The Sultans of Ping
An interview with longtime R*E*P*E*A*T favourites The Sultans of Ping FC by Paul Golder of the Sultans official site www.sultansofping.com, July 2006
It's a sweltering summer's evening in London and I'm in a pub
just round the corner from the studio where the Sultans are currently
rehearsing for the forthcoming Irish and German shows. I'm sitting
at the table with them all, armed with a big file full of zany questions
from Sultans fans. Here's what they made of it all ...
Tell us what your favourite Sultans song is.
Niall: Definitely Michiko.
What would you say was your favourite Sultans gig?
Niall: Around 1996 when Good Year For Trouble came out we played a
gig at the Camden Underworld and we really lost it that night. I think
it was our last London show until 2006. It was really chaotic, we played
all the songs faster and wilder than we had done before!
What kind of music are you listening to at the moment?
Niall: A lot of French pop, France Gall, Francoise Hardy, that kind
of thing. Oh and Elvis, I always say that!
Who are the most underrated band of all time?
Niall: The Ramones and the New York Dolls although now they're dying
off they are becoming more appreciated and less underrated.
Niall: We're planning a few more UK shows in the autumn of 2006. London,
maybe Glasgow, maybe Nottingham, maybe somewhere on the South Coast,
we're not sure just yet.
What's your favourite pub in the whole world?
Niall: The Lord Palmerston in Tufnell Park, London.
Are you disappointed that Alan didn't join in the reunion?
Morty: Not at all, we're still really good friends and he's been at a few of the gigs. Sometimes people want to move on and do new things and the music he's doing at the moment is very good.
Will you be playing more stuff from Good Year For Trouble at the forthcoming gigs?
Niall: Possibly, maybe Rubberman or something.
Read any good books lately?
Niall: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. It's a wonderful book which makes
my prose look like smoke signals. Oh and my favourite film is Moby Dick.
Any chance of a new CD?
Niall: A few new and unpublished songs are floating around and we have been rehearsing some of them. It's something that we'd like to do. There's no firm plans and if it doesn't happen it will be because of time and other commitments.
What happened to the Sultans' acoustic side project, Sexy Shop?
Niall and Pat: (several hours of laughter)
Can my band support you?
Niall: Send us a tape! But it's got to be a tape, none of this mp3 rubbish.
Who designs your wardrobe, Versace or Roberto Cavalli?
Pat: Oh definitely Versace! (Falls off chair laughing)
Who is the biggest Langer you know and are there any plans to write a follow up to Dowtcha Boy?
Morty: The biggest Langer is obviously George W Bush. I haven't got any plans to write a follow up - I think the History of the Sultans of Ping volume 1 is more likely.
(To Ian) What's it like joining the greatest rock and roll band in the world?
Ian: It's an honour and a privilege!
(To Niall, in reference to the now-legendary XFM interview) Are there any plans to record a duet with Nana Mouskouri or Antony and the Johnsons?
Niall: More likely with Nana as she is in better physical shape.
Is that Michiko with the lollipop on the cover of Michiko? And if so could I have her phone number?
Niall: Yes, it is. And yes, you probably could!
Can we have the full lyrics to No More Nonsense as no one seems to know what they are!
Niall: The first line is meant to be "I'm a pretty goofy guy, I come from Sweden". I'll give you the second line next year.
What is the inspiration for the song "Clitus Clarke"?
Niall: I can't claim responsibility, the main lyric isn't mine, I wrote the verses. The song was inspired by a guy who sold T-shirts for us. He's now a poet and novelist.
So you didn't come up with "pole-vaulting taliped"?
Niall: Oh yeah, that was one of mine!
Why are Forest the shit side in Nottingham? (I think we need to point out that Nottingham Forest have finished their league campaign higher than Notts County every season since 1975/76. So this question is highly erroneous).
Niall: (laughs) I'm not getting involved!
Would Ian like to play with the lads from the Power of Dreams again?
