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Going for a song - Cult With No Name
An interview with Erik Stein


ImageWhat's wrong with the people of today? Have they forgotten what real songs should sound like? And what's their excuse? Lack of time? Maybe people are afraid to explore the real world in favour of modern banality, in danger of finding out about themselves, should they stop for a minute and listen? If they did, then maybe, just maybe, they would be the creators rather then letting consumerism create them. Does some kind of ideology lie behind it or is it just simply laziness. And who cares?! There's probably not one single answer. Today everything seems so approachable and yet so completely distant, somehow without depth. And music is no exception. Many artists don't have the common decency to respect their consumers let alone themselves, a paradox really, because artistic freedom has never been greater. Is meaningless noise becoming the mirror of our everyday lives, and gradually our ultimate aim?


In such an all encompassing concept, it seems that London based artists Erik Stein and Jon Boux have chosen the perfect name for themselves, Cult With No Name. Their two albums to date for the Trakwerx label, 'Paper Wraps Rock' (2007) and 'Careful What You Wish For' (2008), are a real and solid legacy. Skillfully and emotionally written and recorded, it seems they are destined to be remembered and explored in the future. Maybe they will become a cult in the future, but what we really need is CWNN now, as a break from all the noise. Don't be mistaken, Erik and Jon don't produce ambient music. Their music is dramatic, dynamic in their own way, like the effects of prozac. It tranquilizes, but never removes you from reality.


So, let's start with this, and ask Erik Stein some questions. In spreading the word about these excellent musicians I hope to pay tribute to music that has given me many hours of comfort.


Mileta Okiljevic: Erik, what are your first musical memories? What attracted you to music?
Erik Stein: - Like Jon, I don't come from a musical family, so my first musical memories would just be as a listener. My Dad had a pretty cool collection of jazz records (still does), although he only ever really played the same few records by Herbie Mann, Jimmy Smith and Art Blakey. He was also a massive Rolling Stones fan in his youth. Another seminal artist in his collection was, bizarrely enough, Klaus Dinger's La Dusseldorf. As a child, on the long drives through Europe to visit relatives and go on holiday, these records were on a constant loop. They're still in my head and I'm pleased they're still there.


What exactly inspired you to start writing music? Was it music itself, or something intangible in your persona that corresponds with you as a person?
- The honest answer is, I really don't know why I was inspired to write music. I can't speak for Jon. I just know it happened fairly suddenly at about the age of 10. I have tried to understand why. I have an older brother, and even though our tastes are poles apart, he no doubt inspired me to have an interest in music when I was young, because he was buying quite a lot of it. I just started writing songs, and haven't really stopped (apart from at one point, but that's another story). Sometimes I write a lot, sometimes I go months without writing a single note, but the feeling that there's at least one more decent one in there has never left me. I actually enjoy the process of songwriting. I don't use it as a platform to voice opinions, because if I wanted to do that I believe there are far more appropriate means. I interviewed John Foxx once and he said that by writing songs we build little models of the world around us. By building a model when can then step back and analyse the world more accurately. I think he has a point.


How did CWNN start, did any of you have earlier music experience in bands, or as solo artists?
- By the time CWNN had started I had amassed a vast empire of very self-indulgent 4-track recordings that I had occasionally performed live, usually with pretty terrible results. I met Jon Boux over ten years ago and he was already a veteran of loads of bands by then. So we were/are friends. In terms of why and how we started, the circumstances were right. He was working with two people at the time. One moved back to the States and one got married and had a kid, so I chose my moment. Once we started working together, we realised that this was going to work, and that we could never sound the way we do individually, for better or worse.


I was always curious about the origin band names. Cult With No Name has dual qualities, a reference to the tradition of the 80s and yet representing the times we live in, and how something can be popular on various levels but somehow remain faceless.
- Choosing a band name is always difficult, because should you have the misfortune to be successful then you're well and truly stuck with it. The name kind of found us. I'm not a great believer in giving in to fate, but I am a great believer in taking circumstance as your cue. I know I didn't want a name that began with "the", a trick I borrowed from Tubeway Army, because there are now millions of bands now called "the". I liked the phrase 'Cult With No Name', and knew of its connotations to the 80s pre-new romantic movement, but that was tongue in cheek more than anything else. And the final factor was that I was reading a book called 'Join Me', which was literally about a cult with no name. The pieces seemed to fit. Since then, it's been pointed out to us that having a band with only two people calling itself 'Cult With No Name' is faintly ridiculous, so I guess we're not the cult being referred to.


