STARVIN MARVIN INTERVIEW FOR WAWS 11, 1998
WAWS caught up with Kevinís guitarist and friend Marvin Siau and blagged this exclusive interview. A review of his splendid CD follows.
Early days, happy memories... what was the music that surrounded you? What made you say yeah, I want to play guitar in a rock and roll band?
British rock invasion, I started out as a drummer in '72, but simultaneously began practising classical guitar. At music school I didnít hold out long because all I wanted was to play rock and roll. I filled my head with rock and it felt like groove, yeah that's what I want to do! So I bought an electric guitar and joined in 75 my first rock and roll experience, TRAMPOLINO LOVE BAND, a comical hippie-band of weird asses watching kaleidoscopic mandalas on the funny farm. With the typical VW-van we drove in and out of a fab freak brothers cartoon, activating other levels of consciousness without staying in-between. Influences in those days certainly were Hawkwind, Gong, Steve Miller,... We played fab gigs in Flanders, played in Paris (Golf-Drouot), Amsterdam (Melkweg) and Brussels (First Belgian Punk Contest 1978). There's a compilation record of this last event, but who has it? Anyway, we did kick against many hi-hat heels, so it wouldn't last. It's a pity we never succeeded to make a record, 'cause here was a band with original ideas. Who cares? For me it was the most altering experience in my whole life, this chemical fun melting pot, I don't know how to describe it. But it started making me aware of what was real and what was kitsch. And I started listening to the lyrics, in a short while I would be writing them myself. What came out first is difficult to say. I remember round the campfire in the woods on a hot summer night, maybe you can imagine the song, playing 'She's a Woman' for a chaplain. Groups worth mentioning in those days - all the bands coming out of Woodstock, including all the psychedelic east-west coast Californian pseudo intellectuals. I was fond of the Stones till 75, I like the rough sound they had in the beginning. Got struck by electric guitar listening to Clapton, Townsend and Hendrix. Later by Ollie, and now by Wes Montgomery !
Belgium - you'll forgive me when I say that no one in the UK can imagine what the music scene is like in Belgium - was/is there a thriving(growing) number of bands/venues? Is there more of a German/ French 'european' influence or dominated by America (as in the UK)?
Belgian rockscene, what that represents to me? I'm lucky I'm still left aside. The experience I gained through all those years how people all run after their own tail to gain attention. It's good to be aware the music-biz is no joke. The fact we live in a small country doesn't make it easy for us to be independent. The music is very mediocre middleclass pot pourri, a lot of oemtata around a singing market man showing off like junior. I believe it's that what the people want, fake gliitter and gold. Lucky I can always refer to Jacques Brel or Toots Thielemans abroad. Nowadays it's all crap on the radio, FM bands, gymnastic dance-playback shows, DJ's running out of samples. Fortunately we have a new trademark, a magic stammerer from Ostend, Arno, and he's real good. To play rock and roll I prefer to be elsewhere and to live in the sunny South. Stop dreaming, but it's very limited in a foreign language in a small country, in the midst of all these peasants singing with nobody listening, with a Germanic accent.
Tell us all about the Paranoid Androids and the LP, how did that all come to pass?
The original idea was to release an album called "On Lovers Lane" derived from a series of demos I made in '83. I spread them around the country and send a copy to Kevin of course. A record-company replied and I invited Kevin to come over. Kevin wrote me he liked the songs, and for no money at all, he took the invitation. You cannot imagine how glad I was, but I thought nothing could go wrong.
Kevin arrived and without preparations we directly went into the studio. Then the record-company tells us we only have 4 days to record the album, if they only told me that in advance. So things turned out differently. I dropped half of the songs, that's why we had to change the title, cause the title-song wasn't recorded, didn't play guitar well, couldn't sing. But thanks to Kevin's professional ability he avoided, what would have been without him, a disaster. That's where I go out of control and Marvin the paranoid android takes over. From the famous TV-series, 'The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy', the record company jumped on it, and forgot the drawings, drawn in the studio, for the cover. That would have been more suitable than the ridiculous holiday picture on the front. It was all meant well but I had to do with a wrong record company in the mid 80's, who were changing to dance music. So rock music became secondary, and things all cost too much. The album failed in the respect that I didn't succeed to put on record in such a short time what was on the demo prepared in 6 months. I still wish I could ( or someone else) redo some of the songs or release the original demos. We'll see ! As I said Kevin's creativity can be listened to in 'Working for Success', where I've connected 20 pedals, and he plays the solo at the end, and plays 'God' in the backing-vocals, a real beautiful moment to remember. 'When Love Comes On' could almost be perfect, if it wasn't for the almost Lennonesque (so you can imagine) backing-vocal missing in the chorus 'Better be Off' there's a whole brass-section missing, I wish 'Flight 707' wasn't on it, etc. . . So you see what can happen to a 'sure-thing'.
