IAMX – CHRIS CORNER
“I think I’m at a point where I really feed off that sort of unpredictable chaotic energy that you can really only get on stage, and that kind of has built up this persona, this character, which I become at night.”
THERE aren’t many bands around who are like IAMX. Sure, there are electro-rock bands, synth-rock bands, bands with wiry frontmen and energetic live shows. But there’s something different about IAMX and its creator Chris Corner. It’s probably a combination of things – Chris’s enigmatic stage presence, the ’persona’ that he’s created when he performs with IAMX; the band’s live shows that have a sort of primal, sexual energy to them; Chris’s total dedication to the concept of IAMX and the intensity with which he dedicates himself to it. There’s the added element, too, of UK native Chris immersing himself in the Berlin music scene, finding his creative home in the laidback and deeply cultural German capital.
But for the uninitiated, just who are IAMX? Formed from the ashes of ’90s Brit band Sneaker Pimps, who shot to fame with the song Six Underground, IAMX started off as a sort of solo project created by multi-instrumentalist Chris Corner. Along the way, the band’s had different members – but settled in its current incarnation around 18 months ago. They’ve released two albums – Kiss and Swallow and The Alternative, the latter of which only went on official release (preceded by the release of a remixed version of the former single Spit it Out) in the UK and Ireland at the end of 2007, although it was released in mainland Europe before then.
With the band on the cusp of a new European tour, and their first Irish date ever on 28 March in The Village, Dublin, I grabbed my chance to speak to Chris about his live performances, whether he was looking forward to playing Ireland, and why he thinks going on tour is like going to war…
Despite a terrible mobile phone line (mine), Chris is the ideal interviewee – I’m convinced he couldn’t hear all my questions but he ploughs on regardless, answering each one with a lovely degree of honesty and concentration. We start at the easiest place to start – chatting about his upcoming trip to Ireland.
Is he excited to be playing here?
“I am, yes,” he tells me. “I haven’t played Dublin for years and I have no idea what to expect but I’m sure it will be a healthy, crazy crowd – it usually is.” Although he’s played throughout the UK a number of times, Chris is still looking forward to the tour there. “I’m kind of excited. I’m excited to do the whole UK,” he says. “I’ve been living in Berlin for quite a while now and I’ve sort of been working in Europe a lot and I’ve been over to the US, but I haven’t done much in the UK, so it’s kind of like a strange homecoming. And yeah, it’s going to be good, I hope!”
I tell him that I’m pretty sure it will be good – after all, a quick google of the word IAMX throws up a myspace site [www.myspace.com/iamx] with more than 45,000 friends, countless online street teams, unofficial forums, fansites and blogs. “I forgot how nice English people are,” he laughs. “It’s really strange because you know, when you live there you don’t really think about it, and you go away and you play all these different places and generally IAMX crowds are really good, if they’re into the music they’re really responsive and they’re nice anyway.”
IAMX’s fans are a full-on, dedicated bunch. On the aforementioned forums and websites, you’ll find literally everything there is to know about Chris and the rest of the band. Perhaps it’s no surprise then to hear that the fans mean a huge amount to Chris – although it still surprises him how big a beast IAMX has become.
It must be great having such a huge fanbase, I tell him.
“It is,” he agrees. “I mean, it’s kind of unexpected as well – I know that when I started this project I was sort of scuffling about and managing myself and booking gigs and just kind of carrying stuff on stage and playing to like, ten people. But those ten people were great!” He laughs. “It just sort of built up over the last couple of years, so I’m really, really happy with the response. I just really connected to the people who liked the music. There’s a real…there’s a genuine connection there and I mean it sounds cheesy and stuff but it’s true. I think they understand and the people that wanna listen and get into the music do so in a very sort of intense way. And the people who don’t, don’t give a fuck and I never see them! (Laughs) It’s great.”
When it comes to playing live, this fervent dedication from the fans must be important in affecting the intensity of the performance, I venture.
“Yes, yes it is,” he muses. “There’s two ways of doing it, which is you get on stage and the crowd really builds you up, and that’s really fantastic, because it gives you an amazing energy that you don’t have to formulate yourself. But there’s another side, which is if the crowd is really shit, you have to pull something from somewhere and motivate them. So either way we win (laughs) but it’s much smoother and it feels warmer when people really go for it, and lately the crowds have been really, really good, so I’m dead happy.”
I want to ask about the performance itself – if you’ve seen IAMX live, or watched videos of the performances on the net, you’ll know that Chris has an amazing energy on stage – he’s fully charged and (like the rest of the band) plugged into the live set. He creates a character and becomes that character on stage, dressing up, applying make-up, customising clothes, becoming the focal point of the fans’ gaze.
