Wreaking havoc since 1989, Eat Static celebrates 25 years at Sunrise Festival this weekend. Merv Pepler will no doubt, be in the mood to make some noise, scare some kids – and party like it’s 1987 as he dreamily recalls good ol’ fashioned, glue-sniffing punks that hollered “gerrroff the stage!”
So from punk to acid house and beyond, Merv’s been through the lot, mainly with former partner in crime, Joie Hinton, and has honed some serious skills for talking to extraterrestrials. He’s also been busy with the new album – which gives a defiant middle finger to the digital age with it’s pure un-adultered analogue production. This 25th anniversary album brings Eat Static full circle and is an ode to the very same machines that revolutionised the UK music scene as acid house exploded and lured Merv and Joie to join the rave culture pioneers who set the course for a new direction. Transitioning from the Ozrics to Eat Static only cemented the connection between heightened insanity and creative evolution. He’s back in the UK now – and as he shows, on form as he’ll ever be. Anu Shukla spoke to him for this exclusive interview.
1. Namaste! How ya doin? We believe you’ve just got back to the UK… Welcome!
Greetings humanoids! Yes, just got back from The Holy Land where I’ve been working, teaching and recuperating from the initial seven months of intensive album recording… I’m re-charged and raring to go now! Raaaaar!
2. Last time we spoke, you’d had another one of your crazy experiences…
My life always seems to be some mad movie! Yes, the last time we spoke I’d done an all night session with ex- original member Steve Everitt. I’ve coined the phrase ‘method recording’ for this album: it means one has to submerge oneself into every track. So the track we did together ended up a Haitian style voodoo ritual style thing in which we had to drink a bottle of vodka that had three cobra’s floating in it… It’s supposed to be an aphrodisiac too but I was too drunk to tell. The track is amazing by the way, every single overdub recorded as live playing… And NO QUANTIZING!
3. We’re glad you’re back and survived the experience. So Have you been down to the Sunrise site? Seems you’re not too far from those green fields yonder…
Thanks! No, I haven’t been to the site as yet. I make it a rule to never visit where I’m going to play. Kinda ruins the surprise for me. Sunrise is very close to my heart though as I love their ethos behind it and have been with them pretty much from the beginning. And being in the West Country makes it that EXTRA special!
3a. Environmental issues, we know, are quite close to your heart. Do you think festivals have the power to raise the consciousness vibration or are we preaching to the preached?
I don’t think generally any message gets through to the masses but every bit of difference helps. I think it’s just down to the people themselves. If you care, you’re conscious of how you act. I’m forever screaming at people to put their rubbish in bins as it pains me to see people throwing stuff on the floor when bins are provided… And if there are no bins, take yer rubbish home! I always take bin liners with me… They take up no space up. Some of us have to live in the countryside after the festival has ended! You wouldn’t believe how much cleaner and litter free the festivals are abroad… Makes me ANGRY! Grrrrr
Humans seem to be getting worse too. I even noticed it swimming in the Med this spring… The sea full of plastic bags and peoples’ mess… Humans have become ugly parasites, destroying the planet, consuming more and more and not giving a fuck about each other. This saddens me to the max. The earth is choking, nature is being destroyed… All this plays a BIG part of the new Static album as i have now had enough!! No more Mr Nice Alien!
4. Sunrise has got it together to make it happen again – and it’s quite an epic production with all the crews that have joined forces to do this. Tell us about your journey with this event: you’ve known the crew for years and this is not the first time you play here either…
I’ve supported Sunrise from the beginning and have played almost every one whether with Eat Static or the Ozrics. Being a local festival to me has meant it was always close to my heart. I have always supported the smaller festivals in general. It’s these events that preserve the true ‘primal tribal spirit’ for me and this is the legacy that has to be carried on and passed down. There’s nothing like a bunch of people out in the wilds jumping around to a pulse. It’s what we did as cavemen innit!
5. So Eat Static will be playing across several stages at Sunrise… And of course, celebrating 25 years! Congratulations! What a journey…
Hehehe! Some days it feels like five years and other days 95 years… I can’t actually believe I’m still going and still being appreciated… I’m privileged to be doing three sets at Sunrise again. A full on banging set on Thursday night for the Waveform Stage. Then 5am Saturday morning at Sunbird’s Eartheart chill space and Saturday night with old friends on the ‘Cats Cradle’ stage.
I guess all that hard work doing the early free festivals has helped – and also continuing to do more styles than just the trance. I still feel like ‘I have only just scratched the surface of what the mind can do’ music wise… The new album is testament to that as it’s definitely gonna be a double CD. Wasn’t planned that way, it’s had a life of its own since it started to form and I’m just the jockey trying to control an out of control beast!
