IAMX interview – breakdowns and breakthroughs
Jul 2018 04

Ex-Sneaker Pimps singer Chris Corner’s alter-ego IAMX is back with his dark electronic fusion of music genres. After releasing his eighth album “Alive in a New Light”, Chris is hopeful after some dark years and his personal battle against clinical depression and chronic insomnia. Release met up with the brainchild of IAMX before his show in Hamburg and had a chat about being difficult to work with, a brighter future and having ”a Skinny Puppy”, Cevin Key, to look after his puppy while being on tour.

London – Berlin – LA

Chris Corner has been exceptionally productive during his whole career with IAMX. The pioneering dark electronic album “Kiss + Swallow”, to some part meant to be the fourth Sneaker Pimps album, was released in 2004 and has been followed by eight additional releases including two remix albums, “Dogmatic Infidel Comedown OK” and “Everything Is Burning (Metanoia Addendum)”. And that doesn’t take into account the wide array of singles and EP:s, or his collaborations with other artists. Or his video work – last year he directed Gary Numan’s “I Am Dust” video. The last five years have seen five album releases (including “Everything is Burning”) alongside four world tours and more than 150 shows, making IAMX an internationally revered band.

After struggling with mental illness for a long time, Corner has managed to come at peace with his long-term clinical depression and conquered his personal abyss after leaving his residence in Berlin to settle in Los Angeles. The move across the Atlantic prior to starting his work on the critically acclaimed “Metanoia” album not only brought with it an escape route from his illness, it also came to involve new and interesting collaborations. For instance, on the new album tattoo star Kat von D joins Corner on no less than four songs.

Your two latest albums feels connected, both in terms of lyrics and harmonies, where you start off in darkness on “Metanoia” and end up in some sort of glimpse of hope on “Alive in New Light”. Are they connected in any way?

- Oh, most definitely connected. This album, “Alive in New Light”, I see as a kind of beacon, a symbol, of a new more clear, positive era for me. It has been three or four years of private struggle and going through clinical depression and other issues I talked about on “Metanoia”, having a breakdown and then a breakthrough, going through a crisis and then some kind of rebirth which is what “Metanoia” really represented. Those few years were quite turbulent and it feels like I’m at a point where I put most of those tools into action and I have managed to balance out. It’s a really hopeful album from that point of view. The message is more uplifting

Dragging the Kat out

On the album tattoo star Kat von D is with you on four songs. What is the story behind you collaboration? The reason for asking is that in her other collaborations many critics unfairly say that she is brought onboard because it will be good promotion for the band but I also happen to know that she has is a huge fan of goth rock and electronic music, and a fairly good piano player. So how did you meet and started to collaborate?

- I’m not really a social media kind of guy. I do it for the project because it’s important for the project, for promotion, but personally I don’t really surf. Somebody brought to my attention that she had posted some interesting slo-mo videos of herself to IAMX music. I looked at it and I really liked the concept and I could see that she got the message of the music.

The idea of bringing someone like her in, I quite liked the risk of it. You know, my fans are really protective about the project and were suspicious but really, she is a classically trained pianist. And she has a beautiful smoky low voice which I thought could be a really nice contrast to my weird high voice and everything just fit for me. I’m not cynical enough to think that that really would elevate IAMX to a level anymore than it already is. It hasn’t, it’s not that IAMX is going to play stadiums because Kat is involved, it’s not really like that. And really, the message is all ours so it’s really just dragging her out of her huge famous fashion iconic world and kind of getting her dirty. She gets it, she’s a very grounded, lovely, driven, unusual freak just like we are – it works, it just works. She really fits into the framework of IAMX, she does, I can see that.

I don’t collaborate very often and I am also very suspicious of that world. I have been very careful to avoid a lot of commercial decisions in my life, and that hasn’t necessarily been financially good for me, but in the end I can’t really stomach that kind of way of promoting myself so really, she’s just Kat to me now.

Meaning that there might be more to come from you and Kat then?

- I think so and I hope so. She’s doing her own music and wants me to get more involved vocally and maybe I will sing on some of her tracks. But I’m actually more interested in making videos for her and bringing a sort of visual element to her world that I think that she can benefit from.

You met her in Los Angeles, your home since 2015, and you have lived in London and Berlin before that. Have these geographical changes had any impact on the IAMX sound, your musical direction and how the music is expressed on different albums?

