Damaged greats

Oct 18, 2000 at 12:00 am

"Fooking insane."

That's how Martin Atkins describes his life these days. The drummer for Public Image Ltd. and Pigface and owner of Invisible Records is touring in support of the new full-length release by Damage Manual. A supergroup of industry gurus, it includes Atkins and bassist Jah Wobble of Public Image Ltd. (with Wobble replaced by Charles Levi for the tour), guitarist Geordie Walker of Killing Joke, singer Chris Connelly of Revolting Cocks, as well as keyboardist Lee Frasier.

"I think that in America right now, in the music entertainment business," Atkins explains, "you're either working round the clock, just mad, or you’re not — you’re not in the business. It's just the way it is right now and I’m not sure it'll ever be any different."

He knows. He spent 18 hours a day for 18 months putting together the self-titled release, an assembly line of a CD, with each artist offering specific elements that Atkins mashed and distorted, looped and chopped. It took him a month before he even felt prepared enough to pull out the proverbial scissors.

"That really screwed with my head. I wasn't just cutting up bass guitars. I was cutting up Jah Wobble's bass guitar. Once I cleared away, though, I started to move forward. It was just a lot of work."

In the end, 13 aggressive, liberating and distinct songs peeked through, each different from the last, but with a flow and rhythm one expects from each music veteran.

Which isn't to say Damage Manual sounds like part PiL, part Revolting Cocks, part Killing Joke. It has its own sound. And as the band tours, Atkins says the group is still developing that sound. Some nights it's a rock band, others "a trance DJ coming out the speakers where the band was irrelevant."

It takes a lot to keep a small label going for 13 years, but Atkins doesn't equate buying independent albums to feeding deer in the winter, as if record buyers are just stretching out a slow death by starvation.

"It is possible to make a living making music, but I think you need to have a few CDs out there. (Invisible Records) has a bunch of bands who sell between one and three thousand copies, and I think for those bands, it starts to make more sense when they’ve got four or five records out there."

Atkins wasn't always as "comfortable" as he is now. Some years back after he had left Public Image Ltd., he had to find a way to pay for the house in LA with the pool. He was an illegal alien with a severe fever. He needed money and made it by planting trees on the estate of Tico Torres, Bon Jovi's drummer.

"That whole experience was very useful to me. People in the music business tend to be like, 'Well we're in the music business' like that's some kind of elite. And really, I think guys with chainsaws, building decks, coming in from all different angles, joining in the middle, lining up perfectly, all of these 18-inch-by-20-foot beams, that's poetry."

In today's post-postmodern world, not only is it complicated for artists to keep artistic integrity while making a living, it's hard for consumers to know what they like as just a few labels batter just a few artists into their collective consciousness. Industrial music has survived, Atkins says, because of its universal appeal, even if you have to search a little to find it.

"I always thought the definition of industrial music was anything. That's why Pigface (a rotating group sometimes including up to 27 people) has had five people playing bagpipes, sitar, belly dancers, Christmas trees. Once you start to narrow and decrease the scope of things you allow yourself to be open to, then you're fucked.

"In my campaign, there should be two categories of music: good and shit. There should be a dividing line down the center of the record stores, like a moat, and on one side it should be painted brown and just filled with rubbish. They should come in with a shovel and just load up the shit, treat all those releases like I'm sure they treat horseshit at the stables. Shovel it in.

"And on the other side, it will be really nice and sweet-smelling and have good music. And that's it. All the categories jumbled up. There's an awful lot of dangerous, awful things that could happen to you if you take a wrong turn. Christ, you're in Detroit. Take a wrong turn and you’re in the wrong neighborhood, and someone’s tapping on your window, trying to sell you crack. You could be in trouble, you run out of gas, you're screwed. For Christ's sake, what's going to happen if you take a wrong turn in the record store? It would be nice if people were a bit braver when it comes to music."

Be brave.

Melissa Giannini is the Metro Times music writer. E-mail her at [email protected].