The Past Presents: Spider Bites, Intense Fans, Polish Grammy Winners
- Her Space Holiday »
Still, I'm looked upon with some sympathy when I arrive - London's network of pedestrian subways and subterranean train lines have broken the sweltering heat barrier, and I'm less than comfortable down there (and there, and there) when I collapse, breathlessly, through the door ten or fifteen after the prearranged time. Still, it's not all bad: the sun's shining, albeit through a thick smoggy haze today, and Bianchi's in good spirits. He's in London simply to talk shop, no gig to hurry off to come the conclusion of our chat. His spindly, tattooed arms stretched before him, he smiles accommodatingly. Her Space Holiday's new record, The Past Presents The Future, is released in a few weeks - by the time you read this it's already available in your local record store - and Bianchi, author/performer of the piece in question, is happy to talk it up. But, first, a diversion...
First, the spider incident. We heard you'd been bitten by a particularly nasty bugger in Japan, and that you were, for a time at least, in a life-threatening position?
The details are a little random - a little gray - about what happened, but this is what I know. In the middle of our trip to Japan we decided to get away to this little country town, and we stayed on a lake, so there were lots of bugs around. When we got back we had two days left in Japan, and I noticed that my foot had started to get a little red. I assumed it was because we'd been walking around a lot, but it kind of hurt a little bit. Then right before we were to go to the airport, I woke up in the morning and my leg was totally swollen. The plane trip was about 12 hours, and about two hours into it my leg just started getting bigger. By the time we got off the plane I couldn't walk at all - it looked like I had a red sock on. My friends helped me hop along on their shoulders, and then my mum picked us up and she was like, "We've got to get you to the Emergency Room." I thought that maybe I'd sprained my ankle, so when we went to the ER and the doctors looked at it, they rushed me into the back. They didn't tell me what they thought it was, but took my mum out of the room and started talking to her. She came back in and looked really panicked. The doctors told me not to move, but after a few days the infection started moving up my leg, and then they said it was a highly toxic insect bite, probably from a spider. They put me on antibiotics and told me that if I'd come in maybe two hours later I probably wouldn't have made it. They drew this black line around my leg, and said that if the infection spread above it at any point I had to come back to the ER - then it would be serious. They put me on these antibiotics and checked me every two days, and the infection didn't spread, so I survived. It's a little red still.
So no more trips to Japan for a while, then?
Actually we're playing the same city in a few weeks! They think it was a spider. I hope it was, because then it's unlikely to happen twice.
Let's rewind a few years: 2003's The Young Machines was a breakthrough release for you. When writing it, did it feel different from your previous releases? Did you ever think that it'd be the album to reach a wider audience with? Did you feel it'd have an enduring appeal?
I don't have that with any of the records. Which, perhaps, has got me in trouble for some of the things I've talked about, because I don't think on any level that people will actually relate to what I say. This record - especially in Japan and the rest of Europe - is considered the debut, because it was a big jump from what'd happened before. In terms of a career it's been a very slow process, and the record's still kicking, so...
And has the gradual success of The Young Machines been noticeable on tour? Have your venues increased in size, for example?
We went from playing a 200-capacity venue in Japan to a 1,400-capacity venue.
Intimacy must be important to you, though, considering the nature of the music - do such large venues mean that the songs lose any potency?
I suppose... it's weird... in The States we can still play small shows in certain cities. Then we can play a huge show in a nowhere town. We play smaller shows in the metropolises, because there's so many shows on. I think our music works better in a smaller venue. We played with The Dandy Warhols in Amsterdam, and it was weird to be on such a big stage - you couldn't see the faces in the crowd. So I feel that smaller, intimate shows are better. We keep the same gear whatever size show we play - we mix the live drums with the electronics, and that's much more predominant now, as we need the sound to travel.
Since The Young Machines is still kicking, do you feel that The Past Presents The Future is particularly anticipated? Do you feel different, knowing there's an audience for it, for sure?
I guess there's more anticipation this time. We had a remix record come out, and people were interested in hearing the new material then. It's still on such a small level, though. I think there was a little more pressure on me this time around - I actually turned in a version of the record, before the final one, which I rushed, and they were happy to put it out, but I wasn't happy. I never think the records are incredible, but I can tell when I don't feel it, when something's bugging me. I felt insecure about it, and that's when I moved from Texas to California to start over the record.
And the change of scenery helped?
Yeah, yeah. When I moved to Texas, it was the first time I started going out and partying a lot more, but I was spending way too much time getting into things I shouldn't have. By moving to the middle of nowhere I was able to just do the record. There are still things that annoy me about it, but that's just me. The first version of the new record just sounded like a bad R Kelly record.
