Buoyed by punk and powered by speed, but in possession of a library card, the early eighties crucible of goth spawned many delightful deformities. From the camp inflections of Ollie Wisdom’s Paul Stanley-isms, via Sex Gang’s glamour infused tribal swing, to whatever the fuck Nik and Mrs. Fiend were doing, Alien Sex Fiend certainly picked an appropriate moniker. It was some otherworldly shit they tapped into, driving a rocket up the anus of the unwary as they unleashed their theatrical bent over minimalist backing, abstract shapes, fuzzed out guitars and nascent electronica.
They were uncompromising, they were influential, they were big in Japan. Wildly prolific and with a longevity that can only be pinned to the inspiration that runs through the blood of true lifers, their fevered presence at the fringes has been constant.
And now they have a new album. Out now on Cherry Red, ‘Possessed’ marks the cessation of the longest gap in their catalogue, coming a full eight years after their previous record Death Trip.
I caught up with the dynamic duo of Nik and Mrs Fiend elaborate on the band’s origins, the new record, and the world of shit they had to navigate to get it to us at all.
To start with I wanted to ask about the name… It’s so evocative. I was wondering whether, even on a subconscious level, it was inspired by Bowie? A lot of people from your generation seem to have that pivotal moment of witnessing ‘Star Man’ on Top of the Pops as a child and having their world turned upside down by this sexual alien presence.
Nik Fiend: The name wasn’t particularly about that moment, it was chosen more for the combination of the letters, how the words “Alien Sex Fiend” looked written out on the page, it seemed to jump out at you. That, coupled with the meaning of the individual words – “alien” – we’ve all been that, an outsider, as well as the science fiction side of the word “sex” of course!
But it also means man/woman/other, and “fiend” meaning fanatic. There are lots of different interpretations for those words, endless possibilities. That seemed to fit along with what we were doing musically, which was also about endless possibilities.
Of course, we have a deep respect for Bowie – I have spoken to him on the phone! – and if he hadn’t been around who knows how different things might have been. But there were other elements of weirdness around such as Iggy Pop, Velvet Underground, Alice Cooper, etc & films like Clockwork Orange, to name but a few, and I think all of that fed into ASF along with the effect of Bowie.
Mrs Fiend: “Starman” was in 1972, so by the time ASF had started in ’82 the impact of the “Starman Bowie” had faded somewhat, I knew loads of blokes who wore make-up like eyeliner or nail varnish, in the early 70s and the “androgynous” dressing idea wasn’t that far out in ‘82 cos punk & the new romantics had happened.
Let’s go back to 82 and the emergence of the scene – those heady early 80’s Batcave days. Can you describe the mood and feel of the zeitgeist? The people? The possibilities? What was it like playing at the Batcave amongst an emerging wave of other acts like Sex Gang Children and Specimen?
Mrs Fiend: Punk had started to fade at the time and the new romantic style didn’t suit a lot of people, it was too much about frilly shirts for some I think! (laughs) There were some people who wanted something more hard-edged, something akin to rock or punk rock but different.
Nik Fiend: Yes, it was a change-over period musically. Public Image Ltd, Psychedelic Furs, some of The Banshees stuff, Killing Joke, Joy Division, Bauhaus, Cabaret Voltaire, The Cramps, Suicide, The Birthday Party had all started up and there was a new vibe going on, something was in the air. People were going up different musical paths & there were a number of different elements going on.
There wasn’t one particular movement, the bands collectively would be called “alternative” or “independent” but there wasn’t one generic sound, each of those bands were unique in their style.
When we came along, we had a different angle too, we didn’t sit around thinking about it for long, we decided we were “Alien Sex Fiend” and it all took off very quickly, people were looking for something different & we seemed to fit the bill. A lot of those “new music” people were going to The Batcave – Marc Almond, Youth from Killing Joke, Nick Cave, Sex Gang Children & The Specimen (who ran The Batcave) as well as more established people like Jimmy Pursey (from Sham 69) & Siouxsie & Budgie. It must have been meant to be, cos everyone was there!
Mrs Fiend: As well as people from bands, there were lots of other creative people who were regulars there – lots of real characters – photographers, clothes designers, journalists, fanzine writers, artists – it was a big melting pot.
Nik Fiend: It was an exciting time, lots of great records were coming out, and there were pirate radio stations like the Dread Broadcasting Company based near Portobello Road. It was great playing at The Batcave – full stop! I never think about who’s in the audience though, I’m 100% in the zone on-stage, everything else ceases to exist!
Mrs Fiend: It was my first ever gig there, not just as ASF, but ever! I’d never played in any other bands, so to have so many “celebs” in the audience for your first gig was quite memorable! And of course, we returned to play there a number of times, did special Batcave event nights at places like Heaven & The Lyceum, as well as The Batcave Tour. After that we got gigs on our own, got signed to a record deal, and the next thing we knew, we were off play in the USA… phew! So the Batcave really was a launch pad for us and we were so lucky that happened, it was really a case of “ right place, right time”!
