Sisters Of Mercy: Interviews: After the Flood
Interview with Andrew Eldritch
Conducted by Ted Mico for Melody Maker
"After the Flood" MM 11/14/87
I've had to wait two years for Andrew Eldritch to come round to my flat bearing the fruits of his labour, _Floodland_, an album he feels certain will justify his place in our hearts and will be a worthy successor to his debut _First_And_Last_And_Always_. Thirty seconds after the needle hit the plastic I know he's right.
Eldritch has spent over half his adult life studying languages, yet still finds most conversations an insurmountable obstacle course. Given the right people to talk to (he finds conversing with my cats easier than most humans) he is the most articulate, erudite and intelligent man in ripped jeans.
Eldritch doesn't belong to the world of the commonplace, the land of the autoteller, the plastic charge or polystyrene mind. He belongs to the fragile and fragrant world of a serpentine imagination, a spiraling chaos.
To understand Eldritch is to understand defeat, and then know how to conquer it. The struggle is all. He has stared defeat in the face and merely hiccupped. Now he has offered to take you on a journey through _Floodland_ - a guided tour of the watery canals that tenuously link The Sisters Of Mercy to the real world.
"It sounds somewhat strange to me now after all this time. It's a solid album, almost subsumed by it's own weight. The first side you need an awful lot of drugs to get through it. The second is more textured, more powerful."
Is there a visual soundtrack that could accompany _Floodland_?
"Perhaps a slow motion shot of the Aurora Borealis exploding, or the scene on the heath in _King_Lear_."
And who would play Lear?
"Reg Varney." A long pause. "I'd be a good fool. Knowing you're being stupid has never stopped me being stupid."
_Dominion/Mother_Russia_ was a Wagnerian opera until a Bolshevik Chevy convertible crashed into the chorus.
"I think _Dominion_ has it within it to entice the unwary. I made the mistake of getting caught in central Europe when Chernobyl started sprinkling it's residue over the land. It's part of my hate/hate relationship with America. I just had the idea of all them huddled in their mobile homes while _Mother_Russia_ rained down on them. They deserve it. I suppose the song is really about the prostitution of Europe by the Americans."
This brings us to the drowning funnel of love of _Flood_I_. A lugubrious passage through water with serrated edges.
"I never really knew how much I missed the water until I moved to Hamburg. I love to be next to it. Water is the most impressive thing you can almost get to grips with. The problem with _Flood_I_ is that it was written in a certain state of mind, shall we say, and I haven't visited that place again. You know...altered states."
Amid a deluge of lines about rain, oceans, seas, rivers there's a peculiar inclusion: "While strange men rent strange flowers". What the hell does this mean?
"What happens in Hamburg is that, at two in the morning, these Turks come round the bars selling roses to couples who aren't quite couples yet but might be by half past two. I rather liked the idea that these couples could rent these flowers until they became couples then they could give them back and they would be recyclable. The Turks would make more money and the couples wouldn't get burdened with these thorny things."
He pulls his glasses down from the bridge of his nose. "Actually, I think it's a metaphor for ephemeral love," he adds in his finest Roger Moore supercilious accent.
The compassion in _Lucretia_My_Reflection_ is trussed with barbed wire - a most succulent torture.
"That's my welcome on board Patricia (Morrison - SOM backing vocalist) song...I've been proclaimed dead so many times, I've created things that others have tried to take, this is my answer. I had to fight very hard to preserve what was mine. Not only with the band split but in a general sense too. I spent two years retrieving my physical health."
Why choose a woman whose name is synonymous with mass murder and poisoning? Lucretia Borgia isn't exactly most people's idea of a good lover or a good cocktail waitress.
"I think she was quite benign in her own way. Patricia always strikes me as a Lucretia-type person. I still don't understand why state-ordained murder is acceptable, but in this age of free enterprise, the individual act of killing can still be punished. The sanction of the state is something I've never understood."
"Friends of mine killed just because of the way the state operates. Buildings fall on people in New York every month so obviously as a result of the enterprise culture. They're designed to fall down. I used to carry a steel bar up my sleeve but only for the purpose of defense. Myself, I feel constantly assaulted by the state but I can't take a steel bar and whack it one and I'm always at great pains _not_ to encourage others to do the same. The youth leader whose idea of fun is leading young people into pitched battle seems immensely stupid. These are dangerous subjects to talk about..."
The Sisters Of Mercy will not be performing live in the foreseeable future. Eldritch has too many memories of life on the road.
"I like the idea of concerts," he says, "but tours? That's something else. Night one you haven't got your act together. Night two, your voice is fucked. Night three you're already going through the motions. Night four you're trying to stand stationary and stop slavering and by Night five, you're resorting to the old you-know-what just to keep going. From then on it's downhill all the way. It's that hideous rollercoaster ride that turns you into a beast. There are some people that function very well in the beast mode, but sadly I'm not one of them."
This leads us to the next stop on the tour, the melancholy ballad _1959_, Eldritch's birthday, Eldritch's star-turn.
"1959 was of course a special year for the world. I guess the song is about innocence - inherited as opposed to environmental. I had a time a year and a half ago when, for the first time in my life, I was totally happy _and_ I realised it at the time. It lasted about two weeks. There are still some strands of the song _I_ don't understand. I can tell I don't understand because I can still marvel at it. It's the only one here that still does that to me. It's unassailable, even transcending my own ability to superimpose myself on the song. It's out of control."
It is also the only time in his career when Eldritch has approached the word child, or children without a scratching contempt.