Ian: The drummer lives in Arizona now so it's going to be difficult unless we get some kind of satellite linkup going. The band ran out of steam in the end but the parting was amicable. I saw Craig last year but I haven't seen the others for a while. And yes I have seen the Myspace site!
What do you think about the live clips on Youtube?
Morty: We don't put them up but we think they're good. It's nice to see the fans are interested enough to take and share the clips for the whole world to see.
Here's a question about leather boots.
Niall: (enthusiastically) I'll answer that!
It goes on for ever. (Shows pages and pages of long, complicated question)
Niall: Erm, pass!
Where do you get those trousers from and are they a sweatbox?
Pat: Let's put it this way. When we toured with Radiohead in 1993 they gave us a present of a big box of talcum powder at the end of the tour. That came in really useful.
Look out for all the latest Sultans of Ping info
Thanks to Paul for permission to use the interview
Talk too much about this interview on the R*E*P*E*A*T message board here
Lucy: 'Taxidermy' and 'Drink Me' are quite drastically different in their
styles, so what kind of sound can we expect from the 3rd album?
KJG: We don't know yet. We're playing a lot of new material tonight so you'll be able to judge that for yourself. When I'm this close up to it, it's really difficult to tell. I'm on a bit of a negative slant today, but usually with our music I can only hear the bits that have gone wrong rather
than anything that went right. When you reflect back on something it's very difficult to give an objective opinion, and I don't believe in objectivity anyway, I think everything's subjective. I just throw a deck of cards and
wherever they land, that's where she finds herself. I'm not really the one to explain my part in it, you must do that as the observer really, and of course that will reflect your part in the grand scheme of things.
Lucy: Do you enjoy playing live more than the creative process in the studio?
KJG: (Laughs) I don't enjoy any of it. It comes and it goes, ok? There's nothing like when you're writing and you manage to catch something by its
tail; when you're looking for those things underground that are skittering out of sight just when you're about to catch them. And when you catch them it is worth it, but it's a momentary pleasure. I've got so much noise upstairs, and I can hear things in my head that to me are absolutely devastatingly beautiful. I'm always trying to download them and get them
here, but they never get here in the right state, they're always very disabled and they don't even begin to imitate what I can hear in my head.
It's a frustrating process in the main.
Lucy: Your lyrics are simultaneously emotionally expressive and cryptic. Are you looking to be understood by your audience?
KJG: I'm always trying to understand myself, but it's like there's a point in the centre of the room, and there's a hundred windows to look at the same point from. All I can do is give you different angles on the same thing. God, you know, if I could find one conclusive thing in anything I would probably have something to put an anchor down on. But I cant, and I haven't met anyone that can. You can pick out anything you like in my lyrics, I don't seek to be cryptic. I love words for the sake of words, for me they're kind of free standing, and they don't really need to be explained. I think every word has its own character and colour and picture and the result you get with lyrics just depends how you put them together. You could just do it in a William Burroughs esque way, or throw the deck of cards, and you'd probably still find something that our tiny little minds would latch on to in order to gain some kind of emotional understanding. I don't think there's a constant, the only constant that there is for me is that there is no constant. I use myself as my canvas, I gut myself and fillet myself the whole fucking time, I'm always hooking myself out of the water, I'm always cutting my own head off and disembowelling myself, and as you can probably tell I'm quite angry about it at the moment. I'm very tired of it all, of my
process and how I find life, because it always seems to be about living and dying all in one breath. I'm getting pretty fucking tired of that.
Lucy: Do you think drugs stimulate or hinder creativity?
KJG: Well that depends on the drug, because I think most things arrive in the form of a drug really. I know in myself that if anything I am, much to my greater expense, an adrenalin junkie. My synapses don't work well enough to put pills in my mouth, I can't do that, despite popular opinion. I don't need any help breaking down, put it that way. There's not much holding it
together. If there was a drug that could put aline between two polar opposites and make them in to one thing I'm sure I would have it
intravenous, but I haven't found it. I think drugscan be a bit of a lazy way for creativity anyway, you're better off in the cold light of day in the mirror.
