Lifetime Possession: An Interview with Alien Sex Fiend
Buoyed by the liberation of punk but in possession of a library card, the early eighties crucible of goth spawned many delightful deformities. From the camp inflections of Ollie Wisdom’s Paul Stanley-isms, via Sex Gang’s glamour infused tribal swing, to whatever the fuck Nik and Mrs. Fiend were doing. Alien Sex Fiend certainly picked an appropriate moniker. It was some otherworldly shit they tapped into, driving a rocket up the anus of the unwary as they unleashed their theatrical bent over minimalist backing, abstract shapes, fuzzed out guitars and nascent electronica.
They were uncompromising, they were influential, they were big in Japan. Wildly prolific and with a longevity that can only be pinned to the inspiration that runs through the blood of true lifers, their fevered presence at the fringes has been constant.
And now they have a new album. Out now on Cherry Red, Possessed marks the cessation of the longest gap in their catalogue, coming a full eight years after their previous record Death Trip. I got together with the dynamic duo of Nik and Mrs Fiend elaborate on the band’s origins, the new record, and the world of shit they had to navigate to get it to us at all.
To start with, I wanted to ask about the name... It’s so evocative. I was wondering whether, even on a subconscious level, it was inspired by Bowie? A lot of people from your generation seem to have that pivotal moment of witnessing ‘Star Man’ on Top of the Pops as a child and having their world turned upside down by this sexual alien presence.
Nik Fiend: The name wasn’t particularly about that moment. It was chosen more for the combination of the letters... how the words 'Alien Sex Fiend' looked written out on the page. It seemed to jump out at you. That, coupled with the meaning of the individual words.
'Alien' - we’ve all been that, an outsider, as well as the science fiction side of the word.
'Sex' of course! But it also means man/woman/other, and 'fiend', meaning fanatic.
There are lots of different interpretations for those words, endless possibilities. That seemed to fit along with what we were doing musically, which was also about endless possibilities.
Of course, we have a deep respect for Bowie – I have spoken to him on the phone! – and if he hadn’t been around who knows how different things might have been. But there were other elements of weirdness around such as Iggy Pop, Velvet Underground and Alice Cooper, plus films like Clockwork Orange, to name but a few. I think all of that fed into ASF along with the effect of Bowie.
Let’s go back to 82 and the emergence of the scene - those heady early 80’s Batcave days. Can you describe the mood and feel of the zeitgeist? What was it like playing at the Batcave amongst an emerging wave of other acts like Sex Gang Children and Specimen?
Mrs Fiend: Punk had started to fade at the time and the new romantic style didn’t suit a lot of people - it was too much about frilly shirts for some I think (laughs). There were some people who wanted something more hard-edged, something akin to rock or punk rock but different.
Nik Fiend: Yes, it was a change-over period musically. Public Image Ltd, Psychedelic Furs, some of The Banshees stuff, Killing Joke, Joy Division, Bauhaus, Cabaret Voltaire, The Cramps, Suicide, The Birthday Party had all started up and there was a new vibe going on, something was in the air. People were going up different musical paths and there were a number of different elements going on. There wasn’t one particular movement - the bands collectively would be called 'alternative' or 'independent', but there wasn’t one generic sound. Each of those bands were unique in their style.
When we came along, we had a different angle too. We didn’t sit around thinking about it for long, we decided we were 'Alien Sex Fiend' and it all took off very quickly. People were looking for something different and we seemed to fit the bill. A lot of those “new music” people were going to The Batcave – Marc Almond, Youth from Killing Joke, Nick Cave, Sex Gang Children and The Specimen (who ran The Batcave), as well as more established people like Jimmy Pursey (from Sham 69) and Siouxsie and Budgie. It must have been 'meant to be', 'cos everyone was there!
Mrs Fiend: As well as people from bands, there were lots of other creative people who were regulars there - lots of real characters - photographers, clothes designers, journalists, fanzine writers, artists. It was a big melting pot.
