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An interview with Jean-Hervé Péron

After The Deluge

29th May 2000



Jean-Hervé Péron is best known as the former de facto front man for Faust, a group he sometimes seemed to embody the group’s chaotic lunacy for in his onstage antics with chainsaws and naked painting sessions. Following his traumatic personal split with the band after their early Nineties re-emergence, Péron spends his time raising horses and children on his small farm near Hamburg.

For years there were rumours that he would return with a rival group, an Anti-Faust to seal the rancour; instead, his first London show as a live performer took place in May 2000 at The South Bank Centre as a surprise performer in the Ninth Annual Festival of Experimental Music put on by the London Musicians Collective. Before the gig, Jean-Hervé took time to talk to Freq about his musical career, before, during and after the legendary Faust years.

FREQ: Where did you start out, in France or in Germany?

J-HP: I was raised in France so that’s where my musical heritage lies. My father was a musician, he played violin and I sat on his lap – isn’t it romantic? But it’s true – so I grew up in a musical family, and my parents forced me to learn music. So I did, for six seven years. I was a young young kid, seven or eight years old, and I had to go to a music school where i didn’t touch an instrument for years – I just learned about music. how to read music, how to write music and all this. Then my first instrument was a cornet, and I played in a marching band. We were three or four youngsters in the back of the marching band, playing a few blue notes. You know Miles Davis was already there! It was very exciting! We played Dixieland, New Orleans type of thing. Then I went to the States, I had an scholarship, they chose me to go to represent France in the States for one year. There I was confronted with Bob Dylan, this type of thing. So when I came back, I think I stayed two months in my home, before going on the road.

FREQ: Which school was that you got sent to?

J-HP: Mount Pleasant High Scool in Schenectady in upstate New York. If I had to choose people that influenced me, that I though were great musicians, I would quote you Bob Dylan, Incredible String Band, Kevin Ayers, people like this. But as I told you, I was the centre of the world; I said (to myself), I would be inspired by them, yes I think they’re great, but I’ll do my thing, I’ll write my songs, do my music. Even now, I still have this spirit. I listen to other people, but I do my thing.

FREQ: How did you come to join Faust?

J-HP: I didn’t join Faust – I was Faust. It all started around, say about ’68-69, and we were a nucleus of three freaks that started to plug guitars into radios, and building our own wah-wahs, fuzz and things like this. And around this nucleus there were lots of younger people, and that’s how faust started; this nucleus met another nucleus – also the same story, three people, and with the atoms circling, whtttttt, they came together and this was Faust. So I didn’t join Faust, I was Faust.

FREQ: What was the role of Uwe Nettelbeck?

J-HP: Well, Uwe developed his first role was to give the two nucleii the opportunity to meet, to create Faust, and then he also was the link between the crazy music and the record business. So he was first a businessman and a friend who gave us a great opportunity. With the first LP, the clear one, he was a friend, he was one of Faust, also the sound engineer Kurt Graupner was a very important man. There was no producer, no sound engineer, we were everything, everything. It was the vibes at the time, liberation, all this. After that it developed so that Uwe had to become a producer becuase the pressure of the record inustry was stronger and stronger, and they wanted to have, I wouldn’t say commercial, but more accessible sound. So we had to have a producer, and this culminated at the point, and this was not with Polydor, this was with Virgin for the last LP (for them), Faust IV, that we recorded, he was so much the producer that he was becoming too heavy on our music. He was starting to say “This is not good; you should do this”. He didn’t mean anything bad, but it couldn’t work with us. We had decided once and for all that we didn’t take any orders, we didn’t make any compromises. When I say we didn’t care about anything, I don’t mean we didn’t give a shit, but we did not respect anything. When we are talking about our music, and if you like it, take it, if you don’t we don’t care.

FREQ: Was that why you took the decision to just stop Faust at that point, as far as releasing records and dealing with labels and all that goes?

J-HP: I understand your question, but I would say that there was no decision to stop Faust, because Faust never stopped, even now. The spirit of Faust is still there. We’ve been through hard times, good times, hard times even within the group – I’m talking about the musicians now. We’ve had loving periods, and we have had hatred within us, ups and downs, but Faust was never stopped, and the time you are talking about, with Virgin, no Faust was not stopped. We even went to Munich and recorded there

FREQ: Was this the recording of Munic and Elsewhere?

J-HP: Yes, we booked a hotel, we booked a big studio understanding that Virgin were going to pay for it. We were actually kicked out of Virgin. So we went to jail for that.