Nik Fiend: We’d never been to Glasgow let alone on an airplane before ASF, so it was all amazing.
Your music always had such a wide range of sounds that you really stood out from the other ‘class of 82’ bands. I hear a lot of dub in there. Were the likes of Lee Perry an influence? Who else was in the mix?
Nik Fiend: Thank you for the compliments! Yes, I’ve always loved dub stuff & echo in general, Lee “Scratch” Perry of course. Back in the day you’d get a 7-inch single with a song on Side A then on Side B would be a stripped-down dub version. In one of my earlier bands, “Demon Preacher”, I had a dub on the B-side of the “Little Miss Perfect” single, released on Small Wonder Records. That was in 1978, so I’d been aware of dub for a while. They used to play dub or punk at the Roxy club all the time. As I said earlier, pirate radio stations like the DBC were around and you could buy bootleg mix tapes, so you would get to hear all sorts of stuff but not necessarily know who it was. I was going past a record shop in Brixton (London) one day, when I heard this amazing dub playing, I ran into the shop and all the guys in there were a bit alarmed cos I’m shouting “What the fuck’s that?!” They’re going “Huh?” and I’m going “That record you’re playing!” It turned out to be “Soldier Take Over” by Yellowman & Fathead. I’ve still got that 7” and I still love it! That’s just one reason why I asked Youth to produce our first single, I knew that he loved dub too, & I wanted a dub version of “Ignore The Machine” to go on the 12 inch.
The new album, Possessed. Why now after eight years? Can you tell us about its gestation and inspirations?
Nik Fiend: In 2012, we re-connected with Simon “Doc” Milton, our guitarist from the late 1980s to early 90s, along with Mat Pod who we worked with from the mid to late 90s. They had both been doing other things away from ASF and we’d been busy doing various albums, tours, and festivals.
It was a massive coincidence that the reconnection occurred, a whole string of unlikely circumstances led to it, but it immediately felt completely natural & right. That new line up was rocking live and we were just having fun playing shows and enjoying each others company over a couple of years, including a special 30th Anniversary show in London.
By the time we were at the end of 2014 I got a very strong feeling that we should go & record some new songs with that live line-up. That was the main inspiration, the catalyst. Only us in a studio, no other people, no engineer, no producer or anything, just us four. Mrs Fiend & I already had some song ideas and we got together with Doc and Mat a couple of times to get further basic ideas started before we went into a studio to record.
We had no preconception as to whether this was going to be just a muck about, a jam, or whether we’d get a couple of tracks or a single out of it, we just wanted to enjoy creating & playing together. The first session went so great that we booked a second one, and gradually we realised that we had more than enough recorded for an album. Then the shit started happening – I was in a car crash, I was stationary and a car rammed into the back of me, wrote my car off and injured my back. I’m more or less ok now, I was lucky. Then Doc died unexpectedly in September 2016, and of course that stopped everything, it was devastating.
Mrs Fiend: With the new album being on hold, we had a chat with our man at Cherry Red Records. He’d helped with the 2 Classic Box Sets (4 CDs in each), so we’d got a good working relationship going, and between us we came up with the idea of “Fiendology : 1982 To 2017 A.D. And Beyond”, a 3 CD anthology to mark the 35-year anniversary of ASF, which included 2 songs from the new album “Carcass” and “Invisible”. It was good at that time to have a different project to work on, we could do it in between other things because by then the next bit of shit had occurred – my mother was in hospital for 6 months and I was heavily involved in that situation. Then she passed away.
Nik Fiend: In the background of all that, my stepfather had Alzheimer’s for a number of years and he passed away just before Christmas 2017.
Mrs Fiend: Blimey, after detailing all this, I can’t believe that we actually got Fiendology released, let alone the new album.
Nik Fiend: It’s a miracle! But having some enforced distance from the album tracks due to all those events helped, strangely. I think it made us re-evaluate. Luckily Doc had recorded so many guitar parts that we had plenty of material to choose from. It was out of character for him because in the past he would do one main guitar track & almost had to be persuaded to add more. But for this album he’d brought about seven different guitars with him, had the amps turned up to 11 & we almost couldn’t shut him up! He was like a man possessed!
The last mixes were completed in early 2018. Then it was onto sorting out the track listings, & the artwork which I’d been working on at various times over the last few years when I could. We had so many mixes to choose from it ended up becoming a Double Album! Given what had happened with Doc, Cherry Red supported us to go for a double album on vinyl along with a gatefold sleeve, and the CD format has a bumper 24-page booklet, so we feel that “Possessed” is a fitting tribute to that time with Doc.
After almost forty years and a huge raft or releases there’s a vitality to your music and uniqueness that is still hard to pin down. To what do you credit your longevity and ongoing inspiration? Certainly, the state of the world with its effervescent absurdity at the moment must make for some pretty fertile topsoil?
