ZigZag Interview with Mick Karn - April 1982

Interviews with the band and ex-members

ZigZag Interview with Mick Karn - April 1982

Postby heartofdavid on Wed Aug 08, 2007 12:38 pm

Finally found it, I promised to post this interview a long time ago.

Note: Steve Jansen took the photos accompanying this article (including the cover shot) of a bare-chested Mick, with heavy eye make-up, greased hair and a greased body. Still don’t have my scanner working, but you can see the cover of this magazine at the Nightporter site.

The girlfriend Mick refers to is Yuka Fujii. The events Mick refers to took place on the eve of Japan’s “Vision of China” tour (UK only, December 1981). Japan’s final tour would be the “Sons of Pioneers” tour, October – December 1982.

Mick contradicts himself a lot in this interview. In several articles/interviews I’ve read that took place after this one, Mick recanted and apologized for his statements; other band members (including David) seemed very defensive of Mick in the press, stating that Mick had been taken advantage of by the reporter (I'll try to get some of those up some time). What was said privately is another matter, I imagine.

ZigZag magazine article, April 1982
Mick Karn – Because you demanded it, Louisa Hennessy strips Mick Karn of his defenses


Over the last three months, the music press has been filled with interviews with David Sylvian of Japan teasing us all with the question ‘will they won’t they split.’ Because of this one-sided opinion, and in particular because of a paragraph in Sounds at the end of February by Tony Mitchell claiming that he was told by Mick Karn and Steve Jansen that the band were going to split despite their stating categorically to him that they weren’t, I thought it was time that Mick was given a chance to explain the situation from the point of view of the rest of the band.

I went round to his flat in South Kensington (giving up a couple of hours of my free time – rather noble I thought), and spent the first half hour chatting to Mick, Steve Jansen, and Japan’s publicist, the lovely Connie, before we settled down to the task in hand.