Lucy: As a band, you are distinguished by the extreme physicality of your
live performances. Do you consciously make an effort to put on a show or do
your performances just naturally come to you, and whatever happens, happens?
KJG: It's a bit of both, because you see, I think taking the stage is one of the most unnatural things anyone can do. In a way, just walking on stage actually creates an altered state - its not right, no one's meant to do that, unless you're a priest or a magician, or something like that. To put somebody who's very incapable in many ways in to that position creates a combustion reaction inside me. I know that, and I take the stage knowing that. Obviously there's all the usual things that affect my performance; if I'm on my 45th day of a tour I'm probably gonna be pretty fucking tired, so I'll be dictated by that. If I'm doing new material like tonight I don't
know what's going to happen, because we haven't built the train tracks yet. The beauty of playing live is when my drummer goes in to 5th gear or in to 10th gear, and for some reason there's something that hits me in the base of the spine and I'm gone, and that's Halleluiah for me. During the last few months a lot of strange things have been happening onstage, I think the process is changing. I don't know what's going to happen tonight, I've been having quite a tough time on stage, I feel like something's pulling me under, as if something's got me.
Lucy: So does the crowd influence your performances on stage?
KJG: Yes they do. I'm unkind enough to be pretty impersonal about how I do it, so I use them for me to kick against in effect, or to surf on, (I don't
mean physically surf). If you're in an empty roomand there's a couple of people at the back, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll have a bad show -
they might get the show of their lives. And then again when something's really heaving and going off, I get quite a distorted view of it, because I
can feel quite overwhelmed lose my sense of place in the situation. I lose control of myself. I don't know, I probably wasn't meant to do this, I
wasn't built for this. It wasn't a career option, I didn't start there and go there, I didn't pick up the things on the way. I've sort of gone round
Lucy: As the lead singer of the band, most media interest is focused on you.
Do you feel pressurised by your position or do you enjoy being the centre
KJG: I've been here on this wheel long enough,(and I say this with a little bit of trepidation because I think you have to be really careful with this kind of thing, because the motivation to do it in itself I think is usually pretty corrupt) I'm not doing it for anyone else, I need a cheque through the door like anybody else does, you have to keep eating, you have to keep living. I'm looking for some sense of going home on my own terms, and people's critique of me is not relevant, whether it's positive of negative.
I do need a cheque through the door though, otherwise I'll have to go and be a butcher or something.
Lucy: What is the religious meaning behind the song "For I am the way"?
KJG: If you use the word religion in its truest sense, all it means is communion, it hasn't got any of the attachments to any written word. My
understanding of the word communion is loss of the sense. Another way of looking at it is you've got to get in to get out, and the only thing that I
know to be true is me, is this tiny little dot in the centre of the universe. It's the only thing that I know feels pain; I can see other people's pain and I can feel it in an emotional way, but not in a physical way. I find myself in the unfortunate position of feeling like I am the
centre of the universe and that everything is a projection, made by me - i.e. you two don't exist, you're something that I created. I don't wish that
sense upon anybody because it's not a good one. Through 'For I am the way' I'm saying that you've got to get in, because the only thing one knows to be true is oneself. And on a good day, if you stand on top of a mountain or go to the desert or stand in the ocean, and become completely inconsequential, linear time stops and you become everything and nothing. That for me is
communion, that's how I define religion. I thinkthere's a line in there which goes "Today the only bridge I have I burn" which sums it up really, because it is about cutting all lines of communication in order to really truly commune.
Lucy: Do you think that in the future your creativity will move from the sphere of music in to literature for example?
KJG: It's real hard to say. In a way, that sounds like a much easier life. But for all I know I'm deluding myself. I'm looking for someone to help me frame something at the moment, and someone is actually, someone's being really good to me. I would love to write, but I don't know if I'm good
enough to do it.