Mrs Fiend: It’s only 36 years! Don’t make me even older! (laughs) Oh, ok 36 and a third if we must be precise! Thanks for the compliments, but we don’t know how or where it all comes from, all I can say is that both Nik and I are involved in every aspect of ASF, so the music and artwork is true to “us” as people. We like experimenting musically, trying things we haven’t done before, and perhaps that helps keep it fresh and alive. We’re not into trying to re-create songs, like doing another song along the lines of, for example, “Ignore The Machine”. That song and that sound is that song. Also we have a very wide range of musical taste – dub – as you mentioned before – plus punk, classical, electronic, glam rock, rock, disco, hip hop, as well as TV and film soundtracks. There are so many different elements that there’s always some new area to explore… and we don’t work to a formula…
Nik Fiend: We never have. ASF isn’t like a normal band. We have special relationships with each other. A lot of it has been “in-house”, we immerse ourselves in every aspect – writing, playing, recording, mixing, producing, the artwork and so on. It’s not so much about having control, it’s more about getting what we want & what we feel is right for ASF.
Mrs Fiend: Creating is a special process for us, it’s hard if not impossible to define but we don’t do the same thing in the same way all the time. Every song is different, we hear something we like – a drum beat, a sound, a guitar riff, a weird noise, we both go “Oooohhh!” It lights our candles, and we’ll build from there. We don’t lose sight of that initial spark, that’s the key for us. We like to record “live” as much as we can, even with the electronic elements, and keep that “performance” aspect with each person working off the other in that moment, I think that helps to keep the energy within that recording. Most of the “Possessed” tracks were recorded that way.
Nik Fiend: We allow the songs to be what they want to be, they seem to tell me where I need to let them go while doing final mixes.
Yes, the world has always been absurd, well, not the world but some of the people on it! Back when ASF started the UK was in a recession, the Falklands War kicked off while we were doing our first demos, so there has always been looming doom and gloom, but at the same time there were good things going on. I think that’s why we go into our own little world, we create our own universe and try to stay focused on music, art and doing something creative, something positive, instead of getting too caught up in what might happen tomorrow. After all, we are living on a ball in the middle of nowhere in space, with molten lava beneath our feet and they still don’t know what’s really at the bottom of the deepest parts of the ocean! (laughs) so…. We’re here – right now! Let’s do something!
The artwork for Possessed is again very distinctive. I’ve always admired the fact you took this element into your own hands as you’ve always been a very visual act. Can you tell us about your creative process when using paint and canvass, as opposed to songs and soundscapes?
Nik Fiend: The art and music go hand in hand for me. My art works very much in the same way as the music, it’s very similar, except I do most of it on my own! I don’t plan paintings or drawings out in advance, I have an idea in my head and I let it unfold, it’s about letting yourself go, like with the music, and capturing that. It’s a little different if I’m doing something like illustrated lyrics for a song because I have to consider them fitting into a specific size for the sleeve or booklet but I’ll listen to different mixes we’ve done & that gives me inspiration.
What can we expect from you next in the wake of this album?
Nik Fiend: I’m not sure at the moment, the last few years as we’ve said have been fairly gruelling and getting “Possessed” completed was a miracle. It was so frantic hitting deadlines for the artwork after we said to the record company “Yes, let’s go”! I think we’re both still recovering! We’re over the moon that so many people are loving the new album so much and getting such a great buzz off it. That’s how we felt when doing it, creating it, that’s why we kept the goal of completing it in our minds throughout all the negative events, we knew that the album HAD to come out one way or another. We never take things for granted, so we’re very pleased that it’s making a lot of people happy, And we’ve had amazing reviews – 9/10, 8/10, etc – wow! We liked it, but we didn’t know if anyone else would get it – so it’s a relief too!
Mrs Fiend: We’ve never known when releasing any of our albums how they’re gonna go, all we can do is to create something we like and keep our fingers crossed! So far, so good, 36 years on! Of course, we would like to get back to doing live shows, but we need to sort out the guitarist situation first, then we’ll see what we can do.
Nik Fiend: Right now, to be honest just being here is enough!
Finally, do you have a pithy pearls of wisdom you’d like to impart on emerging bands or artists as they find their feet in the world?
Mrs Fiend: I’ve always liked this quote from Lux Interior (The Cramps) “To hell with the radiation, let’s go!” It works in all sorts of situations!
Nik Fiend: If I’d sat and thought logically about many things I’ve done in the last 40 years I would probably never have done it. If you don’t know in your own heart what’s important and that you’re gonna do it, come what may, then there’s not much I can tell you. If you’re doing something YOU believe in, then why listen to anyone who tells you “How to become a rock star in 10 easy lessons”? If you truly believe in something then nothing and no-one will put you off doing it. For me, it was nothing to do with ego or fame or any of that shit, I just wanted to do music & art – it was my outlet & it’s the most important thing to me…
Mrs Fiend: (loudly) Ahem! (laughs)
Nik Fiend: I’m talking creatively ! (laughs) I’m trying to impart some pearls of wisdom here, mate!
Mrs Fiend: Fair enough!
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– Andi Lennon