FREQ: You actually went to jail for that? For how long?

J-HP: Oh yes, just three days, because our mothers said they would pay the bail. It’s funny, one of our roadies, he took the truck, and we put all the equipment and the tapes inside it because we felt everyone was getting nervous at the hotel and we told him “Whatever happens, you go through” and he went bang! through a closing gate, like in a movie. It was great. We were too stoned to react, and just waited for whatever happens. It was funny, a good time. After that, Faust didn’t even stoop. We didn’t live or play together, but the spirit was still. there. We even did a few gigs, like nowhere places, but we did them. I think in ’90 or ’91, we did the Prinzen Bar gig.

FREQ: The one in Hamburg on the seven inch from Forced Exposure magazine?

J-HP: There was also the CD released, one of the two brown ones put out by Jeff Hunt on Table Of The Elements.

FREQ: There was the London CD as well, of the Marquee show…

J-HP: Yes, so we did a few separate shows, and Jeff Hunt called us from the States, and we talked about things, Tony Conrad and this and that. Our relationship developed, and then it ended up that we decided to do a tour in the US of A, which worked fine, and this was a new impulse. We are not responsible for it, but at the time there was a revival of the “Kraut” thing. I don’t know how this happened, this energy getting together.

FREQ: From how it seemed in Britain at the time, and I don’t know how it happened either, in the early Nineties that music came back not into the mainstream, but into a more general consciousness, it rose up and it was everywhere. Part of that process,at least in the UK, was to do with Faust reforming at the Marquee. It sparked a lot of people off, because I remember coming along to the show, and it was amazing to see Faust on stage there, with the chainsaws cutting “Rien” into the backdrop, the amps blowing up, it was phenomenal.

J-HP: That’s true, I had big flames coming out of my amp.

FREQ: That’s part of the Faust experience as well!

J-HP: Yes, absolutely. I was so scared! It was funny, we got to The Marquee to set up our equipment, and went outside and said there must be something happening here, there’s this huge queue outside, and i didn’t realise, I couldn’t even think, that they were coming for us. So I said, there’s many people outside, and I wished they were coming to see us, and went backstage again. Then the gig starts, and we get on stage and I see that the place is crammed full! I was so scared.

FREQ: Did you think it would just be a one-off show?

J-HP: Absolutely. I know in England we had a community of fans, of people that appreciated us. I do love to be in London, I feel confident, I feel carried, even tonight, I know people that are going there, they accept me. But what a shock! One thing I liked, I realise now that this name “Krautrock”, in the first place, I’m talking about the Seventies now, it was definitely a nickname, you know, “the Krauts” meaning the Germans (in a bad way). After that, it was an academic, musical movement, they called it Krautrock, you know like you could say in a salon. It was fine to say, so I must say I felt OK, I felt proud, and I felt that we’ve done something. Not only Faust, it was lots of groups all over the world, but strongly in Germany it’s true. We’re talking about Amon Düül, Kraftwerk, Can, all of those, we took part in creating a new musical movement, and I’m glad to see what other people are doing with it. Talking about Stereolab, they took this movement and pushed it even further, turned parts of something rough (into something new) – it’s like we just threw about ideas, like we had the feeling that we had to get it all out. I like Stereolab

FREQ: You played with them didn’t you, with Foetus as well?

J-HP: I can’t remember, I think it was in Belgium and Holland, and it makes you feel good you know, with all those famous stars, because they are famous, sort of coming at us and bending down (laughs)

FREQ: How did that go with the ego at the time though – was it a big boost?

J-HP: Of course it helped carry it on, to keep on going. But no, I’m away from this now. I take inspiration from young people; I took inspiration from somebody else, they take inspiration from somebody. I’m one of those somebodies, but there’s no big deal about it. I listened to a CD of AMM, it’s a yellow CD, (AMMusic) and I didn’t look at the date, I just put it on and listened to it and thought “Shit, those guys are very inspired by Faust!” Some ideas, not stolen, but very alike. Then I went back, took the cover, looked at the CD date and it was ’65,’66! I said (to myself) “OK now Jean, you’ve learned a lesson of humility there.” AMM were doing this way before us, and I like AMM, we played together, and I’m very proud that I carried all their gear onstage here at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

FREQ: There’s a lot of similarities to be heard in the way AMM play barrels and the instruments taken to pieces and reassembled and so on to the way Faust sound, definitely.

J-HP: Well, you must put it right – Faust is similar to AMM, because AMM were doing their things years ago.

