They say you should never meet your heroes, but having interviewed – if not necessarily met – a fair few of mine, I’ve either been extremely fortunate, or have chosen my heroes wisely. I’ve been a fan of Raymond Watts’ work as PIG since I first clapped eyes and ears on the band supporting Nine Inch Nails on the Downward Spiral tour in 1994, and I’ve spent the intervening years hunting down as much PIG material as possible.
I tell him this by way of an ice-breaker, as much as anything to get the fanboy shit out of the way early and to shake off some of the anxiety.
He looks – and sounds – genuinely surprised, with an astonished ‘no! You are kidding?’ when I tell him I’ve been a fan for many years, and a ‘wow!’ when I tell him how I came to be aware of his work. ‘That was the last time we played in this country! Shouldn’t we have grown out of this shit by now?’ he laughs. Never! It’s all about showing the kids how it’s done, I tell him.
We’re in York, and we’re seated on a big, plush, red leather-upholstered sofa in a corner of a ‘gentleman’s club’, which is situated above the Fibbers venue. It isn’t yet open, so the place is empty and the only noise is the throb of the soundcheck going on downstairs. The lighting is low, and red in hue. There’s nothing subtle about its reproduction vintage sleaze.
Raymond Watts is a tall man. A very tall man. I am not a tall man. Yet despite his towering presence which is more than purely physical, he has a most charming, disarming nature, which sets me at ease immediately. Even so: in getting down to business with the recording rolling, I look at my printed A4 sheet of questions. They seemed far wittier when I compiled them than they do now as I squint in the half-light. But hey, go for the Q&A, and see where it goes, I think.
I start with a gentle opener, asking what it’s like playing to a ‘home’ crowd, as someone who can genuinely say they’re big in Japan?
“Well, I can – was – maybe. I haven’t been there for a long time, but that’s where the natural constituency used to be. And then of course it became America, because my label, Wax Trax! was in Chicago. But there seemed to be more purchase in Japan, and I was also more interested in Japan. I liked it. It felt weirder. It was so fucking weird: it was like Blade Runner – why is there a train disappearing into the middle of that building? But how does it feel to be playing in the UK? Very weird. I was initially quite trepidatious about doing it. I never worked it so hard here, I lived in Berlin… And then you stop being so up yourself and someone asks you to come and do something. It’s fairly modest, but it’s great fun.”
It’s immediately clear that when he forewarned me there’d be a lot of editing required in my transcription, he wasn’t kidding. But then again, the digressions make for far more interesting interview matter than anything a direct answer might provide. I ask how this double-header tour with Mortiis came about.
“The reason why PIG is doing stuff again isn’t because I’ve been striving away at the coal-face for years and years. It’s been on the shelf for over a decade, as I was doing other stuff, for McQueen and all sorts of fashion houses”, he says. This explains the big furry Cossack hat he’s thrown onto the table and the audacious black faux-fur jacket he will later walk on stage wearing: Watts is a stylish man with an obvious sense of theatre. “…and looking after my kids, and doing other things, and having a full-on fucking ramped-up drug problem, the whole thing was a full-time job not doing music of the PIG variety. This weird series of events collided, which ended up with me being invited to do a little festival in Canada last year.”
One show became five, and thanks to his booking agent, five became twenty, at which point the need for some product to promote became an issue. Following a few phone calls between his label, Metropolis records, and various musicians, lo, ten days later, The Gospel was created. One thing led to another, and, ultimately a tour where the two artists could bear the responsibility and burden on a jaunt around the less obvious venues of the UK. As such, the latest burst of activity, as represented by a brace of EPs, The Gospel, a tour-only collection of offcuts and remixes and an upcoming remix EP is only partially reflective of the actuality. This brings me to the question of the PIG back-catalogue, which is diffuse and widely-dispersed, and almost impossible to track down in its entirety. How much of an impact did touring as the support for Nine Inch Nails in ‘94 have in terms of the band reaching a wider audience?
“It’s very difficult to find our stuff”, he acknowledges. “We’re almost the most wilfully obscure band you could possibly fucking come across. I’m always amazed when people come up and say ‘I’ve got all your things,’ and I say ‘how the fuck did you find your way to that?’ I mean, I haven’t even got all my shit! I haven’t got an American version of fucking Wrecked, for example, ‘cause there was one version in Japan and they have different tracks and I always made things incredibly complicated: ‘I’m going to release that song over here and that one over there…’ Talk about underground. We are genuinely under the fucking ground, it’s very difficult to get our shit.”
He has a habit of leaning close and extending his hands as if to guide his words directly into his interlocutor’s mind, but it’s by no means an aggressive manner or a delivery which suggests a desire to dominate. And while he swears prodigiously, and clearly has a penchant for ‘shit’ as a substitutive noun, he’s effusive and extremely well-spoken and articulate.
I’m wondering if he has a 12” promo for ‘Fountain of Miracles’, which features the amusingly puntastic ‘anal-log’ and ‘anal-hog’ mixes, like the one lurking in my collection, but instead ask about his having been a touring member of Foetus back in the late 80s. JG Thirlwell was involved with a couple of early PIG releases, and I’m curious to know just how much of an influence the mighty master of disaster has been on Watt’s work and his approach to composition.
