“Blow and Suck”

Martin Creed interviewed by Jérôme Sans

JÉRÔME SANS: When did you start making music?

MARTIN CREED: That is a difficult question. I think when I was about ten or eleven years old. And that was making up songs on the piano and guitar and swapping tapes with a friend. One person played something on the piano and sent the tape to the other, and then the other person played something on top, and so we made up little stupid songs. But I think I first tried writing music for a band when I was about twenty-one years old.

JS: But when did you decide to start a band?

MC: I didn’t decide to start a band. It was just that I wrote, or tried to write, some music. I did that because I was unhappy with some of the sculptures I had made. And I think I was unhappy because some of the sculptures didn’t have the process in them. For me the process is very important. In fact, the process is all that there is. For me it is just about trying to make things, to do things. The problem with some of the sculptures, or some of the visual works, was that all you saw was the end result. I was unhappy with that and in a piece of music I thought it could be possible to see the process more. A song is a process, from the moment before the music starts until the moment after it ends. So I wrote some pieces, or I tried to write some pieces, but I couldn’t decide what instruments to use. I just wanted to write some songs. So I think I used what I knew. And what I knew was simple pop, what I grew up with, music played by guitar and drums. And I felt that the standard three-piece band covered well enough the whole range of sounds, high, low and rhythmic. I wanted to try out some songs I wrote and I played them with some friends who were in another band. After some time me and these friends formed a band.

JS: What was the name of the band?

MC:I decided to call it “OWADA” because the bass player’s second name was Owada and I liked the word. And I also thought it would be nice if someone in the band had the same name as the band, in the tradition of the Ramones and other bands I knew.

JS: Your references came more from the culture of pop rock?

Yes, exactly. But I wouldn’t call them references. I would say it was more a matter of using what I was familiar with. It is hard to describe, but I wanted to use a kind of normal situation. There is nothing unusual about a three-piece band. Sometimes when I try to write songs, I find it very difficult to discover a starting point. And so sometimes I start from what I think is somehow normal, although I don’t know if normal is exactly the right word. For example, I started to write a song for acoustic guitar and harmonica because I thought that they went together, in the tradition of folk music, and in the case of that song the instruments were the starting point. The blowing and sucking of the harmonica determined the lyrics and the music. The song is called Blow and Suck.

JS: Why did you choose to use your name for your new band? Which are the differences between Owada and your new group?

MC: To me there is not really very much difference. I have been wanting to pursue music more flexibly, to work without a fixed line-up, making it up as I go along—rather more like the way I make visual work. I want to present my music work in the same way as my visual work, and so to use my name seems natural.

JS: How do you consider music inside your visual art work?

MC: To me they are almost the same. The music is an attempt to make something for the world—just like the visual work. It comes from the same desire to make things and show them, the desire to say hello, to try and communicate somehow. But there are differences between the visual and the audio works, partly because  I play the music live in front of people. That makes a big difference.

JS: Is it because it is a performance?

MC: Yes. It is theatre. But I think it has to do with the freedom of the audience, or the lack of freedom. One of the things I like a lot about visual work is that the audience is often very free. Free to look at a painting for one second and then look away. When a band is playing, it is more difficult to look away. I mean you have to leave the room to get away from it. And so for me there is a lot of fear involved in playing music. When you play a piece you are asking someone to sit through it, to be patient. That makes it very different. And I think in that sense the music I make is very traditional music, very theatrical, in a normal way.

JS: Do you think the audience for visual art understands your musical practice and vice versa?

MC: I think that sometimes people find it difficult to make the jump from one to another, I think the reaction to music is often more instinctive than the reaction to visual work. I mean I am not sure, but I think when you look at things maybe you stop to think a little more than you do when you hear things.

JS: How would you describe your visual art work?

MC: I don’t know really. The visual work, like the musical work, is just the result of trying to do things. Although there may be differences, in essence they are the same. I find it difficult to describe my visual work because I don’t really know what it looks like. I just know that I want to do things. When I work, I try to always start from the beginning. I mean I try to start afresh every time, as if I had never made anything before.

“Blow and Suck: Martin Creed interviewed by Jérôme Sans”
Live, Palais de Tokyo / Éditions Cercle d’Art, 2004, p.76