Interview: Pagan Wanderer Lu

In a new foray into the world of technology FFS interviewed Andy Regan, AKA Pagan Wanderer Lu, over MSN. PWL’s first general release album Fight My Battles For Me was released recently on Brainlove Records, but Andy has been writing, recording and playing under the moniker for nine years. He also dabbles in writing – and wrote a series of blogs for the Independent in the run up to his album release, which are well worth a read. We’ve tried to ask him the sort of questions that’d get him talking cos, as you’ll see, he has something interesting to say on pretty much every subject. Now you sit back and enjoy the interview while we reflect on our realisation that we’ve effectively got an artist to transcribe our interview for us…

 

FFS: Oh good it worked… hello

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Hi, seems to have sort of worked.

FFS: How’re you?

PWL: I’m good. Bit tired. Booking trains for gigs. Exciting. Next gig is the first one where I’ve not had a Young Person’s Railcard.

FFS: They should probably do a musicians railcard of some sort. Or a young-at-heart one… although it would be horrible to have to describe yourself as that in order to get one.

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Especially if you had to do some sort of crazy little jig at the counter, demonstrating your youthful joie de vivre. I’d rather just pay.

FFS: I’ll start the write up with “PWL is a proud man…” Right. I shall start asking you sensible questions. (I’ve not done an interview over MSN before, but suspect it might be a genius idea to be oft repeated, what with both interactivity and ease of transcription.)

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Yeah, John Brainlove does them a lot I think. He did one with Fuck Buttons and they ended up using bits of it as song titles. Such as ‘Okay, let’s talk about magic’. *Puts on Fuck Buttons album*

Question #1: On your blog you posted reviews of Fight my Battles for Me and answered your critics about the length of the album – what was your reason for doing that?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: I wouldn’t say I answered them in the sense of trying to rebut them. I thought saying the album was too long was a fair comment. It was just something I’d considered beforehand and decided to go with it anyway. Just thought I’d explain my reasons. (i.e. – value for money, being possibly the only released document of PWL… those things.)  [see blog post here]

FFS: You also wrote that post about the guy (whose name I’ve unprofessionally not written down) who only ever gave two interviews and no biographical info. So are you intrigued by the idea of having no interaction other than the music?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Jandek is his name. I really admire how he’s gone about things. No one knows what his reasons are for doing it that way.  No one has any real comment on what his art means to him, his motivations behind it. It gives it a kind of purity and intrigue.

And there are layers and layers to it. Things like the song ‘Nancy Sings’, where after about five albums there’s suddenly this genuinely beautiful female voice comes in for one song then disappears, only to return a few albums later, disappear again, then she’s back then eventually she never comes back. Who was she? What was her relationship to jandek himself? Does she even know her singing appeared on those albums?

Plus the music itself is so distinctive. At first it’s got this ‘what the fuck’ factor like it’s completely awful, but after a while you realise it’s quite intentional and considered and that after 55 albums of doing largely the same thing the guy must have total commitment to it… but no one knows why…. Amazing…. and yet he’s quite approachable. I got a letter off him the other day. Very friendly. But probably because I didn’t ask him any personal questions.

FFS: What?! You’re the one person he’ll talk to?

Pagan Wanderer Lu says: No, not just me. If you write to him to order CDs and ask him a question he’ll do you a little note in reply. He always has.

FFS: Ah ok, he’s bypassing the media but is willing to interact with fans?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: I suppose. He won’t talk about the music though. If you ask him a factual question like about when a certain live show will be released then he’ll reply.

FFS: In an anti-twitter kind of way…

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Yeah. No e-mail. He just uses a PO box in Texas. The same one he’s had since 1978. I think it’s fascinating. Clearly The Myth Of Jandek is what first gets people’s attention, but once you start to digest and appreciate the music the myth only deepens as you start wanting to join the dots of what he does.

Question #2: Have you ever tried to shut yourself off? To ignore reviews of your music, or not read them?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: I haven’t said that yet. But then I haven’t any really bad reviews. I’ve had ones where I think ‘well that person hasn’t really paid attention’ or where the reviewer obviously wasn’t that taken by it. But I’ve never had any negative reviews. So for now if I read a review it’s mostly gratifying cos someone’s saying I’m good. Can’t argue with that. I don’t think there’s any harm in reading them. If you’ve got a real commitment to what you do and you think you’ve done the best you could, then you’re not going to be too bothered what people think.

