October 13, 2016 Interview – Chris Corner of IAMX
One could call Producer, Multi-Instrumentalist, Singer, Songwriter Chris Corner a modern day Renaissance Man, but even that term would fall short of his accomplishments. Since the debut of his band the Sneaker Pimps in the mid 90s, Chris Corner has been building a foundation of what would be a bastion to Electronic music. However, anyone with access to Wikipedia and its vast “misinformation” superhighway can read up on the formation and releases of that great band and their well-earned godfather’s to Trip Hop title.
Skipping ahead to about 2004, Chris Corner forged his own path, building one of Electronic’s most unpredictable bands, IAMX. Since their debut, Kiss + Swallow, Corner has displayed what he can do pretty much by himself, from the writing, playing, and production. In 2013, IAMX released one of their most revered albums, The Unified Field, launched a successful tour, and were proving to be a force live and in the studio. Then, like so many great stories, a hitch of sorts, Chris Corner fell ill to a terrible case of insomnia. Unable to work and create, Corner set to get better and the band was on an indefinite hiatus. Most would crumble, hell most artists have ended their careers over less, Corner did not end up giving up, he fought through it, and guess what, he is back.
Two-thousand and fifteen as well as 2016 saw the return of IAMX, and in no small way. Healthy, invigorated, and inspired, Corner thanked his fans for the support in not only words, but actions. In October 2015, IAMX released their newest and possibly best album to date, Metanoia, taking his fans on a sonic journey the last couple of years. One tour down and IAMX was back at it releasing an EP in September of 2016, Everything is Burning, to nothing short of high praise. With a tour currently in full motion and so much to discuss, we recently caught up with the man behind the curtain, ladies and germs, we give you Chris Corner.
CrypticRock.com – In your career, more so with IAMX than Sneaker Pimps, is your multi-instrumental talents. Did you have a strong musical upbringing or training in the arts?
Chris Corner – Not at all, it was the total opposite. It was a very working class, small town upbringing. I had a lot of love and encouragement from my parents, but they didn’t have any musical education and had no real interest in music. My drive for that came from my weird uncle who would play for me strange music which he loved. I think he brainwashed me into loving music at a very early age. The drive to make music crept up on me, I think what it was, I was very interested in science and technology. I was a very geeky kind of child, well I am still very much a geek (laughing). I loved the idea of being able to express myself emotionally, the combination of the two is what really fueled my love for Electronic music along with my love for songwriting.
I spent a lot of time in my room alone, I don’t know why I was always a pretty socially anxious person, at least privately. So having a lot of that time, being a very technical person, and being a very emotional person; which I get from my mother who also is very emotional; very fiery woman, is where it all began. Musical instruments, computers, and technology really filled a lot of my time and I would obsess over those things. That is where everything began from the more production and multi-instrumental side came from.
Putting it into action came along more when I met Liam (Howe) from the Sneaker Pimps, he was more like an older brother to me. He was actually seeing my sister, both were about 5 years older than me; he had a real influence over me. He could see I was really talented so he took me in and began working with me, and that led to the formation of the Sneaker Pimps. Sneaker Pimps started when I was very young. There was no education though musically, I was just very obsessed with learning alone, which I am still like that. I still love being in my room alone with a computer and one microphone making IAMX. IAMX is very much an extension of that.
CrypticRock.com – While we know Wikipedia can be a place where facts are distorted, is it true that IAMX’s first album, Kiss + Swallow, was originally supposed to be the fourth Sneaker Pimps’ album?
Chris Corner – That is correct, there were a few songs that were supposed to be Sneaker Pimps’ material. “Missile” was one and there were a few others which I pitched into the pot which would have been Sneaker Pimps’ four. The band was just getting to a point where everyone wanted to live their own lives, and Liam, I think, was a bit disillusioned with being on stage anymore. Liam felt more comfortable in a production or writing role. I was just starting to really explore myself as an artist and performer, so we could see that it really was not going to work out like that. I put so much time and effort into the material so I didn’t feel like it was fair for it to be called Sneaker Pimps. I felt like I really needed to stand behind it and make it my own, that is kind of how the name IAMX came about. It was in a way me saying, “Ok I am ready now and let’s do this.”
CrypticRock.com – Was the challenge of starting over one you were looking forward to or not, as Sneaker Pimps were pretty well established since your debut, Becoming X?
Chris Corner – We committed commercial suicide with our second album. It was really clear to myself that I couldn’t exist in that world of misinterpretation and fame, where people are not really respected for what they do. It was such a mess, we grew up in such an indie sort of environment where we could experiment and feel creatively free. Suddenly, that album took us to a place where we didn’t feel very comfortable. It was clear to me that I didn’t want to do that kind of big commercial thing. That is why, with IAMX, I feel while it is a lot of work, it is very rewarding. I feel very rewarded that people know it is my thing and I did it.
