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Interviews of Prog

Martin Orford
Martin Orford
Interview by Vitaly Menshikov (on Friday, May 14, 2000).

VM: Many thanks for doing the interview, Martin. First off, I want to congratulate you on the successful activity of IQ for several last years. However, it is always interesting to learn about the past. Please tell the story of the band - from the very beginning.

MO: IQ was formed in 1981 by myself and Mike Holmes. We had previously been in a band called The Lens, which was mainly instrumental, and we formed the new band to broaden the scope of our music. In actual fact, some of the earliest IQ music was in a dance music vein, a bit like Talking Heads, and it took a while before we settled down into a more prog rock direction. After a couple if independent albums, we had a brief flirtation with a major record deal (Polygram)between 1985-89, but since then, we have been completely independent of the music industry.

VM: It seems to be obvious for me why your band was named IQ. InstruMENTAL arrangements on the debut album "Tales from the Lush Attick" I still consider the most profound (together with the Amenophis debut album) 'phenomenon' within the framework of Progressive Rock in those 'dark' years - closer to the mid-80's. But, anyway, I would like to hear your own opinion, why IQ was named exactly so?

MO: There was no particularly deep thinking involved with choosing the name IQ; we just thought that it was a short and memorable name. We always hated the long Tolkein-type names that some prog bands had, and we wanted something that sounded much more business-like. Mike was doing a psychology course at the time, and we got the name from one of his course books. Despite that, none of the members of IQ are particularly intellectual, and I don't think that any of us ever went to University.

VM: I know, originally the debut album by IQ was recorded a year before the "Tales...". But, it would not appear until 1998, being released by your own recording company "Giant Electric Pea". Please tell me why that album was never released in the same 1982? And why did you reach the decision to release it only in 1998, whereas GEP label was created by you in the beginning of the 90's? What is that which makes this album valuable for you?

MO: The first album "Seven Stories" was only ever released on cassette because that was all we could afford at the time. Back in 1982 we were so poor we had to live on 2.00 a week each for food, and we often had to busk in the London Underground stations (with various guitars/flutes etc.) to get that. We certainly couldn't afford to press up an album in those days, so we raised money by recording hundreds of "Seven Stories" CD's at home, and we would sit there for hours making up all the covers by hand. If the fridge came on the tape machine cut out, so we would have to start recording the cassette all over again! Lots of people had fond memories of the "Seven Stories" cassettes, so the 1998 release was by popular demand. We did think it would be fun to record new versions of those tracks too, which made the re-release an even more popular item.

VM: It's the right time to talk about your recording company - "Giant Electric Pea". Why did you decide to create a label of your own? Are you still happy with it before its 10th anniversary?

MO: We formed our own label because we thought that the major labels did a really bad job, and we thought that we could do better. I'm happy to say we were right. Did you know that the "Promises" single was a huge radio hit in Germany, but never sold any copies because the record company forgot to make any? I don't think it's possible to do a worse job than that! GEP is now up to 25 releases, and I think that with artists like Spock's Beard and John Wetton in addition to the IQ/Jadis catalogue, we have been responsible for releasing some of the best music of the 1990's.

VM: Starting with "The Wake" and till "Are You Sitting Comfortably?" throughout the music can be characterized as typical Neo art rock with accessible melodies. What motives made you deviate from your original complex structures abound on the debut?

MO: What on earth is Neo art rock? I don't really understand all these labels. We just write songs we like and that's it. We have always written great little pop songs, and sometimes we linked them all together to make a long track like "The Last Human Gateway", and sometimes we would just do them as pop songs. We did a lot of shorter songs on the Nomzamo and Are You Sitting albums as we wanted to try and get a hit single and make lots of money! I can't see anything wrong with trying to be rich and famous, and we tried to make our music appeal to as wide a range of people as possible. There is absolutely no point in the kind of wilful obscurity that some prog bands seem to crave; if someone asked IQ to do the Eurovision song contest, we'd probably do that too!

VM: Listening to the compilation of 1991 and knowing the content of the albums recorded with Paul Mennel, I noticed that in that period the most complex and interesting tracks were set aside. Was it done purposely?

MO: We didn't set the complex tracks aside; Wurensh is one of the most complicated things we ever did! It is fair to say that we were trying to push the more radio-friendly songs as we thought they were our best bet for success. Most of the more complex tracks on the J'ai Pollette compilation were survivals from the "Seven Stories" era, and we actually re-recorded "It All Stops Here" and Intelligence Quotient" with Paul for a picture disc single.

VM: I'm glad you are back to your progressive roots with "Ever" and "Subterranea" albums. As I noticed in my reviews on them, the music has become more mature and original. Can the comeback to the old structures be explained by the existance of your own label or else by the renewed interest to this kind of music?

MO: We don't have any progressive roots, and generally most of the members of IQ don't particularly like what most people describe as progressive rock. What makes IQ interesting is that our roots are in other forms of music. I was brought up with classical music, and I missed the 1970's prog rock thing completely. Mike Holmes is into dance music, and he DJ's at a rave club, whilst Paul Cook listens almost exclusively to big-band jazz. John Jowitt is into quite grungy rock like Mr Bungle and Primus, whilst Peter Nicholls like a lot of indie rock bands like Placebo, even though his favourite act is The Partridge Family. Because we have a genuine melting pot of influences, we're not churning out second-hand 70's prog like so many of the other bands that seem to be around at the moment. I think it's great that we can write a very commercial song like "Subterranea" using a synth dance loop as its basis, and because it's part of a concept album everyone thinks it's a prime bit of prog rock, rather than the pop song that it really is! We never intentionally decide to write in a particular way though, we just use the best things that come out regardless of what style they're in.

VM: Do the stylistics of +Ever+ and +Subterranea+ give the direction in which you're going to work further? Or do you have some other ideas?

MO: I honestly haven't got a clue what direction the next album will be in, and I won't know until it's finished! We just go with the flow and see what comes out at the other end.

VM: What music do you personally like to listen?

MO: I very rarely listen to music. As it's my work, it's not something I'm particularly interested in as a leisure activity.

VM: What are the plans of the band for the current year?

MO: Mike Holmes has just completed the mix for the "Subterranea Live" video and double CD, and we expect them to be released in July. My solo album is at a very advanced stage of development and that will be released in August. Also in August, we will start recording the new IQ studio album, which should be released in November, when we plan a short European tour.

VM: Thank you very much, Martin. I appreciate your time.

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