- Los Angeles is sometimes more electronics, sometimes more rock. This sort of placing is challenging but I don’t really associate the sound with any of those cities. Maybe Berlin had the most impact because it was a time when I really just started – properly started IAMX. I’d done most of “Kiss + Swallow” in London but I felt that I could really be myself in Berlin and go to the clubs and learn some of the trait and put it into practice, so maybe that had the most electronic impact on my work. The rock thing I think comes from my song writing. I was initially a guitarist and I feel most comfortable writing songs on guitar so I think that structure comes from quite a traditional way of writing.

But I think they definitely have had a huge impact on my private life which means, by default, they will affect my work. I wouldn’t say I developed a Los Angeles sound. In fact, most of the time I spent making the record in the desert which is about two hours from LA. Again, I’ve always created a bubble, I think I’ve always needed to be in an intimate dislocated bubble from reality to make these records. I think that’s kind of what they are to me anyway.

Collaborative work: “It’s still difficult to let go”

Early in the IAMX career Corner frequently collaborated with other bands and artists making remixes or producing their albums. Robots in Disguise, XP8 and Moonbotica are a few examples of bands being embraced by Corner’s production and remixing skills but there are only a few “direct” collaborations before Kat von D. Preferably, Corner collaborate with his childhood heroes.

You have worked with different people over the years such as your “hero” Gary Numan – as a support band, being a video creator of “I Am Dust” and he remixed a few of your songs as well – and Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran on “The Chauffeur”. Are there other, similar collaborations planned for or anyone you would love to collaborate with if it is possible?

- Musically I would say I feel safe with childhood heroes. I’m a bit of an ignorant consumer of music, I don’t really know what the hell is going on in the world – I don’t care so much. But obviously there are things I grew up with that I’m still very passionate about. When I was a child my uncle would play me a lot of David Sylvian’s music, the Japan guy but his solo stuff which was more unusual, so I grew up with quite odd music. I think he is still the hero in the same way like Gary Numan, who has maintained his independent feeling his whole career even though he’s been huge and famous but still, the concept, the attitude, is very grounded and I love those kinds of people. David Sylvian seems like another such person, so in a way I think I would like to collaborate with him, it would be quite nice.

And visually; I’ve thought about making a small film, but again I think it will be with writers because conceptually I’m terrible (laugh). I can’t really write narratives, I’m useless, but with visuals I instinctively have a feeling for it so I have to find a good writer – and on the top of my head I don’t know anybody.

But seen from an artistic point of view, aren’t collaborations also a way, depending on how you see it, to lose control over your own creations when you let someone tear your ideas apart and put ‘em together in completely new ways? How does it affect you as an artist?

- It’s difficult. It’s really difficult to me. I think one of the reasons why I created IAMX as a very intimate, private solo project was to avoid a lot of those triggers, of questioning of self-confidence and I can make mistakes privately and I could have the time to experiment. What came out of it in the end was actually quite powerful, in a way I didn’t really expect, which has given me more confidence over the years.

I know I’m not really a team player, occasionally someone that I adore I will try to work with, but it’s still difficult to let go, I mean even to let go of my own material, putting it out – it’s always a challenge. I would love to change it all [the “Alive in New Light" tracks] right now and remix the bass drum on this or that because it wasn’t loud enough or didn’t have enough sub – you know, it’s endless. But that is the deal. Part of this sort of psychological struggle of making a record is to be able to let go. But yeah, I’m still working on that.

But to remake everything on “Alive in New Light” because it’s difficult to let go could be seen as criticism of the original ideas, it’s not something unique for IAMX. Quite a few artists want to remake or remix their albums to express the songs differently. What is your thought on that?

- There is three phases; there is “the excitement for making something new” phase, there is the middle phase of “everything is shit, I have nothing” phase and then there is the practical phase, the technical phase, of just completion. I think all the emotional stuff is gone by the second phase for me and if I’ve made it to that point, I got a record but I must admit that the technical side sometimes consumes a bit too much and if I’m honest I sometimes overwork things.

As you say, because we have the possibility, the technical possibility, to change things right at the last second now, when do you stop? I still don’t know when to stop but there is a point where you’re just burnt out, where there are no more ideas and you are going backwards.

Artistic anxiety: “I’ve always created a bubble”

Corner’s struggle with mental illness that emotionally ripped him apart for many years is common among artists in different professions. A wide range of famous creative artists – not only musicians – are known to have suffered from terrible bouts of depression, such as Chris Cornell (Soundgarden/Audioslave), Sinéad O’Connor, Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys) and Ian Curtis (Joy Division), in some cases with tragical outcomes.