“The performance is kind of a pre-meditated chaos or something,” he tells me. “It’s very…I mean the way we construct it is very thoughtful, and we put a lot of work into rehearsals, and we construct it in a very detailed way. But once you’re on stage, it’s just completely torn apart and it’s very unpredictable. So we don’t really know what the hell is going to happen. I really feed off that – that’s what makes it still very attractive to me, to get on stage and do that, otherwise I’d be bored out of my mind. I think I’m at a point where I really feed off that sort of unpredictable chaotic energy that you can really only get on stage, and that kind of has built up this persona, this character, which I become at night.”
Is this alter-ego, this multi-layered, confident in-your-face persona a cathartic thing for him?
“In some ways it’s like just a huge release, and a huge expressive release that you can never get in any other way – maybe in sex or something like that, but it’s still very intense and very powerful,” explains Chris. “On the one hand it’s really good to have that release, and on the other hand it can become sort of addictive, and it’s just when I’m touring, I become addicted to that sort of personality, and I mean it sort of takes control of me. When I stop touring, apart from a huge comedown and a huge adrenaline comedown, there is a very big mental change, and it can be a struggle. So you have to sort of somehow figure out how to balance it or not balance it, because it’s sort of impossible, but how to work with it – and that’s what I am working on at the moment. But making music and writing and creating is my way of dealing with it.”
I’m curious to know how far this persona comes into Chris’s life – does he use it when writing his songs? “It’s difficult to know who I’m writing as, or what I’m writing for,” he offers. “I do write in a sort of ’feely’ kind of way, an abstract emotional kind of way, so I don’t say ’ok, today I’m going to write about politics, and tomorrow I’m going to write about…’ It’s all mixed up in this sort of nonsense language which in the end, as a whole picture kind of makes sense.”
With lyrics that appear to discuss everything from feminism to fetishes, it’s interesting to discover that even Chris himself isn’t sure sometimes what he is writing about – or who he is writing as. “I sometimes shy away from clear descriptions of what my music means,” he tells me. “And that’s not being lazy, that’s just being a bit confused by myself, which everybody is, you know. (Laughs) It’s more of a…if I sit down I have a kind of drive, I have a strong drive, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense until the end. I know the thing that really controls me is being a producer. The lyrical side of stuff is work and it’s fun and it’s abstract and it’s emotional, but when it comes to constructing the record, I have to be quite sort of level-headed and become the responsible producer, or else nothing gets finished. So in the end, I kind of tuck it into something which is understandable for everybody and for me.
“But as a writer, I dunno, I flip…I flip a lot. And it’s not…I don’t mean it’s schizophrenic, but I flip personalities, but I think that’s just naturally with my mood or whatever.”
So does producing offer him the opportunity to grapple with those sides of his personality, and try to make sense of it all? “That’s exactly what it is – it’s sort of reining my uncontrollable creative nonsense in to a sort of understandable package,” he explains. “Thank God that I did production for a while, because I think it would be much more chaotic…I don’t think I’d be as productive, actually. So in a way my two halves kind of work quite well together and they give room to each other. And again I think it’s the same with the live performance – I like that when I’m on tour, because there’s still the technical side of things that I have to take care of but then I just go crazy and let myself go, when I can.”
Watching a video of Chris being interviewed about life on the road, I was struck by his description of going on tour as like “going to war”. I ask if it is really that intense. “It is with this band…” he pauses. “There have been different incarnations of the band but sort of a year and a half ago it became these people, and this was the solid band ever since. Since that point, it just became very intense. Everybody performs and everybody has energy and nobody drags and nobody sort of sucks your energy, and we play off each other, and that’s really good on stage.” But while there is no conflict between the band members, there is a conflict of sorts between the band and crowd – although one which ultimately has satisfactory results.
“But it does become, like sometimes between you and the crowd it can be bit of a battle,” Chris explains. “You know, to get them, or they get you back, and I find myself almost attacking myself onstage. I don’t mean physically – in a way, sometimes physically – but it’s more of like a mental attack or a deconstruction of my psyche or my boring self, or stuff that I’m really pissed off about myself or whatever. So it becomes sort of a war with the crowd and with yourself. And you have sort of mental scars, and sometimes you have physical scars because you fall over or whatever, if you really, really let yourself go, which I believe you should do on stage, because it’s the only time you really get the chance to, so things can happen like that. So yeah, it is a bit of a battle – but it’s worth it.”
See IAMX battle it out onstage at The Village in Dublin on Saturday 28 March. Tickets cost €21.65 plus booking fee from http://www.ticketmaster.ie
Listen to IAMX tracks and watch videos at http://www.myspace.com/iamx
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