FREQ: It’s one of those things, isn’t it, you come into a kind of music, hearing about a group by Faust, find a record like the first LP and think, that’s an amazing sleeve, with the record transparent all the way through. Soemone coming itno Faust that way can get their ears opened, and then get into something like AMM, then go backwards and discover that they were doing it in ’65 or whenever, and it doesn’t matter in the end who did it first. Who does it best doesn’t even matter very much, who does it well matters.

J-HP: Yes exactly.

FREQ: Once the impetus of the Krautrock revival brought all this energy for Faust to tour again, you brought out three albums in that period, the first of which was Rien. Tell us about this…

J-HP: Rien was the result of working with Jeff, and Jim O’Rourke. Now something happened there, and I will tell you this, because this is a good occasion to put this straight. I am very disappointed by Jim O’Rourke. I’m not talking about his musical qualities, and I am not talking about the great job that he did putting this Rien album together. I am talking about the way he reacted afterwards towards the press. There is a possible joke in this – we called this album Rien, and at the end we say, “C’est rien du Faust – It’s nothing from Faust”. You can interpret it this way or another way. It came to my ears a long time afterwards that he said, that he certainly did insist, that it’s nothing from Faust, it’s all Jim. I was heavily disappointed, and I will have to talk to him whenever I get the chance, I will say on the one hand I am very grateful that Jim absolutely understood the spirit of Faust because he even recreated a beat that we had forgotten, it’s on “Listen To The Fish”, so if you listen to the fish, you will notice that there’s loop. It’s hard to notice, but it’s a beat that’s Faust, but that we had forgotten, and he found it again. So I am very thankful for that. We just threw tapes at him that we recorded live on the US tour, so we had all these tapes, and we also did a couple of (studio) recordings, and he did a great job, there’s no question about it. It’s just the way he acted before, you know? Even if he did a lot of re-creation, he could only do it because of the spirit, and of course the material. You could say that he could take any material, but it’s the spirit. How to put bits and pieces of this together, this is something he had forgotten too quickly. Maybe it’s the impulsiveness of young people. That (episode) was not good.

FREQ: Do you see a similarity between the trend for something that’s remixed and edited out of a series of samples and loops of other people’s material into music, into dance music especially, is original? For example, Steven Stapleton from Nurse With Wound did that with Stereolab on the Blue Crumb Duck 10″ and turned tracks of theirs into something like Faust on a track called “A Wonderful Wooden Reason” – have you heard that? He also said that this isn’t a Stereolab track, this is a joint Nurse With Wound and Stereolab piece

J-HP: No, I haven’t heard it, but great! This is legitimate; any type of music is legitimate, it’s OK to do it. Either it comes from your fingers, or tapes, or samples, digital, analogue whatever…

FREQ: What if someone takes someone else’s music and fixes it up their own way, like Jim O’Rourke saying it’s not Faust, it’s me; that happens all the time in the digital world?

J-HP: I’m not sure if I want to answer this question – I have no opinion as it can depend on so many things. If the guy who does it has what I call a keen heart, a pure heart, that’s fine. But if he’s got a wicked mind, it’s not good. If he does it becuase it’s Faust and he makes it sound like Stereolab because everybody knows Stereolab this is wicked. But if he says I’ll take Stereolab because it’s nice material and take the spirit of Faust and put it together and it’s my music, it would stand (on its own merits) that’s fine, he’s got a pure heart.

FREQ: It seems like Stapleton just wanted to share the credit for making the track what it was, and Stereolab got the credit too.

J-HP: As a general thing, I am more analogue, I am not digital. We have made with the band, and with the other band (Faust), we have grown up with analogue, so we stick to it. and we think, all this digital, it goes too fast, there is no sweat – it doesn’t smell you see! That’s what puts me off digital. One thing great thing I like about digital is when you have recorded something analogue, you put it through the computer and then you can work on it, like you can do microsurgery, which was such a drag before. It was fun, but such a drag – you had to splice, cut tapes and when you do the wrong cut, it’s gone. Now with the digital, (it’s easy)…

FREQ: Do you use digital for editing?

J-HP: For mastering, for doing the final version.

FREQ: But you’re talking for time-saving and polishing, not for creating?

J-HP: Oh, not for creating, no

FREQ: Sometimes it’s different to tell the difference; people can get so far away from feeling, from sweating, with sampled music…

J-HP: Yesterday I listened to the people playing in the QEH, and there was one guy playing the drums on his own, Charles Hayward, and I liked him! He is digital, because I know he puts pre-recorded material on the backing tapes, but then the lives you know? He sweats, there is saliva coming out of his mouth, and he looks ugly and beautiful at the same time and he is there.

