Interview ( 2006 )

THIS BURNING EFFIGY was formed in late 1993 in Dublin. What was the main reason for you guys to form a goth band? I mean, Ireland isn't exactly a breeding ground for such kind of sounds.

Stephen: Strangely enough, there were quite a few alternative/gothic bands around at the time we first started, most of whom never made past their first gig. Their names are lost to me now, but I distinctly remember a band doing Bauhaus covers at one of our first ever gigs. The reason we formed a band were I'm sure the usual ones for people of that age- to express yourself and create something unique. Nothing in the world can replicate the feeling you get when five guys are in a room working through a musical idea and it suddenly comes together and lifts you out of yourself.

TBE was a five-piece at the beginning formed by you (Guitars, Synths), Gerard Egan (Vocals), Michael Cowley (Bass), Brian Fallon (Drums) and Phil Doyle (Guitars). What did inspire you guys, both musically and lyrically back in those days?

Stephen: It was quite a mixture of influences really, I really loved the Cocteau Twins/Chameleons and more, far too many to list, while the others enjoyed everything from Bjork to New Model army, Dead Can Dance to Pantera. Lyrically , Ger was much more esoteric, a very well read individual. I do remember a set of Catholic encyclopedias that were always lying around at his home. The influence of the Church in Ireland at that time, whilst declining, was still a defining force in many peoples psyches. The environment was a major influence too. We lived at the edge of suburban northside Dublin, on one side we had urban decay in all it's glory, and on the other farmland as far as the eye could see. It was quite a clash - one I feel definitely left its mark on the music.

Within a short amount of time, you released the "The Eternal Procession"-2-Track-Demo, which already included an early version of arguably one of your biggest hits, "Emeritus". What do you think about this demo in retrospective, and can you recall how the idea to "Emeritus" was born, and what its lyrical background is?

Stephen: That demo was instrumental in getting us signed and getting us our first ever UK gigs. It was in fact our second set of recordings, there were another 6 or 7 songs recorded before that which were going to be released under the title of "From the Icon", but for some reason it was never released. "Emeritus" was born from a jam session at my house a few months later. It seemed to materialise out of nowhere, fully formed. The best songs seem to arrive this way,rather than slavishly trying to get the next chord progression. Lyrically, the meaning of the song can be summed up in the line "To satisfy desire, is a crime". Catholic guilt rearing its ugly head again, I suppose!

The demo led to an offer of Grave News to participate on the now infamous "Dreams In The Witchhouse"-compilation with the great "Communion With Sophia". Do you know how Grave News got in touch with you, and what was the feeling like to being offered a record deal by them shortly afterwards as well?

Stephen: In actual fact, when we got the call to do the "Dreams..." compilation, we had broken up! We had been writing intensely for about 6 months at a cramped little room in an industrial estate, and ended up nearly killing each other! We hadn't spoken in a month or two when the call came. Of course we instantly forgot our differences and set about writing what was to become "Communion with Sophia".

Phil left the band around that time as well. Do you remember why?

Stephen: A that age, a 3-4 year age gap can make a world of difference, and while we were all very young, Phil just didn't 'gel' with the band unit. It ended quite badly as far as I can remember.

Although you signed a record deal in 1994, it still took you two years to record "To Bestial Gods…". What can you recall from those recording sessions at Sonic Studios in Dublin?

Stephen:"To Bestial Gods" took an age to record as we were doing it on studio 'downtime' which meant going in and doing the night-time 'graveyard shift' at the studio. It was a very run down place - held together with solder and gaffa tape. Also the producer 'disappeared' during the sessions and we had to finish the recording and mixing on our own with the assistant engineer. We basically had to learn how to use a studio whilst mixing our first album! Even though this gave us complete artistic freedom, on occasions it did give us enough rope to hang ourselves with.

You even added a female singer, Tanya Doyle, to the mix. What did you guys want to accomplish with your first album?

