German experimental krautrock weirdoes Faust are now in their 40th year. From a commune like early existence where all the members were holed up together in an old schoolhouse and voted democratically on everything, such as the food they would eat each night, to recent collaborations with US hip hop outfit Dalek and a continuous stream of new members over the years, they’re an outfit who are committed to keeping things new, interesting, and above all perennially strange. Over a crackly line from Germany Jean- Herve Frederic Peron can barely contain his enthusiasm for life and for music.
Jean Herve: Here it’s the beginning of a beautiful day. It’s 9.30 now and its just great, the sky is blue; we’ve got sun and everything.
Bob: please, enjoy it because I’m very jealous. It’s cold and raining here, and by the time you get here it will be even worse. I never thought I’d ever get to speak with you. Maybe I should tell you about my contact with Faust.
Jean- Herve: Yes please do.
Bob: I went to New York about 10 years ago and picked up an album because of the cover. It was all silver. It was called Rien.
Jean- Herve: Rien means nothing. In 1994 we went to the states, me and Werner Franz Diermaier the big Austrian drummer of Faust. We went to the States; we were invited by Jeff Hunt of Table of the Elements. He said why don’t you come, you’ve been doing nothing for years, I’ll organise a tour, and I’ll have a roster with Tony Conrad and Thurston Moore, AMM, all these kinds of people. We did the tour and we met Jim O’Rourke and at the end of the tour Jeff mentioned that he had studio time in San Francisco, and said let’s do something. Jim will do the producing and recording. So this is a work together with Jim O’Rourke, a rebirth of Faust.
Bob: Are you sure it wasn’t a trick to get a record out of you after all these years?
Jean- Herve: Maybe it was a combination of the enthusiasm of Werner and myself after having toured the US and having seen that the audience really enjoyed what we were doing. We had a really great show in San Fran with guest artists playing the didge, playing the piano. Keiji Haino jumped on stage, we were in the middle of so much energy. So when Jeff asked we said yes please.
Bob: I get the sense that Faust is this crazy beast that you guys can come or go from or other people can enter and its almost living breathing creature. Is that how you see it?
Jean- Herve: Absolutely. We are like bacteria. It’s hard to get rid of us. Even if we split as we have done, now you have two very dynamic FaustÃ’s instead of just one. Faust is more a spirit. We are not based on a frontman or stars or anything. It’s the spirit of Faust. Obviously there are some founding members, Werner and myself and Himmler on the other side, and around it we have good friends we have made during our tours and they join us because they like the spirit of Faust, and some of them stay for longer and become members of Faust. I’m talking especially about two members, that we bring to Melbourne, Geraldine Swain. An artist, painter and filmmaker, and also a woman. So that brings a lot of impulses in the music. And we have James Johnson, the frontman of Gallon Drunk. I think they have played Australia before. So James and Geraldine will be with us in Melbourne and I think we will present something unexpected, which is something that we are aiming at all the time. With enough of the tunes that some people expect of us. We try to create the right balance.
Bob: It must be exhausting trying to create the unexpected after such a long period of time.
Jean- Herve: You are very right. It’s exhausting to try and reinvent yourself every day. But it is worth doing it. I don’t think I would like to stagnate. To stay with my two feet on the same spot for a long time. And this is the reason that Faust has survived all these decades, because we try to be always on the move, always looking for new things, adapting to new situations, to new impulses.
Bob: So you’re coming to a jazz festival. Does that make sense to you?
Jean- Herve: No. But yes it does. It makes an awful lot of sense to us and we are very honoured. When you think about jazz, you need to realise jazz has changed. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s free jazz and Sun Ra and Coltrane and jazz has opened the borders of jazz to unlimited areas. We belong in that. But it feels a bit funny to know we’re going to be among all those highly efficient and trained musicians and we are a bunch of enthusiastic weirdos. But we’ll do our best.
Bob: Is there much improvisation of what you do on stage or is it worked out beforehand?