FREQ: And he enjoys playing so much, which transmits to the audience.

J-HP: That gave me energy, I liked it very much.

FREQ: Would you like to play with Charles Hayward?

J-HP: Yes! That would be nice, I’d like to work with him, definitely.

FREQ: With the bass?

J-HP: Whatever… I like the way he works. The way he came on stage – it’s a show, but it’s real. He said something. It’s easy to do something weird. Here I don’t want to name names, but last night, someone was playing, doing a show, and the was no substance behind it, so I (yawns). I heard all these crazy sounds, and there was nothing there. I am getting away from all this electronics. Sometimes I even ask myself, “Did I do all this noise? Why, why why?”

FREQ: Do you have any answer?

J-HP: No, have no answer. It feels good when you are on stage doing it and you do it, and obviously, there are a few people who feel good listening to it, but last night, apart for Charles’ performance I didn’t feel good at all I was there, so I was going to listen to it, this avant-garde music – I’ve done my bit of the avant-garde thing, but you cant stay avant garde all the time. it’s for young people, or they don’t have to be young, inspired people they take care of this avant-garde, but you must burn you must have a huge flame inside if you want to be avant-garde.

FREQ: People don’t even realise you were that until after it’s done…

J-HP: That’s right! If you plan to do avant-garde, then shit, you’ve messed it up.

FREQ: Then it verges on being pretentious…or flat out is pretentious

EDIT

FREQ: Do you know anything about the possible Faust remix album?

J-HP: No, tell me about it

FREQ: All that we’ve heard is that it’s going to go ahead at some point; but it would be interesting to know if it’s old material or the new work or a mixture.1 There’s a trend for it; did you ever hear the Can remixes a few years back?

J-HP: Yes, there was one which went really big, “DJ Bobo” or someone. I’m not good with names though, I don’t follow the scene

FREQ: How would you feel about a remix album?

J-HP: A remix of Faust? No, I don’t see why we should remix it, I don’t see any reason.

FREQ: What if someone else did it?

J-HP: I would say now, I don’t care, they should go ahead with it. Maybe tomorrow I would say No, no way, only over my dead body (laughs). I feel strange about it as an overall idea

FREQ: If you don’t mind me asking, how do you feel about the other members of Faust?

J-HP: I don’t feel very happy. I have decided that I will not give any comment.

FREQ: Fair enough. What’s does your future hold?

J-HP: My future begins tonight, so I will see if it goes well; it would certainly give me a good reason to do this again. Either solo, which is very nice to meet people and to do something. I am playing songs which I had written before because the offer from Ed Baxter (director of LMC) was very spontaneous and of course I do not have any new material so what I will do tonight is songs that everybody who knows Faust will recognize. There is nothing wrong with interpreting songs onstage live, it’s OK because it is drawing that you’ve made in the past, taking the essence of it and show another version as a one-time thing, that’s OK. I want to present songs tonight, I want to sing them the way I like to sing.

FREQ: It should be amazing – there’s alot of people out there who are so excited that you’re playing

J-HP: We’ll see – I have been practising a little bit today, so it will be ok, it works.

FREQ: Will you record any of these songs?

J-HP: It will be recorded, but I do not plan to do anything with it unless Ed Baxter wants to do something with it. I have no plans. What I think could be is to take all the songs where I feel that they are my songs within Faust. We are departed from each other now, and I have certain songs I feel they are mine and I would like to put them together, with no new arrangement, just put them together to say this is me. But idf this show works, I want to write songs again, it could give me a good reason to go on and write new material.

FREQ: how are your performances now

J-HP: Tonight is the first gig i will do for two-three years. i havent touched the guitar, i haven’t touched the bass, for a long long time. The guitar I play when I fool around with the kids, from time to time, but I’m more into my horses – so you can imagine how nervous and tense I am. Also there is this feeling that a few people will come tonight and expect something from me, that they have a pre-conceived idea, thaey expect me to break glass, to destroy TVs , to go naked and paint like a maniac, do the chainsaw .. And i’m not going to do it. I’m going to do songs, which I always wanted to do, which i did do when i was young, and with Faust. but this is how i started my independent music career, by playing guitar in the beatnik period. Playing guitar, with my sleeping bag, going all over Europe. This is how it started. I have a feeling that the big wheel over London here, it goes slowly, all the way over and it comes down – and you’re back again.

FREQ: Do you write new songs now that you just aren’t ready to deal with them yet?