It’s no secret that artists and highly creative/talented people appear to be much more susceptible to depression because they tend to be highly conscious, reflective and aware, “and it seems they’re inclined to spend far more time thinking over their failures, fears, insecurities and disappointments than most people” (Matherne, 2015). In the case of IAMX it halted the band almost completely.

And isn’t that one striking feature among artists, that many feel emotionally torn apart by changing between everyday lives and exposing ones most intimate feelings in their artist role on stage every night? What is your take on that, to travel between these different worlds? In a way it is an “on and off” thing to manage.

- Yes, it is! That’s part of the reason to my clinical depression. That’s the main issue, this psychological switch, the transition. Like now when you are talking to me, on this tour and I’m now comfortable, but two weeks ago I wasn’t. And you continuously ask yourself why you’re putting yourself on the slab and why you’re doing these things. But in the end, it is the arrogance in the child that won’t shut up and I’ve always been doing it and I’m still doing it so why do I keep questioning why I’m doing it.

It’s just a silly thing that, really, if you put it into practice I think you could control, and should be able to control, it. It is not really suffering, I think it’s too baby-like to say that it’s a suffering state to be in. I think it’s more about just be a grown-up about it. A lot of artists put too much pressure on themselves, I know I do but I’ve become more at ease with that.

Is it possible to not put too much of yourself into the music? That is, can you keep a healthy distance to your artist role or is it simply impossible, or not even something an artist should try to achieve?

- I become completely consumed of whatever I’m doing so if I’m on stage I am one hundred percent present in the moment, almost like in a trance-like state. That way I can actually enjoy it more, to be completely consumed by it. Yes, there is this feeling of burning the candle at both ends but also there is an elevating feeling to it when you feel the kind of unique energy you get from that kind of exchange, you don’t get it anywhere else in everyday life. It can be uplifting, no it is uplifting and I’m very fucking lucky to be able to tap into that energy into this one little life I has – I’m lucky with that. But yes, sometimes I just want to be out in the desert not talking to anybody, forever. But you’re right, it’s a transition, sometimes a rough transition.

A Puppy caring for the puppy

There are still talk about a reunion with Liam Howe, Chris’ colleague in Sneaker Pimps and involved as a studio keyboarder on IAMX songs. The expectations reached new levels after a cryptical twitter by Liam in 2015 that many fans interpreted as a sign of a near comeback for Sneaker Pimps. Furthermore, moving to Los Angeles has also brought with it new friendships, and a particular friendship with no less than Skinny Puppy’s Cevin Key himself.

I know that Sneaker Pimps split up because you were tired of where Sneaker Pimps ended up and that you never intended to become that big, and that “Kiss + Swallow” to some extent were intended to be Sneaker Pimps material. Liam has also been involved in IAMX, for instance on “The Unified Field” album why it feels like there could be an opening for a return.
In 2015 Liam twittered about a possible return of Sneaker Pimps. Will it happen and will it be preceded by new material?

- We tried, we tried. The excitement comes in waves. You know, Liam lives a very different life compared to me. He has a very settled family life, he produces in a structured way every day so bringing us together is quite awkward. I’m a little awkward to work with, he’s awkward to work with.

When we work together there is absolutely no problem but the politics of making it work is a nightmare actually (laugh) so I gave up on really trying to drive it and I think he has done the same. It’s like “if you do it, I’ll do it” and I would say “no, if you do it, I’ll do it”. There is stuff there but there needs to be some kind of external force I think, that brings it all together.

You also seem to have a connection to Skinny Puppy’s Cevin Key and the rumor says that he cares for your dog when you’re on tour. Tell us more about your friendship? Amongst all, will you ever do some music together?

- It is true, yes he looks after my dog (laugh). We have already started on a track which is a lovely track, that he sent me. I almost finished it up for the album but it wasn’t conceptually correct for the album, it came quite late, and we’ve talked many times about messing around. I’ve been to his incredible modular studio and stolen some of his pieces (laugh), it’s amazing actually, and he cares for my lovely Pomeranian when I’m away so we have a close friendship.

I think it’s just a matter of time before we figure out what we’re going to do but it will happen, I think in this next phase in between the next IAMX album. I’m looking forward to do other things like the instrumental stuff that I did. We will do something, yes!

Photos for Release by: Jule Rog ©