FFS: I remember on DIS you said you’d never got annoyed/upset by anything anyone said on the internet and neither should anyone else. Would that go for reviews too?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Did I say that? It sounds like the sort of thing I’d say…. I think when I said that I was probably talking about messageboard discussions, and the detailed social interactions on a particular site. People can take passing comments a little too seriously. Though the counter argument is that people should think before they post and ask whether they’d say that to someone in person. Thing is I do say things which could be taken as quite insulting in person but I don’t mean them. So my online habits are no different. Most people seem to figure that out.

I saw this interview once where some little twunt off some hacker forum was talking about why people get offended by things…. he told the journalist that she was a shit journalist and she got all offended and said ‘why do you say that?’ His response was that he had tapped into her insecurity. If he’d said ‘you have green hair’ she wouldn’t have been offended because she knows she doesn’t have green hair… but because part of her feared she might, in fact, be a shit journalist she was offended because he touched a nerve. I could kind of see his point.

FFS: It’s more that he said something subjective rather than objective

Pagan Wanderer Lu: I think that’s maybe why reviews don’t bother me. I don’t think my music is super amazing and perfect. I’m very conscious of what I think are its successes and failings… If someone identifies different failings and I don’t agree then I just… I dunno… I guess I just think they’re wrong and let it go.

FFS: Ok so have you ever read a review and found its criticism constructive?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Not a review really. i’ve had constructive criticism off friends. Sometimes I take it on board. I think it’d be pretty sad if someone changed what they were doing just because of a review maybe that would mean they weren’t comepletely into it in the first place?Which would be okay, everyone’s got to find their niche. Like you say, reviews are completely subjective. People forget that. Like the reviews I posted on the blog – some were off ‘proper’ websites, some were just off people’s blogs. They’re both equally valid – just cos someone writes well enough to have a given site’s endorsement doesn’t mean their opinion is more right. And I know for a fact that certain large musical websites have imposed editorial policies on reviews. Such as saying ‘no you can’t give that record 10/10 because it doesn’t fit in with our site’s target audience’s taste’ and other such things.

Pagan Wanderer Lu says: What do you think the role of an endorsed reviewer is these days? Do you buy into this ‘gatekeeper’ idea?

FFS: I’m not sure. I think recommendations from a reviewer/publication that share your music taste has value. I used to read reviews for the sake of being entertained – and write them with the aim of being entertaining – but that’s parasitic, and not really fair. But now describing music is pretty much redundant, so I think the main point is to direct people who might like something to it.

Pagan Wanderer Lu: It’s difficult because reviews can be so many things. You never really know how much good stuff is out there that never even gets reviewed. That’s the hard part.

FFS: There’s an overwhelming amount of good stuff which is nice, I spose.

FFS: What do you see as the point of reviews? What would you ideally like them to focus on? Both as an artist and as a reader?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: I really like how Pitchfork write about things actually. I might be in a minority there. They’re passionate, they write well, they give stuff in a given genre to a reviewer who knows loads about that genre and has heard lots of music in it…. so that person has the reference points, can assess a record in context.  An of course it’s still subjective, but at least it tries to tie the record into a wider context of similar music or art, or the trajectory of the band’s career to date…. It’s old school reviewing. It aspires to be authoritative. And I can generally rely on their recommendations. If something sounds interesting and they give it a good score I can feel confident buying it.

FFS: What are your views of scoring in general?
Pagan Wanderer Lu: It’s fine. It’s a good shorthand for the person reading. I have no problem with marks out of ten.

Question #3: How did your blog for the Independent come about?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Just something John Brainlove arranged. They’ve got this ‘Independent Minds’ thing. Keyboard Choir had done one before I did mine.

FFS: Did you get lots interest/good feedback

Pagan Wanderer Lu: I don’t know really. Hard to tell. You don’t get stats on a livejournal so I don’t know how many people were reading. The people I know said they found it interesting. It’d be a good introductory thing for someone who’d never heard of me I think. That was the idea of it.

FFS: Your normal blog is really interesting – when you write about sociopolitical stuff I find myself doing lots of nodding. Do you do any writing elsewhere?

