John Cale is a Welsh musician, singer-songwriter and composer best known as a founding member of The Velvet Underground in the 1960s. Cale’s extensive solo career includes seminal albums Paris 1919, Fear, Slow Dazzle, Helen of Troy and Music for a New Society. He has collaborated with artists including Siouxsie and the Banshees, Brian Eno and Patti Smith. Cale was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 with The Velvet Underground.
Born in Salem, MA, Luke Temple is founder of the New York-based band Here We Go Magic. Noted for his use of falsetto, Temple has released four solo albums and four with the band. During a hiatus, Temple and bandmate Michael Bloch recorded Be Small (2015), combining live sessions from the Here We Go Magic with Temple’s newer work.
John Cale’s dark and experimental 1982 solo album, Music for a New Society, is his best-received work and continues to have a cult following. M:FANS is Cale’s 2016 reissue of Music for a New Society, accompanied by an album reworking its original songs. The double album includes three unreleased bonus tracks and features the Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman.
First published in 1975 by musician Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt, Oblique Strategies is a set of cards, each printed with an aphorism meant to encourage lateral thinking and help artists break past creative blocks.
After his 1951 Music of Changes, composer John Cage (1912-1992) began making music based in methods of chance. His “chance operations” used the I Ching, an ancient, classic Chinese text which uses a combination of numbers and symbols to dictate an outcome.
German-born musician Nico (1938-1988) is best known for her vocals on The Velvet Underground’s debut album. She became one of Warhol’s Superstars in the 1960s, and appeared in his film Chelsea Girls, as well as Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Nico released six solo albums from 1967-85.
It is important to let life’s chaos seep into the creative process. Artists of all disciplines use different means to push themselves into unknown territory, from Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies to John Cage’s “chance operations.” We are, in a sense, opening the windows and letting in air without being in control of what smells may waft through or the strength of the wind. It forces us to adapt rather than fall back on habits. We are having a dialogue with our environment and with time.
John Cale is an excellent example of an artist who has made a career balancing order and chaos. From the distorted organ on Sun Blindness Music to his seminal work with The Velvet Underground and Nico, there is always the sense of working with an ever-shifting ground beneath him. As with all great artists, Cale is never static and always pushing. He has decided to rework and re-release his almost totally improvised 1982 LP Music for a New Society, which is a perfect case of the aforementioned process. It was my honor to be able to speak with him about this new album, M:FANS, as he took a break from the studio.
Luke Temple: So you’re in the studio. What are you recording?
John Cale: Some new stuff. I’ve got to get ready to release another album later next year. There’s a lot of stuff that’s been sort of abandoned, and now we’re going to see if we have enough ideas and which ones to polish up. You know, if you leave stuff lying around for a long time, you just lose interest in it. They all seem a little jaded by the time you go back if you give it eight months.
LT: I have entire records that are finished and I had every intention of putting out. Then I sit on it too long because I’m working on something else that seems to take precedence. When I go back, the moment’s gone. I can’t necessarily relate to what I did.
JC: If too much of that goes on, you just get really fed up. I just say, “Well, wait a minute. These don’t have the immediacy of what I did yesterday.” Really getting that immediacy is what’s important. If you’re doing something from a year ago, by the time the damn thing gets out it’s another year, and you’re like, “Who am I this time?”
“With The Velvet Underground I wanted
to be chasing after Bob Dylan and have Lou [Reed]
improvise lyrics every time we performed.”
— John Cale
LT: Are you familiar with the band Animal Collective? I don’t know if they still do this, but when they tour for a record they only play new material that’s going to be on the next record. So you never actually see the album that you came to see live.
JC: I think it’s high time that was thrown out, that concept that you have to do what’s on the record. Because you really do new stuff anyway to keep your sanity. You don’t do the same thing every night, do you? You want to switch it up.
LT: I tend to record somewhat formally and with a tight structure. I’m not a master improviser, so when I play live I sometimes feel trapped in my song.
JC: You are [trapped]! No getting away from it. But that’s the thing about improvising—one of the intentions of The Velvet Underground was that I wanted to be chasing after Bob Dylan and have Lou [Reed] improvise lyrics every time we performed. You know, first of all, in the ’60s you had to play something from the Top 10 in order to get a gig at a cafe or a club, and we said fuck that.
I keep my sanity, too, by changing the persona of the guy who’s singing the song. It’s a bit of method acting where this time the guy’s singing Paris 1919, but he’s really sarcastic about it, and maybe you jerk the arrangement around in a different way. We did that in Belgium, and everybody was on edge because they didn’t know quite how it was going to work. But it was certainly exhilarating because you didn’t know.