An Interview with Chris Corner of IAMX: His Project, His Vision, His Life
Photography: Bryan Yalta
Friday night at Club Dada brought Dallas' somber fashionistas together for a lineup of seductive, gothic acts: opening band Cellars and headliner IAMX. The show proved to be one of expressive dancing, expressive clothing and, above all, expressive music. IAMX was initially based in London, a solo project started in 2004 by Chris Corner after a hiatus in Sneaker Pimps, of which he was a founder. Corner later moved to Berlin in 2006 where he would record most of his albums in a factory-turned-studio he dubbed "Turmwerk." In 2014, the singer moved to L.A in search of a stable, positive environment where he could reorganize his life and get out of a depressive hole. And it is definitely noticeable that Corner seems to be really enthused about what he currently does. From the feathered headdress he wears to the beastly nature he exploits onstage, the power of music appears to free his complex character in a positive way. IAMX's performance at Club Dada really fit the name of the venue. The stage had its art designed in intricate ways, experimental sounds pushed to its peak--a war against the conformity of the world, in a sense. The use of multimedia, videos projected in the background in slanted frames, vertical rotating lights adding mood to complement each song, the chaos of a pounding drummer, a frenetic keyboardist and guitarist, and a flamboyant singer all in one; all Dada. The audience in attendance was very receptive to the performance as well. It was like a trade-off between the band and the crowd that had amassed at the front of the stage. Corner would, at times, gulp half a drink then give the other half to a fan or he would drink half a bottle of wine then pour the open bottle onto the people who came near him. There was a point where he threw himself back-first onto the crowd, engorging the pleasures of interaction and thrill. To summarize it, the show was crazy and full of freedom.
After performing a multitude of songs from IAMX's latest studio album Metanoia, as well as a multitude of songs from Corner's repertoire, Dallas was granted not one, but two encores that begged audiences for even more than what they got. The first encore ended with a recent single, 'Oh Cruel Darkness Embrace Me', which, with its brooding melodies and piercing cries, inflamed the torrid crowd. To a surprise, the second encore started off with a dynamic performance of 'Bring Me Back A Dog' from 2006's The Alternative, only to move on to their last song of the night 'Your Joy Is My Low' from the 2004 album Kiss + Swallow. The man behind the project had a chat with us prior to the wild show. We talked about his latest mini-album Everything is Burning and his perspective on the world of music. The full interview has been transcribed below:
Uncanny Valley: Right off, I want to start talking about Everything is Burning, your latest mini-album. In what way is this a continuation of your last full LP, Metanoia, as is suggested by the title?
Chris Corner: It was basically, the songs that were written for Metanoia--I had too many songs, and these are the outtakes from that album. It was such a special album for me; it was a very personal journey that it felt like those songs needed to still be a part of that era and to be connected with the emotion of that album and to basically finish off the story of that record. So, it was important for me that they weren't seen as a separate entity, that they are a continuation of that record. Kind of like a completion of that era.
U: Did you have any more songs other than the seven that you released?
C: I did. I had a couple more, but I think that it was enough. I mean, it was meant to be a mini-album, just a small addition to what was already out there. But then, management had the idea of putting on the remixes there, so I let them get on with that.
U: Could you elaborate on how the title relates to the songs in this release?
C: Well, Everything is Burning is the title of one of the songs that was actually going to be on Metanoia. It's pretty much self-explanatory, a sort of observation or reflection of the state of humanity and the world and how that related or fed into my own illness, my own struggles with depression, anxiety, and that's basically what the whole of Metanoia is about. Going through a dark time coming out stronger through the other side. Everything is Burning is just one piece in the puzzle of a more angry side of the project.
C: I guess angry, yeah. Disillusioned, angry.
U: Well I definitely notice more screaming on this release than on your past releases, which leads to my next question. Metanoia, meaning a change in mind or an inner transformation, suggests that you have had a personal change. Is the concept of everything burning a part of that change you had in the making of Metanoia or is it another change, a post-Metanoia change?
C: It is post-Metanoia, but I think it's the resolution for me; the completion of the change. When I wrote Metanoia, I was still dealing with the aftermath of the problems that I've had and part of dealing with the problems is writing about the problems, discussing the problems, having therapy, whatever you have to do. That was a long period for me. it was about two, three years where I didn't really write. I couldn't be creative. I was in a very dark hole. Being able to complete Metanoia--or, well, finishing the record--was the beginning of my recovery. I would say that Everything is Burning is the endpoint. Well, endpoint suggests that it's never going to come back, but it's more--for this time, it feels like the resolution of that change.
