The Virgin Prunes – interview – The Bob (1983)

Interview by Nick Cucci
from The Bob, May 1, 1983

Nick: Let’s start with the Heresie package. I get many images, especially about art and religion. What is the relationship between the written material in Heresie and the recorded songs?

Gavin: First of all, there is one thing I want to make clear about Heresie. Heresie was collaboration between the Virgin Prunes and that organization who put it out, Invitation au Suicide. So the actual text in Heresie is not by us. How it worked was this: The guy who runs that organization contacted us and said he had an idea for a project he wanted us to do. The idea of the project was that of insanity and violence. We could record anything we wanted and give it to him. Then he and a couple of people would listen to it over a period of a month or two. They would be inspired by listening to Virgin Prunes to write and get text. Right. So, we’re responsible for the text, but we’re responsible for the text through other people. I don’t agree with a lot of the text, but I see it as how other people see us. And Invitation au Suicide is French, the French are very arty. We don’t consider ourselves as being arty. I don’t know what art is, more to the point. There are many things in this world which are really beautiful and which aren’t considered art in the common sense.

Nick: Give me an example.

Gavin: People. I don’t know, you can’t just say ‘This is art’ and put it up on a pedestal. There’s art everywhere. We’ve no time for art. On Heresie there’s ‘Down the Memory Lane’. It’s one of our favorite pieces. That is the Virgin Prunes’ personality. It is our most… we wrote that for ourselves and recorded it for ourselves. It’s not a joke. But it is for our amusement. The music is really heavy, really subversive. It is our music and if you take it out of context… it’s crazier than Cabaret Voltaire. Heresie is taking things out of context. In songs like ‘We Love Deirdre’ and ‘Go ‘t’ Away Deirdre’, that’s about a spastic we know. This little girl, she’s a lovely kid: Deirdre is her name. She’s spastic and six years old. She talks to me and Guggi. We play with her. She plays this game: ‘What’s your name? What’s your name?’ She plays this game with us all the time. So we recorded it, brought it out of context and it goes over. We’re being mind-fuckers on Heresie.

Nick: Off your …If I die, I die album, I get this picture of primitive man, especially from the back cover photo. Also a family thing with ‘Sweethomeunderwhiteclouds’.

Gavin: On the album, pieces like ‘Sweethomeunderwhiteclouds’, ‘Bau-Dachöng’, ‘Ulakanakulot’, ‘Decline and Fall’, they’re dealing with things which are felt more than seen, like what’s inside. It’s more of an emotion and has nothing to do with material things. The other side of the album, with tracks like ‘Baby turns blue’ and ‘Caucasian Walk’ are about things we are amongst, everyday things. But, as you were saying, it is primitive, but not primitive. It’s the inside emotions and that goes to way back. Man may be different now, but since way back man always had that inner feeling, sort of a spirit. We couldn’t really call it primitive. When we do a cover, we try to push it to explain the music. So it’s more like saying ‘a togetherness’ without, say, a brick wall or fire, which are man-made, and on the other side there’s just nature: the earth and the trees and man and all that.

Nick: How does the song ‘Pagan Love Song’ fit in with this scheme of things?

Gavin: ‘Pagan Love Song’ is a love song looking at things, not pagan as religious. But pagan as… I see children as being pagan. If a child sees something, if a child sees sweets, it just goes and takes it. So that sort of attitude is pagan. ‘Pagan Love Song’ is saying, emotionally people have feelings for somebody, and instead of just going for it, they go all around this trip. But by the time they get there, it’s lost. ‘Pagan Love Song’ is just sort of… be savage.

Nick: Religion is a major overtone in your work.

Gavin: People pick up on that since we’re from Ireland and they think of the Catholic religion, anti-religion, pagans, heresy, heretics… it’s not that.

Nick: Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but when you sing ‘nailed to a cross’…

Gavin: Oh well, there is religious symbolism. ‘Walls of Jericho’ is about religion. It is an anti-religious song. We are against religion. We’ve experienced a lot of religion. I was involved with Born-again Christians when I was younger, then I went into a sort of occultism. I got out of both. I know a lot about religion. I’ve seen all the shit. In regards to God, if anyone has something to believe in, it should be between you and it.

Nick: With no ceremonies and backslapping.

Gavin: Right. That’s bullshit. The ceremonies are up to yourself. Religion should be a personal thing between you and what you believe in. There is more though, I’m very taken by religion, like imagery and the strength. It’s very strong in Ireland. In my mind, sex, religion and politics comes into everything. It is there, but we haven’t got chips on our shoulders about it. The thing that puts me off is that people push it down to the fact that we’re from Ireland and religion is strong there. Sex is something that’s pushed down, and politics is something widespread. The Virgin Prunes aren’t an Irish band with Irish attitudes. It’s not our country that’s influenced us. It’s more…

Nick: Some of your songs almost seem as though they were religious chants.

Gavin: We play Europe a lot. Most people in Europe don’t speak English once you get outside France and Holland. The voice is the oldest instrument, because it’s from the person. It’s not like a person playing a guitar or banging a drum. It’s IT. It’s from inside. The voice is the purest of all musical instruments. With the chants and the feelings from that, you can get much more across. We can communicate with people of Europe that way.

Nick: The Virgin Prunes have a distinctive way of using vocals, especially the interacting between you and Guggi.

Gavin: One of things that influenced me most is that in Ireland certain people in the country, old men, sit in pubs, just sit in typical Irish pubs and they sing. They sing usually about their troubles when they were younger or about a loved one that died. Sad things like that. But they sing with emotion, it’s not singing to be happy or to entertain. They’re singing about the problems in the North and things that mean something to them. It’s the tunes of the voice that we’re similar in with them. To that ethnic thing, the Buddhist thing.