Laibach - interview with Ivan Novak
By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 2008
The following is an email interview with Ivan Novak of Slovenian industrial / neo-classical band Laibach. It was conducted in September 2008, just prior to the band embarking on a short US tour. Laibach had most recently released “Volk,” an album of songs inspired by national and pan-national anthems.
What can we expect from the current tour? For long-time fans, how might it compare to your last visit to the US? And for people who have yet to see Laibach live – what can they expect from the experience?
Laibach: Great depression, economic implosion and subsequent recession, financial crash, bankruptcy of the entire U.S. economy, food stamps, catastrophic meltdown, the relentless drumbeat of pessimism,…nothing good. In fact – the less they expect – the more they will get.
In the “Divided States of America” documentary we see a long-time Laibach fan who has brought his 2 young daughters to your concert. What do you think of the fact that the age range of your fanbase is expanding, as your long-time fans are getting older and introducing their children to your music?
L: That proves that time after all is reversible.
What kind of impact has the growth of the internet had on Laibach? I assume that it’s expanded your fanbase and allowed existing fans to keep up with what you’re doing. But what about the fact that it allows people to more easily discuss the band and express their opinions about your work? Does this type of feedback have any influence on what you do?
L: With the internet all music acts fan base has expanded but in reality everybody’s audience was reduced, record sales went down rapidly and expression of opinions has mainly been limited to a vocabulary, commonly used by mentally incapacitated persons. There are very few feedbacks on the internet actually worth reading. The internet also was supposed to be the globalization tool but in fact it creates an even bigger cultural and economical provincialism and isolationism. Online communities are dangerously separating and dividing people on those who share common interests or goals but eliminating others who do not fit in the same social frame. Nevertheless the overflow of diverse networking sites successfully works mainly to turn users into profits.
What was the motivation for doing “Volk,” an album of songs inspired by national and pan-national anthems?
L: We were always fascinated with the idea of an anthem – the song entire nations identify with emotionally and sing from the heart. We were wondering why this is so and does that make an anthem actually a good pop song, and – vice versa – are pop songs also good anthems. We wanted to know what these anthems are really talking about and when we started to dig deeper, we came across very interesting results which are now recorded on the album. By definition an anthem is a composition to an English text. The term has evolved to mean a song of joy and celebration, usually acting as a symbol for a certain group of people. A national anthem is a generally patriotic musical composition that is evoking and eulogizing the history, traditions and struggles of its people, recognized either by a nation’s government as the official national song or by convention through use by the people. These are all basic characteristics of a good, standard pop song as well and this is what we do on Volk – showing analogy and dichotomy between the two.
The album credits cite Wikipedia as the source of the liner notes information about the anthems. Wikipedia has received some criticism because, being generated by the general public and giving them to power to make changes, at any given time a particular article might not be entirely accurate. Did Laibach research to confirm information, or was the potential for inaccuracies (due to the nature of Wikipedia) part of the point artistically?
L: It was a practical decision. We had no intention to do a scientific research although we have double checked most facts. But yes, we did use internet as a main source of inspiration. Ten or fifteen years ago we would have much bigger problems to gain all necessary information in creating such album.
You’ve done some very interesting rock cover songs over the years. What factors tend to make you want to create your own interpretation of an existing song?
L: We are searching for the hidden content in these songs, for their hidden reverse. We enjoy adopting, appropriating and recycling them – producing new “original” material with them, putting them into a new context which can draw entirely new meaning.
Are there any covers that were attempted, but did not work well enough within Laibach’s style/instrumentation?
L: Not that we recall.
Have you ever had any feedback from the original artists of songs you’ve covered?
L: As a matter of fact we had quite a lot. Paul McCartney was playing our Let It Be record before some of his shows, Mick Jagger was apparently most sympathetic to our 8 Sympathy For The Devil versions, Europe came collectively to our show in Stockholm to meet us, Opus were performing Laibach’s version of Life is Live in – what they thought was – a “laibachian” style on Austrian TV, and Freddy Mercury died soon after he heard our interpretation of One Vision.
Looking back, what do you think the pros and cons were of having emerged during the surge of “industrial music”?
We meet with people like William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Joseph Beuys and Hermann Nietsch, we traveled through Eastern and Western Europe, East and West Berlin, SSSR and USA, we lived through communism and capitalism, and music/noise/sound was still making a lot of sense. The bad side about emerging during the surge of “industrial music” is the fact that we now still have to live with that.
Besides the current US tour, what is in the near future for Laibach?
We are doing some LAIBACHKUNSTDERFUGE shows (with electronic interpretation of Bach’s “The Art of Fugue”), also preparing a WAGNER suite (with an orchestra and diverse collaborators) for a December show in Ljubljana, we are starting to work on a new Laibach “pop” record, and slowly preparing a big LAIBACH KUNST exhibition in a Museum for Modern art in Lodz, Poland, to be opened next year in May.See all interviews →