4. Aphex Twin, Orbital, Prodigy, Underworld, Leftield etc – that explosion in UK rave culture did something to the music scene back then… Something just snapped and music suddenly took off in another direction. Eat Static was a massive part of that…
It WAS an exciting time for sure… Not only because of the new style of music but the fact that the scene had a lot more characters and personalities in back then. I think its cos we had to work hard to make sounds to use for our music so you couldn’t help but sound like ‘you.’
I think this is sadly lacking in today’s scene with the advent of laptop music and peoples’ obsessions with fitting into genres. Why the fuck anyone would WANT to sound like anyone else is beyond me. I’ve rebelled even further against it with the new album. EVERY single sound has been hand made this time. Not one short cut. I realised again how much fun recording used to be.
There’s nothing more satisfying than hearing your own music chock full of lovingly-made sounds… I also went away from the digital side again – dragging all the old analogues back out. In the early days we had no computer space for sounds. It was usually a basic sampler and a couple of old analogues, so we used to jam a lot which is something I’ve been doing a lot of with the new stuff.
Acid house took off cos it was FUN! We made sounds to make people laugh! This was the whole ethos of Eat Static… We were doing quite serious music in the Ozrics: complicated timings, complicated chords and music… Acid House was kicking off the heels and running barefoot through the woods! (NO, I am NOT doing Sunrise in drag! Well, maybe by the Saturday night things might be different….Hahahaha!)
5. You do seem to originate from rather mentalist times – specially as drummer of the Ozric Tentacles: a million albums – no mega label backing – massive success – many crazy experiences no doubt. And then bang – Eat Static with co-band-member and keyboardist, Joie Hinton… Mental!
Yeah, it’s been a roller coaster of a ride… Doesn’t seem that long ago where I was doing punk gigs around Frome and Bath, playing to about 30 people all sniffing glue and yelling ‘GET OFF’!
My first festival was Glastonbury 84 or 85, which I went to alone as i couldn’t find one friend who wanted to go with me… So I bought a Bedford van, chucked a mattress in the back and just went. I bought the ticket from a record shop in Frome for £24.95!
But that first time was amazing… Will never forget it. The crazy travellers area up the top, weird n’ wacky stalls everywhere… I used to go and watch the Ozrics on small, out-the-way stages after seeing the set times written down on small pieces of paper and nailed to a random tree… Three years later and I was in the band drumming and playing every free festival going.
I can still remember the time we played on the back of a lorry and I fell off the back of the trailer and was on my back staring at the sky… It seemed hours before any of the other four Ozrics poked their heads over the edge to see if i was alright! Static eventually came out of my bonding with Joie, the keyboard player… His view of the world was as warped as mine so we spent many weekends experimenting and making weird music while we had days off from Ozric tours and recording sessions.
I loved these studio times and was very annoyed when people started asking us to come and play live! I hated leaving the studio. Back then we had to drag and set up the whole studio, which was a lot of work and dedication! And things hardly ever went to plan… Analogues would go out of tune or just not work, drum machines were hell to keep in line… It was mayhem! But I guess all those chaotic gigs are the reason I’m still working now so I cant complain!
6. With the explosion of the digital age and all this technology spawning bedroom producers – are there more challenges in achieving that level of success today than back in the day?
Regardless of ‘the age’ or other people, I think it’s a challenge to stay on top of your game. I spend a lot of time keeping my live sets fresh and re-vamping the old stuff but keeping the original vibes there too. There’s a lot of new artists now so there’s much more competition but I have always just kept my head down and done my own thing…
I don’t really care whats trendy, how many BPMs a track is or whether I fit into this genre or that genre… It’s all bollocks to me… I just aim to make good music that takes people… takes them on a journey and has that deep primal vibe.
I spent years not being booked at a lot of these exotic trance festivals in lovely locations because i didn’t sound like the rest of the acts. Then it all kinda turned about face and suddenly promoters wanted something that was different cos’ all their acts sounded identical…It was just a matter of patience… Hehehehe!
