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Getting down and dirty with Pigface founder Martin Atkins

Martin Atkins has had his hand in more than a few musical projects over the years. The affable drummer has played in Public Image Limited and still gets royalty checks for that band's riotous appearance on American Bandstand. He's played in Ministry. He's played in the influential Killing Joke. And, of course, he's got his side project and pet project and love of his life, all wrapped up in one -- Pigface.Pigface, a sort of open musical collective, has featured many folks over the years, including members of Charlotte band Voodou, as well as our own Hope Nicholls. Mind you, Pigface has also featured Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, as well as Trent Reznor, who went on to wider fame with his own group, Nine Inch Nails.

Creative Loafing recently had a chance to speak with Atkins, who sounds just as passionate about music today as he did growing up in England in the formative years of British punk.

Creative Loafing: In today's New World Order, the complete breakdown between audience and performer that Pigface personifies is getting extremely rare...

Martin Atkins: That grew for me from being involved with punk rock in 1977. I think everyone then had questions: What is a pop star? Kill rock stars! The whole world, you know, is all the same: fucking people running around and trying to make sense of everything. On this new album (Easy Listening...), we had lists on the last tour called "The Fuck List." It was started eight years ago, and I read it for the first time down at the Masquerade in Atlanta. It became this thing -- fuck my girlfriend, fuck this, etc. So now, people are encouraged to write down their "fucks" at the merchandise booth. I love to read what people in New York or what people in San Antonio are pissed off about. Well, we gave that to Penn Jillette from Penn and Teller. I then went in the studio and chopped it up. Penn is reading this list, and I chopped in kids from Australia who read their "fuck list" onto a cassette. The fact that Pigface and the label (Invisible) is open to anybody knocking on the door and ending up on the album makes me feel really good.

How do you know when it's time to hit the road again, or to make another album?

The record came first. We did a "best of" a couple years ago, and putting it together felt like I was putting a period at the end of an era of 10-11 years of Pigface. It cleared my head of the first 10 years, really. It wasn't a conscious thing at the time, but looking back, I started making more music immediately. All of a sudden, so many people were coming out of the woodwork and becoming involved and being fantastic and suddenly there was an album, you know? It took six or seven months of hard work, but then the album suddenly started to took shape and exist.

Your label, Invisible, is very healthy at this point in time. Did you look at any other labels as far as inspiration when you were getting Invisible off the ground?

(Rolling Stones drummer) Charlie Watts once said a great thing when asked what kinds of drummers he likes to watch. "I'll watch any drummer," he said. "I especially love watching really bad drummers, because I can always learn what not to do." I think that's certainly driven my learning experience within the music business. Initially, I would be like, "I'm leaving -- this is crap." Now, I'm much more likely to sit and watch in fascination as people completely screw up the present and unknowingly fuck themselves well into the future. So -- and I said this about the label initially over 16 years ago -- it wasn't because I thought I could do things better, it was because I knew for a fact that I couldn't fuck things up any worse. And I'm talking major labels, indie labels, major indie labels... basically, all the labels I'd been involved with until that point.

It's hard to tell the difference with a lot of them nowadays.

There has been an increase in the role of business in the music world to the point where the idea of the whole music business has been eroded. I don't need someone to tell me that this tour doesn't make financial sense. Money isn't the measure of anything in this business. Momentum, creativity, grooviness, vibe, excitement... they are not quantifiable in terms of money. Once you start to apply the standard business values to the music business, then you end up doing things like dropping an artist 15 days before they have a huge comeback. You do ridiculous things, in fact. Sometimes, if you support someone for a while, they do the most amazing things.

There aren't too many labels willing to give long-term career support, either.

Long-term support is 5-1/2 weeks! "We'll see how your first album does in the first 10 days, and then we'll see if we want to do another 10 days later. Maybe." The fact that the studio here is attached to the label is different. I think it's way more constructive to have the studio here, to have artists come upstairs while they're making an album and see what we're doing and meet everyone working here. It's great to know what's going on downstairs will be realized in four months time.

Speaking of realized, how did this current tour come together?

Basically, it's an extension of the idea of Underground Inc. We're working with 12 other labels to help them and share the learned history within independent music. We're trying to foster the notion that independent labels aren't working against each other, as I think a lot of people believe. I think we're working against the fact that America is huge, and the physical distribution of CDs and any other product is difficult. We're working against those things and the major labels. If we all unite together to move the underground forward, then it feels like a revolution. You might laugh, but when you have 600 kids e-mailing us downloading flyers, it feels like a fucking revolution. (laughing) We used to talk about a revolution, but we were all drunk and on speed.

Pigface will appear with My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Zeromancer and Bile at Tremont Music Hall on March 26. Call (704) 343-9494 for tickets or more information.

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