IAMX was very challenging as I was doing everything myself through managing and booking gigs for about ten people. It was rough starting over again. There are times you play very big shows in Europe and there are times you play small shows in Mexico. It is like this all the time wherever you go, you have to get used to it, which you do, but it is very difficult. As long as you come to terms with being rewarded in a different way, then it is worth it. I still feel it is worth it, otherwise I just wouldn’t be doing it.
CrypticRock.com – On the topic of live shows, one of the best videos out there on Youtube is you performing with Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran doing the song “The Chauffer.” How did that come to be?
Chris Corner – That was amazing. It happened about the time that Sneaker Pimps were disintegrating and I was wondering, “What am I going to do? Am I going to do my own thing?” There was a three year period where I was somewhat working on IAMX and producing other people’s music. I spent a lot of time in Japan and had an open job there in a studio outside of Tokyo where I worked on a lot of Japanese Pop music, strange artists, and a multimedia company. I didn’t realize at the time that the studio was owned by the guy I was working with and Simon Le Bon. Simon had already heard of Sneaker Pimps and we had met a few times before. The guy I was working with, Nick, asked me if there was any song I could cover what would it be? I said, “I always loved ‘The Chauffer’, so fuck it, I want to cover that.” When Simon heard it, he fell in love with it so much that when there was a party for the album release he said he wanted to perform with me. So he came out and brought his ocarina and it was a lot of fun.
CrypticRock.com – Fast forward a bit, you went through a very rough patch after the release of IAMX’s The Unified Field. Many music fans state that, in their darkest moments, a certain album helped them get through it. What was your soundtrack that helped you get through your dark moment?
Chris Corner – You know, my soundtrack was really silence. I stopped listening to music for about a year. I stopped making music and it was almost unbearable to listen to music. Because my emotions were so out of whack that anything which would trigger things in a different direction was a threat. For instance, I couldn’t watch TV, I couldn’t even drive as it would invoke these waves of almost panic, depression, and exhaustion. I thought I would not only be able to make music again but that I also would not enjoy listening to music again. That was a very scary idea.
Slowly, I started to recover and come out of that, the things I started to listen to were things I listened to in my childhood. David Sylvian was one of those people, who still makes great music, he was always a kind of icon for me. I would listen especially to his album Tales from the Beehive, which would make me feel like I was a child again. That is how it all started again for me, and slowly I started feeling my creative urge coming back.
CrypticRock.com – On the track “North Star,” from Metanoia, you sing about feeling like a child again, was it in relation to this point in your recovery?
Chris Corner – It is, every song on Metanoia was a piece in the puzzle of that psychological transformation. The idea of that song was not so much about David Sylvian’s music but the idea of being sort of fresh to things, like going to the club, dancing, taking drugs, whatever it is.
CrypticRock.com – The new EP, Everything is Burning, features not only remixes from Metanoia, but seven new tracks. Were the new tracks supposed to be on Metanoia, or were they something new altogether?
Chris Corner – They were half written for Metanoia, there was a surplus of material that didn’t make it to the album. It happens with every album that I do, where there are about 5-7 songs that don’t make it. However, these tracks I felt so connected to that I didn’t want to drag them into another era, they had too much of a connection to Metanoia that they had to remain connected and put the album to rest for me. This EP was in many ways me celebrating my strength and victory over that time period.
CrypticRock.com – One of the best remixes on the album was done my Mr.Kitty, who you took on tour for the Metanoia Tour. They did such a great job with “North Star,” while you alter your own music live have you ever used another artist’s remix for your live shows?
Chris Corner – That is a really interesting question, I have never done that before. I would definitely do that in the future though. I change the live mix out of practicality as they are sounds that I have already used at one point or another. I go into a jam space with music I already tried to use in a studio, so I am familiar with them and know how they work. It is a little harder with someone else’s production to know exactly how it will work with my music live.
CrypticRock.com – Is there any mixes on the EP that you prefer?
Chris Corner – I love the Mr. Kitty mix. I think the one I like the most is the one done by Gary Newman for “Happiness,” he really stripped it down a bit, which is what I would do. Instead of making a banging club song, he really brought out the song more. He cleaned up the vocals a bit, which was really poignant of him to do, I love it. I really like the “Look Outside” remix by one of the members of the Australian group The Jezabels. It really takes it out of the framework you would expect from an IAMX record. I like when something unexpected like that comes together.
CrypticRock.com – Given the different artists who have remixed your material, anyone who has not that you would love to remix your work?
Chris Corner – Right off the top of my head, I would have to say David Sylvian. I would also really love Philip Glass to do something just because it would come out so odd. Though he passed away, I would have to say Alan Vega of Suicide, and also Kraftwerk.
CrypticRock.com – In an interview, you stated that you are not the type of person who can go out for a cup of coffee and be subjected to crappy music. Does this make going out, especially in this day and age, very difficult?