What about the title of the new record? Is that a kind of statement of any kind?
I hope that it'll be a noticeable progression, but I know by now that you never know how people are going to react to it. You can put everything into a record and people will turn around and say that it sucks. I know, personally, that I'm happy with where it went. I'm happy with where it went because it marched to the fact that wherever you are in your life there are some uncontrollable events, but basically you're responsible for wherever you end up. If you're having fucked up relationships with people a lot of times, then it's down to you. I'm happy in myself. I mean, you don't know what people are listening, but when you realise that people are paying attention it just validates you - not on a successful level, but it makes it more real.
And the bonus is, I suppose, that you're doing okay on your own terms. This is your living now, right?
Yeah, I'm doing okay. I've been doing this for a living for the last four years, which is good. I have friends - I'm good friends with Conor [Oberst] and the guys from Death Cab [For Cutie] - and then level of success those people are at is just so insane. What I'm doing is supporting the lifestyle I want - I get to travel, and I'm doing okay.
You mentioned the remix record - since you've done a lot of remixing yourself, was it weird relinquishing control to other people?
I don't know if this is the same for everyone, but some of it I can't tell if it's good or bad because it's so different. Some of the stuff on the remix record I love, and other songs I'm not so sure about. I made a list of everyone I wanted to work with, and mostly I got them all. Two people - Prefuse  and Dangermouse - we couldn't stretch to because of the budget and time restraints. I guess it's like when an editor cuts up your work - does that happen a lot? Well, it's like that - it allows you to hear the words a different way.
Was the remix album something you wanted to do for a while?
No, it was the label's idea. It might've been bad, but we went with it anyway. It came out a lot later here [than it did in the US], and it did buy time before the new record.
You've got the new record to promote, remixes to do, a nonprofit record label (Money Fight, specialising in white labels) on the boil - do you ever take time off?
I work seven days a week, but most of it has nothing to do with Her Space Holiday. I do a lot of remixes, and I am working on a book with my friend Hanni [el Khatib, who also co-runs Money Fight]. I don't ever want to go back to work, so I do whatever I can to survive.
And there was the Polish award, too, for Monika Brodka (Brodka covered HSH's 'My Girlfriend's Boyfriend' and won the Polish equivalent of a Grammy). How surreal was that?
That was very strange. The only reason I found out about it - I didn't know she'd covered the song, as I had a publishing deal with EMI at the time - was because this kid wrote to me saying that the winner of the Polish Pop Idol had this single out. He found out about it because he'd been at a bus stop in Poland and a kid was humming the song, so he checked the kid's headphones and it was the song. Then it turned out that the singer, Monika, won a Grammy, or the Polish equivalent, for Single of the Year. I got sent a link to her performing in a stadium, and there are thousands of people singing along in Polish. It was very strange. I'm totally aware of my limitations, and I know that's probably the only time that something that I did will reach that many people. It was a really cool thing. I love pop music, in a certain sense - I couldn't make it, but if I could produce it, I have the ability to do that. That's what I'd like to do in the future.
What happens, though, if success does land in your lap on your own terms? What if you get to Japan and those 1,400-capacity shows have been upgraded?
To be honest, although I have a relationship with a lot of - I don't want to call them fans - people that get into my music, I don't sell a lot of records. The people that really do like it, they can be really fanatical, to the point where I get letters from people asking for help with their problems. Some of it's really intense, so if that was on a larger level I couldn't take it. But if people like that record and are having a good time, then it'd be pretty cool. When people are escorted from venues for being too aggressive, which has happened, that I don't like. They're really over emotional, and I don't mean that in a terrible way - I take people seriously - but I don't know how to react all the time. It's worse for other people, though: with Conor, he actually has to not be physically present; he has to be backstage all the time. But I still sell my own merchandise, even though I don't need to, because I like the interaction.
Tape clicks off but we talk a little longer, Bianchi later remarking that our interview wasn't much like an interview at all, but rather a more social encounter, and says that certain journalists have gone on the attack from the outset, looking to pick holes in his lyrics or to suggest that his heart-on-sleeve approach isn't wholly suitable for impressionable youths. Me, I say that Bright Eyes beat him to it, commercially at least, so what's the deal? Bianchi's never likely to compromise, lyrically, but at least his latest work, The Past Presents The Future, finds his mind in a much happier place than the much-acclaimed crossover record. It's a record that's both tender and taut, as cold and mechanical as it is warmhearted and human. Like The Young Machines it's a certain grower, so don't be too surprised if those 1,400-capacity shows are considered intimate in another two years' time.
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