Pagan Wanderer Lu : No, I would if someone asked. Chris T-T does a column in the morning star. I could do something like that. Or I could do men’s health tips in the guardian or something…? I heard recently some columnist wrote about how the recession had meant her local coffee shop had closed so she had to buy a coffee machine and all about how she’d grown to enjoy ‘the ritual’ of making her own coffee. Typical fucking disgusting clueless middle class media bubble bullshit.

FFS: Ha! So if a broadsheet offered you a column you’d say yes?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Yes, I’d take a column if it was a good offer. Don’t know what anyone would want me to write about though.

FFS: Which would be your publication of choice?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Probably the Guardian or the Independent – out of the big papers. Or maybe I could get a column in the Daily Mail called ‘PWL’s Fact Check’ in which I check the facts of the last weeks stories and found them all to be utterly groundless pandering bollocks.

FFS: Like Bad Science? But in the paper itself?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Yeah, I love Bad Science. Yeah right there in amongst the nonsense.

FFS: I think your column would have to be called ‘Woolly Liberal Leftie Nonsense’ or something for The Mail to consider it. Have you seen Ben Goldacre on Twitter?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Yeah I follow him and @badscienceblogs I got a partial re-tweet from him once.

FFS: WOW

Pagan Wanderer Lu: I alerted him to Peter Hain writing about homeopathic remedies in the Western Mail and he flagged it up. but didn’t credit me. I can live with that though.

FFS: I got an @ reply from Caitlin Moran once. It was great.

Pagan Wanderer Lu: What does she write about?

FFS: She deals in ‘wry sideways glances’, mainly, pretty general interest. She used to write for Melody Maker when she was about 17 or something…

Pagan Wanderer Lu: There you go, I just @ you and Ben Goldacre in the same tweet.

FFS: Ben Goldacre will see my twitter name I shall die happy

Pagan Wanderer Lu: small things…

Question #4: Here’s another sensible question – which you can answer while I @ you and Caitlin Moran in the same tweet – you touched on this in your blog: how do you feel about all the self promotion that comes with being an artist?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: I basically don’t like it much. I like doing gigs. I like talking to people. Doing a blog is fine cos I’ve lots to say most of the time. Tweeting is a pleasant distraction. But I don’t like the competitiveness, the slightly desperate clawing for every atom of attention. I’m not bothered about people liking me, Andy Regan, the person.  And you can’t quite separate that from them liking, or even just hearing, your music. And I don’t like the influence the promotional machine has on how you have to work.

FFS: How do you mean?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Things like the fact that the album is canonical. People won’t take EPs seriously. the amount of time it takes to get things out. The need to appease the personalities of people who run websites and magazine and things… not everyone is like that of course, but some are. Like… if I meet someone who edits a website. Do I be overly friendly and appear like I’m trying to suck up to him/her? Or do I back off and risk appearing like I’m too cool for school? I’m quite friendly but I’m also quite shy really so it’s an odd middle ground. When it’s clear you’re talking to someone for the ‘business’ of promoting your record or whatever. What could potentially be a perfectly pleasant conversation becomes this odd mindgame with an undercurrent of ‘I don’t want them to think I’m only saying this because I want them to write about me, but then I do want them to write about me but that isn’t why I’m being friendly I’m just being friendly because I am friendly but if I be less friendly then they’ll think I’m being aloof and then they definitely won’t write about me and i’ll be annoyed even though that wasn’t why I was talking to them in the first place and AAAAARGH’. I can tend to over think things.

FFS: There are reviewers who’re really friendly with the bands they write about…

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Yeah, and then what happens when that band does a shit record?

FFS: There are record labels that do the same… and put out bad records. It’s true though, however wrong, that if a band approaches you and are friendly – or if they send a handwritten note with a demo or something – then you’re going to warm to them

Pagan Wanderer Lu: The trouble is I’d agonize over whether it appeared to be a calculated friendliness. And probably end up being less friendly than I would otherwise have been as a result. But I’m repeating myself now…

Question #5: As a music fan, though, does it matter to you whether you like what you perceive to be the personality of an artist?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Not so much. I like an interesting personality but it wouldn’t necessarily make me enjoy the music more.

FFS: What about when it’s someone with really personal lyrics that invite you to empathise with them?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: I can’t think of any artists I like who are complete dicks. actually I can. but I sort of know them so I can’t name them.