Jean- Herve: It’s a combination of both. When we meet or when we go into a recording session we always improvise. So each one of us comes with whatever ideas we have, whatever impressions, emotions, feelings, stress and all this. Many ideas are thrown in and some of these develop into pieces, into songs. What we do when we go on stage is we try to do a set piece in such a way that we respect the origin, and we play some known tunes of Faust, and we play some tunes we have recently created and we leave a good space in the set list for absolutely free improvisation, taking the risk that we could be miserable, but also taking the chance of hitting a good inspired moment and being good.
Bob: And that’s when some magic might happen.
Jean- Herve: Yes it might happen or it might fail. We are ready to take the risk and I think the audience in Europe, I’m not sure of the other side of the world, but the audience is aware of this, we are comfortable of the best and of the worst.
Bob: In Melbourne there’s a very big experimental and improvised music scene. In fact you’re actually part of a show called Overground, which has a whole bunch of improvised and experimental musicians.
Jean- Herve: That’s good news for me then.
Bob: You’re going to be like a kid in a candy store.
Jean- Herve: Alright!
Bob: Can I ask about the instrumentation you use? I know youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve used things like cement mixers in the past.
Jean- Herve: We have a mixture of conventional instruments like guitars, acoustic or electric, we have keyboards. We don’t use much of the moog or korg type of thing, and we have a drum. Then the drum set is a little bizarre we have metal pieces on it, and we have some percussion instruments like power drill, we use sound creators like chainsaw, or we use strong symbolic instruments like cements mixers. We paint on stage. We like to do these things. We like to demolish things. Not because of the violence of it, it’s more about transcending some taboos. This is what we’re aiming at; going places where it feels good to do things that society doesn’t really digest.
Bob: I can really relate to that. Today I had to take these old desks and rubbish to the tip and I had to throw them about 20 feet into a compactor and it all just split apart and broke and was destroyed and it felt so good. I felt naughty but good.
Jean- Herve: Yes. There is nothing naughty there. It’s a very complex feeling. This is not the appropriate time to talk about all this but I fully understand what you are saying. I sympathise, there is something very very special when you to these compactors. It’s funny you say this the day before yesterday I had to go to the dump where I had to get rid of this old kitchen. And there was this compactor that was making noises, which would express, and this relates to the cement mixer, which would express primal feelings. It’s hard to pinpoint, hard to put a name to it, but it touched a string in us, which is primal. I think it has to do with birth, with primal fear, with the end of the world. All these primal things and feelings that you have inside you that you cannot express. And this happened at the dump, which is like death and birth.
Bob: That’s fascinating. I guess I tapped into a little bit of that today. Is that what attracts you to using these sounds? These music concrete sounds?
Jean- Herve: Absolutely. I am glad that there are some musicians that train every day very efficiently and are able to create some sound out of their instrument. I’m very happy about this. I’m talking about all the classical world and people writing down beautiful symphonies. It’s very good. But it’s also very good to have people listening to what is happening around us. Take time and look and listen and just forget that things have a purpose. If you forget about the purpose of things and just take them as they are you will discover another aspect. Like the dump. When you go out there you forget it’s a dump you discover other aspects. I worked yesterday in an old part of Hamburg, and there were lots of old fantastic buildings, and there were lots of water canals. The combination of the natural echo of those high buildings and the light splashes of water on the walls were creating this sound. I had to stop and close my eyes and that’s it, just record this and bring it to people who didn’t have the chance to be here. You don’t have to make music you just have to find music.
Bob: So you don’t find any distinction between the people learning their instruments and what we can hear in the natural world or cities?
Jean- Herve: I don’t. I have much respect for the classical world and for people who can master their instrument or trade. But I’m also very impressed by the sound of the wind, the sound of the birds, of a car passing by, the sound the church when its silent. It blows my mind. It makes me happy.
Bob: You know there is a sound walk at the festival. Where a person leads you silently on an audio path through Melbourne.
