A marvelous interview with Merv Pepler aka Eat Static and his story of psytrance.
Self-Portrait of Eat Static aka Merv Pepler : Paint your soul!
What influenced you to get into your field?
Punk rock and my parents buying me a drum kit! A really old kit from the 50s that had real pigskins on…So every night, after school, I would bash along to punk records which I had started buying…this was in about 1977..it’s been a very very long, never ending journey since that day! I did get quite bored of punk music quite quickly though and was elated when synthesizers invaded that raw sound in the early 80s..I know a lot of people write off the 80s nowadays but it was actually an amazing time for independent and underground music…so I went through everything from Joy Division/Birthday Party right through to Acid House that took off in 87/88..but always leaning towards the more crazy stuff…music with attitude!
As an artist, what role do you think you play in society?
Well I have never really fitted into society…I work the opposite to most humans…I’m a slimy green mutant that’s crawls out of the sewer every night to create weird music or play gigs in seedy locations, in the middle of the night, while most people are asleep…then disappearing as the sun comes up, leaving trails of confused battered people…though some of them usually look like they quite enjoyed it! Role-wise, I do try to do my part as a good entity on this planet and care very deeply about many issues that affect us all…certainly the rape of the earth’s resources and the way people run things, gets to me big time…it’s the 21st century for fucks sake! People should not be starving, animals should not be hunted to extinction and governments shouldn’t be ruining people’s lives…the greed I see around me these days is sickening to say the least…
Creating on a regular basis can be a bloody tough job, so what motivates you to press yourself into the workstation every single day?
The fact I’m a free man, free to write what I like, and free to sound like I want…I still get that tingle of excitement when I start any track..I have never once used an old song set up or re-used the same sounds over and over again…I start with a blank screen every time..The fact that I can do anything is the buzz…I have deliberately done that since the beginning of Static…Never wanting to go stale or repeat myself…the more different each album is to the last one, the better!
Do you get nervous before a performance?
There’s always a nervous energy, an adrenalin boost, but usually in a good way…it’s the build up, the journey to the place, the setting up, seeing the crowds building…It’s all part of the ritual…And the odd gig still gives you that extra huge buzz, for example Boom Festival main stage last year…such an epic production and great people from every country..I was shaking before that one!
What’s the story behind your artist name and project?
Eat Static came from a part of some Klingon speech from an old Star Trek movie…we were already using a lot of ripping screeching analogue sounds so it kinda just fitted…
What other genres of music do you listen to? Name your influences.
I listen to so many kinds…even growing up as a kid, there was always a lot of music played in the house…my parents are not musicians but they had quite a big collection of records…so I heard everything from The Stones through to early experimental Roxy Music..I always remember preferring the instrumental tracks…specially if they were long and went to 2 or 3 different places…At home these days I still probably play ethnic and World Music the most…I don’t take a lot of time off so moments like cooking and sharing food always works well with that stuff…I still check everything I can on the electronic scene because of the 2 radio shows I do..Also when I travel try to catch up or check out weird local radio channels…106FM in Israel is one of my favourites…all off the wall, downtempo strange underground music that is broadcasted in there early hours of the morning…so perfect when i get back from playing a gig…Influences, for me, would be everything I have listened to till now..It’s made me who I am today…if I had to make a list of THE most relevant ones, I guess – Kraftwerk,Can,Depeche Mode,Tubeway Army,Eno,Jon Hassel,African Headcharge,Adrian Sherwood,Bill Laswell,Gong,Devo
Has the process of making music transformed you? In what way?
I have always been hyper critical and hard on myself…even after 36 years of making music…I’m always pushing to do the best i can possibly do at that moment..i hear so many ideas in my head when I’m writing and usually, I try most of them out….just to see…especially on this new album I’m about to finish…I spent so much time experimenting and coming up with fresh sounding ideas…probably as a backlash to a lot of the boring meaningless music that’s out there these days..It’s also more difficult as you get more well known…a lot of people constantly tell you how amazing your music is but I’m usually already looking at the negatives on each finished product…and learning from the mistakes I think I have made…this is how you progress…when I / IF I ever create the perfect piece of music/art that i am 100 % happy with, then that’s probably the day I would stop…but seeing as it STILL feels like I’ve hardly scratched the surface, then I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future…
What is your muse? What inspires you? Tell us about your favourite piece of music, and the source that inspired it.