Stephen: Tanya was a friend of the producer, and after hearing our demos, he asked her to come down to the sessions and contribute. She added a new dimension to the songs and in fact some song arrangements were changed to take advantage of this. We definitely wanted to make an impact with the album, as at the time (as you mentioned previously) we were the only Irish Goth band with a record deal. We were very keen to assert our 'Irishness', as we felt it set us apart from our UK contemporaries.

To my mind "To Bestial Gods…" is probably one of the most underrated goth albums ever out there. I'd love to hear a remastered version of it since only the sound quality takes a slight bit away from the overall greatness of the record. What was the feedback to the cd like?

Stephen: Thank you, Thomas. There has been talk of remastering some of the material, but unfortunately some of the original tapes have been lost. I personally would like to remaster whatever still exists. Maybe put it out on the internet. It's a grey area as there has been little contact between the band members in quite a few years. The CD was fairly well received, but it was just before the internet explosion so promotion was a lot harder and more expensive. This did limit the exposure it received.

In 1996 two of you moved to London while Brian and Michael stayed in Dublin. What was the reason behind the move, and how hard was it to leave 50% of the band behind?

Stephen: Well the move to London was inevitable for myself and Ger. We loved what we saw when we played Necromantic festival at the Marquee in July 95. There was a thriving scene, that far outstripped anything Dublin had to offer. Our label was based there, as were the gigs we were being offered. It was very natural to move. Unfortunately, both Brian and Michael wanted to distance themselves from the Goth scene and move in a more commercial direction. That pretty much made the decision for us. Brian became a male model and Michael joined a celtic rock band. Sadly we haven't really spoken since.

One of the next life signals was the fantastic demo-version of "Red" (I f'n love the guitars!) on the Gothic Grimoire-compilation in 1996, a song which later turned into "Bare" and then "An Untold Release". What can you tell us about this exceptional piece of work?

Stephen: It was a reaction to the move and the split with the others. In my opinion its one of the most aggressive songs we ever did. In fact thinking about it now, i'd say it was one of the most lyrically 'open' songs too. The meaning is clear to see when you take into account the answer to the previous question!

Your second album had the working title "Exiles" which later turned into "Descent". What did you guys want to accomplish with the "To Bestial Gods…"-successor? And how did you get in touch with Julianne Regan of All About Eve-fame who contributed some vocals to the cd?

Stephen: After the reverb onslaught of the last album, we wanted something more stripped back, more 'controlled' with "Descent". It was a very enjoyable process to write that album, as were were starting to use recording equipment at our homes to experiment with different styles and moods. Having the ability to record whenever you want frees up the creative process immensely and with no studio clock to worry about you could take an idea to its logical conclusion. On some occasions though, it was enjoyable to do the complete opposite! I do remember that one of the songs that Julianne sang on, "Exquisite" was written in the attic of the Devonshire Arms pub in Camden in one go after a particularly hectic session downstairs! We knew Julianne through a friend and she shocked us both by agreeing to sing on the album. The work she did remains my personal highlight of my time with TBE. This period culminated with us headlining an all day festival at the Garage in London, at which Julianne joined us onstage for the last few songs. A very special night, as it was her first live performance in many years and the atmosphere was electric. In my opinion that should have been the end of TBE.

In retrospective: Do you think that you lost a lot of the fanbase that you won with "To Bestial Gods", or do you think that your fanbase even grew after "Descent"?

Stephen: I think we may have lost a few of the more 'rock' oriented fans, as there was a definite progression towards a more immediate, accessible sound. But this was countered by the interest generated by having Julianne participate. Overall, I would say it grew.

In 2000 "Resolution" was released, a compilation of previously unreleased tracks, outtakes and remixes. Especially the remixes (the one of "Bare" comes to mind) were, well, "weird" for a lot of your die hard-fans. What was the idea behind the collection, and what made you include so much electronics into the TBE-sound?

Stephen: It was a parting shot really, a way of tying up the loose ends – hence the title. I particularly like "The Orra Man". It defined that guitar sound for me. With respect to the remixes, we hated the snobbery of the ebm scene which was very much at it's height during that time. It was impossible to get club play if you were a guitar based band. that wasn't one of the established big three or four. Even then clubs would only play about twenty minutes of music before returning to the 'four on the floor' monotony. The remixes were a reaction to this. We tried to include as many ebm cliches as we could. Basically – it was a piss-take!