Mick – All the press since the tour in December has been by Dave and everyone has got a one-sided opinion of what happened and what Dave’s been saying is not true, the rest of the band are pretty annoyed by it.
ZZ – Isn’t it the truth as he sees it, you’re not suggesting he’s telling lies are you?
Mick – No, I’m suggesting that Dave has always had the power to make other people believe something he says and to make himself believe it as well, and he’s convinced himself that it’s true, so he’s not a liar but it is to everyone who knows the situation. For example, I read in one magazine in which he was talking out the set that we had designed for the tour, how was virtually pushed into the situation of having to use it but months before the set was completely taken over by Dave and designed by Dave so if there was anything in it he didn’t like then it was his fault.
When we turned up at the Zigzag Club to rehearse the weekend before the tour started, the set was much bigger than anyone ever saw, it had towers in the top where I would be playing saxophone, Dave would be singing ‘Ghosts’, the others were at the bottom and there was a roof over the whole thing.
We walked into Zigzag and all the house lights were on and Dave took one look at it, said he didn’t like it and walked out and left the rest of us there to explain to everyone what had happened. All the lights were theatrical lights especially designed for the set, you can’t use them on a normal rock concert, so Dave would have been letting down all the lights people as well, not to mention the fans because he just refused to do the tour in the end.
That whole night was spent arguing with Dave, everyone arguing. It came to a stalemate where he said he would not do the tour with that behind him so that left Richard, Steve and I in the position of saying ‘right we won’t do the tour if it’s not there’, which would have been really childish so we didn’t do that, we said ‘OK you can have your way again, we’ll do the tour without the set’, because we just couldn’t let all those people down.
As the tour went on we persuaded him to have more and more of the set there but it never grew to what it originally was which was a shame because it was a great set.
I’ve known him for about eleven years and he’s very easily influenced by anything anyone might say, it stays in his mind. The week before the tour started, he did an interview with one of the papers and the guy who was doing the article said how dated he thought the whole rock scene was and that it was pathetic the way we were trying to make it stay alive by using things like slides and stage sets, and Dave agreed. I think that’s what put the park in his mind and a week later he wanted to do the tour with no lights at all which would have been a total contradiction of what we had planned for four months before the tour.
I think it’s a great weakness not to see something through that you’ve decided upon.
ZZ – How did the question of the split come about?
Mick – While we were recording the album in October, I decided that because I don’t enjoy recording that much, it’s thinking about the music too much, that I would like to record a solo single using different musicians. It didn’t mean that I wanted to leave Japan, it was just a little experiment that I wanted to do – I would pay for it all myself and if Virgin didn’t like it, then I couldn’t care less cos I’d done what I wanted to do. I suggested it to everyone and they weren’t too happy about it because Virgin were interested and wanted to release it and the others felt that if it was successful then people would be coming to the concerts even more to see me rather than Rich and Steve. They were quite upset and the argument they used against me doing it was that friendship had always come first in anything we’d ever done and if for no other reason than that, for me to wait another year or so until the rest of the band were strong enough to be in the position of doing the same, so I let it go; if it meant that much to them it didn’t mean that much to me.
After the tour we realized that the band was beginning to become successful and if we did want to do any solo projects we’d have to carry on with Japan, otherwise Virgin wouldn’t let us do anything on our own, so the band isn’t splitting up but there’s definitely a feeling that as soon as anything better comes up we’re taking the first chance we get.
ZZ – Everything I’ve red makes out that there’s you and Steve on one side, and Dave and Richard on the other side, two warring factions…
Mick – No, it’s more like Dave and I on opposite sides with Richard and Steve in the middle which is annoying because it makes them feel as if they’re just puppets waiting for Dave and I to make a move. That’s disgusting. I don’t want them to feel like that.
Dave and I haven’t really spoken to each other since the tour because there’s more involved than just this.
ZZ – Is it because of his personality?
Mick – It is in the way that I think all of us have been suppressed by Dave’s personality for a long time without realizing it. I was the first to realize it and now the others have so I don’t want to get too involved again. That’s half the reason all this happened, which I could probably forget about, but there’s another, personal side to it that I can’t forget about…last year was probably the best year of my life, the happiest in one way. I’ve always lived on my own and enjoyed it, but for the first time I met a girl and we were living together for quiet a while and it was absolutely perfect as I was concerned. I didn’t think anything like that could ever exist. The day before the tour started was probably the worst day of my life; there was the argument about the set and the band splitting up but to top it all I found out that morning that while we were on tour my girlfriend would be moving out and moving in with Dave…and that’s the personal side of things that I can’t take.
For the first time I trusted someone enough to actually live with them, and for that persona and someone I’d known for eleven years, for them to do that, I don’t feel I can trust or believe anything he says and I don’t see why I should help him in any way when he hasn’t helped my situation, not even by telling me.
It hasn’t just affected me, it’s affected Richard and Steve really strongly as well because they have the same feelings and it’s put everyone into a state of shock for a while.
The tour was absolute Jersey for all of us, we’d all lost complete confidence, I should have been happy, there’s nothing I enjoy more than touring and after the tour I’d be going to Japan to have an exhibition and then coming back and working with Akiko Yano which is something I wanted to do as well but one of it’s exciting at all, there’s something missing…I’m doing more and more every day, but I’m not enjoying any of it.
ZZ – If you have been upset emotionally, it’s difficult not to let it override everything else you do.
Mick – It’s impossible. It’s OK now, but it completely overrode everything at first. I had to be virtually put on the airplane to Japan, I just stayed in the hotel room all the time.
On tour so many people knew there was something wrong and they kept asking us every day what it was but what really upset me was that the actual fans were picking u on it and people would come up to me and say what’s the matter between you and Dave, we were giving each other dirty looks on stage which I wasn’t even aware of, but I want them to know that it is not because the band is splitting up because it isn’t going to happen.
ZZ – Would you actually like to drop Japan if you could?
Mick - …yeah…it seems such a shame but I probably would…
ZZ – Why is it a shame? You can’t stay in the same place forever.
Mick – I know, but I feel as if we can change and progress in one way because the four of us together with Dave’s songs produces a certain sound so we could have that while going off on our own as well.
ZZ – There’s not really any point in clinging on to what you had merely for sentimental reasons.
Mick – Not for sentimental reasons, no , that’s what I mean, it seems a shame but it isn’t a reason for doing it. I think we all feel the same, we’d all rather drop Japan if we could. Probably the only person who doesn’t feel that is Dave because we were all initially willing to do that but it’s Dave who wanted to carry on…which is probably more sensible.
ZZ – What do you mean, more sensible?
Mick – Well, what do we do without the record company?
ZZ – Have you no spirit of adventure?
Mick – Yeah, I have, but what do I do, where do I move to…I mean, my flat? (strikes a somewhat pathetic pose)
ZZ – What an attitude! Go back and live with your mum!
Mick – What, on a farm in Cyprus? That actually is how I felt at the very beginning, that I could face anything even if it meant going and becoming a farmer but…
ZZ – And now you’ve become a flabby capitalist!
Mick – No! Flabby capitalist!

