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JG Thirlwell: Hide and Seek - Page 6

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JG Thirlwell still from Under Your Skin















JG Thirlwell has always thrived on the energy of New York, but that’s meant living since 1986 in a factory building, where the rent was cheap and he could make a lot of noise. Although the classy bachelor pad he shares with a cat called Squeak looks cozy enough, it’s surrounded by the squalid crime of the projects.

AS: Don't you ever want to just get away from it all and move somewhere nice?

JGT: I have a lot of space here, and I am a self employed artist. I love my loft. Dumbo [in Brooklyn] has become very gentrified, but I am right on the border next to the housing projects, and they are not going anywhere. I don’t know how you define “somewhere nice.” I certainly don’t want to live in the countryside.

AS: Do you think that you'd have been less prolifically creative if you'd either "found God” or had children? Is Lady Gaga your secret lovechild?

JGT: I am too selfish for children at this time in my life. Lady Gaga is my secret lover.

AS: Seriously, though, you've made allusions to your “lost years” and of striving for some sort of immortality through your music. Can you envisage any point where you think you'd have caught up?

JGT: Of course not. I will never catch up; I'll never be “good enough.”

“Many people cross the beach and leave no trace
Well I’m hoping for my footprints to remain
....I know that ain’t real”
- Mine Is No Disgrace

AS: Do you honestly believe that you haven't left a permanent footprint on the world?

JGT: I hope I may have left a toe or two. My work has been, and continues to be, very important and significant to me. I hope other people find it moving – that’s the highest compliment I could have!

JG Thirlwell is disappointed that I’ve focused so much on the first two-thirds of his career, which is “so far in the distant past as to be irrelevant.” He has far more interest in his recent work. That leaves me with a problem: the Venture Bros series has only just been picked up where I live in the UK (to be shown soon on the Cartoon Network), and his sound installations and concerts are thousands of miles away. I simply haven’t heard most of what he’s been doing.

As for his recent Foetus albums and Manorexia and Steroid Maximus, my lack of curiosity is not lack of interest. It’s by far the best music he’s ever made. It’s just that his (bi)polar shift has come through in his music: it seems to me self-explanatory, striking home on such an intuitive and primal level that it doesn’t even occur to me to ask about it. Thirlwell recently told Big Shiny Robot that new Foetus album HIDE is perhaps his best yet.

JGT: HIDE was begun during George W’s regime and lyrically some of it addresses war paranoia and the culture of fear, as well as embracing the rapture as a form of deliverance. There are references to a kind of non-specific Masonic-like cult which is somehow simultaneously serving and enslaving, various other parables, and a bunch of it is in Latin. Parts of it are operatic and I brought in the singer Abby Fischer, and layered her voice extensively. She has an amazing strong operatic voice; it is such a strong instrument. I couldn’t believe how loudly she could sing.

He describes it as “symphonic psychedelia,” which is no surprise from someone who mostly listens to prog and contemporary classical. Let other people enquire about the processes behind HIDE: for me, the way to understand the music is to understand the person who makes it.

Thirlwell now seems so completely opposite to his various incarnations that I can't help but wonder if “JG Thirlwell” is yet another mask. He portrays a mixture of personal humility and artistic urgency. He seems shy, polite, sweet, funny, thoughtful, driven, intellectual and very serious.

AS: Is "JG Thirlwell” yet another persona?

JGT: No, JG Thirlwell is me. I have always been deadly serious!

Yet it's still not the full picture. I know for sure he's not the swaggering flirt I interviewed 14 years ago – only the occasional mannerism hints at any resemblance – but if the purpose of this was to find a vivid, accurate image of the real JG Thirlwell, it’s been an abject failure. I normally learn all I ever need to know about a person within the first few minutes; in Thirlwell’s case, you could spend years trying to figure him out.

Feeling despondent, I rejoin my group of friends and their unrelated conversation. "Whatever the truth is, that's OK: I just want to know," one is saying. "Because there's nothing worse than when you just can't work someone out, is there? Drives me mad!"

All I know is Thirlwell's a lifer – he hopes he has another 30 years of creating in him – and thinks he won’t really excel until he’s in his 70s. I don’t normally use the word “complicated” to describe a person – most of us are just variations of archetypes – but Thirlwell is unlike anyone I’ve ever met. He won’t neatly fit into any box, but remains overwhelmingly complex, intriguing and impossible to describe.

Just like his music, in other words.


The Foetus album HIDE will be released in August 2010

Additional resources:, Two Gun Mathilda, Acid Logic, Wikipedia


Last Updated on Sunday, 18 July 2010 21:34  


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