“Yeah, that was a great band,” he enthuses. “He’s influenced me massively. I mean, if you’re going to be influenced by shit, be influenced by the best shit. He obviously carries an enormous stylistic truckload of things… that whole train wreck of musical styles: he’s got a whole great thing going on, and always has done. I met him when I was doing sound for Neubauten, ‘cause I used to knock around with those guys a lot. I met him in New York, and before I knew it, I was in his band with some of those guys from Swans… It was very fertile territory, working with him on some of the Steroid Maximus stuff. I’d already done PIG and KMFDM. It was good influence.”
I try to read out my next question as naturally as I can, and find myself compelled to suppress an inner wince: Wordplay – particularly alliteration and punning – is a prominent feature of all things Pig. It seems a uniquely English thing, and it never grows tired. What is it about the audacious porcine puns that you enjoy so much?
It raises a chuckle, and I’m relieved. “I like that fact that, honestly, it sounds good.,” he says. “Very simple. But also, it punctures pomposity, without meaning to alliterate again.” It seems he can’t help himself. “I didn’t plan that honestly,” he laughs. “I think when you say it’s quite English, you’re right, I hadn’t thought about that before, but it is quite an English trait. I can’t imagine it coming from an American, ‘cause it’s got low self-esteem and grandiosity rolled into one. It’s daft: it’s pompous, but it’s daft. So it’s got that duality. And it just sounds good. You can say a lot with ‘find it, fuck it, forget it’, ‘red, raw and sore’, ‘prayer, praise, profit’, or ‘vitriol, vice, and virtue’… I’ve always been attracted to slogans. Advertising. Red-tops. The Sun, The Mirror. Imagine being a headline writer: what a fucking job!
Is it fair to say that despite the dark subject matter, there’s a certain element not only of humour, but of parody to your work and its delivery? It’s something that runs a thread through all of your work under the PIG moniker, but the video to ‘Found in Filth’ seems to really revel in the absurdity and excess of rock clichés.
“Yeah, there’s a tremendous attraction in, say, the kind of fluff and nonsense of glam rock: we’re attracted to it. Like the foot on the monitor thing, were attracted to it, but t’s completely daft.
But you have to do it, because you’ve got the chance to do it…
“Exactly!” he ejaculates. “But don’t believe it too much. We’re all too old for that. Do it, but you have your tongue in your cheek. Dark subject matter is incredibly rich and fabulous, but it can get fucking tedious if you’re completely obsessed with it, and you have to puncture your own obsession every now and again.”
He’s one of the only men I’ve ever met who can say ‘fabulous’ and not sound like a cock. It isn’t campness, but there’s a certain flamboyance which radiates from Raymond that has hints of David Bowie it’s accompanied by a glint in the eye which betrays a wry humour and self-awareness.
“Also, it becomes incredibly preachy if you’re just obsessed with pointing the finger or droning on about yourself without any sense of puncturing your pomposity.”
I ask if it would it be fair to describe The Gospel as a concept album, or more as a themed work. On this, he’s unequivocal and concise: “No.”
“A lot of these things are quite happy accidents,” he explains. “It wasn’t all formed, like (adopts butch, brawling cockney tone) ‘right, I’ve got this idea!’ It was much more organic, and I changed things right up to the last minute.” It transpires that ‘Diamond Sinners’ arrived at the eleventh hour, and this was pivotal in the shaping of the album, providing not only the opening track but an idea for how the album should look. “It seems to look like a fully formed concept, but it wasn’t,” he concludes, honestly.
After he explains the very different approaches to album-making in comparing Praise the Lard and The Gospel, it seems appropriate to comment on the evolution of PIG sound and I ask if there a particular period or album he’s especially proud of.
“Like a ‘golden era’?” he asks, amused. “A lot of people say Wrecked was the definitive PIG album of the orchestral industrial metal hybrid thing that was done at that time, that was the most fertile period of this genre or whatever. To me, it’s no different, no better, or worse, than the other ones. I think I took my eye of the ball a little bit at the height of my substance abuse round about 2003, when I did Pigmartyr [issued initially as a Watts solo album, then re-released, rematered as PIG album Pigmata] , which was a bit of a fuck-up, and I didn’t even care it wasn’t the best mastered album in the world, but I was going through some of the words the other day and I was thinking ‘I should rerecord these!’”
I don’t push for the details of his substance abuse: it’s part of the backdrop, the context, but it’s not the headline here. It’s history, and speaking to Watts, who it alert and in good shape, I’m reminded of William Burroughs’ (quite baseless) claims for the regenerative powers of cyclical addiction and withdrawal. But more importantly, Watts doesn’t lend himself to a narrative of a man who faced hell and retuned from the abyss to re-emerge as a glorious renaissance man.
“I’ve become much more word-orientated than I used to be. I think the word is king.”
We continueriffing a good ten minutes after I’ve stopped recording and the interviewis over. After the show, which was ace, he hands me a PIG-branded condom, and I realise I’d omitted my question about this unusual line in merch. Still, I leave happy, and with the enduring impression that Raymond Watts is one of the most thoroughly decent chaps I’ve ever interviewed.