The Cassandra Complex were founded in Leeds in 1980. The original cyberpunks, they combined a driving rock sound with electronic instruments that became a template for successive generations of artists. With the band in Stockholm for Bodyfest 2014, CWNL’s Anders Junfjärd sat down with singer and founder member, Rodney Orpheus, together with guitarist Andy Booth, to catch up on three decades of fighting against sleep and below-standard alternative music.
Leeds was the home of Fad Gadget and Soft Cell. Did you feel an affinity for those artists when you were starting out?
[Rodney] I met Marc and Dave from Soft Cell briefly when we first started, but they left Leeds just after we arrived, so we never really had much contact with them. There were some other great bands in Leeds in that period. The Sisters of Mercy started just before us. The Three Johns started about the same time as us, and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry started just after us, I think. Then, of course, The Mission came just after The Sisters broke up. So, there was a lot of cross-pollination, because our studio was next door to where one of The Three Johns lived, and Wayne Hussey lived about four doors down on my street, so I used to see Wayne walk past the house every day going to the shop beside my house.
So, there were a couple of square kilometers in Leeds that had somewhere like two hundred bands in it at the time. It was ridiculous – everybody was in a band. So, a lot of cross-pollination went back and forth between all the different musicians and bands. I worked with The Sisters, you [to Andy] worked with how many other bands. Then we had things like MDMA and Utah Saints coming up after that, who were ex-Cassandra Complex people.
Germany has become a second home for many alternative artists, such as Psyche. What is it that makes the German soil better for growing artists outside of the American-influenced mainstream?
[Rodney] The reason we moved to Germany was very simple – for tax reasons. Germany is where our music was accepted the most. We were relatively big stars in Germany, and we were still living in England. The problem was, when we played in Germany – we played a lot of concerts and big festivals – because we were living abroad, the German government took twenty percent of all the money before we even got it and kept it. When we went back to the UK, the UK government taxed us on the money we had left. Twenty percent is a lot of money, if you are a starving rock musician. By moving to Germany, we could keep that extra twenty percent of the money. That was the difference between starving and eating. So, given that choice, eating was sounding like a good alternative.
As it happened, I lived in Hamburg for many years, because I really liked Hamburg – it’s a really good city. That’s how I met Volker and Axel, for example – who still live in Hamburg. So, Hamburg is still our second home. And, of course, other musicians from England – famously, Andy Eldridge – moved to Hamburg, as well. It had a good vibe, a good atmosphere, and was less boring than Leeds.
With downloading and YouTube making your music freely available, is it still possible for musicians to make a living with their music?
[Andy] No – from touring.
[Rodney] I do a lot of music industry conferences, speaking on panels – from a production and technology side, which is my other career. Andy, Volker and I are all heavily involved in the music industry.
[Andy] We all are. All our jobs are related to the music industry.
[Rodney] We sure as hell don’t make enough money out of the Cassandra Complex!
The internet had a lot of promise in liberating music – and it did, and I’m very happy about this and think it is a wonderful thing – but the days of selling an album are over. If you take a band like U2 – arguably, the biggest and most successful band in the world, and they decided to give their new album away. If the biggest band in the world can make no money – [they are] giving their stuff away – then that should be a message to everybody else. So, if you want to be in the music business to make a living, forget it. Just forget it! It’s not going to happen. Unless you are unbelievably lucky. You’d be better off putting your money in the lotto – you have more chance of winning.
[Andy] I’ve acted as a lawyer for hundreds of bands, and I always say to them at the start, “Don’t stop your job until this really pays for itself.” Because you might get some money and think, “Oh, I’m a professional musician!” You can’t!
Don’t quit your day job
[Andy] Not until you can.
[Rodney] Here [indicating Andy] is a very successful music business lawyer; so trust us, we know this.
You covered Throbbing Gristle, back in the 80s, with “Something Came Over Me.” What other bands are an influence on you?
[Rodney] We’ve covered a lot of bands who have been influences on us. Suicide, obviously. We’ve done “Frankie Teardrop” – we play that live quite frequently. They were a huge influence on us. Alan Vega was a very big influence on me as a singer.
[Andy] When we started, Suicide was the band we all really liked.
[Rodney] Throbbing Gristle, obviously – we are big fans of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV. I’m very happy that Genesis and I are very good friends now, and I got to meet Sleazy before his death and spent some time with him. Chris & Cosey – I really love those guys, they are amazing. Who else are big influences on us? A lot of early punk bands – I mean, we were punk. Buzzcocks were a huge influence I would say on songwriting, and they are still amazing songwriters. Velvet Underground – gigantic influence. Hawkwind – which most people wouldn’t get, but there’s a lot of psychedelia and improvisation in what we do – that comes a lot from that Hawkwind-y kind of vibe, I think. Wire – a big influence. Who else?
[Andy] Cabaret Voltaire…
[Rodney] My favourite band ever! Cabaret Voltaire were a gigantic influence on us and me personally. They were my favourite band for many, many, many years, and when I met them it was just an amazing experience for me.
[Andy] The interesting thing is, you don’t always end up sounding like the things that you are influenced by.
[Rodney] That’s right. I don’t think that we sound like Cabaret Voltaire.
[Andy] Or the Buzzcocks. Well, we know where we’ve stolen things from.
[Rodney] Obviously, Joy Division, New Order – huge influences.
You invented cyberpunk.
[Rodney] Yeah, we did. You know what was really weird the other day? Somebody on Facebook posted some clips from the Billy Idol cyberpunk album. I thought it was so f—ing bad. He was trying so hard to rip us off and just missed it completely.
Have you won the war against sleep?
[Rodney] At our age?
[Andy] Yeah, we’re still here!
[Rodney] We’re still here and we’re still kicking ass. It amazes me that we are still around – me and him [indicating Andy] started together thirty years ago. This is our thirtieth anniversary show tonight, which is amazing.
[Andy] We don’t look that old, let’s face it.
[Rodney] Well, I do. It was really good – we were doing “Motherad” earlier on in the sound-check and I suddenly had a flashback to doing it in a studio in 1986. This is twenty-eight years ago. I remember what it was like the first time I sang it in the studio – we effectively wrote it in the studio. We’re still doing it and it still sounds amazing. I think we still sound very vibrant.
What is great, but is also kind of sad, is I think we sounded a lot more alive and vibrant and modern than most of the other bands – hearing new bands – who just sound old and tired. I hear so many new bands and there is nothing original in what they are doing whatsoever, which is kind of scary, because we are huge music fans. That’s how we started playing – because we loved music. As Andy said to me yesterday, we still have another great album left in us, so we’re not finished yet.