By James Currie
Pigface an industrial supergroup founded by Martin Atkins and Bill Rieflin. They are the Parliament Funkadelic of Industrial-Avant-garde-Punk Rock music. Spearheaded by Atkins, an accomplished veteran drummer who helped form the sound of a generation. Their live performances consist of at least a dozen musicians at the same time that usually is driven by two drummers and other multi instrumentalists.
Atkins contributions to music include bashing the skins and tins for icons like Public Image Ltd, Ministry, Killing Joke and Nine Inch Nails to name just a few. Rieflin’s resume just as impressive and is tied to such bands as KMFDM, Ministry, R.E.M., Revolting Cocks among a dozen others. Together, they founded Pigface in 1991. A band of merrymen (and women) from around the globe united creatively to bring free-formed, controlled chaos to the stage.
Fresh off the Ministry “cage” tour they both worked, they decided there was something special about a double drummer industrial sound that could go further and brought together some of the most recognizable names in to support their new found project.
This new project would continue that industrial supergroup spirit. Built off that Ministry experience. It exists to fill a live, intense, in your face audio gap left from “The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste” tour. Together, they designed Pigface to be a revolving door of members from the music scene they helped define. Some of their 200+ members throughout their 25 years have included; Trent Reznor, En Esch, Nivek Ogre, Paul Barker, Chris Connelly and Chris Vrenna.
Fast forward 25 years later and we find a new, but familiar, Pigface, still a supergoup but with Atkins solely at the helm. Actively controlling what he claims is the last creative chaos and final incarnation of the band for their 25th anniversary.
This time around Atkins is putting the band back together for one more show. A special Pigface 25 reunion in honor of all that’s been. This one off show will happen in Chicago at the House of Blues on Black Friday, November 25th, 2016 for one night only. As usual, we’ll see some familiar names along with some new. Bandmates coming in from around the globe to participate in what appears to be, the final Pigface performance, as we soon learned this and much more from Martin Atkins himself during an interview conducted just days before this historic event is to take place.
James Currie: Good morning Marteeen, how are you doing today?
Martin Atkins: I’m good thanks. If I lose you or you hear the phone drop, it’s because I’m in a fitting room trying on some new pants.
JC: (laughs) We’ll all right, should I try you again a littler later?
MA: No, It’s Ok. I’m taking these. (ha)
JC: OK cool. I guessing you are a little more than excited about Friday? …and those pants.
MA: Ha, yeah, well excited is a good word, but, I don’t want to sound like a press release, but, I don’t know if you saw the most recent video I posted, but it’s of Bob (Bob Dog Catlin) playing sitar in my living room with my wife and Mary Byker just sitting around talking and laughing and smiling. Others are there as well and being there while it’s happening, just kind of makes it all seem meaningful.
JC: Yeah, I can see this is something pretty special at many levels.
MA: Well, there’s been a few times I get risk, you know, I understand it but in the last couple of weeks I get like, oh, that’s great, but when Mary Byker posted that his visa had been approved, but he still had to go through the Brazilian consulate for more and the 3 day holidays in Rio and I think, oh my god, that was last Thursday, one more day and he wouldn’t be here. You throw things into the air and hope the American government isn’t going to F things up or there isn’t going to be a volcanic ash cloud or something.
One of our crew guys got snowed in, in Erie Pennsylvania and it’s like… (cashier interrupts Martin) How much are they? (cashier – $24.98) Perfect, can I get two pairs please. Thank you… (Martin rolls right back into our conversation) So it’s like, oh crap, this is getting so close to not happening…
JC: I can’t even imagine the logistics of this alone.
MA: I get things. I don’t mean to sound snarky, but were you are Cold Waves at all?
JC: Yes, of course.
MA: I get it. I run budgets. But you know, I wrote a book about touring, but two guys and a laptop you know, I get it and understand the economics of it, but it’s not what makes me to do this. I mean, we’re all just loving it, just living it.
JC: I’m really excited to see all the enthusiasm for this. So far people are digging what you’re doing with it all. The buzz is pretty insane. So, how did this happen? Why is this happening now? Was made this be after such a long hiatus? Was it the Pigface 25th anniversary and exhibit?