I played my first ever gig there - not just as ASF, but ever! I’d never played in any other bands, so to have so many 'celebs' in the audience for your first gig was quite memorable. And of course, we returned to play there a number of times, did special Batcave event nights at places like Heaven & The Lyceum, as well as The Batcave Tour. After that we got gigs on our own, got signed to a record deal, and the next thing we knew, we were off play in the USA. So the Batcave really was a launch pad for us and we were so lucky that happened. It was really a case of being in the right place at the right time.
Nik Fiend: We’d never been to Glasgow let alone on an airplane before ASF, so it was all amazing.
The new album, Possessed. Why now after eight years? Can you tell us about its gestation and inspirations?
Nik Fiend: In 2012, we re-connected with Simon 'Doc' Milton - our guitarist from the late 1980's to early 90's - along with Mat Pod, who we worked with from the mid to late 90's. They had both been doing other things away from ASF and we’d been busy doing various albums, tours, and festivals.
It was a massive coincidence that the reconnection occurred - a whole string of unlikely circumstances led to it, but it immediately felt completely natural and right. That new line up was rocking live and we were just having fun playing shows and enjoying each other's company over a couple of years, including a special 30th Anniversary show in London. By the time we were at the end of 2014, I got a very strong feeling that we should go and record some new songs with that live line-up. That was the main inspiration, the catalyst. Only us in a studio, no other people, no engineer, no producer or anything, just us four. Mrs Fiend and I already had some song ideas, and we got together with Doc and Mat a couple of times to get further basic ideas started before we went into a studio to record.
We had no preconception as to whether this was going to be just a muck about. We just wanted to enjoy creating and playing together. The first session went so great that we booked a second one, and gradually we realised that we had more than enough recorded for an album. Then the shit started happening – I was in a car crash, I was stationary and a car rammed into the back of me, wrote my car off and injured my back. I’m more or less okay now, I was lucky. Then Doc died unexpectedly in September 2016, and of course that stopped everything. It was devastating.
Mrs Fiend: With the new album being on hold, we had a chat with our man at Cherry Red Records. He’d helped with the 2 Classic Box Sets, so we’d got a good working relationship going, and between us we came up with the idea of Fiendology: 1982 To 2017 A.D. And Beyond (a 3 CD anthology to mark the 35-year anniversary of ASF which included 2 songs from the new album, 'Carcass' and 'Invisible'). It was good at that time to have a different project to work on. We could do it in between other things, because by then the next bit of shit had occurred - my mother was in hospital for 6 months and I was heavily involved in that situation. Then she passed away.
Nik Fiend: In the background of all that, my stepfather had Alzheimer’s for a number of years and he passed away just before Christmas 2017.
Mrs Fiend: Blimey, after detailing all this, I can’t believe that we actually got Fiendology released, let alone the new album.
Nik Fiend: It’s a miracle! But having some enforced distance from the album tracks due to all those events helped, strangely. I think it made us re-evaluate. Luckily Doc had recorded so many guitar parts that we had plenty of material to choose from. It was out of character for him because in the past he would do one main guitar track and almost had to be persuaded to add more. But for this album he’d brought about seven different guitars with him, had the amps turned up to 11 and we almost couldn’t shut him up! He was like a man possessed!
After almost forty years and a huge raft or releases, there’s a vitality to your music and uniqueness that is still hard to pin down. To what do you credit your longevity and ongoing inspiration?
Mrs Fiend: It’s only 36 years! Don’t make me even older! (laughs). Oh, okay - 36 and a third if we must be precise. Thanks for the compliments, but we don’t know how or where it all comes from. All I can say is that both Nik and I are involved in every aspect of ASF, so the music and artwork is true to 'us' as people. We like experimenting musically, trying things we haven’t done before, and perhaps that helps keep it fresh and alive. We have a very wide range of musical taste – dub, punk, classical, electronic, glam rock, rock, disco, hip hop, as well as TV and film soundtracks. There are so many different elements that there’s always some new area to explore, and we don’t work to a formula.
