An Interview With Anything Box's Claude S.
For the release of Turntable Lab's exclusive version of Anything Box's Peace (1990), we caught up with bandleader Claude S. about the making of his late-era new wave classico.
What is your personal, family background?
I was born in Rosario, Argentina. My family immigrated to the US during the 70s. I truly think it was the first glimpses of a true city (New York) that cemented a love for machines and the sounds since when I arrived everything seems to be under some sort of renovation or construction. It was an “industrial” feeling.
I'm always impressed that musicians could break through the 80s social system (pre-internet) and create things that were so different from what was out there. What was the school / social scene like for you?
When my family settled into Paterson, NJ the current state of the social scene was very polarized. It isn’t the way it is now. Now you can have a band like LCD Soundsystem with a mixture of rock and electronic dance music. Back then, half the kids in my school wore t-shirts that said "Disco Sucks," and I saw ignorant lower-level thinking from the other side as well. Couldn’t the two forces work?
I remember hating disco too at that time. But my reasons for it had nothing to do with the beat or the production. It was the lyrics. It was all about “boogie” and “partying.” I was listening to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and Dark Side of The Moon, and lyrically these records were blowing my mind. I didn’t know it at the time, but what I wanted was music that would move my body, and give rise to thought.
What first changed my opinion of ‘Disco’ was listening to Kraftwerk on the radio. “Numbers” spoke of some crazy future. And I am living in that future now. So that was something. Then came New Order’s “Confusion” on a disco station. And then, to top it all off “People Are People” by Depeche Mode and “Don’t You Want Me” by the Human League. That was it. What was this?
By the way, Rock music (at that time) was also becoming lame and stifling. For me, it was as if the lights had gone out on rock as the years progressed. Hair Metal was not my thing. Besides this, there was nothing in the “era” itself that appealed to me. People were unemployed, the streets looked dirty, trash everywhere, and there was hopelessness hanging in the air even as the girls started wearing leg warmers. Both Rock and disco were telling me to party. But to what?
Why was New Jersey ripe for the new wave scene back then?
We were tired of being sold bullshit. We knew on an instinctive level that the truth wasn’t coming to us in the form of music and art as it should. For me, it felt as though the culture I saw on TV vs the one I was experiencing was a parallel universe, and I lived in the awkward version… I preferred the truth. The New Wave music coming out of WLIR at the time spoke truth to me. So I became enamored of that culture. It wasn’t called New Wave at that time. We called it “New Music."
What bands were you excited about back in the 80s?
Hearing Joy Division’s Closer changed my world. It somehow fit the music I was working on, and I felt a kinship to this. So while I discovered New Order first, I had no idea they had once been Joy Division. From there, I just followed the DNA trails.
Did the Cold War influence any of your music?
It did and it didn’t. While I am interested in what is going on in the world, the world is really where I am at the moment. I would argue that for most people, it is that way. Your world is the world. So for me, the politics of the time could not be found in the streets of Paterson. We had our own shit to worry about.
That said, the news of the day seemed to say that we could bomb each other out of existence. I think this may have led to a few introspections on that feeling. Or let’s say that I tend to write my guttural reaction to things, more than the details of the thing itself.
I saw the Berlin Wall come down on TV, and I was planning to record there in the future, so I celebrated that with "Jubilation." I also wrote "Our Dreams" as a reaction to the news, but also to the idea of what I saw as stamping out individualism.
Any memorable shows you went to that influenced your music?
I saw the Thompson Twins a few times, and I got to see Depeche Mode during the Black Celebration period (still my favorite). But I would not say I was influenced. What was influencing me more were the late nights listening to records with my friends and finding new ways to make music with the little bit of gear I had.
I love the clothing style on the cover... Where did you get your clothes back then?
Dania had a knack for that, so I seem to remember all of us going down to this shop and somehow we all settled on the military stuff (her opinion). It seemed to go well with the painting on the cover, although in truth nothing was planned. It just fell into perfect place.
Can you give us some background on how you came up with "Living In Oblivion," what ideas were you trying to convey?
I felt that there was a bleak future. Job, school, eat, entertain yourself, sleep and repeat. I wanted adventure, something different. The song came as a complete surprise and reaction to a pretty depressing feeling. I find it interesting that the song actually uplifts people. Hence why people have said Abox is “Happy Sad Music.”
When you came up with the tracklist, how did you decide upon putting "Living In Oblivion" as the first track?
Best foot forward I guess? Start with something that sets the tone? I actually think the record company asked if that could lead the album. From there we figured it out.
What synths did you use to make Peace? How did you decide what gear to use? Where and how did you get the gear?
I can tell you that the bulk of Peace was written on 6 pieces of gear. An ESQ1 digital synthesizer, a Roland Juno 6, a Sequential Circuits Tom, and EPS sampler and a Korg digital delay. Everything we used we kept for the recording, except the tom was replaced by an MPC60, and a few bass sounds came from a Moog knock-off that was rack mounted. Oh yeah, and the EPS was replaced by an Emax.
When the album was being fleshed out, we actually had a song for all of our moms. What I did was take several stories from them (and a few other moms) and put a name to them. That said, there is a real Carmen.
Where are the other band members now?
Well… Dania and Paul started families a little later in life, and they are keeping quite busy doing that. Both of them are still very dear to me, and I love their friendship. I often think that it is incredible how we were all put together to wind up recording this album. Regardless of all the experiences we had that were not so good within the industry itself, we appreciate all the fans that have supported Abox and what we were trying to do. And that was to make people smile and appreciate life.