An Interview with Padraic Ogl
With all the hoo-ha over whether Andrew Eldritch (Sisters of Mercy overlord/guru) has “sold out” because he has bleached his hair blonde, refuses to dress all in black, and hates what he calls “g*th,” it’s truly refreshing to listen to Thanatos’s new album, Blisters. Mercifully free of bullshit pretense of any kind, Blisters delivers cool dark music for your dancing and brooding pleasure, whether you want to call it goth or rock or industrial alternative.
The current incarnation of Thanatos consists of Padraic Ogl on vocals and lyrics, and William Tucker (formerly of Pigface, Chris Connelly Band, Foetus… ) on instruments and programming. Sam Rosenthal (Black Tape for a Blue Girl) also guests on two album tracks. The addition of Tucker’s industrial-tinged sound manipulations has made a huge difference to the Thanatos sound, moving it from the mournful, trapped-in-a-dark-corner acoustic tunes of This Endless Night Inside and much of An Embassy to Gaius to a more in-your-face industrialized rock attack. But the lyrics continue to serve up sociopolitical messages along with their fair share of jokes, and the sinister soundscapes of “Neighbor of the Beast” and “Rot” give parts of Blisters an almost dark ambient feel.
A couple weeks ago I got together (virtually) with Pat Ogl and we talked about Thanatos, Florida, religion, politics, and literary criticism…
You and Sam Rosenthal (founder of Projekt and Black Tape for a Blue Girl) met in Florida, right? Any memories from Florida you’d like to share?
Do you want the “nights in jail” stories? Sam was long gone by then, though. Sam and I went to middle school and high school together. Florida is one of those things I bitch about, but God help anyone who isn’t a Floridian who rags on my home state… man I have so many stories…
Just one Florida story? Pretty please?
Let’s see, how about a name-dropping story? It was a friend of mine’s birthday — Scott, the former guitarist from Marilyn Manson. So naturally, myself and a horde of others decided we needed to get him loaded out of his mind. Apparently it worked, but I can’t be sure because the only thing I remember is seeing the blue lights in the rearview. Someone had given my keys back to me after I voluntarily surrendered them. Now, I had flaming red hair that was standing on end, and was wearing a pair of maroon velour bellbottoms — good outfit for the Broward County jail. So I get tossed in with the crack heads and a few other slobbering drunken lowlifes, and there is this one guy — no shirt, no shoes, just a pair of baggies. Now I hear through the grapevine that he was vacationing and was busted on the beach with a roach. A little later he wakes up, looks at me, and says “how’s it going?” My response was something to the effect of “well, aside from the fact that I am fucking in jail, about to lose my driver’s license for a year, about to wind up stuffing envelopes for the United Way for a few months, embarrassed as hell for getting behind the wheel of a two-ton death machine, and hung over, I am doing swell.”
So that is a Florida story, and I have way worse ones than that… one of my ex-girlfriends split my head open on South Beach once when I was loaded (I had left the club and passed out and she didn’t know where I was). I went staggering off, covered in blood, until some guy I knew drove by and saw me… that story is too long to tell, though. I don’t drink so much these days…
Although the new Thanatos album Blisters has plenty of darkness, it doesn’t seem to have the hopeless despair expressed sometimes on previous albums — or at least the despair is balanced by a willingness to fight back, to turn the bad to good by learning all you can from it and moving on (I’m thinking in particular of the song “Blisters”). Did something happen in your life that changed the course of your music, or is this just a natural progression from what went before, or… ?
People who love to be miserable are idiots, and I have never been that type. The world can sometimes suck, but it can also be wonderful. We live in a fascinating time with a great deal of hope for the future! What do people want? Nirvana? If there isn’t anything grim in the world, no despair, then there is nothing to overcome, no challenges. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “learn from the bad” — yes, but also learn from the good in the world. The songs have that attitude because I do. There are very few events in history that did not lead to something positive, even the most horrible things. I do suppose that what I consider “good” others might see as “bad;” those are tricky terms. But in regard to the personal suffering so many people seem enamored of, get a grip and realize that while individuals matter, one of us, in the broad scheme of things, means nothing and our little problems are just that — little problems. Thanatos’s lyrics reflect my attitude. I have a sense of humor about everything. The song “Blisters” is really just comparing a burn to an emotional shock. Both go away; you really don’t even need to “fight,” just put on some Bactine and get on with your life.
Your last album, An Embassy to Gaius, dealt a lot with religion, from the picture in the liner notes of religious symbols orbiting the earth, to lyrics like “searching finally for any equation leading to God” or “knocking knees before the deity has never been my style.” And part of the cover to Blisters looks a lot like a burning bush. What does religion have to do with Thanatos, and vice versa?
The first song you refer to is “God Equation” and it is really more about physics than religion, but you are right to see a connection with songs on Blisters — “Dry GRAY Whisper” is also essentially a layman’s ruminations on physics. I think science and knowledge in general are similar to the concept of God. As far as “Knocking Knees before the Deity,” I was really just saying: if there is a creator, why would he create us to bow and scrape? What would be the point? Why would an all-powerful being want that? If there is an all-powerful being I think crawling on your knees would be highly inappropriate.