Nik Fiend: We never have. ASF isn’t like a normal band; we have special relationships with each other. A lot of it has been 'in-house' - we immerse ourselves in every aspect - writing, playing, recording, mixing, producing, the artwork and so on. It’s not so much about having control, it’s more about getting what we want and what we feel is right for ASF.
Mrs Fiend: Creating is a special process for us, it’s hard if not impossible to define but we don’t do the same thing in the same way all the time. Every song is different... we hear something we like - a drum beat, a sound, a guitar riff, a weird noise - it lights our candles, and we’ll build from there. We don’t lose sight of that initial spark, that’s the key for us. We like to record 'live' as much as we can, even with the electronic elements, and keep that performance aspect with each person working off the other in that moment, I think that helps to keep the energy within that recording. Most of the Possessed tracks were recorded that way.
Nik Fiend: We allow the songs to be what they want to be, they seem to tell me where I need to let them go while doing final mixes.
The artwork for Possessed is again very distinctive. I’ve always admired the fact you took this element into your own hands as you’ve always been a very visual act. Can you tell us about your creative process when using paint and canvass, as opposed to songs and soundscapes?
Nik Fiend: The art and music go hand in hand for me. My art works very much in the same way as the music - it’s very similar, except I do most of it on my own. I don’t plan paintings or drawings out in advance, I have an idea in my head and I let it unfold. It’s about letting yourself go, like with the music, and capturing that. It’s a little different if I’m doing something like illustrated lyrics for a song because I have to consider them fitting into a specific size for the sleeve or booklet, but I’ll listen to different mixes we’ve done and that gives me inspiration.
What can we expect from you next in the wake of this album?
Nik Fiend: I’m not sure at the moment. The last few years as we’ve said have been fairly gruelling and getting Possessed completed was a miracle. It was so frantic hitting deadlines for the artwork after we said to the record company “Yes, let’s go!”. I think we’re both still recovering!
We’re over the moon that so many people are loving the new album so much and getting such a great buzz off it. That’s how we felt when doing it, creating it - that’s why we kept the goal of completing it in our minds throughout all the negative events. We knew that the album had to come out, one way or another. We never take things for granted, so we’re very pleased that it’s making a lot of people happy, And we’ve had amazing reviews - 9/10, 8/10 – wow! We liked it, but we didn’t know if anyone else would get it, so it’s a relief too!
Mrs Fiend: We’ve never known when releasing any of our albums how they’re gonna go, all we can do is to create something we like and keep our fingers crossed! So far, so good, 36 years on! Of course, we would like to get back to doing live shows, but we need to sort out the guitarist situation first, then we’ll see what we can do.
Nik Fiend: Right now, to be honest, just being here is enough!
Finally, do you have any pithy pearls of wisdom you’d like to impart on emerging bands or artists as they find their feet in the world?
Mrs Fiend: I’ve always liked this quote from Lux Interior (The Cramps): “To hell with the radiation, let’s go!”. It works in all sorts of situations.
Nik Fiend: If I’d sat and thought logically about many things I’ve done in the last 40 years, I would probably never have done it. If you don’t know in your own heart what’s important and that you’re gonna do it, come what may, then there’s not much I can tell you. If you’re doing something you believe in, then why listen to anyone who tells you how to become a rock star in 10 easy lessons? If you truly believe in something then nothing and no-one will put you off doing it. For me, it was nothing to do with ego or fame or any of that shit, I just wanted to do music & art – it was my outlet and it’s the most important thing to me…
Mrs Fiend: Ahem! (laughs)
Nik Fiend: I’m talking creatively (laughs). I’m trying to impart some pearls of wisdom here, mate!
Alien Sex Fiend's latest album Possessed is out now on Cherry Red Records.