"But even then it's close," he hisses.
Do you like your audience?
"Yes I'm incredibly fond and protective of them, hate to see them abused by other people and accept second best," he says leaving a purpose built silence.
"Our audience was always different - when they kicked the shit out of each other they used to apologize afterwards. They're very sharp as well. They always know what I'm talking about. I can't express myself coherently in anything other than songs. It might not sound coherent when I sing it, and even when it _is_ it may be too oblique to be of any use to anyone, but it's almost all there."
His face cracks with a satisfied smile every time _This_Corrosion_ is mentioned. His eyes look out for the fatted calf.
"It's my war cry," he says warmly. "Despite the title, it's actually a constructive song because nearly all of it should be thought of in quotation marks. It would be too confusing to print them all, Basically it's a very poor form of argument - putting words into someone else's mouth and then explaining how stupid they are. It is, of course, directed at somebody and it doesn't take a genius to work out who, although it'll probably take the person concerned some considerable time. I find it embarrassing watching people humiliate themselves for their absurd idea of rock'n'roll."
_Flood_II_ revisits the seascape etched on Side One but seems to lurch against the tide to greater effect.
"It's certainly more focussed. 'I' is 'Are you sure we really want to do this?,' and 'II' is 'Yeah, here we go!' In normal circumstances, the raising of arms is a sign of exultation but, if you're surrounded by water, it's complete submission, 'Down we go'. This is both at once."
Is the flood a baptism or simply annihilation?
"It's sex - at least in this context. Most people, if you think about it, only get wet under certain circumstances..." The left eyebrow arches. "It's also a little bit about what happens to me in water. Water and I do NOT mix. I can't breathe well when I'm in it. I taught myself to swim at a very late age, which took a lot. I'm always impressed by water. Frightened? No, fright implies some element of surprise and I'm never surprised by water. You know what it's there for - it's there to impress you! Water is something so mammoth, so a flood is emotionally _very_ stimulating. To surrender to it so willingly with such enthusiasm I think would be quite exciting. It seems a brave move."
From Noah's Ark to Joan Of Arc, religious symbols litter the album. Are you a religious person?
"I might be. I was brought up on religious symbolism so it's very difficult to escape. Until someone writes a book as good as The King James' Bible I think it's the best alternative. I firmly believe in oblivion though. I can't see the point of my flood unless it leads to oblivion."
Throughout _Floodland_, Eldritch's main preoccupation is the struggle against futility under the sign of the mushroom and the sound of big bang. He is utterly convinced he'll never make it through his natural lifespan and seems concerned only whether Hamburg will be vaporized or meet with a tidal wave. He hopes for the latter.
"When I first moved to Germany I didn't realise that they practice nuclear alerts. When the siren went off, bloody loud, all across the state at 10 in the morning, I thought it was really happening. A friend gad just met a violent death two weeks before and my first thought was, 'What a pity she's going to miss this', because I knew it was going to look _brilliant_. It seemed sad that something so important was going to be missed by anyone."
And your second thought?
"I was just about to stand in the middle of the road because I thought I'd get a better view from there and thought it would be less painful, and then it occurred to me that it might be a chemical attack so I stood indoors waiting. When I knocked on my flatmate's door, she just giggled at me. I felt somewhat foolish about it afterwards."
We move to the plaintive roar of _Driven_Like_The_Snow_. The humorist suddenly gags, when considering his own near destruction that followed the demise of his one and only love affair.
"There's not a decent vocal on this because I could never get to the end without having to stop. It's like the song on the first album, _Nine_While_Nine_. This is really _Nine_While_Nine_Part_II_. Too close for comfort."
It's strange Eldritch should use ancient metaphors like 'white as snow' to illustrate such individual trauma.
"They're not familiar to me. I'm not familiar with them because I've never really sorted nature - been at one with it. I find the outside perpetually strange. It's not _real_, like indoors is real so, when I encounter it, it feels like a fresh metaphor. I didn't really want to write or sing it, but I think the song helped to explain very logically why we had to fall apart. There's a logic to pain you can't ignore."
Besides singing _Driven_Like_The_Snow_ what else has made you cry this year?
"I don't really express myself even _to_ myself well enough to really cry over things. The songs do a better job than I can."
Our final stop leads us to the fragment called _Neverland_ - a call of anguish and an echo of joy that this time defies gravity (in both senses).
"I had this vision. You know in the summer if you lay on the grass and stare at the sky, you can almost see beyond the stars, but cannot quite get a grip on what's there? Well, sometimes it's very difficult to work out exactly what it is that keeps you pressed between the earth and the sky and why you don't whoosh off into oblivion. _Neverland_ is coming about this the other way: the entire population of the earth starting to travel from some indefinable point in space toward the earth at increasing speed. It would take an eternity to reach the earth -by which time you'd be reasonably spiritualised - and even when you reached the destination, you wouldn't actually hit the ground. You'd be going so fast you'd just go through and out the other side, where there is another eternity of nothingness. I just tried to write a song about these impressions."
It was soon after this that Eldritch stopped taking hallucinatory drugs.
"It felt very liberating at the time. Like the fifth day of playing 24 hour Scrabble when you don't want to use any letters because each one means a world to you because you're so deranged."
At this point I make a fascinating discovery. If I wear my mirror shades and look into Eldritch's, all I can see is my reflection within his within mine within his within...This is as close to oblivion as either of us wish to get at four in the afternoon so we call a truce, remove the mirrors, and devise promotional devices for the release of _Floodland_.