‘For me it’s really the moment when you get on stage, it’s what you do all that other stuff for. It’s still a joy, I have no idea why‘ – Niall McGuirk talks to Andy Moor of The Ex
Where do you start with a band like The Ex? Amsterdam noisemakers beating out rhythms since 1979 and makers of pretty much a record a year since then. The real merit to the band is that these records keep evolving, the band keep moving and the rhythms are now mixed with sounds from across the globe. Be that African music, jazz, punk or math rock – The Ex are comfortable in so many genres. However one of the most notable features of the band has been the way they do business. Born from the squat scene in Amsterdam The Ex have been staunchly DIY since their inception, a true leading light for underground music. I was delighted to have a few words with Andy Moor from the band. Whilst not an original member Andy has been banging that guitar for 25 years with The Ex. I wanted to start the interview off though asking about his band prior to The Ex, Scotland’s Dog Faced Hermans.
What made you pick up that guitar? What were you listening to? I was in Edinburgh and met Colin, who was the bass player in Dog Faced Hermans – he was DJing and playing this incredible mix so I went up to him and said whats all this stuff you’re playing so he said come by one day and I’ll lend you some records so I went by and borrowed 50 records and spent my whole summer listening to them and that completely changed my musical horizon. It was Ornette Coleman, tons of stuff and then after that we said we’d try and do something together in the practice room.
He used to work in a bank and after he quit he used the money he got to buy a really good bass and guitar. He lent me his guitar and we just went in and jammed and made some noise. That eventualy became the Dog Faced Hermans, it always grew out of improvisation. We all played together to see what happens and let things grow from there.
Did Dog Faced Hermans move to Amsterdam? At what stage did you join The Ex? Were you playing in both bands for a while? Did it take long to blend into the style of songwriting in the band? In 1991 the Dog Faced Hermans moved to Amsterdam and I played in both bands for about three years which was quite exhausting. The Ex had two projects – the band itself and also The Ex with Tom Cora, and I continued to play with Dog Faced Hermans as well, but that collapsed after three years. So for me the transition when I joined The Ex it felt like they approached that side of things the same way. There was nobody telling you that you should play this or this, it’s like “I’ve got an idea” and everybody reacts to it. They worked in parallel sorts of ways.
And then we can we fast forward 23 years and God knows how many releases. Is it really 25 albums? Do you even know how many there has been? It’s 24 or 25 – The band exists 36 years so it kind of makes sense
I’m interested in briefly talking about the first Ethiopia tour, how did you finance it? I’ve read many stories of how the locals were appreciative that anyone would travel to their country. Did the love of the music come before you travelled over? The first time we went, Terri and I financed it from our pockets. Once you pay for your plane ticket you hardly need any money as it’s ten times cheaper than in Europe. Addis was incredible, it was the first time I’d been to an African country. We’d already being listening to the music quite a lot and loved the food. There was a couple of good restaurants in Amsterdam.
When we were talking to the people in Ethiopia we would mention the artists we listened to and it was almost like a passport. If they heard that we knew some of their bands they were happy and surprised that we knew anything about their music. It made me think that music can give you a connection to other places, it can bring you close to people really quickly. When they hear you talk about music they respond immediately. We did lots of research about trying to play there and found that we needed to go there together with the band and the gear and organise it when you arrive. You couldn’t book a tour in advance. We said we wanted to play there and they would go “Well where are your instruments?” and we’d say “No, we want to organise it for next year” and they’d say “Well come back next year”. They also said when we wanted to play music “Well we already have our own music” they weren’t used to bands coming in and playing.
The tour sounds like undergoing the same process as a typical Ex song – fully improvised. When we went back we would arrive in a town and talk to the local chief of police or councillor and sometimes pay a little bit of money and they would give us access to a community hall or even a police hall. We would do a little bit of flyposting during the day and drive around in the van announcing the gig with a megaphone. Tons of people came becasue all gigs were free. It was more like a spectacle, it was a great way to do it. It was the only way we could do it, there’s no network of touring there at all
How about your collaborations? You have worked with so many gifted musicians. We don’t have a list of heroes, we usually see people… We didn’t know much about the improvised music scene at first so we didn’t have a list of people we were dying to play with. You have to see people live and we started playing all these improvised music festivals and we started to see these players. Terrie and I have similar tastes, not always but most of the time. We like the same musicians and then when we’d speak to them they were nice people. That was the most important part – it wasn’t just that they were great players. We got to know people. We would invite them to play and wouldn’t know they were titans of the improvised jazz scene but it happened really organically.