(There now follows a short interlude whilst coffee is drunk, Pete Murphy is observed on the silent TV, and the rough mix of Steve and Mick playing with Ippu –Do is turned over.)

ZZ – Why do you think Dave is the only one who wanted to continue with the band?
Mick – I think if the band did split, Dave would be the one who would suffer most because I think he’s incapable of carrying on by himself. The three of us worked much harder than Dave ever has and without us he would find it very difficult. He is an excellent producer and if he could find a band that didn’t know which direction to go in, the songs were a bit flabby here and there, then he could take over and produce them and it would be great. That’s what it’s been like with Japan, it’s the three of us working but Dave steering and I think without us he would go on thinking he’s a good songwriter and musicwriter which he’s not, he’s a good lyric writer. I think he’d find it very difficult unless he had us people around him.
ZZ – Why don’t we talk about your having your picture taken without your shirt?
Mick – What about it?
ZZ – Don’t you think it’s pandering to the masses?
Mick - …yeah…(giggles)…yeah, I do.
ZZ – Don’t you think you’re treating yourself as a sex object and that it is therefore degrading?
Mick – Yeah, but I don’t care (giggles), really it’s all to do with that same feeling that because of everything that has happened, apart from not enjoying anything, I also feel why not? What the h*ll? So any thing that’s come up that I’d usually think about very carefully, now I just say yes and that’s how I feel about this. Its something I would never have done a year ago…but why not…(even more giggles)…it’ll annoy the h*ll out of Dave.
Last edited by heartofdavid on Wed Aug 08, 2007 1:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby proggrl on Wed Aug 08, 2007 1:05 pm

I know I've read that before, but still interesting to read again. Thanks for posting that, HoD! :)
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Postby Burnsjed on Wed Aug 08, 2007 1:28 pm

It is a very interesting read, and really underlines how Japan could not have gone any further together.
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Postby The Analog Kid on Wed Aug 08, 2007 1:41 pm

proggrl wrote:I know I've read that before, but still interesting to read again. Thanks for posting that, HoD! :)


a really cool read!

thank HoD!

cheers

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Postby sisterlondon on Wed Aug 08, 2007 1:57 pm

Yikes, things were bad... :shock:

Thanks so much for posting this hon!
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Postby heartofdavid on Wed Aug 08, 2007 3:58 pm

sisterlondon wrote:Yikes, things were bad... :shock:


And they got worse with RTC but at least Steve and David made up - I wonder if Rich and David keep in any kind of contact.
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Postby sisterlondon on Wed Aug 08, 2007 4:07 pm

Yep, i have wondered about that one too, but I heard that some time ago David went to a few PT gigs.
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Postby tallulahtaurus on Wed Aug 08, 2007 4:29 pm

Thank you, thank you so so much.
I think the problem is talking to someone pissed off, they will start the slagging off of someone without quite meaning it.