What's the story about your meeting Kevin? Legend has it that you just turned up on his doorstep in Deia one day with a bunch of songs...was that about 1980?
I met Kevin in July 1980 on Belgium's most famous double rock festival, TORHOUT-WERCHTER. In those days one of my favourite occupations was getting in backstage, slipping through the severe security, dressed like a real rock-star. As soon as I got in I had to secure a 'backstage-pass. In exchange for certain favours (get me a beer), musicians were willing to supply. So once there, it's easy, I asked Willy Deville for his address, as well as Kevin's , and they both gave it to me ( I ask myself if this still would happen nowadays). But anyway I first spent a few weeks in Paris with Mr. Deville, and then flew off to Mallorca. I guess Kevin never expected to see me back again, but he was pleased having someone around to play with. There I was, what I always dreamed of, playing music under a palmtree, becoming reality !It must have been those palmtree glasses he was wearing, yes I remember, that's what it was. I think I came at the right moment !
Whatís it like to work with Kevin?
Heís very self-conscious and very much in control of himself, if I may dare to say that. I think itís a great honour to play with him. But donít take it for granted, itís not always easy. Ő learn to forget myself trying to get into the way he wants me to play like, rhythmically and more laid-back than Iím used to. He doesnít like anything violent or speedy, unless itís nice and easy. For the rest weíre friends, we talk more about food and other joys in life, than talking music.
Can you tell us all about 'Another Rolling Stone'. For me it's the best song on any Ayers LP since 1976, also a different version called 'Another Time Before'? (very good)
First song I wrote in the beginning of the eighties, but much too slow for my young temperament in those days. So I recorded it and sent it to Kevin. It stayed on the shelf quite a long time, but everytime I saw Kevin he remembered the song. 'Till 'round '86, when the Mike Oldfield van arrived, with all the gear to prepare an album. I'd never seen such tremendous big speakers with a PA-system who could blast you up the mountain (quickest way to get to the bar), So I taught Ollie the chords and Kevin renewed the words, we've all forgotten by then, Ollie also invented the intro as well as the superb solo, but based on my own experience, it must have cost Kevin blood, sweat & tears to write those tormented words, I called it 'Another Time Before' cause I had a very strong deja-vu feeling going through the motion for the first time. If only Elton John would cover it now, I could retire!
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What are the plans for the Siau Trio? I've liked everything I've heard so far - are they a permanent band or do you work around other commitments?
I invented all sorts of different names to precise the period it took place. It's difficult to separate only mentioning Starvin Marvin. As well on certain events I can get more gigs under different names. But yes, Siau Trio is the spine of who I've been playing with for the last 5 years, though it's difficult to afford a band like that. If we only could drive Rolls into swimming-pools, or throw TVs out of the hotel windows, where have all the good times gone? Well yeah, that's what you get if you wanna imitate the Who. It's not that bad, but I guess we both just have to be patient. If I could control violence and know that everything has been paid, I don't wanna harm innocent people anymore. If rock & roll could be this controlled chaos it could be easy to do again, but not on someone else's expenses. So, that's why I still want to go on, cause it's better than that, what seemed out of control could be a gigantic constellation of harmonising vibrations. For me it's important to get back on the road again, but I already gained enough experience to see things coming my way without really wanting them. Some things will just have to take place with or without exposure (I prefer without).
I now made an acoustic band also, as well as a jazz band, and pretty soon I'll have a classical chamber orchestra! What's great about it you only get to know better and better musicians. But seriously, get me some gigs, I can only be bad if I really want to. I have to add that the work that Jo is doing now for Kevin can be written amongst the highest benefacts happening now and brings out the better Kevin, you've never seen before, chapeau Jo ! Same counts for me, it straightened me out.
Your favourite guitar? - and for the technoheads, what's this 'stereo space guitar' you've got?!
Fender Stratocaster. I have a Gibson LGO, I frequently use playing with Kevin, an Ibanez 12-string acoustic, a Burns London, which I adore, an Epiphone Texan, too good to be true. I also use a Turkish guitar, like in London with "Lady Rachel", called a Bahlama. I still would like to get hold of a Burns Marvin, that would be something! The stereo space guitar (I wish I never mentioned that) was simply my Strat lying on the table, zooming away with lots of sustain. I used it on both channels, that's why it's stereo. Underneath I hold the strings by means of a midi-converter to a synth.