7. Perhaps there weren’t as many blood-sucking record company sharks around as there are now…?
Dunno…I always kept very clear of them! One amazing thing about the internet (apart from good quality German porn of course) is the way any artist can promote themselves in any way they choose these days…you are in control of your own destiny…we never had that in the early days…we just sold cassettes at gigs! So if you’re willing to make the sacrifices and go all the way, you can get out there and promote/sell your band…
Record companies had a lot to answer for in the way they treated artists and stole most of their money! This I do not miss… Sure, it’s a lot more time-consuming doing all the jobs but I get a lot of satisfaction knowing you’re being promoted exactly how you want and releasing exactly what you want with no compromising… Result! I was always heavily involved with every single stage of album production anyway – right from the music through to the artwork, design and mastering… I always cared way too much about the end result being perfect – the vision of the band and not the label. I’m sure my old label would say ‘you could have sold a lot more records had you become more commercial’ – but I cant pretend to be something i ain’t… I’ve spent my life listening to and being part of the independent, underground scene.. This is the music I love and feel… So this is where I belong and will stay…
8. We’re gonna keep referring to this: Eat Static is 25!
25! If you tell me 10,000 times I still won’t believe ya!! I’m just grateful I still got hair! And am living!
9. You’ve been working with loads of people though lately, including the Bom Shanka young blood known as Chris Rich. Have you guys actually met yet or has it been all computer-related file sharing of samples and squiggles? Who else have you been collaborating with?
I’ve been doing a lot of collaborations of late which has been most enjoyable… Some have come from me tracking the person down or they’ve popped up and cited me as one of their major influences for getting started in the scene. The new album will feature a number of collaborations this time… Chris Rich had written a track which I was playing and loving in my DJ sets for a few months. Then one day his name popped up in my Facebook feed – and I knew that I knew the name – so I asked him if he was the same guy and he said yes… A few days later we were writing a tune via the net. Was even better when i found out he was a west country lad, though not surprising really cos WE DO IT BEST! Heheheheh! (Er, or we’re just the maddest??)
I’m also writing with some of the new breed of Greek trance acts, namely Martian Arts who shares the same passion as me for Analogue synths… It’s Sci Fi that’s a whole new level! I was actually in tears when I mixed our track cos’ of the passion and beauty that we captured… Think that was a first!
Other collabs that are on the album this time are Laughing Buddha, Jez again. Have forced him to move to Frome at gun point which worked so he’s now a prisoner to be used whenever I feel like it… Good man he is! (Or was!) I also wrote a track with him for his forthcoming new album which is a ripper!!
Some of the really interesting collabs are happening on the second CD too – the downtempo one. I’m working with Robbert Heijnen from Psychik Warriors of Gaia/Exquisite Corpse which were two of my big favourites from the early 90’s – an honour this was… Very earthy organic future electronica. Also some home grown collabs with vocalists too (vocals i hear you cry?) YES! Vocals with Georgina Brett who specialises in weird n’ wacky vocal looping techniques and Elaine Frost…
10. Care to divulge any more information about the new album – any previews? When and how do we celebrate the release?
I’m doing this album the old school way… NO previews! We never had previews buying albums in the ‘old days’ – so you ain’t getting any now! And no snippets or clips… It’s an insult to a piece of music to take a 30-sec clip from it for someone else to judge… NOT happening! And I am not selling the tracks individually either! Fuck iTunes and their crappy ethos into cheapening music! I WILL NOT BE DE-VALUED! If you want a track, buy the album. Simple. This is my guarantee to you – that I put EVERYTHING into making it, including blood and tears!
9a. And will you be playing tracks from the new album at Sunrise?
Ha! Maybe! depends on my mood! I played one track to someone a month ago… They were found dead in a ditch on the edge of Salisbury Plain days later… A funny shade of green they were too…
10. And does it feature a collaboration with Mr Hinton by any chance – at least to mark this 25th year? Or has he been abducted by aliens?
He left the building years ago…
11. By the way – the last time we spoke, you said that it was possible to actually eat static – that one can simply drink, absorb, suck or inject it. What happens after one has eaten static?
Convulsions, spasms,violent vomiting, screams and then BOOM! Bliss, euphoria, freedom, enlightenment…
12. Does the universe answer the phone when you call? Or do you find it’s often engaged?
It’s always pretty bleak and lonely in my corner… Which is EXACTLY how i like it!
13. What type of alien are you? Arcturian, Agharian, Alpha-Draconian, Alpha-Centaurian, Anakim, Iguanoid, Tau Cetian, Janosian, Korendian, Phoenician, Pleiadean or Solarian?
Depends if its Monday,Tuesday,Wednesday etc….(Admit it, you looked those up in a book!)
13. And have you been in touch with the Galactic Light Federation lately? What did they say?
Same as they always say – LET THEM EAT STATIC!! (Still waiting for me gold watch though).
14. Finally: after 25 years of Eat Static eating static – what’s your current state and do we get another 25?
Current state – as happy as one can be staring around at the state of the place… Some humans please me, others most definitely DO NOT! Can’t promise 25 but as long as I got breath in me body and green blood in my veins, I’ll give it my all!
15. Shall we have a celebratory cup of tea now?
What’s in it? 😛