sounding. I wrote all the songs and all the parts for each instrument, but, production-wise, the older CDs aren’t as good as they could have been, mainly due to all the limits I had working against me. I, recently, rereleased them with bonus tracks, remastered and recorded a few of the songs that needed it (like Black Cat and This Paradise).
The new CD is coming along great; I am so much excited and proud of this one. The new music varies pretty significantly. Some of it is very personal, but some of it is more reflective of larger issues, or written from the point of view of another person, like Love You to Death or The Kids Are All Wrong. Also, there is a touch of politics and revolution present, like with songs like The Pain Looks Good on You and Feeling Fascist. I came from a point of view of looking at the larger picture of why humans are the way they are, rather than the very personal direction that the CD Psycho Magnet took. The new music is more aggressive and broad in its themes, and there will be many layers the listener can interpret. For example, the song Nothing’s Sacred is supposed to be God’s response to the song A Letter to God, from the CD Psycho Magnet. The lyrics have their own meaning, but the music itself has a separate meaning as well. The song starts out kind of Rave sounding, which shocks some people, and then breaks into something altogether different. So the very title works on its own level, with people assuming London After Midnight to sound a certain way, but then they hear the music and see we are pushing boundaries; but they are pleasantly surprised, I should add. So the music and lyrics go hand in hand, but there are also messages to the very sound of the songs as well. Also, with the song The Kids Are All Wrong, the title is a reference to The Who’s The Kids Are Alright, but the music and title reflect how mankind’s priorities have changed and how apathy, violence and ego are more important than peace and evolution (ideals which much of the 60s counter-culture embraced). There are many references to the 60s counter-culture and the concepts of rebellion. There’s a philosophy of empowerment and revolution to much of the new material. It’s kind of reflective of the times we live in, where power is being stripped away from us and put into the hands of the corrupt, and most people aren’t even aware or too apathetic to care. It’s time for a new way; for change and to make people aware of the power they hold and the consequences of inaction, and this is reflected in my songs and approach to creating.
You were to sign with Projekt in the early 90s but, due to Rosenthal’s refusal, this never happened. Today, do you think that would’ve been wise? How did you wind up on Apocalyptic Vision in Europe and Metropolis in America and are you looking for alternatives?
That’s totally false! Wow! Where in the world did you ever hear that story? Seriously, this is a bad and untrue rumour I’d like to clear up. London After Midnight never wanted to sign with Projekt. In fact, Sam Rosenthal contacted London After Midnight, asking to have London After Midnight on his label when he first started Projekt around 1990. He sent a letter that said “Anyone who gets praised as The Gods of Goth by everyone and trashed by the mainstream press deserves my attention.” and that is all the letter said, so I had no idea who or what Projekt was or who Sam Rosenthal was; it was just a handwritten letter, one sentence on some badly Xeroxed stationary. So I sent him what we send every other person who writes to the band: just general information. He was apparently very angry that we didn’t know who his label was, for the fact of sending him free music and that we weren’t flattered that he wanted London After Midnight on his label – in his letter he never even mentioned he ran a record label, as it just had one sentence, as stated above; quite arrogant to think I’d know who he was. So he wrote a very angry letter back telling us to fuck off (among other silly things), commenting that “Rather than using a Hitler sample on the song Revenge, why don’t you sample people with good things to say, like George Bush (senior) or Ronald Reagan?” and that in itself was scary (since Bush and Reagan were these horrible right-wing conservative and dishonest American presidents), yet Rosenthal thought they were good guys who I should promote in my songs (I was thoroughly amused by the entire situation). It was insane, as I had no idea what a “projekt” was or who Sam Rosenthal was and we never wanted to be on his label: he wanted us! And I still have these letters from him as proof. Years later he apologised for all his behaviour and anger and again asked London After Midnight to be on his label, but we had already signed a licensing deal with Metropolis. Projekt was too small a label for London After Midnight anyway. We did give him a song for a compilation however (just about 3 years ago). I guess his label is doing okay, but very specific to only ethereal type bands which don’t appeal to me. But, really, to say that London After Midnight wanted to sign to Projekt is extraordinarily inaccurate! And to further say we were rejected is even further from the truth and insulting. I don’t know how these rumours and lies get started but it’s very odd.
About the other part of your question, London After Midnight have had interest from major labels for a few years now. We are negotiating and that’s about all I can say at the moment. Apocalyptic Vision/Trisol was one of several European labels that wanted London After Midnight and we get along quite well with them. They have so many bands now but I don’t really listen to many. Metropolis was one of several labels that wanted London After Midnight in the United States of America – along with Cleopatra, Projekt and a few others – but Metropolis doesn’t have any bands that I like on the label; in fact, there are many bands on both labels that I am embarrassed to be associated with, but that’s another story.
How do you look upon organised religion and any other sort of doctrine that denies oneself of individual judgement? Are you a spiritual person with no ties to preconceived dogmas?