J-HP: That’s right. There is a routine if I go into the rehearsal room in my place, to plug the DAT in, put stereo microphone in the centre of the room and just go for a take, record. I practice, I play, and that’s the way we did it with Faust too. Whatever happened we’d just record it, and listen to it, and say “this is crap, whhht!” Or here’s an idea, save it, but I have forgotten this routine, and I’ll do it again.

FREQ: How would you feel about if someone found all these recrdings Faust made were put on CD and churned out as “a lost Faust record, the odds and ends of Faust”?

J-HP: Chris Cutler, he is a very important guy in the history of Faust. He does this – there are a few people that are obviously interested in the things that we have done, for some reason, it makes them vibrate. It’s OK if someone finds material that they like, that’s fine, and I’m very sure, I am positive about this, that Chris doesn’t do it for money, it’s because he has the feeling it should be done, that he has to do it. There is an audience for it, it’s legitimate. I’d hate though to put out scraps just because it’s Faust. Chris wouldn’t do this, he’s very critical.

FREQ: What makes me think of this is the way that you’ll have an anthology of material that say The Beatles left on the editing room floor and it’s fallen upon as the latest and greatest insight into their creative process…

J-HP: I’ts very nice of you to compare us to The Beatles! I don’t think this is going to happen to us ever. No no no no no, maybe Can or one of these bands because they are internationally known. I realised that when we played in the US that Faust have a small audience, between 500 and at the most over a thousand which was a big audience for us. It’s small, you know. Any normal Rock & Roll band, they have 1000, 2000 that’s no big fuss. But those 300-400-500 people, they love us. They’d go out of their way to see us

FREQ: But you’re talking about someone who’d have a ten thousand seater auditorium, you can’t stay with that over the years.

J-HP: It wouldn’t work; we need this communication. I need the people. This festival is nice because it’s organised by the LMC and to have this seated audience it makes me feel god. It’s good not to go in the first row and have somebody talking! If you want to talk, go back to the bar, you know? I want to play music, I want to play quiet music and I don’t have to fight you. If I want to play tiny sounds, if I don’t want to say anything, everybody is going to stay put and listen to what’s next. That’s nice, but it’s not as a general rule the kind of places where Faust would work. I used to be very intolerant; I thought I was the centre of the world, and except for me, everyone else was wrong, which was naïve in a way, arrogant on the other hand, but also gives you strength. When you go on stage, you are confident that I’m here, because I ought to be here and what I say is true and right. you’ve got to have this kind of strength, this kind of stupidity also or one-sided, short-sightedness. Now I am growing a bit older, and I want open up. I realised that you can also reach the same thing by being tolerant and open. I don’t have to shout things to make them come over.

FREQ: How about when you played here at the QEH with AMM and Tony Conrad though? It was incredible to see you play with Tony Conrad.

J-HP: I liked it; sometimes you really can get out of yourself and see as if it was not you concerned. I would have loved to be in the audience! The audience liked it too.

FREQ: How do you feel about the Outside The Dream Syndicate album?

J-HP: It’s good. When I am nervous and I feel like time is more important, if i’m in a hurry and I feel like I have no time, I put Tony On. After a while, you have to relax. I always discover something new in it too.

FREQ: Would you like to do another performance of it if it was possible?

J-HP: With Tony? Yes, I would. But unfortunately, it would be difficult; I can only imagine playing with Zappi, because we don’t have to say when we start, when we stop, we just feel. And I can’t imagine that I would be able to do it with another drummer; but yes, I’d like to do it. It’s fun; one note, seventy-one minutes, one note. It’s good.

FREQ: You become taken out of the time the space and everything while listening to that piece. it’s beyond words, and you don’t need drugs, you become part of the subconscious, come back later – maybe…

J-HP: You certainly take off. You bend time for a while. If you put the CD in repeat of course you are in great danger! (Laughter all round)

FREQ: Is there anything else you feel people should know?

J-HP: I am now in[volved with] another thing and I am quite happy about it, with my horses, caring about horses on the farm, taking care of my kids. It gives another dimension which I really enjoy

FREQ: Are you planning to put out any recordings – live or new studio material?

J-HP: No, I’m not planning on that, I’m just playing with the idea of it. The possibility of this happening is just as good as the possibility that it’s not going to happen; so let’s not talk about it. I might think about it.


1 Note: The Faust remix album will be entirely based on their last studio album Ravvivando – further details at their official website. A 5CD boxed set of Faust’s years at Wumme is released by ReR in September 2000.

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