Most of the songs on Blisters seem to deal directly or indirectly with apocalypse — personal, historical, or future. Were you reading a lot of headlines when you wrote the lyrics? What inspired you?
Not the apocalypse. I don’t really believe in that in a religious sense. I would say the album reflects a hopeful uneasiness about the future. I read constantly about world events; I read the paper but I usually try to get more detailed info than that about the world as well as different views. My favorite magazine is The Economist!
A lot of people would call Thanatos “goth.” For instance, Thanatos was cited as “one to watch” in a recent Alternative Press article on the younger generation of goth. I understand you’re not really comfortable with being called “goth.” What do you think of this? How would you describe your music?
I specifically asked to be left out of that article. They were going to interview me but what was I going to talk about? Goth? I have no strong opinion on that one way or another. The writer then included me in that little blurb at the end… why, I have no idea. I am not uncomfortable, really — I just don’t care.
If you didn’t want Thanatos to be seen as a goth project, why did you choose that name?
What does that name have to do with goth? I got it from a psychology class I took in college, and to my recollection the professor was not Andrew Eldritch. I honestly do not like the name much! I like the concept behind the name but really not the name itself. But I am stuck with it now — it’s like herpes, can’t get rid of it…
So why did you pick the name Thanatos? What did it mean to you — at least when you picked it — aside from the obvious reference to a Greek god of death?
It is a term used in psychology from the 1920s and earlier. It refers to a subconscious, collective death wish present in humanity as a whole. I think that is crap but it is certainly something to think about. If it isn’t true it sure seems to be true — but a lot of what “seems true” are lies…
One of Thanatos’s strengths has always seemed to me to be the lyrics. Where do you get the inspiration for your lyrics?
I am glad you noticed that… on the first two records the lyrics are really everything. Like most people who write I get ideas from a variety of places, but mostly from history, old newspapers, and sometimes novels. For instance, the songs “A Feast of Snakes” and “No Longer at Ease” from Blisters are novels. The songs are not about those books, but rather about the impression and — I hate to say this — lesson I personally took from those books. Lessons are not always bright and cheery but Harry Crews (A Feast of Snakes) is brilliant at making dreariness funny as hell. I really admire that.
A lot of your songs have a sense of history — especially of the horrors past that we’d do well not to forget. For instance, An Embassy to Gaius brought up Pinochet, Ceaucescu, and the Holocaust, and several of the songs on Blisters seem to have a historical or at least political consciousness. Why the fascination with history? What place does it have in your music?
The song you refer to is “Erich Honecker Scrapbook,” and it refers to a bevy of dictators. That song is an unfortunate one. It is a good idea with the basics in place, but the execution on the record? Yuck… embarrassingly recorded and played. The song is about what should be done to all the dictators and political criminals in the world. Is it worth tracking them all down? Where do you draw the line? I am all for hunting Nazis to the last day of their lives but what about Duvalier or Pinochet? Ceaucescu certainly got what he deserved, but others who escaped death were probably worse than him. The new record is a lot less specific!
Thanatos often seems to have a political point to get across. In the song “Splinters” from Blisters, you say “the world is getting smaller… now we move from a time when we slaughtered strangers to a new habit of murdering neighbors… ” If you could send one political message with Thanatos, what would you want it to be?
That song is directly about Bosnia. Bosnia is a lesson for us all. The people of Yugoslavia were cultured, metropolitan, and the various subcultures seemed to coexist with no conflict, but it didn’t take much to bring on mayhem. If there were just a general message to what I am trying to get across it would be: “keep your eyes open, think, and be aware… “
There seems to be a movement from primarily acoustic music on your first album, This Endless Night Inside, to the mixed acoustic and electric of An Embassy to Gaius, to the almost dance-industrial feel of Blisters. Where do you see Thanatos heading next, musically speaking?
I wanna rock. Actually, I have always been into heavier music. Everyone thinks I must love Death in June but I really don’t. I like them but I am a bigger fan of Iggy Pop, New Model Army, etc. I always want to move on musically and conceptually. I am not saying I am always “high concept” — I may want to move on to doing Steppenwolf covers, who knows. The next record will have less programmed drums and a few added musicians. We need to take some of the pressure off Tucker. He is getting old…
What music have you been listening to lately? Any faves?
Tricky. Pre Millennial Tension has been one of my heavy rotation CDs. I hate to admit it but I have also been listening to Chumbawamba — my son, who is four months old, loves Tubthumping. In fact he wants to listen to it over and over and over… I have also been listening to The Bells, the new Chris Connelly project, which is fantastic. What else? Tindersticks… lots of Tindersticks…
So why do you make music anyway?
I love music. If I never had put out a record I’d still be sitting around playing in my living room. Music is mankind’s greatest creation… well, second only to Cheese Whiz anyway…
Any final thoughts?
Blisters is far and away the best thing I have done to date and I think even the people who hated the first two CDs might like this one.
Also, can you include the Thanatos address? P.O. Box 146636, Chicago, IL, 60614. We love to hear from people.