A brief chat between cigarettes with Andrew Eldritch of the Sisters of Mercy.
By Baz Bardoe
I had heard that Andrew Eldritch could be a bit tricky to interview but what I was finding difficult was getting through to him in his hotel in Germany. I kept getting the busy message. His publicist informed me that he seemed to be in a chatty mood and the interview schedule was now lagging. Eventually however I did get through and I was greeted by a very polite sounding man who confirmed that he was indeed the legendary vocalist and creative mastermind behind the iconic Sisters of Mercy however he would be extremely appreciative if I could ring back in five minutes because he needed a cigarette! Part of me dreaded the thought that I may never get back through again and my sole interaction would consist of his polite request but I took the leap of faith, hung up and gave it five minutes. And there he was waiting for my call, apparently well disposed for a chat. So much for the brooding Goth stereotype so many fans have projected onto him! But it isn’t the 80’s and the band has come a very long way since then. Look at their website and the dominant colour is orange not black. It is 2019 and the Sisters are doing better than ever despite not having released an album since the early 90’s.
I started by asking Andrew if he ever envisaged back in the 80’s that the band would last and prosper for so long. “I was just trying to avoid work,” he says. “There weren’t many jobs back then so everyone was in a band…….I was just seeing how far I could stretch it”. He thought that “perhaps the band would go for two or three years” but along came the song “Alice”. He wrote the song quite quickly and it proved to change his fortunes radically. I have always been fascinated by the early Sisters, not just in terms of their sound which melded lush guitars with electronic beats, but also their dark image. I asked him what their early influences had been. “It all seemed very natural to us,” he said. “Unlike other bands at the time we still liked old time rock and roll. Other bands were ‘the death of the Rolling Stones’, but not us……” When I pressed him for something a bit more definitive as an influence he said “amphetamines” which gave me a chuckle. Who would have thought!
The Sisters of Mercy began in 1980 and since that time they have released just three albums, the last in the early 90’s. According to legend this was due to a dispute with their record label but that was seemingly put to rest a very long time ago. The thorny question arises as to when fans might expect a fourth official release. “Outside of Europe there seems to be a need to release stuff to interest promoters”, Andrew opines. “It is hard to get everyone together in the same room,” he says. “We record sketches of stuff for our own personal interests. We try. It is important. There are usually about four new things in every set.” But as he points out these days, releasing something essentially means you “give stuff away for free”. He concedes that the industry is only getting tougher in general but for the Sisters being a touring band seems to be working. “We sold 7000 tickets in London……6000 in Brussels….we don’t have a problem selling tickets. Releasing a new album would be nice for humanity – I do like being in the studio,” he admits. Once again his wit shines through. The dour Goth stereotype has no place with the Sisters today it would seem. Did I mention their website is a vivid orange?
Since the very start the Sisters have used a drum machine and electronic music making to build the huge beats and colossal wall of sound underpinning live guitars and vocals. “Doktor Avalanche” the ever evolving drum machine is always credited and the band’s only other original member. Andrew seems genuinely delighted when I suggest his band get the balance between organic instrumentation and electronic beats spot on. It can be tricky. “I don’t use ‘in ears’,” he says. “I need to judge pitch from the vibrations I get in my knees from the wedges. I like the rigour of having the machines down the back….” In his view this actually gives the live components more latitude. It certainly avoids the problem of the drummer having too much to drink.
The very early incarnation of the band with its dark imagery, chiming guitars and insistent electronic beats was somewhere between rock, dance music and a Romanticist sensibility and quite unlike anything else. With almost three decades since their last official release and no commitment to releasing anything soon they seem to be doing better than ever as a touring band that plays new songs when it suits them. They have evolved considerably but just like when they started there really is no one else like them. And who would have thought that Andrew Eldritch had such an understated sense of humour!
Australian tour ticket info HERE
Friday 25th October – The Astor Theatre, Perth
Sunday 27th October – The Gov, Adelaide
Wednesday 30th October – Forum, Melbourne
Thursday 31st October – Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Saturday 2nd November – The Tivoli, Brisbane
Sunday 3rd November – Powerstation, Auckland