Life itself is a huge inspiration..Particularly after travelling to some amazing places…when I have been to certain places, that has definitely rubbed off in the next pieces of music that I write..I spend a lot of time in the middle east these days and have always loved the music from those regions so that influence creeps in quite often…the other main influence has to be the technology itself…old analogue synths are still a constant source of inspiration…and fun! My favourite piece of music? That’s a cruel question! I guess one of my most vivid memories would have to be the first time I heard Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks to the first couple of Serge Leone ‘Dollars’ movies…that did have an impact on me when I was about 5 or 6..it still gives me goosebumps when i hear it now…I do love that effect that music can have…to instantly transport you back to a time or a place or even a head-state..sometimes good, sometimes bad!
What’s your biggest temptation or vice, what can you not resist?
Haha that’s a LONG list! Most of which I could not divulge here! I am one of those people that likes to experience the darker sides of life as well as the light… It keeps me balanced..Actually, most of my friends know what I’m like so I’ve been called ‘Merv the Perv’ since the dawn of time..So yeah,kinky sex would be highest on the list! The charms of mysterious exotic women have entranced and taken hold of me for many a year now…Sex and music have long been entwined together and I love to try to get that into my music…that primal energy…that dark hypnotic state…who doesn’t love a good ‘HOOOOOWWWWWL’ when the Moon is out? I guess the main reason is because sex, like music, is the ultimate mind stimulation..You’re playing with the senses…this is the world i love…btw you can check out a piece of music I wrote, using only sex toys, on my soundcloud page…it’s not for the faint of heart mind! https://soundcloud.com/eat-static My only other recent vice is modular synthesizers these days which, funnily enough, is turning out to be far more expensive than any relationship ever was!
Face-off: Let’s get the grits on the table:What quality do you admire the most in others? What quality do you like about yourself the most?
Dedication, truthfulness, loyalty, determination, openess, trustworthy, caring – I’d like to think I was most of those! I am prone to wearing my heart on my sleeve and am a little too open for my own good sometimes…but that’s who I am…I can’t stand bullshit and drama..Be who you truly are, that’s never really let me down…and probably the reason I am still working today..When I do a live show I give it my all…even if it means being paralysed for 2 days after the gig!
Which phase was the hardest/scariest in your life?
There have been many over the years..as a musician you are always worrying about where the next money will come from especially if you’re trying to be a true artist, and by that I mean someone who creates what they do, without compromise..I could have easily gone the commercial rave/dance route in those early years but I went down the road of being true to myself and my music…It’s not an easy way to make a living as nothing is certain and you never know how long you will be in demand..I guess doing all those different musical styles over the years has been a catalyst for me crossing over and being able to play at festivals and events that are not specifically trance or full on..I still play many underground, grass roots level festivals, especially in the UK..but all experiences, good or bad, are what makes up an artist’s DNA..If life had been too easy I would probably be making boring dreary music now and have no real passion for it…Ii wear my scars with pride! You have to be a mentally strong person to survive in this business…and to have that ability to keep getting back up after knockdowns…I have seen many artists fall by the wayside over the years, whether it’s because they can’t make enough money to support a family or just burn out with the energy needed to constantly write good stuff and be able to promote it by travelling to the ends of the earth…the other scary thing i had recently was finding out I have an incurable spinal disease (Ankylosing Spondilitis) which is where the cartilage between your spinal joints is slowly turning to bone…I wrestle with a lot of pain most of the time, especially when gigging, as I am still taking out a lot of equipment and lighting when I do a show..I have to stay pretty active or i could end up on crutches or even worse, a wheelchair in the not too distant future…
Any embarrassing/funny moments? Yes, you’d hate to disclose your secrets but we’d love to hear.
Well, one quite common one is tripping over the long silk jellabiya (long Beduin garment) I wear as part of my alien costume, as i walk onto the stage! I have a new found respect for women that hold themselves while wearing long dresses now!
When have you been most satisfied in your life? Care to share one of your happiest memories?