U: Since you mention that, I wanted to discuss the album cover. We see a face hidden in smoke, presumably portraying the meaning of the title. But if that were the case, would 'Everything' refer to yourself, as in possibly saying you are the one burning--the one maybe suffering--or something along the lines of that?
C: Yeah, I mean that's integrated into the meaning. I think the frustration or the depressive feedback that you get from observing the world when you're in a sick state, when you're in a difficult state, it makes things worse. You become hypersensitive to watching news, you become antisocial.
U: It almost makes you hate the world.
C: It does, but because you're so focused internally--I mean if you learn to avoid "triggers," then you can slowly come out of that illness. It's totally possible. But, the thing about the idea that it's internalized--the personal burning--is also true. That is what was happening. It's compounded by the world outside. So you do have to switch off and internalize it. You do have to repair yourself away from the rest of the world.
U: How did the design for the cover come about? Who made it?
C: It's actually a picture by a French artist who we contacted cause we really liked her artwork. She does only self-portraits. She's called Laurence Demaison. She does very unusual self-portraits. That's her self-portrait [in the album cover]. She does quite elaborate setups with analog photography and it's all self-taken. She's very creative. We loved them. We asked her if we could use some of her stuff and she said yes, so basically we used it for the whole campaign. The picture on the front of Metanoia is also her. She's a very interesting character.
U: Did that influence songwriting in any way or was that after the songs were written?
C: It was around the same time actually, and I could see in her art that she was also a very introverted, frustrated, also humorous person. I felt a real affinity for her work. It didn't specifically influence what I was doing, but it definitely complemented what I was doing.
U: Speaking of complementing things, I want to switch over to the second half of Everything is Burning. How did you get in contact with the artists who remixed your songs? Did you pick out these artists specifically or did they contact you?
C: Some contacted me. Sometimes we contacted them. Often, it's a very relaxed thing. It's not like big record label contacts big artist and pays big money. It's very much who we know and who we like and who likes us. It's very important for me that the person understand the music, wants to do it and isn't doing it for the money. So, the collection of artists is people that we do connect with.
U: You have someone like Gary Numan on there, who is a legend in the electronic scene.
C: He is a legend. He's actually become a friend. He also lives in L.A and we've been thinking about collaborating on some level somehow and I asked him to do that. He loved the song, so he wanted to do it.
U: Are there any sounds that you wanted to experiment with or explore for this mini-album? I know you mentioned these were outtakes, but would you say the process for these seven songs differed from the others in Metanoia?
C: With Metanoia, I felt I had to go back to my electronic roots a bit, simplify my setup. I was very antisocial at the time, so I didn't really want to collaborate. I didn't want to do any recordings with anybody else, so I did it all myself in the box, you know, in the computer. So, a result of that was that it had a much more electronic sound. With this, I picked up a guitar again, and I started to add some acoustic guitar, some electric guitar and be a bit more free-form, or organic, with the recordings. I guess it's a little bit more expansive in its sound than Metanoia was. Maybe that's the difference.
U: Going into live performance, how would you describe the relationship between yourself and your audience?
C: I feel like it's very close. It's very intimate. Maybe it's the music, maybe it's me as a person, but I like total honesty in people and I want to see the truth in people when they come to the concerts. I don't feel like there has to be any barriers or walls between us. I mean, people like to dress up, people like to kind of escape reality for the day, just like I do, and that's part of the ritual. That's part of the dance that we have with each other.
U: It's cathartic.
C: It is totally cathartic, and I love that side of things. You really sort of transcend reality. I think we all know how to connect on that level, so I want them to be moved in a way they can release their inner beast in the same way that I can onstage and that's very important to me. It is very intimate.
U: I like that word, 'beast'.
C: Yeah, it's how it feels all the time. It's in all of us and I think if I can provide a platform for people to release that, then I'm very happy with that.
U: Seeing as how you've lived in Berlin and London before and now you're living in L.A, how do American audiences contrast to that of European audiences?
C: I think they're [American audiences] a little more, not naively enthusiastic--I think that's the wrong way to say it--but just generally, it's in their genes to be more enthusiastic about things. I feel that there's this sort of energy, this 'go get them' kind of positivity, which, for a European, is very attractive, particularly if you live somewhere like Berlin and it's very dry humor, almost humorless.
U: Stern in a way.
C: Stern, yeah. Very direct, very cold and that can be quite sexy, but over time, you become a little bit worn down by--
U: The seriousness of it all.
