Great Lost Bands no.7: The Make-Up (with an interview!)

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I was delighted by the announcement last Wednesday that The Make-Up would reform for ATP's I'll Be Your Mirror yet also surprised by the fact that some people I was talking to didn't know who they were! Their wikipedia entry is pretty good at filling in the facts.
From my experience I can tell you that in 1997 they played a storming gig in the Duke of York in Belfast which was so oversubscribed and raved about that it passed into local music legend. I was there and it was quite an experience. Iain Henderson, who wrote for my fanzine The Weedbus, went down early and managed to grab a chat with the band, which I am shamelessly reproducing in it's entirety below....

This interview dates from 1998 and first appeared in Weedbus fanzine, issue 13
Do I really need to mention The Nation of Ulysses here? No? Okay then. Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for Washington DC's Make Up. Since forming in February 1995, Make Up have released three damn fine albums, as well as a handful of singles, but you'll know this already. I talked to Ian F. Svenonius and James D. Canty before their storming gig in the Duke of York. Considering Ian's rather energetic behaviour on stage and the fact that they're near the end of a long stretch of dates, I began with the only question a concerned journalist in my position can.

How are your knees?
Ian: "My knees? (laughing) No, no, no, I've all new moves, man. It's the hips and the arched back. Yeah, it's more simian and less baptismal really."

How has the tour been so far?
I: "We've had a lot of different digestive experiences."
James: "Yeah, it's great, man. The continent it's beautiful."

What do you think of the small stage here?
I: "Not a lot of space. I think the acoustics might actually be very good. That wooden ceiling over there."
J: "We like the concept of playing small places. It definitely creates a better atmosphere."
I: "Like Sammy Davis Jr, you know, he was the greatest entertainer of his time. He just played clubs all the time. He never played arenas. He wasn't so cynical as to try and get as much money as he could from a single night. Yeah, those massive rock concerts have a fallacious side to them."

Do you think you could play larger places?
I: "we could with the same extent of success that people do, which is unsuccessful. You know, you go to these things and they're more like idiot pall gatherings. They really have very little... the featured group becomes an aside."

Could you see yourselves on a major label?
I: "I don't know, you know, 'major label', that's one of those terms like drugs. It's something I've never really understood.
I mean basically, you know, we only want to be involved with things, people that we like, things that create things that we like. If you mean the Sony corporation (pointing out my dictaphone) I don't know the last time they put out a good record, so I wouldn't really trust the way they approach making a record, you know what I mean? (his face getting closer and closer to the dictaphone) To me they just make odious filth, but I don't want to use the term 'major label', I mean, what's that? People have to start thinking about the terms they use, because if you're going to talk about major and minor labels, all you're thinking about is petty bourgeois and major bourgeois and as far as I'm concerned there's nothing essentially noble about either capitalist venture, you know what I mean?"

Is there anybody you feel an affinity with?
I: "Lungleg, we've played with. And Royal Trux. They recorded our new record which is coming out in October. Fugazi and another DC band called the Warmers. Blonde Redhead."

What do you think about the seemingly constant comparisons with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion?
I: "I think that that's fallacious because I think... I've never heard them. I've never really heard any other rock bands like us. We're from the gospel tradition. They're from the blues tradition, like rock n roll is. Naturally I've heard that they are fantastic. But we're steeped in the gospel tradition. Rock n roll is just a foreign language."

I even read one early review (of 'Destination: LOVE; Live! at Cold Rice') where they thought you were Jon Spencer.
I: "They have a lot of trouble with us black-haired types!"

Make Up have also been compared to James Brown and MC5 a lot.
I: "Sure"

In what aspects do you think?
I: "We're gospel as far as I'm concerned. Our shows have a lot more to do with a gospel ritual than any rock show. We don't step ourselves in the tradition of rock n roll. We're not constantly making references. We're not defined by rock n roll. We're not a homage to other rock bands. That's really limited and boring. What's rock n roll? Rock n roll doesn't mean anything. It's a term that doesn't mean anything. It has no parameters, not like salsa music. We're part of the gospel tradition. We speak in sermons, catharsis, call and response. It's a spirit of oration and voodoo ritual combined. That's what gospel is."

What about the outfits Make Up wear onstage?
I: "It's a means to an end ad that's what we use it as. A device to submerge individuality to the greater idea. We're uniform fetishists."

Is there anybody more stylish?
I: "Than us? No."

Does anybody even come close?
I: "Oh, Lungleg, who else? The Dirty Birds."

You're not wearing the suits you wore last year?
I: "No, we've new suits."

What's the new stage wear?
I: "You'll see."

No sneak preview?
I: "No chance! (laughing) We have to maximise our effectiveness."
J: "He's gonna write it anyway so we should tell him how we interpret it. An ode to what?"
I: "Our outfits may be misinterpreted. We're kind of a homage to Mao sensibility, a cultural revolution, but synthesized with a Beatles at Shea Stadium thing. For us there's two similar strains going on, which is the subversion of the individual, the idea of the communal mass mind, the insects, the Beatles, the bug, the Mao..."

What happens after this tour?
I: "Well, we go on tour in America from July and our new record comes out in October."

What about this new record?
I: "It's more constructed. It's a more studio constructed record. It's produced by Jennifer and Neil from Royal Trux. They took it and shaped it."
J: "We're going to be releasing a couple of singles before it comes out."

What can we expect tonight?
I: "I don't know. Anything can happen now we see ourselves as sort of providing an infrastructure and the night is responsible for everything else."

How long do you see Make Up lasting? Is that something you have thought about?
J: "Like an expiration date or something?"
I: "Well, we figure a lot of people retire into the church from rock n roll, because it's not subject to the whims of the market place. So that's what we're doing right now, so we've basically already retired. This is our retirement. The church always provides steady work."

Interview by Iain Henderson

and in case you don't know what the Make-Up sound like, here's a video.

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