10 Questions for Russell Smith of Terminal Cheesecake | New music reviews, news & interviews
10 Questions for Russell Smith of Terminal Cheesecake
Guitarist from recently resurrected noise mentalists talks Beatrix Potter, marijuana and Nigel Kennedy
And you appeared to have a thing about Beatrix Potter?
Classic English psychedelia, isn’t it? We all grew up with it and it’s a little bit weird. The track "Jonnny Town-Mouse" was a stroke of Gary genius, still one of best tracks to play live. It’s in the set and it sounds brilliant – “They say we did it but I know better!” It pummels your brain. John, our drummer, loves that one. He’s one of best, most aggressive drummers. He has the feel to really build intensity, an amazing, proper jazz drummer.
We just hated Nigel Kennedy. He was such an obnoxious individual
Where did the song and album title Valium Chicken Leg come from?
There was basically this twisted drug abuser I sort of knew and he lost the plot so badly he started injecting cooked chickens with morphine and eating them. He thought injecting into muscle would do the trick. All this stuff we found funny. Actually, that’s our tribute to Floyd’s track “Come in Number 51, Your Time is Up” [a version of “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” recorded for the soundtrack to Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 film Zabriskie Point]. I grew up near Cambridge and everyone from Cambridge loves Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd, that early stuff was pretty much as good as it gets, although it’s a shame there’s not much live stuff recorded at the UFO Club.
You also seemed obsessed with the violinist Nigel Kennedy, entitling tracks “Kennephant Man” and “Head of Nigel”…
Bring me the head of NF Kennedy! We just hated him and it was just another joke. We sampled a bit of violin but I don’t think it was actually him. He was such an obnoxious individual, always on the television going on and on. Where is he now? What does he do? He was so annoying. A lot of marijuana humour.
Yes, the other ongoing theme was marijuana with tunes such as “Lung of Iron” and “Mrs Skinupski Speaks”.
I think so, I can’t recall but I think “Lung of Iron” was someone who can cope with much bong intake. Mrs Skuinupski was actually a real person. There’s also one that came up in rehearsals – “Inter-Steptoe Overdrive” because [Pink Floyd’s] "Interstellar Overdrive” and the theme to Steptoe & Son are so close. It’s totally ridiculous. You can play it for ten minutes but then, no, it’s not on. There’s been calls for it, though, so it may still appear.
Terminal Cheesecake were once on sonic maverick Kevin Martin’s label, Pathological, and you were also part of his God project. His music, always extreme, has run the gamut from Godflesh’s mantric hammering to the ragga attack of The Bug. How did you find him?
Us lot loved playing music but don’t take ourselves seriously at all. We like to think we’re pretty good musicians but have fun with it, a good laugh, elements of humour. Why does it all have to be so serious? It’s entertaining, serious music but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Kevin takes himself very seriously. God tours were something else. They must have been endurance tests [for him] – he had ten idiots in the back of the bus from different eras of music: Tim Hodgkinson from [Seventies avant-garde prog-rockers] Henry Cow, me and Dave [Cochrane] all drinking and partying and he was the only one trying to be serious. God was his baby. They were great live, a hypnotic noise once it gelled.
What about your involvement with A.R. Kane prior to Cheesecake?
Someone had a bass in the corner and said, “Can you play that?” “Not very well.” “Do you want to be in my band?” "What do they sound like?” “A bit like the Mary Chain.” “Yeah, I’m in.” That was a noisy feedback assault with Adrian Sherwood doing the live sound. He really was a massive influence on everyone in Cheesecake. That sound system he had, everyone knew that would be the best night out. Tackhead! Top drawer!
Back when Cheesecake began electronic musical distortion was being appropriated by dance music and rock was somewhere else completely. How did you end up smashing them both – and much else - together?
It just seemed music needed a kick up the arse. The stuff we were listening to was extreme. You’ve got to create your own sound and do something extraordinary. There were so many dire indie outfits about then, all that shambling. There were exceptions - Loop, Spacemen 3, World Domination Enterprises – but things needed to be pushed a bit further. We were using the same Roland effects [as house/techno music] but applying them to guitars. We were also listening to hip hop. Public Enemy were another massive influence. They were cutting up and splicing stuff. Early Public Enemy doesn’t even sound like hip hop, it sounds like madness, dangerous, aggressive, even now it sounds out on the edge. Christ almighty - Welcome to the Terrordome, it’s amazing. We had the same tools and that’s what the results were. Some on the second album were almost rock tracks but then [on the last two albums] Gary and Gordon were listening to more dub and smoking even more. By the end of Cheesecake there was hardly any guitar, more beats and sample-based. I love those albums even though I’d left by then, a different sound but I love them. I couldn’t fault them. They’re classics.
Listen to "Valium Chicken Leg"
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more New music
Norwegian improvising vocalist travels through hit songs via the subconscious
Old school folk-rockers prove they can withstand the test of time
Unhinged assault on the eardrums from the Bristol four-piece
Infectious disco tribute from a man who knows the genre inside-out
Latin rhythms mingle with a cool delivery and cerebral lyrics for a searching, substantial collection
Wallet-friendly compendium of one of Britain’s great singer-songwriters
Noel and his High Flying Birds aim for new heights without straying too near the Sun
A celebration of diversity and a historic addition to jazz’s political back catalogue
Tables turned as Fairport Convention are auditioned by their new singer
Barn-dance friendly Scandinavians find their own groove
Shiny-suited funk from the LA-Seattle supergroup
Philadelphia’s finest prove themselves to be more than the sum of their influences