As I mentioned earlier, I find it very difficult to impress myself as I set standards at such a high level but i have to say, the track I’m almost at the end of right now is one of my proudest moments ever, as it features Robert Smith from the Cure on vocals and various instruments..This is the reason the new album has been delayed…It’s something I have been trying to make happen for a very long time and it’s almost like it had to be now, cos of the anniversary album (I’m celebrating 26 years of Eat Static this year). I love the fact he was up for working on something that is not pop music at all, but did it for the sake of the music…so expect a dark psychedelic glitchy piece of heaven! I have been a fan of his stuff since 1981 so this really was a big deal for me…Another proud emotional moment for me was a couple of years ago, at Glastonbury Festival in the UK, where I did part of my gig with System 7 (as System Static),playing music we had written specifically for that event..We were last on, on the Sunday night and a HUGE crowd had gathered…Steve Hillage was one of the first psychedelic artists I heard and who influenced me down the path I chose…I started crying at the end of the set and he then also burst into tears…it was a deep deep moment..I didn’t realise there were camera’s linked to video screens on the stage either so i am sure a few people probably saw that happen! They’ll be saying I’ve gone soft next! L: Everyone starts somewhere, what was your first job before you got into music? M: I was a precision machinist at an engineering place…I worked on lathes and milling machines…I went on to become a draughtsman after that, drawing up component parts of huge machines that my father had designed to make concrete blocks for roads in obscure African countries…
Flash-forward in time. You are now really old. What would you tell your children/loved ones?
Flash forward? I’m already old! I would probably tell them ”Whatever you do, don’t become a musician…”
Into the time machine again. What do you miss about being a kid?
I miss how long the days felt back then…and the lack of responsibilities…the long days were mainly because I got up a lot earlier back then though! But I was lucky, as i grew up in a really pretty part of England and spent the main part of my childhood in the countryside..literally 50 yards to the fields and forests..so I have always felt a very strong connection to the land..and I am the same now…I cannot stand being in the cities for too long..It chokes me…
Excessive chopping dulls the axe. Time-outs are a must. What do you do when you take time off from creating? Got any hobbies? (Books? Movies? TV shows?)
I don’t actually take much time off..I remember when i met my now wife and at that point, realising I had not had a holiday for 19 years..I still don’t really ‘holiday’ as such..Movies and TV have also gone down in quality as, like in a lot of music these days, things seem to be just made in formulaic structures for the sake of it…there are the odd gems though..I’m not THAT gloomy…I more keep my eye on certain filmakers or actors, the ones that do deliver quality and intelligence..Martin Scorsese,Peter Jackson,Ridley Scott,Tim Burton..I also love Daniel Day Lewis in those long brooding moody films (there will be blood)…a very watchable guy..I guess I grew up in the golden age of film really, loving all those classic sci fi movies from the 50s/60s/70s..We had countless amazing weird n wacky stuff in the UK..early Doctor Who,Sinbad,Blakes 7 stuff like that..a lot of this modern CGI kinda completely turns me off…I am much better at managing my time these days though, so sometimes,if i am not in the mood to actually write or create, i’ll still spend time in the studio learning new things, making sounds and getting more familiar with my instrument (that wasn’t a sexual innuendo btw…) The modular world i mentioned earlier is very exciting to me because it’s going back to the old school ways but with a modern twist…which is very much an ethos I have always stuck with in life…analogue synthesis is coming back and the modular world is where the really creative freaks are building stuff…The sounds I am making recently are off the scale…very complex organic evolving sounds, almost as if the machine is alive… Ideology: Beliefs that bake your brain
The genie comes out of the lamp and grants you one wish that will change the world. What would you wish for?
The end of all governments and all wars..just peace and prosperity for ‘the people’ Either that or ”No more Prog music!” (ooops i’m in trouble….) If it was a selfish wish, I’d probably ask for a studio the size of a gymnasium, absolutely full of modular synths..
How do you connect to the spiritual side of yourself?
When I’m creating music…I lose myself a lot…my studio is a black hole, a void to get lost in…when I wrote the new album got rid of all the clocks in there, banished the phone, and isolated myself for days at a time to really connect to what I was doing..I went through some weird shit a couple of years ago, stuff I don’t really want to talk about, but I was at an all time low..i went through some kind of rejuvenation, a re-birth of sorts and since then, things really have been making more sense to me..especially on the creative side..I was falling victim to being lazy, when writing, because that is the nature of these modern computers..it’s all too easy to reach for something you know works or worked before..software comes full of mundane presets, ready made dance sounds that everyone ends up using thus ending up sounding the same as each other..I must of had 60 synths in my computer that all sounded bland and exactly the same as each other…so part of that re-earthing was ditching all of those programmes and dragging all my old analogue synths back into the studio…I suddenly found myself crawling around the floor again, pushing a lead from here into there, but basically, having fun again! And to hear music written with every single sound being made for it, by yourself, was a joy and made me feel like i had come home again..now, with the modular side of things, you get to actually design and build your OWN synth, making it unique and having the sound of YOU…
Do you have any belief/beliefs that you cannot do without?