Jean- Herve: This is what I’ve been doing here with local artist. She made an ear walk. Listen walk. It was so good. She said nothing. She just walked and stopped from time to time. Very quickly you realise that each word that you would say is so futile, so out of the point. Silence and listening was the music. And when we finished we talked and we said there is a lot of dynamic in listening, it just being silent.
Bob: I experienced the same thing with 8 or 10 people all walking in silence. Then at the end we had so much to say to each other.
Jean- Herve: Can you find out when it is? I would love to do it with that man. I’ll look in the program.
Bob: One thing with Rien, I felt that when I listened to it I felt that there was a real playfulness with sound. That you love sound and you love to try it up against each other and hearing what works. Is that your approach?
Jean- Herve: That is definitely our approach, but there is a little bit more that has to be said. There are two aspects in Rien. First it is a recording after a long time of studio silence. We had just met all these amazing artists and the audience opened their arms to Faust. We were pumped withy positive energy. Then we meet Jim O’Rourke who proposed to make the recording. Jim O’Rourke at the time was a very young man, very enthusiastic, I’m sure he still is, he had a good respect about Faust, so the respect was mutual. So the record is Jim’s ability of fully understanding what Faust was up to, and the immense positive energy we had received. So these two elements put together, this is probably what you are talking about when you say joyful, dynamic and experiments. We included an experiment we did called long distance calls in the desert. Where we organised in Death Valley to make a night recording of the silence. Each artist being on a dune 500 metres apart in an absolute dark night with no way of communication apart from what we had taken with us, like a voice, a flute, a percussion instrument, we did a recording of that. Mostly it was just wind you could hear. Sometimes it was a desperate call. Jim O’Rourke understood this made a beautiful record.
Bob: What about your most recent line-up, have you recorded anything with them?
Jean- Herve: Yes we have. Bureau B invited us to a recording. It’s called Something Dirty with Geraldine Swain she’s been with us in 5 years now.
Bob: Is she the first woman to play in Faust?
Jean- Herve: Yes she is.
Bob: Does her presence change the dynamic of Faust?
Jean- Herve: Yes, she takes the, I’m not sure if I’m saying the right word, but I’ll take the risk, she takes a bit of the rough edge, of the barbaric ways of expression that seems to be inherent of the male world. And she brings more subtle and underlaid. She suggests more than she imposes. It’s such a great enrichment.
Bob: One thing that I’m very curious about is that there are two Faust’s, and I’m just wondering how that works for you?
Jean- Herve: It works fine. You can’t get rid of Faust. If you step on Faust we come back on the other side. Even if Faust split we just have two Faust’s now and its good like this. We ignore each other but we do respect each other. We don’t get in our way. We don’t use lawyers. In the beginning the press had a problem but now I think everyone understands and its okay. One is like this and the other is like that. We have our own ways and our own philosophies and we don’t have fights or arguments. It’s all cool. It’s good like this.
Bob: Did it happen because you both wanted to pursue different directions musically without giving up Faust?
Jean- Herve: When you go into a marriage you take partnership with one person and it lasts a long time and maybe after a decade you’re discovering aspects that don’t fit and then you divorce. It’s very natural and common in the dynamics of group that especially when these groups like us have been living intense and very close. Don’t forget we lived together in seclusion for 3 or 4 years in a monastery like in a studio. 4 years in seclusion with the same people is like the equivalent of 20 years. And we are very strong personalities. We are all very sick in the head. So it’s hard to put up with us for a long time. I put up with Werner because he is the drummer and I am the bass, we are like the prolongation of each other, so that goes well with the other. With the others they were the sky and we were the earth. At some point it has to separate.
Performances at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival
The Forum – Fri 10 June at 8.30pm
Jean-Herve Peron Speaks Sat 11 June 4-5pm – Jazzland at the Wheeler Centre
Overground Sunday 12th of June.