Chris Corner – (laughing) It does. It makes it very difficult to go shopping these days, even to a store like Target. I don’t really think people get the kind of mind poison that is happening to them. Unfortunately, I am very tuned into it, not just because of my sensitivity, also when you produce music, you tend to deconstruct everything when you listen to it. You are instantly in analysis mode – “What is the bass drum doing? Is it EQed in the right way?” Even if it is the shitiest Pop music, you still tend to deconstruct it. You start thinking, “Well, why is this there? How is this so popular? I hate the world.” (both laughing) Once you get past that, you start to wonder, “What is good in the song?” You get very distracted and I just don’t like feeling that way. I love the silence, I could deal with something like very calm classical music. It is not trying to inflict its personality on you of, “This is me, listen to me.” I try to not go out very often, even before, touring is how I get my kicks and get my interaction.
CrypticRock.com – A great deal of veteran artists have said that how the music industry has changed since the digital age, they saw coming, and artists should have been interacting more with fans from the start of the change. Given how IAMX is such an interactive experience between you and your fans, did you see this coming?
Chris Corner – It was a really lovely byproduct of using that new industry model. IAMX has really grown and survived through the sort of flexibility of the internet and being able to create your own universe. It helped to connect with the fans in a very new and honest way. There used to be this cliché in the music industry of making a very super talented, sexy, musician that was almost untouchable in a way. It really is not that way, these people are very normal. The relationship with the fans is a great byproduct of having to do it, and the more that IAMX grew, the more I loved it as there is no more hype to it, which in turn makes it more real and makes it last. That is how we grow together and support one another, even Metanoia is a sort of testament of how people supported me through a crisis. When I wrote the album, I was very scared that people would think it was too personal. It was quite the opposite though and made me realize how many people suffered through the same things as me and became even more of a drive.
CrypticRock.com – Another sign of the time are bands obsessing over making a single and just adding filler material to the album. Your albums, however, are more classic in approach where taking a track out kind of disturbs the flow of the album.
Chris Corner – I agree, I think it only further proliferates the Pop problem. The single has always been “the single” and then wrapped around fillers that is the problem with shit Pop music, as there is good Pop music. It is always centered around making the hit and then putting out an album. I think it is more that people these days are used to listening to music in a very abstract way, where they don’t listen to an album, but rather they hear a lot of songs from various artists.
For myself, I think there is something more timeless about having a set of songs to really describe an era in the right way, and one song has never been enough. Even though we put out singles, I don’t think I can write music in such a way. For me, it has always been, “This is me and these songs define where I am.” While the way the industry has gone with this can seem scary for people like me, I don’t think it will change what I am doing.
CrypticRock.com – It is not just your music which draws your fans in, but also your video work. The video for “North Star” was incredibly done and really transports the viewer to the middle of California’s desert. Are there any videos in store for the EP?
Chris Corner – I think I really shot my load with that video (both laughing). In fact it, was the cheapest video I have ever made because I have a little house that is out a little past Joshua Tree; it is so inspiring for me and where I wrote most of Metanoia. I really wanted to transport someone to the feeling I get when I am there and that is the closest I could get. It is a bizarre place as well as a very beautiful place. It is full of fucked up shacks and freaks. There are a lot of artists there, but there are also hillbillies, it is a very big melting pot of oddness. It is the perfect place for me. When I got done, I thought,“Ok, I need to take a break from making videos.” When we got to the mini album, I thought, “Well, I need to do something for this.” Which we did make something, what I did was make a mash up of lots of IAMX videos, ones that fit with the song we picked, “The Void.” I made a sort of collage to finish off the era and celebrate this period of IAMX. I think it came out really nice, and, of course, meant I didn’t need to break my balls trying to make a new video.
CrypticRock.com – Some of your music videos, like “Volatile Times,” have almost Horroresque traits to it. Are you a fan of Horror and Sci-Fi movies?
Chris Corner – I am a fan of anything that is good, I know that sounds a bit ridiculous (both laughing).
CrypticRock.com – Well, that is a hard thing to find these days.
Chris Corner – It really is. My era is, I am a big John Carpenter fan. He is a genius in my book. Sure he has had his ups and downs, but I love his work. Especially the late ’70s, early ’80s material with his own Electronic music; he was a visionary as he did everything for his movies himself. I love how he could make things horrific without getting in your face, well except for The Thing (1982). (both laughing) It was always about the build up with big wide shots of big corridors, large landscapes. The atmosphere he created was more unnerving than this whole slap you in the face with blood and guts. I love that kind of Horror. Psychological Horror is really what gets me, there is a really amazing Ingmar Bergman film called Hour of the Wolf (1968), it is all Philosophical Horror about existence where two people are trapped on an island. You don’t see any violence, but the atmosphere is crazy and incredible. That are the kind of movies I like.