Do the band sit down and have a list of people you would like to work with? No we’ve no list – there are still some people that I would like to play with but I’m not going around saying ‘hey we should play together’. We get invited to curate festivals and we get together and say who will we invite this time and we do have a list of people we’ve played with and some we haven’t but we really like,
As someone who has seen the band many times, the latest being last year in Birmingham I am impressed by your enthusiasm and constant drive coupled with passion for the music. Is that hard to sustain? Do you have a passion for all music or just the bits you are involved in? I can’t imagine why you would do this if you didn’t have a passion for it. Why would you play music, tour around in a van, get paid really shit money and do all that if you didn’t have some sort of passion? We are doing it cos we love it, we are not doing it because we are getting rich. It’s kind of an uncomfortable world. For me it’s really the moment when you get on stage, it’s what you do all that other stuff for. It’s still a joy, I have no idea why. When it stops being a joy I will know beacuse I won’t want to it anymore. It’s also to do with playing with Terrie, Kat and Arnold. They are very particular people and they have that energy still. So we give it to each other, they give me inspiration and energy.
Has it felt like your job at any stage? Sometimes it has but not over a long period. A couple of times when you’re on tour you’re just knackered. You know that it’s not going to be like that every night and it’s not going to be like that next week. Sometimes you play with a bit less energy or you may be ill. Terrie is built like a truck, he’s indestructable even if he’s tired or he has a cold he can always give that extra bit. Sometimes I can’t, sometimes I’m just too tired. He has that power so it gives us energy too. He drives the whole day, plays goes to bed at three in the morning, is up at 9 and goes again. We all do an amazing amount of work ariound that one hour of a show so you better like what you’re doing otherwise it’s stupid.
For most people they do their job and come home and relax. Their life outside work is a lot different, can that be the case for a musician? That’s something we have to learn, we have to schedule. So when you come home there are times when you just have to rest cos if you don’t you’ll just be exhausted. I’m learning it now more that ever as I’ve a two year old son so I can’t stay up til 2 in the morning and go to bed as he is up at 7 so we go on tour, play and stay up late but when I come home I enter into family life. I have to do it.
Before I had children I was busy with the band nearly all the time and only when you really went away on holiday did you just stop… and I think email, whilst making it more efficient, has made it more difficult to turn off as it’s constant – before you would phone or fax over a certain period. Now you need to train yourself to switch off.
The Ex by their very being and the way the band operates is a political statement in itself. How conscious are you of that? Continuously. I wasn’t in The Ex from the beginning, but Dog Faced Hermans worked exactly the same way – autonomously and self organising. We couldn’t afford to pay a manager or rent a van each time, so we bought a van really cheaply and fixed it up. That’s how we started and now we might take the van to the garage to get fixed but we still operate like that. Also cos we see tons of bands who tried to enter into the industry get destroyed. We’ve seen enough bands suffer from that and get ripped off. Some bands have managed to survive it but for us this seems to be the only sensible way to do it. It’s small, we are a small operation. We are not playing to thousands of people.
If we had that sort of an audience we might need to employ people to do all sorts of things. In the end we are simliar to other bands. When we toured with Sonic Youth it was similar. We both go on stage, we are four musicians playing music. We were driving with a little van and Sonic Youth were driving with two big trucks, but for the final hour we were the same, both bands playing their music. They have a bigger audience so they can do that sort of thing. We don’t really strive to get that audience, if we had it may not make our lives easier – it may be harder to have to deal with such a big entourage. You become an employer then. When we are on tour we have a sound engineer and someone we bring along to sell merchandise, the rest we do it ourselves.
