Inspired by glam rock and emboldened by the chaos of punk, The Sisters of Mercy emerged during a time when bands were rewriting the copy book. Over the course of just three studio albums, First, Last And Always, Floodland and Vision Thing, they forged a highly distinctive sound which has continued to influence the course of underground rock in subsequent decades.
Thirty years on from their last release, The Sisters of Mercy continue to be booked as the headlining act for festivals around the world, with singer Andrew Eldritch serving as their sole original member (following a spate of well-documented disputes with former members and record company heavies).
A notoriously prickly character, Eldritch is known for his cutting cynicism and bone-dry sense of humour. Ahead of our interview, I am downing red wine and preparing for a difficult ride ahead on Eldritch Boulevard. As our call gets underway, however, I’m pleased to encounter a chatty, affable Eldritch with much to say about David Bowie, Roxy Music and the band's new material.
Andrew, thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to me.
Yeah, like I had a choice…
Well that was going to be my first question - how do you feel about being interviewed? Because at one point you hadn’t done an interview in over 10 years.
Given that we don’t have trouble selling tickets, I’m not entirely sure why the promoter is so keen to have me talk to people. But, because we would like to be invited to Australia more often, like a lot more often, I am trying to show a willingness.
You seem like a nice man, it’s nothing personal, but yes - in an ideal world I would not be doing this, especially on a day off when I’m supposed to be resting my voice and shaking off a cold. Right now I’m in sunny Munich, so life’s not so terrible.
Are you constantly fielding the ‘When will we see another Sisters of Mercy album’ questions?
Yep, I’ve been getting it for the last 28 years.
I was reading an interview where you were interviewing David Bowie for Rolling Stone Magazine in 1995…
A very lovely and graceful gentleman, by the way.
At the time, did he know who you were or your music?
Maybe, but I don’t think it would have concerned him in the slightest. In his later years he jumped on a lot of bandwagons, I think, and I didn’t like his records very much. I don’t think mine was a bandwagon he would have wanted to jump on. We’ve always been outsider fashion.
There was an interesting moment during the interview when you asked Bowie if he thought Outside was going to push the envelope the way Low did - he replied "I don’t think so", and you asked "Well why put it out then?". I was wondering if this might be why we haven’t seen another release from Sisters?
No, we’re not in the same business. I always thought, because I grew up with him, that Bowie was in the business of pushing the envelope. We grew up in a band through punk and were in the business of reintegrating stuff. We were saying ‘No, The Rolling Stones aren’t dead, Hawkwind isn’t dead’ and we were trying to reintegrate that stuff back into punk. But Bowie was on the other edge of the galaxy and expanding it.
At the time of the interview you thought Outside sucked. Do you still feel the same way about it?
And what about his later albums?
They just leave me cold; they weren’t made for me. Like I said to him about Outside, ‘I am clearly not your demographic!’. There’s probably nothing wrong with it, but for me, I just don’t see what it could possibly do for me. I still don’t really understand why Rolling Stone sent me there to interview him.
Did they pay well?
They paid expenses. I had a few nice days in a very sunny hotel room in Los Angeles, but I did notice that even in David Bowie’s hotel room, in the Chateau… still cockroaches.
Oh yeah, in the middle of the interview there’s cockroaches walking lively across the floor. I thought, ‘Well you could be David Bowie, but you still got cockroaches’. Welcome to the world of rock n’ roll.
How do you feel about vinyl becoming a popular medium again?
Well it’s not really, both CDs and vinyl are dead compared to downloads and streaming.
Has the ubiquity of online sharing had any bearing on your decision not to release new material?
Well, it’s certainly part of it. If I want to put three or four of us in the same room for 9 months and spend a lot of money and energy on a record, it kind of behoves me paying those people for being there, adding their talent and their skill and their nervous energy and lack of being with a girlfriend or boyfriend. I just can’t justify it. I can’t make them do that. I mean, I’d like to make them do that, but I can’t.
A lot of people are collaborating remotely via the internet now, rather than getting together physically to record. How do you feel about that? Could that work for you?
We kind of tried that and we really didn’t achieve much. We recently got a new guitar player in the band – an Australian named Dylan. He lives quite close to where I live with my girlfriend in Belgium, and the very fact that we can be in the same room together has suddenly generated a massive amount of new material.
So you are actually working on new material?
Right now we have 16 songs in the pipeline on top of those newer ones we play live. We get to spend a lot of time together on the tour bus too and we are banging out stuff. It’s very exciting, I have to say!
I’ve read many interviews where you talk about glam rock and its influence on you. I was wondering how you feel about Roxy Music?
Initially I didn’t like them very much because my sister’s boyfriend was big on them at the time and I thought he was a bit of a dick. But as time went on, I got to appreciate them more and more and more... For Your Pleasure, obviously, but I’m also a big fan of Viva! because the live version of ‘If There Is Something’ is just monstrously good. When everything breaks down and then there’s that liltingly wonderful sax line and then the bass drum kicks in… monstrous!
Did you ever get to see them live?
No, I didn’t. I was too young to be allowed out for those ones.
What was the first live show you remember going to and thinking 'Wow this is amazing'?
Probably Patti Smith, Blondie or Television. But the best gig I ever saw was Iggy Pop live at The Music Machine, some place in Camden that’s now a disco.
Have you listened to Iggy’s new album?
No, I haven’t had the time, and I don’t listen to much music anymore. To be honest, I spend my spare time watching very strange films.
I read that you love Japanese films in particular.
Well, if I’m not feeling fragile, then the works of Takeshi Kitano. They are bleak but they are good. I especially love the one where he doesn’t speak for the first 30 minutes of the film.
Any chance you’ll try that yourself on stage?
I would love to. I’ve already started. A few years back I learned American sign language so I could do one song entirely in mime.
How is that going?
Nobody noticed so I stopped doing it!
I was wondering with The Sisters of Mercy logo, how did that originally come about? Were there other designs that didn’t make it?
Actually no, there never were any others. Nobody has ever asked me that before, that’s a very good question. We made t-shirts before we made records, before we even did a gig. I thought t-shirts were the key to this, and I have not been proven wrong (laughs).
Strangely enough, there was never another contender. There were a lot of contenders for band names that we didn’t pick, but never a contender for the logo.
How did it come about?
Just from a book of anatomy. I thought it would be good to unwrap the head, peel back the skin and see into the skull.
And the star, how did that come into it?
Because we’re left wingers - always were, always will be.
Do you still have any of the leather jackets from the music videos or the early live days?
Yeah, I still have my Chicago police one. I even have the jacket from the ‘This Corrosion’ video, but it got so rained on that it got rock solid and stiff. You can’t even put it on now. I think you’d have to dip it in Vaseline for a decade to soften it back up again.
Did you ever have any Spinal Tap moments on or off stage?
All of them!
Can you share one?
All of them (laughs). Any rock band will tell you that film is a documentary. Some people, in fact, tried to sue them because they thought the film was based on their story.
So you got lost backstage?
Oh, deeply. Our American touring company that we deal with is actually called ‘Hello Cleveland’. Obviously that film was all about me and I should actually sue them!
But Spinal Tap don’t wear the aviators.
Oh god, I’m trying to get rid of the aviators.
Actually I noticed your sunglasses are getting smaller these days. Why is that?
Because I want my head to look bigger.
And finally, what would you like to be remembered for?
(Long pause) …I’ve always been really nice to cats.
The Sisters Of Mercy kick off their Australian/New Zealand tour on October 25th
Tickets are available HERE