FFS: haha ok. I can think of ones I don’t like cos I think they’re dicks. Like Ryan Adams.

Pagan Wanderer Lu: I don’t like him because his music’s really middle of the road. Apparently Jim O’Rourke’s a dick but I like him…. you got an @ off Caitlin Moran

FFS: Oh Jesus…

Question #6: Do you think that honestly (as opposed to cynically) made music could be the stuff that was in the charts?

Pagan Wanderer Lu : I don’t think honestly marketed music could get in the charts. honestly made is different.

FFS: Sure.

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Who am I to say whether *picks name out of air* the Automatic are being honest in what they do? If their ‘artistic commitment’ is to straight up chart friendly indie pop then fine, Godspeed to them. I just find it appalling that there’s no diversity in chart music. Why couldn’t you also have say the Micachu album in the top ten with lots of hit singles? that’s a catchy, fun record. Incredibly odd at the same time.

FFS: I guess I’m talking more about stuff like Lady Gaga or that new Britains Got Talent band,  rather than bands who’ve broken through.

Pagan Wanderer Lu: I don’t see a clear division between those two (Automatic/Gaga) I’m sure Lady Gaga on some level started from nothing and got groomed into some Pop Machine by people who felt she had potential. and that’s what happens with bands who start out playing the ‘honest’ gig circuit. They get polished up and spent loads of money on and marketed in ways that make you want to puke and then they sell lots of records. It’s not a reflection on the band as ‘artists’ or as people. it’s just how it works.

FFS: Maybe honest isn’t a great word – just cant think of a better one.

Pagan Wanderer Lu I think honest is exactly the right word. You’ve just got to take it with a pinch of salt. I think there are egos in marketing, and if they really wanted to prove their chops they’d take something like Micachu into the charts rather than easy stuff like the Automatic.

FFS: If you take people who aren’t really ‘into’ music. Say vaguely enjoy it and buys a few albums a year, I think they’d be equally happy if those albums were The Mountain Goats and Emmy the Great or something rather than *all chart artists’ names fly out of head*

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Exactly. We’re back to the endorsement thing. People are so used to being ‘sold’ something that if they find themselves liking something that they’ve never had marketed to them I think they sort of second-guess their own instinctive reaction to it. Like ‘Hmmm… the Mountain Goats, this is good but is it…. acceptable?’ ‘What does it say about me that I like the Mountain Goats?’ ‘Am I going to have to stop washing my hair?’

FFS: Ug. How depressing. But John Darnielle would never leave his hair unwashed.

Pagan Wanderer Lu: I would hope not.

FFS: The amount of diversity in the mainstream seems (to someone who’s not been alive for most of it) like it’s fallen since maybe the 60s or 70s, but do you think it’ll get better or worse still because of the internet?

Pagan Wanderer Lu says: I think it’s pretty healthy. It’s easy to forget that someone like M.I.A. sells millions of records. Look at the shit that was in the charts when David Bowie was making ‘Low’ and things. There’s always been shit around. Whilst it’s probably much much harder for an alternative musician to get rich and famous these days, it’s also much much easier for them to make and distribute music. So as long as you’re doing something you enjoy it’s great.

And finally: You’ve mentioned having an album’s worth of songs, will another one be coming out imminently?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: I’ve no idea. I think it’s more likely that there will be another EP. Possibly two we’ve talked about a digital release this year but nothing definite.

FFS: What are your plans for gigging/recording post Green Man festival?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Might try and book another tour in October. There’s going to be another single out too, ‘Pockets in shrouds’. I record all the time whatever’s happening.

FFS: I liked your mass interview questions [Andy asked a selection of his musical friends – including FFS favourite Jeremy Warmsley – to answer quesions about their work and the industry – see here]. Did you also answer them yourself?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: I thought about doing so, but it was so long with everyone else’s answers and between them all they’d said everything I would have said.

FFS: Could you recommend any artists?

Pagan Wanderer Lu: Recent favourites: Jim O’Rourke – particularly the recently reissued ‘I’m happy and I’m singing and a 1234’ album, Grizzly Bear, Micachu, Bill Callahan, Animal Collective, Internet Forever, Deerhunter, Mat Riviere is really amazing – he’s the new guy signed to Brainlove, Jandek of course and I like the new Bibio album a lot.

Interview: Lynn Roberts

 

 

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