Strange that its nowhere near as bad as I thought it might be.
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Postby ellyn sylvian on Thu Aug 09, 2007 1:54 am

Interesting read. Definitely not happy times during the final days of Japan. One comment made me giggle though...

I think if the band did split, Dave would be the one who would suffer most because I think he’s incapable of carrying on by himself. The three of us worked much harder than Dave ever has and without us he would find it very difficult


Heck Mick, we all know who did better in the long run!

Also, am I the only one who sees similarities betweeen this interview and some of the stuff Andy Taylor said circa 1986-87??
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Postby Steerpike on Thu Aug 09, 2007 6:40 am

Thanks Heart of David. I think it was me who requested it in the past, as this was one of my favourite magazines that got damaged in my attic. :D
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Postby Burnsjed on Thu Aug 09, 2007 7:34 am

Rich was at the "A Fire In The Forest" tour at the RFH in London, didn't think much of Blemish apparently.
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Postby heartofdavid on Thu Aug 09, 2007 12:51 pm

ellyn sylvian wrote:Heck Mick, we all know who did better in the long run!


Sad but true. I think Mick is incredibly talented but he works best given guidance, as a key player in a group, whether that was Japan, JBK or the stuff he did with Bozzio and Torn. I wonder if he felt abandoned when Medium productions came to an end - Rich long had a home with PT and Steve headed off to Samadhisound (along with his other collaborative work). Mick turned out to be the nomad.

ellyn sylvian wrote:Also, am I the only one who sees similarities betweeen this interview and some of the stuff Andy Taylor said circa 1986-87??


I'm fairly new as a DD fan, only since 2003, and never heard much detail about comments Andy made back then. Interesting - did he make remarks specifically directed at individuals in the band?
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Postby ellyn sylvian on Fri Aug 10, 2007 1:12 am

I'm fairly new as a DD fan, only since 2003, and never heard much detail about comments Andy made back then. Interesting - did he make remarks specifically directed at individuals in the band?


This is of course going back a while now, I remember reading in Guitarist Magazine a wonderful interview with Andy Taylor. It had just been announced that he would be embarking on a solo career. Let me see how my memory goes on this one.... Nick was a control freak... and something about Simon needing to join Weight Watchers.... It wasn't very pleasant. The reason I remember parts of that interview was that it wasn't in the likes of Smash Hits. If it was, I could simply write it off as trash aimed at your average teen. But this was Guitarist magazine, a professional musician's magazine.

I am a firm believer that if you can't say something positive about someone, then just don't say anything at all. It's a pretty good policy to stick to.

Regarding Mick, I get the feeling alot of anger came from two places - obviously one was the girlfriend issue. I note in the interview he does slam David a bit for it, and he deserved it. But also it should be noted that Yuka was hardly a saint in her actions either. If I remember right she briefly, and I mean briefly went out with Steve as well (this was before Mick I understand). Talk about time sharing within the band! The second place seems to be that realisation that Japan will be remembered as the band David Sylvian fronted. And that he was the original singer until stage fright took over.

Which makes me want to ask the question "would Japan been as well known had Mick remained as lead singer??"
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Postby heartofdavid on Fri Aug 10, 2007 4:21 am

ellyn sylvian wrote:[Which makes me want to ask the question "would Japan been as well known had Mick remained as lead singer??"


Would have been a totally different band with totally different songs - I think part of the process of David writing songs and evolving as a songwriter was the fact that he would be singing the tunes.

Yuka did go out with Steve for a short time prior to switching to Mick - I think she met them all back in 78/79 - she was one of the principal photographers for In Rock (Japanese magazine) at the time. And yeah, the old saying applies, it takes two to tango.

Interesting about Andy, and yet he came back only to leave again - whatever the entire story was behind that only they know.
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Postby traiskin on Fri Aug 10, 2007 4:53 am

She was with Steve as well? Wow, I didn't know this. I wonder what Steve's take on all this was. Is there an interview from Steve's point of view?
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