Organised religion is, obviously, a very destructive thing; look at America, where you have right-wing Christian zealots – of which our embarrassing president Bush Junior is one – and look at other parts of the world like radical Islam, for instance.
My whole philosophy is logic – I guess I should have been a scientist. I don’t make decisions based on anything but logic and to think that people, actually, go so far as to kill and ruin people’s lives over some ancient religion is sick and an indication of how primitive mankind really is. Hypocrisy runs too rampant in people’s interpretations of religion; intolerance, cruelty and control are what it’s all about, and that is destructive. I wouldn’t say I am not spiritual, but I figure there is some logical reason and logical being behind all of this insanity (at least I hope there is). If humans are the most advanced thing there is that’s just a sad thing, but organised religion is all about control and that is a negative thing. Religion should be about being positive.
You said that if Bush would be elected you’d move to Canada but, as it seems, you didn’t. How do you look upon your government as far as what the Republican party has been doing since its comeback to form.
There’s a few things to address here. For one, I was joking when I said I’d move to Canada, but I would like to, as it’s more progressive and has a more liberal leader. I think America is probably one of the most backwards countries on Earth, but that statement wasn’t a serious statement.
The conservative Republicans are truly horrible people. Their policies and practices are cruel and destructive and I do hope that Bush is voted out of office in 2004.
And how do you look upon the support Marilyn Manson addressed to the mentioned party regarding the election of Bush, since he’s been known to have quite opposite views throughout his career?
He didn’t say he endorsed and supported Bush, but that if he got elected it would be good because having someone so bad in office would make for a better atmosphere for artists like him. It made the world darker and more troubled, which gave him more to write about. That was what he was saying when he said that about Bush. His reasons for “endorsing” Bush were purely independent (saying that a person like Bush would bring dark times, which would inspire and help bands like his). Dictators and oppressive leaders like Bush often inspire some really amazing underground rebellious art. I think this is what Manson was referring to when he said this about Bush, so he’s totally just as you described him. Manson is a very smart person and him saying this was kind of meant as funny, but it seems many misunderstood him. His only support for Bush was that he knew that Bush would bring dark and bad times upon the world, making a great atmosphere for rebellion and to let people wake up from their apathy.
How do you look upon success and the mainstream and the underground scene with its general inflexibility in regards to accomplishment, money and notoriety?
London After Midnight is the epitome of underground. We, for 10 years, have been operating in a manner that defines “underground”. Mainstream doesn’t even apply to us. The number of people who know you exist doesn’t change who you are or define you, but the way you create and operate does, so London After Midnight is far from mainstream, as it implies creating music for the masses or creating something for the sole purpose of selling. London After Midnight has never done this; in fact, I cannot do this. I can only write what’s in my head and heart, so this is why I have so little respect for most Goth bands, because they rip off other bands’ sound and look. If you listen to London After Midnight’s music, we don’t sound much like other bands and I try to do things differently. And the new music is very different also. My whole point is that I can’t create anything just to sell it, it has to come from deep in my soul and I have to feel there is a reason to release it. This is why there aren’t many London After Midnight CDs out. The music has to be sincere, not released to make money, or just so we can tour and act like Rock stars. That isn’t me and it never has been me. I can only do this music if I feel there is a reason to do so and that isn’t mainstream in the common definition of mainstream as you’re referring to.
Pop has always been associated with the “Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll” motif. Has London After Midnight, or have you in particular, subscribed it in some way? Do do you think they can be linked or is it just a fabrication to attract the regular misfit?
I never took a drug in my life. I am a vegan, I am totally into being healthy – regarding the environment and politics as well – and I would never fuck myself up with any sort of drug. I don’t think that drugs or a hedonistic lifestyle go hand in hand with Rock music. I think Rock music should be all about revolution and rebellion and, to accomplish anything in that regard, requires a clear mind. The cheap and easy way to be seen as “rebellious” for bands with no message, no soul or no talent, is to flaunt drugs or a hedonistic lifestyle which goes against mainstream society. It’s like these bands just buy the “how to” kit for becoming a Rock star. Some bands just put on this uniform of a Punk Rocker, a Goth or whatever, and they think it makes them “cool”; they think it automatically buys them street credibility, but actually just shows them to be total brainless conformists to those who know better. One exception to this, I feel, is Marilyn Manson, who does use these issues but does it well and has much more substance to his art than just mindless shock, all the while flaunting the drug and hedonistic lifestyle. His art has layer upon layer of meaning that is often overlooked by not only the mainstream, who of course focus only on the superficial shock aspects, but also by many of his fans!
Tell me about the band’s upcoming projects and feel free to add anything else.
I am recording the new London After Midnight CD. London After Midnight is talking with various labels about its release, so the new record will be out soon.
London After Midnight has a very active online community off the website, which you can access and hear brand new never released music clips from songs that will be on the new CD. There is a German language forum there too, so come to the London After Midnight website, click on “Community” and join. See you all soon…
London After Midnight