Also on "Resolution" there are a handful of tracks which were scheduled to be a part of the never released first recording "From The Icon". What can be said about this? And what do you think about a track like "In Adamantine Chains", which could already be found on your first demo ever, nowadays?

Stephen: I really don't remember much about the songs from that period, the tapes were lost long ago. There was a video recorded of a live performance of these songs, which was a lot better than the recorded studio versions, but again this has been lost. "In Adamantine Chains" was the only one to survive through to the 'Resolution' period, we thought it deserved a re-working, so added the new intro and middle section.

In 2001 TBE split up. Why? And did you guys ever play a final "good-bye" show?

Stephen: The main reason for the split was as described in the press release at the time. Being in a goth band was in itself anachronistic, being in a 'trad-goth' band was going too far. The irony is, that while the cyber/ebm scene basically killed TBE, the scene has come full circle with attendances at cyber/ebm events dwindling and guitar music once again coming to the fore. I guess people got tired of paying to see a guy press play on a DAT machine and dance around in a colour co-ordinated jump-suit! We never did play a farewell show. My guitar was stolen from backstage at the Gotham Festival in London in 2001, only minutes before we were due on stage. All of the TBE songs had been written on that guitar, and this happening was like the straw that broke the camels back. That was our final performance.

Stephen, after the split you joined NFD, which is obviously headed into a totally different direction that TBE was. How do you feel being a part of the band?

Stephen: I really enjoy playing with NFD, I had played bass live for SENSORIUM and Simon Rippin had played drums live for TBE, so it was good to continue that relationship. We've played in some amazing places, and it's great to get a chance to play alongside Tony from FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM.

And what can you tell us about your projects THE EDEN HOUSE (you collaborated with great artists like Stevyn Grey, Monica Richards, Candia and Julianne Regan) and ADORATION?

Stephen: THE EDEN HOUSE came about after a conversation with Julianne after an AAE show at Union Chapel in London. She wanted to work together on a few tracks, and the idea occurred to me that I had met or worked alongside quite a few people who I would love to collaborate with. It has been a very gradual and slow process, but all the artists you've mentioned above are contributing, as are Tony Pettitt and Paul Wright from FOTN, Yig Hughes from Altered States, Dave Blomberg (ex-New Model Army). It still has a fair way to go before being finished, but I'm aiming for a 2008 release. ADORATION is a project with John Stone from Resurrection Records. The final mixes are complete, and it only needs to be mastered for an early 2008 release. This has been getting some great feedback so far, so I'm really looking forward to touring it.

Do you see the chance of a possible TBE-reunion somewhere down the line? Even if it was just to do a couple of gigs?

Stephen: I really doubt that this will ever happen. The amount of time that has passed is too great, and the members have all taken different paths in life. As far as I know I'm the only one still actively involved in music, but that being said I hope they haven't given up completely, they were/are very talented people.

What do you think about songs like "Emeritus" and "Affliction" still being played in goth clubs around the world, but especially in Germany - still up to this day?

Stephen: I do see TBE tracks popping up in playlists now and again, and its quite a strange feeling. I was at a gig recently and "Exquisite" was played by the DJ, and it actually took me a minute to recognise the song as mine!

And, the inevitable question, where did the name "This Burning Effigy" come from and what did it stand for?

Stephen: It was a gig supporting James Ray's Gangwar that forced our hand, as before that we couldn't decide on a name that we all agreed on. The name was quite unusual for a Dublin band at the time, and after a 'prolific' poster campaign (including some large eye catching graffitti in a prime location) the name was fixed.

Your hopes, plans and dreams for the future!?

Stephen: Musically, to get both THE EDEN HOUSE and ADORATION albums released this year, and to play as many gigs with NFD as possible. Personally, I want to learn to speak German properly and spend more time in Berlin. We spent a few days off there on the last NFD tour, and it was like a home from home, I could see myself moving there one day.

Interview: Thomas Thyssen