The Drowning Season
Hearsay #20 / 1999 / Email interview with Neil and Ewen

"You English sure can kill the mood and miss the point sometimes"

If blue is a cold shelter, Mimi Goese probably tiled its roof, papered its walls and straightened its pictures. Her seductive solo debut Soak (Luaka Bop) channelled waves of elation and sadness to amazing effect last year - 'equal parts Jeanne Moreau and Dr Moreau' we pronounced in our review. But even if you don't know that record yet, you may recall the luminous releases with her former band Hugo Largo (Drum and Mettle, recently re-issued on CD) from the 80s and her invaluable contributions to records by Moby and Hector Zazou. Our ensuing chat with her took place by email, although we appreciate that seamail would have been more aesthetically appropriate. Dive in.

Your recording career seems to fall roughly into three segments ...Hugo Largo—Moby—Mimi... Do you think each phase dovetails neatly into the next? Have you consciously planned your career or do you find it better to go with the flow?
I certainly never set out to be in a rock and roll band. I would say that I went with the flow until I was smacked in the face then I took the reins and decided to go with the flow. Make sense?

Do you see yourself primarily as a composer/singer or are other areas of art and performance (film, say) equally important to you? Are you aware of boundaries between artistic activities or does one naturally bleed into another?
The funny thing is, my main interest is live performance, so if you just look at the recordings it looks meagre. Music is where my heart is but I have been in plenty of film, theatre, dance and performance work. Because I do so many factions of the arts this is what I say when people ask me what I do — 'Basically put me on stage and I'm happy.'

I love to perform. I feed off the energy exchange. I have found it to be one of the scariest, most mysterious and psychedelic drugs out there. I get a thrill from performing and the exchange that takes place. I've learned it's more important to concentrate on the process than to be goal-oriented. That carrot of making it big is just dangling there, limp as can be. It doesn't work any more. It never really did, because I never really wanted to make it in the traditional sense. I just wanted to make a living at what I love to do. And I can't seem to talk myself out of the arts.

You've collaborated with an impressive stable of talent over the years—is art necessarily collaborative for you, more fulfilling than working alone? Are there any memorable moments of collaboration you could share with us?
I plan on doing a certain amount of the next recording through the mail. This of course makes my record label nervous, but you just wait and see. So many people have professional recording studios in their homes. Because people know what I do and where I am going I think it will be easy for them to know what to put down. I would love to show off and tell you all who will be involved but I also do not want to be called a liar when someone isn't there at the end. Titillating, right? So I guess I love to work with people but in the end I want to have plenty of time on my own with whatever they give me.

I don't have any stories to share but I feel certain everyone would be shocked to see the circumstances we've had to record under sometimes. You don't know what a shoebox is until you go to Hahn Rowe's studio 'Barrio Chino'. Let's just say he's the only one that has a chair and he hardly uses it and the heating on a cold day is a frame of mind.

How easy is it to transfer Soak to a live setting? Tell us about the people who've been appearing on stage with you lately... (Syd Straw, Marc Ribot, Elliot Sharp et al)— how did you recruit this enviable band of talents and what do they bring to your music?
My band is smoking. Went through an awkward electronics stage, but now we have Hahn on turntables, violin, and guitar; Gary Pozner on samples, keyboards; Koosi on bukala and samples; Dean Sharp on acoustic drums. The beauty of our band is the sensibilities. We all lean toward ambient jungle ('illbient' as they used to say here) and you hear it though we aren't playing it. Even though our drummer plays acoustic, you can hear his imitation of synthetic sounds. As far as guest stars, all the players found a spot although Elliot Sharp and Marc Ribot on one night was a bit guitarish and the vocalist didn't learn the songs which was kinds messy, but I would do it all again. Ben Neill, Elliot, Marc, Stephen Vitiello, Yuval Gabay, Lloop all lurk in the illbient scene so get on hausofouch's mailing list if you want to know where we all will be each Wednesday.

What does liquid (water, whatever), which seems to recur in your writing, signify to you? Something primal? Oblivion? Security?
You are right to know the water thing was intentional and it just so happens that Moby was in the same boat. In 1994, I spent some time in
Brazil and stayed in first-class hotels (film festival) and each place had a pool. And then there was the beach in Salvador Bahia with the cliff to dive off. I got hooked on diving. Swimming, yes, but mostly diving. I would dive in and get out and then dive in and then get out and then over and over and... you don't know me but I can do something for a very long period of time. A tour after that I was known as Mimi-I'm-By-The-Pool. I know water was there before this time. I am rabid for water. But this isn't even it really. You are right to think death, sensualness, expanse... man, to tell you the truth, I could go on way too long about the water thing so I better stop here.

Do you think Into The Blue and When It's Cold I'd Like To Die are thematically two sides of the same coin? Do opposites—love and death, say—attract you? (When It's Cold... is among the most tragic songs we've ever heard by the way; where did it come from and was it hard to sing?)
When It's Cold is actually the skeleton of a very old song. Of course it is a horribly sad story that I want to keep for myself so instead I like to tell this story: I was working on my taxes — just getting receipts in line and tallying — and was listening to Everything Is Wrong. First off, I never used to listen to my music. I don't remember ever putting Hugo Largo on my stereo of my own volition and just now enjoy listening to Mimi, but because Everything Is Wrong was Moby's record, I was listening. So I'm sitting there with only half an ear when in the middle of When It's Cold, I burst into tears. I'm not a big crier and I wasn't even listening and of all things in the middle of my taxes... it makes me laugh.