MA: Yeah that’s all part of it. There are a few hiatus’ going on here. There’s a Pigface hiatus which I’m wondering if that might be connected to the passing of Paul Raven? His name has come up so many times already and all. So a little bit of that. Also a little bit of I’m absolutely not ready to do this, but I’m not going to celebrate the 26th anniversary. If I don’t do the 25th, will I still be around to do the 30th? I mean, who won’t be? Somebody won’t be sadly that’s pretty certain.
It’s also, I know what drives me – a deadline on things. I teach students all the time about deadlines so it’s what I need to follow. So instead of waiting for everything to be right, I did that Pigface exhibit in May (of this year) a couple of things aligned and I’m like, OK fuck it. I dropped like 22 pounds in the last several months, I wish it were more, but did things to ready my existence into things with Pigface right now, but it might also saved my existence.
JC: I’ve seen your “change” and “transformation” these past few months. Not only your physique, but your demeanor and passion for things. I’ve heard the stress in your voice with each conversation we’ve had. (chuckles)
MA: (ha) Right, but as I’ve said in the beginning. I haven’t laughed as much all year as these last three days. And we’re not even all together yet.
So also, the other hiatus was kind of me and my drums. I don’t know if that was Raven related or not but, I think I’ve done a little Damage Manual, but I’ve really been involved in the world of education and curriculum and speaking and I like doing that but you know, I’ve beat the drums since I was nine and I’ve tried to find the balance where I’m all these people. I like the dad part of the educator and the drum. My son Harrison was downstairs and said, “Dad, did you hear the fucking part of the sitar?” from him an I was like, “how many parents can say oh no someone’s playing the sitar in the living room again.” To be able to have them experience that is just really great.
JC: Absolutely. I try and do the same with mine on a slightly different level. Ha So what can we expect from this formation of Pigface and specifically this one show on Friday at the House of Blues Chicago?
MA: Well ahhhh, I don’t know that we know yet. We’ve been working really hard on all of the bits and our own personal bits and the idea of it. We really stopped performing before the internet was a big thing like it is today. I mean, I’m not 16. People have been exchanging private vocal harmonies over a private Facebook account and messing around with ideas and sounds.
We did a Facebook poll were was asked, hey with Frankie (Groovie Mann), Charles Levi and Laura Gomel from Thrill Kill Kult, if we were gonna play a Thrill Kill Kult song, what would it be and a couple hundred people wanted Daisy Chains For Satan. We’re not just putting up picture of people playing and hanging out but using the internet to help us. We don’t know if we’re going to do a Thrill Kill Kult song, but it sounds like it would be a good idea but for fuck sake, lets not play the one no one wants to hear you know.
JC: (chuckles) Right, right. Get the feel for what the fans want, but also what you can actually do.
MA: I’m really intrigued by the sitar, the cello and the looped fiddle. I’m trying to fight with this emotion of just wanting to sit in the audience and sit and listen. But combine this with what is Pigface and make it sort of, full steam ahead. So I don’t know what’s gonna happen, but I do know that everybody is really excited to experience it. And I don’t mean the audience, but of course that great, but the band. I think that we’ve managed to hold onto that gleeful delight of experimenting with music in a non masterbatorial way of entertaining people and also entertaining ourselves which is why I think we actually entertain people. We’re like, what the fuck! What happens when you do this?
I looked at that map the other day and it’s not just members of the band that are coming in from all over the world, but audience is coming in from all over the world and it’s getting a bit tingly.
JC: Oh yeah, you can see it in the Facebook posts alone and the fan chatter.
It sounds like it’s an organic development that’s still progressing right now at more than a few levels. Do you expect any more surprises or last minute guests to join you on this adventure?
MA: I don’t know. I mean… I honestly don’t know.
JC: Were there people on the fence who were considering doing this or not sure they could because of all those logistics involved? Maybe couldn’t commit earlier but might free up last minute? Are you going to keep anyone a secret until the show? A Black Friday surprise? I mean, I know we’re not getting a turkey.
MA: No, I think that disingenuine would be the word here. I mean, oh who knows tune in Friday night and see. No but honestly, there are some people that said, actually, I’m not saying no, but you know as soon as Fallon Bowman said, “I moved to Denmark” and I’m like, ahhh shit! She’ like, I’m getting on a plane. Or Martin King called from England and said, “I’m coming with my mates”. That was it for me you know.
I don’t know how many people there are right now, 25 or 30, but there’s also the surprises in the special connections in reunions are not confined to on stage, but with others and special crew people we haven’t seen in a while. So there’s all these different levels going around.