Most people will now be aware of your involvement on Lady June's 'Hit and Myth' - have you known June a long time? Did you arrange your own music to fit her words?
I've known June since the first time I stayed at Kevin's place, but didn't know who she really was. In my room I found her book "Uppers & Downers", next to Kev's "Book of Breakfasts". Well impressed I invited her out one evening to have a drink in the next village and a quick visit to Chopin's house. I saw her regularly on the beach gathering shells and pebbles for Ollie's house, or in the valley performing sketches, or at parties of course. Unfortunately, I didn't know of "Linguistic Leprosy", 'till 4 years ago, when Kevin proposed me to work with her - Amazing Belgium! Shortly after we met at the Gong week-end, where we renewed acquaintance. Shortly after she called me up and told me she was going to come to Belgium. She sent me a tape which arrived the day before she arrived. We directly checked into my nephew's studio and laid down 3 tracks. The next 3 weeks we worked at our ease at my place, the Frog, Sh*t and, Quack studio ! (thanks to Oliver for supplying the gear) I deciphered the old rusty demo and distilled the music out of it. It simply needed tidying up and good arrangements, so I called a few friends, and laid down 4 tracks more. I first recorded her voice together with the guitar, tight to her lips. That was the hardest part, but I think she did great and stood through reasonable high dilemmas. One day, while being very tense she became ill and started losing eyesight. The cause seemed to be a too high blood pressure closing down the blood-supply round the eyes. Swell, 3 days of hospital surgeries! The Belgian Health Service system works better than any other, that Lady June will affirm. The only pity there is I find is that one of the most difficult songs to do has been left out. Maybe a run for the next CD!
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Can you remember that gig at the Powerhaus in London back in October 94 and the Gong gig the week after?? Would you like to return to the UK as a duo this year?
What can I say for me as a Belgian musician to be in the midst of London's finest musicians, incredible now, and I long to return to the UK this year as a duo, hopefully at the Canterbury festival.
On behalf of the Wizards, it sure was a pleasure that first gig in the PowerHaus taking over the hard work for a moment. It's a pity I didn't confirm the Eb in "Everybody's Sometimes Blues" to Andrew Bass well, it was all very much instant magic. Excellent work lads, Man Made Self, because it's there!
You are a guitarist....what's your guitarist's view of Ollie Halsall? Do you have any fond memories of him?
He is undoubtedly the most brilliant guitarist I've ever known. The best memories I have of him are from the beginning, back in ''81, On Kevin's terrace he made a placard with "Happening Combo" and 'free entrance" on it. The tourists down the calle didn't believe their eyes when they stepped right in, and saw us jamming. That was Ollie playing organ, Zanna singing, Kevin also a bit + cowbell and me of course, playing my pink guitar. The best performance I remember was Ollie doing a piece of Lord Buckley, "Joanna and the Cigarette Tree", if I remember well. Kevin has many pictures of that day, I hope he still finds them. In '82, while Kevin was touring through Belgium, I invited Ollie to play piano on my first record single, and he did. Everybody thought it was a joke but I won all the bets that day, on the 1st of April. (Birdseeds, Vogue VB677).
Tell us about Izzy, Dad! (Marvinís son, born 11.08.96) Have you written him a song yet?
Yes, life makes more sense and surely keeps you going with kids of your own. As long as you don't have any you don't realise the intensity and security that surrounds the experience, I'm glad I have, it opened my eyes, it's unbelievable ! All I can say that he's a beautiful, healthy- looking baby. I'll ask if Annemie (mother) has something to say, but says I have to finish this to change his diapers. Yes, this is the new Siau Trio!
Finally, what's your favourite Kevin song that you play at gigs....and which is the most difficult? What's your own favourite Marvin Siau song? Any plans to write more with Kevin? Or record??
Favourite song, let's say "`Super Salesman", ' cause I always liked it from the album. There's without a doubt also "Ghost Train", but we rarely play this one. Most difficult ones are "May I" and "Everybody's SometÔmes", but then again a challenge to play.
My favourite own song, "When Love Comes On", ĎSome try to fake it, but some are strong, we're all standing naked, when love comes on, and on, can you feel it?í
We're talking about writing some songs, just have to find the right writer's block and circumstances to get in the mood to do some deep-sea research. Ahum! There is Ď Englandí, so what are we waiting for?
WAWS would like to express gratitude to Marvin for his time and effort in answering our questions. Cheers!!