Aurally, Soak is often free-floating, the lyrics often dreamlike or magical realist and the music is a kind of electronic jazz, with tracks unfettered by conventional song structure. Is atmosphere more important to you than sense? Do you feel part of a musical landscape existing beyond the confines of your own head?
Two things that I use a lot are what I see and my speed writing. By ‘what I see’ I mean this—if I close my eyes for even two seconds I see something. Something is always there. It often has the look of a movie but in the last two years I've been aware there are at least three layers always there. It's easier to see the layers when I'm tired. The layers are usually one that is clear, very standard movie-like action and another one usually slightly to the left and behind, in orange and black (like negative black and white) and those images are still identifiable but it has cell-like speed that runs through it and the action is faster. Then the last level is usually either very small and contained to the upper left and far away or super-imposed over the entire field and this level can be just shapes. Cheech. This is the first time I have tried to write this down. I dunno. It all happens so fast. It may not make sense so I will say this. Yes, I can tell you what colour hair, the lighting in a room, the action of the alien, or let's say the music video that goes with each song in my head. And the drag is it is very hard to change these images which makes it hard to change the song.

The other influence is speed writing or automatic writing. Piece Of Cake and Believer came entirely from speed writing. And speed writing probably comes from those images sometimes. Your questions make my work sound so interesting...

Speaking of magical realism (as we kind of were), tell us about your brush with one of its greatest practitioners, Salman Rushdie...
I'm gonna cheat here and take some excerpts from another interview I did. I can type, but this is a lot more work than just babbling!

I sang with Hector Zazou at a crazy show in England that included Laurie Anderson (so great you would be surprised how nice she is), Lou Reed (self-absorbed), Bob Wilson, Philip Glass (absentmindedly friendly), Bill T Jones (killer dancer), Michael Nyman (I didn't recognise him afterward and he asked me if I sing with other people and I said, 'who are you?’, Ryuichi Sakamoto (blew everyone else off the stage) and the best was Salman Rushdie. Rushdie was too funny. I ran into him months later at a David Byrne concert and he remembered me and kept going on about my performance — 'you were fucking amazing! How do you do that with your voice?' No lie. I was so shocked. He went on and on, introducing me to his friends with his arm around me. My favourite was that he said ‘can I find you again?’ so I gave him my card. I love that Rushdie is worried that he will not be able to find me. But now he is married and free so I haven't heard from him.

Tell us about your working relationships with your co-producers, Hector Zazou and Hahn Rowe.
Hector Zazou was very inspirational. He got the best vocals out of me yet. We've done a lot of work since doing Soak together. I've sung his stuff around in
Europe and have a song on his latest CD (I don't know the name of it, but it may have the word 'roses' in the title). Out in May. Hahn is the genius behind the music but I tell him what to do. I am inherently bossy. Hector and I fought a lot at first because he expected a chick, I dunno, some other kind of chick. This is what I know: I have a great sense of smell. I think this translates into a great natural instinct. I know when a song has the right character and I am impossible to shake sometimes.

I read with interest that you listen to a lot of opera... what in particular has made an impression on you? Does anything from the form manifest in your own work?
No one is really interested in my listening to opera but you and where did I admit to that anyway?

What kind or relationship does your conscious mind have with your unconscious? Do you ever dream songs?
I must admit, I only understand what my songs are about when I stop to analyse them or read questions like yours or listen to someone else's interpretation. I'm in the dark when it comes to understanding the process. Someone wrote their graduate thesis on me. True story. I didn't read it for a long time coz it just seemed weird. I mean, I'm not dead yet. But when I did, it was fun to see some of their insights. Stuff that was in my work that I didn't recognise and I'm reading along thinking, 'Yeah. Cool. OK, I see that.' I'm not saying I'm retarded. It's just that I only know how to facilitate the flow of creativity... hell if I know where it comes from or what it is about.

If you were offered the challenge of writing and performing a James Bond theme, would you accept?
When Hugo was alive, I needed to have a say in absolutely everything. Partly out of fear and the desire for control and partly plenty of other things. But also partly because I had some notion of integrity. I turned down too many gigs because I was an 'arteest', including a Budweiser jingle for the radio. Now I am broke and have been broke for 20 years. This 'not selling out' does not pay, I can tell you that much. So the answer is not only 'yes' but especially 'yes' to the idea of a James Bond song. Tina Turner did an exceptional job on the song recently.

What makes you happy?
Two things that I like to think of to make me completely fall over:

1. They're training dogs to sniff out cancer.

I told this to someone when he told me he was contemplating suicide. I pleaded, 'No, no you can't. They're training dogs to sniff out cancer. You can't miss shit like this' and on and on of the mysteries blah blah... and he wrote that as a note to himself and tacked it above his bed. ('He' being the 'soy bomb' guy from the Grammys show, if you happen to have heard about him. See what the world would have missed?)

2. The Hubble telescope went into deep space and found an estimated 50 to 60 billion galaxies in one square inch of the night sky you might see with your naked eye. Fall down.

I told this to an English lover while in bed and he said, 'Is that an English billion or an American billion?' Man, you English sure can kill the mood and miss the point sometimes.

I love thinking about that because it makes me feel so small and stupid and that we humans do not have a clue and will never understand. In fact, that is the only thing I feel absolutely sure of — I will never understand.

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