The history of the band is a litany of political activism and is a lesson in history for many punks. There has been support for many social uprisings and the band have informed people on events in Palestine, Kudistan, El Salvador or Spanish Civil War, do you feel Europe is undergoing any kind of sea change at grassroots level politically? Yeah, we’re talking about that a lot. It is really noticeable. We don’t get asked to do many benefit gigs. We tend to tour and play a circuit of rock venues. Occassionally we get asked to do a squat but mostly we play in medium size rock venues or a festival. We are not active in the way that The Ex were 15 or 20 years ago, but I feel like we’re completely busy with keeping an eye on all that stuff. Everyone is still angry about it and I can feel the temperature is going up, especally in the last 5 years. It’s getting tougher and tougher even for us to survive. We pay ourselves a wage and that hasn’t changed in ten years whilst everything else increases. We are feeling the same thing that everyone is.
Has that politics changed much since those Dog Faced Hermans days? In a way we may be less verbal about it but I’m more angry than ever. I’m really keeping an eye and if something is going to happen at some point I will definitely be part of that. I understand more about all these things but I don’t feel I’m sitting on the fence and everyone in the band still shares this. Arnold’s lyrics are quite political, not in the direct or polemic way that Jos was but he is really interested interested in political philosophy. One of the last songs he has written was about cities. “Soon all cities will have the same monuments, soon all cities will have the same street names” It’s true, he has been to quite a few cities. It’s a sad development. In some ways Europe should split up. We should co-operate for sure but in some ways it’s become a homogenous mass.
Can I ask about the new DVD? How did it come about? It was put together by the Practice Tapes Collective. They’re just a bunch of totally enthusiastic guys who just started showing up at gigs with cameras. They were very polite and really friendly. There weren’t invasive, they just went for it. It was almost like they did it and we forgot about it. People often film stuff and we don’t hear from them but these guys sent us a rough edit a couple of months later and we thought “Fuck!, this is really well filmed. the sound was good and often it isn’t with these things. They did such a good job, asking nothing from us.
We loved it so we said we’d just print a few hundred as nobody buys DVDs anymore but we printed them up to sell at gigs and they were totally up for that. They are easy with this stuff they know how it works, there’s no money to be made. You put that stuff out and give it to people, sell a few to cover the cost of it and that’s it. They have that mentality as well. The last one was really fantastic.
I love the pukebox on your site http://www.theex.nl/pukebox.html – For Irish people it is interesting in that you have two of our favourite love to hate figures in the top 10 with Enya languishing in 35th place – how did it come about? We find it very amusing, people started talking about songs that make you physically sick or incredibly irritated and slowly we compiled this list. You can see when we grew up from a lot of the songs that are listed. It is also songs that we were forced to listen to and we are always gonna have the same song as number one (Do they know it’s Christmas) as the words to that are just disgusting – we have to put it there. It’s another Irish inspired song too as Bono wrote the lyrics.
Also on the site is an extensive list of your gigs, who keeps all the records? Originally Jos did it so when we got a webiste we had to put the information somewhere. We put it on The Ex 33 1/3rd LP. Now Kat updates it, she’s quite thorough. It’s helpful for us. We played at Cafe Oslo recently in London and someone said to us you played here in 1988 when this place was a squat and we looked online and sure enough in ’88 The Ex played there and then Terrie remembered the stairs.
However the stats can lie at times as we then spoke about the first Dublin gig and The Ex and Dog Faced Hermans driving into town in their firetruck while we all looked on unable to drive a car even… However it is not listed on the site. What is listed is the gig The Ex played in the Waterfront later that night, but the Fox and Pheasant has vanished from records and minds…
Paul asks us to come over regularly, Whelans is a great venue. I played there with Lean Left also.
Finally with all those records, band members, shows and stories how come there has been no book yet? Maybe that will happen after the band split up. We were asked once but it’s kind of difficult as you have to put a lot of time into it. We are a little more wary when people ask as you have to give them access to archives and stuff and you need to spend a lot of time on it. There’s a Dutch journalist who is interested but no one has really seriously proposed it. We have collected tons of stuff, cos of Jos who kept really good archives, maybe a book of his archives would be good.