Your music is inspired by many people, but it has this fantastic, sentimental aura. What do you want your music to reveal? Composition skills, particular feelings? What are the purpose and goals of CWNN?
- Yes, I try to soak up as many influences as possible otherwise you're in danger of becoming one dimensional. I'm certainly not suggesting what we do is diverse, but hopefully it's at least a rich mix. Like any other self-respecting band, I don't want people to think or feel any particular way about what we do. We have no right. Once our music is out there, I've let go, I actually don't feel I own it anymore. So, there is no overall goal or vision for CWNN. We're just taking one chord at a time.


ImageOn "Careful" you asked the great Blaine L. Reininger (Tuxedomoon) to guest, and also covered Golden Brown by The Stranglers. Are there any plans for more things like that? If you made a covers album or EP, what would be on it?
- We were very lucky to have Blaine guest on the album, and what he contributed was predictably fantastic. The 'Golden Brown' cover was on there by popular demand really, and yes, admittedly we thought it would attract some press. We definitely love doing covers. The first song we ever worked on together was a cover, 'In the Dutch Mountains' by the Nits. Since then we've also covered Tuxedomoon's 'Some Guys', and Psychic TV's 'Godstar' (which lies in the vaults). We'll do anything to any song, we don't care, so an EP might be a possibility. We'd like to feature more guest artists, certainly. We need to get out and socialise more first, though.


When you perform live, are your experiences in line with CWNN's aspirations? How do you feel when you expose yourself to the public in this way?
- We love playing live, but the experience varies a lot. We don't seem to have a natural home. Too acoustic for the electro clubs, too electric for the acoustic clubs. We'll play anywhere where there's people. It's always a thrill. I'm not someone that gets bored with playing the same song over and over again. Every interpretation is different because there are different people you are sharing it with. We would love to play in Europe, but sadly the opportunity has not presented itself yet. We're all ears.


How do CWNN work together? Do you write the music together, or does one come with an idea?
- With the exception of the instrumentals, I present the songs to Jon pre-written and they then get squeezed through his filter; his individual style of playing, his dynamics, his cadences. So although they start off 100% mine, they end up being 50% his. In fact, it's interesting to note how many reviews make reference to Jon's influences rather than mine. It just goes to show that arranging a song is as much a creative process as writing it, something I've always believed anyway. Songs also get changed as you develop them. Jon will throw in the odd chord or melody as we're playing the song and I'll say 'that was great, what did you just do?' 'Er, dunno, what did it sound like?' I tend to do all the 'production', simply because I'm slightly obsessive about things such as mixing.


You are very well designed band, with great artwork. How important for you are your aesthetics?
- We can't take all the credit for this. We're lucky enough to be signed to a label (Trakwerx) that places huge importance on the design aesthetics of its bands. Hardly surprising as the label was founded by Jackson Del Rey of Savage Rebublic and 17 Pygmies, who hold a tradition for brilliant cover art. So we compliment each other well. How you present yourself is of course extremely important, as people inevitably buy into the image of a band almost as much as the music. For us, we can't sell ourselves as wreckless, nihilistic rock musicians or sex symbols for teenage girls. We simply need to take a different tack.


Cult With No Name have some stellar followers. The legendary journalist Mick Mercer has promoted them as one of his most precious and surprise discoveries of the last few years, Kramer, who created Shimmy Disc and turned people ears to bands like Galaxie 500, has praised their music, among other well known and respected people. With support like this, it really is a shame that not more people know about the band's activities. Or maybe 'it's better this way', as the late great Billy MacKenzie of the Associates (another big CWNN influence) once said?


Your albums have been received very well, with great critical approval. Does this benefit you? Sometimes the best things are best kept secret.
- We don't always get good reviews, it's just that we keep the bad ones hidden from view! Good reviews are great, and it's wonderful to get approval from people, but these days reviews sell fewer records than they did 30 years ago. Pre-internet, a handful of self-important music journalists writing for the British music press would inform the shopping habits of the nation's youth. These days anyone can be self-important, and the more self-important people there are, the less, er, important they become. For Cult With No Name, we need to put ourselves out there more, not less, but still retain a mystique. For now, anyway.


What are your plans for the future? - Whatever comes our way. We don't really 'plan', we just 'do'. This year could potentially be the busiest yet. We may be contributing to a DVD project based around the works of George Melies, writing the music for a play, recording a new album... or none of those things.


Author: Mileta Okiljevic