‘Do not rely on anyone but yourself to do the things that only you know you can do…’ I am not sure if I was told that or whether it’s something that has just grown within myself…who knows…
On the Scene:
Where do you think psytrance is headed? Future trends?
I don’t really think it’s heading anywhere at the moment…and that’s the problem! Not enough experimenting going on, for my liking…it’s bland,un-inspired,un original,predictable…safe…the ‘Psy’ bit of that genre name should be a celebration of creative freedom to make something special that resonates with people…to explore new worlds…this is not the case…we should be in a golden age of crazy sounds now, with all the technology that’s available…we were so limited back in the day…and sometimes limitations force you to be more imaginative…of course, i don’t mean every single artist..i have a few that I like, one’s that push boundaries or have really good energy…
Some parties are still doing an amazing job out there…what some lack in budget and production, they make up for in boundless energy and optimism… I have to salute those people that work behind the scenes, the ones that are there for the vibe, the scene, the energy..they spend weeks on site and have so many things to get done and done right in order for the people going there to have the best time..the logistics of transporting the artists alone, is mental..but people are still out there doing it…and doing it well..the only thing i would change is to make sure every party gets enough people..many have lost money or gone bankrupt while trying to do these events which is so wrong…they need full support in order for this scene to survive..
Piracy, works out negatively for the artist, but it allows listeners’ to access music that would otherwise be hard to source. Art should be shared…in this light what are your thoughts on piracy vs. a price tag?
It’s a tough situation for sure…I’m kind of in the middle with it..I try to stress to people to help support independent artists or that artist may soon have to call it a day..if you download something and like it then you should, by rights, buy it from that artist..not only do you help preserve their career, you will probably get a much better sounding higher quality file anyway..I still love buying cds, personally, as I come from the old school days of the ‘proper album’…to me, an album should be a journey through the mind of that artist, a window into their soul..I really went for that concept on my new album as someone had said to me, in a conversation on Facebook, that these days ”albums were dead…” that really got to me and was a prime motive while working on my new one, to the point where I had to prove them wrong…or die trying! I know what they meant though…many of the dance artists seem to release albums that are a collection of DJ tunes, where you get 2 or 3 great tracks at the beginning and then a slow decline of the same track but lessening in quality and substance..i wanted my album to sound like a band had gone in and done all the tracks in one session..to have a continuity and a story line running through…I hope i pulled it off….time will tell..
Pearls: Words of Wisdom for reader and fans:At the end of the ride, everyone’s looking for some form of success (tangible or not), what does success mean to you?
I used to look around me and think success was measured in status and wealth but it’s really down to what you are looking for personally. In life..travelling in certain places really changed my perspective and opened my eyes to other cultures and societies and, in some cases, made me quite envious..for example, when I stayed with a Bedouin tribe in Egypt, after a couple of days I was seriously wishing i had a life like theirs..a bunch of people living in a beautiful place on the edge of the Red Sea, their only worry being catching the food they needed that day, then spending the nights talking, jamming music and eating good food..I loved that about them..so I guess my only dream is to end up living in a warm place surrounded by really good friends and tasty simple food..I know i’ll always have some form of a studio near to me, in what shape or form i don’t know as yet..but the desire to make new music will never die..I know that much for sure..I have never been that motivated by money..it’s nice when you have a bit but even without it, i am still happy and healthy..as long as i can eat and have a place to live, that’s enough..I have never owned a place, at the time when i thought about buying a house, a musician had no chance of getting a mortgage because of the unstable wages..I also never had any children as music takes up my whole life..whether any of this might still happen, I don’t know..i could never look or plan ahead…
We are almost done. Give us a nutshell of the life philosophy/motto/mantra that you clutch close to your heart.
Boom Shankar!! Either that or ”I’m still here!”
Try to keep/own as much of your own music as possible..I know scores of people that signed away their music and now cannot make any money from those tunes..if you own your own stuff then you always have that option of selling it to people, in whatever format, to carry on and survive..
One word to describe yourself, and one word to describe music.
‘Alien” and ‘Antidote’
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