The last time Mary Byker saw my son Ian, he was one years old. It’s like a family reunion thing going on. I don’t want to say the music wasn’t important, because I was up at WZRD on Saturday and the guy played like 10 songs and I was like, oh fucking hell, oh that was really great. (laughs) And of course there’s all kinds of shit with poorly calculated bad combinations of Pigface but there’s some amazing stuff as well. So I don’t know if it’s the personalities as a social thing bonds us all together if it’s the music or it’s the walking through fire together creates that bond. I don’t know but I don’t believe we’ve done it in like 12-14 years so I’m really excited for it.
JC: That’s absolutely great. There’s nothing quite like a friendship bond at any level.
So there’s not only the Pigface aspect of this with rejoining with old friends, but you’re also bringing and building this local support with this gig. New friends. Something that you’ve always been a big proponent of.
MA: Yeah, Project .44 and W.O.R.M. are opening along with Dead Voices On Air and Ruby.
JC: And how did these groups get selected to be a part of this event?
MA: I think there was a point maybe 10-14 years ago the history of Invisible Records where the WORM guys just rolled up their sleeves and helped in any way they could. I mean, those guys have been around. One of my first questions to them was, how many of the Cold Waves festivals have you guys played? Because it (Cold Waves) was just before us and I wanted to keep the line up kind of different. We’ve helped them in the past with different events and fund raising. I was surprised to learn that neither of the bands has ever played any Cold Waves. So that made it something that I really wanted to do. They are good guys and the last time I saw WORM, they were opening for Hate Dept. It was fantastic.
JC: Yeah those guys (and gal), have really grown throughout the years. One of my local favorites for sure.
JC: OK, one last thing to ask you here. What’s the one thing you want fans to know about this upcoming show at the House of Blues? What are they in for?
MA: Ah, I’m gonna sound like an absolute twat… All of the public and private communications to me over the last couple of months have been about a point in time where a Pigface record or a concert has really helped or altered the perception of things in some way. Either getting married on stage in Pittsburgh or me giving out some tickets in Denver to somebody that I didn’t realize was on leave from tour of duty in Iraq and being contacted by those people like 14-15 years later. These experience, like the ones I talked about earlier, doesn’t happen a lot in Industrial music anymore. It doesn’t happen a lot in general. Everybody’s looking for the bottom line and try to be protected by the bottom line. And there’s fucking protection when you’ve got 30 people coming in and immigration and flights and all.
It’s a lesson to me in that there’s a power of the tangible force of music, that has the power to connect and heal and energize and inspire. That’s what it is. I’ve been very surprised about the energy level that people have brought to this and it’s been spectacular.
So I think that a lot of people coming have been to a Pigface show in the past and or their bringing their kids. Couple people has said, hey, can my sixteen year old get in? It’s that. It’s a retying of those bonds and reconnections that are happening. And I’m sure there will be some new people who will be like, WHAT. THE. FUCK. Or there might be some who see it and say, call my manager, I want to do five drum kits, three bass players blah blah blah and they’ll look at the numbers and go…what the fuck.
And that’s the other part of this. Doing things that shouldn’t be done. That’s always been punk rock to me. It’s that as well.
JC: So are there any plans for future Pigface from all of this? Will this develop into something else? Maybe a new album? Tour? Etc?
MA: No, I mean, that’s crossed my mind but I think it was important to just do this and keep it as keep it as out of control and under control as it possibly could be. But honestly, I just don’t see the possibility of making this happen again. I said in the beginning that this was the last Pigface show. There’s little pieces of me that go, really Martin, really? I definitely know I gonna play my drums but you know, this has been eight months of an awful lot of hard work and I think this is gonna be it.
JC: Those are pretty big and committed statements there.
MA: Yeah, I’m getting a bit fucking choked up talking about it. I can’t say what will happen with all the connections from all this, but I can say my back is pretty fucked. I’ve been working on that but honestly I don’t know.
JC: Well, on that note, I think this is it for our interview as well. Thank you again Marteeen Atkins. Looking forward to the show.
Current roster for the Pigface 25 live is still being developed, but as we’ve learned so far (as of this interview) will consist of:
For more information on Pigface, click here
For tickets and show time info on the House of Blues Chicago show, click here
For a chance to win tickets to the Pigface 25 House of Blues Chicago show, click here