C: Yeah, yeah. I've always loved coming to America. I mean, I've had some great times and bad times and I used to actually hate L.A, for instance, which is ironic because I'm living there now. (laughs) I think, because when you tour, you dip into it very lightly. You see the plastic, empty, soulless nature of it. You only skim the surface and the more I went back there the more I saw that there was a much more deeper side to it that now I've tapped into and I really love.
U: It's like you need to get drenched into a culture in order to understand it.
C: Yeah, you need to be there for a long time and to really get to know people, to know how things work. You know, the industry is full of bullshit as well; it's everywhere. At least L.A people are honest about the fact that--
U: They're pretentious.
C: Yeah, exactly. So I like that part of it and touring in America is quite refreshing as a European. It's a lot of fun here. And I'm not saying I don't have that in Europe, but it's very different. America's huge, but there's a common mentality and you go from state to state, which, in Europe, is like country to country. You get the same kind of buzz. In Europe, you go from one country to another and like, you go to Amsterdam and people go like that (claps monotonously), and you go to Russia and people are going insane. So, it's emotionally more of a roller coaster than it is in America.
U: It's a bit more stable here.
U: Now, you've said that your audience preference is more intimate, but how do you feel about festivals? Do you think the preference in audience, whether big or small, has anything to do with the impact of the show?
C: No, for me it has nothing to do with it. That's why I still tour, because it doesn't really matter about size. In fact, size can be horrific for someone of my sensitive nature. I don't like--actually I hate festivals, to be honest. I always did, I always will.
U: Why is that?
C: I think it's because the speed of things--the turnaround is always quick, so you don't have much time to get onstage. The atmosphere is often one of slightly aloof competition, in terms of musicians backstage, because there's lots of different bands at various levels, all kind of looking at each other. It's not like, we don't all sit backstage and, you know, 'hey guys, how are you doing'--it's not like that. It's quite cold. I don't like that side of things, not because musicians are bad, but sometimes they can't break down that barrier to connect. I'm better than I used to be, but I still have difficulties with that. I don't like the idea of getting out there and having to win people over. I do like my crowd. It's a safer thing for me and I do love that they understand, that they know the history and what it's about. Sometimes festivals can be amazing, because you gain a lot of followers and you tap into something you could never tap into. That's great, I understand the business of it, but it still doesn't make it any nicer for me. I don't like it. It's a quite cold experience.
U: Yeah, I mean people might not be there specifically to see you but maybe another act.
C: Of course, yeah. They might be curious, which is great, you know. You come, some like you, some don't like you, whatever. I think it's because you can't read them, and I love to read. I guess I often see or I expect the worst in people which is bad, you know. It's a part of my nature that I don't like, but I have done that all the time and I think that they're thinking negative things unless they show me that they're not showing me negative things. That's just a part of my insecurity. All artists are insecure anyway.
U: To conclude the interview, I wanted to know what your assessment of IAMX is, seeing it transform from how it began to how it is now. What do you see in the future of the project?
C: IAMX is a complicated project, because it doesn't feel like a project. It feels like my life, which isn't necessarily healthy and it hasn't been healthy in the past, because it's become quite difficult for me to connect and have a life outside of this thing. I got better at that recently. I got better after I had a breakdown basically. (laughs) It took a crisis to get me to a situation where I thought, 'okay, I need to slow down, separate myself from this "job" and have a life as well.' And that was good. I did that for a while and now I've come back to liking what I do even more, which is great, so that's a really positive thing. It's still quite overpowering emotionally, because it is very private and personal--the stuff that I'm talking about most of the time. You know, sometimes I'd like a break from that. I don't want to be thinking about me all the time; I'd like to be thinking about something else. Playing guitar in somebody else's band or something like that. It might be quite cool. But in the end, it is my form, my way of connecting with humanity and being accepted and loved and making myself feel good about myself--all of those things. I would be lying if I said I didn't love it, so that means I do love it. I still love it and I think I always will. I will probably always do it. You'll see me wheeled onstage at some point. (laughs) Yeah, I'll still be doing it when I'm 80 years old or something, because, I mean--it's a way of life. It's nice. It's not just a job.
U: Trying to visualize you in a wheelchair. That would be a sight to see.
C: (laughs) That would be a sight to see. Maybe we can integrate the wheelchair into the setup somehow.
U: Yeah, make it a bit industrial or something.
C: Yeah, yeah, industrial wheelchair. Lots of lights flashing on it. (laughs)
Big thanks to Chris Corner for taking the time to talk with us. Catch IAMX on their current Everything is Burning tour. Check out some photos from the performance below.